Daily Barks 07.07 cataroo.com
Barking at the Moon: July 2007

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July 27, 2007
Comic Con International: San Diego is this weekend. And this will be one of the few that I have missed. I began attending the con in 1970 when it was the "San Diego Comic Con". It had a few hundred folks, casual gatherings with guests, a small dealer's room. (I had one of the tables.) For a newcomer to comic cons, it was great. Not as big as some I had attended, but still a good size. You can read more about that first con here. As the years went by, I attended every year. It wasn't until the early 80s that I missed one. The next year I went for a single day. And for nearly two decades I would either attend fully, or just for a day. Until the 90s one could head down to San Diego on Saturday, find a parking place (if before 9am, you might even park in the convention center's underground lot) and register. You would be in the con by a little after 10, just in time for the dealers' room to open. After looking around all day (usually 6pm), you could then drive home and feel you really saw the con. Today, the con is more of a trade show than a collectors convention. The dealers' room (now called the "exhibitors' hall") is maybe 5 times bigger, but the amount of folks selling things is probably the same. Most of the booths are from corporations showcasing their current and upcoming projects. The con is the place to get publicity for new movies, tv shows, videos, comics (yes there are still some at the con) and other projects. Fans wander the room picking up freebies and an occasional collectible figure, video or autograph. The last time I tried to go for "the day", I found myself having to park so far away that I needed to use the commuter train to reach the convention center. As a professional, it only took two hours to get registered. Once inside, the room was so huge, I could barely get to all the exhibits/booths. And even those I did, I frequently could not get to the actual table/booth as there was a crowd in front of it. Kind of like "hit movies", everyone went to big booths with big crowds. A booth with no crowds was "obviously" not worth the time and attracted few folks. This year, it has been announced that 4-day tickets are "sold out". Supposedly advance sales have been strong enough that one cannot buy a ticket for Saturday either. When folks ask if I am going, I simply state the con can no longer be an entertaining one day event. Only going the entire con makes the effort (though not necessarily the expense) worthwhile. If at a nearby hotel, one can wander in and out of the con as crowds/events flow. One can then spend time seeing some of the interesting spots. Remember in years past spending time in Tijuana, at the Seaport Village and even the Zoo. Can I still have fun at such a mega event? Probably... if, as mentioned, Rachel and I took a room and could leisurely accept the con. But the last few times I found short visits not suitable for seeing products, events and friends. And I don't know if I want to spend four whole days fighting to see things that will be on the internet in a few days, squeezing in a minute or two with this friend or that, fighting crowds at major events, and feeling 'out of place' at poorly attended events. The con has changed. And I have changed. I still enjoy cons, or at least the idea of cons. I just don't have the time or patience for such events. Upon hearing that this year's convention will top 120,000 people, Rachel asked how many people went to Disneyland in a day. It made me realize that more folks may be at the San Diego con on Saturday than at Disneyland. That seems to be a sad comparison. As for the future, I may still hit a small con on occasion. But it seems even they are being invaded by the growth monsters. The days when people looked at someone as "crazy" for being interested in comics, or movies, or cartoons are long gone. Instead, this weekend we will be heading to San Diego with family to visit dog beach. It will be less crowded. And more enjoyable. Things do change.
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"Yes, probably, and the conventions that I went to in those early years were filled with passionate fans who would assume the persona of their various heroes."
William Shatner

July 26, 2007
Since Rachel recently discovered the corn pancakes at IHOP, we have been eating there a bit more regularly. I must admit to being surprised at how the International House of Pancakes has changed over the years. I was not a visitor in its earliest years when they actually had a kangaroo as an icon. At least I do not remember the character, who was supposedly designed by Disney and animation icon Willie Ito. But I do remember that it WAS an international house of pancakes. The menu was almost totally pancakes. They had about every flavor and combination of ingredients imaginable. Most famous were the chocolate chip pancakes (still on the menu). Surprisingly not over-sweet, they can still be tasty... if one is in the mood for chocolate cake for breakfast. My favorites might have been some of the international crepes - one featured a lemon butter sauce. Then they had potato pancakes, German pancakes, French pancakes and such. For many years, I had pretty much abandoned IHOP, opting for either more upscale (Marie Callendars) or more lowscale (Del Taco) for my meals. But several years ago I did venture back, and WOW! Had they changed. The menu featured only a small selection of pancakes. The "international house" aspect all but swallowed up by a menu of burgers, sandwiches and other items that made it feel more like a Denny's than a pancake specialty restaurant. Luckily, their pancakes are still pretty good, even if the selection is not much larger than a standard coffee house. Actually, with their new focus on family food, and the "come hungry, leave happy" motto, Rachel has suggested they bring back the kangaroo. Such a cartoon character would certainly enhance the family aspect. And her idea of changing the motto to "come hungry, leave hoppy" also would be something to build on. And a kangaroo would certainly put more emphasis on the IHOP phrase and help erase the the "international house" aspect. All they would need add are some "down under" pancake ideas. Koala Kakes? Platypus Pancakes? Crocs in a Blanket? Or maybe Pigs in a Pouch. Some advertising exec is missing a big opportunity here.
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"The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves."
W. C. Fields

July 20, 2007
What a choice - A silly talking sea-sponge intended for audiences age 6-11 vs a human having sex with a stuffed animal. It must be another awards show. This time, the TV Academy's Emmy Award. Nothing better shows the folly of grouping animation into a single category than such awards. (The reason I have always been against the "best animated feature" at the Oscars.) This year's Emmy nominees for Animated Programming (less than an hour) are AVATAR (teen-aimed sci-fi fantasy), ROBOT CHICKEN (afore mentioned human and toy sex), THE SIMPSONS (always nominated mixed bag of cultural references), SOUTH PARK (another regular nominee featuring any shocking topic), and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS (the afore mentioned children's show). The only thing any of these shows have in common is that they are animated. Why not also offer a "best live action TV show" award with such nominees as THE PRICE IS RIGHT, GREY'S ANATOMY, 60 MINUTES, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and THAT'S SO RAVEN? Now, if the point of the award is which show is better "animated", I hope the judges are all expert enough to compare hand animation and stop-motion animation. And that they can tell the difference between something well animated versus something that is "funny". What makes the field of animation seem even more isolated is a look at the "Children's Program" nominees - HANNAH MONTANA, NICK NEWS, THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY, THAT'S SO RAVEN and WHEN PARENTS ARE DEPLOYED. Each and every one is live action. Guess well done animated shows are no longer considered "children's" programming... even though at least two of the animated nominees are intended for children. For the winners, it will be nice to get the trophies. (Of course for many of those shows, the ones who get the trophies may not be that responsible for the show.) But for the rest, even those not-nominated, it makes the award a little more pointless.
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"The funny thing about television is that once you start to do it you never get time to watch it."
Kevin Sorbo

July 19, 2007
Took some time to visit the Orange County Fair. And was glad I did. Cannot remember if I have ever been to that fair before. I do know I have been to Los Angeles County Fair, Del Mar Fair (San Diego County), San Bernardino County Fair and the International Date Festival (Riverside County Fair). What made the OC fair so memorable was the critter availability. At the livestock arena, we were greeted by a small "herd" of young calves. The threesome were 3 months old, and about the size of our papa-Dane, Eagle. We were later able to see, pet and scratch all varieties and ages of farm animals. Unlike other fairs which often seem to have a "don't pet" policy, here the signs simply warned - "animals can bite". And most were surrounded by knowledgeable fair staff quickly pointing out the "danger" of some actions. But for folks like us, used to large animals, it made the fair more friendly. At the farming display on the other side of the fair, we saw a similar variety of livestock, including a trio of steer who were most in need of some serious scratching on the their necks. One rewarded me with a lick on the face. Only later did I find that cows use their lengthy tongue to lick inside their nostrils! (Wonder if the creators on LILO AND STITCH based Stitch's similar activity on bovine behaviour?) Of course there were the usual county fair attractions of midway rides, unhealthy food, merchants selling everything from art to air conditioners, and stage "shows".

In the food area, we shared a great box of fresh berries (blueberries, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, grapes and more) and later some great Australian battered potatos (a past favorite). Also got a drink in the official fair glass which gave us the option to get refills for only $2.50. Ride-wise, we hit the carousel and were pleased at what a nice one it was. Knowing such carousels get packed up and moved around, we expected the plastic steeds and narrow widths. But the selection of animals (horses, zebra, pig, bear, tiger and such) and the great detail of painting made it quite an affair. Finally, we had some fun in one of those photo booths. Yes, they still are around (along with a phone booth to our amazement) and still crazy. Generally a great day. With a few weeks left, we may try to hit it again.
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"We had a registered herd of Angus cattle and Hampshire hogs and Hampshire sheep. We showed them at state fairs."
Orville Redenbacher

July 15, 2007
Saw HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and was quite impressed. The screenwriter and director were able to make a quick paced, easily followed film out of one of the more complex books. Something the previous writer/director fumbled with on GOBLET OF FIRE. After seeing the film, Rachel and I were discussing the many scenes and storypoints dropped from the book. None were missed. (Made us both think that if the book series had not become so successful, if the length/complexity of the books would have remained as reader-friendly and breezy as the first novel.) In fact, one annoying character in the book becomes a pleasant person in her shortened screen time. Most interesting to me was seeing how the cast is growing at different rates, as people do. Some kids have gained a lot of height. Others have gotten a bit more 'girth'. While still others are maturing as others remain "cherubic". Saw a lot of trailers too. Kids in the audience went nuts for THE GOLDEN COMPASS and THE BEE MOVIE. Less well received was a full trailer for FRED CLAUS and THE SIMPSONS MOVIE. A previously unknown film to me, 10,000 BC looked to be more special effects than anything else. But back to Potter. This week the new (and final) book in the series comes out and Rachel is all ready for it. I fear it will be even longer than the last one... which was a tough sit for me. If the movies continue as well as the most recent, then perhaps I can justify just hearing the ending from Rachel and waiting for the movie to get the rest of the details.
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"Besides, the world isn't split into good people and death eaters. We have all got both light and dark inside us."
Sirius Black

July 14, 2007
Another day, another carousel. Today, after taking a morning ride in the Griffith Park area, I decided to surprise Rachel (and myself) by investigating the carousel there. Though I had been to the zoo, and even the relics of the original zoo, I had never gotten to the carousel. Upon finding it, we discovered it had been extremly lucky in the recent Griffith Park fire. Blackened ground surrounded the carousel area. Some of the wood parking barriers were blackened. But the grass and trees around the carousel were saved. Unlike the Santa Monica pier carousel of last weekend, the Griffith Park carousel is more rustic and complete. The horses are protected with shellac and such, but the worn paint is still visible. The original music box is still being used. Overall, it comes across as a true piece of history. Also different from the Santa Monica carousel, the Griffith Park had a nice little "kiosk" of great souvenirs. We picked up an issue of the Disneyland magazine "E-Ticket" with info on the Disneyland carousel (where I proposed to Rachel), a nifty key chain, a pin, a t-shirt and a cute little 'jointed' toy horse. The carousel is proud of its heritage - it was the carousel that Walt Disney visited with his children, eventually inspiring Disneyland. A nice time. And the horse ride was enjoyable too.
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"All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife."
Daniel Boone

July 8, 2007
The last few days have been horribly hot with temperatures in the mountains reaching into the 90s. Especially hot since many homes up here (including ours) have no air conditioning. A "swamp cooler" was recently purchased and has certainly helped. Attempts to escape the heat included a Saturday trip to the Santa Monica Pier to view and ride the historic carousel. Our previous visit was several years ago to mark a wedding anniversary. Despite the addition of a few new shops and restaurants, the pier is still pretty run down looking. The carousel is housed in a building to protect it from the elements and is in generally good shape. Beside the carousel is a store offering souvenirs, of which few are carousel related. In fact, the best souvenir found was at a shop next to the arcade which had postcards. One of the cards was a nice shot of the carousel. Made Rachel and I wonder with all the history of the carousel and monies spent to keep it renovated, that they do not have some nicer ("classier"?) gifts. Aside from a few magnets and standard porcelain carousels found just about everywhere, the store mostly had pirate gifts and plush sea life. Why not at least a few nice plush ponies. They could have some Ty beanies there, or even some of the many ersatz My Little Pony toys found at most 99-cent stores. Still, we are just glad the carousel is still there and in good shape. Rachel got a lot of great photos. (One "not so great" is here with me hamming it up a bit.) Beside the carousel, we also strolled through the crowded, ancient gift shops and arcades, saw a carnival game feature giant Scooby-Doo plushes in a rainbow of colors for prizes, and had a snack at Bubba Gump Shrimp. A generally nice day and departure from the heat. Weather says we'll be around 10-15 degrees cooler this week with chances of thunderstorms. The rain would be nice. Though lightning would make for some scary times due to our current extremely dry conditions.
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"You don't really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around - and why his parents will always wave back."
William D. Tammeus

July 3, 2007
More rat thoughts on Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille. Today the media has been putting a variety of spin on the opening weekend numbers. Disney has been playing more ads proclaiming how critics and audiences love the movie. Websites discuss why the film did as poorly or as well as it did. My favorite so far is the report that indicated that there was no need to worry about the box-office as it was the last Pixar film begun before the Disney purchase! As if Disney would have killed the project (as they do their own) or been able to improve it. As I'm reading the buzz I am reminded of how the audience reacted, such as the kid who really was waiting to see THE TRANSFORMERS. It made me think about the first live action FLINTSTONES movie. I remember how critics were amused by how the cartoon had been brought to life with costumes, sets and generally good casting. But what they couldn't figure out is why the writers had come up with such a tough story for kids. Instead of a typical Flintstone plot of Fred putting something over on Wilma, or Fred and Barney scheming up some screwball invention, the live action film told the tale of an exec at the the quarry where Fred worked. Seems the exec was embezzling the company funds and used Fred's low brain power to set him up as the fall guy. Critics remarked how few children in the audience would be interested in such a plot. Ratatouille has a similar issue. I am wondering how many youngsters have any interest in becoming a chef, or understand the idea of spices, recipes and such. Not that an animated feature has to be made for kids, but unless one is doing an avant-garde adult type feature, the family is one of animation's bigger audiences. By using a story that is not easily connected to their interests and life, kids, faster than anyone will turn off. The lack of strong slapstick sequences or funny voiced creatures, there is little to attract the "small fry". And since repeat viewings are what hit films are all about, there is little in Ratatouille to warrant a kid to want to "see it again!" So the film will do moderately well up front. But I predict a huge drop in box-office as more "fun" films grab the youth audience. From the aforementioned TRANSFORMERS to HARRY POTTER to SIMPSONS and on and on. Ratatouille may find a bigger audience on home video. But since Pixar has been quick to cancel sequels, that may be too little too late. The one "winner" of this scenario is Brad Bird. If the film is a success, it will be another example of his genius. If the film fails, well, it was a troubled film from the start and Bird did the best he could. A win-win situation. Not bad.
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"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."
Lily Tomlin

July 1, 2007
Saw RATATOUILLE today at the El Capitan. It included the usual trailers (UNDERDOG and ENCHANTED) and one for a new Disney film about a wild living bachelor suddenly saddled with a little girl who learns to lover her and becomes a better person. Also screened was a Pixar short about aliens learning how to abduct humans. It was surprisingly flat. Before the presentation was a live action show consisting of some dancing chefs and assorted Disney character costumes. The show ended with the appearance of Remmie and Emile from RATATOUILLE. Both are really nice costumes. As for the feature, despite the almost unanimous outpouring of positive reviews, I found RATATOUILLE to be... well... "flat". Will not give any spoilers to the story. But will say that, as with Brad Bird's previous films, he is another student of film schools that focus on great films of the past and rules for movies. If one has a good background of film history, one can usually spot the classic film segments used to build these film school movies. Bird's films all have a standard predictability to them with seldom any real surprise. The film, which had a checkered history with Bird coming in at the end to "save" it, still suffers from action sequences that go on far too long, subplots that add nothing but time, and characters that are given important decisions to make... which end up not being made in the end. The feature has opened as the #1 film at the box office, but at around $47 million it is the lowest opening of a Pixar film since BUGS LIFE. The low ticket sales are being blamed on a competitive market and the trouble with advertising a "rat in the kitchen" movie. Disney execs have already come out saying the film will have good legs and last long enough to build a big box office. But I think the public's word of mouth will not create the buzz they hope for. At our screening, which was almost totally pre-sold tickets by folks who wanted to see it, there was little reaction to the film. Few gasps of excitement. Few audible laughs. (Rachel noted I did not laugh once during the film.) Few sniffles at the touching moments. Where were the inventive ideas of MONSTERS INC? Where was the strong companion like Dory in FINDING NEMO? Like CARS and THE INCREDIBLES, the film offers standard characters in standard situations with standard problems and, yes, standard solutions. During the film much is made about taking a recipe and daring to experiment with new flavors, spices and such. But what Pixar has given us, as Rachel so well put it, is a film that "just follows the recipe."
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"I may find something that looks interesting and then go on to alter the recipe by adding spices, things of my own."
Paul Lynde

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