A Love Letter to Disney

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A while back I wrote a love letter to Pixar Animation Studios. I’ll never forget watching my viewership skyrocket that week. What was that all about? A couple of weeks later I received an email from Pixar Headquarters thanking me for my post and saying that it’s been making the rounds in the studio. Imagine that! I forget how long I cried. (The picture to the left is during the hysterics.) But the thing that made me happiest was knowing that the hard workers at the studio caught a tiny glimpse of joy they bring to our lives on a regular basis.

Yesterday Disney released the international trailer for their highly anticipated and surefire record-breaker, Moana. Take a second and watch it. I’ve watched it about nine times now and I still get chills.

It’s safe to say that Disney is on par with Pixar. After Wreck-it Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and most likely Moana, we just need to stop denying it.

They bring a class and beauty to the world that we’ve all but forgotten. In our hurried and messy lives, Disney movies have a way of, I don’t know, restoring order. Even if it’s just the illusion of restoration – or better yet, the hope of restoration.

Their movies are not devoid of evil and chaos and bitterness and jealousies. And their resolutions aren’t as cookie-cutter as they used to be. Disney’s movies sell you on cute, sure, but they deliver on substance and depth.

I mean, how gut-wrenchingly hard is it to watch Hiro release Baymax into the Unknown? If that doesn’t tear you apart, I question your mortality. Not only is their attention to detail and vivid color out of this world, but almost every note strikes a cord with something deep inside us.

Why?

Because they take beauty to the extreme. They push the bounds of reality and expose us to a world of bliss and hope.

Like Pixar, they no longer make movies for kids. Their movies address us adults just as profoundly. Zootopia reminds me that even if I achieve my dreams, my story doesn’t stop and the struggles will keep coming.

Wreck-it Ralph delivers the hard message that I’ve been dealt my cards and I need to figure out how to make the best of it.

Frozen sings about letting go. Big Hero 6 shows us how to do it.

Thank you Disney, for the work and painstaking efforts you infuse in your movies. You have the challenge of not just catering to one specific audience, but to literally every single demographic. And you pull it off with class and style and unimaginable beauty.

I believe Disney movies do make the world a better place, even if it’s just a little. They bring families together. A reason for parents to take the kids out. They provide contexts for us to talk about serious things with our kids. They give us parents footing to address things such as good byes, racism, bullying, sibling rivalry, and my favorite: You don’t have to be a jerk just because you’re popular (Fix it Felix, Jr.).

I know there’s people out there who don’t watch Disney or Pixar movies just because they’re cartoons. I pity those people. They’re missing out on some of the greatest filmmaking in the history of film.

Thank you Disney, for all that you do. Keep at it, and we’ll see you in November!

For more on Disney check out

Baseball and Disney: https://adoptingjames.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/disney-animation-and-baseball/

and One of the Greatest Companies in the World: https://adoptingjames.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/the-greatest-business-in-the-world/

 

The Infamous Three-Letter Question

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My daughter is starting to ask “Why?” to everything that happens.

Most parents get annoyed by it, but I’ve decided to engage her, because I don’t want to stifle her curiosity, or give her any indication that asking “Why?” is at all a bad thing.

For instance, I showed her Disney’s The Muppets (2011) for the first time yesterday. “Daddy loves this movie,” I told her.

“Why?”

“Because it’s hilarious.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s so well written.”

“Why?”

“Because the writers took pride in their work and took their time writing it.”

“Why?”

“Because they wanted the movie to live up to the anticipated hype.”

“Why?”

“Because they had a lot to live up to in order to match the the Muppets’ legacy.”

“Why?”

“Because bad movies don’t add anything positive to the entertainment culture. But good movies contribute positively and bring new ideas to the table.”

And so on. I love that she’s asking why. It gives us loads to talk about. Who knows what paths the three-worded question can take us! But I’d better be careful because I have the propensity to make up things if I don’t know the answer.

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I have a “Why” for you. Why have we only had one J.K. Rowling in the last two decades? Why are good bestselling books so hard to come by? With as many people who are trying to become published authors, why do we hardly hear about breakout authors?

I have a suggested answer to these questions. Check out this weekend’s post I wrote about whether literary agents really are necessary to the publishing industry: Writer’s Cut Out the Middle Man!

Make This Your Next Netflix Movie

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Hilarity ensues in the Netflix original The Fundamentals of Caring. It’s the first Netflix original I’ve ventured to watch, but wow, I was impressed!

I expected just another melodramatic indie film that attempts to tie everything together at the end just for the sake of closing out smoothly. But this Paul Rudd-led film was anything but a half-hearted effort. It was hilarious from the very beginning.

And for me to call a movie hilarious is pretty impressive. There are only three movies I think are actually funny. This makes four.

Anyway, I’m not going to go into the specifics except that you’ll want to watch it when the kids are in bed due to the excessive amount of F-bombs dropped.

So if you have 90 minutes to spare, or if you’re like me and your work schedule has completely changed and you don’t know how to adjust to no longer having to wake up at 5:00 AM, then get your Netflix on and enjoy this gem of a movie. The book is on my Christmas list.

Why It’s Good to Be Disturbed

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Netflix is stepping up its game! They’re actually making movies available that I care to watch or revisit (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Lethal Weapon…) But scrolling through the other night, there was one that caught my attention that I had forgotten was on my to-watch list.

It’s a Peter Jackson movie, so that was my biggest reason for watching it. In my opinion, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong are enough to set him up as one of the greatest directors of all time. But then, this one in particular seems to go unnoticed.

It’s called The Lovely Bones. Usually when I turn on a movie, I’m asleep within fifteen minutes. This one kept me up for the full two-hour-plus runtime. I was intrigued, disturbed, riveted, emotional, and all those other feelings a good film should evoke. But mostly I was terrified.

It’s the story about a girl who is kidnapped and murdered but doesn’t cross into heaven until she can help her family cope and find her killer.

I’d say it’s probably one of the most haunting movies I’ve seen in years. But these stories are so important! They’re important to us as parents because they remind us that our kids are never ever safe. Let me tell you, it’s going to be a long while before my daughter is out of my sight for a split-second in public.

Yes, we need the Finding Nemo reminders that we should be brave enough to let go of our kids every once in a while, but we also need the hard, cold slap in the face that there are psychopaths out there that will take our kids at a moment’s notice.

And we must be vigilant.

The movie also inspired me to begin drafting a new novel about kidnapping. Let’s just say it will be an exercise to visit my deepest fears and blow the siren for the rest of us.

These types of stories might be upsetting and disturb us, but they’re necessary. I hate hearing about people who don’t watch the news simply because it’s so depressing. I mean, that’s just the way the world is, and it’s better to know what’s going on in it than to be ignorant (these are strong words coming from a guy who wants to live at Disneyland).

My kids are going to be taught at a very young age not only to never talk to strangers, but why they shouldn’t. “Because you can be killed,” I’ll tell them. “There are people you can trust after your mom and dad are friends with them and as long as they never ask you to be alone with them. There are people you can smile and nod to at Target and the grocery store, and you move on. And then there are people that want to hurt and kill you. They’re the ones who go the extra mile to be friendly to you. They’re the ones you want to run away from and scream at the top of your lungs. No one will ever fault you for that.”

My children are going to be as prepared as I can make them.

I’ll never forget the story a friend of mine told me about how he was at the park with his two daughters and he saw a guy just looking at them. “I’ve seen that look before. I’m a man, I’ve had that look before. But when he starts looking at my girls that way… I walked up to him and told him, ‘You need to get out of here.’ I made sure he got in his car and left.”

My friend is a hero. It might sound like he let the guy off scot free, but at least for a while, that pervert is going to wonder who else is noticing him. Hopefully he’s going to think twice before acting …or looking.

I recommend The Lovely Bones to every parent. Forget the whole heaven vs. hell and afterlife stuff. Watch it for what it’s meant to be: A wake up call to us parents, and an attempt to fuse just a little bit of beauty into a tragedy we cannot fix or prevent.

How Pixar Movies Can Make You a Better Dad

We had on The Incredibles the other night and I was stuck by a crazy thought. Bob Parr, as Bob_Parrincredible as he is as a super hero, is actually more endearing as a dad. When he’s playing catch with his son or hugging his daughter, there’s a certain gleam in his eyes that you don’t get when he’s fighting crime.

I’m not trying to be sappy here. I’m not. I’m just making an observation.

That made me think. Of course that’s how it comes across. Pixar movies are made primarily by parents who live in the world world. They know firsthand the trials and joys of parenthood. And it comes across crystal-clear in their films.

Finding Nemo is perhaps the most obvious one, and possibly the best father/son movie ever made. It reminds us as parents not to take our kids for granted, because they can be taken from us at any moment. And that’s a reality made even more clear as foster to adopt parents.

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Actually, Pixar movies even make us closer to our kids just by their mere existence. My son and I bonded when I took him to see The Good Dinosaur last year for his birthday. Sure, he couldn’t talk yet, but it was an experience we got to share together that we’ll always have. It was fun!

It’s not like going to the latest installment of Ice Age (not Pixar) where, as a grown-up, I’d likely fall asleep.

heart-in-handPixar films are brightly colored adult movies that just happen to be appropriate for kids. It would be inappropriate for me to gather our kids on the couch to watch Apocalypto, but it’s far from a sacrifice to snuggle with my daughter and watch Brave for the eightieth time.

Most Pixar movies appeal to us as parents. They show us the world through our own children’s point of view so that we can better understand them and better parent them.

I can’t count the number of times I put the computer away to play with my kids because Inside Out reminded me that my kids will always remember these days. It’s my job to make their memories yellow/gold. Not blue. So I chase them around the house pretending to be Bruce the shark or Mor’du.

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Woody couldn’t have said it any better: “I can’t stop Andy from growing up, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

That’s a haunting and encouraging reminder. But multiple viewings of Toy Story 2 has implemented that message in my head permanently. And then, of course, the next Toy Story installment screams out: “No, seriously! Your kids are going to grow up really, really fast! Don’t bloody miss it! Don’t miss it! Don’t miss it!”

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Don’t throw your daughter’s bow in the fire. Don’t tell your kids to act happy when everything sucks. Buy your kids lots of toys (not video games). Go on road trips and put the brake on at rest stops. Don’t lose your temper over their limitations. Don’t try to convince them that a rock is a seed. Teach them to slow down. Cross the ocean if you have to to find them. Your kids are your greatest adventure. Teach them to cook!

I’m not an expert parent and will never claim to be. But Pixar movies have been a better parenting resource than any psychology book I can think of.

Have a happy Father’s Day and take your kids to see Finding Dory. Or buy them a bunch of toys. Make today about the kids, because without them, there would be no Father’s Day.

How Finding Dory Will Make Me a Better Dad

maxresdefaultYou may laugh, but I highly doubt I’m the only dad who wanted one specific thing for Father’s Day: to go see Finding Dory. It couldn’t have come at a better time as we’re struggling through a hard time in our extended family. (Thank you so much Pixar, for consistently providing a light to us in dark times.)

The movie’s release also comes at a time when my kids are still young, which I’m so grateful for. Finding Dory sucker-punched me in the father-gut as it forced me to examine my current parenting techniques.

By the way, this post will be spoiler-free if you haven’t seen the movie, which you should (it’s shattering records already).

Right off the bat being a father has shown me how impatient I can be. You really never know how much of a perfectionist you are until you become a parent! But when my kids mess up, I’m quick to lose my temper and, I’m sad to say, make them feel bad for what they’ve done.

Finding Dory was like looking into a mirror when Marlin berates Dory (his surrogate daughter, I take it) for her disability (short-term memory loss). I can sympathize with Marlin because- “Son! I JUST told you not to pull on the dog’s ears! What’s wrong with you??”

See what I mean?

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The way Inside Out reminds us parents not to encourage our kids to act contrary to how they feel, Finding Dory practically scolds us for expecting our kids to be perfect despite their learning disabilities (and, as my wife often reminds me, they’re just kids). And for me, the message stung like a jelly fish.

635948550074796045-finding-dory-fdcs-dory10-125-per16-125There are plenty of messages to be found in Dory for the kids too, such as they never need to feel limited by their imperfections. And no matter what, there’s always a way out of their problems, no matter how dire, if they’re just brave enough.

Okay, maybe those reminders aren’t just for the kids.

All in all, Finding Dory doesn’t disappoint. It’s no Toy Story (1,2, or 3), but it’s still millions of leagues (pun) from being an animated movie not closely monitored and fostered by the Disney/Pixar powerhouses. In fact, Finding Dory, in all it’s excellence and daring, encourages, inspires, and illuminates laughter and happiness in an increasingly dark world.

Perhaps it’s a timely movie for all of us at this stage in our history.

Oh, and by the way, the photorealistic short film that precedes the feature is nothing less than 100% brilliant (my second favorite in Pixar’s short film lineup, just behind Presto!). I’m so excited for our kids to see it so I can teach them that things aren’t always as threatening as they seem.

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Yeah, we left the kids at home to go see an animated movie. How often do I have to stress that Pixar/Disney movies are not made for kids? They’re brightly colored adult movies that kids can happen to enjoy, and Dory is no different.

Once it’s been out for a little while, I’ll talk about the film’s climax and why I think it’s so perfect.

Oh! And what did you think about that Beauty and the Beast trailer?? Is that going to be amazing or what? Sarabeth and I have already made the proper arrangements to see it next March.

What Keeps Me Watching Toy Story

Even as a thirty-something year old, Toy Story remains one of my most absolute favorite movies of all time. And like each Pixar film, it’s riddled with tiny things that keep me coming back to it that most people might not really notice. Here are a few examples that I believe help make Toy Story great:

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-21221. Woody is just hilarious. When Buzz Lightyear is showing off his cool gadgets to the other toys, Woody’s impression of the space guns is just perfect. Sarcasm, jealousy, and frustration all rolled into one.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-8502. “We’re with you, Woody,” says Slinky, which prompts Mr. Potato Head to remove his lips and press them against his butt. I didn’t catch this until I was way older. One of the funniest gags in the franchise.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-82923. Okay, maybe the funniest gag is when Woody throws RV out of the moving truck and the toys freak out, because they already think he’s a murderer.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-30334. The lighting. I am absolutely dazzled by the use of lighting in pretty much this whole movie, but especially in the late afternoon just before Andy and his mom leave for Pizza Planet. It really does remind me of my own childhood as summer days were winding down and the sun was setting behind the hills leaving behind a red tint.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-1505. The opening credits. Even when I saw this in the theaters as an eleven year old, I noticed right away that Toy Story opened up unlike any other animated movie ever had: With on-screen credits during the action so there’s no wasted credit time and the movie moves forward from frame one. To this day I consider it one of the greatest movie openings of all time. It’s artsy, it’s simple, it’s telling, it’s to the point, and vastly charming and entertaining. And Randy Newman’s song just nails the mood. (It was also the first time I’d ever heard a song sung by a performer that wasn’t sung by the characters in an animated movie – I hadn’t seen The Rescuers yet.)

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-36236. Greatest threat line ever: “But we’re not on my planet, are we?”

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-2467. The spinning chair. When the chair spins and Woody is forced over onto Andy’s leg, that one-second shot tells you all you need to know, that Woody and Andy are inseparable, and there is no comfort in the world like belonging to Andy.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-40598. The Pizza Planet truck says “Yo.” Awesome attention to detail. Puts me right back in the ’90s.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-46459. Another great example of detail: Buzz glows in the dark. He’s got to be the only character I’ve ever seen in a film who does this.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-815110. Woody’s run. Woody is the only character I’ve ever seen who can make me literally LOL just by his wobbly, exaggerated run.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-236811. During Andy’s turning point, when his affections shift from cowboys to spacemen, there’s a scene where Andy disappears into the closet as a cowboy and emerges a second later as a spaceman. If you watch carefully, you can see the camera jolt just a tad, giving the impression that the filmmakers were attempting a popular camera trick, but the camera got bumped as though it were a real camera set up on a real stage.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-161312. Adding another sense of utter realism, the Davis’ house is bumped and bruised all across the floorboards and lower doors. There’s scratches in the chairs and wood peeling off the walls. It’s hard to remember you’re in a make-believe world.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-540613. Woody’s voice box waking up Scud is the greatest use of his pull string in the whole franchise. Sheer suspense!

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-7414. I think when we first see Woody, it’s the best character introduction ever, and I can’t explain it. It’s the way the camera is positioned, the perfect tilting of the cowboy doll suggesting that he’s a hero, but also just a plastic toy (but the perfect plastic toy), combined with the music makes is a moment I look forward to reaching every time I turn the movie on.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-869815. The match is blown out! The filmmakers didn’t need to add this scene. The movie would have worked just as well without it. But I’m glad it’s there because it seriously adds a whole layer of suspense and devastation. I love this addition so much that I wrote a post on it a while back. Check it out here.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-371416. The devastation in Woody’s voice and his face is so convincing when he realizes he’s a lost toy. I seriously feel for him each and every time. There’s no Hollywood sappiness here. This is real, raw emotion at his greatest nightmare coming true.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-125617. The Army Men. The whole Army Men sequence could quite possibly be my most favorite scene in the whole movie. It’s playfulness and ingenuity is addicting. Any boy who didn’t immediately start making Army Men movies with their cameras is not a true Toy Story fan.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-209718. The line, “The word I’m thinking of, I can’t say, because there’s preschool children around.”

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-668719. I love Jon Negroni’s theory that this hat proves that Jessie’s Emily could really be Andy’s mom.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-788220. Just like Walt Disney and his crew drew from the popular horror movies of their day as inspiration for Snow White, the Toy Story crew seemed to do the same thing. The kings of animation never intended for animated movies to be just for kids.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-387921. The argument Woody and Buzz have under the truck is a perfect example of two characters not willing to budge on their convictions. And it’s a wonderful sequence, because even though Woody is 100% right, he looses the argument because he can’t control his emotions as Buzz is able to. I think this is such a compelling scene because we’ve all been there (especially us married folk).

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-425222. Everything about Pizza Planet. As a kid (and even now), I’d give anything to go to a restaurant just like this. But it has to be Pizza Planet.

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-607223. Take a close look at this Battleship game between Hamm and Mr. Potato Head. I’d love to play Poker against that spud!

toy-story-disneyscreencaps.com-699424. Woody’s talk seriously makes me want to be a toy. Wait, I am a Toy! And my name’s Andy… Hmmm.

I agree with Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney that there’s literally not a single frame in the entire movie that doesn’t push the story forward. There are certainly dozens of other things that make this film one of my favorites, but then it would be too long of a post. Share some of your favorite Toy Story moments below! And, thank you, DisneyScreenCaps.com for the images.

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