Recently, Disney announced plans for a movie based off the ride, It’s a Small World.  Recently, the ride has been making headlines for the 50th anniversary of its debut at the 1964 World’s Fair.  The company has been releasing an animated web series based on the show through Disney interactive on the main disney.com.

Don’t get me wrong, It’s a Small World is a great ride.  I’ve loved it since I was young, and I will continue to love it, I anticipate, for years to come.  However, doesn’t it feel like this is almost a late “April Fools” joke?  If you asked me back in 2002 whether or not Pirates of the Caribbean would succeed as a movie franchise, I would’ve made the wrong prediction, as would many others I expect.  Even that franchise has run its course and died down now.  Honestly, I do not see the public clamoring for more fare based off of Disney amusement parks.  The long-rumored Jungle Cruise movie has thankfully stayed dormant, and in spite of the addition of the Barnabas T. Bullion company to Big Thunder Mountain in Walt Disney World, we have yet to see that attraction hit the small-screen on ABC.

I get it: creating a franchise out of an existing ride attracts those movie audiences into the parks without spending any more money to develop an E-ticket ride.  But it’s almost like a slap in the face at this point.  Though I am a traditionalist when it comes to Disney parks, I am not opposed to tasteful upgrades and updates.  Sadly, we know that whatever characters Jon Turteltaub directs will then be directed straight into the ride by corporate.  That is not under my definition of a tasteful update.

As a massive entertainment company with more properties under its wingspan now than ever in its history, one would hope Disney has the decency to look a little harder elsewhere before resorting to turning another one of its own classic, core theme park rides into an ugly, disposable franchise.

For some strange reason, some folks are getting pretty wound up over the upcoming 2015 Blue Sky picture Peanuts.  In particular, animation news site cartoonbrew.com has taken a particularly hostile stance towards this movie.  Although author of the article Amid Amidi certainly is entitled to his experienced and professional opinion, my years of experience with Charlie Brown and friends are giving me a particular feeling that there is no reason to fear any “blandification” of the Peanuts gang in this film.

I am a traditionalist.  I hate the idea of Disneyland adding a Frozen overlay to the Matterhorn, I hate(d) the idea of Iago and Zazu taking over Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and I hate the idea of, for lack of a better description, “smurfing” up a timeless icon of American culture.  That being said, there is a time when revisions and updates, tastefully done, are necessary, and even laudable.  For example, Planet of the Apes was a wonderfully provoking-yet-frightening movie in its time.  It hit the right notes of the time and scored big in becoming a timeless classic, but the effect of its ending has lost its impact in a time when nuclear war is no longer as foreboding and pressing on the public mind as it once was.  That’s why today the prequels are preforming well due to not only a modern relevancy to auds facing insurrection and rebellion in established society, but an update in technology and the way we see the fury of these apes.

Just so, Charlie Brown needs an update.  Jokes from Schulz’s fifty-year career just aren’t cutting it with modern viewers most often, and anything that’s written for the occasional new “specials” that follow the holiday classics can never live up to the genius he invested in his work. I do not expect anything as brilliant as the original strips, but instead I happily anticipate the coming of a new generation of Peanuts, different from the comic strips in the way Disneyland is different from Walt Disney World: not necessarily better, rather simply updated and remolded.  When I see the artwork for the new Peanuts, I am encouraged by, what looks to me, to be a true effort to incorporate the atmosphere of a comic strip into a moving picture on screen.  This screenshot says it all.

The blend between three dimensions and two dimensions will be an interesting take, but I feel it will create a beautiful comic strip feel to the picture.  From cartoonbrew.com.

The blend between three dimensions and two dimensions will be an interesting take, but I feel it will create a beautiful comic strip feel to the picture. From cartoonbrew.com.

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

A few things to observe about The Lego Movie:

*It earned $69 million in February.  It’s animated.

*It sits at number two among all-time February openings ahead of Friday the 13th (2009), Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail, Shutter Island, The Vow, Hitch, Ghost RiderValentine’s Day, and Hannibal.  It only trails Passion of the Christ’s $83 million dollar opening.  As it happens, this is the same list for all time opening weekends in the winter, where it sits at number 2 as well.

*It features celebrity heavyweights such as Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, and other big names including Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Jonah Hill, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, and Channing Tatum.

*It’s looking at a holiday weekend coming up February 14-17.

*Its production budget of $60 million practically guarantees that we’ll be seeing a sequel within the next two years.

*Google worked a nice tie-in during the previews to its Chrome-app version of the Lego Digital Designer, a virtual lego builder that’s been around since I was ten.

This is the next Frozen.  What’s going for Lego is that, like Frozen, its word of mouth capability will carry the picture far.  What’s working against it is the stigma that it’s a product-placement slap to the face for anybody over the age of seven.  Even twelve year-old Ivan Sanchez remarked in an interview with Variety that the movie was for younger kids.  What’s going to overcome this obstacle, however, is word-of-mouth.  In the theater, laughter didn’t come from howling and screeching six year-olds every two minutes, rather there seemed to be a collective satisfaction in the humor on-screen.  Kids would laugh at Superman being covered in a pile of gum; adults would laugh at his misery in being wedged in next to the annoying, useless superhero Green Lantern.  This film has potential for some very strong legs, and I find it promising that, as more people see Lego and find out that it is in truth an ironic criticism of consumer culture and the parents who just buy whatever sets Lego puts out, it will connect with the cynical, grown-up, too-good-for-toys audience (like teenagers).

Something else we can expect from The Lego Movie is an inevitable sequel.  I’d like to think that the film’s central messages on creativity and originality would deter a follow up, but should the original team refuse, another will be hired.  Animal Logic, the animation team primarily behind the movie, has created such superb, specific programming and techniques for animating square, restricted bricks that, should they for any reason not be back on board with any sequel, the product will without question be considerably less than the original.  Look here for an article and here for a video on the making of The Lego Movie (provided by cartoonbrew.com).  Both provide details into the intricate, precise creation of a lego world in an animated movie.

Let’s pretend for a minute that Dreamwork’s Turbo and Sony’s Smurfs 2 are non-existant.  Let’s just close our eyes and wish those small disasters away.  Now for the truly large disasters that have rolled out this summer: White House Down, The Lone Ranger, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim, R.I.P.D., After Earth, and, though a bit more of a stretch, World War Z.  Box office turnout was decent for a few of these movies, but the profits just could never justify their cost.  It was an expensive summer, but the strategy just didn’t pay off ultimately.  The significance in this is that a lackluster summer of movies drives a lot of attention towards the animated pictures.  It put a lot more spotlight on movies like Disney’s Planes.  Originally a direct-to-video production, the money-making extension on Cars ultimately pulled off a decent showing.  Turbo and Smurfs, not so much.  Let’s face it though, we still had room for Disney-Pixar’s Monster’s University to not only become a box-office hit in comparison to other releases this summer, but it also marked a nice comeback for Pixar after two years of so-so productions.  Add on Epic and, more importantly, Despicable Me 2, and summer 2013 can pretty well be summed up in animation.  Sure there was no breakthrough, revolutionary story in any of these, but when it comes down to it, the forgettable big budget pictures that failed made room for animation this summer.

As time passes, a sequel to the 1988 hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit seems to increase its probability of becoming real.  Though it’s been a rumor and nothing more for years, with Robert Zemeckis having confirmed a script but leaving out strong details, I feel that in order for the film to be a success among both modern and elder cartoon lovers, a few things need to be tweaked in order for this film to be a success.

1.  The addition of the Hanna Barbera cast:  Yes, it’s about as controversial of a demand as you could make.  In fact, it might be as ridiculous as asking for the inclusion of Spongebob Squarepants in the movie.  Make no mistake, however, time has passed, and to modern audiences, characters like Yogi Bear, Fred Flintstone, and Quick Draw McGraw are as old as the Looney Tunes and Disney characters were when the original was released.  Of course, these characters would have no major roles (We wouldn’t be calling in Freddie and the Gang to solve anything), rather they could make simple cameos like Huckleberry Hound patrolling a street in a police car, or Top Cat taking a taxi for a spin.

2. A deeper development of Toontown:  Let’s find what makes Toontown work.  Are there different boroughs for the various ages of animation?  Do iconic buildings such as the clock tower from the Disney short “Clock Cleaners” exist, or are there forests in which Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer hold their violent escapades?  How do the new computer graphics fit into this world?  Is there an entirely different suburb for Shrek and Woody?  Basically, let’s see more of Toontown, but maintain a balance with the neat setting of classic Hollywood.

3.  Keep the story focused:  The geniuses in charge of this film without question understand that the success of the story lies in centering it, once again, around Roger Rabbit and Bob Hoskins, however, what I am afraid of is that the companies lending their characters will get too greedy and ask for a story more driven by their characters.  What made the movie such a success was that the moments on screen were special.  Daffy Duck and Donald Duck together for just 2 minutes was priceless, and it left the audience screaming for more.  And that’s just the point: the short moments of cameos are what make the film so exciting to watch.  Otherwise, it’d be a dumb cross over between franchises, sort of like a silly Batman meets Superman ordeal.

4.  Forget the family factor: In the first Roger Rabbit, there was an unmistakable adult feel to the film.  While it was by no means an “adult film,” it’d be hard to picture cartoons, murder, sex, and drugs all together on one screen.  It worked though, and to draw the same crowds as the first, especially with the content audiences are accustomed to today, a Roger Rabbit sequel will have to again toe that adult line, and at times even cross over it.

What’s cool anymore is as much a mystery to me as it is to an unthawed caveman. For me, old has always been cool.  These days, old furniture, record players, and just general assortments of retro crap are becoming cool to everybody else.  What surprises me is that the movies have not been largely affected by this “retro” craze.  Animated shorts are the ultimate throwback, and only recently has Disney begun to attempt the re-creation of animated shorts.

This year, the Mouse House released a web-exclusive, 3 minute Mickey Mouse cartoon entitled “Croissant de Triomphe.”  It’s impressive in that it delivers a picture that has the feel of an original, hand drawn short, and yet at the same time the computer aspect of it clearly shows.  While I do not know exactly how the short was made, I can make this judgement: it’s got the look of a great hand-drawn/computer-made hybrid.  And in just three minutes, Disney really packs in a story, most catering towards the shorter attention spans of today’s viewers.  Having been received well across the Internet, it can be assumed Disney will be pumping out more of these three minute Mickeys in the future, and, if other studios follow suit, we could witness a revisitation of the Golden Age of Animation during the Internet age of throwbacks and ever-changing trends.

Mickey Mouse – Croissant de Triomphe – Video Dailymotion.