It's a gift when they say "I've never heard of it"

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Last Christmas season, BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a wonderful dramatization of Charles Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers,'“ his first and only real comedy.

It turns out to be a goofy yet mannered situation comedy, almost a Dickensian “Frasier.” which would have been marvelous had it been filmed in the ‘80s with perhaps Roy Kinnear (Veruca’s dad in Willy Wonka) and a few Pythons. You could almost cast it in your mind as you read it,

It was filmed as a silent, even animated, but the classic version was filmed in 1952, adapted and directed by Noel Langley, one of The Wizard of Oz screenwriters. It starred James Hayter Disney’s live-action Story of Robin Hood) and its cast includes Hermione Baddeley (Mary Poppins), June Thorburn (tom thumb) and Hermione Gingold (Gigi).

I got so hooked on Pickwick that I sought out the musical version by Leslie Bricusse (Doctor Dolittle, Willy Wonka) and Cyril Ornadel (conductor of My Fair Lady). It stars the great Harry Secombe (The Goon Show, Oliver!) as Pickwick and Anton Rodgers (Upstairs, Downstairs) as Alfred Jingle. In his autobiography, Bricusse says that Anton Rodgers was so good as Jingle, he was given the role of Tom Jenkins, the hot soup vendor, who peformed the signature production number, “Thank You Very Much” in the 1970 movie Scrooge .

he Jingle is such a standout a horrible yet charming rogue—very—he was played on radio by Orson Welles himself in 1938.

This was a RECENT world of discovery for me.

What does all this have to do with the above title of this post?

Next time we hear young people say, “I’ve never heard of it,” instead of being miffed at them for their ignorance or at the adults in their life for not guiding them to the “good stuff,” or anguished that nature has made your favorite things suddenly become “old stuff,” consider how grateful we are when a friend “turns us on” to a TV show, film, musical score or what not—and that work becomes a favorite. What a great feeling to be were able to do that for someone!

Isn’t part of why we love what we love, to pass it on, hoping its glories continue to be appreciated? So what if they don’t ultimately like it, even if they tell their friends about it in negative terms—THAT friend could love it. Even close friends don’t like all the same things.

I keep thinking about the line in The Great Muppet Caper during the opening number, when Kermit tells us in the audience, “I wish I were you people seeing this for the first time!”

Film Clips and a Deleted Scene from Incredibles 2

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Here are two finished scenes and one of the ten deleted scenes included as bonus features on the Incredibles 2 Blu-ray.

All of these clips focus on Jack-Jack and Edna Mode. You probably already know that the writer/director of both films, Brad Bird, is the voice of Edna. Jack-Jack’’s goo-goos were compiled from Pixar’s archival collection of baby babbles.

My review in the last post explained more about the deleted scenes, and how they reveal a bit about the very different “show-biz” direction the movie was going to take.

Next Tuesday is the release date, but pre-orders are going on now.

Blu-ray Review: INCREDIBLES 2

Here’s the advance word on what you can look for on long-awaited home Blu-ray and DVD release of Incredibles 2 will be available next Tuesday. November 6.

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Of course, there’s the movie. At almost two hours, it’s the longest Pixar feature since Cars, but it doesn’t seem like it. There’s some debate as to whether it meets or beats the first film, but it might be better to focus on what this feature offers—more than anything else, more quality time with characters that are more real and dimensional than some on live-action TV and films today.

The plot is simple, and perhaps just a gigantic McGuffin for getting a new romp—the supers are banned, a visionary entrepreneur and his sister enlist the family—particularly Helen—to prove that supers are good, supers are dear. A mind-controlling villain is the object of pursuit as Bob learns how to be a Mister Mom. It’s a storyline that The Flintstones did, along with several sitcoms, but the heart of The Incredibles is a family sitcom, but in the best sense of the word.

The deleted scenes reveal that one of the early storylines involved a more showbiz-like approach, with Helen headlining some sort of broadcast and entrepreneur Winston Deaver masterminding it more as a media mogul than a visionary. It seems that they made the right choice to abandon that direction, as it seems more obvious and not as far reaching in theme as the final one chosen. There are some interesting themes in Incredibles 2, including the issue of people doing for themselves rather than depending on supers and, along the same lines, prepacked entertainment. It’s a similar issue that was also raised in WALL-E.

The bonus material is plentiful, particularly on the Blu-ray package, which offers two discs full. To begin with, there is the always-welcome audio commentary, this time from three members of the animation staff: Dave Mullins, Alan Barillaro, Tony Fucile, Bret Parker.

For those of us who have ever felt insecure about our skills and talents, here is an exchange between these folks to remind us that we’re not alone. This is not the first time I have heard creative people say this (even very famous ones):

Alan: “You’re in a vulnerable position of always trying to express yourself every day. It too often, I think, is represented as something that comes to us easily, and a lot of it is turmoil, and a lot of it is leaning on each other.”

Dave: “Every time I start a shot I get into the blocking and I go, oh my god, they’re gonna find out how much I suck! This is gonna be the one!”

Alan: “And that never goes away.”

Bret: “Never!”

Alan: “Every time I show in dailies, I’m always nervous!”

Dave: “This is the point when they find me out! That I don’t know what I’m doing!”

Alan: “I think everybody feels like that because, one, you’re surrounded by so much talent here at Pixar and two, you’re only as good as your last shot, is the way you kinda feel a lot of times.”

The “big news” bonuses are two shorts, one is the exquisite “Bao,” the directorial debut of Pixar artist Domee Shi, what will surely be an Oscar contender; and a premiere short called “Auntie Edna.” This lightning-paced short is shows what happened when Jack-Jack stayed over at Enda Mode’s house/design lab.

This is the scene in the film when Bob first learns about Jack-Jack’s powers:

Other Bonus Features:

Super Stuff: The overall vision and style of the film

Paths to Pixar: Everyday Stuff - Pixar parents talk about life’s everyday challenges

Superbaby: Tween-targeted Disney Channel segment in rhyme

Ralph Eggleston; Production Designer - a few minutes with the Pixar veteran

Making Bao - story artist and first time director Domee Shi

Heroes and Villains:

Mr. Incredible / Elastigirl / The Parr Kids / Frozone / Edna Mode / Winston Deavor / Evelyn Deavor / Wannabes

Vintage Features:

Toy Commercials: Mr. Incredible / Elastigirl / Frozone

Theme Songs: Mr. Incredible / Elastigirl / Frozone
(NOTE: I love these themes!)

Deleted Scenes:

Introduction / Suburban Escape / Kari Revisited / Return of the Supers / Chewed Out / Late Audition / Show Day / Frozone and Honey / Restaurant Robbery / Fashion Show / Security Breakdown

Trailers and Promos

Easter Egg: Brad Bird Describes a Lesson from His Mentor Milt Kahl

Final word: I can’t do a review of this film without mentioning the clips of the vintage TV series The Outer Limits (which relates to the storyline) and especially Hanna-Barbera’s landmark prime time cartoon, Jonny Quest. We learn repeatedly how Jonny Quest is a lifelong favorite of writer/director Brad Bird and how it had a lot of influence of the Incredibles films. This is the first time a Hanna-Barbera clip ever appeared in a Pixar film. Scenes from the excellent 1973 H-B feature, Charlotte’s Web appeared in The Boys: The Story of The Sherman Brothers, the must-see documentary released by Walt Disney Pictures. H-B also provided the opening animation for 1980’s Popeye—a co-production between Disney and Paramount--because they were licensed for animation of the characters at the time and were doing a CBS series for Saturday morning.

Amazon is taking pre-orders now.

Happy Birthday Annette!


Some people wonder why Annette Funcello went from the back row of the Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers to eventually pop culture icon status. Allow me to elucidate.

There were plenty of Mouseketeers with talents beyond Annette's limits. Walt Disney may have personally chosen her for the show that "cartain something" quality that appealed to viewers resulted in bags of fan mail arriving at the studio every day. The public chose her as the favorite, not the studio or even Walt himself.

Annette was not supposed to become a singing star. She did one quick song on her serial, made after her popularity started to climb, and the fans demanded a record be made. She wasn't perfect, she was lovely and real and relatable. No one admitted her limits as a performer more than Annette. In one interview, she said after making twelve albums and countless singles, she didn't know when it would stop -- "I don't sing!"

Therein lies part of her appeal. Instead of constantly shooting for the limelight, she was just herself. And very ethnic for the mid-1950s, when TV had very few kids who looked like her (Walt gets little credit for that).

Without Annette, the Sherman Brothers would never have been connected directly to Walt, who assigned them to The Parent Trap, which led to their being put on staff, which led to the studio's biggest hit of its day, Mary Poppins--the profits from which financed the building of Walt Disney World in Florida.

I'm not making this up, I have spoken and written extensively about it for books and articles, even official Disney company ones, and I've lectured about it around the country. Except for Richard Sherman, probably no one involved in "Mary Poppins Returns" realized the role Annette played in their arriving at the point they have this year.