Monday, January 30, 2012

Room For One More

Where can I get this as wallpaper?
So, I dunno if you know this about me, but I have a fantastic fiance named Tom. (I know it's a bit late for this now, but I wonder if I should't have changed his name to protect him from a slew of admirers. Hands off, kiddos. He's mine.) Well, we went down to City Hall in NYC just last week and got a marriage license. (Yes, yes. That means I'm off the market, too. Try not to get too upset. We're open to being just friends with you.) We've been together for a bit over a year now. (He bought me a D23 membership for our one year anniversary. How awesome is that?!?!) I know that I have already told you about our Disney-related meet cute story, so I'm sure that you've been chomping at the bit to hear the engagement story, since, wouldn't you know it, it's Disney-centered as well. Since our wedding is in one week, on September 23rd, I thought that today would be the perfect day to do it.

From our first meeting, Tom and I got very close very quickly. You know that whole soulmate thing? The one we've all made fun of while sitting on our couches watching season five of Sex and the City and cursing our love lives? I found that in him, despite fifteen years of kvetching about how it would never happen. Pretty soon after we got together we started circling the idea of taking things to the next level and putting a ring on it. We talked about it in somewhat general terms and knew an engagement was on the horizon without nailing down when or how the question would actually be popped.

About six months after we met, we planned a trip down to Florida where Tom would meet the fam and we would make a lengthy detour down to Orlando and spend one day in each other four parks in Walt Disney World. Tom had not been down there for about a decade and I hadn't for almost a year myself, which is about 11 months too long, in my lil' ole opinion, so opportunity was ripe and our trip to Disneyland together two months after we met had gone so well that I knew that we would have a blast.

Sigh. So romantic.
Little did he know, bless his heart, that I had a bit of a surprise up my sneaky sleeve. Mama and I had been communicated on the DL about finding rings so I could propose to him while we were in WDW. After many clandestine phone calls and internet links passed back and forth, we decided on a lovely, simple silver band. It was one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it moments when Mama showed it to me. Seven months prior, I thought I would end up being alone forever, and yet, here I was, seeking out ring advice from my Mama.

The next step was deciding where in the parks I wanted to do the deed. The answer was pretty obvious. Both me and Tom's favorite attraction is The Haunted Mansion. Tom, who's a fantastic musician, loves to play the music from it on the piano and knows the narration by heart (as well as the unused Vincent Price narration from Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris). I know, I know. It's a bit macabre and weird to propose there unironically considering that we are both pretty much the opposite of goth. But we're also both odd ducks and so in the end it all makes sense.

Stretching Room + 60's =
Tom's dream come true.
Thanks, Shag.
Once that decision was made, then it was time to decide where exactly on the ride to do it. I thought of doing it in the Seance Room with Madame Leota overseeing the proceedings, but quickly decided against it. The scenarios I came up with for giving him a ring during the ride itself were not pretty. What if he gets excited or nervous and drops the ring into the abyss below the track? What if he can't hear or see what I'm trying to do? What if he gets annoyed that I'm interrupting the ride? I quickly ruled that out. Doing it in the queue seemed a little silly, too. Almost like an after thought. "My, this line is long. How to pass the time? Well, I guess I can ask you to marry me."

Then it dawned on me. The Stretching Room. Of course. It's Tom's favorite part of the ride. We even have one of the portraits hanging up in our room. More importantly, though, if he drops the ring we can just pick it up and move on through. The decision was made. The rings were ordered. The trip was planned. Tom suspected nothing save one night where he turned to me and asked, "Are you going to propose to me in front of Cinderella's Castle?" I told him of course not because that would be corny. It was a close call, but I didn't even have to lie to distract him from my ghoulish plan.

We headed down to Florida, where Tom met my awesome mama, my rad sister, and my crazy dad. He made a wonderful impression and a few days later, after I collected the rings and buried them in my luggage, we made our way from Tallahassee down to Orlando. (By the way, every time I say the name of the city, in my mind I sing it like the song from Book of Mormon.) Our first day was in Epcot and so it was easy for me not to get too nervous. I was busy listening to the dulcet tones of Judi Dench explain the history of human communication.

Can you spot the boxes? Tom didn't :)
The next day was the Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom means Liberty Square. Liberty Square means the Haunted Mansion. And the Haunted Mansion means the moment was nigh. The morning was rainy and chilly. I was extra careful to slide the rings and their tell-tale boxes into my hoodie pockets when Tom's back was turned. They were still bulky and so I kept my hands in my pockets the whole morning as we drove to the TTC, took the Monorail over and waited in the rain for the gates to open. Luckily, since it's our fave, we headed straight in that direction first thing. I'm sure Tom noticed something was off with my energy, but probably thought that it was just because the rain rain rain was coming down down down.

I was nervous as the dickens while we made a beeline over and walked right up to the door. It was us and a small British family. They had an adorable little girl with them who kept on asking if there were really ghost in there with her cute little accent. She would jet out from behind her mom, knock on the door real quick-like, and then hide behind the mother's legs again asking if we were all going to turn into ghosts if we went inside. Finally, the door opened and we all went inside and then into the Stretching Room.

I know they smell a bit musty, but they need
a ride to the bachelor party. Please. Anyone?
I had decided that I wanted to wait until after the spiel was over so that a) we wouldn't intrude on other people's vacation with our big proposal production number and 2) so Tom would be able to enjoy the whole thing. After the room had stretched and the door that wasn't there slid open, Tom started to walk away. My heart leapt into my throat, I grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him back, and he looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. I got down on one knee, pulled the ring out of my left pocket (that was the one with his size 7 in it), and asked him to marry me.

The rings right after the proposal.
He had a scant moment to process it, but luckily that's all he needed. He said yes, I got up and gave him a kiss and said "Hurry, let's go before they close the door on us!" As we waited to board out Doom Buggy, Tom took the other ring and sealed the deal. I love the Haunted Mansion every time I ride it, but I must say, that was one special trip through. After we got off, we walked outside and the sun had broken through the clouds. The rain had stopped and the weather was absolutely lovely for the rest of the day. I could not have asked for things to have gone any differently. It was a series of perfect moments that I will remember forever.

Don't get any ideas, Tom Tom.
I was so surprised to find someone who fit so well with me, and the fact that he was as big a Disney geek as I was really sealed the deal. With a week until the wedding, and our immediate families soon descending on City Hall in NYC for a small ceremony, I can't help but thank whichever star I wished on that finally decided to listen to me when I said that I had room for one more in my life. That star sent me a mortal who was as foolish as I was. That day I took my loved one by the hand and we watched our step as we boarded the ride. I expect our lives together to be one heckuva swinging wake.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winnie the Who?: Disney/Oscar Nod Related Musings

Well, the Oscar nominations were announced this morning. As I slowly came to and grabbed my iPad (no morning person am I unless next stop is a Disney park), I approached the slate of nominees with the same mix of glee (They better have done right by the ones I liked!), bewilderment (Dude...I've never even heard of that movie...), regret (my heavens, I will never see all of these movies before the awards), excitement (The thrill of competition! The anticipation of an industry's affirmation! The chance to see Emma Stone in another gorgeous gown!) and indifference (I can't get too excited because I will inevitably just be disappointed). When I nosed around a few different websites and finally found a readable list, I was overall quite happy with many of the things I saw. I figured I would share some of my Disney-adjacent thoughts with you.

Follow me, ladies. Your Oscars are this way.
First off, yay for The Help! With nominations for best picture, best actress (Viola Davis) and best supporting actress (Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain), my favorite movie of the year put in quite a strong showing. Compounded with the fact that it was one of the highest grossing movies of the year, especially if you take out all comic book movies, franchise tentpoles and sequels, the little literary adaptation that could has had a pretty spectacular year. Though I can say with almost certainty that it won't take home the top prize, the recognition is well-deserved for a movie that was a passion project from go with something to say that needed to be heard and the right people to say it. Though it's got an outside shot at a win, the nomination is the award in this instance.

Two of the best performances of the year.
Octavia Spencer should go ahead and clear off a space on her shelf next to her Golden Globe, because she's all but guaranteed the award, despite a strong, strong field, including her co-star Jessica Chastain, who was luminous if not as showy, and a rare nomination for a flat-out comedic performance by Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. (PS, with it's convoluted anywhere-from-five-to-ten best picture nominations system, they couldn't fill the one additional allowed slot with the funniest, highest grossing, best-reviewed comedy of the year? Come on...Bridesmaids deserved a nom. At least they gave it one in the best original screenplay category.) My girl Emma Stone has gotten no awards show love at all this season for her amazing work, but I guess she'll have to make do with being Hollywood's newest it girl instead. Ah well.

No words for her brilliance.
Viola Davis is fighting a bit more of an uphill battle, despite giving what is without a doubt the best performance by an actress in a film this year. It was not over-the-top because the role of a maid in the South during the sixties doesn't call for it to be. There are no prosthetics, carefully studied accents or mimicked gestures involved. There is no hoopla and no self-indulgence. Just powerful emotional truth. I have rarely seen a more lived-in, fully inhabited performance onscreen in my life. She works in a small, handcrafted way that does not reek of technique, though it is there. We see the performance instead of the effort behind it. She also manages to shoulder the weight of doing justice to a whole population of women whose stories have been more or less ignored by mainstream America so brilliantly that we should count ourselves lucky enough to have it captured to show future generations how we can grow from our past. The award should belong to her and many predict that it will come Oscar night.

Genetically engineered for an Oscar.
Viola is, however, up against her indomitable Doubt co-star, Meryl Streep for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Full disclosure- I have not yet seen The Iron Lady. I also have absolutely no question that Meryl is fantastic in it. She is probably the greatest actor I will ever see in my lifetime. When I see the movie, there is the probability that I will succumb to her prowess and walk away singing her praises. But, to be honest, even she seemed a little shocked, apologetic even, that she won the award over Viola at the Golden Globes. Since I cannot yet compare the performances head to head (and don't know when I will be able to, considering I have no desire to waste time or money on what is by all reports a pretty shoddy historical film about a political figure I am not a fan of, created by the folks who brought us *gag* Mamma Mia and anchored by a great leading lady), suffice it to say that I have a huge soft spot for Viola's performance and will be more than a bit crushed if she doesn't take that little gold guy home.

One glance at what they wear tells a story.
As far as where else The Help was snubbed, I am rather surprised that it didn't get a costume nod. Despite the fact that they usually favor big costume dramas, Sharen Davis' work here was superlative, beautifully evoking a very specific time and place while really informing the characters. All of the production design was stellar, but I'm afraid it was just to subtle to compete with the big guns who tend to populate these categories. I am not entirely shocked that Tate Taylor, the dreamboat who wrote and directed the film, wasn't recognized. He has kind of stayed just out of contention all awards season. His work here is great, no doubt, just not as great as other work this year. I am also sad that Thomas Newman's lovely score, which evoked his awesome work on Fried Green Tomatoes, wasn't given more attention. It does a wonderful job of giving the audience emotional cues without resorting to the expected orchestral swells and emphatic musical themes. Once again, I think the essential understated nature of the film did him no favors come awards time.

Sing it, Mary J.
The biggest injustice, in my opinion, was the lack of a nomination for best original song for "The Living Proof", sung by Mary J. Blige over the end credits. I honestly cannot imagine the emotional impact of that last sequence without this song. Viola Davis' stunning performance underscored by Thomas Newman's gorgeous score, transitioning into this punch-in-the-gut of a song with Mary J.'s I-know-where-I've-been vocal. I am physically unable to watch the last five minutes of this movie without becoming a sobbing mess of ugly cries. The song is essential structurally, thematically supportive, beautifully written, and emotionally moving. It's a total knockout, and, especially considering that the Academy only saw fit to give two nominations for best song, it's kind of insulting its name wasn't called after being shortlisted with thirty-eight other songs.

Yeah. I have a huge crush on Jim Parsons.
The best song category is a bit of a mystery. Only two nominees? Really? One is a song from Rio, which I haven't seen and the other is "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets, which is completely deserved while, sadly, it's only nomination. Personally, I think that the Muppets should have hosted the ceremony this year instead of *yawn* Billy Crystal and I also figured that "Life's a Happy Song" would be a more obvious pick, but that shows you how much I know. I don't pretend to understand how their jacked-up voting process works, but how do you only nominate two songs when the field has room for five? This seems unnecessarily cruel to me, especially when you have other eligible songs from The Muppets, Gnomio & Juliet, Albert Nobbs, and, especially Winnie the Pooh ( Not even Zooey Deschanel's great song?!? Come on!) that were outstanding and deserved nominations. I'm calling foul, Oscar gods! This is almost as dumb as when "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" won over Dolly Parton's amazing song from Transamerica. Almost...

Since we brought up Pooh, we should address the pink Backson in the middle of the room, which is the other pertinent race to this blog- best animated feature. (Best animated short is filled with what seem like interesting, non-Disney entries, aside from "La Luna" which will be released alongside Pixar's upcoming Brave, but since this category is often more apt to feature more experimental pieces, it makes sense.) This is the first time since the award's inception in 2001 that there hasn't been a Disney film represented in the category (that is if you include Pixar and Studio Ghibli). Now this wouldn't bother me so much if the studio's only offering this year was the shiny but empty Cars 2, because, frankly, I don't think Pixar should be awarded just for being Pixar when they produce output that's on the subpar side of mediocre. Cars 2 is Pixar's worst offering by far and it is appropriate that it should break the winning streak that the studio has been on, winning the award every year since 2007 with Ratatouille. Sorry bout it.

If you guys are in search of your Oscar,
you're out of luck.
What really gets my goat is the fact the Winnie the Pooh has been shut out. Again. I know that it snuck into theaters over the summer with little fanfare and was completely overshadowed by the final Harry Potter movie (which also deserved better than it got in the noms). It was not a blockbuster, but was one of the best reviewed films of the year. It was beautifully done and really showcased what is special and timeless about Disney hand-drawn animation. Somehow, though pretty well-represented at the Annie Awards, none of the larger awards have been following suit, leading up to a big, fat goose egg in Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. I don't know whether the studio wasn't behind it enough, it was too small and sweet to stand out, or people didn't take it seriously and assumed it was only for toddlers, but its failure to be acknowledged as the artistic triumph that it is irks me to no end.

As it stands, we have one franchise movie (Puss In Boots), one sequel (Kung Fu Panda 2), one movie about a reptile given Hollywood cred by Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski (Rango), and two foreign films that look lovely, and may very well be wonderful films, but that I've never heard of (A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita, which was distributed by Disney in Spain). This is the first time I've ever not seen even one of the nominees in the category. (I'm not a critic remember. Just a bear of limited funds and many opinions.) Though I'm sure that these films have merit, I genuinely feel that Winnie the Pooh has gotten robbed this season and I have no idea how it happened.

Just cuz it's awesome.
These are just a few thoughts that barreled through my brain as the nominees unfurled. Otherwise, I must say that the list came with few major surprises and overall I am neither terribly surprised, disappointed or excited about any of the other categories. But just like pretty much everybody else, I'll be tuning in the night of the awards, either jumping for joy, screaming angrily at my TV while wondering why I subject myself to this every year, or being completely bored. Just another year at the races, y'all!

What did you guys think of the nominations this year? Is your rear end as chapped as mine about the complete shut-out of Winnie the Pooh? Did you feel like Cars 2 deserved a place in the ranks? How about the non-animated categories? Did you expect more of The Muppets? Are you as stoked about all of the recognition for The Help as I am? Any major snubs or glaring WTF moments that I missed? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Disney Collector's Lament

Still life with Disney books, Orange Birds,
Mary Blair, Oswald, Big Al, singamajigs,
headscratcher and Whatnot Muppets.
Tom and I have been watching a lot of Hoarders lately. We can’t help it. A marathon aired before the new season got started and we spent one of our precious days off together on the couch, consuming episode after episode ravenously. I think there is a unique combination of factors that has lead to our (and America’s) love of this show. We feel grateful that we are not like the people being documented, and yet we see tiny bits of ourselves reflected in them. We feel a sense of schadenfreude and at the same time are uplifted when progress is made. We cheer them on and judge them simultaneously. This show and others like it (Intervention, Heavy) fascinate me to absolutely no end.

This last marathon, however, has mostly served as a motivator to get me to take a look at my own clutter.  As Tom and I are preparing for our big move out of the NYC, I am taking a more critical look at my own (in)famous hoarding tendencies and trying to purge our apartment of detritus here and there so that we aren’t overwhelmed in a few months. The last thing we need is to be forced to move a pile of unnecessary junk across the country.

Duane Reade shopping bags have been filled with books that I am slowly admitting to myself that I will never get around to reading and so will soon stick the shelves of the Strand. (So long, Anna Karenina.) Trash bags full of clothes have been lugged to the local charity store. (Bye-bye vintage shirts from my high school Goodwill scavenging days.) Progress is being made, slowly but surely. It has been surprisingly easy to let go of stuff, which is nothing short of a miracle and a testament to my excitement surrounding the imminent move.

I have a predilection for park vinyl.
I see a lot of negotiation in the next couple of months as I try to whittle almost ten years of acquirements down to a manageable haul. Mostly, it will be the media that will be a bit of a challenge. I have hundreds of CDs, DVDs and books that I need to devise a plan for. In this digital age, the CDs should be a snap, right? Just rip them onto my computer, store them in the cloud and rid myself of the bulky discs. Unfortunately, I am an old fogey who, after losing my hard drive many times over the years, is leery of abandoning the piece of plastic where the information is tangibly stored. I am also a dork who enjoys having such things as artwork and liner notes.

The DVDs and books, however, can’t all be stored on a machine. I am a bit crushed under the weight of the fact that I will quite possibly not get around to reading every word and watching every frame, but I am a man who needs options. One day I might turn around and realize that I want nothing more than to watch that American Gladiators DVD or read that important gay novel from the seventies. I don’t know if I can deal with the regret knowing that I had them and got rid of them, especially when I got most of them used and dirt cheap while braving the labyrinthine jungles of used book and/or DVD and/or CD stores. Bargain shopping for this stuff is the closest I’ll ever get to participation in a sport and I could be a major league player.

Florence and Adele watch over
my Disney CDs.
Possibly above all else, I like the aesthetic value of spines lined up on a shelf. When you are invited to someone’s place for the first time, what is one of the first things you inevitably do? You take a glance at someone’s collections to glean information. It allows you to bond over your shared love of obscure cast albums, connect over your hilariously curated coffee table books, and strike up a conversation about your extensive selection of amazing TV shows on disc. And it gives me great joy to be able to say, “Yes! Of course you can borrow my copy of Hey Dude! I’m so glad that you love it too! Did you know season two is finally coming out soon?” It’s a way to instantly suss out what you have in common with someone else.

The problem in New York City has, of course, become a matter of space. I don’t have space for enough shelves to make everything I have easily accessible. My CDs used to have some semblance of alphabetization going on, but once their dedicated spaced was filled, they started to stack on the floor in an out-of-the-way corner. DVD genres are somewhat separated, with children’s movies and anything made before 1980 in an Ikea cabinet near the bathroom door and Christmas movies and music in the couch (which has storage space under the seats). The catch 22 is that though we will have more space wherever we move, getting all of this stuff there will be a trial. So downsizing is inevitable, with one very notable exception. Can you guess what is non-negotiable? That’s right. My Disney stuff.

Top two shelves are Disney.
Yeah. They're three deep.
As I have mentioned before, I am a little bit late to the Disney enthusiast game. Most of my accumulated Disneyana has been hunted and gathered over the course of the last two to three years. I have shelves dedicated to my Disney books, a few to my Disney DVDs and Blu-rays (with the fifty animated classics separated and in chronological order waiting patiently for my DATE Nights with them), and a space reserved for my Disney CDs. My small collection of Disney vinyl decorates a wall while other souvenirs, such as lanyards stocked with pins, selected plush and very, very selected Vinylmation dot the apartment here and there. I have been a very busy beaver.

It’s been both an exercise in frustration and exhilarating beyond belief to build my Disney collection. There are elusive items that have become hard to find at anywhere near a reasonable price, like the Dr. Syn Walt Disney Treasures DVD or Disneyland: The Nickel Tour. As much as I want to get my mitts on them, I cannot justify plunking down hundreds of dollars for the bragging rights of calling them mine. It’s all balanced, however, by the amazing feeling I get when I finally find a coveted piece, make that winning bid or click buy, see it beckoning to me from my doorstep after delivery. It’s an undeniable high when I rip through the packaging, revealing the Polly soundtrack or The Colors of Mary Blair Japanese exhibition book.

Animated classics on top, Walt Disney Treasures on
the bottom, Bullwhip Griffin on the telly.
Blu-rays out of frame.
Even the less momentous buys are always fun. Few things give me as much pleasure as flipping through a Disney Park souvenir book that I found for a dollar plus shipping on Amazon, laughing at the out-of-date clothing on display, dreaming about my next trip, and discovering the changes, both subtle and substantial, that are a part of the DNA of the ever-changing parks. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I won it for a buck on eBay, I would have never been privy to the soothing twang of Rex Allen’s Yellowstone Cubs narration. And I certainly would have never invested in music from Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus has it not been relegated to dollar bin at my favorite NYC used media joint (Book Off in midtown).

Our lanyards and pins.
As we take stock of what is making the journey from the Northeast with us, it is not even up for discussion whether my Disney stuff is coming along. Tom has contributed a few items to it himself, like our Art of Mulan book and what may be my favorite piece- a stretching portrait from the Haunted Mansion, an attraction that holds a very special place in our hearts. When he moved east from California, he left everything he couldn’t fit into a couple of suitcases behind. After giving away the majority of his possessions, I think he’s kind of excited to get some of them back through me. Not only does he know it wouldn’t be wise to try to get me to let go of the Disney, he wants to keep it within his own reach as well.

So why, you ask, will we be taking our own personal Disney mountain along with us? First and foremost, Disney makes us both blissfully happy. I found Tom soon after my interest in Disney took off. From our first date, one of the things we most connected over was our mutual love of all things created in the House of Mouse. He has seen me through the creation of this blog, which has become an important outlet for me. From our trips to the parks, to watching the films, to our times bantering in Kathryn Beaumont or Hayley Mills voices, Disney has been one of the constant threads in the tapestry of our shared life. It doesn’t define us, to be sure, but it’s a slice of our experience together that is precious to us.
The stretching room portrait
above Tom's keyboard.
This move is going to be huge for me. It will be the first time I have moved in almost nine years, when I moved to New York City from Tallahassee. Over that near decade I have (arguably) grown into an adult. Along with adulthood has come a bevy of things that have been heaped onto the two suitcases I arrived here with. For a long time these objects gave me a sense of consistency. They made me feel like I had laid claim to a space of my own where I belonged. Now that I’m married to the most amazing man in the world, anywhere that I go I know that I will feel loved unconditionally. As Barbra might say, “Any place I hang my hat is home.” As long as Tom is there, that is. I don’t need a plethora of possessions when what is essential will always be by my side. So as we look forward to a new beginning, we shed what weighs us down, keep close the things that bring us joy, and start our own mutual collection- of memories, experiences and things alike. No doubt, more than a few will involve Disney in some way or other. Let the memories begin.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bucket List NYC: Madame Tussaud's

As I mentioned before, the wind has changed and, like Mary Poppins, it will soon be time for me to move on. In the meantime, however, my husband Tom and I have been trying to do a lot of the New York things that we have neglected while we still have the ability to do them somewhat easily. I called it our Bucket List NYC, and the initiative has been quite successful thus far, so I thought that it would be fun to share some of the Disney-adjacent escapades with all of you. A while back we visited the site of the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair in Queens and it turned what was a burgeoning interest regarding the Fair into a full-blown obsession for me. We also went to the Museum of the Moving Image, which was having an exhibit in honor of Jim Henson. It is always surprising to me how much Disney is everywhere if you just root around a bit for it.
A shot of the museum from the roof of the
AMC movie theater next door. We took
this when we were seeing The Help.

Another jaunt that Tom and I have been wanting to go on for quite a while is to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in Times Square on 42nd Street. It's so, so, so touristy and expensive, but early in our courtship we had gone next door to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum and unexpectedly had a blast, so it made sense for us to give Madame Tussaud's a whirl. I had been there once before years ago with my sister, but this was Tom's first time and we went with our lovely and hilarious friend, Jackie. (This is why none of the pictures have my adorable husband's mug in them. He was too busy shutterbugging for me. Sorry, hon. We still know how pretty you are.)

The Queen holding court.

The museum is actually a lot of fun. It is mostly divided into somewhat themed areas. You begin in a room with more current celebrities, such as Julia Roberts and Tyra Banks, silently posed as if they were at the most awkward Golden Globes after party ever. My favorite figure is in this room, however. It's RuPaul holding court above everyone else, looking statuesque and stunning atop a fountain in the center of the room. Right where she belongs. There are areas devoted to places (NYC), time periods, (fifties, sixties, etc.), and types of celebrities (musicians, movie stars, historical figures and politicians, etc.) with additional figures shoehorned in between. There is also an area that allegedly had all of the spooky stuff in it, but Tom and Jackie both refused to go in there with me for fear that someone would jump out and cause them to soil their pantaloons and I sure as shootin' wasn't about to go in there alone. So we walked on by.

We went in about an hour and a half before closing on a weeknight, which assured us of avoiding the crowds, and we had our run of the place while we were inside. We didn't have to queue up or linger waiting for others to finish up with the figures and had seen everything in a little over an hour (including a completely pointless, 15 minute long, 4D screening of an abridged Happy Feet where they blew cold air on you and which we should have just skipped). Though it's not something I would want to do on a regular basis, for a pop culture junkie like me it was definitely worth visiting one more time before heading out of the city. The wax figures, on the whole, were very convincing, well-done and presented in a fun (if not immersive) atmosphere. I love that you can touch and interact with them, leading, as you will soon see, to some very goofy photo ops if you are half the dork that I am (and I trust that you are, faithful readers, which is why we get along so swimmingly, eh?). Here are some of our exploits that evening with fake folks of the Disney persuasion.

Listen. You weigh a lot more than you did in your
MMC days, Brit Brit. Sorry bout it.

Pssst. Oprah. Tiana is totes my favorite princess.
So can we be besties now?

Thankfully she didn't morph into the Queen Narissa dragon.

So if Jackie is Kathy Najimy and I'm Sarah Jessica Parker,
then I guess that means Bette is Bette Midler, huh?
Amok, amok, amok!

You're totally right, Miley. It is the climb!

Mufasa. Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa.
Hrm. Not the reaction I expected.

Sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow. I still haven't
watched any of your movies yet, but
I do love the Michael Bolton song about you.

So is Destino about love? Baseball? Love of
baseball? Love of turtles? Explain, please and
thanks, you genius you.

Not quite as impressive when they don't move and talk.
The real question is, "Where is President Jonathan T. President?"

Jackie chooses to ignore Simba as punishment for
Inspector Gadget and gets cozy with Timon instead. 
Naaaaaaahsegwenyababbadiseewannababa! Heyyaheyyaoh!

Mostly I must have been angry about Lestat.
All of his Disney output is pretty righteous.

So did you meet Amy Adams, or did they just throw you
in a studio to record the song, wham bam thank you ma'am?

Good times, y'all! If you're looking for something low key and silly to do in midtown on a trip to New York City, I totes recommend a visit to Madame Tussaud's. It may be on the pricey side, but you'll for sure get some great Facespace profile pics and memories out of the the deal. Usually you can find coupons online that will knock a bit off the price, and if you know when you are going in advance, they often have discounted tickets available on, which is a relatively simple discount ticketing service, but it won't help you if you go on the spur of the moment, like we did. I hope you enjoyed visiting with me! The figures may not be as awesome as audio-animatronics and, as far as an attraction goes, the museum is leagues behind a Disney park, but I take what I can get until my next trip. That reminds me, Tom and I have planned our next trip to Orlando for early March! Big plans afoot! I'll make sure to keep you abreast of the goings on!

Friday, January 6, 2012

DATE Night: The Aristocats

Start the car. I know a whoopee spot.
Now that we've left the jungles of India (hopefully sans any exotic diseases) of two hundred years ago with The Jungle Book, we're going to spend our DATE Night a century later in France seen through the filter of swingin' sixties jazz. So pack away the mosquito netting and pull out your shades and upright bass, cuz we're about to get down. Solidly outside of the second golden age of Disney animation at this point, we see a lot of the trends that will come to define this awkward period in the canon having really entrenched themselves. If the first golden age was "Aw, look at what a beautiful and smart baby you are!" and the second golden age is "Aw, look at what a beautiful and smart young child you've become!" (with the package films of the forties being that short, weird, chubby phase in-between that is quickly outgrown), then this is now the awkward teenage-like period where the films are trying to make sense of who they once were and who they are going to be while concurrently trying desperately to exist on their own terms. It's not always pretty. The third golden age will be the "Aw, look at what a beautiful and smart adult you've grown into!" But that's almost twenty years away. For now, we get to watch the adolescent growing pains of the Disney animated feature continue with number twenty. The Aristocats.

The Background:

En Francais, bien sur.
So The Jungle Book was a rousing success and as the first animated feature released after Walt's death / final one that he worked on directly, it set quite a high bar for the studio to match after the loss of their leader. Collaborators who had worked on the last few films, including director Wolfgang Reitherman, composer George Bruns and songwriters the Sherman Brothers helped shape this next film, The Aristocats. The film was an original story that was intended to be made as a two-part live-action Wonderful World of Disney TV movie. Walt felt that it would be better suited to be an animated feature and so approved work to start on it after The Jungle Book had wrapped, not knowing at the time that he would not be around to oversee the project.

The studio moved ahead with The Aristocats, which was released three years later in 1970, as the first post-Walt animated film. (While we're at it, I wrote a guest blog post for the fully awesome This Happy Place Blog called "The Blessing and Curse of WWWD" that explores Disney's shift in creative philosophy after the loss of Walt. Please check it out!) While it did not set the world ablaze, it was not an abysmal failure either. Critics weren't terribly enthusiastic at the time of its release, but audiences still came and it was re-released into theaters twice during the eighties. It also did well overseas and was a big hit in France. (Duh.) History, however, has not been terribly kind to the movie, which has earned a reputation as rather derivative and mediocre if not downright forgettable film with a devoted group of supporters (Apparently Snoop Doggy Dogg, who proclaims, "Ya don't like this movie, stay outta my tilt" is among them. Tres eloquent, Snoop.) rather than one of the top-tier animated classics. A sequel was planned and then scrapped and the characters, mostly meaning Marie, show up here and there in the parks and merch. 

The First Impression:

The Disney Project- Part 14: The Aristocats. Seems like a mashup of elements of "Lady and the Tramp", "101 Dalmatians", and "The Jungle Book". There are lovely little moments but on the whole it's the law of diminishing returns. It seems like the superior Disney artistry and storytelling are fading. I am a sucker for cute kittens and Eva Gabor, but once again, I liked this one and didn't love it.
February 12, 2010 at 1:18pm ·

The Art:

Lovely background work.
6/10. The Aristocats is much more artistically sound than I remember it being. Though I'm still not a huge fan of the rough and sketchy Xerox look that has become a staple of the Disney animated films (and sometimes becomes rather distracting in places like Madame Adelaide's white hair, which has so many stray markings it sometimes looks like an alien is trying to devour her head), I am accepting it and trying to look at the film on its own terms beyond that. There is much to admire here. I love the moment at the opening where Toulouse throws paint of a canvas and, as it drips, it becomes the landscape we enter. The backgrounds are lovely and reminiscent of 101 Dalmatians, but less abstract and with a watercolor flavor. The character animation and designs are all very strong, as is the effects animation in places such as the lightning and water. I love the moment where you see Madame in the window, waiting for her cats to come home to her, and it looks like the house is crying as well. The use of color, light and shadow are impressive in moments like the attic cum jazz club's Tiffany lamp psychedelic colors, the silhouettes of Duchess and O'Malley giving way to the Paris skyline, or the yellow light from the window illuminating the car near the end of the film. There are wonky bits, like the weird, flat feel of the moments when the cats are walking with the geese (where was the multiplane camera, guys?) or the very Looney Tunes dollar signs in Edgar's eyes, but overall, there is a pretty strong, creative aesthetic voice at work here.

The Story:

Yeah, yeah. That's cute and all, but...
5/10. The biggest flaw in the movie is the fact that it has no idea what it wants to be as an original animated feature. Instead of finding its own unique voice (it's fascinating to imagine a version that looks to the period and time of France in 1910 for inspiration), it borrows elements that had been successful elsewhere without considering that they worked because they sprang organically from the story and creative process in the first place. We borrow the story of a pair of romantic pet leads where she is fancy and he's more rough and tumble from Lady and the Tramp. We lift the jazzy elements, Phil Harris (Baloo), and his unique persona from The Jungle Book. Then we throw in a plot where the animals are stolen and must find their way home from 101 Dalmatians. It's a matter of these outside forces dictating the story rather than inform it. The movie even purloins itself in the end when it turns the final moments into an excuse to abruptly reprise of it's showiest number and bring characters back as if in a curtain call.

...this is what I call a super fan. Wowza!
To make up for the lack of a unique, strong narrative, the film was padded with lengthy chase scenes that have nothing to do with the central story arc involving the cats, musical production numbers that feel as out of place as they do fun, and story tangents that stop the plot cold rather than move it along. Why do we follow the geese for what feels like forever? Why do we need two motorcycle chases with the hounds and Edgar? Sometimes the side trips are pleasant, but they do absolutely nothing but distract from the reason why we're there. Walt had a good eye for fat that deserved to be trimmed. Remember that he cut a nearly completed soup-eating scene from Snow White that was charming as heck but slowed the story and it's that kind of editorial perspective that was sorely needed here. The movie certainly tests your ability to suspend disbelief. How can the authorities be so baffled over the missing felines when the very day that Madame Adelaide's will was written, leaving Edgar her fortune if anything happens to the cats, something happens to the cats? Edgar would be the first person you would confront. The whole premise doesn't hold up under even gentle scrutiny.

That being said, there are some strong moments to be found. The opening credits sequence with the bare bones animation and theme song is fun and the end title bopping one of the hounds in the head makes me chuckle. I love the moment when the man in the cafe dumps his wine out after seeing the cats hustle past him, as if he believed that they were an alcohol-induced hallucination. And the major triumph is that when they stick to the story of the cats, they really do a beautiful job of storytelling. Despite all of the distractions, you still really get invested in the story of these core characters that you have totally fallen for. You want them to get home, root for the love story, and are scared when they are almost hit by a train. The problem is that while the magpies on the creative team got taken with all of the shiny things they were inserting to add interest, they were really just making you wish they would get back to the part of the story that you actually give a rat's behind about.

The Characters:

They all kept their eyes closed so they could
submit this to Awkward Family Photos.
6/10. The characters in The Aristocats are frustratingly uneven, though they are all animated quite well with a lot of skill and emotion. Let's start with the good, shall we? The characters at the center of the story, the cats themselves, are dimensional and endearing. The studio continues wisely to use children to voice the little ones and each of the three kittens is so adorable that you just want to take it home and cuddle it. Eva Gabor's voice alone brings a regal yet kind quality to Duchess that contrasts well with the charming, lackadaisical O'Malley, even though it's essentially the same performance that Phil Harris gave as Baloo. It's a classic case of opposites attract. Many of the supporting characters are wonderful as well. Sterling Holloway brings his usual magic to the role of Roquefort. Watching him, there were a lot of collective squeals filling the apartment regarding how sweet, loyal and adorable he is. Madame is appropriately fancy but warm and her elderly but spritely lawyer Georges made me laugh out loud with some great physical humor. All of the O'Malley's stray cat buddies are good times, even if they end up dipping their toe into the realm of racially insensitive. Their leader, Scat Cat, was originally slated to be played by Louis Armstrong, who backed out before recording began and was replaced by Scatman Carothers, who does an admirable job in the role.

I'm on the other end telling him what a lame villain
I think he is. Sorry bout it.
Now we come to the not-so-good. The hounds and the geese may pull us too far from the story, but they have fun banter and are pleasant to watch. I just wish it had been in short subjects, out of the context of this movie. The fact that they are wasted here speaks more to the fact that the filmmakers were having a lot of story issues than a lack of mastery on the animators' and performers' parts. They are rendered well though they are absolutely unnecessary. The weakest character by far is our villain, Edgar. He's not enough of a bad guy. He feels so wishy-washy that you never really see a spark of danger in him and without that you undermine the stakes of the whole story. It doesn't help that a large chunk of his screen time is swallowed by the peripheral hound chase scenes. I may even go as far as to say that he may get my vote for the weakest villain in a Disney animated classic. Ho hum.

The Music:

Paint + Piano = Hijinks!
6/10. The songs in The Aristocats are a mixed bag. The Sherman Brothers provided a number of them for the film, most of which went unused, which is the flip side of The Jungle Book, where they were brought into replace all but one of Terry Gilkyson's original songs. (I guess turnabout is fair play, eh?) They coaxed Maurice Chevalier out of retirement to sing the title number for the opening credits and it proved to be his final recording before he passed in 1972. The song is also quite charming and sets the tone well, as does their charm number "Scales and Arpeggios", which serves to endear the characters to you (and which I have a soft spot for because it used to be a standard warm up at one of the youth theaters I performed with). If the entire score had been in this vein, it would have made for a more cohesive film, certainly, but it seems that they wanted to make room for chase scenes and, entertaining as they may be, out-of-place showcase numbers. Watching the DVD, there was a special feature highlighting the (mostly) cut number "She Never felt Alone", which gave emotional weight to the relationship between Madame Adelaide and the cats. It's a moving song that focuses on how special their relationship was, making the stakes of needing to return to her higher. It's exactly the kind of thing that the flimsy story could have used more of.

Those colors! Groovy, man!
There are two other big numbers in the movie. The first is "Thomas O'Malley Cat" by Terry Gilkyson, who also wrote "The Bare Necessities". Meant to provide a statement of character, it is obviously an attempt to capture the magic of The Jungle Book number by reuniting songwriter and performer, and ends up feeling like a throwaway retread in both construction and execution. The second is the showstopper "Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat" by Floyd Huddleston and Al Rinker. The psychedelic, swinging, Dixieland jazz number is odd, from left field and over the top, but is also so much fun that you absolutely have to forgive its flaws. It also does a better job of establishing who O'Malley is than the song that's named after him, though it comes late in the game. It also shows that Duchess is not as high-toned as she sometimes seems when she contributes her own lovely b-section, which was sung by uncredited studio singer Robie Lester, who was one of the go to girls on the Disneyland storyteller records back in the day. It is made clear that the romantic leads and the three kittens fit together as a cohesive unit by letting them all participate in a song with one overriding musical voice. Duchess and the kittens can belong in his world.

I heart Roquefort. That is all.
The score is once again by George Bruns, who is pretty much brilliant. I have been playing the soundtrack to the movie over and over again and have been mostly impressed by how diverse and yet consistent his score is. The sounds go from Dixieland to French cafe to frug to classic film score, all completely in support of the story that's being told. The score signals flirtation, danger, sadness, joy and everything in between and it's all filtered through the sixties-ish George Bruns sound that I have come to adore from him over the course of the last few films and my recent obsession with the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. His work here is almost better than the movie deserves and often makes sequences play better than they really should (cough***chase sequences***cough).

The Gay Scale:

I wish I know how to quit you, Lafayette.
5/10. For a film that takes place in France, there is precious little in this film that is terribly gay. Huge missed opportunity if you ask me. There is that odd Brokeback moment between Napoleon and Lafayette, but that's really stretching it. The majority of this rating is thanks solely to the presence of a Gabor in the film. Eva Gabor is no doubt a minor gay icon (even if we still get her confused with Zsa Zsa now and then) and her performance as Duchess is in the Auntie Mame tradition here. The Hungarian actress' delicious accent and distinctly musical voice are like (teehee) catnip to a queer audience who has loved her since she played a diva gone country in the Green Acres TV show. She is the kind of sweet, kind, gorgeous, refined, eccentric, caring, artsy, with-it mother figure that gays long for. I can't say I would be shocked if either Berlioz or Toulouse turns out to be light in the loafers.

The Bottom Line:

Get down witcha bad self, gurl.
6/10. The law of diminishing returns has really taken effect and this film feels like a rehash of several past movies, cherry-picking elements from 101 DalmatiansThe Jungle Book, and Lady and the Tramp, throwing them into a blender and hoping that the concoction they end up with is palatable. Luckily for them, there is enough charm and fun to keep this movie from being a disaster. Sadly, it never really rises much above mid-level Disney animated fare, despite its sense of innocuous joy. This movie really hammers home the fact that the studio was not reaching for what is new, different and untried, but rather reaching backwards and reusing elements from before. It is a dangerous trend for a company built on the foundation of innovation. Despite this lack of freshness, especially in the story department, the fun characters and performances, breezy music and jazzy score that overcome being (for the most part) out of place in early-1900's France, and charmingly sketchy and colorful artistic look make this fun to watch and keep its head above the waters of glaring failure. I certainly enjoyed this more than I did watching it a year ago, but I can't say I count myself as a member of the Aristocatic party.

The Miscellanea:

I have been rather surprised of late to see so much of Marie in the parks. She is all over France in Epcot especially, which strikes me as odd since there is a bonafide French princess, who I would expect to dominate the area, in Belle. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I think Marie is adorbs and like seeing less obvious characters in the parks and merch. I have come to find out that her resurgence is thanks to the Japanese, who have a predilection for all things cute. (They are also the ones to thank for the rebound of the Orange Bird, who has become somewhat of a hero to me. So thanks, Japan!) As I mention all the time, I love a good character encounter and this video of Marie in France at Epcot just makes me giggle. It helps to answer the burning question, "What exactly do the characters do when the park is slow and there's no one to greet?" The surprising answer may well be that they bust a move, which in this case is completely appropriate based on the "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" number from the film. Meow, gurl. Me-ow.

In this video, Phil Harris and Scatman Crothers reminisce about The Aristocats for 1978 TV special in honor of the 25th anniversary of The Wonderful World of Color/Disney. They were and will always be two of the coolest cats who ever lived and it's really lovely to see the easy way that their repartee fires back and forth. And I'm not gonna lie. Phil Harris reminds me a lot of a jazzy version of my country music loving dad, who I have come to really appreciate of late. This whole clip warms my soul.

This is a remix somewhat in the vein of the ones done by Pogo, which I shared in an Odd Disney World entry a while back. It's called "Feline Good" and is quite good. It doesn't have the same haunting, creepy quality that really sets Pogo's arrangements apart. It's more like a really fun dance remix of "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat". Well done, sister suffragette.

Of course "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" is the song from the movie that is most often covered. This is a fascinating take on the song by the Tiffany Ensemble. It's got a more classical bent to it and is quite impressive.

This version is very interesting. It is by a group called Psapp, who you may know as the band who does the theme music from Grey's Anatomy. It's quite good, with a trippy arrangement, sultry female vocal, and more chilled out vibe.

This cover is by a group called The Boop Sisters. I can't find much about the group online, but this is like the Andrews Sisters singing "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" in Italian at a supper club during the forties accompanied by a big band. I believe there's also either a child or a member of the group that imitates one well thrown into the mix. It's pretty much fully awesomesauce.

This weird cover of "The Aristocats" is from a non-Disney children's album on the Happy Times label called The Aristocats and Purr-ty Pussycat Songs. It's performed by a nameless pair of singers accompanied by keys, drums, and a random wah-wah guitar. It's very odd, but upbeat and strangely compelling.

So do you think that The Aristocats is a descent further into the murky waters of mediocrity or buoyant like a pair of those orange water wings they used to make you wear when you hadn't learned to swim yet and made farty noises as you squeezed them up your arms? Did you find it charming or derivative? Do you want to be a cat like ev'rybody or are you more of a dog lover? Next up on our DATE Night, we'll head into the forest of Nottingham for Robin Hood. Please wear comfortable shoes so that if we have to run away from flying arrows I'm not stuck fashioning a tourniquet out my shirt to stop your blood loss. I would probably do it wrong anyhow. What? You thought you were out with a boy scout? Sorry, love.