Friday, June 24, 2011

A Pixar Princess?!?

Bit by bit, information is being released regarding next summer's new Pixar film, Brave. I am super excited by everything that is coming to light. Here is the official synopsis.

Brave is set in the mystical Scottish Highlands, where Merida is the princess of a kingdom ruled by King Fergus and Queen Elinor. An unruly daughter and an accomplished archer, Merida one day defies a sacred custom of the land and inadvertently brings turmoil to the kingdom. In an attempt to set things right, Merida seeks out an eccentric old Wise Woman and is granted an ill-fated wish. Also figuring into Merida’s quest — and serving as comic relief — are the kingdom’s three lords: the enormous Lord MacGuffin, the surly Lord Macintosh, and the disagreeable Lord Dingwall.

So, what we have here is a Pixar princess movie, which makes me do a dance of happiness every time I think about it! Plus, check out the spectacular teaser poster. Stunning, innit?

As I did with the Disney animated classics in the Disney Project, I am watching every Pixar film in chronological order. It took me a long time to come around to what Pixar was doing. I love classic hand-drawn animation and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Pixar party. These were not the movies of my childhood, and so any appreciation I gained for them had to be earned on their merits as a film watched by an adult unclouded by childhood memories. Monsters Inc. got me hooked, and I've been a big supporter ever since. 

The only lapse, in my mind, in their amazing track record is Cars, which was the last film I watched for the Project. I will blog both the Pixar and Disney Projects and go into more detail on my thoughts on the films, but for now suffice it to say, "Bah." I didn't get it. The storytelling lacked, the characters didn't land, the animation looked great, but for what? I felt watching Cars like most little boys feel like watching a typical girly movie. I was antsy, anxious, easily distracted, and, sad to say it, bored. 

This summer's Pixar slot is to be filled with Cars 2. Womp. I know that Pixar has proven itself to be able to do great sequels with Toy Story 2 & Toy Story 3, but there's nothing about the first Cars that made me want another movie in the series. It made me want one less. For those of you non-mathematicians, like me, I'm saying I'd rather not have even had the first one. I am pleased as punch about Monsters University, the upcoming prequel to Monsters Inc. That's a story I would love to see expanded. Suffice it to say that this summer is a wash as far as Pixar is concerned. 

This leaves me looking forward to Brave next summer. I'm already all twitterpated over it, though only the tiniest bit of info is available. It was originally conceived and directed by Brenda Chapman, who is the first woman to direct an animated movie at a major studio (Prince of Egypt, which I didn't love, but Tom does) and was to be the first female director for Pixar. Lately, she has stepped down from control, passing the reigns to Mark Andrews, who was story supervisor on The Incredibles, which is an astounding movie. 

The film is being touted as a story in the Grimm fairy tale tradition, with dark and adult overtones. Knowing Pixar, it won't go too far in that direction, which is a good thing, but I'm excited to see them continue to push the boundaries of what their creative minds can do and what the audiences will come to see. All of their best films do just that. They have also brought on a non-starry but very strong vocal cast including Kelly MacDonald from Boardwalk Empire, Julie Walters and Emma Thompson.

Plus, for the first time in a Pixar film, the central leading character is a lady. And a princess, no less. Considering that this is the studio that has changed the way that I look at toys, fish, super heroes, robots, and monsters, I have no doubt that they are going to have a completely original take on what a "princess movie" can be.  The concept art that has been released is really stellar. Look at her! She looks like she is ready to kick some butt and take some names!

Disney had a bit of a princess renaissance with The Princess and the Frog and Tangled. Both were well-reviewed and popular and both introduced a new princess into the canon. Both retained the magic of traditional storytelling while making the films speak to modern audiences. Unfortunately, after releasing two gorgeously animated, beautifully written and acted princess films, there is not another one on the horizon. 

It's in Pixar's hands now to uphold the genre. I have so many questions. Will Princess Merida be able to be a full-fledged Disney Princess? What will set her apart from the other ladies? How will Pixar shake up what Disney has of late done a pretty great job of shaking up itself? How will a female-driven storyline change the dynamic of a Pixar film? How will the change of directors affect the final outcome? How successful will Pixar be at a story that, in truth, seems more suited to Disney animation?

 We'll have to wait until next summer to get some answers, but I, for one, fully expect Pixar to be right on target with this one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Odd Disney World: Disney Remixed

I am starting a series of posts about strange Disney miscellanea, Odd Disney World, with these amazing videos. I saw them a while back and had forgotten all about them until this morning when I was on the couch with Tom before work and the music from this video broke through the morning news.

This is my favorite album artwork for Alice in Wonderland.
I love the art nouveau style and the crazy colors. One just
 like is currently hanging on my wall. Are you surprised?
No. You are not high. I promise. The sound is pretty unmistakable. I muted the news and became mesmerized all over again. I think this video does a pretty spectacular job of taking the inherent trippiness of Disney's version of the story and putting a fresh spin on it. Tom and I are huge Alice in Wonderland fans. Tom is an Alice stickler, especially. He feels that the Disney version is actually the one that does the original Lewis Carroll book the most justice. He is fiercely protective of the reputation of the film, which I think is finally emerging from the shadow of a decades long and undeserved bad rep. With it's quirky storytelling, gorgeous animation, incredible Mary Blair styling, and wonderfully strange yet pitch perfect music, I think Alice in Wonderland is a landmark in the Disney classic canon. If you haven't gotten the recent Blu-ray release, do it ASAP. They finally gave the film a release that does the art justice and has a slate of fantastic bonus features that really take full advantage of what Blu-ray can do.

This musician takes a very basic underlying beat and a few chords and layers them with sounds and vocals that he culls from movies. What is so surprising is that when he does it with other films, ones that seem less drug induced by nature, it works just as well. On his Youtube channel there are ones for several other Disney and Pixar films, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Harry Potter and H.R. Pufnstuf, among others. The music he creates is haunting and familiar, a little scary, but beautiful and very enjoyable. I love that you can tell this guy is a big ole Disney geek as well as super-talented. I am a full-on fan.

Take a few minutes to check out one or all of these little masterpieces. It will be well worth it, I promise. Which one was your favorite? Do you love them or are you a little bit creeped out? Maybe both? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Mary Poppins

Several films including The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty


The Sword in the Stone

Toy Story

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Score One for the Mouse

You know how I feel about being in Disney parks. It brings me a sense of calm and joy just to be on Disney property. But specifically when you are within the parks, there is an important detail that it's easy not to even notice if you aren't paying attention- the music. It's everywhere. And it's themed. And it envelops you. Walking down Main Street you hear ragtime. In Adventureland there is the constant sound of drumbeats. Frontierland has tunes with a twang.

How gorgeous is this limited edition poster
by artist Tom Whalen?!? Deco-tastic!
Disney is wise enough to understand the importance of the score to the success of any movie. Their movies have always incorporated songs and music exceptionally well, from Steamboat Willie's whistled ditty to "A Dream is a Wish Your hearts Makes" to "When Will My Life Begin?" to the scores of George Bruns and Randy Newman to the company-defining sound of the Sherman Brothers. Ask anyone of any age what their favorite Disney song is and they will have an answer, however begrudgingly they may give it.

By underscoring your day in the park, they are heightening the feeling that you are living your own movie. Who hasn't wished that their lives had been scored by a great composer? Who hasn't wanted to break out into song in the middle of their day? It can't just be me. Can it? Especially in NYC, we do it for ourselves. Many people, including me, walk out of their doors plugged in to their iPod, choosing the music that will underscore their adventures that day. Disney just takes that a step further, using the music to support the story they are telling in the park, hiding the speakers so that music seemingly drifts from everywhere. You are, in effect, living in a movie. It is a subtle, but effective way of making the day special.

In part because of this and in part because the music in the parks is so awesome, just listening to the music helps comfort me. I love listening to any Disney music, really, but park music has a way of transporting you to being somewhere that is removed from the reality of the moment. Somewhere that you are happy. And it does so instantly.

A literal Disney radio. As opposed to all this talk
of Disney radio. Deep.
Lately this music has become a real lifesaver for me. While I was at my last job, one that I actually enjoyed by and large, I stumbled upon an online radio station called Mouse World Radio on Live365 and my head exploded. Disney park music all day every day. I would put it on at random times just to bring a smile to my face. After I lost that job, I got an admin job that is a little bit... well... how about we go with soul-crushing. One day a month or so in, the online Disney park radio station floated back into my consciousness. I found a coping mechanism to help get me through my days. Now, for as many of the 8 hours a day as I can get away with, at least a small part of my brain is in a Disney park, far away from the office in midtown Manhattan that I actually am in. It has saved my sanity.

Along with Mouse World Radio, Live365 has other stations like Reedy Creek Radio, DIS Radio,  Mousejunkies Radio, and Magical Mouse Radio that all play the same genre. They play full ride throughs recorded on the sly, background music from the different lands, songs from the attractions and other such goodies. When you play one of them in its own window, the others are listed on the side under related stations. When one station isn't playing something that floats my boat, I switch to another one. I'm not going to lie, some of the Tomorrowland loops are kind of hard to take (we thought the furture sounded mighty synth heavy and blippy back in the nineties), but there's always something awesome playing on one of them. Plus, it's free and with only a few scattered commercials. There is also an iPhone app that will stream the music wherever you go.

Best fried chicken and sassy waitresses. What's not to love?
If you are like me (an emotional eater) and need some comfort food for the soul (I can't help you with the real stuff at the moment, but I can recommend where to get the best fried outside of my Aunt Ree's kitchen and it's in Disney's Hollywood Studios), fire up the computer, turn on the interwebs and take yourself over to one of these online stations. It is a perfect salve for days ranging from humdrum to crummy and makes a good day even better. Right at this very moment, it is playing Mickey, Minnie and friends singing "We Go Together" from Grease, which is apparently part of the Every Day is a Holiday show that happened at the Magic Kingdom. Come on. You know that's adorable!

At any rate, if hearing the theme to Soarin' (which has become one of my favorite pieces of music ever thanks to repeated listenings on these stations) or an entire ride through of the Haunted Mansion doesn't brighten your world, then I don't know how to help you. But I will give you a hug next time I see you and hope it's a start.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It Can Be a Jungle Out There

One day I will stay in Cinderella's Castle
Suite. Add it to the bucket list.
It's no lie when I say that going to a Disney Park is like stepping out of reality. You allow yourself to forget about things that worry you and just melt into the warm, gooey happiness that is everywhere. Whenever I cross the berm, so to speak, I leave troubles waiting outside, tapping their watches, waiting to get all up in my grill again. That's part of why the parks are so magical. They are the ultimate escape, designed to give you permission to bask in the worry-free joy and innocence of childhood.

With marriage equality fast approaching in New York, I've been thinking about how my relationship is perceived by others. I wish I didn't have to, but I do. My soon-to-be husband and I can't get married yet because others don't approve of the way I live my life. That's a hard pill to swallow. Living in big ole' NYC, it's easy to forget that we are in a bubble where, by and large, we are accepted as we are.

We have considered moving down to Orlando, where we would be a few hours from my family and a few minutes from Walt Disney World. We would both like to have a family of our own and suburbia seems to be a natural move in the right direction. NYC is hard and cold and expensive (and also sometimes spectacularly amazing. Don't get me wrong. I have a love/hate relationship with the big A.) It's also not very conducive to raising a family unless you are moneyed. We are not. Orlando is not cheap, to be sure, but the other pluses outweigh the cost. And it would still be cheaper than NYC.

By that point, we will be married in New York State, but it seems Florida is quite a ways away from passing marriage equality laws. People tend to forget that the Bible Belt chokes the panhandle and a lot of older people in the southern parts of the state can't wrap their heads around the idea of two people of the same sex being allowed to marry. This would mean a huge headache. Our marriage will be recognized in one state, but not by the Federal government and not in the state we live in. This is quite a sticky wicket and one that a lot of gay and lesbian couples are affected by. Many straight people take for granted the rights that a simple marriage certificate affords them, from taxes to visitation.

I don't want to make this too political, but this is a matter of doing what is right. Civil rights should not be subject to popular vote. If they had been, interracial marriage might still be illegal. The fact that marriage equality is even still an issue baffles me. People are entitled to have their own opinions about me and the way I live my life, but they are not entitled to impede me from living it. It seems that in the course of touting "family values" and wasting taxpayer money attempting to stop loving couples from marrying and raising children, a lot of folks have forgotten something I learned in kindergarten. Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. It's even in the Bible. Matthew 7:12. Look it up, Fred Phelps.

Congo Queen, indeed.
This brings me to my last trip to Walt Disney World this past spring. Tom and I got engaged there and had a wonderful visit 99.9% of the time. Of course that pesky .1% is part of what has stayed with me. Hopefully blogging it out into the universe eradicates what's left of it. The incident happened while Tom and I were in the queue for the Jungle Cruise. We had been waiting for about 10 minutes when I heard a voice from behind me say, "Come on. Seriously. I don't want my kid to see that."

All the blood drained from my head. I turned around to see a scrappy Southern dude in a cap, his sheepish looking wife, their son, who looked to be about three, and grandma and grandpa. He was looking me right in the eye with the most horrible expression of disgust washing over his face. I think he said something else after that. I can't be sure. I didn't say a word. I didn't argue. I didn't explain what was going on to Tom. I'm not one for confrontation in general, and I certainly didn't want to make a scene at Disney. I pulled Tom back and waited for the family to pass. Tom asked what was happening. I asked him to just hold on while I desperately tried to pull the tears back into their ducts.

I couldn't quite wrap my brain around what set the guy off. Tom and I had been holding hands. He told me later that he had playfully pinched my butt, but I hadn't even felt it. I kept on waving people past, trying to make sure that there was absolutely no way that we would snake by this family again. I caught glimpses of them, giving us evils. I also saw the father stop a cast member and point back towards us, saying who knows what. I was crushed. I felt weak for not standing up for myself. I had just that very morning gotten engaged to the man I'm going to spend the rest of my life with and now this? Not cool, universe. Not cool.

As I was waving people past, there was an older couple who paused to say they had seen what happened and said couldn't understand why the man had gotten so upset, saying there was no reason he should have had a problem. The woman gave me a kind look and shook her head sadly about what happened. It was a welcome show of solidarity.

It's true. I wouldn't be shocked to see Gaga in this garb. 
It was at this point that the universe realized its' mistake and started working overtime to remind me that for every person in this world who tries to knock you down, there are four there waiting to prop you up. That couple in line was number one. Number two was right after we sat down in our boat. Our Jungle Cruise skipper was a hilarious gay latino. How did I know he was gay? When the headhunters are doing their dance, he pointed over and said "Look! The natives are getting ready for a Lady Gaga concert!" Need I say more? When Tom and I laughed the loudest, he knew he had found the gays in his boat and let loose what must have been one of the funniest, queerest Jungle Cruise spiels ever. Nothing inappropriate. But it was like having one of the little latin boys in drag from RuPaul's Drag Race out of drag moonlighting as a Jungle Cruise skipper. It was exactly what we needed to lighten our mood. It was the best Jungle Cruise I have ever taken.

The third person propping us up was a lovely lady the next morning as we were lined up waiting to get into Disney's Hollywood Studios. She started chatting with us. She asked us about the rings, noticing that they must be new because we were playing with them, spinning them around our fingers. She was so excited when she heard the engagement story and was the first person in the world to offer us congratulations face to face. She told us about a gay family member of hers and his experiences growing up in the small town they were from. We chatted about the parks and life and whatever else floated through our minds, making that hour until the rope drop fly by. She was like a midwestern, middle-aged angel dropping down to remind us that there are good people in the world and that they will make themselves known when you least expect it.

Tip: Go standby first thing and get a FastPass
to use later on your way out!
The fourth instance wasn't a person. It was a family. While we were waiting in line at the end of the day to go on Toy Story Midway Mania one last time, we noticed a lesbian couple with a little girl, roughly the same age as the boy in the Jungle Cruise queue, directly ahead of us in line. She was all decked out in her princess attire and was as chatty as could be. We spent the whole time in line talking with these three wonderful ladies, mostly about Disney, princesses and what they did in the park, but a bit about their lives. You could tell that they were proud, loving parents successfully raising a quirky, confident, beautiful daughter. I saw in them the kind of family that I wanted to build with Tom. As they hopped onto the ride ahead of us, I waved goodbye and grabbed Tom's hand tight.

Small-minded people are everywhere. And they are small-minded everywhere. They are in Orlando, in New York City, and even within the walls of the Magic Kingdom itself. You have no control over them. But you do have control over how you interact with them. I wasn't going to change the mind of the Jungle Cruise dad, but I hope that when they left that day, all that little boy thought about was how much fun he had. I hope that, by not making a scene, the memory of what happened in that queue fades to nothing in his young mind without leaving so much as a crease on his impressionable brain. I hope that when he grows up, he is the one that breaks the cycle of closed-minded hatred that his family has tried to instill in him and is aware of how his actions affect others. I hope that when he comes back to Walt Disney World with his family, however traditional or not they are, they leave hatred, pettiness, and fear outside the gates, allowing the love, hope and joy that the park was built upon guide their experience there.

And with that, I let the whole incident go.

I eagerly await hopping into another Disney queue soon with my husband and some day with a little one of our own. Because it still is, and will always be, my favorite place in the world.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It's Time To Meet the Muppets!

Tom's Whatnot (l.) and mine (r.), with their
singamajigs, sitting on top of some of my
Disney books. We embrace our geekdom!
I love the Muppets. (I even have one of my own from the Whatnot Workshop! See picture.) Smart, weird grown-ups who were smart, weird kids wear their love of the Muppets as a badge of honor. It kind of amazes me that a show that was so subversive was able to find a wide audience on primetime TV. I think that it goes to show that audiences are usually more intelligent than they are given credit for being. If you make them laugh and let them think, they will follow you to the most outrageous places. And The Muppet Show was pretty far out there. 

Growing up, I was a bit young to catch The Muppet Show. I began to appreciate it more when I became an adult. My knowledge of the Muppet characters was shaped by two things, for the most part. The first was Muppet Babies, which I would give my eyeteeth for a DVD release of. Unfortunately, there seem to be rights issues related to film clips used in the series and no release is planned as of now.

The Muppet Babies had such a grand sense of adventure. They had wild imaginations that took them anywhere and were a group of wacky misfits who created a family unit. They seemed so independent, with Nanny's green striped stockings only stepping in occasionally to check up on them. I remember loving the show, having the Happy Meal toys, and shaking my tush to the awesome 50's rock style theme song. Remember it? If not, it will take you all of three seconds for it all to come rushing back to you. Please to enjoy.

The other way I knew of the Muppets was through the three Muppet movies that were a staple of childhood in the 80's- The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan.  The Great Muppet Caper was always my favorite. Looking back now, it makes perfect sense. With a big Busby Berkeley homage, a musical number on bicycles, mystery, intrigue, Miss Piggy's triumphant motorcycle entrance, over-the-top costumes and Diana Rigg, there was plenty to keep my tiny brain transfixed.

I'd like to see the Statue of Liberty rock
a one piece as well as Miss Piggy does.
Of course, I also loved Muppet*Vision 3-D in what used to be Disney-MGM Studios. It's still there, though the park is now Disney's Hollywood Studios. The entire area is tons of fun and full of Muppet mischief. I am a huge fan of the fabulous fountain and all of the fantastic touches and details that Disney Parks are famous for adding. The movie itself still holds up very well. I remember back in the day when seeing a 3D movie was a big to-do. Theme parks were pretty much the only places where it was possible. Now, you can go to almost any movie theater, cough up and extra five bucks and you can see a whole array of second rate movies in three dimensions. The headaches, dark screens and feeling you have been had are free of charge, thankfully. What is great about the Muppet 3D movie at the Parks is that it is an experience. It is immersive. The theater is integral, the pre-show is clever, it involves costumed characters and animatronics that break the fourth wall... er... screen. And it's flat out funny. It uses the 3D effects in clever ways and maintains the quirky sense of humor that is so quintessentially Jim Henson's.

I don't know if you have heard, but there is a new movie featuring the Muppets on the way this Thanksgiving called The Muppets. Direct. To the point. No bells and whistles. Me likey. No doubts about what you're gonna see when you buy a ticket. You'll see the Muppets. And that is awesomesauce. The team behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which I have not seen, is behind this, so I am going on blind faith that they put the film in good hands.

When they started putting out trailers, it became obvious that the people in the marketing department were being very smart, creating a campaign that pokes fun at other films brilliantly with tongue planted firmly in cheek. When I saw the first trailer, I thought, "Ooh, awesome. Amy Adams is in another movie! What is this?" I thought it was some typical romantic comedy and then... BOOM! Muppets! My brain melted with excitement!

I am obsessed with Amy Adams. Soon I will talk about Enchanted and how I feel gypped by the fact that Giselle isn't a full-blown princess.

They followed this trailer with two more in a similar vein. This one is a parody of The Hangover 2.

And this one is a parody of The Green Lantern

The parodies were funny. I thought it was a really great way to put the movie and the characters on the radar in a big way. But they have finally released a trailer that is actually a preview of the movie in earnest. And it looks radtastic. 

They had me at "fart shoes". I must say that the way they are rolling out the movie has been very well-played. They have built buzz and gotten people very excited about Muppet domination. I, for one, can't wait! 

I leave you with one more video of my favorite Muppet. Make sure you watch it with captions turned on.

So who is your favorite Muppet? And how stoked are you about The Muppets this Thanksgiving?!? If the answer is "Not very," then please don't tell me. I respect you too much not to respect you anymore.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Wanna Be a Princess When I Grow Up

Now we know she was really waiting for an
awesome piece of real estate.
Disney has issued a very exciting press release!

Disney will officially welcome Rapunzel as the 10th Disney Princess character at a high profile, star-studded celebration, to take place in front of a global audience on October 2, 2011. Little princesses from across the globe will watch Rapunzel be welcomed into the Disney Princess royal court by Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas, Snow White and Tiana." 

I am super stoked about this. I absolutely adored Tangled. I saw it twice in the theater and bought the Blu-ray the day it came out. Everything about it from the artwork to the performances to the story to the music is a great balance of classic Disney and modern sensibilities. 

What fascinates me about this press release is that I had no idea that being a Disney Princess was such a formal affair, involving a ceremony, in this case at Kensington Palace.

I just love that crooked lil' smile.
“'Once Rapunzel becomes an official member of the Disney Princess court, she will be celebrated and recognized as such across Disney, and will be included in all Disney Princess products featuring multiple characters, in addition to her own merchandise line. Plus, across all Disney Parks, Rapunzel will for the first time wear her royal tiara, stolen from the kingdom by Flynn Rider in the Tangled.' said Mary Beech, vice president of girls franchise development and marketing at Disney Consumer Products."

First off, being VP of girls franchise development for Disney could possibly be the coolest job in the world. Also, I had no idea that Rapunzel wasn't actually a princess yet! I assumed since we see her get crowned in the movie that all is set, but apparently not. 

I've spent all of this time assuming that the collective Disney Princesses were something that simply emerged from our collective consciousness, acknowledging who becomes part of the canon through sheer force of psychic will. But, unsurprisingly, it's all part of a clever marketing machine. It's kind of amazing that they are able to give us the feeling of ownership over the idea of who is a Princess while carefully sculpting an exacting plan for all of it.

The Disney Princesses hold a special place in my heart, as they do in the hearts of most gays and gals out there. When the princess resurgence began with Ariel, I was starting to outgrow watching cartoons and trying to find my place in life. If I had continued obsessing over princesses at that point, I dread where that place would have been. Middle school is scary. And it's certainly not a somewhere you want to fall too far outside of the norm in.

That's right you should give Alice a noogie. She's
not officially a princess. Silly rabbit.
When I was in kindergarten and we went around the room telling the class what we wanted to be when we grew up. There were firemen and cops and vets and teacher. We get to Little Anthony and what does he say? "I want to be a girl when I grow up." Ugh. Bad move. I never lived it down, though I did learn to laugh it off, and now I wear the story as a badge of pride. I know I didn't actually want to be a girl, but in a lot of ways I think what I wanted to be was a Disney Princess. Fiercely independent, smart, kind, inquisitive, romantic, and emotional with fantastic vocal chops. 

I think that these should be things that any child, boy or girl, should aspire to unashamedly. I still aspire to find these qualities within myself. Though some of the earlier princesses (mostly meaning Snow White and Aurora- sorry, ladies) are lovely ciphers, the rest are real role models. Especially now with the princesses looking like a very ornately dressed Benetton ad, there is one for every child to connect with. 

This is all reminding me of one of my favorite blogs, Raising My Rainbow, which the author describes as her "adventures in raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son." Her little boy C.J. remind me of myself at his age. Back when I was still called A.J. He is all about girly things and princesses. If the entry about his birthday in Disneyland doesn't make you weep, I will have to assume that you have no soul. If you haven't read this blog, get thee there now! You will laugh until you snort and cry until you, well, snort. And you'll be glad you did. Did you go read it? Bookmark it for later at least? Good. Now watch this video, cuz it's brilliant. I know, I know. I'm a tad bossy. But it's for your own good!

See? Totally worth watching, huh? So who, you may ask, is my favorite Princess? Belle. Easily. Beauty and the Beast will always be very special to me. To me, in many ways, it is the pinnacle of hand drawn animation and Belle is the most dimensional princess of them all. But Tiana and Rapunzel have come along and snatched second and third with Ariel at fourth, followed by Mulan, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Jasmine, Aurora, and then Snow White. As you can see, I've thought this through thoroughly. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Which Disney Princess did you want to be when you were twirling around in your room back in the day? (OK, OK. Admit it. Sometimes we still twirl around and pretend we're princesses.) How did she steal your heart?  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Alt Disney World: Jonatha Brooke

Disney doesn't have the best rep with (non-Disney) music fans. Say the word and images of questionably talented tweens singing not terribly good pre-fab pop trash. I am guilty of it, too. Though I once judged them quite harshly, I must say I've come to have a soft spot for many of them as they've grown. Miley Cyrus may not be much of a performer, but she's a strong supporter of LGBT rights. Raven Symone has grown into an amusing comedy actress. Britney and Christina and Justin broke away from the MMC factory to become legit pop superstars. And, admittedly, when I was little, even I was all about MMC and Kids Incorporated with their cheese-tastically awesome nineties-ness.

I have a feeling that we will probably grow to appreciate some of the Disney pop music of our time the same way that I'm now completely charmed by Annette Funicello and Haley Mill's pop music from back in the day. Nostalgia has the magical ability to coat everything in a glittery sheen. Now nineties throwback is already happening, kids. Thirtysomethings, brace yourselves. We're that old now. (See Katy Perry's new video for "T.G.I.F." if you don't believe me. Aw, heck. I'll just put it here. Please to enjoy.)

I say all this to say that Disney is not exactly the place that most people look to for songs by legitimately great pop, alt-rock and folk songs. I am a huge, somewhat pretentious, music fan. My tastes run rather Lilith Fair, but are on the whole pretty wide reaching. I am just as likely to be jamming out to Pattty Giffin, a film score, Beyonce, or Aerosmith on my iPod. That's how I've always rolled. I take pride in being the person that introduced my Mama, and thus all her friends, in Tallahassee to Amy Winehouse and Adele months before they broke out nationally. I have pretty high standards for my music.

I decided to start this series of entries, Alt-Disney World, to discuss some of the really great musical artists that Disney has collaborated with recently. It's a way for me to marry my love of the Mouse with my love of music. I think you will be surprised by how many seriously great musicians, some established, some breaking, some indie and comfortable there, Disney has brought in to contribute music for assorted projects. I will be casting my net pretty wide, combing Kingdom to find the unexpected troubadour, rather than focusing on how Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson covered "A Whole New World" on the Aladdin Platinum Collection DVD. Snicker. Shudder.

Give the folks in these columns a chance, you may find Disney introducing you to surprisingly great music that you won't have to be ashamed to admit that you love.

Jonatha Brooke. Ready to pounce, apparently.

First up is Jonatha Brooke. I have been a big Jonatha Brooke fan since high school. I have a very clear memory of my introduction to her. I was leaning against a wooden railing on a gorgeous spring day with her song "Nothing Sacred" drifting from a nearby window. An amazing breeze and this amazing song washed over me. It was perfection.

I have seen Jonatha perform twice. She is fantastic on stage. She can raise the roof or make you cry. She started off as part of a duo called The Story, which morphed into Jonatha Brooke and The Story, and finally she went solo, making some of the best folky rock music of the last ten years and staying under the radar. One of my favorite of her songs is this gorgeous ballad, "Because I Told You So" (which coincidentally was covered by Nick Lachey- not great).

All of her albums are worth checking out. I am particularly fond of 10 Cent Wings, which "Because I Told You So" is from, Careful What You Wish For, which has a bit of a harder, poppier edge and The Works, which is an album where she brilliantly sets words by Woody Guthrie to music.

The first time I saw her live a couple of years ago, she sat down at the piano and talked briefly about writing a song for Disney. I have no idea how I missed it, but I was blissfully unaware of such goings-on. She sang the song "I'll Try" and brought me to tears. The combination of this one woman, a piano and this amazing song was so powerful that I literally wept. The whole concert was great, but the performance of that song in particular renewed my love for Jonatha and kickstarted my consciousness of the alt-Disney phenomenon. This live video of the song has great patter about her writing the song.

In the great tradition of "The Age of Not Believing" it captures the emotions running through someone who is too young to know but too old to know better. The lyric is stunningly moving and adult. The melody as simple but sweeping. She gives voice to emotions in a way that is achingly accessible to both those who are experiencing them and those who have been there. It is easily one of my favorite of her songs, period. It probably fell through the cracks for me because I don't hold Disney's direct-to-video sequels in terribly high esteem. This is from Return to Neverland, which I still have not seen, though I'm sure I will one day just to see how the song is used. On the soundtrack she also performs a haunting reprise of "I'll Try" and a gorgeous version of the classic "Second Star to the Right".

"I'll Try" has become one of the better known recent Disney songs. It has been covered pretty often and made it onto several compilations. Since then, Jonatha has kept it in the fairy realm for Disney, writing lovely songs for both Tinkerbell ("Be True") and Tinkerbell & the Lost Treasure ("It's Love That Holds Your Hand"). She is a spectacular singer and songwriter who has made a singular impact in the music of the Magic Kingdom and who is highly underrated outside of it. Give her a listen!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Boo Bop BopBop Bop

Earth Mama, not my Mama. My Mama
has more understated taste in jewelry.
After yesterday's post, Mama insisted that the quote I attributed to her is not, in fact, what she always says. She's usually right about everything, so I'm sure she is speaking the truth, but whenever I remind myself that whenever God closes a door, he opens a window, I hear it in her voice. So, kudos Mama! It's yours now!

She reiterated that her favorite of her own Mama-isms is "Whenever you hear a no, remember that the yes will always be bigger." I'm paraphrasing, Mama, so if you want accuracy, you have to start Mama's Pearls O Wisdom Blog yourself. Seriously. I'd read that blog!

I promised to share the meet cute story between my fiance, Tom, and I. Considering that after a lot of nos, Tom is the single biggest yes that has come along in my life, I thought that now would be a good time. Plus, talking about him just makes me happy and, as I said before, our meeting is Disney-related (as a lot about our relationship is) and therefore topical. So gird your loins, here we go!

Last summer I worked running events at a big box book retailer. I had been with the company for ten years, working my way up to a position that I enjoyed, working with a great team in my department and making a decent wage. After months of fishiness from management, the bomb dropped. Our location was closing. Out of the blue. Lease is up, we are out. I have a lot of feelings associated with this happening. The biggest one was disappointment. We had an amazing events team who were respected, both within the company and outside of it, who had collectively given twenty-five years of our lives to this retailer, but somehow, on the whole island of Manhattan, they couldn't find positions for any of the three of us. They made excuses. I have suspicions. Now, I say bump 'em. But at the time I was beyond upset. Remember- I'm not always so good with change. And my life was about to change more than I knew it.

I did look quite this hip. Maybe I
should have worn a black turtleneck.
The day that we found out that we'd be jobless in four months, I called my roommate (who has since run out on me, leaving a legacy of $1200 in bad checks) and told him I needed to drink. And vent. We went to an outdoor restaurant and bar. I had a pack of cigarettes (I don't smoke) and a steady stream of margaritas (I rarely drink) and I was ready to let loose. I called another friend of mine who has an apartment across from the bar, inviting him to participate in the 2010 Anthony Got Laid Off, So Let's Get Wasted Festival. He said sure. He was meeting a friend who had just moved to NYC from California and asked if the friend could come along. I said sure. I was drunk. He could have said he was bringing along a swarthy pirate king who wanted to sack and loot midtown and I would have said sure.

A swarthy pirate Tom is not. Through my inebriated haze, between puffs and gulps, I saw this adorable guy in glasses (who I thought was way out of my league) sit down across the table from me, deflecting obvious advances from the cheapskate roommate. Romance was the last thing on my mind, so I kept on bemoaning my life. Magically, this guy Tom materialized in the chair beside me. Through my drunken haze I realized that he was not only listening to me and laughing at my jokes, but being really clever when he could get a word in edgewise. I was a bit smitten despite myself, but with my track record, thought little of it.

The party moved to my friend's apartment. We played drunken Mario Kart on Wii. I was being a bad drunk Wii driver, standing up, jumping, yelling at the telly, and sticking out my tongue slightly as if that would somehow improve my skills. It did not. Finally, I realized it was late, I was three sheets to the wind and I needed to catch a train home.

As I crossed the street walking towards the train, I realized that Tom was still with me. I had assumed that he had gone elsewhere with Cheapo McGoo roomie. I was useless by this point. Tom filled me in later on the details. He had to run to catch up with me and get me home, wanting to make sure that I would be OK. I continued to talk incessantly. Mostly about Robyn and how her songs would make an amazing musical because they tell such great stories. I still think this is true and tell Tom all the time that we should write it. Now we will pause to enjoy a piece of pop music perfection from our Swedish indie dance goddess, Robyn. Please to enjoy "Call Your Girlfriend".

How awesome was that?!?! Please take the time to check out her music if you haven't already. She is not longer the factory made Britney Spears-alike from the 90's who sang "Show Me Love". She used to be a guilty pleasure. Now she's just full on, no bones about it musical bliss. But I digress. Where was I? Oh!

Brazzle Dazzle indeed!
At some point Tom and I had discussed Disney. We are both huge, unabashed Disney geeks and so I was a bit taken aback that he had never seen one of my favorites- Pete's Dragon. When I launch into the review portion of this endeavor, which will be soon, I will go into more depth about my deep love for this underrated hybrid of live-action and animation starring Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, a cute little redheaded boy named Pete and his friend Elliot the Dragon. It is one of my favorite Disney films and now holds an even more special place in my heart.

I want to see this parade again so badly! It's been years.
Are Pete and Elliot still in it?
When we got to my apartment, the first thing I did was put Pete's Dragon into the DVD player, hunker down on the couch and let the movie wash over me. Disney is my comfort food and after the craziness of the day, I needed comfort. And I got it from Pete's Dragon that night. And from Tom. He watched me light up. I'm sure I sang along, talked nonstop about what I loved about it and did my Helen Reddy as Nora voice. Seriously. Ask me to sing "There's Room For Everyone in This World" next time you see me. It's uncanny.

Tom has been by my side ever since then. That night, when I least expected it, the man I will love for the rest of my days walked into my life. He showed me two things that made me realize by the time I went to sleep that he was the one: a) he was willing to let himself be a big, silly kid, which was a trait that had revealed itself to be increasingly important in my life in the last few years and 2) he had seen me at my lowest and cared for me through it. He's been taking care of me ever since, bless his sweet lil' soul.

On the first mix CD I ever made for him (yes, I still make them and they're always fully awesome), I included a song from Pete's Dragon and to this day both the song and the movie instantly remind me of him. Early in the film Pete and Elliot sing a simple song ("Boo Bop BopBop Bop") to each other about the love between a boy and his pet. Elliot doesn't speak words but makes adorable noises that are fun to sing along with. Here is the song in English and in French, just to prove that this song is huggable in any language.

The night I met Tom, I sang to him in my best Elliot the Dragon voice. Somehow, luckily for me, he found it charming. The song has taken on a much greater resonance lately, reminding me that love can be simple. It doesn't have to be overwrought and full of drama and can exist in the small, everyday things. Ever since that night, Tom has shown me love in the simple things. He has been my candle on the water.

Boo bop bopbop bop, Tom Tom. Je t'aime beaucoup.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Following the Flower

So, I have another confession to make. I have a crush. Get used to it, because I have tons of them. Fear not for my fiance. He's the most serious crush I've ever had and the only one in the world I would ever act on. I'll tell you more about that in the near future. We have a pretty awesome meet cute story. And it's even Disney related. A boy's gotta keep it topical, after all. In the meantime, however, I'm going to bat my eyelashes and glance meaningfully at Diane Lane.

Come on. She's stunning. I don't care if you are man or woman, straight or gay, you have to admit that she kind of takes your breath away. I finally got around to watching her in the Disney movie Secretariat today. I am not good about making it out to the movies very often. It's mad expensive in New York City and kind of a hassle, so unless I have a huge bee in my bonnet about seeing something, I get to it when I do. The last one I saw was Bridesmaids. Totes worth it. Get thee there and laugh 'til you pee just a little bit.

Though I have a burning love for Diane Lane, horse movies are not my bag, so I took a pass on Secretariat. After finally seeing it, I can't say that I regret waiting this long. It's a fine film. Sturdy. Well done. But not particularly special. The race sequences didn't tickle my pickle. I know this may come as a shock, but I'm not the sportiest guy on the planet. It had some lovely, feel-good things to say, which I'm not completely averse to. But there was one thing about the movie that I expected to be outstanding and that was Diane. I was not disappointed.

Her performance as Penny Chenery is glowing. She makes acting choices that are constantly surprising but, at the same time, always feel like what we should have expected from her character in that moment. Never the obvious choice, but always one that makes perfect sense. She is not what I would call a subtle actress. She wears the subtext in her face and on her gestures. Oftentimes, this makes an actor seem inorganic and over the top. On Diane Lane, it is magical. There are times in her performances where you can see ten different shades of emotions, all variations on a theme, all telling of her characters emotional state, run across her expressive face. At no point does it feel like she is projecting. She is not lazy or taking the easy way out. She allows the emotion bubble to the surface rather than burying them. Somehow she is able to be as theatrical as you possibly can on screen without crossing the border into unbelievability.

I pretty much love every one of her performances that I've seen, from Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains to Unfaithful to the HBO movie Cinema Verite. But I first fell in love with her when I watched Under the Tuscan Sun, which is also kind of a Disney movie through Touchstone Pictures. It is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. I didn't see it in the theater either, assuming that it would be a typical, run of the mill rom-com. I had no idea how wrong I was.

Under the Tuscan Sun is actually almost the opposite of a typical rom-com. Every time you expect it to take a left, it veers right, as Diane Lane's character, Frances, leaves everything behind and buys a villa in in Tuscany, on faith, for a life that she doesn't yet have. In a way it all boils down to something my Mama always says. It has kind of become the words by which I live my life. "When God closes a door, he opens a window."

I love those words. Sometimes the window is small and hard to reach. Sometimes it only allows the faintest bit of light in at first. Sometimes you have to work at getting to it, prying it open, and climbing through. Sometimes it takes far longer than what seems fair. But that window is there. You have got to have faith that it is and work to find it. What is at the other side can be so sweet.

When this movie came out in 2003, I had just moved to NYC, was full of drive and ready to conquer the big, bad city. Eight years later, Under the Tuscan Sun has a level of resonance that even I, as a fan of the movie, never would have predicted. From the moment Frances steps off that gay tour bus she never expected to be on, following the sunflower into the Italian unknown, she opens herself up to change. Anyone who knows me knows how terrified I can be of change. (Just ask to see my tattoo.) Watching Frances build her life from the ground up by refraining from control, is both scary for me and beautiful.

The movie is a breath of fresh air that surprises me and makes me feel warm every time I see it. (This is the movie that Eat, Pray, Love wishes it had been. And this is coming from someone who's a huge fan of the original Elizabeth Gilbert book. Read it. Stat.) The second that you think you know what role a character will play in the story, you will be proven wrong. It also has a great supporting cast (including a brilliant Sandra Oh) and one of my favorite film scores of all time (by Christophe Beck). If you have never checked this movie out, please give it a chance. Put aside whatever expectations you have about what it's going to be and live in this character's journey for a couple of hours. It has the potential to change the way you look at your life. Sometimes I feel like this movie is my Oprah.

I myself am at a kind of crossroads in my life. Re-watching this movie helps remind me to brave. And reminds me that it's OK to be a little scared as long as you have trust that life will lead you in the right direction. The universe has proven to me that wonderful things are on the horizon. I have an awesome man in my life, an amazing family, and beautiful friends. They are my windows in the dark room of an oppressive city, a miserable job and the absurdity of being 31 years old and still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up.

I have always loved sunflowers, but since this movie, they have become my favorite flower. Every time I see one it reminds me that when an adventure comes along in life, you take it. That's where the good stuff is. If you don't take that leap, then you'll never know where you might have landed. You've got to step out into the unknown and follow the flower.