Monthly Archives: April 2006

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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Art Teacher’s Suspension

Here’s an utterly absurd situation. How uneducated can educators be? The Middletown, NY, Board of Education has suspended a high school art teacher, Pete Panse, for recommending nude figure drawing classes to his advanced students. He may even be permanently fired after a 25-year career. Any student of art knows the importance of drawing nudes from life–a tradition for thousands of years–to learn anatomy and three-dimensional forms and the elements that make up the beauty of the human being. If this is not permitted, then presumably a pre-medical student also must be prevented from observing the human body. This is the Taliban’s idea of education! This is anti-education!

If a Catholic nun, Sister Wendy Beckett, isn’t afraid of nudes in art, why should anyone be? (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/sisterwendy/about/index.html)

If you want to come to Mr. Panse’s defense against the ignoramuses, there is action you can take.

See:
http://www.artrenewal.org/articles/2006/Peter_Panse/case1.asp

and:
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Reinstate_Pete_Panse/

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Psychics Etc.

Before I get to the main comment, here is a followup to my previous post: I emailed the following comments to comments@whitehouse.gov (with a link to Charles Krauthammer’s Time magazine essay of March 30, 2006 at http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=21843):

I would like the White House to take heed of Mr. Krauthammer’s warning and take decisive military action as soon as possible against Iran’s nuclear program as well as its terrorist training camps and its government in Tehran, who are a sworn enemy of the United States and the real, fundamental source of the 9/11 attacks.

On a less serious topic, when I was attending college decades ago, a psychic visited my campus dormitory, and gave a talk in which he “read” the minds of some of the students in attendance. He seemed to pick up detailed, private facts about friends of mine, facts they had not revealed to anyone but which they admitted to the psychic, and later to me, were true.

This one event made me consider the possibility that psychic powers may be real. I could not explain how, though, so I just filed that away as an open question. I don’t see how he could have had spies all over the campus for the amount of time necessary to learn the private thoughts of so many students.

Well, last night on Court TV, a program called “Psychic Detectives” featured that same psychic from all those years ago, named Phil Jordan (www.philjordan.com). Although clearly a program designed to promote a belief in psychics, the story they told indicated that Phil Jordan was able to assist the police in a small town, with his calling forth of impeccably accurate details again and again, until they could locate evidence that would solve a murder case.

If anyone who is logic and science-oriented reads this blog (even if it’s a long time after I write this), I welcome any thoughts on the possibility of psychic powers.

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Let’s Get Serious

I work in Downtown Manhattan. Every day since Islamic fundamentalists violently took away the World Trade Center from my neighborhood, murdering thousands in a painful, horrifying, bloody manner, I am passionately angry at them for at least one or two minutes per day.

I’ve been in a state of anticipation. When do we get them, destroy them? Every day, I wait for the intensive retaliation, the destruction of all their mosques, the obliteration of Tehran, the wiping out of all the terrorist training camps and weapons factories in the entire Muslim world. All it takes is some good information and some good bombs. I’m also waiting for every anti-American academic and filmmaker to be arrested for treason, as their words embolden and inspire our enemies to fight us one more day.

I’ve had it. I can only think of one potential president who might do what needs to be done, Rudolph Giuliani. He actually knows and understands the lessons of history. I want to believe we can survive even if he doesn’t run and doesn’t get elected, but it would be difficult to justify such a conclusion. The trouble is, we may not be able to wait till 2009. Our current leaders are unacceptable. They aren’t doing enough, fast enough or furiously enough. We can only depend on the incompetence of our enemies to keep us alive until 2009.

Here are some words that everyone needs to read. Charles Krauthammer’s essay “Today Tehran, Tomorrow the World” is at

http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=21843

and here is a web site with the important facts to know about the fundamentalist Islamists:

http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/

Will someone wake up the US government?

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