Attraction Spotlight: Animation Academy

Our instructor at the Animation Academy.

Our instructor at the Animation Academy.

As someone not particularly artistically-inclined – at least when it comes to drawing – I’ll admit, I’d never set foot inside the Animation Academy at Disney California Adventure until a friend dragged me in by bribing me with the promise of learning how to draw the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland!

And the result was a super-fun experience that I highly recommend!

It all begins outside the Disney Animation Building in Hollywood Land where a board lists the various characters being taught for the day (classes run on the half hour) – choices may range from Fab Five characters like Goofy or Pluto or, of course, Mickey Mouse. But there are other popular characters such as a selection from The Nightmare Before Christmas or Olaf the snowman to more random characters like one of my favorites, the Cheshire Cat.

Let me state emphatically that you do NOT need any art training (or talent!) whatsoever to enjoy this attraction. The Cast Member instructor will show you everything you need to do to turn out a drawing of a beloved character.

I had serious doubts about my ability to do this, but was pleasantly surprised by the results!

When you first enter the room for this experience, there is stadium seating and a drawing board, paper and pencil waiting for you. Grab a board and settle in and let the class begin! Continue reading

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The Animation Courtyard – A Magical Retreat at Disney California Adventure

Inside the Animation Courtyard.

Inside the Animation Courtyard.

There is a hidden gem inside the Disney Animation Building in Disney California Adventure’s Hollywood Land: the Animation Courtyard.

This is not only a central location to lead you to other attractions such as the Animation Academy (to be spotlighted tomorrow!) and Turtle Talk with Crush, along with the Meet & Greet area for Anna and Elsa. But it is a destination unto itself – a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of the parks.

It functions both as a place to get out of the rain or sun and just rest for a bit, as well as a wonderful showcase for Disney and PIXAR animation and musical history.

I love going in here and just sitting (either on one of the couches here or even on the floor) and watching and listening – whether for a few moments or the full half-hour-ish loop of songs, animation and drawings projected in 360 degrees all around you!

So many films are represented here – from classics like Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty artwork.

Sleeping Beauty artwork.

Through the renaissance of Disney animation like Aladdin and The Lion King

The Lion King animation.

The Lion King animation.

To modern showstoppers like Frozen. I’ve yet to see “Let it Go” play here in the Courtyard without many guests breaking out into the chorus along with Elsa! Continue reading

Mousertainment Movies: Top 5 Favorite PIXAR Films and Top 5 Favorite PIXAR Shorts

Right off the top I’ll explain why I’m splitting this list into five and five rather than just doing a Top 10 PIXAR favorites list: there are shorts that I like as much or better than the PIXAR feature films, so while my features list really likely would’ve been closer to “Top 7”, I thought that was silly, so I’m splitting it in half this way.

Now it may seem like film fan blasphemy to only have seven beloved PIXAR films, but the truth is, while I like several more, there are only my main grouping that I truly love and would and do re-watch regularly.

So here is that features list:

5) Monsters, Inc.

  • A far more satisfying buddy film for me than the Toy Story films (nothing against them, it’s just that the Monsters films engaged me more). I loved the universe of the monsters, the friendship between Mike and Sulley, the villainy of Randall, the bureaucracy of Roz and the adorableness of Boo. Not to mention the great visuals of the door factory. I thought this was a fun world to experience and I was happy to return to it in the prequel!

4) Ratatouille

  • This movie is not what you think it is. It is not about a rat who wants to cook. It’s about dreaming and achieving and not cowering to others’ perceptions of your limitations. The core message of the film is not just “Anyone Can Cook”, but “Anyone Can Do Anything They Dream”. And it’s a foodie film, too. Get beyond your distaste of rats (and critics!) to find your taste for Ratatouille!

3) WALL-E

  • If my top two weren’t so beloved, this could also easily have topped my list. A love story as classic and eternal as Lady & The Tramp or Beauty & The Beast, if you don’t get teary as WALL-E courts EVE, then you may be more of a robot than he is! At its center, yes, it’s about a PC that falls in love with a Mac. Well, okay, no, that’s just the visual of it! But really, it’s a terribly romantic film, wrapped up in an eco-warning that if we don’t clean up after ourselves and stay healthy, we can lose both the planet and our independence. But really, just watch it for one of those beautiful perfect moments in a film – WALL-E’s “dance” with EVE and a fire extinguisher in outer space. Continue reading

Mousertainment Movies: Top 10 Favorite Disney Animated Films

I’ve been looking forward to doing this feature – and tomorrow’s, too!

So obviously everyone’s “top 10 favorites” list will look a bit different from anyone else’s and it’s all subjective, of course. And while my top 25 Disney animated features list was pretty easy to whittle down, narrowing it to just 10 was more difficult. Still, I had a general feeling for what most of this list would consist of, though I wasn’t totally sure in which order they would fall. And I could continue to wiggle a few of these around into different rankings, but the top few are definitely my biggest favorites even if they were switched around in order a bit.

Before I get into my list, however, I’d like to stress that this is my grouping of *favorites* – which would absolutely fall into a different order and even different films than a 10 *best* list – which I may do another time.

And one more thing I’d like to acknowledge: while I grew up with and love all of the classic Disney animated films, none of them – even my beloved Alice in Wonderland – actually made it onto this list! The reason for this is that I made my selections based on the films that I watch most often, in many cases due to my love of their soundtracks, but also the themes addressed in them.

Now, without further ado – my top 10 favorites!

10) The Little Mermaid

  • The glory of the soundtrack featuring the brilliance of Howard Ashman, combined with some of the most colorful and gorgeous hand drawn animation ever makes for one of the greatest Disney films ever. Perfect songs, perfect princess, perfect villain, perfect sidekicks. This is the textbook on how to do it right and it’s no surprise this was the film that jump-started a new golden age of Disney animation.

9) Beauty and the Beast

  • Next year, audiences will fall in love all over again with this “tale as old as time” with its new live-action incarnation. But in the meantime, I strongly recommend you revisit this touching story of a girl who sees beneath the surface of a beast to the potential prince within. The ballroom scene alone is worth watching the entire film for, but the absolutely exquisite voice casting of Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers and Jerry Orbach show just how critical the sidekick characters can be – especially in the showstopping number, “Be Our Guest”!

8) The Lion King

  • Yes, it’s a whole lot of Hamlet. And that’s just fine with this Shakespeare fan! While Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent may generally be the most popular villain in the Disney canon, to me, Scar is the absolute tops! From his purring, seductive tones to his sheer murderous actions, his evil is devastating as it is so very human. While theoretically, this is Simba’s story, I’m wild about all the rest of the characters from the fussy Zazu and wise Rafiki to the hilarious henchmen hyenas to the beloved sidekicks Timon & Pumbaa. Not to mention Simba’s parents, the noble Mufasa and loving Sarabi, and of course, Simba’s spunky romantic interest, Nala. Again, it is all tied together by an amazing soundtrack. The resulting film is timeless and amazing.

7) The Emperor’s New Groove

  • Wait, what? So few people seem to even remember this one exists, but between the absolute brilliance of David Spade’s Kuzco and John Goodman’s Pacha along with the sheer magic of Eartha Kitt’s Yzma and Patrick Warburton’s Kronk, the humor and charm of this film never fails to make me laugh out loud. From the first time I saw it, I dubbed it “a Warner Brothers cartoon as made by Disney”. Please do yourselves a favor and watch this underappreciated gem of a film!  Otherwise, Yzma may turn you into a flea, a harmless, little flea…

6) Hercules

  • And speaking of humor… this film absolutely belongs to James Woods’ makes-me-laugh-till-I-cry Hades. With some extra credit to his scheming henchmen Pain & Panic. But then there’s Meg – who breaks and steals my heart every time I watch this film. One of the most imperfect, yet relatable, Disney heroines ever, it is Meg who, as the audience surrogate, makes us appreciate “Wonder Boy” Hercules. And then there is the ultimate inspirational song, “Go the Distance” that makes you believe that anything is possible. Another overlooked film that’s worth your time. Continue reading

Mousertainment Movies: The Wisdom of Fools – An Appreciation of Disney Sidekicks

While there are a lot of fans out there of Disney film protagonists – the heroes and heroines of the story – as well as plenty of fans of Disney villains, I have found that my favorite characters tend to be the sidekicks.

And not just any sidekicks, but the ones who aren’t always embraced by either the protagonist or the audience – the ones who, in fact, are often treated like fools but turn out to be the wisest characters of all, not to mention the most loyal of companions.

Some examples of these favorite “foolish” characters include:

Dug (UP)

  • My favorite non-Wonderland character in all of Disney (and Pixar). Dug is a good dog. He may express himself simply, but his candor reveals his big heart and devotion to his chosen pack. And while his blunt talk may make him seem foolish, he is courageous in his defense of his masters and clever when it counts. Just hearing his joyous doggy ‘voice’ or looking at him with his wagging tail makes me smile. Plus… SQUIRREL!

Tow Mater (Cars)

  • Tow Mater is a small town truck, who thanks to his friendship with Lightning McQueen has managed to travel the world but still keep his perspective to what truly matters most in life: family, friends and home. He may seem naïve, but he always has his priorities in order and maintains a happy, friendly, open and welcoming attitude towards everyone. He does have an occasional naughty streak (like tractor-tipping!), but in all is the best friend a car could ever ask for!

Olaf (Frozen)

  • The overabundance of Frozen across Disney properties has led to something of a backlash from some people against Olaf. And I’ll agree, I got sick of all the Frozen everywhere, but if you return to the heart of the Frozen phenomenon, it’s the movie. And in the movie, Olaf is yet another endearing sidekick character who perceives instantly and more clearly exactly what is happening and why before the protagonists ever catch on. He recognizes love when he sees it and he understands instinctively that some people are worth melting for…  Continue reading

Mousertainment Movies: How the Original Pete’s Dragon Shaped My Worldview

“There’s room for everyone in this world – if everyone makes some room.”

With the opening this weekend of the remake/reboot of Pete’s Dragon, I thought it an apt time to look back at the original.

I’m not sure how one can fully explain something that is so intrinsically a part of oneself. A defining belief system. A personal worldview. Several things shaped me from a young age – I was always exposed to music and performances so I can’t say whether that love is nature or nurture, but probably a combination of both. However, I do know that my value system was strongly influenced by a couple of very specific moments of entertainment that I was exposed to/discovered at a young age.

The first was Star Trek, with its concept of IDIC – infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Unlike the modern politically-correct push for “more diversity” – which sadly seems to often result in tokenism/quotas and separatism rather than in bringing more people together – IDIC was about respecting differences and appreciating them and still being allowed one’s own beliefs and having those also respected by others. Basically: I may not agree with you, but I’ll defend and respect your right to believe what you do, as you do the same for me, and we can all still get along whether you’re a human, a Vulcan, a Klingon or whatever!  But it took me time to truly process the Star Trek version of this concept.

The second was one of the many brilliant animated shorts from Schoolhouse Rock – “The Great American Melting Pot” – which showed that hey, we may all come from different places and backgrounds but ultimately we are more alike than not, so let’s build this country together by utilizing those differences toward a common goal!

But finally, the one that came even simpler and easier to me to embrace was the film I saw at a young age that defined for me the concepts of true tolerance and inclusion – Pete’s Dragon.

Wait, what?

Yes, Pete’s Dragon. You may think the story is about an orphan boy finding a new home with the help of a friendly dragon, but the real messages here to take away from it are much, much bigger than that. Continue reading

5 Ideas for Disneyland Resort Themed Dance Parties

After yesterday’s article discussing what it means to have bands temporarily back at Tomorrowland Terrace as well as the impact of Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout on Disney California Adventure entertainment, I may seem a bit doom and gloom.

So today I’ll take an optimistic viewpoint in at least one area potentially being affected by entertainment changes in the Resort. I will hold out hope that at some point – preferably sooner rather than later – live music dance parties like The Mad T Party could return to the Disneyland Resort.

Now, I understand not everyone is a fan of these dance parties – but especially when they’re held in an otherwise underutilized portion of the park, it really isn’t a problem for those who wish to avoid them and it’s an added bonus for those of us who enjoy nighttime live entertainment at the parks.

Personally, I prefer having such nighttime themed musical entertainment at Disney California Adventure and leaving the regular cover bands at Tomorrowland Terrace at Disneyland Park. This way there are different options for different tastes – and one place for folks to party with adult beverage options and one for them to party without it!

However, with the idea that the cover bands are only back for a limited time, I’d still like to see live pop and rock music somewhere in the Resort, so Tomorrowland Terrace is also an option as a location for a nighttime dance party if the Hollywood Backlot winds up being used for other developments.

For me, as a fan of Wonderland, The Mad T Party was the ultimate dance party – and everything that worked there was just tops – from the band to the DJ to the dance crew. So I’d like to see all three of those elements return in any dance party hosted at the Resort. (Not JUST a DJ or an occasional dance routine. That never works – at least not at the Disneyland Resort.  Walt Disney World Resort may function better for family themed DJ parties given their different guest profile – mostly tourists rather than locals.)

So with those elements in mind – band, DJ, dance crew – here are five themes I would suggest for the next Disneyland Resort Dance Party: Continue reading