Category Archives: Walt Disney

Various Topics

Some unrelated thoughts:

It seems the hardest thing about doing a podcast can be getting busy guests, who are experts in their fields,to finalize the date and time when they will sit for the interview. I have three such guests in the works.

Don’t believe the hype about the rock band Arctic Monkeys being the next big thingin the USA. They aretalented in what they do, but what they do is not likely to gain a large following in America. Does the average American know who Oasis or Blur or The Jam was? Even if they do, do they really care? Did Robbie Williams translate his British superstardom to America? They all have limited appeal here because their style is limited to a specific genre.England is a much smaller country with sometimes very different tastes than the US. (I could be proven wrong if the very young Arctic Monkeys become better songwriters, more varied, less noisy and encompassing more styles and subjects as they practice and learn and grow older).

It’s truly amazing how creative my three-year-old twins can be, in their pretending, as they play with toys or any other object in the house. They tell stories, create characters and situations. And the passion with which they want to understand everything, and their abilityto comprehend whenwe explain something clearly,is also thrilling to watch.

My son loves cars and fire engines and tractors. He has seen commercials for the movie “Cars” and he passionately wants to see it. He was saying for weeks, “We forgot to see the movie ‘Cars’!” before it even came out. I said, “No, they didn’t finish making it yet. When it’s in the theater, we’ll go.” Finally, this weekend we plan to go.

About the Ann Coulter controversy: I admire and often agree with her, although I strongly disagree with those of her opinions that are religion-tainted (re stem cells, abortion, the usual conservative Christian issues). My thoughts about her “widows” comments are that I always would rather err on the side of being rude if it’s a choice between rudeness and lack of honest clarity about an important issue. Sometimes the only way to get across what you mean is by using the sharpest words. On the other hand, it’s best to keep an argument focused on the principles and not the personalities. But in the case of the four widows, their personal circumstances is the issue;they (as agents for the DNC) themselves use their personal situation as if it’s an argument that can have no response.

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My First Podcast

My first Podcast should be coming up in a couple of weeks. It will be available at http://Zigory.SolidVox.comat that time.You will be able to listen online or download the mp3 file to your Ipod or similar device. The identity of my first guest shall remain a secret to all but Prodos (my Production Assistant, Producer, Impresario, Studio Chief), until the program becomes available.

Meanwhile, listen to Stuart Goldsmith’s interview with Andrew Bernstein on the morality of capitalism, available now at http://StuartGoldsmith.SolidVox.com

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My Amazon Reviews

In case anyone is interested, here are my random reviews of books, movies and CDs on Amazon.com.Some of my ratings are inflated because I am enthusiastic when I start to write a review and then realize that 4 or 5 stars is too high a rating, but Amazon doesn’t allow me to revise down the number of stars.

Reviews

Here is a list of my favorite movies, also on Amazon.com. It’s just a list of some of my favorites and as a part time/former cartoonist, it’s animation-heavy.

MovieList

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We’re Back!

Our vacation in Florida was a success. It improved as the week progressed, because we slowly learned the best ways to take three year old twins to Disney World. It’s totally different from the adult vacation experience. Basically, we learned that if they don’t get a nap (our kids can’t nap in a park, only in their beds or the car), at least we need to end the day and leave the parks after 6 to 8 hours maximum (something we didn’t do the first three days).

Also, we knew that we needed to avoid frightening attractions, but we didn’t expect “Mickey’s Philharmagic” to be frightening. None of the travel guide books warned us, but to our daughter the 3-D movie was too real and had scares (really just “Boo”-type surprises) in it that made her jittery about all other attractions thereafter. “I’m under the water with Ariel!” she shouted in horror, but she wouldn’t close her eyes or turn away. Our son thought it was funny and enjoyed it throughout. Eventually she learned to trust us (usually) when we said an attraction isn’t going to be scary. We did know to avoid the frightening-to-toddlers 3-D films “Honey I Shrunk The Audience” and “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” and we even decided to play it safe and avoided the relatively benign Muppets 3-D movie. We also took a day off to just relax after every two days at the parks.

The children especially enjoyed meeting characters and seeing the parades and they experienced plenty of both. The “Chef Mickey’s” breakfast and “Cinderella’s Royal Table” lunch were especially fun for all of us.

By trading off, my wife and I were able to ride the exhilerating “Soarin'” which was new to us (simulating flying over California scenery).

“Turtle Talk With Crush” was truly amazing, an interactive animated character that answers questions and reacts to the audience; it’s apparently instant animation, and of the highest quality. The humorous characterization was true to the movie “Finding Nemo”. The underwater effects were also instant and perfect. This is very high level technology and artistry! It suggests a future of “Live” animated theater or television — like a sequel to “Finding Nemo” could be presented as an animated yet live performance nightly, always spontaneous and different! Naturally the lines were long to enter this show.

The week started out with the parks being far hotter and more crowded than we expected for this time of year but became more comfortable and less populated later in the week.

Reviewing “American Adventure,” it cannot be called anti-American (and I only suggested in my earlier blog that it is “almost” that). It is still a patriotic presentation. But it’s the history of America as told by a mainstream historian of today; i.e., a left-leaning historian. It’s the CBS or ABC News version of history. The events they chose to present were primarily those the Left considers important, with a few bones thrown to the pro-capitalism Right and the patriots. It opens and closes with Benjamin Franklin praising the words of John (“Grapes of Wrath”/pro-socialism) Steinbeck. The only Presidents whose words are heard from their own lips (or an animatronic version of same) are liberal ones (Republican Theodore Roosevelt, Democrats FDR and JFK). You have to search for any Republicans not named Lincoln or Roosevelt. They did include a brief moment of Republican anti-Communist Walt Disney’s face — but then this attraction is located in his “World”.

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The Wild

Still enthused about our forthcoming Disney World vacation (and not only me, of course: Our three year old daughter is starting to tell strangers that she ‘s going there), I went to see the animated movie The Wild last night. It is under the “Walt Disney Pictures” banner, and even rated G, so I expected it to be a picture for the whole family, of which the studio is proud, and that it may help keep me in the Disney mood.

Disappointed am I. It’s mediocre and has just about nothing in common with the Walt Disney legacy. To be sure, it is not unusually offensive (the way the usually superb Ron Howard offended me with his witless and crude destruction of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas). It is just irritating and amateurish in its writing and direction. For those of you who know something about animation, has no one informed the director “Spaz” (his self-chosen moniker) or any of the animators the concept of the “hold”? A “hold” in animation is when the movement stops for a moment to emphasize an expression or an attitude or a gesture. It is priceless when used well (and gives the animator a few frames worth of a break, besides). Perhaps the all time masters of the hold in animation are Chuck Jones (think of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner), Tex Avery, and Bob Clampett during the golden age of Warner Brothers cartoons.

The Wild has a total of zero holds. Everyone and everything is moving twenty-four times every second from movie’s beginning to end. Who can watch that? My eyes just couldn’t take it. The attitudes and gestures were all there. They were just there ten times more often than any human mind could process.

But that could be forgiven if the story was clever, conveyed a meaningful theme and was told with clarity, drama, and humor.

Instead of clarity, every sentence of dialogue was written to sound ironic or sarcastic or “funny” or “witty,” never actually achieving real humor or wit. It’s hard to know what any character really wants if they never express themselves clearly and simply. (I suppose once in a while they did, but that was the exception.) There is no attempt to make the squirrel’s romantic crush remotely believable, and the father-son theme is trite as can be. Finally, there is so much slapstick violence (characters get hurt a lot) that I almost question the G rating. It’s a valid rating but the film is definitely too full of scares (like the far superior The Incredibles) for anyone under age 7. (This is not new in the Disney tradition, as Snow White, Bambi, Sleeping Beauty and maybe Peter Pan are also too intense for the very young).

There is no less artistry required to make a kid’s comedy animation than any adult movie. In fact, more awareness of one’s all-ages audience is required to make it entertaining and meaningful rather than irritating, boring or traumatizing. The theme of The Wild, trite as it is, has potential value but it’s ineffectively communicated.

I think “Spaz” and his crew believed they had a film so full of roll-on-the-floor belly-laughs it would excuse the flimsiness of the story. Unfortunately they were mistaken. This was not a Pixar movie if you didn’t figure that out yet. The good news is, Pixar is back in business with Disney and we can look forward to their consistently superior material, starting with “Cars” for which I have high expectations.

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Thoughts on Walt Disney World

When I was a little boy, my mother only took me to Walt Disney movies because she knew they would be good, quality movies, better than other movies for children.

I grew up learning the Walt Disney philosophy that good will triumph over evil, and you will succeed if you try hard enough. Walt Disney movies conveyed a way that things should be, an orderly, correct way parents and children may act, ideally. The movies showed examples of how civilized people behaved. They represented normal childhood (and human) emotions of fear and having strong wishes, and showed that struggling against challenges and villains is normal and is usually rewarded.

Part of the reason this had an appeal was to show me how things could be ideally, how I would someday live (when I grew up and had my own family), in contrast to the occasional turmoil, financial obstacles, and lack of orderliness in the environment of my own childhood. I could live in the Disney characters’ world for awhile, and I could even find things that were like their lives in my own life. If they went skating, I found there was a skating pond near me and I could make a goal of doing the same thing. (A similar effect resulted from my reading Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins books). I especially recalled Disney’s “Atta Girl Kelly” TV movie, about Seeing Eye dogs, that took place in Morristown, New Jersey, not far from where I lived. It was nice to see a place closer to my home environment represented in the ideal Disney world.

Since I felt I had the same view of the world as Walt did, and Walt was my ideal father figure when he would introduce his TV show, I really wanted to go to Disneyland but it was all the way on the other side of the country. I felt that it would be so great to meet the characters.

Then when I turned 10, Walt Disney World opened on my side of the country but it was still too far away and too expensive for my parents to afford the trip.
Finally I was able to go to Disney World for the first time when I was 21. My mother had received money from a relative and decided to take my brother and me there with the money. To save money we flew down one way on PeopleExpress airlines and took the train back. Epcot had just opened and it was the Christmas season.

Being 21 seems like the wrong age, but in fact to me it was just as good as being a child’s age. I wasn’t as excited to meet Snow White as I would have been at age 10, but I really needed inspiration and fuel. I had just graduated from college and was working two minimum-wage part-time jobs to survive, as it was the recession of 1982 so there were hiring freezes just as I was trying to get my first job in film or TV. I was also struggling to get over shyness in making calls for my job hunt. The fact that no one was hiring made me start to believe that was the way of the world, someone had to die or retire before a new job opening would occur. Of course, later I learned that wasn’t true, that new jobs are always being created. My bedroom in the apartment I shared in Brooklyn with two other guys was cold, the window didn’t close all the way. I rescued a stray cat from the cold winter, but I wasn’t doing much better than the cat. So going to Disney World finally, after asking my mother to go eleven years prior, wasn’t so badly timed.

The Magic Kingdom was one of the few things in my life to that point that was actually better than I had imagined it. It was what I expected but with so many more beautiful, imaginative and fun details.

I remember on my first visit at age 21, how the customer service, the incredible willingness of everyone to help us out if we had any questions at all, was so unexpectedly comforting. Especially compared to the often very poor customer service and even lack of English comprehension in New York City.

I remember the first day we entered the park later than we had intended due to the difficulty of getting the family to work together in a timely fashion, and then it was raining a little. So the day started out with problems. But very soon, the spirit of the place had overtaken all the little obstacles, struggles and squabbles and turned it into a good day. I remember thinking, this is a good message to remember for life: a day (or a life) may start out with challenges and struggles, but if you stick with it, you will enjoy the day (or life) later as you achieve your goals.

All the messages of optimism and hope in Epcot were especially meaningful to me at a time when I could only see that I was working two uninspiring part time jobs for minimum wage and living in a cold bedroom and needed a solution. I remember wanting to work at Epcot, and asking the Kodak lady under Spaceship Earth about jobs there. She explained how to apply and that they promoted from within the company. I felt hope, and that I belonged there. I felt, this is the only company that says what I want to say, that does things the right way, and this may even be my way out of my predicament. Meanwhile I still planned (as I always had) to write books and screenplays on the side on my way to becoming a new Walt (or something like him even if on a small scale).

Even the other people visiting had such a happy, open, friendly demeanor. My family met a family from the Midwest, with a daughter, at an AT&T exhibit. We started comparing notes on the various attractions we had seen and what we recommended to each other, and I exchanged numbers with the girl. She and I visited each other a few years later, and we have remained in touch over the years, and attended each others’ weddings.

I remember having an epiphany at the Mexico pavilion. It was getting dark and the World Showcase was lighting up, we stood on line to enter the attraction and I heard the theme music and looked at the illuminated, fascinating designs in the Mexico architecture. I felt a wave of hope for my life, a wave of total certainty my life would improve and be wonderful.

This happens because Epcot and Walt Disney World are constantly reminding you that life is worth living. You are treated like a VIP by everyone. You are confronted with unexpected delights around every corner. If your days have been filled with drudgery, Walt Disney World reminds you how to play, that not every second needs to be spent working or trying to find a new job, that it’s okay to play with toys for the fun of it, like a child!

I went back to New York and the Disney feeling stayed with me for months. Nothing could get me down. Finally I applied to graduate school so that I would be more qualified for employment.

Graduate school was expensive, and there wasn’t the scholarship money that had paid for my undergraduate degree, so after one semester, I interrupted school and instead went on job searches endlessly. Soon I could do a call or an interview at the drop of a hat. I switched from job to job until I found one that suited me. I even worked at Disney World in 1989, drawing caricatures for guests, and working at their telephone switchboard. It was a great experience but I finally decided to return to my New York office job because the pay was so much better.

Now I am very fulfilled, my job pays decently, I’m doing my creative projects on the side–including self-publishing a comic book, writing scripts, doing a blog and soon a podcast– I’m happily married and I love being the best father I can be to my two children. I get to play with toys with my children every day, and watch DVDs with them of Walt’s Mickey Mouse cartoons and other Disney films. So Epcot did not lie to me, there really is hope even if you think you are in a rut. Just take action and pursue your goals and don’t settle for the unacceptable. And always make time to play and enjoy the sun!

My wife and I visited Walt Disney World every year since the time we first started dating seriously. Every time we go, we have a glow of happiness for a month or two. It reminds us how enjoyable life can be, how good customer service can be, and recharges our batteries to pursue big goals and to make our lives and our home even better. After we had our twins, we stopped going to Disney World, to focus on being great parents. This month, we are finally going to take the twins to Disney World for their first time. They are three and a half, a good first-time age, the same age I was when I briefly saw Mickey Mouse waving while sitting on a sign for “It’s A Small World,” as we sat in the boats entering that attraction at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

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Forthcoming Walt Disney World Trip

We’re taking a trip to Walt Disney World in a few weeks. This reminded me of how inspiring it can be to see some of the attractions such as the Hall of Presidents and Carousel of Progress (both originally designed for the New York World’s Fair of 1964, where I first saw them at age 3) and Epcot’s Future World.

However, in recent years some of the attractions were revised to their detriment. The Disney imagineers in the last decade destroyed the serenity and beauty of the lovely Enchanted Tiki Room presentation, which had been a work of art supervised by Walt himself, by adding Gilbert Gottfried and a rabble-rousing element to the show and labelling it “under new management”. I refuse to experience it again until it goes back to the original owners.

But more serious is the damage done to The American Adventure program in Epcot.

By the way, there is an Ayn Rand quotation from “The Fountainhead” on the wall directly opposite the front entrance, don’t miss that if you go. The quotation is, “Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.” It’s part of the same passage that Jerry Lewis (of all people) copied into his little notebook when he read the novel, so he could read it again and again as he pursued his show business career. Sometimes in December they put a Christmas tree in front of it, and I always request that they move the tree so the quotation is visible. But my problem is with the show itself.

As I recall, The American Adventure was quite different when it premiered in 1982. The animatronic portion was shorter and purely patriotic, uplifting, and dealing with principles of freedom as did the opening film.

Then in the 1990s, they added more sequences to the animatronic portion, and changed it into a laundry list of the things that went wrong in American history, including propaganda for “saving” the environment courtesy of Theodore Roosevelt, emphasis on things like the alleged harm done to the Indians, slavery, Prohibition, the Depression, the 20th century persecution of blacks in the South, the Vietnam war protests, to the point where the uplifting emotion about America’s founding principles and its successes, in the opening movie portion (which remained positive and inspiring) and in the original short animatronic program (1982), was to me virtually lost.

It’s almost as if The American Adventure was now the Anti-American Adventure!

Of course, the visual and technical aspects were superb, and were more amazing than in 1982, but the patriotic message became muddled at best.

I haven’t seen it since 2001, so maybe they have changed it again since then. I’ll check it out on my forthcoming trip.

Needless to say, most of Walt Disney World remains a delight and extremely worthwhile. Obviously I have been there many times (I even worked there in 1989) and intend to return many times.

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