Mickey Mouse is back – and looking better than ever

Disney may be turning away from hand-drawn animation for feature-length films in favour of 3D CGI, but it has just announced a series of nineteen 2D shorts with a distincitvely retro look. Not only that, but the new shorts will feature the studio’s classic characters –Mickey Mouse, girlfriend Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, etc. – in a distinctively retro look. Based on the first one, Croissant de Triomphe, which has been released online, the style should really work well.

Mickey in particular just doesn’t work in 3D, despite preschool channel Playhouse Disney trying its best, as well as videogame Disney Epic Mickey. The insistence on Mickey’s ears always appearing round and a particular distance apart often results in them gliding over the 3D model’s head whenever he turns. This 2D style, in comparison, looks gorgeous – although it does take some other liberties with the character designs.

I can’t wait for the other eighteen, which will start to premiere over the summer.

Portrait of a Princess

A full review of last night’s Michael Bruce concert and his album, Unwritten Songs, will be forthcoming shortly (edit: my review of Unwritten Songs is now online). In the meantime, enjoy this fun video starring Julie Atherton and a host of familiar West End faces, as Julie sings her track from the album, Portrait of a Princess:

Top 10 Disney films that should be stage musicals

Over the weekend came news that Disney’s theatrical division is working on some new adaptations of films from its back catalogue. Freaky Friday, Father of the Bride, The Jungle Book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Dumbo are all in development, as is an adaptation of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and a reworked version of The Little Mermaid. Newsies and Aladdin had previously been announced.

Ironically, before that article was published I had been having a conversation on Twitter about Disney films that could be adapted for the stage, as a direct result from having reviewed The Lion King.

While the announcement above includes lots of new projects, I was left thinking: what other films from the House of Mouse could make the transition to the theatre? So here are ten of my suggestions, in a more-or-less-arbitrary Letterman-style countdown from 10 to 1. And note I’ve ignored many of the Perrault-inspired fairytale features (Cinderella, et al), which sail a little too close to the British panto oeuvre.

Which has the potential to be the next Lion King, and which the next Tarzan, I wonder?

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Tron: Legacy

In the beginning was the Creator. And when he had created the world, he created a man in his image that he might look after the world. But through the created man’s actions the world descended into disorder. So the creator sent his son, to fight against the fallen angel and restore the world to its original ideals.

Well, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s clear that Tron: Legacy is drawing on some Biblical influences even though its main character seems more interested in other religions (notably the Californian Surfer Dude dialect of Buddhism).

And while the visuals of the film – which take the original film’s darkness-and-neon stylings and use the latest CGI to make the virtual world seem far more solid than it ever did in the 1982 original – are superb, the plot is far more crudely sketched. The basic structure is pretty much the same as the original film – human gets pulled into a virtual world, is made to play video games until he escapes, brings down the bad guy and makes his way to the portal so that he can return to the real world. 

In the original film, the bad guy was the Master Control Program and his right-hand program Sark, both played by David Warner (who also played the ‘real world’ bad guy, Dillinger). Here, the conceit is that the bad guy is Clu, a program created by Jeff Bridges’ Flynn to oversee the computer world of the Grid. Brought into being just after the events of the 1982 film, Clu looks as Bridges did back then. The computer-generated face (achieved by scanning Bridges as he is now using motion capture, then rendering CGI onto the face of a body double) doesn’t quite work, though. Much like the original film, the idea is far better than current computers can execute. Clu is effective in moments of extreme emotion, from laughter to rage. Where it fails is where Bridges, and all good film actors, excel: the expression of emotion through doing nothing, only a vague flicker crossing the face in ways that a computer algorithm can’t compute.

To be fair, that artificiality can be explained away by the fact that Clu is a computer program. Unfortunately, though, it’s also used to ‘de-age’ Bridges in a number of flashback sequences that just draw further attention to its drawbacks. The opening scene – set several years after the first film, with Flynn relating the story to his young son – is completely derailed by an obvious CG effect planted slap bang within a very human moment.

Let’s be fair – the original film wasn’t exactly known for its great insight, but for effects that pushed the boundaries of what was possible. Tron: Legacy does that too, but to a much lesser extent – and is less enjoyable as a result.

Disney Epic Mickey, Nintendo Wii

Back when I was growing up, the weekly Mickey Mouse comics by IPC Magazines were a constant companion. While my sister was reading Bunty and Judy, I was getting lost in a world where Scrooge McDuck was either swimming through his piles of gold coins, or protecting them from being stolen by the incompetent Beagle Boys; where Huey, Dewey and Louie were forever trying to get extra Junior Woodchuck badges; and where I would see comic strip adaptations of the summer Disney releases from Pete’s Dragon to Candleshoe before the films themselves had even hit these shores.

The bulk of each issue consisted of a number of short strips, reprinted from various US and European sources, which included some characters who were born from Mickey Mouse’s back catalgoue of shorts from 1929’s Plane Crazy onwards. As a result, the likes of Clara Cluck, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow were characters that I knew well. They may not have been as close to my heart as the likes of Mickey, Pluto, Donald and Goofy, but they were never far away.

As far as the public at large goes, though, I suspect that many of the peripheral characters have long since been forgotten. And that’s part of the premise of the new Nintendo Wii game, Disney Epic Mickey (Wii).
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Drat! And double drat!

Goodwood Junior Festival of Speed

US TV blog [TV Squad](http://www.tvsquad.com/2009/08/01/wacky-races-live/) gets its knickers in a twist about the Goodwood Junior Festival of Speed:

> I’m oddly ambivalent about this. Cosplay is one thing. This seems dangerous. What if one of the drivers can’t see out of their outfit?

…somehow missing that

* it’s a parade up a hillclimb track — i.e., they’ll be driving _very slowly uphill_. Less **Wacky Races**, more **Wacky Parade Floats**; and
* Do you really think Dick Dastardly would let Muttley anywhere near the steering wheel?

Seriously, Brad Trechak’s post concentrates more on the concept’s appeal to the 1970s fanboy — and that’s something I can heartily agree with. That said, the whole prospect seems more akin to the actors who dress up in Disney costumes. As a child, they never once had the same charm as the original cartoon characters. At least these days, I don’t regard them as really, truly creepy.

Well, not often.

Lucas Grabeel: Musical youth

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2007 issue of **The Stage**

**As one of the stars of dazzling Disney success story, High School Musical, Lucas Grabeel is finally enjoying the Hollywood high life. In The Stage’s second instalment examining the growing musical franchise, he talks to Scott Matthewman about his shaky start in LA and how he got his break**

“The greatest part about working on High School Musical,” Lucas Grabeel says with a grin, “was the first couple of days.”

He clearly says this not to imply it was all downhill from there, rather that director and choreographer Kenny Ortega’s mode of working appealed to him from the outset.

“Normally, when you show up to rehearsals on the first day, the choreographer has got every step ready to go, written down in their notebook before they’ve even seen anyone do the dance. They’d choreograph all of it themselves.”

Instead, Grabeel, 22, and co-star Ashley Tisdale, who were to put on a deliberately exaggerated, uptempo pastiche version of the romantic leads’ big ballad, What I’ve Been Looking For, found themselves with an unusual request from their director.
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Top of the class

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2007 issue of **The Stage**

_Rob Gilby, managing director of Disney Channel UK, reveals how the company is responding to the enthusiastic High School Musical audience in Britain_

Our marketing of the films has been driven by the sense of ownership the kids have. They’re demanding it on their desktop, on their mobile phone, as a CD and T-shirt. The ultimate example in the UK is more than 300 amateur productions that have been licensed to schools and amateur groups, where they can not only own a piece of the fun, they can be in it. I wish something like that was around when I was a kid.

High School Musical has really woken the audience to what the Disney Channel has been doing for a number of years with our live action comedy series and our original movies. The funny thing is that High School Musical was the 61st made for TV movie Disney Channel has done.

Our competitors are only just getting into the TV movie market now, but we’ve been doing it for a long time. And all our live action comedies are rating so well, we’re having the best summer we’ve ever had. British kids relate to the humour, the circumstances the kids on screen are put in, the way it captures their values and their lifestyle.

But kids in the UK do get a fantastic choice. There are 25 children’s channels, and a very strong public service broadcaster in the BBC, and that means there’s an opportunity to ask if we’re providing a diversity of choice. We take our responsibility really seriously.

As well as the fantastic programming we’re making on a global basis, we’re making local shows, including a short form show called As the Bell Rings, which has been rating very well. We’re doing our part to contribute towards that, and other players are doing their bit, too. But there is a perception that the industry is facing a number of challenges. The recent changes on junk food advertising haven’t affected us because we’re a subscription service, carried on Sky, Virgin and Tiscali. And while Freeview is the fastest growing service, once people sample the range of channels available they’re saying, ‘I want a little bit more’, and moving to platforms that give them our kids’ channels. We moved to the basic pay TV packages last spring, and that brought us to a much larger audience too.

High School Musical 3 will be going into cinemas first, which is the biggest compliment we could get. The first TV movie was big, and the second one is even bigger, and now they want to make a motion picture release. I’m really happy. It’s still going to be a Disney movie, we’re still going to act as partners. The schedule it’ll be appearing on the channel won’t be on the same timescale, but it’s fantastic news for the cast, the producers and for Disney as a whole.

Last night I was talking to Lucas Grabeel, and he’s really excited because as well as these movies and the others he’s made with us, he’s got other ideas he wants to pitch to us. He’s actually enjoying the ability to explore several parts of his skill set across different parts of the company. And the company is terribly supportive in asking him, ‘How else can we work with you?’. It’s a throwback to the old Hollywood model, I guess.

High School Musical proves there are opportunities for the audience to engage with our programming through many different media. Last week, we started selling shows through iTunes. It won’t undermine the channel, it complements it. Giving people a choice of where, when and how they access our programming is an important part of our brand. If they want it on their iPod, we’re going to give it to them.

_Rob Gilby was talking to Scott Matthewman_