Watching My Daughter Lose Her Belief in Magic and Find it Again

by Aaron Einhorn
One of the greatest moments of joy for me as a parent was when Mira let me know that she doesn’t think that the characters at Disney are real.

Let me explain.

I love the magic of theatre. I’ve been a theatre person my whole life – I loved going to productions when I was a kid, it was my favorite activity in High School, and it was my major in college. I am, in fact, a part of the last BFA graduating class from Miami University. I met Christina when we were performers at the Ohio Renaissance Festival, and I still perform in whatever way I can as often as I can. I love theatre.

I love stories. I love to write. I love to read. I love watching well told stories in film and television, and it makes me really angry when I see people given such a large audience and not telling stories well. As the Doctor once said…

Of course, with such a love of stories and theatre, naturally I work in IT.

But the point is that I love stories, and I love the magic of storytelling and theatre.

Mira is, of course, at the age where her friends are starting to tell her that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the like aren’t real. And most significantly, that the characters at Walt Disney World aren’t real and that there is no such thing as magic.

I’m not naïve. I know that my little girl’s innocence is a transitory thing, and that someday she’ll look at the world with wide, cynical eyes, and see that things in this world are very often not as we would like them to be. Someday she will know that Santa isn’t real, and that Mickey doesn’t actually have the power to keep anything bad from happening inside Disney property, and that Cinderella is really just an underpaid twenty-something actress in a dress and a wig.

But for the longest time, I wanted to make sure that she could understand that both things can be true. That Mickey might only be someone wearing a costume and an over-sized head, but that with the magic of theatre behind it, that he could also still be the “real” Mickey Mouse. The care and attention that goes into crafting the illusion – and the willingness of the audience to accept the reality – that can make a thing real, or at least, real enough to take you away from the world where taxes are due and your boss is being a jerk and to a world where Fairy Godmothers can wave a wand and make everything better for a little while.

Heck, one of my favorite moments from our trip to Walt Disney World during our honeymoon was while we were waiting to go to dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table, and we saw the backstage area where the Fairy Godmother was being getting ready for her entrance. As theatre folk, we found that part of the show (which we had watched earlier in the day from the front) just as interesting as the show itself, and so we looked and commented on it. The Fairy Godmother noticed us looking and immediately slipped into character, pointing to our Bride and Groom Mickey and Minnie Ears and making a heart with her hands. The woman was backstage, being prepared to go on, and she still took the time to make us smile about being at the Happiest Place on Earth on our Honeymoon.

Disney-honeymoon

No pictures of the backstage moment, but this was the trip. We wore those ears all day… and that’s it’s own kind of magic.

That’s every bit as magical as transforming a pumpkin into a carriage.

The thing is, of course, that bringing up this topic is tricky. You don’t want to preemptively tell her “Hey, Mira, you know, Tinkerbell isn’t really flying over the castle. That really is a zip line she’s attached to,” too soon. Because you want her to still be able to believe once she knows better, but you don’t want to kill her belief ahead of time.

(And Cordy in her innocence, is a whole different story. She still absolutely Believes with a capital “B”. Mira is starting to question. Cordy never will until we flat out tell her.)

We’ve started hinting about it to her, explaining that magic is real when you want it to be. That to someone who doesn’t believe in the magic, that Mickey is just someone in a costume, but that for those of us who are willing to believe, she has met the “real” Mickey each and every time. And that most importantly, Stitch’s hugs all came from the real Stitch.

Seriously, you would not believe this child's love for Experiment 626.

Seriously, you would not believe this child’s love for Experiment 626.

It’s further complicated, of course, by my Heroes Alliance activities. Mira knows that it’s Daddy and his friends in superhero costumes, but she also understands the importance of letting other kids believe that we really are Superman and Captain America and Wonder Woman and Batman and Rogue and Gambit and Iron Man and so on. Which, of course, has to contribute to her ability to see through the illusion. She’s also been reading Ridley Pearson’s “Kingdom Keepers” series, which presents an interesting mix of showing behind the illusions that keep Disney working while also bringing in real magic of having the Disney characters come to life when the parks are closed. Beyond that, two years ago, during our first family trip to the park, we met Cinderella at the Town Square just an hour before our dinner reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Christina made a comment to Mira about how Cinderella would have to move fast to get back to the castle in time for dinner, at which point Mira said “Or it’s just someone in a costume.”

So, I actually felt some relief last night while we were all out at dinner at Red Robin and the discussion of what the girls want to be when they grow up came up. Through the course of the talk, the topic of the Disney College Internship program came up and both girls thought that might be something fun to do. Christina asked what they would want to do at Disney, and Mira answered “Be Princess Anna.”

Christina and I shot each other a look. Was this the moment when Mira finally said that she no longer believed that the characters were real? But then she continued. “You know, the people they have in costume for when the real one has to be somewhere else.”

I don’t think she still believes. But I think she still wants to believe, and wants to make us believe she believes. And that’s enough for now.

Magic is real. Magic is about the stories we can tell each other, in print, in person, on stage or screen, or from a performer at an amusement park taking pictures with delighted children. And I think Mira is starting to understand that. In some ways, I’d rather she believe in that kind of magic, even if she does have to start to understand that when Maleficent becomes a dragon during “Fantasmic”, it’s all just special effects.

Besides, Mira will always be my Princess Anna, so who am I to argue with her?

This cast member stopped us and said "Princess Anna! You're my favorite Princess! Can you take a picture with me?" I of course had to take their picture, and then "promise" to send the picture on to the CM. She put such a smile on Mira's face you wouldn't believe.

This cast member stopped us and said “Princess Anna! You’re my favorite Princess! Can you take a picture with me?” I of course had to take their picture, and then “promise” to send the picture on to the CM. She put such a smile on Mira’s face you wouldn’t believe.

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.

mile0_collage

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.

mile3-6collage

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.”

mile7_collage

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.

mile12_collage

Mile 12-Finish

mile13

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

On Top of the World! Disney’s Big Hero 6: Review

Big_Hero_6_film_posterby Aaron Einhorn
In some ways, it’s weird to see Big Hero 6 being heralded as the first ever Disney/Marvel collaboration. We are now closing in on it being half a decade since Disney purchased Marvel, which means that every Marvel film since The Avengers has been solely produced and distributed by Disney, and we’ve seen Disney take control of Marvel-related animated series on their cable networks. Big Hero 6 is also not close to being Disney’s first work with superheroes, being proceeded by The Rocketeer, The Incredibles and Sky High.

It may be the first time Disney has brought an animated feature film to the screen that is based on Marvel characters, but to be honest, the team of Big Hero 6 bears only the loosest resemblance to the heroes from the comic pages. (So much so that Marvel has even said that they have no plans to reprint those issues, because the characters found there are not going to be the ones that movie fans are looking for.)

So, let’s get the whole issue of “the first” aside, because at the end of the day, that question is really only of interest to comic book wonks. What we really want to know is, did the studio which has brought us The Incredibles and The Avengers deliver with Big Hero 6? Read on to find out.

Synopsis

From Walt Disney Animation Studios, the team behind Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, comes Big Hero 6, an action-packed comedy-adventure about the special bond that develops between Baymax, a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada. When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he turns to Baymax and his close friends; adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. Determined to uncover the mystery, Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called Big Hero 6.

BIG HERO 6The Feature

Big Hero 6 is an interesting mix of being a classic superhero story and a fairly traditional Disney film. We have the Disney protagonist (young, orphaned, ready to go off and have their adventure), but we also have a very typical superhero origin story that could have been taken from the script for Iron Man (genius inventor finds that his technology is being used by an evil mastermind, uses technology left by his deceased family member and his own developed super suit to do battle against his own tech).

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This makes for a film that is both extremely satisfying from the point of view of action and spectacle (the scenes of Baymax and Hiro flying through the skies of San Fransokyo are right up there with those of Stark flying in his Iron Man armor, and the battles between the team and Yokai are easily as well done as those of the Avengers facing against the Chitauri), while also giving us plenty of time to explore the family dynamics and relationship between Hiro and his brother Tadashi (and then later, Baymax).

The team of heroes, including Hiro and Baymax, and rounded out by Honey Lemon, Wasabi, Go Go and Fred, round the cast out nicely, with each character having enough personality to be distinct characters, and their various super suits are varied enough to keep the heroes from being redundant. Other members of the cast have certainly enough personality to keep them interesting and make them more than just background, and they’re all fairly consistently developed, which is certainly a plus.

On the downside, one of the glaring missteps that we noticed was that the friendship between Hiro and the rest of the gang is almost completely left off-screen. We have it clearly established that they were all very good friends (and classmates) with Tadashi, and it is implied that Tadashi told them all about his genius-prodigy-younger-brother-who-has-been-wasting-his-time-with-bot-fights. There is a montage that has the potential to establish that Hiro has begun forging friendships with the rest of the gang, but their appearance in that montage is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short. Similarly, they’re present at the memorial for Tadashi, but we don’t really see them interacting with Hiro, yet by the time we get to the second act, we’re supposed to just accept that they are all the closest of friends, and that the idea of putting on super suits and fighting Yokai is something they will all just go along with.

BigHero6(4)

A lot of this is simply a result of a badly balanced script. While establishing the relationship between Hiro and Tadashi is vital, a bit too much time is paid to it, and therefore not enough time is left to create the bonds between Hiro and Go Go, Honey Lemon, Wasabi and Fred. In fact, for all that they are each developed a bit, and each character has distinct personalities and interests, we don’t see a lot of time given to any member of the team.

It’s a tough thing to balance, and certainly something that creators of other ensemble superhero films have struggled with. But one only needs to look at The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy or X-Men 2 to see where it works well. Big Hero 6 falls just a little short on that regard.

But what balances this misstep and makes the film delightful is Hiro and Baymax. Baymax is, perhaps, Disney’s most successful “cute sidekick” creation of the past two decades. He’s adorable and cute, but is also absent of the more annoying traits of the cute sidekick. Although ignorant of many things, Baymax is never dumb. His voice is calm and soothing instead of loud and grating. And he absolutely is vital to the plot, in a way that cute sidekicks never are.

Little kids will want a plush Baymax to cuddle. Older kids will want an armored-up Baymax to play with and to fight alongside the Avengers and Justice League and Incredibles. And parents will wish they had a Baymax to send out in to the world alongside their children.

japanese-teaser-trailer-big-hero-6-tadashi1

The Good

We have great action, inspired character design, and a really touching story about two brothers. Add in a villain with a complex motivation, and some great moral lessons and Disney delivers again.

The Bad

Insufficient time is given to four members out of the six heroes to make them fully-realized characters. They’re great sketches, but that’s all they are.

The Ugly

If you’re a big fan of the appearances of the Big Hero 6 from Marvel Comics, then this movie is not for you. Their names and powers are (mostly) the same, but the characters couldn’t be much more different.

Big-Hero-6-Movie-Review-Image-8

Final Thoughts

Again, Big Hero 6 is not a perfect movie, and it would be very easy to fall prey to letting this movie become a victim of over expectations. Which would be a shame, because what Big Hero 6 is, is a lot of fun. There’s a good heart-warming story at the film’s core, accompanied by some great action, incredible visuals, solid voice acting, and lovable characters.

Don’t overthink it. Sit back, relax and enjoy the film, and I think you’ll find Big Hero 6 to be a worthwhile experience. We really enjoyed it (the girls even said that they thought it was better than Frozen, which is an astonishing claim – although Christina and I didn’t think it was quite as good), and are even planning to take them to see it again.

Also, don’t forget that this is a Marvel movie. Look for the requisite Stan Lee cameo appearance, and be sure to stick around for the post-credits stinger.

Bonus

feast_a

Disney has typically included an original short film before their films, and they’ve really been knocking it out of the park with the last few animated releases. Wreck It Ralph featured the exquisite Paperman and Frozen gave us the hilarious Get a Horse. Big Hero 6 one-ups them with Feast, which is both incredibly funny and heart-breakingly sweet. The story of one man’s life through the dog he adopts – seen entirely from mealtimes. If Feast doesn’t tug on your heartstrings, then you’re made of stone.

A Study in Contrasts: Elsa and Regina on Once Upon a Time

10301601_710917885630375_897088975289582442_nby Aaron Einhorn
I’m a Disney fanboy. I make no excuses for it. I love Disney, always have. And I jumped on the Frozen bandwagon early (thanks to a sneak peek screening). So, last night, Christina and I sat down to watch as Frozen invaded Storybrooke in Once Upon a Time. Overall, we quite liked the episode, and the casting (even if we found Kristoff a bit too scrawny.) But what I found really interesting to think about were the similarities and differences between Regina and Elsa.

Similarity wise, they’re both queens – not Princesses, but Queens. And that’s a distinction that matters. They aren’t just “of noble birth” (which Regina isn’t, really) or just used to having wealth and power, but they’re both accustomed to ruling – something that Princesses aren’t.

They’re two of the only outright magically powered characters on the show. The only others are mostly inhuman (Rumple, Red, the Fairies) – even if they were human once – and the third is Emma, who is her own unique thing.

But where their similarities end, their differences are all the more interesting, because they’re such opposites. Visually, Elsa is taller, fairer of skin, light-haired, and wears light blues and whites. Regina is shorter, dark-haired (and wears it short), and favors dark colored clothing.

10685582_710780718977425_5943111331391290055_nIn terms of their magic, there is the obvious contrast. Regina’s favored magic is fire, while Elsa is all snow and ice (although they both have a curious penchant for affecting hearts).

But their personalities are where they are most strikingly different. Regina’s single biggest flaw has always been her inability to accept personal responsibility. Everything – everything – is someone else’s fault. And she’s not wholly wrong – Regina has certainly been the victim of master manipulators and tricksters, along with the most wretched set of circumstances. Regina isn’t a monster in her mind – she’s the victim looking for justice, and whenever someone else calls her a monster, she lashes out, looking for revenge.

Elsa on the other hand internalizes her fears and doubts, and sees herself as a monster when others don’t. While Anna tells her that she loves her, and that the things she’s done aren’t her fault, Elsa is the one to say “I’m a monster, I should be left alone.” Elsa can’t give herself the slightest allowance that, maybe, someone else is to blame for the circumstances.

They’re both wrong, of course, being at opposite ends of the spectrum instead of finding a healthy middle.

And of course, they come from the entire range of Disney’s animated films, with Snow White being the first animated feature film from Disney, and the first Princess movie, and Frozen being the latest (at least until Big Hero 6 arrives in a few months.)

Still, it has me really looking forward to seeing what this season will bring. And that doesn’t even touch on the other elements that I hope to see developed this year. I want more of Emma and Hook. I want more of Gold and Belle (and yeah, I am exactly fanboy enough to have appreciated his outfit, her gown, and the song). I want to see where Regina’s scheme goes (and I’m happy to see Sidney Glass back). And the hat… oh, the hat. Yeah, I’m sold.

I don't expect to see a certain mouse wearing this hat... but I'm sure it's the same one.

I don’t expect to see a certain mouse wearing this hat… but I’m sure it’s the same one.

Bring on more episodes!

Re-Focusing the Disney Villains

by Aaron Einhorn
It turns out that not twelve hours after writing this I was back in the theatre with Christina and the girls, watching Maleficent a second time. I am happy to say that, on a second viewing, I enjoyed the film a good deal more. Knowing that what I was going to see was a “She’s the misunderstood hero,” film, instead of watching Maleficent’s Start of Darkness made it a far easier film to enjoy the second time around, and everything I found charming the first time around was that much better without the baggage of expecting to see Maleficent actually be a villain.

That said, I still felt like, ultimately, Disney made a misstep with the film – because while Maleficent is a fun movie – and quite possibly a very good one – it is also one that more or less destroys Maleficent ‘s reputation as a villain. And while I applaud the trend seen in both Frozen and Maleficent to show female characters who actually have agency in their films, instead of being objects to be rescued or at best aides to the Hero (and bonus points for putting actual magical power into the hands of the protagonist, instead of keeping magic as something to be doled out by the wise and often inhuman mentor) – I still feel that ultimately, Maleficent has more worth as a brand as Villain than Hero.

Consider, if you will, the role of Maleficent in the Villain line. Look at the sample merchandise from the line, and see how prominent the Mistress of All Evil is – she is normally front and center, overshadowed only by Chernobog (who is given odd prominence considering how small his role in Disney mythology is. The only movie he’s a villain in is Fantasia, and there only for one segment. He doesn’t even have any lines.)

Villains_2

Disney Vinylmation Figures – the Villains line has Maleficent front and center

Villains_1

Maleficent is right there in the on-page logo of the Villains section of Disney’s online store.

Dream_Along_With_Mickey_Maleficent

Maleficent in the “Dream Along With Mickey” show.

That doesn’t even begin to touch upon her role as a villain within the parks. Maleficent is the chief villain during the Dream Along With Mickey show in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, her dragon form is one of the main attractions in the Festival of Fantasy parade, and she is the climactic moment in Fantasmic! in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios.

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The Dragon form in the Festival of Fantasy parade.

Fantasmic_Dragon

The climax of “Fantasmic!”

Additionally, for the readers in Disney fandom, Maleficent was chief among the Overtakers (Disney villains trying to take over the parks) in Ridley Pearson’s first four Kingdom Keepers novels.

KKI

Maleficent’s malicious gaze threatens the heroic kids.

Heck, when Disney’s House of Mouse did their House of Villains movie, Maleficent even gets to sing the line that should have been the Evil Queen’s. (Check the video below at the 1:00 mark)

Is it worth diluting all of this just to add a female character (who will never be a part of the Princess line) with magical powers for fans? Even if Maleficent is a huge hit, little girls are not going to be casting aside their Anna and Elsa dresses to don the dark fairy’s black dress and horns (and, in fact, Disney doesn’t offer a child-sized version of the dress at this time, although adults can purchase Maleficent’s gown – when it’s back in stock.)

And that’s when it hit me. Maybe it is intentional.

Maleficent is, when it comes down to it, a relatively late addition to the Villains line. Snow White (1937) gave us the Evil Queen, who was relatively ignored until she leapt back to prominence thanks to Lana Parilla’s delightfully wicked performance on Once Upon a Time. Chernobog originates in 1940’s Fantasia. Lady Tremaine, Anastasia and Drizella (yes, they have names) come from 1950’s Cinderella – and Maleficent doesn’t appear for another nine years after that.

That’s right, of the “Classic” members of the Villains line, Maleficent is the second-to-last addition, only followed by Cruella di Ville.

Consider that earlier villains have fared much better on Once Upon a Time than their more recent additions. Ursula only actually appears once – her other appearance was actually the Evil Queen masquerading as the Sea Witch. Maleficent appears a few times, played by Kristin Bauer van Straten ( True Blood), but she consistently plays second fiddle to the power of Regina or the main characters. But Regina, the Evil Queen? She’s practically the star of the show. And Captain Hook (whose on-screen relationship with Disney began in 1953) has become a show mainstay, and the romantic interest for our lead.

Regina

Who’s the fairest of them all? Well, there is certainly an argument for it to be this version of Regina…

Meanwhile, despite Maleficent’s prominence in the early Kingdom Keepers novels, by Books Five and Six, she’s barely present and she doesn’t appear at all in the final volume – while the Evil Queen, Chernobog and Tia Dalma all gets lots of attention.

Notice that it is the Queen's eyes we see now, not Maleficent's.

Notice that it is the Queen’s eyes we see now, not Maleficent’s.

Could it be possible that someone in the Disney hierarchy has decided to move the focus away from Maleficent, for whatever reason?

Could the Flanderization of Maleficent be, in IT-Geek speak, be not a bug, but a feature?

In any case, we can be certain that long before the Green Light was given on Maleficent, someone at Disney made a long and hard calculation on the decision to transform one of the most pre-eminent members of the Villains line into a hero. Perhaps it’s a desire to cash in on the popularity that Wicked gave to the Wicked Witch. Maybe it’s the decision to shift the focus of the Villains line to other characters. Or maybe they have something else entirely in mind. But I can’t believe that they made Maleficent into a hero accidentally. And being the Disney fan that I am, I’ll confess to being very curious to see how this plays out.

Maleficent – Trailer From Equestria

by Aaron Einhorn
So, I’m a brony. I don’t hide this. But this should amuse any of my My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or any fans of Disney.

Check out this parody of the trailer for Disney’s Maleficent, done using Discord and Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony.

Disney’s Frozen: Review

I’m resurrecting this post in honor of Frozen being released to home video yesterday. Enjoy!

frozen_posterby Aaron Einhorn
I try to be a fair and unbiased reviewer when doing my film reviews on this site. I’m aware that I have personal preferences that have nothing to do with the actual quality of the media I’m consuming – I will always prefer a superhero comic to a non-superhero tale, but I can still acknowledge that Maus is a fantastic example of the genre.

So, with that said, let’s get it out up front that I am a Disney fanboy. I adore the animation, the music, and the joy that we get as a family when we share their films. Our family trip to Walt Disney World last February was one of my most treasured memories, and although my daughters don’t know it yet, we’re going back this March.

In other words, yeah, I was pre-disposed to Frozen before walking in to the advance screening. But I was predisposed to like Thor: The Dark World, which I walked away from somewhat indifferently. And we were dealing with similar circumstances – a crowded preview screening, heading over after work, and I was tired before we got there, and hungry from skipping dinner.

So, how did I feel about Frozen? Read on.

Synopsis

There are two Princesses of Arendelle: Elsa (Idina Menzel), the soon-to-be Queen, and Anna (Kristen Bell). Elsa has the ability to create snow and ice, yet has been suppressing these powers after a traumatic childhood incident involving her sister. After letting her cryokinetic powers get out of hand during her official July coronation, she goes into hiding, only for her emotions to trigger a magical, eternal winter that freezes the entire kingdom.

Anna, a fearless and daring optimist, must journey with extreme mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and reindeer sidekick Sven in an epic journey, encountering mystical trolls, a comical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn in a race to find Elsa (now known as the Snow Queen), save their kingdom from eternal winter, and make things right before it’s too late.

The Feature

So, the first thing to get out is that Frozen bears about as much resemblance to the original Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Snow Queen as The Little Mermaid does to its source tale. So, if you’re a big fan of the classic fairy tale, please put it out of your mind in advance, because otherwise you will be sorely disappointed.

olaf

“I love warm hugs.”

The other thing that absolutely must be touched upon is Olaf. Olaf, the enchanted magical snowman who wants to experience all things warm. Olaf, who has been featured almost exclusively in the previews for the film to the point that you might be surprised to discover that there are two Princesses in the movie. Olaf, who really is the Jar Jar Binks of Frozen.

As I had feared, there is entirely too much of Olaf in this movie, which is entirely unnecessary. The film already had “cute creatures” a-plenty in the form of Sven, the reindeer, and the trolls who provide exposition and an additional source of magic and fun to the movie.

Fortunately, even though there is too much Olaf, there is also a lot less of him than I had feared there would be, and he even manages to add some to the plot. Not a lot, but some.

Frozen also suffers from the lack of a strong villain, a la Urusula, Jafar, the Shadowman or Mother Gothelle. The story is more about struggles within yourself, and the sisters being able to connect to one another, and the external threats aren’t all that terribly significant.

The other negative strike against Frozen is the fairly weak romance. Disney has a very hit-and-miss record with making the romances of their leads believable and/or necessary, with Tangled and Princess and the Frog nailing it, and Brave showing us that you don’t really need it. The romance in this film is a bit contrived, and ultimately not all that important. What it does do, however, is gives us an excuse to include a couple of male characters in the film that were probably essential to convince young boys to come see it, and it allowed directors Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Jennifer Lee (screenplay, Wreck It-Ralph) to really play with the standard Disney tropes of in True Love’s Kiss in a way that I found really surprising and gratifying.

Now, with the negatives out of the way, let’s discuss some of the things that make Frozen worth watching – and there are plenty.

ice_palaceFirst of all, the visuals of the film are absolutely breathtaking. Although I have heard some complaints that the new CGI-style of Disney animation means that Anna and Elsa bear a little too strong of a resemblance to Rapunzel from Tangled, I was able to look past any initial similarity to the point that the sisters quickly became distinct. Elsa has a cold reserve to her that you can see on her face, and the way she never quite smiles but often smirks captures the facial tics of her voice actress, Idina Menzel quite wonderfully.

Separated at birth? You decide. (Left: Rapunzel and Flynn from "Tangled", Right: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Hans from "Frozen")

Separated at birth? You decide. (Left: Rapunzel and Flynn from “Tangled”, Right: Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Hans from “Frozen”)

Similarly, Anna’s slightly crossed eyes and freckles give her a wonderful humanity that we haven’t always seen in the Disney Princesses. Even the tomboys and outsiders and misfits are beautiful – and there’s no doubt that both Anna and Elsa are – but seeing some imperfections makes them a little bit more real.

Of course, visually, the real star of Frozen are the ice and snow effects, and those are simply amazing. There were real gasps in the audience when Elsa creates her Ice Palace, and the way that the snow swirls, and the ice grows and cracks is just amazing.

As characters, it’s hard not to love both sisters. Anna is outgoing, energetic, clumsy and forthright, while Elsa is cold, reserved and restrained – but still clearly empathetic and compassionate. On a personal note, it was hard not to see my two daughters in the sisters, and there was a long discussion about that similarity on the drive home from the theatre.

Anna’s quest to save her sister, and in turn, the kingdom, resonates strongly because at its core, it is more about Elsa than it is about Arrendale – which makes it something easily relatable. Saving a kingdom is more than most kids can understand, but wanting to be with your sister is something that most kids will easily relate to.

In any case, for all that one of them is technically a Queen, I think both Anna and Elsa will become a welcome addition to Disney’s Princess line.

sisters

The Music

When it comes to Disney features, the music can make or break the movie. Many fans turned away entirely from Hercules because of the unexpected musical choices with the Gospel-style songs (although I am personally a fan), and to this day, I think that if Disney had made the music integrated into Tarzan the way they did the Broadway version, it would have ended up being a much bigger hit.

Well, Frozen is an absolute win in the musical category, and if you’re a fan of Broadway, then you will be very, very pleased.

The orchestral score from Christophe Beck is quite, quite lovely, and pulls you strongly in to the film right from the beginning. But as solid as the score is, the actual songs are where Frozen soars.

“Frozen Heart” starts the film off strong with a solid, sea-chanty-esque rhthym, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” establishes the relationship between the sisters and is heart-breakingly sweet and sad at the same time. “Reindeers Are Better Than People” is a cute little ditty featuring Jonathan Groff, and “Fixer Upper” is fun and energetic and will make great background music when walking through the Disney parks.

But there are three songs that everyone will be talking about.

“For the First Time in Forever” (and its reprise) is the adult counter-point to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and is absolutely essential to understanding who both Anna and Elsa are. It has a great build throughout, catchy lyrics, and really fun visuals. Think of it in the same vein as other Disney “I Want” Songs, and you won’t be far off at all.

“Love is an Open Door” is a really lovely love-song duet, and in a different film, could easily be the one that everyone will remember at the movie’s end. The opening and closing of doors is a recurring theme in Frozen, and when the song plays, it is easy to see how Anna can be swept away by her handsome prince.

Incidentally, although we’re past the point where this should be surprising, Kristin Bell has quite a lovely singing voice, and she’s really fun to listen to throughout.

But the breakout hit song of Frozen is, without question, “Let it Go.”

Anyone familiar with Idina Menzel’s career knows this, but that woman has an amazing voice, with a tone very unlike many others. She isn’t always technically perfect, but she is incredibly talented, and the imperfections in her voice are what allow it to bring so much emotion to what she sings. If you only know her from watching Glee, than this may surprise you. If you’re familiar with her from Rent, then you know she has the pipes, but you may not be prepared for her ability to reach in to your heart and twist. If you know Menzel from listening to Wicked, then you know what I’m talking about.

I was introduced to Idina Menzel’s singing when she performed “Defying Gravity” at the 2004 Tony Awards, and fell in love, rushing out to purchase the soundtrack. Although I love the entire show, “Defying Gravity” was my favorite feminine power ballad of all time, and remains a regular on my iPod.

“Let It Go” is better.

The song is already listed on Disney’s “For Your Consideration” website for Best Original Song, and if there is any justice, it will be nominated, and Idina Menzel will sing it at the Oscars. But just as fortunate, that means that Disney has put the song up on the site for you to listen to. I implore you to do so. Here’s a link.

frozen_svenThe Good

Really strong story, great characters, beautiful visuals and incredible music. The additional short “Get A Horse” is also a really nice tribute to the history and the future of Disney animation, although I’m unsure if it will work in 2D.

The Bad

Disney may be marketing this film entirely wrong, and there will be plenty of fans of the classic fairytale who are disappointed with the changes (but aren’t there always? I’m pretty sure that “Princess and the Frog” didn’t involve New Orleans or jazz music or a talking alligator or a princess who becomes an amphibian either.)

The Ugly

Even though I didn’t end up hating him as much as I expected to, I’d be entirely satisfied to see a cut of this film that didn’t involve Olaf.

Final Thoughts

Assuming that people come to see it despite less-than-adequate marketing, Disney has another hit on their hands with Frozen. It is easy to see the last four Princess films from Disney as marking a new Renaissance. Princess and the Frog started it off strong, Tangled has been about as perfect a modern fairy tale as I could have imagined, and Brave gave us the first Disney Princess from an original tale who doesn’t do it all for love.

Frozen is as strong a film as any of them, and one that I cannot wait to go see again. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to “Let It Go” again.

Weekly Comic Round-Up, January 22, 2014 Edition

by Aaron Einhorn
Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

All-New_X-Men_Vol_1_22.NOWAll New X-Men #22.Now (All-New Marvel Now #1)
Moving past last week’s issue, we’re jumping straight into the Trial of Jean Grey, which will serve as a six-issue arc that crosses back and forth with Guardians of the Galaxy (which is fortunately already on my pull list.) The issue begins with the team spending time in the new Xavier Institute, training, goofing off, eating, or in the case of Jean and Scott, dealing with the monstrous baggage they have between the two of them.

Let’s face it – teenage romance is hard enough for normal people, and is certainly no easier for superheroes. But add into it the pressure of spending time around a whole bunch of people who know exactly how intense and complicated and weird your future relationship will be, especially the relationship of Jean Grey and Scott Summers, and you’d find it weird too.

And then there’s Jean’s telepathy, meaning that this weirdness is always going on. Always.

The irony of course is that this is perfect foreshadowing to see the Sh’iar take Jean Grey to hold her on trial, presumably for Phoenix-related crimes. Yet again, teen Jean is going to be held accountable for things that haven’t happened to her, and because of the nature of time-travel, may never happen to this version of her.

The appearance by the Guardians of the Galaxy at the issues’ end is too brief to count as anything more than a cameo, but it will be interesting to see what role the Guardians play. If I didn’t already read both of these titles, I might be annoyed with the nature of this crossover, and how it will effectively pull three issues “away” from continuity with the rest of the book, but since I do, I’m looking forward to reading the next part of this story.

avengers_25Avengers #25
It worked for the X-Men, so why not pull younger, earlier versions of the core Avengers team out of a parallel timeline (or at least a parallel Earth) and bring them into the current 616 continuity?

That was mostly rhetorical, but someone is listening, because that’s exactly what happens here. While AIM is continuing to do some experiment or another, younger versions of the Avengers appear through a portal, and immediately begin to stake out a claim on our Earth.

The big differences between what’s going on here and what is happening with All-New X-Men are significant, however. First of all, there is no reason to believe this will become an ongoing state of being. The alternate Avengers are temporary visitors, and are no doubt tied to the Incursions that the Avengers have been dealing with since the beginning of Marvel Now! Also, while the original five X-Men are recognizable as the younger versions of themselves we remember from the early days of X-Men (seen through the filter of a different creative team, of course), these Avengers are not the Avengers we remember. Thor is an arrogant jerk, far beyond any “godly mantle” he has ever shown in the regular pages of our comics.

And of course, there’s the mystery over the dead Hank Pym, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s involvement.

This doesn’t feel like a complete issue – it feels like Part One of a story, but it’s still a solid read, and some of the better writing I’ve seen to come from the hand of Hickman.

Disney_Kingdoms_Seekers_of_the_Weird_1_CoverDisney Kingdoms Seekers of the Weird #1
If you look at my film reviews, then the knowledge that I am a Disney fan is quickly apparent. I make no apologies for this – the House of Mouse has always been a source of some incredible entertainment – and as a father, I appreciate anything that I can watch with my daughters that we can all enjoy. We recently made a trip to Walt Disney World resorts, and have another trip planned for this coming year – and the Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite attractions in Magic Kingdom. So, how could I not be interested in the Museum of the Weird?

The first issue is a mixed bag, unfortunately. We’re introduced to Max and Melody, along with the rest of the Keep family, and we get to see the beginnings of the Museum. I love that they’re based on the original designs and notes from the Disney Imagineers, but the pages are so busy that the action of the story is getting lost.

Beyond that, I simply don’t find that I much like either Maxwell or Melody, and even their “adventuring Uncle” is a bit of a jerk, and not in a way I find endearing. It’s hard for me to care about the Coffin Clock, or the Shadow Society, or even that their parents have been taken – because so far, I don’t care about any of these people.

I get that this is a mini-series, and so they probably didn’t want to waste too much time before getting into the adventure, but I feel that a less frantic pace might have given me time to care about the Keep family before their adventure really kicked off, and that might have made me care more. As it is, I’m torn about picking up the next issue.

indestructiblehulk_18_inhIndestructible Hulk #18.Inh
I have to confess that, after the first issue, I found myself largely uncaring about Inhumanity. The Terrigen explosion across the world really isn’t that much different than the return of Mutants at the end of A vs. X, and I’ve never been all that amazed by the Inhumans that I felt like we desperately needed to see more of them. Not that it’s a bad thing, it just didn’t make me care.

So, I probably would have skipped this .INH title, if it wasn’t for the fact that I really adore the Hulk, in just about every incarnation, and seeing this version of Banner trying to out-think and out-perform against Henry Pym, Henry McCoy, Tony Stark and Reed Richards is just fun.

Banner’s plan to use chronal particles to stop the Terrigen, of course, didn’t work. Because there was no way we would see the event undone in the pages of one of the tie-in books, but damn if it wasn’t clever. And it was deeply gratifying to see the other geniuses of the Marvel universe acknowledge Banner as their peer.

One almost wonders if Banner will get a seat on the Illuminati.

I’m also finding myself caring about the largely interchangeable members of Banner’s team. They haven’t captured my attention all that much to date, but this particular arc is actually getting to me. And Maria Hill, in her role as reluctant watchdog over Banner and crew, is more fun than she has any right to be.

This wasn’t the most memorable title I read this week. It wasn’t the best. But it may have been the most fun, so kudos to it for that.

Meanwhile, in Avengers World #2, Smasher is recruited by the Supreme Scientist and the Entropic Man to be their messenger to the world, Batwoman #27 continues the fight against Wolf Spider in an issue that fails to pay anything off or really set up any new action, Cataclysm: Ultimate X-Men #3 shows the X-Men escape from the Gah Lak Tus swarm, only to reappear at the feet of Galactus himself, Invaders #1 brings Namor, the Human Torch, Cap and the Winter Soldier together to get the McGuffin that will allow the Kree to control the gods, and X-Men #9 continues the Arkea saga as Monet finds herself thoroughly humbled against the power of Amora, Typhoid Mary, Lady Deathstrike and Arkea.

We Knew It Was Coming… Marvel to Take Over Publishing Star Wars Comics in 2015

Star_Wars_Logoby Aaron Einhorn
A year ago, The Walt Disney Company acquired the rights to George Lucas’s Star Wars (along with all of Lucasfilm, including film, television, video games, etc.) And immediately fans began to wonder what this meant for Dark Horse’s licensed Star Wars comics. Surely Disney wasn’t going to want to leave their very profitable franchise in the hands of another comic publisher?

Well, now we know that, in fact, they don’t. Beginning in 2015, the Star Wars license will go to Marvel from Dark Horse Comics.

There’s a little bit of “returning to our roots” with this move. Marvel published the first Star Wars comic in March of 1977, and kept publishing comics set in that universe for another nine years, until 1986 (a few years after Return of the Jedi), including kids’ comics based on the Droids and Ewoks cartoons under Marvel’s Star Comics imprint. Those comics are still looked back on fondly by many older fans, and elements of those comics are still considered to be “in-continuity” with the other works of the Expanded Universe. And, in fact, several collections of the old Marvel comics have been reprinted by Dark Horse Comics.

Dark Horse acquired the license in 1991, and has retained it ever since. In that time, they’ve published dozens of different Star Wars comics series, with stories that range from the days of the Old Republic, to stories occurring within the confines of both the Original Trilogy and the Prequel trilogy, to stories taking place shortly after Jedi, and all the way to the far future post-Jedi.

The nice part about this news (unlike the news of the end of Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars) is that we have a year between this announcement and the time that Marvel will start publishing new Star Wars comics. Hopefully this will give Dark Horse and the creators involved time to wrap up their respective Star Wars series.

Marvel’s press release regarding the announcement follows, along with a statement from Dark Horse Comic’s Mike Richardson.

From Marvel:

DISNEY’S LUCASFILM AND MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT JOIN FORCES TO PUBLISH STAR WARS™COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Jedi, Sith, and the rest of the Star Wars Universe Come to Marvel Comics in 2015

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (January 3, 2014) – The Walt Disney Company’s Lucasfilm Ltd. and Marvel Entertainment are joining forces to bring new Star Wars adventures to readers across the galaxy, with Marvel granted exclusive rights to create and publish Star Wars comics and graphic novels beginning in 2015.

The agreement marks a homecoming for the Star Wars comic books. Marvel Comics published the first Star Wars comic book, Star Wars#1, in March 1977, which went on to sell more than 1 million copies. Marvel Comics published its Star Wars series for nine years. In 1991, Dark Horse Comics took over the license, publishing fan-favorite titles like Dark Empire and Star Wars: Legacy. Last year, Dark Horse released The Star Wars #1, an adaptation of George Lucas’ original rough-draft screenplay for the film, garnering rave reviews and national media attention and ranking among the top-selling Star Wars comics of all time.

“Dark Horse Comics published exceptional Star Wars comics for over 20 years, and we will always be grateful for their enormous contributions to the mythos, and the terrific partnership that we had,” said Carol Roeder, director of Lucasfilm franchise publishing, Disney Publishing Worldwide. “In 2015, the cosmic adventures of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewbacca will make the lightspeed jump back to Marvel, to begin a new age of adventures within the Star Wars universe.”

“We here at Marvel could not be more excited to continue the publication of Star Wars comic books and graphic novels,” said Marvel Worldwide Publisher and President, Dan Buckley. “The perennial brand of Star Wars is one of the most iconic in entertainment history and we are honored to have the opportunity to bring our creative talent pool to continue, and expand Star Wars into galaxies far, far away.”

“We’re incredibly excited by this next chapter in the Star Wars saga,” said Andrew B. Sugerman, executive vice president of Disney Publishing Worldwide. “Bringing together the iconic Lucasfilm and Marvel brands to tell new stories will allow us to continue to thrill lovers of the original Star Wars comic books and entertain generations to come.”

Marvel has continued to push comic book publishing forward with innovations and experiments like motion comics and digital-only releases, in addition to its deep, ongoing catalog of monthly series and graphic novels created by some of the industry’s most gifted artists and writers.

From Dark Horse Comics:

THE END OF AN ERA

All things come to pass. So too, do all licensed deals. I am sad to report that Disney, the new owner of Lucasfilm, has notified us here at Dark Horse of their intention to move the Star Wars publishing license to another of their recent acquisitions, Marvel Comics, beginning in 2015. This will end a partnership that has lasted more than two decades.

For those who are new to the industry, Dark Horse revolutionized the treatment of comics based on films. After a history of movie properties being poorly handled with little regard for execution and continuity, Dark Horse took a new approach, carefully choosing licenses and approaching them with excitement and creative energy. Our goal was to create sequels and prequels to the films we loved, paying careful attention to quality and detail, essentially treating those films as though they were our own. Star Wars has been the crown jewel of this approach. We began chasing the title as far back as 1989, and with the launch of Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s Dark Empire, a new era in comics was born. I’m not ashamed to admit that we were Star Wars geeks, and we have been determined to spare neither effort nor expense in the pursuit of excellence.

It is ironic that this announcement comes at a time when Dark Horse is experiencing its most successful year ever. For obvious reasons, we have prepared for this eventuality by finding new and exciting projects to place on our schedule for 2015 and beyond. Will they take the place of Star Wars? That’s a tall order, but we will do our best to make that happen. In the meantime, 2014 may be our last year at the helm of the Star Wars comics franchise, but we plan to make it a memorable one. We know that fans of the franchise will expect no less. The Force is with us still.

Mike Richardson