Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pacific Northwest Mouse Trek - WDFM

On May 5, 2012, I attended an event called "The Pacific Northwest Mouse Trek," which took place at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Now my regular readers know by now that I am not from the Pacific Northwest. But that’s one of the great things about this organization. You don’t have to be in order to attend their events.

Don Morin, Keith Gluck, Jeff Kurtti

The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet is an annual event and fan club that was started back in 2009 by Don Morin. Don became a Disney fan back in High School, thanks to one fateful history assignment: Write about a historical figure from the 20th Century. Don chose to write about the greatest creative genius of all time, Walt Disney. Throughout his research Don’s admiration for Walt grew exponentially, and he continued to study Walt and his philosophy long after High School. One day, Don decided he wanted to share his love of Disney with the world.

Per the official site, the PNW Mouse Meets are comprised of: Disney Celebrities & Disney Community Celebrities (including podcasters, authors, and travel experts), Disneyana Collectibles, vendors, Disney Fan Collection Displays, pin trading, trivia, food, hidden Mickeys, and much more. The inaugural Meet took place on Saturday August 15, 2009, at the Lynnwood Convention Center in Lynnwood, Washington. It featured such Disney names as Lou Mongello (host of the “WDW Radio Show Podcast”), and Margaret Kerry (the original model for Tinker Bell).

Don with Margaret
Pic courtesy of

The club also hosts what they call “Mini Meets.” In the past these have included local Lynnwood events, like “History of Disneyland Meet and Greet Characters (1955-Present),” as well as field trips, including a trip to the Disneyland Resort for a special viewing of World of Color (that particular mini-meet featured a special guest, original Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr).

Don, Bob Gurr, PNWMM staff member Marc Morin
Pic courtesy of

Needless to say, this club is cool. Their May 2012 Mini Meet brought them to my backyard, the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio, San Francisco. My friend and Disney Historian/prolific author/Museum creative consultant Jeff Kurtti was the lone special guest for this event, and in addition to delighting everyone with his knowledge and stories, he was also preparing to host a presentation called “Walt on the Screen.” I was not going to miss that.

I did miss the first half of the day, however (softball duty called), which consisted of: a morning meet-up over coffee and pastries in the Museum CafĂ©, an informal chat with Jeff in the Main Lobby, two hours to roam through the Museum’s galleries, and lunch in the Special Exhibition Hall, complete with gift bags full of cool swag. I got there in the middle of lunch, and immediately began mingling with the friendly folks at my table. After lunch, we all headed down to the theater to get ready for Jeff’s presentation.

Audience gathering in the WDFM's beautiful theater

Walt on the Screen

Jeff in action

Jeff started us off with footage of a teenage Walt Disney, fooling around with the camera. Walt had learned how to overlay footage creating the special effect of three different Walts sharing the screen. The effect actually looked quite good. Walt had done it himself, and it was 1920.

He then showed us a few clips that fans of One Man’s Dream would instantly recognize; Walt drawing at his desk (which Jeff reminded us was actually filmed outside due to lighting constraints of the time), smoking and scratching his forehead as he drew. The next clip was young Virginia Davis peeking into Walt’s office. Now films were still silent then, but we knew what she wanted thanks to a title card which read, “I would like to watch you draw some funnies.” Walt invited her in, and the two watched an animated sequence with a dog and his doghouse, while they were in the same frame.

Walt and Virginia

“Mickey Mouse Signs Up” was the next clip, and this one, complete with sound, featured multiple takes of Walt at his desk surrounded by RKO executives as he signed a contract with them. A few of the outtakes showed Walt introducing the executives to Mickey and Donald (in the form of stuffed dolls), and Walt even showcased a bit of his sense of humor when he playfully told them, “You can count on me working out here, while you’re in New York in the snow.”

Several more clips followed, including: Walt introducing us to the seven dwarfs, Walt in front of a mic performing dialogue in Mickey’s voice, Walt at his studio with the U.S. government during WWII, and Walt from his first television special, “One Hour in Wonderland.” The scene we watched depicted Walt interacting with the magic mirror, while showing off a bit of his underrated acting prowess.

From one TV special to another, next up was “Disneyland goes to the World’s Fair.” The entire special is close to 50 minutes in length, but we just got a small taste. Walt with a baby brontosaurus, and later, singing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” with the Sherman Brothers. After the song Walt spoke to the viewers briefly about Progressland and the “General Electric Carousel Theater.” I wonder if Jeff threw that part in there just for me?

Walt and his pet brontosaurus

Robert Sherman, Richard Sherman, Walt Disney

Walt introducing a model of the Carousel Theater

Did you know that in 1965 Walt Disney appeared in a short sketch on the Jack Benny Hour? In it, Jack beats around the bush trying to convince Walt to comp him 110 free tickets to Disneyland. Walt plays obtuse marvelously, as the camera cuts to him just staring at Jack while he clumsily implies to Walt what he wants. In the end Jack gets his tickets, and we get six minutes of absolutely delightful footage of Walt, once again displaying genuine acting ability.

Walt with Jack Benny

The presentation wound down with two of Walt’s final onscreen appearances. The first of which was an excerpt of the famous “Florida Project” film, in which Walt discusses his plans for Disney World. For as many times as I have seen that, and seeing what he had planned, especially for Epcot, it never stops amazing me. Epcot the city would have been nothing short of revolutionary. The last clip of the afternoon featured Walt speaking in a public service announcement on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, in the “National Wildlife Week” series. In the clip, Walt was stressing the importance of preserving our land; that it be developed as such that tomorrow’s Americans may have the land to enjoy as well.

While I could watch footage of Walt Disney all day, that brought the program to a touching close. Jeff stuck around afterwards to autograph any of the dozens of books he has authored, answer questions, and to pose for a few pictures.

Jeff signing away

And yes, as always, I bothered him for a photo.

Jeff, and me fresh from a softball game

The next Mouse Meet, on August 4 of this year, unfortunately is already sold out. The line-up that afternoon will feature: Jeff Kurtti, Disney Legend Paige O’Hara (best known as Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast), Disney Executive Tony Baxter (Senior Vice President of Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering, and responsible for some of the most cherished attractions in all of the Disney parks), and Disney Legend Marty Sklar (former International Ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering, and the only person to be involved in the opening of every one of Disney’s theme parks). Not bad for a little fan club that just started a few years ago, huh? It just goes to show you, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

If you are in or near the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend looking this organization up. This was the first of their events I've attended, and I had a blast. Thank you Don, PNWMM staff and its members for creating such a fun and friendly environment. See you in August!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Disney Treatment: Walt's Versions of Classic Stories

On Saturday, May 19, two-time Academy Award®-winning director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) sat before a packed house at The Walt Disney Family Museum and discussed many of the stories Walt Disney adapted for the big screen. Author and Disney Historian Jeff Kurtti was on hand to moderate, and together the two speakers gave the audience fascinating insight into some of the movies many of us grew up watching.

Brad Bird, me fresh from a softball game that ran long, and Jeff Kurtti
Photo by Andi Wang, courtesy The Walt Disney Family Museum

Early on in the program Brad said to us, “Looking back on the legacy of Walt Disney is the gift that keeps on giving.” What a great way to start things off. This presentation was my first assignment as an official contributor to Storyboard, the Walt Disney Family Museum's Blog. Because of that, I'm afraid I am going to have to redirect you there now to read the rest of my recap. But I promise you, it's worth the click!

Please keep an eye on Storyboard for not only my upcoming contributions, but many wonderful articles about the greatest creative genius of all time, Mr. Walt Disney.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The 2012 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

The 2012 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival comes to a close on Sunday, May 20th. This annual celebration of horticulture contains a variety of things to see, including: gardens, character topiaries, and special programs that are sure to delight any guest whose thumb is a shade of green.

Similar to Epcot's Food & Wine Festival, the Flower & Garden fest also features a series of concerts in the America Gardens Theatre. The concerts take place Friday through Sunday, and this year the acts ranged from Starship to Chubby Checker. The final act of the 2012 Flower Power concert series (May 18-20) will be The Monkees, with Mickey Dolenz filling in for the late Davy Jones. While I was there it was Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone, and they were very entertaining!

Peter Noone brings a fan onstage

HGTV fans were able to meet some of their favorite personalities like Camille Styles and Carter Oosterhouse. The Wonders of Life pavilion as always was filled with Festival information, product booths, and stages for the various programs. Special displays were placed throughout the park, from Bambi’s Butterfly House in Future World, to an authentic English Tea Garden in the United Kingdom pavilion.

What guests were treated to the most however were the several dozen character topiaries placed all over Epcot. While some of the characters seemed to be located somewhat arbitrarily (a random peacock behind Spaceship Earth), the vast majority of them were located in their appropriate surroundings (Beauty and the Beast in the France Pavilion, Toy Story characters in the America Adventure pavilion, etc.).


Pooh and friends


I tried to photograph all of them, but I probably missed a couple. Since there are too many to insert into one blog post, they are all available in the 2012 Flower and Garden folder in my Photobucket account.

Take me to the topiaries!

I am not particularly a fan of horticulture, but I am a fan of going to Disney World in May. The weather is great and the crowds are quite manageable. It is nice when special events are taking place. Plus it’s always cool for me to be able to see the inside of the Wonders of Life pavilion. I realize it’s probably sad for the more old school Disney World folks out there, but Wonders of Life closed just after I began taking my biannual treks down to Florida, so I never really got to experience it. That said, if you are a fan of horticulture, or you just happen to be headed to Walt Disney World between mid-March and mid-May, be sure to visit the Flower & Garden Festival in Epcot!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Avengers Review


The Avengers (2012)

PG-13 - 142 min - (action/adventure)

Robert Downey Jr. - Tony Stark/Iron ManChris Hemsworth - Thor
Chris Evans - Steve Rogers/Captain America Scarlett Johansson - Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
Mark Ruffalo - Bruce Banner/The Hulk Jeremy Renner - Clint Barton/Hawkeye

I was never a huge fan of The Avengers comic books, I must admit. I’m a Spider-Man guy, through and through. Iron Man was pretty cool. Wasn’t crazy about Captain America; thought he was okay. The Hulk was kinda boring to me. And Hawkeye was, well, a dude with a bow and arrow.

The Avengers is the best comic-book movie I’ve ever seen.

Most people know the plot, but for those who don’t, I’ll sum it up quickly: Thor’s brother Loki descends upon earth with an alien army in tow determined to make us feeble earthlings his slaves.

If you’ve been watching the recent Marvel movies, you’ve already met the Avengers. Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor all starred in their own vehicles. Hawkeye appeared in Thor and Black Widow appeared in the underwhelming Iron Man 2. Director Joss Whedon has assembled (pun intended) them all for this amazing thrill ride.

What makes a great comic book movie? Humanity. Superman II has it. The Nolan Batman films have it. Spider-Man 2 has an abundance of it. And The Avengers, well, has it and then some. These superheroes are all real people with real problems. Many of them can barely reconcile with their own issues let alone deal with the issues of new teammates. And all that dysfunction and in-fighting makes for some pretty interesting scenes, as well as genuine satisfaction when the team begins to really gel.

I often feel differently about a film a week or so (sometimes more) after I’ve seen it, which is why if I had to make my living reviewing movies, I’d be in trouble. I’m not sure if I’ll still think it’s the best comic-book movie to date this time next week, but I can with confidence say that The Avengers has it all. I feel like nowadays movies are considered much cooler if they’re “dark.” The Dark Knight is a perfect example. Ledger’s performance was nothing short of brilliant, and there were some terrific moments. But overall I actually felt that Batman Begins was a more enjoyable film. “I loved RANDOM MOVIE, it was so dark.” The Avengers is not dark. It has a few dark moments, however I maintain that one of the factors that keeps it from being considered dark is also one of its greatest assets: spectacle. This is by definition “a popcorn movie,” yet it is devoid of any real flaws. Great writing, directing, acting, costumes, effects, a coherent story, deep characters, and a surprising amount of humor all mix together wonderfully to produce a superbly-paced, immensely enjoyable 142-minute ride.

What I noticed was after seeing this film, my friends and I all mentioned how each character was terrific in their own way. They all had adequate screen time; they all had their personal stories acknowledged. They each had demons and they all fought for different reasons. There was even a touching side to Agent Coulson, which I enjoyed since I felt he was kind of a jerk in Iron Man 2. Speaking of Iron Man, if anyone at all would ever say that this film featured one hero more than the rest, the argument could be made for him. It’s true that a very important plot device does revolve around Tony Stark’s enormous monument to both clean energy and himself, Stark Tower. And if one had to count up the minutes each character got onscreen (which I’m sure at least one nerd is working on right this second), Iron Man very well may come out on top. But not by much. And maybe we just notice him more because not only is Iron man considered the “coolest” hero of the group, but Robert Downey Jr. is arguably one of the most charismatic actors in the business. I have to say casting him as Tony Stark may be one of the all-time casting decisions.

The excellent casting and brisk pace of this film leads up to what all superhero movies must have: a final battle. And it was during said final battle that I remember thinking to myself these specific words: “This is incredible.” It’s hard to think of a better one, which means I may have just given The Avengers another accolade: best final battle ever. All of the heroes do exactly what makes sense for their characters. And Captain America shines in crunch time, to the point that each Avenger follows his instructions without the slightest hesitation.

The Avengers does have an advantage over almost any other superhero film these days (except for the X-Men franchise) because it has a multitude of heroes with a multitude of abilities and personas. But that shouldn’t be held against it. X-Men 3 proved that just because you have a plethora of superheroes, that doesn’t guarantee a good film. Simply put, Whedon knocked it out of the park. He even managed to give depth to the Hulk character, so much so that the studio folks at Marvel are now considering what they had given up on long ago: another stand-alone film for the big green guy.

In Summary: Clearly I’m not a seasoned film reviewer, so I decided to just give my random thoughts as opposed to using as many fancy words as possible while recounting various scenes. But I’ll say it again, this film was flat-out awesome. I saw the 3D version and it blended in perfectly. When it doesn’t feel like 3D, that’s good 3D. If you plan on seeing The Avengers, see it in the theaters. I know films come out on DVD so fast these days, so you have to decide when you want to pay 1/2 to 2/3 of the DVD’s price and skip the 3-month wait. This is one of those films. I promise.

5 out of 5 Sorcerer hats!