Disneynature’s “Bears” – a Review

Note: I realize this review may be a little late, as “Bears” was released into theaters on April 18th. However, with no opportunity to preview before the release day, I still feel the need to share with anyone still deciding whether to see this movie or not.

DisneyNature's "Bears"

DisneyNature’s “Bears”

 

“Disney” and “Nature.” Two things I absolutely love in this world. The beauty of outdoors, and the fun and memories of the premiere entertainment company for many.  Combine the two, and this should be a match made in heaven for this DisNerd, right? Up until now, I’d have to say, sadly, wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think highly of Disney for attempting these beautifully shot wildlife documentaries released annually around Earth Day. The fact that every year they donate proceeds from opening week to conservation funds? Even better. But, unfortunately, I’m a bit of a wimp. I find it difficult to see animals encountering hardship and perhaps even dying when faced with the elements. Yes, Mufasa explained the great circle of life quite well to me, but that doesn’t mean I can stomach seeing it happen. As amazing as Chimpanzee looked to me, the harshness of a chimp being orphaned made the subject matter hard for me to want to watch, even more so with a little one next to me. I know many have loved the movies, and I’m grateful for that – to see Walt Disney’s “True Life Adventure” legacy carried on in some form is something I’m genuinely happy to see. To raise awareness of animals in their natural habitat is wonderful and definitely to be admired; it’s just not something I can always emotionally handle. Apparently, this has been passed down to my child as well – which, given the fact that she’s six, is quite understandable.

So it was with a little trepidation, Mrs. DisNerd and I decided to take the Little DisNerd to see the latest offering, “Bears,” this past weekend. We did our research beforehand, reading plenty of reviews as to the family-friendliness of the new DisneyNature film.

 

Definitely ready to enter the world of Bears!

Definitely ready to enter the world of Bears!

 

I’m pleased to report that not only did we emerge from the film psychologically unscathed, but we also left with smiles on our faces and a love for all things bear.

Set against the backdrop of a gorgeous Alaskan wilderness, “Bears” follows the first year journey of Sky, a mama grizzly, and her two cubs: “mama’s bear” Amber and the mischievous Scout. Emerging from hibernation, they begin their harrowing journey from their mountainous den to the waters far below in search of food – namely salmon – in order to nourish themselves and fatten up for the next years hibernation. Along the way, they face danger in the form of avalanches, wolves, rising tides, and yes, other bears – mainly in the form of two male grizzlies, Mangus (the alpha male) and Chinook (the exiled, haggard, desperate bear). Of course, the biggest danger lies in not finding enough food to fatten up for the coming hibernation season. If Sky can’t get enough food, she may not be nourished enough to provide for Scout and Amber through the next winter. Looking out for two youngsters make a regular journey much more harrowing, as usual spots can become unsafe due to overbearing males or other predators.

This journey is perfectly narrated by actor John C. Reilly, who combines informational narrative with storytelling and humor, namely in his voiceovers that delve into the insights of the curious and adventurous Scout.

We found “Bears” to be adventurous, humorous, educational, and overall, heartwarming. The story of changing priorities and ambitions is one parents can relate to: when you have little ones, it changes the way you do everything when parental instinct kicks in. And kids? Kids will love the adventures of the cubs, as well as learn something. Our little one, who loves playing in character after seeing movies came home wanting to be “Bear friends.” This consisted of calling each other by the names of Sky, Amber and Scout, and consuming lots and lots of imaginary salmon dishes. I would definitely recommend this documentary for the whole family.

On one last note – we saw this opening weekend, and I was saddened to see we were three of nine in a rather huge movie theater. What kept families away? Was it the documentary nature of the film? The possibility that true life may be too graphic for some? The lack of animated characters that kids so love to see on the big screen? Whatever the reason may be, I truly hope more moviegoers give Bears a chance – it’s truly a movie for the whole family. Plus, if you can see it in its opening week (which is through April 24th, 2014), the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund will make a contribution to the National Park Foundation in honor of those who were able to see the movie.

This Earth Day, I encourage everyone to see Disneynature’s “Bears,” tell others about it, and support great movies and features like this in the theaters. Have you seen “Bears?” Do you plan to? Feel free to comment below, or share this review with others, and let’s fill the theaters for this one!

P.S. – Be sure to stay through the credits to see footage of the film crew at work, getting these breathtaking shots at some rather “too close for comfort” distances!

Thankful for the Sherman Brothers

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Sometimes it’s the people you’ve never met that influence you the most.

As many long time readers know from previous posts, The Sherman Brothers (Richard and Robert) come up rather frequently in my blog. This is with good reason: next to perhaps Walt himself, those two have more influence on me than anyone else has in the history of the Walt Disney Company. As I’ve stated before, their interviews on the Mary Poppins soundtrack opened me to a world of the musical process of writing, helping me appreciate song and score in movies even more. The lyrics and tone of “A Man Has Dreams/ A Spoonful Of Sugar” from Mary Poppins (combined with the superb delivery of David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke) leave me with a lump in my throat every time. The fun mix of melodrama and a rousing good time on “Let’s Have a Drink On It” from The Happiest Millionaire make it one of my all-time favorite Disney songs.

But their ability to entertain and stir emotion reaches beyond just the Disney realm. “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine)” is so infectious, it’ll stick in one’s head for days almost as much as “It’s a Small World.” For many, the songs from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” remain classics as well (perhaps the songs of the brothers, along with Dick Van Dyke, are the reason many people think this one IS a Disney film!). Although I didn’t realize it until I watched “The Boys – The Sherman Brothers Story,” the two were responsible for one of the saddest songs of my childhood. The haunting music and lyrics in context with the happenings of “Snoopy Come Home,” are so powerful I can’t listen to this song without feeling extreme sadness. That, my friends, is the power of great music and lyric writing.

The two brothers have surpassed being “just writing Disney music” as many would think of them. They’ve become timeless. In the words of publicist and Disney historian Tim O’Day, ” They are the ‘Gershwin Brothers’ of Disney (and beyond). They and their work need to be elevated above the category of ‘children’s music.’ ” I couldn’t agree more, Tim. And in this season I am thankful for the two brothers that made me believe that flying a kite was excellent therapy. That Annette was indeed a pineapple princess. That it really IS a small world, after all.

Richard (left) and Robert – Two very different brothers who left an amazing mark on the musical world.

Thankful For “When You Wish Upon a Star”

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Sometimes a song can take you away to another place, or help you believe that dreams come true. I know I’m thankful for songs like these.

There are memorable songs from movies – you know, the songs that you find yourself humming long after the film ended – and then there are songs that transcend movies. Leigh Harline and Ned Washington’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” goes far beyond the film it was written for. This is not in anyway a knock on Pinocchio. No, the movie is among my favorite Disney animated movies – quite possibly my favorite, depending on the day! It’s just that the song itself is so much more. It’s become not only a theme song for the Walt Disney Company in general, but one to dreamers everywhere as well.

Like a bolt out of the blue...

Like a bolt out of the blue…

The notion of wishing upon a star may seem silly, but the idea of dreams coming true? Well, this is something we all long for. Now, in the “real world” we realize we can’t sit back and wait for things to come to us. If Walt had simply wished upon a star without actively pursuing that dream…. well, I don’t think that would have turned out very well. However, the notion of dreams coming true if we have the courage to pursue them (hmmm… now THAT sounds catchy!) is a noble one. Throw in a wish on the evening star as well? Believe in your dreams, and you never know.

Every time my family goes to Disneyland, we always pause underneath Sleeping Beauty’s Castle to here Jiminy Cricket sing his anthem to passers by. Combined with the magical feeling that the park brings, that song means even more there. And I’m certainly thankful for the feeling it brings.

I feel it only fitting to close out this thankful post with the song itself – perhaps my favorite cover of “When You Wish…” Take it away, Pops….

Thankful For Winnie the Pooh

Note: During the months of November and December, I will be posting something I am thankful for within the spectrum of Disney. With so much negativity in the world, I encourage everyone to be thankful and count their blessings.

Sometimes, it’s nice to remember the simpler things in life; to be grateful for a little bit of fluff ‘n stuff.

Oh, Bother. On July 15th, 2011, theatergoers rushed to the theaters to see a literary character and beloved favorite brought to life one more time for the big screen. They packed theaters, waiting in lines for hours to see….Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. However, for parents of the younger set, as well as fans of hand drawn animation, there was another opening that weekend: Winnie the Pooh. Silly Old Bear never stood a chance at the box office. Yet, for those of us who did make the trek to see the bear of very little brain and his Hundred Acre friends, we were treated to one of the best animated movies of recent years.

I’m still sad this didn’t get nominated for an Oscar.

Winnie the Pooh was a movie that was made to “transcend generations,”  according to John Lasseter. And, in my opinion, it did just that. Parents and kids, grandparents and grandchildren, we were all laughing and smiling at the antics of Pooh Bear and his friends as they searched for Christopher Robin. Were they too late to save him from the Backson? What was a Backson? Whatever a Backson was, they would hopefully have Christopher back soo…er, wait a minute….

There really is something timeless and ageless about the Winnie the Pooh stories. The childlike innocence of the animals as well as their somewhat extreme temperaments of the characters – it makes for such an enjoyable experience. In addition, to be able to sit in the theater with a three and a half year old and laugh at the same jokes that send her into fits of giggles is something rare in movie theaters nowadays.

I still giggle at this!

So thank you, Disney, for releasing this gem into theaters a few years back. This dad and kid at heart is very thankful for such a wonderful return to innocence. Although you were up against a powerful wizzard that opening weekend, many of us know where the true magic was found.

DisNerds, and Proud Of It!

I’ve struggled to write this article for a while now, because I was unsure of the tone I’d be setting in writing it. See, many of us get picked on for our love of things others just don’t have that much passion for. The constant teasing of, “You’re going to Disneyland AGAIN?” and, “Don’t you ever do anything that isn’t related to Disney?” can get to us, even if to others it’s just good natured teasing. However, I didn’t want to turn this into a “woe is me” type of article; not when there are so many “real world issues” that make hurt feelings over Disney seem so insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Sometimes however, people do experience real hurt over being belittled for their fandom. It’s not easy to brush off when what you’re passionate about gets mocked. Or worse, you get mocked for it.

Take Confessions reader Kristen for example. Kristen met her future husband through a Disney fan site. Due to their love of Disney, as well as where many of their friends and family were located and able to travel to, she and her fiancee planned their wedding at the Disneyland Resort. Kristen says, “Even when the plans originally had nothing to do with Disney, I was still hounded about how I was being selfish, making everyone travel to OC and I better not do a ‘baby’ wedding with everything being Mickey themed. Ultimately it was going to be the same price to do the wedding everyone else wanted or to do a smaller wedding at Disney, which is what Jeff and I wanted. So that’s what we decided to do. I thought we could possible have a mini family reunion and spend some time together in the Parks, since it had been over 10 years since we were last all their together. My siblings freaked. At that point, I wanted to just elope because I was so tired of hearing, ‘If you want to get married at Disney, you are not old enough to get married.’ ”

Then there’s (Confessions contributor) Hayden. Hayden had a rough time in high school, being “that Disney guy.” Hayden shares this story:

“In high school, there was this one hour where I was a lone sophomore in a class full of seniors. I had a single friend, hardly any acquaintances; most of my classmates were complete strangers to me. It wasn’t uncommon that I’d wear a Disney-related t-shirt to school, and if there was downtime in class, more than likely I’d be drawing various Disney characters. I’d hum or whistle Disney tunes in the halls to myself. It wasn’t something I was trying to hide, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was over-broadcasting my fandom.

The teacher was out, and a nasty kid turned quickly around and shot out a vulgar, ‘Hey Disney boy. Look at you.’ I was wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, and had been drawing Mickey as well. ‘What a f**.’

His surrounding peers shot around to see who the kid was shouting at, and soon many eyes were on me. I had absolutely no interest in flattering him with a response. Such a crass remark wasn’t worth my energy. Yet his words hit with a sting. He was a complete stranger to me, and for the life of me I could not think of what I could possibly have done to him to get such a rise from him. I sat in the corner! I never spoke! I kept to myself! I’ve never said ANYTHING to this boy, let alone rub my WED-lovin’ in his face. He kept coming with some pretty vulgar bites, and I stood my ground. I said, ‘Stop,’ as firmly as I could. He did stop.

I was more grateful, though, for what occurred immediately after. A friend of the assaulter stood up and said very matter-of-factly, ‘Dude, you rail on him now, but you wait. You give him 7 years and you’ll be paying to see what he comes up with.’ I’ve made it a mission in my life to prove that brave young man’s point.”

More times than not, however, what we fans of all things Disney hear is more along the lines of, “You’re going to Disney AGAIN!?!? (Side note: Let’s be honest, when someone says “Going to Disney” instead of being more specific with the destination, we realize we’re dealing with someone who just doesn’t understand…) Don’t you ever do anything else?” Or we hear, “Wait, you’re going to a Disney movie – without kids? WHY????”

Reader Chelsea finds she’s seeing more and more of the teasing happening as she gets older. “I’ve been known to bust out fun facts and my knowledge of Disney history and some may smirk or look at me as if to say, ‘Is this chick for real?’ The area I most get ridiculed is with the Disney Princess franchise. Some accuse me of thinking I’m actually a princess, tell me that I really am, or possess characteristics or the appearance of one.”

Confessions reader Tia says she doesn’t really get teased, but definitely got some confused reactions when she recently told people she was planning a trip to Disneyland by herself. “When I told people about flying to LAX to go to Disneyland for the day,” she says,  “I’d get confused looks, and a ‘by yourself?’ Or ‘no kids?’ ‘You are not going to Disneyland alone!!’ ”

Here’s the awesome thing, though: These comments, the snide remarks, the eye rolls from those that don’t get it… they do nothing to shame or dissuade us. We have found a joy in life. A joy that comes from watching a black and white anthropomorphic mouse outsmart a peg-legged cat. An innocence that helps us to believe in fairies. That dreams really do come true. A joy from riding a horse drawn carriage down a dream of Americana we’ve never truly known. A giddiness over meeting a five foot five version of a childhood memory. A happiness of careening down a mountainside in a log. Nothing others say tends to dissuade us. We’re proud of who we are.

Many of us feel bad for those that just can’t understand. As Confessions reader Crystal puts it: “ It makes me sad actually, that they will never understand the butterflies in your stomach, so excited you could scream, anticipation of walking into the main gates of the happiest place on earth. To me, it’s their loss for not letting go of themselves enough to be a kid at heart in the most magical place in the world. And I secretly hope that one day, they will understand the true bliss of taking their children there because I think everyone deserves to be as happy as my family is at some point in their lives.”

Or as Chelsea puts it, “….several people ask me, ‘Why? Why do you love Disney so much?’ to which I usually reply, ‘Do you like being happy?’ “

We do like being happy. And we’ve found at least part of this happiness in Disney. To some it may seem to consume our lives. To us, it’s just that it’s a part of our lives, along with everything else. A part that brings us happiness and memories. Ultimately, what’s wrong with that? It inspires us and keeps us moving forward.

Kristen’s wedding went off beautifully. She still may get grief from some, but, “Despite those times I feel like a freak, I’m proud of my fandom. I have a place that makes me feel magic and happiness and I have fantastic friends (and a wonderful husband) who are happy to share that experience with me.”

DisNerds or not, still an awesome couple!

DisNerds or not, still an awesome couple!

Hayden took the insults and made the best of them to fuel him to be the best he could be. Count me in as one of those who can’t wait to see what he comes up next.

After seeing stuff like this, I really am excited to see what the future holds for Hayden!

After seeing stuff like this, I really am excited to see what the future holds for Hayden!

I’ll close this out with another comment from him, as it encapsulates what I believe many of us feel when we’re given a hard time. And perhaps, with a little rewording, in the world outside of Disney, it sums up what those with passions that others don’t understand feel as well:

“My love for Disney helps me. It has taught me everything about believing in myself and realizing seemingly impossible dreams. It provides me with a constant smile. It provides a safe-haven from the stress that builds in my life. It unites my family. It gives me hope in myself and in my world. What harm am I doing by loving such a company? Do you seriously have things figured out so much more than I do that you need to go out of your way to tell me that I spend too many of my personal resources on something I’m passionate for?

Ask me why I like going to Disneyland so much. Don’t ask me why I don’t spend more of my vacation time elsewhere. Ask me why I like the Disney films I do. Don’t tell me Cinderella is just for little girls. Ask me why I consider Walt Disney a personal hero. Don’t tell me I’m naive.”

Well said, Hayden. I know a lot of fellow Disney fans who would agree.

Ask a DisNerd – Favorite Rides and Those Darn Cats!

Good morning, all! Welcome to a slightly delayed edition of Ask a DisNerd! This time around we have two questions to answer, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

First off, Confessions reader Andrew asks: “What’s your favorite Disney ride of all time?”

It would be easier, Andrew, to tell you what my least favorite ride would be, since, generally speaking, I love almost all! But if I had to pick one ride and one ride only, it would go back to one of the original opening day rides.

Peter Pan’s Flight – pretty much perfection in an attraction that has stood the test of time.

Perhaps it’s because of the fact that Peter Pan is among my favorite Disney stories. Maybe it’s the idea of being able to fly in a pirate ship high above London and Never Land. Possibly it’s because it’s such a popular (i.e. long-lined) ride that it’s near impossible to ride over and over again, that it makes each time I ride a special treat. Nonetheless, I am like a little kid each time I get on that ship to begin my journey to the second star to the right. I can’t help but hope each time the ride breaks down. That I’m stuck for an extra amount of time floating over Never Land. To me, that’s a sign of an excellent ride – one that you can’t spend too much time on. One that captures child-like innocence and wonder. To me, that is Peter Pan’s Flight.

“Straight on ’till morning!”

Our second question comes from Confessions reader Tanya, who asks: “Why would anyone name a cat after the devil?”

Tanya, your question stumped me for a while. I was wondering what that had to do with Disney until a little light bulb went off in my head. “Ding! She’s referring to Lucifer!”

Here, kitty kitty kitty….

While I don’t have an answer to that, many theories point to the idea that Walt wasn’t all that fond of cats. Pete the Cat, aka Pegleg Pete, was Mickey Mouse’s first nemesis. The Cheshire Cat, while not villainous, wasn’t very helpful to poor Alice in any way. And those Siamese…. oh, how they tortured poor Lady. But I’m not sure I’m buying this theory. It doesn’t explain cute (and a little mischievous) Figaro or the helpful  to dalmatians everywhere Sergeant Tibbs! Just like humans, there’s a fair balance of good and bad!

So, I was left with asking the final authority on why anyone would name a cat Lucifer: My five year old daughter.

“Well, you see, when they were making Cinderella, they really wanted to name him Luci, but that’s a girl’s name. So they had to come up with a boy’s name instead. They thought about how furry he was and named him Luci-fur!”

Probably not the answer we were looking for, but pretty much as good an answer as I could find!

Alrighty, fellow DisNerds, that should do it for this time! Hope you enjoyed this overdue “Ask a DisNerd” – be sure to keep those questions coming!

Unused, But Not Unloved

WIth the D23 Expo days away, one of the ultimate highlights for me, if I were attending this year, would be “Richard M. Sherman and Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook.” One evening with both of these legends on stage would be an amazing sight to see. There’s just something about hearing songwriters sing and talk about their songs. While the voices that are picked to carry over onto film or radio are great, the fact that you’re hearing the person who first wrote the tune and/or lyrics bring out their original visions. And to hear the story that goes along with it? Amazing and priceless.

Seriously, if you’re at the Expo on Saturday, August 10, see this performance. Hosted by Tim O’ Day, it’s sure to be a great time of story and song. And I’ll be jealous of you.

Perhaps that’s the reason I’m so into movies like “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story” and “Waking Sleeping Beauty.” Perhaps even just a little more than the finished product, I’m fascinated by the labor of love behind those same stories. Learning how the Shermans would come up with songs, envisioned one way (did you know “It’s a Small World” was originally a ballad?), and have it come out an entirely different way. How Howard Ashman would fight for his vision, from coaching vocal performances to fighting for inclusion of a piece that animators and directors just “didn’t see working.”

How many times, these songs would wind up on the cutting room floor.

One such song is a song that for some reason has become one of my favorite Disney songs as of late. A song that never made it into the movie “Aladdin.”

I realize ultimately there was no place for the song in the movie, as, in the end, Aladdin was a parent-less street urchin. However, the song resonates with me, maybe even more than any song in the movie that made the final cut did. How painful it must be for a songwriter to have such a labor of love be taken out like that.

Dick and Bob Sherman had a similar experience with “The Eyes of Love,” a lovely ballad that was cut out of Mary Poppins because Julie Andrews wasn’t a big fan of it (you can hear the story told in their own words on the Mary Poppins Special Edition Soundtrack). This is a common practice in movies and musicals – they’re always a work in progress until that final cut. (For more unused songs, I very highly recommend checking out  “The Lost Chords” series of MP3s compiled by Randy Thornton.)  However, I find such songs and stories fascinating.

If I were able to ask Richard Sherman or Alan Menken any one question, it would probably be the following: Which of your songs that never got used are you most proud of? What’s your favorite “unheard” piece? For, although these songs may not have been used in film, by no means are they weak songs. In fact, they can turn out to be very loved indeed.

What about you, readers and fellow DisNerds? Any favorite Disney songs that just didn’t make the cut in the final films? I’d love to hear from you!