Classic Cinema

Farewell to The Great Movie Ride

Another attraction bit the dust at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Great Movie Ride presented by TCM closed permanently yesterday. It’s making way for a new attraction named Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railcar.

The Great Movie Ride made me really happy. It’s a merger of two of my favorite things–a Disney theme park attraction and classic movies. Plus, it was housed inside the Disney theme park version of the world famous Chinese Theater (which still exists today on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, and is still one of the best places in the country to see a movie; in the context of this park, the Chinese Theater served as its symbolic castle).

I was able to score a ticket to a special farewell event for the attraction sponsored by the TCM Backlot and D23 fan clubs held on Saturday, August 12, 2017, one day before the attraction’s closure. They took us into the Disney’s Hollywood Studios park early in the morning before the park’s regular opening, gave us a walking tour of the entire attraction, and then gave us one final ride.

While this attraction was a bit long in the tooth, so to speak, it was grand, it was ambitious, it was one-of-a-kind, and it was all about the love of classic Hollywood movies. Needless to say, I loved the ride and will miss it.

Here are some photos from the farewell event I attended.

Being escorted down Hollywood Boulevard

 

The Chinese Theatre

 

The ride’s signage

 

Attraction poster (plus TCM logo)

 

Introductions and instructions for the morning (“Don’t touch the Audio-Animatronics,” etc.)

 

We’re going in!

 

In the preview room where long-time TCM host Robert Osborne introduced the genres and films highlighted in the attraction

 

Practically empty queue

 

Load area

 

Loved being able to walk through the attraction

 

More TCM!

 

Busby Berkeley girls in Footlight Parade (1933)

 

Gene Kelly in Singing’ in the Rain (1952)

 

Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins (1964)

 

James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931)

 

Imagineer giving us context in the gangster room

 

Clint Eastwood in any one of his spaghetti Westerns (maybe A Fistful of Dollars from 1964?)

 

John Wayne in Rio Bravo (1959); at least I think it’s Rio Bravo

 

Western room

 

The Nostromo from Alien (1979); the alien in the ceiling was no longer there

 

Signorney Weaver from Alien (1979)

 

Entering the Raiders of the Lost Ark area

 

Harrison Ford and John Rhys-Davies in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1982)

 

 Cheetah and Maureen O’Sullivan in one of her many Tarzan pics (1932-1942); Tarzan was a no show

 

My favorite part of the attraction–the ending scene of Casablanca

 

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in my all-time favorite movie Casablanca (1942)

 

Mickey Mouse in the Fantasia (1940) room–a precursor of things to come

 

The big room dedicated to the Munchkin Land scene from The Wizard of Oz (1939)

 

Walking through Munchkin Land

 

You know what to do

 

And we did

 

And they did, too

 

Finale room just isn’t as cool without the TCM-curated montage playing

 

Have I mentioned lately that I love TCM?

And it looks like the Walt Disney World folks aren’t wasting any time with the construction of the new Mickey Mouse attraction. Today (August 14, 2017), these new signs were added at the Chinese Theater. (Photos from BlogMickey.com and wdwnt.com; used without permission.) Let’s hope it’s fun.

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Studio Ghibli Fest

“Kiki’s Delivery Service”

This month’s entry in GKIDS’ Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 was Hayao Miyazaki’s delightful 1989 film Kiki’s Delivery Service. Sadly, I missed seeing it on the big screen on July 24 due to a pesky summer cold so I had to do a Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 “Home Edition” and watch the film on DVD.


The story follows a teenage witch named Kiki and her cat Jiji. In the film’s mythos, when witches turn 13 years old, they leave home for a year, pick a new place to live, and learn to get by on their own. On Kiki’s 13th birthday, she leaves her loving family as planned and ends up picking the beautiful but unfriendly port city of Koriko. Kiki is plagued with adolescent insecurities and must find her way–both in figuring out what to do for a living (shockingly, she starts a delivery service) and in determining how she really feels about herself and her place in the world.

This is another breezy, beautiful fantasy film from Studio Ghibli, not unlike My Neighbor Totoro. However, Kiki’s dilemma about what to think about herself drives home an interesting and important truth. When Kiki doubts herself and feels confused and, dare I say, depressed, she loses her witch powers (which are primarily the ability to fly on a broom and to be able to speak with Jiji the cat). Kiki also has to cope with the challenges of living in a new city and dealing with a whole set of mean teenage girls and a gentleman caller, too. It’s not until, with the help of a kind mentor, she decides to believe in herself and what she is capable of when her powers start to return to her. This can be applied to all of us–the criticality of believing in our uniqueness and in our abilities, regardless of what others think, in order for us to do what we are meant to do.

Again, the trademark Studio Ghibli animation is stunningly beautiful. The music is also provided by Miyazaki favorite Joe Hisaishi and it’s terrific. Because I watched it at home, the DVD I have is the 1998 English dub which was overseen by John Lasseter and released by Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Kirsten Dunst voices Kiki and the late Phil Hartman voices Jiji (there was an “In Memory” title card dedicated to him during the end credits, so this clearly was one of Phil Harman’s final projects before his untimely death). This dub is terrific, although I would have much rather watched the sub version on the big screen.

GKIDS recently announced that they will be releasing new versions of most of the Studio Ghibli catalog in North America beginning this fall, so I am excited to start building up my Studio Ghibli collection, particularly with the original Japanese vocal tracks.

Revisiting Kiki’s Delivery Service was just what the doctor ordered. Here’s the tweet I sent out the night I watched the film.

Make sure to check out my friend Rachel Wagner’s podcast on her YouTube channel about Kiki’s Delivery Service. I hope to be able to join in for her upcoming Studio Ghibli Fest podcast in August which will be all about Castle in the Sky, next month’s Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 screening happening August 27 and 28. See the Fathom Events website for a list of participating theaters and to buy tickets.

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Other Things

100 Years of Ford Trucks

I've wanted a Ford F-150 truck for years. It was fun to read about the celebration that took place this week at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first Ford truck.

On July 27, 1917, the very first Ford truck rolled off the assembly line–the 1917 Ford Model TT.

The Ford F-Series truck was born after World War II. Here's a 1948 Ford F-1.

The F-1 was rebranded as the F-100 in 1953. The F-100 included more interior appointments (armrests, dome lighting, etc.) and a more aerodynamic design. Here's a 1953 F-100.

In 1975, Ford replaced the F-100 with the higher-capacity F-150 with the intent to combat the C/K trucks from rival General Motors. Here's a 1975 Ford F-150.

In 1977, the Ford F-Series truck pulled ahead in the sales race vs. General Motors and has been the best selling truck in America ever since. Ford's classic advertising slogan "Built Ford Tough" was also first used in 1977 and it is still in use today.

The F-150 has gone through a lot of design iterations. Here's a classic 1993 F-150.

Here's a beautiful 2004 F-150.

In 2015, Ford began using the auto industry’s first high-strength, military-grade, aluminum-alloy body in its F-150 trucks, making the trucks lighter and more capable (regardless of what Chevy says in their ads).

And here we are with the very latest model, the 2018 F-150. Yes, please!

Congratulations to Ford on this terrific milestone. Here's to another 100 years of Ford trucks.

All images © Ford Motor Company

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Movie Posters

“Avengers: Infinity War” Triptych from San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic-Con wrapped up its annual four-day run yesterday. And while I didn't win the selection lottery again this year and, therefore, didn't get a pass to attend in person, it was fun to participate via the great variety of social media channels covering the annual pop culture fest.

Marvel Studios did not disappoint again this year with their huge Hall H presentation this past Saturday. Marvel released a cool poster triptych of their upcoming Avengers: Infinity War film created by Marvel Studios visual development artist Ryan Meinerding.

Here are the three separate pieces.

And here's the composite.

Avengers: Infinity War will be in theaters May 4, 2018.

Images © Marvel Studios

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Disney Movie of the Month

“Pete’s Dragon” (1977)

Walt Disney Productions' 1977 big budget musical Pete's Dragon (not to be confused with the 2016 non-musical remake) is an ambitious musical comedy that tries hard but, due to many factors, just doesn't quite hit the mark.

Following the template set by Walt Disney's magnum opus Mary Poppins (1964), and to a much lesser extent Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), Pete's Dragon is another attempt to merge live-action and animation into a family-friendly musical (although Pete's Dragon inserts an animated character in a live action environment rather than live actors in an animated environment). The film's premise is a clever one–an orphaned boy is befriended and protected by an animated dragon that only he can see. The Disney Studios' bosses of the mid-1970s pulled together a talented team to try to re-ignite the Disney musical magic. Veteran Disney director Don Chaffey was tasked to direct the project. Hot (at the time) Hollywood songwriting duo Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn were hired to write original songs for the film. The legendary Irwin Kostal composed the film's score. Internationally acclaimed pop star Helen Reddy signed on to play the female lead (it was her first film), Broadway star Jim Dale was cast to play one of the villains, and Hollywood veterans Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters, and Red Buttons all came on board for the project, too.

In a nutshell, the story has orphan Pete (played by Sean Marshall) and his mostly invisible dragon Elliott (animated by Ken Anderson and the Disney Animation team) on the run from Pete's super creepy hillbilly foster family, the Gogans (played by Shelley Winters, Jeff Conaway, and others), whose evil purpose in wanting Pete is for him to be their slave. Pete and Elliott arrive in the town of Passamaquoddy (which looks like somewhere on the coast of Maine) and meet Lampie the lighthouse keeper (played by Mickey Rooney) and his daughter Nora (played by Helen Reddy) who show pity on poor Pete and let him stay with them in their lighthouse. Nora looks after Pete and becomes a mother figure to him, helping him to integrate into life in the town. In the meantime, crooked snake oil salesmen Dr. Terminus (played by Jim Dale) and Hoagy (played by Red Buttons) arrive in Passamaquoddy and try to sell the townspeople on their fraudulent elixirs. Dr. Terminus finds out about Elliott and turns his focus on to capturing him, killing him, and using his body parts to concoct a new line of magic elixirs. Consequently, the Gogans continue to pursue Pete, Dr. Terminus is determined to terminate Elliott, and the plot continues on from there.

So what went wrong? Lots, as far as I'm concerned. But first let's focus on the good parts. Even with all of the great human talent on and off the screen, the real star of the show is animator Ken Anderson's Elliott the dragon. Elliott has such a great character design with his beautiful green color, bright pink hair and wings, and fluid shape. Elliott's charm is in his bumbling yet informed innocence, which is perfectly expressed by the terrific animation done on his character. The special effects wizards at the Disney Studios contributed significantly to Elliott's performance as they had to create visuals to match the invisible movements of the dragon through the human environments. I was especially impressed with all of the effects near the beginning of the film when an invisible Elliott is inadvertently destroying everything he comes in contact with when Pete and Elliott arrive in Passamaquoddy. Also impressive are the backgrounds and visual effects done by the Disney Studios' Process Lab.

 

The uneven script and musical numbers really cause the problems for me. The script is convoluted and overly cluttered with multiple villains, unnecessary subplots (which I won't bore you with here; I'll let the film do that), and a lack of focus. And at a running time of 128 minutes, it's simply too long (more about that later). While "Candle on the Water" and "Brazzle Dazzle Day" are the delightful musical high points in the film, there are disastrous musical low points such as "The Happiest Home in These Hills" horrifyingly sung by Shelley Winters and company, the onerous "Passmashloddy" sung with one dimensional earnestness by Jim Dale and Red Buttons, and the pleasant but out of place anthem "There's Room for Everyone." Mickey Rooney and Helen Reddy do their best with the barrel dancing scene "I Saw a Dragon," but the segment pales in comparison to "Step in Time" from Mary Poppins or any of the great musical dance numbers from Hollywood's or Disney's golden ages. Overall, the talented cast does the best they can with the material, but, sadly, the material is just not that good.

Although there is sentimental pleasure and comfort in watching a Disney-produced film from this era, the unevenness of the final product is a shame. The film had so much potential, even if it was trying to recreate a type of film whose best efforts were in the past. It would take another decade for the musical to flourish again at Disney with the renaissance of Disney Animation and their string of hit animated musicals beginning with 1989's The Little Mermaid.

Now one more thing about the film's lengthy running time. It sounds like this was problem from the get-go and different cuts of the film have been released over the years. I found this blurb about it on IMDb:

This Disney film has a troubled history as far as the many different versions released over the years. It originally ran 134 minutes. After its premiere engagement in Hollywood, it was cut down to 121 minutes before it premiered in New York. When it was released in Europe, it ran 105 minutes, with the following edits: "Candle on the Water" (which survived only as an instrumental passage over the credits replacing the original overture) and "The Happiest Home in These Hills" were eliminated entirely; verses from "I Saw A Dragon," "Passamashloddy," "There's Room For Everyone," and "Every Little Piece" were cut; 21 scenes were shortened. This version was used for the original home video release in 1980, while every video since then has run 128 minutes, restoring the songs and the majority of dramatic material. However, when Disney re-released it in theaters, it was the European cut. Even further cuts were made for the TV version of the film, which premiered on "The Disney Sunday Movie" in 1986.

I watched the 2009 "High-Flying Edition" DVD of the film and I assume that it contained the 128-minute cut. (I would very much like to talk with someone with knowledge about this at Disney. I think it would be great for them to do a restored version of the 134-minute original edit, but, then again, that's a lot of time to have to sit through this film again.)

On a happier note, the special features on the "High Flying Edition" DVD were enlightening and a lot of fun. I particularly I liked the short documentary "Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney’s Movie Magic," which described some of the remarkable special effects developed over the years at the Disney Studios that were incorporated into the making of the film (the mini-documentary has been bootlegged on YouTube in two sections–part one and part two; these are highly recommended for any major Disney fan). The special features also contained four audio tracks from a 7" promotional EP with pop versions of songs from the film. My friends and I were in stitches as we listened to the pop version of "Brazzle Dazzle Day" which had modified lyrics and a sound that would do Richard Carpenter proud. (I would really love to find a copy of this record!)

Overall, Pete's Dragon only holds up as a sentimental trip to the past that wasn't that great of an trip to begin with. (But I still want to talk with someone at Disney about that 134-minute cut along with that 7" promotional record.)

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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