Daily Barks 08.06 cataroo.com
The Daily Bark: August 2006

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August 31, 2006
Two Willy Wonka's. Johnny Depp and Gene Wilder each portrayed him in dazzling films. But each film had differences. One had trained geese, the other trained squirrels. One had an industrial spy, the other an Indian. One had never discussed Wonka's background, the other gave an elaborate backstory. One created final tension with a broken promise, the other with a family crisis. But which was closer to the original book by Roald Dahl? Finally found time to read the book while having the van serviced. And it was interesting to see how both films followed the general plot of the book, and had different deviations. The book had squirrels, not geese. The book had an Indian, but no spy. The book gives no background to Wonka's private life. What I found more interesting than the deviations from the book, were the similarities between the films... in places NOT from the book! For example, the book has no dramatic ending. Charlie, the only remaining child, merely gets the factory. The idea of a final crisis was created for the first film, no doubt to add drama. The second movie copies the dramatic idea and offers a different crisis. The book has both parents accompany each child. The first movie dropped it down to one parent, no doubt to simplify the story. The second movie duplicates this idea and only has one parent per child. But the biggest change from the book to the first film, is the presentation of Wonka, himself. In the book Wonka is pretty direct. When reading rules, he reads them precisely. When a child gets in trouble, he is sincerely concerned and worried. This surprised me, as a friend who was a big Dahl fan always stated that the book (and Wonka) were quite dark and twisted. However the book merely uses a lot of satire/digs about modern life - such as watching too much TV. And today, that seems pretty tame. When doing some reading, I discovered that classic tumble that Wonka gives on his first appearance was an idea of Gene Wilder. Seems Wilder wanted to present Wonka as someone who was always surprising. His performance is exactly that, swinging from sincerity, to buffonery, to snideness to ridicule. It is a pitch perfect performance. (It is also quite similar to Tony Randall's earlier performance as Dr. Lao.) The element of surprise is continued in the Depp version. So it seems while both used the book as a basis, the second film actually borrowed elements and tone from the first. I still enjoy both films, thanks to the playing of Wonka. The Wilder version is wonderfully 60, and a bit too sappy... but the Depp version is stronger in story, and yet a bit too controlled at times. But both are better than the book. Sorry, Chris.
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"So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it."
Willy Wonka

August 30, 2006
Too busy of a day... and too late to put on thinking cap for a bark.

August 29, 2006
Was at Disneyland today and was a bit surprised at the lack of a crowd. Considering it is the week before a major holiday, as well as the last week of summer for many kids, neither Disneyland nor California Adventure was very busy. Walked on to a variety of attractions with wait times of less than 10 minutes... and big attractions like Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Big Thunder Railroad, Monster Inc/Where's Boo, MuppetVision 3D, and It's Tough to be a Bug. Also got to ride the Horse Trolley with one of the few mare cast members. Pin trading was a bit thin, without any great finds. Biggest smile at the park belonged to a service dog we saw on Pirates. As the boat came back to the dock for unloading, we saw the husky/shepherd style dog riding in the front with his companion. The dog had the biggest grin. Made me think of Nikoma, our Akita who so loved the rides at Santa's Village. Heck, he even thought the shuttle at the Disneyland parking lot was a fun ride! Lately, have seen more and more service dogs in the Park and think that is just fine. After squeezing through crowds, waiting in lines and putting up with the heat, a friendly furred face can be calming. No matter how crazy everything else is, the critters keep their cool. In fact, I find Thunder Ranch is a lot more fun than I thought it would be. When it first opened, it was jokingly referred to as "fly-land" as it had a lot more bugs than other areas of the Park. But now, with their usual "guest" animal, it is a pleasant stop. Seldom busy, even when the rest of the Park is. Today, their "guest" was Noelle, a white horse being groomed for the Snow White show. We've seen her before, when she was much younger. She is now almost 2.5 years old. Again, it was a pleasant break to watch her in her area, trying to get the attention of her handler. He was chatting with us, and she did everything she could think of to keep him playing with her. It was fun.
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"I first saw the site for Disneyland back in 1953, In those days it was all flat land - no rivers, no mountains, no castles or rocket ships - just orange groves, and a few acres of walnut trees."
Walt Disney

August 28, 2006
Another shocking loss to the world of animation. No, not some great talent being lost... but another venue. The ABC network has announced their Saturday morning lineup. Of the four hours, only one is animated! It seems to have been only a few years ago that ABC's "One Saturday Morning" line-up was beating the competition. Now, it has gone the way of NBC in the 1980s, when that network forsake two decades of Saturday morning cartoons for a live action line-up that included SAVED BY THE BELL. When Disney bought ABC one of the results was the "synergy" of having the Disney channel supply series to ABC. But of late, the Disney Channel's rating power has come from live action, not animmation. In fact, someone who works at Disney recently commented that the channel still is doing animation, but at a lower level (and budget). It seems the live action shows are making animation less appealing to executives. It makes one wonder about the future of animation on the small screen. The major networks have pretty much "outsourced" their Saturday morning slots, and those providing the shows are providing less and less animation. The cable networks are moving away from animation and more into live action teen shows. Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel are moving farther and farther from animation. Even the original cartoon network has begun to air non-cartoons. And the primetime market has returned to its doldrums with no apparent rush to create new series for the evenings. Of course more and more animation is popping up on the web and other digital portals. Sadly, there is not much money for such productions. But like generations that grew up without B-movies, serials, double features, variety shows and scripted TV, I guess the next generation may just grow up with less animation. And that's kind of sad.
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"This way, ladies and gentlemen, this way. Right up on this platform. The world's greatest novelty. The Pronkwonk Twins! Elwood and Brentwood. Elwood is ten minutes older than Brentwood and has been in a hurry ever since. Ladies and gentlemen, Brentwood is the smallest giant in the world, whilst his brother, Elwood, is the largest midget in the world. They baffle science."
WC Fields in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man

August 27, 2006
Today is Star's birthday. She turned 7. We had taken her to the lake for some romping in the water yesterday. Today, she had venison for breakfast, thanks to a local store that special ordered it. We took her to the main lake for lunch. She had an ice cream from McDonald's, we had Subways. Then we rode on the carousel. After a rest at home, we headed out to a local church. She, and her grandson Rooster, were blessed in a special pet ceremony. Now she is sleeping deeply. A nice day, for a true sweetheart. We often joke, that of all the kids, she is "mine". I would not mind that. Happy Birthday, Star.
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"Every year on your birthday, you get a chance to start new."
Sammy Hagar, musician

August 26, 2006
Not to bring up an old 80s song, but it's raining cgi features. While walking through the mall the other day, I saw a poster for EVERYBODY'S HERO which is a cgi feature with talking sports equipment. So far this year, I've already seen OVER THE HEDGE and THE BARNYARD. I missed CARS, MONSTER HOUSE and THE ANT BULLY due to their uninteresting campaigns. The ads are also not making HAPPY FEET or FLUSHED AWAY "must see" movies. The point is, 2006 will see the release of over a dozen cgi features. Even the animated feature booms of the 80s and 90s are no match to this technological tsunami of rounded, shadowed, and rendered features. I think this may be (and I think this is beating out other animation sites by declaring it) the biggest technological wave in half a century! Every year one might see a few movies with similar themes like werewolves, aliens or TV series. But you have to go back to the boom of 3D, or perhaps color, or even sound to find so many films linked not by a theme, but by a production process. Already the shaky box office is making this look more like the dash to 3D than the flood to add sound or color. Though Sondheim stated "you gotta have a gimmick", movie trends need a bit more than that to succeed.
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"Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards."
Aldous Huxley, author

August 25, 2006
No matter how the world changes, some things never seem to alter. Today I went to the World Science Fiction Convention. I believe the last time I attended one was in the early 1980s when it was in Atlanta, Georgia. I was there representing an Japanese animation firm. The attempts to get attention did not succeed. I was then told by attendees that World cons were really about the parties, not the events. For decades, the World con was the convention for fans. Never a con for flash, the con took the idea of written science fiction very seriously. For years it refused to allow comics or movie material in the dealers room. The dealers room had probably the largest collection of books in one room. It is one reason why cons with more varied dealers rooms, like the Comic Con Internation in San Diego has grown so large. However, it was more than just books. It was a con for socializing and partying. The World con is pretty much the same today. Probably 70% of all dealers tables were science fiction and/or fantasy books. The other 30% was mixed between fantasy based clothes and devices, and general collectible stores. The daily program events were sparsely attended. I visited the anime room and found around a half dozen people in there. The same amount was in a general video room and an "Asian Action Film" room. I was officially there to head a discussion on performing in fursuit. I talked to the small, but enthusiastic crowd about all aspects. What the suiter can do, what a crowd might do, what the suit might need, etc. As mentioned, the crowd was small. I was beginning to believe nothing at the con was attracting attention. But I was proved wrong when it was announced a room down the hall was standing room only, with a long line at the door. The event? Someone was demonstrating the process of making music by running one's finger around the edge of a wine glass. The person in charge was busy showing the wide range of sounds by playing music on the glasses. No doubt all the parties tonight (of which I saw notices and flyers for over 30 different ones) will be well attended. Just like in 80s Atlanta.
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"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."
Ray Bradbury, author

August 24, 2006
At a toy store today, I was reminded of the problems the game industry is having. The board game industry, that is. A few years ago the makers of popular board games began saying that modern kids were not playing the popular standards. Which is a shame. There is something pleasing about sitting around with friends and playing a board game. It seems one way the companies are combatting the dilemma is to "spice" up the games with very modern graphics on the boxes. But by far the most common is combining the game with a popular icon. Almost everyone has probably seen at least one modern version of Monopoly. Today I saw a Spongebob Squarepants and Star Wars. But I have seen everything from Disneyland to Scooby Doo as Monopoly shills. The classic game Uno has versions with Dora the Explorer, World Wrestling and Spongebob. There was a Pokemon Yahtzee and a Shrek Operation. It seems another attempt is to draw adults in with nostalgia. First noticed it at Disneyland where they are selling some retro games sold when the park first opened. Today I saw Game of the States and Go to the Head of the Class. I don't remember seeing them for decades. The new boxes make them look like official reprints of classics. I hope these ideas are working. I know we have a Pokemon Monopoly and a Scooby Doo Clue. Sadly, we seldom have enough folks over to really make a good game group. Guess that is why computer games are rising so quickly. Even though there may be only two of us, the computer will fill in for another couple and make a real game. Still, the best games are played person to person. Hope future generations won't lose that experience.
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"An actor's a guy who, if you ain't talking about him, ain't listening."
Marlon Brando

August 23, 2006
Caught another of the wave of cgi features for 2006 - THE BARNYARD. Will admit to not thinking much of the film from the trailers and commercials shown. However, after seeing the film, I can state it is a "nice" movie. That is the film's virtue and curse. The story is fairly simple (aka standard), the characters generally basic (aka standard) and the artwork is typical of low budget fare (aka standard). I did not dislike the film... but found nothing to really recommend it. None of the characters or sequences are stand outs. It all plays as "competent, safe entertainment", who I described a show I worked on once. If it were not for the frequent modern references, the film might be mistakend for one made in the 1950s. It gets some extra marks for handling death and birth well, and for not making the villains (coyotes) just "mean". At one point, when a character tells one of the coyotes they are "meaners", the coyote replies, "meaners have to eat too." This gives it a bit more edge than the usual villain seen in such fare. For those who get around to renting it, and it is probably worth that, as long as one is not expecting much, one will not be disappointed. About the only thing the film will be known for is the udders on the bulls. I laughed when I read an article where the creator/producer stated, "Dogs are male and female, and so are cows." Actually "canines" are dogs and bitches. Similarly, bovines are cows and bulls. There is even a properly drawn bull in one scene. But he is the creator/producer, and has already sold a tv series based on the film, as well as working on several other features. Knowledge may be power... but not in Hollywood.
Actually, this has been the week for typically "off" remarks in the world of animation news on the web. One site proclaimed "First-Ever Direct to DVD Looney Tunes Reworks Christmas Carol", which is obviously what the headline on the press release from Warners stated. Forget the fact that there have already been direct to video features starring Warner characters. Another one screamed, "Turner May Scrub Classic Cartoons to Remove Smoking" while another one's take on the story was "Paul Dini on Smoking Cartoons". The first one discussed the irritation of removing cigarettes from cartoons... without mentioning the years of editing already done on such toons for broadcast standards. Nor did they mention the various Disney changes in classic shorts and features for their cable and DVD markets. The second was doubly funny as it used a picture of Disney's Pecos Bill with a cigaretter to illustrate their article. In fact the article indicated that Disney was planning to remove the cigarettes from Pecos Bill. The problem here is that Disney DID do that several years ago! Fact is, as Mark Evanier explained on his always well written blog that such disrepect for animation is very old, and even condoned by many of its masters. I remember several years ago at the height of the laserdisc golden age, they began releasing the Warner toons on some amazing sets (which contain toons we'll probably never see on dvd). I wrote a major laserdisc publication complaining that the cartoons were being cropped due to the lack of "windowboxing". (Letterboxing keeps widescreen movies correct on your tv, and windowboxing does the same for old movies.) The titles were windowboxed with a colored border. But once the cartoons came on, the image was expanded to fill "your tv" as the vid folks are so fond of saying. On several cartoons this meant cutting some characters out of the picture entirely. Well, my letter was printed. The response from the editors and majority of film buffs who trumpeted the importance of letterboxing classic films was "they're just cartoons" and that one did not miss much. A few months later the same magazine and experts praised a new laserdisc release of Chaplin's silent classics because the producer had been smart enough to windowbox the films! But I guess there is a bright side. With all the racial, sexual and violent snippets removed from the classic toons, and now smoking (and will drinking be far behind?) they will be short enough to easily download on your cel phone. Progress marches on!
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"Censorship, like charity, should begin at home, but, unlike charity, it should end there."
Clare Boothe Luce, playwright & editor

August 22, 2006
Over the weekend Cartoon Network debuted TOM AND JERRY IN SHIVER ME WHISKERS, another direct to video feature starring the ever popular cat and mouse. It made me think to how many characters from the classic days of animated shorts made their way to feature film stars. The earliest was probably Mickey Mouse, but he only got cast in segments of other features like FANTASIA and FUN AND FANCY FREE. One reason was that Walt Disney always felt the shorts characters were not deep enough to carry a feature. An attempt to create a Mickey/Donald/Goofy feature about pirates actually ended up as the first full length Donald Duck comic book story - "Pirate's Gold". The legendary Carl Barks had a heavy hand in the storying of this issue and went on to create many a feature length comic adventure for the Duck and other Disney characters. It seems most studios felt their animated short stars were simply not ready for feature stardom. The best most got were cameos in live action films. Donald and friends are in THE THREE CABALLEROS. Tom & Jerry appeared in several live action MGM musicals. Bugs Bunny popped up in a WB comedy or two. In fact this tradition continues to this day in such films as WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST and LOONEY TUNES BACK IN ACTION. Despite being in the titles, the animated characters always had to work with live action "stars". Oddly the silent star, FELIX THE CAT, got his own in the feature boom of the 1980s. However it was really the advent of the direct to video feature that gave the animated short star a chance at features. Mickey finally got a few, including the over-rated THREE MUSKETEERS. Tom & Jerry have been in at least two. Tweety & Sylvester got one. At the moment, Nickelodeon is working on a Mighty Mouse feature... but it has been in the works for over a decade and it is still uncertain what the film will be. Live action? Traditional? CGI? With most of the classic short stars now relegated to children's TV (and a few seemingly pushed as far down as "pre-school" entertainment), it is unlikely they will get their own theatrical venue. But, as with so many b-stars and TV celebrities, they may continue on as stars in the world of home video.
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"We're not leaving [Iraq] so long as I'm the president."
George Bush, President

August 21, 2006
Over the weekend attended the first Olympets in the area. It was advertised as a funday for folks and their pets. Sadly, it failed at its key goal. Unlike some such initial attempts, the event had a good list of events, a generous number of volunteers to handle things and a good sized crowd. But it lacked a sense of direction. The first event, a parade, took over an hour to get going. And several who were in line gave up and left before it started. After that they announced the "games" would begin. There were no less than 5 areas for the events... but most folks continued to hang around the parade area which held the obstacle course and the dash. This left such events as the weight pull, shot put, frisbee catch and such with little audience and few participants. Only by mid day did the announcer begin mentioning that there were such events going on. But by then, much of the crowd was gone. By the end, there were few remaining. What the group needs to do is reduce the number of events and reduce the number of areas. Then they need a "ringmaster" to keep the crowd engaged and interested in proceedings. They also should have a vet on the premise as some of the events could have easily ended in injury for the animal. When the dust had settled, our kids had won five medals. Not bad. Rachel commented how all that really mattered was that the kids had a good time. Which they did. But they would have done that if we had been alone in the field. However, for an event like this to be truly successful, everyone needs to have a good time. Amazingly, this was their second such event, with at least two more planned. One can hope that they are learning with each one.
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"Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up."
A. A. Milne, author

August 20, 2006
No bark. Long day. Little computer time.

August 19, 2006
Watched the second dvd disc from the first season of the Muppet Show. (Thanks to netflix) It is still cute to watch, and very nostalgic. The first season is interesting to see again. Somewhat of a gamble, the show did not have the budget of later seasons. Many of the muppets look a bit "rough". Also, the guest list is much more esoteric without the constant string of "big names". This makes it all so... 70s. In fact, it is very 70s, practically a time capsule of not only the stars but also the sensibilities. There is a charming wackiness to the comedy. A step up from Marx Brothers... but not as far as Monty Python. What struck me is not only how the show is a slice of the 70s, but how the muppets never went any further. Watching this first season is no different than watching one of their latest movies or TV specials. The timing. The character bits. The sensibilities. Even the jokes. All are so 70s. It is so nostalgic. It has not gotten better or worse as the years have passed. But I have... so I don't think I need to see the rest of the discs. Think I'll go back to Charlie Chan and Dr. Lao. Equally a part of their time... but also timeless. They do get better everytime I see them. I wonder if people would say I am a muppet or a chan?
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"When I was a kid, I never saw a puppet show. I never played with puppets or had any interest in them."
Jim Henson, muppeteer

August 18, 2006
Turner Classic Movies is running Bela Lugosi films today. It is fun to see some of the 'clunkers' they have on the list. One even has a pair of Great Danes in it. From flat East Side Kid comedies to the lowest budget horror fillers, the titles are amazing. They have WHITE ZOMBIE, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, SPOOKS RUN WILE, THE GORILLA and ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY. Lugosi is one of those stars who is so well known as an icon... but really does not have a lot of great films in his catalog. Makes me think of a friend who stated how so many great stars at MGM were in weak films. As he put it, "the studio knew that everybody would go see Clark Gable or Judy Garland. So they put them in the weaker and more formula films. But films that were going to be great due to script or director, well, they didn't need stars." It is a practice seen even today. I can think of many a lame film that got made only because an icon was attached to it.

Was also reminded today of a pet peeve. While shipping out some items, was told that packages going to our armed forces at APO addresses now must have custom forms. And they cannot have delivery confirmation, proof that the package arrived. But that will change on Monday when they will allow the tracking. It reminded me of how tough our men in uniform have it. No matter how much lip service the present administration gives to the 'security' and our 'forces', they do little to really support them. And I get really tired of the administration accusing any critics of the botched wars or homeland security of not supporting our troops. I am still waiting for a bumper sticker that states "I support our troops, but not our commander in chief". I would easily vote for any politicians who will stop trying to get tax cuts for the wealthy and instead put that money into pay for military, police and fire. And I will support any politician who stops oil company subsidies and instead supports increased spending on veteran facilities. And I will vote for the politicians who stop trying to end inhertance taxes and instead supports increases in minimum wage so that our men fighting overseas do not have the added burden of wondering if their friends and families are making a decent living. My brother-in-law was injured while in the military and has had several operations on his back. Numerous doctors, even military ones, have stated he is fully disabled and most likely will never work again. However, our current administrations constant tightening of purse strings, has made the veteran's administration state that he can only get a partial amount of the disability pay so many medical men (from coast to coast) have stated he is due. Again, I would support an administration that worries more about the people who are giving their lives to our security, than the corporations and millionaires who donate money to their coffers.

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"True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made."
Franklin D. Roosevelt, President

August 17, 2006
After doing some job search work, dropped by the Los Angeles Zoo and met Rachel and my parents. Do not think I have been to the LA Zoo since the early 90s. It is still a pretty nice zoo. And at a $10 admission price, a great bargain in today's world of entertainment locations. The addition of a shuttle that stops at various points in the zoo, makes for a lot less walking and a lot more time for the animals. They are also busy with lots of construction to build more enhanced areas for the animals. All much to the good. The only downside is the upkeep. Or lack thereof. Noted a lot of the zoo seemed to be in need of some TLC. There was a general feel of 'dumpiness' that is not befitting such a major facility. And the food selection was weak and not very tasty. On the ride home, I joked that some spots reminded me of Santa's Village, a very low budget amusement park that closed in our mountains several years back. (And that is no criticism of Santa's Village, which had a rustic charm of its own.) I also stated that they should raise the admission around $2 and earmark the money for some paint and glue. However, such trifles as a worn-out-look did not dampen the enthusiasm of the visitors, nor the joy of getting to see some rare creatures, including a vampire deer and their new white alligator. A day at the LA Zoo can still be fun.
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"The older I get, the more individuality I find in animals and the less I find in humans."
Chuck Jones, animator/director

August 16, 2006
You can learn something at the strangest times. We were watching Scooby Doo's WHERE'S MY MUMMY this afternoon. In the beginning there is a scene from early Egypt with a date like 33 BCE. I know about BC and AD, but had not heard of BCE. So I went to the web and discovered that many scientists are now promoting BCE and CE instead of BC and AD. BCE stands for "before common era", with CE meaning "common era". The days line up with BC/AD. However scientists began feeling that putting "Christ" in a dating system was possibly offense to those religions that do not honor Christ. Sounds logical. And thanks to Scooby, I learned all about it. I also learned that there are a lot of new folks doing the Scooby films. Makes me wonder what happened to the ones who did the earlier ones. Also saw that some of the old folks were still doing voices. Considering how shaky some of the voicework was, I wonder when they will begin replacing them. As for the movie. It was a convoluted plot, with Velma looking like she isn't with the group anymore. Perhaps they are getting kids ready for the new series when it is just Shaggy and Scooby. And in a double feature moment, we also watched LEROY AND STITCH. The opposite of Scooby's film, this production was done by the folks who have been involved with all the post feature series and features. The writing was very straight forward... and predictable. In fact, the film manages to start at one point, and after 65 minutes, land right back at the same point. An interesting idea... but fumbled... like so many of the Disney DTV films. So one film was utilizing mostly new talent. The other utilizing established talent. Oddly, neither group seemed to come up with a properly done story, nor showed an understanding of these well established characters. Am not sure if that says something or not.
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"This is my family. I found it, all on my own. It's little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good."

August 15, 2006
Turned out to be a long day. And discovered I am having some issues with headaches. However, I did add some new tail wags and tucks on the Disneyland page a few days ago. If you haven't been there, you might enjoy them.
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"The cost of living has gone up another dollar a quart."
WC Fields, humorist

August 14, 2006
As mentioned, saw WHISPERS OF THE HEART. From studio Ghibli, it is not directed by Miyazaki. But the film carries many of Miyazaki's later themes of young women put into worlds of fantasy. In this case, a young girl discovers the books she is checking out have been checked out previously by the same boy. As is the case in any Ghibli film, there are many avenues to be explored before the plot gets resolved. It is a pleasant romance. I thought the film had been directed by Miyazaki's mentor, Isao Takahata. But I discovered the director was actually a younger animator and director who worked at Ghibli. Some sources state that the director was being trained by Miyazaki to take over. Sadly the director died a few years after the film was released. Bottom line, the film is a true pleasure. Devoid of the noise and spectacle of Miyazaki's bigger productions, it focuses on people and how important little things are. I always enjoy when "little films" can create such a large, lasting impression and memory.
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"Insignificant molehill sometime more important than conspicuous mountain."
Charlie Chan (in Egypt)

Oh, here is an image of me, as Tony the Tiger, and other mascots at the recent Nutrition show.
It is set to be the cover of a nutrition industry publication.

August 13, 2006
Rachel was watching a marathon of 30 DAYS, a series that lets you "live" another persons life for 30 days. One episode was about a guy who lost his job to India. It hit home on so many levels. Of course, it is a concern for me in my career as more and more networks spend less and less time and money on new animation in the U.S. Also of concern is the idea that so much of the "support" we now get is not coming from within the U.S. That fact, makes the support much weaker. I recently had several such examples. When in Phoenix last year, I called AOL support about a problem logoging in. The AOL support person commented that AOL had another person in Phoenix calling with a problem. They the suggested that perhaps the city of Phoenix was without AOL. I had to inform the person that if Phoenix had lost AOL service, they would be receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of calls as Phoenix was a "really big" city. The AOL person was not aware of that. Last month there was a major power outage in San Bernardino. While visiting an apartment, we called the electric company for a recorded report. It asked for a zip code. I gave it and was put through to a "customer representative" who then spent nearly a half hour reading a script. No matter how I stated I did not have any problems in the apartment, they kept asking if I smelled smoke, if I saw any flashing, etc. Everytime I stated I just wanted an estimate of power return, I had the statement repeated that I "should have called" a specific 800 number. After being told this several times, and responding that is what I did and was somehow thrown into their lap, the reader finally got it. Sort of. At least near the end of the call, whenever he stated that I should have called the 800 number, he then paused and told me he knew I had done that. He seemed unable to understand the concept that I was calling not because the apartment had no power, but the entire city. His final solution was to set up an appointment next week to see if they could solve the problem! I almost shouted, "next week? Does that mean I would have to do without power for a week?" He paused, and then said, his screen looked like the power might be on in another hour. But then he went back to script and set up the appointment at the apartment. And just last week, we were having some issues connecting via our cable. The connection kept stopping and then re-connecting. I called the service techs and got someone who at first stated they could not find my account so I had no service to lose! Then they located my account and stated that everything was okay on their end and that a service person would need to come out. Later that day, the service stabilized and we never had any other issues. A few days later, the service person came out and checked the equipment. While doing so, they found no problems. But they did mention that the local area had been losing its connection several times that day, and that was probably the problem. No. The real problem was, my tech person was not in "the local area" and had no real idea of where I was and what systems I might have been talking about. You can teach people to read scripts. You can teach people to be polite. You can even teach people a bit of geography. You cannot really teach someone about an area. Or a city. I wonder if we'll get to a point where companies offer special "upgraded service" in which the service offices are local. As some bigger clients complain of the same issues (and some studios already do), I bet we will.
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"We are outsourcing all of the United States industrial base to China. That also has national security along with economic implications in the future. "
Peter DeFazio, congressman

August 12, 2006
No bark. Not enough time. Did find time to see WHISPERS OF THE HEART.

August 11, 2006
There are several moments in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE when the situation turns dire. At that point, one character will state that everything "turns out well". The other character asks "how?". The first character then replies, "I don't know. It's a mystery." The dialogue is spoken with warmth, truth and humor. And, it should be mentioned, the entire film is extremely engaging due to a masterful blend of those three elements as well as romance. And, not to give too much away, the phrase turns out to be both true and false, depending on the situation and its resolution. Lately, I find myself turning to that expression. And like the film, I sometimes chuckle at it... and other times feel anxiety over it. In HIS GIRL FRIDAY, while the editor and key reporter are being arrested, the reporter is upset, but states, "If you think you've got The Morning Post licked it's time for you to get out of town." The sheer bravada of the performance makes me smile. While talking about the traits I had gotten from my parents, Rachel asked where I got my worry side from. That was an easy question. From my dad. Mom always thought risks were worth taking for the taking and that everything would "turn out well". Rachel shares a lot of things with my mom. Whether it is proof of the statement that we "marry our moms" or a coincidence I will never know. I know at times it really helps me divert from an anxiety or worry. Yet, like my dad, I still feel the worry... and when things begin to look really dark... Well, things look really dark. Songs and movies can lift my spirit. Words of faith in the future also help. For a time. At times, I feel what I really need is a big burst of good luck, or good news. As I have said to others, everything resolves itself... one way or the other. Will it work out for the best? "I don't know. It's a mystery".
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"The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time."
Abraham Lincoln, President

August 10, 2006
Conspiracy theories, in general are so much 'bunk'. But while driving today, I came up with one that I have not heard yet. It came while listening to radio news and two news stories crossed in my mind. The first was about how the news media has been doing less stories on the war in Iraq since Israel invaded Lebanon. Then I remembered all the stories about how various countries were upset that the U.S. did not condemn the invasion. BAM! In an effort to draw attention from the Iraq war, which is a growing problem for the Republican party, Bush promises Israel to not take action against them if they invade Lebanon. Israel gets what it wants, carte blanche to hit Hizbollah. Bush gets a big distraction from his nightmare war. And today, Great Britain (one of Bush's few allies) announces arrests of terrorists claiming they foiled a plot to bomb planes with carry on bottles! At least one news service reports that the idea of carrying liquid explosives on planes dates back over a decade when several terrorists had the idea, but were foiled when the explosives went off in their apartment. Now, not only does the administration have a huge distraction in the middle east to draw attention away from Iraq, now it has a new terror alert to draw attention away from the middle east! Looks like the aministration got a win-win week for a change. And even better, no interest rate hike.
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"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime."
Ernest Hemingway, author

August 9, 2006
PEE WEE'S PLAYHOUSE is airing on Adult Swim. At the moment. The series, from the 1980s, was very original and loopy for a Saturday Morning series. But it's wild humor, anything can happen atmosphere and eclectic mix of animation, efx and live action made it a darling of the time. It won awards and accolades. Then, not to rehash the tale, the star got involved with "the law" and the series was yanked from airing. Flash to 2006 and Adult Swim adds it to their mix. As mentioned earlier, while watching the new dvd set, I was impressed at how well the show held up. It does not seem dated at all, and some of the ideas and imagery look brand new. In fact, when it appeared on Adult Swim, a number of folks on the internet were shocked to hear the show was 20 years old. Many thought it was from the late 90s! But times do change. When the show came out, it was a bonafide hit with critics and audiences. Today, it seems to be as disliked as liked. I am surprised to read comments from fans of animation, childrens programming and such complain about how loud, or how gaudy, or how disburbing the show is. I am not sure what happened. Is this a sign that modern audiences are not as "hip" as the 80s were? Is this a sign of a more conservative outlook to programming? Is it that the history of the star has tainted one's view of the series? I am not sure. I just know that a show once heralded as a breakthrough is now a debate on proper children's programming. A sad sign of the times.
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"We were always told that the first rule in children's programmes is to talk through the camera to get a connection with the viewers. But in shows like Blue Peter, they talk to each other as though the kids are not there so it feels like you are looking in through the window at someone else's party. "
Johnny Ball, British TV host

August 8, 2006
No real bark. Little computer time.

August 7, 2006
Over the weekend I got the original cast recording for BOUNCE, the latest show with a score by Stephen Sondheim. I have been a fan of Sondheim since I first heard the cast album for COMPANY and around the same time saw the movie A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. (I later learned many a song was cut from the show for the film.) His new score sounds like a blend of melodies and lyric ideas from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, FOLLIES and ASSASINS. That is, it is more light than his other recent show, PASSION. I prefer the lighter touch... but fear BOUNCE suffered from too much book. Even for a play. Was once told by one of Walt's "9 old men" that the key to a good animated feature was the same as the key to a good musical: A story that could be told in 7 minutes. The reason being was that you needed a short, simple story that allowed time to expand other things. In animation, that included bits of business and character. In musicals, that included time for songs about character and events. I generally find the best musicals are those that take place over a fairly short period of time. There are some exceptions - SHOWBOAT, SHE LOVES ME, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. But most of the "classics" take place over a matter of days or weeks. For example, two of Sondheim's biggest hits were SWEENEY TODD and INTO THE WOODS. SWEENEY takes place over a length of time, but focuses on just a few days. WOODS takes place over three midnights. I had always hoped to be in a position of having Sondheim write a score for an animated film. Sondheim has a knack for character songs that equals the knack of the great animators to create character bits. (My first hope was for him to create the songs for Reynard the Fox.) At this point, due to the ages of both parties, I think the odds are getting smaller for that to happen. That's a shame. As one song goes, perhaps "it wasn't meant to happen".
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"The worst thing you can do is censor yourself as the pencil hits the paper. You must not edit until you get it all on paper. If you can put everything down, stream-of-consciousness, you'll do yourself a service. "
Stephen Sondheim

August 6, 2006
Rachel and Eagle were off showing this weekend. And Eagle ended up with points. Good news. The bad news was the drive back which found lots of traffic. The good news, travelled a new route. Went downtown (old) Perris. Saw a nifty, classic movie theater, called "The Chief." It is now used as a church. I always get nostalgic and a bit dreamy when I see some old movie theater. Not the boxy type designed today with dozens of screens, but the art deco type that came up through the 50s. They have a natural charm and should all be saved and turned back into "picture palaces" (as they were once called). Disney did a great job with the El Capitan. Even heard the old broken down theater in Grapevine Texas has been spruced up and holds screenings of classic films. When I lived in Grapevine, I marveled at the theater, even if you could not sit in the balcony due to a fire a decade earlier. Remember seeing FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD there, twice. Also believe it was where I saw MCHALE'S NAVY JOINS THE AIR FORCE and THUNDERBALL. I told Rachel I'd often thought if I hit a big lotto that it would be fun to buy a vintage theater and turn it into a home. You could put up slogans on the marque. The lobby and areas would be the home. The theater... well, I'd leave a dozen or so seats up for screenings, and turn the rest of area into an indoor playground. Yeah, one of those dreams.
Finally spent some time adding to pages. Got some new character pics on the Costume Characters page. Also added some new animation ideas to the My Pitches page. And even put in some new sale items on the Garage Sale page which is on the Stuff for Sale link.
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"Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy."
Dwight D. Eisenhower, President

August 5, 2006
It seems since the 60s, I have been reminded that "the general store is dead". The concept behind this comment is that those who specialize in one thing will ultimately succeed in their domain. Yet, no matter how often I keep hearing it, I keep seeing evidence to the contrary. For example, no matter how many folks point to such specialties as a Starbucks, I continue to see the general Walmarts gaining ground... and sometimes absorbing the specialties. I even see those who once aimed at speciliazing their business now moving into the "general" strata. Look at TV networks. At one time the cable companies were falling over each other to create new specialized channels. These channels were focused on one type of programming - music videos, cartoons, classic movies, vintage tv and such. Since they offered regular, different programming, they began to strive while the "big four" generic networks began losing viewers. They were like the giant ape, a King Kong ruling over their island domain. While there, they were worshipped by loyal followers. Then, suddenly they were in New York. No longer the biggest thing around, they had to contend with giant skyskrapers (moguls) and airplanes (ratings). The moguls looked down on these specialized, popular channels. The moguls saw that reality shows, new live action series and movies got good ratings. Suddenly the channels of cartoons, music videos, classic movies and vintage tv had to add reality shows, new live action series and movies. Some of these channels saw their ratings go up. Others simply saw a change in their viewers. Those who wanted only music videos went away, replaced by those who wanted reality shows and movies. Those who wanted classic films went away and those who liked new live action series replaced them. So instead of sticking to what they did best, and keeping themselves fresh and their fans happy, they opted to kill the goose and take the golden eggs. In some ways, it reminds my of a recent program on one of the science channels about soda pop. (I can't recall the channel as all the science channels have since become so blended with similar generic reality shows it is sometimes hard to tell them apart.) The show recounted the story of Coca Cola's decision in the 1980s. Coke wanted more drinkers and saw that lots of folks drank Pepsi. Instead of promoting how good Coke was... they came up with "new" Coke. It is considered one of the biggest mistakes in business history. My point is, these "new" cartoon networks, and "new" music video networks, and "new" vintage TV networks may be getting different viewers. I just wonder if they aren't losing as many viewers who, like so many TV watchers, enjoy consistency in their viewing. When specialty cable channels become more like Walmart, and less like Starbucks, it will be little surprise that viewers will migrate yet again. This time probably to video on demand on their cel phones.
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"In the United States, anybody can become president. That's the problem."
George Carlin, humorist

August 4, 2006
LJs... living journals. Seems more and more folks are doing them. Some for fun. Some for profit. Some for business. Some for promotion. Some for their bosses. Though I try to bark everyday, I generally do not read journals. Too many simply seem to be a soapbox for folks to gripe about their lives. Sure, I use my soap-bark to issue complaints, like yesterday, but I also try to keep a positive attitude. Which seems to be an unusual attitude for folks as they age. I remember how positive and strong Larry Fine was, even with his health so shakey. Then there was Joe Besser, who was in good shape, but often gave the impression that the world had done him wrong. Two fellows with careers that would make many envious, and legions of fans. Yet one saw the glass half full, the other half empty. And I have seen this change in folks around me. I know two who were a great deal of fun a decade ago. They laughed about the animation business and had many great stories of folks they worked with. But recently, these two seem to have lost their sense of humor. They still talk about the business, but now they talk of how they've never gotten the recognition they deserve, or the way their ideas get dismissed. The only difference between them and me is that they are famous, have lots of money, and hundreds (thousands? millions?) of fans. They really have no worries. Perhaps that is why they have found time to worry about how life has wronged them. Hopefully I won't get to that point. I mean, everytime I think about a problem, I get reminded of those who went through Hurricane Katrina. Or Larry Fine's final years. Or Larry Herndon's life. One famous Larry, one not-so-famous Larry. But both who didn't let problems in their lives get them down. And then there's that special fellow who sends smiles from a far away place, reminding his 'pop' not to be sad.
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"There are those who love regretting. There are those who like extremes. There are those who thrive on chaos and despair. There are those who keep forgetting how the country's built on dreams."
Stephen Sondheim

August 3, 2006
Sometimes the government really burns my cheese. And they are doing it again. The Republicans are hailing their new increase in the minimum wage. The first in 10 years! Of course, for them to allow average Americans a chance at a decent wage (and at a final $7.25 in three years it is nowhere near decent) they want to give millionaires even more money with the reduction of inheritance tax. Of course they always state that such a tax hurts all of us. Yes, all of us who will inherit millions of dollars. For those of us in line for less than a million, it will have little affect. And on top of this giveaway to the rich, they also want to reduce the minimum wage in the states that allow employees to accept tips! I worked as a boxboy in two stores. My first store paid minimum wage and allowed tips. My next store paid "more" and did not allow tips. Believe me, the extra salary never came close to my tips. I know folks who "live" on tips. How about this option - If congress is so concerned about tips, perhaps we can have them agree that they will return the amount of their salary equal to any gifts and donations they receive. Or how about tie their raises to the minimum wage. Whatever percentage they give themselves every few years is automatically added to the minimum wage. I cannot understand why more folks are not outraged by this. But when the Republicans keep using the smoke and mirrors of terrorists, the middle-East, and gay marriage, perhaps no one thinks of things like an honest wage. To me that is a REAL war on terror (not to mention a war on drugs and crime)... how much money a millionaire can leave his children will only impact the amount of money the government can spend to protect me from terrorists. And a decent wage is a REAL family value. Whether gays marry or not will put any bread on my table.
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"The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them."
Karl Marx

August 2, 2006
On a recent trip to Disneyland, we tried a new restaurant at California Adventure. It offered a new dining experience. At many of the Disney eateries, the guest gets in line and gives their order to a cast member who takes the money and (via computer) sends the order to the kitchen. The guest steps forward to a counter and retrieves the order. However at this location, the guest steps up to a computer screen and, like an atm, selects his order and pays the machine. They then step forward to the counter for the food. I heard a number of folks comment about how "modern" it was. All I could think of was, "Well, there are another dozen jobs gone." I remember when Disneyland dropped the ticket books. One reason was to stop all the jokes from comics and snide remarks from other parks that were "single admission". The other reason was that almost every ride had a ticket taker position. For example, on the Jungle Cruise we had four positions - ticket taker, loader, skipper and unloader. A shift usually meant rotating through all four and then getting a break. With the removal of tickets, the rotation became only three positions. And the manager of the attraction spoke of how he could schedule at least two less crew members a day. Seeing jobs go overseas has become the norm. But seeing jobs being taken over by computers, a long standing gag, seems to be on the rise again. More and more as corporations try to look profitable, they find it easier to reduce wokers than improve the product. It probably started with self-service gas stations. Now we have self service cashiers at stores and even amusement parks. To me, "self service" seems like an oxymoron. How can it be a "service" if I have to do it myself. Seems it would be more of a service if someone else did it for me.
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"Anybody can cut prices, but it takes brains to produce a better article. "
Ross Perot

August 1, 2006
Yet another month comes. Am still 'pounding the pavement' for full time employment. But am still hopefull. And life goes on. The weather has changed from beastly hot to actually cold up in the mountains. The flatlands are back to more standard summer temps. Snuck in a trip to Disneyland and had fun. Rachel is fighting another bug, as well as her elbow and shoulder/neck issues. Tomorrow we will see about a shot for the elbow. She and Eagle have a show this coming weekend. I have some possible costume gigs coming up, and am still doing minor writing here and there. Yes, time is still flying. But at least I am flying with it.
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"When I speak of time, I'm speaking of the fourth dimension."
George (George Pal's THE TIME MACHINE)

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