A Peanuts Prospectus: Of Charlie Brown, the EPA, and Baseball

Since it’s founding in 1970 by former President Richard Nixon, The Environmental Protection Agency, has claimed to try and protect human health, as well as the environment.

However, in the early months of 1977, it ended up playing a small role in Charlie Brown’s constant struggles, with the local Kite-Eating Tree. The incident soon snowballed into a strange little cross-town adventure for our favorite blockhead.

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It all started on February 21st, 1977, when Charlie Brown addressed the Kite-Eating Tree, now that Winter seemed to be over. Tensions boiled over a few days later, when the tree catches one of Charlie’s kites in it’s branches.CBEPA-2

“You stupid tree,” he yells. “If you bite my kite, I’ll bite you!”

It isn’t an idle threat either, as Charlie quickly takes a bite out of the tree (see right)!

It should be noted that up until this point, Schulz had not decided if this storyline would be expanded upon. Charlie’s business with the Kite-Eating Tree, would trade off on some days, with some story strips regarding Snoopy and Woodstock.

CBEPA-3It wouldn’t be until March 1st, 1977, that Schulz would zero in on Charlie’s predicament, and further develop his story.  On that day, Charlie Brown received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in regards to him biting the Kite-Eating Tree!

At first, Charlie Brown is unsure about what he should do. While he wonders about hiring an attorney for fear he’ll be sued by the EPA, Lucy seems to revel in him possibly being incarcerated (“Fifty cents says they’ll throw you in the slammer,” she tells him).

Finally, Charlie comes to a decision, and decides to run away.

Packing some things, he leaves Snoopy in the care of his sister Sally, who doesn’t seem that concerned that her big brother is leaving (“Can I have your room?” she asks, as he leaves the house).CBEPA-4

After walking for some time, Charlie finds himself in a different neighborhood, where he is promptly beaned by a ball, and collapses!

He is revived by two kids named Austin and Ruby, who claim they are looking for someone to coach their baseball team…an offer that seems to sit well with Charlie!

CBEPA-6However, it soon becomes apparent that this might not be so easy.  The team is made up mostly of younger kids. After accepting Austin and Ruby’s offer, Charlie is introduced to two other members of the team: Leland, and Milo.

Charlie does his best to coach the younger players, while also staying in a cardboard box nearby. Also notable, is that even though he introduces himself as “Charlie,” the kids all refer to him as “Charles.”

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Of all the kids on the team, Schulz seems to zero in on Milo, as the one whom Charlie acts like a mentor figure towards. There’s also a fun little scene where Milo brings Charlie some cold cereal one morning. A nice gesture, except Milo has the cereal in his cupped hands, along with some milk.

While they are practicing one day, Ruby asks Charlie about the term, “goose egg.” When he explains that it can stand for when a team doesn’t score runs during an inning, Ruby grows excited.

CBEPA-10“That’ll be the name of our team…’The Goose Eggs,'” she happily proclaims, as Charlie rolls his eyes.

Eventually, the time comes for The Goose Eggs to play against a visiting team…who just happen to be Charlie’s old team!

Naturally, Lucy finds the whole thing to be ridiculous, while Linus tells Charlie that he can now return home. A recent storm caused the Kite-Eating Tree to fall over, wiping out the evidence the EPA had against him.

Milo overhears, this, and inquires if Charlie is some sort of criminal.

“No, not really, Milo,” he replies.

Of course, the fun ‘cherry-on-the-top’ for the scene, is Milo proclaiming he wants to be like Charlie when he grows up!

“Did anyone hear that?” Charlie calls out to his team, happy that someone there thinks rather highly of him!

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With most multi-day storylines, Schulz seemed to know what direction he was going in. However, with this one, it felt like he was toying with where to take the story.

In an article on the Charles M Schulz Museum’s page, his wife Jean talked about some of the strips from this storyline, when they were displayed as part of an exhibit in 2010.

Jean related how Schulz had reached the point where Charlie runs away from home because of the EPA notice, but wasn’t sure just where the journey would go from there.

Of course, it sprouted into the storyline of Charlie finding the younger kids and their ball team in another part of the town, before finally wrapping up.

cbepa-11This would often be the way some of Schulz’s longer stories would go. He would start with an idea, and it would often snowball from there, with no clear end in sight. A prime example is in 1973, where Charlie Brown wakes up, only to see the rising sun resembles a baseball (see left)!cbepa-12

In regards to the EPA-related story, Schulz has often found size differences to provide humor, and he uses that plenty of times throughout this story. The Goose Egg’s player named Leland figures into a few scenes. We see his role as catcher is in jeopardy, when the mask seems to cover his whole body, as well as him being rather disturbed at how high up he is when atop his team’s pitcher’s mound.

There also comes a fun little joke when Charlie asks Milo how many bases he’s stolen. When he inquires about the year before that, and then the year before that one, Milo claims he hasn’t been alive that long.

CBEPA-9I will admit that the ending somewhat peters out, though I will give Schulz some credit for a very minor bit of continuity.

Linus mentions in the final story’s strip on April 2nd, how the kite-eating tree fell over in a rain storm. The week before, on March 28th, we got imagery of Charlie in his cardboard box, as rain poured down.

It’s a minor detail to some, but I feel it backs up Linus’ words on the 2nd of April.

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Like much of my exposure to some storylines in the comics, I saw this story re-purposed through animation first, in the 1983 TV special, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown. The special collected a number of the short stories from Schulz’s comics, and brought them to life on-screen.CBEPA-7

The animated story rarely deviated from the comic strips, though they added some extra stuff in building up Charlie’s opening problems with the Kite-Eating Tree. The fun part is the animators adding a rather devilish grin on his face, after he has bitten the tree (see right).

There’s also a few nice background setups, where we get a wider view of the neighborhood where The Goose Eggs reside. The artists even include the fancy streetlight, that Schulz drew in the panel where Charlie first enters the neighborhood.

Most notable from a behind-the-scenes point-of-view, was how the story also served as a starting point for one person’s career with the Peanuts gang. For the voice of the character Milo, producer Lee Mendelson cast his son, Jason.

It would be the start of a small voice-career for Jason, who a few years later, would be voicing Rerun Van Pelt on The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, and later go on to voice Peppermint Patty during the This is America, Charlie Brown TV series (btw, it wasn’t that odd to have a boy voicing a girl. During the series, Charlie Brown was voiced by a girl named Erin Chase).

CBEPA-8In the early 2000’s, Jason would follow in his father’s footsteps, and do some work on several of TV specials for the Peanuts gang, acting as a story developer on several shows.

I always liked the little bits with Charlie and Milo in the special, and one can hear Jason at his young age, trying his best to say the lines. Plus, just like the Kite-Eating Tree bit, the animators add an extra bit at the end, showing Charlie really happy about Milo wanting to be “just like him.”

I will admit, the overall storyline isn’t one of the comic’s best, but it has stuck with me over the years, enough to put together this little prospectus.

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An Animated Dissection: My Top 10 Favorite Star vs the Forces of Evil segments, from Season 2

A few weeks ago, I gave my verdict on my 5 least-favorite segments, from the second season of Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Now, a few weeks later, I think I’m ready to reveal the 10 story segments that I enjoyed the most out of the second season of the show.

This year’s list is a bit more extensive, given there were over 38 10-12 minute segments this season to choose from.  So, let’s dive in and see what I thought!

Note:  This Top 10 list only covers the stories that spanned 10-12 minutes. 22-minute episodes like “Bon Bon the Birthday Clown,” “Face the Music,” and “Starcrushed,” are excluded, given the extra time and storytelling makeup.

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10. Game of Flags

I won’t lie: trying to come up with the segment to go into the ’10’ slot on these lists, is usually the hardest thing to do. I bounced around segments such as Just FriendsThe Hard Way, and Gift of the Card, but in the end, settled on Game of Flags.

This story gives us a little more background into Star’s family (with both the Butterfly and Johansen clans), as well as their yearly game of ‘flags,’ which Star is eager to take part in.

We get some background and insight into how both sides of Star’s family seem to revel in a game that is pretty ridiculous. In the end, Star realizes this, and attempts to make a change to the family tradition.

Most notable in regards to this segment, is how we get to see some more of Moon Butterfly (aka Star’s Mom), being a little more attentive towards her daughter. Some additional information is revealed about Moon, AND, a positive reinforcement from mother to daughter, regarding some things that Star believes in.

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9. Friend-Enemies

When it came to seeing a full return of Star’s ex-boyfriend Tom, I don’t think anyone could have comprehended what this episode would be (well, aside from hundreds who assumed from the promo art, that the two were possibly going to embark on a love odyssey of fan-gasmic proportions!).

Instead, we get the two finding out that despite their dislike of certain things (and each other), they do find common ground on some things, such as their enjoyment of music by the group, Love Sentence.

We get some great music by Brian H Kim, as well as Nick Lachey doing vocals for the song, Awesome Feeling. And, we get Tom and Marco doing a duet, which I think elevated the story in some people’s eyes (and probably won voice actors Adam McArthur and Rider Strong some additional followers on Twitter!).

There’s also a sub-story in regards to a karate master Marco and Tom both like, and while it isn’t the strongest sub-story, where Friend-Enemies took it, was pretty satisfying (and humorous)!

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8. Ludo in the Wild

While Ludo has been a major fixture in Season 2, this story stands out, as an example that Season 2 was not going to be like the first season. Most notable, is that Star Butterfly is not actually part of the overall storyline!

The tone of the piece is almost like a nature documentary, as we see Ludo struggling in the aftermath of the end of Season 1, and how a discovery of his, will lead to even more dangerous things later on.

Despite being a pivotal story, Wild ranks lower in the Top 10, due to the somewhat repetitive nature, and Wile E Coyote style humor of the world just treating Ludo like a punching bag. However, as the story goes on, we see him fight back, and re-evaluate his direction in life.

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7. Fetch

I will admit, my first viewings of this story didn’t really do much for me. But as the season has gone on, it’s grown on me.

It’s a great character study, seeing how Star deals with a dog that won’t let go of her wand. We’ve seen her often being off-the-wall, but in this story, she tries to be logical with a few sub-characters, who get to be the weirdos in the story.

Marco also is pretty much the straight-man of the story, telling Star that she needs to resolve this problem on her own. There’s also an ‘Earth-world problems’ subplot for Marco, showing him trying to drink from a juice pouch.

Most notable in the segment, is a wonderful little piano bit near the end by Brian H Kim, that sounds eerily reminiscent of some Japanese dramas or emotional anime, as the story attempts to cross it’s final hurdle.

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6. Naysaya

Marco Diaz trying to get together with his crush Jackie Lynn Thomas, was like ‘catnip’ to me throughout the first season. When I found out this subplot would be continuing on in Season 2, I was eager for more stories of Marco working through his feelings.

Marco having to deal with the little Naysaya head that tells his most embarrassing secrets, is one story I couldn’t keep off here. The plot-point helps prove that once again, Marco Diaz is the kind of guy who can try to power through the worst of things, if he puts his mind to it.

Plus, we get Star being a caring friend and enthusiastic cheerleader, as she keeps trying to get her ‘bestie’ to ask out Jackie. Pretty much everytime Star was on-screen, I had a smile on my face.

Just like the story in Sleepover, we get a little more information on Jackie, though she’s still somewhat of a character enigma by the end of the piece. However, the final moment was one of my favorites, and is currently my iPhone’s lock-screen image.

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5. Sleepover

In some cases, this story could be seen as somewhat of a throwaway segment, but it has some nice bits buried deep within it’s structure.

The sleepover aspect, as well as dragging Marco into the festivities is rather fun. The typical ‘truth-or-dare’ game ramped up to the inter-dimensional game of “Truth or Punishment,” proves to be quite entertaining, even if at the end, it gets a bit weird.

However, what saves the storyline, is Marco finally admitting his feelings for Jackie, and, we get some further insight into Star’s feelings, as well as a rather interesting analysis of people’s emotions, and how they can change over time.

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4. Heinous

After her rather lackluster appearance in the season 2 segment Gift of the Card, I wondered if we’d get a proper episode with the former headmistress of St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, and lo and behold, we got this!

This wasn’t quite what I was expecting for a full-return of Heinous (as well as her sidekick Gemini, who finally has his name revealed here!), but the storyline was one I was rather intrigued by.

Instead of an all-out brawl, Marco’s parents want him and Star, to find a compromise with Heinous, who has fallen on hard times after being cast out of St Olga’s. Rarely does one get a story where a non-violent compromise is attempted, and it’s resolution proves to be a well-done little surprise, with the return of “Princess Marco.”

There’s also a fun resolution to a money-based gag that has been heard throughout the season.

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3. Mr Candle Cares

I have a feeling many will discount this story, but to me, it was one of the first this season, that seemed to get a bit deep, in regards to relationships, and what the future could hold for the characters.

Most notable, was seeing Star get very quiet about realizing that no matter what she wants to do, she still has the duties of becoming a Queen hanging over her head.

There also is the reunion of Marco Diaz, and Tom, Star’s ex-boyfriend. Their small scene seems to play off as rather ‘boring,’ but I feel there’s some interesting revelations about the characters. Tom reveals his thoughts on Star, and Marco reveals his feelings about relationships and couplings (“You can’t make Star be your girlfriend, unless she wants to.”).

Humor isn’t very prevalent in this storyline, but the few moments that it does appear, are still some that are stuck in my head, months later.

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2. Spider with a Top Hat

Much like Ludo in the Wild, this segment also attempted to do something out of the ordinary.

We get to see where Star Butterfly’s myriad spells ‘live,’ and get the chance to shine a light on a character that seemed pretty insignificant.

This story may not be as entertaining for younger audiences, given how we see Spider and his cohorts dealing with their daily life of helping Star, as well as the question of, “what is my purpose in life?” That storytelling angle of playing to some of the ‘older’ viewers, was definitely noteworthy in my eyes, and made me feel that some of the writers may have brought some of their own life experiences to the table when storyboarding this one.

The ending has a pretty great payoff, though I find it’s smaller, character-driven moments with Spider with a Top Hat being emotional, helped propel this story up the chain.

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1. Running with Scissors

Yes yes, I know: my favorite 11-minute segment, and Star Butterfly isn’t the main character in it!

When Marco Diaz uses Star’s dimensional scissors, he meets up with Magic High Commission member Hekapoo, who gives him a task to get them back.

This was not just a fun and emotional storyline, but one that got incredibly mind-bending after awhile, managing to put weird and wild together, and come to a place I and many others, could probably never have fathomed!

As the story winds down, it ends up leaving us with plenty of questions, as well as some pretty heavy emotional scenes, underscored by some great music by Brian H Kim, which might be his most emotional piece so far for the series!

Sadly, it feels like the ending was quickly forgotten in stories going forward, but for a brief moment, Star vs the Forces of Evil, made me deeply ponder the ramifications and journey that Marco Diaz had just been on…one that the fans could surely speculate and build upon in fanfiction or discussions outside of the series!

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And there you have it: the 10 segments from season 2, that just really impressed me a great deal!

Keep in mind that this list is based on my tastes, and I’m sure there are some who didn’t see some of their faves make the list.

As always, would love to read in the comments what you Star fans think. Did anything match up? Was there a segment that you really enjoyed? Always up for a discussion on the series, as we wait impatiently for what season 3 has in store for Mewni, and possibly, Earth.

As stated in my previous Star-related article, I got a few other things I want to discuss about the season, and hopefully, I’ll have another article soon for you fans out there.

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Movie Musings: The Path to Darth Vader, buried within the Star Wars Prequels

To many, it seemed that the Star Wars prequels could be summed up in four words: George Lucas blew it.

However, in the years since the three films were released, and despite the neverending flogging from a very vocal (but usually online) fanbase, I often found myself still intrigued by what had been laid out before the public.

While many had high hopes of a film trilogy that would have shown Anakin Skywalker ‘hunting down and destroying Jedi,’ Lucas instead attempted to tell a story of how a giving and caring person, was corrupted into craving ultimate power.

Unlike a mere rehash of the films many knew and loved, the Prequels attempted to tell their own tale. Notable, was how Darth Sidious (under the guise of a Senator-turned Chancellor named Palpatine)  managed to not only bring down the Jedi Order, but coerce the Galactic Republic into giving him total control, and forming the Galactic Empire.

Of course, Sidious continued to play with the ‘rule of two,’ when it came to doctrine of the Sith: there would be only a Master, and an Apprentice.

Over the course of the three films, we’d see several of Palpatine’s apprentices rise and fall. One looked like a demonic bad-@$$, another was a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side, then a mechanically-aided alien creature, before Sidious finally set his sights on Anakin.

With Skywalker at his side, Palpatine could have had one of his most powerful apprentices ever. However, circumstances left him with a badly-wounded husk of a human being…one who was then transformed into an imposing dark presence, who became one of the most visually-distinctive figures in the Star Wars Universe.

While many were let down with Lucas’ depiction of the Jedi Council (a rather pompous lot whom had become lazy after a millennia of having no Sith to counteract), there was also some negativity bandied towards his depictions of the multiple Sith Apprentices as well.

Many fans were used to the general idea of there being a ‘constant’ apprentice to the Emperor, as it was in The Original Trilogy with Vader.

However, what some may not have considered (from a certain point-of-view), was that the three figures we see being loyal to Darth Sidious, might in fact, be considered as ‘puzzle pieces,’ that together, form Darth Vader.

In several making-of pieces, Lucas makes note of what he calls, ‘an echo.’ This is usually in reference to something we see, that will also come back later in some form.

The first time I recalled this word usage, was during a “webisode,” discussing the creation of General Grievous.

Lucas was adamant that the concept artists not ‘recreate Darth Vader,’ but was taken by an image that showed a metal creation, with organic eyes. This was the birth of Episode III‘s new bad guy.

His telling of how Grievous was “an echo of what Anakin is going to become,” started the wheels in my head to turn. Soon, I began to think deeper, about the apprentices to Darth Sidious.

This post, is the result of those thoughts. So, let’s see what I’ve dug up.

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Darth Maul

From the moment he was introduced visually to the public back in 1998, many eagerly clamored for more of Episode I’s Sith Apprentice.

His kicks and flips were one thing, but his tattooed visage and double-bladed lightsaber, quickly made him the ‘Boba Fett’ of the first prequel film. Many were eagerly snapping up toys of Maul, and speculating on just how he’d fit into the grand scheme of the new trilogy.

…and then he was cut down by Obi-Wan Kenobi, infuriating many! How could Lucas throw away what was (essentially) an awesome character, many wailed.

The truth is, George Lucas rarely goes for what’s ‘cool.’ This explains why fan-favorite character Boba Fett, was so easily dispatched in Return of the Jedi. To George, Fett had served his purpose, and there was no further reason for him to live on.

Of course, George’s vision was mere peanuts compared to the fans and the Star Wars Expanded Universe, that soon made Fett out to be ‘The Most Interesting Bounty Hunter in the Galaxy.’

When going over Maul’s appearance in The Phantom Menace, I soon thought I had figured out what Lucas was trying to do.

To me, it boiled down to a line that Luke Skywalker told the Emperor in Return of the Jedi: “Your over-confidence is your weakness.”

Maul is much the same way. He’s been trained by Sidious, and like a brash young upstart, he seems to think he can take on anything. With his whirling dervish moves, he feels his skills will give him the upper-hand in getting revenge on the Jedi.

Maul’s skills come into play when he stuns Qui-gon and take him out, but his over-confidence gets the better of him, when he revels in Obi-Wan hanging over the pit on Naboo.

Obi-Wan ended up getting the upper-hand against Maul, by jumping over him, and slicing him with Qui-Gon’s lightsaber.

This also serves as an ‘echo’ in Revenge of the Sith.

When Obi-Wan confronts Anakin on the planet Mustafar, Anakin is confident in his powers, and much like Maul, his moves are fast and vicious.

We also get an ‘echo’ to Obi-Wan in Menace, when Anakin attempts to jump over Obi-Wan. However, Obi-Wan has been in this situation before, and he knows what to expect (even cautioning Anakin not to do what he knows he’ll do).

Just like Darth Maul, Anakin’s over-confidence becomes his weakness, and Obi-Wan mortally-wounds his former apprentice, with a well-placed slice of his lightsaber.

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Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyrannus)

In Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku was revealed to be a former Jedi (and Master to Qui-Gon Jinn), who left the Jedi Order.

Word was that Dooku became disillusioned with the Order, and how it was conducting itself. It was briefly mentioned that Qui-gon himself was sometimes at odds with the Council, and these tendencies may have been instilled in him by his own Master.

It surprised the Jedi, when Dooku was soon mentioned as being a member of the Separatist Movement, which seemed intent to try and take control of the Galaxy, away from the Republic.

Just as Dooku found disillusionment with the Jedi, an ‘echo’ of this seemed to be mirrored in Anakin as the Prequels continued onward.

Anakin’s emotional turmoil is on display in Attack of the Clones, most notable in regards to the death of his mother, as well as his feelings for Padme Amidala. The monastic lifestyle of the Jedi began to clash with Anakin’s thinking, and as he tried to wrestle with those around him telling to let go of his emotions and feelings, he often found himself unable to do so.

We see more of Anakin’s disillusionment in Revenge of the Sith, when he is given a position on the council, though mainly out of obligation to the requests of Chancellor Palpatine. The Council does so at the request of Palpatine, but Anakin does not become a Master simply by sitting on it. Anakin in turn, is upset by this, but is further upset upon being given a secret request by Obi-Wan, to spy upon the Chancellor, at the Council’s request.

Being used to spy on the Chancellor feels like a further crumbling of Anakin’s faith in the Jedi Order, and he grows upset as well, when Padme asks him to speak directly with Palpatine. Because of his closeness to Palpatine, she requests he ask him to consider diplomacy against the Separatists, to end the war (“Don’t ask me to do that,” he snaps at her. “Make a motion in the Senate, where that kind of a request belongs!”).

I will admit when it comes to Dooku, there isn’t quite as much in regards to him, as he’s a bit less ‘confrontational’ than Maul or Grievous.

Even so, Dooku was powerful enough to channel Force lightning upon Anakin, while also maneuvering his own lightsaber, with an aire of grace and fluidity.

We also see, that he was not above playing mind games, even with the Jedi.

Notable is when he has Obi-Wan Kenobi captured on Geonosis.

At one point, Dooku tells Obi-Wan point-blank, that a Sith Lord is controlling the Galactic Senate.  Dooku even tries to use this information to turn Obi-wan, claiming the two of them can destroy the Sith. It could be that Dooku hoped that Obi-Wan’s loyalty to Qui-Gon could make him able to be turned, but Kenobi stays strong and refuses the offer (it almost ‘echoes’ Vader’s attempts to turn Luke in The Empire Strikes Back).

The information is later relayed to the Council, and rattles them slightly. Though they don’t wholly believe what has been told, they decide to keep a closer watch on the Senate.

This tactic of trying to turn good people to the Dark Side, is almost ‘echoed’ in Revenge of the Sith with Anakin. When he meets Padme on Mustafar, he tries to convince her that he is powerful enough to overcome Palpatine, and that this can pave the way for them to be happy. With Palpatine overthrown, Anakin claims that they can ‘rule the galaxy, and make things the way they want to be.’

Though just like Kenobi, Padme refuses to give in to this Sith Apprentice’s offerings of power.

Of course, Anakin’s confrontations with Dooku in Episodes II and III, resulted in dismemberment for the both of them.

Dooku cut off Anakin’s arm in Episode II, and in their next confrontation, Anakin cut off Dooku’s hands, and decapitated the former Jedi, at the behest of Palpatine.

One could almost see that moment, as Palpatine testing Skywalker, to see how loyal he could truly be. Though Anakin shows a slight remorse, Palpatine claims that his actions were justified (“He cut off your arm, and you wanted revenge,” says Palpatine).

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General Grievous


During the Clone Wars, Darth Sidious and Count Dooku employed an overseer for the Separatist’s Droid Army, in the form of General Grievous.

When first introduced in the Cartoon Network animated series in 2004, Grievous was seen as a cunningly-fast, and dangerous threat to the Jedi.

It was a far cry from his appearance in Revenge of the Sith though, where he seemed to be one of those villains who talked big, but then quickly ran away, shaking his fist at the “Jedi scum,” as he made his way to a new location (usually with a raspy cough).

Just like Maul and Tyrannus, Grievous also supplies a piece in the evolutionary puzzle of Darth Vader.

Whereas Maul shows how overconfidence can cloud a Sith’s judgement, and Dooku shows how a Jedi can be turned to the Dark Side via disillusionment, Grievous shows himself to be an early predecessor of a creature, kept alive via technology.

However, the mechanics are far from perfect, as seconds after he is introduced in Episode III, a raspy cough can be heard, a sign that the technology that Grievous is encased in, can’t cure all his ailments.

George Lucas has often been fascinated by the concept of man-and-technology, a theme that winds it’s way through his entire filmography.

Some could almost consider Grievous to be Vader’s predecessor. With his imposing height and appearance (at times looking like a living alien skeleton), let alone his threatening demeanor, the two almost seem cut from the same cloth.

While some criticize the rasping cough that accompanied the general in the film, it can be considered another ‘echo’ to the ‘creature/man-in-suit’ theme surrounding Vader.

The technology to save Grievous, is shown to have flaws, notably in how it cannot cure his cough. There is also the not-so-protective chest cavity, where his vital organs are stored. We see this flaw when Obi-Wan Kenobi manages to pry it open wide enough, to eventually fire a blaster, and cause the contents to catch fire, leading to the General’s death.

When it comes to Anakin, the cybernetic enhancements and the dark suit that he is encased in at the end of Episode III, are the final steps to erasing all traces of the former human being he once was. Plus, one assumes that since the Empire didn’t tell what had befallen Anakin (probably writing him off as another Jedi casualty), many never knew who was behind the imposing mask, and simply referred to him by the title of Darth Vader, as the Emperor requested.

I imagine some feel that my inclusion of Grievous here is somewhat of a ‘cheat,’ given that he was never a true apprentice to Darth Sidious. However, we did see in one scene, that Grievous was taking orders from Sidious (such as being told to move the Separatists to the planet Mustafar). Plus, he claimed that Dooku trained him in the Jedi Arts.

I feel that Grievous could be considered an unofficial apprentice for the first half of Episode III, after the death of Count Dooku. Shortly after Grievous is destroyed by Obi-Wan, that is when Anakin is given the title of Darth Vader, pledging himself to Palpatine’s teachings, and the Dark Side.

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Final Thoughts

When it came to the Prequels, George Lucas strove to make us question just who Darth Vader was.

Throughout the Original Trilogy, and the many years of advertising, Vader’s helmeted visage became an icon for the series. However, this was counter to what Lucas originally envisioned.

An example is in A New Hope. Whereas many thought it was Vader who was running much of the operations for the Empire, he was little more than an overseer to certain events, and little more than a lapdog/assistant to Grand Moff Tarkin, who was running the show on the Death Star (it was Tarkin after all, who ordered the destruction of Alderaan).

Throughout the years, many have often complained that Episode I’s storyline should have been excised. They claimed the story should have started with Anakin as a teenager, with him ‘falling’ in Episode II, and then in Episode III, there’d be images of him being totally evil, destroying Jedi left and right!

However, many fail to comprehend that most of what Obi-wan ‘fed’ Luke, were stories like the kind a Grandfather would tell his Grandchildren, about how the old days were so much better…but oftentimes, keeping out certain details. After all, most never realize that Obi-Wan (and later Yoda) pretty much lied to Luke about what really happened to his father, seemingly trying to set the young Skywalker up to murder his own father.

To many that grew up on the series, it was these little tidbits of background information, that fed our imagination, and made it hard to fathom the notions that this imposing dark figure, was once a Force-sensitive little boy, who would happily shout “Yippee!”

Despite the flaws of the prequels (yes, I will admit they aren’t perfect) there are some ideas and areas of interest in them, that still keep me thinking all these years later.

One of George Lucas’ strengths, are his thoughts and ideas. We see these played across in many of the films he’s not only directed, but also produced. Some times he hits the sweet spot, and other times, his visions clash with those of the viewers.

This is true of Vader’s big moment at the end of Episode III, after his new suit is completed. The scene is almost an ‘echo’ of the carbon-freezing scene in Empire Strikes Back, only instead of Han Solo encased in a carbonite block, Vader is now encased in his suit. A heavy metallic sound upon the table’s rotation, almost makes it seem like he is now forever ‘trapped,’ both physically and mentally, by what he has done, and what he has now become.

Of course, Lucas tries to make us feel sympathy for Vader, but he ends up somewhat ruining the mood, in a moment that became more cringe-inducing than emotional.

Even so, he’s given me plenty of ‘food for thought’ over the years, and this post is the results of some of it.

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Movie Review : Your Name (Kimi no na wa)

Rated PG for thematic elements, suggestive content, brief language, and smoking

As much as I may say a film’s story or it’s emotional aesthetic should be a litmus test for how good it is…sometimes, money does talk, and makes people like me take notice. Especially, if the films are animated, and not easily accessible within this country.

That was the case in 2001, when word came that Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, had become one of the most successful anime productions in Japan.

History seemed to repeat itself almost 15 years later when last year, word came of a new animated film, that was electrifying the Japanese box-office. Titled Your Name (or Kimi no na wa), it finally made it’s way to US shores this Spring, courtesy of Funimation Films.

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After watching a brightly-colored comet streak through the heavens, we find ourselves focusing on two teenagers: Mitsuha Miyamizu (Moni Kamishiraishi), and Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki).

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L to R: Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki), Mitsuha Miyamizu (Moni Kamishiraishi)

The two have never met, with Mitsuha living in a small village in Central Japan’s countryside, and Taki growing up amid the skyscrapers of Tokyo. However, over the course of several weeks, circumstances will bring them together, in the most unbelievable ways.

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Writer/director Makoto Shinkai is quick to thrust us into a story where it soon becomes apparent, that we’ll need to use our brains, in order to decipher just what is going on in the lives of our two main leads.

It is notable how we also see a contrast in the lives of these two teenagers. While Taki is used to the big city, Mitsuha looks upon it with wonder, as she comes from a village where a dentist office or even a cafe are non-existent. Plus, we even see how the cost of living differs between them (a meal in a Tokyo cafe, costs as much as she could spend on a month’s worth of food in her village!).

The filmmakers also attempt to add in some risque humor in a few instances. While they don’t turn the film into an overtly-sexual teen romp, a recurring joke in regards to Mitsuha, feels like they should have stopped after the first few times.

There are also some nice little instances of ‘body language’ added to the animation, and some minor storypoints in regards to pronunciation of certain words. I will admit, this kind of stuff might go over better with the original Japanese viewers (I can only wonder how the little verbal differences were handled in the English dub, as I preferred seeing the film with it’s original Japanese dialogue).

The film also dabbles in thoughts regarding the spiritual realm, as well as the world of dreams. The concept of ‘memory,’ also becomes an underlying layer as the film progresses as well.

A number of people online, have also compared this film to some of the works of Hayao Miyazaki. However, I think such comparisons are mainly in regards to the rendered environments we see throughout the film.

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Make no mistake: the imagery in this film has the kind of detail that, like in a Ghibli film, you’ll want to fall into and just immerse yourself in.

Though Shinkai based the film’s screenplay off of his originally-published story, I am curious as to the embellishments he may have made. Unfortunately for the flow of the film, it feels like he tends to overdo the use of visuals in a few areas.

Most striking to me, is how he gives the film an intro, almost reminiscent of the manic types of openings one would normally find in an anime television series. It shows us our main characters, before their more ‘looser’ introduction within the story of the film, when we could get a better chance to start getting to know them.

Plus, we get a small music video-style montage 1/4 of the way through the film. I will admit to getting caught up in the catchy music of the soundtrack’s band Radwimps (yes, you read that right), but it feels like this bit seems to stop the film cold for a few minutes.

Of course, most surprising was that almost halfway through the film, one assumes it will zig in a usual manner, but instead, zags in a most surprising way.

 

There are also a few areas, where we are given a lot of information, but it almost becomes a bit too much. Some scenes felt like a muddled sensory overload of information, when a less-is-more approach probably could have made them ‘read’ as more emotional.

As I watched the film, I found myself sitting upright in rapt attention for some parts, but most surprisingly, the emotional resonance of some scenes, just wasn’t sucking me in. I think this is one of the director’s faults when it comes to the execution of the film: at times, it feels a bit too ‘clinical,’ in trying to be ’emotional.’

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While some are apt to think of references to Studio Ghibli, Your Name’s tone and atmosphere, reminded me a bit of the works of author Haruki Murakami, as well as an anime titled, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. There’s also a South Korean film from 2000 that I’d throw in as a reference too, but if I did, I might release a major spoiler.

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Final Grade: B (Final Summary: “Your Name” gives us a science fiction/romance/comedy, that manages to do it’s own thing, and takes it’s storytelling to places that are not as pedestrian as  most animated teenage love stories. However, it feels like writer/director Makoto Shinkai could have tightened up his story in certain places. Some of his uses for visuals gets a bit too over-the-top in places, and a few gags that may have been funny in a smaller dose, are milked a bit too long in other places. However, some character-building scenes and the film’s stunning imagery, will probably overwhelm even the most jaded of audience members.)


An Animated Dissection: My Top 5 Least-Favorite Star vs The Forces of Evil, Season 2 Segments

Ok fans of Star vs the Forces of Evil, it’s time I delivered some good news, and bad news. After a show’s season concludes, most reviewers decide to make…some lists.

Given that we had 22 episodes for Season 2 (comprised of three 22-minute segments, and thirty-eight 11-minute segments), I thought I would do like last season, and do some lists regarding the 11-minute story segments.

First up: let’s just get those least-favorite segments out of the way, with this Top 5 list.

*Note: Keep in mind this list only covers the segments that run 11 minutes, not full-length episodes. Given how much extra time is given in full-length episodes to tell a story, this list judges the shorter segments on their merits, and faults.*

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5. Crystal Clear

This season, saw the introduction of many new characters to the show, several of which seemed to be connected to some very important roles, within the show’s multiverse.

Crystal Clear attempts to give us a little backstory on Rhombulus, and Chancellor Lekmet, who are members of the Magic High Commission.

Rhombulus ends up bringing Star and Marco before Lekmet, claiming that Star is somehow responsible for the draining of magic in the universe. However, as the segment goes on, it just feels like a loud, noisy, and meandering romp.

Each member of the Magic High Commission was given a segment, to show a bit more about themselves, and who they are. However, out of all of them, Rhombulus’ storyline feels the weakest for all members of the MHC.

Rhombulus himself seems to be the ‘muscle’ of the group,  acting on his gut first, and asking questions later. In small doses this works fine, but with this story, it feels like director Giancarlo Volpe, was asked to stretch out a concept, that just didn’t feel like it could hold together entertainingly, for 11 minutes.

Star Butterfly shines a bit here, given that she becomes the voice-of-reason to Rhombulus’ little tirades, but even that isn’t enough to make this story appealing. We even get some hints of things that I assume will be paid off in the future…but as some stories have shown, there aren’t any guarantees if that will happen or not.

Maybe Season 3 will redeem this story, but for now, it made my list.

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4. Wand to Wand

This story plays out as a tag-team storyline of sorts.

We see Ludo running across some rats on Mewni, along with him finding out that he can coax power from his newly-acquired wand, usually when he finds himself getting upset.

On Earth, Star attempts to get out of doing chores, and summons a creature named Cloudy to do her work. However, he ends up making a mess, and Star’s attempts to fix his attitude, don’t go over so well.

After watching more of Season 2, it feels like this story was not meant to give us any easy answers, and to maybe draw our own conclusions about what is happening, let alone how emotions affect the power of the wand.

Ludo’s storyline is the more interesting of the two, but when put together, it feels like a slog as each storyline, goes from one incident to the next. It’s one of the first examples we get of Star’s magic going green instead of pink, showing how her emotions can affect her wand’s magic, but I almost wish it could have been done a bit better.

I like a good puzzle, but this storyline just felt like things got a bit too vague at times.

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3. Girls Day Out

This is one of those stories that feels like they had a decent concept, but then when it came to building it up…it just ended up becoming ‘filler’ for the season.

After freeing her classroom’s pet hamster Marisol out of sheer boredom, Star is put in detention, and Marco is tasked with getting Marisol back.

Star being thrown into detention, and then working with Janna to help their fellow classmates endure their time, feels like it just attempts to be a wacky adventure, with very little substance. I couldn’t help but imagine a story where Star and Janna go on an inter-dimensional adventure might have been more entertaining, or if the story became a more group-oriented piece, where Star and the detention gang all make it out and run amuck (the story at one point seems to make it like this could be an option, but then just sidesteps it).

Marco’s subplot feels pretty unnecessary, almost like it was a last-ditch effort to somehow include him in Star’s story.

Personally, the title made it sound like a weekend adventure was in store for Star and a couple of her girl friends (like the more entertaining segment, Sleepover). I also feel the story should have had a different title: Coup D’etention.

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2. All Belts are Off

For Season 2, very little has been mentioned in regards to Marco’s karate training, with just two stories (Red Belt, and All Belts Are Off), focusing on the relationship between Marco Diaz, and his strip mall dojo’s Sensei. While both seemed to meander, All Belts felt like the weaker of the two.

We get a much larger role for Marco’s arch-enemy, the rich little punk named Jeremy Birnbaum, who is chosen by Sensei to represent the dojo.

The underlying message of “you don’t need to be awarded to be considered a good person,” just feels shuffled away til’ the last few minutes, along with a heart-to-heart between Sensei and Marco, that I wish could have been better expanded upon.

Trying to get us to focus on how much of a jerk Jeremy is, and trying to make it funny, is where the story just falls off a cliff for me. Some of the season’s stories can really push my buttons when it comes to humor, but the attempts to make Jeremy’s escapades seem funny, just felt like a lost cause.

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1. Starstruck

I think any fan of the series will have to admit: this segment just felt like a huge letdown!

Following early imagery of warrior-girl Mina Loveberry, many of us were expecting big things from this woman whom Star seemed to look up to. Unfortunately Mina just came across as another ‘looney from Mewni.’

The story is meant to show how sometimes you should follow your own judgement, but it just gets bogged down in Mina doing something weird or strange, every other time she’s on screen.

Marco largely is on the sidelines, making this a story where Star is forced to draw her own conclusions, but sadly, it just feels like a lesser variation on that ‘good girl gets drawn in by the wrong crowd’ afternoon special like I’d see on TV when I was younger.

There’s also some minor stuff about government, that feels shoehorned in in a rather throwaway moment in the last few minutes, and Mina’s reaction to Star’s resistance, feels like a shoehorned concept that could have been better handled with more time.

What’s weird is in the last 5 seconds, there’s a strange little emotional moment, that almost attempts to make us forget Mina’s crazy shenanigans. Sadly, by this point, the damage has been done,  and those 5 seconds cannot salvage the story.

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Keep in mind that these are just my opinions, and I’m not saying you have to go along with them.

There were a few other 11-minute segments in this season that I did consider putting on this list, but in the end, each of the ones listed here, were stories that I just kept having issues with, when I would go over them after they premiered.

If you liked what you read, leave a comment, and tell me if you have any agreements or disagreements. Or, maybe there’s an 11-minute segment that you felt was deserving of being in this list. Always up to hear what others in the fandom think (other than the constant fanship wars that never seem to end!).

Next time we discuss “Star vs the Forces of Evil,” we’ll talk about something a bit more positive: My Top 10 favorite 11-minute segments, from Season 2! Hope to see you soon in a few weeks for that post!

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art – Third Time’s the Charm?

Some days, it seems you just can’t get a museum built. That seems to be the case for George Lucas in recent years.

As he entered his 70’s, the famed (and much-loathed) director, began to consider his retirement from the world of filmmaking.

Along with selling his company Lucasfilm (as well as it’s big name titles like Star Wars and Indiana Jones) to The Walt Disney Company in 2012, Lucas also had plans for his personal art collection, which contained a number of illustrations, filmmaking materials (not just from Star Wars), and paintings (most notably, a number of them by Norman Rockwell!).

Over the years, Lucas has been known for donating to the arts and education, and had now decided to invest over a billion dollars of his own money, to ‘gift’ his art collection to the public, placed in a museum he’d fund out of his own pockets.

But first, he needed a city.

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Proposed design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, for the Presidio site, in San Francisco, CA.

His first attempt to make his museum a reality, hinged on obtaining a parcel of land near San Francisco’s Presidio, located in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, after 2 years of trying to work with the Presidio’s board, he was unable to secure the area he had hoped for.

When the plans fell through at the Presidio site, a number of other cities came calling. Out of all of them, it was the invitation of Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, that caught George’s eye.

His wife Mellody Hobson hearkened from the city, and Lucas himself had been known to visit there as well. What was being offered with the museum, was definitely something different than the other art-based museums within the supposedly world-class city.

Of the different sites that were shown to Lucas, the one he gravitated towards, was a parcel of land, between the city’s Soldier Field stadium, and McCormick Place East convention center facilities. Currently the site of an overflow parking lot for Chicago Bears football games, architectural renderings by the MAD Architects firm, showed a return to a more natural environment, though many were agog at the unusual ‘naturalistic’ art style of the museum being proposed.

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Revised design proposal, for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, for the Chicago, IL site.

However, the efforts were soon hindered by a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, who claimed that the deal undermined the city’s Burnham Plan. The plan claimed that the city’s lakefront property was not for sale, and was to remain “open, free, and clear,” for the citizens of the city.

Lucas and the Mayor’s office attempted to come to a compromise with the group, but after 2 years of neither side willing to budge, plans fell through in early May of 2016.

With the Windy City behind him as an option, Lucas returned to the west, where a number of cities once again attempted to gain his favor.

It was in the Summer of of 2016, that Lucas made a change from his usual decision-making process. Instead of singling out one city, he gave two the option of vying for his museum: Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Both cities were given time to submit proposals, and once Lucas selected a site he deemed worthy, the MAD Architect firm went to work. Instead of just transplanting the Chicago site design to the west coast, the architects worked around the environments, to give each a unique design.

Finally, in the fall of 2016, the proposals and designs were unveiled to the public.

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San Francisco

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Proposed design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, for the Treasure Island location, in San Francisco, CA.

For San Francisco, the location chosen was on a stretch of landfill, known as Treasure Island. The site of a decommissioned naval base, the city had long been looking to revitalize it, for residential and commercial development.

5 years ago, Lucas’ first pitch to have his museum placed in the Bay Area, did not go over well. His request for a bayside spot for his museum, was denied by the Presidio Board, causing him to seek out a new location.

When the Chicago deal started to fall apart a few years later, San Francisco did call upon George, claiming they were willing to welcome him back (though not at the original location he requested).

As he returned to the west coast for ‘attempt #3,’ Lucas kept designer Ma Yansong along for the ride.

The designs Ma came up with for the Treasure Island location, reflects on the more open space that was being considered, compared to the rather confined parcel of land in Chicago.

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Three-quarter view, showing more of the proposed ‘footprint’ of the museum, amid some rough building concepts.

The organic architecture has a better chance to ‘breathe,’ and ‘opens’ up in a more horizontal fashion. Windows are more abundant than in the Chicago design, allowing more natural light in, and views towards San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean.

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-Los Angeles-

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Proposed design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, for the Exposition Park location, in Los Angeles, CA.

Back when I posted my article about the aftermath of Chicago losing it’s bid for the museum, there was little information as to where the museum might go if Los Angeles was chosen.

Unlike San Francisco with it’s famous Bay Area waterways, Los Angeles is land-locked, leaving many to wonder where Lucas would consider placing his museum.

When word came that Exposition Park was chosen, I was a little surprised…at first.

Located near Lucas’ alma mater (The University of Southern California), the site for the Los Angeles proposal, didn’t boast any bodies of water close by. However, the area seemed oddly reminiscent of the Chicago location Lucas had wanted: within walking distance of a nearby stadium (in this case, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum), a number of local museums, and…the proposed structure would be built atop two areas that were currently serving as parking lots for the park!

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Three-quarter view, showing the museum’s layout, ‘hovering’ near the west side of Exposition Park.

Ma Yansong’s design for this proposed area, seemed to ‘elevate’ the museum experience, compared to his previous designs.

While the last two designs by MAD had taken up considerable ground space, the bulk of his Los Angeles design, made it look like the museum was ‘hovering’ over the area, with several structural ‘bases’to support it. Landscaping and greenery were also included among the upper tiers, giving the structure a melding sleek curves, intermingled with the organic.

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Unlike Chicago’s very public land ‘battle,’ the two cities where Lucas was considering to put his museum this time, brought forth proposals and land selection choices, with minimal public outcry. Both cities seemed to welcome George Lucas and Melody Hobbson with open arms, eager to make the third time the charm, wherever he might consider.

Checking social media, I scanned tweets and some other postings, but found very little online dissent, like the kind that exploded out of Chicago (thanks to Friends of the Parks painting Lucas as an out-of-control billionaire, looking to cheat the good citizens of the city out of lakefront property).

The only dissent I saw, was from the head of Salesforce in San Francisco. The head of the company, felt that for being generous with his ‘gift,’ Lucas should also channel some funds into the city’s infrastructure as well, if they were to accept his museum.

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Originally, word was that around the beginning of 2017, there would be a decision by the museum’ s board, on the chosen location.

Early word pegged a January 6th announcement, but the day came-and-went, and news out of California, was that the announcements would be postponed until the end of the month.

However, on January 10th, 2017, around 3pm Pacific Standard Time, an official press release appeared on the museum’s Facebook page.

A decision had been made, and the lucky city was: Los Angeles!

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I will admit, when the announcement came, I was surprised!

This decision seemed counter from the Presidio and Chicago lakefront locations: a landlocked space in the heart of Los Angeles, with what seemed the most minimal of natural space. Even the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin took a jab at the museum’s placement in a snide tweet (then again, almost all of his tweets had been condescending towards the museum), wondering why Lucas did not choose the water view like some assumed.

On further observation, I soon began to consider why  George had chosen Los Angeles’ Exposition Park.

Going back over the location on Treasure Island in San Francisco, I could definitely see it’s positives. The museum would be allowed to have a much larger ‘footprint’ on the land being provided. Plus, San Francisco sees Lucas as one of it’s more famous citizens, and, it’s location across from San Francisco’s famous Embarcadero, seemed a decent setting. One could imagine looking across the waters, and seeing the structure’s stark-white exterior rising up from the surroundings, also possibly lit up as evening set in over the Bay Area.

Unfortunately, while the location would have been picturesque, I believe the decision to not build on Treasure Island, came down to two factors.

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The first factor, is access.

Currently, the only way to access Treasure Island, is by using Interstate 80, heading east out of San Francisco. The access route onto the island, leads one through the smaller Yerba Buena Island that connects to the landfill.

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Yerba Buena Island. The I-80 highway is the only way to reach Treasure Island by car or bus.

The city’s plans to turn the island area into a new place for development, could mean that new construction projects would be lined up in the future. However, with current infrastructure changes happening on I-80, it could have been seen by Lucas as a possibly hindrance regarding ‘easy access’ to the location.

There had been some thoughts, that much like the ferries to Alcatraz Island, a ferry service could also be utilized to transport people back and forth, beetween the Embarcadero, and Treasure Island. There was talk that the amount of money to help construct a service, would have been folded into the museum’s plans. It is possible, that Lucas may have drawn the line on just how far he was willing to stretch his ‘gift.’

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The second factor, is isolation.

Both the Presidio and Chicago locations, had a setup that seemed to be picturesque to Lucas: a location close to easy access for families and tourists, while also near the shores of a major body of water, sandwiching his museum between the natural elements on one side, and man-made elements on the other.

When it came to his choices for the third go-round, he had to make some tough decisions.

San Francisco would give him a chance to have a picturesque view near water, but he would be isolated, ‘adrift’ on an island, with limited access for visitors.

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Site for the Lucas Museum in Exposition Park, along with other city museums close by.

Los Angeles would give him the yang to San Francisco’s yin. While it would be land-locked, the location in Exposition Park, would mirror his thoughts to keep his museum close to other tourist spots, and like the Chicago location, allowed easy access to other museums that families and tourists could also visit.

I like to imagine that Lucas’ wife Mellody had a hand in steering him towards this decision. Word was she was sad when her hometown of Chicago failed to secure the museum, and I could imagine her reminding George, that while he might favor picturesque, his museum was also seen as a learning center. Families in large cities may like to go to museums, but there would be considerable effort to get to the museum, if it was on Treasure Island.

Los Angeles is known for not being easy to get around in, but unlike Treasure Island, there are also other ways to get to Exposition Park. Several bus routes border it, and the city has a Metro Rail line, that services both USC, and the park.

Also like Chicago, it’s museum campus contains three museums currently: The California African-American Museum, The California Science Center, and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Most notable, is the park’s Science Center, which made headlines in the last few years, when NASA allowed the Space Shuttle Endeavor, to be transported to the facility, as it’s final home.

The Center is also planning a major expansion, that would place the shuttle vertically, with it’s booster rockets and external tank attached, making it the only space shuttle to be displayed in this configuration, in the world.

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From my perspective, it looks like smooth sailing from here on out for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts. In the time since the announcement, I haven’t heard word of any preservation groups in Los Angeles, raising a ruckus like the Friends of the Parks group in Chicago did.

The most dissent I read, was mainly from those wondering if Lucas was so wealthy, why didn’t he use some of his money for other purposes? But then again, it seemed no different than articles in Chicago that claimed Lucas trying to build his museum here, was a waste of time and money.

As it stands now, word is that the project will probably take 5 years, with groundbreaking sometime this year, and an estimated completion date, sometime in the year 2022.

Hopefully, Lucas’ struggles have come to an end, and he can get to work overseeing the construction of one of his final projects, within our galaxy.

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

‘Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images

Of all the animated features that were released during my youth, Beauty and the Beast is one of those that is at the top, when it comes to animated features that made me consider pursuing a career in animation.

I was enthralled by Glen Keane’s designs for the Beast, the wonderful songs and lyrics of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and a story that delivered on a satisfyingly emotional level, that I hadn’t yet encountered in animated films at that time.

Of course, when it comes to turning animated features into live-action movies, I approached the studio’s recent take on Beauty and the Beast with some trepidation. I had been intrigued by what Kenneth Branagh brought to Cinderella in 2015, but felt little need to see Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book adaptation last year.

Of course, being the glutton for punishment that I am, I bought the ticket, and decided to ride the ride, to see what a live-action version of this “tale as old as time” had in store for audiences.

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In the small provincial town of Villeneuve, resides Belle (Emma Watson), and her artistically-inclined father, Maurice (Kevin Kline). Of those living in the village, Belle is seen as an anomaly amongst the townspeople, though entrances a former army captain named Gaston (Luke Evans), who wishes to make her his wife.

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The Beast (Dan Stevens)

One day on a trip, Maurice stumbles upon a snow-shrouded castle, and plucks a rose for his daughter, enraging the castle’s Beastly owner (Dan Stevens). Belle willingly trades her life for her father’s, and soon meets the castle’s enchanted servants (played by Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellan, Emma Thompson, and many more), who hope she can break the spell they are under.

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From the early word and trailer imagery, Disney made few attempts to hide that they were attempting to translate the 1991 film (and some of it’s successful Broadway stage adaptation) to the big-screen.

The live-action film doesn’t stray far from it’s roots, and like any adaptation these days, attempts to fill in the blanks, and embellish the story we know so well.

Did you ever wonder just where Belle and Maurice came from? How about what led the Beast to be such a pompous jerk in the first place? We get those answers here, as well as some vague motivations surrounding the Enchantress who cursed the Beast and his servants.

Composer Alan Menken returns to the world he helped create, but has brought on Tim Rice (whom he worked with on Aladdin), to make a few alterations to the film’s music. Some lines are changed from previous works, and a few songs add in bits from the original demo tracks of the animated feature (which were co-written by Menken’s former collaborator, the late Howard Ashman). The Beast even get his own solo (much like in the Broadway production), but none of the newer musical pieces seemed to enthrall me. We even get Celine Dion back, singing a song at the end, that feels more like an afterthought.

When it comes to behind-the-scenes names, Director Bill Condon should be familiar to many when it comes to musicals-on-film. He wrote the adapted screenplay for Chicago, and directed the film adaptation of Dreamgirls back in 2006.

One would assume his pedigree with adapted musicals would be a slam-dunk for this production. Unfortunately, BatB seems to suffer from some ‘speed issues’ when it comes to holding it all together.

I haven’t seen enough of Condon’s filmography to pass proper judgement, but with this film, he really seems to step on the gas-pedal, when the film has to shift into it’s musical numbers, or require a lot of visual effects. Some of the numbers fly by so fast, I was struggling to figure out where my eye was supposed to be focused on (this was most problematic during the Be Our Guest number, which felt like he was trying to ape Baz Luhrmann’s manic Moulin Rouge numbers).

It isn’t until the halfway mark, that the film seems to finally catch it’s breath. In those moments, Condon shows that when he slows down, he can really get to work on making us focus on the characters and their development.

Deep down, I feel that if the film had been more like 2015’s Cinderella, and been less of an adaptation of the animated feature, it would have been more palatable, and stronger in it’s emotional resonance.

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Belle (Emma Watson)

The ‘palette’ of the film, seems to derive itself from 19th century French landscapes. I will admit during the early bits in the village, as we see the landscape surrounding it, I found myself making note of the soft color palette of the backgrounds, almost as if the filmmakers were attempting to make it look like the characters had stepped into a painting.

The film also attempts to pay some small homages to it’s roots. The village is named after the original author of the tale, and, Maurice attempts to bring Belle a rose from the Beast’s garden, which was part of the original story.

However, much  like the story here, the characters can be rather give-and-take as well.

Sadly, Emma Watson did not enthrall me with her singing voice, but she can deliver in certain moments when it comes to emotions. There is an added character point, that Belle is a forward-thinking young woman in the eyes of her rather mundane village, but it just feels like an afterthought as the story goes on.

Dan Stevens as the Beast, has the task of working through motion-capture, that works ‘most’ of the time. The live-action Beast is a bit like the early concept of a ‘man with a beast head,’ rather than the more animalistic creation of master animator Glen Keane. The concept works some of the time, but mostly in the quieter moments.

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Gaston (Luke Evans), and LeFou (Josh Gad)

Luke Evans’ take on Gaston is different from the muscle-bound lothario we all know. A war veteran who seems to satiate his lust for war by hunting, this take on the character is a bit less hunky, and more mental in several of his decisions…though not by much.

One of the highlights of the film regarding comedy, is Josh Gad as LeFou. Every other word out of his mouth just made me and the audience chuckle, and unlike his animated counterpart, he’s given a bit of character growth. I have a feeling many will find Gad just as entertaining here, as he was as Olaf in Frozen.

When it comes to the enchanted objects of the castle, I was hoping they would enthrall me as much as their animated counterparts did, but that was not the case here.

There are no cartoonish features, or large white eyes to draw one’s attention. Instead, the designers try to take an object’s parts and decoration, and make them into faces (or in the case of Lumiere, just make a miniature man holding candles, with another atop his head!). This may look good in close-ups or when a character is being still, but once they start moving around, I found it maddening, trying to keep track of where an eye or a nose is!

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Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci)

A prime example, is Maestro Cadenza, who has been turned into a harpsichord (and played by Stanley Tucci). His keys and music stand are meant to stand in for his mouth and facial features, but I found myself struggling to figure out where his eyes were, let alone his nose and moustache when the camera focused on him ‘talking.’

There is a sliver of an attempt to give the enchanted objects a bit more characterization, but many of the group scenes feel rather poorly staged, and some that involve dozens of other CG-created objects moving about, feel too busy with motion, for us to figure on where to focus our attention.

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Almost 25 years ago, at a swap meet in San Diego, CA, I picked up a book that would change my life forever: The Art of Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Beauty and the Beast.

The book has been a part of my life since then, and has been in the hands of (and signed by!) several persons associated with the animated Beauty and the Beast.

At the end of the book, the final pages tell how the next generation of Disney animators (in 1991), screened the film for their predecessors (several of whom had worked with Walt Disney himself). After the screening, instead of high praise, word was the new generation was met with: “Eh, it’s kind of like what we did.”

That line was in my head tonight. As the film went on, a number of names I had memorized from that making-of book, popped into my head. Looking at some scenes, I was thinking things like, “Glen Keane did that better,” or “Nik Ranieri made that characterization read so much clearer!”

The film definitely doesn’t skimp on the effort, but it sadly feels like another adapted production, that could have been much more solid, had it not been tied so closely to it’s animated counterpart.

The film seems to try and fly by moreso with it’s visuals and putting Emma Watson front-and-center, when what it needed more of in my opinion, was a story that could be just as emotionally involving today, as the animated feature was to me and millions of others, once upon a time.

Final Grade: B-

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