Archive | November 2013

Movie Review: Frozen

…and I thought those days were gone forever.

Continuing with my reminiscences of the past, many of us who were kids in the late 80’s/early 90’s, can’t help but remember “The Second Golden Age” of Disney Animation. This was the time period, when the men who had come of age from 1940-1980, finally turned the keys to the (magic) kingdom over to a bunch of young kids. However, these weren’t kids wanting to go hog-wild: they wanted to live up to the legacy that had been set by their peers, as well as the man whose name was on the company.

And boy, did they do well! Those times created stories and characters that have stuck in our subconscious for years. Little girls leaned on couch cushions while pretending to be mermaids, and boys pretended to be fearsome beasts, skulking in their dark castles.

And then…came “the Dark Times.” The stories that captured our imaginations were subjected to scrutiny by executives and marketing people. They became safer, and less memorable. Many of us were beside ourselves: where was the great house that had taken us under the sea, to enchanted castles, and into Arabian nights of fantasy and whimsy?

The latest rebirth began in 2006, when after acquiring PIXAR Animation Studios, The Walt Disney Company welcomed John Lasseter and Ed Catmull through the doors of the company’s Feature Animation Studio. I remember it was too late to save Chicken Little by the time John arrived, but this scene at the end of Meet the Robinsons brought a tear to my eye:

To me, that quote was a promise: a promise that what we would be seeing from this great studio, was going to once again be material that would not just entertain us, but also make us “feel.”

I didn’t have long to wait, as the studio’s films over the next several years would continue to escalate in story quality. However, it wasn’t until 2012’s Wreck-It-Ralph, did they finally blow my socks off. But, there was another film that was waiting in the wings to 1-up Ralph.

For years, rumor had been swirling that the company was working on an interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. The eventual result would end up becoming the film we know today, as Frozen.

My first encounter with this film’s material, happened at a Destination D event in Anaheim, in 2012. We were introduced to myriad concept art, along with a small hand-puppet of Olaf. But, it was in the performance of a demo of the song Let It Go, that I began to take notice. The song was a”declarative lament,” and haunted me long after the event was held.

For the next year, many of us were stunned by what happened. In the normal “rules of engagement” known to marketing, we should have been blessed with a teaser trailer for Frozen when Wreck-It-Ralph appeared. However, months passed…and nothing. Toys were not even shown at that February’s Toy Fair in New York! Rumors swirled that the production was in serious trouble, and this had led to a bottle-neck of any information coming out of Disney.

And then in June, we got our first teaser trailer, which featured…a snowman, battling a reindeer for a carrot. Many of those who were keeping the faith were caught with our jaws open: what was going on here!? It looked like Disney’s marketing team was shooting themselves not just in the foot, but in both feet!

Needless to say, I approached 2013’s D23 Expo with some trepidation. Would the cutesy trailer footage we saw a few months ago be swirled around our heads? In two words: heck no! We saw moving images that made our eyes pop open! And, in a showstopper to the first day’s main festivities, Idina Menzel sang the final version of Let It Go, which only made me (and hundreds there) love it even more!

There are often a few things that I will believe in very deeply, and in something like Frozen, I was willing to throw aside the marketing that was being shown to the myriad of common American audiences, and believe that what The Walt Disney Studios had created, was something that would cement my faith that they were continuing, to “Keep Moving Forward.”

And last night…they proved my faith rightly!

This is the animated fairy tale story many of us have been waiting for for years! The Princess and the Frog came close, as did Tangled,  but Frozen is magic: the kind that feels familiar, yet also moves us into new territories of storytelling!

Taking place in the Kingdom of Arrendelle,  the kingdom is eager to celebrate the crowning of Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel). Also in attendance, is her younger-yet-more-playful sister, Anna (Kristen Bell). The ceremony should be a time for celebration, but it is during these events, that a power within Elsa manifests itself, plunging the kingdom into a wintry peril. After her sister flees the kingdom, Anna volunteers to find her, and end the wintry events that are plaguing the land.

Regarding the story’s plot, that’s all I dare tell you, as the film is far too grand for me to spoil any more.

One of the most surprising features of the story, is that the filmmakers have created “Princess Sisters,” albeit estranged. While Anna seems a little more free-spirited, Elsa is moreso regal and “bottled-up.”

Many have eagerly awaited more information on Menzel’s Elsa, who has a more subdued, yet important role to the story. Given her powers and nature, she may seem “cold” and uncaring, but once she is given the chance to unleash herself, she begins to come alive. I think those of us who have had our creativity bottled up, may see a little of ourselves in her.

I must admit that as the story went on, I was more captivated by the character of Anna. While socially awkward and a little naive, the film feels moreso like it is her story. She may seem a tad ‘girlish’ in the beginning, but we see that when the chips are down, she is more than willing to roll up her sleeves and try and set things right. As well, Kristen Bell endows Anna with a personality that is very hard to forget.

Speaking of hard-to-forget personalities, I defy anyone who sees this film, to walk away and NOT be moved by Olaf, the snowman. With Olaf taking up the brunt of marketing material images, I’ve heard many figuring him to be an annoying sidekick. But, if we’ve learned anything from Maximus the horse and Vanellope Von Schweetz, we know the current filmmakers at Disney are not going to overplay their hands.

Olaf is a sidekick that is not only funny, but doesn’t overstay his welcome. Created by way of Elsa’s magic, he is a little naive and childish at times, but never grows as annoying as one would imagine. In fact, he provided several of my biggest guffaws during the film. I’m chuckling right now remembering my  favorite one.

In my earlier paragraphs, you may have heard my hope for this film stemmed on a song, and I’m sure by the time this film is over, many will have sought out the film’s soundtrack, along with further information on Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. This husband/wife duo crafted the memorable songs for 2011’s Winnie the Pooh (anyone other than me see it opening weekend?), and have proven their mettle with Frozen, as a dynamic duo that can stand alongside Richard and Robert Sherman, as well as Howard Ashman & Alan Menken.

The songs in Frozen run the gamut from syrupy young love (Love is an Open Door), to a declarative lament (Let It Go), and even a shanty-style work song (Frozen Heart). To me, it’s been ages since I wanted an entire soundtrack to a film, and the Lopez family shines through in all the different endeavors they have provided.

The songs are quite catchy, but a few may throw the audience, such as in a reprise of For the First Time in Forever. The song starts out as spoken-word, and juxtaposes into song. I have a feeling this may sit well with several of my “theater-nerd” friends, but I’m not so sure about the majority of the public.

Given how much was great about this film, it is not without its flaws. There are a few areas where it feels like the story “stops,” and then quickly ramps back up to speed. But aside from these few moments, the rest of the film works in a way that I have not seen these days. I kept myself away from as many spoilers as I could for the last few months, and going into the film pretty much blind, I was grateful that the story gave no indications just where it was heading. I always appreciate a story that is able to keep me guessing until the very end.

Ever since the last movie trailer, a few have scoffed at it being called one of the best animated musicals since The Lion King. To me, it falls closer to my favorite animated feature, Beauty and the Beast. Both deal with characters that seem more fully-realized and even emotionally complex at times, and it manages to play to both children and adults, with things that the little ones will pick up on as they get older.

While I did enjoy the theater experiences with Tangled, 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, and Wreck-It-Ralph, those films felt like they were in the high “B+” range regarding ratings. With Frozen, the newest generation of Walt Disney Studios production staff have finally, given us their first “A” picture, since they rose from the ashes of the mid-2000’s.

I could probably write another 2000 words regarding Frozen,  but I implore you, if you are pining for filmmaking that was dramatic, comedic, and musical, this film is what you have been waiting for. I’m sure we’ll be talking about this film long into 2014...and maybe, beyond!

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Movie Review: My Little Pony – Equestria Girls

I can still remember a couple years ago, when one person I know suggested I give My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic a chance. “I know how you like well-written animation,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll like this show.”

I will admit I almost didn’t make it past the first strains of the sweet-sounding intro song, but pretty soon, I found this person had been spot-on. The writing was definitely entertaining, and the balance of comedy and drama was something I wouldn’t have come to expect from a show like this. This sentiment has been echoed across many different areas of the fandom.

Of course, that was a few years ago. As it is now, the My Little Pony franchise has found itself in one of the most popular times of its branding, probably since its first inception in the 1980’s. While Hasbro continues to struggle with how best to address “The Brony Issue,” their minds have turned to other thoughts, like “How can we expand this property into other areas?”

That answer came in the form of Equestria Girls, in which the “mane 6” characters from the show, were re-imagined as spindly-limbed, go-go boot-wearing teenagers in an alternate dimension. Naturally, the fans of the show got furious that this huge company would even consider humanizing these characters, even though fans of the show had been doing human-style cosplays, and drawing humanized ponies. At one point, Hasbro even made mention about the inspiration from the humanizing artwork around the internet.

Because the animation company DHX (who also work on Friendship is Magic) was also bearing the workload of animating Equestria Girls, the third season of FIM was cut in half, to 13 episodes. And, if you sit down and watch Girls, it definitely could be classified as Season 3.5.

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The film picks up right where Season 3 left off. Twilight Sparkle is still getting acclimated to being a Princess, not to mention now having wings. She and her friends have been invited to the Crystal Empire for a Royal Summit. However, during the night, a cloaked figure makes off with her crown, and disappears into a mirror on the castle grounds.

Princess Celestia then reveals that the thief was a pony named Sunset Shimmer, who had been under her tutelage before Twilight. As Twilight’s crown is important to the well-being of Equestria, she is sent through the portal to retrieve it, with Spike tagging along. However, once she’s on the other side, Twilight finds herself as a purple-skinned humanoid, and Spike has become a dog.

They soon enter the world of Canterlot High School, where Twilight finds that her crown is actually being used as the prized headdress, for the Princess of the Fall Formal title, which Sunset Shimmer has won for the last 3 years. One would assume that Twilight would just take back her crown, but we’re dealing with a character that has a conscience. Instead, she vows to win the crown fair and square. With the Fall Formal just 3 days away, there also is a “ticking clock” mechanism in the plot, that the portal back to Equestria will close the same night, stranding Twilight in this “strange new world” for 30 days, if she doesn’t get back in time.

Going around the high school, Twilight is surprised to see the school is divided into numerous cliques, and even girls that resemble humanized versions of her pony friends, are no longer friends! Naturally, being the over-achiever that she is, Twilight wants to find some way to mend these broken fences as well.

The standard mode of thought if I try to review a film like this, is that the majority of people will say, “you’re finding fault in a cartoon for little girls?” In my opinion, animation does not automatically equal a free ride. Some of the best animation can work when a great story is in place, and you care about the characters, and their interactions. After all, that was what drew people to Friendship is Magic.

A staple of many films that go beyond a television show, is the introduction of a movie-created character, and Sunset Shimmer fits that bill to a “T.” In a sense, she’s the negative version of Twilight. Not just in regards to her name (four syllables, with two synonyms that tell about light at the end of the day), but also her multi-colored hair, and the fact that she’s voiced by Rebecca Shoichet, who has been Twilight Sparkle’s singing voice since the TV series began.

One level of the story that intrigued me, was how Sunset Shimmer tied into the history of the series, as she was Celestia’s prized pupil before Twilight. One has to figure that if Sunset had not been so brash, she might have been in Twilight’s hooves, and eventually become a Princess herself. I had often thought that maybe like Neo in The Matrix, there might have been the possibility for another group of 6 ponies over the years to unite the Elements of Harmony, and Twilight was “The One” strong enough to pull off the feat.

Given that Sunset “rules” Canterlot High School, that means she came in as a Freshman, and has pretty much been pulling this “I’m better than you” schtick for 3 whole years now. Given that she would be a Senior at the time of this film, it does make one wonder: what would she do afterwards? Would she lamely be one of those kids who never graduates, and repeats the same grade over and over again? For that matter, where does she stay, since she obviously seems to have no home to go to.

Speaking of story questions, one also has to figure that if Twilight’s friends already exist in this world, then where is Twilight’s human version? The film wedges in a rather contrived answer that human Twilight and dog Spike already exist, but just in the nearby City.

There also is the question regarding the rather “perfect timing” for Sunset’s stealing of the crown. Originally, the mirror was in Canterlot, but had been moved to the Crystal Empire, yet Sunset knew Twilight was there with the crown she desired, and had even brought a fake to switch it with.

In some films, there’s enough going on that I can be”distracted” from such things, but the more I thought about Equestria Girls, the more story points like the ones above just stick out like a sore thumb to me.

The film also revels in the fantasy element of “simplicity.” It seems that anyone could walk in off the street and become part of the student body, and that’s what happens with Twilight.

In regards to Twilight’s friends, much of their personalities are carried over from the pony world, with a few cute additions. One is that human Fluttershy loves to care for stray animals, and even volunteers at the local animal shelter. Pinkie Pie is still her wacky self, but being human, is denied her fourth-wall breaking motif  (and party cannon). One flaw to me, is the writing for Rainbow Dash seemed a low point, as she seems to end up saying things are “awesome” when the writer runs out of ways to keep her included in a conversation.

Some have claimed that each character in the human world having colored-skin feels odd, but I just laugh and think, “hey, they did it on the Nickelodeon show, Doug.” The makers of the film even attempt to have some fun with the background characters, making numerous humanized ponies, and several fan-favorites interspersed throughout.

Some of the character designs work well, but others can be a bit jarring (Granny Smith as a school lunch lady!?). I found Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna’s facial designs didn’t hold up that well. I don’t know what it is, but seeing Luna with lips just didn’t work for me.

One element of the film that was a little annoying for me, was the “possible” relationship angle, when Twilight meets a male teenager named Flash Sentry. He’s the “handsome nice guy” that you see in many shows, and quickly makes Twilight tongue-tied. There’s even a hint this “might” translate over into the world of Equestria, but I seriously hope that won’t be the case.

Some consternation was caused at seeing Spike’s human-world form translated into that of a dog (though one who can still talk). I guess in terms of mirror teleportation, an animal is an animal, except when they’re a pony. To me, I would have seen Spike as a little boy living down the street, who was a good friend and helper to human Twilight.

A bright spot in the film is Daniel Ingram’s songs. His work on the show has often resulted in many memorable and toe-tapping pieces, and a few are in this film too. The highlight is a centerpiece called Helping Twilight Sparkle Win the Crown, which has a steady build-up until the first chorus, when it just takes off with a great amount of energy.

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Given my love of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I have built up a strong tolerance to what constitutes a bad movie. With that in mind, Equestria Girls is OK, but not the worst I’ve seen. There is a story here, but it’s the typical unpopular girl takes down the mean girl storyline we’ve seen underlined in many types of stories before…with a tie-in to ponies and magic. It luckily never goes down the typical path about boyfriends, having hot new fashions, and getting a cool new sports car.

It could also be the fact that we are dealing with a film-length story, and not one that can develop/show characters over the span of several episodes. As such, there is a lot of black-and-white when it comes to certain character personalities. Take Sunset Shimmer, who seems to be locked into full-on “my way or the highway” mode through much of the film.

There is an underlying story structure that Twilight was feeling uneasy being a Princess, as well as having wings after the end events of Season 3. The film is meant to give her a way to get over these feelings of inadequacy, but it feels like those story points are buried until the few minutes at the beginning and end of the film.

It’s one of the few films I could call “harmless fun,” and given the types of other kid-related “fluff” that feels like its draining you of your IQ points, this one is the lesser of two evils. I think the best thing I can use to describe it, is Rarity’s reaction to her sister’s efforts in the episode, Sisterhooves Social: “Not…bad.”

As it stands now, this humanized iteration of Twilight Sparkle and her friends, is mainly just existing as a film, plastic dolls in the toy aisles, and some additional stories in the pages of IDW Comics. There’s been no confirmation if Friendship is Magic will fold into the series, or if Girls will become its own show on The Hub network. With Friendship is Magic about to begin its fourth season, one has to wonder what the next year will hold for the series.

iPad App Review: Tiny Death Star

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone & iPad. Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Price: Free)

The Summer of 2011 proved to be quite an exciting time for me when it came to finding games for my iPad2. While the promise of being able to play TellTale Games’ video game sequel to the Back to the Future Trilogy was one reason for the gadget’s purchase, I was not finding a lot of games to fill up my new toy with.

It was during one afternoon when I began a search for a game that could take me back to the vertical-building of Maxis’ SimTower game, that I came across Nimblebit’s 8-bit ode to structural conquest: Tiny Tower.

While it was no SimTower, the concept had soon captured my attention (and much of my free time). The simplicity of building a skyscraper into the heavens with all manner of businesses and residences, proved not just a hit with me, but also with many others. Apple even called it the 2011 iPhone Game of the Year.

Since the runaway success of Tiny Tower, Nimblebit expanded the adventures of their tiny “bitizens” into the sky (Pocket Planes), and in a trans-continental fashion (the recently-released Pocket Trains). However, a fourth game has now appeared, in which the humble company has found itself partnered with two of the biggest names imaginable: Disney, and Lucasarts. The three have combined forces to bring Nimblebits’ bitizens into a galaxy far, far away. The world, of Tiny Death Star.

Returning to the world of vertical construction, the game puts you in the service of The Galactic Empire, helping The Emperor and Darth Vader construct The Death Star. Just like in Tiny Tower, you will be put in charge of bringing businesses and residences to this project. It may seem a little odd that the Emperor would see his “technological terror” as a way to bring outsiders onto a weapon of this size, but don’t worry: there’s a method to his madness.

You see, while businesses and residences can be built vertically up from the main floor…the Empire is also building down into the super-structure, with all sorts of familiar rooms for their own agenda. So in a sense, the Empire is profiting off of the commercialism above, that will help it construct a weapon of ultimate doom.

Face it: it’s sheer genius!!

We’ve already seen the success the Star Wars franchise has had being combined with the Angry Birds series, so it is fun to see a little love given to something you have to create (which, will/may/possibly be destroyed by The Rebel Alliance?).

The game gives various businesses based on not just the films, but the Expanded Universe as well. Though some can be a little questionable. For example: you can construct a Mon Cala Aquarium…yet there’s a restaurant called Mon Cala Seafood.

Unlike Tiny Tower with its uniformity to its bitizens, Tiny Death Star encompasses all sorts of alien species and characters from across the Star Wars universe. You’ll see Rodians, Ewoks, Gungans, and many more. Even main characters from the films will sometimes appear. For example, take this image above, where Boba Fett has stopped in to have some Neimoidian cuisine.

There are various business levels to uncover, and I’m sure each of us has several that we’re eager to see. While the restaurant levels include such hotspots as The Cantina, the most fun levels for me appear to be under the stores labelled as Recreation. This is where you’ll find the likes of The Rancor Pit, Dark Side Cave, not to mention a Holonet Cineplex, with three very familiar, pixelated posters on display.

The design fun even extends to the various residence levels. One that I rather enjoyed was the Coruscant Apartments, where you can see the planet’s neverending traffic lanes moving outside the window. In fact, that is a plus this game has over the likes of Tiny Tower: every other floor has a small animated scenario in it!

Given everything I’ve said so far, it sounds like this game should be a home run: it plays to my love of “building” games, and my fandom of Star Wars. However, there is a Dark Side to this ray of sunshine.

– Notable among them, is the accumulation of Imperial Bux. Though it is free to start and play much of the game, there are times when Imperial Bux will be “a necessary evil.” The other Nimblebit games give players plenty of opportunities to accumulate Bux, which can help you purchase characters, faster elevators, and more. One of the more recent additions to the Tiny Tower game, was being able to watch short video ads and be awarded with extra bux, which Tiny Death Star does not give as an option. I was a big fan of Tiny Tower‘s methods of not forcing me to buy things, which in turn, made me want to put down some money and make some purchases. As it stands now, Death Star has made me keep the wallet latched shut.

– Some of the button configurations on the main screen are a little odd in their placement. As I have an older iPad model, my left thumb is not able to properly operate the elevator buttons easily. If you have one of the more recent iPad’s with the skinner sides, I could see this issue being ok. There is also the rather ‘glaring’ tab of the Emperor in the upper left, and the “add a new floor” tab up at the top. It feels that these choices could maybe have been added as pop-out/drop-down choices by finger-swiping. As it is, they ruin what should be a very clean visual aesthetic.

– Given that this is the first release of the game, it is also not without its bugs. I’ve had a few times where the game has crashed on me, and then somehow sped up the game’s processing time, collecting the credits from  2-5 hour period. Not that I wasn’t grateful, but I was expecting a more competent gaming clock. I’ve even had some levels that should take a minute to process certain store stockings, and it miraculously gets me my stock right away!

On a more positive note, one feature the game has, is the ability for guests visiting various floors to “help” regarding restocking. Let’s say I have a person wanting to visit a store on level 12, and there’s 10 minutes left to stock a certain item. Well, if I drop off the customer to that floor, one minute of restocking time goes away!

There is also a Dark Side to this method as well. If one has Imperial floors that extend into the Death Star, you can guide your elevators to these levels, and drop the person off on one of these floors. If the Imperials on these floors are working on a certain project, these “visitors” will take off one minute of build-time. Though just where the visitors go…well, I’m sure The Empire will disavow that any persons disappeared within the confines of The Death Star.

In the end, Tiny Death Star is still in its infancy stages. While I was easily annoyed at the shake-down methods of Universal Movie Tycoon and Jurassic Park Builder, Death Star still has the chance to make updates/changes that can improve the quality of the game.

After playing the game for the past few days, my experiences have allowed me to rate it a B-average. After all, how can one be that upset when one sees the song list for Rebo’s Karaoke, with the most pricey/popular song being, Yub Nub?

As you go on through the game, little scenes will be unlocked, such as this one. Remember that warning Han Solo gave C-3PO about Wookies being sore losers?

Retro Recaps: Mickey’s 60th Birthday

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

I think 1988 was the first year that I officially began to drift into my full-on admiration for many things Disney. Who Framed Roger Rabbit excited me that summer, Previews for Oliver & Company were prevalent that fall, and even a 2 week free-trial of The Disney Channel would eventually have my parents make it a regular part of our Cable TV lineup. Of course, there was one television special that fall, that still sticks in my brain 25 years later.

In the fall of 1988, Mickey Mouse was in the throes of celebrating his 60th Birthday. The Walt Disney Company went all out in advertising the event, even giving Mickey a snazzy logo with him in an 80’s style tux, and little bits of information about Mickey on The Disney Channel.

At the time of the event, the company also had a distribution deal with NBC to broadcast shows of the studio’s Wonderful World of Disney showcase, and a television special was to be broadcast on television, in early November of 1988.

During the early 80’s, the company would release television specials, largely utilizing older animation clips. like the DTV Valentine special. However, a few attempted to be character-focused, like Down and Out with Donald Duck, and the early 1988 Minnie Mouse-based episode, titled Totally Minnie.

Taking a cue from those last two specials, along with the reactions to that summer’s box-office hit, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the company quickly put into production the special celebrating Mickey’s 60th Birthday, but with a storyline that sent the mouse on a journey across the television landscape, and acted as a Mickey-centric showpiece.

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The episode starts out with Michael Eisner (in the days before his “madness”), delivering a few words about Mickey, and how the world perceives him.

We then cut to a television control room, where we see the behind-the-scenes staff getting ready for a pre-Birthday recording event at Disneyland. After some re-used animated shorts footage (meant to look like early show rehearsal footage), we then cut to Mickey in his dressing room.

The Mouse is rehearsing a small dance number, but after a few moves, feels that his audience for the evening will be bored with his act. Rummaging in his props chest, he comes across a familiar item: the sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia!

Mickey puts it on and brings a nearby broom to life, when suddenly, a voice emanates from his mirror: “So! Found it, did you?”

We soon see the voice is connected to a portly-faced character, with white hair, blue eyes, and the voice of Peter Cullen (aka Optimus Prime, and Eeyore).

Who is this character? Well, it isn’t Yen Sid (aka the Sorcerer from Fantasia), but the fact that he appeared after the use of the sorcerer’s hat, leads one to assume that it belongs to him…but who is he!?

Well, this question will have to wait, as the sorcerer in the mirror tells Mickey that he should use his (aka Mickey’s) own magic, and not someone else’s.

Just then, a stagehand named Charlie knocks at the door, telling Mickey he has one minute until showtime. It’s just then, that a familiar cartoon rabbit comes into view. This scene is a funny example of someone talking to themselves, as the stagehand is played by Charles Fleischer…who also is the voice of Roger!

Charlie tells Roger that he’s going nuts because he has to get Mickey on stage, and get the cake set up as well. Roger agrees to help the stagehand, and finds the cake, but notes that for a Birthday Cake, it doesn’t have any candles.

It just so happens that there’s a box with some ‘candle-looking’ objects nearby. Naturally, Roger takes one, puts it on the cake, and lights it.

It’s then that Mickey is cued to appear on stage, as Roger pushes the cake out. However, after thinking he’s done good, Roger takes another look at the box, and finds that he’s just put a stick of dynamite on Mickey’s cake!

Roger quickly attempts to rush out to the stage to extinguish the explosive, but as per his clumsy personality, he ends up causing plenty of mayhem on stage, and the cake ends up exploding onto the crowd and Mickey.

Up in the control booth, the show director is about to quit, when Mickey suddenly rushes off stage, and returns with the Sorcerer’s hat! Using it’s magic, he repairs the damage to the stage, and sucks the cake off the crowd, rebuilding it onstage!

Needless to say, the crowd is enamored with what Mickey is doing, and chant for more! After a few seconds of trepidation, Mickey decides to give in to their cries. Growing the cake into a large pinnacle, he makes stars dance among the crowd, rains confetti down on them, before causing lightning to flash overhead. It is in that moment that one bolt strikes Mickey, and he vanishes!

We then see Mickey appear in a void, as a voice growls: “Just couldn’t resist, could you?”

It’s soon apparent that Mickey was pulled away by the Sorcerer, who seems none-too-pleased that Mickey used “his” hat.

Though Mickey just wishes that they both “forget the whole thing,” the Sorcerer is not willing to just let bygones be bygones. After reclaiming “his” hat and looking over a spellbook, he then decides to make people ‘forget’ that Mickey is who he is.

As Mickey attempts to escape, the Sorcerer’s voice echoes through the void:

Magic powers are special, you must find your own,

You stole someone else’s, and now must atone.

When people look upon you, they won’t know who you are.

You must seek out your own Magic. You’ll find it isn’t far.

Mickey then finds himself back on the stage after the event. Running into Charlie the stagehand, Mickey is surprised when Charlie doesn’t recognize him, and demands this “stranger” leave immediately.

We then see Mickey leave through a side-door, and heading off for who-knows-where, claiming he’s ‘got a bad feeling about all this’ (he must have been watching Star Wars before the event).

From this point on, we are then inundated with several newscasts by Dudley Goode (John Ritter), and Mia Loud (Jill Eikenberry). This news program appears to have devoted all its time to ‘The Search for Mickey Mouse,’ including interviews, montages, and even plenty of Mickey-related stock footage, as the clock ticks down until Mickey’s big party. At one point, even Ed McMahon appears, offering $5 million for the safe return of Mickey Mouse (I kid you not, that really happened on the show!).

Meanwhile, Mickey begins a quest to seek out “his own magic.” Where does one start? Why, in the realm of television sitcoms, of course!

He is first discovered sleeping on a park bench by Andy Keaton (Brian Bonsall), the young son of Family Ties’ Keaton Family. Though he at first doesn’t recognize Mickey, Andy is more than willing to pass the ‘un-Mickey’ off as the real deal, planning to make a lot of money (hey, it was the 80’s, what else are young kids supposed to want?).

Outfitting Mickey in a pair of over-sized red shorts and yellow shoes, young Andy attempts to convince his sisters Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer (Tina Yothers) that he has found Mickey Mouse. Mickey performs for the girls, but not even his voice and 4-fingered hands, are enough to convince them.

In the wake of Mickey’s disappearance, some people start to suspect that the mouse may have met with ‘fowl play.’ That isn’t (really) a pun, as some assume that a certain duck may be behind this. After word comes that Donald displayed some jealous tendencies about not being involved in Mickey’s broadcast, the media begins to hound the duck. Apparently, the old line ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is just a figure of speech.

Eventually, even though he hasn’t confessed to doing anything wrong, Donald is arrested and put on trial!

Meanwhile, Mickey continues his trek through sitcom-land, ending up in a familiar bar in Boston…aka Cheers. Pretty soon, Mickey is heckled upon by Norm Peterson (George Wendt) and Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger), who don’t buy his story about “a sorcerer putting a magic spell on me.”

It also happens to be Rebecca Howe’s (Kirstie Alley) birthday, and upon finding out that Mickey has no money to pay for his drink (a root beer float), Sam Malone (Ted Danson) makes a deal with Mickey, to sing “Happy Birthday” to pay off his tab.

Mickey sings his cheerful birthday ditty for Rebecca, who breaks down in tears, feeling old.

Claiming she needs “a magic wand” to feel younger, Mickey convinces her that she doesn’t need magic, and that it’s all a matter of being as old as you feel, and your outlook on life. These words perk her up, and Rebecca then offers to treat Mickey to dinner and  a movie for making her feel better.

“I don’t get it,” wonders Sam. “What’s that guy have that I don’t have?”

“Well at the moment, Rebecca,” chimes in Frasier Crane, as Mickey and Rebecca leave the bar, as she questions her date’s ‘funny-looking hat.’

We are then returned to the Goode and Loud newscast. With less than a day until Mickey’s Birthday celebration in Disneyland, and with no leads having panned out (and Donald still pleading his innocence), there is the thought that Mickey may be gone for good.

…so, if Mickey’s gone for good, and Donald’s put in jail, does that mean the figurehead of The Walt Disney Company, will become…Minnie? Goofy, maybe?

Meanwhile, Mickey has completed his sitcom journey, and returns ‘home’ to Disneyland.

As he walks down the street, an early-morning street-sweeping crew is working on Main Street USA (with some of the brightest cleaning uniforms you’ll ever see). One of them (played by Cheech Marin) wonders what the point is in still throwing a party if the ‘guest-of-honor’ won’t show up. A cleaning woman (played by Phylicia Rashad) tells him that “the Mick’s” gonna show up, but the sweeper just dejected claims that won’t happen.

The cleaning woman then starts singing a song, and pretty soon, the entire street-sweeping crew (and Mickey!) joins in.

The theme of the song mentions “magic,” and as Mickey continues to sing (and the sun rises over Disneyland USA), an infectious energy seems to hold in the air, causing Mickey to think about the lyrics to the song.

“Magic?” he ponders, aloud, as the sweepers rush off (to who-knows-where). “It is magic!”

However, these words suddenyl cause the familiar, grouchy-looking Sorcerer to appear. Afraid of what the Sorcerer will do to him now, Mickey claims that he’s talking about his ‘own magic,’ that we’ve seen him work on several people he has met on his journey.

“You’ve found the secret,” replies the Sorcerer, his face taking on a smile. “The real magic is inside of you, Mickey, and it’s all you’ll ever need!”

Now that he’s learned his lesson, the Sorcerer breaks the spell, and changes Mickey’s clothing into his Birthday tuxedo, before vanishing into thin air (and cartoon obscurity).

Seconds later, Roger Rabbit appears, and quickly alerts the media that Mickey has been found.

Following this event, the charges against Donald are dropped, and he’s released (without any form of apology for what happened, I’m sure).

This is then followed by Birthday footage at Disneyland, along with numerous celebrities wishing Mickey a Happy Birthday.

The segment then ends with Mickey reuniting with Minnie on the balcony of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, as Mickey proclaims it to be “the best birthday ever.”

__________

When looking back at this special, one can see that age and time have revealed that it wasn’t quite as “magical” as my youthful mind made it out to be. Then again, I was most likely pulled in by the promise of more antics by Roger Rabbit.

Probably the biggest problem, is that it’s largely a glorified clip show throughout. It’s kind of structured like Beetlejuice, where the character whose name in the title, is relegated to a very small amount of time on-screen.

Mickey’s story about “finding his own magic,” could possibly have been made into an interesting cross-country road trip. Instead, these journeys are just relegated to his appearances in the sitcom worlds of Family Ties and Cheers.

One of the most surprising things regarding the show, was that it was mentioned in a blog run by a former writer of Cheers, Ken Levine. Originally, non-Cheers writers at Disney had written Mickey’s encounter with the gang, but none of it worked properly. Word was, Michael Eisner contacted Cheers producer James Burrows to help, and with the help of 6 writers (including Ken!), the scene became what it was in the final show production.

You can read more about Ken’s experience here.  In fact, the Cheers gang would again be associated in a Disney special a few years later, when they were part of the opening segment on a TV special celebrating Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary. Maybe somewhere down the line, I’ll find a way to cover that for Retro Recaps.

However, if the Cheers segment held up well, the segment in regards to Family Ties was rather lackluster. Well, to me it seemed that way. If you can’t get Michael J Fox to appear as Alex Keaton, then it’s pretty much a bust. In fact, the writers of that segment found a pretty eye-rolling way to shoehorn Alex into the show: by having Andy flashback to a conversation he and Alex had in a previous episode.

One segment that was kind of creative yet a little freaky, was when one kid’s entire Mickey Mouse collection just up and abandons him to look for Mickey. It’s all done in stop-motion, but the ‘chittering’ of the different items (yes, some of them talk) seemed a little creepy.

Oh, and before we go, I thought I’d conclude with that earlier question: just who was the Sorcerer in this special?

I actually posed this question to Dave Smith, the head of the Walt Disney Archives a few months ago. Needless to say, just as people wondered what Kramer’s first name was, I had been wondering this character’s name ever since I was 8.

Dave answered my question, simply stating the Sorcerer didn’t have a name. So, I guess I’ll have to accept this guy as some “No-Name Sorcerer.”

But still…

WHERE WAS YEN SID IN ALL OF THIS!?

WHERE WAS YEN SID IN ALL OF THIS!?