Roads Not Taken: My Emotional Journey Through “The Force Awakens”

After seeing Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens almost a week ago (I was at the Chicago press screening) it’s taken me this long to process it. When the movie ended, I sat in my chair and felt conflicted. I felt like the kid who had opened all his Christmas gifts but didn’t quite get what he wanted.

Like many Star Wars fans, I’d been waiting for this installment of the Skywalker Saga for decades.  Sure, the Prequels were fine but I wanted to know what happened in that galaxy far, far away in the post-“Return of the Jedi” years.

And when you look at the marketing campaign that the folks at Lucasfilm/Disney put together, it was obvious that Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams knew what buttons they wanted to push, and what audience they were trying to reach. They wanted to reach the fans of the Classic Trilogy, the ones who grew up with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and the rest of those iconic characters. In short, a fan like ME.

So why did I have such conflicting emotions once the credits started rolling? Why was I not flush with joy as my fellow Star Wars fans who left the theater with me? Why is there a contingent of “fans” who are declaring their hatred for the film? And finally, how do I feel now that I’ve taken the time to sort out my feelings about the film and have seen it a second time? Here’s my 2 cents (or Republic credits if you’re not in the Outer Rim) WARNING – SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD!:

Read more after the jump!

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Marvel goes tiny in “Ant-Man” Blu-Ray promo

In what was their biggest gamble since “Guardians of the Galaxy”, the folks at Marvel Studios launched a superhero series in their “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) based on one of their lesser-known heroes named “Ant-Man.” Of course, when you have a character that’s best known for shrinking to the size of an ant, you have to change your way of thinking when it comes to promoting his movie. You have to get away from the larger-than-life scope of heroes like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. You have to get…tiny.

With the blu-ray release of Marvel’s “Ant-Man” this week, the studio is “going small” by giving fans a new way to look at the world of Scott Lang, the secret identity of the titular hero as played by Paul Rudd.

I received a neat little “Ant-Man” memento courtesy of the film studio and toymaker Janky Toys. It was a miniaturized replica of the blu-ray, complete with its own sleeve!

(Images and more after the jump!)

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Disney’s Aladdin Blu-Ray Release Pays Tribute to Robin Williams

AladdinDiamondBlurayRev smallWhen I first saw the movie “Aladdin” at the movie theater in 1992, it made a tremendous impact on me. First, it made me actually like musicals. Sorry, I never got into “The Little Mermaid” or “Beauty and the Beast” like so many others did. Quite frankly, musicals were never my thing. But when we first meet Aladdin in the streets of Agrabah, evading the Sultan’s soldiers while singing about his “street rat lifestyle”, I was hooked. Add to that the subtle nods to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and some spectacular action sequences, and I was reeled in. But it wasn’t until the Genie (voiced by Robin Williams) hit the screen that I was truly enamored with this world that “Aladdin” co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker helped bring to the big screen. I grew up on Williams as a part of my pop-culture world. His stand-up act, his appearances on television shows like “Happy Days” and “Mork and Mindy” helped shape my sense of humor and appreciation for the spoken word.

Nonetheless, it’s a bittersweet experience for me to watch Disney’s “Aladdin” on the new Diamond Edition Blu-ray. Don’t get me wrong, the transfer is immaculate and looks gorgeous on my big-screen HD set. I even loved the little running “Abu the Monkey” icon that appears on screen as the disc loads. But when you consider how much Robin Williams meant to the movie, viewing the film can bring a slight pang to the heart as Williams’ passing is something that still affects his fans.

Thankfully, the folks at Disney were mindful enough of this and included features that paid tribute to Robin Williams, most notably “The Genie Outtakes.” In this bonus feature, “Aladdin” directors Clements and Musker talk about working with Williams and share a number of outtakes that never made the final film. The outtakes are pretty funny, as you would expect, although you could see why they weren’t used. The number of celebrity impersonations Williams did while recording the dialogue of the Genie was staggering and a testament to his comedic talent, but in some cases the references were a bit too obscure for the audience. Still, it was a treat to see some of these takes brought to light for his fans to see.

That feature alone makes the “Aladdin” Blu-Ray/DVD Diamond Edition worth adding to your home library, but there are others, like “Genie 101” and the look at the making of the Broadway Musical that will please most Disneyphiles.

The disc is a wonderful tribute to Robin Williams and his talent. And it will remind each of us that we’ll never have a friend like him ever again.

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Disney’s Aladdin: Diamond Edition Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Product Details

Synopsis:  Disney’s beloved masterpiece will make your heart race and your spirit soar. Experience the laughter, adventure and Academy Award®-winning music (1992: Best Music, Original Song, “A Whole New World,” Original Score) for the first time on Blu-ray and Digital HD. And now Aladdin shines even brighter with never-before-seen tributes to the enchanting talent of Robin Williams, the “Genius behind the Genie”.

Voice Cast: Robin Williams (Jumanji, Night at the Museum) as The Genie, Scott Weinger (TV’s “Full House”) as Aladdin, Linda Larkin as Jasmine, Gilbert Gottfried (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”) as Iago, Jonathan Freeman (Aladdin: the Musical on Broadway) as Jafar, Douglas Seale (Rescuers Down Under, For Love or Money) as Sultan and Frank Welker (Mulan, The Smurfs 2) as Abu.

Producers/Directors: John Musker and Ron Clements  (Moana, The Little Mermaid, Hercules)         

Writers: Ron Clements and John Musker (Moana, The Little Mermaid, Hercules) Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean 1-4)

Music & Lyrics: Alan Menken – Music (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Howard Ashman – Lyrics (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), Tim Rice – Lyrics (The Lion King, Evita)

Blu-ray & Digital Bonus Features: The Genie Outtakes – Robin Williams’ Genie outtakes are magically brought to life.

Genie 101 – Our host, Scott Weinger (the voice of Aladdin), takes us through the various transformations of the famous (and formerly famous) celebrity references of the Genie.

Ron & John: You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me – Directors John Musker & Ron Clements sit down and discuss the experiences of their long-running partnership together at Disney.

Aladdin: Creating Broadway Magic – Join host Darren Criss as we take “a new fantastic point of view” at the story of how Aladdin went from a classic Disney animated film to become Broadway’s smash hit with Composer Alan Menken and others.

Unboxing Aladdin – Our host, Joey Bragg from Disney Channel’s Liv & Maddy, explore the Easter eggs and hidden secrets of Aladdin in this unboxing video.

Classic Bonus – ALL classic bonus from the original DVD release

DMA Exclusive: Deleted Song – “My Finest Hour” – Jafar takes the stage in this never-before-seen deleted song. Includes intro from Ron & John. (DMA exclusive)

DVD Bonus Features: Select Classic Bonus, including:

  • Deleted Song / “Proud Of Your Boy” (Original Demo Recording)
  • Deleted Song / “You Can Count On Me”
  • Deleted Song / “Humiliate The Boy”
  • Deleted Song / “Why Me”
  • Deleted Scene / “Aladdin & Jasmine’s First Meeting”
  • Deleted Scene / “Aladdin in the Lap of Luxury”

Ratings: G in US & Canada (bonus materials are not rated)

Feature Run Time: Approximately 91 Minutes

Aspect Ratio:1:85:1

Audio: Blu-ray: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. DVD: English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Languages: English, French and Spanish

Subtitles: English (ESL/SDH), French and Spanish

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DisneyAladdin

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DisneyAnimation

Website: http://movies.disney.com/aladdin

“A New Hope”: Retold and reFERBished? PHINEAS and FERB take on STAR WARS!

I have to admit, when I heard that the Disney cartoon show “Phineas and Ferb” was going to give its own take on “Star Wars: A New Hope”, the first thing that crossed my mind was “didn’t Family Guy already cover that?”

(Geek confession: I often annoy friends when I declare that I don’t find “Spaceballs” all that funny since I read essentially the same jokes in “MAD” and “Cracked” magazines.)

So, you could imagine my delight when the episode finally aired and made me laugh in ways I didn’t expect.

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What I didn’t take into account was that the humor of the “Family Guy” specials skewed towards adults, while the fun that Phineas and Ferb have with the Star Wars mythos is more family friendly. (Which is not to say that there wasn’t any black humor in the episode. I mean the line “And you thought we would die in space” straight up made me laugh out loud. For realz.)

Anyway, I really enjoyed it, and since a special edition DVD of the episode just hit shelves this week I’ve got a “Phineas and Ferb/Star Wars” prize pack to give away!

How can you win this ginchy gift? I’ll tell you how after the jump!

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Where were you when the Star Wars Episode VII title was announced?

So yeah, today while many of us were still trying to recover from election returns, the folks at Disney/Lucasfilm decided to drop this on the interwebz:

Now, I’m going to be honest and say that with the exception of “Return of the Jedi”, I’ve never really been thrilled – at least initially – with how the Star Wars films have been titled. And even when it came to “Return”, it was first called “Revenge of the Jedi” (a pretty cool title IMO) only to be changed later. (Because Jedi don’t take revenge. Duh.)

But that’s not to say that the titles didn’t eventually grow on me. Heck, when a buddy of mine told me that the very first Star Wars sequel was going to be named “The Empire Strikes Back”, I thought that was downright silly. Of course I feel differently about it now.

What do you think?

Star Wars: REBELS premieres on Disney XD and on DVD! [WIN A COPY OF THE DVD!][UPDATED!]

It is a time of great rejoicing in the galaxy…

After premiering on the Disney Channel earlier this month, the new animated series STAR WARS: REBELS will be making its debut TONIGHT on Disney X D! (Check your local listings.)

I attended an advanced screening of the series pilot, and as a “classic trilogy fan” I was taken in by how much the series ‘felt’ like the films I grew up and fell in love with. There is a definite vibe to this series that sets it apart from “The Clone Wars” which preceded it.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the skinny on STAR WARS REBELS:

“The story unfolds during a dark time when the evil Galactic Empire is tightening its grip of power on the galaxy. Imperial forces have occupied a remote planet and are ruining the lives of its people. The motley but clever crew of the starship Ghost — cowboy Jedi Kanan, ace pilot Hera, street-smart teenager Ezra, the “muscle” Zeb, warrior firebrand Sabine, and cantankerous old astromech droid Chopper — is among a select few who are brave enough to stand against the Empire. Together, they will face threatening new villains, encounter colorful adversaries, embark on thrilling adventures and become heroes with the power to ignite a rebellion.”

“Star Wars Rebels” is created by Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Sherlock Holmes), and Carrie Beck. The Lucasfilm Animation production is also executive-produced by Filoni and Kinberg as well as Greg Weisman (Gargoyles).

“The talented voice cast includes Freddie Prinze Jr. as Kanan, Vanessa Marshall as Hera, Steve Blum as Zeb, Tiya Sircar as Sabine, Taylor Gray as Ezra, David Oyelowo as Agent Kallus and Jason Isaacs as the Inquisitor.”

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I’m really looking forward to seeing what Dave Filoni and his merry crew come up with in the seasons ahead!

Now, to celebrate the series debut on Disney XD, the folks at Disney has given me 5 COPIES of the STAR WARS: REBELS DVD to give away! And yet again I’m doing so with one of my ridiculously easy contests!

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DISNEY’S “TOMORROWLAND” TRAILER DEBUTS

Hey, they made the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride into a movie, right? Now Disney is giving us the big-screen version of one of their theme parks!

That’s the cynical view, of course, one that you would dismiss once you saw the trailer:

They’ve got the combined talents of George Clooney and Brad Bird working on this one, folks!

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Disney & Big Hero 6 calling on young inventors for XPRIZE Challenge!

One of the most highly-anticipated films of the year is “Big Hero 6” from Disney. Based on a Marvel comic, the movie features young robotics inventor Hiro and his creation Baymax. This is a film that has been getting shuffled around a bit, but is now getting a proper promotional push and is even being celebrated with the XPRIZE Challenge.

The XPRIZE Challenge is a contest that is calling on inventors ages 8-17 to THINK BIG. As explained on the XPRIZE Challenge website: “Think of a big idea that uses science, technology, engineering or math, and use your creativity to help make the world a better place.” Youths are then encouraged to produce a short 1-3 minute video explaining the idea. Seems simple enough, except for that part about changing the world, right?

Of those who are up to the challenge, 6 winners will be chosen and be treated to some great prizes, among them a trip to walk the red carpet and see the premiere of Big Hero 6 in Hollywood; a tour of the Disney Animation Studio and Disney Imagineering; they’ll get to experience innovation at XPRIZE headquarters; receive special a special NASA space kit from littleBits; and get free registration for the next First LEGO League season!

There’s going to be a panel on Big Hero 6 at New York Comic Con this weekend, and the deadline to enter the contest is October 12th. So if you’re a young inventor or know of one, don’t delay and share your idea that can change the world today!

For more details and information on how to enter, visit the XPRIZE.ORG website!

“Star Wars: Rebels” merchandise & toyline arrives!

When you consider that the very first Star Wars movie didn’t have any toys available at its premiere, it’s unheard of to not have any products based on the property on store shelves these days.

Now that Star Wars is part of the Disney family, they’re not wasting any time releasing toys and other goodies to promote the new animated series Star Wars: Rebels.

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From the press release:

Glendale, Calif. (September 22, 2014) — Disney Consumer Products has unveiled an intergalactic assortment of products celebrating the release of Star Wars Rebels, the new Disney XD animated television series which debuts October 3rd on Disney Channel and continues on Disney XD starting October 13th. With all new exciting adventures and memorable new characters, Star Wars Rebels will introduce a new generation of fans to the Star Wars galaxy, inspiring new lines of figures, spaceships and lightsabers, apparel and accessories, home décor, books and more from best-in-class licensees including Hasbro, LEGO, Mad Engine, Rubies and Jay Franco.

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