Podcasts of the Week Ending October 24


Code Switch :: Is Trump Really That Racist?

Trump says the quiet part out loud, but a panel of experts evaluates US Presidents over the past 50 years and finds that many of them enabled racism through policy and laws.

Planet Money :: Frame Canada

A whistleblower exposes the propaganda campaign he created to (succesfully) make Americans believe that medical care in Canada is inferior to that of the United States.

The Thirty20Eight :: Disney Princess Non-Princesses & Non-Princess Princesses

What is a Disney Princess and who makes the cut? A surprisingly fascinating discussion of a cultural phenomenon.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Dies Irae

From medieval chants to symphonic compositions to the soundtracks of blockbuster films, a pattern of four notes has served to represent death.

What Next :: First Timers: Out of Prison and Finally Able to Vote

Incarceration strips American citizens of their right to vote, sometimes even after they are released. This podcast focuses on one formerly incarcerated person who will be participating in voting for the first time this year.

RUNNING TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES

TV Review: The Mandalorian (2019)


Title: The Mandalorian
Release Date: 2019
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner: Jon Favreau
Episodes: 8
Production Company:  Lucasfilm | Golem Productions
Summary/Review:

The Mandalorian is the flagship original TV series for the Disney+ streaming service, and the first live-action TV series to take place in the Star Wars universe. Set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is a bounty hunter and member of a sect who ritually make armor from Beskar steel and never remove their masks in the presence of others.

The Mandalorian derives it’s style from classic Western and samurai films.  I actually watched High Noon and Seven Samurai during this season, and was struck by the visual homages and even the similarity in music.  In this era of heavily serialized tv drama, The Mandalorian is refreshingly old-fashioned in it’s episodic nature, especially mid-season.  It reminds me of adventure tv series from the 70s and 80s, perhaps something produced by Glen A. Larson, or as I more facetiously noted, Here’s Boomer.

The Mandalorian was marketed as your basic show about an armored antihero kicking butt, basically aimed at the people who found The Last Jedi‘s questioning of the moral underpinning of the Star Wars story to be offensive. That was true for most of the first episode until it was revealed that the show is really about The Child, or as America’s sweetheart is more popularly known, “Baby Yoda.” The tiny, green puppet so thoroughly steals every seen they appear it in that I’ve taken to calling this The Baby Yoda Show.

Of course, let not undersell Pascal, who does a terrific job of acting while wearing a mask and saying very little.  The show is also full of a remarkable slate of guest actors including Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog (who I still can’t believe is in this show), Nick Nolte, Taika Waititi, Gina Carano, Amy Sedaris, Jake Cannavale, Bill Burr (who proves there is a Boston long ago and far away), Natalia Tena, Richard Ayoade, and Giancarlo Espisito.  With some regret, I have to admit that this is by leaps and bounds better than any other new Star Wars content released this year.  I look forward to Baby Yoda and his armored sidekick returning for another season.

Related Posts:

TV Review: The Imagineering Story (2019)


Title: The Imagineering Story
Release Date: 2019
Writer: Mark Catalena
Director: Leslie Iwerks
Production Company:  ABC Studios | Iwerks & Co.
Summary/Review:

This documentary focuses on the history of the people behind the Walt Disney theme parks.  Walt Disney Imagineering – originally WED Enterprises – was founded in 1952 as Walt Disney’s engineering division tasked with designing Disneyland.  This is an in-house production, so naturally there’s a promotional element to the series that toots Disney’s own horn.  But I am impressed that the show does acknowledge mistakes and setbacks in Imagineering history.

The director, Leslie Iwerks, is a third generation Disney employee.  Her grandfather Ub Iwerks worked with Walt in the early days and co-created Mickey Mouse while her father Don Iwerks was a technician and executive from the 1950s to 1980s.  Highlights of the series include interviews with prominent figures – both archival and for the show – such as Bob Gurr, Herb Ryman, X Atencio, Harriet Burns, Harper Goff, Marty Sklar, David Snyder, Blaine Gibson, Tom K. Morris, Kevin Rafferty, Peggie Fariss, Glenn Barker, and Katie Olson, Tony Baxter, Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, Eddie Sotto, Tim Delaney, Joe Rohde, Ali Rubenstein, and Kevin Rafferty.  Most of those names are men, but the series makes an admirable effort to acknowledge the role of women in Imagineering.  A powerful moment comes in an interview with Imagineer Kim Irvine when she talks about her mother Leota Toombs, an Imagineering designer who became famous as the model for Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion.  Irvine talks about still being able to hear her mother’s voice every time she visits the attraction.

I felt that there was a lot of innovation and creativity in the early days of WED Enterprises that the years covered in the first two episodes could easily have been stretched out into three (or more) episodes.  That being said, the early Imagineers have appeared in many other “behind the scenes” programs about Disney Parks, so it is good that the newer generations are getting a lot of attention in this series.

Dan Heaton at the Tomorrow Society website has written comprehensive summaries and reviews of each episode that I’ve linked below and I recommended reading them should you be more interested in the topic.  Here are my short summaries of each episode:

  1. The Happiest Place on Earth” – (1952-1966) The creation and expansion of Disneyland during Walt Disney’s lifetime and Imagineering’s work at the 1964 World’s Fair.
  2. What Would Walt Do?” – (1967-1983) After Walt’s death, Roy Disney oversees the opening of the Walt Disney World resort in Florida, and Imagineers create EPCOT as a theme park rather than a city. Simultaneous with EPCOT, the first international park is open in Tokyo. The success of these big projects is overshadowed by the lack of future plans and mass layoffs.
  3. The Midas Touch” – (1984-1994) Michael Eisner and Frank Wells takeover as leaders of Disney and shake up the parks with attractions tied to hipper franchises unrelated to Disney, and open the Disney-MGM Studios.  The episode ends with the initial financial failure of Euro Disneyland and Well’s death in a helicopter crash.
  4. Hit or Miss” – (1995-2004) The Disney company attempts unprecedented expansion but the failure of Euro Disneyland also leads to cost-cutting and a decline in quality.  Successes include the Disney Cruise Line, Animal Kingdom, and Tokyo DisneySea, while Disney’s California, Walt Disney Studios Park and Hong Kong Disneyland are serious disappointments.
  5. A Carousel of Progress” – (2004-2016) Bob Iger takes over leadership of Disney.  Projects include rebuilding California Adventure with a Cars Land expansion, and improving the undersized parks in Paris and Hong Kong.  Imagineers also provide controversial overlays to fan favorites like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and it’s a small world.
  6. “To Infinity and Beyond” -Building a new, culturally-appropriate Magic Kingdom in Shanghai takes up the first half of this episode.  The rest focuses on new, fully-immersive experiences in the American parks: Mission Breakout, Pandora, and Galaxy’s Edge.

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 9


Twenty Thousand Hertz  :: Baby Shark

The long history of the ubiquitous children’s song that became an unexpected hit this year.

Lost at the Smithsonian :: Archie Bunker’s Chair

Norman Lear’s groundbreaking show All in the Family depicted the real divisions within American family.  The famed overstuffed armchair remains on display at the Smithsonian as recognition of the show’s place in history. By the way, I’ve never before noticed how much Donald Trump’s vocal intonations resemble Archie Bunker’s.

Throughline :: No Friends But the Mountains

A history of the Kurds, a people without a nation.

Wedway Radio :: The Evolution of Disney Lands

Breaking down how Disney parks have created lands that evolved from a loose collection of attractions around a theme to fully immersive experiences.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: Mulan (1998)


Title: Mulan
Release Date: June 19, 1998
Director: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Mulan is Disney’s interpretation of the classic Chinese ballad “Hua Mulan,” where a girl takes her aging father’s place when he’s conscripted to war against the Huns. Mulan is a misfit in her society’s traditional expectations of a woman, but with the help of the dragon Mushu – voiced by Eddie Murphy – she’s able to find her place in the military.The great part is that Mulan is able to use her smarts to figure out clever ways to defeat the Huns in battle and eventually save the Emperor.

The animation style that draws on Chinese watercolor rather than real world appearance is a nice touch.  It does feel that Disney didn’t bring in their Grade A composers for this movie, though, as the musical numbers are a resounding dud. While it’s a simple tale simply told, especially compared to the other Disney movies of the Renaissance era, but it is a decent movie about family, honor, friendship, and the capabilities of women in a patriarchal society.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Ratatouille (2007)


Title: Ratatouille
Release Date:  29 June 2007
Director: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Production Company:  Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Remy, a rat with a heightened sense of small learns to appreciate fine foods and cooking from television programs and cookbooks of the famed chef Auguste Gusteau.  When circumstance bring Remy to Paris, a vision of the late Gusteau guides him to Gusteau’s restaurant where Remy begins to pursue the dream of becoming a cook.  Remy is paired with the restaurant’s young garbage boy Linguini, and learns that he can control his body like a marionette by pulling his hair (that sounds creepier than it appears in the movie) and together they make successful new dishes.

Though the stakes are low it touches on issues such as balancing commitments to family with pursuing one’s dreams, and expanding one’s perspectives.  It’s also surprisingly educational about both the bridage de cuising and colonies of rats.  One disappointment of the film is that almost all of the characters – rats and kitchen staff alike – are male, although the sole female character Colette comments on the difficulty of women making it in the culinary field, a seeming meta-commentary on the movie itself.  Overall, it’s a cute movie and beautifully animated and I enjoyed it.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 18


Radiolab :: Match Made in Marrow

A story about how faith and science are in conflict, but how people who disagree can come together in dialogue (and still disagree).

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Disney Parks

An overlooked aspect of the Disney theme park experience: sound design.

30 for 30 Podcasts :: Hoodies Up

Trayvon Martin was murdered during a broadcast of the NBA All-Star Game.  Five weeks later, his hometown team the Miami Heat posed for a photo with their hoodies up.  This is the story of that photo and the rebirth of athlete activism.

WBUR News :: An ‘Underground World’: This Urban Tent Community Is Dangerous For Heroin Users

A scene from the opiod crisis with a visit to a hidden tent community in the Boston region.

Fresh Air :: Priest Responds To Gang Members’ ‘Lethal Absence Of Hope’ With Jobs, And Love

An interview with Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries and how to care for children in gangs.  You can also read my review of his book Tattoos on the Heart.

Movie Review: Lilo & Stich (2002)


Title: Lilo & Stitch
Release Date: 2002 June 21
Director: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review: A big leap forward in time from Dumbo, but coincidentally this movie was actually inspired by Dumbo in that the filmmakers wanted to make a low-budget experiment and is also the first Disney animated film to use watercolor backgrounds since Dumbo.  The story involves Stitch, a genetic experiment designed to cause mayhem who escapes and crash lands in Hawaii.  There he meets Lilo, a young girl being raised by her older sister after the death of their parents, who is an outcast among the other kids and tends to lash out violently, not unlike Stitch.  The movie takes some chances in setting it in Hawaii and incorporating Hawaiian culture as well as a starkly honest depiction of a sisterly relationship.  The movie is laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking, and I can’t believe I waited 15 years to see this genius film.
Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Dumbo (1941)


TitleDumbo
Release Date:  1941 October 23
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

A baby is born with a physical feature that leads him to be ostracized by his kind, but after discovering that that physical feature affords him special powers, he is celebrated. Dumbo is essentially the same story as Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer.  The animation style is different from Pinnochio.  The former tried to recreate reality in intricate animation, while Dumbo is more cartoon-y.  But the elephants are lovingly-executed and given characteristics to make them both elephantine and anthropomorphic.  And Dumbo is just so darn cute.  Timothy Q. Mouse is the hero of this story and is much like Jiminy Cricket, taking Dumbo under his wing and helping him find his greatness.  Like Pinnochio, there’s a lot about this movie that is just plain weird – like how Dumbo and Timothy discover that Dumbo can fly after consuming champagne.  The scene with the crows is uncomfortable because of the racial insensitivity of the obviously African American characters, but the crows also have the most memorable lyrics of any song.  After nearly an hour of bullying and ostracizing our protagonist he gets the happy ending he deserves, but this sure is a sad movie.
Rating: ***

Revisiting Disney


Soon I will be traveling with my family to Walt Disney World in Florida.  I’ve previously visited Walt Disney World on three occasions (1976, 1981, and 1982) as well as once visit to Disneyland in California in 1980. So it’s been 35 years since my last visit to a Disney park, and my have things changed.

When I last visited, there was just the Magic Kingdom and some hotel resorts.  EPCOT was under construction and Disney Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom were not even on the drawing board.  This guide and the film below show what it was like on my last visit (kind of disappointed we didn’t take advantage of the free loans of Polaroid cameras!).

Growing up in the 70s and 80s meant a different relationship with Disney than the generations before and after.  The classic animated movies were re-released to movie theaters from time to time, but weren’t shown on television (even on cable) or available on video until the late 80s, when I was a teenager and not as interested.  I do remember seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a stage adaptation at Radio City Music Hall, but other than that it was The Wonderful World of Disney and later The Disney Channel that provided glimpses of classic Disney films.  Meanwhile the Disney studios were going through a troubled period and while I loved The Fox and the Hound, most of the movies released in the 1970s and 1980s were not very memorable.  Kids who grew up during the Disney Renaissance starting in 1989 don’t know how lucky they had it.

So in a strange way, the parks were the main thing for Disney when I was growing up.  There were all these rides and characters based on movies we never saw and vaguely knew the plots.  People dressed as characters have always been part of Disney World, but planning for this trip I’m surprised to learn that they no longer walk around the park greeting visitors but instead it is required to queue up for “character experiences” and even pay good money to have diner with characters. It seems strange to me but apparently it is an extremely popular thing to do.  Luckily, my kids are interested in going on rides, which I think is much more fun.

With that in mind, here are ten things I loved at Disney as a kid.  It will be fun to see what lives up to memory, and what new things will join the list.

 

  1. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – the roller coaster so good that even my roller coaster hating mother liked it.  I remember riding it three times in a row one afternoon.  And we didn’t even need a FastPass.
  2. Contemporary Resort – also known as the hotel that a monorail goes through, which is freakin’ awesome!  We didn’t stay here, or any Disney hotel, but we did have dinner her one night, and apart from the freakin’ awesome monorail going through the lobby I also enjoyed playing in the video arcade.
  3. The Enchanted Tiki Room – audioanimatronic birds singing and telling bad jokes, what could be better?  And as my Dad noted, the birds won’t crap on you.
  4. The Haunted Mansion – a ride that is fun because it’s funny, from the stretchy portraits to the hitch-hiking ghosts.
  5. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – another funny ride I absolutely loved, from the oncoming train to the trip to hell. I suppose that might’ve scared some kids.
  6. Pirates of the Caribbean – the ride so good that they made it into a movie.
  7. The Skyway – Who doesn’t like a bird’s-eye view of the magic? (Apparently the people who decided to tear this ride down)
  8. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – It may have been a kid’s perspective, but it really felt like one was going on a submarine voyage.  Can anyone explain why Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, The Skyway, and this are all gone but the boring-ass Carousel of Progress still survives?
  9. Space Mountain – the coolest ride at the center of the coolest land, Tomorrowland (my impression is that Tomorrowland is not so cool these days because the future came and it’s nothing like what we were promised)
  10. WEDWay PeopleMover – I was an impressionable child and believed them when they said that peoplemovers would be the transportation system of the future in big cities.  I’m still waiting.

 

To prepare for our visit, I’m going to try to watch some animated Disney movies I’ve never seen before, so you’ll be seeing my reviews here.