Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ashley Judd

Last week, Patricia Arquette turned 40. She's an actress I've always loved and who just kind of disappeared, showing up again on TV. Ashley Judd is another actress I love who just never seems to be around anymore, and she's also turning 40 today. Well, around in good movies, anyway. I love her too. Always have. Even since Sisters. Why the hell did I watch that show? Well, for Sela Ward. Anyway, happy birthday, Ashley.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Seen on a Church Sign

ONLY IN JESUS CAN YOU REALIZE YOUR FULL POTENTIAL

Bullshit, I thought. I can just take performance-enhancing drugs. Suck on that, Jesus.

Throwdown 4/18

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Business practices never change: the FCC has fined Sears, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Target, CompUSA, Fry’s and of course Best Buy for continuing to sell TV sets that will be worthless without a digital converter come February (something they’re apparently failing to inform their customers about). The fines total over $2.5 million, making this one of the few FCC decisions I’ve ever agreed with.

2. I find Evan Rachel Wood’s attempt to morph into Dita Von Teese pretty laughable. I find it interesting that Marilyn Manson’s type seems to be women who look like him only prettier. I wonder whose name Marilyn calls out in bed; Dita’s or his own?

3. A federal judge ruled that the New York State Restaurant Association now has to display calorie information on their menus. The NYSRA had previously claimed this was unconstitutional. They act like it’s going to kill their businesses, but I don’t think that many people really care. McDonald’s has been printing nutritional information on their products for some time now, and their sales have yet to take a giant hit.

4. Speaking of things that are unappetizing, here’s an unretouched photo of Paris Hilton for Maxim or something. It takes a fleet of airbrushers, Photoshoppers, and Industrial Light & Magic just to make her look as terrible as she looks in magazines.

5. Lindsay Lohan is still banned from the Throwdown, but since this story also involved one of my going concerns, movie nudity, I thought I’d mention it. Apparently Lindsay has been cast in this movie Florence about a sex-addicted waitress (I know, big stretch). She’s only getting paid $75,000 now, by they way—remember when she was at a million per picture? How brief that was. She’s supposed to be topless in the movie, but she’s made it known to producers (and to the public, apparently) that she’s not only willing to go fully nude, but she’ll also engage in sex scenes. She says this is to show producers how serious she’s willing to be about acting. Now, I know I’ve said a number of times that an actor unwilling to take their clothes off is not an actor, because they’re thinking about their career and not their performance (and I really only mean this to apply to actors who take a job knowing there will be nudity or something equally uncomfortable and then try to worm out of it, not an actor who doesn’t want to do nudity and turns a role down because of it, that I respect just fine, it shows integrity). But Lindsay’s thinking about her career by saying she’ll take it all off. She knows that nudity means publicity means bigger offers means more money. It’s cute that she’s pretending this is about being a serious actor, but it really isn’t. Still, at this rate, taking her clothes off for seriousness, she’ll probably win an Oscar. Most women don’t win them until they take their clothes off, anyway.

6. So, a gold-digging former hooker is a great choice to judge the Miss USA pageant? Well, at least the crowd booed Heather Mills. America almost seems like it’s finally had enough of the non-celebrities being taken seriously in some way (the entire media is like a giant, uncontained Gong Show these days). I find it funny that Heather Mills has finally figured out that the British hate her and plans to follow some sort of obscure famous-for-being-famous career in America. She recently claimed the public opinion of her in America was “99% positive.” Why? Because of America’s retarded, fervent, intense, bloodlusting desire to see her prosthetic leg fly off on Dancing with the Stars? And does that 99% figure take into account the vast numbers of Americans who are completely indifferent?

7. Why I love the internet. I didn’t know Kristen Bell was in Spartan, but I sure as hell know it now.

8. The controversial new shirt that has England all pissed off. But you know what? Maybe it’s time, huh? It was sad but, you know, I'm over it. I think the bigger controversy about this shirt is that it cost fifty bucks. Fifty bucks? For a shirt?

9. “I’m sick of seeing the same movies. I’m sick of seeing cookie-cutter, manufactured movies. I open the paper up and I look down to see what’s playing right now and it’s like ‘I’ve seen that movie before, I’ve seen that movie before’.” – Darren Lynn Bousman, director of Saw 2, Saw 3 and Saw 4.

10. There are a number of animal activists who were upset that the police had to kill that cougar running around a Chicago neighborhood on Monday. And I for one agree. They didn’t have to kill it. It’s a beautiful, dangerous, deadly, carnivorous panther cat roaming unchecked in a populated area! You had to kill that?! I mean, you couldn’t have just taken it into Dunkin’ Donuts for some coffee, sat down, and talked about how it was feeling? I’m sure it was just confused and upset, and we all know confused and upset dangerous wild animals never snap and attack a person or a child or something. Gosh, guys, that was so short-sighted, protecting the people of the community like that. You need to respect the rights and feelings and other things non-sentient beings are completely not cognizant of when it comes to dealing with pretty, pretty animals.

11. “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” – Natalie Portman. Uh oh. She’d better make a third wish, quick. The first two never came true.

12. Turns out that Merck Pharmaceuticals ghostwrote dozens of studies saying Vioxx was safe, then paid well-known surgeons to put their names on them. But remember, Merck says it’s all the fault of the FDA.

13. A plastic surgeon from Florida, evolution’s practical joke, wrote a book to help kids cope with their parents getting plastic surgery. Apparently, it sends a beautiful message that cosmetic surgery is used to make women feel “better” and “prettier.” Granted, I’m not against fake breasts (and, guys, I’m sick of you acting like they’re some kind of personal failure, which it isn’t any more than your baldness is), but do we need to teach our kids that it’s a natural pick-me-up. It’s still freaking surgery.

14. Rep. Monique Davis of Illinois says it’s dangerous for children to know that atheism exists. Ridiculousness all around in this story, obscuring the real issue of separation of church and state and how it’s been violated. I’m finding it hard to get worked up over the atheist cause anymore. Lately it seems to be meeting religious intolerance with another, equally arrogant intolerance. (Thanks to MC for the link.)

15. Woman from the polygamist compound: “The purity of our children is sacred!” Obvious question: Then why do you let a nine year-old girl marry a man in his fifties?

16. I’m not comfortable at all with J.K. Rowling suing the guy who does the Harry Potter Lexicon website. The guy has an online Harry Potter encyclopedia, and there’s a small publisher who wants to publish it as a book. She claims the material is plagiarism; I’ve been to the site and it clearly falls under fair use. It’s not plagiarism; it’s a lexicon that occasionally features a sentence or two of cited quotes from her work. He also quotes from Tolkien, too. But Rowling wants to turn it into a dramatic betrayal of the work that “saved my sanity,” saying to the courtroom that this case is sapping her will to write her new novel and her own Harry Potter encyclopedia. But this would hardly be the first fan-published work on Harry Potter, so why does this one in particular upset her so? What’s she going to do next, start suing fansites? She’s already said that this case makes her feel sorry for encouraging websites devoted to her work. The way she’s made this one case so personal and so emotionally draining is bullshit, frankly. She’s one of the richest women in the UK not just because of her books, but because of deals she’s made for movies, for toys, for all kinds of merchandise based on those novels. Lots of people have gotten rich off of her work. As far as I can tell, the real problem for her is that she’s currently writing her own Harry Potter encyclopedia and doesn’t want someone else putting one out just before hers, and she’s become just another rich person going over the top to protect what made her rich. It’s disappointing, JK, to see you suing your fans, and it’s even more disappointing to see you trying to scare the guy off by claiming you’ll never be able to write again because of him. That’s low and, frankly, I’ve lost respect for you.

17. I heard that this week’s debate was the absolute low point of broadcast news “journalism.” I don’t know because, like most of America, I wasn’t watching it. Wasn’t there a campaign in there somewhere? Is this all that’s left to talk about? Who’s nicer than whom? Who’s more “real”? Is this shit over yet? Can the Democrats please just get about losing the campaign so we can all move on with our lives? Because this kind of shit is the reason the Democrats keep losing.

18. Macmillan will not publish Andrew Morton’s Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography in Britain, bowing to pressure from Tom Cruise. Macmillan should now be forced to carry the following slogan: Macmillan, Afeared of an Alien-Worshiping Midget. Meanwhile, the state legislation in Texas is trying to have the “church” of $cientology’s tax exempt status removed, having them reclassified as a business instead of a religion. Man, I hope that works out. It’s about damn time. Oh, and their Operating Thetan documents are now online. Get some crazy.

19. I’ve talked before about the Apophis asteroid, which NASA says has a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting Earth and which is going to pass within 20,000 miles of the planet. Well now a 13 year-old German kid has done the calculations on his own for a school project, and he’s discovered that Apophis actually has a 1 in 450 chance of hitting the planet; if it hits one of Earth’s 40,000 satellites when it comes by on 13 April 2029, its orbit will change its trajectory and, when it next comes close to Earth in 2036, it will more than likely hit the planet, crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, creating a tsunami, destroying coastlines and inland areas, and creating enough dust to darken the skies indefinitely. So, you know, enjoy your day, is all I’m saying.

TV Report: The Sarah Jane Adventures

Oh, yes, am I pleased with this.

Frankly, after Torchwood, I wasn't sure that I wanted to give a Doctor Who spin-off another try. I mean, I'd heard good things about Sarah Jane, but I'd heard good things about Torchwood. Sarah Jane Smith is a fantastic character. But so is Captain Jack Harkness. But it's hard to keep me away from the Who universe (Whoniverse? Are people saying that?), and I loved Elisabeth Sladen so much on the "School Reunion" episode, so here I go again. Eyes open, optimistic, hoping to like it, I watched last week's American premiere of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

And boy did that ever pay off.

I love this. This is what a Doctor Who spin-off should be. It's light and fun, but the characters are emotionally believable, which is quite important (those cyphers on Torchwood will never be credible). The pilot movie's real main character is Maria Jackson, a 13 year-old girl who moves into a neighborhood with her divorced father (her mother is absolutely horrid) and discovers that her new neighbor, investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, is extraordinary. She has strange technology, a lipstick case that works on sonics, and fights aliens. And, best of all, she's incredibly brave and very clever, and is essentially trying to do the same thing we see the Doctor running about and doing for her little corner of the universe.

I think that's one of the things I like the most about this show; it's about a person who wants to protect people she barely knows (and seems to take no real notice of, at first) and who manages to do so through friendship, intelligence, compassion, ingenuity, and bravery. And, somehow, the pilot movie was pitched at the perfect level for a children's show, managing to not be patronizing and not be simply silly. I mean, yes, it's silly, but the show knows it and simply makes it part of the proceedings (again, compare that to Torchwood, where the silliness is taken with such po-faced seriousness that I want to gag trying to watch it). Sarah Jane Smith really is a fantastic character. In terms of Doctor Who, it's great to see a former companion try to continue combating threats without having to rely on the Doctor; as we saw in the "School Reunion" episode, she carried on investigating and ferreting out the truth instead of giving up. It works on its own as a show; you really don't need to have ever seen Doctor Who to appreciate it. It doesn't feel incomplete by any means.

(One nice thing I have to mention as a fanboy: when we last saw K-9, he was with Sarah Jane. However, because the man who created K-9 is trying to start up a series of his own, the little tin dog is not on The Sarah Jane Adventures. I was unforseeably touched by the scene in the pilot movie where K-9 makes a cameo and it's explained why he isn't on the series proper. It was a nice moment that almost made my eyes well up. Yes, I'm a fanboy.)

I'm almost disappointed that tonight the series begins its run as a half-hour show. I loved it at 90 minutes, getting all caught up in the mystery and adventure and just having Sarah Jane again. But I'm sure I'll love it at 30 minutes, too. It's light and bouncy and doesn't take itself seriously, but it keeps the integrity of its characters. Doctor Who is like that at times, too. And damn it, it's fun. In a genre teeming with seriousness and bleakness, The Sarah Jane Adventures shines with bright colors and zest.

There's no chance we can just put Captain Jack here and bid farewell to Torchwood, is there?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Evaluating Disney: 1952

Walt Disney and his company were still going strong, with plans to produce more and more live action and less and less animation. It turned out to be a good plan, because the animation industry was rocked in 1952 by the Supreme Court ruling that movie studios must end their monopoly on production, distribution, and exhibition of films. For four decades, film exhibition was controlled by the studios themselves; each major studio owned theater chains and played their own movies in them, guaranteeing everything they made at least a scant showing somewhere or other. But now, with the studios agreeing to give up their exhibition monopoly and sell off their theater chains, the rules were going to change. Besides which, there would soon be less and less call for a full program of films, shorts, newsreels, and cartoons. Television was gaining momentum as a household medium, and theater attendance had been dropping off for years after a war-era boom that would never be equalled. Any of the studios with animation divisions left were having serious discussions about whether or not it would be worth it to make cartoons any longer. Were they a fad? Did they have a limited lifetime of appeal? They certainly couldn't recoup their costs very often, that was well-known. Walt Disney, who had run an independent studio completely devoted to animation, had merely felt it first and decided to branch out, diversify. He had a headstart.

The good news was that Disney's old distribution deal with Columbia was finally broken. Walt and Roy had chafed under their 1930 deal, and even though it had only lasted a few years, they still held a number of Disney's cartoons from the period. Now, finally, they were able to get back those 50 short cartoons Columbia still controlled and, for the first time, Walt was the sole owner of all of his studio's productions. And as those productions continued, there were less and less shorts. Series were scaled back; Pluto had already been cancelled, and Mickey Mouse was on its last legs. Though Donald Duck had been the studio's most popular character ever, there would only be four cartoons in his series this year. But once again there are more Goofy cartoons than usual, a trend that would not continue past 1953; after that year, there would be one more Goofy short in 1961, and the series would stop.

1/4: Father's Lion
Goofy. Another G.G. Geef short, with Geef and Junior heading into the mountains so Geef can teach the boy how to camp and hunt. Oddly, as Geef is telling his son tall tales of his past as a mighty hunter and traveler, they use clips from at least three other Goofy cartoons -- Californy 'er Bust, Tiger Trouble, and African Diary. I was worried this was a lazy clip cartoon, but then Louie the Mountain Lion shows up and Geef tries to keep his cool (oh, there was also some reused animation from Lion Around in here). I'm still not sure that Louie is a great foil for Goofy, but this cartoon was surprisingly hilarious. There were some great gags in here, with Geef narrowly avoiding having his head chomped a number of times. The best gag, often censored, involves Geef nearly shooting himself in the face.

1/18: Donald Applecore
Donald Duck. The sparseness of the cartoons is much more apparent here. In fact, it's clear there have been a number of redesigns (besides the horrible Mickey Mouse redesign, Goofy has been streamlined and Donald is just being done with less detail) and that the backgrounds have lost most of their detail. Still, this and some of the other cartoons are directed and animated well enough to turn the sparseness into a style instead of just looking cheap. The trend for hilarious Donald/Chip 'n' Dale cartoons continues, with Donald trying to gas the chipmunks out of his apple orchard before they eat everything. There are some fantastic gags, though. My favorite is the apple silo; Chip 'n' Dale release the bottom door, causing an apple tidal wave which carries Donald along. Then, when he turns back to look, the last apple falls and very slowly bounces toward him and wallops him right in the eye. There's also this incredibly funny moment when Donald looks at Dale and Dale, sated after eating a gigantic apple, just sort of chuckles at him. I can't explain it, but the character animation is fantastic.

2/8: Lambert the Sheepish Lion
Special cartoon. To my surprise, this short seems to be one of the most enduringly popular Disney cartoons of all time. It's a fairly simple story about a lion who gets accidentally delivered to a flock of sheep by the stork, and grows up thinking he's a sheep. In the end, he has to find his inner lion in order to save his mother from the slavering jaws of a wolf. It's like an eight-minute version of Dumbo, really; Disney approached this theme several times in cartoons, even just two years before this short in Morris the Midget Moose. There's even a great tie to Dumbo; the same stork who delivered Dumbo to Mrs. Jumbo also delivers Lambert (and he's even voiced again by Sterling Holloway, who narrates the cartoon). Still, I can't deny that the film left a huge impression on me when I saw it as a kid, and it's a very charming and reassuring piece of animation, with a theme song I've never actually forgotten. I think it's amazing that this cartoon, certainly not one that's mentioned in the same breath as something like The Band Concert or Ferdinand the Bull, is held in such high regard. Amazing.

2/13: The Olympic Elk
True-Life Adventures. Another exciting live action film from talented nature photographers (in this case, Herb and Lois Crisler), this time chronicling the summer-long migration and mating saga of elk in the mountains of Washington state. The film of the animals in their natural environment is undeniably superb, but the narration is a little bit on the patronizing side. This is the sticking point for most critics of the True-Life Adventures series, but I still think the tremendous footage outweighs the attempts to anthropomorphize wild animals. The fourth in the series of shorts, and it's still high in quality.

2/19: Hello, Aloha
Goofy. Another surprisingly hilarious Geef cartoon that I'm surprised how well I remembered from being a kid. In this short, Geef heads off to vacation in Hawaii and live on the beach, chucking it all the way I've always dreamed of (right down to the hut). There are some excellent gags, especially at the luau (I love the breadfruit), and one of the best narrated lines ever in a Goofy cartoon: "Geef knew the friendly natives wouldn't throw him into the volcano--but they did."

3/21: Two Chips and a Miss
Chip 'n' Dale. The two chipmunks turn into romantic rivals for a lady chipmunk torch singer named Clarice. This short doesn't quite make it for me. I like that they got some personality in there by making the two rivals instead of having them team up to make someone else's life hell. But it's also pretty derivative of Tex Avery (especially Red Hot Riding Hood, Swing Shift Cinderella, etc) and some of Clarice seems inspired by the women in Fleischer cartoons. And the idea of this tiny little chipmunk metropolis just seems weird after a few years of seeing them living in trees in the wilderness. Now they wear tuxes and nightclothes and play the piano. At the end of the short, Chip and Dale try to kiss Clarice; she ducks, and they kiss each other instead. Then they all laugh. I think they could've had a whole minute after that making it pretty obvious that some Roaring Twenties, Weimar era fun is about to happen...

4/4: Man's Best Friend
Goofy. The first short of the year that just doesn't hang together for me. It's cute and there are some funny gags -- Goofy buys a dog and tries to train it--but it's not really a winner.

4/25: Let's Stick Together
Donald Duck. This is fairly similar to Sea Salts, in which an old Bootle Beetle reminisces about a lifetime of friendship spent with an old Donald Duck. This time, an old Spike the Bee remembers the time he used to be in business with Donald, until a pretty girl bee came between them; when Spike falls in love, his productivity goes down, angering a greedy Donald. By the end of the cartoon, their friendship is reaffirmed, which is kind of nice because it turns out this is Spike's last appearance in a Disney cartoon. It's not one of the best, but it's a nice cartoon.

5/16: Two Gun Goofy
Goofy. I'm just going to say it: I thought this short was badly animated. That said, the gags are hilarious and the pacing is great, making for a surprisingly fun (and effortless) cartoon. In the Old West, Goofy foils Pistol Pete (haven't seen Pete in a long time!) over and over again by accident, distracted by a girl he's fallen for. It's slight, but there's some great slapstick.

6/6: Susie, the Little Blue Coupe
Special cartoon. Normally I don't like the shorts with anthropomorphic objects (I really don't like Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet, for example, or Little Toot), but this one has a certain charm all its own. Perhaps its because the story is purely the work of Bill Peet rather than a few different people, and it seems stronger for that reason. Sterling Holloway narrates the story of a car as she goes through life, getting older and out of shape, and finally finding new life after an overhaul. The message here is either to stay young inside, or to take heart in the fact that the simple things in life will always be appreciated and everything will always have a use. A common Disney theme, especially around this time, was the idea that the passage of time doesn't mean that people won't always return to what matters most and what makes them happiest. This is a wonderful short.

6/26: Water Birds
True-Life Adventures. As the True-Life Adventures series continued (all three of the first segments, Seal Island, Beaver Valley, and Nature's Half-Acre, won Oscars), freelancers started sending in footage from all over. This episode feels like it was cobbled together out of freelance footage (many photographers are credited, including Alfred Milotte) with the unifying theme that you're seeing many, many different species of water birds. It's very good, and the footage is priceless, but it doesn't quite have the narrative drive as the other films in the series so far. The Paul Smith score is very good, leading to a big Hungarian Rhapsody ending that I certainly enjoyed.

6/26: THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD
After the positive experience of shooting Treasure Island in Britain, Walt and Perce Pearce returned, along with Treasure Island screenwriter Lawrence E. Watkin, to make another family film. The earlier film had been a hit, and Walt saw no need to deviate from the literary adventure genre. This time out, he hired a British director, Ken Annakin, on loan from J. Arthur Rank Studios. Annakin immediately screened the 1938 Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood in order to avoid using the same shots and set-ups as the well-remembered classic. The shooting of Robin Hood went as smoothly as Treasure Island had, and Walt ended up with a film every bit as great. The film isn't exactly deep, but it is well-characterized and eminently satisfying. It's a very good-looking, sturdy film, with some great performances, especially James Robertson Justice as Little John, Peter Finch as an appropriately evil Sheriff of Nottingham, and James Hayter as Friar Tuck. Richard Todd, in the lead as Robin, is a great leading man for a classic adventure, and Joan Rice is absolutely beautiful as Marian. The color scheme in particular is eye-catching, as are the great matte paintings of Peter Ellenshaw, which are virtually unnoticeable. I guess I'm making it sound like it isn't really very good, but it is. It's fun and adventurous and even witty in places. It's not a great film, but it's one of Disney's best live action movies. And the best thing is that it stands up on its own as one of the great versions of the story, inviting no comparison with any other version. Audiences liked the film, too, though critics were either indifferent or condescending. But the Walt Disney who cared about critical and artistic acceptance was long gone. It was enough that families enjoyed the movie and it made a return on its investment. The experience went so well that Walt and Perce spent the summer of 1952 in England once more, reteaming with director Ken Annakin, writer Lawrence E. Watkin, and star Richard Todd on another adventure movie, The Sword and the Rose.

6/27: Teachers are People
Goofy. A sort of semi-sequel to Fathers are People, featuring Goofy as a schoolteacher during a typical day. The thing everyone mentions about this short now is that school violence has made it controversial (it ends with a kid bombing the school). Apart from that, it's a cute short, with great narration by Alan Reed (Fred Flintstone).

7/18: Uncle Donald's Ants
Donald Duck. The African ants are back to torment Donald, and this time after he was trying to be nice, giving one of them some sugar. It's familiar ground, to be sure, but there are once again some really great gags. I loved the pasta pipeline. I think the African ants are funny, even though they're all controversial now.

8/8: The Little House
Special cartoon. Wilfred Jackson directed this short based on the Caldecott-winning Virginia Lee Burton book. It's about a house who has to endure urbanization and tries to hold out against the estate homes and skyscrapers crowding around it over the years. It's a nice story, but a tiresome cartoon, especially since we're in waters that have been tread pretty well already. In a way, it's a repeat of Susie, the Little Blue Coupe, right down to the anthropomorphics and the theme of returning to tradition and youth and the cycle of life, and even the narration of Sterling Holloway. I get it, but it's just not that enjoyable. Really, it's kind of depressing, even with the happy ending (if this hadn't been Disney, one wonders if the ending might have been a bleaker condemnation of progress; once again it's overpowered by Disney's need to reassure the audience).

9/19: Pluto's Party
Mickey Mouse. Another MM cartoon that's really a Pluto cartoon; in this one, Pluto has a birthday party and Mickey invites those damn orphans over. Wow, it's been nice not having to see them again for the past decade or so. Tiresome, although with the annoyances of the orphans and that badly redesigned Mickey (who is much more prone to anger with Pluto than ever, it seems), Pluto is almost a welcome presence. He's designed the same, he moves the same, has the same character he always did; a little bit of reliability in a sea of mediocre.

10/19: Trick or Treat
Donald Duck. One of my favorite cartoons, this one featuring Huey, Dewey, and Louie out trick or treating on Halloween night. Halloween is a holiday just tailor made for someone who loves messing with people the way Donald does, and he plays some tricks on the nephews that get the attention of a passing witch named Witch Hazel (and voiced by June Foray--Chuck Jones liked her performance so much that he hired her to play a witch named Witch Hazel with pretty much the same voice but a very different characterization in the 1954 cartoon Bewitched Bunny). Hazel teams up with the boys to get revenge on Donald and get some treats out of him, and once again Donald's cruel brand of fun turns into a nightmare. I've always loved this short, and it still holds up as a Halloween staple. I also like the characterization of Witch Hazel as a benevolent character rather than a malevolent one.

10/31: Two Weeks Vacation
Goofy. Another loose Goofy cartoon that is actually more hilarious than I thought it would be (I guess I'm kind of starting to get tired of Goofy cartoons by this point). I think I saw reused animation from Lion Around and Mickey's Trailer. In this short, Goofy heads out onto the road to take a vacation, but keeps running into trouble. There are some fantastic sight gags (I loved the roadside cottage that really had a shack inside), and I thought the ending was funny. Alan Reed narrates once again.

11/21: Pluto's Christmas Tree
Mickey Mouse. But really, you know, a Pluto cartoon. Apparently, this is adapted from a Little Golden Book which featured Donald instead of Mickey. In the short, Mickey chops down a fir tree for Christmas, not realizing that Chip 'n' Dale live inside. They wake up to find their tree decorated and, of course, Pluto not being so friendly. Another short where Mickey yells at Pluto and Pluto can't stand sharing his stuff with a little animal, but it evens out because Chip 'n' Dale are just hilarious (I love the gag with the candles and Dale blowing out the match). At the end, the characters all look outside to see Donald, Goofy, and Minnie Mouse (when was the last time we saw her?) caroling. I read somewhere that someone had heard the ending originally had (or was supposed to have) Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow in the group. Man, I miss them. I miss them a lot.

12/12: How to Be a Detective
Goofy. Disney ends the year with a cartoon which is pretty much what the title suggests. Interesting to see one of the Wind in the Willows style weasels as the villain (they would, of course, turn up again in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and once again Pete appears. It's all set-up for one final joke, really, but it's fun getting there; the film has an excellent and fast-paced chase sequence as its centerpiece.

The year was rounded out by a re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and some other profitable endeavors. Walt not only formed the Wonderland Music Company for music publishing (always a lucrative source of revenue), but made a deal to supply schools with educational material. The first two 16mm films he made available for schools were History of Aviation (a segment from Victory Through Air Power) and Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios (featuring segments from The Reluctant Dragon). This deal would allow Walt to mine some of his earlier work for new profits, and lead to many young Americans growing up experiencing Disney in the classroom.

But the real interest for Walt still lay in the theme park. He asked Roy for money, then borrowed against his life insurance and managed to raise $10,000 to commission plans, drawings, designs, even models for his new park. Some of these were tested with audiences at the World's Fair or at traveling attractions like Disneylandia (funded by ABC) to see how the public responded. Certain he was making the right move, he established Disneyland, Inc. and began quietly looking for available land in the Los Angeles area, his dream of Disneyland within his reach and getting ever closer.

Scarlett

Via Coming Soon, the first look at Scarlett in G.I. Joe.

Not quite as impressive as the Snake Eyes pictures, if only because this kind of confirms my fears that they're going the Matrix-y black-on-gray thuddingly boring route. And the fact that it's from the director of Van Helsing...

The actress, by the way, is Rachel Nichols, whoever that is.

Hazel Court 1926-2008