Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

“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.

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

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

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

Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

“My Neighbor Totoro” and Studio Ghibli Fest 2017

Japan’s Studio Ghibli is one of the world’s great animation studios. American film audiences are in for a treat this year because film distributor GKIDS along with Fathom Events are presenting Studio Ghibli Fest 2017, a six-film retrospective where they will screen one Studio Ghibli film a month in participating theatres across the U.S.A. through November 2017. Last month’s film was the 1988 classic My Neighbor Totoro.

(© Studio Ghibli)

All films selected for Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 were directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki. The six films are My Neighbor Totoro (which was screened on June 25 and 26 and is the impetus for this post), Kiki’s Delivery Service (July 23 and 24), Castle in the Sky (August 27 and 28), Nausicaä and the Valley of the Wind (September 24 and 25), Spirited Away (October 29 and 30), and Howl’s Moving Castle (November 26 and 27). As you’ll see on a calendar, the screenings take place on consecutive Sundays and Mondays with the Sunday screenings being an English dub version of the film and Monday screenings being the English subtitle version. I purchased tickets for all six films at a discounted price at (my local participating theater). More info about the festival is at the
Fathom Events website.

If you’ve never seen My Neighbor Totoro, you really should. It’s an incredibly charming and beautiful treatise on the wonder of childhood and is probably my favorite Studio Ghibli film. Getting to see a pristine digital print of this film on the big screen was a dream come true. The trademark animation from director Hayao Miyazaki and the supremely talented artists at Studio Ghibli continues to inspire. I was particularly moved this time by seeing the gorgeous watercolor backgrounds used in the film’s production super-sized on the big screen. Check out this video of the film’s art director Kazuo Oga painting in watercolor and you’ll get a taste for the tremendous artistry at work here.

Another treat was to hear the film’s marvelous soundtrack on the great stereo system at my local Cinemark theater. Composer Joe Hisaishi, who is often referred to as the “John Williams of Japan,” has over 100 film scores under his belt, and his score for My Neighbor Totoro is just plain magic in the best sense of the word. (I loved hearing this music again so much, I’ve been listening daily to the film’s soundtrack on Apple Music since the screening.) Here’s a video with Joe Hisaishi at the piano playing “The Path of the Wind,” one of memorable musical themes from the film.

I also learned at the screening that when My Neighbor Totoro made its cinematic debut in Japan, it was a double feature. The film was paired with another Studio Ghibli film–Isao Takahata’s beautiful and devastating Grave of the Fireflies. (My Neighbor Totoro has a running time of 86 minutes and Grave of the Firefiles is 90 minutes; I hope that Firefiles was screened first, but I don’t believe that was the case.)

(© Studio Ghibli)

After the film’s screening, I recorded a podcast with my friend and prolific film reviewer Rachel Wagner. You can check out our Totoro podcast here.

My Neighbor Totoro kicked off GKIDS’ Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 in a perfect way. I can’t wait to experience the rest of these wonderful Studio Ghibli films on the big screen in the months ahead. I hope you’ll join me, too. Follow me on Twitter and let’s discuss all things Studio Ghibli (#StudioGhibliFest).

Movie Posters

Poster Posse Does “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

More coolness from the talented artists at Poster Posse. Check out these great Spider-Man: Homecoming posters (they have phases one and two so far).

All images © Marvel

From artist Kaz Oomori (Instagram: @kazoomori).

Here’s a “selfie” series from artist Thomas Walker (Instagram: @tommypocket).

I love this series by artist Doaly (Instagram: @_doaly).

From artist Ben Mcleod (Instagram: @benmcleod).

From artist Arden Avett (Instagram: @ardenavett).

This one is by artist Stephen Sampson (Instagram: @thedarkinker).

Last one is this cool piece by artist Simon Delart (Instagram: @s2lart).