Archive | September 2012

DVD Review: The Hole

If you think back to the films of the 1980’s, it’s a pretty good bet that one of those films you may recall, was directed by Joe Dante.

Whether it was about werewolves (The Howling), cute-yet-scary critters (Gremlins), or even suburbia (The Burbs), Dante always fused his films with a certain amount of real-world sensibilities, but skewed slightly with a strange Looney Tunes-style level of kookiness.

In 2009, Dante unleashed his second feature film of the 21st century, titled The Hole. However, it didn’t get a full-on theatrical release in the U.S. Strange as it seems, with past hits under his belt, Dante was unable to find any film studios willing to release his PG-13 film here. While the film had non-US releases in 2010, its showings in our country were relegated to film festival screenings.

Dante also made The Hole his first 3-D feature film. There are some shots where you can instantly tell that 3-D was evident. It is rather odd, that given the 3-D fever in the wake of Avatar, no  studio was willing to snatch this one up (yet they were eager to quickly post-convert trash like Clash of the Titans to 3-D).

Which brings us to today, and the films release to home video.

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The Film

After moving to a small town with their Mother (Teri Polo), brothers Dane (Chris Massoglia) and Lucas (Nathan Gamble) find a wooden door in the floor of their basement, with six locks on it. Thinking there might be treasure inside, they instead find a dark hole, which after some testing, appears to be bottomless. The two brothers soon share their secret with their attractive neighbor Julie (Haley Bennett), but what soon seems to be nothing…very soon becomes something.

Much like his film The Explorers, Dante keeps much of the film’s focus on his young leads, putting the adults as far in the background as possible. Dane is portrayed as a little angsty and guarded, while Lucas attempts to get him to come out of his ‘too-cool’ shell. Of course, it helps that Dane isn’t bad-looking, and Julie quickly starts showing him around the small town.

Overall, the story does start out a little slow, but that can be seen as a good thing, as we need to establish who our main characters are. Once we move into the second act of the film, this is really where Dante hits us with the jeeps and the creeps. However, it is when we start veering into the third act, that the film hits the point of make-or-break. For me, it broke. I was getting intrigued, until the characters began to spell out the logic of The Hole, and I found myself thinking, “Oh no, not that.”

I hadn’t seen much of Massoglia or Bennett prior to the film, but I recalled Gamble from Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist in 2007. His portrayal of Chris in the film comes across well for a co-starring position. What also helps is they don’t make out Dane and Chris’ relationship as a good brother/bad brother one. There is a level of caring each of them has, but like any siblings, there are plenty of times they don’t see eye to eye, which definitely helps.

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The Special Features

I managed to get an early copy of the film on DVD, and right away, I was a little disappointed that what seemed to be a key prop in the film, not only appeared on the DVD spine, but right in the center of the main DVD menu.

promotional critiques aside, the DVD release of The Hole contains a small smattering of extras.

– The Keyholder (Keeper of The Hole): This brief little featurette shows the cast and crew talking about actor Bruce Dern (The Burbs, Small Soldiers), who plays a character named ‘Crazy Carl.’ Not much to see here, just lots of people talking about how cool and crazy it was to work with Bruce. The funny thing is that Dern almost looks like he’s channeling Doctor Emmett Brown with his wild white hair, and black goggles.

– Relationships (Family Matters): The actors open up about being a family unit in the film, and the crew backs up how real their family bond seems onscreen.

– Gateway to Hell, The Making of The Hole: The most involving special feature in the disc. Pity it acts as the cliffsnotes to the entire film.

– A Peek inside The Hole: A brief featurette talking about how some of the film’s visual effects were achieved.

– Movie Stills: A 2-minute reel showing still images with music playing in the background.

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In Conclusion

Joe Dante’s The Hole is by no means a bad film. It fits into that mold where the safety of suburban life is compromised by a strange presence or thing, but it feels a little too ‘safe’ that it has to wrap things up in a nice little package.

This year was also the year in which another 2009 film finally was seen by the public, which was Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. When comparing both films, Whedon’s film was willing to take a concept and stretch it into a new direction. The Hole attempts to hit certain set points for a young person’s scary movie, yet it still needs a little work. Maybe it was the writer getting cold feet and being afraid he’d lose the under-13 audience if the ending was more vague, but it just doesn’t feel altogether satisfactory.

Final Analysis:

The Hole: The Movie – B

The Hole: The DVD – C

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No Joe Dante film is complete without a cameo appearance by Dick Miller. Here, he plays the role of a pizza delivery guy.

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Cars Land Review, pt 2: The Rides of Cars Land

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

( For Pt 1, The Theming of Cars Land, click here )

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When Disney’s California Adventure opened in 2001, one thing a number of visitors said the new park was lacking, were rides. While several rides were available in the park, it seemed that the management was looking into making DCA more of a destination spot for teenagers and older visitors (with plenty of disposable income).

New rides and refurbishments were added to California Adventure over the next 11 years of its operations. With the opening of Cars Land in June of 2012, the new themed area also ‘came standard’ with 3 new rides. In this second segment of our 3-part review, we’ll take a gander at each of them.

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Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

The Story: At the entrance of Radiator Springs, lies Mater’s Towing & Salvage yard. However, in the wake of Radiator Springs receiving more traffic in recent years, Mater has decided to find a way to entertain many of the town’s guests. His solution? A junkyard jamboree, in which a number of little baby tractors and their tractor-trailers do a little square-dance inside of the junkyard. Nearby, a jukebox made up of old car parts plays the square-dance songs, of which Mater sings each one.

The Ride: Two yards in the junkyard each feature 3 circular turntables, on which the baby tractors move around on. As they go around the circles, their trailers ‘whip and whirl’ around. The ride lasts around 2 minutes, and is based on the square-dance songs that Mater sings.

The Theming:Unlike the rather unkempt look of the junk yard in Cars, it appears Mater has tried to make his place more presentable. The leaning shack in which Mater makes his home is there, and there are a number of rusty car parts on the premises. For the crowds, large shaded ‘sheds’ have been installed, with fans inside to keep air circulating for the crowds.

One of the most fun areas of the queue is after you first enter. Along one wall, are mementos from the adventures Mater had from the Cars Toons shorts, Mater’s Tall Tales.

The junkyard’s jukebox is also a way for Mater to have a presence in the ride, without him actually being there. The songs Mater sings are randomized, with a special ‘easter egg’ song that pops up in the rotation once every hour. 5 of the songs are also included on the exclusive Music of Cars Land CD (which can be found in Sarge’s Surplus Hut at Cars Land).

The Verdict: If you don’t like being whipped and whirled around, then this ride isn’t for you (I saw a couple 3-4 year-olds who didn’t seem to be having fun). However, the unpredictability of the trailer moving around did put a smile on my face. I think it also helps if you ride with more than just one person (I had to hold onto the front safety bar so as not to be slammed into the sides). This is a nice ‘couples’ ride, or maybe a 3-person experience if the riders are small enough). It’s a fun little mini-thrill with a cute little theme.

I was a little disappointed to see that the baby tractors in the ride had stationary rear wheels, but as the ride starts going, you soon could care less about that. As well, using 3 rotating platforms helps make the ride more fun, instead of the standard ‘figure eight’ that could easily have been used.

A nice little side-attraction is that near the entrance to the ride, there’s a small baby tractor you can take photos with.

As of my writing this article, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, with its short-but-sweet 2 minute running time, makes it a ride that has very few long lines during the day. Some people have said that you can take your time and experience the ride later, and I’d have to agree with them. I rode the ride a second time around 8 pm one evening, and got on in less than 10 minutes. Dad-gum!

Final Grade: B

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Luigi’s Flying Tires

The Story: Much like Mater, Luigi and Guido have decided to also welcome new guests to town. Out behind the Casa Della Tires, Luigi has spruced up his garden and tire storage yard. Supposedly, a special variety of the Fettucine Alfredo tire has the uncanny ability to float on a cushion of air, and Luigi and Guido invite guests to enjoy themselves by jumping onto these special tires, and floating on a cushion of air. The special event is dubbed The Festival of the Flying Tires.

The Ride: Guests are invited to climb aboard the 2-seater flying tires, and as they rise off the ground, guests move their bodies in the direction they wish to ‘fly,’ and the tires will follow suit.As you ride, Italian-style music plays over the speakers, as everyone makes their tires ‘dance on air.’

The Theming:The queue area that leads you through Luigi’s Casa Della Tires and into the rear of the store is quite a treat. Railings in the queue are capped by small tires, and we get plenty of familiar visual reminders from the film series. These include the tire showroom, and the tryout mirrors (complete with simulated roadway to see how your new tires will look once they hit the pavement!).

As we leave the main showroom, we find ourselves back near Luigi’s office, with several display cases showing mementos that Luigi and Guido have collected both in Radiator Springs, and from going around the world during Lightning McQueen’s entry to the World Grand Prix in Cars 2. The display items are quite plentiful, and unless the line is moving really, really, really slow, it’ll take you a few trips back to see them all.

Once you make your way outside, you’ll find the garden is decorated with hubcaps, pennants, and plenty of Italian-style decor. There’s even a sculpture of the Italian race car Francesco Bernoulli on display in the garden.

At night, the lights strung overhead illuminate the ‘festival,’ and make it quite a sight.

The Verdict: When this ride was announced as being an homage to Tomorrowland’s Flying Saucers ride, many Disney fans cheered (myself included!). Having seen video of people on the single-occupant flying saucers from Disneyland footage, I too was excited to give these a try. Though much like Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, the Flying Tires don’t feel right unless you have 2-3 people in your tire.

Word is that many first-timers were unclear how to fly their tires, even with numerous signs leading up to the ride. One remedy was a small queue before you get on, in which a Cast Member and a volunteer, tell about how to use your body to steer. I raised my hand to volunteer, and was rewarded for my bravery:

Ta-Da! I’ve earned my wings (in sticker form)!

Strangely enough, the tutorial was done when I went on the ride in the morning one day, but when I went on it during another evening, there was no tutorial.

I almost equate the ride to being like bumper boats, but on air. A big problem is that due to the size and amount of tires, there can be small bottlenecks of people here and there. The controls were also updated in the last month or so, with the exclusion of a spin-control, and plans are to remove 20-pounds of unneeded material from underneath the tires, which should help make them easier to steer (how this will affect the ride, we haven’t heard yet).

To up the ‘fun factor’ during the first few months, 4-foot beachballs with Italian flag colors were added, and this seemed to make the ride more fun, as people were trying to smoosh the balls with their tires, or catch and throw them. One time, my tire and another person’s caused one of the balls to fly about 12 feet in the air!

A week or so after my visit, reports were coming in that the beachballs were removed, as a way to help the ride’s loading time (which often stretched to an hour).

A lot of people have considered the flying tires the ‘dud’ of Cars Land, but I think the ride just needs some more fine-tuning to it. After all, Disneyland was not a great success when it was first opened. If the lines are short enough, I’d recommend getting on, as it has a nice team/family feel to it, and the queue experience helps with my final grade below.

Final Grade: B

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Radiator Springs Racers

The Story: The denizens of Radiator Springs (in association with the Racing Sports Network), are hosting a big race in and around town, and you are one of the big race-day participants!

The Ride:You and 5 other passengers are seated in an open-top vehicle. You’ll drive through Ornament Valley, make your way into town to prepare, and then go hood-to-hood with another car, vying for first place!

The Theming: The queue areas in Disney attractions are often known for their attention-to-detail, and with Racers, we have one of the most eye-opening queues that winds its way through the outdoor setting.

As you make your way through one of three different lines (there are separate lines for single-riders, Fastpass riders, and stand-by riders), you are treated to some really intricate theming. Racers zoom over 2 bridges above you, but as we get closer to the rock-work of Ornament Valley, we come across a new site: some of the first buildings constructed after Radiator Springs was founded! We find Stanley’s Oasis, and even the fabled springs that the town was named after, water bubbling from a radiator-like rock-cropping. A fun game that I and alot of people played, was trying to toss a coin into the bubbling water on top (someone even threw a dollar bill into the water!).

Loading up inside the Comfy Caverns Motor Court, a historical part of Radiator Springs.

Eventually, you make your way into an exposed side of the nearby mountain range, where you come across the Comfy Caverns Motor Court. This will serve as the loading area for the vehicles. Once you’re safety belt is secure, and Sheriff gives you the safety spiel, you’re on your way.

Much like in Cars, the first leg of your journey takes you on a picturesque sight-seeing tour around Ornament Valley, even viewing the spectacular waterfall that took Lightning McQueen’s breath away (right before Sally snatched it away a few seconds later).

Before you know it, you’ve entered into a cave, where you then encounter several familiar faces, before making your way into Radiator Springs, where your car is spruced up for the big race. You can either get some new white wall tires from Luigi’s, or a new paint job from Ramone’s. You’ll then get a little pep talk from Doc Hudson (done up in his Fabulous Hudson Hornet decals!), before Luigi and Guido drop the starting flag-

-and you’re off at speeds up to 40 miles an hour, racing through the hills! You’ll take banked turns, power over hills, and much more, as you attempt to win the big race! Who will win? Well, you’ll need to hop in a car to find out for yourself.

The Verdict: One thing that alot of Disneyland fans have decried, has been the lack of a big E-Ticket attraction installed on the resort grounds. The last time the park had such a ride open, was in 1995, with Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in Adventureland. This is one of my family’s favorite attractions, and I still recall the 3-hour lines that stretched into Frontierland that summer of 1995.

While I held Indy at the top of my list, Radiator Springs Racers is one of those theme park attractions that just ups the ante in a whole new way, and has knocked Indy to #2 on my list! This is the kind of ride that if you go into it without knowing a thing, I guarantee you’ll come out in an amazed state of shock and awe.

What helps is that the theming for the ride extends all the way out to the tips of Radiator Springs, insulating you in the world of the ride before you even get into the line. Such a feat has not been done so well in the American parks until this ride!

John Lasseter was a former Disneyland ride operator, and one can see how his experiences at Disneyland and as a person who worked for both Walt Disney Feature Animation & PIXAR, shaped this attraction. The ride is also one of the first I’ve seen, that follows a 3-act ‘story’ structure. This helps get you into the groove of the ride, and builds up your excitement before you eventually get to the race.

The interior dark-ride portion of the ride is truly incredible, with over 20 audio-animatronic vehicles based off of the Cars characters. Each uses multiple techniques to make the characters come to life. It’s one thing to make animatronic figures of humans, but full-size vehicles are another matter entirely, and here, the results made me feel like a kid again!

While I was at the Disneyland Resort, I rode Racers 7 times. Using the single-rider lines, my 40-45 minute wait times were usually helped along by chatting with guests and families in line. Several of them, when they found out I was going on the ride again, seemed to grow more excited. On the way out after the race, I’d see the guests who I talked with, and upon asking how they liked the ride, all of them excitedly told me that they enjoyed the experience. One family of 5 loved it so much, that they immediately got back into the single-rider line after the race! A couple I talked to were surprised that the ride vehicles had a top speed of 40 mph. To them, the cars seemed to go much faster.

When I visited the park in early August of 2012, the Fastpasses for Racers were often gone an hour or so after the park opened, and the regular stand-by line had wait-times of up to 2 hours! Some are predicting that over the course of the ride’s first year, the crowds will start to die down, and a more manageable wait time will be on hand (I could easily see this ride hitting average wait times of 45-60 minutes, much like popular rides like Indiana Jones and Space Mountain).

Rumor currently circulating online, is that the company wants to find a way to transplant Racers down to Walt Disney World. Personally, I say leave the ride as a California exclusive. Each park needs a major attraction to get people to visit. Besides, Walt Disney World has had plenty of ‘toys’ on their property over the years, that it’s time that the Anaheim parks had something bright and shiny to entice guests.

Doc Hudson (aka Paul Newman) lives on inside “Radiator Springs Racers,”serving as your crew chief in the big race.

We truly have a winner on our hands here, Ladies and Gentlecars. If you do make it to Disney’s California Adventure, you owe it to yourself to go on Radiator Springs Racers at least once. I’ll leave it to you if you deem it worthy enough to hop back on right afterwards.

I’d also recommend taking a ride after dark. The illuminated rock work of Ornament Valley is quite striking at night.

Final Grade: A+

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Even with two B-grade rides and an A+ ride, Cars Land has plenty of stuff that will surely keep attracting people to Radiator Springs. In a way, Cars Land improves over the the last Disneyland expansion I recall: 1993’s Mickey’s Toontown.

Mickey’s Toontown gave us a wonderful representation of the place where Mickey and his friends lived, but was often short on attractions for everybody. Alot of the places to visit (such as Goofy’s Bounce House, and Chip n’ Dale’s Treehouse), were more kid-friendly than family-friendly. In fact, there were only two ‘rides’ in Toontown one could go on as a family: Roger Rabbit’s Car-Toon Spin, and Gadget’s Go-Coaster.

A still from the Cars Toons short, “Time-Travel Mater.”

One fun little thing that was done for the opening of Cars Land, was the creation of a special Mater’s Tall Tale short, in which Lightning McQueen and Mater travel back in time, and meet the town’s founder, Stanley. The short almost serves as an unofficial travelogue as to what you may encounter, with the majority of things being what you’ll experience when you ride Radiator Springs Racers!

If you visit California Adventure at the time of this posting (September 2012), you can see the short running on a loop in the Blue Sky Cellar right near the entrance of Cars Land. The cases and walls are lined with concept art and models of the creation of the new land as well. (By the way, if you go and see a a couple guys named Marc or Stevens, tell them Michael says “Hi”)

Even though this was in the case as you made your way through Luigi’s Casa Della Tires, I decided to save this as my closing image. A fun little reference to Disney’s films, in the form of a town film festival. The host names on the poster are vehicle variations on PIXAR Producers Darla K Anderson (producer of CARS), and Denise Ream (producer of CARS 2).

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

Exhibition Recap: The Props and Art of The Avengers

One habit that’s followed me since I was a teenager, is that when I make plans to go somewhere, I often find myself wandering around, and finding something really cool and unexpected.

This was the case when I visited the University of Southern California’s campus in August of 2012, and made a stopover at their School of Cinematic Arts to take in the Dreamworlds exhibit, located in the Steven Spielberg building (for more on the Dreamworlds exhibition, you can read my blog post here).

Right across from the Steven Spielberg building, is the George Lucas building (anyone surprised at that one? Thought not.). I had only heard about the Dreamworlds exhibit, but decided to take a little look inside this structure to see what might be inside. Imagine my surprise when I went through the doors, took a look to the left, and found this:

*Click to see a bigger picture*

Yes, props and art from Marvel’s The Avengers, and even some items from the other Marvel films like Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. This was definitely the big surprise of the day for me, and I quickly wandered over, observing all that was on display. This summer, The Avengers was the only movie that just gave me a truly fun theater-going experience In fact, my summer was bracketed by seeing it opening night (in 2D), and on Labor Day in 3D (hey, tickets for the late show were only $6!).

I stayed away from a lot of the promotional material, and was greatly surprised as I got swept up in the action, and a lot of the humor in some scenes, along with the audience. I’m a sucker when it comes to original material or movie props, so I spent plenty of time wandering around the exhibit (though I wish now I had taken more pictures). Of what I did take, I present to you below:

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Loki’s staff, an Iradium tube, and one of the Chitauri’s rifles from “The Avengers.”

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Had to take this picture because of the detail on Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. In the upper-right, you can see some of the dossier pages on the different people working on The Avengers Initiative.

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The Tesseract (aka The Cosmic Cube), ‘powered down’ in its cushy suitcase. Plus, if you look closely, you can see how it achieved its blinding blue glow.

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Throughout “The Avengers,” Hawkeye used a number of special arrows. Luckily for us, several of them have been labelled.

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Production material from “Captain America: The First Avenger,” including a promotional t-shirt.

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The secret compartment in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” where the Tesseract was hidden.

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Character maquettes of the Hulk and Iron Man (wearing the new Mark VII suit), flank Nick Fury’s wardrobe.

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‘Nuff said.

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Captain America’s new footwear for the modern-day Avenger.

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I know the marker on the bottom left is wrong, but hey, the clapboard speaks for itself. It’s also resting on a gamma ray detector at the top of the picture.

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I searched around online, but found scant details about this little treasure trove hidden at USC’s School for Cinematic Arts. These items were on display in early August, and I am uncertain (at the time this was posted), if they are still there. Props from The Avengers were also on display at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Blvd.

I for one, find it a little sad that the other studios are looking at The Avengers’ summer box-office haul, and are mainly going to just think that the world needs more superhero movies. What many will not understand, is that we would love superhero films made by people who actually care about the source material, and make a story which will give us characters that are entertaining.

Personally, it feels that right now, Marvel Studios is lightyears ahead of Warner Bros, who have the rights to the DC Comics characters. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s recent Batman films, the studio has not been successful in bringing their multitude of comic characters to life. Already, rumors are running rampant of a Justice League of America film being thrown onto the fast-track at Warner Bros. We can only hope that someone slams on the brakes, or handles this film in the way it deserves, lest WB play fast-and-loose and leave more of the DC Universe’s fans shaking their heads, wishing for the kind of TLC that has been afforded Marvel’s properties in the last few years.

An Animated Dissection: The Enigma of “Spirited Away’s” No(h) Face

10 years ago, American audiences were treated to the theatrical release of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated feature, Spirited Away (or Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, as it’s called in Japan). Originally released in Japan in 2001, Miyazaki’s unpredictable story about a girl trapped in a world of spirits became a box-office juggernaut in its homeland, becoming the most profitable film of all time in that country, overtaking Titanic’s Japanese box-office grosses from 1997/1998.

Its reception on American shores however, was a little different. Appearing on only 151 screens during its September 2002 release, it quickly sank from sight, but returned to the spotlight over the course of awards season, taking home numerous critics awards, before managing to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar for the year.

Spirited Away was filled with many strange creatures, but there was one that seemed truly enigmatic: the figure/thing/entity known as No Face. When I first heard his name, I thought it was actually spelled ‘Noh Face,’ given that his face seems to resemble masks from Japanese Noh Theater productions.

No Face’s presence and actions have never been fully explained by Miyazaki, and so many people have come up with their own ideas regarding his actions. Given my penchant for Animated Dissections, I have my own thoughts and ideas as to Hayao Miyazaki’s masked enigma, and below, I intend to present them.

*Warning: If you have not seen Spirited Away, I strongly recommend turning back and watching the film before reading onward. A lot of what I discuss will be familiar to those who have seen the film.*
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When we first see No Face, he’s standing on the bridge to the spirit’s bath house, just watching the spirits passing on by. Almost noone pays No Face any mind or notices him, until Chihiro passes him. We see her eyes look at him for a few moments, and he seems to stare after her.

The next appearance of No Face is on the bridge the next day. Chihiro also makes eye contact with him, before attempting to walk past him. As a quick ‘hello,’ she gives him a slight nod, and then rushes past. Though when she turns to look back at No Face, he’s disappeared.

The next time we see him, is after Chihiro returns to the bath house. As she enters through a side door, we see No Face appear briefly, walking towards the entrance, before disappeaering into thin air.

It almost seems that No Face is a creature that does not know who he is, or what purpose he serves in life. We never know exactly when he decided to stand on the bridge, or even how long he’s been there. Though one has to wonder if Chihiro’s little glances and even her polite bow was a trigger of sorts. Kind of like a puppy tagging along behind someone who shows it a little kindness, No Face follows Chihiro onto the bath house grounds.

The next time we see No Face, he’s standing in one of the bath house’s gardens, as Chihiro empties a bucket in a nearby doorway. This time, she addresses him verbally, concerned that he may be getting wet. As she’s called away by her co-worker Lin, she tells No Face that she’ll leave the door open for him. Taking this as an invitation, No Face then enters the bath house. The smile on his face almost seems to look like he’s actually happy that not only has someone like Chihiro talked and noticed him, but she did something for him (let him into this place).

No Face’s next appearance comes when Chihiro attempts to get a wooden token needed for cleaning a tub in the bathhouse. The Manager refuses to provide her with one, before No Face invisibly picks one up, and tosses it to Chihiro. We see No Face appears briefly with only Chihiro seeing him. After she receives the token, she expresses thanks, which seems to be directed towards No Face.

Once the token has been used, No Face appears in the bath where Chihiro is working. Unsure why he’s there, Chihiro’s first assumption is that he’s a guest like the other spirits, and has come to use the bath. However, she is surprised when No Face presents her with more bath tokens. We also find that he has a voice, but only murmurs and gives little sounds of “ah,” almost like he’s shy, or afraid to talk. Even though she’s offered the tokens, Chihiro refuses to take them. We see No Face hesitate for a moment, before fading away, and the tokens clatter to the floor.

At this point, I equate No Face to being almost like a kid trying to gain favor with another. He noted how Chihiro really appreciated that first bath token, and most likely assumed, ‘If she liked just one, she’ll love a whole lot more!’ However, this plan didn’t pan out. It could also be her negative reaction to them that caused him to go away, feeling ashamed that he hadn’t given her what she wanted.

After this, No Face appears briefly in an unoccupied bath chamber, after Chihiro has succeeded in cleansing a large River Spirit, who has left copious amounts of gold behind in lieu of payment. No Face has taken notice on how the majority of the bath house turned out for this guest, and how excited they were that he left gold behind. We see him holding some pieces of gold and ‘thinking,’ before he disappears again.

He then appears later that evening in the same tub that was used to bathe the River Spirit, and encounters a little frog in the employ of the bath house. He lures the frog with the promise of gold (that seems to pour forth from his hands), and swallows the creature. This is the first indication that No Face has any sort of physical mouth, as we see inner gums and teeth as the frog is consumed.

The bathhouse manager hears the commotion, and comes to investigate. He then encounters No Face, this time larger, sprouting frog-like legs, and speaking in the voice of the frog. The manager grows a bit apprehensive that the voice sounds so familiar, but No Face then starts giving plenty of gold, demanding food and a bath, along with having the entire staff of the bath house awoken to serve him. One also has to wonder if maybe some of No Face’s current actions are fueled by the mindset of the frog, who like many in the bathhouse, has a rather greedy nature (after all, he snuck back into the baths looking for missed pieces of gold).

Some hours later, we see No Face sitting in the bath filled with water, as numerous staff keep yelling for his attention, and providing him with food. No Face just keeps demanding more of everything, and sprinkling gold pieces around. Eventually, he leaves the tub, and walks through the bath house, as the manager sings a song about their large and very rich customer. The rest of the staff just smile and eagerly ask for tips.

Chihiro has no idea of what has been going on, and only finds out when she attempts to get to Yubaba’s office to help Haku. Seeing No Face, she thanks him for helping her with the bath token earlier.

No Face brings the procession to a halt when he flings the bathhouse manager aside, then extends his hands out, causing a pile of gold to appear. He happily offers it to Chihiro, but she claims she doesn’t want it. This causes his face to falter, as she then rushes off, causing No Face to let the gold fall to the floor, as the greedy inhabitants of the bath house rush for the pieces.

A pained expression passes over his face, like he can’t comprehend why she does not accept his ‘gifts’ like everyone else. Along with the multiple bath tokens he offered, this is the second time he has been ‘spurned’ by her.

In frustration, No Face then consumes the bathhouse manager, and one of the female employees. This causes the rest of the staff to panic and flee, as No Face grows larger.

After this scene, Chihiro sneaks into Yubaba’s chambers at the top of the bathhouse, where she overhears Yubaba angrily talking on her phone with some of the staff. It is here that Chihiro first hears this thing she’s met referred to as a ‘No Face’ (or ‘Kaonashi,’ in Japanese). Yubaba then leaves to deal with No Face.

Upon meeting with him, Yubaba learns how Chihiro invited No Face into the baths. Attempting to calm No Face, he soon demands to have Chihiro brought to him. The staff manage to find Chihiro, and she is then ‘presented’ to No Face.

This time when we see him, No Face has grown considerably larger, and sprouted extra limbs. The Noh mask is suspended on a neck, and appears to have also grown hair atop it. One noticeable trait is that the mask’s mouth looks ‘confused’ and the face ‘blank,’ and seems moreso like a mask than the creature’s face now. When No Face spoke before, it was without any mask or mouth movements. This time, it is through the mouth with gums and teeth that he speaks. As well, his voice alternates between that of the bathhouse manager, and the frog.

No Face requests that Chihiro try some of the food that is sitting around the room, or take some gold from him.

When Chihiro remains silent, he asks what she would like. When she responds that she would like to leave and go somewhere, he is taken aback. She then says that he should return where he came from, claiming she doesn’t want anything he has to offer.

This negative declaration causes No Face’s neck and mask to withdraw into its body, almost as if it’s expressing pain of rejection. Chihiro then inquires where No Face came from, and if he has a Mother or Father as well. Speaking with the frog’s voice, No Face says that he has noone, and that he is lonely. This declaration is one of the few lines we have in which we learn a little about No Face. It seems he’s a lost being who just wants to belong, and that in a sense, he is ’empty.’ One could see his gluttony in the bathhouse as a means to fill himself up to escape the emptiness, but as we’ve seen, this has provided him with no satisfaction.

It also makes one wonder: if Chihiro had accepted the extra bath tokens or gold from No Face previously, would he have consumed her the way he did the frog?

Almost as a way to counter Chihiro’s inquisition, an arm extends filled with gold, and No Face (using the voice of the bathhouse manager) demands she take it. The arm almost looks like it’s going to grab her, when Bou (Yubaba’s baby, who has been turned into a mouse) intervenes, saving her with his small-yet-heroic act.

This distraction allows Chihiro to present No Face with a small ‘bitter dango’ (aka a bitter dumpling) that she received from the River Spirit she helped bathe. She tells No Face that she was saving it for her parents, but is giving it to him instead. Chihiro already used a portion of the dango to help Haku regurgitate a sickness that was eating away at him from within, so the audience is well aware of what its bitterness can do to a being.

No Face immediately swallows it, but due to its bitter taste, he begins to vomit up a black substance. Still sickened, he turns to Chihiro, and demands to know what she just gave him.

He next charges after her, as Chihiro runs down flight after flight of stairs. Her intention soon becomes clear: lure him out of the bath house, away from where he can do harm or further damage.

As No Face continues to follow her, he begins to shrink in size, losing bits of himself like sticky tar, and even regurgitating the people he swallowed.

Making his way outside, No face has returned to normal. Seeing Chihiro, he follows her along a submerged railroad track. By now, some would assume that No Face is the equivalent of some form of ‘spirit-world stalker,’ but to me, the reason why he follows Chihiro, is that she is the only thing that has so far made any sense in this world. The bathhouse both confused and mentally messed him up, given the mindset of those who worked in the establishment. Once outside of the place, any wants and desires that its inhabitants possessed do not affect his judgement.

Chihiro is one of the few beings that still has managed to keep a level head, and this could be the reason why No Face pursues her even now.

As a train pulls up to a small concrete platform, Chihiro is about to get on, when the conductor (a shadowy figure whose face we never see), notices No Face behind Chihiro. She offers to invite him along, and they board the train. Inside, there are a number of other shadowy figures.

As an aside to our No Face-related article, these figures are another enigma in Miyazaki’s story, as their somewhat see-through appearance seems similar to No Face’s black body. Though these figures are wearing human clothing, one has to wonder if maybe they were humans who also accidentally wandered into the spirit world, and eventually forgot who they were, hence their see-through, non-human features. In the beginning of the film, Chihiro was in danger of becoming transparent as well. Would what happened to these shadowy human figures have befallen her too if Haku hadn’t intervened?

Another little character moment for No Face comes after Chihiro walks away from the train’s door, and sits down on a seat. No Face seems to have a small panic-attack, unsure just what to do. It’s almost reminiscent of him being out in the bathhouse’s gardens, until Chihiro gives him a purpose. This time, she motions for him to sit next to her, and be still. He obeys, and stays docile through their trip.

The train takes the small group to Swamp Bottom, where Chihiro hopes to find a way to save her friend, Haku. No face continues to quietly follow her to the house of Zeniiba, Yubaba’s twin sister. Upon reaching it, a female voice beckons them inside. No Face is apprehensive of its sound, but Chihiro verbally gets him to enter the small cottage. After Zeniiba hears out Chihiro regarding Haku, she takes notice of No Face, and (addressing him by name) requests that he sit down.

It seems in this environment, much like that of the bathhouse, No Face is influenced by those around him. At Zeniiba’s table, we see him politely sipping tea, and eating what appears to be cheesecake. He also seems intent on keeping to himself, not once taking interest in Chihiro and Zeniiba’s conversation nearby. When he finishes his piece of cake, he just sits quietly.

After this, we see No Face working at a spinning wheel, where Zeniiba gives him positive comments on what he’s doing. This is also one of the first times since leaving the bathhouse that the mask on his face has a smile on it.

Once the spinning of thread is done, Zeniiba can be seen teaching No Face how to knit. Unlike Yubaba, Zeniiba is definitely the direct opposite of her sister. While Yubaba is moreso about wealth and more expensive things, Zeniiba is more down-to-earth. Living in a small thatched cottage, greeting her guests by preparing tea, and being more practical in some things. When she gives Chihiro a hairband that will offer her protection, she tells how her friends (including No Face) each contributed to its creation.

Eventually, Haku comes for Chihiro, and as they prepare to leave, Zeniiba tells No Face that he can stay and help her in her cottage. No Face eagerly nods his head, even verbalizing the small “Ah” sound, as a sign that he accepts her offer. It seems like a good place for him to stay, as there seems to be almost no outside influences that could cause him to  pick up bad character traits, and Zeniiba’s kindness and generosity towards him and Chihiro, surely will help him as well.

The last we see of No Face, is him and Zeniiba waving goodbye as Haku takes off with Chihiro on his back. And with that final image, No Face’s journey to find a place to belong, appears to be over.

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And there you have it. My observations and ideas regarding one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most enigmatic characters. Just remember, a lot of what was expressed is my interpretations, and I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there with their own. However, I have not read or found very many online.

When I first read The Art of Spirited Away, there wasn’t that much regarding No Face for character concepts, and the small bit of art that was there, provided these rather shocking drawings:

These images are definitely more colorful than the final images of No Face, and makes one wonder just what some of his original concepts could have been to make him so bright and ornate.

One little thing I was surprised was that upon writing this article, I suddenly found myself opening a door to other observations about Spirited Away that I have also been pondering. Much like my Animated Dissection on Howl’s Moving Castle‘s Sophie, I intend to write some more thoughts regarding certain aspects of the film at a later time.

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“No Face is basically expressionless, but I ended up adding just a tiny bit of expression. It might have been better to make his mask more Noh-like without any expression at all, conveying his expressions by lighting. No Face swallows the bath house workers, and I thought it might have been interesting if he acquired their personalities and ability to reason. This way he might become more human and appealing” – Supervising Animator, Masashi Ando, quoted from The Art of Spirited Away

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Book Review: The Toy Story Films – An Animated Journey, by Charles Solomon

It’s hard to believe that recently, I realized that author Charles Solomon had been keeping me in the loop on behind-the-scenes animation since I was a teenager. His hardcover book The Disney That Never Was (released back in 1995) was at the time, one of the few ways that many of us could see unused concept art and story material from The Walt Disney Archives.

In 2010, Charles also authored The Art of Toy Story 3, which not only showcased much of the film’s concept art, but provided a verbally entertaining story in regards to the film’s journey that spanned almost a decade, making it one of the most satisfying ‘Art Of’ books for a PIXAR production I had come across.

Which brings us to today, with Solomon’s recently-released The Toy Story Films – An Animated Journey. Book-ended with a foreword by Hayao Miyazaki and an afterword by John Lasseter, this 192-page book summarizes the trilogy’s history and work processes.

The first chapter chronicles John Lasseter’s fascination with computer animation, includes these breakdown images of a computer/hand-drawn animation test showing Max from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” (hand-drawn animation by Glen Keane)

The book starts at the beginning, before the name PIXAR was on anyone’s lips. We go back to the early 1980’s at the Walt Disney Studios, where John Lasseter’s early experimentation of putting hand-drawn characters within moving 3-dimensional backgrounds was pooh-poohed, and his plans to use computers to create a film around the book The Brave Little Toaster was canned. John then joined Lucasfilm at the behest of Ed Catmull, where he became one of the first to help show that computer imagery could have a life beyond flying logos, with his work on The Adventures of Wally B, Luxo, Jr, and many other short films in which computer animation was given ‘character.’

We are then led into the early stages of development that would become Toy Story. From this point on, each of the Toy Story films is given its own chapter, which contain plenty of information on story development, along with concept and final art .

Pages chronicling the early development of “Toy Story,” including a concept sketch of an angry teddy bear, who would serve as a precursor to “Toy Story 3’s” Lotso.

Toy Story’s production is chronicled quite well, telling of its original incarnation where studio notes made Woody into an edgy, mean-spirited ‘tyrant,’ and also hearing from various people about items such as the design of Sid’s home, or even the thrill and trepidation of working on the world’s first computer-animated film. Reading over it, I felt like John Lasseter and I were kindred spirits when I read about how he handled his toys as a child:

“I always felt John was a freak and Andy was a freak. No kid treats their toys that well,” counters Andrew Stanton. “I think most boys treated their toys like Joe Ranft and I did, which was play with them until they broke.”

The one area of the book I was most interested in, had to do with my favorite PIXAR film, Toy Story 2. Originally pitched as a direct-to-video feature, it soon was considered for a theatrical release, but was halted when the story being considered was not living up to the expectations of the senior leadership (who had been busy working on A Bug’s Life at the time, leaving a ‘B-Team’ to work on the Toy Story sequel). Due to the 11th hour production schedule to complete the picture to its final form (the final film we know and love was completed in 9 months, which is unheard of!), there was no time even for a ‘Making of’ book to be created in 1999. The breakneck experience is summarized very well, though like most rubber-neckers, I was hoping for more stories of what the artists went through trying to make that film. We get a few examples, but nothing quite as harrowing as some stories I’ve heard out there.

One section in the Toy Story 2 chapter chronicles an experience that makes John Lasseter seem eerily similar to Walt Disney. After a retreat in Sonoma and a frenzied few weeks in their Writer’s Room, John Lasseter called together the studio’s artists, and pitched to them the version of Toy Story 2 they were now going to make. The experience lasted over an hour with John referencing no notes , and the passion of his convictions made everyone in that room fired up to complete the herculean task of turning out a quality product. The experience is reminiscent of Walt Disney collecting his guys after dinner one evening in the mid-30’s, and pitching them the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, before announcing that they would then be making it into a film.

A few pages in the “Toy Story 2” chapter, chronicle the development of one of the most emotional scenes in the film: “Jessie’s Song.”

In the closing pages of the Toy Story 2 chapter, there are a few storyboards and a clip based on the Toy Story gang’s appearance at the Academy Awards that year, where Woody, Buzz, Jessie, & Bullseye were the presenters for Best Animated Short-Subject. Mr and Mrs Potatohead also were in attendance, but just as members of the audiences. Prior to this appearance, an animated segment had been made by PIXAR for the 1996 Academy Awards presentation, where Woody and Buzz analyzed John Lasseter’s Special Achievement Oscar for Toy Story.

Solomon even manages to shoehorn in a few pages that discuss the non-PIXAR-involved Toy Story 3 that was being worked on by Circle 7 Animation. There are several pieces of concept art, and one showing a rather shocking sight: an old human character seeming to talk to the toys! (note: Woody broke the no talking rule in Toy Story to save Buzz, so that gets a pass in my book).

For those who have followed much of Pixar’s history, the book just gives a few new bits here and there to the work done on the trilogy, but for newcomers, it’ll serve as a wealth of eye-opening material. One item that surprised me, were a few words regarding John Lasseter and storyman Joe Ranft’s original idea for a Toy Story 3 after the second film had been released in 1999. In my opinion, I’m glad that Andrew Stanton spoke up about how it sounded when they started work on Toy Story 3 in the last few years.

The book is also filled with plenty of little candid moments that explain how some ideas, are often the result of just a few words. Michael Arndt (screenwriter on Toy Story 3) recalled how they wanted Buzz to be ‘deluded’ in the third film, but in a completely new way:

“People started throwing out ideas like fast-motion Buzz or slow-motion Buzz. I was sitting next to Andrew [Stanton] and as an aside I whispered, ‘Spanish Buzz.’ Andrew immediately slammed his hand on the table; said, ‘Spanish Buzz!’; and it was off to the races.”

One downside to the book has to do if you have oily, sweaty fingers (like myself). The pages have a tendency to ‘collect’ fingerprints, so you might want to give your hands a real good scrubbing, or turn the page and put your hands to the sides.

Sweaty palms aside, Solomon has crafted a wonderful book that summarizes the creativity, determination, and enthusiasm that PIXAR Animation Studios provided to create these films that have been embraced by the world. There is even an epilogue in which several of the crew discuss how they didn’t set out to make characters that would assimilate into popular culture…but it is still a nice thing to have happen to something you pour a lot of time, effort, and heart into.

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“People began to realize that this was a big deal. That we had in fact hit our stride, and this was what we were destined to do” – Ed Catmull, discussing the creation of Toy Story (from the documentary, The PIXAR Story)

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