Download Maleficent Activity and Coloring Sheets

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Angelina Jolie stars as Maleficent. Photo credit: Frank Connor, Disney.

We’ve got two-and-a-half more weeks until Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent is released in theaters on May 30. What’s a villainess fan to do to pass the time? Coloring sheets, of course.

Maleficent is rated PG, but you might want to evaluate your younger children’s fright levels before taking them along. Jolie told Entertainment Weekly in March that her own children were scared of her in the costume! One of her youngest, Vivienne (5), plays a toddler-aged Princess Aurora in the film, and two of her other children, Zahara (9) and Pax (10), also appear briefly during the christening. Vivienne got the part because she wasn’t afraid of Jolie’s horns and claws.

The movie also features Elle Fanning as Aurora. The script is by Linda Woolverton, who worked on the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland as well as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. Robert Stromberg, who won the Oscars for production design on Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful is making his directorial debut.

Download the activity sheets, courtesy of Disney, as a single PDF. Preview below:

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And no, you’re never too old to bust out the crayons. As someone who’s been waiting for the Maleficent film for quite a while now, I’m ready to attack these four coloring sheets myself!

How Captain America Made Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a Better Show

AgentsShieldCast

Courtesy of Disney/ABC.

As you’ve probably heard, ABC just announced that it has renewed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a second season. Five weeks ago, I might have greeted this news with indifference. Although I enjoyed the pilot with a few minor reservations, the episodes that came after it left me feeling underwhelmed at best. Still, I kept tuning in faithfully on Tuesday nights, clinging to the hope that the show could eventually live up to its vast potential.

And then Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out in theaters and turned the Marvel universe upside down. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was forced to deal with the fallout and in doing so, became a show worth watching.

This is the part where I need to warn you that the remainder of this article will discuss plot developments and major twists in detail from both the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series to date and Captain America: Winter Soldier. If you haven’t caught up with the show or seen the film, you might want to stop reading this and come back later, after you’ve done both. This has been your official spoiler warning.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled post.

Back in September, we here at GeekMom, like many Marvel fans, had high hopes for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first TV series based in the same universe as The Avengers. The fact that Joss Whedon was producing the show solidified its spot in our must-watch list for fall, not to mention the central role of Clark Gregg’s resurrected Agent Coulson. I mean, how can you not love Coulson? GeekMom even ran a series of articles on the history of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comics and profiled each of the show’s characters in the run, all the way up to the premiere. Then it premiered, and though the pilot showed some promise, it left us wanting more. Much more.

For weeks after the series premiere, I continued to tune in, less and less enthusiastically. There was the lazy writing, the handwavium that passed for technology, and plot holes big enough to fly the Bus through. But the most egregious offense, in my opinion, was that the show never managed to make me care much about any of the characters, with the standout exception of Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May and, of course, Coulson himself.

The rest of the characters seemed like bland, thinly drawn cardboard cutouts. Skye (Chloe Bennet), who was our entry point into the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the pilot, turned out to be nothing more than a cipher with the seemingly omnipotent ability to crack any computer system the plot might require. The loyalty everyone on the team (even May, in her own way) instantly felt toward Skye, even after it appeared as though she’d betrayed them all to the Rising Tide (anyone remember them?), felt forced. As much as the show really wanted us to care about her relationship with chiseled tough guy Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), the spark between them never quite grew into a flame. I was so indifferent, I didn’t bat an eye when he started sleeping with May on the side.

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Courtesy of Disney/ABC.

Earlier in the season, if I’d compiled a list of things that could fix what ailed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I probably wouldn’t have included “get rid of S.H.I.E.L.D.” But it turns out, that was exactly the right thing to do.

After the big revelation in Captain America that the organization was infested with Hydra operatives working against it from the inside, the show was forced to deal with the consequences. In episode 17 (“Turn, Turn, Turn”), everything changed—maybe not for the better from the characters’ perspectives, but surely from ours.

Suddenly, they had a clearly defined purpose and a deadly adversary, two things sorely missing up until this point. How many times could Coulson’s team willfully ignore protocol and still be allowed to operate without straining our credibility? Now that they’ve gone rogue, protocol is a thing of the past. And all of those lapses in the security of a supposedly top-notch secret organization begin to make some sense. We can blame it all on Hydra, working to undermine S.H.I.E.L.D.’s command structure from within. Though I doubt the writers intended it to work out like this, it all seems kind of brilliant now.

Best of all, Ward has a new role to play beyond just the team’s dull muscle. Bringing in John Garrett from the comics and hiring Bill Paxton to play him were good ideas to begin with, but making him Hydra was the first bold choice the show has made. It wouldn’t be the last. Taking Ward over to the dark side along with him revitalized that character and shed new light on his interest in Skye. Has he been playing her and the rest of the team all along? Is there real affection there or does he have an agenda of his own? Now, these are intriguing questions. We also got to see some actual evidence of Skye’s worth to the team in the way she handled that discovery in the Providence base and her smart moves from that point on.

The way each of the rest of the characters have dealt with Ward’s betrayal has allowed us to get to know them better. As Fitz searched for another explanation and stubbornly held onto the notion that Ward wasn’t as bad as he seemed, we learned more about what makes him tick. The way Simmons gently nudged him to accept the truth also showed us her true colors. We didn’t just hear them say how they felt about each other; we saw it in their actions. May’s role in the T.A.H.I.T.I. project is now out in the open, and her loyalty to Coulson is no longer in question. The way they teased her as the mole leading up to “Turn, Turn, Turn” was a clever bit of misdirection.

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Courtesy of Disney/ABC.

This new, heightened state of pressure has conversely brought a lighter tone to the writing. We’re getting bits like last week’s incoming file, May and Coulson cosplaying as Fitz and Simmons, and May actually cracking jokes: “Watch out, Hydra. Here we come.” There was even a meta-acknowledgement of the problems with Skye as a character with the revelation that her legal name is literally Mary Sue.

It’s good to see the writers no longer taking things so seriously and employing the kind of trademark quips that have made Whedon’s work a joy to watch, even as he was ripping out your heart. For so long, the tone of the show as been uneven, but it feels like the writers have finally realized that they’re making a show with comic-book origins set in the world of international super-spies. There’s fun hardwired into the concept, but we hadn’t seen much of it until now.

We’ll see if that trend continues in this week’s season finale. Since it was made before the pick-up was announced, I expect a resolution to the events of the last few episodes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they reset the table for the next season. Which, by the way, I’m really glad we’re going to get. That’s something I might not have said in the middle of this season. But if they manage to keep up the trajectory they’re on, I predict we’re in for a wild ride and I’ll be firmly on board.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season finale, “Beginning of the End,” airs tomorrow night on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Man vs. Machine: Disney Artists Take on Robots

From L to R, Disney Television Animation’s Craig McCracken, Sam Levine, Dan Povenmire, Lisa Salamone-Smith, Eric Coleman, Daron Nefcy, and President of Disney Channels Worldwide Gary Marsh. Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

From the outside, Disney’s Television Animation studio doesn’t look like much. There’s no giant wizard’s hat out front like the Feature Animation building or seven stone dwarves holding up the roof like the Team Disney building on the Burbank lot. Driving through the gate and into the parking lot of the nondescript brick building in an industrial part of Glendale, you’d never know that it’s currently the home of some of the company’s most creative and prolific talents. At least, not until you step inside.

The small lobby is filled with computer screens showing clips and promos from many of the shows in production: Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Sofia the First, Gravity Falls, and the phenomenally popular Phineas and Ferb. Up one flight, down the hall and just past the cereal bar there’s a unique space that serves as an in-house art gallery, where staff members are invited to show original pieces they’ve created in their spare time. The art is periodically rotated and usually centered around a theme. GeekMom was invited to the opening reception for the latest exhibition, titled “Man vs. Machine: The Robot Show,” where some of the biggest names in the world of television animation mingled and appreciated the work of their colleagues.

Kimberly Mooney, manager of development at Disney Television Animation, explained that the rotating gallery was always imagined as a part of the studio’s office space from the very beginning. “It goes all the way back to when this building was being renovated and built for us to be an animation studio,” she said. “We wanted a dedicated space where we could showcase the artists’ art, their personal artwork. It helps to establish that real sense of community we have here.”

Alex Rosenberg, an assistant at the studio, added that everyone is welcome to submit work to the shows, even if they’re not professional artists. “Eric Coleman, our SVP, actually put in a piece this time,” she said. “And we have work from people who are in tech and a coordinator on our current series side who did one. We have writers who submitted pieces. It’s a really nice way to showcase the talent that’s here at TVA and celebrate artists who are outside of what we normally define as artists.”

DAN POVENMIRE (CREATOR/CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "PHINEAS AND FERB")

Povenmire with his piece “Girl vs. Machine.” Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

Phineas and Ferb co-creator Dan Povenmire contributed “Girl vs. Machine,” a drawing of his two daughters taking on a massive wave of technology with a pair of slingshots. “The theme was ‘Man vs. Machine’ and I was thinking about it for a while and I was like, ‘Screw it, I should just do “Girl vs. Machine” and then I can put my daughters in it and then I’ll have a place to put it when I’m done with it,” Povenmire said. “And they love it. They’re like, ‘That’s us!’ And they like looking at all the little things in there and trying to figure out what they are. Like, ‘Oh, there’s our Zoomer dog. That’s our boom box!’ I put a lot of other stuff in there too. I was basically just doodling for a day.”

He enjoys the opportunity for self-expression the gallery offers and the chance to see what the other Disney artists are all about. “We’re all in the same building but everybody who is working on a show is really working on one piece of art that they’re all doing together,” he said. “It’s a big, collaborative piece of art. And nobody gets to see what these people actually think of themselves if you just say, ‘Hey, go off in a direction.’ I love seeing the kind of stuff that people do at home. It sort of gives you a different feel for them. And it’s gotten so I can tell different people’s art, though it’s nothing like what people do here.”

I also got to chat with Craig McCracken during the event. He’s currently the creator and executive producer of Disney Channel’s Wander Over Yonder, but you might also be familiar with his earlier creations The PowerPuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. His piece, “Taishi,” features a graphic, 70s-inspired profile of a humanoid robot with flowing yellow and orange locks.

CRAIG MCCRACKEN (CREATOR/EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "WANDER OVER YONDER")

McCracken and his robot “Taishi.” Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

I asked McCracken which piece in the show was his favorite. “I’m leaning toward Alex Kirwan’s,” he said. “He’s my art director on Wander and he built a model of a very obscure robot from a Donald Duck cartoon. It’s like so inside baseball because he’s in this one specific Donald Duck cartoon. And he’s like, ‘I’m going to make a sculpture of that.’ I’m like, ‘I think only you and like 10 people in this building are going to know who that character is and appreciate it.’ But if anyone would, it’s the people here.”

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes – All You Need to Know

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Launch Line-Up © Disney/Marvel

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Launch Line-Up © Disney/Marvel

The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Entertainment held a press conference to launch Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes. Joe Quesada, John Vignocchi, Brian Michael Bendis and others, together with Agent Coulson himself, Clark Gregg, presented the latest upgrades to the popular platform and revealed the first wave of characters available from the Marvel universe.

There was a lot of information revealed during the conference (with a lot more announcements to come in the future) but here’s what you really need to know.

  • Disney Infinity 2.0 is scheduled to release Fall 2014. All current figures, power discs, and toy boxes will be compatible with the new release, as will the current base.
  • The game will be available on PS4 and XBox One at launch.
  • The new Starter Pack includes multiple figures and an Avengers playset piece. The set shown on screen contained Thor, Iron Man and Black Widow however it wasn’t stated if this was the final version or if different character combinations would be available.
  • The initial wave of Marvel figures will be: Iron Man, Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor and Hulk. Several characters from Guardians of The Galaxy appeared in the footage revealed during the conference so we can be pretty confident that we will be seeing those characters shortly. Over a dozen more characters are confirmed to be coming soon.
  • There will be 80 new power discs released in two waves. These will include team ups and costume changes.
  • Vehicles have been added including two wheelers like Captain America’s motorcycle. We also saw a Sky Cycle, mini Helicarrier capable of carrying multiple characters and Lola!
  • Structured game play has been added in the Toy Box. Two options discussed were clasic Tower Defense (we saw a 10-level Asgard themed game) and a Dungeon Crawler.
  • Toy Box building has been simplified to help even the youngest players create their own worlds. New brushes allow you to build basic themes such as cities, dungeons, and a racetrack quickly and easily. Builders have also been added who will walk around your Toy Box creating as they go.
  • Building interiors have also been added allowing you to create a Home. Here you can display your trophies and more. I spotted an awesome S.H.I.E.L.D. rug and several version of Iron Man’s suit on display.
  • The Marvel Manhattan world has been added and it is over four times larger than the previous biggest world on Infinity 1.0 – Metroville from The Incredibles. Many iconic buildings appear in Marvel Manhattan including, most noticeably, Avengers Tower.
  • New locomotion has been added including Forward Flight and Hover modes, the former at least includes combat abilities. Many characters have the Super Jump ability and Hulk has a special Wall Crawl.
  • Different styles of combat have been added to match the differing styles of the Marvel characters. Thor and Cap use a brawl technique, Black Widow a melee style, and Hawkeye more ranged approach. Hulk? Hulk SMASH!
  • The character level cap has been raised to 20. In addition characters now have their own unique attributes and skill trees so each character can be levelled up however the player chooses.
  • Dancing with the Stars is Hydra.

There’s so much more to learn about Disney Infinity 2.0 and I for one hope to get my hands on a copy soon so I can really see what it’s all about, but for now you can check out the launch trailer over on the Marvel UK YouTube channel.

Disneyland Meets Animal Crossing in Disney Magical World

Disney Magical World © Disney / Nintendo

Have you ever daydreamed about living in Disneyland? (Of course you have!) Thanks to the new Nintendo 3DS game Disney Magical World, you can almost make that dream come true.

In the game, you join your friends Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and more in Castleton, a city populated with more things to do than you can shake a magic wand at. With quests, clothing and furniture crafting, a café to run, collections, fishing, and more, Disney Magical World is an unending, immersive, and magical 3DS game that fans of Disney (kid or grownup) won’t be able to put down.

An open city to explore, fruit to pick, stores to shop at, visits from real life friends with StreetPass, and adorable citizens, it’s easy to draw a comparison to the Animal Crossing franchise. Disney Magical World shares some of the same happy-go-lucky vibe, but feels even more easygoing without crotchety villagers who make snarky comments if you don’t play after a while. Even running the café, for example, which could have been designed to make players feel rushed to meet customer demands, doesn’t have any negatives. If you run out of food, you simply get a cheer for a job well done, and you can make more whenever you feel like it.

Disney Magical World

© Disney / Nintendo

Materials for crafting clothes, furniture, café decorations, food, and wands can be collected in quests which take players to other magical worlds. Disney fans will be delighted to explore the worlds of Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin, and Alice in Wonderland to earn stickers (the level system) and crafting materials.

Unfortunately for my preschool-age daughter, the game requires a lot of reading, with very few voiceovers to help her on her way. But we can happily play together, and I play the role of narrator for her Disney Magical World adventures.

My one complaint is the repetitive music, a necessary evil in this type of game, I suppose. After spending just a few minutes in Castleton I had to turn the sound off. My daughter loves it, however, so to each their own.

Disney Magical World includes over 60 classic Disney characters, an incredible amount of customization, and even themed decorations and recipes based on holidays and seasons. The 3DS game is almost a no-brainer for Disney fans.

Disney Magical World is available on the Nintendo 3DS on April 11, 2014, and retails for $29.99.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Geek Date Night Approved

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Geek parents Mark and Melody approve this movie photo. Photo by Melody Mooney.

The movie date night. It’s a long-standing, sacred institution for parents. Whether you are geeks or Muggles, the age-old question begs: Whose turn is it to pick the movie? To decide, some folks may flip a coin, play rock-paper-scissors, or even roll a D20. In full disclosure, we couldn’t remember who got to chose our last movie outing. Sadly, getting out to the theater does not happen as much these days, and that rarity makes the decision all that more important.

It would seem that the latest offering from the Marvel Universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, would be a no-brainer, but we had some questions.

I was interested to know if it would hold the same emotional weight as the first Captain America movie. Would there be solid, satisfying performances and character development, as well as high-impact action? Chances were good with names like Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, and Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. My husband, who is a lifelong Marvel comic book reader, wanted to know how Captain America would deal with conflict separate from The Avengers. He also had concerns about the storytelling, confessing that he didn’t like the pacing of Iron Man 3.

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The Disney Store window for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Photo by Ella Rose.

Another factor in our decision process was whether we could see this as a family, and we carefully considered its PG-13 rating. I have seen tie-in toys, like the more muted for undercover mission Captain America suit and shield, heavily marketed to children at places like the Disney Store and Target. It gives me great GeekMom pride that my three-year-old daughter recognizes The Cap. However, due to the visually intense hand-held-style cinematography, the film’s violence and its emphasis on action, I would recommend The Winter Soldier for teens and adults only.

After debate and consideration, we took a leap of fan-faith and went to see the movie without our daughter, and I am going on record as stamping Captain America: The Winter Soldier as “Geek Date Night Approved.”

It moves quickly with great pacing, though it can sometimes be a bit disorienting. The movie has solid performances—Evans beautifully captures both sides of Captain America/Steve Rogers—a man out of time and a superhero.  Johansson returns as the smart, kick-ass spy who holds her own with The Cap. (Warning: minor spoilers follow.)

The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is intriguing and moves in and out of his scenes with a quiet strangeness that can be downright chilling. But I’d have found the revelation that Steve Rogers’ best friend is his biggest foe to pack more of a punch if it weren’t listed in the credits. Nonetheless, the Winter Soldier is a gripping character

Redford is also an amazing addition to the cast and his minor character holds much of the plot twists and mystery. The introduction of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) as The Falcon proves to be another high point.

Although I found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed at times by the violence, which took me out of the politically charged thriller, I did enjoy the amazing scene that showcases a Stark Industries-pimped SUV driven by Nick Fury. The vehicle responds by command to a crisis situation much like an Iron Man suit. I sure could use that car in L.A. traffic!

As a special treat and because our readers love to be in on the latest geek info, here are 10 fan-favorite moments that are full of Easter eggs, tie-ins, and insider knowledge (with some more major spoilers).

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Captain America: The Winter Solider red stylized photo courtesy of Marvel.com.

  1. Stan Lee’s Cameo: Stan’s appearances in Marvel movies always bring a huge smile to my face. In The Winter Soldier, he plays a Smithsonian Institution worker guarding the Captain America exhibit. He discovers that Cap’s costume has gone missing and announces that he is “definitely going to be fired.” Fun moment!

  2. I (Heart) Hawkeye: Natasha/Black Widow wears an arrow necklace as a token of her affection for the Hawkeye character. She does get one good kiss in with The Cap, but it seems they are just close work friends.

  3. Doctor Strange: My husband was happy about this one. When Captain America is told about the Project Insight agenda put in place by the S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez), Steve Strange is listed as a target of elimination.

  4. End Credit Teaser Scenes: Everyone loves post-credit teaser scenes, and we get two after this movie. A mid-credits scene, directed by Joss Whedon, gives us a peek into The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and features Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) with Loki’s scepter, making the connection that an Asgardian may be in Ultron. Von Strucker also reveals test subjects Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. In the second scene, Bucky finds out about his past while in the Smithsonian.

  5. The WarGames Nod:  A cool geek moment in the film is when Black Widow and The Cap find the first S.H.I.E.L.D. base, a secret bunker beneath his old training facility. We learn that H.Y.D.R.A. is really in control of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the base supercomputer is an AI version of Arnim Zola, a nod to blueprints in The First Avenger, which shows Zola’s change from doctor to robot.  Black Widow turns on the Zola computer and types, ‘SHALL WE PLAY A GAME?’  Black Widow explains, “It’s from a movie.”

  6. The Falcon: One of the fan-favorites who helps The Cap bring The Winter Soldier to reckoning. There’s an implication he may join The Avengers.

  7. Stark/Avengers Tower: In a Helicarriers targeting sequence, we see a glimpse of Tony Stark’s rebuilt Tower with The Avengers’ logo.

  8. Abed from Community Cameo: Danny Pudi appears as the IT guy The Cap uses to gain access to the Triskelion. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo also worked with Danny on the show Community. He plays the super nerd and fan-favorite Abed.

  9. Iron Man Tunes Up the Helicarriers: In The Avengers, Iron Man saves the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier and all aboard. His inadvertent changes lead to other Stark Industries updates, which are applied to the post-New York invasion Helicarrier fleet.

  10. Garry Shandling as Senator Stern: In Iron Man 2, we first met smug Senator Stern (Garry Shandling). He is back in The Winter Solider with an “ah-ha” moment. Upon exiting a court house, he whispers “Hail H.Y.D.R.A.” to Agent Sitwell.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens nationwide on Friday, April 4, 2014.

The Pirate Fairy Red Carrr-pet Premiere

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Image courtesy of Disney.

More than 60 years after Walt Disney’s talented team of artists created the animated feature film Peter Pan, the legacy of its iconic characters only continues to grow. Tinker Bell has become a popular character in her own right, thanks to a series of movies produced by DisneyToon Studios, a division of the animation powerhouse devoted to home-video exclusives. Disney recently celebrated the fifth release in that series, The Pirate Fairy, with a red carpet premiere, held just steps away from the very building where the original Peter Pan was made.

Up until now, the Tinker Bell movies have only tangentially referenced the source material, but this one features the closest connection yet to the Neverland in J.M. Barrie’s original story. The Pirate Fairy introduces Zarina (voiced by Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks), a curious and bold fairy who leaves pixie hollow and joins up with a motley crew of pirates. When she returns to steal the fairies’ precious blue pixie dust, Tinker Bell and her friends must set out after her to get it back. To do that, they’ll have to face a legendary adversary, but that’s all I can say for now. The rest is too good to spoil.

The event featured stilt walkers dressed as pirates (one even had her own ship made out of balloons), live music, and photo ops with Tink herself in front of Skull Rock. There were activities for the kids, including coloring, stickers, and a sand pit where they could dig for “buried treasure.” Each child attending also got a foam pirate sword or a set of fairy wings (or both). Among the special guests were Hendricks, director Peggy Holmes, producer Jenni Magee-Cook, and the voice of Tinker Bell herself, Mae Whitman. I got a chance to talk to them on the red carpet, except for Whitman, who was pulled away just as she reached me.

Disney's "The Pirate Fairy" World Premiere

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney.

Holmes talked about the significance of the location before heading in to introduce the film to an enthusiastic audience. “It’s so exciting to do the premiere here on the Disney lot where the characters of Peter Pan were created,” she said. “It was right here in the building behind us. So it’s really exciting to be here today and share the movie with everybody.”

Magee-Cook elaborated a bit more on the connections between the two films. “That was a real responsibility that we had. I mean, we were working with the art and introducing the beginning before Peter Pan was around. So we wanted to be honest and true to what we were building on and we wanted to continue that forward and make everybody happy with what we were doing.”

I asked Hendricks about what drew her to the role of Zarina. She said she’d been a fan of the movies even before signing on. “I was just thrilled to be part of Disney and the Tinker Bell series,” she said. “I probably would have played the crocodile if they’d asked me to. But then I got to know her and she was so spunky and so smart and such a great little character. She was really fun to play.”

Disney's "The Pirate Fairy" World Premiere

(L-R) Director Peggy Holmes, Tinker Bell, voice actors Mae Whitman (Tinker Bell), Christina Hendricks (Zarina), Pamela Adlon (Vidia), and producer Jenni Magee-Cook. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney.

Hendricks also appreciated that the film is empowering to young girls in particular. “The movie is about knowing who you are and being proud of who you are and not trying to be something you aren’t. It’s about knowing yourself and developing that talent of yours as best you can.”

The Pirate Fairy is available on DVD and Blu-ray beginning today, April 1.

Feeding Mr. Banks: Secrets of a Hollywood Food Stylist

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Photo courtesy of Disney.

What do Saving Mr. Banks, Dinner for Schmucks, How I Met Your Mother, and Boardwalk Empire have in common? They all feature the work of food stylist Chris Oliver. As chef and owner of Hollywood Food Styling, Oliver has provided beautiful, edible creations for hundreds of movies and TV shows.

“My niche is the on-camera food for film and TV,” Oliver explains. “I’m a chef, and one of the reasons I get a lot of jobs is when the actors actually have to eat the food. Or they’re supposed to eat the food. So it’s not like I can use glue for milk or any kind of chemicals or take cornstarch to thicken stuff. It really has to be natural stuff that they can ingest.”

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a few tricks of her own up her sleeve. Oliver shared some of her tips with a few bloggers at her test kitchen in Huntington Beach, California, where she designs and prepares a wide variety of screen cuisine. She gave us a demonstration of how she recreated some 1960s dishes for Saving Mr. Banks.

In the film, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) attempts to convince author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to sign over the movie rights to her Mary Poppins character. One of his tactics is to try to impress her with a steady parade of snacks and refreshments, which get fancier (at least by 1960’s standards) as the wooing goes on. It was Oliver’s challenge to make sure the dishes were not only appropriate for the period, but also reflected the story director John Lee Hancock wanted to tell.

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This Mickey Mouse Jell-O mold illustrates Chris Oliver’s creativity and resourcefulness. Photo courtesy of Disney.

“What I was told when I got hired was, ‘We want to see junk food—Twinkies, Ding Dongs—and then we want to have a progression,'” Oliver says. “So they thought they were going to impress her.”

To make a buffet table look appetizing, she uses risers and double-sided tape to position the dishes with a slight tilt to the camera. Color is also important. A red plate, a garnish of parsley, or a sliced olive on top can liven up even the most boring dishes. She showed us how she carefully layers her plates to add interest without making them too busy. With a few well-placed strokes of a paring knife, she demonstrated how to make a rose out of a tomato or lemon peel. She also cautioned us to be mindful of the placement of the food and how it will appear on-screen, and illustrated her point using a photo from an old cookbook.

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Food stylist Chris Oliver shows off an old cookbook with unfortunate baguette placement. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Cookbooks, it turns out, are Oliver’s secret weapon. She has shelves full of them in her kitchen, from every era and culture. She refers to them often to research era-appropriate ingredients, recipes, and presentations. It was so much fun flipping through pages and coming to terms with the truly horrifying reality of mid-century American cuisine.

But food isn’t all she creates. She’s also had to come up with edible facsimiles for things like vomit and dirt. For one war film, she got very detailed instructions on the kind of dirt they wanted her to make for a group of starving prisoners of war.

“They shipped in samples of Pakistani dirt so that I could match it, so they could eat it,” she said. “It’s a lot easier than you think. I did an edible arm for an alligator to actually eat. We did like a million of them. They’re huge and heavy and we had to figure out a way to cast it and make it.”

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Chris Oliver transforms a plate of boring deviled eggs into a more photogenic dish. Photo courtesy of Disney.

After recreating a few signature dishes from Saving Mr. Banks, Oliver let us try our hand at a few classic recipes, including deviled eggs, fruit kebabs, chocolate tarts, and sandwich pinwheels. I was teamed up with a partner and assigned something called “Moss Balls,” which are basically several different kinds of cheese (cream, blue, and cheddar, among others) rolled up into a balls and covered in parsley. We picked a set of pretty wooden bowls and made them look as appetizing as we could. It wasn’t as good as Oliver’s work, but we were proud of our creation.

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An amateur attempt at food styling. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Before meeting Oliver and her team, I didn’t think much about where the food in films and television comes from. Now I have a healthy appreciation for all of the thought and preparation that goes into it. What a food stylist really does is blend cooking and art in the service of creating the perfect culinary backdrop. Plus, you get to cook for some of the biggest names in Hollywood. As far as dream jobs go, it kind of takes the cake.

Saving Mr. Banks is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Scarlett Johansson and Cast Talk Captain America: The Winter Soldier

From left: Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Chris Evans, Robert Redford, and Scarlett Johansson. Image: Marvel.com.

A week ago, I was on my way to meet the often-stealthy members of S.H.I.E.L.D  for a Captain America: The Winter Soldier debriefing. But someone or something didn’t want me there.

I reminded myself that I’m not just a GeekMom writer, I’m a superhero—I’m Hygena from Stan Lee’s Who Wants to be Superhero? I had a mission! I had been called on to bring our readers important declassified information from the expanding Marvel Universe. I could do this!

But every superhero has a weakness, and I discovered I have two: L.A. traffic and mommyhood. Still, I could not be deterred from fulfilling my mission, which was to bring you an update from this panel with actors Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, and Anthony Mackie, plus directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as well as producer Kevin Feige.

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From Captain America: The Winter Solider. Image: Marvel.com.

The appearance of Johansson at this press event is likely of double-interest to GeekMom readers, since she’s soon to be a mom herself. How serious the actress and future mother would be treated this time around remained an open question.

As GeekMom’s founding editor Corrina Lawson wrote back in February in her Cliffs of Insanity column, at prior press conferences, Johansson was diminished to mostly dieting questions. By comparison, Lawson raised the issue of the Black Widow character being overly sexualized in the Avengers comics.  And the actress herself quipped in Entertainment Weekly that she’d have to wear “pasties” just to get a Black Widow movie made. Would the tone change with Captain America: The Winter Soldier?

The question that our readers wanted an answer to most was if there will be a solo Black Widow movie.  “I think that could be great,” said Feige, who runs Marvel. “We’ve got various outlines and ideas of where to take that… there’s a big element that explores her backstory in an upcoming Marvel feature… as you’ll see in (the Winter Soldier movie) and Avengers: Age of Ultron, she is kind of key to so much of the broader world.”

Johansson agrees there are a lot of avenues to explore for her character. “I think Natasha is a bit of a reluctant superhero. She doesn’t necessarily have this strong golden moral compass. Let’s not forget, she started out her career as essentially a mercenary.”

As to what Johansson finds attractive in the role, “[S]he uses her feminine wiles as kind of a part of her job, but she doesn’t rely on her sexuality or…physical appeal to get the job done,” she said. “She’s extremely smart, thinks on her feet, is a leader, and has a lot of foresight. Those are all qualities that I think it’s wonderful to celebrate for young women.”

Would producers view Johansson differently once she is a mom? “I don’t know. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years (and) the way roles have become available to me changes as I grow older. You hope to have a career that has longevity and reflects the (personal) experiences you’ve had. It’s what we all hope for—men and women alike.”

On the evolution of the Black Widow character, Johansson said, “This is the first time that we’ve really gotten to see Natasha as a person who gets up, gets ready for work in the morning, has a life outside of just her job once she’s out of the suit. We find Steve (Rogers) and Natasha questioning their own identity, realizing that they thought that they were strong people that had their beliefs and morals, but at the end of it, they (question) their entire professional careers and young adult life and who (they are), what do (they) want, and what do (they) need from someone? Both of these characters are left (at a) cliffhanger at the end…cresting the wave of having this huge moment of self-discovery.”

Physical preparations for superhero movies is always a challenge, and Winter Soldier was no exception. “I had just come off of doing a Broadway (play), which is pretty much the most physically challenging thing you can do,” Johansson  said. “I felt like if anything was going to prepare me to have stamina, it was that. Everything seemed like a piece of cake after treading the boards for that long. I was in pretty solid shape from that run.”

But, she said she found the physical routine of keeping in top shape less than inspiring. “Boring. (You) get up at 5 o’clock, go to the gym, all that stuff—it’s not glamorous at all. You train like a dude and then eat a bunch of lettuce. That’s how it goes: nothing fancy!”

And on the subject of the physicality of roles, Cap himself, Evans, addressed how it felt to wear the famous suit. “It always feels like it gets tighter. I thought it was supposed to get more comfortable, (but it) got worse,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the fact that you know you’re making good movies. If you were disappointed with the previous film, it’s going to be hard to mentally prepare yourself for living in that thing for four or five months, but since Marvel just can’t stop making quality movies, it’s exciting and it’s humbling and it’s an honor to jump back into it—no matter how uncomfortable it is.”

After a special screening, I was amazed to see Robert Redford as a cast member in this latest chapter of Captain America. On working with Redford, Evans said, “He’s amazing. It was pretty intimidating that day, because he is a living legend, but it’s always such a treat when someone you look up to that much lives up to the expectation… He showed up with the utmost professionalism… He really is such an example of what it is to be great.”

Jackson agreed, saying, “I met Robert in a lot of different situations when I was going to Sundance, when I was a younger actor, when he had a more active part in that process, and I missed an opportunity to do several films with him over the years. That morning when I got there to work with him for the first time, we sat down and we talked about a lot of different things: golf, life, movies. So by the time we got on set, it did look like we spent time together or had some past and some darker and more medieval state of counterinsurgency. And it was a great experience. He is everything Chris said.”

Evans had previously expressed some concerns regarding being typecast in the Captain America role. This being his third time in the role, his concerns seemed to have ebbed. “Had I not done the movies, it would’ve been the biggest mistake of my life… It’s changed everything for me… Marvel has the Midas touch, so every time you suit up, you know that you’re making something of quality. It’s rewarding on every level. So, thank God I had the right people in my life pushing me to make the right decision.”

Finally, Joe Russo spoke on his role, along with his brother, in directing this action movie after having directed genre shows such as Community and Arrested Development. “The processes are very different… You have an infrastructure at Marvel that’s very different than anywhere else in the world. An incredible infrastructure, very talented, with very intelligent people, who are there to help you get your vision across. But we always say comedy isn’t very different from action. It requires choreography. The timing of it isn’t very different than stunt work or a fight in a movie. It’s all a dance. So we didn’t feel like it was that big of a stretch for us. It felt like every day that we’ve been on-set for the last 15 years.”

Captain America The Winter Soldier opens in theaters nationwide Friday, April 4, 2014.

Frozen Turns Blu, But Is It Worth Buying?

image courtesy of Disney Animation Studios

Box art courtesy of Walt Disney Home Entertainment.

Since I became a parent, my views on Blu-ray releases have changed a bit. I used to base my home-video purchases on the bonus material as much as the film itself. If a new release I really wanted had a paltry offering of extras, I might wait for what I figured was the inevitable special edition (and I was often right). But my kids are too young to really appreciate making-of featurettes, audio commentary, or even art galleries. For them, it’s about bringing home the movie they saw and loved in the theater and watching it over and over (and over) again. We don’t go out to the movies very often, so our living room is where they consume most of their filmed entertainment, and repetition is still a big thing at their age. So I guess I’m starting to see the merit in owning a movie for its own sake.

For this reason, the comparatively small amount of bonus features on the Frozen Blu-ray isn’t as much of a disappointment as it might have been a few years ago. We’ve had the combo pack for a couple of weeks now and I don’t think we’ve gone more than a day or two without watching at least some of it. They love acting out the scenes and musical numbers with their Anna and Elsa dolls as they flash by on our television screen. I imagine there will come a day when they’ll get tired of it and move on to something else, but I don’t see that day coming any time soon.

I can’t help but wonder, though, why Disney didn’t put more of an effort into this release. The cynical side of me can see the business sense in holding back some materials this time around. Frozen is so huge they could have released it without a single extra and people still would have bought it (I would have). Sure, there would’ve been some grumbling as we handed over our cash, but it would have ended up in Disney’s hands all the same. Maybe we ought to be grateful that there are any extras on this at all. So why do I still feel at best annoyed and at worst disrespected by the studio that put out one of my favorite films of the last year? Perhaps this is part of a larger discussion about how Disney consistently takes its fans for granted. I’m not even going to get into the major issues I have with retail exclusives (Target and Best Buy each offer exclusive bonus discs with additional content like deleted scenes and featurettes). But I digress.

Frozen display at the entrance to Disney’s Feature Animation building. Photo by Cindy White.

I realize that all of this is starting to sound rather harsh. I should say that I did enjoy most of the extras that were included on the disc. I’ve had the “Making of Frozen” song, written by Frozen‘s songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, stuck in my head for days at a time. The big production number starring Josh Gad (Olaf), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), and Kristen Bell (Anna) is pretty great and it’s turned out to be the exception to the rule for my kids when it comes to watching bonus features. They love it for the music and dancing, while I love the mini tour of Disney’s famed Feature Animation building and the cameos by the actual production team. The promise in the lyrics to “give you that inside look” is never quite fulfilled, but it’s really fun anyway.

You also get “D’Frosted: Disney’s Journey From Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen,” which attempts to cover 70 years of development history in just seven minutes, and “Get a Horse!”, the clever Mickey Mouse short that ran before the film in theaters. There are four deleted scenes on the standard release (plus an additional one on the Target bonus disc), with introductions by directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. Curiously, none of them include the clip from the commercials where Anna says, “That’s no blizzard, that’s my sister!” I don’t remember that moment in the final film, but based on the brief glimpse we got in the ads, the scene was much further along in the animation process than any of the rough sketches presented here. Finally, I’m not a huge fan of music videos, nor of Demi Lovato’s version of “Let it Go,” but that’s included here too, along with three other versions of the song in Spanish, Italian, and Malaysian.

As for the movie itself, it looks predictably gorgeous on Blu-ray. Audiophiles will appreciate the inclusion of a 7.1 DTS-HD surround track to really get that theatrical experience, though my home setup isn’t sophisticated enough to test it out. It’s not so much about thumping bass in the LFE channel or crystal-clear treble in our house these days. With two little girls belting out “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs, you can’t really make out anything else anyway.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Most Wanted Interview: It’s Time to Meet the Muppets for Real

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

Image courtesy of Disney.

Something strange happens when you talk about the Muppets. This phenomenon extends to everyone, and I mean everyone, who deals with them in one form or another. It’s like there’s this universal unspoken agreement to treat them as if they were actual, living characters and not just cleverly molded pieces of foam and cloth shaped like anthropomorphic frogs and pigs and bears. I bought into it, too. I mean, how can you not? When I told people I was covering a press conference for the new Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, I didn’t say that I was going to be talking to the puppeteers who performed as Kermit and Miss Piggy. I talked about it as if I were meeting the Kermit and the Miss Piggy (complete with an imitation of Kermit’s famous excited flailing motion). And when it was all over, I felt like I actually did.

The first thing that becomes clear when you meet the Muppets is that they’re really, really funny. It’s the kind of humor that everyone gets—kids, adults, everyone. And they don’t need a script to make you laugh. They’re on all the time. I mean when you’re in a room that includes Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais and they aren’t the funniest people in the room, that’s saying something. We had the good fortune to meet Kermit, his evil lookalike Constantine, Sam the Eagle, and, of course, Miss Piggy. They were topical, self-deprecating, even sometimes a little raunchy. It was everything I hoped an encounter with real, live Muppets could be.

The press conference happened in two parts. First to take the stage were Muppets Most Wanted director James Bobbin, producer Todd Lieberman, and songwriter Bret McKenzie. All three worked on the previous Muppets film, and McKenzie took home an Oscar for his original song, “Man or Muppet.” They talked about facing the challenge of how to top themselves the second time around.

“I was very clear in my head as to what we’d like to do next,” Bobbin said. “And it’s why the movie starts seconds after the last one ended. Because I felt the Muppets could just kind of address the problem that [writer Nick Stoller] and I had—kind of like, ‘What is the film going be about and what’s next?’ And I thought, ‘Well, let’s just address that and do it in the movie itself.’ So you have this thing where they go, ‘What should we do next?’ And then they sing a song called ‘We’re Doing a Sequel,’ which Bret so brilliantly wrote and it kind of addresses that issue up front.”

McKenzie spoke humbly about his Oscar win (it sits on his piano for inspiration) and explained a bit about his unique creation process this time around. He rented a retail space in a nondescript strip mall in Hollywood, added a piano and an old couch, and turned it into his private music studio.

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Todd Lieberman, James Bobbin and Bret McKenzie talk to the Kermit phone. Image courtesy of Disney.

“It was like this sort of dusty old shop to hide away and work on these songs,” McKenzie said. “And these guys came and visited, to listen to the demos. It was quite a funny scene because people would be walking by hearing this, me playing the piano, and occasionally they’d walk in and they’d say, ‘Is there music lessons going on here?’ Or, ‘What is this? Is this some sort of art installation?’ … We liked to call it Muppet Solutions.”

“You could go in there and think either you’re going to get killed or you’re going hear some music,” Lieberman joked.

It’s reassuring to know that the people in charge of such a beloved franchise are fans themselves. At one point, McKenzie showed off his “direct line” to Kermit—a phone featuring the famous frog himself. The Muppets have earned themselves a lot of big-name fans over the years. Celebrity cameos have always been a trademark of their films, and Most Wanted is no different. Bobbin talked about the various ways that people get involved.

“When Nick and I write the script, we’re writing people’s names in often, and obviously certain people have to be that person,” he said.” Like, you can’t do the Christoph Waltz joke with anybody else because it is about a waltz, so that’s impossible.”

“I think that one was reverse engineered in a way,” Lieberman clarified. “Christoph Waltz specifically was one where he was a massive fan of the first movie and really wanted to be a part of this one. And so that joke was reverse engineered. But there’s so many people who love the Muppets and it’s an interesting matrix to put together to figure out where people go correctly and how to fit all the people that love it in the movie.”

While some famous fans had to settle for brief appearances or a single line, other actors got big, juicy parts. Three of those were Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, and Ty Burrell. In the second part of the press conference, they joined their Muppet co-stars on stage. In between the two interviews, a few large poster boards went up to act as screens while the talent took their places on the dais. This is the level of commitment they have to maintaining the illusion. One minute there’s an empty stage, the next there are Muppets and humans interacting with each other, just as they do on-screen. You’d think it would take some getting used to, but the connection to these characters is so rooted in the magic we remember as kids that it comes quite naturally.

Sam the Eagle was the first to greet, calling us the “Hollywood media elite.” He would later excuse himself to take care of some hotel security business. Not long after that (and quite coincidentally, I’m sure), Miss Piggy joined the panel, fashionably late, naturally.

One of the first questions was for Kermit, about why he didn’t take on the dual role of his evil twin Constantine in the film. His answer gave us all the first big laugh of the interview: “I don’t really work on green screen.”

Constantine, it turns out, is a distant cousin from Russia (which did not please Sam at all). Here’s some of the banter that ensued after that revelation, just to give you an idea of how much of the press conference went:

Sam Eagle: He is actually from Russia?
Kermit the Frog: Well, I’m afraid so, Sam. I’m afraid so.
Sam Eagle: My goodness. Good thing you’re sitting between the two of us. That’s all I can say.
Constantine: But the weird thing is, I cannot speak any Russian words.
Ricky Gervais: Just an accent?
Constantine: Just accent.
Ricky Gervais: Just any place with a Russian accent?
Kermit the Frog: That is very weird.
Ty Burrell: A weird part of Russia that’s all English?
Constantine: That is correct.
Tina Fey: You were born in the Russian airport?
Constantine: Yes.

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Tina Fey, Kermit, Ricky Gervais, Constantine, Ty Burrell, and Miss Piggy star in Muppets Most Wanted. Image courtesy of Disney.

When Constantine was asked if he would like to leave the criminal life behind and get into show business with the rest of the Muppets, he said that he was thinking about doing his own Netflix original series. “I will call it House of Toads. I will executive produce and show run. So let’s take meeting, yes?”

One of the great things about the Muppets is their ability to transcend age groups. Your kids may not get a joke about House of Cards, or any of the other oblique references that appear in the film, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find their own enjoyment in it.

“Yeah, it doesn’t patronize kids,” Gervais said. “It doesn’t aim at an audience. It aims higher. And I remember when I was a kid watching the Muppets. I had older brothers and sisters and they were laughing and I sort of knew that it was cool.”

“They’re going to like how funny the movie is,” Fey added. “Because, you know, I think there’s a lot of jokes in the movie and kids who are like eight, nine, 10 years old, they take a lot of pride in getting the jokes. It makes them feel big.”

“I, for one, do not get any of the jokes in this movie,” Kermit deadpanned.

As for Fey’s own kids, they’re not all that impressed with her being in a Muppets movie.

“They’re very excited to see the movie, but as far as me being in it, it’s mostly like, you know, ‘Oh, you’re in the poster. Now you be Queen Elsa.’ They just want me to be either Queen Elsa or Mr. Smee.”

The fun really started when Miss Piggy finally arrived. There were some comments about how she couldn’t tell Kermit and Constantine apart (a running gag in the film) and a bit of rivalry with Tina Fey, who spent most of her time shooting with Kermit.

I’ll wrap this up with one of the best exchanges from the press conference, kicked off by a question from Gervais about why the movies always show Kermit and Miss Piggy’s children as pigs or frogs.

Ricky Gervais: In the movies, right? When you get married and you have children? They’re either pigs or frogs.
Kermit the Frog: Yeah.
Gervais: Why is there no sort of, you know …
Tina Fey: Abomination?
Kermit the Frog: Well, you know, we’ve never …
Gervais: Well, yeah. Just like yeah, no. Some sort of a fat, green sort of sworkling, hoppy, greedy pig? You know? I mean, why? Haven’t you worked that out yet?
Miss Piggy: I don’t know.
Kermit the Frog: Well, we haven’t actually consummated the experiment so we don’t really know.
Miss Piggy: That was the filmmaker’s visualization, all right?
Gervais: It’s a house of cards.
Kermit the Frog: What are we doing?
Gervais: I don’t know.
Kermit the Frog: Holy cow.
Gervais: I’m just thinking.
Miss Piggy: Oh, there he goes again.

Muppets Most Wanted opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 21.

Batten Down Your Hatches, Tom Hiddleston Sings!

Charismatic actor Tom Hiddleston is already one of our favorite stars for stealing both Thor movies, and pretty much every one of his scenes in The Avengers (no small feat considering the company he was in). As if that wasn’t enough, this video just piles on the charm factor. Watch him belt out a catchy number from the upcoming Tinker Bell movie The Pirate Fairy, in which he plays a cabin boy named James.

Frozen‘s Art of Tech: Do You Want to Build an Olaf?

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Image courtesy of Disney.

I think one of the reasons that Frozen has become such a massive hit is that you can enjoy it on more than one level. I’ve previously written about the story and the characters, but it’s also such a delight to look at. There is a feeling of an artistic hand at work in every frame, from the architecture to the costumes to the decorative rosemaling on the textiles and scenery. It may not be something you think much about when you’re watching the film, but all of that luscious detail came from somewhere, and it took a team of hundreds to pull it off so flawlessly. These designers, artists, animators, programmers, technical supervisors, and engineers may not get to stand up on the stage at the Oscars and you won’t see their names on billboards, but they each contributed their own little bit of magic to the film.

I got to meet a few of these unsung heroes during a recent press event organized by the studio to promote Frozen‘s upcoming release on home video. Like any geek, I’m always curious about how things are made and the technology used to make them, so I was excited to get a first-hand look at the animation operation and have a chance to play around with the tools used to create the characters.

Our first stop of the day was at the rigging lab. A rig is what gives the characters the ability to move in a realistic way. Just like people, animated characters need to have a skeletal framework underneath layers of muscles and skin. The technical animation team is responsible for building those elements and also the means to control them, so the animators can make the characters do anything the directors need them to do. Sometimes, especially in the cast of a sophisticated project like this, they may also need to create entirely new software packages to handle things like hair, fabric, or snow.

Frozen Rig Lab

Photo by Cindy White.

Three members of the team were on hand to give us a quick overview of their work on the film. Frank Hanner, character CG supervisor, kicked things off; followed by Keith Wilson, character simulation supervisor; and Greg Smith, character rigging supervisor. Here are some of the astounding facts they shared:

  • There were 312 character rigs built for the film, including background characters. That’s the most of any film in Disney history.
  • They built 245 cloth rigs for the film, meaning there are 245 unique simulated costumes on-screen.
  • Elsa has 420,000 hairs on her head. That’s 320,000 more than the average human (we only have about 100,000 hairs) and 391,000 more than Disney’s previous record holder for luscious locks, Rapunzel, who had a mere 29,000 or so.
  • Anna’s intro dress has exactly 12 box pleats in the skirt. Art Director Mike Giaimo was very specific about the number and type of pleats her costume would have.

Before allowing us to try our hands at being Disney animators ourselves, Greg Smith talked a little about creating one of the film’s most popular (and challenging) characters, Olaf the snowman:

“Olaf was a really fun character in the movie and we had a really fun time with him on the show. In the rigging department, we always like challenges with characters. What’s going to be interesting about this character? How do we make him move? How do we provide that control set to animation to really allow them to explore what needs to happen? And Olaf was one of those characters for us. And when we started this we thought, ‘Okay, they’ll move him a little bit.’ And then we saw the teaser and we were like, ‘Okay, wow, you guys went a little further.'”

Each of us was assigned a workstation where we could manipulate Olaf using the 3D modeling program Maya. It took some getting used to, but I was able to move him into a jaunty pose, one hand on his hip, the other behind his head, hips jutting out slightly to the side. The controls for his mouth were incredibly sophisticated, so I had to play around with it before I could get just the right smirk rather than a scary, buck-toothed grin. I won’t be sitting by the phone waiting for Disney to call me to join their animation team, but I sure enjoyed getting a look at how they work.

Another call I probably won’t be getting anytime soon is for voiceover work. And here’s the reason why:

The above clip has me singing the beginning of “In Summer” and totally screwing up the intro timing. With a booth full of other bloggers, a publicist and a professional sound engineer (not to mention the pressure of recording in the very booth where Josh Gad recorded the very same scene), I couldn’t keep a straight face. You can hear me breaking in the middle of that last note. It may not have been professional quality, but it sure was a lot of fun.

So, yeah, my Olaf turned out to look a bit more like a burlesque dancer who sings in an off-key female voice, but I’m kind of fond of him. I guess the actual movie version is okay, too.

Frozen is currently available for digital download and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, March 18.

Frozen Directors on How “Let It Go” Changed the Film and More

"FROZEN" (Pictured) ELSA. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy of Disney.

Back in September of last year, I attended an early press day at Disney Studios for its upcoming animated feature, Frozen. When I spoke with the directors, I hadn’t yet seen the film in its entirety. Although I had a sense it would be a success, no one could have predicted just how big it would be.

Frozen has now won two Academy Awards—for best animated feature and best original song—and crossed the billion-dollar mark at the box office, making it the top-grossing original animated film of all time (only the sequel Toy Story 3 has earned more). Stores can’t keep the merchandise on shelves, the soundtrack album was the first to hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart since Titanic, YouTube is filled with cover versions of “Let It Go,” and thanks to John Travolta’s now infamous mangling of her name on the Oscars telecast, Adele Dazeem, er, Idina Menzel, ironically has more name recognition than ever. It seems that the early feminist criticism I argued against in November didn’t have much of an effect after all.

With the home-video release approaching, I had another chance to speak to directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (who also served as co-writer and is the first woman to have a directing credit on a Disney animated feature) during a two-day blogger event organized by the studio to promote the DVD and Blu-ray. Having seen the film this time, I had all sorts of burning new questions for them, so I jumped right in and asked about that remarkable ending. I should warn you now that from this point on there will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen Frozen and don’t want to know any details of the plot, including the ending, you might want to come back and read the rest of this later.

Frozen Filmmakers

Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. Image courtesy of Disney.

I wondered if Buck and Lee had taken into account Disney’s rich animation legacy and the modern criticisms of it when they were developing Frozen. I asked them how that played into the story, especially Anna’s climactic act of true love for her sister, something the studio has never done before in an animated film.

“We started realizing in developing it why you had never seen it before,” Lee said. “Because it was a really hard thing to earn, and I mean that emotionally. So that when you get to that moment, it’s surprising, inevitable, and satisfying, and you’re emotionally there. It was amazing in the story process how much if you just lean too heavily one way or the other on the romantic story or the sister story it would fall apart. So I think so much of our development—for a year at least, 14 months straight—was the constant reworking and rebuilding and stripping away and starting anew, just to get to that moment. So I think that that’s why we talk about it a lot, as that was True North the whole time.”

“The idea was, how can we sort of redefine true love?” Buck explained. “What does true love mean? What have we done in the past here at the studio and how can we do something a little bit different? So everybody was on board with that idea—and it just kind of built from there.”

In the finished film, the ending works because of the depth of the love between Anna and Elsa, but that wasn’t always the case. In early versions of the story, the characters weren’t even sisters and until very late in the development process, Elsa was the villain of the piece. In the original source material, Hans Christian Andersen’s folk tale The Snow Queen, the title character is indeed a much darker figure. Lee said they hung on to that concept for so long because they loved the idea of creating an iconic Disney villain. It wasn’t until they heard a demo version of a little song called “Let It Go,” by husband and wife songwriting team Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, that the Elsa we now know and love started coming into focus.

Frozen Elsa

Image courtesy of Disney.

“We were struggling with how villainous should she be,” Buck said. “And Bobby and Kristen, they were on the journey with us, so we were all struggling together. And they came up with this song. We talked a lot about it and loved the demo. When we first heard the demo we went, ‘Wow.’ And it was Kristen Lopez singing it. She’s got a great voice. So she gave a lot of power to it, a lot of emotion. And then Jen got to rewrite.”

“The whole movie!” Lee finished with a laugh. “It was an important moment because we could feel the tug of war. What I love about animation is it’s very collaborative. But the challenge is, it’s very collaborative. There were a lot of ideas about the [character of the] snow queen for a year or two of development, and she was the villain. And then there was a new idea of moving away from that. And so you had a tug of war. It’s very important in all storytelling or in any film, you have to be able to prove your point. If you want her to not be villainous, you have to show us why we should want that if we always thought we were going in a different direction. And ‘Let It Go’ was that. It was the day when we showed everyone ‘Let It Go’ we were able to say, ‘This is the potential.'”

The songwriters contributed to the story in other ways, too. Lee recalled that Bobby Lopez was the first one to see the potential when she first suggested that Olaf the snowman could dream about seeing summer.

“I love when a character wants the opposite of what is right for them,” she said. “It’s just a fun thing. And it was just a funny idea to me. I was like, ‘What if he wants summer?’ And a lot of people were like, ‘Oh my god, that’s suicidal! No!’ And then Bobby Lopez went, ‘I think I can get behind that.’ So they wrote [the song ‘In Summer’]. And I think why it works for us is because it’s the only song where we stop and have fun. But if you look at it, it really says everything about innocence. It’s the impossible dream. And there’s something about it, that’s what childhood is. And every now and then, that dream comes true. So I think that’s why it ended up really working and not coming off so mean and sick.”

Frozen Anna, Olaf, and Kristoff

Image courtesy of Disney.

We got a bit of background on Olaf’s origins as well. Initially, he was part of a whole army of snowmen built by Elsa, only one of which remains in the finished film. Buck described him as “the first pancake,” as in the one you throw away. But when they hit upon the idea that young Anna and Elsa first built him when playing together as children, he became something much more.

“In ‘Let It Go,’ the first thing she does is the last thing they did, in terms of the last time she was happy,” Lee said. “Like, they built this snowman, not magical, but together—and that was her happiest moment with Anna. And then everything went bad. So when she starts ‘Let It Go,’ she goes right back to the last moment she was happy. And it was Olaf. So to us, he’s imbued with the magic of innocent love, of love that’s pure, that’s undamaged and unhurt by life.”

The subject of love came up in our conversation a lot, but it’s only half of the film’s overarching theme. When the filmmakers finally hit on the idea that Anna would represent love and all the good and bad that goes along with it, and that Elsa would represent fear, everything really fell into place.

“Fear becomes the enemy of the film,” Lee said. “That’s when we all just, I think we just knew. We felt it. We’re like, ‘Now we have what we’ve been looking for.'”

Look for Frozen now on digital download and on DVD and Blu-ray beginning March 15.

Tinker Bell Shines in Disney’s New Pirate Fairy Product Line

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© DisneyToon Studios, used with permission.

As I mentioned in this preview post, I got a chance a few weeks ago to represent GeekMom at a two-day blogger event promoting some of Disney’s upcoming home-video releases. This included the next installment in DisneyToon Studio’s Tinker Bell series, The Pirate Fairy. The movie comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on April 1, and Disney’s consumer products team is prepared with a dedicated lineup of toys, clothes, and accessories featuring everyone’s favorite tinker and her fairy friends.

As part of the event, we got to see the new products up close just before sitting down to lunch in the zen garden outside the headquarters of DisneyToon Studios. The display included a wide variety of merchandise for fans of every age, from dolls to pajamas to sporty tote bags. As you might expect, much of it ties into The Pirate Fairy, but there were also some items highlighting classic Tink character designs and sketches.

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Photo by Cindy White.

If your kids enjoy pirates, fairies, or both (as is the case in my house), they’ll probably dig the newest addition to the Disney Fairies family, a free-spirited dust keeper named Zarina (voiced by Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks). Curious and scientifically minded, she’s also the captain of her own pirate ship and motley crew. Kids can role play as Zarina in this costume set, matching her look in the film pretty closely. It’s available exclusively at The Disney Store and DisneyStore.com.

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Image courtesy of Disney.

Also available at mass retailers, licensee Jakks Pacific created a “Pixie Pirate” dress for Zarina and a companion “Pixie Party” dress for Tinker Bell. Zarina’s doesn’t look anything like her outfit in the movie, but there are sparkles aplenty.

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Image courtesy of Disney.

We were lucky enough to get to take home some of the items in a goody bag, including these two dolls:

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Image courtesy of Disney.

Since we already have the Tinker Bell and Periwinkle dolls at home, my girls loved adding Zarina into their play. The baby crocodile plays a significant role in the movie, and many of us fell in love with him after seeing him in action. After we left the screening room, I heard some fellow bloggers talking about how they hoped Disney would be making these little guys, and sure enough they were out there on display with all of the other stuff.

Dolls are always a big seller, so expect to see a range of different sets and variations coming out. I have to admit that I’m not completely sold on these 9-inch pirate fashion dolls, though. For one thing, they didn’t make all the fairies available. You can only get Tinker Bell, Rosetta, Zarina, and, for some reason, Periwinkle (who is only in the movie briefly and doesn’t actually meet any pirates). The dolls don’t look much like their film counterparts, either, and the fashions aren’t based on anything from the film. I do kind of like the purple jacket and boots Tink is rocking, though.

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Image courtesy of Disney.

At one point in the film, Zarina blasts the fairies with a special dust that switches their talents around (Tink becomes a water fairy, Vidia becomes a tinker, Rosetta becomes an animal fairy, etc.). Their outfits get switched too, so naturally that calls for a brand-new, six-piece doll set with all of the outfit variations. Fans of the series can probably guess what their new talents are, based on the altered colors and designs. Seems like poor Fawn got left out, though.

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Image courtesy of Disney.

Speaking of fashion, the below pieces were created to appeal to tweens, teens, and adults alike. I love the pretty organic cotton pajama set from Hanna Andersson. The tank and leggings will be available beginning in March at JC Penny and Wet Seal will be selling the sweatshirt.

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Image courtesy of Disney.

If you’re not into wearing Tink on your sleeve, there are also these bags from Le Sportsac featuring the original designs and sketches created for Peter Pan by legendary Disney artist Marc Davis.

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Image courtesy of Disney.

Stay tuned to GeekMom for more on The Pirate Fairy, including an interview with the filmmakers and animators, and other fun stuff from the event!

The Musical Treasures of Jake and the Never Land Pirates

MR. SMEE, SHARKY, BONES, CAPTAIN HOOK, IZZY, SKULLY, JAKE, CUBBY

Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates is packed with pirate music and adventures. Image: Disney Junior/Craig Sjodin.

It’s important for all of ye landlubbers out there to know that “pirate rock” is a very real thing. Aye, ’tis true. In fact, this style of music is a major part of Disney’s animated hit Jake and the Never Land Pirates, thanks to resident pirate rockers Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson.

The duo is probably best known to fans as Sharky and Bones, two of the show’s animated characters—in more ways than one. See, Hoskins and Hendrickson are featured both in cartoon and live-action form in every single episode. They also provide all of the music for the show, including Season Three’s newly revamped theme song.

However, these two swashbucklers are actually seasoned pirate rockers, having formed the Portland, Oregon-based pirate rock band Captain Bogg & Salty back in 1999. After releasing four albums with that band, Disney recruited the duo to make pirate music for the series. It’s since become a full-time job for the two, and has yielded enough booty to fill the Jake and the Never Land Pirates soundtrack.

Recently, I got the chance to talk to the dynamic duo. Avast, me hearties and heed what they say about the show, the music, and some of the treasures hidden in Season 3.

GeekMom: Can you please explain the pirate rock genre?

Loren Hoskins: No—I mean, yes I can! Kevin and I, when we started making pirate rock in the late 1800s, we kind of based it on: “What if you gave the characters in Pirates of the Caribbean the ride electric guitars and amps and microphones? What kinds of songs would they sing?” So, it kind of built from there. It’s fusing a lot of the fun of rock, kind of Kinks-style rock or different rock genres, kind of garage-y at times, but mixing it with the literary tradition of Treasure Island and all of the swashbuckling adventure and storytelling that comes along with that.

GM: Are people surprised to hear that the band has been around for so long?

Kevin Hendrickson: Yeah. We haven’t had a lot of opportunity to tell people that and witness the surprise of it, but definitely. People are surprised that we’ve done this type of music for so long—specifically, pirate music.

GM: Do you still play live?

KH: We’ve done some performances as Sharky and Bones live. As recently as last summer, we performed in Central Park. The summer before that, we performed at Disney World, at Downtown Disney for a 10-day run. It comes sporadically, but we do have a good time doing that.

GM: Do you foresee a national tour? I know it’s not Disney, but I recently took my son to Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! and it was a blast. Will there be anything like that?

LOREN HOSKINS, KEVIN HENDRICKSON

Disney Junior’s The Never Land Pirate Band stars Loren Hoskins as Sharky and Kevin Hendrickson as Bones. Image: Disney Junior/Craig Sjodin.

LH: There is a tour right now that is called Disney Junior Live On Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure. The second half of that show is all Jake, and it features a lot of the music from the show, with all of the great stage crafts, characters, costumes, stage magic, and all that stuff. We’re not in that show, but it was a real treat to go and watch it and see us up there, but not be us. Like, to have the characters come to life like that was really amazing.

But we’re just so busy keeping up with the stories and all of the cool, new twists and characters that are coming out for the show… and then, there’s a new re-branding. They’ve given us license to rock out even more and kind of up the swashbuckling angle. It’s been pretty exciting.

KH: The live-action Sharky and Bones that are in the Disney Junior Live show are fantastic, by the way.

GM: Can you explain a little of the musical process for each episode? For instance, for the three-part episode that’s coming up this Friday; do they hand you a bunch of scripts and ask you to come up with songs?

KH: Yes they do. They give us scripts and then Loren and I work together to create the songs well in advance of receiving the animation.

GM: About how long does it take to come up with an episode’s worth of songs?

LH: It depends on the episode, but what’s funny is that we’re often working the beginnings of one script and the ends of another at the same time. It’s hard to know exactly, but Kevin and I kind of have a ping-pong approach where we’ll pass ideas back and forth. And then, we finally go: “That’s it, we’ve got it, this is it.” Sometimes that snaps together in one day, sometimes it takes a week or two. It just depends on the song and how we want to bend it to the story.

KH: As far as finishing the music, composing and putting together a whole episode usually takes about a week.

LH: I was just talking about the writing of the songs. The production of the song takes another week or so. Then those end credit songs, the ones that play with the music videos at the end of the show, are ones that we’ve spent a lot more time on. Before they’re cut down to one minute for the end credits, they’re full-length songs. So we record a full-length song—write, record, and produce a full-length song—and then cut it down to one minute for the music video. Then, it can pop back up and show up on the album as a full-length song. Those take a little longer.

GM: Why did the show’s theme song change this season?

LH: We just wanted to up the energy a little bit, make it a little more kinetic.

KH: It was a way to make the third season a little special, too. We were getting a lot more scripts that had big adventure moments in them and they were kind of starting to add a little more Pirates of the Caribbean to the scripts or something, so they wanted us to respond to that with some more energetic music—add a little more rock to it.

GM: What music are you both listening to right now?

LH: I like The Black Keys a lot, as far as a modern band. I also love listening to the old Disneyland records. I love the old stuff, the old children’s stories and song records. They’re a great wellspring of ideas and just remembering what it’s like to play. So I’ll often put the old Disneyland record of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or something like that—not to really be thinking about pirates, but just thinking about adventure music.

KH: I tend to listen to older, 1980s new wave like XTC or Oingo Boingo.

GM: How much of your pirate wardrobe is from your actual wardrobe?

KH: None.

LH: About 40 percent for me.

A special extended episode of Jake and the Never Land Pirates will air this Friday, February 28 at 8:30 a.m. (ET/PT) during the Disney Junior block on the Disney Channel. A new music video for “Lead the Way Jake” will follow on Saturday, March 1.

The Jungle Book Gets a Wild, Wonderful Diamond Edition

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The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Image: © Disney.

Although it’s number 19 in a lengthy list of Disney features, The Jungle Book was actually the last film to get the personal stamp of Walt Disney himself. The animator and innovator was supposedly very involved with the production, mainly due to the disappointing response received for 1963’s The Sword in the Stone. Alas, he would never see all of his work come to the big screen. Disney died from lung cancer just 10 months before The Jungle Book was released in October 1967.

Despite Disney’s involvement, it has taken 47 years for the film to get one of the studio’s coveted “Diamond Edition” releases. Thankfully, that oversight has now been rectified. Not to worry, though; The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition Blu-ray goes way beyond the “Bear Necessities,” with a fully restored high-definition image and a slew of new extras.

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s much darker book, the film follows the tale of Mowgli, a boy who is orphaned in the jungle and raised by wolves. When the “Man-Cub” turns 10, the pack learns that Mowgli has become the prime target of Shere Khan, a man-eating Bengal tiger. Fearing his safety, the group decides that Mowgli must return to the “Man-Village.” En route, Mowgli does his best to stay in the jungle, all while encountering a variety of characters. The most notable of the bunch is Baloo, a lovable bear, who promises to take care of Mowgli and teach him about the “Bear Necessities” of life.

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Blu-ray image: © Disney.

It really is surprising how long it has taken to get The Jungle Book on Blu-ray. Besides being the final movie that Disney produced, it has some of the studio’s catchiest songs, including the aforementioned “Bare Necessities” and “I Want to Be Like You.” It was also one of the first to include famous voices—although they may not seem all that famous to the next (or current!) generation of viewers. That lineup includes Phil Harris as Balloo, Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera, Louis Prima as King Louie, and a very young Clint Howard as Junior, Colonel Hathi’s son.

The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Both releases pick up all of the special features from the 2007 DVD release, most notably “The Bare Necessities” making-of featurette and a short on “Disney’s Kipling.”

The Blu-ray also has a few newer items, all which are not available on the regular DVD. Those bonuses include separate (but short) film introductions by the late Diane Disney Miller and songwriter Richard M. Sherman, as well as an alternate ending, a peek at what’s going on inside Disney Animation , and a plug for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

There’s also the incredibly short, but interesting featurette, “Music, Memories, & Mowgli,” which has Miller and Sherman talking with Disney Legend and animator Floyd Norman. Also worth noting is the addition of “Bear-E-Oke,” an on-screen sing-a-along option that can be viewed as one short or via Disney Intermission, a feature that can trigger all of those songs when the movie is paused.

As with many of Disney’s “Diamond Edition” releases, this one has restored audio and video—and that’s not just some marketing spiel. The Blu-ray’s image is clean, but sometimes a bit too much. It doesn’t have that grainy, film-like quality you see in a lot of Blu-rays, but it’s pretty gorgeous nonetheless. The colors are lush and the flicker that you’d typically see with older films is completely gone. It also has a wonderful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, which helps some of the songs and action really pop.

The Jungle Book is far from my favorite Disney film, but it is a Disney film—and one that the entire family will really enjoy. The themes and songs have aged really well, with the Blu-ray giving the image and audio a boost that’s worthy of sharing with a new generation.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Interview: Floyd Norman, Disney Legend and Jungle Book Veteran

Floyd Norman, we want to be just like you. (Image Floyd Norman)

Recently, I had the extraordinary experience of speaking about animation with someone who worked at the Disney Studios while Mary Poppins was in production in the mid-60s. Floyd Norman, a Disney Legend animator and story artist who also worked at Pixar Animation Studios, started at Walt Disney Studios in 1956 and was the first black animator hired at the studio.

We can thank him for contributions to films from several studios, such as Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Mulan, Dinosaur, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, plus the TV special, “Hey! Hey! Hey! It’s Fat Albert.” He’s also the author of several books, including a memoir of his time in animation, titled Animated Life: A lifetime of tips, tricks, techniques and stories from an animated legend, which I summarized Between the Bookends.

Although my family didn’t see many movies when I was small, except for an occasional drive-in, I remember total enchantment when I saw Bambi as a birthday outing, and I have loved Mary Poppins all the decades since I first saw it. I was thrilled to talk to someone who had their fingers in so many entertainment pies from my childhood. Similarly, my own children loved The Jungle Book and we have re-watched it many times since their first viewing—which should really be called a wiggle or a bop or a shimmy, since the music induces so much movement. I couldn’t wait to hear what Floyd had to say.

Floyd at his Disney desk in the 50s. (Photo Floyd Norman)

GeekMom: Floyd, it’s an honor to visit with someone so wise in the ways of animation, with a career spanning more than 50 years. Do you think that a film like The Jungle Book has something special to offer today’s kids that they don’t get from modern animated films?

Floyd Norman: Animation is timeless, that is one of its great characteristics—when modern kids see The Jungle Book for the first time, they don’t know or care that it is from 1967. They think it’s modern. A good story is a good story, a good gag is a good gag. We were helped by the music from the Sherman brothers, which held up for today’s listeners.

GM: Does modern animation and all the media available to kids today put The Jungle Book at a disadvantage with modern viewers?

FN: No! Quite the contrary! More attention is paid to such films, there’s more animation today.

That works out to a win-win situation… when people get interested in any animation, all animation benefits. And animation as a skill and art gets more respect now. Back in the day, it was a metaphorical step-child, sitting at the kids’ table. There is lots more money in animation now, although I wouldn’t say it is more fun than in the hand-drawn days. Back then, an animator could be well-known for his style and work; now, in the days of CGI, it is a commodity and individuals are cogs.

There is nothing now like Disney’s Nine Old Men. It is less personal and more anonymous, even though it still takes a tremendous amount of skill. In the old days, a film like The Jungle Book needed about a dozen animators, and in the modern process, it takes two or three times that number, or more if several companies are involved.

GM: I have vivid imaginings of the scene you describe in your book, Animated Life, of the recording session when the jazz great Louis Prima showed up to record “Just Like You“:

…the Vegas showman couldn’t stand still. He was really into being King Louie. With all that energy being expended, the band couldn’t help but join in. Of course, you’ll never hear this music. Prima’s voice was isolated on a separate track… The final tracks you hear on the movie’s soundtrack have been toned down. And, I mean way, way down. Louis Prima at full tilt was more than Disney moviegoers of the 1960s would have been able to handle.

So, what is your favorite memory or association with The Jungle Book?

FN: Definitely it is being in the same room with Walt Disney. Since he focused his attention on story, he was at every story meeting. On the story team, I got to hear critiques and have opportunities to learn from the Old Master. The Jungle Book was his last film animation before his death. After that, the studio went through a big transition; Walt had made all the big decisions himself and did not name any successors. The studio floundered for several years.

GM: There’s been a lot of hub-bub on the internet about animated films and the portrayal of diversity. What do you have to say about it?

FN: Films generally reflect common culture, whether at Disney or at other studios. There were generally changes in the 70s. Studios started to think about their reputations, both on and off the screen. At Disney they called me in and wondered why there were no [minority or African-American] applicants, and I had to tell them that mostly, none of them even thought to apply at Disney. Still, with so many people saying that Walt Disney was conservative, when it came to offering people opportunities, he was progressive.

GM: At my house we are big Mary Poppins fans, and liked Saving Mr. Banks as well, about the history behind Mary Poppins. Did you see it?

FN: Yes—I was at the premiere, on the Disney lot where Mary Poppins was shot. I talked to some of the same people at that premiere that I talked to during production of Mary Poppins—Julie Andrews, Dick van Dyke, and Richard Sherman, among others. There was a wonderful sense of being part of it back then and again at the premiere. What a pleasure! What a triumph for Walt Disney!

GM: We showed Mary Poppins to adult visitors from mainland China several years ago, and we couldn’t pull them away. They loved it, especially the dancing penguins. Diplomacy from a palette. 

FN: Yes, Walt really meant it when he told Mrs. Travers [author of Mary Poppins], “Every time a person walks into a movie house, they will rejoice.”

GM: Do you have favorite recent animated films you’d like to recommend?

FN: I got to attend an open house and screening for Frozen, and was impressed by the film, and its director and writer, a talented young woman named Jennifer Lee. Kids are still doing great work, regardless of whether it’s CGI or hand-drawn or something else.

GM: Thank you for talking with GeekMom and for the contributions you’ve made to so many films that my family and so many others have enjoyed.

If you’d like to spend more time with Floyd Norman and his animation and writing accomplishments, here are more opportunities to visit:

 – Between the Bookends: Animated Life

- The official, informative and pointless blog of Floyd Norman

- Floyd Norman page at Amazon

- Floyd Norman Special Feature at afrokids.com

- Diamond Edition Jungle Book on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital from Disney.com

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Mary Poppins‘ Jane Banks Shares Her Disney Memories

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© Disney

With Saving Mr. Banks in theaters and the original Mary Poppins just released on home video, Disney’s beloved 1964 musical is enjoying something of a renaissance. In celebration of the new 50th anniversary edition release on home video, I was invited to participate in a special afternoon tea with actress Karen Dotrice, who played young Jane Banks in the original film. She’s all grown up now, with kids of her own, but her memories of that time are still fresh and fascinating. Imagine hearing stories about Walt Disney over tea and scones, from someone who knew him as kind of a father figure.

It’s not an opportunity that comes around often, so as you can imagine, we all peppered her with questions about the making of Mary Poppins, working with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, and, of course, her encounters with Disney himself. She took it all in stride, with typical British humor and humility.

Though Dotrice comes from a family of actors, she told us that traveling from her native England to Los Angeles to make the film was a bit of a shock. “Arriving here, a little girl from the Cotswolds of England, and suddenly just being in Los Angeles, everything seem[ed] huge and exciting and bright and sunny and everybody was just pleasant,” she recalls. “It was so amazing to come here and it’s such a different world. It really was like finding Oz or something.”

During the filming, Dotrice became accustomed to her Southern California surroundings and grew close to her co-stars. She has fond recollections of Julie Andrews coaching her on the songs and Dick Van Dyke making her laugh in-between takes.

But there was one cast member for whom she had no love—Matthew Garber, who played her brother Michael (and starred alongside her in two other films as well): “He was a real ounce of trouble-and-a-half,” she says of her fellow actor, who died in 1977. “It’s terrible because I wish I had a bunch of nice things to say about him, but we were kids. And I couldn’t stand him and he couldn’t stand me. That’s the truth of it. I was raised to be prim and proper and he was a naughty boy.”

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Box art courtesy WDHE

But, let’s be honest, what we all really wanted to hear about was what it was like to hang out with Walt Disney. In a word, awesome. We’re talking flying-on-a-private-jet-with-an-on board-candy-store awesome. Dotrice did three films in a row for Disney, and during that time he took a parental interest in her, inviting her family on weekend jaunts to Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, and visiting her at home when she was sick and couldn’t work. The famous studio head may have had his faults, but to a young child actress far away from home, they weren’t readily apparent. “He was just so kind and nice to me, and very encouraging,” Dotrice says of the legendary studio head. “He really liked me and I was really, really lucky.”

One of my favorite anecdotes she shared demonstrates that Disney wasn’t just a shrewd businessman, he had a sense of humor too.

“One time I was in Walt’s office, just sitting on his desk or what have you, chewing the fat,” she says. “And I said, ‘Uncle Walt, I’ve got an idea. Your desk. It’s so far away from the door. Let’s get somebody to come and I’ll help and we can move the desk closer to the door.’ And he laughed and said, ‘Oh, Karen, let me explain something to you.’ He said, ‘I keep my desk over here because by the time those cigar-chewing executives have crossed the room to ask me what they wanted to ask me, they’ve changed their mind.'”

After production wrapped on Mary Poppins Dotrice says that she stayed in contact with many of the friends she made on the production. Van Dyke is still her neighbor, and Andrews used to live around the corner. She often has composer Richard Sherman over for dinner, which typically ends with everyone standing around the piano listening to his famous tunes.

“I can’t say that about any other projects,” she says of the camaraderie she experienced on Mary Poppins. “There was something so magical about that project that everybody stayed together. It wasn’t even so much because it became well known; it was just, you know, they made us a family at the time, and treated us like family.”

But over the years, Dotrice has shifted her focus from her Hollywood family to her real-life one. She quit acting professionally in the early 1980s to devote more time to what she still considers her proudest role—devoted mother.

“I just revere being a mom,” she says. “It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had, including Mary Poppins.”

Join Us (Virtually) for a Frozen and The Pirate Fairy Event

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Photo courtesy Disney

The folks at Disney Home Entertainment have organized a two-day press event to publicize some of their big upcoming home video releases and GeekMom is on the guest list. The good news for you, dear readers, is we will be bringing you all the interviews, tidbits, and information from the event as if you were right there beside us.

The tour kicks off next Tuesday, February 11, and begins with a behind-the-scenes look at Disney’s latest animated feature, Frozen. The Oscar-nominated hit is due for release on DVD and Blu-ray on February 25. Extras will include making-of featurettes, music videos, deleted scenes, and the original Mickey Mouse short “Get a Horse,” which is currently running before the feature in theaters.

Image courtesy of Disney Animation Studios

Official box art courtesy Disney

We’ll be talking with filmmakers Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, as well as producer Peter Del Vecho. We’ll also get a technical demonstration from character supervisor Gregory Smith and watch a voice-over recording session with audio engineer Gabe Guy.

On Wednesday, February 12, we’ll travel to DisneyToon Studios to get a preview of the next film in the Disney Fairies series, The Pirate Fairy. This direct-to-video movie features the voice of Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) as a renegade fairy named Zarina who leaves Pixie Hollow and joins a band of pirates. Thor‘s Tom Hiddleston also stars as James, a cabin boy destined to become a Neverland legend. Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman) and her fairy friends are along for the ride as well, of course.

PirateFairygroupsm

Here there be fairies, mateys

We’ll get to talk about the new movie and the creation of the lead character with director Peggy Holmes (who also helmed the last installment, Secret of the Wings) and producer Jennifer Magee-Cook. The Pirate Fairy will be available on DVD and Blu-ray combo pack beginning April 1.

If you have questions for any of the talent mentioned above, be sure to let us know and we’ll pass them along!

PirateFairycharactersm

Set sail with Zarina and James

P.S. There’s also a third title included in the event, but we’re not allowed to mention it until the release date is announced. As soon as we can share that too, we’ll let you know. Stay tuned for all the home video news that fit to blog about!

GeekMom: Comic Book Corner — Firefly, Superman & Batman, Firefly, Hello Kitty, & More

Batman gets the best lines in Superman / Batman \ Image: DC Comics

Batman gets the best lines in Superman/Batman \ Image: DC Comics

Happy Comic Release Day! Welcome to another installment of GeekMom Comic Book Corner, where we recap our adventures in comics for the week. This week I take a look at Superman/Batman‘s search for Kryptonite, Kelly takes us into the world of Hello Kitty, Corrina gives us a look at some DC Comics titles coming out today, Lisa dives into Disney’s Seekers of the Weird, and Sophie takes a ride on Serenity

Dakster Sullivan — Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryponite, by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Shane Davis

Superman / Batman: Search for Kryptonite \ Image: DC Comics

Superman/Batman: Search for Kryptonite \ Image: DC Comics

Superman/Batman: The Search for Krypontite was my chosen read last night for #ComicBook365. I’m a big fan of this series, because, quite frankly, Batman gets some of the best lines. It’s an odd thing to find yourself laughing while reading the Dark Knight, but that’s what I found myself doing while reading this title.

The story looks at Superman as he realizes, to do his job safely, he needs to rid the world of Kryptonite. This sent up some red flags for me. Kryptonite is what makes him close to human. Despite his reservations, Batman agrees to help Superman rid the world of Kryptonite.

Along the way they battle Aquaman, Amanda Waller, and one villain I will leave a mystery. I will say that the mystery villain threw me through a major loop and I wonder how some of my fellow Superman fans would feel about this iconic character being turned into such a heartless disgrace for a human being.

My favorite part was how the story opened and the jokes between Batman and Superman that follow. I’d frame those pages if I had the wall space.

If you’re looking for a story with a nice balance of humor and seriousness, pick up Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite.

Curious to know what I’m pulling this week? Check out my pull list on Comixology.

Kelly Knox — Hello Kitty: Delicious! (Viz Media)

Hello Kitty is everywhere. And now, thanks to a team up between Viz Media and Sanrio, Hello Kitty and her friends even have their own series of graphic novels that will delight Hello Kitty fans of any age—even those who can’t read.

Hello Kitty: Delicious! reduced my preschooler to giggles by the time we got to the second page. Even with just a few words for sound effects, the stories are easy to follow and appeal to kids’ sense of humor. Hello Kitty’s adventures take her to another planet, a giant’s home, a night straight out of a spooky movie, and more—and of course, it’s all cute.

Artist Stephanie Buscema, who also worked on several My Little Pony comic book covers for IDW, contributes a few one-page shorts, which are just as adorable as the longer stories in the graphic novel.

Hello Kitty: Delicious \ Image:

Hello Kitty: Delicious \ Image: Viz Media

All of the experienced artists in the book do a phenomenal job of giving expressions and emotions to the simple Sanrio characters—who have no mouths.

If you’re looking for the first graphic novel for a young girl or Sanrio fan, Hello Kitty: Delicious! is a fantastic place to start.

Lisa Tate — Seekers of the Wierd #1, by Brandon Seifert and Karl Moline

Seekers of the Weird Issue #1 \ Image: Marvel

Seekers of the Weird Issue #1 \ Image: Marvel

It would seem a Marvel Comic based on the nostalgic origins of a favorite Disneyland attraction complete with the creative guidance of Marvel bigwigs like Joe Quesada and a handful of Disney imagineers would leave no room for disappointment. Unfortunately, Disney’s Kingdoms Seekers of the Weird Issue One does, but only slightly.

Written by Brandon Seifert with the collective art team of pencils by Karl Moline, Rick Magyar as inker, and color by Jean-Francois Beaulieu, the all ages comic was inspired by Disney legend Rolly Crump’s concept designs of the Museum of the Weird, the original walk-through attraction that evolved into Disneyland Park’s Haunted Mansion.

I think where this idea falls a little short is that it strove to get so many tributes to the attraction in the story that it left little room for character building. The story takes place in New Orleans, a great tribute to the setting of the current Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square, and takes a high-school aged brother and sister Maxwell and Melody Keep on a journey to recover their oddity-loving parents from their would-be captors of reanimated weird taxidermy. Enter the elusive adventure-loving Uncle Roland (another shout-out to Rolly himself) and a mysterious door, which may lead to the answers they seek.

This is a first issue, so I expect to dig a little deeper into Maxwell and Melody’s story, but I would purchase this one based more on the fun game of finding the many references to Crump’s designs. For those who love the art of Disney, especially its treasure chest of concept art, this is a treat. The cover by Michael Del Mundo is fun and quirky, but I recommend the true Disney aficionado get a hold of the variant cover by Crump depicting his concept of the coffin Grandfather clock (although the Brian Crosby steampunk-like variant is also a good choice). Not really a bad first issue, but I expect to see bigger things from it in the follow-up.

Corrina — SPOILER WARNINGS FOR THIS WEEK’S DC COMICS

The Flash New 52 #27 \ Image: DC Comics

The Flash New 52 #27 \ Image: DC Comics

Earth-2 Annual #2, Tom Taylor, writer; Robson Rocha, pencils; Scott Hanna, inks.

Okay..psst…here’s the biggest spoiler of the week: The new Earth-2 Batman who is replacing the dead Earth-2 Bruce Wayne is..Thomas Wayne, his father. This is a good thing.

Of late, I find myself far more interested in this alternate universe maybe because it’s a consistent vision and seems to be far more imaginative in recreating the DC universe than the regular DC Universe. Lois Lane as the new Red Tornado, for instance.

In this flashback story, titled “Origin,” Thomas Wayne survives the infamous shooting in Crime Alley, knows it was his friendship with mobsters behind the tragedy, and sets out to gain revenge. It’s great to see the Earth-2 Bruce, and I like this version of Thomas Wayne as a very broken man who’s screwed up and trying to stay on the straight-and-narrow out of respect for the memory of his son. Special mention to the artists for giving Thomas a very distinctive look.

But I will still pout for a while that, once again, Martha Wayne is just..there. With no personality except to die.

Worlds’ Finest Annual #1, Paul Levitz, writers; Diogenes Neves, pencils; Marc Deerining, inks.

Meanwhile, this annual tackles the adventures of Thomas’ granddaughter, Helena Wayne, and her crimefighter partner, Power Girl. This flashback adventure takes place on their original home, Earth-2, and concerns an early case they investigated as Robin and Supergirl, their Earth-2 identities. The strength of this series is the relationship between the two leads and that’s true here as well, with each showcasing their strengths. At the end, they run into Wonder Woman and her daughter, Fury, who seems to be on the side of evil.

I hope Fury isn’t really Darkseid’s daughter and was just stolen from Wonder Woman as a child because otherwise, ick, ick.

After reading these two annuals back to back, I hope Huntress and Power Girl end up back on Earth-2 soon as I anticipate a fascinating relationship between Thomas and Helena.

Flash #27, Brian Buccellato, writer; Patrick Zircher, art.

This first issue by a new creative team is not nearly as fun as last week’s awesome fill-in but it does represent an excellent jumping on point for new readers. Barry Allen is in full police scientist mode, there’s a new mystery to solve concerning a mass grave that might also involve the real killer of Barry’s mother, and we get to see Flash play with some second-rate Rogues. Note: This Barry is very much in sync with Barry Allen on Arrow, though this one is blond and a little bit older.

Green Lantern Corps Annual #2, Script by Van Jensen, co-plot by Robert Venditti, art by Neil Edwards, villain origins art by Tom Derenick.

Um? What? What the heck is going on here? I’m very much lost. The issue contains lots of Lanterns, Khunds (hey, I know those guys from the Legion of Super-Heroes), Durlans (ditto!), lots of fighting, and numerous flashbacks designed to fill me in, I assume, on who everyone is, but they only stand to make the story more confusing. Also, John Stewart shows up in his boxers. That part isn’t quite so bad.

But overall, for this first time reader, this is a hot mess (perhaps due to the numerous creators?) but I suspect it’s far more readable for long-time fans of the series. And one personal pet peeve: Why do all the skeevy alien/lizard types want naked human women? Just once, I want to see a debauched alien who likes something completely weird and, well, ALIEN.

Batman & Robin on the cover of Batman and Robin Annual #2.

Just how is this Robin costume less flashy than the blue Nightwing one? From the cover of Batman & Robin Annual #2, copyright DC Comics

Batman & Robin Annual #2, Peter J. Tomasi, writer; Doug Mahnke with Pat Gleason, art.

Finally, an adventure between the original Batman and Robin, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. I was excited when I picked the issue up but oddly deflated when I finished. It’s because the Bruce/Dick relationship is so changed. Before, Bruce was clearly Dick’s father-figure/mentor, and now he’s more like his older brother. It doesn’t sit right with me. Plus, I’m starting to get confused by what happened before DC rebooted and what happened with Batman and his Robins after the reboot. It’s getting so the Bat-Family is just a reboot behind the Legion of Super-Heroes and Hawkman. That’s never good.

But I liked Dick Grayson’s characterization: his sense of fun, and his fearlessness. And more Dick and Damian scenes are always good. One thing confused me: Dick’s original idea for his first costume is very similar to his former Nightwing costume with the light blue on dark blue. But Batman rejects this one because it’s too flashy. So then Dick wears the Robin costume (alas, no pixie boots).

How is the Robin costume less flashy than blue on blue? The mind boggles.

 Sophie Brown — Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #1, by Joss Whedon

Serenity #1 \ Image: IDW Publishing

Serenity #1 \ Image: IDW Publishing

Firefly is back! It’s the sentence countless people have been waiting to hear and although we’d all rather it was returning to our screens, the new comic series Serenity: Leaves on the Wind will at least be continuing the story.

Issue one picks up after the events of the film Serenity and does not hesitate to leap straight into the ramifications from those events that have now spread across the system (NB, for those of us who have read the Serenity comic released on Free Comic Book Day 2012, that issue appears to fit between the film and this new series). We see the effect that the Miranda revelation had on both Alliance-controlled worlds and in the outlying regions, as well as how the Alliance themselves are dealing with the new threat poised by Mal and his crew.

On board Serenity herself there have been some significant changes.

Relationships have shifted and people have changed since we last saw these characters, but all the progressions feel natural. The new status quo aboard the ship feels like it is where we would have naturally found ourselves if the TV show had been allowed to continued, and with Zack Whedon on writer duties we can probably be assured that this is the case.

Every character feels accurate, if not in the artwork which feels a little off for certain individuals (Mal especially) but in their speech. The issue also strikes a nice balance between action and downtime, humor and heartbreaking emotion—the latter rearing its head as Zoe prepares for bed. We also get our first ever glimpse of Ma Cobb, and she appears to be knitting something rather spectacular!

Serenity: Leaves on The Wind is currently only a six-part miniseries but it has the potential to become another ongoing Whedonverse franchise ala Buffy and Angel. If issue one sets the quality level for the rest of this series, then I really hope the series gets picked up, because I for one need more of these wonderful people. It’s time for some more thrilling heroics!

Looking for something else, readers? Check out this week’s listed books:

DC-Comics-Old.jpg marvel-logo1.jpg

Adventures Of Superman #9
All-Star Western #27
Aquaman #27
Batman And Robin Annual #2
Batman Batman And Son TP
Batman The Dark Knight #27
Beware The Batman #4 Kid Friendly
Catwoman #27
Damian Son Of Batman #4 (Of 4)
Dead Boy Detectives #2
Earth 2 Annual #2
Fables #137
Flash #27
Forever Evil A.R.G.U.S. #4 (Of 6)
Green Lantern Corps Annual #2
Green Lantern New Guardians Vol. 2 Beyond Hope TP
Green Lantern New Guardians Vol. 3 Love And Death HC
Green Team Teen Trillionaires #8 (Final Issue)
Justice League Dark #27
Justice League Dark Vol. 3 The Death Of Magic TP
Larfleeze #7
Red Lanterns #27
Smallville Season 11 Special #4
Superman #27
Talon #15
Teen Titans #27
Unwritten Vol. 8 Orpheus In The Underworld TP
Worlds’ Finest Annual #1 GM
Amazing Spider-Man The Movie Adaptation #1 (Of 2)
Avengers Assemble #23.INH
Cable And X-Force Vol. 3 This Won’t End Well TP
Cataclysm The Ultimates’ Last Stand #4 (Of 5)
Guardians Of The Galaxy #11.NOW GM
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 Angela HC GM
Inhumanity #2
Marvel Masterworks The X-Men Vol. 6 TP
Marvel Previews #126 (February 2014 For Products On-Sale April 2014)
Marvel Universe Hulk And The Agents Of S.M.A.S.H. #4 (Of 4) Kid Friendly
Miracleman #2
Night Of The Living Deadpool #2 (Of 4)
Revolutionary War Knights Of Pendragon #1
Superior Carnage TP
Superior Spider-Man #26
Thor God Of Thunder #18
Thunderbolts #21
Thunderbolts Vol. 3 Infinity TP
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man By Brian Michael Bendis Vol. 5 HC
Uncanny Avengers #16
Uncanny X-Force #17
Warlock By Jim Starlin The Complete Collection TP
X-Men Legacy #23
idw-logo.jpg Dark-Horse-Logo-2.jpg

G.I. JOE The Complete Collection Vol. 2 HC
Ghostbusters #12
Godzilla Rulers Of Earth #8
Half Past Danger HC
John Romita’s Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 2 Artist’s Edition HC
Library Of American Comics Essentials Vol. 4 Alley Oop 1939 HC
Mr Peabody And Sherman #4 (Of 4) Kid Friendly
Mr Peabody And Sherman TP Kid Friendly
Other Dead #5 (Of 6)
Star Trek #29
Superman Golden Age Sundays 1943-1946 HC
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #30 GM
Transformers Regeneration One #98
Transformers The IDW Collection Vol. 3 HC
Conan And The People Of The Black Circle #4 (Of 4)
Furious #1 (Of 5)
Gantz Vol. 30 TP
Never Ending #3 (Of 3)
Serenity Leaves On The Wind #1 (Of 6) GM
Sledgehammer 44 Lightning War #3 (Of 3)

Acronym Key: VC = Variant Cover / HC = Hard Cover / TP = Trade Paperback / GM = GeekMom Recommended Reading

How to Be a Super Frozen Mom

super mom frozen logo
Welcome to How To Be A Super ____ Mom! From crafts and recipes to fun toys and adventures, here are ways to take your child’s fandom and make it even more fun!

The biggest hit at the movies right now is Disney’s Frozen! I’m not just talking box office numbers here. The fandom obsession has taken off with fans creating cosplay, food, and crafts all devoted to the film’s characters! We at GeekMom called it by showing the very first homemade Anna cosplay back in August at D23, before the film’s release!

With people seeing the movie multiple times in the theater, fan creativity has been amazing and continues to grow everyday. Get inspired to “Let It Go” and showcase your own Frozen fandom!

disney frozen costumes etsy

Image by: Lady Herndon.

1. Frozen Costumes by Lady Herndon on etsy.
While many fans love to create their own variations of cosplay, not everyone has the sewing skills to pull it off. That’s where talented fans like Lady Herndon come in. The Lady Herndon Etsy shop is filled with beautifully created kids’ cosplay items with a definite geeky spin. The attention to detail is stunning, from seemingly screen replica material to perfectly placed trim.

Her Anna dress is perfection and a lot of that has to do with the adorable model, too! Check out Lady Herndon’s Etsy shop for even more geeky kids cosplay. I mean, how can you resist a Princess Bride Dread Pirate Roberts costume for a 6-year-old?!

disney frozen gloves

Image by: JInxNSparkyCrafts.

2. Frozen Anna and Elsa-Inspired Fingerless Gloves by JinxNSparkyCrafts on etsy.
Don’t want to fully commit to an entire cosplay outfit? No problem! One of the best ways to show fandom is through everyday cosplay! Little accessories here and there will be special just to you, but can also be noticed by eagle-eyed fans as well.

JinxNSparkyCrafts’ etsy shop makes these adorable Frozen-inspired fingerless gloves. There’s no doubt that they are an ode to Anna and Elsa and a great way to keep warm and stay functional!

elsa braid

Image by: @amy_geek.

3. Frozen-inspired Elsa braid.
Frozen fans aren’t just obsessed with the costuming, but also with the hairstyles of the two leading ladies. Hair is a major part of cosplay and getting it just right can equal costume perfection!

Hairstyles are another way to incorporate everyday cosplay into your life. Amy Ratcliffe tried her hand at creating the perfect Elsa braid with much success! She used a YouTube hair video from Rotoscopers to help her visualize how to get it just right. Following a tutorial and a little patience can really pay off!

frozen mickey ears

Image by: LunaLaLonde.

4. Frozen Mickey Ears.
What I love about fandom is the creativity that a movie or show can inspire. LunaLaLonde’s tumblr shows her love of Disney and Frozen—and she took it to the next level by creating these fun Frozen Mickey Ears! It’s the perfect mash-up!

Follow along on her tumblr and you can see her sketches, crafts, and even her etsy shop.

disney frozen snowflakes

disney frozen maze

Images and files provided by Disney.

5. Disney’s free Frozen printables.
Disney does a great job at providing materials to grow fan interest. Free Frozen printables like coloring pages and mazes are great activities to keep little ones busy and entertained!

Would You Stay in a Frozen-Themed Room Made of Ice and Snow?

HotelDeGlace-Frozen

Quebec City’s Hôtel de Glace will unveil a Frozen-themed room this weekend. Image: Hôtel de Glace.

If you loved the movie Frozen, you may want to start planning a trip to Quebec City, Canada.

At the time of this article, it was 28 degrees (Fahrenheit) in Quebec City—and that seemed like sort of a toasty point when compared to the upcoming week’s forecast. Within just a few days, temps are expected to drop to -6, with -17 a real possibility. (Just writing that made me shiver.) However, I’m guessing people will brave the chilly temperatures for a chance to stay in a Frozen-themed hotel room.

The Hôtel de Glace just announced plans to unveil the room this weekend. The hotel is very well known for its aesthetics, which includes 32,000 square feet of ice and snow. However, that’s not just outside. The actual hotel is made up of the cold stuff. Open from January 3 to March 23, 2014, the hotel includes approximately 500 tons of ice and 15,000 tons of snow.

This year’s icy attractions will include the “Frozen Suite,” a space modeled after the bedrooms of Disney’s newest characters, Anna and Elsa. The room was built in conjunction with the film’s art director, Michael Giaimo. The Hôtel de Glace is also planning to feature the “Frozen Activity Cave,” which will be located on the property for all guests to enjoy.

The themed suite will remain open through the rest of the hotel’s season, which happens to end five days after the movie comes out on Blu-ray and DVD. Would you consider staying in a Frozen-themed room that’s actually… well, frozen?

Hotel guests can expect ice sculpting, guided tours, an isolating sleeping bag for snuggling atop the room’s icy bed base, and average temperatures ranging from -13 to 41 degrees (Fahrenheit). It looks absolutely gorgeous, but I’d need an entire suitcase dedicated to just socks.

According to the hotel’s website, an average overnight stay will run you $219. However, there’s no word on what it will cost to live like a Disney princess.

HotelDeGlace-Frozen2

Like the rest of the hotel, this Frozen-themed room is made almost entirely of ice and snow. Image: Hôtel de Glace.

5 Disney Movies to See in 2014

It seems like Disney is planning to dominate the box office this year. We’re barely into the New Year and they’ve already announced a whopping 14 films for 2014. Of course, you may not want to see every single flick that the House of Mouse will release into theaters. I know that I am very selective with the movies that I actually venture outdoors to see. However, there are a few gems in the studio’s upcoming lineup. Let’s take a peek at five films to put your movie dollars into this year.

THE WIND RISES

The Wind Rises will debut on February 28, 2014. Image: © Disney/Touchstone Pictures/Studio Ghibli.

The Wind Rises
If you’ve ever seen a Hayao Miyazaki film, you should be frothing at the mouth for this upcoming whimsical adventure. First of all, it’s Miyazaki’s first film in five years. It’s also supposedly his last—at least as a feature director. Say it ain’t so!

Those two points alone make this one a must-see. However, I’m also interested because this film is being adapted from the filmmaker’s own manga, which was actually based on The Wind Has Risen by Tatsuo Hori. Miyazaki says that this film was created as a tribute to the author, as well as engineer Jiro Horikoshi. Right there, I am thinking there should a good story and some eye candy to be had here. Miyazaki is pretty well known for both. Last spring, GeekMom Kristen talked up two of my favorite Miyazaki films, My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle. Also, one of my absolutely favorite movies to demo on Blu-ray is Miyazaki’s last film, Ponyo.

This one focuses on the character of Jiro, who dreams of flying and designing airplanes, despite being nearsighted. Besides Miyazaki’s trademarks, The Wind Rises will include a backdrop filled with major historical events, including the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the tuberculosis epidemic, and Japan’s plunge into war. [February 28, 2014]

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

Ricky Gervais surrounds himself with the cuddly cast of Muppets Most Wanted, coming March 21, 2014. Image: © Disney.

Muppets Most Wanted
I love me some Muppets. I was like a giddy little kid when the brand made a huge comeback with 2011’s The Muppets. Why yes, I do own both the film and the soundtrack, as well as Muppets: The Green Album. I definitely think some of the film’s success had a lot to do with star Jason Segel being so heavily invested in the project. (He also co-wrote the film.) It was a major bummer to find out that Segel wouldn’t return, but I am really confident that our furry (and sometimes scaly) friends will be up to the task.

Recently, I re-watched The Muppets: Season One and The Muppet Christmas Carol. I quickly realized that I would probably watch the Muppets read the phone book. They’re consistently funny and creative. Also, they seem to appeal to both children and adults.

Without a doubt, I will head to the theater for this one. It helps that this great Muppet caper has director James Bobin, writer Nicholas Stoller, and music supervisor/Oscar winner/Flight of the Conchords genius Bret McKenzie all returning. Plus, just like the classic Muppets TV show, this one has a nice roster of special guest stars, including Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, and countless others. [March 21, 2014]

Maleficent

Angelina Jolie stars as the title character in Maleficent, which will make box office magic starting May 30, 2014. Image: © Disney.

Maleficent
Let’s face it: Disney has some of the greatest villains ever put to film. However, it’s rare that we get to find out what makes them so darn evil. Disney is hoping to remedy that with Maleficent, which puts a big spotlight on the self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil” from 1959’s Sleeping Beauty.

Of course, Sleeping Beauty isn’t exactly Disney’s most popular film, which is one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by this one. That said, Ultimate Disney once ranked Maleficent as Disney’s number one villain of all-time. That’s certainly reflected in the movie’s trailer, which is pretty darn creepy. It’s got sort of a Snow White and the Huntsman vibe. I didn’t love that movie, but Charlize Theron made it worth watching and the imagery was stellar. Designed as a prequel, Maleficent looks equally as awesome and Angelina Jolie’s laugh at the end of the trailer completely has me sold.

Yes, Jolie’s presence certainly won’t hurt film attendance. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a super fan, but she’s had some pretty meaty roles over the years. I’m guessing this one will be pretty memorable. She seems to wear the horns really well! [May 30, 2014]

GuardiansGalaxy

Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, and Zoe Saldana assemble for August’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Image: © Disney/Marvel.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Disney will have a total of three superhero movies in 2014. So what puts this one on my list when Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Big Hero 6 are also coming?

Well, it has Chris Pratt. I’m a huge Parks and Recreation fan, and I’m glad that this guy is finally getting some recognition. He’s also heading up this summer’s The Lego Movie, which should be an equally massive hit. However, he’s more than just a voice here.

Also, director James Gunn is no stranger to superheroes. He created The Specials and more recently, directed a little mid-credits scene for Thor: The Dark World. He’s also amassed quite the cast. Pratt stars as pilot Peter Quill, who steals some kind of crazy orb wanted by the evil Ronan (Lee Pace). In order to give the bad guy the slip, Peter teams up with an unlikely supergroup, which includes Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and Groot (Vin Diesel). And yes, Cooper playing a badass raccoon is pretty intriguing.

The rest of the cast is nothing to sneeze at as well. Look for The Walking Dead‘s Michael Rooker and Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillan, as well as Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, and Glenn Close. [August 1, 2014]

Meryl Streep ventures into evil territory as the Witch in the all-star adaptation of Into the Woods, which will open on Christmas Day. Image: © Disney.

Into the Woods
I have a confession to make: I’m not much of a musical person. Well, I do love Pitch Perfect and classics such as Mary Poppins. Maybe I’m more musical than I thought. I’m definitely looking forward to this take on the Lapine and Stephen Sondheim musical. Put the words “Meryl Streep as the Witch” into your marketing spiel and I am so there.

In this Christmas Day release, Streep stars as the aforementioned Witch. Why she’s cursed James Corden and Emily Blunt to be childless is for the movie to explain. However, while the couple sets out to make things right, they will encounter a wealth of classic Grimm characters, as well as famous faces.

Now typically, when a movie has too many famous people in it, I get nervous. For every Love Actually, there’s The Big Wedding and Movie 43. That said, I just can’t imagine this film being anything but insanely entertaining. Chicago director Rob Marshall helms another awesome cast, which includes Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Christine Baranski, Chris Pine, Lucy Punch, Daniel Huttlestone, and Tracey Ullman. [December 25, 2014]

A Monsteriffic Christmas

Monster

All Images: Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a first world problem I know, but in my life there are several things that have to happen on Christmas Day to make me feel like I truly kept Christmas well. As I look back on Christmases past, I can see how these things morph over time. Though traditions have changed with marriage, trans-Atlantic moves, and children, many of these things remain the same: we eat Chinese food on Christmas eve, we have an enormous roast beast dinner on Christmas day, and we watch a good movie. Not necessarily a new movie, but a good, sit down together as a family, laugh, cry, carry on kind of movie. Growing up we watched The Wizard of Oz, or Hook, or the remake of Miracle on 34th Street. Last year it was Arthur Christmas. This year, after much internal debate, it was Monsters University.

MikeMy son and I went to see Monsters University when it came out in theaters, and though I was slightly dubious about a fraternity version of two of my favorite monsters, I was pleasantly surprised. Toby talked about the movie for weeks, and from then on every time he saw Mike or Sully, they were from Monsters University, no longer Monsters Inc. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and looked forward to the DVD release. So this year, after mulling over Planes vs. Thomas’ King of the Railway vs. Turbo I finally decided that Monsters University would be under the tree on Christmas morning.

Ever since I found a Robots multi-pack at our local Sam’s club, our disc of choice has been the DVD/Blu-ray/digital combo pack. We don’t own a Blu-ray player yet, but friends and family do, and I’m told it’s inevitable. Having gone through the VHS and DVD versions of all the other Disney movies, I like the idea of having the digital copy for when Blu-ray becomes antiquated!

Without giving away the goose, the collector’s edition currently available has everything I could have wanted from post-roast beast viewing. In addition to the movie, there is of course the short that came with it in theaters “The Blue Umbrella.” I remain fairly disinterested in this short; for me nothing will ever beat “For The Birds,” which was, funnily enough, shown before Monsters Inc back in 2000.

There are several hours of extras, including some great behind the scenes sequences. Audio commentary is provided by director Dan Scanlon, producer Kori Rae, and story supervisor Kelsey Mann. I found “Campus Life” to be the most interesting of the real world extras. It’s a tamer version of the Scare Games featured in the movie itself, giving you a glimpse into a real day at Pixar. To go along with this, “Paths to Pixar” shows animators talking about their many rejection letters before landing the dream job.

RandallFor those wondering about the oft-quoted line from Monsters Inc., “You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the fourth grade, pal.” You will get to see some footage created in the early stages of development. You get to see a young Mike in the final cut of the film, my oh my, are fourth grade Mike and Sully ridiculously cute. The fact that Monsters University dispenses with the history behind this line really didn’t bother me, but I did enjoy a look at the story line that was discarded. Like many, I always assumed that “since the fourth grade” just meant “a really long time.”

In case you were wondering what constitutes a geek Christmas in our house, in addition to a good movie, I like a good book and a good game on Christmas day. This year we played Dan Shapiro’s Robot Turtles leading to many screams of “Mommy! I wrote my first code!” and read Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson’s The Chicken Problem, featuring Peg plus Cat from PBS Kids.

GeekMom received Monsters University for review purposes.

Just a Spoonful of Truth in Saving Mr. Banks

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© Disney

Before seeing Saving Mr. Banks I didn’t know much about the negotiations between Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers leading up to the production of Mary Poppins. After seeing it, I still don’t feel like I know the whole truth, but the film delivers such a well-told story, such a compelling depiction of two visionary artists and the fluidity of the creative process, that I have to appreciate it as a terrific piece of fiction.

From the moment the film begins, we know how it’s going to end. After all, Disney did make a Mary Poppins movie, so at some point author Travers must have given him the rights to her beloved characters. The big question for the audience to ponder throughout is how Disney (played by Tom Hanks) will eventually get through to the seemingly intractable Travers. Ultimately, there are two contributing factors (and I don’t think this is giving too much away)—the irresistible charm of the Disney dream factory and a keen understanding of Travers’ psyche and the emotional scars that have yet to heal. At least, according to this story. The first is not hard to believe if you’ve ever seen how a visit to Disneyland can melt even the most hardened of hearts; the second is a bit tougher to swallow, and may in fact be a complete fabrication. As long as you accept that going in, you’ll find a lot to enjoy about Saving Mr. Banks.

There are so many ways this script could have gone wrong. It could have come off as cheesy or pandering or boring or a run-of-the-mill biopic, and yet it is none of those things. What sets it apart is the way it weaves together a parallel narrative, showing us flashbacks from Travers’ childhood in rural Australia in between scenes of her trip to Los Angeles, as Disney and his creative team try to woo her into signing a contract. We see the mature Travers (Emma Thompson) scoff and squabble and make unreasonable demands— like the film being devoid of the color red—but we also see her as young, vulnerable Helen Goff (Annie Rose Buckley), who idolized her loving, yet deeply flawed father (Colin Farrell). Through those flashbacks we come to understand the experiences that shaped her work and why she is so protective of it. At times it’s a bit too neat the way the past merges with fiction—memorable lines of dialogue and even entire scenes are lifted directly from Mary Poppins—but those moments underscore the theme of life’s influence on art and vice versa.

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© Disney

It doesn’t hurt that the film has some of Hollywood’s most distinguished actors in the lead roles. Thompson, now a Golden Globe nominee and a strong contender for an Oscar nomination as well, accomplishes the very tough job of making Travers simultaneously disagreeable, vulnerable, and ultimately endearing. Hanks had a different kind of challenge in portraying such a well-known media personality. He does a passable impression, coasting on his own natural likability and building up to a powerful monologue near the end. As musical composers Richard and Robert Sherman, Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak get some great comedy beats and musical sequences, performing iconic songs like “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” Paul Giamatti also shines in a smaller role as Travers’ personable driver, a character invented for the film. But the unsung heroine of this star-studded cast is Buckley, whose sad eyes and ginger curls melt and break your heart at the same time.

It should be noted that despite this being a story about the making of a children’s film, it is not a film for children. If the PG-13 rating and the 125-minute running time aren’t enough of a deterrent, the themes are mature in nature and some of the scenes may be disturbing (including depictions of alcohol abuse and an attempted suicide) for sensitive kids or younger teens.

For anyone else, especially creative types or those interested in Disney lore, I can give Saving Mr. Banks a confident recommendation.

Hanks and Thompson on Recreating History in Saving Mr. Banks

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Photo courtesy Disney 2013

Last month, I attended a press junket at the Beverly Hills Hotel that included Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, and B.J. Novak. That’s a lot of star power to take in, but when they all broke out into a chorus of “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins I had to wonder if I was maybe in the midst of some strange dream. But no, it was real, and I have the recording to prove it.

The actors—along with director John Lee Hancock, writer Kelly Marcel and producer Alison Owen­—were there to promote the new film Saving Mr. Banks, which opened in wide release on Dec. 20.

The film tells the parallel story of how Walt Disney (Hanks) persuaded reluctant author P.L. Travers (Golden Globe-nominee Thompson) to let him adapt her Mary Poppins books into a film and how her childhood experiences growing up in rural Australia with a loving but unstable father (Farrell) informed her personality and work.

It’s always challenge to play characters based on real people, especially someone as well known as Walt Disney. We asked Thompson and Hanks about following the trail of breadcrumbs that led from the real-life figures to the big screen (the term “breadcrumbs” is actually what inspired Hanks to instigate the impromptu singalong), and they had some interesting thoughts to share about the challenges that presented.

Here’s what Thompson said about playing the famously prickly P.L. Travers:

I liked that you used “breadcrumbs,” you know, because it makes me think of Theseus and the minotaur and the fact that P.L. Travers was so fascinated with myth, and was a searcher all her life. So it was very breadcrumb-y, my search for her. She was like going into a maze. And round some corners you’d find this terrible monster. And round another corner you’d find a sort of beaten child. So she was the most extraordinary combination of things. And I suppose that was the scary thing, because in films—I don’t know whether my colleagues would agree—but we often get to play people who are emotionally, or at least morally, consistent in some way. And she wasn’t consistent in any way. You would not know what you would get from one moment to the next.

Thompson, who played a nanny herself in the Nanny McPhee films, also had an interesting feminist take on the nanny figure in popular culture.

I’ve always thought that Nanny McPhee [equals] Mary Poppins. So there’s a very real connection in the sense that, you know, the outsider comes into the place where there is difficulty and solves the problem using unorthodox methods, and then must leave. That’s a Western. And because women don’t have that kind of power, the Western form—which is a myth, an essential myth—emerges in the female world in the nursery.

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Photo courtesy Disney 2013

Prior to the film, Tom Hanks met with Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller (who just passed away this November) and received unlimited access to the studio archives and the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also relied on stories from people who worked with Walt, including composer Richard Sherman (played in the film by Jason Schwartzman).

I had a lot of video and audio I could work with. The only handicap there was a lot of it is Walt Disney playing Walt Disney. But even in some of that, and plenty of others, there is an ocean of cadence to the man, and that true sense that he believed everything that he said about his projects. And he completely embraced the possibilities of wonder in the movies that he was going to make as well as the rides he was going to come up with and the things that he was going to build.

Hanks said that at the time the film takes place, Walt Disney had already achieved success and become the figure that we’re familiar with today. Still, there were some aspects of the real man that came as a surprise as he was doing his research.

Walt Disney at this time in his life is very much already Walt Disney. He is the accomplished artist, industrialist, that he was. The nature of the surprises came down to how much of a regular dad this guy was. I mean, Disneyland itself came about because he used to spend every Saturday with his two daughters. And after a while, here in L.A., he ran out of places that he could take his two daughters. … And he was sitting eating peanuts on a park bench in Griffith Park and the girls were on the merry-go-round and he said, “God, there really should be place dads can take their daughters on a Saturday in L.A.” And from that, Disneyland was born.

Saving Mr. Banks takes some dramatic liberties with the true story behind the legend, but in the end, I viewed it as a thoughtful piece about the creative process and what we put of ourselves into our work. That’s something that resonated with everyone working on the film, and it’s something many of us watching can relate to as well.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Super Adventure Flies onto DVD

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The new Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Super Adventure DVD has a total of four episodes on one disc. Image: Disney.

Back in 2009, Disney acquired Marvel. It took them a little while, but the House of Mouse delivered its first crossover cartoon for the Disney network with the August debut of Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel. The results were hilarious. Now, the network has pumped a few superpowers into its classic characters.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Super Adventure adds a superhero twist into one of Disney’s most recognizable programs. First broadcast back in October, this super-sized superhero-themed episode finds Professor Von Drake turning the Clubhouse Gang into the Clubhouse Heroes. Mickey gets flying abilities and super strength, Minnie has “super bows” that you certainly wouldn’t want to mess with, and Pluto also has the ability to fly and do doggie things (like digging) on a superhero level. Rounding out the lineup is Donald with his super speed and Daisy, who can move things with her mind. Goofy, on the other hand, gets super-stretchy capabilities, which seem sort of lame in comparison. However, everyone does their part when it comes to battling the villain Megamort and his sidekick Power-Pants Pete.

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Image: Disney.

Of course, Super Toodles is more powerful than the entire lot, helping to get the team out of the jams presented here. If you’ve watched even just one Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode, you’d know that Toodles has always been a bit of a superhero, constantly coming up with creative ways to solve the gang’s problems.

Despite the fact that my son is getting older, he’s still enamored with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I’m not complaining, either. He’s always smiling when he watches an episode. He also seems to learn something. This episode was no different. And while Mickey isn’t exactly Iron Man, we were still pretty glued to these cuddly characters and the teamwork that went into defeating (and then saving!) Megamort.

Sure, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Super Adventure isn’t the next coming of The Avengers, but it follows the show’s perky formula and has a nice message. Also worth nothing is that this DVD comes packaged up with a bunch of superhero trading cards inside. Actually, these are more like index cards, but my son asked if he could sleep with the Pluto one by his bed and then went clamoring for the rest of them first thing in the morning. There are also three regular-sized episodes included, making it a good selection for rainy afternoons or long car rides—or both. I’ve had some repeat viewing requested in this house already. Enjoy!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Disney Delivers a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Version of Mary Poppins

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Julie Andrews won an Oscar for her role as the title character in Mary Poppins. Image: Disney.

Disney is getting ready to observe a very special birthday. Next year will mark 50 years since the theatrical debut of the classic, Mary Poppins. However, the House of Mouse has already started celebrating the milestone, by giving the film its very first Blu-ray release.

Mary Poppins: The 50th Anniversary Edition is a great way to stuff a few holiday stockings, which may be why Disney is introducing this birthday Blu-ray a few months early. However, it probably has more to do with this week’s theatrical release of Saving Mr. Banks, which stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers.

Apparently, the real-life relationship between Disney and Travers was less than magical. The Blu-ray is a different story. Even without the wonderful songs and accolades, it’s really hard to pooh-pooh the movie that introduced the world to Julie Andrews, especially when she’s playing the ultimate super-nanny.

The film focuses on Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael Banks (Matthew Garber), who may look sweet on the outside, but are quite the gruesome twosome when it comes to caretakers. Enter Mary Poppins, who manages to dance and sing her way into their hearts, all while Dick Van Dyke (as Bert) dances around a horrible Cockney accent.

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Image: Disney.

Still, Mary Poppins went on to win five Oscars, including one for Andrews and one for the song “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Travers was supposedly not impressed, since she loathed both the film’s music and animated portions. If you’re likely to agree with the late author, you probably won’t be too keen on this classic, either. After all, the music and the animation are pretty much the whole movie. It’s also what makes it so awesome after all these years. They don’t make films like this anymore.

Thankfully, they do upgrade them. This is the first time Mary Poppins is getting a high-def release and it really does add some sparkle into the overall viewing experience. The image does flicker in spots. Overall though, Blu-ray does help to hide Mary Poppins‘ age quite nicely. It has great color and tons of detail you’ve probably never noticed. It also has a delightful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and a collection of fun extras, including all of the bonus features from the previously released DVD, as well as a “Mary-OKE” sing-along and 14 minutes of actor Jason Schwartzman talking to songwriter Richard M. Sherman about the film’s music and its rocky production.

Even after 50 years, Mary Poppins still offers plenty of magic for both new and old fans of the film. It would have been nice if this release had a few more new extras. That said, between Andrews, the audio, and the video, Mary Poppins: The 50th Anniversary Edition is a wonderful way to introduce a new generation to a beloved Disney character.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Once Upon a Screen? A Look at Disney’s Ultimate Dream Castle

© Mattel / Disney

As big of a fan as my daughter is of staring at video games and apps, her favorite thing in the world is to play is with her Barbies and princess dolls. I’m always on the lookout for ways to spice up our time huddled around the dollhouse to keep both our attentions captured and get the most out of our play time together.

The Ultimate Dream Castle from Disney and Mattel offers a chance to combine the imaginative play of a dollhouse with the technology of an iPhone app to create a magical experience. But with my unending effort to get her away from the screens to make full use of her imagination, is that even an option I want to give her? My daughter and I put the Ultimate Dream Castle and its app through the princess paces to see if screen time and play time can live happily ever after together.

To begin with the obvious, yes, this castle is a lot of pink and purple plastic. Any princess-loving little one would be delighted to find a three-foot tall castle under the Christmas tree this year, so it’s immediately a safe bet to get one if you have ample room in the budget.

The layout of the palatial dollhouse is open and wide, which was nice for getting my comparatively giant hands in there with room to maneuver, an ability we lack in our current dollhouse. On each of the three floors, there are rooms themed to favorite Disney princesses, which are accompanied by accessories like an oven or little friends like Pascal from Tangled.

The biggest hit of the Ultimate Dream Castle was the elevator fashioned out of Rapunzel’s hair, which spins princesses up and down the outside of the castle. My four-year-old spent the most time with that feature, concocting elaborate reasons why a doll might need to travel by hair, and then making the princess promptly throw up from motion sickness. Play-time gold.

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Magic Mirror‘s AR in action.

She was so enamored with the elevator and castle, in fact, that she had very little interest in the iPhone/iPad Magic Mirror app made for the castle. I wasn’t particularly saddened by that, as playing with her Barbies and princesses is a fantastic way to engage her imagination, but I wanted to check out the app to make sure we were getting the most out of the castle.

Magic Mirror includes games and activities, as well as effects triggered by the castle’s rooms that can be viewed through the iPhone’s camera. Like most AR apps, there is a struggle with getting the app to respond in just the right spot. It might be because the room didn’t have enough light, but after several frustrating tries of attempting to get the app to recognize an area of the castle, my daughter wandered away and went back to playing with her dolls. The times the app did work, it did little more than give her a smile, and didn’t add much to the overall play experience.

As the games in the app can be played without the castle, and a code to get Magic Mirror free comes with the toy, it’s not a complete lost cause, but our time with the Ultimate Dream Castle showed us that she prefers to keep her dollhouse play time and screen time separate. Even if the app worked 100% reliably each time, nothing can trump her limitless imagination and the adventures with (dizzy) princesses it creates.

The Ultimate Dream Castle comes with more than enough “real life” accessories and play time possibilities that the interactive app shouldn’t be the main reason to pick this castle over any other dollhouse. The Magic Mirror app would work well as a pause between playing sessions or when the family is out and about, but the Ultimate Dream Castle stands on its own as a dream-come-true dollhouse for any lucky kid who loves to play with dolls.