Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I popped the DVD of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, starring Nicholas Cage and Alfred Molina, in for viewing yesterday. I don't know what I expected. The previews looked good, but sometimes that's the best part of the movie.

I wouldn't say this was in that category, but it was not the greatest movie I ever saw. The plot seemed a little loopy, with a lot of moments that made me go, "Where did THAT come from?" while watching. Not a good sign. To me, it suggests that they either cut out a bunch of stuff that explained these things, or it was just a poorly written script. I suspect that it was the former.

Cage and Molina are very good as the ancient sorcerers who are at odds in the story - Cage's Balthazar wants to keep Morgana, the evil sorceress from the Arthurian legends, bottled up in her Russian nesting doll prison, and Molina's character wants to free her and in the process destroy Balthazar.

The only part brought into this film from the classic Disney animated feature Fantasia was a scene where the apprentice decides to clean up the lab and uses magic to animate brooms and mops and buckets and other cleaning tools, and the objects go crazy, making a huge mess. Balthazar has to step in and make things right. The scene plays well in the movie; if you didn't know it was from Fantasia you'd not feel it to be out of place in this story.

It was sort of like watching Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief with Dave, the college-aged, nerdy apprentice character (played well by Jay Baruchel, except maybe in the Dave-doing-magic scenes) throwing magic around like Percy Jackson using his power over water. In fact, I saw similarities between the two films in content and in quality. Neither was a disaster, but neither was a great film. In my commentary about the Percy Jackson movie, I suggested that perhaps Disney should have done that film, and asked rhetorically what they could have done with it. I guess, with The Sorcerer's Apprentice, we find out the answer to that.

And the answer is: Nothing special.


Monday, March 28, 2011


I finished Ridley Pearson's third book in his Kingdom Keepers series. I have mixed feelings about the book. I liked it for the most part. It held together and was consistent (for the most part). It resolved well. But I can't give it an unequivocally positive review in spite of those things.

For one, it was simply too long. I don't know how to put this other than for a large part of the book, I felt like the plot and the characters were just spinning their wheels, so to speak. The story wasn't really advancing. Was I learning anything new about the characters? About their nemeses? About the plot in general? I didn't feel I was. I wanted something more punchy, more to the point, with less meandering.

It almost seemed like Mr. Pearson had a laundry list of scenes and locations he wanted to make sure he fit into the book, and proceeded to force them all into the story whether they added to it or not. The Epcot settings for this story are a lot of fun, being quite detailed and varied. I understand wanting to get a lot of that detail into the book. Perhaps that's partly what drives readership among Disney fans - the detail they can ascertain, the familiarity they derive from reading those details, much like a search for hidden Mickeys. But it's at the expense of the flow of the story, in my opinion.

Briefly, in this story, Wayne is being held by the Overtakers somewhere, and through Jess's dreams, the Kingdom Keepers figure that "somewhere" is in Epcot. There are many ingenious methods the kids use to try to figure out where he is. Along the way they battle crash test dummies, Vikings from Norway, and Gigabyte, the giant snake. Meanwhile, their method of getting out of the DHI entities and back into their real selves (who are asleep in their own beds) is lost and the kids are all trapped in the "Syndrome", from which their bodies cannot be woken up. Meanwhile, Wayne continues to send cryptic messages through Jess, who, with Amanda, has been turned into a DHI hologram to fully aid in the efforts of the Kingdom Keepers.

I loved the ideas Pearson put forward in the first of this series, but did not like the execution or the ending in that book. I thought the second book corrected all the flaws I found in the first, continuing the story in a satisfying and consistent manner. This third book is consistent, but the story suffers, in my opinion, from a lack of editing and an overabundance of "stuff" happening, making it simply too long and lacking focus. But I'll read the fourth book when it comes out in paperback and hope for a tighter story focus with the same fun ideas and characters.

(Read my thoughts on the last Kingdom Keepers books HERE.)

(Read Imaginerding's review of this book HERE.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reposting old entries: Kosher?

A question to anyone who might be reading. Is it okay for a blogger (me, for example) to post an entry that was written a while ago, but which might not have been read by anyone who is reading today?

The reason I ask is because I had a couple entries from way back when I started this blog, and felt I had some interesting things to say (hence, starting the blog). I didn't have any readers then. I may not have many readers now, but more than back then.

I've since said those things, and am in the process of trying to think up new and interesting things to say about Disney. But I'm not a park historian, I'm not a trivia expert, I don't have a lot of experience with old Disney vs. new Disney, and I don't get to visit the parks enough to have new observations to write about (like someone like Kevin Yee does).

What do you think? Kosher? Or not worth it?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Disney DVD: Alice In Wonderland - Tim Burton Edition

I'm a bit late to the party on this post - the film has been out for a while, and I've had the BluRay in my stack of stuff to watch for a long time. But I never seem to get to it - there always seems to be something else to watch.

Until yesterday. I had the afternoon to myself, and I used it to finally view Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland on DVD. And I have to say I enjoyed it, though it wasn't the best thing I've ever seen. It has that delightful quirkiness that Burton and Johnny Depp bring to most films. Depp is perfect as the Mad Hatter, and the rest of the cast does a really great job also. The special effects are nice, and add to the excitement of the story. The look of the picture is typical Tim Burton, also - not exactly "dark", but foreboding, if that makes any sense. Think Edward Scissorhands. That's what it reminded me of, cinematographically.

With respect to the story, it's not exactly Lewis Carroll's tale, but is an updated version, a sequel of sorts, with Alice being all grown up and preparing to be betrothed to a rather obnoxious Lord. She's not sure why, but something doesn't feel right, and soon she is led down a rabbit hole once again, where she plunges back to Wonderland. Once there, she is enlisted in the cause to overturn the rule of the Red Queen, played spectacularly and almost unrecognizably by Helena Bonham Carter. The "frabjous day" is approaching, and Alice must decide if she will act or sit back and let things happen for better or worse. (Sorta like a marriage!)

Matt Lucas, who played Thenardier in the Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert that I've been raving about on the pages of this blog and elsewhere, played the twins (Tweedledum and Tweedledee), with his head being put on the CGI bodies of the two "fat boys". Ann Hathaway plays the creepy (to me) White Queen, Alan Rickman gives his voice to the caterpillar Absalom, and Crispin Glover is the Knave of Hearts, with his head being used on a CGI body. And Alice Kingsleigh is played by Mia Wasikowska, who does a good job portraying her innocence and lack of confidence at the beginning and doing a 180 degree turnabout in the end.

I enjoyed the film on many levels, and it is something I want to watch again on BluRay. I think some of the scenes will really "pop" when viewed in the higher definition. Like a lot of Tim Burton's films, there is something a little creepy about the entire production. Not saying this is a big negative, but I'm not sure my kids will "get" it, or get into it at their current age. It's got a lot of hip attitude, but doesn't quite get to greatness, in my opinion.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Scott's Theme Park thoughts

If you were to peruse old posts on this blog, or click on the labels "Indoor Theme Park", "Cold Weather Parks", or maybe "Midwest Attractions" you might notice that it's been sort of a running theme of the blog that I play around with conceptualizing a high quality, year-round theme park in the upper Midwest, specifically in the Chicago area.

I believe that this would be a good location for such a venture, because of the population within driving distance, and because of the accessibility of the area via several means of transportation. There are two major airports in O'Hare and Midway, a proposed (but whether it will ever be build is a different story) third airport near Peotone. Two major highways crisscross here (I80 and I55), and Amtrack trains come through here as well. There is also a lot of land in the area that might be available.

The limiting factor is the weather. For 6 months out of the year, the weather here is unpredictible and not amenable to an outdoor park. The one large local amusement park, Six Flags Great America, is a 6 month outdoor park. There are virtually no other amusement parks in the area. Kiddieland closed, as did Santa's Village. You have to drive to Indiana (Indiana Beach), Michigan (Michigan's Adventure) or the Wisconsin Dells (a whole bunch of stuff) to find other amusement parks.

And there are virtually no "theme" parks. Legoland has an indoor facility in Schaumburg, which features a single dark ride, a 3D theater, a "factory experience", and a couple other things to do...not much for the almost 30 dollar admission price.
Other than that, there really isn't much. We can drive to Indiana to visit the Amish communities where there is themed dining and attractions in the form of an almost museum-like area. We can drive to Iowa, to Amana, where Amish also have tons of wineries, dining establishments and shops. We can drive to the Dells, where we can visit some themed water parks and other attractions. Or over to Michigan, where Nelis' Dutch Village and some other attractions are located in Holland.

So why NOT here? I can't see a good reason. We will fly to Florida or California and spend an entire week at Disney, in an immersive vacation where sometimes we don't ever leave the grounds of the resort. We don't always explore the surrounding area (well, actually *we* do...when we've gone to California we've always made it a point to drive to some of the attractions around the area - as far away as the San Diego Zoo or Hollywood, a bit closer, and seen some oceanfront towns also) so why do we need the beach a hundred miles (or less) away? The weather is great, but a lot of us from around here drive to the Dells to stay at a water park that offers us basically a waterpark. Artificial beach!

Assuming that I'm correct, and this area could support some sort of high quality themed park and resort, then I begin thinking about what it would look like. It wouldn't be Disney, obviously - I'm talking about ME designing this, not borrowing the Imagineers' work. It wouldn't be Universal, or movie themed. Could it be themed to life in the old days? Like the Holland, Michigan theme park, or the Amish communities? Well, yeah, but what about the weather?

I was thinking small at first, a single theme park and a hotel with a water park attached. But after reading Project Future, I decided that there was not enough in that concept to make the park a destination, and I'd need to expand the concept. So my next concept was for three theme parks, two hotels, a huge indoor/outdoor water park, a retail shopping and dining area, and a golf course.

Then I read Building A Better Mouse and thought about the cost of EPCOT in 1982. 1.2 BILLION dollars! Holy cats, that's a lot! And while my concept didn't call for quite the elaborate-ness of EPCOT's attractions, I was thinking of things that were on that order. Ride-throughs and simulators and boats and a coaster or two, with a few ideas where we'd be a bit more original in our presentation. (I'm not an engineer, so I was kinda thinking that if I get my own team of "imagineers" we'd come up with more cool stuff than I'd ever think up on my own...)

Now I'm thinking the whole thing needs to be downsized back to a much smaller initial stage. Back to the single theme "park", if you will, in the sense that Legoland in Schaumburg is a theme park. An enclosed building that can fit enough modestly sized attractions, with a low enough park ticket, to draw people from the area mostly, and hopefully get profitable quickly. Pay off the notes, then proceed with planning the more extravagant resort.

Think it's doable? I'd love to think so. But more likely it will remain a thought experiment, mostly worked out in my own notebooks and occasionally, like today, on the pages of this blog...


Monday, March 14, 2011

Les Miz at the O2 Concert - BluRay

Okay, so I'm nuts about Les Miz. I know it has nothing to do with Disney, but it's just such a powerful story that I keep coming back to it.

I mentioned that, in the same order as Building A Better Mouse and The Kingdom Keepers III - Disney In Shadows I got the BluRay disc of the 25th Anniversary concert of Les Miserables, and I got around to watching some of it recently. I'd just like to point out a couple of standout performances.
  • Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean - he steals the show with his performances of "Bring Him Home", "Who Am I?" and in the encore version of "Bring Him Home" with Colm Wilkinson and two other Valjean players.

  • Samantha Barks as Eponine, who gives it her all in her solo "On My Own"

  • Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras, whose strong voice gave me chills in "Red and Black" and in his parts of "One Day More"

  • Nick Jonas as Marius (yes, Jonas as in Jonas Brothers) for his performance of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. Nick does not have the theatrical voice of his co-performers, not by a long shot, but he stays right on key and puts himself into the role. Much criticism was heaped on Jonas in various reviews of the DVD and of the concert itself, but I felt it was overdone. Yes, he's not as good at Broadway style songs as the others in this and many other productions, but he's not THAT bad. He hits the notes he needs to hit. And he actually does a very good job on the previously mentioned song.

There were other good performances also, such as that of Norm Lewis as Javert and Lea Salonga as Fantine. But he ones listed deserved special mention, I think.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Disney Books: Building A Better Mouse

I finished my read of Steve Alcorn's and David Green's Building A Better Mouse - The Story of the Electronic Imagineers Who Designed Epcot last night. I've mentioned before that I thought it was a little pricey at $19.95 when it clocks in at 130 pages or so. I suppose you can chalk this up to the fact that it's published in limited numbers by ThemePerks Press - I know that doing these sorts of books in this manner results in a higher-than-it-should-be unit price. (I remember having the opportunity to read Tim Pratt's Bone Shop, an urban fantasy novel that he was self publishing, and balking at the price tag of $19.00. I ended up buying it for the Kindle for $5.00. Well worth it at that price!)

Cost notwithstanding, I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It's a series of anecdotes about the construction process of the unique theme park known as EPCOT or EPCOT Center or simply Epcot, whatever you prefer. It focuses a lot on the processes at The American Adventure, where Alcorn seemed to spend most of his time and energy.

We know something of Steve Alcorn's work through his book Theme Park Design; he is an electrical engineer if I read it right. David Green is less familiar to me - his bio on the back cover states that he is the president of Monteverdi Creative, Inc, a company that provides creative and technical design services. It seems David worked as a "wirelister" at EPCOT, though I am not entirely clear on what that is exactly.

It's amazing that these young engineers put forth the effort and the imagination they needed to put forth, all on short and irregular sleep hours and for not much pay. It seems like the engineers certainly enjoyed the perks of the job provided by Disney - merchandise, access to the parks, free lodging that tourists/guests were paying big bucks for. But they had a lot to contend with - not the least of which was union employees who had an interest in dragging out the job as long as possible instead of finishing on time or (God forbid!) early. Plus, the union rules required that union employees do all the wiring, even of sophisticated electronic circuit boards with which many of them had no experience or training. Mistakes were often made. And some of them were perhaps not mistakes but actual malicious actions in order to keep things from working right for whatever reason.

I didn't mean to recap the work, but it's a lot of fun to read and I'm glad I own it, even at the somewhat higher cost. I'd love to take Alcorn's class on Theme Park Design and learn even more about his experiences.

One somewhat depressing side effect of reading the book: the realization of the actual cost of doing a world class theme park. EPCOT was budgeted at 400 million dollars around 1980. It actually cost 1.2 BILLION to build it. Three times the original estimate. What would it cost today to do something like that? Probably 4 billion or so. Maybe more. That's sort of daunting. (Okay, more than "sort of"...) Who possibly could finance something like that? Anyone who could is going to want total control of such a project. There goes my plans! ;-)


Thursday, March 10, 2011

My New Disney Stuff

Okay, I really don't have anything to say about Disney at the moment. But it's been a couple weeks since I updated, so I thought I'd post something...anything.

So I thought I'd post about my new Disney acquisitions. I got to Target before they took Bambi off their sale shelves, and picked up the combo BluRay/DVD of that movie. I have it on VHS but I don't have a VHS player currently. So I bought this 70 minute animated film, and am actually looking forward to watching it on BluRay.

I also ordered some books from Amazon, which came recently. I have started Steve Alcorn's and David Green's Building A Better Mouse: The Story of the Electronic Imagineers Who Designed Epcot. It's a very thin book for what it costs ($19.95) so I'm hoping the content is THAT good. So far I'm enjoying the stories.

I also bought Kingdom Keepers III: Disney in Shadow but my son commandeered that one as soon as I opened the box from Amazon. He's only about a fourth of the way into it, but his review so far is that "it's really good." (I'll withhold my own opinions until after I've read it.)

I also bought Megamind at Target but we haven't viewed that one. Yet. The boys really liked it in the theater.

Tangled will be out soon on DVD and I'm sure I'll add that one to the collection as well.

NEED MORE BOOKS!!! (Like I have time to read the ones I have...)


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Disney Books - the next title

I placed my order with Amazon yesterday. The main thing I was ordering was the Les Miserables BluRay of the 25th anniversary concert at the O2. But since I was ordering, I also bought Building A Better Mouse by Steve Alcorn. (It's got a much longer title, and you can click the link if you want to see it all.)

It was a little pricey at $19.95, but I've heard such good things about it from several online sources that I decided that it would be worth it to me.

I also ordered KingdomKeepers III - Disney in Shadow in paperback, which is a title both I and my kids want to read.

I also got something by Cory Doctorow, a bargain book. I loved his Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom. (I blogged about it a ways back. Not going to go look for the link right now but if you want to read my entry on it, look under Books or Book Reviews on the key words.) I am looking forward to this book, and if I like it, to more books by him.

Currently reading John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale, the last book of a four book series that starts with Old Man's War. Very good reads, all of them. The best SF I've read in a while...

That's all for today! Happy March!