Saving the galaxy from Zurg

While my parents and I were in the Magic Kingdom last week, we all rode Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. If you aren't familiar with the attraction, it's a ride where you shoot targets with lasers like a video game, and then compare your scores with your friends. There are two guns per vehicle, plus a control to spin the ship around to get to all the targets - it's really fun! We all rode the same vehicle, so Dad and I both had guns and Mom was assigned to the lever to spin the ship - she did a great job so we could concentrate on shooting. For the first time ever, I managed to get the highest possible score: 999,999! I think I must have hit some secret bonus targets, but it was a real thrill to see those big numbers. Dad scored well over 300,000, which was way better that I did on my first time. It was definitely a blast!


Home on the Range / Original Soundtrack : 4 of 5

It's a Home on the Range triple-header! Actually, I bought this CD not long after seeing the movie in the theater, because the songs are catchy and the lyrics are hilarious. I'm finally getting around to reviewing it, since I started listening again after watching the DVD. Like most Disney soundtracks, all of the vocal numbers make up the first half of the CD, while the incidental score fills up the rest. I think all of the songs are wonderful - the funniest are the title track (with its manly chorus), and the incredible Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo. The other songs use various country stars like Bonnie Raitt and K.D. Lang, and even though I'm not a country fan, the emotion in these numbers is wonderful (Little Patch of Heaven just makes me smile from ear to ear). The score is pretty entertaining, and I like how sometimes the themes from sad songs appear in happy phrases and vice-versa. The last track is Alan Menken (the composer) singing the original version of Anytime You Need a Friend, which is really heart-felt (quite unlike the pop version!). All in all, this is a great CD that definitely deserves to be in any Disney CD collection.


Home on the Range: The Adventures of a Bovine Goddess / Maggie the Cow : 3 of 5

This is definitely the most unusual Disney art book yet, but I'll take whatever I can get! Instead of the usual semi-academic discussion included in the better art books, this time the narrator is Maggie, the lead cow in Home of the Range. She talks about the making of the movie in a fictional style, including shooting schedules and off-screen anecdotes. Mostly she just spews pun after cow-inspired pun, but amazingly the text does manage to include some really interesting facts about the development of the movie, especially the color and lighting styles and the way backgrounds are textured (not so much about character design, since they are supposed to be "real", and certainly nothing about the voice actors!). The artwork is pretty spectacular, including some double-page spreads that are great to view (and the more I look, the more they remind me of Samurai Jack backgrounds). So, even though this book is pretty bizarre (and reads quickly), I'm still glad Disney decided to produce an art book for their last traditionally-animated feature.


Home on the Range : 4 of 5

As usual, whenever I watch a Disney animated feature on DVD for the first time, I love it even more than I did in the theater! Even though I enjoyed Home on the Range on the big screen (though I thought it was kind of a weak way to end the legacy of traditionally-animated movies), I really had a fantastic time watching it on the small screen (well, my TV's not that small). There are so many hilarious gags that I missed before, and I even appreciate the animation style now. I was even able to develop more of an emotional attachment to the characters, because at the big "happy ending" scene when everyone's celebrating, I got those Disney tears (just because everything is so damn cute)! The bonus material is pretty good for a single-DVD release, although it includes much more fluff than substance. There are some yodelling games and a pretty good new animated short (though not in the style of the film), and a short documentary that shows the film crew on a cattle drive, sketching ideas, and working with the voice actors. I'm really glad they included a commentary track (it must have been a last minute decision, since it isn't even mentioned on the packaging!) to fill out the bonus items for animation fans. I can definitely see myself watching Home on the Range again and again in the future!


A magical time at Walt Disney World

I'm back from my big trip to Walt Disney World with my parents, and we had an absolutely incredible time! It seemed like all of my Disney wishing paid off, because we hardly saw a single drop of rain, and our visit was over before Hurricane Jeanne arrived. We also had wonderful timing with everything - the Monorail was always there waiting for us, and we were able to get into every show we wanted to see. All in all, we counted around 40 attractions that we experienced in five days! Now that I'm home I'm feeling a little "Disney homesick", since I had so much fun there - it's always tough to get back to the real world. But, I've got tons of pictures and memories to enjoy! Here's a brief look at each day, along with a photo album for you to view.

WDW 2004: Day 1

On our first day we took it easy, just enjoying the Grand Floridian and riding the Monorail past the parks and stopping to check out the Contemporary and Polynesian resorts. We ate at 1900 Park Fare for dinner, where we got to meet Cinderella, Prince Charming, and Suzy & Perla (Cindy's mice). The food wasn't very good, but every other meal for the rest of the trip was great! After dinner we took a fireworks cruise - we had two nice guides who drove our private boat around Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, then we stopped in front of the castle at the Magic Kingdom to watch the spectacular Wishes fireworks show! (By the way, to read the other days of my trip, check out the September archive.)

View photos: WDW 2004 Day 1

WDW 2004: Day 2

The next day we spent the morning at Animal Kingdom, starting with a great safari trip, viewed the gorillas, and then we enjoyed the wonderful Festival of the Lion King show. After lunch at Pizzafari we saw the giant bats and tigers, and then watched Tarzan Rocks - it was my first time at this show, and I was really impressed with the live band and stunt skaters! Mom & Dad survived riding Dinosaur, and then we went back to the Grand Floridan for a break (we took a break everyday, which was a perfect time for a margarita and a quick nap!). We ate dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom, and Minnie loved our matching shirts. Spectromagic was a great parade and a nice end to the day.

View photos: WDW 2004 Day 2

WDW 2004: Day 3

We started our day in Epcot, and Mom & Dad had the ride of their lives on Test Track! We experienced Spaceship Earth, the Universe of Energy, and the Imagination and Land pavilions all before lunch, which was at the Garden Grill (with Mickey, Pluto, Chip & Dale). After our break time, we went to MGM Studios and played Millionaire, then had a great dinner at the Brown Derby before seeing a fantastic performance of Fantasmic!

View photos: WDW 2004 Day 3

WDW 2004: Day 4

I couldn't wait for this day, because we spent most of it at the Magic Kingdom riding the classic Disney rides! We ate at the Plaza Restaurant on Main Street, then got to ride in the cockpit of the Monorail back to the Grand Floridian for our break. That evening we went to Downtown Disney and ate at Wolfgang Puck's, then saw Cirque du Soleil La Nouba, which was completely amazing - definitely my favorite Cirque show so far!

View photos: WDW 2004 Day 4

WDW 2004: Day 5

We started our last day super-early with a private fishing excursion on Seven Seas Lagoon. Our guide Dave was a lot of fun, and we caught 18 large-mouth bass in two hours - Dad had such a great time! Then we went to MGM Studios for lots of shows, including the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, along with lunch at the Sci-Fi Dine-In. After our break we went to Epcot for dinner at Coral Reef, and then strolled around World Showcase to visit Mexico, Norway and the American Adventure, and then ended our vacation with a great view of the IllumiNations fireworks.

View photos: WDW 2004 Day 5
Watch video: Fishing at Walt Disney World


Tosca / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

Tosca is one of those operas that I've seen several times before - I even remember seeing an Austin Lyric Opera production of it several years ago. This is the first production put together by the new artistic director, and he brought in several performers and other artists he's worked with in the past to create a spectacular first impression! The singing was amazing - definitely the most talented (and beautiful) Tosca I've seen, and Scarpia was a truly fantastic villain (his acting definitely reminded me of Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame!). The sets for Acts 1 and 2 were amazing - Scarpia's lair had huge walls covered with aged paintings and giant windows. The emotion of the piece was certainly intensified by the staging - at the end of Act I, they chose to have Scarpia's final evil aria sung in the church while the full procession of the Mass begins (there were hundreds of extras on stage). It was fantastically dramatic! Unfortunately, I wasn't that impressed with Act 3, when the big tragedy hits. It could have been because the music isn't as impressive as the prior acts, or maybe I was disappointed in the pacing (Tosca seemed to throw herself off the ledge too quickly), but at least I completely enjoyed most of the performance, which made the whole evening wonderful.


Superhero TV update

Since the Jeanne situation is still looking good, I can take a minute to talk about how "superhero TV" has been for me lately. While I think Teen Titans has gone a little downhill overall, I have to say that Aftershock was a fantastic episode, and finally brought an "end" to Terra, who has been showing up much too often, if you ask me. The new series The Batman seems interesting - it's always good to see new Batman on TV, even though it will never hold a candle to Batman: The Animated Series (which I've been watching in order on DVD recently)! Right now nothing can beat Justice League Unlimited - I love the animation and the stories have been solid. I love meeting new heroes, and the writers have been hitting on some excellent humor lately (when Wonder Woman tries to warn Batman about the sorceress Circe, he quips, "I know - I've read The Odyssey")! Yes, I still hate the guitar-loaded music, but the show is so good I can overlook that. Even though I rarely read comics now, I can't get enough superhero TV!


My favorite island

Now that's a nice looking forecast map! My new favorite island is Hispaniola, because the mountains there beat the crap out of Jeanne and knocked it back down to a tropical depression! Now the latest track shows it moving out into the Atlantic and stalling out, far off-shore from Florida or anywhere else. Of course, five-day hurricane forecasts are unpredictable, but it feels so good to see that kind of probability! I just have to keep watching things this weekend and keep building my Disney mood - last night I watched most of Pinocchio before I had to go out, and tonight I'm going to watch Peter Pan. Keep wishing!


Staying positive

Right now things are looking OK for my trip - I've been checking websites on Hurricane Jeanne several times a day. I've found some great sites and message boards of Disney fans sharing information, so I feel like I'm keeping up to date with everything. Nearly every forecast I read has it making the track you see here, which is the one I want (sorry, Georgia and South Carolina)! I'm prepared for some rain in the parks, just as long as my parents and I can have safe travels and fun being together while we're there. I'm doing my best to stay positive and relax - last night I watched Snow White to keep my mood up! Tonight I'm playing a gig with Stella, so we'll see if I can concentrate on playing when I'll be wondering what the 10:00 PM update says!


Hercules / Original Soundtrack : 3 of 5

It looks like I'm slowing collecting Disney soundtracks now, even though I already have most of the well known songs on various CD collections. I got this soundtrack for practically nothing, and it's fun to listen to since I re-watched the movie fairly recently. The first half of the CD contains the vocal numbers, and the second half is all incidental music. The vocal songs are much cooler, of course, especially the numbers by the Muses - the lyrics are great (especially in Zero to Hero) and those gals can really sing! The worst track by far is Michael Bolton's rendition of Go the Distance - man, it really sucks (he's on a par with Rod Stewart for voices that I can't understand why anyone would like!). I'm kind of tired of listening to Danny DeVito sing One Last Hope, but as long I can jam to those gospel Muses, I'll keep listening to this CD.


Watching and wishing

It's less than a week away from my trip to Walt Disney World, and my emotions are all over the place! Just a few days ago I was so happy and excited to watch the forecasting for Hurricane Ivan get farther and farther away from Orlando, with no other tropical depressions in sight (of course, my thoughts are with everyone on the Gulf Coast who will be affected). Then suddenly, Tropical Storm Jeanne pops up out of nowhere to give me something to worry about! I keep checking for updates (I even know the schedule when they're released) and hoping to see Jeanne sputter out or change course. None of the sites I read seem terribly worried about it, but there's so much Ivan coverage right now that it's tough to find good details on Jeanne. All I can do is wait and see - I'm normally so easy-going, so I really hate worrying about something. Right now my hopes are on this quote from the National Hurricane Center - "A lot can happen between now and then. We're not, at this point, going to get too worried about it (for Florida)." If it were just me going on this trip, it wouldn't bother me, but I really want things to be nice for my parents. It's time for some serious Disney wishes and pixie dust!


Flight of the Navigator : 3 of 5

Disney recently released a ton of their old movies on DVD, so I added them to my Netflix queue not too long ago. Today I watched Flight of the Navigator, a fairly entertaining movie from the mid-80's, with pretty weird special effects and an even weirder plot. It starts out really bad - terrible acting by two brothers and their parents, but suddenly the story kicks in and things get interesting. The old other brother David goes into the woods, falls into a pit, and when he climbs out, it's eight years later! Of course, this has to do with an alien abduction - David has traveled at light speed and his brain is full of star charts (so he's now the "navigator"). The scenes in the ship are pretty cool, since the ship is kind of alive - when it transfers David's mind to get the star charts, it becomes kind of human (and the voice is Pee Wee Herman)! Even though there are a few exciting scenes, I couldn't really get into the emotions of the characters, but it was still fun to watch, especially the long sequence of him flying home, listening to the Beach Boys and singing along (definitely much better than the terrible 80s score!).


Astro Boy Vol 14 : 3 of 5

I love stories about the early days of characters, so this particular Astro Boy volume was a great one! My favorite story was about Uran, Astro's super-cute sister, just after she was made (Astro's brother Cobalt is there, too). Astro has to take them around the city and teach them things, and of course they get into all kinds of trouble. Uran sees a "roboting" match (like robot prize-fighting) and ends up sneaking away from school to become a major contender! There's another long story about an alien robot who can read robot minds (ponder that one a while!), and then some shorter stories about horse people and giant snails. Lots of variety in this volume! There are a few pages at the end where cartoon Tezuka talks about Astro's beginnings, too - all about how Tezuka decided to give Astro emotions and a family so readers could relate to him. An excellent collection of stories!


Harley & Ivy : 3 of 5

It may have come out several long months ago, but I finally took the time to read the Harley & Ivy three-issue comic mini-series. I'm definitely a big fan of Batman: The Animated Series, where these characters had their debut, and I've always had a thing for them (in fact, I have a cool limited edition cel of the girls, too!). This short comic series was really fun - each issue is fairly compact and tells its own story. There's plenty of opportunities to see the gals in their underwear (and Ivy even has a "special moment" in a rainforest), and some pretty fun plots (I think the third issue was my favorite, where the girls take over a Hollywood production!). I've really been out of the comics loop for quite a while, but it was great to be reading some again.


Triple Disney

Today is a triple Disney day - all kinds of news, both happy and sad. First, Frank Thomas passed away - he was the next to last surviving member of the "nine old men" (Ollie Johnston is the only survivor now). He was known for truly bringing emotion to animation, always tackling difficult scenes such as the dwarfs mourning for Snow White. He had a hand in nearly every Disney animated feature that I love! Second, Michael Eisner announced that he's stepping down as CEO in 2006! This could be very good news (even though a ton of great things have been happening lately for Disney), and I'm hoping that it means Pixar will come back. Third, today marks the beginning of my 10 day countdown to Walt Disney World! I'm really hoping that Hurricane Ivan suddenly goes away and spares Florida from a third blast, but it will definitely be out of the way while I'm there, and there's no other tropical depression in sight (cross your fingers!).

Walt Disney World Countdown: 10 days!


Innovative egg technology

I really like boiled eggs, but I don't think I've ever cooked them perfectly. Somehow they are either over or under done, so the shell doesn't peel right. I hate it when you can't get the peel going, or even worse, when it pulls off big chunks of egg. Well, I decided to get a Krups egg cooker to solve my problem, and I used it tonight for the first time. I was able to peel my eggs with no problem at all! It's pretty amazing, since it just kind of knows when the eggs are done. There's a little measuring cup with lines for how many eggs you want and how soft or hard you want them, and that's it! This awesome little gadget was only $20 bucks, and it's small enough to keep on my counter. Modern technology saves the inept bachelor once again!


Mahoromatic: Something More Beautiful / Original Soundtrack : 3 of 5

Since I enjoyed the last soundtrack CD so much, I decided to get this CD featuring music from the second season of Mahoromatic. The second season wasn't as charming as the first, and unfortunately the music follows suit. Still, it's an enjoyable CD - the opening and closing songs are fantastic, of course (and karaoke versions are included), which makes the whole soundtrack pretty fun. It's just that the incidental music isn't nearly as cool. A lot of the music just doesn't go anywhere, or simply repeats lots of variations of the main theme (while the first season music is full of original, upbeat melodies). The CD closes with tons of tiny tracks of Minawa (Mahoro's little "sister") saying typical things like "Yoroshiku onegai shimasu" or "Gomen nasai", and then there's a comedy act where Mahoro tries to interview Minawa using these recordings and things get all mixed up. I have to admit there's not much cuter than Minawa saying "Wakarimasen" in her nasal baby voice! Anyway, the first soundtrack is by far the winner, but I'm glad I have both.


Counting down

Now that the wedding activities are over, I'm getting back to day-dreaming about my upcoming trip to Walt Disney World! Thank goodness the parks completely survived both recent hurricanes - these were the first that actually did hit the parks, so I'd say the architects did a great job back in 1971. I'm going to keep my eye on Hurricane Ivan (I've been watching the National Hurricane Center everyday), but it looks like it will be out of the picture when it's time for me to leave. Yesterday I did a little schedule rearranging with some new performance times at Disney/MGM Studios, so everything feels pretty well set. My iPod will be playing 100% Disney music until I go, and I'm getting pretty excited! The first thing my parents and I will be doing is riding the complete Monorail circuit - I just can't wait to be circling Spaceship Earth at Epcot!

Walt Disney World Countdown: 13 days!


Wedding weekend ends

In the words of the groom, "Mission accomplished." The big wedding weekend was jam-packed full of fun and activities, and now it's over. The big event was a smashing success - the ceremony was touching and wonderful, the music was fantastic, and all of the toasts went well (including mine - I was super-nervous, but at least I got a lot of folks to cry, so I must have said something right!). Chris and Eliza were amazing hosts, having everyone over to their place for a homemade pizza party after the reception, and then right back again today for a huge brunch! I had a blast meeting and re-meeting friends and family of the bride and groom, and we all became a closer group over this magical weekend. Enjoy the tons of photos, and congratulations Chris & Eliza! (By the way, our bachelor party movie classic, Nine La Cava Tales, was enjoyed by nearly everyone!)

View photos: Chris & Eliza's Wedding Rehearsal
View photos: Chris & Eliza's Rehearsal Dinner
View photos: Chris & Eliza's Wedding
View photos: Chris & Eliza's Wedding Brunch


Wedding day tonight

Yesterday was full of pre-wedding preparations for my pals Chris & Eliza. The wedding rehearsal was easy, and then the groomsmen met to help Chris tie up hundreds of bags of Mexican wedding cookies (one of the traditions they'll be keeping). Last night was the rehearsal dinner, which was a huge event and a lot of fun! The actual wedding is this evening - I'll have lots of Ofoto albums to post when it's all over!

Today I rearranged my loft to position my computers better, now that I've finally moved out my old ancient PC (which I wiped clean yesterday). I wanted to get rid of one of my computer desks that I was tired of, and I had to bash it apart with a hammer to take it downstairs - serious demolition! I really like the way things are arranged now, but I still want to replace all of the furniture up there with something better someday.


Battle Athletes Victory Vol 8 : 3 of 5

This last volume of the series was pretty good, but not nearly as fun or inspiring as the previous parts of the story. These final episodes take the show in a totally new direction (so I'm glad they fit nicely on the last DVD!), when we learn that Earth was challenged to a sports competition by evil aliens, so they built University Satellite and the whole Cosmo Beauty competition just to build a team of the very best girl athletes! Oh, and Mister Miracle is Akari's father, but that one didn't surprise me much. Anyway, Akari gathers up all of the gals from series, so we get to see Itchan again (and see some hilarious love triangle stuff with Kris, so I got my wish!), plus Jessie and the others (but the Russian girl can't compete because she's pregnant). The aliens bring Akari's mother back to life at age 17, supposedly the best athlete ever, and finally Akari beats her (because the Earth has to be saved to make a happy ending). I really enjoyed this series - lots of different personalities, great humor, and exciting competition! At least now I can continue watching other anime I started so long ago.


Step Into Liquid / Original Soundtrack : 4 of 5

It's easy to love a great soundtrack when it reminds you of a spectacular movie, and since I enjoyed Step Into Liquid so much (I still need to buy the DVD, though!), I'm really loving the soundtrack. If you watch any surf coverage on TV, you probably know the current typical stuff that gets played as background music - kind of a rough alternative style that's probably a genre called "extreme rock" or something. This CD has a little of that (in the right places), but for the most part, there are tons of tunes that are much more pleasant and simply celebrate the joy of life (much like the movie). I love Only One and Dracula from Houston (yep, that's the title), and Windshield Wipers is such an amazing driving song. My favorite track, though, has got to be Call of the Wave, which has a totally authentic Beach Boys/Jan & Dean sound, with awesome lyrics to go with it. Life is a Miracle is also a wonderful cut - you just have to feel happy listening to this song. I really only have one negative to report, and that's the inclusion of little sound bites from the movie interviews. I just don't really like them breaking up the music, but thankfully they are super-short, so no biggie. I really want to watch this movie again now!


Vanity Fair : 2 of 5

I wasn't planning on seeing this movie, but my pal Melinda and I had to make a quick decision at the theater because they cancelled the showing of Princess Diaries 2 that we were going to see! I haven't read the book, but I figured the movie would be OK, since I generally like period movies with English actors (or actors pretending to be English) with clever dialogue and witty scenes. Vanity Fair certainly starts out that way, but then gets really bogged down with lots of subplots and struggles. Reese Witherspoon does an OK job at acting, but I just don't find her appealing at all - neither her looks, which are too sharp for me (watch out for that chin!), or her character which seemed to be just barely redeemable as a person. Speaking of the characters, so many of them are ridiculously one-sided, such as the young solider George, who struts around in his chicken hairdo with an evil stare all the time - you wonder how anyone could fall for him! I guess to say something positive, the production values are high, and they really captured the look of the period. It's tough to be hard on a movie when I don't know if it's the book's fault or not, but I just didn't find much to like. I couldn't relate to any of the characters or feel much emotion at all, but at least the two and half hours went by pretty quickly.



In honor of Matt's super-detailed journal style, here's a complete rundown of a pretty nice day. I got up early so I could play Dance Dance Revolution - my goal is to do 15 songs (on Trick mode) every morning, and then 15 more at night. Since I've been playing so much I've hit the 1,000 combo three times now (1,200 is my best)! Then I ate a banana and some blueberry yogurt and read over a few pages of my Japanese textbook (kyookasho) - I'm trying to keeping studying on my own for now. Then I got dressed (I wore my Red Octane DDR shirt with cool katakana on the back) and did my morning surfing (lots of Disney sites, of course), and left for work. Austin had fantastic weather today, and it was only 70 degrees when I left! I drove the five minute drive with my windows down and listened to the Step Into Liquid soundtrack, which totally kicks ass. Work was pretty good, and suddenly it was lunchtime. I went to Hallmark to get a card, then came home and walked a couple miles around my condos since it was so nice outside. Then I had a turkey sandwich, but this was an extra special sandwich for me, because it had lettuce on it! (I never buy lettuce, but I did yesterday, and boy was it good!) The second half of work was busier, but then it was quitting time, so I went to buy another pair of Sketchers (I really like the last pair I bought, so now I have two pair for Walt Disney World in a few weeks). At home, I did my 15 more DDR songs and cooked some frozen fish and micro-steamed some Broccoli Wokly. While I ate, I read a little of a book about Disney's Atlantis and listened to iTunes, then ordered another Disney-print Hawaiian shirt (also for my coming trip). Now I'm going to watch some Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and drink green tea.