Daily Barks 05.07 cataroo.com
Barking at the Moon: May 2007

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May 30, 2007
Two more thoughts on the recent trip to Disneyland. We actually did two new things, well, one and a half. While in Disneyland we rafted over to the "Pirate's Lair" which is on Tom Sawyer Island. However, if one did not notice the smaller print on the "Pirate's Lair" map, one would be hard pressed to connect much on the island to Mark Twain's classic character. A while back, Disney announced plans to convert the isle from "Tom Sawyer's Island" to "Pirate Island" and was met with tons of criticism about destroying a classic part of the park. (Too bad such an outcry did not occur when Disney execs destroyed Captain Hook's Pirate Ship in Fantasyland, or when they "upgraded" Tomorrowland.) Disney was caught by surprise and did not know how to proceed until someone noticed in the story, Tom and his friend do play pirate - hence "Pirate Lair on Tom Sawyer Island". The place is still mostly caves to squeeze through (which were popular makeout spots and druggie hideouts) and paths to walk. However there are now various remnants of ships and items found in the popular series from Will Turner's blacksmith shop to one of the skeletal sphere cages seen in the second film. It does add a bit of "freshness" to what I consider to be a pretty lame point. (For years I have stated they should just fill in the Rivers of America. The area would be large enough for two additional lands.) One thing has certainly remained the same. There is always a longer line to get off the island than to get on. The other fully new thing was a meal at the Wine Country Trattoria restaurant in California Adventure. We had wandered over to check out the pins and smelled the rich tomato sauce so went in to eat. The food was very good, and one order was plenty for both of us. Good food. Good bread. Great service. It would also be a nice retreat on a crowded day. In many ways, the whole day was full of "happy accidents" (as Charlie Chan might say). Going on a whim. Finding few people in the park. Finding lots of interesting pins on lanyards (many from Disneyland Paris). Discovering a new restaurant. And getting several of the special "gift" pins. Also saw the new submarine fleet and a store full of Nemo merchandise. "Just keep swimming". A great day.
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"When we opened Disneyland, a lot of people got the impressions that it was a get-rich-quick thing, but they didn't realize that behind Disneyland was this great organization that I built here at the Studio, and they all got into it and we were doing it because we loved to do it."
Walt Disney

Barking at the Moon - May 28, 2007
So much time has passed... with so many things to note. Saw PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END on its debut night of Thursday. Theater was packed and the audience was mostly with it. As for me (and Rachel), it was missing the fun and zing of the first picture. Too much plot. Too much emphasis on large action pieces. Not enough focus on the characters. And even though Johnny Depp's Captain Sparrow was loopy... he seems to have also gotten far too serious (and sober) from the first pic. Also had a tremendous Memorial Day Weekend. One day spent time with visiting sister and parents. One day went horseback riding with Rachel, as well as shopping for toys. Memorial day was spent at Disneyland where the weather was fine, the crowds were light and the pin trading was great. One of those special weekends that reminds me of how lucky I am... and how good times can be. Only downside will be a short week at the studio with far too much to do trying to get a new production up and running in record time. But will have lots of good feelings and memories to help me get through.
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"Foolish to seek fortune when real treasure hiding under nose."
Charlie Chan

May 21, 2007
When did movies that do not excite people become big hits? I do not mean those odd films that create the "love it or hate it" comments. I mean the big budgeted bloated blockbusters like SPIDER-MAN 3. The trend is another one that seemed to have been started by George Lucas. When he released his first pre-quel to STAR WARS, it was generally agreed by critics and fans that it was not a good movie. Yet it became the highest grossing film of the year. And each film after that was met with the same critical and fan indifference. I remember at the time of chapter three, there was a fellow employee who was a gigantic STAR WARS fan. He stated that the first two films had been big disappointments. He also stated he thought the third one would be equally weak. I asked why he would go see it then. He stated, "it's STAR WARS. I have to go!" And "go" he did. He went to a press screening. When I asked what he thought, he said it was "probably the best of the new series, but that is not saying much." Before the film left the theaters, he had seen it another five times! Now I know there are some films that become hits because of spectacular effects or big name stars. But usually a film has to be somewhat special to become one of the top grossing films of all time. Of course many times, it is simply being the right film at the right time, like a HOME ALONE or TITANIC. But in both those cases, critics felt the films had merit, and those who went to them (sometimes over and over) stated how much they loved the film. But these days, no matter how a film is reviewed, or even discussed, people still keep going and going. As mentioned, SPIDER-MAN is the latest. Most of the critics stated it was not as good as the first two. Almost everyone I know that has seen it has stated it was not very good. The other day, some folks were talking about the film over morning coffed at the studio. One person had seen it and was expressing how disappointed they were with the film. Every one else in the group stated that they had heard it was not very good... but that they were all going to see it anyway. A few minutes later a discussion of films in general began, and all agreed that the studios are not making good movies anymore, just a lot of "sequels and crap" as one put it. But as long as the group was willing to buy tickets to the "sequels and crap", why should the studios stop making them?
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"They know they got the TV ad, they know they got the name recognition, they know that they can do a tie in with McDonald's or some fast food outlet and the money is just gonna flow in."
Gene Siskel

May 20, 2007
Saw SHREK THE THIRD today. It is not the best, but it is easily equal to other chapters of the franchise. Overall, the film had a lightness of tone and several laughs. I was hoping for at least one "laugh out loud" moment, and found several myself laughing out loud a number of times. Generally a good time. As usual, I was just as interested in the trailers and the reactions. There were three animated films and one live action. The first animated trailer was for Disney/Pixar's RATATOUILLE. The newest trailer is livelier and more plot generated than earlier ones. But it still does not make me want to see it. The plot seems to be another homage/borrowed storyline from such films as Disney's BEN AND ME. There was little, if any response from the audience. The next trailer was for THE SIMPSONS feature. It featured a variety of clips and promises. It also got quite a few chuckles and positive mumbling from the audience. Next was one for THE BEE MOVIE, Seinfeld's upcoming cgi feature. The trailer had some amusing moments, and actually looked entertaining. The audience also was generally positive. The biggest laughs came with the live action trailer for HOT RODS, about a young stunt rider. As for SHREK, the audience seemed to enjoy it too. The kids (who were easily a majority of the audience) were well behaved and there was a consistent chuckle/laugh factor. I know the film has been getting a 50-50 opinion from critics, but I think some of the negative reaction is due to the high expectations due to past chapters. As I said, this is not the best, but it does not seem "worse". Once again, it seems that animation must rise to a higher level than live action. But the key is that we found the film fun... and even were repeating gags and lines later in the evening. It was what we needed.
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"I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints - the sinners are much more fun."
Billy Joel

May 16, 2007
Two other thoughts from last weekend's Disney adventure. First, we finally saw the Aladdin stage show in California Adventure. It was nicely staged, with some clever tricks to give the illusion of magic and genies. However, I must admit that the Broadway version of The Lion King has spoiled me. For years Disney has done "condensed" versions of their features in shows at the Parks and in malls across the country. In the late 1970s, the created a Broadway version of SNOW WHITE. Though it was released on the early homevideo format of Betamax, it is mostly forgotten. The reason being it is pretty much just a stage telling of the movie. The only differences are the addition of a song or two, neither memorable, and the horrific ending sequence where we learn Dopey can talk! ("He just never tried" is the excuse given by one dwarf.) Perhaps the biggest plus was some clever animal costumes used at various times. I enjoyed my version of the betamax (now long gone) due to an exceptionally active fox costumer performer who was also quite a hoofer. But the Broadway Lion King brought new story elements, an abstract art syle to costuming and really unique ideas for effects and scenes. Now, condensed stage versions just seem flat. The other event was riding down main street on the Fire Engine. I have done it before, but this time we struck up a small conversation with the driver. She was previously a jungle cruise operator and helped identify some strangely dressed folks as the "new" costumes for the cruise skippers. But more interesting was her comments that she enjoyed driving the fire engine due to the history. The park only had one, and it was this one that Walt had driven around in the 1960s. She even commented that he would drive it all over the park. Not hard to believe as it is just a bit bigger than some golf carts. It was nice to find someone in the Park with some sense and excitement of Walt and company history. I was instantly reminded of an animator who worked at the studio when I did in the early 1980s. They had made it a point to use every restroom in the animation building - knowing that eventually they would have used at least one of the restrooms Walt used. Our driver did not seem that "focused", but since we often meet folks who can't tell Mickey from Minnie or identify any but the most major (or recent) of characters, it was nice to find there are still new cast members (never "employees") who think of the magic that made... and is Disneyland.
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"Tonight, the part of Al will be played by a tall, dark and sinister ugly man."
Genie in ALADDIN

May 15, 2007
Waste and guilt. Two things that I have a habit, and it is a bad habit, of feeling. The waste comes when I get in a position where I'm told that I am really key to a task or organization. I am told how much I know and how much experience I bring to the project. Then, as time goes by, I find that my suggestions are largely avoided or simply ignored. It makes me feel as if I am wasting my time. I recall a company that asked me to edit their magazine. They stated my knowledge of animation history, my friendship with icons of animation, and my strong writing style made me the perfect person to guide the publication. Very quickly, I found that my decisions made very little difference. I would suggest topics and layouts for the publication and then be told what the topic and layout were to be. Frequently, they would ask me to develop a thread. I would suggest "a" or "b". They would look at me and say, "we'll do 'c'." Sigh. It was a waste of my time, and their time. After having put together an entire issue with a hot cover story, I was told that they had something else for the cover. It seems a studio had paid the publication to put their character on the cover. I understood that. Then they showed me two other characters for which the magazine had been paid for cover space. I told the publisher that all three could not be on the cover. He showed me the cover layout with a totally differenct character On it were three small boxes on the side of the cover with the three "paid for" characters. I said I felt that was not exactly ethical. They replied that the studios had paid for their character to be on the cover. And he never told the studio their character would be the only character on the cover. I quit shortly after that. And guilt? I did not grow up with a family that played the guilt card as one sees in movies and TV. But I still somehow ended up with a fairly strong guilt factor. When things seem to go wrong, I usually feel guilty about it. Even if I knew I could not have done anything to alter the outcome, I felt guilty. It gets really bad when I know I am the source of a difficulty, and the other party feels that they are the guilty one. That doubles my guilty aura and I feel useless. It gets really tough when I am feeling wasted in one location and useless in another. A double whammy made worse as one feeds on the other. I sure hope Shrek 3 is funny.
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"Food, love, career, and mothers, the four major guilt groups."
Cathy Guisewite

May 14, 2007
Been unable to bark due to life being too full of late. Work has picked up to an alarming rate... or at least to the point that I am constantly busy and often doing 10+ hour days. Have also kept busy on the home front with my little time left. Last week we stopped by the Disney Soda Fountain in Hollywood and visited the Ripley's "Believe it or not" museum. The Fountain had some great pins, and the museum some really weird stuff. Over the weekend dropped by Disneyland and found it uber-busy due to the filming of a segment for DANCING WITH THE STARS in front of the Castle and the set-up for the special premiere of the 3rd PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie. Mother's day was spent taking Luca to 3 Dog Bakery at the lake, and then taking the kittens to visit my mom and dad. Dad is still not doing well and went to the doctor today, and going back tomorrow for more tests. On top of that, a new article came about MY FRIENDS TIGGER AND POOH. This coming weekend will include the raw diet pick-up, and hopefully seeing SHREK 3. Where does the time go?
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"At dramatic rehearsals, the only author that's better than an absent one is a dead one."
George S. Kaufman

May 8, 2007
Pose or play? That question popped up as a friend and I were discussing a recent convention. We were debating how much video was shot. My friend stated he had not seen a lot of video cameras, which caused me to respond that today still cameras can also take video, as well as cel phones. That got me to thinking of a new dilemma for mascot performers. In my days at Disneyland (1970s & 1980s), it was easy to tell what the guests wanted. If they were taking photos, they were using devices that were usually somewhat small. They could range from the plastic disposable cameras, to the Kodak film cartridge to more elaborate 35mm slr cameras. One someone would pull these out, it meant "freeze"! Basically, the guest wanted a photo. As Madonna might say in her song "Vogue"... "Strike a pose". But if the guest pulled out a larger box, that looked a bit like a shoebox, then they were shooting moving pictures (either 8mm or Super8) or home video. So you wanted to move around and get a bit physical with the guest - removing their hat, patting their stomach, shaking hands vigorously, and such. The best videos were when characters were playing with your family. But today, when someone points a device at you, it is harder to tell if they are taking a still image or a moving image. Unlike older video devices that offered a blinking red light to alert you, today's cameras and cel phones give you no such clue. When I go to the Park, I more frequently hear parents asking characters or their children to "hold still" for the photo, or when things look a bit too still, they ask for the subjects to "move around". As more and more devices begin to take photos or video, it will only become more difficult for mascots to figure out "what" they are supposed to be doing when such an item is pointed at them.
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"The most interesting thing was looking out the window and taking photographs of different places on Earth. "
Leroy Chiao

May 7, 2007
It was quite a weekend. Friday night and Saturday were spent at a convention which allowed me to have some costuming fun. Friday there was a dance in which I got to cut a rug in costume. Saturday featured a parade. Performing in costume is one of my favorite activities, and since my days at Disneyland, dancing in costume is a true joy. Though must admit the two most amusing moments were in people's perception. Upon registering, the cashier asked for a photo ID. After looking a second, he stated, "yes, you are old enough". I laughed and said, "don't you mean I'm too old!" I do not think I have been carded since the 1980s. Second was midway during the dance, a group of costumers were taking a break in the rest area. One came up to me and complimented me on my energy and then went on to ask if I knew of "Billy" (name changed to protect the aged). I stated I did not. They went on to explain how he was the most amazing person because did costuming full time and performed at many such conventions. What made "Billy" so amazing, was that he was 55! Several sat around nodding their amazement that someone in that age range could still do such work. I simply smiled and said, "Yes that is something. Of course, I'm 53." I could see a number of jaws dropping in the room. Luckily, Rachel was along for fun, and even though her healing foot kept her off the dance floor for many numbers, she came and danced one number with me that had more than a few folks watching what probably looked liked a choreographed number... but was just us fooling around. Sunday was a day at Disneyland, and it offered the usual pleasures. Not a lot of pins, but while waiting to look at some pins, I requested some Cole Porter from the ragtime pianist. He gave me a puzzled look, slowly repeated "Cole Porter" and turned to the piano. He then went into an amazingly animated and heartfelt medley of Porter songs from "Anything Goes" to "Don't Fence Me In." Do not think many in the crowd even noticed, but I and one of the sales ladies were mouthing the words to most of the songs. When he finished, I applauded and he thanked me for the request. No doubt he usually gets asked for Disney tunes. It made me think of my days in the Park Zoo Crew when we'd hang around musicians hoping they would play so we could dance. Would have loved to had that medley while in Chip. Speaking of suits, Rachel noted Pluto was once again "short". Which seems to confirm several rumors I have heard that the Park is downsizing (physically) some of the heights of characters. Smaller is always cuter. Remember, even though I was around 6 inches too short for Pluto, I would occasionally get a chance to do him. At the time, others in the department would refer to him/me as the "puppy pluto". It really was a great weekend. And for a few moments there, I did feel like I could be carded. Nice.
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"When I was 14, I was the oldest I ever was. I've been getting younger ever since."
Shirley Temple

May 2, 2007
Over the weekend, a gasoline tanker crashed into a freeway bridge in Northern California. It resulted in the bridge being damaged and creating havoc for commuters. The press and governor are all running around wondering is such a thing could happen elsewhere. What is amazing about this event, is that it HAS happened before. But the immediate amnesia that sets in on all events pre 9/11 has wiped the memories of journalists and the government. Back in the 1990s, the Northbound Interstate 5 was similarly damaged when a speeding truck crashed into an overpass just South of Burbank. The truck exploded in flame, and so damaged the bridge that the freeway and bridge were shut down for several weeks while repairs took place. Commutters to and from Los Angeles had to find a variety of ways to make the trek. In fact, for several months, the freeway had diminished lanes in the area as repairs continued. The end result was the highway patrol began strict enforcement of speed laws for big rigs. For months afterward, one could see a truck pulled over every few minutes. Amazingly, or maybe not, traffic accidents dropped almost 20%! Within a few years, the trucks were back to racing around again. And of course, not quite the same, but still similar, was during the Northridge earthquake (also in the 90s). Sections of Interstate 10, which is largely an elevated freeway going East and West through the heart of Los Angeles, collapsed on roadways and buildings below. Again, commutes were disrupted for months. So while the recent incident in Northern California is a great photo-op and story, it is far from the first time such an event has happened. But you wouldn't know that from the talking heads in the papers and on the TV.
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"We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read."
Abraham Lincoln

May 1, 2007
A recent article in the New York Sun is getting some play. It seems a commentator had the following thoughts about modern animation like THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY and the way they have become filled with pop culture references. The writer states, "Very few 12-year-olds have a working knowledge of theme songs from 1970s sitcoms, and those who do need to get into something more useful, like stamp collecting." Forget the fact that such series are not aimed at 12 year olds. Those shows are found on Saturday Morning or children's networks like Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. But his comment is, "I donít think thereís all that much entertainment value in a television version of Trivial Pursuit, and thatís what television cartoons have largely become ó a catalog of lines from old movies, theme songs from 1960s sitcoms, and mentions of actors like David Hasselhoff. Iím probably the only person in my ZIP code to catch the 'Simpsons' reference to Foxís 1991 sitcom trainwreck 'Hermanís Head,' and thatís not a proud moment." In many ways, this is the same argument animation folks have had for years. Some blame it on using "live action" writers. But even shows with animators in charge, you find the same thing. For example, ANGRY BEAVERS, which was created by animation artists (and actually intended for an audience under 12), continually did satires of TV series like STARSKY AND HUTCH or Hammer horror movies of the early 1960s. Of course pop culture references and animation go back to the days of silent movies. However, for most of Hollywood's "golden age", the references were towards modern culture - movie star caricatures, ad slogans, and entertainment spoofs. When Daffy Duck satired Dick Tracy, Tracy was one of the most popular comic strips in the papers. When Daffy (again) satirized B westerns or TV detective shows, they were still popular at the time. At some point, and I don't know when, the satires went from current events to nostalgia. Perhaps it was a result of variety shows like Carol Burnett and Saturday Night Live that took as many cues from the past as the present. On those shows in one episode you might see a satire of a current TV commericial, Star Trek (the original 60s series), and GONE WITH THE WIND. By the end of the 70s, it was the "hip" thing to grasp at baby-boomer nostalgia. No doubt because baby-boomers were now taking control of the media. GARFIELD AND FRIENDS (1988-94) did all sorts of nostalgic satires (movies and TV shows of the 60s), as well as digs at modern culture (death of the LP, postal employees and such). THE SIMPSONS (1989-forever) became know for its split references. Critics always enjoyed the bits of nostalgic pop, citing it made the show "fun for adults" also. It as if throwing in references from 20 years ago proved you were not "just for kids". Throughout the 90s more and more shows followed this suit. From TINY TOON ADVENTURES (one of the worst offenders) to SOUTH PARK, constant winking at the audience was "cool". I should also mention that along with the "pop reference" trend was the "gross" trend with cartoons putting in every bodily function and residue possible. Obviously, like SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS, Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello, such distinct comedy is a matter of preference. And I also think it is a bit of performance. I really enjoy the Stooges and Marxes. But am not always enamored by folks who copied them. Similarly, some shows, like FAMILY GUY which reflect a bit of Bob Clampett's manic style, is funnier to me than THE SIMPSONS, which is closer to the arty, smug style of Chuck Jones. And while it would be nice to get back to where the humor was based more on physical situations and personalities, with only an occasional pop reference, I think modern animation is too locked into a battle for the "king of pop". Maybe when adults can accept the divine silliness of a Stooges or Laurel and Hardy as being as "adult" as a joke about H.R. PUFNSTUFF, we can get back to just being funny.
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"Pop culture is really focused on attracting pre-teen dollars and not people who have something to say."
Kristin Hersh

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