Designing Disney / John Hench : 5 of 5

I received this great book for Christmas, and started reading it a few weeks ago. When I started the book, I was amazed to read that John Hench was 95 years old as he was writing the book! When I was about halfway through the book, he passed away, which made the book even more poignant and incredible. Hench was a true Disney legend, who started with the company working on Fantasia, and contributed to tons of projects (mostly theme park related) for the rest of his life. The book is filled with beautiful paintings and sketches he did for the parks, including some fascinating ones of projects that were never built. He discusses the creation of the Disney parks as an environment to foster adult "play", and he clearly describes the amazing philosophy of quality practiced by Walt and himself. His chapter on the use of color is extremely detailed! The final chapter is a wonderful discussion about the spirit of Mickey (Hench painted Mickey's major "birthday portraits") that really sums up what Disney means to me. This is an incredible book by an incredible man whose contributions to happiness will remain forever.


BoA / Love & Honesty : 3 of 5

I ordered this CD direct from Japan just as it was released, because I completely enjoyed BoA's last album, Valenti. When I first popped this in my car, I was disappointed. The first track sounds kind of "slutty", almost like a Japanese Shania Twain song, so things were off to a bad start. The second track, Shine We Are (love that grammar), was a million times better, thankfully! Now I've listened to the whole CD at least twenty times, and I can say that's definitely a good CD that I can groove to. Of course, I can't really comment on the lyrics, though BoA's voice still sounds great (and I get excited when I can sing a three word phrase with her!). The production is a little tinny - I guess the bass is so low (super hip-hop) that I need to crank it to get a full sound. Overall, I'm enjoying it more and more as it keeps spinning in the car (and the hidden track at the end of the CD may be my favorite cut). I can't complain about the gorgeous photos in the insert, either!


Collecting the classics

I recently won three out-of-print Disney DVDs on eBay - I won one of them by only .89 cents, just barely escaping a snipe attempt! I'm sure some day Disney will release these again as Platinum Editions or something, but I decided I just couldn't wait. The three DVDs are 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, and Lady and the Tramp, all of which I've seen many times, and even rented on DVD, but now it feels great to finally own these classics! I watched 101 Dalmatians again, and it just gets better and better - I really appreciated the opening credits this time, because they are so clever! Besides the spots bouncing around and turning into music notes and smoke from a chimney, they also illustrate the different jobs, such as showing a nice background turn to color as the folks responsible for those tasks are listed. I also always get a kick out of watching Roger smoke his pipe, even though the dogs are the real stars, of course!

Disneyland Countdown: 6 days!


Disney Years Seen Through a Photographer's Lens : 3 of 5

After enjoying the first book of this series, I decided to buy the second and third books right away! I just finished studying (you can't say reading, since these truly are picture books) the third book (I didn't realize it wasn't the second one), and even though it wasn't as good as the first one, it was still incredible - you just can't find these photos anywhere else! There are only a few construction pictures here, since most of this book was photographed after Disneyland's opening (though even now and then they will throw in an older construction photo - I don't know why these books aren't arranged chronologically!). There are some great pictures of Walt at the park, including some neat ones of the opening day of the Grand Canyon diorama on the Disneyland Railroad (I wish they would do cool opening ceremonies like that now). My favorite photos in this volume are the ones taken from the top of the Matterhorn while it was under construction (great Fantasyland views), as well as some awesome pictures of Skull Rock - I wish I could explore those creepy caves right now.


Turandot (Highlights) / Puccini : 4 of 5

I have a little ritual each time I see an opera - I buy a highlights CD so I can continue to be exposed to the music and remember my favorite scenes. I completely enjoyed seeing Turandot recently, so I went shopping on Amazon and bought the CD with the best reviews. They were definitely right - this is a fantastic performance, with Pavarotti in the leading role. Puccini's music is pretty incredible, from the dramatic opening phrases (with a nice, if somewhat stereotypically, Asian feel), to the soaring aria Nessun Dorma (believe me, you know it - this is one of those classical tunes known by non-afficiandos). The music gave me vivid memories of the scenes I saw, especially when our hero answers Turnandot's three riddles. Even though the plot is strange at times, Turandot is a fantastic piece of work, and this is a first-class CD to hear it.


PEZ on display

This weekend I finally hung up my PEZ shelves to display my collection, which has been boxed up since my move. Since I have so many shelves now (and more on the way), I really wanted a better way of hanging them in case I needed to move stuff around at some point. I decided to use Elfa shelving (minus the shelves) from the Container Store, and I rigged a way to hang the PEZ shelves using slightly adjusted S-hooks! Now I can easily take them down or swap one shelf for another as needed! It wasn't very fun being a "hardware guy", since I had to drill holes (and even buy a drill!), but now that they are up I'm thrilled! At my old condo, I had them up in four sections of six shelves, which took up a full wall and a half. Now I have them in two sections of twelve, so I have tons of room to grow! It was also a blast to display some of my newer PEZ that were still in their shipping boxes, like Hello Kitty and the Emergency Heroes set. By the way, if you're a PEZ collector, John Thompson makes excellent shelves for a great price!

Disneyland Countdown: 9 days!


Chez Zee : 3 of 5

I pass by Chez Zee on the way to one of my band rehearsals, and I had long thought this would be a nice place to take my parents. I remember eating lunch there about four years ago, but of course, I have no idea what I ate or what was on the menu, but I decided we should go anyway. The atmosphere is really fun, since there are Christmas lights everywhere you look. We were seated on a converted patio with gas space heaters - these were kind of a pain, since it was either too hot or too cold, but it wasn't that bad. I loved the before-meal bread, which is perfect for dipping in olive oil. I had the pecan-encrusted chicken, which had a fantastic thick sauce, plus rice pilaf and veggies. My parents had a burger and chicken strips, which were pretty simple, but they certainly enjoyed them. Not a bad restaurant for a special occasion or every now and then.


The Triplets of Belleville : 3 of 5

I was glad to see this movie finally come to Austin, since I had read a lot about it on the web, and I really wanted to see all the films nominated for Best Animated Feature Film! This is definitely an animated film unlike any other - it can certainly be considered an "art film", but it does have nice characters to enjoy (but no real character development, per se). It's hard to describe the plot, but generally it involves a grandmother and her grandson, whom she trains to compete in the Tour de France. During the race he's captured by the mafia, and it's up to Grandma and Champion (the hilariously flabby dog) to rescue him - with the help of the Triplets, of course! The Triplets are a has-been singing group (featured in an incredible 20's style opening number) who live alone and eat frogs (I'm not making this up!). Artistically, the film is incredible with detailed backgrounds and completely surreal character design (extremes of fat of skinny, for example). My favorite sequences are the dreams of Champion the dog, answering once and for all what dogs really dream about.


My next Disneyland experience

It's almost time for another Disneyland trip - I can't believe I haven't started the countdown sooner! I'll be spending a few nights in Los Angeles with my pal Dae (who always handles my Disney mania nicely), and we're planning to go to Disneyland as soon as I arrive. I always to try to find something new to experience each visit, so here's my list:

  • The new Snow White musical will be playing at the Fantasyland Theater, and I can't wait to see it. I'm sure Snow will be gorgeous!
  • I need to run around Tom Sawyer Island, especially Injun Joe's Cave - I don't even remember the last time I was on the island.
  • It's time to ride the Mad Tea Party (teacups) - I usually avoid spinning, but I've read they've recently toned down the spin factor. This is a classic ride that I need to take on!
  • I doubt the Columbia Sailing Ship will be running, since this is the off-season, but if it is, I need to ride it instead of the Mark Twain for once.
  • Finally, I want to hit that famous A ticket Omnibus and sit on the top as it chugs down Main Street.

    Disneyland Countdown: 12 days!
  • 2.20.2004

    Pirates of the Caribbean : 5 of 5

    At last, I've watched all the DVDs I got for Christmas! I saved Pirates of the Caribbean for last because it was still pretty fresh in my mind from the theater, so I wanted to build the anticipation by waiting. It was worth the wait! I really enjoyed watching the movie and seeing all the details again, plus even more things from the ride at Disneyland (like the dunking of the major in Tortuga!). The bonus material was fantastic, too - I learned so many interesting things! The fort at Port Royal was built at Marineland (now closed), a park that I remember visiting as a kid, and the Interceptor was a real ship that they actually sailed for 40 days from Long Beach to St. Vincent for the filming! There are some nice deleted scenes (mainly longer cuts of existing scenes), and some neat "Fly on the Set" video showing the film makers in action. Best of all, though, is a long segment from 1968 about the making of the attraction at Disneyland, with a complete ride-through! Yo ho! (There are some other computer-based features on the disc, but only for PC, which means I'll have to watch those when I upgrade someday.)


    Astro Boy Vol 5 / Osamu Tesuka : 3 of 5

    Another wonderful set of Astro Boy stories - it's so much fun to be reading a series knowing there are tons of books left to enjoy. A couple of stories really stood out in this volume, mainly because they were just super creative. There's one about a "space leopard" and his evil master, which is tied together with a mysterious rain that makes all electronics cease to function (it's so sad when Astro goes home to find his robotic "parents" lying on the floor deactivated!). Another great story involves a Sherlock Holmes guy, whose big secret is that only his head is human (the rest is robotic, of course). He has a hatred for robots, but after Astro changes his attitude and he's nearly killed, he becomes proud of the fact that he's become a robot. Unfortunately, Astro's sister doesn't show up (she's so cute), but this is a fun, fast-reading volume anyway.


    Disney thoughts

    My parents got me my first Disney "big fig" for a housewarming gift! It's a fantastic Jiminy Cricket, standing almost two feet tall. I have him on the landing in the middle of my staircase, and he makes me happy every time I go up or downstairs. Now I have the itch to buy more big figs!

    Speaking of Disney, this is such a crazy time for the Disney company (of which I own one share!), so here's my two-cents worth. I agree that it's time for Eisner to go - as much as possible (in today's world), Disney needs more of a father figure to run to the company. Walt was instantly "Uncle Walt" to the world, because they could tell he really cared about entertaining people (making millions was just a side benefit!). I support Roy Disney's efforts, too - I'm signed up at the SaveDisney website, and I agree that the values that made Disney great need to be saved before they slip away. Losing the deal with Pixar was just plain stupid - making less profit from Pixar films is better than making no profit, right? As far as Comcast goes, I really don't have much of an opinion. Part of me wants there always to be a complete separate Disney company, but on the other hand, if Comcast is willing to pump some bucks into animation, I'm in favor of that. My biggest worry is that Comcast would sell off the parks, and that would be simply awful! I will always remain a Disney fan, even through this whole saga, because the "real" Disney I love is tied to the Disney of the past. I don't think we'll ever see better movies than Snow White and Fantasia - maybe just as good, and certainly technically beautiful, but the charm of being first and unique can't be regained. So, no matter what happens, "my" Disney will always remain the same magical realm as ever.


    Phantom of the Opera : 4 of 5

    Whenever my parents visit, I always hope the timing will work out so we can enjoy a large production of some kind together, so I was so happy that Phantom of the Opera was playing this month! I first saw the show several years ago in Tulsa, but my seat was simply terrible, so I had never really experienced the show. This was a great performance - all of the actors were incredible singers, and really knew how to get the emotions going (Mom was teary-eyed during the final moments, and I was, too). I was able to really enjoy the music, not only the cool pretend operas in the show, but also the hook-filled dramatic numbers (which unfortunately stick in your head like glue!). I was much more interested in the story as well, eager to discover the Phantom's real story. The sets, costumes, and effects were incredible, as you would expect for a Broadway touring company - besides the falling chandelier, my favorite effect was how things would transform to "backstage" so quickly. Even though it's a pretty old show now, it's still a fantastic experience!


    La Madeleine : 3 of 5

    Whenever my parents visit Austin, I try to take them to several restaurants they haven't been to, so one day we had lunch at La Madeleine. I've had tons of lunches here, because it's a good place to go when I'm feeling like I need something healthy. I love their field greens salad with salmon - it's huge, but it's so good that I always manage to eat it all. Mom enjoyed her quiche - the crust was really flaky and wonderful, and Dad liked his ham sandwich on croissant (and I ate part of it, too, so I know it was good!). La Madeleine gets really busy sometimes - usually the line moves fast, but it does get a little crazy in the dining area every now and then. It's not the cheapest lunch in town, but I have to give in to a salad craving whenever I have one, just because it's good for me!


    An enchanted morning

    At the end of the party, it started to snow! It almost never snows in Austin - I think I've only seen it twice before since I've lived here, and usually it's just yucky ice. This was a beautiful coating of big fluffy flakes, so I had to take some pictures, both at night and when I got up in the morning!

    View photos: Austin Snow

    An enchanted evening

    My pal Kristin and I threw a big engagement party for Chris & Eliza this weekend, and it was a huge success. We did some fun decorating, and had lots of food and wine, and everyone had a good time. It was a pleasure to celebrate the happy couple - we're all looking forward to the wedding now!

    View photos: Chris & Eliza's Engagement Party


    A brief technical announcement

    I've started moving posts from the old "sub-blogs" into the main blog, and as I finish each section, I'm wiping out the old pages. So, if you happen to be clicking around in the older sections, you may find some links that go nowhere. Do not be alarmed! Just use the handy search to find what you're looking for - it's only moved. We now return you to your regular WEBmikey programming.

    Tapestry / Z-Cabaret : 4 of 5

    I've been to lots of productions at the Zachary Scott Theater, and so have my parents, so I knew this would be a nice show to take them to during their recent visit. This was part of the "Z-Cabaret" series, which feature small musical combos on their smaller stage, presented in the round. This particular show was the music of Carole King from the Tapestry album, and included four different women singers and a pianist (they had been part of the larger production about Carole King last year). It was a great show - it's amazing how diverse of a songwriter she was. The performers were simply excellent, both during solos and tightly harmonizes background vocals. The pianist did a great job as the only instrumentation, too! The music was really wonderful, and being so close to the performers was nice (although it meant I was pulled up to dance during The Locomotion). My parents and I had a great time!


    Turning over a new (tobacco) leaf

    I decided to get out of a pipe tobacco rut by buying some import tobaccos that I had never tried, just to smoke something new. I found a great site called Pipes World and ordered three: Mac Baren Virginia No. 1, Rattray's Brown Clunee, and Esoterica Pembroke. I've really been enjoying them - I try to stick to a couple of pipes only on the weekend, but I've made a few exceptions since this tobacco is so nice! The packaging is really fun - cool tins that smell wonderful once the seal is broken. I like them all, but I've just discovered that the Esoterica is simply amazing! At first, I thought the aroma was unusual, but it's incredibly smooth, with no bite whatsoever ("tongue bite" is the arch enemy of pipe smokers). Looks like mail-order tobacco for me from now on!


    Win a Date with Tad Hamilton : 2 of 5

    Yes, I'm kind of embarrased that I saw this movie, but why should I be? (After all, I saw Spice World and The Lizzie McGuire Movie, too!) My parents and I always like to see a simple comedy when we're together, and this movie fit the bill. Mom was excited to see someone who used to be on her soaps, and I got to see the too-too-cute Kate Bosworth, looking much cleaner than she did in Blue Crush. The plot is pretty simple - how could it be anything else? Kate wins a date with a movie star, the movie star actually thinks he loves her and moves to her small town, her semi-nerdy Piggly Wiggly boss who hasn't told her he loves her completes the love triangle, and lots of goofy stuff happens. Truthfully, there were many more semi-serious moments than I expected, and there were some sweet scenes, too (and plenty of close-up's of Kate's two-tone eyes). I wouldn't necessarily recommend this little movie, but at least I had 90 minutes of a pretty-good time.


    Suspicious lisp

    I guess I have always suspected it, but now I know it's true (thanks to my Looney Tunes DVD set): Sylvester and Daffy have the same voice! I was surprised to learn that many of the voices the great Mel Blanc did for Warner Brothers were actually speeded up to give them a more cartoony feel. Daffy's voice is exactly the same as Sylvester's (same lisp and spit flying), but it's been speeded up a little to give it a higher pitch. Pretty shocking! The two characters don't often appear in the same cartoon, but there was one example on the DVD set where they did - it was kind of strange to hear them talking to each other. (By the way, my favorite Daffy is the older version where he was quite a bit more looney! Hoo hoo!)


    Culver's : 3 of 5

    Every time I drive to my class at Austin Community College, I pass by Culver's. At first, I had no idea what it was, because the sign says "Frozen Custard Butterburgers", which sounded like one weird item to me. Of course, those are two different things you can get at Culver's, which reminds me a lot of Braum's that I used to enjoy in Oklahoma. They have great hamburgers, but much more is on the menu - lots of different kinds of sandwiches, and chilli in a breadbowl (which I'll have to try next time). I got a BBQ bacon cheeseburger, which was unusual, but tasty! Their custard (which I discovered is ice cream mixed with egg yolks) is fantastic - it really is creamier than regular ice cream. I had the "turtle" flavor, which has caramel and chocolate shavings, and it was super yummy! Next I time I need something fattening, I know where to go.


    It's pachinkorific!

    What a fantastic weekend! My parents came to visit me for four days (which explains the lack of WEBmikey posts), which meant lots of fantastic eating, movies, and events (including seeing Phantom of the Opera!). As a bonus on top of all of the fun, my pals Chris & Barron surprised me with yet another birthday gift, and this time they totally shocked me! They were able to get me a real pachinko machine from Japan, and it's totally amazing. My dad has a really old pachinko machine that I used to play, but this one has lights, sound, and best of all, an excellent color video screen with animation! The machine is called Pachimpic (by Nishijin), so the theme appears to be the Winter Olympic games. There are cute little characters that look like a hockey player, a snowboarder, and an ice skater. I've only seen one of them in action so far - I made some combination that showed a cool cartoon of the hockey player skating around. I can't wait to see some other animations!


    A birthday and a boob

    Last night I had a little birthday/Super Bowl gathering at my place, and it was a lot of fun! I was treated to tons of Chinese food, two yummy pies, plus some cool gifts! The Super Bowl was kind of just background noise, but thanks to TiVo, we got to watch Janet's boob pop out about ten times.

    View photos: Mikey's Birthday 2004

    Frank and Ollie : 4 of 5

    This movie was made several years ago, but was only available on video, so I've been waiting for this DVD for quite a while. I was happy to receive it for Christmas, and I've had such a great time watching it! The movie is a documentary about Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the two surviving "Nine Old Men" of the Disney studio. These are the true pioneers of the art of animation, and both Frank and Ollie really established what it means to make an animated character "feel". The movie is quite a bif more playful than most documentaries, maybe because it was made by Frank's son, switching between interviews and staged scenes of the old gentleman acting out the scenes they animated fifty years ago. The bonus material is great, too - with special sections on their individual hobbies (Frank played jazz piano with the Firehouse Five Plus Two and Ollie has a full-scale stream train with a mile of track in his backyard!). These guys are treasures of American art, and it's wonderful to see their personalities and their remarkable friendship.


    Brother Bear: A Transformation Tale : 4 of 5

    My pal Ernesto got me this wonderful book for my birthday, and it was truly fascinating to read! Disney usually produces an "art book" for each animated feature soon after its release, and while this book does contain lots of beautiful art, the text is what's so interesting. It follows the creation of the story of Brother Bear, describing in detail several other abandoned plots (all of which could have been fun to see). I was shocked to read about the incredible struggles this production went through to get the story right, and all the staff conflicts and squabbles involved. Considering this is a Disney book, it's cool that they didn't candy-coat how things happened - they even include some mean-spirited caricatures from the process! The artwork included is beautiful, with a good mix of production stills and pre-production paintings, and the physical book is really nice - hardcover with thick, sturdy pages that are enjoyable to turn. Now I'm really looking forward to the DVD, knowing what it took to make this movie!

    Ben Folds Five: The Complete Sessions at West 54th : 4 of 5

    This amazing DVD was a surprise birthday gift from my pal Dae, always on top of my tastes in music. I knew that the group had played on Sessions before, but I wasn't really aware this DVD existed. Truthfully, even though I've listened to my Ben Folds Five CDs hundreds of times, I had never really seen a live performance until now - and what a performance! The video quality is excellent, with tons of great close-ups of what they're playing (easy to do in such an intimate venue), and the sound is perfect, too (I love hearing every nuance the drummer gets out of his kit!). They perform a great selection of songs from their first two CDs, including my favorite, Kate. Most of the songs are note-for-note like the CD, but they do some creative variations at times (including some wacky stuff in the middle of Song for the Dumped). If anything, this DVD just makes me admire their musicianship more, and makes me sadder that they broke up. At least Ben is still churning out the tunes on his own!