Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad Reaction

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Anyone who has met me, wouldn’t be surprised to know that I treat all WDW park changes with some skepticism. Disney’s Hollywood Studios (MGM) obviously has extreme changes happening in the next couple of years. Changes that won’t lend themselves well to the “Golden Age of Hollywood” motif. Personally, I love said motif, but I can also understand why it is falling out of style. The charm of Sunset Boulevard is no longer enough to lure thrill-chasing guests. The theme park world has changed.

 

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Also, Disney has never cornered the market on the Hollywood-theming. A less-frequent Hollywood Studios visitor could be blindfolded and dropped off in Universal Studios with relatively similar results. So, I get it. However, what always made Disney’s spin on the theming so unique wasn’t just that they glorified the era, but they gave careful attention to its history. The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular show didn’t just play before your eyes; the actors broke the fourth wall, and educated the audience on stunt work. The Great Movie Ride didn’t just feature films in a slow dark ride; it featured a narrator discussing the history and impact of various genres. So, it has pained me to see more and more of these attractions (recently “One Man’s Dream”) be gutted before my very eyes. And then this past week, the D23 Expo finally announced the termination of my beloved Great Movie Ride.

 

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I wasn’t completely opposed when rumors pointed to a Mickey attraction (although, I don’t understand the cry of “Mickey Mouse finally has an attraction in WDW!” Isn’t Mickey himself the attraction?? I digress…). Anyways, I felt that an attraction that explored the evolution of Mickey would be a welcome addition to the park. The park itself may be overhauled, but we could still cling to this one ride that preserved the beauty of the creation process.

 

I was wrong. Instead of paying homage to Mickey himself, the new ride concept will feature a trackless car that will take guests through an original Mickey short.

 

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Here are the 2 major reasons for my reservations:

 

1.  This ride is the literal nail in the coffin for any attractions that feature the history of the parks/company.

 

2.  The animation style will mimic the most recent design of the ‘Fab Five’ characters (you may only be familiar with this style if you still turn on the Disney Channel or shop at your local Disney Store). Personally, I never took to this style (my fiancé, a trained artist, refers to the new character designs as “disgusting”). Unfortunately, it reminds us both of the 90s cartoon, Ren and Stimpy, as opposed to any of the studio’s animated films. I can only hope that these designs will never come to life in physical meet & greet characters. These versions would be horrifying.

 

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In addition to that, these newer shorts all feature storylines that are written for toddlers. Considering that the company has found great success in creating movies that both adults and children can enjoy, I don’t understand why they’re yucking up the original cast. Frankly, it comes off as desperate.

 

Although I am excited for the majority of new additions, for me, this plan still comes across as patronizing, careless, and hopelessly “flavor of the week”. Similar to the Cinderella Birthday Cake debacle, I wonder how fans will look back on this trendy decision.

 

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“Once” Musical Episode Review

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It is unfortunate, but not rare, when a beloved show spirals down so epically, it completely abandons its fans in the wilderness. These folks wonder, “How on earth did I get here?” and “Why didn’t I turn back when I had the chance?” Such a thing has happened to almost every follower of ABC’s long-running series “Once Upon a Time”. When the show first came out (six seasons ago), the premise was engaging and put enough of a spin on the original fairytales to entice a large viewership. Unfortunately, the need to fatten wallets trumped the need to create a meaningful product. Thus, OUAT fell into the cyclical pattern of “Meet Villain – Beat Villain – Achieve Happiness – Meet Villain – Beat Villain – Achieve Happiness” so on and so forth…

 

Personally, I never got over the betrayal of the sloppy “Frozen” season. That debacle should’ve been enough to confirm that OUAT had officially reached “cash cow” status. However, I don’t think I truly realized how far gone the show was, until I suffered through the musical episode.

 

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It is no secret that musicals are “in”. Sparked by the success of the 2003 flick “Chicago”, our culture re-embraced musical theater including the creation of the popular show “Glee” and the return of live TV specials. (If you’ll recall, fans of ABC’s musical show “Galavant” were downright inconsolable when it wasn’t renewed for a third season.) So, yes…  In theory, dreaming up a musical episode for a Disneyfied television show makes complete sense. In practice however, I’d say that the crossover musical episode from The Flash/Supergirl/Arrow turned out to be far more bearable, maybe even far more enjoyable.

 

So, what actually happened in the OUAT musical special, and was anything done well? Surprisingly, yes. The episode opens up with a pre-curse scene. The power couple, Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), are expressing that they don’t understand why they’ve just burst into song. Honestly; the number was adorable, the tune was catchy, and both Goodwin and Dallas had pleasant vocal chops. I found myself feeling amused that OUAT may be poking fun at the Disney formula. I was mistaken. From there, the episode cut to another “tragic” backstory scene of Emma as a foster child (because we obviously haven’t had enough of that). In this scene, Emma is crushed because she is told that she has no place singing in a talent show. Anyways, back in pre-curse fairytale land, Snow and Charming discover that their life is now a musical because they made a wish to stop the evil queen. Apparently, armies and weapons were in short supply, because the heroes are given the “power of music” to stop Regina. Through the mystical “power of music”, Emma will forever have her parents’ song in her heart to overcome all obstacles. Barf. Again, why did the writers have to address the music at all? Was anyone really begging for this flimsy explanation?

 

GINNIFER GOODWIN, JOSH DALLAS

 

For the most part, the vocals were fine (even great). Despite that, I can’t think of many things (outside of the opening number) that didn’t make me cringe. What was the most painful moment? Was it Regina’s scary jazzercise routine or Emma’s clenched teeth solo at the climax? Personally, I reached my breaking point when Regina, Snow, and Charming all engaged in a “belt-off”. This desperate-to-please spectacular was bursting with missteps that ranged from sad to pathetic.

 

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In conclusion, I think this episode offended me so deeply because it categorized everything that has gone wrong with the show. Even the cast is aware that OUAT is a sinkhole, as several main characters ended their contracts despite the renewal. Simply, OUAT is not what it was (and hasn’t been for a long time). If you think I’m being harsh, pop in any of the episodes from season 1 and follow it up with this cotton-candy fueled, gag-fest.

 

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Admittedly, I did chuckle when my favorite character (Rumpelstiltskin) smiled at the camera and refused to sing.  If only the others had followed his lead.

 

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10 Excellent NON-Disney Animated Films

It may surprise some of you that not only have I given non-Disney movies a chance, but I have also watched some of these films with the same dedication I paid to Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. Giving capitalism a pat on the back, healthy competition creates better products and Walt Disney’s flourishing studio has caused many others to dig deep for worthwhile creations. Today, I want to share a list of non-Disney films that I feel warrant at least one (if not multiple) viewings. Said list is living proof that Disney isn’t the only company with the gift of storytelling.

 

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  1. Cats Don’t Dance

This Warner Brothers Animation Film from the early 90s features a cast of animals who want to “make it big” in Hollywood. Unfortunately, they are often relegated to demeaning roles by their human counterparts. The optimistic newcomer, a tabby cat named Danny, strolls into town confident that he can break the glass ceiling for himself and his new friends. Along the way, he learns resiliency in spite of the brutally competitive performing arts world. Throw in a ridiculously catchy score by Randy Newman, charming side characters, and choreography by Gene Kelly, and it’s a wonder that this film didn’t gather a larger cult-following. This movie was created for all of those musical theater nerds in your life.

 

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  1. The Lorax

Truthfully, I ended up seeing this film by default in theaters, but it turned out to be quite the pleasant surprise. Starring Danny DeVito as “The Lorax”, this film embellishes on the beloved Dr. Seuss tale. Specifically, the audience receives more of a backstory for the “Onceler” and his downward spiral while mass-producing his Thneeds. Forwarding to the present day, the movie centers on a new character, Ted, who must defy his community and plant the last remaining Truffula tree seed before it is too late. In traditional Dr. Seuss fashion, the setting is colorful and silly, the characters are expressive, and the animals are unbelievably cute. On top of this, the film features a handful of original songs that stand on their own as solid tunes. Unfortunately, the film falls a bit flat when it comes to its runtime (it may have just a little too much padding.) Despite this, I’d recommend “The Lorax” to anyone who even has a passing interest in the story.

 

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  1. The Prince of Egypt

In the late 90s, Dreamworks Animation took a risk when producing a musical cartoon version of “The Ten Commandments”. The risk paid off. This film is a masterpiece, and this isn’t only due to the stunning animation. “The Prince of Egypt” is highly respectful to the source material while still managing to appeal to a variety of demographics. In this interpretation, the audience receives particular insight into Moses’ struggle with defying his stepbrother (the Pharaoh), in order to follow God’s will to free the Jewish nation. In addition to a star-studded voice cast, the score by Hans Zimmer and songs by Stephen Schwartz aren’t just good, they are positively haunting. If this film doesn’t strengthen your faith in a power greater than yourself, I don’t know what will.

 

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  1. Kung-Fu Panda

By all reasonable accounts, this film should’ve been a box office bomb. (I mean c’mon … Jack Black as karate-chopping, noodle-slurping panda??) In reality, this film spawned not only 1, but 2 well-plotted and highly enjoyable sequels. The first installment, follows the first adventure of Po (a rare likeable role for Mr. Black). Po dreams of becoming a kung fu master, but spends more time reaching into refrigerators than hitting the gym. Through a strange series of events, a new evil threatens his home, and a respected elder, Master Oogway, declares that the panda is destined to be their savior. So, Po starts to officially train with a class of experienced fighters who are somewhat… resistant of their classmate and the prophecy. In the end, Po learns the value of embracing his natural gifts, as opposed to conforming to the norm. So, what makes this film so great? The characters are well-developed. The battle sequences are creative. The script is full of inspirational one-liners that should be engraved on coffee mugs. This movie is everything I thought it couldn’t possibly be, and perhaps that this the greatest accomplishment of all.

 

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  1. Scooby Doo on Zombie Island

No, I am not referring to any of the horrendous live action Scooby Doo movies. Those can burn. I am referring to the animated film that features the characters finally encountering supernatural forces. In this flick, the gang goes their separate ways in adulthood, but reunite later and end up being called on to investigate a pirate ghost who is supposedly haunting a New Orleans bayou. This movie wasn’t only a game changer because the monsters/zombies turn out to be real, but because the plot is genuinely disturbing and (in my opinion) would’ve been a great basis for an actual horror movie. Now that film isn’t perfect. Only one original cast member returned and the overall tone of the story is so eerie, it may be unrecognizable to those who appreciated the campiness of the TV series. All that aside, the voice actors do a fine job, the animation is greatly improved, and the story is fleshed out. This is certainly worth watching for those who like to play with fire, but don’t have the desire to watch a Stephen King creation.

 

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  1. Despicable Me

This is another film that had a lot of potential to disappoint (even if you completely ignored the minions). Again, I was caught by surprise. The film features a professional super villain, Gru, who has lost his evil mojo, and has to pull off the heist of the century in order to win back the respect of his colleagues. While enacting his plan, he adopts three orphan girls to act as his pawns. Surprisingly, he ends up not only becoming attached to them, but ends up loving them as if he were their father. Again, why would a childless adult watch this flick? The script is family-friendly, but funny. The human characters are extreme, but still lovable. The premise is ridiculous enough to grab your attention, but speaks to the universal fear of never reaching one’s full potential. Clichés aside, it really is a film for all ages.

 

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  1. Shrek 2

Yes, I am actually recommending a sequel. Most of the Shrek sequels/spinoffs are passable at best and I personally think the first movie is vastly overrated. Despite this, the second movie hits it out of the park (maybe out of the universe). Part 2 of the Shrek series features the ogre and his bride as they visit her parents in their trendy kingdom, “Far Far Away”. (Obviously, his new in-laws are less than approving upon their arrival.) It is also revealed that Princess Fiona’s fairy Godmother is a wicked, manipulative shrew who is all too eager to get Shrek out of the picture… regardless of the method.  Every second of this movie is pure entertainment. The story is daring and bold, the soundtrack is perfect, and I find it to be even edgier than the original film. For anyone else who has been turned off by the other Shrek films, strongly consider the second installment.

 

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  1. Anastasia

Anastasia is often confused for a Disney film, and for good reason. This 20th Century Fox movie, directed by Don Bluth, has all of the elements required for an animated musical spectacular. Assuming that the youngest Romanov daughter survived the Russian Revolution, this movie follows the story of Anastasia as she struggles to remember her identity and find any surviving family members. For an animated feature based on a real-life tragedy, the story is adapted with grace. The characters and scenery are drawn beautifully. The heroine is sassy and likeable (voicedby Meg Ryan). Lastly, the songs, written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, ring of Alan Menken-quality and depth. I am not suggesting that the movie is flawless. The drama comes across as very genuine, but may be a little too bleak at times for its target audience. If the darker undertones don’t chase you away, “Anastasia” is a delectable piece.

 

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  1. How to Train Your Dragon

How can I possibly give this film enough praise? Similar to Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda, this movie also features an unlikely hero who must embrace his unorthodox methods to save the day. The main character, Hiccup (voiced by the adorkable Jay Baruchel) lives in a feudal Viking town that must routinely slay and fight off dragons. Unfortunately for Hiccup, he’s small, skinny, and severely lacks battle skills. This causes his father (the embodiment of testosterone) much disdain. When Hiccup finally manages to “down” a dragon, his compassionate nature chooses to spare the beast. He then forms a “master + pet” relationship with the creature, while trying to figure out how he can overcome the prejudices of his community. Overall, the film is just spectacular. The story is paced well, the flying sequences are breathtaking, and John Powell’s score is without compare. Also, the main dragon, Toothless, is animated with enough heart to touch the soul of any pet owner in the audience. This is not one to ignore. (And neither is its sequel…)

 

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  1. Spirited Away

I know that Disney bought the rights to distribute the English dub of this film (and all Miyazaki movies), so this entry technically shouldn’t count, blah blah blah. Well, I say it does. “Spirited Away” is not a Disney movie. It is the most perfect anime film of all time. When it comes to the plot, think of this movie as “Alice in Wonderland with a point”. A young girl, Chihiro, has to help her parents escape a magical realm that they happen upon. Not only does Chihiro have to navigate a strange world on her own, but she has to tremendously grow as a person in order to rescue her family. Again, my blurb can’t do the movie enough justice. “Spirited Away” features typical realistic Studio Ghibli animation, an extremely inventive setting, and a score that takes background instrumentals to the next level. The film is a must-see for children, as it features a noble, child heroine and frankly, it’s a must-see for the rest of the world. “Spirited Away” reignited my passion for anime as a genre, and I’m sure it could do the same for many others viewers.

 

All of this being said, I can only hope that this list will encourage someone (hopefully everyone) to seek out any of these movies they haven’t seen. Take it from a Disney enthusiast, these films all give the mouse a run for his money.

 

Other Films Worth Mentioning: All Other Studio Ghibli Films, The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie, All Dogs Go To Heaven, MegaMind

“Beauty and the Beast” Review

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Finally, the moment has come. Arguably, the most anticipated Disney live action movie of all time has been released to the public. Like many, I also made advance reservations for tickets, and waited in an extraordinarily long line just to get inside. With bated breath, I waited for the previews to end so I could get sucked into an enchanted tale. Two hours later… what was the verdict? Ok, let’s bring on the possible outrage. I’d give the film a 50% rating. This doesn’t mean I hated the product. I simply loved half of the film’s elements. The other half…. I realize that I’m asking for lots of “dislikes”, so allow me to talk about the film’s shining moments first. Because they do exist.

The reimagined setting of Beauty and the Beast occasionally traipses into screen saver territory, but overall, the visuals are breathtaking. The twist on all of the enchanted objects is creative (especially the Wardrobe’s face that resembles a mini stage). The CGI Beast is (dare I say it?) handsome, and the costumes are lush across the board. The instrumental score is majestic, and melodies from the musical were inserted at the most opportune moments.

 

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As far as the casting goes, most of the choices were absolutely perfect. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen make for an entertaining Lumière/Cogsworth duo (despite McGregor’s embarrassing  French accent). Luke Evans is a deliciously vain Gaston (with strong vocals to match), and Josh Gad’s LeFou is as on point as you would expect. Lastly, Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts is warm-hearted and her performance of the title song is the only version in existence that can even compare to Angela Lansbury’s.

 

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So, where did this film miss the mark? Lots of other places…

First, let’s look at some of the other characters. As soon as the casting choice was announced, the love for Emma Watson’s Belle was overwhelming. Now, I am a giant fan of Watson’s movies, but I still found her casting in this role to be … trendy. She is undeniably lovely and a first-class actress, but her one-dimensional vocals were still on par with a junior level musical. Also, her usual ability to connect with fellow costars was…. absent. In fact, Watson’s detachment didn’t evaporate until she had to wail over the Beast’s injured body (not exactly conducive for romantic chemistry). Furthermore, I found her heightened strong-heroine persona to be disingenuous. I appreciate that the director was in love with Belle’s girl-power side, but any normal person would’ve had some sense of distress when imprisoned in a castle with a monster. Was I really expected to believe that a young woman from the boonies would be completely unfazed by these circumstances? Watson’s Belle lacked the vulnerability that made the animated version so very real.

On a less passionate note, Kevin Kline’s Maurice of one demeanor was almost comical. Seriously. I think that the townsfolk would’ve had to light him on fire to elicit any real type of reaction from him.

 

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Secondly, considering that the film ran almost 40 minutes longer than the cartoon, there was an excessive amount of extra, bloated scenes. I didn’t care for any of the backstory, or the fact that Belle was actually from pre-revolutionary, plague-ridden Paris. (Although I know the tale is French, I’d prefer that these characters stay tucked away in ambiguous fairytale land.) Speaking of the revolution, though – didn’t the grimy setting make anyone worry that Belle and her prince would eventually be led to a guillotine-post happy ending? Just me?

Lastly, the remaining element I couldn’t get on board with, was the music (the actual songs). I’m certainly not talking about any of the pieces from the 1991 classic, but all of the new songs are bland and 110% forgettable. (The Beast’s solo number “Evermore” has promise, but the song is placed at such an ill-sitting point in the story. The only thing that would’ve made this more inappropriate would’ve been a tap dance break.) When the musical version has so many original songs that are exquisite, I don’t understand why these were cast aside in favor of lackluster pieces. I expected more of you, Menken.

 

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That all being said, do I still recommend seeing it? Yes. The elements that work, really work, and the movie overall is gorgeous enough to warrant at least one big-screen viewing. After all of the anticipation, I wish that I had fallen undeniably in love, but I couldn’t help being captivated on some level despite the shortcomings.

A critic I deeply respect summed up my feelings best with the following statement-  “If you were at all on the fence before seeing the movie, the film itself won’t completely win you over. Despite this, the movie isn’t entirely bad. It just isn’t a home run.”

So, I’d encourage everyone to go and make their own conclusions. If you find the experience less than magical, you can always pick up the animated masterpiece.

Sans-Magic: The Current State of WDW’s “Magic” Kingdom

Every winter, without fail, I find myself feeling irate that spring has not arrived and I am still hibernating between my home and my office. Additionally, I fester about other things in the universe that I have little control over. Poverty. Unimaginable greed. Injustice. But I’m not going to depress anyone (too much) and rant about those things today. I’ll soften the outcry. I’m going to rant about my favorite vacation spot, because this particular frustration is seriously making me (the consummate fan) want to spend time away from “the World”.

 

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Here’s the problem. It is becoming more and more miserable to spend any amount of time in the Magic Kingdom. True, WDW has routinely attracted larger crowds compared to its California equivalent, due to the sheer fact that its size has made it more popular for international visitors. However, as a result of the construction happening at the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, more and more guests are opting out of visiting those parks at all, and are instead heading to MK in enormous droves. Frankly, I think this is mostly an issue due to the uninformed opinion that there is “nothing to do” at either of those spots. Let’s take a closer look. AK has been a half-day park since its opening in the 90s, and has never played a role in evening out WDW-wide crowd levels. No attractions have been shut down to make room for Pandora: The World of Avatar, so I fail to see why AK requires even less attention. Secondly, the walls in HS may be unappealing, but what major contenders have truly closed there? During my past two visits, I made visits to that park and still never experienced every attraction in a day. All of the major thrill rides and shows are still in full swing, but what has been lost? The Streets of America section (that took ten minutes to walk through). The “Lights! Motor! Action!” show (easily a one and done item). The Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area (really, if this was a favorite of yours, I may be judging). Again, unless you chose to skip out on HS this past Christmas due to the lack of Osbourne lights, there is no reason to shun either park.

 

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And yet, this misconception is pushing unimaginable numbers to the flagstaff park, causing crowds that are only seen during the holidays. What does this mean for your MK visit? It means that you will need an exceptional amount of patience to not turn around as soon as you see the hordes of people just waiting at the turnstiles. It means that if you’re staying on property, you will be waiting for a minimum of 3 buses to arrive before you can board. It means that you will be waiting an hour plus for unpopular, high-capacity rides. It means that even trying to see the parade or the fireworks could be a complete waste of time. It means that more and more cast member interactions will be less than pleasant. This is something I experienced during my recent visit. While I appreciate that I could be using this opportunity to throw out my to-do list and savor the atmosphere, I find that nearly impossible when I’m bumping elbows with thousands of other sweaty humans.

Furthermore, I don’t understand why MK is “the” park for the casual guest to visit. I know why I personally love it. I love that it is rich in history. I love that the MK is an improved version of Walt’s original dream park. This place embodies my childhood, but for the novice visitor, I can understand why they are underwhelmed by the tame rides and corny vibe. Let me be blunt. I’m tired of these unappreciative crowds clogging up my happy place without care.

 

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I am optimistic that the opening of Pandora this summer will alleviate crowds, and most certainly, the opening of Star Wars Land in 2019 will be an enormous success. Until then, could Disney have done anything to avoid the MK mobs? Are they not doing enough to encourage people to visit the other parks? Have the increased ticket prices caused guests to cut down park time and therefore, make MK their sole stop?

On an uplifting note, my experience at literally every other park, hotel, and shopping area in WDW has continued to be lovely. The Magic Kingdom is truly the only place where I find myself agreeing with cheer-less adults who avoid Orlando like a war zone. This is killing me.

Again, I am expecting that this is a temporary state caused by bad press. If not, the Magic Kingdom may be a spot to axe from my itinerary.

 

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The Lego Batman Movie Review

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In a world that is dominated by Disney animation, it is all the more satisfying when another worthy contender tosses their hat into the arena and is crowned a victor. Such is the case with The Lego Batman Movie.

“Assembled” by the same animation studio that brought us the Lego Movie (2014), the newest installment of this franchise does not betray its newer fan base. Despite the fact that this film was inspired by a marketing plot to sell toys, (like its predecessor) the movie truly stands its ground and will appeal to audience members that have never touched a Lego block.

 

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In this version of Batman, the Chuck Norris-esque hero has to come to terms with the fact that accomplishments and full trophy rooms can’t replace the need to be wanted. But the depth of the message isn’t the only thing that is winning audiences over. The overall script should receive a nod for being so gosh darn entertaining. Again, similar to the original Lego film, the dialogue cushions grown-up humor in just enough silliness to make it appeal to children and parents alike. Sure, the kiddos won’t understand the commitment banter between the Joker and Batman, but they will definitely giggle when the Joker gives him a quivering lip, puppy-eyed look. In fact, this movie is so funny that I imagine most adults will overlook the highly predictable plot. This is one of the few cases where I didn’t lament the fact that the preview gave away the story. The film is what it is and it works fantastically well.

 

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The impressive script also shines thanks to the extremely talented voice cast. Will Arnett reprises his role as the husky-voiced hero and Michael Cera makes for an “Awww” worthy prepubescent Robin. Other Lego newcomers include favorites such as Zack Galifanakis (Joker), Ralph Fiennes (Albert), and Rosario Dawson (Barbara Gordon). Countless celebrity cameos can be spotted as well. Frankly, it goes without saying that the honor of receiving a cameo in a Lego film is on its way to reaching Muppet and Star Wars level status.

 

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Again, audiences will get a chance to delight in the unique visuals of Lego “worlds”. The simplistic, yet complex use of actual Lego blocks and CG animation makes for a style that can’t be replicated. (That is, unless an off-brand Lego manufacturer decides to invest time in producing a direct-to-DVD feature.) The immense level of detail guarantees that it will take many, many viewings to catch all of the delicious tidbits.

Simply put, Warner Brothers Animation has knocked another one out of the park. If you’re a parent, rejoice that there is another reason to take Frozen out of the DVD player. And if you’re just a person who enjoys to smile, don’t wait for Redbox.

 

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Moana – A Spoiler-Free Review

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Starting with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, Disney has nurtured and encouraged the idea of sassy, bold heroines. Since then, several “girl power” movies have been released to critical acclaim, including Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Princess and the Frog, etc. Following the same inspiration, Disney favorites (John Musker and Ron Clements) did not disappoint fans with their first 3D film, Moana. This Polynesian-inspired feature is near-perfection on accounts, least of all, thanks to its grounded and likeable title character. Check out this spoiler-free review to hear my thoughts on Disney’s newest princess!

 

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Inspired by Polynesian folklore, Disney’s Moana gives an explanation as to why there was a period in which no one travelled the seas in the South Pacific. In their version, the goddess Te Fiti, is responsible for the creation of all the islands. When the demi god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals her heart, the islands fall under a terrible curse that is slowly, but surely draining life itself from the land and sea. Years later, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) yearns to travel, but is forbidden by her overprotective father. When Moana sees that the curse has finally invaded her home, she is encouraged by her grandmother to defy her parents to save her people. So, she sets off on a journey (accompanied by a chicken Heihei – who looks eerily similar to Finding Dory’s Becky the Loon). On her adventure, Moana seeks out Maui, so he can help her return Te Fiti’s heart. Along the way, they encounter pirates, giant monsters, and unforgiving waters. As with all heroes, Moana not only learns how to save the day, but learns to embrace her identity.

 

MOANA (Pictured) Te Kā. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Simply put, there are many, many reasons to be enchanted by this film. The characters are endearing, the animation is flawless, and the plot is refreshingly romance-free. Circling back to the animation, the tropical settings are pristine and Maui’s interactive 2-D tattoos are a character of their own. I was also pleased to see that the body types/facial features of Moana and her villagers seem to be more inspired by the Lilo and Stitch style than recent films. Moana’s muscular frame, wider nose, and thick hair don’t exactly align with the damsel type. Maui’s broad frame and disproportionate size was also fitting for a demigod. I recall there was resistance when Maui’s design was released, but I found his larger-than-life style to fit perfectly with his larger-than-life ego. As a fan that misses visual distinction between the Disney universes, I am happy to see that every film won’t look like they take place in a Tangled suburb.

 

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Secondly, the score also found a unique voice thanks to the combined talents of Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The score features choruses sung in the native Polynesian languages and the characters’ songs are irresistibly cheerful, (except for one flat tune that is sung by a giant crab – sorry Lin). “The Rock” even got a chance to show off his pipes with a jaunty “look at me” solo. And lastly, Moana’s theme, “How Far I’ll Go” is far more majestic than the overplayed Frozen anthem.

 

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All of these elements aside, what really won my admiration was the title character. Moana is frankly, an exquisite blend of Pocahontas and Mulan (albeit in a shorter frame). Newcomer Auli’i Carvalho gave Moana a heartfelt voice, despite her age (14 at the beginning of production). Speaking of her age, I appreciated the fact that a teenage character was voiced by an actual teenager.  Because of this, I felt that Moana was bursting with sincerity. She is ambitious, silly, headstrong, and painfully real. This character is an inspiration to young women who wonder if they’ll ever accomplish great things. And Ms. Carvalho is living proof to young actresses that you don’t need to be a household name to become a Disney princess.

 

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In conclusion, Moana is a princess film that is worthy of joining the Disney franchise. The catchy songs, distinct animation, and loveable characters are worthy of a Frozen cult following (but let’s all pray that doesn’t happen.) If you haven’t already, shake off your post-holiday blues and go enjoy this soaring, feel-good adventure. I’d be surprised if you weren’t pre-ordering the DVD as soon as the credits roll 😉

 

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