Tag Archives: Mickey Mouse

The Versatile Blogger Award!

versatile

Try to picture me now, six foot three inches of hangdog pout, twisting the toes of one foot back and forth on the floor in shame at having let something sit for far too long.  A month or so back I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, and like a lazy farmer wondering why the crops aren’t doing anything when the seeds haven’t been planted yet, I let this sit, and sit, and recede into the shallows of memory, assuring myself that I would indeed get around to it.  Terrible.  Well, after a few other projects have been swept from the deck, here I am finally, getting around to said thing.  Despite my drag-assedness, I’m deeply grateful to the four stellar talents who were kind enough to nominate this tiny corner of the Internets:  Michelle Gordon, Jessica West, Nillu Stelter and Debbie Vega.  Thank you so very much ladies!  Keep being awesome, and more to the point, keep writing awesomely.  And sorry I’ve taken so long to accept your generous nomination!

The rules for this particular honor are:  thank the person(s) who nominated you (check!), disclose seven interesting factoids about yourself, and nominate fifteen more deserving winners.  As regards the seven interesting facts about myself, well… I’m not really that interesting a person.  I can string words together pretty well on paper and I’m okay at parties until my material runs out, but you’d probably brush past me on the street and not even realize I was there.  I suppose I write fiction to make up for the tame trappings of an average, middle-class upbringing and ongoing life.  But if you’re looking to be regaled by recollections of jaunts through the African savanna or the backstreet jazz clubs of New Orleans or rubbing elbows with the famous and the powerful, you’ve clicked on the wrong link.  It’s why I have to try to captivate you with my words; the rest of me won’t do it.  Regardless, here goes with a few things you might not otherwise know about me.

1.  As noted above, I am six-foot-three, shuffling along in a world designed for the five-foot-six.  This means a chronic case of slouching and a neck somewhat out of alignment from leaning forward to look down.  It also means, for whatever reason, strangers predisposed to think you are athletic.  I am incredibly not.  I marvel at shorter folks who can run marathons – I’m wrecked after a half-walked 5K.  At the risk of sounding a bit Dangerfield-esque about it, I was such a lousy athlete as a child that even the teachers picked me last.  Can’t throw, can’t hit, can’t kick, can’t field.  And to think that a childhood dream (swiftly extinguished by reality) was pitching in major league baseball.  Nope – closest I’ll get is field level seats, and you know what?  I’m totally okay with that.

2.  When I was a teenager, I drew comic books.  This is similar to #1 in that I cannot really draw, either.  My character was an anthropomorphised simian version of James Bond (for the simple reason that monkeys were easier to draw than humans) and I did seven books with him, only four of which were finished.  The last one, that part of me regrets not completing, was a James Bond-Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover, in which Bond fell for Dr. Crusher.  And because I couldn’t draw, the story was a lot of dialogue and character development as opposed to splash pages of pencil-crayoned ass kicking.  Doing these books did teach me a great deal about how to create character beats and arcs, how to plot, and how to sharpen the storytelling edge to finish within the number of pages left in the purloined school exercise book.

3.  I usually wear at least one piece of Disney-related clothing on any given day.  It started a few years ago with one solitary T-shirt; now the wardrobe has expanded considerably through ties, boxers and other apparel, and I’m writing this with a grinning Mickey Mouse displayed proudly on the left breast of my black golf shirt.  We’ve added Olaf to our growing empire of stuffed animals; he’s on a shelf in our living room, enjoying the summer and peering down at the mischievous kittens who are plotting to knock him from his lofty perch.

4.  Speaking of kittens, after we said goodbye to our beloved Muffins, we acquired two new furry friends to carry on her legacy:  siblings Dudley and Daila.  Dudley is an orange tabby while Daila is a tortoiseshell, and while they are both very sweet, Dudley is a master thief!  He has stolen articles of clothing, stress balls, batteries and keys, but his favorite target is pieces of fruit, specifically, bananas.  We have to hide any bananas we buy in the microwave, otherwise we’ll wake up in the morning with a banana in our bed.  Last weekend Dudley figured out how to open the desk drawer in our kitchen, and pilfered a ball of string.  Even though we were proud (and a tad terrified) of his ingenuity, we were somewhat disappointed at his descent into cliche.  It’s all right, he’s young, he’ll grow up and be quoting Proust before you know it.  (A la recherche du souris perdu, anyone?)

5.  My wife and I are part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and we mentor a young boy we’ve known since he was nine.  It was a year and a half after we met him that we were introduced to the then-11-year-old who would become our adopted son.  So you don’t have to be a major in anything to connect those dots and realize that the experience of mentoring made us realize that we could parent an older child.  A project still lingering on the backburner is a detailed article about being a mentor which I’m hoping to get finished in the next couple of weeks, so watch this space for updates on that.

6.  The infamous novel to which I have alluded from time to time is still working its way through the query trenches, now numbering 11 rejections all told.  I refuse to accept that this is a trend, and I soldier on.  One rather disappointing (yet interesting) tale from this process is having a Twitter pitch for it favorited by one particular agent after she had already rejected the query and sample chapters, which were sent to her because she favorited the same pitch in a prior Twitter contest.  (She was great about it though.)  With that sort of thing, you just have to laugh and keep going.  There was another form rejection I received that was so apologetic I almost felt I should have responded, assuring the agent that I didn’t take it personally and that I wasn’t going to go fledermaus-scheise on her.  Probably a result of too many wannabes doing just that.  As an aside to any literary agent out there who might be reading this, I promise promise PROMISE that I won’t be a jerkwad if you say no to me.  I’m taking a stand against that crap.  I may even develop a variation of the Serenity Prayer for rejected writers, or something more basic, like “I will not break, I will not bend, I will not turn into a raging douche-a-holic.”

7.  And lastly, I have struggled with my hair since as long as I can remember.  The avatar I use for all my social media profiles is one of the rare few pictures in which I find it looks somewhat respectable, instead of like a wildebeest flayed by a helicopter rotor.

Ok then!  Onwards to the third part of this here deal.  Versatility to me suggests, at least by its dictionary definition, individuals with a wide range of skills.  Applied to blogging it would therefore seem to mean people who write well about a lot of different subjects.  This runs contrary to most blogging advice, which posits that in order to build an audience you should focus on one topic you know really well and then just write the bejeezus out of that, rather than trying to be good for all time zones.  I suppose that when you become established as a “voice” that others seek out, you are then freer to weigh in on whatever you want, as opposed to trying to build a niche audience from nothing.  Some blogs I follow are informative writing resources, others are pop culture treasure troves, others still are founts of creativity expressed through wildly imaginative fiction.  What they share, however, are voices I look forward to hearing, and find myself missing when absent.

You’ve been bearing with me for this long, and I want to shake it up and end on something of a twist, so here it is:  rather than list fifteen names and links you won’t click on, I’m going to do Q&A’s with each person I nominate.  I enjoyed hosting Emmie Mears in June and it’s given me the itch to do some more of that there stuff.  I just think you’ll get more of a sense of why I admire these writers, and it’ll give them a chance to talk about what drives them, what scares them, what they’re after and what they want their legacy to be.  None of this fill-in-the-blank, true-or-false quick answer claptrap, we’re going to dive deep down, tug at the heart and probe the soul.  I’m gonna be the Brian Linehan of the blogging world if it kills me.  (I am aware that Brian Linehan is dead, so that could be taken the wrong way.  I meant in the sense of his detailed interviewing style.)  And each will of course be asked for their favorite swear word.

This might take a while so don’t expect all fifteen to show up in the next week, or even the next couple of months – it’ll be an ongoing feature here and I’ll categorize them so they’re easy for you to find.  To my unwitting subjects:  watch your Twitter DM’s and your email inboxes, like so many arrows loosed by an intrepid archer, or darts flung at a perforated cork board by a drunken punter round the pub, my questions will be coming for you.  Mwa ha ha.

Save the father, save the world

mrbanks

“Winds in the east, mist coming in, like something is brewin’, about to begin… Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, but I fear what’s to happen, all happened before.”

First uttered on screen by Dick Van Dyke in 1964, those words are whispered again by the unlikely voice of Colin Farrell as Saving Mr. Banks begins, over vistas of turn-of-the-last-century Australia and the dream-lost face of the young Helen Goff, who will grow up to become author P.L. Travers and the creator of Mary Poppins.  In short order we leap forward from the idyll to early 1960’s England, where the adult Travers (Emma Thompson) remains, after 20 years of attempts by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to purchase the film rights from her, stubborn in her determination to avoid having her beloved creation bowdlerized by uncouth Americans who don’t seem to understand what the story is about, or, more importantly, what it means to her.  Drawn in for the moment by the allure of some much-needed funds, Travers agrees to fly to Los Angeles to work with the creative team on the screenplay for Mary Poppins – “work with” meaning shoot down almost every single idea – while resisting Disney’s personal charm offensive.   The unstoppable force meets the immovable object, and as the movie proceeds along two time-separated narratives, we see the girl trying to save her treasured father from his deterioration, and the woman fighting to preserve his memory from people she thinks are only interested in exploiting it for the sake of a mediocre cartoon.

Much like the movie whose conception it depicts, there are no villains in Saving Mr. Banks; only goodhearted people attempting to do the right thing, whether it is Farrell as Travers’ father reacting to every setback with a twinkle in his eye and spring in his step, or the increasingly exasperated but always smiling screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and composers Robert and Richard Sherman (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman) struggling to meet the impossible conditions put forth by the uncooperative Travers during interminable meetings.  Particularly touching is the relationship that develops between Travers and her sunny limo driver Ralph (Paul Giamatti); while first treating him as an ill-informed Yankee, she comes to see him as a true friend, and is inspired to pass along to Ralph’s physically challenged daughter the proof that disabilities are not the same thing as limitations.  But misunderstandings abound, naturally, and this is probably the first screenplay in the history of Hollywood where the crisis point at the end of the second act involves whether or not penguins are to be animated.  (As an aside, it’s also the first screenplay to my knowledge where a character utters my last name:  checking into her room at the Beverly Hills Hotel only to find it’s been filled with Disney stuffed animals as welcome gifts, Travers shoves aside a Winnie the Pooh and grumbles “Ugh, A.A. Milne.”  I – what’s the expression – fangirl squeed?)

I’m a sucker for movies about Hollywood, particularly old Hollywood, and the attention to detail in recreating the feel of the Disney production offices (and Disneyland itself) of the early 60’s is impeccable.  The performances, especially Thompson’s, are elegant, the cinematography is lush, and the score is full of life and hope.  Magic exudes from each frame.  But despite the central conflict between Travers’ obstinacy and Disney’s persistence that is the focus of the trailers, the movie is about fathers, and the complex relationships we continue to have with them long after they are gone.  That is where Saving Mr. Banks packs its most powerful emotional punch.  Like Hamlet, the ghost of the father looms in every scene – Travers Goff, the man who helped the young “Ginty” unlock her imagination and set her on the path to becoming a storyteller, honored posthumously in her choice of surname for her writing career.  Befuddled by the author’s seemingly irrelevant demands on the script, articulated by frustrated Bob Sherman who pointedly queries, “What does it matter?”, Walt Disney initially misses the mark, thinking that Mary Poppins comes to save the children.  We have the benefit of hindsight, having watched, dozens of times, David Tomlinson as George Banks evolve from curmudgeonly drone to a man full of life and wonder and joy.  The children don’t even say goodbye to Mary Poppins when she leaves, but they don’t have to, as her spirit has found a new home in their own dear father.  Late in Saving Mr. Banks, Disney relates to Travers a tale of his own upbringing in wintry Missouri and of his difficult relationship with his hard-driving father Elias, and the two creative forces finally find their connection – a shared desire to redeem the old man.

Being someone’s child is taking on the responsibility of their legacy, willing or not.  In the movie, Ginty cannot understand why her beloved father is falling apart before her eyes, and she struggles to help him preserve his happiness and his dignity, even where her efforts are unintentionally harmful.  In creating the character of George Banks, P.L. Travers wanted (the movie posits, at least) to give her father the happy ending he could never find for himself.  When she sees him depicted on screen, and when she experiences the joy of the audience in watching him triumph, she weeps.  My father died when I was 11, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a significant portion of why I do what I do is trying to ensure that his name is regarded in perpetuity as highly as I think it should be – the same name (though different family) P.L. Travers mouths onscreen.  He was the person I experienced stories with.  Reading to me, and with me, taking me to the movies, kindling a lifelong love of narrative and of imagination and promise lying within pages and celluloid.  He used to let me borrow his handheld dictaphone so I could record my own imaginary episodes of The A-Team (don’t ask).  He’d let me fill LP-sized floppy disks from his office computer full of chapters of an unfinished attempted novel about a boy and his racehorse.   And though he died long before I ever began to take writing seriously, every time I sit down at the keyboard I’m hoping that it will turn out to be something he would have liked, that he would have boasted to his friends and colleagues about.  (Knowing him, he’d boast about it even if it was an illiterate pile of tripe.)  And perhaps, beneath the veil of different characters in settings far removed from that available to a small-town attorney, I’m trying to give him his happy ending too.  In the theater, I felt in my soul that primal need of Travers to do right by her dad.  To save him.  And a tear escaped my eye as it did hers.

For too short a time, they’re our whole world.  Eventually, our chances to talk with them are gone, to ask them questions that never would have occurred to us while they were alive, questions we thought we’d have time for someday.  When we were sharing a beer after staining the back deck together on a hot Sunday afternoon.  When we were tossing the football back and forth between three generations upon park grass touched with the first autumn frost.  Those scenarios aren’t possible now, so we try to replicate them in fiction.  We forge characters who ask the questions we can’t, and let them seek their answers, secure as we type that they will reach their destination and achieve the closure that eludes us.  When the stake is so personal, we comprehend why P.L. Travers did not want to give Mary Poppins up.  Mary wasn’t a character, she was a mission.  So was Mickey Mouse for Walt Disney.  It’s not easy to abdicate such a soulful responsibility, to hand over a legacy.  I wouldn’t be the first to volunteer for that, would you?  However, there may come a time when I’m willing to let go, to share the father I knew with a world that deserves to know him the way I did.  I can only hope that it’s in a manner as befitting as Mary Poppins, or Saving Mr. Banks.

“Winds in the east, mist coming in, like something is brewin’, about to begin… Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, but I fear what’s to happen, all happened before.”

A Writer’s Journey Through Disney World: Part I

mickeytowels

It’s hardly a huge revelation, but for those of you who read me regularly who may have chanced to wonder why August was a bit quiet here at the cracker factory, it’s because I decamped southward for a well-earned week of play at Walt Disney World and left all my cyber paraphernalia back at home – going “off the grid” as it were.  My better half and I hemmed and hawed for months about whether we were going to scrape together the scratch to celebrate the expansion of our family at our favorite vacation spot, deciding finally that we’d rather take our son now while he’s still full of childlike wonder and before life turns him into a cynical bastard like his father.  It was a huge deal for him – first time on a plane, first time voyaging abroad with his new mom and dad, first time away from his new home for more than a couple of nights.  Yet any worry on our part was unneeded; he ate it up, as any kid should.  It helped, too, that he had an expert pair of guides.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to Disney World – it’s probably somewhere in the high teens and the odyssey began right around the time Epcot first opened in 1982.  Almost half the pictures of my childhood that I’ve managed to hang onto were taken on the hallowed grounds of Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the thousands of acres of swamp that old Walt bought up for a song with a bunch of shell companies and subsequently transformed into a veritable Garden of Eden of family entertainment – and it does feel that way at times, like a universe removed from the cold reality of your life back home.  The misanthropes of the world deride it for predictable reasons – price, crowds, kitsch, a jaded perception of the Walt Disney Company as a greedy capitalist predator feasting on the willing yet innocent souls of impressionable children.  Without descending too deeply into cliché, it’s worth asking those folks if they can name many other places in this world where you can truly let yourself be a big kid (deeply a propos for myself as height sometimes makes fitting into the seats on rides a bit of an exercise in figuring out how squishable one can be.)  Also, as the title of this post suggests, I think it’s a place every writer owes it to themselves to experience.  There are other theme parks, to be sure, but going to Disney isn’t so much about waiting in long lines for a bunch of rides as it is immersing yourself in a story that is taking shape around you.  The commitment to the story is what elevates Disney far above the pretenders to the throne.

Day One saw us arrive late in the afternoon, checking in at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.  This is the fourth on-property resort my wife and I have stayed at since we began voyaging here together about six years ago, after Port Orleans Riverside, Saratoga Springs and Old Key West, and the first for us to have more of a focus on der kinders.  Obviously you can save a few quid by choosing a non-Disney hotel nearby instead, but doing so robs you of not only the convenience and flexibility of the free (i.e. buried in the cost of your park ticket) Disney buses that run back and forth between their resorts and the parks at a constant clip, but of the sense that you are completely immersed in Walt’s world.  Being at Disney is not simply being a passive tourist, it’s diving into this realm of the fantastic, and why would you want to remove yourself from it each night to go sleep in a pre-fab Howard Johnson ten miles down the road?

aofa

Art of Animation is probably the most colorful of the resorts, and boasts four “worlds” of its own, each based on a Disney animated film:  The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars.  Larger-than-life-size 3-D depictions of the characters await around each corner; Mater and Doc Hudson were there to greet us each time we returned to our suite after an exhausting/exhilarating day.  (Is “exhilazausting” a word?  Because that’s the most apt descriptor I can come up with.)  Anyway, after picking up our passes and with our luggage still in transition, it was park time.  And onto the aforementioned Disney buses, whose spiel I can recite pretty well verbatim at this point.  “Hello everyone, and welcome aboard the Walt Disney World Transportation System.  We’re on our way to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.”

dhs

Formerly known as Disney-MGM, Hollywood Studios is the odd step-child of the four parks.  As I understand it, the park was originally intended to be a “half-day” experience and a few rethinks occurred during its development and construction, resulting in what can seem at times like only a partially formed vision, even if the atmosphere does succeed in replicating to almost museum-like accuracy the golden era of Tinseltown as it probably never truly was.  As a dedicated movie fan I am of course partial to anything old Hollywood, so I love the clapperboards and the old fonts and directors’ chairs you find sprinkled throughout the shops on the main drag leading up to the replica of the famous Chinese Theater that houses The Great Movie Ride.  This is the one element of DHS that hasn’t changed since it first opened over 20 years ago.  A slow-moving vehicle with a live guide takes you through recreations of classics like Singin’ in the Rain and Casablanca, before you’re held up in 1920’s Chicago (with James Cagney peering at you ominously) and your guide is replaced by a gangster named “Mugsy.”  Greed becomes Mugsy’s undoing, however, as he gets zapped by a cursed gem in Raiders of the Lost Ark and your original guide returns to shepherd you safely through Alien and The Wizard of Oz.  I’ve done the ride enough to not be surprised at the same story playing through each time; what is interesting is seeing how deeply into the roles the performers are willing to go.  If you’re unlucky, you get a bored Mugsy who can barely be bothered to mumble the lines; if you’re as fortunate as we were this last time, Mugsy reaches for the rafters and the experience is that much more memorable, even if you already know how it’s going to end.

The Great Movie Ride is a bit of a relic of the old Disney World, where all the rides proceeded at a stately pace suitable for grandma and grandpa.  Ensuing generations have insisted on “faster and more intense,” and DHS has responded with a trifecta of high speed, high thrill attractions.  First up for us was Star Tours, the Star Wars-themed simulator that foreshadowed for years Disney’s eventual purchase of Lucasfilm.  The old version, where a first-time droid pilot named Captain Rex (voiced by Paul Reubens, aka Pee-Wee Herman) accidentally veers you through a field of comets before stumbling into an attack on the Death Star, had long been a favorite of mine even if the storyline had grown a bit stale.  The 3-D upgrade has an animatronic C-3PO mistakenly take the captain’s chair and lead you through different world experiences (racing snowspeeders on Hoth, pursuing podracers on Tatooine, etc.) while Imperial forces chase you down in pursuit of a “Rebel spy” onboard your ship – one of your fellow riders selected at random.  (We rode Star Tours four times during our entire visit with our son crestfallen that he was never chosen to be the Rebel spy.  Maybe next time.)  The West Wing fan in me was tickled, of course, to hear Allison Janney as the voice of “Aly San San,” the flight attendant droid reminding you not to smoke or take flash pictures during your space voyage.  Original trilogy purists might be a little miffed at the emphasis on the prequels (and the appearance of Jar Jar during the Naboo sequence) but when you’re hearing your kid laughing hysterically at the pit droid chirping in angry bot-speak at Threepio for having broken his ship, that all goes away.  Bouncing around with hyperspace and blaster bolts flying at you and John Williams’ music pounding in your ears is as close as anyone who doesn’t get cast in Episode VII is going to come to being in the movie itself.  You’re not an observer, you’re part of it.

After that it was off to where story truly takes center stage – The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror.  It scared the bejesus out of me the first time I rode it, about 15 years ago, and as it happens to be my wife’s favorite I’ve had to endure it several times since.  The showpiece is a thirteen-story sudden drop, with the car being pulled down faster than gravity (resulting in a momentary weightless feeling between plunges).  With a stomach that has never cared for having the ground disappear beneath it, I always feel a shot of trepidation looking up at the ginormous, creaky old tower as we walk towards it and assume our place in the queue.  You’d think that after having been on it nine or ten times you could steel yourself against what’s coming, but damn if it doesn’t still get to me.  Firstly, the drop pattern is randomized so you can’t predict it.  But what really amps the queasiness and the dread is the pre-show theatrics, including the waiting area itself; an old 1920’s hotel lobby, its furniture rotting under decades of dust and decay, framed by the stale scent of abandonment.  Chills seize your spine as you step from 115-degree Florida humidity into the dank, air-conditioned alcove, tightening the mood and the sphincter.  Then the lights go dark and on comes Rod Serling (voiced by an impersonator) to introduce tonight’s adventure with all the eerie trappings of that episode with the weird-looking pig mask people that made you shake under the covers when you were a kid.  You’re loaded into your car, and up you go into the black void, and like the best storytellers, they make you wait, drawing out the tension to unbearable lengths until despite this being your tenth time your fingers carve into the safety bar in horrified anticipation of that inevitable fall.  And fall you do, and against your better judgement and the rules of decorum you hear a wail erupt from your lips as the car plummets and bounces up again for another drop.  It’s somewhat cathartic, in fact, and as the car withdraws into the safety of the unloading area you feel a blush color your cheeks and the relief of the sensation of ground once more.  And as you exit through the gift shop you feel a bit sheepish at how worked up you got and how ashen you look on the ride photograph, and force a stiff upper lip lest you show weakness to your slightly-more-freaked-out son.

Contrast this to the Rockin’ Roller Coaster, where there’s no time for anticipation – you just GO.  The setup is that Aerosmith is late for a gig and they don’t want to leave their fans behind, so you’re loaded into a “super stretch” limo and propelled on a 90-second race through downtown L.A. to meet them.  The ride is unique in that unlike your typical roller coaster where you s-l-o-w-l-y chug up an interminable hill to get to the good part, here you only get a five-second countdown and a warning to keep your head back before the vehicle blasts out of the gate, hitting 60 miles per hour in 2 seconds and careening headlong into an upside-down loop that slams you against your seat with 4 G’s while Steven Tyler wails “Sweet Emotion.”  Neon roadsigns fly by as you curve into a corkscrew and round a series of tight bends before screeching to a halt at the big show (i.e. another gift shop).  As an approximation of the power and rush that is rock & roll (as well as a bit of the sense of never quite knowing exactly where you’re going), it fits the bill quite nicely – not that I’ve ever stood on stage at an Aerosmith or any other major rock concert, mind you.  I find it fascinating, though, how my response to this ride has evolved from my first experience on it (wheezing, never-gonna-do-it-again terror, as I recall) to now (giddy bring-it-on joy), as opposed to Tower of Terror, which still freaks me out every time.  I have to come back to the concept of story.  Every aspect of the Tower, even down to the costumes of the ride attendants, is designed to unnerve you (the screams you hear coming from it as you stroll the nearby boulevard are solid proof), whereas Rockin’ Roller Coaster is about inviting you to take a brief taste of the lifelong party that I’m assuming is Aerosmith’s existence.  Both thrill rides, but wildly different thrills and emotional impacts, and the story makes the difference.

We closed the first night with Disney’s Fantasmic, a show that combines live performers and images projected onto plumes of water spray in an exploration of the imagination of Mickey Mouse.  What begins as a lush and pleasant journey turns sinister as the Disney villains assert their power and wrack the little fella’s mind with nightmares, before Mickey manages to fight back in the name of all that is good and pure.  This is a fairly common plot with the shows throughout the parks, whether the theme is dreams, wishes, magic or what-have-you – everything starts out sweetly and then the bad guys turn up to wreck the fun briefly in advance of the triumphant, reaffirming conclusion.  While focused mainly on dazzling your senses, there is a message underlying it all; the power and importance of belief, the same resonant moral that has mature adults clapping desperately to revive Tinkerbell.  This is why my eyes tend to glaze over a bit when wags attack Disney for what they perceive as an attempt to homogenize culture, to filter everything through Mickey and Donald and Goofy.  It’s not so.  What you’re being asked to believe in and to imagine is not their product.  Rather they’re showing you what their imaginations have wrought and challenging you to open yourself to the possibilities of your own.  Yes, it’s amazing and wonderful and unbelievable and having a billion-dollar profit margin certainly helps, but when you go back to the beginning you find the same simple origin:  someone who had to have thought it up.  As a writer I find the message encouraging, daring to conceive the characters I’ve created as coming to life in front of me and thousands of others in this way and perhaps someday being as widely known as Mickey and Donald and Goofy.  Is that realistic, asks the cynical bastard lurking in the pessimistic corner of my brain?  Who cares.  For the moment my mind is convinced that it is, and that’s creative rocket fuel.

So we shuffle back to our resort and to our Cars-themed bedroom, having logged 2000 miles of air travel and what feels like an equivalent in walking, happy to see our luggage there safe and sound as expected, and ready to settle in to rest up for the adventure ahead.  Because we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

To Be Continued…

May the Mouse be with you

Above:  The single coolest image of a Jedi battle ever seen anywhere.
Above: The single coolest image of a Jedi battle ever seen anywhere.

It’s old news now, but given that it happened in the midst of my James Bond countdown and then the holidays and a bunch of other things hit at once, I never took the opportunity to comment on the revelation that sent Star Wars fans into a Force-induced tizzy – that George Lucas has sold Lucasfilm Ltd. to The Walt Disney Company for $4.05 billion, and accompanying this massive corporate transaction was the equally hefty revelation that Star Wars Episode VII will be released in 2015.  Ever since Revenge of the Sith in 2005, Lucas has been insisting up and down that Star Wars as a cinematic enterprise is finished, done, or, as Emperor Palpatine would put it succinctly, “complete.”  Yet the Mouse House confirmed in the same press release that there would be many further trips to that galaxy far, far away.  Star Trek has been going strong in multiplexes, despite a few missteps, for eleven movies now with a twelfth on the way, so shouldn’t la guerre des étoiles be able to blaze across our screens for as long as the medium is viable?  Clearly Disney thinks so and has immediately begun soliciting creative talent to assemble the next voyage.  J.J. Abrams turned down an offer to direct, citing loyalty to the other space franchise he helped relaunch.  Michael Arndt, a screenwriter whose credits include Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, has been chosen to pen the next instalment, with Lawrence Kasdan – who wrote the masterful The Empire Strikes Back and co-wrote the not bad Return of the Jedi before opting to sit the prequel trilogy out – in the wings to script further adventures.  It’s safe to say that these titanic moves were not on anyone’s radar, and that Star Wars fandom, which has struggled in recent years to reconcile their love of Lucas’ creation with their hatred of his incessant (and yet perfectly legitimate, as far as I’m concerned) tinkering with it, has seen its universe upended, with resignation about the quality of the prequels now sprinkled with optimism about what the future might hold.  What I’m not sure about is how Disney intends to treat them – as much as some fans like to dump on George Lucas for the reason of the moment, I don’t know if the fans recognize how good they’ve had it under the amiable real-life Galactic Emperor, and how things may change for the worse.  And I say this as an admitted lover of Disney!

It’s not necessary to rehash the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars – the marriage of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth with science fiction to craft an enduring story that inspires little boys to wave flashlights around against an imaginary Darth Vader.  In the real world the bad guys win much too often; in the world of Star Wars, good always triumphs over evil, and the nobility of sacrifice for one’s fellow human being (or Wookiee) is the greatest cause to which one can aspire.  We still talk about Greek myths over two thousand years on, and so this trilogy of movies from the late 70’s and early 80’s is a relative zygote in terms of how long it’s had to inspire its audience.  Yet its reach is unparalleled – movies, TV and literature across every genre can get an immediate laugh by dropping in a quote from Star Wars, and everyone can smile and feel like they’re part of the world’s biggest and most inclusive club – one that stretches across all cultural and regional divides.  One of the most enduring traits of Star Wars is its ability to be passed on, down through generations now as the kids whose eyes opened wide at the scratchy print in the rickety old movie house alongside their parents now watch the same adventures with their own children in the comfort of a surround sound-equipped home theatre.  And many who touch the flame of Star Wars use it to fire their own creative candles, as those who first heard the stories of the Greek gods offered their own interpretation of those tales to new audiences.  Star Wars likely holds the record – if indeed, it were possible to count – for the sheer volume of unofficial derivative works, written, sketched, painted, sewn, sculpted and filmed parodies, homages, tributes and other acknowledgements of what has become a shared universe.   (A quick search for “star wars” on YouTube yields 1.4 million hits, ranging from remixes of John Williams’ iconic theme song, Lego recreations of famous Star Wars scenes, animations of dancing stormtroopers, girls in Princess Leia’s metal bikini and Zeus knows what else).  That universe, the most remarkable example of remix culture, has been, until now, watched over in silent guardianship by George Lucas, who has permitted these myriads of creations so long as they are not for profit.  What then do we make of the stewardship of Star Wars and all it represents being entrusted to the company that famously sued a daycare for painting Mickey Mouse on its walls?

The world has changed tremendously since that notorious incident, which predated the Internet and the lingering question of copyright in the digital era.  Progressive media companies and celebrity brands like J.K. Rowling understand the tremendous value to be found in allowing fans to play in their sandbox, realizing that it’s about building a community (and receiving free advertising), and that ultimately, the vast majority don’t mind paying for officially licensed offshoots, be they yet another Blu-Ray boxed set or endless waves of toys.  For decades however, Disney has been the most trigger happy of the lot, ready to unleash their armies of attorneys at whosoever dareth trespass against them.  I’m just saying there’s a reason why you won’t find a lot of Donald Duck stories at fanfiction.net, nor will you find Walt Disney in Love on YouTube.  As someone who has created his own fictional universe and wonders idly about the future day an aspiring scribe decides to pen their own fan fiction trilogy using my characters and settings, it would be tremendously flattering to know I’d inspired someone like that – and truthfully, why else are we writing except to inspire – but if another someone decided to reap financial gain from my work without my by-your-leave I’d be Scanners-head-exploding livid.  I’d be equally as upset if someone produced a derivative work that was pornographic, excessively violent or simply insulting to the spirit of my original.  The trouble is you can’t seem to have one without the other, that either all copyright is enforced to the limit of the law, thus creating the perception that you’re a grouchy Lars Ulrich type and hate your fans, or you go for George Lucas’ approach and accept a certain percentage of the bad stuff (what a retail outlet would call “shrink”) with the understanding that most will be positive and done out of love and only help your brand reach new heights.

The lingering grey area for Star Wars fans is whether Disney will continue what Lucas started, if they will accept that Star Wars is its own entity and deserves a freer hand than what has typically been Disney copyright policy in the past.  After Return of the Jedi in 1983, Star Wars entered a long dry period where nothing save a few crude cartoons and made-for-TV Ewok movies was forthcoming from the Lucasfilm vaults, and instead the creations of the fans, whose interest never waned, kept blowing oxygen on that dwindling spark, until Lucas was finally ready to go back to the well, knowing that he had legions out there who remained loyal to him and to his universe because they felt like they owned a piece of it – an emotional piece that could not be quantified in financial or percentage terms.  Once described by Campbell as his single best student, Lucas always understood that a myth cannot thrive in the care of a single person, and in commenting on selling his baby to Disney he spoke about needing Star Wars to go on without him.  In many ways it already has, and the nightmare scenario of Disney being Disney and starting to remove the likes of Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager and Troops and Eddie Izzard’s “Death Star Canteen” routine from YouTube will be the beginning of the end of Star Wars as the force – yeah, I went there – for uniting people and unleashing their imagination and creativity that it has become.  The hope is that Disney too has evolved since the daycare incident and understands just what they’ve managed to acquire; a property that has become the unofficial property of millions of people the world over.  People may wear Mickey Mouse ears, but they don’t go around pretending to be Mickey Mouse in the way kids want to be Luke and Han and Leia.  Fingers crossed that the lawyers of the Walt Disney Company don’t cease-and-desist them out of their dreams.