PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

If the “geek shall inherit the Earth” then PAX is where they divvy up the loot.

As an expo, it is a huge opportunity to try new games, find new talent, and “mingle with your people.” Trust me—I have plenty of new finds to +1 your geek status.

But as a social hub? It’s a whole other level.

Continue reading PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

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

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

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

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

Disney Is Streaming ‘Lava’ for Free

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

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

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

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

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

5 Reasons to Love ‘Lava’

Image courtesy of Pixar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha Friday: YouTube ‘Lava’ Covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intro: C (x4)

I have a dream…

I hope will come true…

That you’re here with me…

C … C7
And I’m here with you.

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

G … C
Would send me someone to lava!

From the Pixar Wiki:

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

GeekMomPoll: Our Favorite Pixar Movie is…

Note: back in 2012, the GeekMoms rated their favorite Pixar movies. Given the release of Inside Out this weekend, it seemed like a fun poll to revisit this weekend.

It was a close call. Seventeen GeekMoms rated twelve Pixar movies, assigning 1,298 points based on a one to twelve ratings system, and it was almost too close to call. In fact if you rate them one to twelve where twelve is the lowest vote, then rate them one to twelve where twelve is a higher score (as depicted above), that top spot is a hot debate.

  • Only one GeekMom placed Cars 2 in their top five, four GeekMoms placed it last.
  • Four GeekMoms rated The Incredibles as their favorite Pixar movie, making it the movie to receive the number one spot from the most GeekMoms.
  • Eight of the twelve movies did not earn a single bottom place vote from the GeekMoms. Not surprisingly Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. , Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 made that list. A surprise to this GeekMom was the fact that no one ranked The Incredibles, Ratatouille or Up as their least favorite Pixar movie.

But not every GeekMom has seen all the Pixar movies. Where the movie hadn’t been seen, a score of zero was assigned. Of movies not seen, four GeekMoms have not seen Cars 2, two have not seen Ratatouille, two have not seen Toy Story 3 and at least one GeekMom has not seen either A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles or Wall-E. Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars and Up were seen by all seventeen GeekMoms polled.

The GeekMom winner?

The Incredibles

While Toy Story seems to have an edge in points, it has been seen and rated by all polled GeekMoms. The Incredibles, has only been seen by sixteen of the seventeen polled GeekMoms. The remaining GeekMom would only need to place it in her top five, to give it the edge in points over Toy Story, regardless of whether one or twelve is considered the best movie. Only two GeekMoms did not put The Incredibles in their top five, and so it seems likely that it would make the lone GeekMom’s top five and edge out Toy Story.

Giveaway! Meet ‘Ellie,’ The Pretty Pachyderm

© Disney / Hyperion
© Disney Hyperion

Ellie, out this month from Disney Hyperion, is a gorgeous picture book written and illustrated by Mike Wu. Wu is an artist at Pixar, and his talent shines through on every page. Ellie is one of the rare picture books where your gaze lingers after you’ve read the words on the page to admire the soft colors and expressive characters.

Ellie is an elephant who calls a quiet zoo home. When the animals rally to save their zoo by pitching in to clean up their home, Ellie isn’t sure what she can do to help. When Ellie finds her chance to make her mark on the zoo, she discovers a talent that just might be the key to saving her home.

This is your chance to win a copy of this beautiful picture book! Thanks to Disney Hyperion, you can win the book, a print by writer/illustrator Mike Wu, and a child’s T-shirt (size S) featuring the adorable elephant.

Photo Courtesy Disney Hyperion
Prizes / Photo Courtesy Disney Hyperion. Art print and T-shirt © Tiny Teru

To enter our giveaway, just log in to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us, it will still enter you in the giveaway.

A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and displayed below. You must reply to the email notification within two days in order to be considered a winner.

U.S. entries only. Contest ends May 13, 2015.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Visit Tiny Teru for more adorable prints and apparel for kids.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes. Special thanks to Disney Hyperion and Tiny Teru for providing the prizes for this contest.

Win a Toy Story of Terror Blu-ray and Toy Pack!

Jessie, Combat Carl, and Buzz Lightyear are all part of our Toy Story of Terror prize package. Image: Disney.

The latest Toy Story installment is sort of a departure from the franchise’s theatrical releases. Not only was it a TV special, but Toy Story of Terror has a few frightening themes. Could you imagine losing one of the beloved Toy Story toys??

Well, now you can grab onto some of those toys, snuggle up, and watch your very own copy of Toy Story of Terror. Yes, GeekMom is hosting a Toy Story of Terror giveaway! We will choose two winners at random to receive the brand-new Toy Story of Terror Blu-ray, as well as an exclusive toy set with Jessie, Combat Carl, and Buzz Lightyear.

Image: Disney.

Toy Story of Terror follows some of our favorite Disney/Pixar characters as they spend a spooky night in the Sleep Well Motel. However, it’s kind of hard to sleep well when some of the toys have gone missing! The special, which first aired last October on ABC, is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Perfect for all ages, director Angus MacLane recently told GeekMom that he was inspired by a few classic horror films and even the ’80s action flick Predator (which is incredibly obvious).

Besides the quality story and animation we’ve come to know and love from the Toy Story franchise, this disc includes tons of awesome extras, including three “Toy Story Toons.” To find out more about the actual disc, check out my full Blu-ray review at Big Picture Big Sound.

To score your own copy of Toy Story of Terror and the toy set, just log in to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email, so we can let you know if you win). Then go to the comments section below and answer the question: What is your favorite toy of all-time? (This counts as one entry.) You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two additional entries. If you already like/follow us, it will still enter you in the giveaway. The two winners will be chosen at random at the end of the contest (Friday, August 29, 2014) and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget, so you can check back to see who won.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to Disney for supplying the prizes in this giveaway.

Director/Animator Angus MacLane Talks Pixar and Toy Story of Terror

Toy Story of Terror includes Jessie, Buzz, Woody, and the rest of the Toy Story gang. Photo: Disney/Pixar.

There’s something spooky coming to lurk through stores this summer. It’s Toy Story of Terror!

Okay, the idea of a new adventure with Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, Mr. Pricklepants, and the rest of the gang probably doesn’t sound all that scary. Well, how does the idea of losing one of Pixar’s beloved characters sound? (Feel free to insert some evil laughter here.)

That frightening concept is the idea behind Toy Story of Terror, a Disney/Pixar TV special, which ran on ABC last October. Now, for the first time, that special is coming to Blu-ray! The two-disc set includes the 22-minute short, with eye-popping colors and a lively DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Of course, Disney/Pixar is also throwing in a little something extra, including three deleted scenes, three “Vintage Toy Commercials,” and a short on the making of Toy Story of Terror. The best of the special features section is located under the “Toy Story Toons Shorts” menu. This area includes a crop of short animated films that were also previously released, but in theaters. That lineup includes “Hawaiian Vacation,” “Small Fry,” and “Partysaurus Rex.”

Toy Story of Terror (as well as “Small Fry”) was directed by long-time Pixar animator Angus MacLane. MacLane is a double Annie winner and has worked on every Pixar feature film, with the exception of the original Toy Story. If that’s not impressive enough, he’s also an avid Lego fan (and creator of CubeDudes) and a co-director of the upcoming Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory.

Recently, I got a chance to talk to MacLane about Toy Story of Terror, directing animation, and losing an entire lunchbox of beloved toys.

GeekMom: I know that you’ve been animating for Pixar for a long time and you’ve even directed a few shorts. Did Pixar basically come to you and say, “Hey would you be interested in directing this installment of Toy Story?” How did it all come about?

Angus MacLane: Well, I was in the middle of working on Small Fry and it was something that the company, that they wanted to make this Halloween or spooky-themed Toy Story special and I think they just saw it as being a good fit and it worked out schedule-wise. It was an assignment, but something that was, for me, still a very personal film and something from the ground up. It was a collaboration of figuring out what the movie was. It was an opportunity met with preparation.

GM: Well, did they just come to you and say they wanted a Halloween special and they wanted you to direct it? Was there an idea? How did the storyline come about?

AM: It was like, “We want to do a non-specifically Halloween/spooky Toy Story special; what would you want to see in that?” Then after thinking about it for a bit, I had a meeting with John Lasseter and we kind of went back and forth on a few different things. What I wanted was… I wanted Jesse to be the main character and have Combat Carl in the movie somehow. Then, we settled on it being in a spooky motel, the manager being the bad guy, and it being about eBay sales or you know, online auction sales. That’s kind of what we started with and then from there, we began to develop the process.

Director/Animator Angus MacLane. Photo courtesy of Disney.

GM: How does being the director change the whole process for you? What was your greatest challenge?

AM: What’s challenging about being the director, well…. you’re just managing a lot of different things, whereas being an animator, you’re focused on one shot or many shots in a sequence. As a director, you’re trying to keep a tone and the timbre of everything consistent and you’re trying to make the movie good. At least in my experience, the movie wants to be bad. It tries to be bad and boring at every step of the way and you’ve got to keep a sharp eye on things that will make the movie bad. It’s kind of a reductive process; it’s not very additive. You want to figure out all of what your movie needs and how much it needs. Then, you don’t have unlimited time and resources and you need to figure out how best to use those time and resources that you have. And then you need to find a way to work and convince a group of very talented individuals that the story that you’re making is worth making, to join us on the journey to make this picture, and hopefully have a pleasant time doing it.

GM: You’re normally part of the animation team. How many animators were involved with this 22-minute short?

AM: Maybe 20? For a feature, it would be anywhere from 40 to 70, depending on which feature. I’d say 20. It was a smaller crew, but it was still the same feature-quality. There were some newer animators, but everyone did fantastic.

GM: Looking at the plot of Toy Story of Terror, did you ever lose a favorite toy as a child?

AM: I had a skateboard stolen. It was horribly traumatic and then years later, I found out who stole it and it was awful.

GM: Well, that’s not as traumatic as losing your favorite pal!

AM: Well, I think I’m blocking this out, but I did lose an entire… like you know those old metal lunchboxes? I had an old Return of the Jedi lunchbox; it was full of Star Wars figures. Maybe 10 Star Wars figures, and maybe some Fisher Price Adventure People were in there too. I lost that when I was like 5. The reason why it took me a moment to remember is because I think I blocked that out because it was so painful. But yeah, I lost a few favorites there.

GM: Well the theme is painful like that, with toys going missing. So out of the entire Toy Story cast, which toy would you be most upset to lose—and why?

AM: I’ve always had an affinity for Buzz, just because he’s kind of the most robotic physically, as a toy. He’s the coolest toy, but they all have their positives and negatives, character-wise. Like, Woody is a great main character and certainly, in Toy Story of Terror, the focus is Jesse’s arc, but as far as when I came into the Toy Story world, I was always drawn to Buzz. On Toy Story 2, when I was first an animator, I really liked animating Buzz. That’s something that was important to me because that was the first Toy Story that I got. And I’ve always been interested in space toys.

GM: In this special, I noticed that there’s a little bit of Predator action going on. Are you a fan?

AM: I am. I do like Predator quite a bit. There’s a number of action films of the mid-to-late ’80s that have a certain kind of charm to the simplistic clarity of the mission—or it’s very cut and dry. That one is exciting because you get both the kind of the picked-off Ten Little Indians storyline and the one-character survival story at the same time. There are a lot of different things in that particular film. I think it was also McTiernan at the height of—not the zenith of his powers—but, it was at the time, dismissed. Now it’s seen as being a really solid action film in a way that I think they don’t make anymore.

Courtesy of Disney.

GM: I know that you’re quite the Lego fan, correct? What did you think of that movie?

AM: It was great. They did a great job. It’s basically going into it, you’re like… they’re going to make “Play-Doh, the movie.” The way I view Lego is like it’s a building medium, it’s like clay. It’s a tool. To say we’re going to make a movie about that and have it be as funny, heartfelt, and as hilarious… I think they did a fantastic job.

GM: Since Toy Story of Terror has that horror vibe… what scares YOU?

AM: I can tell you that the movies I think are scary are The Exorcist and The Shining. It’s not what’s shown, it’s more like what’s implied. It’s like the absence of action. A lot of times, there are these big moments of anticipation, big moments of the unexplained or the unknown. They are often very simple things and there’s a craft in those movies that’s really terrific. Oftentimes, it’s the mundane mixed with the supernatural. Certainly, the original Ring is very scary because it is so mundane with certain simple supernatural elements. Filmmaking-wise, those movies are pretty impressive.

GM: So your next film is Finding Dory. How many people are constantly asking you for spoilers?

AM: Nobody! Nobody asks. [Laughs] I think nobody wants to know.

Disney will release Toy Story of Terror on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, August 19, 2014.

12 Surprising Facts About Finding Nemo (Sort of)


Disney is hoping to get you to your summer destination—in peace! The House of Mouse is promoting its recently launched Disney Movies Anywhere app as a source of road trip entertainment.

Available for iOS devices (sorry Android users), the app allows you to browse, view, and purchase a wide variety of Disney titles while on the go. Of course, that lineup also includes plenty of goodies to satisfy your Marvel and Pixar fixes. As GeekMom Cindy mentioned a while back, one of the other great things about the app is that it even offers up tasty nuggets about some of the featured films. Just look under the Discovery section.

As part of the summer push, the studio just put out a little infographic (see below) about how many Pixar movies it would take to get to key destinations. Sure, it’s limited (and do you really have 2,000 movies to watch between Australia and Los Angeles?), but as a GeekMom who’s planning two major road trips this year, I like the travel ideas. Of course, I do expect my son to do other things and even look out of the window on occasion. Some of those highways can be long and boring, though!

Something that isn’t very boring is Pixar Summer Movies to Go, a current in-app section that has all sorts of interesting exclusives about Pixar’s fan favorites. Each week, users can get tidbits about different films, as well as exclusive bonus content, including filmmaker introductions, trivia, and even the “Countdown to Pixar’s Ultimate Movie-Making Secrets.”

This week, the app is hosting “12 Surprising Facts about Finding Nemo.” Sadly, we don’t have all 12 for you, but we do have a little teaser above. To get the full list, you’ll need to download the Disney Movies Anywhere app. And you should do that—it’s free!


Courtesy of Disney/Pixar.

Pixar Easter Eggs Revealed!

The folks at Pixar love hiding in-jokes and references to their impressive body of work in their films. If you’re a fan you might know about some of these Easter eggs already, but others may be a nice surprise.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, merely a taste of the longer feature available in the Discovery section of Disney’s new cloud-based media service Disney Movies Anywhere, which allows you to share your Disney content across an array of platforms and iOS devices.

Do you know about any Pixar Easter eggs? Share them in the comments!

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

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


Planes: Flying Onto the Small Screen

Planes, Image: 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Image: 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Last week saw the release of Planes on Disney DVD. I was pretty excited to see this film, because it is one of the few Disney releases I did not get to see on the big screen. Having explored the world above the world of Cars this week, I’m quite happy putting this into our regular rotation of family night movies. Here’s why I think you should join me.

To start with, I’m not even going to pretend you can watch this movie, let alone review it, without inevitably comparing it to Cars. There are cars in this movie, Mater’s short “Air Mater” set the scene for the feature film, you simply cannot avoid comparison. The movie has the same feel to it, both about vehicles with independent lives and personalities, both center around racing.

Cars had a very simple story line behind it, it was the Doc Hollywood of the cartoon world. In Planes I could see several story lines at work within one overall story, all of which are played out well, and any one of which is sure to appeal to you:

  • Dusty Crophopper. Local boy makes good. Farm boy makes good. Underdog surprises all. This is the overarching theme of the movie. That a small crop duster plane can dream beyond the world he was born into and soar higher than even he knew was possible, literally. But this isn’t my favorite storyline.
  • Skipper Riley. Skipper’s story ends up being a lot harsher than the one you thought they were telling. It’s the cartoon version of the movie that Ben Affleck should have made instead of Pearl Harbor! But this isn’t my favorite storyline.
  • El Chupacabra. El Chu is the Mexican racer who is consumed by his love for Canadian plane Rochelle. He is aided in his pursuit of Rochelle by Dusty. Think Steve Martin in RoxanneBut this isn’t my favorite storyline!
  • Ishani. The Pan Asian champion, a ruthless but beautiful plane who does despicable things in order to win, but is redeemed by the end of the movie. This is my favorite storyline, and after watching her short clip on the extras section of the DVD “Meet the Racers,” I like her even more. She wants to win. She knows she can win. She uses all of her guile to win. I don’t want to spoil her story too much here, but it was her contribution to Dusty’s victory that got me choked up.
  • Then there’s the bad guy. The bad guys in the previous movies from this mechanical world were all likable villains. Ripslinger is just plain out nasty. It gives Dusty’s story line something more to back up against. Ripslinger is not the bad guy you love to laugh at like Chick Hicks, he’s not the bad guy with a world view motive like Miles Axelrod, he’s just the bad guy who wants to win.

Ever since my special edition of Sleeping Beauty in 2003, I have been addicted to the extras provided by Disney on their DVD release. Planes didn’t have as many as I would like, but none of them felt like filler extras:

  • Deleted Scenes – storyboard material and rough animation for some extended scenes.
  • Franz’s song – A deleted song by Franz the flying car. I am so glad they deleted this song from the movie because I love it and it would inevitably get stuck in my head for days!
  • Top Ten Flyers – Colin Cowherd goes through a list of pilots (flyers) and looks at their contributions to aviation.
  • Meet the Racers – The fictitious version of Top Ten Flyers.
  • Klay’s Flight Plan – The meat and potatoes of DVD extras in which the director, producer, and others talk about the movie.

I was most excited to see Klay’s Flight plan, which contains interviews with Klay Hall and John Lasseter, but I was surprised to find Meet the Racers was my favorite extra. Five short trailers for the movie, each focusing exclusively on one of the planes instead of the main story. It affirmed my love of Ishani. Though I did enjoy the sneak peak at the drawings from a train movie that was never made.

The movie’s theatrical release this summer generated much debate over the production of sequels and spin offs, but much like the movie’s hero, I think the underdog can hold its own against the big bad reviewers. It will certainly be interesting to see what the DVD sales do, will the nay-sayers win out, or will the kids who just love a good movie about planes rule the day? My vote is with the kids. After all “Is there an awesome beyond awesome, or is awesome the most awesome I’ll ever be.” – Ripslinger.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

D23 Expo 2013: What’s Next for Disney Animation?

John Lasseter at D23 Expo
John Lasseter takes the stage at D23 Expo to introduce a slate of upcoming films.

Walt Disney is famously quoted as saying, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” The spirit of that idea is alive and well under the leadership of John Lasseter, the head of Disney’s three animation studios, whose guiding principle seems to be WWWD? (What Would Walt Do?) Animation has consistently been the core of the company, and after seeing what the future has in store, I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

Lasseter showed an impressive slate of upcoming films from Pixar Animation Studios, Disneytoons, and Walt Disney Animation Studios on Aug. 9 at D23 Expo 2013, a three-day convention for fans of every aspect of Disney culture. In an arena filled with 4,000 enthusiastic fans, Lasseter took the stage to introduce exclusive clips, celebrity guests, and a surprise live performance by Idina Menzel of a song from the highly anticipated film Frozen.

First up was Pixar. Here are some of the highlights:

  • “Party Central,” a new short based on Monsters University, was screened in its entirety. In it, the monsters of Oozma Kappa use two door stations to steal all the elements of a wild fraternity party from their rivals, much to the alarm of a human couple whose bedroom is stuck in between. It’s a fun idea that builds on all the possibilities of the space-warping technology of the doors, with all the wit and imagination you’d expect from Pixar. The short will run in theaters with the upcoming feature The Good Dinosaur.
  • Speaking of The Good Dinosaur, we saw some of the first public footage of that film too, including a beautiful sequence of dinosaur farm workers set to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” The film is based on the premise that the dinosaurs never became extinct but instead evolved into farming creatures. It sounds weird, I know, but it made sense when director Pete Sohn explained it. The main character is an apatosaurus named Arlo, voiced by Raising Hope‘s Lucas Neff, who befriends an early human child named Spot. Arlo’s family includes Papa (John Lithgow), Mama (Frances McDormand), brother Forrest (Bill Hader), brother Cliff (Neil Patrick Harris), and sister Ivy (Judy Greer). Neff, Hader, and Greer appeared on stage and shared some banter about how they’d just met each other backstage and were already behaving like family.
The Cast of The Good Dinosaur at D23 Expo
The Good Dinosaur stars Lucas Neff, Judy Greer, and Bill Hader joke around with director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream.
  • The next film in Pixar’s lineup, due in 2015, is Inside Out. Lasseter had some fun with the initial working title announced at the last D23 Expo in 2011, The Untitled Pixar Film Which Takes Place Inside the Mind. Quite a mouthful. Director Pete Docter (Up) and producer Jonas Rivera introduced the characters, who are all emotions living inside the mind of a girl named Riley. There’s Anger (Lewis Black, who else?), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Hader again), Joy (Amy Pohler), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Hader came back on stage along with Smith and they both tried performing the lines of some of the other characters with limited success. There was also some test footage shown featuring a fight between Riley and her parents in which we see what is going on in each of their heads. There were plenty of laughs from the audience during the scene. The concept for this one is a little bit out there, but if anyone can make it work, it’s the guy who put a flying house, a grouchy old man, a wilderness explorer, a talking dog, and an exotic bird all together in one movie.
  • The company wasn’t ready to reveal too much about the upcoming sequel Finding Dory, except that the original voices of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and, of course, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) will be back. Director Andrew Stanton is also back at the helm. The film will pick up a year after Finding Nemo, and, as the title implies, will follow Marlin and Nemo as they search for Dory after her homing instincts kick in and she takes off. We’ll meet Dory’s parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy), as well as a beluga whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell).
Bill Hader, Andrew Stanton, Lindsey Collins at D23 Expo
Bill Hader begs director Andrew Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins for a part as a sea cucumber in Finding Dory.
  • The last project from the Pixar lineup was the upcoming Halloween TV special Toy Story of Terror, airing October 16 on ABC. It takes place sometime after the end of Toy Story 3 and finds the toys going on vacation with Bonnie and her parents. We got to see the first 10 minutes of the special and, despite the footage ending on a cruel cliffhanger, it was great to see Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest of the gang in action again. An ordinary roadside motel is the setting for the story, which includes some clever references to all the classic horror movie tropes. This one might be a bit frightening for the little ones, but older fans ought to get a kick out of it.

The next section of the presentation dealt with films coming from Disneytoons, the studio responsible for the Tinker Bell and Planes (yes, there will be more) franchises.

  • Two new Tinker Bell movies are in the works—Legend of the Neverbeast and The Pirate Fairy. Tink is pretty popular in our house, so I’m looking forward to both of these upcoming films, but The Pirate Fairy looks especially cool. The title refers to Zarina (voiced by Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks), a fairy turned pirate captain. She is close friends with a cabin boy named James. (Hmm, a pirate named James in Neverland? Wonder who he could turn out to be.) The oh-so-charming James is voiced by Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston. Both Hendricks and Hiddleston appeared on stage to talk about their characters and their love of Disney. With a little prodding from the audience, Hiddleston even sang a bit of “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book. We got to hear him sing again in an early animation from the film featuring an original song about a flying pirate ship.
Christina Hendricks, Tom Hiddleston, Peggy Holmes at D23 Expo
Christina Hendricks and Tom Hiddleston talk with director Peggy Holmes about their roles in The Pirate Fairy.
  • Looking to build a franchise out of the new Planes film, Disneytoons already has a sequel in the works, Planes: Fire and Rescue. In this one, Dusty heads to Piston Peak National Park to help out a crew of rescue planes and vehicles. Dane Cook will be back as the voice of Dusty, joined by Julie Bowen an energetic scooper plane named Dipper. We saw a sequence showing the rescue team going to work to fight a forest fire. It was thrilling, sure, but it’s hard to shake the notion that this is one of those films driven by the potential for a whole new toy line.

The day’s very long presentation concluded with a look at some of the new features coming from the mothership, Walt Disney Animation Studios.

  • After a touching tribute and appearance by Disney legend (though not officially a Disney Legend, you have to be retired or dead to receive that honor) Burny Mattinson, Lasseter talked a little bit about the company’s Animation Research Library. He brought out the library’s director, who told a story about uncovering and restoring some old animation cells from a 1928 Mickey Mouse cartoon called “Get a Horse.” It turns out that the story isn’t actually true, but we were asked not to spoil the fun of the cartoon, so I’m going to honor that and simply say that the studio has achieved something pretty spectacular with it. If you see Frozen, you’ll get to see this run in front of it.
  • Moving on, we heard a little about Big Hero 6, an action film that blends Japanese manga and American comic books. Set in a hybrid city called San Fransokyo, it centers on a boy named Hiro and his inflatable robot Baymax. When one of his inventions falls into the hands of a super villain, Hiro puts together a team of unlikely heroes to help him get it back. There’s a bike messenger, a sushi chef, a barrista, and a comic book geek. It’s hard to get a read on this one so early in its development, but the early art certainly looks intriguing.
Don Hall at D23 Expo
Director Don Hall introducing his upcoming animated feature, Big Hero 6.
  • Coming in 2016, Disney has Zootopia, the first Disney film to feature anthropomorphic characters in a while, and the first to feature them in a modern setting designed by animals. We got a look at how the world will be divided into habitat-inspired districts with names like Tundra Town, Sahara Square, and Burrow Borough (an underground settlement full of cute bunnies). This was one of the most humorous portions of the show, and director Byron Howard (Tangled) and writer Jared Bush have obviously taken a lighthearted approach to the material. But there’s still the underlying conflict between the sharp-toothed predators and the flat-toothed prey. This all forms the background for an unlikely friendship between a fox named Nick Wilde and a rabbit named Hops, whose buddy story will be at the heart of the film.
  • But as amazing as all these other projects sounded, Disney saved the best for last. The anticipation for the upcoming Frozen is so high that there were already fans wandering around the D23 Expo dressed as the characters. There are two princesses at the center of Frozen—the quirky, courageous Anna and her distant older sister, Elsa. Lasseter said that Walt Disney himself had always wanted to produce an animated film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and Frozen, while not being a literal interpretation, somewhat fulfills that dream. Kristin Bell, who provides the voice for Anna, came out on stage to talk a little about her role. We also got to meet the film’s comic relief, a living snowman named Olaf, and the voice behind him, Josh Gad. There was some footage of the character’s big song in the film, “In Summer,” about all of the things he can’t wait to do in summer. It’s funny, but also a little heartbreaking as he has no idea what happens when snow meets heat. The film was a reunion of sorts for Gad, who originated the role of Arnold Cunningham in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon, and the show’s co-writer Robert Lopez, who joined with his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, to write the songs for Frozen.
Idina Menzel, D23 Expo
Idina Menzel brings the house down with her powerful performance of “Let it Go” from Frozen.
  • And then the moment came that overshadowed everything I had experienced up to that point. Lasseter talked a little about the character of Elsa, who spends her life hiding her powers of controlling ice and snow. After an incident in which her secret is discovered, Elsa takes to the mountains to belt out her frustration in a powerful song called “Let it Go.” The voice of Elsa herself, Idina Menzel, came out to sing it live, as footage from the film played behind her and simulated snow drifted down from the rafters over the audience. I’ve often wished I could have seen Menzel on stage in her Tony-winning role as the Wicked Witch in Wicked, but this experience felt pretty close to it. “Let it Go” is a phenomenal, defiant anthem in the spirit of “Defying Gravity,” Menzel’s signature number in that show. Like Elphaba, Elsa is fed up with trying to play by the rules of world that doesn’t understand her. Now that she’s got nothing to lose, she’s going to show everyone what she can really do. I walked out of the arena with chills.

Never let it be said that Disney doesn’t know how to put on a show. It was a long presentation, but well worth it for all the sneak peeks and colorful tidbits shared with the audience. I can confidently say that fans of Disney animation have a lot to look forward to in the coming months and years.

3 Nights of Disney Fandom to Include Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel Specials

Disney XD will transform into Disney Fandom for three nights, starting Tuesday July 30, 2013. Image: Disney XD.

Worlds are going to collide on Disney XD this month — geeky worlds, anyway. The network just announced plans for “Disney Fandom,” a three-night primetime programming event that will include content from Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and more. In other words, the network will showcase a lot of Disney’s recent purchases. They seem to own all of the cool franchises and companies!

Disney says that the event is being geared towards fans that are 13 and older. Um, think way older. I know that I’m excited to watch the My Family Recipe Rocks – Star Wars special. I’m also insanely interested in the sneak peeks being promised for all of Marvel’s upcoming goodies, including Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Starting Tuesday, July 23, Disney will launch the Fandom website with a few sneak peeks, as well as polls and games that are tied into the event. Besides games and specials, Disney will sandwich in a flick from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise every night. Some of the other schedule highlights include (all times are ET/PT):

Tuesday, July 30
On The Red Carpet Disney Fandom Edition: This first-time special allows viewers to walk the carpet at San Diego Comic-Con with host Rachel Smith and Radio Disney on-air personality Morgan Tompkins. [8:00 p.m.]

Star Wars Tech: Right after an airing of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney Fandom will air this 2007 documentary, which covers everything from the lightsaber to how X-wing starfighters compare to actual jets. [11:00 p.m.]

Wednesday, July 31
This night belongs to Captain Jack Sparrow, me hearties. Look for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest to start at 8:30 p.m.

Thursday, August 1
Live Well Network’s My Family Recipe Rocks – Star Wars Special Edition: I will be setting the DVR for this one, and not just because it’s hosted by ex-*NSYNC-er Joey Fatone. In this world debut, the musician/dancer/foodie will cook viewers a Star Wars-themed breakfast right out of the Star Wars cookbook, as well as showcase all of the super-cool memorabilia housed inside Rancho Obi-Wan near Northern California’s Skywalker Ranch. [8:00 p.m.]

Meet the Disney Legends: This is another new program, designed to highlight everyone that makes that Disney magic come to life. Of course, we won’t meet every Cinderella in every theme park, but host Brandon Johnson (My Yard Goes Disney) will interview Monsters University star Billy Crystal, Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter, animator Glen Keane, and more. [8:30 p.m.]

Once Upon a Time: For the Fans: Before the night caps off with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Once Upon a Time fans will be treated to this short, sweet peek at the ABC hit. Cast member Lee Arenberg hosts the spot, which will include new cast interviews, a profile of Captain Hook, a look at the people of Storybrooke, and a few hints at the upcoming fall season. [8:45 p.m.]

Just in case you were swept up in the Fandom, remember that all of the above programming will air on Disney XD. Contact your local provider to find the channel number in your area.

When Mike Met Sulley: Monsters University

Monsters University © Disney / Pixar

Monsters University may be a Pixar first—a prequel—but it captures the same magic of the delightful monster world crafted in Monsters, Inc. The story of how Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan became friends is full of laughs, scares, and even some unexpected setbacks, creating an entertaining film that shows moviegoers that it’s not always easy to achieve your dreams.

Monsters University takes us to college with Mike, where he encounters Sulley for the first time (not in the fourth grade, to the dismay of some Pixar purists). Although Mike is bursting with enthusiasm, eager to take part in the school’s prestigious Scare program, he’s met with skepticism from faculty and students alike. Mike is determined to show his fellow monsters that he has what it takes to be a Scarer.

One of the most skeptical is the president of Roar Omega Roar, Johnny Worthington. His voice is immediately recognizable.

Hearing Nathan Fillion’s smarmy voice is just one of the many delights from the voice acting in the film; as can be expected, Billy Crystal and John Goodman are fantastic, and Helen Mirren is downright frightening as Dean Hardscrabble.

Monsters University is gorgeously detailed, from every little tuft of fur to the well-worn floorboards in Mike’s dorm room. The most impressive visual treat, however, was the animated short film preceding the movie, The Blue Umbrella.

During the first few moments of The Blue Umbrella, I couldn’t tell if the short was animated or filmed. It is breathtaking. The story is sweet and simple, evoking some gasps from the smaller children in the theater, but leaving all with a smile on their face.

What impressed me the most about Monsters University is the film’s message that even though life is filled with setbacks, you can still appreciate yourself for who you are and find other ways to achieve your dreams. It’s not a lesson often found in a children’s movie.

It might be the healthy dose of nostalgia for the good ol’ days of college talking, but I enjoyed Monsters University more than Monsters Inc. I wasn’t sure if my four-year-old would understand the concept of college at such a young age, but Pixar tells the story so well that she was able to follow it without trouble. The monsters are more funny than frightening, making Monsters University a perfect film for kids big and small.

Monsters University is rated G and opens in theaters on June 21, 2013.

I attended a promotional screening of the film for review purposes.

Towel Day: 42 Occurrences of The Number 42 in Pop Culture

42 © Lincolnian via Flickr
42 © Lincolnian via Flickr

Any good geek knows that the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything is 42. But were you aware just how often that number has crept up in pop culture? From apartment numbers to Hurley numbers, dates to car registrations, the number 42 is everywhere when you start looking hard enough. Here are 42 examples of the number turning up in pop culture.

1. The first reference that Douglas Adams made to 42 was during a sketch called “The Hole in the Wall Club” in which Griff Rhys Jones mentions the 42nd meeting of the Crawley and District Paranoid Society.

2. In Star Trek, the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) has 42 decks.

3. In The X-Files, Agent Mulder lives at apartment 42.

4.In Caprica the license plate of Starbuck’s truck is “FB 42 E3.

5. In Spore, the Staff of Life is limited to 42 uses.

Continue reading Towel Day: 42 Occurrences of The Number 42 in Pop Culture

Pixar Was Brave to Keep the Accent

Image: Walt Disney Studios

I gave up on trying to take notes in the dark fairly early on as I watched Brave, but one of the few I did manage was, “a princess donea stuff her gob.” Why was that noteworthy? Because they left it in.

It would have been all too tempting to let executives step in and market position the Scottish right out of Brave. Instead, Pixar encouraged the voice actors to make dialect suggestions. There are a lot of vocabulary words that would be totally unfamiliar to the average American child, and there’s even a character that speaks in an incomprehensibly thick Doric accent. Rather than translate him – or anyone – the characters react and move on. That is as it should be. Do you really need a translation to understand the emotional context of this real world squabble?

The cowardly answer would have been to have the characters speak with a mildly Scottish accent and throw in a few “wee lads and lasses” and leave it at that. Yes, I’m looking at you, Shrek. Or have a few thick-accented characters who are translated for viewers, “He meant ‘Yes, that’s fair.'” Instead, we have a mother who warns her child that she’ll get gobblywobbles if she eats a whole pile of treats. We have characters referring to galoots and numpties, and even an exclamation of  “Jings crivins, help ma boab!

Granted, many of the voice actors have spent a long time in America and have accents that, while thick to American ears, have less of a burr than they once did. Pixar could have gone too far and them play it up for a movie only viewable with subtitles, but they seem to have struck a good balance here. Everything is clear enough in context, and really it makes a fairy tale in a mythical setting seem genuine and grounded. Removing all the slang would have been the wrong choice.

My 10-year-old did not leave asking for a translation. She asked me to tell her about will-o’- the wisps. She asked if she could learn archery. She asked what they were eating. She asked if we could go to Scotland someday, but she never needed to ask what a numpty was.


Balancing Board Games and Babies Part II

My Pokemon mentor once said to me, “The family that games together, stays together.” He couldn’t be more correct.

A few weeks ago I shared with you how my husband and I balance being parents and gamers. My husband and I encourage our kids to play games as well. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game we made up with balls, an educational game, a board game, or a video game. Don’t get me wrong, video game play is earned and the time spent playing them is monitored.

Educational games for kids are fairly easy to find. Several companies focus on educational games for kids. Kid appropriate games that are just like mom and dad’s are a little harder to come by.

Our kids often are more interested in the games we play instead of their own. So, here are some kid friendly ideas that are related to the adult versions our little geek 2.0’s might not be ready for.

Pokémon instead of Magic the Gathering

Try Pokémon instead of Magic the Gathering: The mechanics are very similar. The artwork is amazing without being as graphic as Magic. I know some parents cringe at the thought of letting the cute little animé creatures into their homes. The truth is, I used to be one of those parents. Then Call of Legends was released and my then 4-year-old daughter fell in love and was inspired to read. She can now read the cards and count by 10’s and she isn’t even in Kindergarten yet. I think these skills were greatly helped by playing Pokémon. Strategy skills and other math skills are also exercised by playing. Card packs run $4-$15. Most leagues are free and some even offer decks to check out and play.


RPG Kids instead of Dungeons and Dragons


Try RPG Kids instead of Dungeons and Dragons: RPG Kids is a simpler version of Dungeons and Dragons for kids age 4-7. It only uses two dice and the characters can be as simple as attacking only, all the way to having feats and resistances (if you want them). This game also offers an opportunity for parents who have never been a DM before to do so. The game is very easy to run and set up. It comes with pieces that you can cut out, or you can make your own. It can be purchases for $2.99 from RPG Kids uses math, reading, and strategy skills.
















Try Hero Quest instead of Warhammer or other war games.













Try Hero Scape or Hero Quest instead of miniature war games like Warhammer: Over a year ago, my husband and I were both very much into playing Warhammer. Since we spent a decent ammount of time painting our miniatures and playing the game, our daughter also became interested. We found a copy of Heroscape at our local second hand store. We took all of the miniatures out and let her play with them while we were playing Warhammer. Now she’s ready for Hero Quest which has a similar turn style to RPG Kids. If you have crafty kids, why not let them paint a spare miniature?


Computer games aren’t evil, but computers might be (the cake is a LIE)!: We used to be into playing World of Warcraft and other MMO’s. Now, if we actually have the time to play on the computer, we tend to play games like Minecraft, Spore, and Portal 2. The skills used in these games have a huge range but include building and following directions in Minecraft, budgetting money and strategy in Spore, and strategy in Portal. These games are fun for the entire family. It has been debated how much time kids should be spending playing video games, and how young is too young, but computer games have been an asset in our house when played in moderation. There are also some great websites that offer educational and fun games such as Starfall, PBS Kids, and a favorite at our house – Pokémon.

Do you have a Leapster or DS?: The games offered for the LeapFrog Leapster system are themed after popular characters our kids like (such as Star Wars and Pixar characters). The games are FAR more educational than games played on the DS systems, but the characters and desirableness are comparable. We have used Leapster gaming time as a reward for helping with chores without being asked or, as a quiet gaming activity while mom and dad are playing with other adults.

I hope the ideas shared here inspire you to share a gaming experience with your kids. They don’t even have to be old enough to read in most cases, all you both need is some imagination and patience. What games have you found recently to play with your kids?

Music Week: Confessions of a Soundtrack Geek – Part One

The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony © Henry Burrows via Flickr
The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony, conducted by Howard Shore © Henry Burrows via Flickr

Before I start this article, I think I need to get one thing straight with you. I am a soundtrack geek.  When a new movie is coming out that I am excited about, such as Deathly Hallows just the other week, not only am I eagerly awaiting the release of the film itself, but also the soundtrack. It’s the same with TV shows. Right now I am getting rather excited about the potential for a Doctor Who Series Six album to tie in with the second half of the series that begins airing at the end of this month. I have the soundtrack albums from countless movies and TV shows plus I even have several gigabytes of background and on-ride music from the Disney theme parks.

I’m not entirely sure when my interest in scores developed. I remember buying the score album from The X-Files: Fight the Future back in 1998 when I was just eleven, but that was more out of an obsessive “buy everything related to this movie” phase than genuine interest in the music. I certainly don’t think it was listened to that much. I also had an album of cult sci-fi and fantasy TV themes back then, but I think the real love for this music began with a friend a few years ago. When we would drive around in her car, she would usually have the soundtracks to Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter or some other film playing, and I found myself increasingly drawn to them. I began getting copies for myself and now I have a vast collection of soundtracks and scores. I find them great for listening to when I’m writing, as the vast majority are instrumental so I don’t start singing along or inadvertently typing the lyrics instead of whatever it is I’m trying to write. It never ceases to amaze me how such deep emotions can be conveyed without needing to speak a word.

As the terms soundtrack and score can be used somewhat interchangeably, I feel I should clarify that my interest lies with the orchestral background and incidental music, rather than albums that compile tracks by various music artists that are heard in the show or film. Often, two albums are released, an example being with Twilight: New Moon where both a score and a soundtrack collection featuring tracks by Muse and OK Go are available. Although I do own several of these soundtrack compilations as well, to me they are more like themed albums rather than the true music of the film or show.

Here then are some of my personal favourite soundtracks (or series soundtracks) for you to check out. This post will focus on film soundtracks with TV shows coming later this week. The linked track titles in my favourites will take you to short clips courtesy of Amazon and iTunes.


Star Wars Album Covers
Star Wars Album Covers

If there was an award for the most iconic film theme ever created, I’d say it was a fair bet Star Wars would be in the top three at least. I am one of those rare people, especially amongst geeks, that genuinely likes the prequels as well as the original trilogy. They certainly aren’t as good to me but the originals are such genuine classics that they never could match up. Nonetheless I will most certainly be hitting the cinema to watch them all again in 3D from next year – if only to see some of my all time favourite movies back on the big screen.

One way the prequels do match up to, and for me, possibly even out-do their predecessors, is in the quality of their scores. Even Phantom Menace, which even I concede as the worst Star Wars film (well, if you exclude the Clone Wars film) has some truly fantastic music. “Duel of The Fates” is easily one of the best Star Wars pieces of all the films put together, as is the epic “Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” from Revenge of The Sith. The original trilogy also has some outstanding pieces but, no, the Cantina Band is not among them for me! Naturally the “Imperial March” ranks as a classic but there are other great tracks including “Binary Sunset” and “The Battle of Yavin”. However for me, if you want great Star Wars music, this is probably the only time I would always turn to the prequels over the original trilogy.

My favourites: Duel of The Fates (I), The Hologram/Binary Sunset (IV), Across The Stars: Love Theme from Attack of The Clones (II), Victory Celebration/End Title (VI), Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan (III)


Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 - 8
Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 – 8

In terms of iconic themes, the twinkling Harry Potter theme (actually entitled “Hedwig’s Theme”) is hot on the heels of Star Wars as one of the most well-known pieces of music in film history. Out of all the films series I own, the Potter scores are probably the ones which are most different from beginning to end.  The light-hearted, jovial sounds of the Philosopher’s Stone soundtrack with its fun brass sections is a million miles removed from the quiet tragedy and swelling drama of Deathly Hallows Part Two; however certain scenes do hark back to the early films such as the comical “Detonaters” in Deathly Hallows Part One giving the soundtracks as a collection a feeling of being the individual pieces of a whole. A number of different composers have worked the Potter position over the years, almost as many as there have been Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts, each lending their own unique flavour. The result is a collection that progresses along with Harry’s story, not disjointed despite including so many styles, but gradually changing and darkening over time.

My favourites: Hedwig’s Theme (Philosopher’s Stone), Fireworks (OOTP), When Ginny Kissed Harry (HBP), Into The Rushes (HBP), Obliviate (DH1), Lovegood (DH1), Lily’s Theme (DH2), Dragon Flight (DH2)


Independence Day Score by David Arnold
Independence Day Score by David Arnold

Films like Star Wars have become known for their scores, the theme music being instantly recognisable and other bits of their music well-known as well. Independence Day on the other hand is a far more obscure soundtrack but no less beautiful for that. A big blockbuster movie that relies more on impressive visuals needs an equally large scale score to match so this album is more about big sweeping pieces than intimate, touching ones; that being said a standout track for me is “The First Lady Dies” which plays over a scene I count as one of my top ten tearful moments in sci-fi.

My favourites: 1969 – We Came in Peace, Aftermath, The First Lady Dies (extended edition only so no mp3 available)


Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse
Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse

With two more scores yet to come from the two parts of Breaking Dawn, this collection is far from complete, yet it already includes several great tracks. Creating the lullaby written by Edward for Bella in the first film was always going to be a challenge for any composer, however Carter Burwell created a beautifully simple piece that stands out from the rest of the album which manages in turn to convey well the mixture of overwhelming teenage passion with a constant sense of foreboding. Taking the reigns for New Moon was Alexandre Desplat who was later responsible for both Deathly Hallows scores; to me there is a marked similarity between the three scores which can be heard distinctly if you compare “Obliviate” from Hallows Part One with New Moon’s “Memories of Edward”.

My favourites: How I Would Die (Twilight), Bella’s Lullaby (Twilight), New Moon (New Moon), Memories of Edward (New Moon)


Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman
Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman

Whilst Disney movies are well known for their big musical numbers, Pixar films are less musically driven. However the speechless robots and corresponding lack of dialogue in Wall-E really threw the score into the limelight more than with any of its predecessors. The love story between Wall-E and Eve had to be told almost completely non-verbally and so tracks like “Define Dancing”, where the pair dance through space together, are vital to the film in a way few score pieces get to be. The characters of Wall-E and Eve are partly explored by their music too, with the former having fun, bouncy pieces when he is on screen, shifting to far gentler, flowing strings for Eve.

My favourites: Define Dancing, First Date, 2815 A.D.


The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers
The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers

The two X-Files films were released ten years and four show seasons apart, in every way they are completely different beasts.  While the first film, Fight The Future focused and progressed the show’s central mythology, the second, I Want to Believe was a stand alone story which only briefly hinted at the main plot.  A result of these differences is a significant difference in sound styles.

Fight the Future uses a score that sits perfectly within the TV show; in fact many pieces from it were later used in season six episodes. It begins with the classic six-note theme music presented in a hauntingly quiet stripped down with just a lone instrument sounding them out before the full orchestra bursts in dramatically. The score does for the music what the film did for the visuals, taking the same basic outline and doing it on a far grander scale. This was the first time an orchestra had been used for the franchise—all previous music being entirely created by synthesizer—and it gave the film a much more dramatic feel. Hearing the theme motif being played out by a full brass section was incredibly thrilling the first time and continues to be so.

The second film is overall a far slower, more melancholic affair. Mulder and Scully are older and have suffered far more over the years than they had in FTF. The plot itself is also darker and creepier that the blockbuster feel of the first film. There are no helicopter chase scenes or huge explosions here so the music is subtler and sweeter in some ways as we are now seeing a couple finally admitting their love for each other. Of course there is plenty of angst between the pair that results in quiet and terribly sad moments too. These things can never be allowed to run smoothly.

My favourites: Threnody in X (FTF), Soda Pop (FTF), Corn Hives (FTF), Facts (FTF), The Trip to DC (IWTB), The Surgery (IWTB), Good Luck (IWTB), Home Again (IWTB)


Jurassic Park Album Cover
Jurassic Park Album Cover

Jurassic Park is, and will always remain, one of my all time favourite movies. It was released when I was was only six but I got to see it soon after once it came out on VHS and I have loved it ever since. This was music I truly grew up with and so it holds a very special place in my heart. The classic theme tune plays at the entrance to the Jurassic Park island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando and I can honestly say that it was that piece of music that almost brought me to tears when I first walked under that gate as a seventeen year old finally getting to experience a sort of childhood dream come true—walking through the gates to Jurassic Park. Just listening through this music as I write this is enough to almost bring me to tears, this is the music that is truly close to my heart. As with Independence Day, a film of this scale needs a big sound, one capable of lending the appropriate majesty and awe to creatures most of us grew up holding in real reverence and, as usual, John Williams delivers the goods in spades.

My favourites: Journey to The Island, Dennis Steals The Embryo, Welcome to Jurassic Park

There are so many great soundtracks that it would take forever to cover them all. Here then are a few honourable mentions from other great movie soundtracks. No doubt I’ve missed dozens more. Why don’t you comment with your favourites too? Don’t forget to check back later this week for part two which will be all about the scores from TV shows.

Married Life (Up) – Michael Giacchino
King of Pride Rock (The Lion King) – Hans Zimmer
The Medallion Calls (Pirates of The Carribbean – The Curse of The Black Pearl) – Klaus Badelt
Mind Heist: Trailer Music (Inception) – Zack Hemsey
The Raider’s March (Indiana Jones Quadrilogy) – John Williams

My Top Ten Tear-Jerking Moments in Science Fiction

Traditionally, science-fiction revolves around action rather than drama, humour rather than tragedy. Whilst deaths are commonplace in a genre filled with space battles and horrifying creatures, truly emotional moments are much harder to come by, but that’s not to say they do not exist: far from it. Below is my personal top ten tear-jerking moments in science-fiction, I’ve had to cut many more out as this could easily have been a top fifty.

Warning: big spoilers contained herein.