Archive | August 2012

Cars Land Review, pt 1: The Theming of Cars Land

This is a multi-part review of Disney’s California Adventure’s latest addition, related to the PIXAR film, CARS.

Since it opened on July 17th, 1955, Disneyland has been classified by many as a Theme Park. With its high watermark for attention-to-detail, it has often been considered the pinnacle of what a great park is.

During the 1990’s, with The Walt Disney Company on a record uptick as its entertainment and merchandising offerings became wildly successful, several of the company’s higher-ups wanted to find a way to turn Disneyland into a West Coast resort destination, in much the same way that had developed with Walt Disney World in Florida. Numerous plans were made, including some that included a geodesic sphere similar to Florida’s Epcot Center (the West coast version in the concept art was named Westcot).

Plans for Westcot fell through after 1995, and the concept was re-developed in the late 1990’s, with construction following shortly thereafter. What was the brand new theme that would envelope guests in this new park? California. Yes, you’d go to a theme park in California, that would then tell you about the wonders of California.

Needless to say, when Disney’s California Adventure opened its gates in 2001, a number of Disney fanatics decried what was in essence, a park that seemed more about getting you to buy merchandise, than riding rides, or enveloping you in a fun experience.

Some said that people just had to get used to what the new park in Anaheim had to offer, but California Adventure often found itself not even able to bring in half the daily attendance of its big brother, Disneyland. It wasn’t until 2007, that plans were put in motion to ‘fix’ the park. Over the next 5 years, numerous additions would be made, that would slowly build people’s confidence in the park back up. These included:

2008’s opening of Toy Story Midway Mania, a ride/game similar to Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters

– 2010’s opening of The World of Color, an evening water and light show on the waters of Paradise Pier

– 2011’s opening of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a dark ride attraction based around the story of the 1989 animated feature

In June of 2012, the finishing touches were put on the park, with a brand-new themed entrance area with stores and restaurants (dubbed Buena Vista Street), and the 12-acre themed land that was a huge selling point for the park’s re-opening: Cars Land! As soon as I heard the announcement for Cars Land in 2007, and that John Lasseter (the Director of Cars and Toy Story!) was going to be involved in its creation, I knew I was going to be there sometime during its opening year!

That time came when I decided to attend D23’s Destination D event in early August (you can read about the experience here) With discounted admission to the parks for attending the D23 event, I put down money for a 5-day park hopper, which allowed me to go between both Disneyland and California Adventure during each day of admission. After spending a total of 12 hours out of my week-long trip to the Disneyland Resort in Cars Land, there’s plenty to talk about. So much in fact, that I’ve broken my review up into 3 segments. The first segment you’re reading now, will detail something that many Disney fans like myself swoon over: Theming.

The theming of Cars Land is on a level many of us have not seen around Disneyland since Mickey’s Toontown opened in 1993. Once you step onto the ‘Mother Road’ of Route 66, the atmosphere just brings you into that familiar world of Lightning McQueen, Mater, and their friends. This is what you get when you spare no expense to give your guests a place that really takes them out of reality, and into a place they could only imagine, or see on a movie screen!

The faithfully recreated Radiator Springs Courthouse, with the founders statue of Stanley right out front!

One of the key elements that helps, is the amazing view of Ornament Valley off in the distance, with its Cadillac Range tail fins that tower over Radiator Springs, seeming to beckon you to quickly get in line for the nearby Radiator Springs Racers.

I’ve included a breathtaking panorama I took, showcasing the rock work that borders the rear of Cars Land. Click on the image to view a larger and more detailed image!

A closer look at part of the massively impressive, vehicle-themed rock work, that serves as an entrance/exit to the nearby ‘Pacific Wharf’ section of the park. Entering ‘Cars Land’ through the gateway is about as awe-inspiring as coming up the main entryway.

I’d been eagerly reading several of the Disney Parks blog postings, not to mention articles at MiceAge.com, as the towering edifices were constructed. Seeing it up close, I and many people around me marveled at how real it looked. The atmosphere put me in mind of the trips to California my family took when I was growing up, when we’d head west through New Mexico and Arizona. It almost made me wish to see Cars Land as the sun slowly rose up. During our family trips, that was usually when me and my sisters were roused, and we piled into the caravan to finish the trip to Grandma’s in San Diego, CA.

One of the elements of many PIXAR Animation Studios productions, is that the filmmakers go to great lengths to put so many things into their world, that you often find yourself going back and looking at things you missed. Cars Land is no exception, as John Lasseter seemed to treat this 12-acre portion of California Adventure with some of the most loving TLC one could imagine!

Looking out the windows of Luigi’s Casa Della Tires.

In the world of Cars, there were a number of objects that resembled cars or car parts in some form or another. Of course, Disney couldn’t recreate the tire tread contrails that appeared in the sky overhead in the first film, but throughout Cars Land, we see taillight flowers like the kind above. Plus, they even light up at night!

Sadly, the postcards on Sally’s desk were for display only. Not a single store in Radiator Springs sold postcards while I was there!

And speaking of theming, there’s plenty to be found around the Cozy Cone Motel. The Motel’s Office is laid out just like the film, with all sorts of cone-based paraphernalia inside. One fun little item, are the little cone-shaped alarm clocks (you can see them on the shelf with the little white door in the side), just like in the first Cars film (when the alarm goes off, a little car comes out, and gives a ‘beep-beep’ sound). I know a few people on the Carsthetoys.com messageboards were eager to get their hands on some since they first saw Cars, and I can’t see why Disney doesn’t consider them for Cars Land merchandise. Also in the office, is a little ‘easter egg’ to another of Pixar’s films (you can’t see it from this angle, though). And of course, the entire Motel’s area has cone-themed items throughout, including the cone-based waterwheel near the Motel sign.

For those that are real sticklers about attention-to-detail, while many of the main structures we know from the film are here, some people may be disappointed when they find out some of the smaller out-of-business buildings that are near the Radiator Springs Courthouse are missing. However, other structures have also been added.

Between the Cozy Cone Motel and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, a large building has been erected, labelled as the Carburetor County Tractor Feed and Farm Truck Association Hall. This little addition is a nice play on the Junkyard Jamboree attraction. One could almost picture a stage inside, with Mater addressing numerous tractors and their little baby tractors (which are prevalent throughout the Jamboree). See? This structure got me using my imagination, and it isn’t even open to us tourists!

Flo’s V8 Cafe has had a larger dining area built, including a windowed-in and patio area that gives diners a great view of the nearby rock work, and the Radiator Springs Racers zooming by. Word is, John Lasseter liked the addition to Flo’s so much, that her cafe was altered in Cars 2 to include the area looking out over Ornament Valley.

I know Doc said they were just ’empty cups,’ but these suckers are pretty big, and pretty impressive!

Another surprise, was that an addition was also built on for Flo to expand her business into the Mechanical Clinic building of the late Doc Hudson. However, Flo and the town’s residents still keep mementos of Doc’s career framed on the walls (newspaper clippings, race pamphlets, etc), not to mention displaying his 3 Piston Cup trophies for all to see. The attention-to-detail had me wandering around for a good 20-30 minutes after I finished a meal at Flo’s (more to come about the ‘Cars Cuisine’ in Part 3). They even had an x-ray light box on the wall, lit up with an x-ray of Ramone’s engine!

Another element that helps the atmosphere, is that throughout the day, life-size characters from Cars can be seen around town.

Lightning McQueen, on his way to a photo meet-and-greet, surrounded by his entourage.

Lightning McQueen and Mater are usually trading off photo meet-and-greet duties in front of the Cozy Cone Motel’s main office. Both vehicles have pre-recorded dialogue that they speak in their character’s voices, along with a few bells and whistles. McQueen’s headlights light up, and Mater’s engine wobbles back and forth. McQueen is the only character whose been updated, wearing his World Grand Prix paint and stickers from Cars 2.

Red, the gentle giant of a fire truck, can be seen cruising around town as well. He usually sounds his siren, his rearview mirrors wiggle, and word is, that water cannon on top really works!

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And, the trouble-making ‘Tuner’ named DJ rolls into town as night starts to settle in. His music brings out several waitresses from Flo’s V8 Cafe, who start groovin’ to his tunes, and inviting the town’s visitors to follow suit! The real fun come when DJ comes out after dark. His own neon lights come on, turning him into a jukebox on wheels!

I’ve been mentioning ‘night’ a lot in this review, and for a very good reason. One magical moment in the first Cars film, is when the residents of Radiator Springs fix their neon, and the town comes alive with a familiar and nostalgic glow that hadn’t been seen in a long while.

Every night, this same event happens in Cars Land! Just like in the film, we hear the song Sh-Boom (sung by The Chords), and pretty soon, the neon and streetlights come on, starting near the courthouse, and continuing on down the ‘Mother Road.’

The Cozy Cone’s neon was very inviting. Pity you can’t really spend the night there.

Lizzie’s Curio Shop is invitingly-lit on the outside, but on the inside, you won’t find any bumper stickers, snow globes, or other Route 66 knick-knacks.

At night, the rock work of ‘Ornament Valley’ is illuminated, providing a beautiful nighttime driving atmosphere for racers of all ages.

If you have a good camera that takes decent night pictures, I’m sure you’ll be snapping off dozens of them. Cars Land at night almost put me in mind of the old television episode of World of Color, titled Disneyland After Dark. In that special, we saw Disneyland’s Main Street USA as its lights slowly came on. Though unlike the turn-of-the-century Main Street, or California Adventure’s recently-opened Buena Vista Street (meant to evoke 1920’s Los Angeles), Radiator Springs is a more modern ‘Main Street,’ and is something that I’m sure will send many baby boomers into a time-warp, just as Walt had happen with Disneyland’s Main Street.

One of my favorite, and most unusual photographs: The underside of the traffic light at Radiator Springs’ four-way intersection.

One of the most fun details at night, was that the brightness of the town’s single traffic light was amplified. In the film Cars, Fillmore the VW bus claims that every third blink of the light is ‘slower.’ Well, I found myself timing the yellow light several times, and it seems ol’ Fill was correct!

At the end of the night, as the park began to close around 11pm, I found it hard the few nights I spent in Radiator Springs, to leave. I just couldn’t stop wandering around, admiring all the attention-to-detail that had gone into the new land. I was like a little kid again, rapping on some bricks (they seemed real!), listening to classic cruising tunes that reminded me of my parents (they were part of the ‘cruisin’ culture’ in Iowa, and that’s how they met), and just feeling so happy that with John Lasseter and his associates at the helm, the 12 acres I was standing in felt to be a true success to helping revitalize California Adventure. Prior to 2012, the park never offered me enough to make me want to spend a full day there. This year, I was surprised when on my first full day at DCA, I didn’t once cross the promenade to Disneyland. That truly is remarkable, and kudos goes to the many talented people who have finally given us something that is making the folks living down near Walt Disney World jealous.

Lightning’s too fast for my camera this time. “Ka-chow!”

( For Part 2, The Rides of Cars Land, click here )

( For Part 3, The Eateries of Cars Land, click here )

Exhibition Recap: DreamWorlds – Behind the Scenes, Production Art from DreamWorks Animation

Up Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles, and right by the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, lies the campus of the University of Southern California. While it has plenty of your typical academic studies, one that it gained fame for over the years, was its Film School. Some of its noted alumni include George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, and Judd Apatow (just to name a few).

USC’s School for the Cinematic Arts is nestled in a small corner of its campus, and almost resembles a small movie studio itself. Its founding was done so by such early screen visionaries as Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith. Today, a statue of Fairbanks stands between the George Lucas Building, and the Steven Spielberg Building. Nearby, one can find the John Williams Scoring Stage, and the Harold Lloyd Motion Picture Sound Stage.

Needless to say, as I walked through the courtyards, I dreamed of having a time machine to go back and explain to my teenage self about the wonders of the campus.

But on the day I visited, I came to the Steven Spielberg Building to view an exhibition entitled DreamWorlds – Behind the Scenes, Production Art from DreamWorks Animation.

I was a little surprised at what I found. After having been wowed with The Art of PIXAR exhibition in Oakland, CA back in 2010, I was expecting a large gallery space for Dreamworks Animation’s material. Instead, I found myself in a small room after taking a couple turns from the main entrance.

The highlight of the exhibit for me, were some of the original concept and production materials used in Dreamworks animated features. Such highlights included:

A bust of Pharaoh Seti from “Prince of Egypt”

Concept art of Cortes from “The Road to El Dorado”

A model of the Isle of Berk from “How to Train your Dragon”

While one wall of the exhibition was made up of original material from the studios’ archives, the adjoining walls were filled with non-original, digital prints of other artwork from the archives. Some were interesting to view, but I would have been more intrigued if they had been original art pieces as well.

Reproduced concept art from “Megamind,” “Bee Movie,” & “Over The Hedge”

In the center of the exhibition, was a screen that looped in with clips from Dreamworks’ features. It also showcased breakdowns of sequences from films like How to Train your Dragon, and also provided us with the trailer for the upcoming Rise of the Guardians. I’m hearing some decent word-of-mouth about Rise, and just might make my first return to the multiplex to see a Dreamworks animated feature since Shrek the Third. Yes, it’s been almost 5 years since I did a ‘theatrical boycott’ on Dreamworks Animation features because of that film (missed out on seeing How to Train Your Dragon on the big screen in the process).

Concept art for the upcoming film, “Rise of the Guardians”

Two video stations were also set up with headsets. One of them featured video testimony from former USC alumni who were now employed with Dreamworks. It seemed pretty persuasive (it made me want to consider working for them!). The other video station featured sets of RealD 3D glasses, and demonstrated Dreamworks’ features with 3D picture quality. I viewed a clip from Puss in Boots, and the majority of the imagery looked good, but I some areas of the image did not seem to phase properly.

For those expecting a full-on museum exhibit, you may be a little disappointed. However, if a little taste of Dreamworks Animation’s creativity on display is what you crave, the small-scale exhibition serves as a great way to view some production pieces outside of the typical Art of book releases.

However, if you do plan to visit, hurry fast. Dreamworlds will only be on display at USC’s Steven Spielberg building until September 7th, 2012.

Near the entrance/exit of the exhibit, 3 concept art pieces were hung for Chris Sanders & Kirk Di Micco’s upcoming 2013 release for the studio, “The Croods.” Here’s one of the art pieces.

Event Recap: Destination D – 75 Years of Animated Features

I think most of the people who know me, consider me one of the biggest Disney fanatics they know. I can tell you obscure Disney Trivia, and I have been asked a few times about my opinion when Disney or Pixar release a new movie. I also do voices and impersonations if requested (I can do a pretty spot-on Walt, Roy E Disney, or even John Lasseter – it’s a curse from watching too many making-of documentaries).

One place I have been reluctant to tread, was the D23 fan club. One would assume I would have been one of the first to sign up, but even with the exclusive material and social events, living in the Midwest had made me wary, along with the $30+ membership fee tiers to join (the lower “Silver” tier gives you one complimentary issue of D23‘s magazine, but you will need to go for the “Gold” to get a full year of the magazine).

D23 touts events in major cities across the country, but I’ve only counted the equivalent of once-a-year events in Chicago, IL. It seems unless you live in California or New York, expect to travel if you want to find Disney fan events. One event I found out about too late, was one held at Chicago’s Museum of Comteporary Art. In honor of the 70th anniversary of Bambi’s release, Bambi’s voice actor Donnie Dunagan, and Disney animator Andreas Deja were in town.

This year, I grew curious when D23 announced a special event to take place on The Disneyland Hotel grounds. The event was Destination D: 75 years of animation. I almost passed this up, but my love of Disney Animation soon steered me to the event (plus, attendees could get discounted park admission, and I was itching to set foot in Cars Land, which will be part of an upcoming 3-part posting).

After deciding to attend, I chose the standard $225 admission ticket, which was a steal next to the $1000 Diamond level admission. Diamond level admission included a special tour of the Walt Disney Studios and Archives on Monday, August 13th, as well as private access to meet with several of the show’s panelists.

I went to an early sign-in on Friday, August 10th, and also was one of the first to be there when exclusive merchandise went on sale. There wasn’t much that caught my eye, except this:

This shirt was like nostalgic candy to me, showcasing that familiar WDP logo that many of us saw before a new animated feature was unleashed on us in the 80’s and 90’s.

There were some intriguing pieces, including a recreation of Walt Disney’s Disneyland pin that he wore around the park, and pins based on the storybook covers that opened the classic fairy tale films like Snow White, Cinderella, & Sleeping Beauty.

The contents of the D23 folder I received after checking in.

I was informed that members who attended the Destination D event would get all sorts of freebies. By the end of Sunday, these included:

One of three types of sketchbooks with a cover featuring the art of renowned artist, Mary Blair. There were three different versions that had cover art from Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. I loved the Pan one for its fight between him and Hook. The remaining stock was then put out for sale afterwards (store price: $20/each!).

An exclusive lithograph with images from three films that had presentations from Walt Disney Feature Animation: Wreck-It Ralph, Paperman, and Tangled Ever After.

A card featuring a print of the Tinkerbell model sheet done by animator Marc Davis, which also featured a reminder for Mindy Johnson’s upcoming book titled “Tinker Bell: An Evolution.”

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But, enough with the swag…on with the show!!

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DAY 1: Saturday, August 11, 2012

I took my seat Saturday, wondering what to expect. I knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary event, when the announcer kept making little Disney references in his spiel (at one point, he said that one of the messages was sponsored by Tony’s Restaurant – aka the place Tramp takes Lady for dinner).

Another surprise was that once the event began, over 3 dozen or so fans jumped from their seats, and flash mobbed us by dancing to different songs from Disney’s history. What was the highlight, you may ask? The dancers dancing to the Kanine Krunchies song from the commercial in 101 Dalmatians! I don’t think any of us expected that, and it definitely made me feel that this was going to be a different experience than I was planning to expect.

After we were showered with hidden confetti cannons, the dancers took their seats, and we were then treated to an introduction by John Lasseter…via a recorded message. John told of his love for Disney’s animated feature films, before closing his speech with a Happy Birthday to Snow White (her film is 75 years old this year).

And with that, Destination D – 75 Years of Animated Features got underway.

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L to R: Becky Cline, Ted Thomas, Joe Hale, Burny Mattinson

Walt and The First Golden Age of Disney Animation

Becky Cline (director of the Walt Disney Archives) hosted a chat that included studio legend Burny Mattinson, layout artist and film producer Joe Hale, and Ted Thomas, son of animator Frank Thomas, and director of the documentary Frank and Ollie. Burny and Joe soon regaled us with tales about their time at the studios.

– Joe recounted how being from a small Midwestern town, he was unaccustomed to the studio’s elevator systems. One day, as the doors were closing, he heard someone yelling to hold the elevator. Looking out through the doors, he saw Walt Disney running to catch the elevator. Joe was unsure how to keep the doors open, and found himself in the panicked position of shutting the doors on the head of the studio! Unsure what to do, Joe could only yell through the door to Walt how he felt: “Sorry!”

-When talk switched to the studio’s famed ‘Nine Old Men’ of animation, each of the animators was analyzed, though more was known about the more famous of the nine. Joe recounted how he knew plenty of stories about animator Ward Kimball, but was unsure if he should tell. Becky insisted, and Joe then recounted how he came in one morning to work, and found Ward asleep on a couch in his animation room. Ward then recounted why he was sleeping at the studio, and…well, let’s just say the reason he was there, was that he was ‘late for a very important date.’

– Burny recounted his time working his way up from the mail room, his meeting with Walt, and even working with the Nine Old Men. One of the strangest moments, was when Woolie Rietherman tasked him with creating the Devil’s Eye diamond in The Rescuers. The diamond was just 5-7 layers of paper with different facets of the diamond done with magic markers…yet Woolie said it was great, and that’s how the diamond ended up being depicted in the final film!

(FYI: If you love podcasts, I recommend Clay Kaytis’ “Animation Podcast,” which contains a great 4-parter from Burny. It shows that Burny really does know how to tell stories well)

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Roy E Disney and the Second Golden Age of Disney Animation

Disney Historian Tim O’Day hosted this segment, which helped praise and show how integral Roy was in preserving the legacy of his Uncle Walt, and father Roy O Disney. Panel guests include producer Don Hahn, John Musker and Ron Clements (directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), Dave Bossert (head of special projects at the Walt Disney Animation Studios), and Roy Patrick Disney, Roy E’s son, who was also a former Disney Imagineer.

Each of the men recounted the dark days during the early 1980’s, and noted that of all the company’s divisions, animation was slated as the one that was most likely to be axed. Even though Roy didn’t have any animation knowledge, he still fought for it, claiming that it was animation that built the studio’s legacy.

We also got to know a little about Roy’s work on the True Life Adventures series, and how far Roy went when what should have been a humorous collision of ducks on ice, seemed to disappear…and what eventually was done to rectify the situation.

We also got to see some pictures of Roy Patrick and the family, including them posing outside the family’s private plane. Though it looked glamorous, Roy P said that at the time, if you wanted to go from California to Florida in the plane, it took 13 hours, and 2 stopovers just to get there.

At the end of the presentation, Roy P was presented with a Mickey Mouse statue called a “Mouseker,” which was similar to one Walt had been given many years ago. Roy was thanked for his service, as well as that of his father to the company.

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A still from the studio’s short, “Paperman.”

Inside Walt Disney Studios Today

Disney animator Darrin Butters then hosted one of the segments I was very excited about, which was going to give us a sneak peek at what the studio was working on.

After opening with a showing of Tangled Ever After (it’s definitely funnier in a room full of Disney fans), Darrin then showed us concept art for the company’s 2013 release, Frozen. Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, this film version appears to be like Tangled, in that it takes the basic premise, but turns it towards someplace new. I was hoping to see some rough animation, but the art still has me intrigued.

The music for Frozen is being composed by the husband/wife songwriting duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They did an incredible job on 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, and if the song we were previewed (titled Let It Go) is any indication, the rest of the songs may be just as memorable. Let It Go played as a declaration, but also as a lament in a way, both touching and heartbreaking at the same time. Sad that I’ll just have the song stuck in my head until I see the film next year.

Next up, was the first non-industry showing of the animated short, Paperman (which will play before Wreck-It Ralph this fall). I’d heard alot of praise for this hand-drawn/computer hybrid, and the short just blew me away! Emotionally charged, creative, and heartfelt, this is the animated short I wish I had created in college (it reminded me of my youthful sensibilities then as well).

Finally, we were treated to clips from Wreck-It Ralph, which just helped make us even more excited to see the final film. Judging from the word out of Comic-Con, I believe we just saw a lot of the same footage as they did.

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The Greatest Disney Animation You Never Saw

Don Hahn and Dave Bossert then treated us to some little-seen Disney commercials and shorts. Some highlights included:

– A pre-show from the old Feature Animation Studios in Florida, in which Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite explain how an animated film is made (Don said they had to clear alot of legal hurdles with The Cronkite Estate just to show the footage to us)

– The original pre-show to the now defunct EPCOT attraction, Cranium Command (having never been to Disney World, this was neat to see).

– Storyboards for an unmade film about Hiawatha. One of the inspirations when Disney began work on Pocahontas, were concept art and storyboards from the film, and we were treated to a portion of them, with more to be shown as a special feature on the upcoming Pocahontas Blu-Ray release.

– An early storyboarded sequence for the Pomp & Circumstance song for Fantasia 2000. In it, every Disney character cameos as our favorite princes and princesses prepare to receive their respective babies (even Don and Bill felt odd talking about that). I had read about this early version in my Fantasia 2000: Visions of Hope coffee table book, but this was the first imagery I had ever seen of that odd concept.

– A clip from Song of the South, with Uncle Remus singing the Zip-a-dee-doo-dah song. I think many of us would have loved it if we could have seen a full screening of the film, but the clip was fine.

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L to R: Tim O’Day, Becky Cline, Tom Morriz, Eddie Sotto, & Tony Baxter

Animating the Disney Parks

Becky Cline and Tim O’Day then sat down to speak with Walt Disney Imagineering members Tony Baxter, Tom Morriz, and Eddie Sotto about many of the old guard who came from the animation division, and translated their work into the parks’ many style works. They discussed about enhancing the look of some areas of the parks, as well as making the designs work in other countries (for example: there aren’t any Main Streets in France like there are in the United States…so how do you make that concept work in Disneyland Paris?).

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L to R: Dick Van Dyke, Bryan Chadima, Eric Bradley, and Mike Mendyke

An Evening with Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix

This was an incredibly fun way to end the evening. The group was originally formed when Mike Mendyke met Dick in a coffee shop, and both explained how they loved to sing barbershop quartet. It just so happened that Dick had just put an ad in the paper at the time and was looking to start up a group, but noone had responded to his ad.

“Noone responded to the ad?” Asked Mike, incredulously.

“Well, I didn’t put my NAME in the ad,” replied Dick, who apparently wanted to start the group based on talent and drive, not on his name.

The foursome entertained us with songs from Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, The Jeffersons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Cheers, and even went into the Disney catalogue of songs. One of the funniest moments, was when Dick recreated his role as Mr Dawes, Sr from Mary Poppins, adopting the scatter-brained speech pattern and stooping posture, as the group sang the song Fidelity Feduciary Bank. An image of Dick and the group singing the song is right below:

“While stand the banks of England, England stands… When fall the banks of England, England falls!”

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There was also a Director’s Cut screening of the documentary Walt & El Grupo (which chronicled Walt’s trip to South American during the early years of WWII), but the whole day had been so tiring, that I felt it best to make my way back to the hotel room to gear up for the second day’s event.

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DAY 2: Sunday, August 12, 2012

While Saturday’s presentations had been exciting, it was Sunday’s that definitely had some stellar moments. Let’s start the rundown:

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L to R: Bill Tanek, Jerry Beck, & Eric Goldberg

Wacky and Wild Disney Animation

Bill Tanek hosted a talk with Animator Eric Goldberg & Animation Historian Jerry Beck about the wackier side of Disney Animation. We even got to see some censored scenes from earlier Disney cartoons, and we’re treated to some of Goldberg’s early test footage of Aladdin’s Genie, which utilized some of Robin Williams’ stand-up comedy routines (sadly, we only saw one clip due to a technical glitch in the program).

Eric made note that when a lot of people think of wacky animation, they are normally inclined to consider the Looney Tunes shorts first. However, the examples shown to us definitely point out that there were plenty of wacky pieces in Disney’s portfolio. One that I had never seen, was a strangely mind-blowing sequence from The Three Caballeros, which makes me think I need to sit down and watch that film one of these days.

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Animator Andreas Deja

Drawing With Personality

This was my most anticipated panel, with animator Andreas Deja taking the stage! But Andreas didn’t just sit down and talk. He brought with him some great examples of classic animation, even showing how the studio’s artistry had grown from pipe-cleaner limbs in 1927, to being able to make Snow White only a decade later!

Andreas brought along examples of classic work, including this image of Grumpy.

He even drew for us, the demented Mickey from the animated short, Runaway Brain. Andreas mentioned that he worked on the short at the old Paris studio, and the crew had shirts made of the demented Mickey. Andreas wore his shirt to Disneyland Paris one day, and was decried and criticized by a cast member there who thought he was wearing “bootleg merchandise.”

Andreas then closed by drawing some of the characters he designed, such as Jafar, and Scar (as seen above).

Andreas even gave those of us with sketchpads a little assignment while he was drawing Jafar: draw Jafar as a little kid. My final image came out as more of a teenage Jafar, and I quickly started developing a backstory around his appearance. You can see my image of a young Jafar below:

I tried to reverse-engineer Jafar, and in a way, he almost became a Tom Riddle-like character in my head. I envisioned Jafar as a handsome young man who ended up seeing the ugly side of humanity. Unlike Aladdin who managed to try and keep some of his morals, Jafar would have used ‘good will’ as a cover in his attempts to one day achieve power for his own doings.

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Tinker Bell: The Evolution of a Disney Character

Disney Historian Mindy Johnson hosted this panel, which served as a lead-in to talk about her upcoming book, Tinker Bell: An Evolution. Mindy gave us a pretty thorough history lesson on Tink’s creation (including where her name came from), before diving into her evolution over many decades at the Disney Studios (at one point, her character designs suggested she would have red hair!).

We also learned that at the time, Tinkerbell’s final look was shaped by three women: Kathryn Beaumont, Margaret Kerry, and Ginni Mack. Ginni (a former Ink-and-Paint girl at the studios) was recently discovered to be the head model for Tinker Bell, while Kathryn and Margaret were inspirations for her figure (animator Marc Davis designed Tink to have a girlish upper body, and a womanly figure for her lower body). We also learned that in the scene where Tinker Bell sees herself in a mirror in the film Peter Pan, it was not meant to show her to be ‘preening,’ but was the first time she had actually seen herself in a mirror.

Ginni and Margaret were on hand to discuss their roles at the studio and Tink’s creation, with the panel ending with animation director Peggy Holmes and Mae Whitman (who voices Tinker Bell in her current computer-generated form), talking about the upcoming direct-to-video film, Tinkerbell: The Secret of the Wings.

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From L to R: Tim O’Day, Chris Sanders, Lisa Davis, Bruce Reitherman, Kathryn Beaumont, David Frankham, & Bill Farmer (click on the photo to enlarge it)

Hearing Voices: A Salute to Disney Voice Actors

Tim O’Day next came out, to speak with several people who had provided voices for different characters over the years. These included:

Chris Sanders – the voice of Stitch in Lilo & Stitch

Lisa Davis – the voice of Anita in 101 Dalmatians

Bruce Reitherman – the voice of Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh & The Honey Tree, and Mowgli in The Jungle Book

Kathryn Beaumont – the voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy in Peter Pan

David Frankhan – the voice of Sergeant Tibbs in 101 Dalmatians

Bill Farmer – the voice of Goofy

Several of them like Chris Sanders and Bill Farmer, demonstrated their vocal talents to us, as well as how they came to their chosen voices.

Of all the panelists, Lisa Davis left a big impression on me. With her gracious voice, she explained how Walt Disney originally wanted her to voice the role of Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. Walt read the character lines for Anita to her, but as they went along, Lisa just didn’t feel she was right for the part. She then asked Walt if maybe she could read for Anita. Fearing he would get mad at him questioning his decision, she was surprised when he obliged.

Dickie Jones who had originally voiced Pinocchio couldn’t make the panel, but we were treated to a clip from Pinocchio, demonstrating his vocal talents.

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L to R: Tim O’Day, Marge Champion, and Alex Rannie

Snow White: Still the Fairest of them all

With this year marking the 75th anniversary of the release of Snow White, Destination D would be remiss if they didn’t acknowledge Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature.

Tim O’Day started out the presentation, talking to musicologist and historian Alex Rannie. We were treated to excerpts from the musical history and evolution of the film, including original music pages, and deleted audio of Snow White singing her own verse from the film’s Silly Song sequence.

The live-action model for Snow White also made a rare west-coast appearance. Marge Champion explained to us about her family’s dance studio (at one point, they even gave Shirley Temple some lessons!), and how she ended up working on the production. Marge even explained that when she was given the dress to wear, she noted that it looked like it had been originally made for someone else, but as to whom they may have chosen before her, no notes exist.

The panel closed with Gabriella Calicchio, CEO of The Walt Disney Family Museum, who explained about the museum’s upcoming exhibit regarding Snow White, and their plans to enhance the museum to help people explore their own creativity.

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Composer/Songwriter Alan Menken, seen here playing a tribute to his former musical partner, Howard Ashman.

An Evening with Alan Menken

For many of us, the evening’s big event was An Evening with Alan Menken. Many of us eagerly got in line early to wait the 3+ hours until we’d be allowed back into the main convention hall.

All of us have been touched by Alan’s music in some way (for me, you need look no further than my review on the mid 90’s boxset, The Music Behind The Magic). Alan never gives private concerts, so the chance to see this was a moment that many will probably never forget.

Alan’s musical repertory was so vast, that much of his performance was small medleys from various films. Even so, Alan shared with us songs from the highs and lows of his career. We even got to hear a song he made for the cancelled Roger Rabbit prequel that was being worked on in the late 90’s (the song was titled “This Only Happens In The Movies”).

During the course of the performance, Alan also shared with us some little moments of his career:

– When both he and Howard Ashman were nominated for the song “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” from the film version of Little Shop of Horrors, Alan realized as they were sitting in the Oscar Ceremony audience, that he didn’t have an acceptance speech penned in case they won. When he told this to Howard, Howard replied, “Don’t worry. We’re not going to win.” And, Howard was right.

– Alan also told about a meeting he had with Jeffrey Katzenberg after Newsies came out, and it’s opening weekend gross was only $5 million. Alan pleaded with Jeffrey that if they just spent more money on advertising, they could bring in more people. “Alan,” said Jeffrey,”It’s over. I could take $10 million, throw it out on the street right now, and the film would still not do any better.”

Alan also got emotional as he talked about his former music partner, lyricist Howard Ashman, and took time to play for us a song that he did not compose. The song was made by both Howard and Marvin Hamlisch, who created an off-broadway production called Smile, based off of the film about several girls entering a California beauty contest. The song Alan played (which seemed appropriate for where we were) was titled “Disneyland.” In the production, one of the contestants (played by Jodi Benson!), sang about her desire to one day live in Disneyland. Even though Alan didn’t have a hand in the creation of the song, it was definitely a wonderful sign of how much he missed and cared for one of his early musical partners.

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For those of us who couldn’t afford the $1000 Diamond level admission, it was a rare treat to see some of the day’s guests in person. I got to meet up with Don Hahn for the second time in 2 years (I got the chance to meet him in February of 2010 when he and Peter Schneider brought Waking Sleeping Beauty to Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center), and Don seemed to appreciate the love I had for his documentary about the Disney Studios.

Me & Animator Eric Goldberg (aka the Supervising Animator of The Genie!)

Many of us animation fans were on the lookout for the likes of Chris Sanders and Andreas Deja, but were pleasantly surprised when Eric Goldberg sat in on the remaining panels, and greeted fans for the remainder of the Sunday presentations. Eric kindly fielded my questions, and even signed my Making of Aladdin book, personalizing it with a little profile image of the Genie!

One of the most surprising appearances late Sunday evening, was Richard Sherman (part of the songwriting duo who brought us the songs of Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and The Jungle Book). As soon as word spread that he was in the audience, he was quickly mobbed by many fans and well-wishers. It seemed that he was there for the Evening With Alan Menken event, and politely waved when Alan pointed him out to the rest of the audience.

This was one thing that I felt would have been great for those of us who came to see many of these people we had seen on television or in interviews: interactivity. I’m sure many of us would love to have asked Andreas Deja questions, or many other panelists.

Destination D also served as a surprise, as I got to say hello to Mr Jim Hill, the owner of JimHillMedia.com. I had written several articles and covered the world premier of the film Cars for Jim in the mid 2000’s, and it was great to finally meet him in person!

Another highlight was getting to meet and chat with other Disney fanatics. It feels so great when you can talk to people about this stuff, and they actually know what you’re talking about! After the first day, I joined in a little group with a guy named Jason, and two sisters named Kelly & Lisa. I also talked with an artist from San Diego who taught autistic children, and a couple young persons who (of course) wanted to one day work for Disney (one had dreams of being an Imagineer, and the other was considering animation schools to attend once she graduated from high school).

Before we parted ways on that amazing Sunday evening, Jason, Kelly, Lisa & I posed for the following picture. We each got an autograph by Eric Goldberg, but he drew each of us a different character he supervised:

(From L to R: Me with my Genie sketch from “Aladdin,” Lisa with her sketch of a flamingo from “Fantasia 2000,” Kelly with her sketch of Phil from “Hercules,” and Jason with his sketch of Louis from “The Princess and the Frog”)

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And that, was my experience with my first D23 event. While it didn’t totally blow my socks off, I was pleasantly surprised at the way the event was handled, and how it definitely felt tapered to the fans in the audience. After awhile, I wasn’t worrying about the $225 price tag, and got swept up in the excitement (kind of like how being at Disneyland cancels out the thought of ticket prices for me!).

My one hope is that D23 will try to hold more fan events around the country, for those of us not near some of the major entertainment hubs.

I had a couple people ask me if I was going to attend the D23 Expo next August. D23 holds the expos every 2 years at the Anaheim Convention Center (a few blocks from the Disneyland Resort), and it usually serves as a beacon for all things Disney (theme parks, live-action films, animation, apparel, etc). At this point, I’m still mulling over whether to return to Anaheim so soon, but given the atmosphere and experiences at Destination D, it might very well be a possibility next year.

Retro Recaps: Sport Goofy in Soccermania

Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.

If you grew up in the 1980’s like I did, then you may recall Disney’s rise to providing after-school programming that seemingly started with the series Ducktales. Loosely based on Carl Barks’ comic series that made Scrooge a wealthy adventure-seeker (sometimes accompanied by Donald Duck and his nephews), the television series would spawn everything from video games to a feature-length film. But unknown to most people, Scrooge and the nephews shared in a ‘pre-adventure’ in Duckberg that was several years in the making due to the production stopping and starting up again.

Though our familiar cast of ducks figure into the main cast, the true herald of the show is Goofy (or ‘Sport Goofy,’ if we go by the title). Word was, this short only aired once on television, almost a year before Disney debuted the Ducktales TV series. So what did Goofy and Scrooge do in Duckburg before Launchpad McQuack and the others came out to play? Let’s find out:

After an updated opening reminiscent of the beginnings of the original Goofy short-subjects (this time with some action-packed music by composer John Debney), we find ourselves in Duckburg, where a (somewhat) familiar structure towers over much of the city: Scrooge’s money bin.

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Inside, we find Scrooge swimming around in his loot.

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Shortly after we meet Scrooge, we meet Huey, Dewey and Louie. When they ask Scrooge to help support the city’s sports program, he agrees, but balks when he finds out how. The boys request Scrooge purchase a trophy for the city’s soccer tournament. The one they want is only $1.49, but that’s enough to still make Scrooge sweat.

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Hoping to get out of the obligation, Scrooge goes swimming in his money, and comes across an old beat-up trophy, that he happily provides the boys.

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Needless to say, the three are upset at Scrooge’s miserly ‘donation,’ but their mood soon turns to shock when a dog claiming to be the curator for the Duckburg Museum of Antiquities sees the trophy, and confirms that it is in fact an ancient artifact worth over $1 million!

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The revelation soon makes the local newspaper, and Scrooge goes through the roof (literally in one scene) when he realizes he’s just given valuable property away! Shortly afterwards, he visits the boys with a huge new trophy, but they refuse Scrooge’s offer for a trade, claiming if he wants his million dollar trophy back, he’ll need to sponsor the winning team.

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Scrooge (grouchily) concedes defeat, and agrees to sponsor the boy’s team, as well as giving in to their request for a new soccer ball. Going to a local sporting goods store, they are serviced by Sport Goofy (why they don’t just call him Goofy is never explained). Scrooge and the boys watch as Goofy effortlessly stocks the shelves in less than a few seconds, and demonstrates some impressive soccer skills. Needless to say, Scrooge eagerly requests that Sport Goofy join the team.

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The boys then introduce Scrooge and Sport Goofy to the team that will become The McDuck Greenbacks. However, Scrooge’s mood turns from sure to shocked when he finds out that the group the boys have assembled are clueless regarding soccer. Even so, Sport Goofy eagerly agrees to coach them.

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Meanwhile, in a rougher side of Duckburg, we encounter The Beagle Boys. The lead Beagle Boy informs his brothers that they will be participating in the upcoming soccer tournament for the trophy.

Of course, the Beagle Boys know nothing about soccer, and resort to cheating. Naturally, since this is a cartoon, they manage to cheat their way to the finals against the McDuck Greenbacks.

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Eventually, Scrooge finds out the bookkeepers are placing 1,000,000:1 odds in the Beagle Boys’ favor of winning the game. Naturally, Scrooge knows the kind of scoundrels that the Beagles are, but Goofy seems oblivious to his tirade.

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Goofy tells the rest of the team to go home and rest, but after getting ready for bed, he finds he has some company.

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The next day, the city’s stadium is packed with citizens come to see the big game.

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Plus, where would we be without product placement?

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Scrooge soon after arrives in the locker room of the Greenbacks with some new jerseys, but loses his cool when he finds that Sport Goofy hasn’t shown up, and the Beagle Boys have left a note for the team.

Scrooge panics at first regarding what to do. He attempts to give the team a pep talk, but it comes off more like a demand that they win back his trophy. This leads to the team sadly trudging out onto the field, as the crowd reacts in shock when the announcer mentions that Sport Goofy has not appeared.

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Meanwhile, Sport Goofy is being held at the Beagle Boys’ hideout. Even though he’s tied up, he stays in high spirits as the game begins.

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As expected, the Beagles use all sorts of methods to cheat on the soccer field. Scrooge and the crowd watch as the Beagles use everything from an oil slick-

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– to bricking up their goal. The referee is blind to most of this, as his glasses keep getting knocked off.

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Back at the Beagles’ hideout, Sport Goofy gets ahold of a knife, and manages to cut his bonds and escape. After outrunning two of the Beagle Boys, he makes his way back to the stadium, surprising everyone when he leads the dejected Greenbacks back onto the field for the final game.

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The Greenback’s luck soon turns around, as Sport Goofy’s soccer prowess ends up tying the score.

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However, as the clock ticks down to the final seconds, the Beagle Boys gang up and tackle Goofy. This illegal move is the only one that the referee manages to catch, and Goofy is awarded a penalty kick.

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The Beagle Boys then attempt one last trick by rigging the soccer ball with explosives-

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-but the plan manages to backfire on them, and Goofy ends up making the winning kick!

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Scrooge eagerly gets his trophy back, and then publicly declares that he will donate it to the Duckberg Museum (on condition that his donation is tax-deductible!).

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The final shot shows the Greenbacks and Scrooge taking a team picture with Sport Goofy, who delivers a parting line: “If you play fair, and work together as a team, anyone can be number one!”

As the credits roll, we get a shot of the black-and-white team picture, along with a reprise of John Debney’s score.

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And that was Soccermania. The episode is definitely one of those anomalies in the history of Disney animation. When I first saw it, it was packaged along with numerous shorts from Goofy’s long and storied career of playing sports such as football, hockey, and skiing.

Even though it was released around the same year as Ducktales, the voicework in Soccermania is also quite jarring. One example is Scrooge McDuck, who is voiced this time (and only this time) by Will Ryan. In Mickey’s Christmas Carol (made in 1983), Alan Young voiced Scrooge, and after Soccermania, has been voicing the richest duck in the world ever since.

There is rumor that the creation of Soccermania was several years in development. At one point it was shelved, and then put back into production. It’s possible that the production and voice work of the short could have taken place prior to Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but not a whole lot of information exists on the production, let alone what the original incarnation was compared to the final product.

The depiction of The Beagle Boys (all voiced by Will Ryan) matches their comic incarnations, in that they are all the same body type, albeit each one is missing a separate numbered prison tag. This was supposedly their first animated television appearance.

There are a couple more visual items in the short that did catch my eye.

Word is that an early concept of Roger Rabbit shows up in the crowd scenes. Here’s a clip (you be the judge):

As a kid, I remember cracking up and loving the numerous manic expressions that were given to Scrooge. Scrooge did get manic in Ducktales, but many of the things he did failed to compare to a lot of the funny moments in Soccermania. Here’s my favorite example:

One of the storyboard artists on Soccermania was the late Joe Ranft, who later went on to work at Pixar. One gag he did in Toy Story 2,was showing the toys in a dream of Woody’s, playing cards. However, they are all playing cards with the Ace of Spades, which in some cultures, is considered ‘the death card.’ In Soccermania, the Beagle Boys are seen playing cards, hinting that maybe they should do something for Goofy ahead of the big game. As they laugh, they throw down their cards, revealing the following shot:

Ever since finding the ‘Ranft’ connection, I did wonder if this may have been his story handiwork as well. As a kid, I had no idea the significance of the cards, so this shot almost acts as something the adults watching the show could pick up on. That’s something that seems to be lacking in some shows today (subtle jokes to the adults, not ‘death cards,’ though I haven’t seen many of those pop up on television either).

Soccermania is one of those animated shorts that has stuck in the back of my head for many years. While the quality of the animation is not up to par as some of their later efforts, I felt it was worthy to be a contender here in my Retro Recaps section. If you have fond memories of this episode, or are part of the production crew who could shed a little light on the making of the episode, by all means, please leave a comment.

iPad App Review: Fix-It Felix, Jr.

“Fix-It Felix, Jr” is the 8-bit inspired game that plays into Walt Disney Pictures’ fall 2012 release, “Wreck-It Ralph” (Ralph is shown here on the title screen).

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later. Price: Free)

After seeing the latest preview for Wreck-It Ralph, many of us have felt that Walt Disney Pictures’ upcoming fall release is to video game players, what Who Framed Roger Rabbit was to people who had grown up with animated characters.

Though the film is titled Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph himself is the bad guy of an 8-bit game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. In the game, Ralph scales the facade of Niceland Apartments, angrily pounding on the building with his massive fists. This causes brickwork to rain down, smashing the glass on several windows. It is then up to the game player (in the role of Fix-It Felix, Jr), to repair the damage Ralph has done.

Each time you finish a level, Ralph goes up 5 more floors, and Felix pursues him. However, along with dodging the bricks Ralph dislodges, you’ll also need to deal with ducks flying by. The higher up you go, the faster Ralph moves about knocking out bricks, and more ducks fly by to hinder your progress. Each level also has a time-clock that you have to abide by. Word is there are a total of 10 levels, but as of this posting, I’ve only gotten as far as Level 9 (whether the game ends as it does in the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph, I do not know).

Felix gets to work, trying to steer clear of falling bricks, and flying ducks.

Felix starts out with 3 lives, but over the course of the game, the tenants of Niceland Apartments will show their appreciation for Felix’s help, and assist him. This involves leaving a pie cooling on their windowsills. When Felix eats it, his hat will flash, and he’ll gain an extra life, and invulnerability for 5-7 seconds.

The touch-screen controls.

The game is set up in a locked vertical position, with directional buttons and an ‘action’ button at the bottom to control Felix. The controls can get a little cumbersome as the amount of obstacles start piling up in the later levels. my hand/eye coordination kept slipping on the directional controls, but then again, that could just be me in my ‘old age.’

The designers of Fix-It Felix, Jr have created a wonderful homage to the games of the 1980′s. The game app was developed by Frima Studios, and seems to combine traits of such arcade classics as Donkey Kong, and Rampage. Though it does not follow exactly what we’ve seen in the film’s previews (or the playable game on the film’s website), it put me in mind of some games that were ported over from arcade machines to home video game consoles (you seldom got everything exactly as you got in the arcade). Even so, I do wish I had one of those iCade cabinets in order to play the game properly with joystick and push-button controls.

The image above is a version of “Fix-It Felix, Jr,” which is seen on the official “Wreck-It Ralph” website (http://disney.go.com/wreck-it-ralph).

Another version of Felix can be found on the official Wreck-It Ralph website. The game graphics and style look a little different than the iPad app variation. The controls are the same (directional controls and one ‘action’ button), but the game play is set for a horizontal screen, and Felix does not have to deal with ducks getting in the way of his repairs. This variation reminded me of the game graphics I used to see on my old Apple IIgs back in the day (anyone else’s family have one of those besides mine?).

One little detail I love is that this game is called Fix-It Felix, Jr, which means it’s a sequel. One has to wonder if this game series in this alternate world went the way of Donkey Kong (who found himself  in several different iterations of games, including Donkey Kong Math). Of course, Mario started as an adversary to Donkey Kong before getting his own earth-shattering title. Could this be what was in store for the character of Wreck-It Ralph?

The film Wreck-It Ralph also intends to send us into the realm of many different games, from a Call of Duty/Halo space action quest and a candyland-inspired racing game. Imagery of these games in the film previews puts them moreso in the realm of PS3/XBOX graphics, so I doubt their well-rendered imagery will appear on the iPad. Even so, Fix-It Felix, Jr is an enjoyably retro way to spend a little time gaming away. Plus, it’s not everyday that the game you’re playing has such a distinct connection to the film its related to.

One of the most talked-about scenes from the upcoming film’s previews, was this one, in which Ralph goes to a group therapy session for bad guys in the gaming world.