Archive | December 2012

Retro Recaps: The Story of Anyburg USA

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

Ever since the first previews rolled for PIXAR’s 2006 release Cars, there has been a great cry of foul regarding the company’s adventures making a world of living vehicles populating a landscape that looks largely comprised of human-built things.

What I find funny is that the film’s director, John Lasseter, borrowed his concept of window-eyed vehicles from several of the animated shorts made by the Walt Disney Company. Notable among them was Suzie, the Little Blue Coupe, a short that I loved for its vehicular depictions, so one can say I was instantly sold on John’s concept.

In the mid-50’s, the animation division of Disney was starting to wind down regarding short animation productions.Quality began to be scaled back from the previous decade,  and quite a lot of the non-film animation output, was used towards educational purposes instead. One of these was 1957’s The Story of Anyburg, USA. It’s title is rather vague, notably in regards to the opening title card which shows a courtroom. So what’s the news out of Anyburg? Let’s find out.

__________

As our short opens, a narrator tells that our story is about to take place “within the borders of a great, enlightened, and civilized country.” We then see an overhead view of the United States, that quickly dissolves into one with white lines representing roadways, and numerous little rectangles representing vehicles. However, the movement of the vehicles is more chaotic than orderly.

We then find ourselves viewing the (now-small) town of Anyburg. I say town, because according to its local signage, its population has decreased from that of a small city (30,000), to a small town (500). The narrator then goes on to say that while ‘homicide on the highway’ was not that different from other places within the United States, the local citizens were getting fed up with their traffic situation. One example is seen below:

Eventually, the citizens of Anyburg decide to place the blame for these troubles upon the automobile, and a trial begins.

With a grumpy judge presiding over the trial, we are then introduced to an ‘angular’ prosecuting attorney (voiced by Hans Conried),

and a ‘well-rounded’ defense attorney (voiced by Bill Thompson).

The prosecuting attorney starts off the trial by bringing three automobiles to the stand. Unlike “Suzie the Little Blue Coupe,” the vehicles and humans can communicate with each other.

The first car on the stand is a green coupe, who is intimidated by the prosecutor. He is accused of speeding and crashing into a restaurant, before driving away from the scene. The car sheepishly confesses to this.

The next car is a red sports car, who is accused of ‘guzzling alcohol,’ and speeding. When questioned if the accusations are true, the sports car casually agrees.

The third car is an older vehicle, who’s ‘crime’ is being unsafe. With only one eye (or windshield) intact, a rattling frame, and non-safe tires, the prosecutor plays to the jury, claiming the vehicle is the kind “every safety test shuns!”

After each car is cross-examined by the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney is given a chance to do so as well, but he busily scribbles away on some papers and replies, “no questions.”

The prosecutor then plays testimony from those in the automobile industry. They hear from vehicle builders, and persons working to increase safety in vehicles. However, they also say that though there is a great deal of investment to improve automobile safety, accident rates continue to rise.

Testimony is also given by a man who designs super-highways. He speak passionately of the hours of work put into his job, and the lane lines and safety signs added, but breaks down in tears, feeling that the automobiles have made a mess of his work. The prosecuting attorney also says that automobiles see these highways as playgrounds where they could disobey rules.

“There’s only one end to this tale of woe,” says the prosecuting attorney, gesturing wildly to the jury, “The automobile, has GOT to GO!!!”

With this line, the prosecutor rests his case, and gives the floor to the defense.

The defense attorney then pulls down a screen, and shows a speeding car. However, he then tells the viewer to take away the vehicle, and we are left with a speeding man.

As we watch, the speeding man attempts to race a train to a crossing, but he ends up being hit, sustaining heavy injuries, and ending up in a body cast.

The next thing we see, is a weaving, ‘drunk’ car. Like the last example, the car is removed, and we see its drunken passengers are responsible for its weaving motions. The defense attorney is heard to say that drinking-and-driving is wrong, and to prove this, we then see the men and the vehicle crash into a telephone pole.

The next section is quite interesting. We see a police line-up and three people standing before it. The defense attorney claims that they are all ‘ordinary citizens.’

However, the defense attorney tells how each of these innocent people can be dangerous.  Each of them has been found guilty of such crimes as reckless driving, hit-and-run, and speeding. In a Jekyl-and-Hyde type transformation, we see each of them go from an ordinary citizen, into a crazed lunatic. One example is a woman who was charged with hit-and-run. Below, you can see the before-and-after results:

“I think we all know who the criminal in this case really is,” the defense attorney says as the lights in the courtroom come up, “”It’s you. And you. And it’s me too!”

It is then that the attorney realizes, that everyone in the courtroom has left! However, there are three notes left in crucial areas. In the jury box hangs a paper that says “Not Guilty.” On the judge’s bench, rests a paper that says “Case Dismissed.” Even the prosecuting attorney was kind enough to leave a paper behind saying, “You win!”

The attorney and the cars celebrate their win, and the end results cause many people to look in the mirror for whom to blame.

The narrator returns, saying that the end results of the trial seemed to work, as common courtesy on the highway seemed to return. We see the defense attorney stopping at a cross-walk to let a woman and several children pass. What’s interesting to note is his automobile, which has eyes in its headlights, not its windshield.

We then get another view of Anyburg, with cars yielding the right-of-way, and the world seeming to have learned its lesson.

But, as can be expected with human beings, the peace and tranquility is fleeting, and within a matter of seconds on-screen, traffic patterns return to the following:

“Well, it was a nice try,” says the narrator, as we return to an overhead map of the United States, and its ‘highways of death’. “And where there’s light, there’s hope…let’s hope.”

__________

And that was The Story of Anyburg, USA. From the information above, it doesn’t sound quite as happy-go-lucky as a Mickey Mouse cartoon, but I love it for the fact that it shows often how frivolous some lawsuits and court cases can be. And of course nowadays, we see plenty of idiotic trials brought to life that we often say, “if you just did this or that, you wouldn’t need to have a trial!”

The story of Anyburg was written by Disney Studios veteran, Dick Huemer. Working with the studio for over 30 years into the 1960’s, he worked everywhere from short cartoons, to the studio’s animated features like Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. Huemer’s hand was in several other educational shorts from the studio in the 1950’s. These included the shorts on music titled Melody, and Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom.

The short’s director was Clyde Geronimi, also a seasoned veteran of the studio. Though starting off as an animator, Clyde eventually spent over 20 years directing shorts and films for The Walt Disney Studios. Also of note, was that he was the director for Suzie the Little Blue Coupe.

Of course, automobiles would continue to figure into many of the studio’s productions, and I often loved watching them. From Mr Toad and his mad obsession with motorcars, to Goofy in 1950’s Motor Mania. Motor Mania could almost be seen as a precursor for Anyburg, as it also deals with courtesy and reckless driving. And in 1965, Goofy would also star in two driving education shorts, titled Freewayphobia, and Freeway Troubles.

The Story of Anyburg USA was only released once on DVD, in the now-defunct Walt Disney Treasures set titled, Disney Rarities. The set includes shorts from 40 years of the studio’s libraries, and is pretty easy to find on the secondary market.

Advertisements

Journeys Through Life: At the front doors of Lucasfilm, LTD

In December of 2011, I made a short trek up to the San Francisco bay area, as part of a creative journey that would take me to the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, and PIXAR Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA.

On my second day, I headed to the Walt Disney Family Museum, but not before making a short stop mere steps away.

The Museum is located in an area called The Presidio, a park and former military base whose buildings have been given over to museums, businesses, and much more. One of the areas that had been newly-developed in the northeastern section of the Presidio, was the Letterman Digital Arts Center. In 2005, three of George Lucas’ production divisions would be moved under one roof, from their previous, separate homes. These included his video game division Lucasarts, visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic, and his main company, Lucasfilm, LTD.

Of course, for years, Lucas and several of his cohorts (such as Francis Ford Coppola), had championed filmmaking in the Bay Area. In fact, several Lucasfilm LTD productions have been shot up there. And thanks to movie-magic, you’d never know unless you dug a little deeper.

For example, in 1981, the interior of the City Hall showed up at the end of the Spielberg-directed/Lucas-produced Raiders of the Lost Ark. After his meeting with the guys in Washington DC doesn’t go over well, Indy meets Marion on the steps inside the City Hall rotunda, before going off to get a drink (and as we thought at the time, to a happily-ever-after).

Needless to say, I detoured into City Hall just to walk down the same steps that Harrison Ford had. Yes, I’m that geeky.

Then, it was time to head off to the Presidio. The cab I took dropped me off right near the entrance to Lucasfilm. One of the ways that one can tell you’re in the right spot, is the fountain out front, adorned with the wise Jedi Master, Yoda.

Entering into the main lobby area, a relaxing atmosphere is to be found. Well, as relaxing as one can get when Boba Fett and Darth Vader (off camera-right) are nearby. On the nearby tables, were numerous books related to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series.

It was definitely exciting to be in the lobby of the company, but I did get a little case of the green-eyed monsters when I saw many people checking-in for appointments or to see friends working at the company, and being admitted through the doors into the hallowed halls.

Nearby, a festive Christmas tree and a Menorah had been placed for the Holiday Season. I was a little surprised that this was one of the few Christmas displays that had no red coloring.

Right next to the tree, was a sculpture that seemed to scream ‘centerpiece’ for the small lobby: A sculpture of stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien, setting up King Kong atop the Empire State Building. Many of ILM’s alumni have often spoke of the early stop-motion films as the inspiration for them getting into the world of Special Effects. After all, without those early pioneers, there surely would never have been Star Wars.

In the case along the wall, there were some medals and accolades for the Lucasfilm companies, like this one, presented to Industrial Light & Magic.

Also around the room, were several art pieces, notably vintage film posters, like these:

And then there was this art piece, that still makes me wonder what the inspiration behind it was:

Wherever I go, I’m sure to always see or experience something that noone else will, and that is displayed in the pic below. I saw this guy wheeling this empty keg out the front door of Lucasfilm, but what made it stand out, was that there was a film title taped to the front of the cart. And what was that title? Battleship. As the film was still in development at the time (and almost everyone I knew had zero interest in its premise), I like to think the keg was added ‘liquid propulsion’ to help keep the animators at ILM motivated.

I soon took my leave of the inside of Lucasfilm, and decided to patrol the grounds. Off in the distance, I saw a piece of Naboo transplanted in San Francisco. Actually, the dome of The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, but one has to figure it did serve as some inspiration for the designs on the peace-loving planet in Episode I.

Walking around the oustide of the Lucasfilmi headquarters, there wasn’t really that much to see, except a few people hard at work in the upper windows. The company is in a couple different buildings, and has entrances around back and an elevated walkway overhead.

20121221-184321.jpg

From a distance, I could make out what appeared to be miniatures and models lining the walkway. If you look closely, you can make out the fuzzy silhouette of a velociraptor maquette.

20121221-184507.jpg

I entertained the idea of bribing a few of the Lucasfilm employees, or sneaking in with them when they returned from their smoke break, but seeing as I fear being blacklisted, I reconsidered.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to enter and see what’s beyond the lobby area. But as it is, I’ll just live vicariously through press articles and junket visit recaps online…unless someone sees this, and is willing to let me through (I’ll buy you lunch at a great little place nearby!).

20121221-191759.jpg

A shiny little statue of R2-D2 in the Lucasfilm lobby

Collectibles Review: Mattel Hoverboard (prop replica)

“Hoverboards have been around for years, but parents groups have not let the toy manufacturers make them. We got our hands on some” – Robert Zemeckis, Director of the Back to the Future Trilogy

Like many young children out there, when I heard Robert Zemeckis say those words, and saw the film Back to the Future Part II in theaters in 1989, I believed it, and wondered how soon we’d see them in stores given how popular the Back to the Future sequel was. I remember playing with my LEGO sets as a kid, and crafting a Hoverboard out of scotch tape, paper, and colored pencils that a LEGO person could ride.

Of course, just before Back to the Future Part III was released, Kirk Cameron blew the lid off our childhood fantasies in the television special, The Secrets of the Back to the Future Trilogy, in which he admitted that Robert Zemeckis was only kidding. The film’s co-writer/co-producer Bob Gale even backed this up recently, saying that at the time, Mattel got upset by all the letters and requests they got from kids wanting their own Hoverboard. To me, that anger seems misplaced. I mean, if there’s demand for a product, why not get started trying to make it a reality?

In recent years, the toy company Mattel acquired the rights to make action figures and other products based around one of the least-merchandised trilogies in film history (seriously, 25 years later and no action figures? Even The Goonies got action figures made!).

After having released prop replicas of items such as the ghost trap and PKE meter from Ghostbusters, Mattel has decided to tackle the one Back to the Future prop that had their name written all over it (no seriously, in the film, their logo was on this thing in two places). Through their website, MattyCollector.com, a special pre-order (featuring limited quantities) went up in March of 2012. I placed my order, and waited the required 8-9 months before my credit card was charged, and a large package arrived at my apartment!

Like many of MattyCollector.com‘s releases, the Hoverboard comes packaged in an all-white box with minimal markings:

Once you cut the tape, flip up the tab, and pull out the inner-box, you get an example of what the board’s future packaging might look like:

I was a little surprised that they didn’t try to photograph a real little girl riding a hoverboard. Then again, maybe marketing in a couple years will start to shift back to more artistic-based imagery. A fun little nod to the film, is that a majority of the girl’s fashion stylings are modeled after clothing the hoverboard girl (Lindsey Whitney Barry) wore in Back to the Future Part II.

A downside to this packaging, is that unlike the tabbed outer-box, or some of their resealable packaging for some MattyCollector action figures, the top and bottom of the official box can be ripped with none of the collector-friendly convenience one would hope for something of this caliber.

Turning the box around, it gives a layout of the board, both top and bottom, outlining several of the features of the board. They even include the future-slang term, ‘bojo.’ If you notice, there’s a little asterisk after lettering on the top left. What is that for? Well…

Yes, just in case by now, if you hadn’t read the disclaimer when ordering your board from MattyCollector.

In the lower-right of the back of the box, they even show an example of the Hoverboard coming in different colors. One has to wonder if maybe they’ll try to make a ‘boys’ Hoverboard in the future, or the orange (unseen) one the hoverboard girl’s friend was using in the film. Speaking of the Hoverboard:

Click to see a larger image

A small users manual is inserted with the board, giving plenty of information about the board, and also cautioning about disassembling the Hoverboard, claiming ‘the anti-gravity lift cushion inside may launch you into orbit.’ It’s a nice little booklet, but only a few pages long, in black-and-white, and about the size of a smartphone. One would almost wish they’d do something a bit more futuristic, maybe printed on a transparency, like the Sports Almanac receipt from the Blast From The Past store in the second film.

When it came to the films in which the Hoverboard appeared, we rarely got a lot of time to look at it in super-fine detail. Throughout the production of Back to the Future Part II, different versions of the Hoverboard were made, given the needs of the various scenes. What Mattel has given us, is a prop replica that attempts to combine the best traits of the various boards that were used during the film’s production (over 30 in total, according to the information on the Matty website), and find a ‘happy medium.’

Images of various versions of the Hoverboard, used in the making of “Back to the Future Part II.”

By the way, one would assume a Hoverboard to be light considering how easily Marty McFly was whipping that thing around all over the place, but you’re in for a surprise. This prop replica has a little weight to it, and definitely will keep some from wanting to chuck it onto the ground like Marty did.

The construction of this board is largely plastic, along with stickers/decals, and velcro. Yes, velcro. The rear strap on the board and the green area underneath were velcro, and are the same on this board. Unknown to some, velcro was also used on an area one would probably never have considered:

The two pink angles at the front of the board. The box and users manual claim that these are “velocity control pads.”

The majority of the surface designs of the board are made up of large decals. In several places, one can see that the decals consist of several layered together:

HB9

Of course, Mattel wanted to include some extra ‘bells and whistles,’ and they did that by inserting a chip and sensors inside the board, that would sense when it was placed horizontally, or when it moved. Requiring 3 AA batteries (not included), one simply turns over the Hoverboard, and can find the battery compartment in the futuristic-looking box underneath:

Using the same sound effects from the film, the board makes an activation sound when placed horizontally (causing the board to vibrate slightly), and shuts off when tilted vertically. As well, sending it gliding along some carpeting (seriously, do not glide this thing on concrete or any other hard surface!) will cause it to make a ‘whooshing’ motion sound. It’s a cool feature, but isn’t 100% accurate a majority of the time when I was testing it. While it is a touted feature, I think I’ll be fine with leaving the batteries out of my Hoverboard.

Of course, there are many of us who will not be spending a lot of time sliding their prop replica across carpeting, and Mattel has included a clear-plastic, hinged stand. Using the design of the central battery compartment and a few well-placed peg-holes, the stand allows the board to be displayed, angled at 45 degrees. It isn’t easy to put together, and the stand clattered to the ground several times as I tried to get it placed properly.

By now, some of you may be asking, “Well, what do you think? Was it worth it?”

Having seen numerous pictures of the Hoverboard over the years, and wanting one myself, it’s a good piece, but not great.

For the last several months, the web has been filled with many die-hard fans, scrutinizing any information out of Mattel, regarding the release of the prop replica. Early concepts, convention displays, and even early reviews of this board have criticized everything from the spacing and size of the ‘magnets’ on the bottom of the board, to the lack of lenticular graphics regarding the board’s decals. Even the pink strap on the rear is not the right size/material.

On December 10th, on the fan-run Back To The Future website, BTTF.com, co-creator/co-screenwriter/co-producer Bob Gale expressed some of his own thoughts. He recalled the enthusiasm that the crew at Mattel had when they sat down to talk with him and visual effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, but was surprised at several ‘quality’ points that were missing from the final production Hoverboard. Notably the lenticular graphics, which according to a letter he received from Scott Neitlich at Mattel, was due to them being unable to replicate the effect, finally settling on the simpler decals. Bob does make an interesting point in his letter: if visual effects supervisor Michael Lantieri and his crew were able to make lenticular decals for the prop boards made in 1989, how can it be so hard for Mattel to replicate the effect all these years later? You can read Mr Gale’s full letter here: Bob Gale says Mattel’s Hoverboard did not live up to his expectations; okay to throw eggs at him

In that respect, it’s a good prop replica, but it is not the greatest. Then again, what keeps it passable in my mind is that it’s an item made by the same company as in the film. And what does Mattel mainly produce? Toys! So, not every toy company is going to give you top-of-the-line stuff. That is also part of my thinking regarding toys in the world of 2015 in the Back to the Future universe. I would assume that the board Marty handled in the film was plastic as well, seeing as it’s a kid’s toy Hoverboard. One would assume the Hoverboards used by Griff and his gang are more technologically advanced (and more expensive).

Another question some may have is: is this a toy, or a collectible? To me, it’s a collectible piece, given its price-point. You’d need to have a pretty good-sized bank account to give this to a child to play with. I can only imagine what one of these would look like after being handled by children.

The final total (not including taxes and shipping and handling), was $130. While a lot of people balked at this price for the Hoverboard, I was a lot more willing to pay that than  $4-6000 on the special-edition 2015 Nike shoes that came out last fall. Even a prop replica of the Flux Capacitor (i.e. the thing that makes time-travel possible!) will run you upwards of $300!

These days, almost any collectible item released will have someone say, ‘It costs this much? I’d think it would have cost that much.’ When I first heard about the Hoverboard being made, I told myself one thing: ‘unless it’s priced under $150, I won’t buy one.’ Though with the final product, I could see some saying it would could be priced in the $100 range.

Because I pre-ordered my Hoverboard in March of 2012, this entitled me to get a special bonus: a miniature Hoverboard & the handlebar attachment like we saw in the film.

Promotional information tells that this board will fit most 6-inch figures. Since I don’t have any 6-inch figures from Mattel, I decided to have a couple of my other 6-inch figures help show off this additional item:

The unwritten Harry Potter fanfiction story: “Harry Potter and the Muggle Birthday Surprise from the Future”

The handlebars are on a small pivot, so they can be turned outwards or in, depending on the arms of the figure using them. It can also be snapped into the hole in the board, and removed. The rear safety strap can also be rotated. One has to wonder if this is some sort of small promotional hint that Mattel just might be bringing us those Back to the Future action figures many have been wondering about for some time.

For December of 2012, Mattel has re-opened ordering of the Hoverboard prop replica. Unlike the March pre-orders, these will not come with the 6-inch Hoverboard ‘freebie.’ Mattycollector.com has been Mattel’s place to sell higher-priced, more collectible-based material, and by the sounds of things, obtaining one of these may be easier than some of their exclusive figures.

There are fan-made Hoverboard replicas out there (some made out of wood), which I’ve seen often run for more than what Mattel is offering for their prop replica. That might be the deal-breaker for some. Some people out there can make a board that more closely resembles the screen-used props, but these can often run upwards of $150+.  If you’re looking for one that seems kind of close to the film prop, and you have some extra money left over for (or after) Christmas, you may want to get yourself one. Unless you’re a perfectionist regarding props, many would be hard-pressed to find all the differences.

__________

Once I received my Hoverboard, I decided to take it for a small photoshoot at the one place that screamed for it: The Wormhole. This humble coffeeshop in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago has gained a small following for its nostalgic theme. An old television in the back has a Nintendo Entertainment System hooked up to it, and metal lunchboxes line the overhead ducts. Though what first caught my attention, was this:

Yes, that’s a flying DeLorean hovering over the rear of the building. The guy who owns the shop is a pretty big Back to the Future fan. So big in fact, that one of the replica Flux Capacitors that was made a few years ago, is mounted on a wall behind the counter. Word was, when Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis was in town, he actually stopped by to check out the DeLorean.

The Wormhole even has its own merchandise, from T-shirts to bumper stickers, with many of them tying into the Back to the Future theme.

If you’re ever in the Wicker Park neighborhood and want a non-Starbucks cup of coffee, The Wormhole has plenty of choices, and is usually a popular hangout for many nearby college students. You can find out more about The Wormhole by clicking Here.

Game Review: Epic Mickey 2 – The Power of Two (for the Nintendo Wii)

Two years ago, with game designer (and Disney fanatic) Warren Specter at the helm of its production, Epic Mickey was unleashed. While the corporate icon with the high-pitched voice is often seen as a squeaky-clean do-gooder, Specter’s vision was of a world where gamers could decide if Mickey would make friends of his enemies, or use paint thinner on them, and melt them into a green puddle. The end product also acted as an easter egg hunt for die-hard Disney fanatics, and an informal re-introduction to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first major creation before Mickey Mouse.

In Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, we return to the world of the Wasteland, where its denizens (led by Oswald)  are still repairing their land after the destruction of the Shadow Blot.  Suddenly, the ground shakes, and cracks form throughout Wasteland. This is soon-after followed by the re-appearance of The Mad Doctor (a sub-boss from the first game), and his mechanical Beetleworx creations. The Mad Doctor claims that he has changed his ways, and has re-programmed his machines to fix Wasteland. However, the earthquakes and tremors have him concerned, and he asks Oswald to help him figure out what is causing them.

Oswald’s girlfriend Ortensia, and an orange-suited Gremlin named Gus, then rig up a communications device. With some luck, they get through to Mickey, and ask him to return to the Wasteland to help as well.

Unlike the first Epic Mickey, its sequel allows the ability for two players to take on various levels and bosses. Player 1 handles Mickey, while Player 2 takes control of Oswald. While Mickey once again wields his magical paintbrush, Oswald’s weapon is a red-buttoned remote control, that he can use to program machinery, and deliver electric shocks to enemies. I didn’t have an extra person to help me test the two-player mode, so the majority of my time was spent with the game’s AI handling Oswald.

Mickey Mouse, Gus the Gremlin, & Oswald the Lucky Rabbit start off on a new quest to save The Wasteland.

Epic Mickey 2 continues to also take great advantage of the layers of Disney history, bringing us items from the live-action and animated worlds. Mickey and Oswald also travel to various places, courtesy of projectors displaying various Disney shorts. Going through the projectors puts Mickey and Oswald into mini-levels based on different Mickey Mouse or Silly Symphonies shorts. They even include the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia. The mini-levels also have background and foreground play levels, giving players an option on which part to play, with a rather ingenious feature that some items can’t be reached without both players helping the other out.

Those who played the first game, may also remember one of the downsides to the game: you couldn’t go back into various levels once you were done with them. If you missed something along the way, you had to finish the game, and then start your mission over again from the very beginning.

EM2 does away with this frustration, leading to a (small) sigh of relief. Once the main threat has been finished off, you are allowed to keep going, and try to complete several of the game’s  sub-missions. This also leads to a somewhat topsy-turvy feel for the sequel. While the first game had its main story front-and-center, EM2 almost feels like the sub-missions for this game overpower the main story. I bet if you focused on just the game’s main story (and had no distractions), you could complete it in less than 24 hours.

An ‘upgrade’ has also been made based on the characters. Whereas the first game made-do with characters making verbal gibberish as subtitles played on the screen, EM2 has characters speaking full dialogue. Warren Spector even hinted that there would be singing, and this comes from The Mad Doctor, whose majority of dialogue is all in song. Some of the voice decisions are a little odd for the nondescript horses and cows wandering around Mean Street in the game (I swear one sounds like he’s channeling Jeff Bridges!). I did grow a little perturbed at Frank Welker’s voice for Oswald. Welker’s voice for Oswald is the plucky voice he’s used for characters like Booker from Garfield and Friends, and Scrappy-Doo from the old Scooby-Doo cartoon. There are a few times where Oswald sounds so much like Scrappy that I winced.

A familiar Electrical Parade float becomes a thinner-breathing nightmare for Mickey.

There are a couple levels I was surprised at.  One is based around the Disneyland attraction, Autopia. Laid out with twisty roadways, and various Autopia cars from different eras, it was one of the few levels that I found some enjoyment in. Plus, a fun surprise awaits you at the end if you complete all the tasks for the level. Another is called The Floatyard, and is made up of the discarded remnants from past Disney Park parade floats. I was excited to see some familiar floats and devices from the Main Street Electrical Parade.

I’ve been rather positive about Epic Mickey 2 so far, but in truth, I found myself a little more frustrated with it than the first game.

One of the issues some had with the first game, was the in-game camera, and aiming of the Wiimote to move a character, or direct a stream of paint. The controls felt progressively worse with EM2, and almost made me pine for the wonderful in-game camera of my old Super Mario 64 game. There were a few times where the camera seemed to spazz out on me, and I couldn’t control or figure just where Mickey was going to land.

Also of some frustration, are the new Beetleworx hyrbrids, called Blotworx. Trying to take numerous ones down your first time through can be quite frustrating. Thinner does relatively nothing on their exterior shells, and it is a requisite that Oswald and Mickey have to work together to defeat them. With the game AI controlling Oswald, it can take awhile for him to react as you attempt to stay clear of the Mickey-hating Blotworx robots.

Mickey and Oswald attempt to restore the underground world of Rainbow Falls.

Mickey and Oswald attempt to restore the underground world of Rainbow Falls.

And then, there are the sub-missions. You may very well find yourself going through level-after-level-after-level-after-level to retrieve objects, or take pictures for various Wastelanders in order to get their achievement or special reward. In some cases, the game offers you an easy way/hard way choice to complete some levels. If you complete the harder way, the reward you will receive will be bigger, and most likely, please the sub-mission recipient more.

For those that didn’t spring for the game’s Strategy Guide, be prepared for the chance that you are going to make some big mistakes. The completion of some of the game’s sub-missions will require that you A) Stick to rules or guidelines set by various characters, or B) Make a decision that will leave you with one happy citizen, and one upset one. In some cases, just going around thinning building walls, or breaking things, can lead to disastrous consequences, sometimes even nullifying reward opportunities.

The same goes with each of the major bosses. You can use thinner on them to take them down, or use paint to turn them good. I tried the best I could to hold out, but soon the frustration of some levels (and the shoddy camerawork) caused me to fire off thinner in anger, just wanting to finish off the bosses asap.

I can recall playing through Epic Mickey a total of 3 times, and each time as I went through, I still enjoyed it. Epic Mickey 2 however, I don’t know if I’ll give it a full play-through a second time or not. Thinking back to the first game, I recall numerous emotions that washed over me as Mickey ventured forth on his quest, notably the sibling rivalry instilled in Oswald as an older sibling who was pushed aside as the younger one got all the glory. In the sequel, I felt much of that emotional punch was missing.

Having Mickey and Oswald largely playing errand-boy as opposed to working through a solid main quest, really didn’t interest me as much. Plus, it doesn’t help that I felt enormous pangs of guilt when I couldn’t please everyone involved with the various sub-missions.

Disney Interactive Studios and Warren Spector’s Junction Point Studios, have crafted one of the few games that plays to those that have a soft spot for the studio’s heritage. While there have been some upgrades and additions made to make the game better, the interface and sub-missions may frustrate those that just want a linear-yet-emotionally satisfying storyline such as the first game.

__________

Final Grade: B