Daily Barks 09.06 cataroo.com
The Daily Bark: September 2006

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September 30, 2006
As predicted by so many, the "ho-hum" factor has hit the cgi feature boom. Just as such films as QUEST FOR CAMELOT and TITAN AE caused critics and audiences to forget earlier successes and fine films like LION KING, new cgi features are meeting similar resistance. This weekend OPEN SEASON opened to a largely critical set of critics. No more soft pedaling about the art looking good, and that "kids will like it", the gloves are off (or perhaps on, if boxing gloves). Though some critics have enjoyed OPEN SEASON, most seem to be catching on that (just like in hand animation) story is important. More so than technique. So what are folks saying about OPEN SEASON? "I guess talking animals arenít always funny." "The overfamiliar Open Season feels like just another CG 'toon in our 'toon-glutted times." "At any point, do the people involved realize they've got a lot of pretty animated images, no jokes, less story, and voice performances that never click together?" "Disney never showed, say, Goofy actually defecating on camera, but 'Open Season' does just that with Eliott. And an entire scene is built around Boog's having a b.m." Of course, if the box office is big enough, then no one will care what the critics think. But 2006 has not been a great year for cgi. Though, some are trying to fool the public. My favorite "bush-speak" came when one publication stated that animation boxoffice was up 66% in 2006. The facts, 2005 features made $514 million, while 2006 features have made over $850. What is not said, is that the money in 2005 was made by only four films. Three of those four made over $120 million each. 2006? It has taken eight movies to reach the total. And, once again, three of them have made over $120 million. Five of this year's films have not even reached $100 million... and several have not even hit $50 million. With a few more releases still scheduled, will any make an impression? And what impression will 2006 leave with execs? That cgi films are not "hot"? That animated films are no longer "hot"? Does a bear... never mind.
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"It's not hard to get a 6-year-old to laugh at a poop joke, but somehow Walt Disney made animation for several decades without relying on them."
Daniel M. Kimmel, critic

September 29, 2006
While on a recent drive to Disneyland, Rachel asked me what was my favorite ride. My response was the horse trolley. She replied that wasn't really a "ride". My answer was that it was an "attraction", what Walt had deemed all such entertainments from the Jungle Cruise to Sleeping Beauty's Castle. They were "attractions" and all required a ticket from "A" to "E". But Rachel felt the definition of a "ride" had some obligation. Being a writer, and always interested in the use of words, I asked her to elaborate. First, she felt such "attractions" as Mr. Lincoln and Country Bears were really "shows". That I could agree. She seemed to think the Main Street transportation, such as the horse trolley or fire engine were that, "transportation". To her thinking, a "ride" had to be something that moved you physically and emotionally. It had to take you from one place to another, even if it meant arriving where you started from like on a roller coaster. It also had to have a certain level of excitement or fun. Of course I could name one or two that were mixtures, such as the old carousel of progress, a rotating theater where the audience "moved" and not the stage. But generally, I agreed with her concept that rides were rides and shows were shows. Perhaps that is why Walt referred to them as "attractions". It certainly helped to make the number of things "to do" sound more numerous. And, I can say they are "attractions" as they attract crowds and the interest of those crowds. Walt's spirit of description lives on in other locations. At the upcoming Fresno fair, where I will be performing, I noted they had a list of daily events and activities. One was a "strolling Charlie Chaplin". We will probably have the same "event and activity" at the AKC show this weekend for the Burbank Kennel Club. Their shows often have wandering "celebrities" for photo ops. I am not sure if the dogs being shown would consider such walking characters an event, an activity, an attraction, or merely another petting machine.
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"I'm not all that big on rides. I sort of like bumper cars but I don't really go to Disneyland all that much unless if have nieces and nephews or people to take."
Anjelica Huston, actress

September 28, 2006
Joined a group of friends for lunch today. A topic that kept coming up was the lack of work around the animation industry. I stated, I think it is due to the current perception by executives that animation doesn't sell for kids anymore. I keep hearing how the "big" shows are the live action comedies on Disney and Nickelodeon. Even Cartoon Network is developing live action programming. ABC's Saturday morning lineup is two hours of live action series from the Disney Channel, and only one hour of animation. ABC is beating the other networks, which are mostly animated shows. So the execs are seeing animation as a liability. Networks are buying fewer episodes of their animated series. They are slower to green light new series, and slower to renew current series. I remember at one meeting, it was mentioned how Nick was beating Cartoon Network, which showed how popular live action shows were. I had to remind folks that, at that time, Nick's top rated shows were SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS and DORA THE EXPLORER... two animated series. The execs simply repeated how Nick was beating Cartoon Network thanks to the live action programming. This is simply a case where execs hear or find an opinion and get it stuck in their head. The same thing happened a few years ago when execs suddenly "knew" that no one would pay to see a hand animated feature film, and dumped everything hand drawn for cgi films. Now there are tons of cgi features... and many are not making money. It happened to TV in the 1980s when Nick decided to produce animated shows instead of more live action series like YOU CAN'T DO THAT ON TV or PETE AND PETE. Cartoons, like REN AND STIMPY and RUGRATS, built the network into the powerhouse it is. And despite's Nick's success with live action, SPONGEBOB is still a hit and a merchandising bonzanza. Few live action series can boast that. In a few years, some TV exec will notice kids wearing shirts with cartoon characters on them and decide kids like cartoons. They will notice that the live action shows don't attract the audience they want. The toons will be back... I just hope the talent can hold on that long.
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"I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don't always agree with them."
George Bush, president

September 27, 2006
After getting some work done this morning on the publication and upcoming performance gig took a late afternoon trip to Disneyland as Rachel's birthday trip. Since Monday was a work day, and Tuesday a hospital day, this was the first chance to just get out and have fun. Was pretty amazing. We were only there four hours, as the park closed at 8pm. Yet we went on 9 attractions! And this included such heavyweights as Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise, Star Tours and Space Mountain. Some we just walked right on. It was quite nostalgic. I was swept back to Septembers in the 70s when this was the standard crowd size on weekdays. Days when you might just walk onto a ride, stroll easily down a street, and strike up conversations with employees. It also made me think of all the changes to the park since those days. Some good... most not so good. One improvement is Space Mountain. When it opened, it was a rollercoaster in a dim room. A few years later they added a loud, annoying music track. It has been refurbished again and is now quite fun. It is nice and dark, almost impossible to see other cars whizzing around. The audio track is modern without being blaring. A definite improvement. But even with all the good feelings and fun, had some twinges regarding the future. Wish my "tomorrowland" was as easy to see as the one at Disneyland.
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"We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance."
Harrison Ford, actor

September 26, 2006
Had fun last night at a Hollywood premiere party for OPEN SEASON. Rachel and I were handling the suits of the two stars - Boog and Elliot. It was an "old fashioned" premiere with the Greek Theatre parking lot filled with facades of buildings, a stage, food, toys, games and the classic "red carpet" - though due to the forest setting of the film, the carpet was actually astroturf. Initially the suits were set to just stand on a stage, and pose as folks walked by for photos by some ladies with polaroids. Rachel noted the amount of press killing time at the green carpet. (It was still around an hour before the stars would arrive.) She suggested letting the suits walk down the carpet. I found some staff, and around 10 minutes later, Boog and Elliot were among the papparazi... and the press was loving it! Once again, event organizers failed to understand the power of costume characters - "walkabouts" as one planner called them. So popular were the suits on their green carpet debut, that during the rest of the party, the suits constantly got called away from their polaroid photo shoot to walk down the carpet with the various celebrities. It was more work for us, but it was worth it to see our work so well appreciated by the press, the event folks and even the celebrities. When properly directed, planned and performed, costume characters can be an awesome force.
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"The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films."
Paul Newman

September 25, 2006
Happy Birthday Rachel!
A busy day... and a late night at a Hollywood premiere party. More later.
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"Let's make a law that gay people can have birthdays, but straight people get more cake - you know, to send the right message to kids."
Bill Maher, comic

September 24, 2006
Dog show weekend, and a new Scooby Doo. The dog show was a disappointment. Both judges showed their true 'colors' by chosing only fawns. The judge on Saturday was particularly biased to the point of not even looking at dogs of color in the final appearance. The other disappointment was the (continuing) increase of folks not picking up after their dogs. I saw more than once someone allowing their dogs to crap on the grass and make no effort to pick it up. At least one guy made an effort, by pulling some trash out of a garbage can to use. Made me wonder, who walks a dog around a public show like that without a pick-up bag in their pocket or purse? The new Scooby Doo was also a disappointment. The new series, GET A CLUE SCOOBY DOO debuted on Saturday. It is an updated take on the classic characters with Scooby and Shaggy living in a mansion, with Scooby getting super powers from a new formula for Scooby Snacks. A shame the formula for the series is also not new. I can understand WB wanting to give new life to the characters by tweeking the format. I can understand WB wanting to re-design the characters to be more 'hip' looking. But I cannot understand how they could approve a script so dull. Bad enough that it was an orgin episode, which is always talky, but the story was just plain dull. The concept smacked of the infamous THIRTEEN GHOSTS OF SCOOBY DOO of the 80s. That series was reputed to have "killed" Scooby for almost a decade. PUP NAMED SCOOBY DOO gave the franchise some new life and fun. But this new attempt fails on far too many levels. I could forgive the new designs. I could forgive the new set-up. I could even forgive the idea of giving Scooby super powers. (No doubt some exec thought giving Bugs Bunny and crew powers for LOONATICS would also work for Scooby Doo.) I cannot forgive such a flat script that never goes anyplace. Judges and writers need to show more vision and creativity. Without it, they are both bound to disappoint.
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"Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. "

September 23, 2006
Some things seem gone forever. The penny postcard. The 8-track tape. The hand painted cel. To that list, I think I will ad the term - "the liberal (or leftwing) press". I hear about it from conservatives, the religous right and the right in general. But where is this "liberal press"? Seems the only time I hear anyone in the news attacting like a real reporter is in the editorial page or various commentators. Oh, sure. Once in a while there is a story about the death toll in Iraq exceeding the death toll of 911, or talk about prisoner abuse, or even illegal wiretapping. But it reminds me of the old tactic discussed during WWII of a Nazi spy shooting another Nazi to prove he wasn't a Nazi. Hence the news media will occasionally point up something embarassing to prove they are not really in league with the administration. How else can you explain that even though Bush's approval rating is currently one of the lowest on record the papers talk of how his ratings are "improving". Why don't they mention that his ratings are now equal to Nixon during Watergate or Carter during the hostage crisis? Kind of like when they happily report that the price of oil has dropped below $60 a barrel. Why don't they remind everyone that only two years ago it was around $25 a barrel? And I love the stories about the economy "getting stronger". Most of the folks I know are looking for jobs and "relieved" when they can find one that pays more than minimum wage. And many of the stores in our area are closing due to lack of sales. Why isn't that reported. Oh wait... I see the media has found a major news story that is bigger - Starbucks is raising the price of a cup of coffee by 5-cents. This story has been in papers, internet news sites and TV. What's next! The price of a Whopper jumps by a quarter? Of course the administration and their news organization can always claim coffee-gate is a terrorist tactic of the coffee cartel. After all, if a barrel of oil can double in a year, no doubt a bag of beans can do the same. Wait... maybe there is still a "liberal" press. After all, one definition of "liberal" is - "not strict or rigorous; free; not literal". Now I understand. The "liberal" press is the news organizations that are not strict about truth from the government... and do not literally cover news of importance.
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"I have a liberal definition of news because I think news can be what excites people. I'm not very sanctimonious about what news is and isn't."
Diane Sawyer

September 22, 2006
wow. I recall watching HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE when it first appeared. It was visually flat, but the stories had a certain daffiness to them that made them enjoyable. Sort of a guilty pleasure. I remember defending it to some folks of the time. It was certainly better done than shows like MY LITTLE PONY and THUNDERCATS. And like those two series, it is now an icon for a generation. Like a Marilyn Monroe or Elvis, it is more popular now than when it was on the air. Thanks to Netflix, we got the first disc of the HE-MAN dvd set. wow. Like THUNDERCATS and PONY, which we also recently saw, HE-MAN was as raw visually as I remember. Sadly it was far lamer than I remembered. The voice acting was loud and flat. The stories, perhaps okay for the 80s, were tough to sit through now. In fact, we only sat through two. I know that when I was growing up, there were a lot of shows I loved, that now seem rather creaky. From 77 SUNSET STRIP to TOP CAT, some shows just don't have the "oomph" I remember when originally watching them. Other shows, like THE HONEYMOONERS or THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, were able to maintain their strengths and charms. Oddly, along with viewing these shows on dvd, my first TV series, GARFIELD AND FRIENDS, was also from the 80s. Seeing the shows, first on dvd and now on Boomerang, they are still fun. The art style is a bit flat, but that was how Jim Davis wanted them to look. Since it was a creative decision, the look appears more like a style than a cost cutting device. The series never aimed for belly laughs. It went for a gentler humor, closer to THE DICK VAN DYKE show. The show also boasted a dynamic voice cast and strong storyboarding. In other words, the show holds up pretty well. Not a knock-out, it never was. I used to call it, 'competent, safe, entertainment'. But the early seasons of GARFIELD AND FRIENDS were not a disappointment. Then or now. Kind of nice to know somethings can still hold up.
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"I have the power!"

September 21, 2006
Today everyone wants people who can multitask. But what do you get? You are trying to make things work. You are working overtime to fit as many things as possible into the small space of time you have. You think you are actually making things work. And then... Well... you discover you made a mistake. And worse, those around you let you know it. Big time. Employers act as if you purposefully are sabotaging their work. Friends act as if you are purposefully trying to ruin their plans. Loved ones act as if you are purposely being selfish. You can apologize. You can admit that you made mistakes. But it never seems to be a mistake in their eyes. To them it is all part of a plan to spoil their fun. I recently read an article about a study on multitasking. Scientists found that people who multitask do not do as good a job on their tasks when multitasking compared to when they were simply doing one job at a time. Maybe those scientists would understand.
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"All the mistakes I ever made were when I wanted to say 'No' and said 'Yes'."
Moss Hart, playwright

September 20, 2006
Whatever happened to kids' meals' toys? When McDonald's began putting toys in their Happy Meals, it wasn't long before every fast food place had a kids meal with toys. I remember in the 90s, the toy was often the reason for eating fast food! I recall going long distances to eat at Wendy's to get the ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN toys. There was the great Pokemon promotion at Burger King where kids got the figures in the actual poke-balls. Course the balls were recalled as possible choking hazards. In fact, I think Burger King had two of them, both creating frenzies. Remember how the McDonald beanie baby toys were such hot collectibles? Again, there would be lines to get them, and some folks would buy the meals and throw the food away! Then there was the craze for each new Disney animated film's toys. The ads on TV promoted the toys more than the food. Many were instant collectibles, selling for prices much higher than the meal, themselves. Some toys were clever, with multiple parts, electric noises and more. Others were just sort of "there". Again, those days are long gone. Most fast food places still have kids meal toys. But they are just generic stuff, like the lame things found in today's Cracker Jack. (I remember when you got real prizes in a box like books, rings, puzzles, figures and such. Now you get a piece of cardboard with a riddle!) I wonder if the pull away from fancy toys in kids meals is somehow connected to the push to get kids to eat healthier. Maybe that is why there seems to be less toys in cereal boxes. Or maybe the thrill of a cheap toy in box of cereal or bag lunch is lost on the newer generation. Their loss, actually. You know... on occasion, I still choose a box of cereal due to a neat toy.
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"Never order food in excess of your body weight."
Erma Bombeck, journalist

September 19, 2006
Over referenced. It is a term I will start to use on bits that are just referenced too much. The idea came to me when a recent DEXTER'S LAB had a gag where the Dad dances around, ends in a chair, pulls a string and is doused with water. Someone seeing the gag stated it was just like Puss in Boots in SHREK II. I had to mention that the Dexter cartoon came first. (Ironically, the story person behind the Dexter gag went to work on Shrek II.) But even so, the bit comes from a movie back in the 80s. Just as some jokes are being used too often, the creators of today seem to have grown up with the same interests. Folks sometime state how the filmmakers of old were influenced by many things - books, comics, art, radio and such. Today's filmmakers are mostly film lovers, and thus have the same influences. That is why we see some situations parodied over and over. Similarly, the same films and tv shows keep getting lampooned. What makes things worse, is that folks often do not the original anymore. Like the Shrek and Dexter scene, many think it originated with one of those films. It seems strange that future generations will be comparing copies of gags and scenes with other copies of hte gags and scenes, and probably never realizing that the material is far older than they think. Guess that shows some things are timeless. Or just trite.
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"Hollywood and the recording industry argue that current law permits the copying of songs and movies, and sharing them on the Internet. This enables young people to grow up learning how to steal."
Suzanne Fields

September 18, 2006
I wonder if anyone else uses postage stamps as statements? Not that I do it often, but with such a wide selection go stamps from the post office, there are times I think I am being somewhat clever in my usage. For example, I might use one of the Plasticman comic book stamps on a credit card bill. Plasticman. Plastic. Credit card = plastic. Clever? Or on a recent bill to a radiology department, I used the Green Lantern comic book image of the character looking into his blinding light. Radiology... light... No? Or a payment about cars using the new motorcycle stamp. I recall reading a mystery story once that stated stamps placed upside down indicated "distress". Which is why in the 60s and 70s there were several times when one group or another requested folks put their stamps on upside as a sign of protest. I am sure most of the folks receiving such "stamp signals" simply toss the envelope and take no notice. Same as my return address labels. They contain various art images by Rachel. One features a Great Dane sticking his tongue out. I use that one to show a little extra 'disrespect' to the recipient. If it is some high tech company, I might use the one where the Dane is looking into a computer screen. An utility company? Well she has one with a Dane in hard hat asleep while leaning on a shovel. Again, I doubt the recipient notices. Again, I was simply wondering if others do the same. I did have a friend, when we used the post office to correspond, often looked for animal stamps for my envelopes. Even if they had to use several different small denominations to reach the necessary amount. So I guess some do. Or did. What's on your mail?
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"I am not overlooking any mail. I'm looking at all of it. I even wrote back to the Viagra people."
Randy Newman, songwriter/comic

September 17, 2006
Over the weekend we got to watch THE GHOST BREAKERS, the 1940 classic starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. It really is a classic! Based on a stage play and earlier silent film, the story involves Hope getting mixed up with Goddard and her haunted castle in Cuba. The script is clever, and the film is constantly moving. The film manages to flip from comedy to suspense with little effort. The cast is loaded with suspicious characters, and it is fun trying to figure out who is who. Toss in some gangsters, a zombie and gypsy woman, and you have quite a crowd. It also reminded me of how fresh Hope could be. He not only tosses off one-liners and asides, he maintains a strong character... and a confident one at that. None of the cowardly Bob here. The other joy is seeing so many familiar faces like Paul Lukas, Richard Carlson, Lloyd Corrigan, Paul Fix and Anthony Quinn. And Willie Best, sometimes referred to as Willie "sleep and eat" Best, gives a well defined performance that is humorous without some of the extremes of his other roles. Overall, just a gem of a film. Rachel chuckled at some of the lines and was actually affected by some of the "scarier" sequences. It really makes one state the old cliche, "they don't make 'em like that anymore."
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"I do benefits for all religions - I'd hate to blow the hereafter on a technicality."
Bob Hope

September 16, 2006
Shortness of breath, and attention. During the 80s there was much talk of the shortening of attention span. One saw an increase of soundbites over articles, quick cuts in films over longer scenes and shorter stories in newspapers over indepth writing. Some blamed it on the MTV generation, growing up watching short music videos. However a majority of thinkers felt it went further back, to a generation growing up watching Sesame Street. After years of viewing 2-3 minute segments on letters, numbers, words and such the audience began to tire more quickly at longer entertainment. Suddenly this 80s discussion has taken on new meaning in Hollywood. In a world where most of the youth audience gets its entertainment from the internet instead of the TV or theater, short content is once again taking over. A recent article in a video magazine stated that since their creation, movies were a staple of entertainment. Though TV but a dent in it, movies drove most of the home video biz. Of course, a generation weened on TV soon found that TV was equally desired in home video. But even a half hour tv show can take some time to download onto a computer. The answer? The millions of videos now found on such sights as YouTube. The modern youth is not taking the time to watch "long" movies or TV episodes. Instead, they are watching the equivalent of home movies. Wild animal stunts, phoney trailers, short animations and more are captivating the viewing public. In the 30s and 40s, folks talked about the newest movie or radio show. For the next four decades, it was movies or TV. But beginning in the 90s, internet entertainment began to creep in. Such things as JoeCartoon's "frog in a blender" were as much a subject of conversation as an episode of top TV series or blockbuster movie. As the years went by, the internet began to take over. Today, more folks talk about 2-3 minute internet productions like JibJab's "This Land" or Happy Tree Friends than they do a new super-hero movie or hit TV comedy. As entertainment keeps getting shorter and shorter, I wonder if we are coming to the day when the topic of discussion will be more about PeeWee's "secret word of the day" than the newest blockbuster movie.
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"It's no secret that we were sticking just about every nickel we had on the chance that people would really be interested in something totally new and unique in the field of entertainment."
Walt Disney

September 15, 2006
A brief note upon the hearing that Berny Wolf passed away last week at the age of 95. Berny was a major, if not well known, force in animation. A number of bios are stating he had pretty much gotten out of business by the mid 1980s. Actually, he was still working up into the early 1990s. He worked with me at Film Roman. He was one of our masters, and perhaps our "elder" master. His career ranged from Betty Boop to Dumbo to Scooby Doo to Garfield. At the time Film Roman was graced to have a number of folks who had sprung up from the golden and silver age of animation. This included the likes of Cliff Voorhees, Bob Givens, Pete Alvarado, John (Johnny) Walker, John Sparey, Floyd Norman, and others. We also had some new guns the likes of Bob Boyle and Craig Kellman. There were also a lot of us mid-folk like Gary Conrad, Karl Toerge, Mitch Schauer, Brian Hogan, David Brain and Robert Alvarez. Berny was a great guy to work with. I remember he came on staff in the late 1980s. We spent many a break chatting about folks we knew from the golden age, and the projects he had worked on. At the time, he shared an office with another fellow who stated he had directed for features. After two days, Berny came to me and asked if the fellow had actually directed anything. Turned out Berny was having to show him how to slug boards and write x-sheets. Seeing the fellow was slowing down production, we talked to the studio exec about it and shortly after, the other fellow was "moved up" to a higher position. Berny just laughed and said that was the way the business worked! That is what I liked best about Berny. He had sense of humor and never let things get to him. Perhaps my strongest memory was at the 100th birthday party for Grimm Natwick. It was in 1990. Film Roman had purchased a table at the event. Berny and I were some of those at the table. Before the event started, we all sat around the table looking through the program book. In it was a model sheet Natwick had drawn for one of the Fleischer films. Berny pointed to the corner of the sheet. There was the statement "OK Berny Wolf"! Everyone laughed. Here we were celebrating the birthday of one of the great names in animation, and at the table sat someone who 'approved' his work. Berny had not been officially invited by the event, nor asked to speak or write anything on his former workmate. As I said, everyone laughed, even Berny. As he had said, that's the way the business worked. Some did great work and got fame, and some did great work and never got mentioned. I am just glad to see that he is getting mentioned now. Even if his later contributions to the industry are being forgotten by some.
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"Fame can become a train that eventually leaves the station without you."
Micky Dolenz, Monkee

September 14, 2006
Trademark tango. Rachel recently got a note regarding her Cafe Press store about the legality of an item. When we checked into it, the problem was a shirt used the word "caution". They went on to state that a new clothing company has trademarked the word "caution" for use on clothing! I stated that the word "caution" was pretty generic and that it is used by about every safety agency in the country. Cafe Press agreed, but told us that the company had started a long list of lawsuits to stop companies from using the word on apparel. It seems astounding that an individual can commandeer a word already in use. I thought back to the early STAR WAR toys and how I laughed at the description on the back. About every word from "star" to "Luke" to "sky" were followed by a "tm" indicating Lucas' plan to trademark every possible word in his creation. Then I thought of the person who copyrighted the words to the song "Happy Birthday" and has made the song unusable on so many occasions. Since I frequently work with copyrighted characters and trademarks, I know how important protecting them can be. But most of the time the characters are new creations. But I guess in a world where one can register domain names of any word combinations they like, allowing people to trademark with the same abandon should be expected. Now, not only do we have to watch what we say to spare feelings, and be politically correct, now we have to choose our words to avoid litigation.
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"Caution sometimes mother of suspicion."
Charlie Chan

September 13, 2006
A night of freedom. Did not get home until after 1am! No bark.

September 12, 2006
Xtreme TV. While Rachel was watching something on TV the other night, I suddenly realized something that was told to me decades ago. I was in charge of animation studio in Orange County and was taking the composers of our film to a meeting. As we were driving along, one composer asked if I would take the cassette out of my player. The said the music was too intense and they were nervous enough about the meeting. It was playing a piece of music from THE HOWLING. At that point, soundtrack music to me was certainly moody, but it mainly caused me to relive the scene. Tense music usually meant a car chase, sinister character or perhaps a fight. I never really felt the pure tension of the music. Or perhaps I was too close the music's origin to fully sense it. In the past few months, things have gotten a bit more intense around the house. I am still in search of steady employment and/or income. We have had some major losses in our family. And there are still some health issues. I have found these combine to lower my immunity to subliminal stress. Suddenly tv shows about intense subjects are bringing on minor (major?) panic attacks. Subject matter is not always the culprit. More important is the tone given to the subject. The series in question is NIP/TUCK. The series is well written with well defined characters. But the stories and characters are largely unpleasant. In other words, it is a big budget, primetime soap opera. Characters swing from one intense, unpleasant situation to another, always with lots of strong language, harsh voices and stress. During a repeat of an episode about plane crash victims I had to leave the room. I felt like I was going to explode from stress. Hopefully, it is simply a phase I am going through, and once real life settles a bit I will be able to push aside such silliness. But I now know what the composer felt. Being a musician, he was much more connected to music. Being a writer (at times), I am more connected to stories, characters and dialogue. So as my tension level rises, the more feelings I share with these fictional entities. Quite an experience. But not one I want to experience much. No wonder of late I am drawn to more light hearted fare than usual.
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"Choose your next witticism carefully Mr. Bond, it may be your last."

September 11, 2006
911. This day of remembering has joined the ranks of Christmas and elections. That is there is so much pre-day build up that the actual date seems anticlimatic. Ever since news became a 24-7 commodity, certain stories "catch the public's mind" (as one newsperson put it) and they are done to death... and beyond. In no way am I saying that the events of the date are not significant. But when I look at all the other things of history... well, some times we need to move on a bit. The Oklahoma bombing, Hurricane Katrina, the Old Fire, Columbine shootings, the Christmas tidal wave, Northridge earthquake, Space Shuttle disasters (yes, there were two, as well as an Apollo disaster), plane explosions, chemical leaks, murdered spouses, infected postal workers, murdered children. The list goes on and on. There are many stories that deserve attention, and some that get too much attention. 911 is probably one. As my list showed, it is not that unique. Yes it was horrendous, but what it has become is even more horrible. At times, it seems as if 911 i brought out anytime someone wants to make a point... on anything! I often hear how it was like a second Pearl Harbor. But years after Pearl Harbor I don't find much evidence of politicians kicking it around as if it was some sort of prize to win. Immediately after 911, we were in a state of being united. The country received good will from around the world. The good will was squandered by an administration's un-ending wars, secret prisons, torture and threats to freedom of speech. The unity was lost by politicians and special interests all hoping to use 911 as some sort of wedge, or club, to win favor. As I often say, I keep hearing that the world "changed" after 911. I wish someone could show me a positive change. After many a disaster, like Titanic (the ship, not the movies), one can point to some positive action. After 911, all I can see is inconvenience, death, accusations, deficits, conspiracies, arguments about whether we are safer or not and never ending tributes. Unfortunately, after 5 years about all one can really say is that many people died senselessly. And too many more have died since trying to make sense out of it.
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"Only the dead have seen the end of the war."

September 10, 2006
No bark. Too sleepy...

September 9, 2006
A fan of Zorro since I saw the Disney TV show, I only just caught the Antonnio Bandera THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998). Was not a good moment. Made me think of how Lucas and Spielberg have ruined action movies. Classic action films were always fast paced with rapid fire, well choreographed fight scenes. With the first Indiana Jones film, the Lucas/Spielberg duo created a truck chase/fight that went on and on and on and on. This overlong sequence has become the one to "top" in most films today. I remember when the train fight in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was considered too brutal and long. But some of the fights in MASK OF ZORRO seem to go on forever! In fact, the whole film has a tired pace. To much blabbing, too much cute schtick, and too much time spent on each fight sequence. This may be the slowest Zorro film ever produced! I was instantly reminded of the big budget LONE RANGER movie of the 90s. Another great opportunity to revive a classic character ruined with too much back story and sluggish pacing. Heck, the classic Zorro character doesn't even really show up until 90 minutes into the movie! Strange. When I watch some of the early 007 films, I am struck with how much slower they are than films today. But even they kept the story moving and never overdid the fight scenes. Well, an exception would be the underwater battle at the end of THUNDERBALL. But it seems every movie now has overdone battles. I chuckled when I read a special edition dvd of CHRONICLES OF NARNIA was coming out. What was the big bonus advertised in the trades? This special edition dvd will feature longer battle scenes!
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"I can discover facts, Watson, but I cannot change them."
Sherlock Holmes

September 8, 2006
Took a break from the world and went to the county fair today. It is always nice to hang with the farm critters. There is something relaxing about them. This year, the fair has a special barn area to promote the upcoming CHARLOTTE'S WEB movie. I was surprised by how nice the set-up is. They have areas in which multiple critters are residing. Such as one that had goats and chickens together. It was fun watching the roosters crowing up and down the area. We also got the chance to see a chicken lay an egg. Of course there were the general agriculture areas which had the standard cows, horses, pigs, and such. There were even zonkeys and a zorse! Sadly, there were people there too. A friend once stated if you really want to see how "stupid" people are, watch them around animals. At the barn, one father looked at a very pregnant goat and told his son that the goat had a "tumor" and how sad is was that they would have that type of animal at the fair. Another parent took their young child into a petting zoo. The child was terrified by the animals. So the parent kept the child between their legs and basically kneed any animal coming close. And another parent continued to feed a donkey in the petting zoo after being asked repeatedly not to do so. Back on the good side, we found a booth with pins and picked up several, including a Garfield for my hat. There were the Aussie fried potatoes, always tasty. We also got free bets on two races. No wins, but still fun to watch. And, when you consider being the first day it was only a buck to get in, it was overall a good day.
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"Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings."
Evan Esar, author

September 7, 2006
It is the day after... and once again we have been given a bit of a nudge from... from the beyond? I am not sure if I have a firm belief of an afterlife, but I do know that we have had strange things happen after a loss. Once we came home to find our house had been the sole house on the street to be papered by kids. Another time, after the loss of a black dane, on the street appeared a tall, lanky, black dog. It was walking down the street and stopped to look down at our house. We had never seen the dog before... or after that day. Was he giving us one last look? Yet another time, next to a grave, a tree grew that bore a piece of fruit. The tree had never born fruit before... or after that time. And then today, we had to go out to pick up some groceries. Upon our exit there was not a sound. For as long as we have had kids, when we closed that front door behind us, the kids would begin barking their displeasure about us leaving. Today it was silent. A moment of silence in memorial? Unknown... and unusual. Later in the day, we dropped some quarters into those gum machines that give prizes. The machines offered various types of necklaces. Rachel and I both recieved rings. Rachel's was hemotite, mine plastic. I figured mine a gift, so am wearing it now. We put in second quarters. Rachel got another ring, making her take one male and one female ring. I got a necklance with a green, sparkly pendant. The last necklace I ever received was from Rachel... and it had a hand-made figure of Star. Perhaps she was reminding me of that, too.
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"While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die."
Leonardo da Vinci

September 6, 2006
Allow me a very long bark. We lost Star today, and it seems as if my world has changed.
Rachel found Star on the internet and she flew into LAX where I picked her up on December 9th, 1999. On the drive home she was very unhappy in her crate. I let her out, hoping she would rest, but she was a "wild child" and made driving impossible. So she went back in her crate, where she cried the entire hour and a half drive home. I tried to pacify her with my singing, usually "You Are My Lucky Star" (best known from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN). At home she quickly became my little princess, as well as my pretty princess. (She loved being called "pretty".) Of all the kids, she was probably closest to me. Almost doting. She always knew when I was sad, or worried. She would come over to be with me and also look sad. At night, she often laid next to me to sleep. Many a night I would wake to find her standing over me looking down as if concerned about something. I was never sure which of us she was concerned about.
Her care for me was simply part of her motherly nature. In fact, she was the best mother. She took care of her pups, and husband Roku, with a love and patience every mother should have. She loved her kids, and always loved seeing them at family reunions. She also loved disciplining them. She even disciplined other youngsters at shows and parks. She was a mother to be respected, and almost all the young ones who met her did. She loved her husband, Roku, as much. Few expecting bitches would allow their mate to lay with them up to delivery, and to hang around during and after the pups' arrival... but Star did. To her family was very important.
When we lost Roku after last Christmas, it hit her hard. She was obviously saddened for weeks. Luckily we had a new litter in the house, from her son Eagle, that she could work with. Both Rooster and Kele adored grandma and loved to play with her. They also respected her. Then came Jet, the minimutt. He made her a pup again. Many a time this 13 pound wonder would chase her and Eagle around the deck as if he were 20 times his size. She loved to bark at him so that he would give chase. Then in the summer, we lost Nikoma, our Akita. This also hit her hard. Even though they had not played much lately (due to Nikoma's age), his departure made her the elder of the family. Now, she was the oldest canine in the house. Even though her age was making her a bit slower, and tire more easily, she still maintained control of the house as much as possible. Frequently scolding the grandkids for getting noisy or rowdy. Since it was often just verbal scolding, the grandkids sadly had begun to ignore her a bit.
The circumstances of her death were a collection of odd events, clues, worry, hopes and a sudden shock. It was the kind of shock that happens when you hear about someone who died in a crash. You feel sorrow, but also a numbness... almost a disbelief. She left the house this morning for what was expected to be fairly simple surgery. In fact, it was cancelled right before breakfast, then reinstated just as she was about to eat. Once on the operating table, it was discovered that things were not what they had seemed only yesterday. Star was allowed to stay asleep. I had headed out for an appointment, only to find it had been cancelled and returned home to find Rachel in tears and hear the news. We, including Eagle, went to the vets to say our goodbyes. Rachel and I then took her to the crematorium.
As the day has progressed, I have swung back and forth from shock to grief. In some ways, the sudden end was good. It kept her from serious pain, and from those final days when everyone is so sad around the house. That would have made her sad, too. But then it also didn't allow a "final" farewell. She was here. And then she was gone. Luckily the last few weeks had been fun for her. She got to go to the Olympets, and won a silver medal in the shot put. She loved to win things. She was always proud of a bowl she won in a puppy match. I use the bowl for my wallet, keys and chain. Showing it to her always made her smile. She got to go to the lake and play in the water. She loved to play. She got cheesecake for her birthday. It was different from our standard angel food cake. She loved it. She had some Outback steak, another treat. And she even had some venison, perhaps her favorite meat. Star just loved to eat. Over the weekend we pulled out home movies of her first litter and she watched the tv with glee, barking whenever it looked like the pups were going the wrong way. She loved watching TV, even my Charlie Chan movies. As a pup she would occasionally sing along with BLUES CLUES.
But the final weeks were not all good. She had been having some digestion issues, which might just have been age. She had just turned 7. She was also having heat flashes. Again, possibly a sign of age. It was over the weekend that additional symptoms suddenly arose along with the discovery of a "lump". An xray showed the lump to most likely be a "calcified fetus" from her last, sad, pregnancy. But once opened, it was found to be cancer... and totally devasting. We were shocked... but she probably was not. Early in the morning, we noticed she was taking momemts to stare upward and listen. Rachel even joked for her not to listen "too much". We have seen such actions in almost all our kids prior to their exit. As if those that have left before were calling them, welcoming them to their new world.
Now she has joined her beloved Roku, nanny Nikoma, the constant baby Baron, several of her pups and various family members - canine and feline. As mentioned, this has changed my world. Maybe it is because she is the first one I got to see first. Maybe, because she was our first puppy girl. Maybe, because she was my little princess. Maybe it is because she was the last of our kids with a "voice" of their own. All the kids bark and make funny noises. But Star, like Roku, Baron, Nikoma, Bronx, Hoss, and even Reveille had actual voices that spoke to us. Or that we spoke for them. She "spoke" with a slight Aussie accent and we joked how she called me "daddy". When I would do or say something silly, she would reply "oh, daddy's being stupid... again." Now the house seems very silent. This was particularly noticable upon returning home without her. There was no princess to greet me and check how I was doing.
I recall a few years back a bunch of us were at Dog Beach in San Diego. Rachel, I, Star and several other pups and human friends. I was not feeling well that day, so I was often lagging behind the group. Every so often, Star's head would rise out of the playing canines, locate me, come over, nuzzle my leg and smile at me. It was her way of making sure I was okay. I will miss many things about my princess, but as selfish as it sounds, I will miss her caring about me most of all.
Still, I know she is with others who also need her care. And I know that like all the rest that have left us, she will be keeping an eye on me and the family down here. As I said, my world has changed... but my love for her has not. Star, you are now, and you will forever be, my pretty princess. Goodnight, honey.
All photos are from the last month.
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"You are my lucky star."
Arthur Freed, lyricist

September 5, 2006
Back in the 70s, folks lamented that animation was "just for kids" here. They would talk about how cartoons in other parts of the world, particularly Japan and Europe, were made for adults. They wished that animation in this country was done for adults. Cartoonists from the golden age frequently mentioned the cartoons were not made for kids, but for themselves. To them, it wasn't important if kids got the cartoon references. Kids were satisified to see animated animals and slapstick. In the classic "be careful what you wish for" cliche, animation may be getting part of its wish. It seems that adults are getting more interested in animation. From Shrek to South Park to Simpsons, adults are enjoying animation... and their kids are watching right along with them. But kids on their own? It seems they are losing interest in the animated form. Recently I wrote about how Disney/ABC was dropping the amount of animation shown on Saturday morning this fall. Of their four hours, only one is animated. It seems to have payed off. ABC beat the other networks in ratings. Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are all convinced that live action is getting more appealing to kids. The one exception seems to be the very young. Several new series have debuted aimed at the young folks. All feature simple shapes, bright colors and loud voices. Comments on the shows state that the writing is not great, but that the color and movement should please the kids. So it seems cartoon makers have gone back a bit to the golden age. They don't do what they want, but they assume the kids will just like to watch cartoon animals. No wonder kids are losing interest. As for adults, they seem to be part of a growing audience thanks to animation that is more interested in story and character than bright colors and simple shapes. Adults win. Kids lose.
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"We need to keep this country together right now. We need to focus on this terrorism issue"
President Bill Clinton (1996), after a Republican controlled Senate voted down proposals to tighten security siting fear of a President using wiretaps.

September 4, 2006
The unhappy beer drinker mentioned yesterday, who used his last glass to shower me, made me think of JBS - "jealous boyfriend syndrome". This is an affliction that seems to be growing in society and the medical community has taken no note of it. Of course, it is I who came up with the title, so the medical community may be out of the loop. The name comes from the golden age of comedy. In more films than I can name the set-up happens when the comedian(s) meet some burly guy. The guy explains he has a girl (or wife) and that if any man so much as looks at her, he will kill the man. Later in the film a nice girl is innocently placed in the comedian(s) house or apartment. Suddenly the boy friend is at the door. Instead of explaining the innocent circumstances, the comedian(s) recall the earlier conversation and decide to hide the girl. All sorts of mistakes and hilarity follow. JBS. But you don't need a girl to have the same problem. More and more I will hear some JBS sufferer discussing how a person has irritated the person talking. It might be a noisy neighbor, a slow person in a check-out line, a smart aleck teen, or other common irritant. The JBS person will then state how they will beat the crud out of person, or shoot them, or set their house afire, or any number of threats. Some may call this simply an aggression/anger issue and not JBS. What converts it to JBS is when, after hearing the tirade, you suddenly realize you must confront this person due to them about doing something wrong - misspelling a name, cutting in line, spilling food on you, etc. You suddenly realize, if you mention it to them, YOU become a new irritant. And not wanting the jealous boyfriend to beat you up, you need to think of some scheme to have someone else "tell" them. Just today, while at the laundromat there was a tough looking 'dude'. He was on the cel phone talking about problems with his neighbors "touching his car". He said he had to be careful, because his past arrest for assault could get him thrown in jail if he starts more trouble. Then he noticed a little girl playing in the parking lot near his car. His anger level rose. He stated how being a teacher at the new martial arts school was fun, and that he was tiring of letting people walk all over him... especially after he had shown in class he could "beat up" a fire fighter. As he yammered away, he came to use a washer, only to find I was already using it. I considered hiding the girl in the closet might be better than a confrontation. Luckily he merely shrugged and used one on the distant side, by all the "illegal immigrants" as he said in his cel phone.
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"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

September 3, 2006
The second, and final, day of handling has come and gone. Today was just as hot, but far more crowded. It was also a great example of why I do not go to things like auto races. The crowd is just not my kind of folks. As the lady handling the event said, the people tend to be "well beveraged". Too true. As we did sets in front of the gates, I do not think I saw a single person not holding either a large plastic glass filled with beer, or a beer bottle. Inside, the crowd was a bit rowdier today. At one point a tattooed, shirtless fellow went to kick the bear (Boog). I moved inbetween them, knocking him a bit off balance, spilling some beer from his large plastic cup. I told him not to kick the characters. He told me he was "just having some f*k*ng fun." He then noticed his wet hand and called me a number of names since I caused him to spill his beer. Finally as he walked away, he threw the rest of his beer at me, soaking me. "Good thinking" came to my mind. Now he had no beer. And at over $6 a glass at the event, that was a pretty costly stunt. Course I smelled of a brewery the rest of the day... but the bear's honor, suit and performer had been protected. Upon hearing the story both the performer and Rachel stated they would have not been able to keep their cool after such a stunt. Me, I figured with 1000s of large, beer bellied, overheated, shirtless behemoths stumbling around, the last thing I wanted was to be in a riot. Which at times the crowd seemed close to reaching. It made me think how we often are "shocked" at the riots and disturbances in European soccer games. US auto racing is probably the closest thing we have to that mentality here. Aside from that, the day went well. It is almost always fun suiting or helping suits.
On a sadder note, my concerns over one of our kids seems to have been more than my "usual" worried nature.
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"My dad was the town drunk. Most of the time that's not so bad; but New York City?"
Henny Youngman

September 2, 2006
Began a suiting gig today as handler. Rachel is working with me, also as a handler. The two performers working with us are both very nice folk. The suits... well, that is another and constant issue. The suits are poorly designed for use. Neither offers useful hands. Neither has real vision. Neither are easy to walk in. So we have suits that make it tough to see, tough to walk, and tough to shake hands. It makes me wonder what was the point of making them suits? They might just as well made life size mannequins that can be rolled out into an area for photographs. Again, the performers have really pulled out the stops to bring life to these creations... and in temps topping 100 degrees! It is a shame that most companies that build suits take almost no aspect of the performer into account. I recall when first starting at the Disney studio, I got a special tour of all the facilities. When we reached the group that built the Park costumes, we got a flashy pitch about the care taken to make these suits. They paraded out their newest character. I commented that the suit had some issues with vision for the performer, as well as inadequate leg spaces for safe walking. The tour came to a stop as the "experts" explained to me the science of suits, and then proceeded to comment to the group that to an untrained eye some suits might be difficult, but to one who fully understood building and wearing suits, Disney suits were the best. One of the "experts" then asked what I had done prior to my work at the studio. I stated I had been a Disney costume performer for over 5 years. The silence could have crushed the costume head. The tour guide did a nervous chuckle and hustled us out to a different department. Since that time, I have talked directly with several suit production companies. I have always found the same attitude that they have all the answers and any comment to the contrary is simply wrong and a showing of ignorance. As one performer stated today, "I wish the folks that built this suit had to wear it for 20-minutes." I can almost guarantee, they did not.
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"When I was a kid my family was really poor and I remember one Halloween I wanted to dress up really scary and my parents came home with a duck costume. I wore that costume for years! I hated it."
R.L. Stiner, author

September 1, 2006
The first day of September. Makes me think of going back to school. Though these days things are quite different. More schools are on the "all year" program with no real "summer vacation". That's too bad. Three months off to work on projects, take trips or have fun is great. I do not think it disrupts the learning process. I think it can actually help by offering a large time block to have a job. But times change. One change I just heard about was that many schools no longer have lockers for the students. Up here, only seniors are given lockers. General reason given is security. As several folks on a local website have stated, it puts a large (phyiscal) burden on the student who has to carry all their books through an entire day. Many use backpacks, which are giving them back pains and issues. The solution is those wheel carts like luggage. But it seems that is not "cool", so kids keep with the backbacks. Having just learned this, I wonder if it will end a recurring nightmare. I have heard there are those who have nightmares about showing up at school in their underwear... or naked. I do not have those. What I have are dreams where I show up at school and cannot remember where my locker is... or the combination of the lock. Maybe now I can sleep better. Course I do occasionally dream about showing up at work in my pajamas.

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"I've never let my school interfere with my education."
Mark Twain

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