Archives for March 2015

The 32nd Annual 24-Hour Ohio Science Fiction Marathon – One Man’s Recap

The 32nd Annual 24-Hour Ohio Science Fiction Marathon

marathon_logoby Aaron Einhorn
For over two decades of my life, one event has strongly resonated throughout the spring, and that is the annual 24-hour Science Fiction movie marathon in Central Ohio. When the event started it was located at the Drexel North in Clintonville on the North Side of Ohio. I wasn’t able to attend the marathon for the first few years of the event’s existence, because I was a wee lad, so the first time I attended a marathon was the Sci-Fi Marathon’s sister event, the Horror Marathon in October. I first came out for the Night of the Living Drexel 2 in 1989, and my first sci-fi marathon wouldn’t be until the following spring when It Came From the Drexel North 4 occurred on April 22, 1990.

Because of various life-related events (working at the Ohio Renaissance Festival, my brother’s wedding, having a wife who likes to do Halloween-related activities), my attendance at the Horror Marathons has been sporadic throughout the years, but I haven’t missed a Science Fiction marathon since 1990, even as the event has travelled from one theatre to another. (And yes, you may realize if the 4th Annual Event was 25 years ago, but this was the 32nd Annual Marathon, something weird has happened. We’ll just point out that it involved time-travel, and the thirteenth, fourteenth, sixteenth and twenty-second marathons have gone missing, although we did get the fifteenth to re-appear in 2005 – although it pushed the twenty-second off into the vortex.)

This past weekend, March 14-15, 2015, the 32nd Annual(ish) event happened at the Drexel East in Bexley, Ohio. And I will say without reservation that it ended up being one of my favorite years on record.

The Line-Up

12:00 – ALIEN
2:20 – DR WHO AND THE DALEKS
4:30 – The Midwest Premiere of SHADOWS ON THE WALL
6:40 – 32nd Annual Costume Contest
7:00 – BARBARELLA
9:20 – The Ohio Premiere of TIME LAPSE
11:40 – BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT
2:00 – EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY
4:00 – LUCY
5:40 – HARDWARE
8:00 – THE WASP WOMAN
9:45 – ALIENS

Nice, solid line-up with two premieres, three legitimate sci-fi classics, some serious goofy cheese, and at least one film from before 1960. I knew going in to the event that either BARBARELLA or SHADOWS ON THE WALL would be sacrificed to the gods of getting a solid dinner consumed, but overall, it was a line-up I was really looking forward to.

alien_posterALIEN

I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality. – Ash

To a modern audience, it is astonishing how much time this film takes to simply let the action breathe. There is a ton of gorgeous cinematography at work here, from shots of the Nostromo, to views of the alien planet, to extended views of the Space Jockey. To be sure, there are elements in this film that don’t work as well with the passage of time. The “computers of the future” are incredibly dated, for one thing, and some of the puppetry and suit effects for the xenomorph (not ever called that in the film) are showing their age.

But who cares? The tension in this film is tangible, and the adrenaline surges when the alien does actually attack leave your heart racing. The performances hold up as 100% authentic, and the design work looks lifted straight from the page of HR Geiger.

There is a reason that ALIEN routinely makes “Top Whatever” lists for both science fiction and horror. It’s probably been close to a decade since I saw this movie, but I will not go that long without watching it again. Even better, since it is featured on The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Mira is interested in watching it. I’m not sure if it might not be too scary for her, but I’m willing to give it a try.

drwhoandthedaleks_posterDR WHO AND THE DALEKS

Destroy. The. Thalls! – Daleks

I’m a fairly serious recent Whovian. I’ve been aware of DOCTOR WHO my entire life, but never really got in to the classic series. I watched the Fox/BBC TV “Event” with the Eighth Doctor, and enjoyed it enough at the time that if it had gone to series, I probably would have stuck with it, but, of course, it didn’t.

Instead, I got involved with the Doctor starting with Christopher Eccelston in 2005, and have been a loyal fan since then. I’ve gone back and watched a handful of older DOCTOR WHO serials, and have listened to a lot of the radio dramas starring the former Doctors, but had never ventured over to the American film starring Peter Cushing. So, I was looking forward to checking it out.

I was unprepared for a Doctor who was pretty much completely ineffectual, not an alien, and actually named Doctor Who. But that didn’t keep me from being amused at the film. Quite probably I wasn’t amused in the ways that the film intended – in fact, I was more annoyed than amused by Ian’s ineffectiveness – but I still managed to smile through most of the movie (although the mountain climbing scene was more exhausting to watch than it would have been to actually climb a mountain). I won’t be rushing out to see this again, but as a fan of the Doctor, I’m glad to have seen it once.

Daleks manage to somehow still be both completely goofy as villains, and terrifying.

shadowsonthewall_posterSHADOWS ON THE WALL

This ended up being my dinner break, so I have nothing to say here. When I got back, people seemed to have enjoyed it. So, here’s the plot summary for you to decide yourself how you feel about it.

Palmer Marshall, an engineering student with anxiety issues, builds a miraculous device capable of reaching far beyond our understanding of known space. But in breaking this new boundary Palmer and his friends have opened a Pandora’s Box with far-reaching and unforeseen consequences. THE SOCIAL NETWORK meets the X-FILES in this stark and snappy sci-fi suspense.

Costume Contest

I have a love/hate relationship with the costume contest. I enjoy watching it each year, and I love that wit and timing can sometimes count more than costume quality. On the other hand, as a fairly dedicated costumer who puts a lot of effort into his costumes, the fact that I’ve seen people who put a lot of time and thought into their costumes lose to someone with a blanket occasionally really bums me out.

(I didn’t mind at all losing to Zap Brannigan. I was annoyed about losing to a blanket.)

This year offered a better-than-normal group of good costumes that also involved some good timing and wit, and I’m very glad that Barbarella – the later years, Bill and Ted, and the Seventeenth Doctor all ended up at the top of the heap. I felt bad about Jack Sparrow – and actually think he might’ve done better if he’d used a better line from the film.

barbarella_posterBARBARELLA

An angel does not make love. An angel is love. – Pygar

Apparently being married to a director can get you in to a science fiction film where you end up changing your clothing a lot, getting naked a lot, and somehow managing to still succeed in defeating an evil scientist and a world controlled by an evil matmos.

I’ve never completely understood the appeal of this film. It’s goofy, the effects are beyond dated, and Ms. Fonda isn’t even all that hot – which to many people seems to be the justification for the film’s existence.

I feel like I should have a fondness for this film, and I was actually looking forward to seeing it again. but once it started, I just felt bored throughout. When you find yourself wishing that Durand-Durand would just kill the heroine, it’s a sign that the movie is, perhaps, not hitting its mark.

In retrospect, I kind of wish I’d stayed through SHADOWS ON THE WALL and gone to dinner here.

timelapse_posterTIME LAPSE

Cardinal rule. Don’t f*** with time. – Jasper

I knew very little about this one going in, by choice. I had read the basic synopsis on Wikipedia, but chose not to watch any of the trailers. I was therefore unprepared to see that one of our three leads was none other than Danielle Panabaker, whose turn as Caitlin Snow is so charmingly adorkable on THE FLASH that it’s one of the delights of my weekly TV viewing.

I love time travel movies, especially ones that keep you guessing and that are consistent with their laws of casualty and sequence. The best episodes of DOCTOR WHO manage it, and we’ve had a few films throughout the decades that do it really well (TIMECRIMES, PRIMER, HAPPY ACCIDENTS), and then we have those films where Time Travel is a hand-wave for whatever weird stuff they feel like throwing at us. I am very happy that TIME LAPSE falls into the category of ones that did it well.

That said, a consistent time-travel plot doesn’t mean anything if you don’t care about the characters, and I really did here. Jasper, Callie and Finn are all fascinating characters, and watching them change and become corrupted by what the machine can show them is incredibly engaging.

Solid performances, an engaging plot, authentic tension and a consistent time-travel mechanic all put TIME LAPSE on the top of my list for this event, and I am highly recommending it to my friends.

bladerunnerfinalcut_posterBLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die. – Roy Batty

BLADE RUNNER is not one of those science fiction films that I am completely in love with, and in some ways this feeling is exacerbated by the numerous different “versions” of the film that circulate. When someone says “I love this movie,” one’s response shouldn’t be to ask which version. With that in mind, I wasn’t all that excited about the “Final Cut” showing.

To be sure, the film is stronger without Harrison Ford’s voiceovers, and the additional footage of the unicorn dream and the violence isn’t awful – but I didn’t find myself caring all that much about seeing this version over the Director’s Cut, and in some ways I don’t even mind the U.S. Domestic Release.

The digital restoration, on the other hand, was incredibly impressive, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prettier version of BLADE RUNNER. But maybe it was simply because of the fact that we were edging past midnight, but I simply wasn’t as moved by the film as I have been in the past.

earthgirlsareeasy_posterEARTH GIRLS ARE EASY

I just want to say that being chosen as this month’s Miss August is like a compliment I’ll remember for as long as I can. Right now I’m a freshman in my fourth year at UCLA, but my goal is to become a veterinarian, ’cause I love children. – Candy

After the heaviness of BLADE RUNNER, this was the perfect palate cleanser. There is no part of this movie that isn’t charming in its own goofy, ridiculous way.

Now, this movie is so eighties it hurts, and the fact that it was MTV produced and existed as much to push Julie Brown as to actually make a good comedy is only barely disguised.

But who cares? Sometimes all you want is a film that is fun and goofy and charming, and EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY delivers in spades. The songs are upbeat and catchy. The aliens are ridiculous and silly but still charming in their own way, and Goldblum and Davis always have fantastic chemistry together on-screen.

While certainly not a movie that will be high on my “Oh man, I need to see this again” list, I don’t think I would ever object to watching EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY if I was channel surfing and came across it, and I’d be happy to see it grace the marathon screen again in a decade or so.

lucy_posterLUCY

Time is the only true unit of measure. It gives proof to the existence of matter. Without time, we don’t exist. – Lucy

Scarlett Johansson is one of my biggest Hollywood crushes, and I consider it nothing short of criminal that Marvel/Disney has not yet made a BLACK WIDOW film starring her. She’s gorgeous, the camera loves her, and she’s a very capable actress. Despite all this, I never got around to seeing LUCY when it was in the theatre, so I was really looking forward to checking this out.

The premise is completely goofy – in that we actually use all of our brain. But if you’re willing to handwave that, the movie is actually pretty enjoyable. To be sure, there are some ridiculous plot holes (namely “Why does she need the drug from the dealers? With the access to information she has, surely she could have just synthesized it herself.”) and in many ways it never really feels like the stakes are high – because once she starts unlocking her abilities, Lucy really isn’t threatened by any mundane threats.

So, call it more a philosophical film about mankind’s potential, mixed with some Michael Bay-esque action sequences. And in that regard, I think it succeeds. Again, not on the list of movies I feel a need to rewatch soon, but not a movie I regret having seen.

hardware_posterHARDWARE

Machines don’t understand sacrifice – neither do morons. – Chief

HARDWARE originally showed at It Came From The Drexel North 5 in 1991, which was my fourth one of these twenty-four hour events, and at the time, I think I was too exhausted to really be able to get into the film. I remember thinking that the lead female was sexy enough that I understood why she was the object of obsession of her neighbor. I also remember thinking that I didn’t care about any of the characters in the film at all, and that the cyborg was kind of goofy. Even with the post-apocalyptian overlay, I couldn’t see a reason to watch HARDWARE over THE TERMINATOR.

Unfortunately, the passage of time hasn’t done much – if anything – to change my mind. Maybe it was still because of the lateness of when it was shown, but I still just didn’t find myself caring at all during the film. Stacey Travis is still hot, but I still didn’t care.

It’s far from the worst film we’ve ever shown at the Marathon, and I’m not at all upset that it aired. It gave me a good reason to decide “To heck with it,” and close my eyes and catch a few winks. But I don’t ever need to see it again, and retrospect, I should’ve left and gone for a walk to get some breakfast during it.

(Note: The Wasp Woman does not appear like this in the film.)

(Note: The Wasp Woman does not appear like this in the film.)

THE WASP WOMAN

She will kill her as easily as any wasp would destroy its enemy. – Eric Zinthrop

The tried and true “Dangerous Feminist” genre has a place in cinematic history, and the horror/sci-fi trope of the woman who becomes a predatory monster is certainly a part of that. THE WASP WOMAN fits squarely into the middle of the pack of these kinds of movies.

It wasn’t a bad film. The performances were fairly sincere, and the plot was… well… no more unfeasible than many science fiction films of the fifties and sixties. Susan Cabot actually seemed believably conflicted, and she’s certainly not hard on the eyes, which is important when the premise of the film is that the wasp enzymes make you younger and more attractive – at least until you become a wasp monster.

The Wasp Woman makeup itself hasn’t aged well, but it’s no worse than the makeup from the original version of THE FLY. Perhaps the kindest thing I can say about the movie is that at this late hour of the event, I managed to not nod off during its runtime.

aliens_posterALIENS

Take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. – Ellen Ripley

As good as ALIEN is, many people will say that ALIENS is better. I don’t know that I agree with that – if only because in so many ways it is unfair to compare the two. ALIEN is a horror film – it’s the serial killer/haunted house in space, with a significant secondary dose of body horror, and there’s a reason that ALIEN can be shown as a part of a horror film festival as easily as it fits into science-fiction. ALIENS is a much more typical science-fiction film –and that’s not a Bad Thing, it just makes the experience of the two movies very different.

It is funny that – even when you account for the improved weaponry and combat training – how much the aliens suffer from Conservation of Ninjitsu. Any single xenomorph is no threat to the marines or to Ripley (excluding the Queen, of course), which is a far cry from a single creature destroying the entire crew of the Nostromo.

But really, none of that matters. ALIENS is a well-made film, with great performances all around, incredibly solid special effects that have aged quite well, and a compelling personal character story in the midst of the action. There’s a reason this film remains on the top of many lists, and it was possibly one of the best films to end a Marathon in the many years of the Ohio Marathon’s history (which is probably why this isn’t the first time that we ended the ‘thon with ALIENS).

Summary

I was sad that Christina wasn’t able to come out to the event this year, because I think it had one of the more solid line-ups in recent memory. By the time we were done on Sunday (only about fifteen minutes late, despite the delay with getting ALIENS loaded into the DCP projector), that sadness was exacerbated – I think she would’ve had a lot of fun this time around. I’m also thinking that I would love to see the kid’s tickets return, because Mira is getting to the age that I think bringing her for at least the first few movies would’ve been a lot of fun – but I couldn’t justify a $40 ticket price to only bring her out for ALIEN, DR WHO, SHADOWS ON THE WALL and BARBARELLA (which is probably when I would’ve taken her home, although keeping her there through TIME LAPSE might’ve been an option).

Not among the films, but important to note. The tribute to Leonary Nimoy was great, and I really enjoyed both the episode of STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and to see that Mr. Nimoy was overwhelmingly voted in to the Hall of Fame this year. I also thought that the trailer for PROMETHEUS was absolutely fitting to make the Upside-Down-and-Backwards offering for the year. In general, it seemed like we had more shorts and fewer trailers, and I don’t know how much I prefer that trend, but the event still came off well.

As always, Bruce and Joe deserve more thanks than I can put into words for organizing this event and making it happen each year. I had an absolute blast, and I’m looking forward to coming back next year. I don’t know if the Horror Marathon is going to happen – partially because I might end up running in the Columbus Marathon that weekend – but I’m really happy to see both events continue from year to year.

certificate

Disney’s Cinderella (2015): Review

posterby Aaron Einhorn
We’re big Disney fans in this household. Just a few weeks back, the entire family traveled to Walt Disney World to spend a week in the resorts and parks, and to take part in the Princess Half Marathon weekend. Christina ran the Enchanted 10K, the girls ran the Kid’s Mickey Mile, and I took park in the Princess Half Marathon itself. After the race, I took my race bib around Disney property and had each and every Princess sign it. I may be a dude who is more in to superheroes and science fiction than fairy tales and tea parties, and the Disney Villains may be those I flock to, but we still love the Princesses.

That doesn’t change the fact that the first few Princesses who compose the Disney Princess line are a bit… well… dull. Snow White is a fairly meek girl (remember, she’s only fourteen!) whose only real defining trait is being nice, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) barely even shows up in her own movie, and Cinderella… well… the fantasy of being taken away from a horrible, dull, impoverished situation into becoming the Princess is appealing, but what actually defines Cinderlla’s character, other than an ability to talk to mice and birds?

Disney took great strides with the later Princesses, of course, but the first three remain just a little flat. So, it was with immensely high hopes that I sat down to see Cinderlla, the live-action reimagining of the 1950 classic animated film. Did it bring me over into the ranks of Cinderlla fans? Read on.

Synopsis

The story of Cinderella follows the fortunes of young Ella whose merchant father remarries following the death of her mother. Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother and her daughters Anastasia and Drisella into the family home. But when Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Finally relegated nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderlla, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother’s dying words and to “have courage and be kind.”

She will not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her. And then there is the dashing stranger she meets in the woods. Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an apprentice at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit. Alas, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand, and a kindly beggar woman (Helena Bonham-Carter) steps forward and – armed with a pumpkin and a few mice – changes Cinderella’s life forever.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Cinderella stars Lily James, Hayley Atwell, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Richard Madden.
(from Disney)

kinopoisk.ruThe Feature

The 2015 Cinderella follows the story of the classic 1950 version nearly identically. There are certain elements that have been changed – notably, the film is not a musical, and while she does get assistance from her mice friends, there are no talking animals in the film.

Where the films differ most focus on giving expanded backstory to each of the main characters. We get to see a lot more about Cinderella’s life before her mother died, and we get to see a growing connection between Ella and her father. The mantra of “have courage and be kind” is repeated and we see how it shapes Ella. We’re given a reason (however thin) for why Ella never fights back, or simply chooses to leave the house and strike out on her own. Similarly, we get to see a bit more between the Prince (Kit) and his father, and we see a charming relationship between Father and Son and between King and heir, and where those two relationships have to come into conflict.

Lady Tremaine is given a bit more backstory and explanation for her motives and for why she never cares for Ella.

Best of all, however, we get scenes of Ella and the Prince where they do more than just dance. They get to talk to one another, and share secrets and thoughts and ideas. It’s still a thin scene, and doesn’t leave them with much more time to build a lasting romance than Anna and Hans have in Frozen, but at least it’s more than just “They danced, and therefore they’re in love.”

Lily James gives us a very convincing Ella/Cinderella, and Richard Madden has cleaned up exceptionally from Game of Thrones to make a very dashing Disney Prince. Cate Blanchett plays Lady Tremaine with gusto, seeming very much like a younger Angelica Huston, and Helena Bonham-Carter’s Fairy Godmother is perhaps a bit more scatterbrained than the animated version, but is a heart-warming presence.

kinopoisk.ruThe Visuals

Kenneth Branagh has a fantastic eye for the cinema, and with a Disney-backed budget, we would expect nothing less than fantastic from the director who gave us Thor, Hamlet and Henry V. I chose those three films specifically to point out how high the bar was set.

Branagh surpasses it. Cinderella is absolutely breathtaking. From the little details of watching butterflies magically transform into jeweled accents, to the sweeping vistas of the kingdom, to exploring the little details that make Ella’s house a warm and loving home, Branagh uses the camera to overwhelm us visually, using both sweeping wide shots and intimate close-ups. The line between CGI and practical make-up and effects is hard to draw, and everything is given the attention to make the visual world of Cinderella a fully immersive experience.

fairygodmotherThe Music

Like their other recent live-action reimagining (Maleficent), Disney chose not to make Cinderella a musical. Instead, we get a beautiful score from Patrick Doyle, along with two after-the-credits reprises from the animated feature.

Doyle’s score is more than up to the task of guiding us through the emotional arc of the film, without ever once drawing attention to itself. I leave it to the viewer to decide if this is a good thing or if it merely makes his music serviceable, although I personally lean towards the view that the music should only become the focus of a scene when it is, in fact, the focus of the scene.

During the post credits, Lily James sings “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and it is very pretty, while Helena Bonham-Carter provides a humorous take on “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” that left a smile on the faces of my entire family.

The Good

Breathtaking visuals, a strong score, and excellent acting gives us a film that manages to retain almost all of the charm of the animated film while giving additional depth to the characters and the story. Cinderella herself is notable for being given significantly more agency and drive in this film, as opposed to the mostly passive version we see in the animated classic.

The Bad

The explanation for Lady Tremaine’s wickedness doesn’t really mesh with her actions when she first moves in with Ella and her father, even before his untimely death. Although Cate Blanchett does her best with the role, it never really manages to elevate her above the cartoon version of the character.

The Ugly

Even with additional depth to the characters, the central conflict of this film remains a fairly dull one to base a story around. The romance is better, and we know the characters better, but it never made me care that much more about the story. Additionally, that deeper look at the characters comes with additional run-time, and even with the modest run-time of 112 minutes, Cinderella still felt like it ran too long.

ladytremaineFinal Thoughts

As a life-long fan of Disney, I wanted to love Cinderella, and have it redeem the 1950 animated classic which, let’s be honest, is extremely problematic from the point of view of a Dad raising two daughters and wanting them to have strong role models.

Did Cinderella succeed? Not quite. It is, in almost every way I can think of, a better film than the animated one, and I certainly enjoyed myself at the screening. But Cinderella’s tale remains one seeped in problems, and I cannot see her rising to the heights established by more recent Princesses such as Belle, Ariel and Jasmine, much less the much more proactive and heroic ones like Rapunzel, Tiana, Anna and Merida, or even the less successful and lesser known ones like Giselle and Meg. (And you get no points for saying that Anna technically isn’t a part of Disney’s Princess line yet, or that Giselle and Meg never made it into that line at all.)

It is a beautiful film, and one I’m sure we’ll watch again. But Cinderella’s tale is simply not one that will ever move me, and I can’t see myself being excited about revisiting this when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

Bonus: Frozen Fever

frozenfeverThere is, of course, the segment of the audience who is coming not for the feature, but just to see Frozen Fever, because of the… well… Frozen fever that has struck Disney fans. (No, we’re not immune. I love Frozen, and during our recent visit, we did the Meet and Greet with Anna and Elsa and attended “For the First Time In Forever: A Frozen Sing-A-Long” at Hollywood Studios.)

As a short, one should not expect Frozen Fever to have the same depth as the original feature. It doesn’t, nor should it.

What it is, however, is a heartwarming short tale about Elsa (along with Olaf, Sven and Kristoff) trying to plan a perfect birthday for Anna (after thirteen years of Elsa being completely absent from Anna’s life during birthdays). But, despite being the Queen of Snow and Ice, Elsa is not immune to the type of cold that comes from a virus rather than chilled temperatures, and her magical abilities interact with her cold to make the day go rather less smoothly than planned.

It’s very cute, and all of the original voices (except for Hans) reprise their roles. The original song for the short “Making Today a Perfect Day” is charming and pleasant, and if it won’t push “Let It Go” out of your child’s playlist, it will at least add some variety to a soundtrack that most parents have heard repeatedly.

(Disclaimer: I was provided free tickets for the preview screening, however I received no other compensation. All opinions are mine and mine alone.)

We Run! Tales of a Slow Runner Completing The Walt Disney World Princess Half Marathon

by Aaron Einhorn
expo_photoWe’ve made a family vacation trip out to Walt Disney World in Florida for the past three years now, usually in late February or early March. The first trip occurred as Christina and I celebrated our 10th Anniversary in 2013, which was also the time that Cordy was eight and Mira was five – the perfect age for their first trip to Walt Disney World. (As opposed to not getting to go until you were in your mid-twenties. Not that I’m bitter towards my parents or anything.) The second trip was in conjunction with my wife attending the Type-A Parent Bootcamp, and the third was just a few weekends ago.

That first trip was notable because, aside from the obvious reasons, it was also the Princess Half Marathon weekend. We arrived too late to be involved with the race, but our interest was piqued, and we spent a lot of time that week discussing runDisney.

Fast forward two years, into an interest in running for us both, and Christina running a two-mile fun run at Disneyland, and we found ourselves signing up to do the races at the Princess Half weekend this year. Christina did the Enchanted 10K, the girls each did the kids’ one mile race, and me? Well, I bit off the big bite and ran the Princess Half.

Pre-Race

portorleans

Welcome home.

We arrived on Friday of the race weekend, narrowly missing the Frozen 5K race (which lived up to its name with freezing temperatures), but more importantly, missing out on the first day of the Expo – which meant that there were no more themed tumblers for the weekend, and the race-specific Dooney & Bourke purses were long since gone – much to Christina’s dismay.

The expo was busy and crowded, and I quickly realized it was not my scene, so after collecting our race bibs and t-shirts, meeting Jeff Galloway (whose Run-Walk-Run technique has renewed my interest in running), and buying some merchandise, we escaped back to the resort.

expo_magicband

My new Magic Band, that will be with me for many more Disney trips.

Most of this day was quiet. We hung out at beautiful Port Orleans, got our Magic Bands working (I bought a runDisney Magic Band, which I adore), then had a short evening out at Magic Kingdom where we met Rapunzel and Cinderella (who both signed my race bib), riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and with Mira and I sticking around a little later to take a ride through the Haunted Mansion, before heading home and getting some sleep so Christina could be ready for her 10K and the girls could get prepared for their race.

The next morning came way too early (Christina was up at 3:00, which meant I was awake at 3:00), and shortly after she left, the girls woke up and I drove us over to Epcot so we could meet her for breakfast and see her cross the finish line, and then get the girls in to their race.

Although not as cold as the day before, a chilly morning meant that we mostly stayed inside the race breakfast until I got the text message telling me that Christina would be crossing the finish line around 7:40 a.m. So, right at 7:30, we left the breakfast, made our way to the spectator area, and then watched until we saw Queen Elsa in her coronation dress coming towards the race finish.

christina_finisher

Queen Elsa (Christina) with her Enchanted 10K finisher’s medal.

“Go Mommy!” Mira shouted over Christina’s headphones, and she stopped and gave us a smile. We watched her run on and cross the finish line, and then made the long walk to meet her. She had done it, meaning I just had to live up to my end of the bargain the next day.

mira_postrace

Princess Anna (Mira) finishes her mile!

From there, we went on to have the girls compete in their race (Mira finished with an 11:18 mile, while Cordy had a respectable 12:30), and then returned to the resort before we went off for a short day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom was crowded and busy, but we managed to get a ride in on Expedition Everest, a trip through Kilamanjaro Safari, allow the girls to earn about ten of their Wilderness Explorer “badges”, and for me to meet Pocohantas and get her signature on my race bib (since I knew we wouldn’t have another chance to see her this trip). From there, it was off to Sanaa for dinner (because they have gluten-free naan, and that was the best thing ever), and then back to the room for an early bedtime so I could awaken at 3:00 for my own runDisney trial.

Race Day: Before the Race

Waking up at 3:00 to get dressed as Doctor Doofenschmirtz (complete with the Princessinator!) wasn’t the best thing ever, and the walk through the resort to get to the bus was filled with thoughts of “Oh god, why am I doing this?” Once I got on the bus, I was one of two men on there, but I still put on my best smiling face and got ready to ride on over to the Epcot parking lot.

The "Flat Me" of my Doctor Doofenschmirtz costume.

The “Flat Me” of my Doctor Doofenschmirtz costume.

From the bus unloading area, it was a hike over to the party zone, which as I arrived I heard them telling us that we could go on to our corrals now if we wanted to. I knew, being in Corral G, that I wasn’t going to be the first one there, and that being in the front or back of my corral wouldn’t make a huge difference to my time overall, but since I knew no one at the race, I decided I’d rather wait in the corral than to wait at the party. Off I hiked, getting my picture taken a few times and always hamming it up for picture takers with “Behold! The Princessinator!” in my best Doof voice.

There was almost an hour of waiting in the corral, and while the pre-race announcers were great, I realized the fatal flaw in not staying at the party. I needed to pee – badly – before the race even began. I had desperately wanted to get through Magic Kingdom before I stopped for a bathroom break, but instead I realized I’d be breaking off at the very first set of Port-a-Johns.

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We listened and watched as the announcers chatted us up, played music to get us hyped, and interviewed ladies from the crowds. The corral filled in, and before I knew it, the Fairy Godmother appeared to send Corral A off with a “Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo”and a burst of fireworks. The process repeated with Corrals B and C, although by the time Corral D began, it was back to the race announcers sending them off. Corrals D, E and F each had their turn, and before I knew it, there I was… looking at the starting line. I almost teared up. Here we were. Seven months of running and training and dreaming of this event, and it was about to start. I adjusted my tiara, gripped my Princessinator, made sure that Perry the Platypus was clipped to my lab coat, and waited and then it was time to go. With a burst of fireworks, we were off.

Miles 0-3

mile03_collageI knew I was going to zip ahead of most of my corral, and then lose ground as I stopped for intervals. When running, I usually stay at about an 8:00 min/mile, but I do intervals, and I planned to stop for pictures. Then there was that horrible “needing to pee” issue that was looming in my mind. I ran through my first walk interval, like I figured I would (I normally do a 1:30 run followed by a 1:00 walk), and soon enough found the first major bank of port-a-Johns.

Let’s just say the experience was… less than magical. The lock on my door didn’t work, and it’s a good thing I was a guy who could stand up, because someone in the earlier corrals had left their “deposit” sitting on the seat of the toilet. The smell was awful, and the experience was awful trying to pee while keeping my costume from touching anything, and holding the door tight with one hand. But I got in and out and made it back on to the road. That would be my last bathroom break for the next twelve+ miles.

I passed the pirate ship with Captain Jack Sparrow and Barbosa, and saw the group of Disney Heroes, although I didn’t stop for pictures with any of them. I knew I’d see them again on the way back to Epcot, and I was still terrified of being swept. I knew I had a cushion of time, and at my slowest my pace still kept me ahead of the 16:00 minimum pace, but I didn’t know if this would be my only runDisney race, and I didn’t want it to end with a ride to the finish line on a bus. Character stops were going to have to be at a minimum. But grabbing a picture from the side of the road? That I could do.

The sign for the Ticket and Transportation Center showed up shortly before the third Mile Marker, and I had received a text from Christina telling me that she and the girls would be waiting for me before the bridge inside the parking lot.

I passed Valleope Von Schweetz and the very impressive villains stand (with an even more impressive line), was stopping for water and Gatorade at every opportunity, had my first half pack of Honey Stingers at Mile three, and was still feeling good at this point, although I was beginning to notice some uncomfortable rubbing in my shorts. They were probably too tight – something that would come back to bite me. It was here that I began to learn the very first lesson of running in costume – always field test your costumes. I had never worn the shorts that went with this outfit before that day, and if I had, I’d have discovered that they would cause rubbing that would become more and more of a pain as I ran thirteen miles.

Miles 3-6

Seeing my family in the Transport and Ticketing Center was an amazing boost. The girls are rarely able to watch us run, much less having me be able to watch Christina or her watch me, so that was awesome. I’m told that after the race, Mira continued to be a powerful force of encouragement, calling to runners by costume name and putting a ton of smiles on faces. If a seven-year-old brunette hurricane cheered for you right before the bridge at the TTC – congratulations, you met Mira.

At this point, I was hitting the stride for the run. The Magic Kingdom was in sight (the views of the Contemporary Hotel and Space Mountain were great), and I loved seeing the mile markers for Mile 4 in the TTC, and Mile 5 right outside of Space Mountain. That was the moment I knew this was happening. I would be coming in through the backstage, and would soon be running down Main Street, USA.

We burst through the side gates and there we were, in Town Square. We had made it.

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Running down Main Street was fantastic. There was nothing like it, and at this point, I was not interested in my intervals. I was on Cloud Nine, and ran down Main Street into the turn into Tomorrowland. We looped through Fantasyland, and I stopped to grab a picture of the Prince Charming Carousel, and then saw the Snow Sisters and Kristoff standing on the castle, waving to us as we prepared to run through it. After running through the castle, we made our way through Liberty Square into Frontierland (waving to Woody) and saw the Mile 6 marker, reminding me that we had come near the end of the park time. The magic was done, now we had the reality of only being halfway done with the race (even if we did get to see the Princesses waiting for us just at the edge of the park.)

Miles 6-9

Remember that “rubbing” issue I was having with the shorts? Well, right around the 10K mark is when I knew that was going to be a problem. I could feel the pain from chaffing begin, but I also knew I was a good hour and a bit ahead of the balloon ladies. I wasn’t about to let it stop me. But it sure did slow me down. Walk breaks were coming more often than they should have, and some intervals were skipped entirely. I had a Gu around Mile 9, and that was the worst thing I could have done – it tasted awful.

Somewhere along this stretch there were the Glass Slipper Bachelors. I skipped right past them. Obviously.

The landscape through here was gorgeous, even with the construction, but I couldn’t appreciate it. I was still smiling when someone recognized Doctor D, and was still taking the time to thank the volunteers at each water stop, but I was no longer having fun. Right around Mile Marker 8, I got this message from Christina “You’re doing great – there were still runners just coming in to the T&TC when we just left” to which I responded “Feel like I want to die. Not even to 8 yet.” At which point she wrote the best thing she could have.

“You can do it. You’re running through Disney and not some seedy west Columbus neighborhood. If you can do the latter, you can do the former.”

Finally, I made it to Mile 9 and sent her the Mile 9 photo, to which I got the response “Yay! Keep going – you’re in the final stretch. Less to go than you’ve already done.”

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Miles 9-12

At this point, everything was a blur of one foot in front of the other. There were more character stops, including seeing the Pirates and Heroes again. I was still putting on a smile for each call out of Doctor Doof I heard, and even met a Perry the Platypus, but as we got closer and I saw Spaceship Earth again, I didn’t know how I would keep going, other than to keep going.

The pain from the chafing was, at this point, getting to be the only thing I could sense. But I didn’t want to let it stop me, so I pushed it aside. I’d pay for that later, and I probably should have stopped at a First Aid station, but I was afraid that once I stopped I wouldn’t be able to get started again.

One thing that I have to say is that the words Christina had written to me just before Mile 9 did come true for me. There is something magical about running at Disney – even once you were past the parks. The landscape is beautiful, and the people who come out to cheer at Disney take the cheering and encouragement to a new level. Whenever I thought to myself “I can just stop, I can take the bus back,” there would be a piece of Disney magic – either from one of the mile markers, from a sign from a cheering spectator, or hearing the people on the course around me supporting each other.

The miles slogged by, and the turn and overpass around Mile 11.5 made me want to die. Sarge (from Toy Story) was hilarious, but I’m glad he had other people to pick on, because I couldn’t have endured it. Finally though, we were on to Epcot property, and the Merida mile marker beaconed to me. Less than a mile to go, all inside a park. I could do this.

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Mile 12-Finish

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I was so happy to see this little mermaid.

It wasn’t a run – it was more of a stagger, but from the time we got into Epcot until the finish line, I resolved to run as much as I could. I pulled my headphones out, completely disregarding my intervals. I took a picture of Spaceship Earth, but skipped taking selfies in the plaza or waiting for a picture with the Fairy Godmother.

At this time, these two text messages flashed across my phone.

“Nearly there. You can do it!”

“Mira asked me to text you “You can do it, daddy!”

Finally, there it was. The Ariel Mile Marker. I had made it to Mile 13. All that was between me and the finish line was .1 mile. I was running on fumes, but I could finish that off without walking any more. And I was going to. I brandished the Princessinator, and I ran.

mile13_finish

The end in sight!

Turning the corner and seeing the finish line was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I wasn’t going to stop to take the picture, but I fumbled with my phone to shoot the finish line before I crossed. I saw Donald in his running attire, and adjusted my path so I could high-five my favorite duck.

And then it happened. My feet crossed the finish line, and I would later find out that I had made it in just under 3 hours. A far cry from the 2:30 I had planned for, or the 2:15 I had hoped for, but it was done. I had completed my first half-marathon at Walt Disney World.

When I got to the volunteers, I reached for my medal, and was told “You’ve earned this. Let me put it around your neck.” And I almost cried. I looked at my phone to turn off RunKeeper, and saw a final message from Christina.

“You did it! We love you!”

And with that, I made my way to the busses to get back to Port Orleans in time to put the girls on their pirate cruise.

Post-Race

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After a shower, at the post-race party in Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs).

I’ll be writing a different post to discuss the rest of our Disney Trip. It was a great trip, but there were some takeaways. Namely, that as Magical as it was (and it was – despite the pain and exhaustion, I loved the race), my next Disney run will not be the Princess. This was a race that was clearly meant for the ladies. By this I don’t in any way mean that the race was any way less tough than any other half-marathon. After all, 13.1 miles are 13.1 miles, and the women who ran the race (and in many cases, kicked the crap out of my time), are athletes who deserve all the praise they get and then some. But the entire race weekend is very focused on women, and as a man running the race, I felt a little out of place. It was a great race, but I think this one won’t make my list of “must do races” again. I’ll be sending Christina off to the Princess Half Marathon weekend in 2016 to earn her Glass Slipper Challenge medal, but for me, I’ll be eyeing Avengers in November at Disneyland or Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, possibly Wine & Dine, and maybe even Tower of Terror when it returns in 2016.

post_race_medalWe also realized that, although the girls like running too, we won’t be combining a Race Weekend with the family trip again. The race was the focus for the first three days which took away from what the girls wanted to do on those days, and we were all really tired and worn down (not to mention the pain from my chafing) when it came time to do our following days in the park.

Still, I got my medal, and the experience is one I’ll hold on to for the rest of my life. This was my first Half, and if it didn’t go as well as I might have liked, at least I finished. And the Magic still remains a stronger memory than the pain that followed.

Thanks for the experience, runDisney. I’ll be back.

post_race_signedbib