Monday, December 31, 2012

My Biggest Personal Accomplishments of 2012

Here are the ten things that I've accomplished this year that I am the most proud of.

10. Turning 21 Gracefully
I did not drink at all until this year.  I of course have gotten carried away a few times, but overall I have figured out the bar scene and am able to have fun while still being responsible.

9. Kind of Figuring Out Dating
Now I have been single throughout all of 2012.  However being single was much more fun this year.  I have gotten better at flirting and just being a friend.  I even got to a few second dates.  Now there have been many bad things that have happened involving dating, but on the whole I am getting better and more confident.

8. Going to Disney World
This really is not my accomplishment, but it was the highlight of my year.  Disney World is just all kinds of awesome and as a lifelong Disney fan it really was a dream come true.

7. Growing an Awesome Beard
This is getting the longest it has ever been

6. Writing More
I always start writing but rarely ever finish anything.  This year has been the most productive for me creatively.  I have started this blog (which I could do better at updating consistently).  The best post was my review for Pocahontas, I need to work on more things similar to that.  In addition to the blog (with close to 2,000 hits as of this writing) I have written several poems and short stories that I am working on compiling and several stand-up jokes (although my comic output has definitely slowed).  Hopefully I write more in 2013 and keep improving.

5. Pastoral Nominating Committee
I volunteered to be on my Church's pastoral nominating committee in late 2010, we finished in mid 2012.  It was one of the most stressful things that I have ever been on, but all of the difficulty was balanced by my great committee who were perfect to work with.  God did lead us to the right candidate who has started at my Church and is doing great.  It is nice to see the hard work pay off.

4. Auditioning for National Theatre for Children

In June I decided that I would really like to get into children's entertainment.  Normally when I want to do something I think for a long time about doing it before moving on to the next fantasy.  But I had an audition that I drove down to the cities for.  They have not called back and judging by how the audition went I am sure I was out of the running early on.  But it is something out of the ordinary that I wanted and I tried for.  It is one of the risks I am the most proud of.

3. Deciding to Go Back to School/Leave Fargo

I decided to take a break from school a year ago.  It was a good decision, but I could only take so much time off and needed a decision.  I had tried out several, including AmeriCorps, but I had been waitlisted as there was not enough room.  Eventually I had grown enough as a person to be able to make my own decisions and finishing school was something I needed to do.  And after being in Fargo for my whole life I am happy that I was at a point where I was ready to try new experiences somewhere else.

2. Funny Fargo People You've Probably Never Heard Of

I think I may have performed more this year than any other.  I continued my fourth year as an improviser as part of Linebenders and had really committed to stand-up.  But after waiting on others for so long I made a decision to start putting on my shows and push myself in different directions.  Several of the shows I put on did not take off, but the six Funny Fargo People shows I did at Theatre B where definitely an accomplishment.  They started out as stand-up showcases, where I was able to give more stage time to many of the area's best comedians who were needing a break.  The shows turned into more experimental as I used it to try out long-form improv and just play with the talented people in the area.  However the best show was when I put together a read-through of The Star Wars Holiday Special.  It was so absurd and ridiculous and the talented cast committed to making it fun for the cast and the audience.  I discovered that I really like putting together and experimenting with shows.

1. Working as a Direct Care Provider
I started working as a Direct Care Provider with people with different abilities in mid-2011, but this year I picked up more clients, more hours and made closer connections with my clients.  This job not only provided me with an income, but also a sense of purpose and many strong reliable relationships.  I just finished this job and it was very emotional as this had become more than a job to me.  This is the thing I will miss the most from 2012.

Friday, December 21, 2012

10 Most Worthwhile Dr. Seuss Adaptations

Who does not love Dr. Seuss?  Adults love him, kids love him, we all do.  Unfortunately Hollywood and others have not always given his work the respect it deserves.  Many Dr. Seuss adaptations are ill-conceived and shameful.  However there have been a number of adaptations in other media to succeed in terms of Seuss.  So here are the ten most worthwhile adaptations of Geisel's work.

10. The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (1996)
I remember this from when I was a kid but I never watched it too much.  The target audience of this show is very young, but the parts I found online are fairly entertaining albeit unmemorable.  However the puppeteering is top notch and the digital backgrounds look like a Dr. Seuss illustration.  If anything it is great to see the legacies of Theodore Geisel and Jim Henson combined. 

9. Horton Hears a Who! (1970)
Maybe a bit too much unnecessary padding that is not overly memorable, but like many of the television specials from the early seventies they adapt the story fairly accurately and keep Dr. Seuss's unique writing and visual style.  I especially like the ending to this where the Mayor of Whoville catches a speck of dust.

8. Dr. Seuss on the Loose (1973)
The Cat in the Hat introduces the stories of The Sneetches, The Zax and Green Eggs and Ham.  I really admire this special for not forcing these short stories into their own specials (or heaven forbid feature film).  This special has helped to raise The Sneetches profile, which is one of Geisel's best stories.

7. The Lorax (1972)
Much like Horton Hears a Who and Seuss on the Loose this one works because it is a fairly straight adaptation of a story that works.  It does not play around with the book, The Once-ler is never fully revealed to the audience and it ends ambiguously.  This special has better atmosphere than most of the others seventies cartoons.  The book is of course much better, but this is as good of an adaptation as you will get.

6. Horton Hatches an Egg (1942)
This was part of the Looney Tunes series and directed by Bob Clampett.  This certainly feels much more like a Looney Tune than the book on which it is based, but that is not a bad thing as Warner Bros. was at the top of their game in the forties.  It respects the original books and adds several gags that work.

5. In Search of Dr. Seuss (1994)
I have not seen this about fifteen years, but I have very fond memories of renting this as a child.  This is a documentary that premiered on TNT.  It is interesting as it flows perfectly between previous Seuss cartoons, original material and helps to create a perfect showcase of Geisel's achievements.  There are many cameos such as Christopher Lloyd as a Hunch in a Bunch.  It also stars two of my favorite under utilized character actors: the always likable Kathy Najimy and Matt Frewer who gives provides the best version of The Cat in the Hat that I have ever seen.  The sets are fun, the information on Geisel's life is good and I really wish that this would reair sometime.

4. Seussical the Musical (2000)
One of the better musicals to come out of Broadway in the past twenty years.  I love how Seussical offers a new way to experience Seuss to the masses.  Middle school and community theatres have been putting this on and if you have a chance to see it I recommend that you do.  Seeing Cat in the Hat, Horton and others live is quite the experience.  Would love to perform in this some day.

3. Butter Battle Book (1989)
Seuss himself said that this one was the closest adaptation of his work.  This was animated by legendary animator Ralph Bakshi, most known for his work in adult animation.  Bakshi was a great choice for this story because of his emphasis on maturity.  This special keeps the strong message and the cliffhanger ending.  It is just as good as the book.

2. Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951)
Not an adaptation of a book but Seuss did write this story about a boy who said "boing-boing."  This is one of the most influential cartoons of all time for its developments in limited animation and put UPA on the map.  Like Bakshi, UPA has a focus on maturity which Seuss's books always had.  The animation is not styled after Geisel's, but this is clearly a Seuss story.  It is one of the best cartoons of all time and represents Seuss's far reach in entertainment.

1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
This is unquestionably the best adaptation of Seuss's work.  This is a rare example of a television special improving on an already perfect work.  The gags, the song, the pacing all serve the story and have become synonymous with it.  The reason this is the best is that Geisel was involved in it himself and it paired him with a like-minded collaborator, Chuck Jones (which seems to be the key in all of these: Jim Henson Productions, Bakshi, Clampett, UPA).  This cartoon is a masterpiece and has been beloved by generations.  It represents the genius of Dr. Seuss well.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Disney's Five Steps to Cultural Immortality

The Walt Disney Company has a permanent place in our culture.  That most definitely did not happen overnight.  There are several risks that Walt took that people responded to universally.  Here are the five events that lead to the company's longevity and cultural immortality.

Steamboat Willie (1928)
This cartoon was not the start of the Disney empire.  Walt had previously produced Laugh-o-Grams, the successful Alice Comedies and Mickey's direct precursor Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  The was not even the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Gaucho were released first but nobody noticed.  It was the addition of sound that put Disney on the map.  Sound had been used in animation before but never to this detail, and the public responded strongly.

Audiences responded even stronger to the lead character as Mickey Mouse exploded into his own series, merchandise, and an unparalleled legendary celebrity status.  Which is naturally why Walt always held strong to the idea that, "it all started with a mouse."  Technically, it didn't.  But this is what people noticed and cared about.  This cartoon highlighted Disney's ambitious and risk-taking nature and gifted the world with a personality that everybody knows and loves.

Three Little Pigs (1933)
The Silly Symphony series set the standard for animation at the time.  Just like other studios were required to use sound and had character's influenced by Mickey after Steamboat Willie they followed Disney's lead on his Academy Award winning series.  After Skeleton Dance all cartoons needed an emphasis on music.  After Flowers and the Trees they needed color.  Even the series title was imitated as Silly Symphonies lead directly to Looney Tunes, Merry Melodies, Happy Harmonies, Color Rhapsodies and others.

However more influential than Skeleton Dance and Flowers and the Trees is this pleasant cartoon.  There are a number of big achievements in this cartoon.  It was a giant step forward in character animation as there have never been three characters of the same size and design who had such different personalities before.  This also created the Disney tradition of popular songs in their films, which often eclipse the film's own popularity.  Also it held the ability to be reinterpreted to the times.  During its initial release it spoke to depression audiences who were afraid of several Big Bad Wolves.  During World War II it found new relevance as people were afraid of a different Big Bad Wolf.

It can be argued that this is the most popular cartoon of all time.  It remained in theatres for longer than any short and became iconic.  I would label this as the no turning back point for the studio.  This success proves the revered status Walt and his animators had among audiences.  After this cartoon Disney was never going to be forgotten and they now had the opportunity to take even more risks.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
There was no reason this should have worked.  To say that feature animation was a gamble would greatly undersell the enormous risk.  This also represents Walt's insatiable ambition.  Looking at his studio as a business he did not need to expand, he was easily the most successful studio.  Even if Fleischer's shorts were more popular and technically unique Disney beat his competitor in marketing and personality.

But amidst all of the risks and everything that was against this movie succeeding, it did.  It not only succeeded it surpassed all expectations and was the highest grossing movie at the time.  This was also the start of a new medium and the most successful franchise in the history of entertainment.  This became the studios legacy, nothing is more beloved than these features.

From this success Disney, true to form, kept expanding.  From Pinocchio to Fantasia to Bambi nothing was going to stop this new form of storytelling.  Despite several missteps since this initial masterpiece the studio to this day is still dedicated and capable of creating a classic.

Disneyland the TV Program (1954)
Disney had several setbacks since Snow White.  There was an animator's strike in 1941 that hit Walt hard.  World War II also redirected the studio to propaganda efforts and took away several foreign markets.  Despite the lack of revenue the studio nevertheless continued innovating continuing its commitment to animation, experimenting with live-action in Song of the South which lead to the studio moving to full live-action filmmaking with Treasure Island and perfecting nature documentaries with their True-Life Adventures.  However their biggest risk, Disneyland was on the horizon and Walt took another risk to fund his dream: television.

Television was the worst nightmare of a movie producer in the fifties.  But instead of fearing that it would cause him to lose an audience Walt used it to gain even more audiences.  Despite funding Disneyland the Place, Disneyland the TV Series had several other advantages.  It kept Disney's films and cartoons in the public eye, it served as a way to advertise upcoming ventures and helped turn Walt himself into an almost mythical figure.  As the warm and inviting host the show did wonders in raising Walt's profile and making his personality culturally immortal.

The series worked great as a showcase for the past and a preview for the future, but its legacy was when it spent time in the now creating original programming.  The most successful of this was easily Davy Crockett, gifting the studio with another pop culture phenomenon.

Television has been a strong part of the studio ever since.  It continued with Mickey Mouse Club, Zorro, the subscription based Disney Channel, its award winning cartoons of the eighties and nineties, its purchase of ABC (the network to air the initial anthology series), and modern day tween focused Disney Channel. 

Disneyland the Place (1955)
And this is it, Disney's biggest gamble and biggest success.  Of course the company did not end with Disneyland, but this was the achievement that finished the process of cultural immortality.  It is daunting to think about a man who started out as an animator creating this.  Walt Disney had grown from working in a visual medium to his creativity culminating in a physical place.  Disney did not just produce things to be watched, now Disney is a destination.  And that is the most amazing thing about Walt Disney to me, his ambition and innovation was incapable of containment.  It had to transform into something tangible like Disneyland.  The creation of the theme park is one of the most amazing achievements in history.  It is not only part of an incredible legacy, it symbolizes why this is an unparalleled legacy that will never leave our culture.