All The Reasons My Daughter Loves ‘Octonauts’

My daughter Elodie is three and a half. And while, like many girls her age, she’s a big fan of things pink, frilly, and princessy, her heart truly skips a beat when it comes to the Octonauts. It’s her first request in the morning. It’s her favorite pretend time (especially with her little Peso doll). And consequently, it’s currently our biggest bargaining chip when it comes to doing discipline.

Most of the time when I watch a show with the kids, I sort of filter what I think they like. I break it down, talk about the education and developmental aspects, and filter it through my lens. (Well, okay — I will say, they’re totally adorable, and they super appeal to my inner oceanographer nerd).

But today I’m going to give you the reasons the Octonauts is great, not from my analysis, but from hers. Because, really, in the world of blogging, what better than to go directly to the source?

Mommy: Why do you like the Octonauts?

Elodie: Because big and tall!

Mommy: They make you big and tall? How?

Elodie: Because Captain Barnacles! He’s really big and strong.

Mommy: Who’s your favorite character?

Elodie: Dashi and Shellington and all of them. Who’s your favorite?

Mommy: Shellington. I love a Scottish accent.

Elodie: Me, too, Mom.

Mommy: What do you learn on the show?

Elodie: Captain Barnacles strike! I’m strong like Captain Barnacles.

Mommy: Okay, what do they do on the show?

Elodie: They, um, to your mission!

Mommy: Why do you love the show so much?

Elodie: Because there are biscuits. And sprinkles and sparkly ones.

Mommy: Where do they go on the show?

Elodie: To the missions!

Mommy: Where do they live?

Elodie: They live into the Octopod. It’s a squid! They live in a squid. They live in an octopod.

Mommy: What’s special about it?

Elodie: Tweak! She always makes stuff. And GUPS.

Mommy: Anything else you want to tell me about the show?

Elodie: No, actually. Well, Tweak always makes GUPS and wow, Tweak!

There you go, folks. Right from the mind of the foremost authority on the subject. You can catch Octonauts on Netflix.

Natania is a Netflix StreamTeam member.

Top image via, Disney.

Disney, You Lost Money On My-Four-Year Old Daughter

Disney has decided to withhold Rey toys, because, you know, no boy would want to play with a girl doll, and girls don’t want to play Star Wars. The magic marketers know it all.

Left unchecked, you will crush my daughter, who plays house with boys and superheroes with girls, loves her ballet, and has a huge stack of unused princess toys because many of her relatives and friends won’t shop for her outside of the girl section.

Don’t worry, I will not let you pull the joy from my four-year-old’s play, no matter how she doesn’t fit the segmentation you believe she is in. I will help her find the toys she likes best.

You will, however, lose any revenue you might get by properly conducting your market research and your segmentation, and actually create toys my daughter would like, then market them to her. That choice and loss is yours.

Continue reading Disney, You Lost Money On My-Four-Year Old Daughter

The Hour of Code Awakens: Build Your Own Game With Star Wars

Remember in my PAX Review how I mentioned that Disney Infinity was going to be even bigger—especially with anything Star Wars related? Well, this is it.

Disney is teaming up with for this year’s Hour of Code and it is going to be big: Coding. Gaming. And, best of all, sharing!!

Continue reading The Hour of Code Awakens: Build Your Own Game With Star Wars

‘Inside Out’ on Blu-ray: Pixar Makes it Clear Women Can Do Anything!

This week, Disney-Pixar’s latest creation, Inside Out, will be released on Blu-ray. The digital version was released through Disney Movies Anywhere on October 13th, with which you can buy the download on iTunes and Amazon. If you buy this movie you will not only enjoy a touching story of a pre-teen processing her emotions through several major life changes, but also the numerous bonus features.

Our family had a chance to get a sneak peek at the Blu-ray and digital download and really enjoyed the bonus features.

Continue reading ‘Inside Out’ on Blu-ray: Pixar Makes it Clear Women Can Do Anything!

Actor Jon Heder Gets Funny & Sort of Strange in Our Q&A

PICKLE AND PEANUT - "Greg" - Pickle lends his new pimple friend Greg to frenemy Lazer in hopes of landing an invitation to his cool party. When they realize Lazer has no intention of returning Greg, Pickle and Peanut must save him. The series premiere of "Pickle and Peanut" will air Monday, September 7 (9:00 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney XD.(Disney XD) PEANUT, PICKLE
Pickle and Peanut premieres September 7 on Disney XD. Photo: Disney XD.

Names like “Pickle” and “Peanut” are ones that you’d give your cats. However, if you’re execs at Disney XD, you’d give names like that an entire TV show.

That said, the upcoming animated series Pickle and Peanut isn’t about two fluffy creatures. It’s about a pickle and a peanut—and as you’d imagine, it’s pretty weird. It’s not just weird because the main characters are living, breathing, and sometimes screaming pieces of food. It’s because it revolves around two pieces of food entering their last year of high school, and experiencing all sorts of wacky adventures. (You can sample some of those in the video featurette below.)

Adding to the weirdness is actor Jon Heder, who voices Pickle, the emotional half of this comedy team. (22 Jump Street‘s Johnny Pemberton is Peanut.) You probably know him best as Napoleon Dynamite, the 2004 indie film phenomenon, with all sorts of sweet jumps and even sweeter dance moves. I know him as one of the weirdest, most entertaining people I’ve ever had the opportunity to interview.

Here’s what happened when I asked Jon a few questions about his role in Disney XD’s Pickle and Peanut.

PICKLE & PEANUT - (Disney XD/Todd Wawrychuk) JON HEDER
Jon Heder. Photo: Disney XD/Todd Wawrychuk.

GeekMom: Exactly what kind of personality does Pickle have? (Do pickles have a personality?)

Jon Heder: No, pickles do not have a personality. They are inanimate objects and are only for human consumption. But they taste like silliness and mild annoyance mixed together.

GM: What do your kids think about their dad voicing a pickle?

JH: One thinks it’s funny and the other rolls her eyes. Yeah, she started rolling those eyes a year ago, and life has been lovely ever since.

GM: This show has some serious weirdness to it. What age group do you think it’s designed for—and why? 

JH: Well, it’s on Disney XD, which caters to the 6-11 year-old boy audience, but I think Disney wants this show to step outside the normal demographic and appeal to young girls too and especially dads who like a little irreverence in their cartoons, such as Ren and Stimpy.

GM: What are some of your favorite cartoon characters—and did you draw on any of them for inspiration? If so, how?

JH: Pickle is the Stimpy in this show. He is the Flapjack. Fat Albert might also be drawing some obvious comparisons, but they both have similar emotional personalities. I love Scruffy from Futurama. Uncle Iroh from Avatar: Last Airbender is also one of my favorites. They both have deep emotional cores that carry the morals in each of their shows.

GM: Do you have a favorite type of pickle (half sour, etc.)?

JH: Are there many different kinds of pickles? I know there’s dill and sweet. That’s about all I know of. I mean, dill is delicious, especially chilled in a mountain stream overnight and enjoyed on a hike the next day.

GM: I have to ask: Did you keep anything from the Napoleon Dynamite set?

JH: I kept a wolf and unicorn poster, some boondoggles, a stinky foot fungus given to me by the moonboots, and the “Vote for Pedro” shirt.

Pickle and Peanut debuts Monday, September 7, on Disney XD.

Good Idea or Bad Idea? Taking the Kids on an Anniversary Vacation

We couldn't bear to see Alaska and the Pacific Northwest without our sons, so we brought them on our anniversary celebration -- and we're so glad we did! Photo: Patricia Vollmer (with a selfie stick!)
We couldn’t bear to see Alaska and the Pacific Northwest without our sons, so we brought them on our anniversary celebration—and we’re so glad we did! Photo: Patricia Vollmer (with a selfie stick!).

Earlier this month, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Well over a year prior, we had decided to plan a very nice trip for our anniversary. Since we had such a wonderful experience with our 2012 Disney cruise, we made reservations for a Disney cruise to Alaska. Continue reading Good Idea or Bad Idea? Taking the Kids on an Anniversary Vacation

Disney on Ice! Celebrates ‘100 Years of Magic’ On Tour Now!

Finding Nemo Disney on Ice "100 Years of Magic" \ Image courtesy of Feld Entertainment
Finding Nemo from Disney on Ice “100 Years of Magic” \ Image courtesy of Feld Entertainment

Disney on Ice! is on tour this year with the 100 Years of Magic. With 100 years to cover, I’m excited to see the over 50 member cast bring fan favorite characters to life on ice. Feld Entertainment is promising to bring an long list of Disney favorites to the rink. In the past, I’ve seen the Disney Princesses, Frozen, and Toy Story brought center stage and will see the addition of Finding Nemo, the Lion King, and other Disney misfits.

With 100 years to cover, there is also an impressive list of dance numbers and songs for Feld to pick from and it will be interesting to see which ones they decided were the most influential for this show.

For tour dates and ticket prices, head over to Disney on Ice! and see when they are stopping by a rink near you.

Stay tuned to GeekMom for a full after-show review in September!


Disney Is Streaming ‘Lava’ for Free

"LAVA" Pictured: Uku. Inspired by the isolated beauty of tropical islands and the explosive allure of ocean volcanoes, “LAVA” is a musical love story that takes place over millions of years. From Pixar Animation Studios, director James Ford Murphy and producer Andrea Warren, “LAVA” opens in theaters on June 19, 2015, in front of “Inside Out.” ©2014 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
“Lava” is a musical short that plays prior to Inside Out in theaters. Photo: Disney Pixar.

If you want to watch the beautiful Disney Pixar short “Lava,” you don’t have to race to the theaters still playing Inside Out or even wait for the Blu-ray. It’s available now, absolutely free.

For a limited time, Disney Movies Anywhere is streaming the critically acclaimed short about volcano love—and finally, I can cry in the privacy of my own home.

“Lava” is available in the Disney Movies Anywhere app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices for two weeks (through August 12, 2015). Sorry, but it’s not a download or anything. However, it is a little freebie that you can play over and over again to get your fill before it’s released as part of the inevitable Blu-ray.

Are you ready to fall in “lava” again? There’s a little clip below, in case you need incentive to snag that app!

Disney Writers Spark Conversation via ‘Descendants’

DESCENDANTS - The teenage sons and daughters of Disney's most infamous villains star in Disney's "Descendants," a live-action movie that - with a knowing wink at traditional fairy tales -  fuses castles with classrooms to create a contemporary, music-driven story about the challenges in living up to parental and peer expectations. Made for kids, tweens and families, the movie premieres FRIDAY, JULY 31 (8:00 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney Channel and Friday, July 24 to verified users on the WATCH Disney Channel app and (Disney Channel/Jack Rowand) SOFIA CARSON, CAMERON BOYCE, DOVE CAMERON, BOOBOO STEWART
Sofia Carson, Cameron Boyce, Dove Cameron, and Booboo Stewart star in the Disney Channel’s Descendants. Photo: Disney Channel/Jack Rowand.

Of course, we all love our kids. However, those awkward, drama-filled teenage years can be brutal. Now, just imagine having to parent one of Disney’s Descendants!

Believe it or not, there are some very familiar themes in the upcoming Disney Channel original—as well as some familiar faces and a whole lot of new music. If it sounds a little like the fairy-tale version of High School Musical, that’s no coincidence; the live-action movie was helmed by Kenny Ortega, who serves as director, choreographer, and executive producer.

Set in the idyllic kingdom of Auradon, the film starts off with Ben (Mitchell Hope), the teenage son of the Beast and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Just as he’s about to take the throne, Ben offers a shot at redemption to the spawn of Disney’s most infamous villains. Mal (Dove Cameron) is the daughter of Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth), Evie (Sofia Carson) is the daughter of The Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy) from Snow White, Carlos (Cameron Boyce) is the son of Cruella de Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson) from 101 Dalmatians, and Jay (Booboo Stewart) is the son of Jafar (Maz Jobrani) from Aladdin. After being banished to the Isle of the Lost for 20 years, the four are invited to attend prep school alongside the teenage progeny of the Fairy Godmother, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Mulan. Will the teens follow in the wicked footsteps of their parents?

DESCENDANTS - Stars of the upcoming Disney Channel's movie "Descendants" and its director Kenny Ortega were the guests of honor at a screening party held at Disney Studios in Burbank, California on Friday, July 24.  The contemporary, live-action adventure tells the story of the teenage sons and daughters of Disney’s most infamous villains. "Descendants" premieres Friday, July 31 (8:00 p.m. ET/PT) on Disney Channel. (Disney Channel/Image Group LA) JOSANN MCGIBBON (WRITER/CO-PRODUCER), SARAH PARRIOTT (WRITER/CO-PRODUCER)
Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott are writers/co-producers for the Disney Channel’s Descendants. Photo: Disney Channel/Image Group LA.

Not if writers Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon have anything to say about it. Okay—maybe I should have included a spoilers tag. However, this is a Disney movie, people.

And that’s pretty obvious, if you’re paying attention. In fact, families should try to spot all of the Disney references throughout the film. Sara and Josann, who are currently celebrating 30 years as writing partners, have pointed out a few favorites, including the use of “hi ho” as a greeting and the spinning wheel from Sleeping Beauty. There are also a whole bunch of nods in the Fairy Godmother’s “Goodness” class, which the kids have to take when entering Auradon Prep.

There’s plenty to talk about after the film as well. Besides encouraging your kids to watch some pretty cool Disney classics, Descendants weaves the topics of self-confidence, finding the beauty within, freedom of choice, personal responsibility, teamwork, justice, and empathy into the film’s 112 minutes. To help fuel a little post-movie chatter, Sara and Josann gave GeekMom six topics to spark conversation between families and kids watching Descendants.

Sara says:

  1. “You have to choose to be good. Circumstances or background may influence you, but in the end, one needs to choose to be good.”
  2. “Do not let people label you, nor should you label others. It’s very easy to buy into a label—Evie thinks her label is ‘beautiful,’ but she learns she is so much more. Carlos thinks dogs are ‘vicious pack animals’ until he encounters Dude.”
  3. “You can change. Things can get better. It takes reflection, strength, and support, but you can overcome circumstances to become the person you want to be.”

Josann says:

  1. “Listen to that voice inside you that is telling you right from wrong. More often, this is going to apply to peer pressure or other personal impulses. Remember you have a choice to do the right thing.”
  2. “There is true pride in accomplishment, especially from hard work.”
  3. “Face your fears. Some fears make sense and are smart to have. But some fears really cut off your options and make life less fun. When Carlos finally meets a dog, he realizes how wrong he’s been to be afraid all his life. Maybe there’s something you can learn more about that will make you less afraid.”
DESCENDANTS - With a knowing wink at traditional fairy tales, Disney's "Descendants" fuses castles with classrooms to create a contemporary, music-driven story that introduces Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay, the teenage progeny of Disney’s villains. It premieres in Summer 2015 on Disney Channel U.S., followed by Disney Channels around the world. (Disney Channel/Jack Rowand) DOVE CAMERON, KRISTIN CHENOWETH
Dove Cameron and Kristin Chenoweth star as mother/daughter team Mal and Maleficent. Photo: Disney Channel/Jack Rowand.

Descendants airs Friday, July 31 at 8:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on Disney Channel. The Descendants DVD will be released the same day.

Reasons to Cheat on the Mouse: Why Disneyphiles Should Visit Universal

Photo Courtesy: Universal Orlando Resort
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort.

I have a confession to make: I love Disney. I know, those of you playing along at home are thinking, “But aren’t you the same chica who was extolling the virtues of showing kids horror films?” Yes. Yes, I am. But nonetheless, I love Disney. And most of all, I love Disney World. Not just The Haunted Mansion or the Tower of Terror, but Peter Pan and It’s a Small World too.

When my daughter was about two years old, we first visited Disney World, and just like that, we were hooked. We’ve made at least one pilgrimage to the Mouse every year since and have even embarked on a quest to visit all the Disney parks before our oldest graduates from high school. (Yes, I freely admit we have a problem. It might even be clinical.) For years, we strayed nary a step off the Disney property. And then a friend insisted we visit the Universal parks. “But,” we said. “We’re loyal. We could never cheat on the Mouse!” Lucky for us, we did.

It only took once, and we were Universal fans as well. (Okay, we have an amusement park addiction—I’m looking into 12-step programs.) As my kids have grown, we still visit Orlando, but now we spread the love more evenly and I’ve come to believe that even the most ardent Disneyphile needs to carve out time for Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure. Here’s why:

Photo Courtesy: Universal Orlando Resort
Dragon Alley photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As we’ve established, I have a theme park addiction. I’m not proud of it. Okay, maybe a little. But the point is, I’m a tad more than familiar with theming. I’ve enjoyed it from Anaheim, California, to Bruhl, Germany. Without a doubt, the best themed attraction I have ever encountered is Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando. Add into that mix the Hogwarts Express taking you over to Islands of Adventure and Hogsmeade Village, and the world of Harry Potter alone is worth the visit—even if you aren’t a super fan. Fair warning, though: You’re likely to have achieved fanatic status by the time you leave. The attention to detail is astounding. I’ve visited multiple times and I still find new and hidden wonders. The rides themselves are fine, but it’s emersion in the world that really seals the deal. If you have kids (spouses) that are into Disney’s Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, make sure to check out the interactive wands. Spell casting portals appear across both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade and are worth the cost of the wand. The attractions don’t end there! From the flame-spitting dragon to the ice cream flavors, Diagon Alley has more than enough to justify a day away from Tomorrowland. And don’t forget the butterbeer!

Amusement Park, Not Just Theme Park. This may seem like a fine distinction, but in the case of Universal, it carries weight. Theme parks tell a story, Amusement parks push the thrills. Certainly the Wizarding World is a themed area, but the rest of the park is allowed to flow freely without an iron-fist to detail. Men in Black next to Fear Factor? Why not? The Simpsons Ride within a stone’s throw of E.T.? Sure! Not having to theme each area to specific parameters allows for greater variety and…

THE INCREDIBLE HULK ROLLER COASTER  at Islands of Adventure  Photo  Courtesy: Universal Orlando Resort
The Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster at Islands of Adventure photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort.

Bigger Thrills! At the Disney World parks, even the biggest thrills, let’s be honest, are fairly tame. With the possible exception of Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest, and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the thrills are less about adrenaline and more about the story. Universal is the opposite. They aim to toss, twist, and drop you in the most extreme ways possible. Compare The Hulk, The Mummy, or Rip Ride Rockit to anything at Disney. If you’re looking for adrenaline, there is no comparison.

A Multi-park Pass Has Value. Full disclosure: We always buy the Park Hopper pass at Disney World. But the truth is that without proper planning, it isn’t easy to visit more than one park per day. Due to sheer size and location, vehicular transport is required to move between Disney parks. Your legs alone can get you from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure. And if you want a bigger thrill, the Hogwarts Express runs between the two Wizarding Worlds and is an attraction in itself.

Express Pass and Express Pass Plus Are What (Some of Us Wish) FastPass Should Be. Sure, you have to pay for Universal’s Express Pass and Express Pass Plus and Disney (currently) doesn’t charge, but rather than the hassle of trying to determine where and when you will want to ride specific attractions more than a month in advance, Universal lets you flash a card and beat the line. Express Pass allows for one ride per attraction and the Plus option is unlimited. Both are easier than choosing which three rides you want per day at a Disney park. Further, you can purchase the Express passes for one or both parks, while Disney allows only one park for FastPasses. And don’t even get me started about juggling tier 1 versus tier 2 attractions!

Characters! This one may seem a bit counterintuitive. After all, what is Disney known for if not characters? But the problem we’ve found with all those great Disney characters is that they’re, well, Disney characters! While my son still won’t consider a trip complete without hugging Stitch, the pickings for a 9-year-old boy aren’t quite the same as those for a girl. While Disney will always have a hold on my heart (I still hug Eeyore whenever possible), the diversity at the Universal parks is something to be admired. Further, they aren’t quite as hung up on separating each character into the correctly themed areas. (Remember, amusement park, not theme park.) Within one half block at Universal Studios, we ran into Woody Woodpecker, Bart Simpson, Betty Boop, Doc Brown of Back to the Future, and Shaggy and Scooby! Just try and find Buzz Lightyear and Elsa signing autographs side-by-side! Islands of Adventure features enough comic book characters—male and female—to get both my 9-year old son and my 12-year old daughter excited.

Marvel Super Heros!  Photo Courtesy: Universal Orlando Resort
Marvel superheroes! Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort.

I’m well aware that in these days of tough economic times, it can be difficult to afford a trip to Orlando. But if you are able to take your little people to visit the Mouse, try to fit in a day (or two) at the Universal parks. I think you’ll be glad you did.

5 Reasons to Love ‘Lava’

Image courtesy of Pixar.

It’s now an expected, and respected, tradition for Pixar to treat viewers to a brand new animated short whenever the studio releases a feature film in theaters. Their latest offering, called “Lava,” is currently playing alongside Inside Out and tells the story of a lonely tropical volcano and his search for someone to love (or “someone to lava,” as the song in the short goes).

This unusual premise was the brainchild of first-time director James Ford Murphy, who previously worked as an animator on many of Pixar’s greatest hits, including Cars, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo. Combining beautiful visuals, a hummable tune, and an epic love story, it’s a nice companion piece that will stir your emotions long before Joy makes her first appearance in the main attraction.

Here are a few of the things that make this little gem something special.

1. It was inspired by a genuine affection for the Hawaiian islands.

Murphy gave a little presentation about the making of short at the press day for Inside Out a few weeks ago. He explained that he first fell in love with Hawaii while visiting the Big Island on his honeymoon 25 years ago. “Ever since that trip, I’ve been in love with tropical islands, active volcanoes, and Hawaiian music.”

Murphy returned to Hawaii several times during the making of the film. He even took his family on a spectacular flyover of the active volcano Kilauea. He also came across a diorama in a shopping mall showing the region’s active volcanoes, including an underwater one which became the inspiration for the female volcano in the film.

2. The director not only wrote the sweet, catchy tune that tells the story of “Lava,” he also played the ukulele himself on the final recording.

“I’ll never forget the first time I heard Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of ‘Over the Rainbow,'” Murphy says. “It was featured on an episode of ER and it absolutely stunned me. And I never forgot it. And I thought, ‘What if I could write a song that makes me feel the way that song does and feature it in a Pixar short film?’ So that’s what I set out to do.”

Lava director Jim Murphy explains is inspiration for the short.
“Lava” director Jim Murphy explains is inspiration for the short. Image: Disney/Pixar.

3. The two volcanoes in the story are named “Uku” and “Lele.”

“Why waste a name that doesn’t mean anything?” Murphy says. “Mauna Uku and Mauna Lele sound like a place. The funny thing is, the Hawiians all giggle. Because ‘uku’ literally means ‘head lice.’ And ‘ukulele’ means ‘dancing flea.’ That’s where the name comes from. So they teased the singer. But I just thought it sounded right. Mauna Uku and Mauna Lele, and together they’re the island of Ukulele.”

4. The singing voices of the volcanoes were provided by two superstars of the Hawaiian music scene.

“In my initial pitch, I promised this song would be sung by traditional Hawaiian singers,” Murphy recalls. “So for one year, all I did was listen to Hawaiian music. I drove my family crazy, my friends crazy, but I was searching for the perfect singers for ‘Lava.’ And in my research, I learned about a Hawaiian musical festival called the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. And when I found out about it, I convinced [producer] Andrea Warren that we had to go, because every musician I was interested in was going to be there and this would be our opportunity to see, meet, and hear who we wanted to work with on ‘Lava.’ And it turned out to be the best decision we ever made for the film because we not only left there completely inspired by the culture and the aloha spirit that we felt, we ended up casting two of Hawaii’s most popular recording artists. Kuana Torres Kahele sings the part of the narrator and Uku, the male volcano, and Napua Greig sings the part of Lele, the female volcano.”

5. The gorgeous, millennia-spanning visuals will make you want to fly off to Hawaii immediately.

Producer Andrea Warren cautions all who see the short: “You’re about to see images of an extreme tropical nature and we can’t be held responsible if you feel compelled to go on a tropical vacation afterwards.”

Aloha Friday: YouTube ‘Lava’ Covers

A long, long time ago, there was a volcano….

Tutu, Ella, and me in Hawaii. Photo Melody Mooney.

We took our daughter to see the Disney-Pixar animated movie Inside Out last weekend. Like so many, we instantly fell in love with the short before the feature, “Lava.” Having family in Hawaii, we felt very connected to the sweet island love story. Ella has been wanting me to sing the volcano song so she can make up a Hula for her Tutu (grandmother), who she misses every day. I took to looking online for some links to the “Lava” song.

Here are a few YouTube covers of the song that my Facebook friend Kuana Torres Kahele, who is the voice of Uku the volcano in “Lava,” posted to his page.

Sharing these beautiful songs of “Lava” for Tutu and you on this Aloha Friday:

Kelli Marie (the last one) even breaks down the ukulele chords for you. Try this, using the ukulele strum pattern Down, Down, Up, Up, Down, Up:

Intro: C (x4)

I have a dream…

I hope will come true…

That you’re here with me…

C … C7
And I’m here with you.

F … C
I wish that the earth, sea, and sky up above-a…

G … C
Would send me someone to lava!

From the Pixar Wiki:

“Lava” directed by James Ford Murphy and produced by Andrea Warren. It is described as a “musical love story taking place over millions of years that is inspired by the isolated beauty of tropical islands and the explosive allure of ocean volcanoes.” The story follows the love story of two volcanoes, Uku and Lele. It features a song, “Lava”, which is written by Murphy and performed by Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Greig, who voice the two volcanoes.

‘Homestar Runner’ Creators Get Weird With Disney XD

YouTube screenshot by Rachel Cericola.

If you’ve been experiencing a void that Homestar Runner used to fill with goofy cartoons, games, and a whole lot of Strong Bad, have we got some news for you.

Disney XD has hired The Brothers Chaps to create a web series called Two More Eggs. The series will include a total of 40 original cartoon shorts, which will run on Disney XD’s YouTube channel and Watch Disney XD all summer long.

The writing duo, who also go by Mike and Matt Chapman, are best known for creating Homestar Runner back in 2000. This isn’t the first time that the two have collaborated with Disney, though. The brothers wrote for the Annie Award-winning Wander Over Yonder and Matt has worked solo on some of the Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts and Gravity Falls.

The cartoons will be a weird and wonderful mix—well, mostly weird. However, they also include all sorts of different styles, including flash, computer-generated imagery and animation, as well as live-action.

“Disney’s support has allowed us to organically evolve these weird cartoons in exactly the way we imagined,” said The Brothers Chaps. “We’ve worked on these shorts with the same autonomy as with our own Homestar Runner cartoons, and it’s been tons of fun.”

The first three cartoons, “Dooble – Dooblie Doo,” “CGI Palz – Theme Song,” and “Hot Dip – Not 4 Momz,” have already debuted. Based on these three entries, I am not sure this series will be fun for the whole family—unless you have a family filled with college students. Take a peek and if you like what you see, there will be a new short every Tuesday throughout the summer.

Disney Teaser Prepares Us for a Visit to ‘Zootopia’

ZOOTOPIA – Pictured (L-R): Nick Wilde, Judy Hopps. "It's a nod to the great Disney animated animal films we all grew up with, but with a funny, contemporary twist," said director Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Simpsons”). "Our artists and animators did tons of research to integrate true animal behaviors into each of our characters. The world of Zootopia is fantastic, infused with international flavor that will be relatable to everyone.” ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: ©2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Disney just released a teaser for its next animated film, Zootopia. What’s not to get excited about? It’s just a teaser, but we know it will have tons of animals, as well as Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin. That’s certainly a good start.

However, what intrigues me the most is that this upcoming film is by the same team that brought us Big Hero 6, Frozen, and Wreck It Ralph. And since it’s Disney, you know it will have stunning animation and plenty of cuddly characters.

The teaser below makes it seem like there could be a lot of animal-related hijinks, but no superheroes, princesses, or cool gadgets (unless you think the cell phone is cool).

According to Disney, the film focuses on Zootopia, a metropolis that brings together every member of the animal kingdom—but not always in complete harmony. Goodwin voices Officer Judy Hopps, a new bunny on the police force, with Bateman as sly fox Nick Wilde. The two are an unlikely pair of partners out to solve some type of case. Since this is just a teaser, that’s all we’re getting at this point. What case, what animals, and what other famous voices are involved is all part of the mystery at this point.

Think you’ll be visiting Zootopia? You have time to plan that visit, since the film isn’t coming until March 4, 2016. In the meantime, check out the teaser trailer below.

‘Phineas and Ferb’ Creators Talk ‘Last Day of Summer’

PHINEAS AND FERB - "Lost in Danville" - Damon Lindelof, co-creator and writer of "Lost", joined "Phineas and Ferb" creators and executive producers Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh for a screening of the series' "Lost" themed episode featuring story by Lindelof at the Disney Toon Studios in Glendale California on Wednesday, September 10. "Phineas and Ferb: Lost in Danville," guest starring Terry O'Quinn, Jane Kaczmarek and Rob Morrow, premieres Monday, September 29 at 7:30 p.m., ET/PT on Disney XD. (Disney XD/Rick Rowell) PHINEAS, DAN POVENMIRE (CREATOR/EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "PHINEAS AND FERB"), JEFF "SWAMPY" MARSH (CREATOR/EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "PHINEAS AND FERB"), FERB
Phineas and Ferb creators/executive producers Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh. Photo: Disney XD/Rick Rowell.

Well, kids, all good vacations must come to an end—even the animated ones. So after 104 days of summer vacation, 126 episodes, five one-hour specials, and a Disney Channel Original movie, Phineas and Ferb is about to wrap up.

Even though it will live on through the magic of reruns, the series has stopped producing new episodes. However, unlike so many other beloved shows that have come and gone, this Emmy-winning (and highly rated) series is getting a big finale. Will Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher build a rocket, fight a mummy, or climb up the Eiffel Tower? Will Candace finally bust her brothers? Will Doofenshmirtz and Perry go back to being jumping buddies?

That last one is definitely a stretch, but all of these questions will be answered when Phineas and Ferb airs its very last episode later this week. Of course, the show plans to go out with a bang—and it doesn’t even need one of Doofenshmirtz’s “In-ators.” Disney XD will air a 73-hour marathon before the final episode, “Last Day of Summer,” airs on Friday, June 12.

Not to worry; this isn’t really goodbye, as much as it is another little vacation. Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, who created, produced, wrote, and even voiced Phineas and Ferb (Povenmire is particularly active, as the voice of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz), are working on a new show for Disney XD. Mikey Murphy’s Law is expected to launch sometime in 2017.

I got the chance to have a hilarious chat with Dan and Swampy, who talked about how Stephen King influenced the big finale, what the next project will be like, and how losing Doofenshmirtz is going to be hard on everyone.

GeekMom [Rachel]: I’m going to give you the same question I’m sure everyone is giving you: Why is the show ending??

Jeff “Swampy” Marsh: That wasn’t the same question. Everybody else asks why we’re so good looking. At least, that’s what I remember.

Dan Povenmire: That’s how we take it. The question was actually, “Why do you look like that?” We took it to mean why are we so good looking.

You know, when we started the show, they picked up 16 half-hours and we were like… that’s 32 stories! How are we going to tell 32 stories?

Swampy: What have we done??

Dan: Now, we’ve done 126 half-hours, which is 200-some stories.

Swampy: We were pretty cocky and thought we’d get two seasons.

Dan: I think we’ve done much more than we were even planning on doing with them. It’s been a lot of fun, but I feel like, especially fourth season, we started running into walls periodically. We’d start to pitch an idea and realize, oh no, we’ve already done that. It’s sort of like that South Park episode, where they kept saying, “The Simpsons did it. The Simpsons did it,” because The Simpsons have been on the air so long. But it was sort of like, oh no, we already did that. So we were towards the end of an order and we said, “would you guys mind” if we just took these hour-long specials they wanted us to do, and made it into an actual series finale.

Swampy: Animated series don’t get to do a series finale.

Dan: Little comedy, animated cartoons don’t usually get to say goodbye. We felt like it would be nice to be able to wrap it up. It’s going to play forever on Disney. There’s so many of them that by the time you’re done watching, whatever 73 hours of them, then you’ll be ready for the first one again. It was just a nice way to say goodbye, I think.

GeekMom: I’ve seen a lot of people freaking out on social media about the show ending. Are you surprised at the reaction?

Dan: It took us a bit aback. I was actually waiting for jury duty in the hall of the Los Angeles courthouse and I saw that Disney PR sent us the link to the announcement and said, “Okay, you can finally tweet this.” We’ve been sort of under a gag order for the better part of a year. So I tweeted it and I looked on Twitter and there was such an outpouring of emotion, that I literally started crying. I was reading page after page after page of people telling us what the show had meant to them. I started crying and I went in to wash my face before I went in for jury selection. I looked at myself and I looked like such a crazy person and I was like, maybe I could use this to get out of jury duty. Nobody wants the crying juror! Instead, I just turned the phone off and went and looked at them later. The case was actually dismissed by the time we went into the courtroom.

Swampy: Dan called to me to ask if I was reading the Twitter feed and crying. I think my response was [starts wailing]…

Dan: We had known that the show was going to be over for like over a year now, because we had to write it, had to make it. We went through the last storyboard pitch, the last animatic, the last voice records, the last color, the last mix. All of these were sort of milestones for us. It was sort of our way of saying goodbye. We’ve been various degrees of sad and bittersweet for all that time. It wasn’t until that day that the rest of the country, the rest of the world got to know it was ending; it was so fresh for them that it made it fresh for us again.

GeekMom: I just watched the last episode [which you can get a peek at in the clip above] this morning and I am not sure how to describe it without too much spoilage. I looked at it as a take on Groundhog Day. How would you describe it?

Swampy: It’s a mash-up of Groundhog Day and The Langoliers.

Dan: The Langoliers by Stephen King.

Swampy: Kids love Stephen King references—almost as much as they love Tom Stoppard references.

Dan: Especially when it’s a Stephen King book that he wrote as Richard Bachman. I’m not sure, maybe that’s a Stephen King. I think it was a Bachman book. I think The Langoliers was a Bachman book.

GeekMom: Let’s talk a little about the new show that’s coming out, Mikey Murphy’s Law. What’s it about? How did the idea come about?

Dan: It’s about a kid named Mikey Murphy who’s the great-great-great-great-great grandson of Murphy from Murphy’s Law, which is that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy’s Law just happens around him all the time. He sort of lives in this cyclone of calamity. Things go wrong around him all the time. Because that’s just been his life his whole life… you know, if you’re born with one arm, you just go about and figure out how to do everything with one arm and you don’t think of it, because that’s just the way your life is.

Swampy: He wouldn’t change it. If you were to ask him, it makes his life exciting and different and an adventure every day.

Dan: He’s the most positive and optimistic kid. That’s just the way his life is, and it’s sort of following him around on his adventures with this friend of his and all the kids at school and how people interact with him while things are falling out of the sky.

GeekMom: I know a lot of parents who feel like Phineas and Ferb is the one kids’ show that they can tolerate. Will the new show have the same vibe?

Dan: It should. It’s our sense of humor and our vibe.

Swampy: We’re not going to stop doing all of the things that we enjoy doing. We seem to have connected with everyone, so all of that is going to remain.

Dan: We went through several different ideas before settling on Mikey Murphy because we felt like this is a really good follow-up to Phineas. It has the same kind of positive energy, it has the same opportunity for jokes that the parents will like as much as the kids. I think it will feel like it very much exists in the same kind of universe.

GeekMom: Will music be a big part of the new show?

Swampy: We’ve decided that there will be no music in this—not even a soundtrack.

Dan: We don’t even like music.

Swampy: That’s a good idea. We should rethink that.

Dan: You just gave us a great idea. Maybe we should put music in the show.

Swampy: I don’t think we’d be able to produce animated shows without some music in them.

Dan: Swampy and I used to write together at another network and the executive producer of that show kept telling us, “Okay, no more songs. It’s really hard, there’s all these people dancing, it takes us longer to animate it.” And we were like okay, and we’d write a song for the next episode and he’d go, “This one is good, but no more songs after this.”

GeekMom: The final episode is coming up, but Perry still gets his own one-hour special later this fall (The O.W.C.A. Files). Is this a one-time thing or is there a spin-off possibility?

Swampy: We’ll see how people take it, but it really just felt like… it was some area that we wanted to play in. It felt like a fun adventure.

GeekMom: When looking back on the show’s 126 episodes, do you have a favorite “Inator?”

Swampy: Oh, man!

Dan: There have been a lot of good ones. We’ve done “Shrinkinator” several times.

Swampy: It’s “Shrinkspheria.”

Dan: Yeah, we did “Shrinkspheria,” we did “Shrinkinator.” Then we had it on his balcony for a while, so we could continue to use it.

Swampy: The thing that I liked about “Shrinkspheria” is the whole theory that went with it, that it was simply by using the “Inator” name—that’s what was messing him up.

Dan: [In Doofenshmirtz’s voice] I’ve done this whole “Inator” thing a billion times. It just doesn’t work. I think I’ll call it “Shrinkspheria.” I think that’s the problem; it was the “Inator” name.

GeekMom: I’m going to miss that voice so much.

Dan: You and me both. That’s the thing I’m going to miss the most. There are so many times where I have an idea and think this would be a great Doof rant, I’ve got to put it in… oh, that’s right, we’re not doing it anymore. A lot of sort of sad moments like that. It used to be that I could either put it in the show or we did this “Doof’s Daily Dirt” web show that whenever I had anything I wanted to rant about, I would just write it up and do it for that. Like… [In Doofenshmirtz’s voice] Carly Rae Jepsen, what’s it about with her songs? “This is craaaazy, so here’s my number, so call me.” That’s not crazy; you give somebody your number because you want to see them again socially. You know what would be crazy is if she didn’t give the guy her number and she wanted to talk to him again later.

PHINEAS AND FERB - "Last Time of Summer" - The summer season is coming to a close and it's Candace's last chance to bust her brothers. She is quickly foiled, but is presented with an opportunity to redo the day when she sets off Dr. Doofenshmirtz's Do-Over-Inator, which results in other consequences like rips in the space-time continuum, the shortening of days and the disappearance of her brothers. This episode of "Phineas and Ferb" will air Friday, June 12 (9:00 PM - 10:00 PM ET/PT), on Disney XD. (Disney XD) BUFORD, ISABELLA, PHINEAS, FERB, BUFORD
The final episode of Phineas and Ferb, “Last Day of Summer,” will air on June 12 on Disney XD. Photo: Disney XD.

The 73-hour Phineas and Ferb marathon kicks off on Tuesday, June 9, leading into the finale, “Last Day of Summer,” on Friday, June 12 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT). The show will then continue to air daily on Disney XD and Disney Channels around the world.

Disney Promotes ‘Summer’ Event With Retro-Style Gaming

Disney’s “Soaring Over Summer Arcade” will include retro arcade-style games with voxel versions of Jake, Sofia, Miles, Doc, and Henry. Photo: Disney Junior.

Disney Junior is getting ready for a sizzling summer. The network just announced plans to launch the “Soaring Over Summer” event, which will include new episodes of several shows, awesome guest stars, and retro-style arcade games.

“Soaring Over Summer” will last for a total of seven weeks, starting June 29. It will include a brand new episode of one show every single weekday during that time period. As part of the event, we can expect to see new episodes of Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, Miles from Tomorrowland, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and Henry Hugglemonster. If you miss an episode on TV, you’ll be able to catch it the same day on Watch Disney Junior—assuming you won’t be playing video games.

Yes, while your kiddies are watching their favorite programs, you can be playing in the “Soaring Over Summer Arcade.” Disney Junior plans to unleash several retro-style arcade games with voxel versions of Sofia, Doc, Miles, Jake, and Henry.

During the “Soaring Over Summer” event, look for season-three premieres of Doc McStuffins and Sofia the First, with the latter featuring guest voices Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) and John Ross Bowie (The Big Bang Theory).

Other geeky guest stars to expect this summer include Malcolm McDowell, Jim Rash, David Tennant, Nestor Carbonell, Brett Dalton, and Chloe Bennett in episodes of Jake and the Never Land Pirates; Isla Fisher and Sean Aston on Sofia the First; and Alton Brown on Miles from Tomorrowland.

The “Soaring Over Summer” event will run from Monday, June 29 through Thursday, August 28. The premiere episodes will air each weekday at 9:00 a.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel and 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Junior.

What is it About The Hatbox Ghost?

A few of the Haunted Mansion’s Hatbox Ghost-themed images that haunt my home year-round. Although this figure hadn’t set his ghostly foot in the attraction for 45 years, he remained a fan-favorite. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

One of Disneyland Park’s most mysterious residents returned home this month, as part of park’s 2015 Diamond Celebration.

On the weekend of May 9, the newly re-imagined Hatbox Ghost was installed in the attic of the Haunted Mansion, appearing just before guests’ DoomBuggies make the backward descent into the ride’s raucous graveyard.

Dressed in full Victorian cloak and top hat, like a non-lethal Jack the Ripper, the grim grinning figure leers menacingly at guests as his head disappears from his shoulders and into the large transparent hatbox in his outstretched hand. The head then disappears from the box back onto his shoulders.

That’s pretty much all there is to him; the concoction of a basic lighting effect that didn’t seem to work the first time… and we Haunted Mansion fans just love him!

Walt Disney Imagineering Producer Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz announced the ghost’s long-anticipated return to the mansion in a Disney Parks podcast that same weekend.

“The Hatbox Ghost was one of the original 999 Happy Haunts in the mansion,” Shaver-Moskowitz said in the podcast. “Sometime around the opening, he disappeared and has been missing from the mansion for the past 45 years.”

Shaver-Moskowitz noted this ghost is one of the mansion’s most popular figures ever, and it didn’t even exist there… at least not since the attraction’s opening in 1969.

This means, no one my age or younger had ever even seen this ghost in person until this month. The majority of Disney visitors older than myself have never even seen the original ghost, although many have claimed to have “sighted” him that first year. There is only one video I know of, released on the fan site Disney History Institute (unaffiliated with the Walt Disney Company), that even proves this original ghost appeared in the ride at all. No one seems to even know where he went.

One of the many fan-art creations celebrating The Hatbox Ghost. Artwork by Chris Mason, courtesy of the artist.

I find myself among those admirers of the Hatbox Ghost. He has made his way into my Haunted Mansion decorations, many of which are displayed year-round, plastered on my file cabinets with homemade magnets and clippings, living among my Halloween models, and hidden in the images of our New Orleans-themed guest bathroom (if you know where to find him).

It is as if I know him as well as any of the other Haunted Mansion ghost visitors that I’ve seen again and again.

I’m not the only one. This ghost has had his own fan page on Facebook, and director and author Guillermo del Toro wanted to use him as the focus on a motion picture based on the attraction. Whether that film ever sees the flickering light of the silver screen remains a mystery in itself. The fan artists and cosplayers love him, as well. One of my favorites is a portrait by pop culture artist Chris Mason.

The marketing geniuses at Disney have done their best to keep this ghost in people’s minds, whether or not he has been in the park for more than four decades. He’s been featured in postcards, T-shirts, books, as the mascot for a past “Haunted Holidays” campaign where he talked about haunted sites around the world, pin-trading events, and as a costumed character. Families can even download their own Hatbox Ghost paper model from the Disney Family site.

The Hatbox Ghost’s return is such a little thing in the grand scheme of the park—practically no changes were needed to add him to the attraction. However, his presence is so significant to Haunted Mansion lovers, as he is the amalgam of the original, old-school classic design from Imagineers like Yale Gracey and Marc Davis, and today’s advancements in animatronics and computer animation.

He’s elegant and graceful. He’s eerie. He’s relatively simple in concept, but apparently complex in design. He’s classic. He’s humorous and weirdly friendly. Most of all, however, he’s very, very, Disney. I’m not talking about the overly tech-savvy, yet nonetheless impressive, Disney style of today. The Hatbox Ghost is the picture of early-stage Disney Imagineering at its finest.

I think it’s appropriate the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland Park is in New Orleans Square, because there’s a word of French and Spanish origins often associated with the spirit of the city: lagniappe, or “a little something extra.”

An early promotional photo Imagineer Yale Gracey and the original Hatbox Ghost. Image: flickr commons.
A circa-1969 promotional photo of Imagineer Yale Gracey and the original and long, long gone, Hatbox Ghost. Flickr commons, from the collection of Tom Simpson.

The Haunted Mansion is filled with these kinds of extras. The wild-eyed faces in the hallway wallpaper, the dueling gunmen portraits in the ballroom, the one broken singing bust head, and the seductively creepy nose wrinkle of the “Little Leota” farewell bride. All of these little “lagniappes” add to the ride, and are as good effects, if not better, than the Hatbox Ghost’s little head trick.

So why is the Hatbox Ghost so popular? I think people love a good mystery, a good reason for speculation, and “where is he now” conspiracy theories.

For me, the Hatbox Ghost represents my own growing up with the mansion. Never mind the fact the ghost and I are the same age—I think I look considerably younger, though—the Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite attractions, second only to Pirates of the Caribbean. This ride also scared me so much my first time on it, I never even made it past the stretching room. It was 1973 or 74 and I was just a toddler. The rules were a little more lax then, and I was perched atop my father’s shoulders as we entered the room. While everyone else was huddled safely together, I was exposed and alone over everyone’s head as the walls begin to stretch. I panicked and begin clutching the scalps of random victims. Long story short, they stopped the stretching room elevator and let us out.

The next year, I muscled up some courage and made my way through the ride, looking through a cage of my own fingers. The year after that, however, I started seeing the imagination behind each ghost and haunted hallway, and I fell in love with the ride. So much so, my youngest daughter’s first venture on the ride last year was, “I want to go again!”

This summer, there is just one more reason for riders to “go again,” and I’m sure many will make a few repeat runs through the ride just to see the ghost’s head grimacing up from his hatbox.

I predict the glamour around the ghost will settle now that he is back home, and he will become just another familiar favorite for most guests. For those in on the folklore, however, he’ll be that special “something extra.” He’ll be that mystery that still isn’t quite solved.

After all, that original ghost model has to be out there somewhere, doesn’t it? The logical explanation is the ghost just wasn’t working properly, and it was eventually scrapped for parts.

That’s both sad and not particularly fun. I like to think he’s still out there somewhere, perhaps roaming from attic to attic, looking for a suitable home. Judging from the flood of YouTube posts excited about seeing the new ghost, there are plenty of folk willing to take him in.

So, What’s ‘Tomorrowland’ About Anyway? We Asked George Clooney

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

You’ve probably seen the trailers, posters, and billboards for Tomorrowland, but if you still have no idea what the movie is actually about, don’t worry. You’re not alone. According to the filmmakers, you’re not supposed to know yet. When it comes to explaining anything specific about the story, everyone involved has been pretty coy so far.

Of course, the secret will be out when the film opens on May 22, but if you can’t wait until then, we’ve got a fun teaser about some of Tomorroland‘s themes and big ideas from none other than star George Clooney himself.

What we can say about the story is what you probably know already, at least if you’ve seen the promos. It involves a STEM-savvy teenage girl named Casey (Britt Robertson), who receives a mysterious pin with one amazing property: Whenever she touches it, she is instantly transported to a wondrous, futuristic place called Tomorrowland. When the pin loses its power, she searches for a way back and meets up with a strange little girl (Raffey Cassidy), who in turn leads her to a gruff old genius named Frank Walker (Clooney). Together, they embark on a quest as the fate of both worlds hangs in the balance.

At a recent press event to promote the film, Clooney talked about what initially drew him to the project. He said he was intrigued by the originality of the idea and how it differed from your typical summer blockbuster.

“First and foremost, I think it is a really bold thing for Disney to be willing to do a film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t a comic book,” Clooney said. “I just loved the idea of, you know, we live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it’s rough out there. And it’s not fun. And it can really wear on you after a period of time. And we see generations now feeling as if it’s sort of hopeless, in a way. And what I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you’re involved, a single voice can make a difference and I believe in that. I happen to believe in it, and so I loved the theme or the idea that, you know, there’s still so much that we can all do to make things better.”

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

There was another thing that especially stood out for him when he first read the script. And it wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

“I have to say, just so we’re clear, when [writer Damon Lindelof] and [writer-director Brad Bird] showed up at my house, they said, ‘We’ve got a part that we’ve written for you,’” Clooney recalled. “And then I opened up the description of the character and it’s a 55-year-old has-been, and I’m kind of going, ‘Hang on a minute, which part am I reading for?’”

At the core of this genre-defying adventure tale is the choice between pessimism and optimism, and how that choice can shape the world. As to whether he related to the struggle between the two points of view, Clooney said he remains positive about the future.

“I didn’t ever have that great disappointment in mankind,” he said. “I always felt like it was going to work out in the end. And I still feel that way. And so what I loved about the film was that it reminds you that, you know, young people, they’re not born and start out their lives cynical, or angry, or bigoted. You have to be taught all of those things. And I watch the world now and think I see really good signs from young people out there. And I feel as if the world will get better. And I’ve always been an optimist. I’ve been a realist, but I’ve been an optimist about it. And I really related to the film because Brad and Damon want to tell a story that’s an entertainment, because first and foremost, it has to be an entertainment. But it is hopeful, and I’ve always felt that way myself.”

And really, if George Clooney can continue to have faith in the future of humanity, so can we all.

GeekMom attended a press event that included a free screening of Tomorrowland.


Video: Muppets Talk to Kids About Moms in ‘Muppet Moments’

Muppet Moments airs on the Disney Channel. Photo: Disney Junior/Rick Rowell.

Most moms love getting homemade cards, pictures, trinkets, and other mementos for Mother’s Day. I especially love those little questionnaires that they fill out in school. (I’ve seen a few interesting answers regarding my age, weight, and favorite hobbies.) Could you imagine what some of those responses would look like, if the questions were being dictated by a Muppet?

That’s what a few lucky kids got to do, as part of Disney Junior’s Muppet Moments. The new short-form series features all of your favorite Muppets, talking to kids about a variety of different topics.

GeekMom has an exclusive sneak peek at Friday’s episode, titled “Moms.” It features Gonzo, Kermit, Rizzo the Rat, and a few really cute kids.

If you want to see more, check out the “Moms” installment of Muppet Moments this Friday, May 8 at 8:25 a.m. (ET/PT) on the Disney Channel.

Silly Videos: Disney Theme!

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 7.48.45 PM
Still image from ‘Cinderella vs Belle.’ Image from Whitney Avalon

Not that I’m a Disney fan, but my teen son showed me these, and they are a great way to procrastinate for geek moms and dads! (WARNING: The language is NOT for young kids…)

Disney Princess rap battles! There are a few of these, but this one features Sarah Michelle Gellar & Whitney Avalon as Cinderella and Belle. “Cindy’s dreaming she’s important; well, someone should wake her. This gold-diggin’ trophy wife is the royal baby-maker. Fear the nerdy, wordy princess…”

Honest Trailers take clips (or full trailers) of your favorite movies and do voice overs that are…well, a little too honest. “Meet Ariel: a half-naked fifteen year old, who’s a confirmed hoarder.”

Remember back in the early days of YouTube when there were lots of youngins putting out their videos each week? Where are they now? Most faded away either because they ran out of ideas, got tired of it, went to college, got a job, etc., etc. But NigaHiga (Ryan Higa) has been making consistently funny videos since 2006. Here’s one with a Disney theme. The Lion King one made me snort (even though I did see it coming…).

I hope I helped you take away valuable work time to laugh today. :)

The ‘Star Wars’ Saga Coming to Digital HD!

Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm.
Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

Did you hear? The complete Star Wars Saga will be available on Digital HD this week! You guys don’t know how excited I am about this!

Perhaps I’m dating myself here, but I do vividly remember all the hubbub when the original Star Wars Trilogy—as a trilogy—made itself available to the masses on VHS video cassette. It was in the mid-1980s. It was a big deal. This was back before owning VHS tapes was affordable ($75-100 per movie!), so we were content to get into the queue at our local Erol’s Video to see a rented copy. In the first VHS release…Han indeed shot first! By the mid-90s, the prices for video tapes had come down considerably, and it wasn’t hard to buy the Special Edition box set…but by then the movies had been significantly remastered.

I also remember the announcements and excitement when the series came out on DVD in the mid-2000s; of course, by this point Episodes I and II had been released and had even been issued on DVD before the original trilogy. My thoughts on the matter were mostly in the neighborhood of, “I can’t believe I had to endure Jar Jar in vivid detail first!”

The complete saga will be available starting Friday, April 10th, and will be offered as a complete set for $89.99 or else as individual movies for $19.99 each. I’ve seen announcements for this release at Disney Movies AnywhereAmazon, iTunes, Google Play, and even on my sons’ XBox! With the movies are numerous never-before-seen special features, so you certainly won’t want to miss this! Let me leave you with this fun video hosted by Bill Hader about some of the saga’s unforgettable creatures.

If you want to see more videos like this one, be sure to check out Disney Movies Anywhere for more of Star Wars @Lightspeed, where you can learn more about the greatness that is the Star Wars Saga!

My Problem With Princesses

Image By Rebecca Angel.

50 Shades of Grey goes back to Twilight, which goes back to the bodice-ripper romance novels, which goes back to our fairy tales of young, beautiful princesses who need to be taken care of by a powerful man. The song “I Will Save Myself” refers to princesses in fairy tales who annoy me as much as Bella. My two children are teens and I can only hope I instilled a strong sense of self and independence. Now that I have two nieces of elementary age, I’m still worried about our culture and the lure of being the sparkly “princess.”

I wasn’t really into princesses growing up. I loved Star Wars, and yes, Princess Leia was cool, but I really wanted to be Luke. I wanted to be the one who everyone counted on to save the day. I like that there are powerful women in stories, girls who are main characters; my problem is that it’s considered odd or there’s only one cool girl character to every 10 cool boys.

I wanted to be awesome and not singled out because I’m an awesome girl. If the continual challenge of a girl in stories is to prove she is as good as any man, that’s not high enough for me.

My favorite book growing up was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Except the main character isn’t a princess. It was what her father called her; it became a part of who she was, who she wanted to be. She defined a princess as someone who had the privilege to be generous. Even when her resources were gone, she acted like her father’s definition of a princess. Although this is certainly a “Cinderella” story, the main character is active in fixing her situation. Sarah in that book was another character I wanted to be, much more than any princesses in fairy tales.

In Disney, which has its hands in every facet of media aimed at children, the princess factor is still going strong. In every princess story I know, they are very pretty (and if they are not, that’s the point of the story). I found it annoying as a child. As an adult in the entertainment biz, I completely understand the need for pretty visuals, but I was never a pretty girl, and so I couldn’t relate.

I had a pretty sister who became embarrassed and neurotic about people commenting on her beauty. I felt bad for her, and I was glad to fly under the radar and do my own thing. (This, of course, wasn’t how I felt as a teenager, but that’s a different topic.) So these princesses were pretty (not me), were considered the top of their social heap (not me), and had a lot of money (not me, again). I had more in common with boy characters than any princesses in books and movies.

I know the point of these kind of tales is to fantasize about being someone completely different from yourself. But I liked myself. I had a very healthy self-esteem as a young girl and had no desire to be someone else. I wanted to be me—just more awesome. I liked books and movies that gave me the tools to help me become what I could envision would be the best Becca. Or at least, pretend to be, if I had superpowers. So I needed characters that I could see myself in.

Somewhere in my later childhood years, mainstream media (Disney) did start to reflect different cultures and attitudes towards women, but I think the whole thing became even more ridiculous. Now, they weren’t just pretty, kind, and rich (by the end), but were also clever, strong-willed, and sometimes could fight. And they were princesses?

Does being a princess help the character achieve a goal?

Maybe the definition of a princess has changed. From the press coverage, modern-day royalty hardly live a fairy tale life. Princesses, then and now, are tied to convention, their social class, their money. Their stories have to involve breaking girl stereotypes because the princess one is so ingrained in our culture. Maybe there needs to be some other role our little girls can live up to. There are fantastic stories out there, traditional and new; stories that involve girl protagonists who are both intelligent and kick-ass. They don’t have to be a princess to succeed.

Maybe the entertainment world can learn from A Little Princess: it’s not the title, money, or looks that makes someone a princess, but your character, integrity, and strength.

Cinderella 2015: A Princess in the Golden Age of Hollywood

Cinderella Picture
Image Courtesy Disney

Disney has spent a lot of time re-examining its traditional tales. In Frozen, the not-at-all passive princess saves the kingdom from the evil prince. In Maleficent, the evil queen turns out to not be so evil after all. And we’re not even going to start with Once Upon a Time. By retelling Cinderella, this story could have actually gone back to much older versions of the fairy tale, where the father isn’t so kind-hearted and the stepsisters are willing to cut off pieces of their feet in order to fit into the tiny golden shoe. That would make for some fine family viewing, eh?

Cinderella does not reinvent the basic Disney version of this story. There are no major plot surprises in the retelling. Her stepsisters are still wicked. Her pumpkin still turns into a coach, and our heroine is still the pleasant peasant girl who gets rescued by the prince. The message of the story, we are told perhaps a little too repeatedly, is “have courage and be kind.”

Kenneth Branagh has reinterpreted this live-action Cinderella to feel like a golden age of Hollywood classic (with English accents). Cate Blanchett’s wicked stepmother wanders around in 1940’s inspired hats with veils, pin-curled updos, bright red lips, and “mode de Paris.” The stepsisters don peter pan collars, loud prints, big curly hair, and pink, fuzzy 1950’s inspired sweater shrugs. Cinderella’s ball dress looks as if it mixed the original cartoon dress with a little Scarlett O’Hara and a lot of Swarovski crystals.

While the update remains consistent with the animated classic, this live-action movie is longer, and the characters are a little deeper. Cinderella, we learn, is really named Ella and given the nickname Cinder-Ella by her wicked stepsisters. Our prince has a name in this story (Kit) and motivations and friends. He’s not just a cardboard figure on a horse (though the love-at-first-sight aspect is probably the weakest part of the movie). Even the wicked stepmother isn’t completely without depth. She’s still despicable, but she’s not a mindless sociopath.

Cinderella is still mostly a passive damsel in distress, but she does have some agency. She claims she remains in the house her parents loved by choice. When she confronts her wicked stepmother, she makes another choice, and movie-goers will cheer at the scene. I would have liked to have seen a stronger princess from post-Frozen Disney, but at least she wasn’t a total doormat. She didn’t seem to want to save herself, but she consistently tried to save others (have courage and be kind).

Lily James (Rose on Downton Abbey) is a very charming and innocent Cinderella. Her fellow Downton Abbey castmember Sophie McShera plays one of her wicked stepsisters (there’s a brief nod with a servant bell scene). Helena Bonham Carter is a wonderfully quirky fairy godmother, and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) has a brief part as Cinderella’s biological mother. We get a “real” prince (Richard Madden) from Game of Thrones—without any red weddings.

I brought my teen daughter along to the preview to hear her take. She thought the movie was mostly pretty good and the fairy stepmother scenes were fantastic, but she was disappointed that there wasn’t more complexity to the storyline. She also thought Cinderella was “too mellow” in her reactions and should be less passive.

Overall, this is still a fun, family-friendly feel-good movie, even if it isn’t telling us a new story. But don’t take that as encouragement to keep making more movies about passive heroines. Next time give us a little more self-rescuing princess.

Geeking Out with the Disney Dream, Part 1: The Little Things

Santa had brought the Vollmers a trip on the Disney Dream in 2012. Photo: Patricia Vollmer
Santa had brought the Vollmers a trip on the Disney Dream in 2012. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Santa brought the Vollmer family a four-night Disney cruise vacation! The trip happened to coincide with our youngest son’s birthday. In a very uncharacteristic move, my husband and I agreed to take our sons out of school for a solid week and drove out to Port Canaveral, Florida, the home port to the Disney Dream, the Disney Cruise Line’s most-recently christened ship.

Learn more about Disney Cruise Lines through their website.  Check out Wikipedia for the Disney Dream‘s amazing statistics. Or better yet, how about the Disney Dream by the Numbers?

Our sons unwrapped big boxes with these certificates inside on Christmas morning. Photo: Patricia Vollmer
On Christmas morning, our sons unwrapped big boxes with these certificates inside. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I don’t plan to discuss too much about the cruise itself. Anyone can write about taking a cruise, right? We stopped in Nassau, Bahamas, and on Disney’s island, Castaway Cay. Our sons got to experience snorkeling for the first time. I’ve cruised with Carnival in the past, but that didn’t hold a candle to a Disney trip! My family was geeking-out at some of the amazing little subtleties that make the Disney Cruise Line experience second-to-none!

1. Hidden Mickeys everywhere!

Need I say more?

It goes without saying that the "Hidden Mickeys" are everywhere. This one isn't quite so hidden, though. Photo: Patricia Vollmer
It goes without saying that the “Hidden Mickeys” are everywhere. This one isn’t quite so hidden, though. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

2. Characters everywhere!

Obviously, there are Disney characters on a Disney cruise, right? After having experienced many hours in line over the years waiting to meet Mickey, Minnie, Pooh Bear, Rafiki, Buzz Lightyear, and Mr. Fredricksen at Walt Disney World, it was a breath of fresh air to not have to wait long for characters at all. My sons filled up their autograph book on a family trip to Disney World in 2009, so they were rather laissez-faire about the characters this time around. In fact, we only waited in line for one character: Jack Sparrow! Most of the others we encountered almost by chance throughout the cruise ship.

When your very first elevator ride to your stateroom is with Donald Duck, the bar has been set pretty high. Photo used with permission by Patricia Vollmer
When your very first elevator ride to your stateroom is with Donald Duck, the bar has been set pretty high. Photo used with permission by Patricia Vollmer.

3. The Key to the World

Like other cruise lines, many things are tied into the key card. Disney calls their card the “Key to the World,” whether you’re on the cruise or staying at a Disney resort on land. If you are combining a cruise with a Walt Disney World vacation, the same card will have your resort key, park tickets, and Disney Dining Plan information loaded onto it.

On the Disney Dream, we used the key card to enter our stateroom, turn on the lights, enter/exit the ship at ports of call, drop off/pick up children from the Oceaneer Club, and charge beverages and souvenirs. It was even tied into a photography account when the on-board photographers take snapshots.

The Disney Dream was so new at the time that instead of swiping the key card in many places, we instead had a touchpad that was similar to MasterCard PayPass touchpads. To enter/exit our staterooms, the kids didn’t even have to remove the key cards from their lanyards. Just touch the card to the pad. We used similar touchpads for entering/exiting the ship.

The little black keypad above the door handle is a touch pad for the key card. The kids didn't have to pull their cards out of their lanyard pockets to open/close the door! Photo: Patricia Vollmer
The little black keypad above the door handle is a touchpad for the key card. The kids didn’t have to pull their cards out of their lanyard pockets to open/close the door! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Another thing the key card is used for is to control the electricity in your stateroom. I found this a great energy-conservation tool. There was a slot near the front door for the key card. A card needed to be in the slot before lights or the television could be turned on. I discovered that it didn’t matter what card was used for the switch—I’m guessing it was a manual connection switch in the slot somewhere. I saw a stateroom host using a Sleep Inn key card while cleaning a nearby stateroom. Ha ha!

Using key cards to control room electricity is not new technology, I know. It’s been commonplace in hotels in Europe and Asia for years.

4. RFID bands for the kids’ blubs

I didn’t get a picture of the wristbands, but each child ages 3-10 who wants to participate in the Oceaneer Club or Oceaneer Lab kids’ clubs on the Disney Dream are outfitted with waterproof wristbands. These two kids’ clubs together (they’re connected) offer over 10,000 square feet of playspace, covering everything from playground space to arts and crafts to interactive play. You may fit the children for the wristbands in the cruise terminal before boarding, at the registration temporary office as soon as your board, or any time during the cruise at the Kids’ Club check-in/check-out area (which I don’t recommend because there’s often a line of parents that you tend to hold up while the attendant is printing and fitting the wristband).

It seemed simple enough for the kids to tap their wrists to the gate to enter and exit. Very secure! You provide a password through the Disney website that approved adults can use to check out the kids from the secure areas.

Note: As a safety measure, the kids’ club policies changed significantly starting in January 2012. Whereas previously parents could freely participate with their children at any time, now the kids’ clubs offer “Open House” and “Secured” areas. If you desire your child to be at the kids’ clubs without parents present, they have to go to the “Secured” area and no other parents are allowed in. Only DCL child care employees. If the family desires to do the kids’ club activities together, they can take advantage of “Open House” periods in 2-4 hour blocks throughout the cruise.

Another hidden feature of the RFID bands—the geeky part—is that in the kids’ club spaces, the wristband is transmitting what rooms you child travels to. This helps the counselors maintain their ratios and helps the parents quickly find their children when it’s pick-up time.

5. The automatic hand washing machine!

Also in the kids’ club areas were these most awesome machines. Automatic hand-washers! The kids simply stick their arms inside and the machine automatically starts. Water spirals around your hands and forearms, then soapy water, then another cycle of fresh water. All in about 25 seconds. Take out your arms and dry them off! Even my youngest son, for whom washing hands always seemed to be a monumental task, was looking forward to this cool machine.

It's an automatic hand-washing machine! Before the kids entered the Oceaneer Club or Oceaneer Lab, their forearms were dunked into this machine for 30 seconds. Washed and rinsed! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
It’s an automatic hand-washing machine! Before the kids entered the Oceaneer Club or Oceaneer Lab, their forearms were dunked into this machine for 30 seconds. Washed and rinsed! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

6. The amazing cast

Unlike other cruise lines, families aboard Disney Cruise Line trips are assigned the same service team for dining and stateroom care throughout the entire cruise. This has both benefits and drawbacks.

Of course, a benefit is that you get to know several of the cast members. This is great for the kids. We had very friendly servers and the stateroom host was a sweetheart. At the end of the cruise, you are presenting gratuities to the servers and stateroom host themselves, instead of their pooling the money. Our boys learned quite a bit about Bulgaria from our server, Dimi. Dimi was relatively new and was practicing his Mickey-Mouse ears-shaped ketchup patterns every night.

One of the drawbacks is that I could imagine if someone received substandard service (which wouldn’t be tolerated for long by Disney Cruse Lines, I’d imagine), you’re left with that server for the duration. I didn’t see this, so let’s just hope this is purely hypothetical.

Meet Drenka from Peru and Dimi from Bulgaria, our dinnertime servers during our entire cruise. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Meet Drenka from Peru and Dimi from Bulgaria, our dinnertime servers during our entire cruise. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

If you’re celebrating while on-board, stand back! Disney gives you several opportunities to tell them whether you’re getting married (there were several weddings during our cruise), celebrating an anniversary or birthday, or on a honeymoon. Since our youngest son was celebrating his 7th birthday during the cruise, they gave him a button to wear. Cast members left and right would say “Happy Birthday” to our son as we were walking throughout the ship and on Castaway Cay.

My youngest son was allowed to wear a "Happy Birthday" button during the cruise. Cast members were wishing him "Happy Birthday" constantly. Here, Jack Sparrow is wishing him "Happy Birthday." Look at that face! You can't beat it! Photo: Patricia Vollmer
My youngest son was allowed to wear a “Happy Birthday” button during the cruise. Cast members were wishing him “Happy Birthday” constantly. Here, Jack Sparrow is wishing him “Happy Birthday.” Look at that face! You can’t beat it! Photo: Patricia Vollmer

7. Disney movies galore at the Buena Vista Theater

Are there any Disney films in theaters while you’re sailing?  If so, you have several opportunities to see them during the cruise for no additional charge.

Since we sailed in January 2012, I was thrilled to see Beauty and the Beast 3D being offered, but I didn’t get to see any movies during the cruise. It’s tough debating what items to cut from the packed schedule.

War Horse and The Muppets were also showing. Other movies offered included The Help, Cars 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

8. A cruise ship tradition: Turn-down service, Disney style

Anyone who’s been on a cruise vacation knows that the stateroom host makes up your room in the morning, and then during dinner he/she comes in and performs a “turn-down service.” For our particular stateroom, this meant pulling the bunk bed down from the ceiling, laying out chocolates, and leaving the kids a cool towel origami animal to enjoy.

Good night!

The bottom bunk is the couch with the back flipped down. The top bunk came down from the ceiling! Photo: Patricia Vollmer
The bottom bunk is the couch with the back flipped down. The top bunk came down from the ceiling! Photo: Patricia Vollmer
Stars and constellations of Peter Pan, Wendy, and the other Darling children graced the kids' top bunk. Photo: Patricia Vollmer
Stars and constellations of Peter Pan, Wendy, and the other Darling children graced the kids’ top bunk. Photo: Patricia Vollmer
How adorable is this? Sleepy Dwarf chocolates every night on our beds! Photo: Patricia Vollmer
How adorable is this? Sleepy Dwarf chocolates every night on our beds! Photo: Patricia Vollmer
This is typical for most cruise lines: towel origami. But this is definitely the first time we had a monkey hanging from our ceiling! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
This is typical for most cruise lines: towel origami. But this is definitely the first time we had a monkey hanging from our ceiling! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Stay tuned for additional posts about our family trip aboard the Disney Dream. Coming soon: The Midship Detective Agency (and other biometrics), the Animator’s Palette, AquaDuck! and the stunning Disney art on the ship.

The Sequel Generation

© Disney. All rights reserved.

My five-year-old son is a connoisseur of animation, from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Wallace and Gromit to Rio and 101 Dalmatians. A conversation with him a few weeks ago left me pondering how the current movie-making climate is shaping the collective mindset of his generation. His is the sequel generation.

Image: Fox/DreamWorks Animation.

I first began to notice this in him when we went to see How To Train Your Dragon 2. He seemed especially pleased that it was the second movie, proclaimed a preference for the second movie many times, and several times expressed his desire to see How To Train Your Dragon 3. Now when he talks about the movies, he is sure to add the “2” at the end, because that is his favorite. So Toothless is the dragon from How to Train Your Dragon 2, not simply from How To Train Your Dragon. His most recent love is the movie Rio, about the last two blue Macaws. He doesn’t even really know that they made a second one, but he assumes there are more movies. He actually believes there to be 99 of them. However, he does not call the movie Rio. In fact, he corrects everyone who says simply Rio; the movie is Rio 1.

So I am left wondering. While my generation typically rolls their eyes, and heaves a heavy sigh each time we hear of an unanticipated sequel, will my kids not only tolerate them, but come to expect them? Will they become disappointed in the stand-alone movie? Invariably, when we see a movie, my son asks when we can see the second one. This is his normal.

Growing up, I always used to wonder what happened at the end of my movies. What happens when Ariel and Eric have kids? How did they establish a dalmatian plantation? How does a peasant girl, who has been sweeping floors for many years, suddenly transition into a princess? My children won’t have to wonder such things. 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch’s London Adventure shows us the dalmatian plantation in action. The Little Mermaid 2: Return To The Sea explains how Ariel’s human daughter longed for the sea. Cinderella II: Dreams Come True shows Cinderella revolutionizing the palace banquet. My point is not whether or not we find these things annoying, but that our children do not see them as anything but expected.

While the past decade has seen the sequel, the franchise, and the reboot, become a work-a-day part of the movie going experience, the concept has been around for a long time. The first sequel, though now a lost movie, is considered to be The Fall of a Nation, which was made in response to D.W. Griffith’s incredibly racist The Birth of a Nation. However, not till The Godfather: Part II and Jaws II did sequels really take hold of the industry and captivate the nation. According to Back to the Future, we should be watching Jaws 19 this year. Where animation is concerned, I find myself to be more discerning about sequels. I set higher standards and more often than not, I am let down.

© Disney. All rights reserved.

In 1990, Disney released its first animated sequel into theaters. The Rescuers Down Under grossed $3.5 million on opening weekend, fourth after Home Alone, Rocky V and Child’s Play 2. It is worth noting that Home Alone would go on to spawn many sequels, Rocky V was the fifth movie, and Child’s Play 2 was a sequel that would later be extended into a franchise. The Rescuers Down Under was a decent story that, in my opinion, did not have the same narrative or lyrical grab as the first movie. It is the only sequel that Disney features in its canon; all other sequels (excluding Pixar) are considered separate. Presumably the success of Pixar sequels earns them a place on the classics list.

After The Rescuers Down Under, Disney sequels were mostly confined to home release. The Return of Jafar, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas were all released in the nineties to varying degrees of success.

There are some exceptions to the animation let down. The Toy Story movies are all equally charming. Monsters University, though unnecessary I feel, is a charming prequel. Planes: Fire and Rescue surpasses the original in both storyline and character. Non-Disney movies sometime suffer the same fate, with sequels that can be hit or miss. How to Train Your Dragon 2 surpasses the original in my mind, but Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa failed to live up to its precursor. The list goes on. While I may wail against the lack of imagination in animation studios, if we didn’t go see them or didn’t buy them straight to DVD, they wouldn’t still be making them.

I find it interesting therefore that my son will grow up with a different mindset than I did. That a preference for sequels and expectations for continuing storylines will be something that is just assumed by his generation. Happily ever after will now be spelled out in detail and surround sound forevermore, and while I may not appreciate it, my son certainly will.

We have passed by the time of stand-alone movies, we are now firmly in the sequel generation. Grumble all you want. I think it’s here to stay.

101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition Blu-ray is Packed Full of History

Image credit: Disney Animation Studios
Image credit: Disney Animation Studios.

My sons love dogs. I can’t put it any more plainly. We’ve always had wonderful family dogs, and both of my sons enjoy learning all they can about the assorted breeds, as well as about wolves, foxes, and other members of the family canis. Couple my sons’ love of dogs with our family’s love of Disney, and you have a match made in heaven for getting the chance to check out Disney Animation’s 101 Dalmatians Diamond Edition Blu-ray set, due for release on February 10.

We received a review copy of the Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD combo pack. For our family, this means we can play the Blu-ray in our house, use the DVD in the vehicle, and use the digital download code to have a copy of the movie available through Disney Movies Anywhere, which is connected with our iTunes account for play on our family’s Apple TV or iPad.

There will be many other places where you can find reviews of the movie itself, which I’m sure is well-known to many of our readers. For those who are completely unaware, I will tell you it’s a darling tale of two “newlywed” dalmatians who have a litter of several puppies. The family embarks on an adventure to rescue themselves… and dozens of other dalmatian puppies… from the terrible fate of Cruella de Vil.

Our family sat down and not only watched all of 101 Dalmatians, but also the fantastic bonus features. Seeing the film on Blu-ray was breathtakingly beautiful, and the uninitiated will find it hard to believe it’s a 1961 film.

We thoroughly enjoyed the shorts on the Blu-ray set. “Dalmatians 101” is a short hosted by Cameron Boyce, a young actor who I first saw in the 2010 film Grown Ups as the hilarious spoiled-rotten son of Adam Sandler’s character. Boyce is going to be playing Carlos de Vil, son of Cruella, in the upcoming Disney Channel movie The Descendants, which will be telling the stories of several offspring of Disney villains. 

“Lucky Dogs” takes you back in time with interviews with the Disney artists and writers. The stories are a fun journey through what life was like in the Disney studios in the early 1960s. Plenty of laughter, friendship, and hard work. I especially enjoy these types of interviews, such as those being done through StoryCorps and the National Archives.

“The Further Adventures of Thunderbolt” was the short that our sons were most looking forward to. It finishes the story being told in the television shows that the puppies are watching in the original movie. See the clip below, if you aren’t sure what scene I’m talking about. Our sons actually started this short first out of the numerous ones on the Blu-ray. And in less than two minutes, it was over. They were quite disappointed. Does it finish the story that started in the film? Yes. Could they have done more? I’m not sure. You don’t see much of the Thunderbolt program in the original 1961 film, so the continuation was a very creative effort as it was.

101 Dalmatians on Disney Video

My favorite of all the shorts was “Walt Disney Presents ‘The Best Doggoned Dog in the World.'” This is the complete one-hour episode of Walt Disney Presents from 1961, which most of us may have more recently remembered as The Wonderful World of Disney or The Magical World of Disney. “The Best Doggoned Dog in the World” features the feats of numerous dog breeds from St. Bernards to Siberian huskies, and about midway through the program, Mr. Disney takes a moment to discuss their latest upcoming film, 101 Dalmatians. He introduces viewers to the real dog used to model Pongo, as well as the new xerography technology being incorporated into the animation process. My sons really enjoyed this program, and I felt as if we had just opened a time capsule, seeing Mr. Disney doing what he did best, sharing his love and passions with the world.

If you have a 101 Dalmatians fan in your life, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of the film’s Diamond Edition Blu-ray combo pack. The film is rated G; the Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD combination will be retailing for $36.99 starting February 10. Act fast, though, since you never know when one of these Blu-rays will be disappearing into the so-called Disney Vault!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Disney Taps NASA to Consult for Miles from Tomorrowland

Miles and his pet robo-ostrich Merc blast off for adventure in Miles from Tomorrowland. Photo: Disney Junior.

If your little adventurer isn’t squeezing in enough about space and science on a daily basis, you may want to start setting the DVR for Miles from Tomorrowland. Disney Junior’s latest is a GeekMom dream, featuring NASA-backed facts, intergalactic family adventures, and celebrity geek icons such as Mark Hamill, Bill Nye, George Takei, Wil Wheaton, Alton Brown, and more.

Miles from Tomorrowland focuses on kid Miles (voiced by Mr. Peabody & Sherman‘s Cullen McCarthy), as he goes on intergalactic missions to connect the galaxy on behalf of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. His crew consists of his family: Mom Phoebe (Olivia Munn) is the ship’s captain, dad Leo (Tom Kenny) is the mechanical engineer, and Loretta (Fiona Bishop) is the tech-savvy big sister. Of course, it wouldn’t be a family show without a family pet. Yeah, that’s Merc (Dee Bradley Baker), the family’s robo-ostrich!

There are also tons of recurring guest voices, which is where Hamill, Nye, Takei, Wheaton, and Brown come in. Other guest voices to listen out for include Adrian Grenier and Brenda Song.

Besides family fun, you can expect plenty of aliens, super-cool vehicles, and high-tech gadgets. The show also incorporates space and science facts into every storyline, all of which are run by consultants from NASA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Space Tourism Society, and Google. According to Disney Junior, various members from that team has cited Star Trek, Star Wars, and even The Jetsons as influences when it came to making their career choices. They’re hoping that Miles will do the same for this generation.

Are you ready for this spacey adventure? You can take a little sneak peek at the show in the video below and download activities and other tidbits on the show’s website. Otherwise, Miles from Tomorrowland is blasting off with four back-to-back episodes on Friday, February 6, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. (ET/PT) on the Disney Channel. A companion app titled Miles from Tomorrowland: Missions is expected to launch for iOS and Android devices in conjunction with the show’s premiere.

Get a Peek at Disney’s Frozen Fever: Photos & Video

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Just in case you haven’t cured that Frozen fever in your house yet, know that Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf are returning to the big screen very soon.

Next month, Walt Disney Animation Studios will release Frozen Fever, a new short that finds Elsa and Kristoff planning the best birthday party ever—for Anna, of course. However, Elsa’s cold and her chilly powers may put a bit of a damper on the festivities.

In anticipation of the Frozen franchise returning to theaters, Disney is teasing us with a bunch of photos (above) and a short featurette (below) about the upcoming film. Of course, we’d expect this type of fanfare and more, given that the 2013 original has two Oscars and grossed more than $1.27 billion worldwide.

Frozen Fever will run prior to Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella, which stars Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Derek Jacobi, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Kenneth Branagh is directing the live-action version of the fairytale and he never seems to disappoint. However, given how popular Frozen still is with audiences, I have to wonder—will you go to see Cinderella just for a peek at the animated short?

Both will hit theaters on March 13, 2015.

Congratulations to Most Huggable Character, Baymax!

BH6-Baymax-Huggable-Award-FINAL copy-2
Image: Disney Enterprises, Inc. (used with permission)


Anyone who has met me knows that I love to hug. So imagine my joy when I found out today is National Hugging Day!

That’s right, there is a National Hugging Day. It was created as an annual holiday by Rev. Kevin Zaborney in 1986, and is now celebrated in many countries as a way to encourage people to express their feelings by hugging.

Today, Ambassador of Hugs Kevin Zaborney named Baymax, the big balloony robot from Disney’s Big Hero 6, the Most Huggable Character of 2015. Others who have received the Most Huggable Award have been Jeff Ondash/Teddy McHuggin, Tessla Queen, and Mata Amritanandamayi (the Hugging SAINT in India).

Hugging makes people feel good and creates memories that can last a lifetime, even after that person has passed away. Author Anton Strout shares a memory of hugging previous Most Huggable Award-winning Joan Rivers:

“Joan was… Joan. There was no one like her. She hugged you the way she’d hug an old friend, because that’s what she was—a foul mouthed old friend who appreciated you taking the time to come over to her and say hi.”

Photograph: Melanie R. Meadors

Hugging someone offers both mental and physical benefits to both parties, whether that person is a friend/family member or even a stranger (as long as, you know, it’s a consensual hug. Always ask before hugging!). You can learn more at National Hugging Day’s website.

I know after seeing this clip of Baymax, my son and I definitely agree that he deserves his new title!

So big hugs to you all, and for you doubters, I leave you with this, from Baymax himself (use with permission):


1) Hugs make us feel “happy”! When we hug another person, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone associated with “happiness,” according to scientific studies. [1]

2) Hugs alleviate stress! Just as a good hug increases our oxytocin levels, it decreases our cortisol or “stress” levels. [2]

3) Babies need hugs as much as water and food! According to researchers at Harvard University, hugs help promote normal levels of cortisol necessary for child development. [3]

4) Hugs make us better students! Students who receive a supportive touch from a teacher are twice as likely to volunteer in class. [4]

5) Hugs improve our game! Scientists at University of California, Berkley discovered that the more affectionate members of a team are with each other, the more likely they are to win. [4]

6) A hug a day keeps the doctor away! A hug stimulates the thymus gland, which in turn regulates the production of white blood cells that keep us healthy and disease-free. [5]

7) A hug stops the bug! Researchers at Carnegie Mellon proved that individuals who were sick and received hugs had less severe symptoms and were able to get better quicker. [6]

8) A hugging heart is a healthy heart! Research from University of North Carolina showed that a good hug helps ease blood flow and lower cortisol levels, which in turn help lower our heart rates. [7]

9) A hugging couple is a happy couple! Couples that experience their partners’ love through physical affection share higher oxytocin levels. [8]

10) Hugs let someone know you care without having to say a word! According to Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, we can identify love from simple human touch – imagine how much love a big hug can communicate! [9]

The GeekMoms’ Christmas Trees and the Geeky Stories Behind Them

A collection of the GeekMoms' trees. Collage by Jules Sherred.
A collection of the GeekMoms’ trees. Collage by Jules Sherred.

The GeekMoms thought it would be fun to share our Christmas trees and the geeky stories behind them. We would also love it if, in the comments, you shared images of your Christmas trees—via a link to your photo(s)—and the stories behind them.

Without further ado, let the sharing begin!

GeekMom Andrea’s Christmas Tree

Photos and collage by Andrea Schwalm.
Photos and collage by Andrea Schwalm.

GeekMom Andrea had this to say about her tree:

I did the unthinkable this year and suggested that for the first time in our family’s history we buy a fake tree. Every year as December approaches my husband and I have moved around the furniture in our cozy living room until it looks like something closer to a garage sale than a celebration in order to fit a giant, live tree in our space. It makes no sense. Plus: I come from a long line of fake-tree people. Pink trees. Aluminum trees…

It was time to stop living the “real tree” lie. It was time for a narrow white tree. With fiber optics. I think our tree this year is fabulous. My dream is to decorate it in an Atomic Ranch style—lots of spaceships and sputnik stars and robots and optimism about the future.

GeekMom Ariane’s Christmas Tree

Photo by Ariane Coffin
Photo by Ariane Coffin

GeekMom Ariane had this to say about her tree:

Here’s my crazy tree. How my husband puts up with it, I’ll never know. Much like the rest of our house, it’s all about BRIGHT OBNOXIOUS COLORS! And Hello Kitty. And being that generation who never has actual prints of photos… I keep thinking, “This year will be the year I insert photos in all of the photo ornaments! I’ll put them in the tree to remember to do it!” Yeaaaaaah, no. It never gets done.

GeekMom Judy’s Christmas Tree

Individual images by Judy Berna. Collage by Jules Sherred.
Individual images by Judy Burna. Collage by Jules Sherred.

GeekMom Judy had this to say about her tree:

Every year we pay ten dollars for a permit that enables us to cut our tree from the National Forest here in Colorado. It helps the forest, by thinning out smaller trees, and it is a grand family adventure, no matter how old our ‘kids’ get. We hike through the woods and try to keep in mind that a tree that looks ‘normal sized’ in the forest is actually big enough to take up our whole living room. We get teased by family members who live in other states that we’ve become the Griswalds (from the Christmas Vacation movie) when we hike out into the woods, but we don’t mind. That’s what family memories are made of!

Geeky Jules’ Christmas Tree

Day and night. Photos and collage by Jules Sherred.
Day and night. Photos and collage by Jules Sherred.

Geeky Jules had this to say about his tree:

While my tree isn’t geeky, the fact that my OCD took 13 hours to decorate it kind of is. Plus, I’m still fiddling with little things here and there until my OCD is happy. But not only that, it’s a completely different concept than trees of past. This is the first year I haven’t used garland or tinsel, and decided to go with a very specific color scheme.

In response, GeekMom Ariane said on Twitter:

My response was:

OMG, this is so me!

Oh, how I laughed.

GeekMom Kay’s Christmas Tree

Kay's tree
Photo by Kay Moore

GeekMom Kay  had this to say about her tree:

We are themeless, no geekiness at all. My mom spent several decades collecting handmade ornaments, and I gave her one for Christmas each year. A few years ago, when we were in town, she retired from holiday entertaining and invited the extended family over to take turns selecting favorite ornaments. So now I have a bunch of old family favorites, including some that I made many many years ago as gifts for my mom.

I cherish a handful of handmade embroidered, needlepointed, knitted, etc., ornaments from our crafting family and friends. Our actual stockings are cross-stitched by my mom and me.

The other sort-of theme we have is to hang sturdy, survivable ornaments on the lower branches, where the cat’s mischief wreaks havoc.

We usually have a gold garland, but not loose tinsel. My husband likes loose tinsel but he usually is doing other things during the tree decorating. We often have bubble lites. I like best of all sparkly reflective ornaments, which conflicts with my textile sensibility.

Oh, I make mini stockings. I give one to my mom for each family member below her on the family tree, and I have a small, less custom, collection for decorating a mini tree.

GeekMom Lisa’s Christmas Tree

Individual photos by Lisa Tate. Collage by Jules Sherred.
Individual photos by Lisa Tate. Collage by Jules Sherred.

GeekMom Lisa had this to say about her tree:

Our main tree has always been just a collection of our loves, memories and travel, with several geeky highlights throughout—Batman, TARDIS, Disney, comic book, and video game inspired ornaments— but we felt the ultimate Star Wars vs. Star Trek geek war needs to mingle in a little “Peace on Earth… and Beyond” tree with several ornaments from both franchises. Last year, we also updated our wreath to have a Hobbit theme as a perfect welcome for friends and family. Our girls have created their own little “Ever After” tree with Disney Princess, fairies, Hello Kitty, and My Little Pony, as well as decorating their “Doctor” for the season.

GeekMom Maryann’s Christmas Tree

Individual photos by Maryann Goldman. Collage by Jules Sherred
Individual photos by Maryann Goldman. Collage by Jules Sherred

GeekMom Maryann had this to say about her tree:

In our house, it’s all about the collections. For years, the boy and I have been adding to our snowman, snowglobe, nutcracker, elf, and ornament collections. We make lots of trips to the local thrift stores looking for new treasures. It’s a real joy each year to unwrap long lost friends and arrange the collections for enjoyment. It’s not so much fun wrapping them up safe and sound until next year. I also pride myself on spending hours taking Christmas pictures of my tree, as well as local neighborhood displays. The geekier, the better.

GeekMom Natalie’s Christmas Tree

Individual photos by Natalie Zaman. Collage by Jules Sherred
Individual photos by Natalie Zeman. Collage by Jules Sherred

GeekMom Natalie had this to say about her tree:

We’ve had an artificial tree for about ten years, so I was very excited to get a real tree into the house again. Our ornaments are a hodgepodge of things we’ve collected over the years and things my children have made, and they all go up every year. The oldest is a little book, Saint Nicholas that
my mom had since before she was married—she’s 86, bless her—and the newest is a 3-D version of Edward Gorey’s “The Doubtful Guest”–I got him last week when I was on Cape Cod doing research–and I *finally* got to go to the Edward Gorey House. It was loads of fun and very special–his cousin gave us a tour of the place.

GeekMom Patricia’s Christmas Tree

he Vollmer family's new color-changing LED tree gracefully transitions between white lights and colored lights every 10 seconds. The neighbors get a kick out of it. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The Vollmer family’s new color-changing LED tree gracefully transitions between white lights and colored lights every 10 seconds. The neighbors get a kick out of it. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

GeekMom Patricia had this to say about her tree:

I love our family’s new Christmas tree. After a couple years of wishing, we finally made the splurge for an LED prelit tree that changes colors. The particular one we got changes the colors very gracefully, slowly transitioning between white lights and colored lights every 10 seconds. The decorations plan on our tree has evolved over the years into numerous geeky “zones”: Disney, trains, Penn State (our alma mater), Star Wars, Harry Potter, and other geekery (such as The Simpsons and Ghostbusters). Our 9- and 12-year-old sons have taken over most of the decorating duty, and they are very good about keeping to the zones. In addition to the zones, we have many traditional ornaments, such as souvenirs from our travels, commemorative ornaments, and kids’ homemade ornaments.

The different zones. Photo: Patricia Vollmer
The different zones. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

GeekMom Rebecca’s Christmas Tree

Individual photos by Rebecca Angel. Collage by Jules Sherred
Individual photos by Rebecca Angel. Collage by Jules Sherred

GeekMom Rebecca had this so say about her tree:

We do have regular decorations collected over the years, but I rarely put them up. I like to think up a theme of some sort, like origami or completely edible. This year it was knitted: so almost everything is a knitted thing of some sort. Our geekier side comes out in the other decorations. My son has three locations for extensive Lego Christmas displays, usually with some silly stuff happening with random figurines. I included a picture of Wolverine hanging a wreath.

GeekMom Sam’s Christmas Tree

Sam Collage 2
Individual photos by Samantha Cook. Collage by Jules Sherred

GeekMom Sam had this to say about her tree:

Our family has a pretty traditional looking tree with old fashioned glass ornaments. But every year we all pick a new ornament, and write the name and year with Sharpie on the bottom. It is a wonderful way to remember holidays and interests past. When you look closer, you can see our ornaments tend to be on the geeky side!

GeekMom Sarah’s Christmas Tree

Individual photos by Sarah Pinault. Collage by Jules Sherred
Individual photos by Sarah Pinault. Collage by Jules Sherred

GeekMom Sarah had this to say about her tree:

I love Christmas trees. I have far more ornaments than I could possibly put on one tree. Before we had kids, we would put one up in the kitchen that had just our Disney ornaments on it, then the main tree in the living room with as many of the others as I can possibly squeeze on. My favorite ornament is my Department of Homeland Security Ornament. I found it in Boston shortly after I became a US citizen. We have many, many Hallmark ornaments, as Ben’s maternal grandparents send everyone a new ornament from that collection each year.  Ben has 22 of his own, we have 12, and the boys have six and three respectively.

It’s a beautiful tradition that I plan on continuing with my own grandchildren, in about forty years time! We have a lot of Disney ornaments, because I am a Disney nut. But my favorite kind of ornaments are the traditional glass kind. There are only two on our tree this year, but I love to find traditional baubles in unusual colors, or to find unusual glass figurines. We have a glass robot and a hiking Santa that are simply beautiful and they are on the tree. With a five-year-old and almost three-year-old in the house, my other glass baubles are still in the box! Last year, I gave myself an early Christmas present and bought new lights. I love them with a fervor that is not normal.

GeekMom Sophie’s Christmas Tree

Photo by Sophie Brown
Photo by Sophie Brown

GeekMom Sophie had this to say about her tree:

Here’s ours. It’s a complete mishmash, too: stuff from when I was a kid; ornaments we’ve collected on trips; things Fin has made at school. I like my trees to be totally chaotic but also totally balanced. It takes me forever to decorate them to a level I can cope with!

We don’t have a theme, but there’s a lot of Disney stuff on there. There are several painted porcelain discs from WDW, two of the custom ones you can have personalised at Downtown Disney—one is our wedding, another for Fin’s first Christmas—some special baubles that commemorated the 35th anniversary. This year I’ve added a set of the singing busts from Haunted Mansion. It’s kind of funny because the busts are nestled up next to completely traditional things like robins, angels, and Santas.

I have tiny tree in my office that’s about one-foot high, including the pot. That has a pin badge of Castiel at the top of it! I kind of want to make a Cas costume for one of my old Ken dolls so it can go on top of the tree next year. Not sure what my husband would think of that!

Oh, and we have a Christmas pterodactyl in the living room! #sixseasonsandamovie

Please share images of your Christmas trees and the stories behind them. We’d love to see and read them!