Archive | August 2014

Toy Review: Rarity, and Discord vinyl figures

Over the last decade, Funko has proven themselves to be a worthy creator of many vinyl-themed items, across numerous pop-cultural properties. While their exaggerated Funko Pop figures gives us exaggerated likenesses of many famous properties, I have grown to love the quality and effort they have put into their vinyl figures based on the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic line.

Though they have extended the line to miniatures in blind box packaging, they have not forsaken those of us who collect their 5 1/2-inch vinyl figures. Unlike the brushable ponies one would find at Toys R Us from Hasbro, Funko’s figures cater more to older collectors who would rather display their favorite ponies.  There have been three new releases as of August 19, 2014, with figures of Rarity, Daring Do, and Discord. Of these three, I am going to be reviewing Rarity and Discord for this posting.

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Out of all the “Mane 6” cast members, it was Rarity that I took some time to warm up to. Many of her early episodes made her out to be a little too prissy, and even demanding at times. However, once I saw more of her character (and became enthralled by voice actress Tabitha St Germain’s vocals), she became a little more intriguing to me.

With her recent release, Rarity completes the main cast of ponies for the show. A pony that stands out with her porcelain white coloration, and curly purple hair, the figure definitely captures the refined look of Ponyville’s resident fashion designer. Using the same stock body that almost all the ponies have, Funko has sculpted a new head with the unicorn horn on it. Some may assume it’s the same as the head for Twilight Sparkle, but that one did not have a complete horn, as the outer portion was attached to the overhanging hair piece on Twilight.

Much like Fluttershy, Rarity’s hair curls and curves in so many different directions. One has to figure she was pushed back from release by Funko, as they worked on trying to interpret the two-dimensional vector stylings into three dimensions. In the show, Rarity’s mane gradates in the inner part of her curls, and it has made me curious what someone with good airbrush skills could bring to this part of the figure.

Sadly, the hair is what makes my figure suffer in several areas. There are several gouges in the vinyl portions, and some sloppy adhesive marks where the hair meets Rarity’s neck and head. Fluttershy’s hair wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t notice this many abnormalities in the overall product.

One area one might also want to look closely at through the packaging window, is her body coloration. There are some light smudges between her eyes on the one I purchased. It’s often something one has to check regarding some figures with all-white tones.

For those looking to complete their “Mane 6” collection, Rarity will be a must-buy. But caution to those of you looking to buy her: examine those in-store at Hot Topic before purchase. Maybe in some later releases, the moldings will get a little better. After all, there were some issues with the early releases of ponies like Rainbow Dash, and Derpy Hooves.

FINAL GRADE: B

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It’s often amazing how much Star Trek has permeated into the corners of my life. It seems every other person I’ve ever met has been a Trekkie in some form, and yet, it seems I cannot escape it even on television.

It was the mention of John DeLancie (or Q, for those Star Trek: The Next Generation fans) in the Season 2 opener of Friendship is Magic that got many hyped up…and his portrayal of a Q-like Draconequus named Discord, soon won him a new legion of fans.

Discord’s features certainly fit with his chaotic personality,containing features such as a pony head, a dragon’s tail, and a lion’s paw. His plans in the Season 2 opener to turn the Mane 6 into the opposite of their true selves and make Ponyville “The Chaos Capital of the World,” was definitely an episode that helped cement me as a fan of the show.

While many had high hopes for a figure release, I felt that Hasbro would not be the one to make the first figure of Discord. After all, what normal little girl wants a figure that’s a mythological mish-mash (and has no flowing hair to comb)? I figured Funko would be the ones to deliver him to us (even mentioned my hope in my last Funko/MLP review!)…and they have, in a sculpt that I’m sure will cause many of these figures to appear in numerous collections out there!

The figure is set in a standard ‘devious’ pose, but it works so well, as it seems Discord is almost always up to something.

The sculpting and painting on the figure are simple enough that the detail stays true to the character. Naturally, the antler on Discord’s head is dulled down to avoid unwanted impalings (and lawsuits). However, there are a few vinyl abnormalities here and there. There is a strange vinyl “wart” on the underside of his lion’s paw. I checked through 3-4 different figures, and they all seemed to have this. As well, the texture on his right leg goes from smooth to slightly rough. It also looks like his left clawed hand should fit snugly into some grooves inside of the lion’s paw. This may have been some molding error that didn’t line up properly with the final product here. There are a few other areas that have some vinyl abnormalities, but unlike most on Rarity, they aren’t in many noticeable places.

L to R: blind box Twilight Sparkle, regular Twilight Sparkle, Big McIntosh, Discord

Since the earliest release pictures for this figure, many have been wondering just how tall Discord is compared to the other pony figures. While the regular pony figures measure 5 1/2 inches tall on average, Discord clocks in at 8 1/2 inches. This puts him 2 inches taller than the previous record-holder, Big McIntosh (who measured 6 1/2 inches high).

Size has often been a hard thing to get down regarding Discord, since he often changes shape and form throughout the series, and is rarely ever in a static position. Some have said his figure’s size is too small for the regular-sized line, but seems to be almost to-scale with the blind box ponies Funko is releasing.

This was one figure that I was looking forward to the most upon its announcement, and much like the Applejack figure in my previous review, Discord comes through with flying colors. Even with small abnormalities here and there, the overall product triumphs over the Rarity release in so many ways.

 FINAL GRADE: A

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The new pony releases to Hot Topic go for $18.50, with Discord running a little more, at $24.50. If you’re trying to watch your budget, keep in mind that Hot Topic usually has little sales here and there. I was incredibly lucky when I walked into the nearest one, and they were having a “Buy 1 item, get a 2nd item for 50% off” sale, helping remove the sting of a super-pricey afternoon purchase!

Like previous releases, Funko has released clear-plastic variants of Rarity, Daring Do, and Discord. Keep in mind that these are exclusive variants, and are packaged at a ratio of 1 to every 24 of a figure.

Now that Funko has released all of the “Mane 6” cast (as seen above), one can easily let their imagination fly on what future releases we may see next, and beyond. The release of Discord definitely feels like the beginnings for production of larger characters from the show, which is something many fans would like to see. Below is a rudimentary Top 10 list of the characters I could see Funko eventually putting out after their recent releases:

Some of the characters like Princess Celestia and Queen Chrysalis have been made by Hasbro, but I’m sure many would like to see what Funko could do with these figures using their methods. Given packaging sizes, I could see a 4-pack of Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Spike.

It’s been a given that usually after a new release, someone on the internet manages to leak prototype pictures of Funko’s next releases. So very soon, we should know what will be coming out in the next few months from one of my favorite toy and collectible makers. Keep em’ coming, guys!

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Blu-Ray Review: Toy Story of Terror!

In May of 2010, I attended a charity screening of Toy Story 3 put on by PIXAR Animation Studios, to benefit the Comer Children’s Hospital, in Chicago, IL.  Needless to say, it delivered on several emotional levels, and became in my mind, a worthy conclusion to the Toy Story Trilogy.

After the film ended, there was time for a few questions, and the first came from a little boy:

“When is Toy Story 4 coming out?”

After that summer, that’s all every other person could talk about regarding the topic of “sequels that PIXAR HAD to make” (along with sequels to the likes of The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc).

Instead of letting the fact they had a billion dollar hit on their hands go to their heads, PIXAR chose to instead, take a different approach to continuing the adventures of Woody (Tom Hanks) and his friends. Much like they had done with the film Cars, the toys would find themselves entering the world of shorts, with several showing before various Disney and PIXAR releases.

Then in the fall of 2013, the company moved their characters into prime-time, with their first Holiday Special: Toy Story of Terror.

Attending the D23 Expo in August of 2013, some 40,000 people and myself, were treated to the first 10 minutes of the short, which would be premiering on ABC that fall.  I didn’t see it when it officially came out, and just now got to see it all when it came out on Blu-Ray.

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The film contains just a small smattering of the main Toy Story cast, with regulars Woody, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Mr Potatohead (Don Rickles). Along for the ride are a few toys from their new owner Bonnie: a triceratops named Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and Mr Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), a lederhosen-wearing hedgehog.

Going on a trip with their owner Bonnie (Emily Hahn) and her Mom (Lori Alan), one of the car’s tires goes flat, and the family drops in at a small motel in the middle of a thundering downpour.

Of everyone there, it is Pricklepants who feels that the mise en scene, seems ripped straight from the images of a horror film. Naturally, the toys think the plush thespian is just over-reacting…until, several in their party start to disappear!

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Director Angus MacLane has been a major fixture at PIXAR for quite some time. Having worked as an animator, writer, and recently director, he’s definitely had a well-rounded career inside the famed animation studio.

R&D Supervisor Michael B Johnson (left), gets a few words from director Angus MacLane (right), before his short “Small Fry” is shown to those of us attending a Cartoon Art Museum fundraiser at PIXAR, in December of 2011.

Prior to Terror, MacLane had directed one of my favorite Toy Story Toons, titled Small Fry. I actually got to hear Angus tell about his experience working on the short when I went to PIXAR in 2011, as part of the Cartoon Art Museum’s annual fundraising event. Angus’ stories about coming up with the toys for the piece, let alone his teen years spent as a “ball pit supervisor,” definitely stuck with me. And just as in Small Fry, his storytelling in Toy Story of Terror shines through.

Unlike a feature film which can encompass 1-1/2 to 2 hours, this animated short only has 22 minutes to tell its story, which is not a bad thing. PIXAR still retains their animation and story qualities, albeit on a smaller, but not necessarily less-grand scale.

I was really struck by the fact that even though the film conveys a spooky tone and atmosphere, it is not exactly a Halloween short. I do love it when a PIXAR film can have you walk in expecting one thing, and instead, it morphs into something a little different…but not wholly without being enjoyable.

Toy Story 2 almost feels on par with the atmosphere in this short, and given that TS2 is my favorite PIXAR film, I think that’s why I enjoyed this so much. Maybe it’s also because Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack) figures so heavily into the story. PIXAR reached a new level of female characterization when they introduced Jessie 15 years ago, making her one of the most dimensional female leads they had done yet, paving the way for complex characters like Dory, and Helen Parr.

There’s also plenty of easter eggs hidden throughout the short, that will have you watching it over and over again, pausing and slowing down certain scenes.

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When it comes to extras with their home video releases, PIXAR usually does a good job, and they have given buyers of this set, plenty of extras to riffle through.

Audio CommentaryAngus MacLane shares the commentary track with Ian Megibben (the short’s Director of Photography), and Axel Geddes (the short’s editor). The guys get into several of the in-jokes of the film, as well as peek into Angus’ psyche, in which it is revealed much of his language is in that of films and their references. With all three of these guys having something to contribute, the commentary rarely ever hits a lull, and should provide some nice insight for fans of special features.

Toy Story Toons shorts – the set collects the three previously-released Toons: Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry, and Partysaurus Rex. It’s nice to have these three Toons included in this release, as they had been split up across several different film and short collection releases. The previously-heard audio commentaries to Vacation and Fry are included, but the added bonus, is the one for Rex, which hasn’t been released until now. Though it’s not as informative as the first Toons’ commentaries, it is pretty fun.

Team of Specialists – Unlike the recent film releases by Walt Disney Animation Studios, PIXAR is still willing to give little behind-the-scenes glimpses, that I’m sure will inspire some kids out there to get curious about the art of animation. Here, director Angus MacLane takes us along on one of his workdays at PIXAR…with some other small jumps back and forth through time. We get to see everything from research, to foley artists, and even a small conversation with Michael Giacchino, the composer of the short’s music (and composer of scores for films such as Up, and The Incredibles).

Deleted ScenesWith only 22 minutes of running time to go on, it was a given that some story elements would end up being cut out of the story. We are treated to 3 deleted sequences, in storyboard format, and including rough vocal tracks by the PIXAR staff. None of the sequences is really major, so it doesn’t really feel like we’re missing any major keys to the short.

Vintage Toy CommercialsWhen making Toy Story 3, PIXAR made some great vintage-style commercials of Lots-O-Huggin Bear. Here, they do the same with three other toys. I won’t say what they are for, but the childhood vibe is strong for those of you (like me) who were kids in the 80’s.

D23 Teaser – This little teaser was shown to us at 2013’s D23 Expo, following the first 10 minutes of the short. It’s nothing really major, but definitely makes you wonder what you’ll see (and the good thing is, they keep so much of the juicy stuff unshown!).

Unlike the DVD release, the Blu-Ray release also gives you the chance to load a Digital HD copy to your digital media items.

 

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I’m probably one of many who can keep a stone face and say, “I’m perfectly happy if there is never a Toy Story 4.” To me, the Toy Story Toons, and the Holiday short(s) that PIXAR Animation Studios have put out, are a wonderful way to keep the adventures of our favorite childhood playthings going, without destroying the excellent trilogy of films that the studio has put out.

Toy Story of Terror to me, is definitely money well spent. I went into it knowing as little as possible, and I hope I’ve conveyed my sense of excitement in this review, without delving too deeply into some of the film’s plot points. I strongly recommend seeing the short, and I hope once you do, you’ll be thankful that I didn’t ruin anything.

After watching the whole disc set, I will say that the $15 amount for the short, the extras, and the digital copy, is one of the most satisfying home video purchases I’ve made in awhile. Not even many full-length feature films have as much TLC given to their releases.

Btw, if you have ABC, the continuation of the Toy Story “Holiday” specials will continue in December with the release of Toy Story That Time Forgot. In case you’re wondering what may be coming, here’s a preview pic that was released of that upcoming special:

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Also of interest, Angus MacLane is a LEGO Hobbyist, who enjoys making little figures/things out of myriad LEGO pieces. You can see more of his work by clicking on the graphic below.

Movie Musings: Thoughts on Ivy Walker’s journey from M Night Shyamalan’s The Village

A few weeks ago, I put into words some of my thoughts in regards to M Night Shyamalan’s The Village, the story of a small village surrounded by dense woods in which creatures dwelled…or did they?

The release of the film was met by dissension on many fronts, from film critics and casual movie-goers alike. Though it did make over $114 million in domestic ticket sales in the Summer of 2004, many were off-put by a marketing campaign that seemed to promise PG-13 scares…and instead, put its audience into a period-drama (something the majority of horror fans are not willing to forgive so easily).

Many times, there are a number of films that will just stick in my head and make me question long after the film is over. While many could easily dismiss the film as, “A stupid Shyamalan film with a stupid twist ending,” I was moreso intrigued by a lot of the underpinnings of the story. There are some elements to the story that did make the gears in my head start turning, and others that some found to have simple endings to, may not have been such.

This led me to thinking about Ivy Walker’s journey through the film. It is in the third act of the film that her character really takes a leap of faith, and experiences things that I had never seen anyone really put down into a blog post…until now. Let’s just say like many things, if I don’t see someone else talk about it, I’ll bring it up.

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In the film, Ivy Walker (portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard) is our main protagonist. Stricken blind since she was very young, Ivy manages to find a way to have lived with her shortcomings, without letting them hinder her. In one conversation to Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), she explains that certain people have a “color” that she can sense/see. She can sense it in her father, as well as in Lucius.

It is also shown that she is willing to do what she can to affirm or comfort those around her, or support them in their time of need. However, she doesn’t stray away from wanting to be “practical” at times.

After his proposal to go into “The Town” to seek possible medicines for those in the village, Ivy has a small talk with Lucius Hunt about what he was proposing. Lucius’ proposal is not out of selfishness or attempts to escape from his home, but an attempt to do good…yet almost all the talk of his good intentions meet with roadblocks, by the Elders of the village, and even Ivy.

While she does say his intentions seem noble, she feels there really is no need. Lucius begins to counter her argument, telling how there possibly could have been medicines or people in “The Towns” when she was younger that could have saved her sight, or can now possibly help the somewhat erratic Noah Percy (Adrian Brody), who seems addled in his mind.

Ivy simply claims that she has grown to accept her loss of sight, but wishes him to stop their conversation, as it is upsetting her.

Both Ivy and Lucius have been somewhat inseparable since they were younger, with Lucius taking on somewhat of a guardian role to her after she lost her sight. Both harbor feelings for the other, but it is only under current circumstances do they finally give in and explain what they feel for each other.

One of the first signs for us is when the creatures in the woods invade the town. Ivy refuses to hide with her sister, confident that Lucius will come and make sure they are safe. Her feelings are proven right when Lucius manages to pull her into her house before one of the creatures almost reaches for her.

In the aftermath of this event, red marks are found on the doors of all of the houses. Ivy’s father Edward Walker (William Hurt) claims that he feels their actions were not of malice, but that it was a sign that they felt threatened. It is after this event, that Lucius comes forward, claiming that he feels he is responsible for the attack, as he had wandered a ways into the forest past the safety areas. After these events, Lucius then stops his proposals to leave…and instead, redirects a proposal onto Ivy in an indirect way, when they discuss what has happened, and confess their feelings for each other.

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The village then has to deal with its first murder, when Noah Percy stabs Lucius, most likely out of some form of unexplained jealousy that Ivy and Lucius are to be wed. Ivy is the first one to find Lucius’ body, but it is unmoving, and she cannot see his “color.”

All the medical supplies the village has cannot possibly save Lucius, and it is in a quiet moment with her father, that Ivy proposes to go to “The Towns,” in hopes to find medicines that can save him. It is a turn-around from the Ivy Walker who before seemed willing to just let things happen as they fell (her blindness, Noah’s addled mentality), but now that tragedy has struck close to her, she is willing to propose and do what Lucius had thought just days before.

Edward goes against the rules of the village, and gives Ivy his consent to go, but not before he reveals that the creatures and the drills the town goes through, are all ‘farce,’ intents to keep the villages from going to “The Towns.” Edward does tell Ivy that “there did exist rumor of creatures in the woods,” information he gleaned in a history book he once read.

Ivy is then given a pocket watch for payment methods, as well as a sheet with medical information on it. She is then assigned two guides, to go with her: her sister’s husband, Christop (Fran Kranz), and another man named Finton (Michael Pitt).

The group does not get far when Christop cannot bring himself to go beyond the borders of the village. Ivy then produces a bag of rocks, that she claims will protect them, but Christop refuses, wondering why he’s never heard of these rocks before. Ivy then attempts to tell him it is safe, but Christop worriedly asks that if this is so, why do they wear their yellow cloaks, the “safe” color? In the end, he does not go with them.

Ivy and Finton make their way into the woods before setting up camp as night and a rain settles in. The next day, Finton is unable to go further. After apologizing to Ivy and leaving back for the village, she gets rid of the bag of rocks, and continues on her journey.

She almost ends up falling into a pit, just barely clinging to the edge. After climbing out, she panics when she realizes that her cloak is covered up. Remembering how her father said that there “did exist rumor of creatures in the woods,” her conditioned mind immediately gets her to start trying to remove the mud from the yellow-colored robe.

After some time, Ivy’s walking stick finally breaks, but as she snaps the stick, she can hear snapping branches nearby. It isn’t long before she senses a presence, and hears a growling sound. We see what Ivy cannot: it appears to look like the red-cloaked figures we saw earlier.

Ivy tells herself that “it is not real,” but the thing growls and lunges at her! She frantically begins to run, unsure where she is going, until she finds a log near the pit she almost fell into. She then positions herself near the pit, and when the creature lunges for her, she shifts aside, and it falls in.

We soon find out that the creature was Noah in disguise using one of the Elder’s costumes. However, the fall has injured him and he soon stops moving. Of course, Ivy has no idea it is Noah, and since he doesn’t have a “color” she can see, she simply assumes it was one of the “rumored creatures” of the woods. Once it sounds like it has stopped moving, Ivy picks up a large branch, and uses it as a new walking stick, as she continues on her quest.

After the encounter, Shyamalan had intended to include a scene that was eventually cut from the film. Commentary about this scene mentions that it was cut because it slowed the pace of the story, but I think it would have helped strengthen the thought of how Ivy now was willing to believe that there were creatures in the woods.

As she continues on, Ivy suddenly hears numerous howling sounds around her in the wind…which turn out to be windpipes hung in the trees by the Elders, to simulate the creature’s sounds. The multitude of sound almost makes it like the creatures are upset at her for killing one of their own. In her defense, Ivy cries out into the air: “It is for love that I am here! I beg you, to let me pass! It is for love!”

It is then that the wind dies down, and the pipes cease their wailing, leading Ivy to believe that the creatures have retreated.

Eventually, Ivy finds a path, and follows it, which leads her to a large wall. Climbing over it, she then finds herself on the outside of the Walker Forest Preserve, wherein is housed the village.

A patrolman for the preserve named Kevin stops Ivy, and he questions her. Thinking he is from “The Towns,” Ivy’s talking to him is one of timidity, as she asks him for help to get the medicines she needs. However, as Kevin continues to talk to her, she explains that she can hear within his voice “kindness,” something she did not expect from people in “The Towns.”

Kevin retrieves the medicines that Ivy needs, and using a ladder from a nearby guard station, helps her back into the preserve.

Ivy then manages to return to the village without any complications. Upon arriving, she tells the others about the creature she encountered, before bringing the medicines to Lucius’ bedside, ending her journey (and ours, as the film draws to a close).

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One thing I heard from a lot of people was that what Ivy learned from her father, was enough for her to just blow the whole cover on what the Elders in the village are doing, but I still am of the belief that Ivy will find some way to keep up the farce (and possibly bring Lucius into the game as well, if he does survive).

Edward Walker told Ivy that all these things were to protect the village, and in a sense, to keep them safe. Ivy is not a vindictive person, and one has to assume she still holds some level of respect for her father.

One interesting thing kept out of the film from the original script, is right when Ivy, Christop, and Finton begin their journey. One line in the script, had Ivy mentioning that her escorts have also been told of the “farce.” It seems that Shyamalan excised this from the story, to moreso show how Ivy has still intended to keep that part of the lie a secret.

Some have also questioned just why Edward would send his blind daughter on this quest. One has to assume that he figured without her sight, she would still remain ‘pure’ to the outside world. While her ears would probably experience many different sounds, he figured if anything, she would not be able to discern the strangeness of the world outside of the village, and the woods.

It may also be the possibility, that he may have harbored some thought that she might not make it back. After all, her guides eventually turned tail and ran back to the village out of fear. In a rather morbid way, maybe the father was willing to sacrifice his daughter’s life, rather than have her live a life of heartache if Lucius died.

Though her father has told her about the “farce,” it is shown that Ivy herself still can’t just shake the fears that have been part of her life since she was little. It’s like telling someone, “there’s nothing in the dark.” It’s one thing to tell it to them…but they have to eventually believe it themselves.

We see her panic when she finds her cloak is covered in mud, covering up the color that is said to be “the good color.” The other moment comes when she encounters Noah in the costume. Ivy surely realizes that noone else from the village would be out this far, so her mind makes the only logical thought: this is one of the “rumored creatures” her father told her about! If that wasn’t enough to frighten her, the fact that it growls and lunges at her, is more than enough to make her believe.

When she returns to the village, I always felt that this would be the last time she would ever attempt to leave it. There was no other purpose for her to leave other than to save Lucius. To Ivy’s thinking, there are still creatures in those woods, and though she did meet someone from “The Towns” who helped her, whose to say the next person may not be the kind of horrible people the elders say live in those places, and took the lives of their loved ones?

In the beginning, it is shown that Lucius Hunt was a young man who possessed great courage, but ultimately chose to simply quell his desires for the betterment of the village. Ivy Walker is a young woman who though caring for others, was able to pull herself together to save someone she loved. And in the end, that now is all she seems willing to live for. Not truth, not lies: love.

*Several of the things I’ve talked about regarding the original script from The Village, I gleaned from a site called Horror Lair. If you’d like to read the original script, just follow the link: The Village (Script with Original Ending) *

Retro Recaps: Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary Celebration – When Woody Boyd visited The Haunted Mansion

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

In the last few years, one of the shows that I found myself binge-watching on Netflix, has been Cheers. I wasn’t an avid watcher of the show during its initial run (I was moreso into cartoons at the time), but looking at it now, it’s a rather comforting piece of 80’s/early 90’s material, about a bunch of losers in a Boston bar, going through the trials and tribulations of their adult lives.

As a youngster, the first indication I really had about this show, was when most of the cast appeared on the special regarding Mickey’s 60th Birthday. After being stripped of his identity, Mickey takes a stroll through NBC sitcom-land, eventually ending up in the Cheers bar.

Writer Ken Levine told in his blog how the writers for the special eventually came to him and several others on the show, when they couldn’t make the characters gel properly. They were rewarded for their efforts with a swag bag full of Disney merch (including some films on VHS!).

As I mentioned in my Retro Recap of the birthday special, it was not the last time the Cheers gang would end up in a Disney-related special. In the Summer of 1990, Disneyland celebrated its 35th anniversary with a television special hosted by Tony Danza. Though after the big intro rolled, where did the show begin?

…in a familiar little bar in Boston, Massachusetts.

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As the special starts, we see Norm Peterson (George Wendt), Carla Tortelli-Lebec (Rhea Perlman), and Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger) watching female wrestling on the bar’s television. As the match continues, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and his wife Lilith Sternin-Crane (Bebe Neuwirth) walk in, inquiring about the match.

Just then, Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson) comes out of the bar’s office, requesting to watch the Disneyland TV special (we’re one level away from television inception here!). Needless to say, Norm, Carla, and Cliff find Woody’s taste in television programming to be boring (it’s rather funny to see Carla on the side of both Norm and Cliff for a change).

Woody defends his decision, claiming “everyone loves Disney,” though even Frasier is unsure if Woody can sway the group in the bar away from “the knockout girls of wrestling.”

Hearing the word “knockout,” Cliff then steers the conversation to Disney heroines, when he proclaims that Cinderella was attractive. Norm claims he used to agree with Cliff, but with the recent release of The Little Mermaid, he is now an Ariel fan, citing the red hair.

Frasier chimes in, claiming that the most beautiful Disney character to him, is Snow White: “Skin white as snow, hair black as night, lips red as blood…wait a minute, I married her!”

Needless to say, Lilith adds her own coda on this: “With a little Wicked Queen thrown in, just for fun.”

The conversation then returns to Disneyland, and Woody begins to recall when he and a few friends went there when he was 10 years old, on opening day. Of course, this being Woody, he doesn’t quite get his facts straight, with Lilith correcting Woody that given his age, he wasn’t even born when the park opened (in 1955).

Addle-brained as ever, Woody keeps insisting he was there opening day, given how clean the place was, the Mickey-shaped balloons, and getting to meet Mickey Mouse. Of course, the Cheers regulars insist to Woody that the park is always like that.

Needless to say, Woody’s innocent view of Disneyland is now a little shaken up.

“All this time, I thought my experience was so special, and now I find out it’s just plain, old, ordinary everyday stuff,” says Woody. “Everyone goes out to Disneyland, meets Mickey, and sees the parade, and goes in the haunted house, and falls in love with the girl of their dreams in a dark corridor.”

The last line immediately hooks the others, as that is definitely not an everyday Disneyland experience. When they pry to know more, Woody then begins to tell his story.

On his visit to Disneyland, Woody and his friends had been on most of the park’s rides, but had not yet gone on The Haunted Mansion. His friends eagerly want to go on it, but Woody tries to get them to go on the Tea Cups in Fantasyland instead. Of course, this causes his “friends” to ridicule him, claiming they’re going into The Haunted Mansion whether he comes or not.

Woody tags along with them, but grows scared once he gets to the main corridor, with its eerie portraits, and flashes of lightning out the nearby windows. When his friends make fun of him, Woody insists he isn’t scared, and they do what most “good friends” do in situations like this: run off, and leave him to go on the ride…alone!

He slowly makes his way through the main corridor, but hesitates again when he gets to the Doom Buggy ride vehicles. The attendant (played with horror-movie host relish by Charles Fleischer), doesn’t help Woody’s fear, with his wide-eyes and spooky eyebrows.

Woody attempts to leave, when he bumps into a little girl in a pink dress. Seeing that he seems scared, she offers to go on the ride with him, claiming she’s been on it plenty of times.

The two then board one of the Doom Buggies, and begin their trip through the mansion. Naturally, Woody is a little spooked at first, but the little girl is just enjoying all that the ride has to offer, from the dead trying to rise from their coffins, to the myriad ghosts haunting the main ballroom.

In a rather strange moment, as they watch the ghostly dancers the little girl asks Woody if he’d like to dance. They are immediately whisked from the Doom Buggy…

…and down among the apparitions. After the dance, the two return to the Doom Buggy, and continue on with the ride.

Eventually the ride ends, and Woody admits that he actually did have fun.  The girl then gives him a kiss on the cheek, and admits she had a fun time as well.

Woody eagerly tells how he’d love for her to meet his friends. He glances away for a moment, but when he turns back, the little girl is gone! Looking around, the only thing he finds is a pink ribbon on the ground.

Picking it up, he walks outside, where he encounters his friends, who apologize for leaving him behind. However, he claims that it is ok. Turning back to look at the mansion, he is surprised to see the little girl, standing on an upper-level balcony. As Woody waves to her, she waves back…and disappears!

Of course, Woody’s childhood friends wonder who he is waving at, as the young boy smiles, and caresses the ribbon the girl left behind.

It is then that Woody comes out of his flashback, with several of his current friends remarking that his story was really touching, with Frasier claiming that everyone’s reaction to it, shows that they’re all “big kids at heart.”

Needless to say, Woody’s story has made the group forget about female wrestling, and Woody turns the channel to the park’s TV special.

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Of course, there’s more to the rest of the special, but since I’m in a Cheers mood, I figured it only natural to cover this segment. There are several others within the special, featuring the likes of Ernest P Worrell (Jim Varney) going through some old home movies on his visit to the park, as well as Miss Piggy telling of her experience getting to be Cinderella in the park’s parade. There were also appearances by Ronald Reagan, and even Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

At the time I saw the special, I still had never been on The Haunted Mansion. It wasn’t until sometime in the 90’s, did I finally experience it. I the ride to be like a dark-comedy, straddling that line between creepy, and kooky. It’s almost like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: the ghosts and ghouls here are just having a good time, and aren’t really intending to harm the guests. In fact, maybe that’s why they decided to theme the mansion around the Nightmare film every Christmas.

The segment on the Disneyland special does show the limited budget at times. If one estimates that Woody Boyd was also born in 1961 like Woody Harrelson, and he was 10 in the flashback, then he would have been in the park around 1971. Though in the flashback, young Woody and his friends are wearing clothing more suited for the 1980’s than the early 1970’s (I had a number of shirts like young Woody had when I was that age).

When it comes to what is inside the Haunted Mansion, the filmmakers definitely take some liberties. For example, one cannot exit the Doom Buggy and dance with the ghosts…but as we saw, the little girl helped make this exception to the ride’s rule. Looking over the scene, it looks like they actually filmed that sequence inside the actual attraction (though the ghosts were added in post-production, of course).

I also never encountered any wise-cracking attendants like Charles Fleischer plays (FYI: Charles is the voice of Roger Rabbit!). In fact, Fleischer is the only other cast member in the entire segment, playing both the Doom Buggie attendant, and in a hard-to-pinpoint role, a man inside a suit of armor in the ride (note: that definitely doesn’t happen during the ride!).

The interior footage in much of the special,  is also made up of some of the original stock footage shot when the ride was first introduced, as one can sense a difference in the quality of the images.

When going over the credits of the piece, I was curious if any of the child actors in the flashback went on to bigger and better things.

in the case of the kids playing young Woody and the ghost girl, Brandon Maciel and Erinn Canavan appear to have acted in just a few more movies and television episodes, before disappearing from the realms of the big-screen. The boys playing Woody’s friends (portrayed by Chris Demetral and Billy O’Sullivan) lasted a ways beyond, doing TV and video game work into the 21st century.

Though the Cheers segment is credited to Cheers’ own co-creator and director, James Burrows, it’s most likely a given that the flashback sequences at Disneyland were directed by the special’s main director: John Landis. Yes, the man who directed Animal House and An American Werewolf in London directed the majority of this special. In fact, there’s something rather familiar to Landis’ Werewolf work in how he directs much of the interior scenes for his segment here.

Of course, if you’re a Cheers fan, you might be wondering about the bit as it pertains to continuity within the show. I think in truth, it exists as one of those stories outside the main continuity, much like the 60th Birthday bit for Mickey Mouse.

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I will admit the fictional story of a young Woody Boyd encountering a mischievous ghost girl on The Haunted Mansion did capture my youthful imagination, but there are plenty of other stories about ghosts and ghouls at Disneyland out there (though most of those, I’ll leave for you to discover on your own).

There have been reports over the years of people seeing spirits in Disneyland, and many wanting to take up the Ghost Host’s offer that the 999 ghosts within the mansion, are always looking for one more.

Some people are so willing to never leave the Happiest Place on Earth, that when they die, they ask to be cremated, and their ashes scattered within the park. Of course, The Walt Disney Company doesn’t allow or encourage such things, but there have been all sorts of stories, including a story I recall in the past 10 years, where people were shaking ashen remains out of their pant legs as the Doom Buggies in the Haunted Mansion went on their way.

Needless to say, there are now special procedures for this type of things, and this can lead to quick ride closures while the remains are cleaned up.

…of course, it’s fairly certain, something of those poor unfortunate souls…still…remains!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!

Movie Musings: Thoughts on M Night Shyamalan’s The Village

During the release of Signs in 2002, there was a cover story in Newsweek, showing M Night Shyamalan, with the headline: The Next Spielberg. 2 years later, that headline would probably pop up in the minds of several, when the director’s film The Village was released…and many began to doubt the filmmaker’s techniques and ideas.

The director’s fourth major film The Village (originally titled The Woods, until it was found another film already had that as its working title), was released in late July of 2004. Like the previous films of his, The Village would rely on a very cryptic marketing campaign. We were told of a set of rules, posters that showed people wearing yellow clothing, and large red swoops of paint, splayed across wooden doors.

I still recall that upon its release, Roger Ebert gave the film 1 star, calling it “a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn.” Many others weren’t kind to The Village either, with even the 4th entry in the Scary Movie film series, taking some cheap shots at its plot and setting.

Looking back at the film 10 years after its release, I had some thoughts of my own that I wanted to get out in this blog posting. I will admit it’s not as concrete, but then again, maybe its thoughts of the film itself that has caused me to ramble through this post.

*Note: This posting does get into discussing some of the inner workings of the film. If you have not seen the film, or wish to not be spoiled on certain areas of the film, it is best to turn away.*

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A statement on a cowed society?

In the wake of September 11th, there were many who felt that those in higher office were using the fear of unknown terrorist threats, to take hold of the public’s mind. The idea being that if people feared something enough, they could just give over their basic freedoms without question, for the sake of protection.

Some even talked about this in regards to The Village. The community’s elders are a group who have suffered horrible human loss in the modern world. Many years ago, they had all met at a grief counseling, struggling to move on. A solution was posed by Edward Walker (William Hurt), a man whose wealthy father had been murdered. A history professor, Walker suggested the idea of building a confined community within a nature preserve owned by his Father’s company.

To keep the habitat simple, it would take on the appearance of a 19th century village, and be devoid of many modern luxuries. The hope was that the community would be able to keep its sense of innocence, something that the modern world had robbed many of its members of.

This idea captured the minds of several, and soon, small groups of families ventured into the preserve, vowing never to go back to “The Towns,” feeling their insulation within would prevent further grief and heartbreak.

They even perpetuated a lie that within the nearby woods, lurked dangerous creatures, that will not allow anyone through to “the towns.” And even if one were to get to the towns, they would find a place of greedy, horrible, wicked people that would do you just as much harm. The lie is deeply ingrained into the minds of the youth, and almost none want to leave the safety of the village.

The only major thoughts of leaving, are those brought up by a young man named Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), who has seen disease and death come down on numerous people in the village. Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) lost her sight due to inadequate medicines, and Noah Percy (Adrian Brody) has some mental deficiencies that seem to lead to violent tendencies. Though even with his intentions being for good, Lucius’ request to leave is denied. Even when he attempts to venture a ways into the nearby woods, the village is set upon by the hooded creatures, and markings are left on the doors. Fearing further retribution, Lucius then gives up his attempts, proving how well the Elders’ fear tactics have worked.

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A marketing campaign based on lies?

While the threat of possibly harmful extra-terrestrials seemed to be hinted at in the trailers for Signs, the marketing materials put out by Touchstone Pictures for The Village, almost made many assume that the director had moved into PG-13 level slasher territory with his film.

The previews showed quick cuts of creatures rushing and roaring around the village and the woods. Numerous materials told of three rules to follow, and one tagline even stated, The Truce Has Been Broken.

However, in my time working at a movie theater, I sat in on several crowds, and could definitely sense a vibe from those in the room, that they were expecting a by-the-numbers horror film. In that sense, that this broken truce would send the villagers fleeing into the woods in terror, where they would be picked off one-by-one, by these creatures.

Then again, could this have also been some sort of internal marketing “twist,” that the marketing campaign was, like many of the things in the film…a lie?

One of things the film won once award season came about, was the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards‘ “Worst Film” award, beating out nominees such as Van Helsing, Open Water, and Alien Versus Predator. I always assumed this win was some form of revenge against the film, for promising to be a horror film, and then turning out to be something else entirely…and if there’s one thing most horror film fans don’t like, it’s being promised horror, and getting a period drama.

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Beautiful Vistas of a Time Gone Past.

If one looks at The Village as a period piece, then the cinematography is something that will definitely stick in people’s minds. Unlike his previous features, Shyamalan this time relied on a new cinematographer: Roger Deakins. Deakins’ style of filming environments is rather iconic, as he can really bring audiences into all sorts of environments. Deakins has been a regular of Joel and Ethan Coens’ films, and one can’t help but wonder if these may have caused Shyamalan to call upon him to work on The Village.

There also is inspiration in the works of Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth’s landscapes and compositions seem to be the inspiration for many scenes in the film, both inside and out. In fact, one of the structures in the village is actually based on the Wyeth painting, titled Open Shed (as seen in the upper left image). This would serve as the inspiration for the home where Lucius Hunt and his mother live (the structure in the lower-left image).

 

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Award-nominated music.

Almost half a year later, I think many were surprised when The Village began showing up in several awards campaigns, not just for Bryce Dallas Howard’s turn as Ivy Walker, but for James Newton Howard’s score.

Howard is not near the top of my favorite composers, but his music can often convey the mood and tone of a piece wonderfully. Much of the work he does for The Village reminded me of his work on 1999’s Snow Falling on Cedars. In that film, his music gives a tonal atmosphere that seems to permeate the environment, making it almost a character itself.

He does the same with The Village, with the forlorn sound of the piano and stringed instruments hinting almost at a touch of sadness through the small village of Covington.Front-and-center through most of the pieces is Hilary Hahn’s violin, which to me, just seems to capture a feeling of fall time. It’s often when the weather turns colder in the month of October, that the soundtrack becomes one that I listen to most often.

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“Those We Don’t Speak Of”

In the Harry Potter series, many of those in the Wizarding World first spoke of Lord Voldemort, with the title “He who must not be named.” A similar theme would be somewhat employed for the creatures said to be lurking in the woods surrounding the village.

These menacing creatures were a major part of the marketing campaign, and I remember first-viewing audiences murmuring when they saw the red-cloaked figures flexing their long spindly ‘claws.’

Originally, the concept for these creatures was something more hulking and bear-like, with a skull-like head. Early conceptual miniatures made Shyamalan think this was the way to go, but once the final concept was rendered in full-size, he saw that the concept was rather absurd:

Yeah, it looks kind of scary in this still, but the locomotion of the human legs underneath, made it look like some kids putting on their mother’s fur coat and attempting to be scary. After seeing the creature on location in testing, it was decided instead, to make the ‘creatures’ clad in red cloaks, with sticks and bones coming off them. With much of the body covered by a red cloak, it left the viewer’s imagination to make up just what was underneath.

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An altered ending.

M Night’s production of The Village was not without issue. A copy of the script leaked online months before the film’s release, and word quickly reached the media outlets that a portion of the set was re-built after main unit filming, to possibly film a revamped ending. In fact, the original scripted ending was much different.

Instead of Ivy encountering a patrolman for the Walker Forest Preserve, she is almost hit by a truck driver, who then offers to help her, claiming that the supplies she needs are in a kit with him.

After giving her the supplies, the scene then cuts to the truck driver at a gas station some miles away, along the fenced-in area. When the driver inquires to the old couple running the station who lives on the other side of the large wall, they tell him noone does. It’s a private preserve, 72,000 acres-worth, only for animals (with a provision that airplanes are not allowed to fly over it). As well, they tell the driver that it’s all owned by a private estate, as the owner’s only son, disappeared 25 years before.

What’s really interesting is that once the driver leaves, he looks over and sees the old couple laughing about something, and then says what would have been the lasts lines of the film:

“Crazy f—ing white people.”

With that last line, he’d go on his way, driving off into the distance as the fence along the roadway seemed to never end.

That line could almost be seen as him saying what the audience would be thinking regarding Edward Walker, and the village contained within that Forest Preserve. It’s never specified just who the truck driver is, but one can’t help but wonder if Shyamalan meant it to be his Hitchcockian cameo for the film.

Instead of the scene described above, the final scene in the film instead shows how Ivy managed to make her way back to the Village, where she told how she had encountered a creature that had been killed: in this case, Noah in one of the creature costumes. Lost on many viewers, it seems that Shyamalan intended for this encounter to reinforce Ivy’s fear of the woods. Though her father told her the creatures were not real, having “encountered” one by herself, may now make her think the elder’s costumes were  moreso part of a system to protect the village from the real creatures that do exist out there.

One interesting moment comes at the end when Noah’s parents realize their son is now dead. Mr Walker then proclaims that Noah’s “sacrifice” has actually helped them, in that his encountering Ivy has helped convince her to not attempt to wander beyond the Village’s borders again. As well, the death of Noah will help reinforce the fear among the unknowing within the Village, and help prevent further transgressions.

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I was surprised in recent weeks when discussing film, several friends and I began to talk about directors, and M Night’s The Village did come up, and we all agreed that it was just not as horrible as people had said.

Maybe that is where the fault with the film lies: there is too much that M Night wants to do here, and as such, he cannot figure out how to hold all these things together. As a period piece, it felt like it could have held up well, but when the film started layering a number of extra things into the folds of the story, it really began to come apart at the seams. It’s definitely chock full of different ideas, that probably could have been saved for other films down the line.

Many hoped that the director would bounce back after The Village, but each film that Shyamalan has worked on since then, has met with ridicule by numerous people. I remember when a trailer for the film Devil was in theaters. The audience seemed genuinely intrigued, but when the words, “From the mind of M Night Shyamalan” appeared, a ripple of laughter went through the theaters. And a few years later when his film After Earth came out, Sony Pictures didn’t even display his name on any of the major advertising material. I have never seen a studio do a marketing campaign like that.

I just cannot put The Village in the realm of worst films out there, but this is largely my opinion. There have been other films I have made it through that I vowed to never again watch (like Silent Hill: Revelation, and Batman and Robin). With M Night Shyamalan’s The Village, there is just something there that is contained under several layers, that still has haunted my thoughts almost 10 years later. The period setting, James Newton Howard’s score, the haunting turn Bryce Dallas Howard gives as the innocent-yet-believing Ivy Walker. There’s more good than bad here, than many are willing to give the film credit for. However, while it is passable in my eyes, I do feel that the stigma it has garnered since its release is somewhat unwarranted. But you know how most horror film fans are: when you don’t give them the shocks and scares, you’re practically dead to them.