My Thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Men Tell No Tales

SPOILER FREE REVIEW of Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) TO FOLLOW: 

 

I would like to begin by explaining what Pirates of the Caribbean means to me, as it is integral to the remainder of this review:

I saw the first film, The Curse of the Black Pearl for the first time in theaters when I was eight years old. Despite not understanding every intricacy with the oftentimes complex storyline (heck, I’m still uncovering hidden facets when I watch it fourteen years later), I can clearly remember loving it. It was something that me and my father shared a passion for, which is ironic, as writer and publicist Michael Singer, in his book Disney Pirates; The Definitive Collector’s Anthology, states that the relationship between parents and children remains “a subtextual tradition in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.” This certainly bled over into my own life, as both the ride and the films are a shared love between my and my own parents.

As the franchise continued, I developed a need to understand how the filmmakers accomplished the incredible visual artistry, which made me love studying movie magic and behind-the-scenes wonders. Pirates took me to other worlds, giving me a colorful cast of characters to follow along with and, subsequently, inspired me to make my own. Story-wise, it showed me that the lines between good and evil can be blurred. People are capable of change, villains can be good, and everyone needs love. As both I and my appreciation for Johnny Depp grew, his acting became the gateway to other artists and forms of cinema, thereby fostering my want to be heavily involved in creating these incredible cinematic worlds for other daydream-prone kids like me in the future.

When I think of my inspiration, it’s Pirates. It’s always been Pirates. That’s what these movies did for me.

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Why then, is it that I feel the need to apologize and justify my love for them every time it comes up in conversation? The reactions I get from others are more often than not, “Wait really? Pirates? Why?” and as someone studying film seriously for a career, these reactions have caused me to doubt my own tastes in cinema, as though liking the franchise makes my analyses and opinions less valid. Why these reactions? Any number of reasons: Disney’s an easy target as the entertainment industry’s current world superpower, the movies are intended as frivolous, big budget entertainment, or my personal favorite, franchise fatigue, which is currently threatening to sink Hollywood’s Summer Blockbuster season this year.

Allow me to explain:

The first Pirates film was made entirely out of love. Love for the 1967 Disneyland attraction, love of actual 18th century nautical history and mythology, and love for truly creating something out of nothing, with a handful of small to medium-sized names who made magic together. The formula not only worked, it thrived. The second and third films continued to foster this atmosphere of love by delivering upon storylines built from the first film and seeing them through to some very unforeseeable and genuinely surprising conclusions. The fourth and fifth films were afterthoughts, made only for the sole purpose of steady, reliable income. And their stories and execution mirror that attitude, as jokes fall flat, narratives get repetitive, motivations get blurred, and everything feels stale. This in turn creates a chain reaction; Audiences become polarized or disappointed, critics lash out, and the quality of the franchise as a whole is diminished.

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Maybe I put too many expectations on Dead Men Tell No Tales. After the highly criticized spin-off/sequel fourth film On Stranger Tides became the worst rated and worst received of the franchise, maybe I just needed Dead Men Tell No Tales to not only right its predecessor’s wrongs, but to boost the quality of the series collectively. It failed, and it failed hard.

If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it wouldn’t be the shortest in the series. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it would have spent time with its characters, their motivations, and made us care even slightly for them. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it wouldn’t have rewritten its own canon, completely ignoring plot points established in the original trilogy. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it would have been carefully handled.

“Rushed,” is how I would describe Dead Men Tell No Tales in a word, despite its principal photography being completed over two years prior to its release. The story is rushed, the pacing is rushed, the character development is rushed, and the ending is rushed. The film backtracks on its own canon in two major regards, and fails to explain its mythology in any way that would be considered coherent. Furthermore, new characters Henry Turner, Captain Salazar, and Carina Smyth, all of whom were promised repeatedly by cast and crew to be intriguing new additions to the series, were completely forgettable and lackluster. This isn’t a problem with directing. Much like On Stranger Tides, I believe directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (just like #4’s director Rob Marshall) were dealt a difficult hand; How do you possibly lead a franchise equally as strong as predecessor Gore Verbinski? This is the fault of an extremely calculated plot, devised to be simple, form-fitted to match a tried and true structure, and extremely concise.

The shorter run time of this movie is one of the few consistent praises critics agree upon, but I argue that what makes the former films so great is the time they take with every character and detailed explanations of their universes. Dead Men Tell No Tales shows that shorter does not mean better. Rushed is rushed.

What wasn’t rushed? What took two years to complete; the graphics. Consequently, what is the strongest part of the film? You guessed it – the graphics. What was lost from this film versus the others was that 90% of its scenes were done on controlled stages with extensive use of computer generated imagery. The first four movies, while all demonstrating incredible usage of CG effects and characters, were filmed on location or at sea. While it was sad to see this no longer be an element of the fifth film’s production, the resulting graphics were absolutely gorgeous and stunningly detailed. All joking aside about the Pirates films quite literally, “jumping the shark,” with their added CGI ghost sharks, these creatures were genuinely the most interesting design of the film, along with a glittering island, The Silent Mary and her ghostly crew, and a Ten Commandments-esque parting of the sea sequence.

What else this movie does right is its emotional hooks, which is what has always made the series stand out. Barbossa gets a fantastic character arc, really emphasizing just how far he has come from being the primary villain in 2003. And, anyone with the ability to breathe most certainly knows this by now, but the reintroduction of original characters Will and Elizabeth to the film bookends it perfectly, and in my opinion, makes the entire movie worth every moment. The problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that there isn’t enough of this. While these two instances are great, there’s nothing else to hold onto, and therefore, no connection to really anything else.

I know I put too many expectations on Dead Men Tell No Tales, and I’m feeling the consequences now. Without giving too much away, the ending allows for more films. And this is perhaps what makes me the most upset; Its blatant refusal to die. Some argue that they should have stopped after the first film. I and most others argue after At World’s End, uniting the trilogy from 2003-2007. But to keep it going at this point would make my beloved films into even more of a joke than they already have become to most people. Since the studios seem to toss quality by the wayside, however, let me make this earnest plea in a way they in which they would listen; Continuing these movies would result in significant financial risk. Franchise fatigue has hit these films long before it was a recognized trend. Keep it up, and you lose your source of income.

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For the past six months, I decided to throw all caution to the wind, buffeting any questioning of my taste in movies with hype for the upcoming film and completely embracing my excitement for it. I inundated my friends’ newsfeeds with blog posts, links, pictures, trailers, you name it, speculated wildly about the plot to my poor roommate, didn’t rest until I finished my long-running fan fiction, and more. But every time I did, I attached an apology. “I know I’m obsessed with these movies.” “I know I’m crazy.” “Thanks for humoring me.” No longer. Despite their imperfections, I still love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and I forever will because of who they made me. I will go see Dead Men Tell No Tales again, maybe even tonight. It is by far my least favorite of the series, but I will watch again to see if somehow this initial response is wrong or miscalculated. This was a lesson; Expect less, hope more, know when to quit, and finally, embrace what you love.

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I’m tired of apologizing. I love Pirates of the Caribbean because it is an entertaining, creative, innovative, trailblazing, emotional, layered, complex feature that has made me me. They’re not perfect. Yes, they should have ended years ago. But they do matter.

 

All photos by author.
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I Wrote a Piece of Fan Fiction for 10 Years and Here’s What Happened…

Fan fiction gets a bad rap, and that’s mostly because of some of the more…strange products that end up on the internet. While we often see cringeworthy, oftentimes hilarious outcomes that freak out celebrities like James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, or even have entire Twitter accounts devoted to some of the more outlandish musings (and let’s not forget “My Immortal”), “fan fiction” is generally used as a derogative term that denotes something exceedingly derivative or poorly written. Even I thought ill of fan fiction at first.

 

This was before I published some.

…and no surprise, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean related.

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Let’s start at the beginning:

I was twelve years old, visiting the Disneyland Resort. This was in the months immediately preceding the release of Pirates 3, which everyone thought at the time would be the final installment of the franchise (oh how wrong they were). I liked the movies quite a bit, and was enchanted by the new additions to the park including Jack Sparrow and Barbossa animatronics inside the Pirates attraction, as well as the complete revamp of Tom Sawyer Island to Pirate’s Lair.

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And you can bet that I will absolutely be recreating this photo when the island reopens, given that the bone cage is still there.

Inside the Pirate-themed Pieces of Eight store in New Orleans Square, I bought a book called, Bring Me That Horizon, a compendium of cast and crew bios, on set and behind-the-scenes details, and exclusive set photos from unit publicist Michael Singer. It covered the entire trilogy, and as I had been interested in film from a young age, I was proud to have bought the book with my own money that I had earned from chores.

I started rifling through the book as soon as it was mine. I can clearly remember sitting at a waterside table at the Hungry Bear restaurant with it as I waited for my parents to bring back lunch. It was also at this table that I started thinking about a story. I wanted to write about a new character who was always a part of the Pirates stories, but was never seen, and I wanted her connected to my two favorite characters from the movies, Jack Sparrow and Tia Dalma.

The summer began with me seeing the third Pirates movie (which quickly became my favorite), getting a cat I named Calypso (because I had no self-control), and then spending the remainder of the season writing my story. I wrote on pieces of brightly colored construction paper and stuck them in all possible pages of the Singer book and carried it with me everywhere I went. So loved is that book, there are pages currently falling out of it.

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Myself and said hero, Michael Singer, along with a satchel gifted to him by Mr. Depp himself.

I named my original character Rose Hexfury, a name randomly generated for my player from the short-lived World of Warcraft-esque virtual game Pirates of the Caribbean Online. She was to be Jack’s half-sister and Tia Dalma would be her mentor. I wanted her to be a gypsy from France, interact with all of the characters in the franchise, and somehow have mystical powers by the end.

…sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it? I was twelve. Shut up.

Well, I agreed with you. Life moved on, and within a year, I was over it. My love for the Pirates movies continued to grow, but I felt silly writing this story, which I had devised into filling FIVE books (an ambitious little one, I was!). I wasn’t Ted Elliot or Terry Rossio, I was a preteen from Nevada without any writing experience whatsoever. What was the point of writing this story? Anyone who would ever read it would find it ridiculous, I thought. So I stopped. I put it down and intended to never return, and I never told anyone what I had been working so hard on that summer.

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Aforementioned well-loved book. Don’t judge it by its cover–it’s most definitely falling apart on the inside.

Word about a fourth film began years later, and at the age of fifteen, I saw the finished product of On Stranger Tides. Even though it had been years since I had written a word of Rose Hexfury’s story, I found myself worried that the movie would interfere with the canon of what I had planned. I remember feeling relieved that it hadn’t, and I even started thinking about how I could add Penelope Cruz’s character Angelica to my story. This newfound interest in picking it up again failed, however, as now I was midway through high school and really considered it childish.

I was just about to graduate from my senior year in high school when I found myself on the then still-untitled Pirates of the Caribbean 5 IMDb page. I nearly fell to the ground when my eyes drifted to the rumored cast list, which included Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush (obviously), as well as Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and GASP!…JACK DAVENPORT AS NORRINGTON! “But how?” I thought. “Norrington (who by that point had grown to become another favorite character of mine) died in Pirates 3!”

In considering ways in which this could be possible, I felt once again the familiar stir of my story begin to resurface. Even though the iteration of the script featuring Norrington’s return to the story would ultimately be rejected, I started trying to find a way to bring him into mine.

That’s when I realized that Rose Hexfury’s voice was still inside me, and somewhere deep down, a twelve-year-old version of myself refused to shut up until I finished the story. So, that summer after I graduated, I got to work, vowing to finish it once and for all. Would I publish it? Never. Would I tell anyone? DEFINITELY not. I still found the whole thing rather embarrassing. I just wanted it done so that I could print out the final product, stick it in a drawer somewhere and forget about it completely.

Then I came to college, and I began to meet people just as impassioned by film and television as I was. I met writers, nerds, fans, and fellow minds who were incredibly witty and creative. Many of these friends had dabbled in fan fiction, and one of them convinced me to put my work online via fanfiction.net at the start of 2015.

I will say, were it not for the Dead Men Tell No Tales release date tomorrow, I would have had no impetus to finish the story. But I can clearly see that the film’s plot threatens to completely destroy the ending of my now ten-year-old story. So with a hard deadline of May 26, 2017, I have finally completed Rose Hexfury’s journey, and my, how far it’s come. I can’t believe a decade-long project has finally come to a close.

This process has been absolutely invaluable to me, and I would like to tell you why:
  • The discovery that I can write! Not only that, but I like it. It’s been so interesting to go back through the old pieces of construction paper and map how my vocabulary and syntax has grown far more dynamic in the passing years. I now feel so much more certain of my abilities.
  • Learning to write in another’s voice. I tell you what, it’s surprisingly hard. It’s been so much fun but also such a challenge to visualize the performers of these established characters saying the words that I am penning. I give credit where credit is due to fan fiction writers who can do this well. It’s no easy feat.
  • Learning to keep true to another canon. My story attempts to be 100% canonically correct to ten full hours of a movie franchise, something I put down in 2007 and have stood by throughout the process. This has also proved challenging. I’ve had to know what I’m talking about, and still haven’t totally succeeded. After the storm passes, I will launch into edits to fix a few missteps, rogue typos, and inconsistencies, as I really want the story as airtight as possible.
  • Feedback. I am usually scared to death of criticism, but feedback from users of fanfiction.net has been absolutely key to my work and has helped me grow significantly. I now better know what an audience responds to, as well as times when I’m being far too vague or not giving a character enough attention.
  • The people. Branching off of this thought, I have learned to be far more open-minded about this facet of the internet. Fan fiction isn’t embarrassing. It’s not worthless or lesser, as I originally thought. People from all over the world contribute, and how amazing is it that that many people are so inspired by someone else’s work to write a continuation or a spinoff or a crossover with some other work? Yes, it most definitely can get weird, but for the most part, these sites are an epicenter of creativity and passion, and I think that deserves to be supported and treasured.
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My fic’s cover image. Phone filters these days…

My story is based on the work of Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, and Jeff Nathanson, the screenwriters who built such a wonderful world for me to play with, as well as everyone involved in the creative teams of the films and the Imagineers who designed the original 1967 Disneyland attraction. I further was inspired by the work of Robb Kidd, who did an amazing job with his Jack Sparrow and Brethren Court series, which I have also looped into my story several times.

I thank my friend for forcing me to put my work online for people to read, and the handful of people who ever knew it existed in the first place and the readers on fanfiction.net.

Ten years and 196,835 words later, I am finally embracing my work. I’m not ashamed anymore. In fact, I’m proud and relieved that it’s over. If you would like to read what I’ve done, below is the link. While you’re there, I encourage you to poke around the site find stories from your own favorite movies, books, television shows, games, and more. There’s so much out there, much of it very good.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11382703/1/The-Legend-of-Rose-Hexfury

All photos by author. Gifs from giphy.

Another Day of Sun: A Tribute to 2016

Well, that’s a wrap on a pretty insane year all told. I want to look back at 2016, warts and all, the good and the bad.

I’m gonna do so in the only way I know how: through a movie reference. My favorite film of 2016 was undoubtedly La La Land (Chazelle, 2016), and my favorite song from the film was the exuberant, remarkably choreographed song “Another Day of Sun,” which serves as the opening number that takes place in gridlocked traffic (an experience LA inhabitants know all too well).

The song is the main supporting element to the title, “La La Land.” It depicts the stories of thousands of people who still come to Los Angeles based on a dream that began with the advent of Hollywood; to chase their dreams of fame and fortune in the Mecca of the entertainment industry. I’m one of these dreamers living in “La La Land.” The dream persists, despite an excess of competition, uncertainty, and adversity. I feel like this translates to what we all just went through in 2016:


Behind these hills, I’m reaching for the heights…

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“2016 is going to be SO much better than 2015!” we all said. Ah, what a simpler time December 31st, 2015 was!

2016 began with its typical new year’s surge of confidence, hope, and resolutions. 2015 in my mind at the time,  was a horrible year. The latter half of it included the death of a grandparent, the death of the family dog, three consecutive illnesses, a sprained ankle, and a smashed pinkie finger JUST as the year wrapped up.

2015 could burn in hell for all I cared. I was ignoring the good things, however: I got to see my favorite actor in person twice. I worked at an amazing production company. I went to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon AND The Late Late Show with James Cordan. I survived 24 Hour Night at Disneyland and attended two red carpets. But it’s so easy to forget the good and focus on the bad, and that’s exactly what I did. 2015 was the worst, and 2016 would be full of new possibilities and new beginnings.

…And chasing all the lights that shine.

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This was the spring that I studied abroad for a semester in New Zealand. Things were going so incredibly well. I made a new group of international friends, learned my way around a new country and culture, and did things that, now looking back, I cannot believe I had the courage to do!

I went to Fiji and Australia entirely by myself! I completed the foremost item on my Bucket List; jumping off the Auckland Sky Tower-on LEAP DAY no less! I directed an original play in a theatre group I was entirely unfamiliar with. I learned the native Maori language. I threw all caution to the wind and chased experiences I never otherwise would have chased!

I even chased a deeply personal change. I told someone I had feelings for them that I had been repressing for years. Even though, unfortunately, nothing came of it or will ever come of it, for the first half of the year, this was just another bout of hope that was putting wind in my sails as I returned to back home and to Los Angeles to finish out the year.

When they let you down…

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Auckland Sky Tower illuminated in solidary with Belgium. Photo by author.

I’d like to say that upon returning, that’s when everything changed for the worse, but that would be a lie. Despite being surrounded by new and exciting experiences while abroad, the entire world was rattled by countless terrorist attacks. Throughout the year and especially within the past week, celebrity deaths seemed to follow one another endlessly.

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Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, and most recently Debbie Reynolds hit me particularly hard. There was a beautiful quote from Tiia Ohmen, one of the co-creators of the website Fangirl Quest, a photography and travel advise website that maps movie and television shooting locations. This quote offers a perspective about why celebrity deaths affect us so:

Could it be because they’ve given us something to laugh about? To cry about? Because they’ve inspired us to pursue some career ourselves, in acting or music or in whatever it is they did well? Or because they used their publicity to support those who are suffering, inspired us to do good, or told us fight for our rights? Or maybe because they just told us “it gets better”, or “always keep fighting”, and helped us through a rough patch in our lives?

Could it be that they made us feel, and by making us feel they actually made us feel more alive?

The mourning seemed without end: David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, George Michael, Carrie Fischer… And then I lost another grandparent in the blink of an eye.

Loss led into heartbreak, heartbreak led into frustration, frustration led into fear. This fear was also felt universally. I was in a country under the British crown when the United Kingdom left the EU, and I was in the U.S. when voting in my first election; the election that will forever be known as the most divisive since the days of the Civil War. Fear is rampant right now and will continue to be if we let it get to us. But the responses to the adversity that have emerged gives me so much hope.

Get up off the ground…

Kind actions followed every tragedy. Hopeful words lifted everyone’s spirits. Charitable deeds restored hope in humanity.

It is human nature to seek constant improvement and to have hope for the future. I too tried to improve bad situations. Unfortunately, good intentions did not go unpunished, for all attempts to better myself were thwarted by more nonsense: A repeated attempt to join an important group fell short. A career changing competition resulted in disqualification beyond my team’s control. Fitness progress was halted by a contagious disease and then a sprained knee. Before I knew it, 2015 seemed like a blessed memory compared to the things 2016 was dishing out.

Morning rolls around…

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But, once again, we are at the end of another year and the start of another, and already there is much buzz about how much better 2017 will be than 2016:

As I stated before, the need for self-improvement seems wired in humans. That’s the reason why New Years resolutions exist in the first place: It’s a chance to start again and use a finite amount of time to spark a better change for oneself and one’s community.

…And it’s another day of sun.

But the fear remains in my mind: What if 2017 doesn’t deliver upon the promises we wanted 2016 to deliver? What if it’s just as full of grief, disappointment, and uncertainty…or worse?

But a best friend put it well when I voiced these concerns:

I think all we can really do is stay positive and keep sending out good vibes into the universe, and hope that others are doing the same.

And so morning will roll around tomorrow, and it shall be another day of sun in a new year. At the end of the day, 2015 didn’t do anything to us. Neither did 2016. In order to make sense of our situation, we as a people have characterized these years as having their own identities and wills to make our lives better or worse. When it comes down to it, we are the ones who control our fates. Terrible things happen, but so do the good.

2016 was the year I actually committed to increasing the quality and number of posts featured in this blog, which has been in existence since 2013. This was the year I made friends who live in over a dozen countries around the world. 2016 was the year I was brave. 2016 was the year I was one step closer to figuring out who I am.

So here’s to a better 2017 for everyone. I hope that every resolution is met (c’mon, self. The gym is not a punishment) and that problems that arise can be met with level-headedness and an easy resolution.

It’s another day of sun. 

Header image from StockSnap. All photos by author. All gifs from giphy.

I Believe in Disneyland

I made a mistake tonight, and it has resulted in me sitting here in front of my laptop finding rogue tears on my keyboard I neglected to wipe up before as I type away at this blog post. Tonight, I got a little homesick from abroad and caught a recorded version of the “Disneyland Forever” fireworks on YouTube, but not just a recording from any night: this recording was from the premiere performance, kicking off Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Celebration on May 22nd, 2015, the premiere that myself, a best friend, and our families waited nine hours for and got to experience together. I cried for several reasons: 1) The show makes me weep like an infant even on a good day. Once “I See the Light,” from Tangled begins, I’m a goner, but mostly it’s because 2) I’m over 6,000 miles (or, for my new metric system-using friends, nearly 10,000 kilometers) away from a place that I’m insanely lucky enough to call a home; Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth. I miss it along with all the things and people I love back home, as is natural when one makes a significant life change. But memories of Disneyland seem to encompass all of these wonderful things into 85 acres of expertly constructed land because of what emotions it stirs up in me.

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A view of the Sleeping Beauty Castle post-“Disneyland Forever” fireworks debut! Photo by author.

My Disney obsession began at age three thanks in no small part to my parents, who initially were more obsessed than I ever had the capacity to be as a toddler. But soon, Disney fever took hold in full force. Of course, the films, both animated and live-action, were a factor in my adoration for the company, but above all else, it was the parks that captured my imagination because they encapsulated all things Disney in a single setting that could be felt, experienced, and lived.

While Walt Disney World was the first park I ever visited, something about Disneyland, its older Californian cousin, felt special to me in a way I couldn’t quite describe. The fact that it was so much smaller than the Florida park started to feel less constraining and more quaint and homey. What I ultimately discovered was the biggest reason for my love of Disneyland was Walt himself. While Mr. Disney had passed away long before I was born, one can still very much feel his personal touch in the park. Though wishing to spread his parks across the world, a dream which was ultimately completed by his company in the decades following his death, Disneyland was the only park he ever got to see opened to the public. He walked Main Street, strolled through the castle, rode the carousel. Whenever I pass the  lamp that remains illuminated in his memory in the Main Street firehouse window, I almost can feel Walt inside, looking down and watching all park patrons with a wide grin.

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The Partner’s Statue. Photo by author.

Now, I know that the Disney Company itself is full of controversy and has been practically since its inception, especially with the recent announcement of the increase in park ticket prices which only seem to grow and grow every year. There are many opposing viewpoints about these and many other aspects of the company, some of which I defend and some of which I oppose, but that is a topic for another time. Today, I simply wish to tell you why this place means so much to me.

I want you to see Disneyland through my eyes; the eyes of a child who dreamed of staying in the happiest, most magical place on Earth, who turned into the woman whose dream came true:

You enter the esplanade and are immediately surrounded by joyful music and thousands of names of Disney fans engraved on bricks beneath your feet. You enter the gates with a cheery chime when your ticket permits your entrance, then pass beneath the train tracks into a promised world of “Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy.” The music shifts, signaling that you’re now on Main Street USA, straight out of the turn of the century. Is that a churro you smell? No…popcorn. No! Better still…that delicious corn dog stand on the corner. Mickey just passed you. Inside, you know it’s just someone in a suit, but a part of you feels that childlike glee at seeing an icon from your youth pass right by you. You’ve hit the castle, and now you have options: Do you want to go race over to Tomorrowland, where excitement runs high around every corner? How about Adventureland? The Tiki Room is always a surefire way to get cooled off…with the added benefit of those decadent Dole Whips. Plus you can catch a whiff of that musky, sweet chlorine scent of Pirates of the Caribbean. In the distance, you can hear the whistle of the steamboat, the horn of the train, and distant screams off of Splash Mountain’s 50 foot descent. Perhaps Fantasyland, where the most attractions are located, all crammed together, being equal parts intimidating and great fun. The sun’s going down soon, and it won’t be long before the parade and fireworks show begins. No matter what, the joy of hearing those chords from “When You Wish Upon a Star” that somehow seems to work itself into every performance inevitably sends chills up your arms. Before you know it, Bill Roger’s voice rings out throughout the park: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Disneyland has just ended its normal operating hours.” It’s been a full day from start to finish, and your feet hurt so badly you’re fairly certain you won’t be able to stand tomorrow. Your eyelids droop, but still a sleepy smile illuminates your face in the dark. You make your final purchases for the night as you leave, although you’ve already spent far too much on all the wonderful food and merchandise in the park, and you head home, wherever “home” may be for the night.

…and it may not have been a perfect day. A screaming child may have annoyed you. A ride may have broken down. It may have been too hot, or too busy. A line may have taken far longer than you anticipated…but you won’t remember that in the end. You’ll remember the smiles, the wild laughter, the feeling of childhood nostalgia that filled you up inside. You’ll remember the happy tears, and maybe shed a few sad ones at the notion of leaving this beautiful place.

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A best friend, a plush friend, and a Mouse friend! Photo by author.

So tonight, when I watched memories from the night I stayed up for 24 hours in “The Happiest Place on Earth,” of course I cried. I miss my home. I miss the place that I have learned to love even when I didn’t have anyone to go with, the place where sometimes I will take homework, the place where my best friend works, and where I too someday may proudly wear a badge. I miss the place that made my childhood (and continues to make my adulthood) a magical place. Despite all the controversy, Disney taught me to find a prince inside a Beast, to wish upon a star, to believe you can fly, to fight for what you believe in, to endure, and above all else, to dream.

I will live in Disneyland. Magic Kingdom, Disneyland.

Where the child inside, gets to laugh and gets to ride until it’s all okay.

I believe in Disneyland. Come with me to Disneyland.

And when we get to Disneyland…let’s stay.

-Kerry Butler’s version of the song, “Disneyland,” written by lyricist Howard Ashman, for his musical Smile

Why I Carry Baymax Every Time I Go to Disneyland

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I am an adult. I attend college. I can drive a car. I can vote. I have traveled many places on my own. Yet there is one place on Earth where I can’t be found without a stuffed animal; Disneyland.

That’s right, folks. I carry around a 15″ plush Baymax stuffed animal with posable arms at the Happiest Place on Earth.

His name? Baymax. His movie? Big Hero 6.

I was excited to see Walt Disney Studio’s newest animated feature Big Hero 6 when it came out last November mostly because I had just gone away for college and had made many hardcore Disney fan friends. See? Look how cheesy we all were going to see it on its premiere date: 13253_725694624174064_7625991317541973140_n

While Big Hero 6 is not my favorite Disney animated movie, I still liked it very much. It was beautifully animated, hilarious and heart-wrenching all at the same time, as only Disney can somehow manage to do. But the movie’s scene stealer was undoubtedly a gigantic white robot with a non-threatening, huggable design named Baymax, who has a love of cats, a firm moral code, and cannot fathom fist bumps.

Baymax is voiced by Scott Adsit. You would know him from pretty much everything, as he has played bit parts in many movies! Most notably (and my personal favorite), he played Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock:

Now, unless you don’t possess a soul, there is no possible way that you can come out of Big Hero 6 having not fallen in love with Baymax. It is truly a wonder that an oversized marshmallow with only two dots and a line for a face can make an audience smile, then bring them to tears once the film hits its emotional core.

I attend college nearby Disneyland, and I am the owner of an Annual Pass to the park, which is both a blessing and a curse! Before the movie came out, there were two 15″ Baymax stuffed animals on sale; regular Baymax, and action Baymax. A week after the film’s release, regular Baymax was gone, much to my dismay, and only action Baymax remained. However, after another two weeks, all Baymax plushes were sold out park-wide.

In early February, another shipment of Baymax plushes (both forms) were released, and regular Baymax quickly became the fastest purchase I had ever made in my life. I returned to the store from where I bought it not four hours later, only to find all of them gone again! Disney has not made another restocking of these toys since that day.

The day I bought Baymax, I put him in the small backpack I take to Disneyland and carried him around the park. I have not been to Disneyland without him since, because the reactions I got were incredible. I melt every time I hear a child exclaim “BAYMAX!” at the top of their lungs. I have given SO many fist bumps in the past six months (“Ba-da-la-da-la-da-la!”)! I actually have started keeping tally on how many park patrons ask me where I got my Baymax per day (and no, the park no longer sells them, but you can find them online).

The happiness I feel every time someone smiles because they see this little stuffed animal is irreplaceable, and is the reason why he comes with me when I go to the park. I even started an Instagram documenting his travels around The Happiest Place on Earth, @baymaxonthetown.

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Follow me @baymaxonthetown !

I sincerely hope that Mr. Adsit and the creators, writers, and animators of this character know how much happiness just his appearance brings. Walt Disney would be proud!

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Ba-da-la-da-la-da-la!

D23 Expo 2013 or How I almost saw Colin Farell but DID See History!!

This post is about a month late, but I don’t really care. I’ve been busy!

In early August I went to the third D23 Expo. Held every other year, this is the world’s largest convention of Disney fans (and believe me, I AM a Disney fan!). The first expo was in August of 2009, about a year after the first issue of the exclusive access magazine came out.

I remember being in Disneyland and seeing ads everywhere saying, “Have you seen it? Have you heard it? D23! Become a member now!” We asked a cast member about it, who told showed us the huge, informative quarterly magazine. The issue I saw had a first look at the upcoming Alice in Wonderland film. An avid Tim Burton and Johnny Depp fan, reading that article was my ONLY motivation!

So I was a D23 charter member. I got to read my Alice in Wonderland article and read about other exciting things…a land based off Cars, a new water show in California Adventure, a New Fantasyland, Disney buying Marvel, a new movie about Rapunzel, a princess and a frog, a new Pirates film, a Muppet movie, and much much more that have since become just another everyday part of Disney history.

The first expo– I wanted to go desperately. but I was young and couldn’t get there on my own. I tried to win tickets, but to no avail. Oh well. That was the year Johnny Depp made a surprise visit.

…and that was the day I had a mini-stroke. I was inconsolable. I was crushed. Apparently, not many people went to the D23 Expo the first year, as it was very much a novelty. But with CEO Dick Cook involved, the Expo was an event of epic proportions. Celebrity after celebrity arrived, Johnny Depp the highlight of the event. The first expo was SO GOOD, a spike in D23 members occurred.

It was no doubt that another D23 Expo was to come, but in two years instead of annually. But then a horrible thing happened; Dick Cook was ousted, replaced by Bob Iger. Celebrities, including Johnny Depp, were furious. It was hard to stimulate the celebrity pool for the second Expo. The only exciting celebrity appearances were found in the Disney Legends ceremony, where the living voices of the Disney Princesses were honored, and the fact that Disney had bought Marvel. Sadly, only 60% of The Avengers showed up to the party, Robert Downey Jr. spoke for what totaled 90 seconds, and that was it. Because of the success of the first Expo and the anticipation for the second, the Anaheim Convention Center was flooded with about 40,000 people, creating havoc the Expo was unprepared for. Generally speaking, thousands of Disney fans went home disappointed.

I also did not attend the second Expo, but heard some bad buzz about it. Then August 2012 came along. Tickets went on-sale for the 2013 Expo. By this time, I was 6 years older and now had a job. I used my paycheck and member discount to buy a ticket for myself, no matter the cost. My family came along with me and we planned our time.

Planning for the Expo is a daunting task. “No lining up before 5 am”…wait…does that mean there are people camped out on the side streets until 5 am? Yes. Yes that is EXACTLY what that means. “There are only 4,000 Arena seats, but we’ve added a 2,000 seat overflow theater this year.” Wait…if 40,000 people came last year…doesn’t that mean that 34,000 people will not be able to see the Arena shows? Aren’t arena show the best shows in the place? Yes. Yes they are. Those are the shows where the most surprise celebrities arrive to talk about the Animated and Live Action upcoming Disney films. Oh. My. GOD! “Be prepared to stand in line for hours for anything and everything.” Wait what? “There’s a new thing called a Stage pass which acts as a Fast Pass for other stage shows…but they sell out if you stand in line for anything else but that, you will not get to see anything at all.” What? Wait hold on… “There’s a silent auction, but you need to pay to bid.” Wait- “You need to check all electronics before going in.” Stop hold on- “If you go to one Arena show, the line will already be too long for you by the time the next one comes around.”  STOP!

See what I mean? I was so stressed leading up to this trip, especially arriving in Anaheim at 12:30 at night and driving past the Convention Center and seeing a line of about 100 squatters on a sidestreet, waiting for 5 am.

I went to bed that night, disheartened. I knew I couldn’t see the things I wanted to see. But we got up at 5 am and walked down to the Convention Center nonetheless. We first were in the wrong line (Note: If you want an arena show, DON’T GO DOWN WEST CONVENTION! Go down Katella!!!). Once we got to the right line, we were a far ways back, but we seemed to have gotten in. One of the best pieces of advice that I received from other blogs was to meet the people you were in line next to. We ended up meeting two friends who lived in LA who we ended up spending most of the Expo with. We saved spots for them, they saved spots for us. They had gone to the other Expos and gave us helpful tips. I also met a man who works in television in LA and talked business with me! You never know who you might meet at an Expo!

At the Expo, there were your hardcore con jumpers. These are those people who are wearing every piece of Convention Memorabilia they own. These are your Comic-Con, Vid Con, World Con Junkies that run to every collector’s booth collecting exclusive items, even stuff the Expo is giving out for free, just to say they have it or just to go home and immediately sell it on eBay for at least double the price. But the people I love are your first timers, who are going just to see what it’s all about. Or those nostalgic Disney fans. There’s a difference there too. There are the obnoxious Disney fans, who know every lyric to every Disney song ever written, who have been to every park everywhere, who explode in a Disney fact every four minutes. But the people I appreciate are the people that Walt made his movies and his park for. These are the ones who are still enchanted by the magic and mystique of it all, the ones who can’t get through Pocahontas’s dramatic choral swell at the end of the film without breaking out in sobs, where every time they visit a Disney park they feel at home, and no matter how many times they visit, every time stands alone as a special moment in time.

This year’s Expo seems to have made up lost ground from the previous one. I cannot be sorry I went. I got to see all of the major Arena shows, and I learned it CAN be done! The entirety of Saturday was spent in line, then in the Arena, back in line, Arena, line again, then finishing the night -you guessed it- in the Arena! The only downside to this is that you cannot see any other show after an Arena show, because by that time all the stage passes will be gone.

In the first Arena show, the Animation announcements, hosted by John Lasseter, I got to see announcements for upcoming films. The show ran over two hours longer than it was supposed to! Pixar went first, with Bill Hader there for the majority of the presentation, with a special performance by John Ratzenburger and a full band. The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out, and Finding Dory were discussed, some even with exlusive clips. Next came Disneytoons, the one that everyone couldn’t care less about, but ended up being very cool! Dane Cook came out to talk about Planes. Then- believe it or not, the Neverland Fairies was the event that took the house down. The director brought out one actress who voices a new fairy, and then paused before bringing out…TOM HIDDLESON. Loki himself! The place went nuts! He is to play a young cabin boy who becomes CAPTAIN HOOK! Then came Disney Animation themselves. An exlcusive short was shown called Get a Horse! and more upcoming projects were announced, including Zootopia, and the soon-to-be released Frozen. Josh Gad (my hero!!) came out and showed us his song from the movie. Kristin Bell arrived and spoke about the movie as well. And then the highlight of the show- Idina Menzel performed Let it Go from the film LIVE. Snow started to fall. I was in tears. What a way to kick off the Expo!

The live action films were just as exciting. Since Frozen is the next Disney picture and they saved it until last the day before, I was anticipating Saving Mr. Banks to be the finale for this show. My hopes were high, since I knew League member Colin Farrell was in Malibu, that he would be at the Expo. The performance began with a Star Wars announcement…or lack thereof. To stop a riot from breaking out, they announced Thor 2, Captain America 2, and The Avengers 2. Chris Evans, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman came out, introduced by Tom Hiddleson again. He playfully teased, “Since this is a family friendly environment, I will not make you kneel. That’s just wrong,” making a reference to his take over of Hall H as Loki at Comic Con. Then we got to see the very same clip the Comic Con-ners got to see of Thor 2..the HAND!! Then came the other live action films, including announcements about Tommorrowland with a secret and mysterious box that could spell out conspiracy for the Disney company if it is in fact real and not an element of pure fiction. This might be a good time to mention that the writer of Lost is writing this film… Into the Woods was discussed, making Johnny Depp’s casting set in stone and not just rumor. Maleficent! Angelina Jolie arrived, speaking about the movie, which I now cannot WAIT to see! We got to see an exclusive clip, which revealed District 9’s Sharlto Copley as King Stefan, who could possibly we a love interest for Maleficent (oh please oh please oh please…). Then Saving Mr. Banks…I was correct about it being the finale but was incorrect about Colin Farrell. He was a no-show. But we did get Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak who are playing the Sherman Brothers! The finale was them at the piano with the last living Sherman brother, Richard, who Jason plays. Performers with kites came out as “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” was sung amidst an explosion of confetti.

We came out and immediately entered the Arena once again to see the Disney Legends Ceremony. Billy Crystal, Glen Keane, John Goodman were among the honorees, as well as an award given to Steve Jobs, accepted by John Lasseter, which left the entire Arena sobbing along with him.

Next came the performance of a lifetime…Alan Menken and Richard Sherman performing their music for Disney onstage together. Magical. I have highlights on my YouTube channel jjjinfinitarisus. One of the most heartwarming and heartbreaking moments was when BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman came out together again to sing with Richard Sherman. Richard said joyfully, “I was here for the first show today with these young guys, and I said they should stay for the show tonight, but they said they had to go. But they stayed! What a lovely surprise!” The following day was the panel of Imagineers, and I got to see some of the last people who worked with Walt, X Atencio among them. I feel so incredibly lucky and blessed to have gone. I cannot tell you how amazing the entire process was.

After the Menken Sherman concert, we nabbed tickets to Disneyland and a reservation at the Blue Bayou restaurant, at a waterside table. As we sat down, all of us ended up in tears. It was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I highly recommend going. I WILL be at the 2015 Expo! That much is for certain!Image