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A bit late to the table, maybe, but this movie was delayed several times, so it’s only fitting my response is as well.  My initial take on The Good Dinosaur, and I mean my take on it going into the theater, was that it was about to be a damn good movie.  It had to be!  This was Pixar’s last chance to be brilliantly original for the next few years, and despite the bad reviews I read in the days before the movie was released, I really was hoping that it would be a misunderstood winner.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

I think one unsettling qualm I had with this film was that it lacked any compelling antagonist.  There’s nobody in this film that you can point to immediately and say, “That guy (or gal [or thing]).”  You might argue that it was the scavengers, and I would agree with you if I they appeared onscreen for more than 12 minutes total.  Outside of those 12 minutes, the birds hardly influenced Arlo’s journey.

Don’t worry, I also haven’t missed the fact that this film is a coming-of-age story either.  I get it, Arlo is learning to fend for himself as he finds his way back home, but that is not at all original.  Keep in mind, the studio that gave us UpWall-E, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo is falling back on this extremely patterned, typical, trite story.  True, all of these films have elements of self-discovery, but Pixar was more careful in toeing the line between self-discovery and coming-of-age, and in this case they simply fell on the wrong side of that line.  In past films, Pixar has presented simple stories in new forms.  The Good Dinosaur painfully reeked of The Lion King, and there wasn’t a moment in the film where I felt genuinely surprised or unsure of the next development in the story.  The scene that absolutely boggled my mind was when Arlo and his dad run through the field together at night and wake up the lightning bugs.  It so clearly harkened back to Lion King that I was entirely removed from the film at hand.  If there was any other goal to this scene’s extremely direct extra-filmic reference, it was entirely lost on me.

I don’t want to fully bog down on Pixar, though.  From what I understand, this film had deep troubles, and after passing through the hands of several different directors, as well as seeing its release date pushed back a few times, one might see how Pixar would fall back on a recycled, simplistic storyline.  I also loved the artistic decision to blend ultra-realistic settings with caricatured dinosaurs.  While I can see it would be unsettling for some, I found it visually fascinating, like when Eddie Valiant enters Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).  It almost seems to signal that the film is not taking itself too seriously with such a visual contrast.

Overall, I was really excited to see a new, original story from Pixar, but was disappointed that by and large it presented us with nothing all that new.  An entirely predictable story, and any reasonable familiarity with Lion King will automatically cue all viewers back to that film.  Bad move.  I was impressed, however, with “Sanjay’s Super Team”.  While I believe that it would have received a lot more fire had Christianity been featured as prominently in the short as Hinduism was, I really respect Pixar’s effort to present a culture and story that is most likely unfamiliar to many of its audiences.  Especially with their coming line up of sequels, it’s awesome Pixar is able to retain some autonomy in their short subjects.  

Below is a paper I wrote for a class titled History of the International Cinema: Part One.   Kind of a pretentious class title, right?  It was a wonder that I thought it was a good idea to turn in this paper on the trivial subject of animation, but thanks to this Leonard Maltin article, I was able to very quickly nail down a solid assertion, and simultaneously learn a whole lot about this period of animation that I hadn’t previously fully understood!  It was a real pleasure to write, and I hope it’s enjoyable to read as well!

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     The history of animation, especially its early days in the 1910’s and 1920’s, is comparable to one major “near miss.”   Animation, had it remained grounded in the style of Émile Cohl and other contemporary European artists, and the grand artistic visions of Winsor McCay in America, could have found itself uniquely positioned as a leading form of high art over the next century, but profitability conquered auteur artistry. Walt Disney made a major effort to counteract this sacrifice of artistic achievement, but his failure ultimately led to the often marginalized genre as it is known today. In 1940, at a budget exceeding two and a quarter million dollars Disney released Fantasia (1940), which shall be shown to be the pinnacle of “animated high art.”  Compare this with the production budget of Casablanca (1943) which stood at just over one million dollars, and it is clear that animation was an industry that sought great heights just the same as live film during these early years.  Just as Casablanca was the culmination of film technique up to that point in time, Fantasia also was the culmination of the animated genre and its development up through that point in time.  Had animation and live film been compared side by side in the 1910’s and early 1920’s, viewers would be hard pressed to argue that either type of film was trivial in comparison to the other.  Arguably, prior to animation’s industrialization in the United States between 1915 and 1925, it was a medium of high art, and could have remained that way had profitability and consumer demand not effectively destroyed its prospects for anything other than character-focused narrative after the failure of Fantasia in 1940.

     To begin, animation origins are not quite as well defined as the origins of live motion pictures.  It is also hard to pinpoint what exactly qualifies as animation.  The trick films of Georges Méliés, G.A Smith, and others employed old theatrical wire tricks to make things move independently, but in 1907 James Stuart Blackton released L’Hôtel Hanté through Vitagraph in Paris, and audiences were astonished when close ups of a table setting itself revealed no wires or traditional tricks, thanks to the technique of animation (Crafton, Before Mickey 13-14).  On the other hand, animation as it is traditionally thought of was being explored by Émile Cohl in France in 1908.  Cohl was one of the pioneers of animation, and though animation’s origins are ambiguous, he can be credited with a fairly large hand in the development of the medium.  The style most attributable to Émile Cohl was the “Incoherent Cinema,” an aesthetic he originated in his 1908 short film Fantasmagorie, his first animated cartoon, and the first step forward in animation as its own art form.  He created this while simultaneously writing scenarios for the Gaumont studio, working alongside Louis Feuillade and Etienne Arnaud (Crafton, Before Mickey 65-66).  The picture was released under the Gaumont name, and with its nearly 2 minute running time, “most viewers were undoubtedly left puzzled by this curious apparition” (Crafton, Émile Cohl 121).  This incoherent cinema style is incredibly fluid and unpredictable.  At one point in the film, a man is swallowed by a cannon, which tilts upward to change into a bottle, but then suddenly peels to reveal the man standing in the center of a flower (Fantasmagorie).   Earlier experiments in animation allowed the artists to be present with their on-  screen creations, and Cohl does not entirely ditch this concept with Fantasmagorie.  What differentiated Cohl from more primitive animators was his prior experience as an artist.  Cohl’s interests actually heavily concentrated in painting and poetry, and as a member of the Société des Dessinateurs Humoristes, “Émile Cohl was the first artist with an established reputation to become a full time filmmaker” (Crafton, Before Mickey 65). 

     Émile Cohl was not the only artist to transfer into the medium of animation.  Take for example Hans Richter or Viking Eggeling and their work between 1915 and 1923.  Both were fine artists seeking to translate their still art into motion through animation.  Their inspiration coincided with the avant-garde movement taking place in cinema at the time, and some films were just as much about exploring cinematic potential as they were about artistic expression. For Eggeling, Symphonie Diagnole was, on top of being an experiment in kinetic art, an exploration in spatial relationship in a camera frame.  Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21 was based on similar ideas.  In the same vein of experimentation, Walter Ruttmann in Berlin was creating new animated forms for his Opus series of films.  He presented a contrasting body of work for his time, for while “Richter and Eggeling used music as a structural model to analyze the movement through time and space, Ruttmann was more interested in translating the emotional overtones of music into moving colored images” (Lawder 62).  Ruttmann’s experience in creating his Opus films actually led to his contribution to live film work in his “city symphony” Berlin, Symphonie diner Grossstadt (1927).  His practice with the patterned rhythms and abstract forms of Opus allowed him to craft his choices of objects and shots in this film.  On top of all this, Opus I (1921) was created in color, showing that animation was able to keep pace with the technological advancements in live film.

      As this all began, Bernhard Diebold, a German film critic of the time, wrote in 1916 of a new medium of art that would combine movement with music through film.  Diebold expressed a desire for “film-as-painted-music…based on the theory of synaesthetic correspondences, which presumed the existence of specific auditory and visual stimuli to elicit identical inner emotional states” (Lawder 56).  This relates back to the earlier assertion that Disney’s Fantasia was a culmination of everything the animation industry had pushed to achieve in its early days.  It was both the peak of Diebold’s desire for “film-as-painted-music” and the end of this notion, as neither Disney nor any other animation studio would pursue such a film again. Esther Leslie, a professor at Birkbeck College in London, echoes Diebold’s sentiment in her essay “Animation and History.”  She invokes Diebold, paraphrasing his assertion that “if cinema was to be an art form…it needed animation, because that made possible a cinema that had broken free of a naturalistic template and conventional story lines” (Leslie 33). Clearly, animation had both its own evolving development as an art form for abstract, modern artists in Europe, but it also acted as a testing ground for filmmakers and artists to better understand the intangible elements of film like rhythm, form, and composition.

Colorful forms from Ruttman's "Opus" series.

Colorful forms from Ruttman’s Opus series.

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     Moving from Europe to the United States, Winsor McCay, an American cartoonist, was busy developing his own animation process with slightly different intentions than Émile Cohl.  In fact, McCay’s attitude towards animation very much resembled the “cinema of attraction” displayed by early filmmakers like the Lumiére Brothers and Mélies trick films, and in his first film, “the four-minute sequence exploits movement for its own sake in a highly exploratory way” (Crafton, Before Mickey 103).  While McCay was able to work in to his early projects some semblance of narrative (something entirely lacking from Cohl’s Fantasmagorie), his first three and most famous productions were far more concentrated in spectacle than narrative.  As a cartoonist and vaudeville performer, McCay was an already established figure.  He wrote a newspaper comic strip at the time called Little Nemo in Slumberland.  Thus, when McCay translated this highly popular cartoon into the animated medium in 1911, it became a wildly popular piece of the exhibitionist cinema.  His first three cartoons, Little Nemo, followed by The Story of a Mosquito (1912) and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), all featured between 3000 and 5000 drawings each, and they were all produced with the purpose of accompanying McCay in a traveling live stage act.  The most famous of these was Gertie, which featured McCay physically climbing up a ladder behind the screen and timing it so that he would then appear on screen with the dinosaur.  As an American, McCay’s vision for animation somewhat differed from what would come to be.  In an article published in a 1911 issue of The Atlanta Constitution, McCay was discussing his work on Little Nemo, and predicted “ a day when finished paintings will possess life and action” (Ormond 16). 

      The American animation industry would not concentrate on this path, however.  Instead, there was John R. Bray, “animation’s greatest proponent of the mass-production…[and] at once the Henry Ford, Harold Lloyd and Thomas Edison of the cartoon business” (Adamson 48).  John Bray can be thought of as the man who brought animation out of experimentation and capitalized on its potential for business.  When he got a chance to experiment with animation around 1915, Bray patented one of the vital pieces of the standardized animation process, the cel.  This allowed a translucent sheet to separate the body of the character or animated element from the stationary background.  A Bray studio advertisement from Moving Picture World in 1919 asserts, “The Bray Studios has always led in the development of improved processes for superior animation,” and considering the cel was continually used through the 1990’s, this arrogant advertisement is more or less justified (Bray).  For a while, Bray was contracted with Paramount, creating short educational segments, newsreels, and the first military training films.  His artists included Paul Terry, Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz, and several other influential men that went on to Disney and Warner Bros. in the 1930’s.  Though Bray never created any lasting property, he did establish the business model of mass production in animation which would be adopted by the most influential animators of the next two decades .

     After Bray’s withdrawal from animation, the medium declined.  European artists were no longer using animation as an artistic medium in the 1920’s, and thanks to Bray, animation had become industrialized in the pattern of Hollywood films, effectively stifling the expensive, labor-intensive productions McCay had been exploring a decade earlier.  It was only with Walt Disney’s bet on sound in 1928 with Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie that animation continued to stay technologically relevant with film.  Disney’s competitors would follow suit, transferring to sound in the 1930’s, until he took another major leap forward in 1932 with Flowers and Trees, the first film to ever use Technicolor’s three-strip full-color process.  Five years later, Disney would step forward again with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), the first feature length animated picture.  Again, the industry followed, and the Fleischer brothers would release their own picture in 1941, Mr. Bug Goes to Town. 

The pinnacle of animation as high art, "Fantasia" was able to incorporate abstract form alongside music driven and character driven story lines.

The pinnacle of animation as high art, Fantasia was able to incorporate abstract form alongside music driven and character driven story lines.

Throughout the 1930’s, Disney continually pushed for more cohesive stories when other studios were satisfied with cartoons that relied solely on gags.  All of this culminated with Fantasia in 1940, a full color film that was broken into eight segments and featured strictly no-dialogue in the story segments.  The only sound accompaniment — which was provided in the debut of stereophonic sound — was the symphonic orchestration.  The narrative, character, tone, and overall theme of each segment was wholly informed by the music, fulfilling Diebold’s prediction.  It was an effort to reverse the pattern of animation as a trivial accompaniment to major features and instead return to animation as a high art form.  It was, in fact, recognized as such at the Academy Awards where it received two special recognition awards for its advancement in technology and in the motion picture as an art form.  The goals of Richter, Eggeling, and Ruttmann’s experiments almost seem to directly inform this production, but box office returns turned out to be more influential in the future.

Animated form timed to music in "Fantasia," something reflected in the "Opus" series.

Animated form timed to music in Fantasia, something reflected in the Opus series.

Disney’s grand vision was shattered when the film saw abysmal box office returns, and it was only due to the major success of Snow White and relative success of Dumbo (1941) that the studio stayed alive.  Disney would not be able to produce another major motion picture until the 1950’s, and though he continued to push forward innovative filmmaking techniques — Lady and the Tramp being the first animated feature to be released in CinemaScope — Disney did not have the capital to innovate on such a grand scale, especially with his other ventures in theme parks and television.  According to film critic Leonard Maltin, “Creativity remained a hallmark of the animated features and shorts that came from his studio, but the bold era of experimentation was over.  The failure of Fantasia would remain a sore spot with Disney for the rest of his life” (Maltin).

     In spite of its best efforts, animation eventually tumbled into the mass-production form it is known for today, and Bray’s introduction of a business mindset won out.  Walt Disney, in his early years, made concerted efforts to reverse the pattern of lazy comic adaption and character inconsistency in animation with his elaborate shorts and innovative technologies, but his failure with Fantasia, followed by limitations brought on by World War II, resulted in the culmination and effective end of popular animation as fine art.  It was a hybridization years in the making and anticipated from nearly the beginning of the medium, but American industry more or less refused to let the two coexist. Nevertheless, the simple fact that in Fantasia Mickey Mouse can and does exist within a German poem and move in rhythm with a French symphony proves there is yet a potential for animation that will hopefully be further explored in the future.

Works Cited

Adamson, Joe. The Walter Lantz Story: With Woody Woodpecker and Friends. New York: Putnam, 1985. Print.

Bray, John R. “Bray Studios Pictograph.” Internet Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 15.

Crafton, Donald. Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1982. Print.

Crafton, Donald. Emile Cohl, Caricature, and Film. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990. Print.

Fantasmagorie. Dir. Émile Cohl. Gaumont, 1908. Web.

Lawder, Standish D. The Cubist Cinema. New York: New York UP, 1975. Print. Anthology Film  Archives.

Leslie, Esther. “Animation and History.” Animating Film Theory. Ed. Karen Beckman. London: Duke UP, 2014. 25-36. Print.

Maltin, Leonard. “When Disney Got Adult and Trippy.” BBC. BBC, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Ormond, Sidney. “Pictorial Art of the Future Will Move; Pity the Poor Newspaper Cartoonist.” The Atlanta Constitution 1 June 1911: 1+. ProQuest. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Bibliography

Adamson, Joe. The Walter Lantz Story: With Woody Woodpecker and Friends. New York: Putnam, 1985. Print.

Barrier, J. Michael. Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. Dir. Walter Ruttman. 1927. Web.

Bray, John R. “Bray Studios Pictograph.” Internet Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 15.

Bruckner, René, Dr. History of the International Cinema. Norris Cinema Theater, Los Angeles. 24 Aug. 2015. Lecture.

Crafton, Donald. Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1982. Print.

Crafton, Donald. Émile Cohl, Caricature, and Film. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990. Print.

Fantasia. Prod. Walt Disney and Ben Sharpsteen. Perf. Leopold Stokowski and Deems Taylor. Walt Disney Productions, 1940. DVD.

Fantasmagorie. Dir. Émile Cohl. Gaumont, 1908. Web.

The Haunted Hotel. Dir. Stuart Blackton. Vitagraph, 1907. Web.

Heraldson, Donald. Creators of Life: A History of Animation. New York: Drake, 1975. Print.

Korkis, Jim. The Book of Mouse: A Celebration of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse. N.p.: Theme Park, 2013. Print.

Lawder, Standish D. The Cubist Cinema. New York: New York UP, 1975. Print. Anthology Film Archives.

Leslie, Esther. “Animation and History.” Animating Film Theory. Ed. Karen Beckman. London: Duke UP, 2014. 25-36. Print.

Malevich, Kazimir Severinovich, and Oksana Bulgakowa. The White Rectangle: Writings on Film. Berlin: Potemkin, 2002. Print.

Maltin, Leonard. “When Disney Got Adult and Trippy.” BBC. BBC, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Opus I. Dir. Walter Ruttman. 1921. Web.

Ormond, Sidney. “Pictorial Art of the Future Will Move; Pity the Poor Newspaper Cartoonist.” The Atlanta Constitution 1 June 1911: 1+. ProQuest. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Peary, Danny, and Gerald Peary. The American Animated Cartoon: A Critical Anthology. New York: Dutton, 1980. Print.

Schwarz, Arturo. Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination. London: Thames and Hudson, 1977. Print.

Symphonie Diagonale. Dir. Viking Eggeling. 1924. Web.

“I’m a huge Beatles fan” is one of my least favorite phrases.  Seriously, if liking the music the Beatles made makes you a huge Beatles fan, then who isn’t a big Beatles fan?  If knowing the chronological release order of the albums makes you a huge Beatles fan, then still, who isn’t a big Beatles fan?  My point is, everybody is a big Beatles fan, and I need you, the reader, to understand that I do not fall into this category.  If a pedestrian knowledge of the Beatles makes you a huge Beatles fan, then I am (or at least used to be) of some level much higher than that.

When I was in grades 5-8, I got my hands on every book, disc, and film pertaining to the Fab Four.  I had two passionate interests: The Beatles and Disney.  I truly loved the Beatles (and I still really enjoy their music), and so when the Beatles’ edition of Rock Band was being released on 09/09/09, I built up my excitement for nearly a year and a half awaiting the release of that game.  As you may have guessed, playing the game that first day wasn’t all I had imagined it would be.  A lot of the songs I wanted to be featured were missing, it really wasn’t all that difficult, and after a few hours I just got bored with it.  Gee whiz, that day kind of sucked.

Ever since this incredible let down, I have been careful not to attach my hopes too strongly to any product.  I was careful to do this with Big Hero 6 as well.  About a month before its release, I was visiting Disneyland with a friend when I noticed an extended preview for the film featuring Baymax in the Magic Eye Theater.  Honestly, Baymax and his buddies had really been sitting on the back-burner of my mind up until that point.  Normally, about a month before a Disney release I tend to get truly excited for the upcoming film.  I remember Wreck-it Ralph had me researching video games on Wikipedia for hours in anticipation of viewing it.  However, this time as we walked by the posters, I felt a sort of dread in my stomach.  It was highly unlikely that anything could top the success of last year’s Frozen, but it wasn’t really the success of the film I was worried about, rather just me actually liking the story.

Long story short, I went in with low expectations, and I came out moderately satisfied.

Three major problems I had with this film were: 1) Disney is taking the Pixar approach now of forcing emotion through loss and death, 2) there was a grossly underdeveloped group of semi-major characters, and 3) it overall felt like a re-hashing of a Scooby-Doo episode.

First, Pixar has this strange habit of killing characters or artificially creating a sense of loss so that the audience emotionalizes with the film.  Maybe its a Lasseter thing because it’s popping up in Disney animation now too (the past three Disney animated features have all created a major sense of loss in the last ten minutes of the film).  Before those, take for example Monsters Inc. (2001).  In the final moments of the film, the audience suddenly has this big scare that Sully will never see Boo again after her door is shredded.  Never fear, though!  Mike is able to reconstruct the door and allow his buddy to re-visit his toddler pal just before the credits roll.  Heartwarming, isn’t it?  But wait, didn’t we just see this again?  Big Hero 6 closes off a portal, and poor Hiro will never be able to see his buddy Baymax again after it closes.  Once again, looks like events work out just perfectly so that he can rebuild the robot and restore his programming so that they can continue having adventures together.  This death scare ending is also seen in Finding Nemo (2003), WALLE (2008), Toy Story 3 (2010), Tangled (2010), Brave (2011), Wreck-It Ralph (2012)and Frozen (2013).  Admittedly, it’s a solid tactic to force the audience to buy into the story.  It gains sympathy and interest for what’s taking place on screen, but in reality it’s an empty sense of loss.  The loss of Tadashi — one of the few characters in the film that is actually somewhat developed before he is killed off — pales in comparison to the loss of Ellie in Up (2009) that Carl experiences very early.  However, maybe it’s not fair to compare this film to Up given that the strong emotion that opening montage provokes is rarely found to be executed so quickly and expertly in any film.  Take then Ratatouille (2007), a film that contains the death of two characters, but the difference is each take place from the outset of the film, so there is no artificial, forced sense of loss, nor is any character’s action or motivations really driven by these deaths.  A wonderful story follows without any part of the plot hinging on impending loss.  Clearly, it’s possible for Disney Animation (currently under the control of Pixar staff) to execute a story without reminding its audience of mortality, so that’s a change I’d certainly like to see in the future.

Another issue I had with this film is that several of the characters remain incredibly underdeveloped over the course of the film.  As I mentioned before, the character of Tadashi actually quickly works his way into favor with the audience before he is rubbed out.  It seems like the writers wanted so badly for us to accept and embrace Tadashi before they killed him that they forgot to develop the rest of the story after his death (which is a major 2/3 chunk of the film).  I honestly have a difficult time recalling each of the characters’ names in Hiro’s band of crimefighters, pointing to their lack of presence in the film and the origin story of this group.  Fred, Honey Lemon, Go Go, and Wasabi, the four others in this band of six, simply seem to exist so that we can follow Hiro as he struggles through coping with the loss of his brother.  The problem is that the film is a self-described “origin story,” so focusing instead consistently on struggling through loss confuses the identity of the movie: is it a film about a single character’s maturation or about how a group of characters came together to form a super team.  Clocking in at 102 minutes, it really doesn’t have time to be both.  It’s attempting to do so makes the time fly by, and ultimately leaves the audience feeling not even the satisfaction of a cliffhanger, but the disappointment of a film that never found what story it wanted to tell.

Finally, what I felt was the strangest qualm I had, and I only noticed this after the credits had rolled, was it seemed as though this was a revisitation of the Scooby-Doo concept.  A group of kids gather together with a robot replacing the canine in order to solve the mystery of who is behind the crimes being committed.  For crying out loud, they take a mask off of the villain.  If that doesn’t scream “zoinks” then I’m not sure what will.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Scooby-Doo, but would you really pay $20 to sit and watch an hour and a half of a reincarnation of those meddling kids?  Maybe its an unfounded, opinionated criticism, but once I noticed the similarities, the film lost a lot of depth for me.

All-in-all, as I said before, it’s a mediocre film in terms of story.  In terms of business, Big Hero 6 is doing nicely domestically, crossing its $165 million budget in stateside gross this past weekend.  Internationally, it’s accumulated approximately $225 million, according to Box Office Mojo.  It’s no Frozen, nor is it even hitting the numbers Maleficent put up this past summer, but with little competition ahead these next few weeks in terms of family fare, the film should do plenty of business.  It’s beautifully animated, especially the fluffy, spongy Baymax, but for what it is, the money it has earned thus far is a little more than it maybe deserved.   It was an enjoyable feature that I hope Disney has the decency to resist making a sequel to.

Yes, this is an animation blog.  No, this post does not directly deal with animation; however, I recently visited Walt Disney World, and what’s going on there, based on what I’ve read and experienced, and given that at the moment there is not a lot going on with animation (outside The Lego Movie juggernaut), this is an important new program that will affect Disney across the board.  Of course, I need to give credit where it is due.  After reading Tom Richard’s review of FastPass+ on Mouseplanet.com, I was struck and inspired by this closing thought he wrapped up with: “Many frontline cast members say that the idea behind the new My Magic Plus is to evenly distribute crowds at the most popular parks, like the Magic Kingdom, and to reduce overall wait times. That may be true to an extent, but adding attractions would also help reduce wait times and evenly distribute people.”

Disney's Magic Bands in my experience proved to be exciting, but simply not a necessary change in terms of enhancing the guest experience at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney’s Magic Bands in my experience proved to be exciting, but simply not a necessary change in terms of enhancing the guest experience at the Walt Disney World Resort.

While I found no exact, official investment numbers Disney has put into the FastPass+ project, unofficial sources commonly estimate upwards of $1 billion has been poured into these wristbands.  The sad thing, and this has been stated in practically every FastPass+ review I’ve found, is that the bands are still a mess.  In my own personal experience with the wearable tech over a six day visit, my troubles included not being given a PIN number upon arrival in order to pay for anything, having that PIN suddenly reset midway through the visit while trying to pay for lunch, an inability to upload photos onto our $200 Memory Maker account from certain family members’ bands, and a fairly confusing, clunky app that would often separate our family’s FastPass times even though they ended up still all being reserved together.  Of course, Disney did provide reimbursements, extra FastPasses, and other forms of compensation for the troubles we experienced, but what it really comes down to is why is Disney pursuing this technology, and why are they still having troubles after nearly a year of testing and almost two months of resort-wide integration?

There’s no question about it, Disney found the FastPass+ idea more attractive because it had a monetary benefit.  I presume this idea ran along the lines of “If our guests have their times for riding and dining all planned out, that leaves more time for shopping, and since purchases are as simple to make as tapping a wrist to a Classic Mickey, all the better!”  Surely there was more sophisticated and educated planning than that, but I refuse to believe that The Walt Disney Company would invest in something so complex solely because it enhances the guest experience (where are those monorails to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom?).  The problem I have with the investment is more that it is entirely unnecessary investment.  So far, the bands are not revolutionary, rather they are infamous.  If Disney fails to get the show running smoothly by summer, Magic Bands will become more of a hazard, a detriment to the good name of Disney service, rather than a good idea that just needs to get out its kinks.  People won’t be patient with such abysmal technology, especially given what a Disney vacation costs these days.

In addition, Universal Studios has built in essence a mint with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, not to mention its coming expansion this summer.  With Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise on the decline (wait times for the attraction never topped 30 minutes over the Valentine’s/President’s Day holiday weekend), and princesses are targeted at a very narrow age group of girls, Disney’s park appeal is beginning to rely solely on the Disney parks name.  I walked through New Fantasyland, and without question it is a certain improvement in efficiency in the way it has opened up the previously chronically congested Fantasyland.  It also is refreshing to see Walt Disney World’s most drastic addition since Animal Kingdom, but it’s simply not enough.  Obviously, building a second Cars Land in Florida is not only a discredit to the unique magic of California’s, but I seriously doubt it is economically sound.  Yet why invest $1 billion in bracelets when the competition down the road is creating and expanding an immersive world that appeals to perhaps one of the widest fan-bases in existence, second only to, I would guess, Star Wars.  Ah, now the gears are turning!  The enthusiastic average Joe would suddenly exclaim, “That’s what they should do!  Disney should create a Star Wars experience just like Harry Potter!”  What a wonderful idea!  The only problem is that rumors suggest just such a project has been placed on hold due to the extreme investment and extreme troubles Walt Disney World has in the Magic Bands.  Of course, construction on the Avatar experience in Animal Kingdom is continuing at this moment.  Remember Avatar?  It came out in 2009, experienced the ephemeral fame of pop culture, and has now gone the way of YOLO and Vine.  Sequels are lined up for 2016, 2017, and 2018, and Disney better hope that those not only revive the Avatar fan-base, but establish it so that that section does not have to be torn down in ten years when it becomes outdated (or sooner, should Disney, as they ought to, overhaul Animal Kingdom just like they did California Adventure.  But that is another story in itself).

How does this all relate back to animation?  Bob Iger recently promised Frozen coming to Disney parks in a big way.  While he was not specific as to how its presence will be brought to the parks outside of the castle projection shows and other night-time spectacles, I can only imagine that, with the shape Walt Disney World is in at the moment, it will not be anything sturdy, permanent, and retaining.  By retaining, I mean an experience that will keep families excited to experience it five to ten years in the future.  Disney has already invested the money in Magic Bands, so it is no use to gripe about their negligence to the very skewed attraction line-up, as Tom mentioned in his review.  What I hope the company will recognize going forward is that they need an experience quite desperately at Walt Disney World that will appeal to a wide audience, just as Walt had originally intended with Disneyland.  In comparison between the two, I honestly felt that the four parks at the World felt more empty of worthwhile attractions than Disneyland’s two parks.  So Disney, fix the Magic Bands, or scale them back even if need be, but invest in something worthwhile and tangible to truly please crowds, not just an unnecessary service that has the ability to improve profits, but possibly tarnish your nearly spotless track record of customer service.

One of Disney's first uses of RFID technology was on its cups.  The chips are placed on cups to monitor refills.  The same ideas now apply to the Magic Bands

One of Disney’s first uses of RFID technology was on its cups. The chips are placed on cups to monitor refills. The same ideas now apply to the Magic Bands

Connections are important.  They are the supply lines of careers that can often act as a springboard for up-and-coming talent in any profession.  In film especially, connections can provide a strong basis on which you can begin a career.  The best way to form these when you live in the middle of nowhere is through email, and over the years, that is exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  I’ve come across some very valuable advice from a woman who has worked as an animator on The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh.  Just recently, according to iMDb.com, she worked in the visual development of Wreck-it Ralph.  This woman is Sarah Airriess whose blog you can find here.

Following the release of The Princess and the FrogI found Mrs. Airriess’ name listed in the credits as an apprentice animator.  Hoping to find how she had made it to this stage in her life, I emailed her a few questions along the lines of “What advice do you have for a kid who wants to do what you do some day?” I also couldn’t resist asking her what parts she animated.  The response I received was fantastic, and her advice was surprisingly simple.

First of all, she recommended some materials to learn from, specifically a website this website:  The Temple of the Seven Golden Camels .  It is a goldmine in terms of explaining various aspects of storytelling.  The author(s) has posted articles ranging in subject from costumes to character arcs.  Whether you want to better understand movies, or simply add to your writing, this blog will help out invaluably.  In addition to this, Mrs. Airriess recommended the practice of “stop-framing,” as she described it.  Basically, she explained that by playing back animated classics like Snow White or Tarzan frame by frame, a viewer can study character movements and understand better the idea of what animation should look like in the individual drawings.  Through the method of “stop-framing,” you really can get a first-hand look at what animation legends put into their drawings to bring out the life.  I’ve even tried it with Looney Tunes cartoons.  When “stop-framing” a Looney Tunes cartoon however, if it is directed by Chuck Jones, you will find that every few frames contain one of his own key frames, as he would draw out the keys for many of his cartoons, including all three episodes of The Hunting Trilogy.

I also found that Mrs. Airriess animated in The Princess and the Frog many background and crowd shots, as well as a few scenes with Dr. Facilier.  The lesson to be learned from all of this is that a simple email is possibly the most empowering tool for any adolescent looking towards his or her future.  The worst that can happen is your contact may decline or forget to respond due to a heavy work schedule.  All of this valuable advice has come straight from a professional.  It’s safe to say that connections are pretty powerful stuff, and coincidently, they’re in the name of my blog.  (I didn’t mean to do that at all).

Sarah Airriess created this pencil test of Dr. Facilier.  Notice how much energy and flexibility she gave Facilier in this shot, even though the camera angle was in an unfamiliar position.  It’s impressive how visible the energy is in the character, despite the rough form it is presented in the video.  ( http://www.penciltestdepot.com/2011/03/bruce-smith-facilier-patf.html )

Let’s say you’re like me, a high school kid who finds the monotonous routines in school to be, well, dull.  You look forward to that day when you work for one of the largest entertainment companies in the world.  If you had the chance, you would stay at home for a full week and watch all of the Looney Tunes Platinum Collections both with and without commentary.  Once finished with those, you might speed read through Fantagraphic’s Popeye comic strip collections so that you could have time to browse through Dave Smith’s Disney A to Z.  Maybe you’d even pop in a Walt Disney Treasures DVD so that you could watch the unveiling of the Matterhorn in the 1959, or the classic Oswald cartoons of the 1920’s set to music of the time.  If any of this at all applies to you, I have your cure for those days of endless boredom and unhappiness.

It’s the brilliant combination of victory and animation memorabilia in these two auction websites  that generally gets me through the day: those being Theme Park Connection  and Mouse Surplus.  From these two websites, I’ve amassed several authentic, one-of-a-kind Disney Parks collectibles.  For example, for just $40, I won 3 operation manuals for Disneyland rides dated back to the 1960’s.  In addition, I’ve also won authentic uniform patches that cast members wore at Walt Disney World during the 1970’s.  However there have been major auction losses along the way, such as when I lost the auction for a Mickey Mouse flag that flew over the Disneyland Main Street train station.  Quite frankly, it was a heart-breaker.

You may think at this point, “Hans, I don’t see the advantage to your websites!  I already can find the specific collectibles I am looking for by just searching them on ebay.”  Well, silly reader, the problem with your method is it is irregular, sporadic, and unorganized.  In order to get the good stuff, you need to have consistency, and both Theme Park Connection and MouseSurplus provide this in their ebay stores!  It is true, my fellow fan, they have their own sections of the internet reserved specifically for selling Disney memorabilia.  The integrity of the two sellers gives them the connections with Disney that give them a first shot at selling anything the company is throwing out, such as ride vehicles, signs, or other various park decorations.

Now, before beginning to browse, you have to know what your selection will be.  While MouseSurplus has a smaller collection of items, they possess more valuable products.  Often you will find here authentic cels, full uniforms, and occasionally something as special as a ride vehicle or store decorations from Main Street U.S.A. shops.  On the other hand, Theme Park Connection auctions off the smaller collectibles, such as patches, limited edition park give-aways, employee gifts, and maybe sometimes rare park signage.

And so, now we come to a decision you must make.  Let’s say you’ve found that rare Disney Cruise Line cast member uniform on the Theme Park Connection eBay store.  You’d love to have something unique, something that is un-purchasable elsewhere, but before you click the “bid” button, a voice in your head continually advises you not to bid on it.  “It’s too expensive; it’s a waste of money; you’ll never have a use for it; it’s gross, someone else wore it; you don’t really need a Disney employee uniform,” the voice claims.  My advice to you: shut that voice up and hit bid!  Perhaps it’s expensive (around $300), but who cares?  Wouldn’t you like to fill your day with the excitement of an online auction, instead of working until your head blows off?  It’s the thrill of the competition, the thrill of the final few minutes in which you and five other bidders try to pound in your final offers, the thrill of winning and knowing you beat somebody who most likely wanted it just as badly as you did!  These are the rewards of online bidding.

If you find yourself, like me, to be an animation fan, fascinated with the prospect of owning a 1970’s horticulture patch worn by Walt Disney World gardeners, but looking to spice up your dull, daily routine, I recommend the online auction sites of Theme Park Connection and MouseSurplus.  In a business as competitive as animation, both fans and employees alike can find enjoyment in the high tension competition provided by the final few minutes in an auction for a patch somebody wore 40 years ago to work.  It works even for Christmas shopping as the rare items here up for sale easily guarantee there will be no embarrassingly awkward gift duplications.  The roller-coaster of emotions these auctions can take you on are sure to add a little zest to your currently average life.

Examples of the incredibly rare, classic pieces you can purchase from online auctions. Often items range from full cast member uniforms to park signage to vintage patches These two patches are specifically from Theme Park Connection

In the Disney parks, rides, characters, scenery, and merchandise only make up a portion of the Disney experience.  To complete the bare necessities of a Disney trip, you have to include food.  Disney knows full well the power of food.  In fact, food can be more powerful at times than a plush Perry the Platypus doll, in terms of generating revenue that is.  A sobbing child demanding a head-sized lollipop is just about guaranteed for any Magic Kingdom/Disneyland visit.  You see, those Mickey shaped ice cream bars, or the Mickey shaped pretzels, or even those Rice Krispie Mickey heads can’t be purchased anywhere else in the world.  It’s without a doubt a unique experience to buy a candied apple off of a turn-of-the-century street vendor, and then eat it while waiting for a train down the street from a towering castle.  When we think of Disney, the smells of popcorn and fresh pastries wafting from the Main Street bakeries and carts are more subconscious essentials to that mental vision, rather than extra additions the Mouse House threw in just to make a quick buck.  Sure these make money, but they’re also about memories.  Following are my top 4 Main Street Treats:

4.  The Casey’s Corner Chili Dogs

Though not a traditional dessert, I’d absolutely include this among Main Street’s Top treats.  For a filling meal or snack, this beats the other park quick-service and sit down restaurants by a long shot.  A relatively cheap chili dog is sure to fill as a snack alone or as a meal when ordered with the whole deal.  In addition to this, the baseball decor and quieter sitting areas provide a peaceful place to eat with a great view of the castle.

3.  Plaza Ice Cream Parlor

Maybe I’m a little biased on this selection, but my love of ice cream only naturally leads to this selection.  A snack here works either coming into the park or on the way out.  Personally, I’d prefer to stop here between noon and the afternoon parade.  With younger visitors off in Fantasyland, and a slower entry flow, an ice cream cone is the perfect treat to fuel a guest up for the second half of the day.  To top it all off, we aren’t talking mini cups of ice cream, nor wimpy sugar cones with a scoop and a half of the cold stuff.  No, the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor serves up heaping 3 and 4 massive cones.  While they come at a price, the fuel and satisfaction they provide are simply unbeatable.

2.  Mickey Mouse Shapes-On-A-Stick

It’s a bit broad, but I want to try and be as inclusive as possible here.  The ice cream bars, Rice Krispie Treats, candied apples, and other assorted confections in the shape of Mickey’s head really add a nice touch.  While eating these, you know truly are in a different world.  You’re in Walt’s world, and in Walt’s world, the real world is long gone.  The real world is abandoned, magic is alive, and in a world where those classic ears appear everywhere from bushes to the clouds, it’s only natural that the food should take shape after that famous profile as well!  Sure they may just be everyday treats, but it’s the magic, nostalgia, and completion they add to the general surroundings that make these Mickey head confections so special.

A wrapper from the Mickey Ice Cream Bar. Notice how they’ve used an older style of Mickey’s head here, one that is more like the 1950’s design rather than the modern version of Mickey’s face. This could either be to label the package with a head that more closely fits the shape of the ice cream bar it contains, or it simply could be a nostalgic nod towards the 1950’s when Disneyland first opened.

1. The Turkey Leg

It is not theme park food.  That is the reason it is my number one.  The fact that this delicious but strange edible has had such strong approval ratings in the parks makes its fame respectable.  Since the 1990’s, Disney has been serving up these steaming fowl appendages.  Though delicious, what I love so much about this treat is its iconic nature.  Theme parks do not serve turkey legs, and quite frankly, when do we eat them besides around Thanksgiving?  Disney has made the turkey leg it’s own. You don’t buy a turkey leg at Six Flags, because it doesn’t belong there.  The turkey legs are much like the hidden mickeys: Newer guests may not take notice of them, but veterans cannot imagine a Disneyverse without them.  For its deliciousness and the unique belonging it has in a Disney park, the turkey leg is my number one Disney treat.

A testament to the popularity of the seemingly out of place Disney park treat, the turkey leg.