Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Colors of Mary Blair at Disneyland- Part One: The Films

My bald spot and I actually wept when we saw this. 
I don't know if I've ever told you this, but I am a bonafide Mary Blair fanatic. Oh, wait. I told you here. And here. Oh, yes, and here. And last but not least, here. Tom and I planned our visit to Disneyland a few weeks back, which was my second, specifically so that we would be able to see the "Colors of Mary Blair" exhibit in the Disneyland Gallery which was in residence all summer and will apparently be closing quite soon. On my first trip to the park, I was so overwhelmed with things that I wanted to see, I didn't even make it inside the doors of the Gallery. This time it was the centerpiece of our trip.

Before we made it out to California, I combed the interwebs trying to find a somewhat comprehensive look at what was happening behind the doors, but came up pretty empty-handed. I took copious pictures of this absolutely amazing exhibit and want to share them with you, since I know a lot of people were not lucky enough to make it to Anaheim. I know that if I hadn't, I would have wanted someone to put up the pics. So I am being the someone that I wish that I was if I wasn't me, which I am. In simple terms, I want all the other geeks to be able to get their fix, too!

Today I will post photos of the inspirational art from the films. Later I will share photos of Mary's inspirational art from the parks. I will probably throw an extra post in at some point and share other Mary Blair-y pics from the trip not related to the exhibit specifically. For the most part, I'm going to let the art itself do the talking. Come on, y'all! Let's get our Mary Blair on!

Sign outside the Gallery as you enter the park.
The sign above the Gallery.
Once you pass through the gift shop area, the first room was dedicated to the art that Mary did for Disney films. (The Gallery itself is so gorgeous, by the way.)

Sign with a brief bio in the first room.
Above the sign was a picture of Mary.
We'll start with her art for Alice in Wonderland, which is probably the feature film where her influence is most powerfully felt.

Next is her work from Cinderella. It is quite fascinating to see the completely different, more subdued (though no less striking) color palette of these right next to the bright hues of the Alice art. Her use of color is completely genius.

Now are pieces from shorter works. 

So Dear To My Heart and "Las Posadas" from
The Three Caballeros.
"The Little House" and "Once Upon a Wintertime".
You may be asking where the Peter Pan art is. I am pretty sure that I got a shot of everything on the walls and I don't have a single piece of art from the film. What's crazy is that I was on such a Mary Blair high while I was actually within the Gallery, and so busy being in love with my life in the moment, that I didn't notice that there wasn't any. It wasn't until I was putting together this entry that I realized that art from one of Mary's big three for the studio wasn't included. I just walked out and asked Tom if he remembered any and he said no. It seems rather odd. If anybody knows why this is the case, or knows that the art was in fact there and I was just temporarily too stunned by the embarrassment of riches in front of me to notice, please holla atcha boy!

Coming soon will be all of the exhibited inspirational art that she did for the parks, including pieces for "it's a small world", the unrealized "Western River Expedition", and the Contemporary murals. Here's a peek inside the next room to whet your appetite!

Friday will be our DATE Night this week. If you'd like to follow along with the series, we'll be taking a look at Make Mine Music, the first of the Disney package films to take place outside of Latin America. It's a bit of a blessing, honestly. A man can only take so many tequila-indiced hallucinations in one lifetime.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Right to a Happily Ever After

We fudged the date just a bit, but it made us
so happy to get all the congrats in the parks!
The last weekend in June was the Gay Pride celebration in NYC. I admit that I haven't been to the parade in a few years. It was amazing in 2003 when I first arrived in the city to see the thousands of gays and lesbians gathered every year, but now, almost ten years later, things feel different. I look less to a culture or community to form my identity and more to my family- the one I was born into and the one I have chosen. I don't drink or go out as much as I used to. I get panicky when I'm in large crowds. I am becoming an old fuddy duddy who likes to spend quiet nights at home and now I am also engaged to another semi-recluse who would rather spend quality time on the couch than in up in da club.

Thank you, Governor Cuomo.
This year's Pride celebration was different. There was something to be proud of. Usually the parade feels like a daisy chain of advertisements barely broken up by things that matter. It all seemed little more than an excuse to get drunk, take your shirt off, and flirt with strangers. But two days before the Sunday parade, on Friday, June 24th, 2011, the great state of New York passed marriage equality, meaning the proposal I made to my fiance in the stretching room of the Haunted Mansion no longer has to be in legal quotation marks.

That fact made all the difference. There was a sense of joy and relief. All of the signs that used to say "Together for __ years. Let us get married!" changed to "Together for __ years and finally engaged!" It was a pretty spectacular sight and it made me proud to be an American, a New Yorker, and a gay man. It felt good to be part of a hopeful community on that day. After a nice afternoon at the parade with a friend and a lovely evening at an outdoor restaurant with three margaritas and Tom, I went home and watched True Blood while Tom played L.A. Noire. I went to bed thinking about how lucky I am.

Dream wedding, please and thank you...
Now, here I am three months later and the big day has arrived. Tom and I are getting married today! If you were to ask me what my dream wedding would be, I would have a few major musts. No bridezilla would I be. The biggest of them all is that that it would be on Disney property. Tom and I have some of our most special memories in the parks. We are both huge Disney freaks and nothing would make me happier than to proclaim my love for him in front of friends and family in that setting. (Another must would be that the ceremony involve a gospel choir singing the title song from the musical version of The Color Purple, but that's not terribly relevant to this blog.)

...and dream reception thank you and please.
This may be my favorite room in the parks.
I also must say that I feel like my time in NYC is winding down. It's been over eight years and I am tired of being trapped in a tin can every morning, forced to be butt-up against people who smell strongly of pot and/or feet and/or body excretions and then repeating that scenario eight hours later. I'm tired of treading water, working in a job that not only brings me no joy, but sucks half of the joy from the rest of my life outside work. I'm tired of the persistently aspirational pulse of the city that either drives you to greater things or drives you insane. I'm sure you can guess which of those categories I fall into. I'm tired of the freezing cold winters and the stiflingly hot summers. Overall, I'm just tired. This city will run you ragged and I'm ready to move on. Of course, this means that Tom and I will be moving either to southern California, where he has friends and family, or to Florida, where I do. It is no small coincidence that both are close to Disney parks. I envision a lovely little life for myself working for the Mouse, or at least having a annual pass, and enjoying time with my husband and the family that we will no doubt start.

That's far too much white for my liking.
Here's where we get into a bit of a sticky wicket. Tom and I will be legally married in the state of New York. When we move, we will be legally married, but that marriage will not be recognized in Florida (and only heaven knows when that will happen with the backwards state government there) and, after a long googling session, I am still rather unclear as to whether it will be recognized in California after all that shameful Prop 8 nonsense. As far as the Federal Government, we will not be legally married in the eyes of the US as a whole. You get all that? Make sense to you? Because if you ask me, it's a big ole' clusterbump. Not to get all political with you folks, but all I want to do is be given the same rights as practically any straight couple is afforded, and all too often takes for granted, in any state, automatically.

Disneyland Paris may have my favorite
castle. Stunning. Just stunning.
In the grand scheme of things, not too much will change in our lives as we wait for full marriage equality wherever we move to. Sure, the taxes will be a headache and we'll get screwed out of the breaks that we should be getting. Sure, we will have to grapple with scary issues such as hospital visitation and wills. Sure, adoption will have an additional hurdle to jump over if that's the route to parenthood we choose. Sure, we will have to forgo a dream wedding and honeymoon and have a quickie ceremony at City Hall in NYC, followed by a re-commitment ceremony at one of the parks and a honeymoon (cruise on the Disney Fantasy or a trip to Disneyland Paris, pretty pretty please!) sometime in the future.

Overall, our relationship will be just as strong, our love will be just as powerful, our nights will be just as couch-and-television filled, and our days will be just as normal as they always have been. We are a typical, slightly dorky (maybe more than slightly), happy, loving couple. It burns my hide that we have to jump through all of these hoops and play a waiting game because of who we love, but I am patient. I waited thirty years to find the man of my dreams. I can wait a few more for our love to be justly recognized by the government that I pay taxes to, that is supposed to protect me, and that I trust will do what's right by its citizens in the end.

Underappreciated Disney wedding.
Simple but elegant.
I couldn't help but wonder (thank you Carrie Bradshaw), how deeply has Disney shaped my idea of happily ever after on the most basic level? There has long been a complaint about relationships in Disney movies setting an impossibly high bar for those in real life. We all know that very seldom does Prince Charming really swoop in to save the maiden fair. Things are rarely that simple. In real life, the unexpected happens. There are complications. We are humans, not cartoons. I have always understood that. My relationships have never easily fit into the boy/girl template that was reflected onscreen, so my loins were girded for the existence of variation. As a gay person, you learn to project your own reality onto the story in celluloid. It's necessary for survival since the two often do not align.

This is always the pin at the center
bottom of my lanyard.
I have come to terms with the fact that my life will not necessarily fit into the Disney fairy tale mold. Part of the fun of this blog, and my Disney geekdom in general, has been really digging for the coded ways that Disney speaks to a gay audience. By finding them, and finding others who have found them, you become part of a subsection of a subsection. You, hopefully, find a community. (Do we have a name yet? If not can we call ourselves the Mousekequeers?) Disney films give me something that I can attempt to attain and subvert concurrently. They remind me of the innocence of childhood. They are over the top, colorful, steeped in mythology and history, emotionally rich, and a hundred other things that speak to my cultural experience. Some gays have Madonna. I have Tiana. Some gays have club-hopping. I have park-hopping. Some gays have Tom Ford. I have Tom Morrow. (You know you're a severe Disney nerd if you get that last one.) I love everything that Disney has encouraged me to explore about my own life lately and I hope that the discoveries are just beginning.

You know that the Girls would
totally support marriage equality!
My story won't end with a lovely ceremony in the shadow of a beautiful castle. (Yet.) But I'm not a character in a Disney animated classic. (Yet.) For now, my happily ever after will begin in downtown New York City, in City Hall, marrying my own Prince Charming while surrounded by a few of the people that I love most. As for after that, who knows? There are so many places that this new journey might take me, and at this point in my life I am excited about any and/or all of them.  Plus, I am glad to have a new crop of folks to share it with. Thank you for being a friend. Travelled down the road and...sorry. Just had a sudden Golden Girls moment.

Please ignore the Hannah Montana pin.
I have no good explanation.
Above everything else, I want to take a second to give a huge thank you to Tom, who has really championed this blog. I couldn't have done it without his support and love through the self-imposed deadlines, the constant soul-searching, the hours of Disney-watching and -going, and the rollercoaster ride of emotions that I can be. Today you will make me the happiest guy in the (Magic) Kingdom. I love you.

And we all lived happily ever after.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DATE Night: The Three Caballeros

Miracle might be a bit much...
So it's our second consecutive DATE Night in South America. This is getting kind of expensive. This doesn't bode too well for our relationship going forward, eh? I'm not made out of money, for heaven's sake!!! Last week was a bit of a womp-womp week south of the equator. This week, luckily, things have perked up. It must have been those extra margaritas. I think someone may have slipped a lil' sumthin' sumthin' into one of them, cuz stuff be gettin' crazytown. But in a kind of awesome way.  

The Background:

The basics here are the same as they were for Saludos Amigos. In a nutshell, Walt goes to South America during World War II on a goodwill tour, taking a passel of artists with him, and comes back with enough material for two films (kinda...they coulda have compressed it all into one, really). After waiting to get enough film to make prints during wartime, The Three Caballeros was released to pretty good box office and mixed reviews. It was then promptly forgotten about and only re-released in a truncated version. The advent of The Disney Channel changed all that by finally showing it in its entirety again and its characters have remained a steady presence in parks, merch and shorts.  

The First Impression:

The Disney Project- Part 4.5: The Three Caballeros. Companion to Saludos Amigos, but done with far more whimsy and charm. Combines live action with animation cleverly. Mary Blair (my favorite Disney artist) has given this film a lot of her fantastic sense of style and color. Still crushing on Joe Carioca. Donald's 15 minute breakdown sequence at the end is worthy of Buddy in "Follies". Fully awesome and loads of fun!
February 1, 2010 at 12:28am ·

The Art:
This makes me wish a Mary Blair train
circled the Magic Kingdom.
The adorbs Las Posadas kids.
7/10. This is figuratively and literally the biggest bright spot. Two of my favorite Disney artists have a strong presence in this film. First and foremost is Mary Blair, who really found her artistic voice with these South American movies. Her fingerprints are all over, but two segments that stand out are the train sequence rendered in saturated, bright colors against a black background (the same technique she used on a much larger and more dimensional scare on "it's a small world") and "Las Posadas" (her drawings of the Mexican children are some of the first that would evolve into the Mary Blair style of drawing kids and inspire Walt to have her guide the visual style of "small world"). These two sequences feature some of the most pure representation of her artwork in any Disney film. The second is Ward Kimball, one of Walt's original nine old men and an animation great. He has said that this the film that he was happiest with. Considering his famously wacky sense of humor, it's no surprise that the title number is very much his work.

Pink Donald + fancy dressed lady +
dancing cactus = Disney fever dream.
Beyond that there are so many amazing artistic flourishes and they all tumble by so quickly, all I can do is present some that struck me in semi-chronological order. The moment where the fog rolls in. Literally. Like a blanket. The psychedelic color filtering. Birds that turn into dancing men. Donald blowing up like a balloon. The line that serves as the Latino cousin of the soundtrack in Fantasia, more playful and fun than his just-a-bit-stuffy classical cousin. The gut-busting sequence when Jose and Donald try to stop Panchito from singing. Transition effects in the Mexico section with paintings bleeding into each other. Floating heads. Faces in flowers. Detailing in the stars. Shapes making Busby Berkeley formations. The sky as a Mexican-style blanket. Huge dancing cacti. The whole final section is a parade of color and crazy. Tom turned to me around the time of "You Belong to My Heart" and asked, "Did I miss the part where Donald takes LSD or is it just implied?" You have to see the final third of the movie to believe that there are minds capable of creating such brilliant, beautiful weirdness. If you thought "Pink Elephants on Parade" was out there, gird your loins, love.

The Story:

Three gay (meaning happy?) caballeros
5/10. The concept here is that it is Donald Duck's birthday and he is getting presents from Latin America. He gets a projector which shows a film on birds, the second is a book which tells about Bahia, a Brazilian State, and the third is a pinata. As Donald receives these presents, it allows the story to branch out, giving the many segments larger arching themes and keeping the film from feeling like too disjointed. The story is not strong by any means and the great artwork, joyful colors and brisk pace do a lot to cover up the story flaws.

It was also wise for them to choose one major established character to give the film an anchor. It gives an American audience a point of reference and familiar eyes to see these new worlds, both real and imagined, through. I also stand behind my initial assessment of the surreal end sequence has much in common with Buddy's breakdown at the end of Follies with his "Live, Laugh, Love" number in the Loveland sequence, but without all the sturm und drang.

Wait a minute...
The original shorts are stronger here than in Saludos and the film draws much from the final section of that film, where it really took off and flew. Many pieces of Caballeros are like a Latin flavored Fantasia, with all the bright-sprited cha-cha that it would obviously entail. They use the mixing of live action and cartoon elements in the same frame very convincingly, opening a door that Mary Poppins would burst through some twenty years later. Animated characters, in a lower tech but believable way, are seen dancing with, coming on to, and interacting with real life humans on screen. The effect is quite charming.

The Characters:

She's totally out of his league.
6/10. Donald was a great choice to center the film around. Who more than he would allow room for such amusing hijinks? His short was easily one of the highlights of Saludos and he is a very amusing presence here, taking on the role of the "ugly American abroad" once again. Latin America was laughing at us just as much as with us, but who cares when it's this funny? It makes complete sense for Donald to chase after ladies, pitch a fit when things don't go his way, and generally wreak havoc south of the border. They also get mad kudos for carrying over that Brazilian heartthrob, Joe Carioca. Swoon.

That mischievous Aracuan bird waiting
for the Mary Blair train. 
Where this really improves on the previous films is in its new characters. The real humans have a more specific presence, singing real words and doing things that are organic to the story versus shoehorned in. Pablo the Penguin (in a portion narrated by Sterling Holloway, who voiced Winnie the Pooh), Little Gauchito and his flying burrito (visions of a squishy foil-wrapped cylinder with wings flash before my eyes), the especially hilarious Aracuan bird, who playfully insists on breaking the fourth wall in increasingly brilliant ways, and the third caballero Panchito from Mexico are all charmingly animated and vibrant. They bring much more personality to the film than their rather bland counterparts from Saludos

The Music:

Disembodied heads gawk at a Latin lady
and her three disembodied bust friends.

6/10. The music is a lot of fun. Latin sounds were a staple of American culture in the 40's. The Disney South American films were right in the center of that trend. The music here gives a firm sense of place, and while it doesn't necessarily further a plot since there is not plot, it certainly supports the storytelling as it is. My favorite song in the movie is certainly the lovely "You Belong to My Heart", sung by Dora Luz (see The Miscellanea below for more of her vocal awesomeness). Here, the music is much more well-integrated and plays a much more direct role in how the mini-narratives unfold.

The Gay Scale:

Joe Carioca. Even sexy in drag.
7/10. OK. Let's see. Joe Carioca teases you with his flirtatious ambiguity, making him the sexiest green bird in all of cartoondom. (His delicious voice alone makes him major crush material. Nom nom. Not to mention he gets into drag as Carmen Miranda. He is so yummy that even Donald has to kiss up on him a lil' bit.) The title song proudly proclaims that Donald, Joe Carioca and Panchito are "three gay caballeros" while there is ample eyelash batting, light-loafered dancing, arm kissing and booty scooting with each other. There are two outsider/misfit narratives in "The Cold-Blooded Penguin" (Pablo is not content to live his life unhappily just because that's how he "should") and "The Flying Gauchito" (The little burrito- still the donkey and not the foodstuff- is an underdog who, by using what is unique about himself, comes from behind to win the race). There are a passel of dancing chorus boys, which leads me to believe that at least one gay was in the live person cast. (Come on. Did you see that first one? Nuff said.) There is an appearance by gay icon Carmen Miranda's sister Aurora. (I know it's kind of like getting Dannii Minogue when you were hoping for Kylie, but I'll take it!) There is even a cameo by a rainbow flag towards the end.

But above all this, there is a sense of playfulness, over-the-top-ness and campiness that feels much more queer than the more straight-edged Saludos Amigos. It's like your science teacher Mr. Blunderwomp and your drama teacher Mr. Fanfabulous both went to South America to make videos to teach their classes about what life is like down there. You get three guesses to tell me who made which and the first two don't count.

The Bottom Line:

I buy fiesta more than miracle.
6/10. Ah. This is much better. Though the through line is still a tad flimsy, this feels much, much less like a propaganda film and more like a film that was inspired by the Central and South American cultures. There was improvements all the way around, making this, if not in the upper echelon of Disney animation, an enjoyable trifle. The stronger presence of Mary Blair, the upped queer factor and the unabashed weirdness of the whole affair all combine to add up to something much more substantial than our last excursion south of the border. It's like they took Saludos Amigos, stripped away the NatGeo-ness, turned up the volume and pumped it full of hallucinogens. And that, my friends, adds up to a good time. We all know what will be on in the background of your next fiesta theme party. (Note to self: plan fiesta theme party so that I can play The Three Caballeros in the background.)

The Miscellanea:

The Disney parks have obviously been told that it makes me all tingly to see Joe Carioca and have obliged by sneaking him into a couple of rides. I was lucky enough to see him just under a week ago on "it's a small world". (By the way, in case you were wondering, I am fully in favor of the way they have integrated the Disney characters into the ride. And I'm a small world fanatic. They did it so well!)

Also back in the day, the boat ride in the Mexican Pavilion at Epcot was rather lame. It was like it's a small world with only one country and was pretty much boring unless you had just helped yourself to a shot of tequila or two. Now, however, it is "The Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros" and is kind of rad. It's a lovely little attraction and we get to spend plenty of time with my hunky green friend. It may not be the most thrilling ride, but adds a smudge of whimsy to one of my favorite areas of the park and finally has an identity. You know you are kind of astounded every time you walk inside and all of a sudden it turns from day to night and you feel completely transported. The attraction is very cute, but still I ask- where are the stinkin' animatronics of the Three Caballeros? Really? Relegated to screens? Come on, guys. Our avian friends deserve better.

This is also a great time to share one of my favorite pieces of Disney animation with you. Around the time that the studio was releasing The Three Caballeros, Disney began a collaboration with Salvador Dali. The project was a short called "Destino" was set to the music of a recording by Dora Luz, who also sang "You Belong To My Heart" in Caballeros (there's the connection!). Concepts were bandied about, storyboards were done and about 17 seconds of animation (the segment with the two tortoises) were completed. It was abandoned and laid dormant until Roy E. Disney (bless his soul for keeping history in the forefront of the company) unearthed the project and had Disney animators complete it over fifty years later. With the recent Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray, the short was finally released, years after its 2003 debut. It is one of the most stunning pieces of animation that I have ever seen in my entire life. It pushes artistic boundaries, is completely poetic while maintaining a fascinating narrative, and uses technology and traditional methods to help complete the artistic vision of Disney, Dali and John Hench, the Disney artist who helped translate Dali's ideas into animated form. If you've never seen it, please take a few minutes and watch. I promise you will be absolutely stunned.

So, I'm broke as a joke after a two week international vacation, so our next DATE Night is going to be local and I'll be taking you to a concert. I know, I know. We already did that once, but Fantasia was all classical music. This one will be a bit more contemporary, I promise. Plus, I can't help it that Disney got all package-films-happy during the forties. So Make Mine Music it shall be!

Also, Moved By the Mouse will be going through a very temporary shake-up. As y'all know by now, Tom and I are getting married this Friday. Thusly, we have family in town to entertain and be entertained by over the weekend. Thusly, I will certainly not have time to watch our DATE Night movie by Tuesday. (Yes. I'm sorry to break it to you, but my marriage will come before our DATE Nights, kids. Try not to get too upset.) Thusly, I will be switching the days on the blog cycle I have set up. Tuesday will be my non-DATE Night (if all goes as planned, it will be a big, fat amazewich if you love Mary Blair as much as I do) and Friday we will discuss Make Mine Music. Thanks for being understanding followers. Y'all are the bestest.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Twenty-Five Life Lessons Learned at Disney Parks

Hard as they may try, bless their hearts, this
doesn't count as Disney in New York City.
So I'm about to get real witchyall, a'ight? I need a vacation. New York is a hard place to be. After close to nine years in the city, it is starting to really wear me down. There are still things about it that I love and I am lucky to have great friends, a supportive family, and an amazing fiance (two weeks 'til the wedding!) that help me keep my wits about me, but I'm nearing the end of my rope. New York is all concrete and steel and sometimes it feels like a lot of the people here are, too.

The good news is that on Saturday, I'm going on vacation!!! Hallelujah! Tom and I are visiting his friends and family back in California and, of course, considering our mutual adoration of all things Disney, we are spending two days at the Disneyland Resort (thanks to some help from his lovely mom). One day at Disneyland park, one at California Adventure, and overnighting at the Paradise Pier Hotel. I couldn't be happier.

I popped my Disneyland cherry last November on a fantastic trip with Tom. He's a great tour guide, who's as enthusiastic as I am about Disney Parks. Our trip was very short and so we only had one day there. It was one of the best days of my life. Yes. Really. It was that awesome. I have no doubt that this little pre-wedding quasi-honeymoon trip will be just as rad, and I can't wait.
Like I need a map. It's all up here. (taps noggin)

As I was brushing my teeth this morning, I started to think about all of the things that Disney Parks had taught me. They have brought so much into my life and being there makes me so happy, it made me consider that my life on the other side of the berm would benefit from the application of some of these lessons learned. My goal is that when the magic ends, and it almost always does, I want to bring what I've learned back to the Big Bad City with me.

I thought it would be fun to share with you guys a list of twenty-five things that Disneyland reminds me about my life after the pixie dust has faded, the fireworks are over, and the park closes for the night, sending me back out into the world.

1. Main Street U.S.A. reminds me to honor the past. Because it is the gateway to our next big adventure.

2. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh reminds me to embrace the gentle things. Because when the greatest thing you have to fear is a heffalump or woozle, then you're doing well, indeed.

3. The Haunted Mansion reminds me to find something to laugh about in things that scare me. Because I am just a foolish mortal, after all.

4. The Pirates of the Caribbean reminds me to be bold when I'm going after what I want. Because I'd bet you a bright, shiny nickel than one of those blokes gets the redhead in the end.

5. it's a small world reminds me to embrace and respect everyone despite our differences. Because there is no more basic truth than that through the laughter and tears, the hopes and the fears, we are all worthy of respsect and love.

6. Space Mountain reminds me to blast off into the dark unknown without fear. Because exhilaration often lies on the other side (and sometimes a souvenir shop).

7. The Disneyland Story featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln reminds me that there are great people who helped shape this country. Because I need to keep the faith that more will follow who can continue that work.

8. Splash Mountain reminds me that after every great drop there is a greater reward. Because I love me a showboat packed with Marc Davis inspired audio-animatronics.

9. Snow White Grotto reminds me that wishes really can come true, despite our own skepticism. Because some day my prince did come and he's more than I ever could have imagined.

10. Mickey's Toontown reminds me aspire to live in a world where silliness is accepted as the status quo. Because when even the buildings squash and stretch, it's impossible not to find something to make you laugh.

11. The Mark Twain Riverboat reminds me to be proud of where I come from and my Southern heritage. Because I'll be walking in the steps of the great Louis Armstrong, who played on the very same boat, and it just doesn't get better than that.

12. The Jungle Cruise reminds me to keep my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Because you know the speil wouldn't be nearly as fun if we took it all seriously.

13. Dumbo the Flying Elephant reminds me to be grateful for the simple things. Because after years of avoiding it because I thought it was lame, riding it filled me with unbridled joy.

14. The Mad Tea Party reminds me that no matter how fast the world spins, you just have to hang on. Because the ride will stop eventually and sooner rather than later if someone yarfs.

15. Peter Pan's Flight reminds me to let myself be amazed. Because every time I fly over London in a pirate galleon, my jaw drops like it did the first time.

16. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride reminds me that even if some people think I'm going to Hell, at least I can have fun getting there. Because I'm not going to be able to convince them otherwise and they aren't worth my time.

17. Captain EO reminds me despite all of the awful things that the eighties did to its subsequent generations, it did leave us a few nuggets of excessive fabulousness. Because when Anjelica Huston, Michael Jackson, lasers, and furry aliens co-exist in world where people dance battle to bring about positive change, you gotta admit they were doing something right.

18. The Storybook Land Canals reminds me to pay attention to the small things. Because sometimes they are the things that are the most impressive.

19. Snow White's Scary Adventures reminds me to be prepared for things to get terrifying without warning very quickly. Because y'all know that you all get caught off guard at the sheer volume of heebie jeebies you get on that ride no matter how many times you've been on it.

20. Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters reminds me to let myself engage in a little bit of healthy competition. Because nothing feels better than beating my video game aficionado fiance at a video game adjacent competitive attraction and holding it over his head for the rest of the day.

21. The Matterhorn Bobsleds reminds me not to be intimidated by the mountains in my path. Because they are always scalable and sometimes they have awesome roller coasters that will aid you in that climb.

22. The Disneyland Railroad reminds me to be ready for anything, no matter how benign things seem. Because something that can take you from the future, to the Grand Canyon, to the age of the dinosaurs, to the turn-of-the-twentieth-century, to New Orleans, to a world of cartoons, and a land of fairy tales all under twenty minutes makes you realize anything is possible just around the corner.

23. The Enchanted Tiki Room reminds me to believe in the power of magic. Because, all in one place, technological wizardry, ancient island voodoo, and a healthy dose of Disney pixie dust swirl together to make birds put on a show that will make you grin from ear to ear.

24. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad reminds me that I should always look for the gold in them thar hills. Because the journey you make to find it is usually as valuable as what you discover when you do.

25. Sleeping Beauty Castle reminds me to believe in the power of fairy tales. Because for the day that I am in Disneyland, I will be living in one.

I cannot wait for my feet to finally be planted on Disney soil once more. I have literally been counting down the days for months (4 days left) and cannot wait to feel the way that only being on Disney property can make you feel. Since this will be my first time going to Disney's California Adventure, I look forward to expanding this list for myself in the very, very, very near future.

What reminders do going to a Disney Park give you? I'd love to hear your own additions! Holla atcha boy!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

DATE Night: Bambi

I hope you brought the bug spray, because this is our DATE Night in the great outdoors. By the way, I'm wise to all of the tricks. I saw our friend Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap. Don't give me any sugar water to keep the mosquitos away. Don't give me any sticks to bang together to frighten the mountain lions off. And if you put a lizard on top of my canteen, pass me the vaseline. The hoops will be coming off. Now that that's out of the way, let's get a breath of fresh air with Bambi

The Background:

Sage advice from a wise owl.
Though it was not completed and released until five years later in 1942, Disney had been working on turning Felix Salten's book Bambi: A Life in the Woods into a movie since he acquired the rights from another filmmaker in 1937. Production was continually delayed because the animators had not yet gained the skill and experience needed to render the characters as realistically as Walt wanted. While Pinocchio and Fantasia were being made, work on Bambi never really stopped. Animators studied animal behavior and nature, even going so far as to have a mini-zoo at the studio so they could get an up close look at their characters' real-life counterparts.

Bambi was another gamble for a studio that had stayed stubborn in its penchant for taking risks. This time, they were making a film with no human characters and few spoken words based on a contemporary work of fiction. Once again, the risk did not pay off as handsomely as they would have liked in a financial sense. The film, though embraced by the critics, did not make back its not-insignificant costs on initial release. This is due in part to the unfortunate timing of its release during World War II, when a large chunk of their distribution options were cut off. Since that time, however, it has come to be appreciated as the masterpiece that it truly is. Artistically speaking, it is nothing short of a triumph.

The First Impression:

The Disney Project- Part 3: Bambi. (Don't have Dumbo or Fantasia so I skipped 'em.) The artistry blew me away. The use of color was almost avant garde in places and the backgrounds were wonderful. The characters were charming. Flower is totally a gayby. The movie makes you see the world through a child's eyes. I loved it.
January 31, 2010 at 12:11am ·

The Art:

10/10. I don't have enough words to say about how amazing the art is in this movie. The use of the multiplane camera technology added depth in a subtle but palpable way. The colors are brilliantly used, from the rich, dark greens of the forest to the blazing red-orange of the fire which grows from a single dot to consume the forest and the stark winter white that blankets everything. The backgrounds, which took much inspiration from the spare, striking artwork of Tyrus Wong, is impressionistic. Sometimes there are no lines at all, just undefined washes of color trusting the power of your imagination to fill in the details. Moments like the sky clearing after the storm are like moving paintings. This contrasts with the incredible detail of the parts of the forest in the foreground and the animals, which is where all of the intense research that the artists undertook really paid off.

Breathtaking concept art by Tyrus Wong.
If you pause any single frame of this film, you are looking at a gorgeously constructed painting, so it's telling that even still there are so many moments that stand out artistically. Once again, Disney renders rain and lightning excruciatingly well. There is an incredible shot during the storm that pans up from Bambi and his mother to the sky with the perspective of the rain changing moment to moment. When the deer are fleeing from the hunters, many of them morph into mere colored shapes with wide, blank eyes, which seems to me a commentary of how they are seen by "man" contrasted with the fully dimensional creatures that we have come to see them as. It's a great example of art supporting the story. There is gorgeous animation of leaves swirling in the fall and the final two that have held on til the bitter end finally falling to the ground. The multiple Bambis that the owl sees after he is shaken on the tree branch. The portrayal of Bambi literally dancing in the clouds after being kissed by Faline is jarringly shattered by his battle with another young buck for her, all shadows, highlights and boldly bright colors. The frolic directly afterwards in the wind with the swirling petals is the visual relief that we need. The fire effects are horrifying and spectacularly beautiful at the same time.

Let me take a quick moment to give a shout out to a lovely feature on the Blu-rays for several of the early animated classics called Disney View. Since these earlier films were made in a more square shape than we are used to seeing on our wide screens, Disney brought artists in to fill in the black bars that normally appear on the sides with artwork that corresponds with what's going on in the frame. Nothing distracting. Just simple, lovely artwork reminiscent of the style of the movies themselves. It is a great idea and is being very well-executed. It doesn't really dawn on you how groty those heavy black bars look on the sides of the screen are until you don't have to look at them any more. Kudos, Disney Blu-ray folks, on that!

The Story:

9/10. The storytelling Bambi is lean and muscular. They learned their lessons well from Dumbo and there was real focus and clarity to the way the story unfurls. Not an ounce of fat on this baby. They are telling what is pretty much the most elemental story that there is. The Lion King's circle of life ain't got nothing on the one here. We see the birth and death of the characters, the forest, and the seasons. We are confronted pretty brazenly by the fact that life continues with or without us and you have to keep calm and carry on.

Engineered to rip your heart out.
That bring us to the moment. You know the one. We were all traumatized by it back in the day. The death of Bambi's mom. It actually happens off screen but is so powerfully done that you feel like you witnessed it. One moment she is right behind him and the next moment she just isn't. There is a lack of underscoring and the silence is startling. A heartbreaking Bambi calls out for her. And the booming voice saying, "Your mother can't be with you anymore." What isn't seen is as important as what is. And directly after that, spring arrives. Life goes on. It is so hard-hitting because it is so true. In a larger way we see it again in the traumatic forest fire. The whole of the woods dies and then spring comes again. We are born and we die. It doesn't cut any more to the heartmeat of it than that.

Things aren't all dreary. There is much lightness in the story. What is wonderful is that it comes so organically out of the story that you never feel like you are watching a sight gag. A great example is Bambi climbing over the log awkwardly. Its humor comes from its truth. We are seeing the world through Bambi's eyes and his experience of life in the forest is ours. It makes connect with him viscerally right off the bat and really become invested in his story. When the whole forest gets twitterpated (For heaven's sake, we need to start working that word into our everyday more often! It's so rad!), our hearts get aflutter despite the owl's warnings as well.

The Characters:

9/10. The characters are so well done in this film that even the absence of a character makes for one of the most compelling villains in all of film history. Of course, I'm talking about "man", whose specter looms large over much of the film. He manifests himself in others, like the poor pheasant who we see have a nervous breakdown and try to fly away before being shot. We only know her for a few seconds and are devastated when man brings her down. It is made pretty clear that in this world, man is a terrifying monster and it is a harsh reality to face that we have that capacity.

I just want to squidge them all!!!
All of the other characters are beautifully animated. The artists found a perfect balance between realism and personality. They are believable as animals but have enough human characteristics to make them sympathetic. There was much care taken to give specificity to the mannerisms and quirks of each creature in the forest. The pay-off was a forest filled with relatable characters who you feel a real emotional pull for. It is why the joys are so vivid and the tragedies so affecting. You get the feeling that every possum and duck and mouse would have a story just as interesting if you took the time to learn it, which we eventually would for many in Disney's True-Life Adventure series.

We watch Bambi grow from an awkward young thing into an adolescent. In him we see every child and we see ourselves. We see the little one taking his first steps, learning how to interact with others, mimicking gestures along with words to learn language. We see him being bashful in the throes of first love when he first encounters Faline and we watch their romance blossom. We watch him exuberantly try new things, like skating on a freshly frozen pond. We see him faced with death and tragedy. And we see him tackle them both with dignity and strength. Bambi is actually quite a lovely role model.

I think I remember seeing Nancy Kerrigan
do this move in the '94 Olympics. No?
Another character that makes a real impact is, of course, Thumper. Here, Disney learned a lesson that would serve the Peanuts cartoons well later in the sixties. If you find quirky, real, unpolished kids and use their idiosyncrasies as inspiration, there's gold in them there hills. From the moment you hear his voice, you are immediately charmed. The sequence when he recites the "If you can't say something nice" saying is a brilliant performance from a kid being himself coupled with an insanely talented animator using what he's given to full advantage. 

The Music:

8/10. There are about a thousand words of dialogue in the entire screenplay of Bambi. That ain't nothin'. It means that the scoring plays a very important part in the storytelling. The music was written by Frank Churchill ("Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf", Snow White, Oscar winner for Dumbo), who sadly committed suicide shortly before the movie was released, and Edward H. Plumb. The songs function very differently than plot-advancing numbers of charm songs. The chorus is used as another instrument and the lyrics are another color in the palate. The voices sing of the two major themes of the movie- love and renewal, reinforcing those ideas without being intrusive. Supporting the artwork instead of overpowering its imagery. Each of the songs is absolutely wonderful. Simple, elegant, and evocative.

The score is mightily impressive. During Bambi's first moments, it is charmingly awkward and halting. It matches the droplets of rain as they fall. When the bucks are seen butting heads in the field, the music gets more intense. It becomes low and ominous during the forest fire. The music highlights moments, guides your emotional journey and serves as foreshadowing of things to come. The lack of dialogue here makes the importance of its success even greater and, luckily, what is arguably one of the greatest film scores of all emerged from the challenge.

The Gay Scale:

8/10. One word accounts for most of Bambi's queerness. Flower. The cute lil' critter has become a bit of a gay icon. Sure, there's a song called "Let's Sing a Gay Little Spring Song" but we know that they really just meant happy. Flower's appearance is when all of the gender creative little boys' ears perk up and they think, "Ah. There I am." Here is a shy, giggly little nubbin of a skunk who doesn't mind being called a pretty flower. He bats his girlishly long eyelashes and gazes lovingly at Bambi with his big crystal blue eyes because this is probably the first time he has ever been seen as beautiful.

Do that dainty wave proudly, little one.
You are loved.
I like to think that because of this Flower carries a torch for Bambi. He loves the Flower he sees reflected in Bambi's kind eyes. During everyone's twitterpation, Flower does meet an (allegedly) lady skunk, who looks suspiciously like him, and is the first one to head off with a mate, but we all know that back in the forties guys did what guys were supposed to do for the most part regardless of their sexuality. So he gets kissed, turns bright pink from his fancy hair to his dainty feet and goes off to make babies. Later, we discover that he has named his little one after Bambi. I smell unrequited love.

Regardless, Flower is a gentle soul who is absolutely adorable and seems to be accepted as he is by his little group of friends. It is a lovely message to send to little ones watching who feel like purty flowers themselves the way that I did when I first watched this movie. Flower always stood out to me in the cast of characters and has stuck with me as sort of an spirit that encourages me to be unafraid of embracing the sweetness within myself.

More Tyrus Wong concept art just cuz it's amazing.
The Bottom Line:

9/10. If Snow White created the basic formula and proved an animated feature could be done at all, Pinocchio and Fantasia expanded the artistic palette, and Dumbo focused on clear storytelling, then Bambi is when Disney learned how to synthesize all of these aspects into a movie that is as close to perfection as I think Disney has ever reached. There may be movies that I enjoy aspects of more, but Bambi is lovely, timeless, well-paced, and beautifully told, with adorable characters, gorgeously powerful music, stunning art and animation, and a budding gay icon thrown into the mix. It also manages to convey a message without resorting to obvious moralizing. I, for one, will never really get hunting for sport and, no joke, this movie has a big part in that. Whenever people ask me which film surprised me the most during the original Disney Project, Bambi is always my answer. It's impact as a child was indelible and seeing it through adult eyes reinforced that impact on an even deeper level. It is even more moving than you remember and more sophisticated and powerful than you can imagine.

The Miscellanea:

I will not lie to you. I haven't seen Bambi II yet. It was just released on Blu-ray and, being the completist that I am, I almost ran right out and bought it just because. I slowed my roll, read the reviews, saw that they were less than sparkling and refrained. The straight to video sequels are rarely great. Even the better ones (Lilo & Stitch II, Return to Neverland) are good but not nearly on par with the originals. I did, however, get a copy of the soundtrack mostly because I listened the song that Alison Krauss did for it on Spotify. The video below is the song that she does in the movie called "There Is Life". The animation looks fine, but unspectacular, especially in relation to the amazingly high bar that was set by the original. But the song is lovely. Her voice is like a cozy quilt you wanna just wrap yourself up in. The rest of the soundtrack is quite fine, with some pieces of the sequel's score, songs from the original film, one from Martina McBride, and one more featuring a pre-Tiana Anika Noni Rose.

We all know how I feel about animator Andreas Deja. This is a very cool video that was released around the time of the Bambi Diamond edition Blu-ray disc where Andreas shows you how to draw Bambi. I love how easy he makes it look. I've never been very talented with visual art. The only thing I can really draw is a funky lil' happy face with huge eyes and his tongue sticking out. Beyond that, I'm mostly useless. Maybe one day I'll give it a shot. Meanwhile, if you're so inclined, let Mr. Deja give you a crash course.

Did you know that Bambi actually preceded Smokey the Bear as the face of forest fire prevention? But the characters were only licensed for a year in the forties, so Smokey was created when that time was up. Bambi and his friends still stopped by to help the cause, though, like in this ad from 1968.

And last but not least...it's even adorable in Dutch! Please stop me from from putting myself into a giggle coma!

So, how did you feel about Bambi? Were you as astonished by the whole affair as I was, or am I just unusually swayed by precious woodland creatures? Were you as convinced that there is unrequited love between Flower and Bambi? After The Watcher in the Woods I swore that I would never venture too far into the forest again. That hasn't changed, but after this movie, I'll certainly be more inclined to take a stroll out in nature. As long as creepy Bette Davis stays back at the manor house.

Since I feel like I was a little cheap with our DATE Night this week, I thought next week I would make a grand gesture and fly us down to South America for Saludos Amigos! How does that sound? Just make sure you don't drink the water. We all saw the Sex and the City movie. I probably won't be quite as amused as the girls were about loss of bowel control. Ew. Subject change. Uh...South America next week! Yay! Margaritas are on me!