Thursday, May 09, 2013

four snows whites and 29 dwarfs

I'm a Disney history buff... I love learning about the parks, about the building of, I love learning about the animated classics and the stories behind them, and of course, learning about Walt Disney himself.  A fascinating, driven cat that Walt was. 

So it makes me appreciate a movie like "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs" all that much more, reading and knowing what went into the film, and the efforts it took to get it made. 

One of the original movie posters from 1937
Walt Disney had made a name for himself doing the short Silly Symphony cartoons, a series of live action & animated shorts called "The Alice Films", when he decided it was time to do a full length animated film.  History will tell you there were one or two full length animated movies done before Snow White, but they are obscure, foreign and perhaps even lost forever.  So this was essentially new ground.

Ground that no one, including Walt's brother Roy and wife Lillian, didn't want to tread, as they tried to talk him out of it.  Budgeted at $250,000, the film's cost spiraled out of control, ending up in the neighborhood of $1.5 million, which in the mid-thirties was just about insane.  The project was so derided by the film industry, Hollywood bigwigs referred to it as "Disney's Folly".

Like most Disney animated classics, the original story has a fairy tale origin, but in the original tale that Disney drew from, the dwarfs did not have personalities.  Walt Disney felt that even though the story revolved around Snow White and The Queen, the Seven Dwarfs should be the star of the show. 

Out of over 50 names suggested by animators--including Jumpy, Deafy, Titsy (!), Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty and Burpy--five names were chosen by process of elimination... Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy and Happy.  Sneezy and Dopey were also considered, though Jumpy made the cut instead.  Eventually, as you probably can guess, Jumpy got cut.  Sneezy and Dopey made the list.

As time passed, and more the story came together, Walt began to realize that the story of Snow White and the Queen had to be the main focus.  Original story boards had a much larger role for the prince, aptly named The Prince, but animators just could not get his features and face right, thus his role was significantly diminished. 

Because of the shift in focus, several scenes were cut from the final film, mostly involving the dwarfs... including Doc and Grumpy arguing over Snow White, a dining room scene where the dwarfs were noisily eating soup (this one had been completely animated before it was cut), and another elaborate scene where they build Snow White a bed.  Having spent so much time on the dwarfs, animator Ward Kimball was completely distraught and was looking to leave the company.  Walt Disney persuaded him to stay, in part by promoting him to the character animation of Jiminy Cricket on the upcoming production of Pinocchio.

The Disney Company had to work through Bourne Company Music to create the songs for the movie, including the famous "Heigh Ho" and "Whistle While You Work"... back then, soundtracks for films were not done much, and considered useless.  Bourne held the publishing rights to other movies music as well, and in the years since, Disney has been able to acquire that music back (I've read, however, that Bourne still holds the rights for Snow White)

The line to get in became a Standing Room Only event
The film opened on December 21, 1937, at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Hollywood, to stellar reviews and audience raves.  Among the star studded audience was Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin, Milton Berle, George & Gracie, Cary Grant and more.  The film was lauded at the following Academy Awards, with Walt picking up a full size Oscar and seven miniature statues for achievement.   The film was also profitable, giving Disney the money to finance a new studio in Burbank, where it remains today, and pushed productions of Pinocchio and Fantasia into high gear.  Its legacy of history continues today, as the American Film Institute listed it as the #1 animated movie of all time, and it ranks #34 on AFI's greatest films of all time.  It is also the first animated feature to be selected for the National Film Registry.

Personally... I had not seen this film since 1983.  Jaws 3 (IN 3-D!!) had just been released, and I wanted to go see it so, so bad... but my mom felt like this movie was a little much for my 9 year old eyes.  So, we went to see Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.  (in hindsight, mama knew best, because Jaws 3D is a train wreck)

A few years ago on this very website, I challenged myself to watch all then-51 movies in the Disney Movie Canon in a year's time... well, like many of my self-challenges, that fell short really before I got going... but today, on a lark, 30 years later, I decided it was worth a re-watch.

Being a fan of Disney History, I can appreciate this movie greatly.  I cannot imagine what audiences must have felt in 1937, watching a full length movie completely animated, with music and story and laughs and gags and a princess and a prince and an evil queen... watching it on Blu-Ray in HD, the colors are brilliant, and the sound is exceptional.

But, can I be honest with you?  Seriously... its a chore to get through.  Perhaps my expectations are automatically high, beyond my own conscious control, but the story just... lagged.  Adriana Caselotti, voicing Snow White, has this shrill voice with this annoying falsetto, so every song she sang made me cringe.   The song at the wishing well is perhaps the worst to me, so I'm glad its over early.

The dwarfs are comical and funny and charming, and I'm glad Walt put some focus on them.  The Queen is evil, as she's supposed to be, but I found myself liking her more than Snow White.  She's at least more interesting.  I know this is heresy, because being a Disney fan I'm supposed to like all things Disney, right?   Well, I'm not a Snow White fan, and I've never seen an attractive Snow White in any of the theme parks either, so sue me.  I don't like Stitch's Great Escape, I steer clear of most Disney Channel afternoon programming and have eaten three times at Mama Melrose in Hollywood Studios, and don't care for the either.  So there.

Anyway, if you have never seen Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, you need to.  If only to experience Disney history in animated form.  Its not a bad movie, its just not for me.

By the way, if you get the Blu-Ray, make sure you watch the "Snow White Returns" special feature.  Apparently, in 2001, Disney Archivists found storyboards for a possible sequel to "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs"... no one knows why they started it, and no one knows why production was halted.  But it would have incorporated two of the deleted musical sequences, which are also featured on the Blu-Ray.  The "Noisy Soup" is alot of fun, but the "Bed Building" really drags.

Speaking of Snow White, let me mention the other three Snows that have appeared in the last few years...

Why yes, its that chick from The Blind Side.  And her eyebrows.  And its
that dude from The Social Network.  Both of the Winklevii.
"Mirror, Mirror" came out in 2012, with Julia Roberts as The Queen, Lily Collins as Snow White and Armie Hammer as Prince Alcott.  This film loosely follows the story of Snow White, with the characters, but the dwarfs have names like Grimm, Half Pint and Chuckles.  I thought this movie was silly, but also fun, though it helps that I really, really like Lily Collins. 

"Snow White & the Huntsman" was released a few months after "Mirror Mirror", with Charlize Theron as The Queen, Thor as Eric the Huntsman and the always cheerful Kristen Stewart as Snow White.  This film had potential, turning the tale into an action film and making the dwarfs (all 8 of them) warriors.  My problem?  Kristen Stewart.  Not since "Panic Room", one of my own 50 favorite films of all time, have I liked Kristen, and after the Twilight movies, she really has no place in my heart.  Personally, take her out, put Lily Collins in this action role (she can do action--she was the only, ONLY, good thing about "Abduction"), and this film is markedly better. 

Of course, there is Ginnifer Goodwin's "Snow White" on the excellent TV show "Once Upon a Time", but Snow is just one character in a whole slew of fairy tale characters.

However, do me a favor and go find 2007's "Sydney White".  It starts Amanda Bynes, in the years when she was cute and sweet and not crazy and Lohanesque.  Starring a bunch of people you've never seen (except for Bo Duke), its a fun take on the Snow White tale set in a modern college campus, featuring seven dorks.  Not a typo.

And make sure you catch the original.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

a sacred delight (a bronx tale)

When I was at the end of my college experience, in the spring of 1998, I took my first mission trip to New York City.  I had done missions work here and there, usually a week at a time, before, but this was NYC... I'd never been, and I couldn't turn down the chance to go.  Problem was, this trip happened to come before, during, and after the Winter Quarter Graduation Ceremony at Troy State University.  Mind you, this was when Troy State was Troy State, and it was in quarters, not semesters--semesters came the following fall.

The problem really wasn't a problem, because I had missed the deadline for renting my cap and gown for graduation anyway.  I mean, it was like, $50.  I couldn't come up with $50 on the fly... now, if you ask me how I afforded a trip to NYC, I can tell you... I have no clue.  I'm trying to think back, and I really have no idea how I paid for that trip, or had the money to spend while on it.  Who knows.  Then again, with my credit card history, I might have just paid that trip off a few years ago.

Anyway, to finish that part of the story, on the Friday of trip, I glanced down at my watch, noticing it was after 2pm.  I was walking down 7th Avenue, and turned to my friends Melanie Jackson, Allyson Guy and Troy McConnell and said, "Hey, I just graduated college..."   My fellow graduate Dixon Brock told me some time later that they did say my name aloud.  I never even saw a program with my name on it.  Such is.

Sunday Drive "Doors Wide Open'  A pretty good CD, and only $2.99
on Amazon
Well, while in New York City, one of the plans we had for the ministry we worked with was to plan a neighborhood coffeehouse in the Bronx, and we had music, and skits and snacks and coffee and so on...

SIDEBAR!!!  I worked at a local radio station in Troy, and produced my own Christian music show on Sunday nights, called Sunday Night Power--every Sunday, 7p to 11p, and with contacts from various record labels and promotions, I got all kinds of CDs and backstage passes and interviews and so on... and ended up meeting this band named Sunday Drive. They were your typical Christian music band of the late 90s... a few dudes, drums, guitars, some fast stuff, some slow stuff, and a few albums that were forgotten within a few years. And frankly, their music, while good, was mostly forgettable.
However comma there was one song that I singled in on, namely "Sacred Delight".
"Did you smile when you made the moon, and gave the sky its color? Did Creation dance in rhythm to Your song of life, I wonder? Did the angels know You knew my name before I existed? Did you tell them out of all You made, why You gave me Your image? Is it true, I'm Your heartbeat? And You love me more than anything...?"
I loved that song. Love that song.
And in the weeks leading up to the mission trip, I felt it important to make one request... "Can I... can I sing 'Sacred Delight'?" Now, its important to note I am not a singer. I sing. I wail. I warble. I can't remember half of a sermon two hours after its over, but I can nail every word to Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" or "Jump" by KrisKross or "3am" by Matchbox 20 or even most Whitney Houston songs (pre-crack, of course)... but a singer I am not.  The Lovely Steph Leann can attest.
Back then, it was just as true.
My buddy Troy McConnell didn't care. He said, "Dude. I love it. Let's do it." We practiced, and I know he gave of himself alot in listening to me warble and such. In my defense, it was in my key, and overall, it wasn't too terribly bad... but still, he encouraged me.
The trip comes.  We are in New York City, spending our days in the community of Brooklyn and the Bronx, our nights in a little community church.  And its cold... there is snow, not Alabama snow, mind you, but real snow.  For me, it was the first real snow I'd ever seen.  It was like powder, and when you threw it at someone, it disintegrated into a spray of fine flakes, leaving very little moisture on your clothes--unlike snow in Alabama... throw a snowball here and you are likely to give someone a concussion with a good head shot.

So, the day of, it was cold and rainy. It was snowy outside, and I woke up with a head full of allergies and congestion. I could barely breath, my nose was so clogged. I thought of cancelling my little tune, but just wasn't sure if that was the right thing to do. This wasn't even about other people worshipping, this was about me telling God that I will praise Him no matter what. In a little empty church sanctuary in Brooklyn, I sat listening to both Troy and our friend Claire Baldwin simply tell me, "You do what you feel you should. But if you feel the urge to praise Him, then you do it. Who cares what anyone else says?  You are performing for an audience of One.  Its His worship."
Troy and I, in mid-song.  Well, Troy in mid-song, me in mid-song-butcher.

And so I did. That night, in the Bronx, I gave my first--and last--public singing performance. I had to start the second verse over at one point, as I lost my place. Troy on guitar was as patient as ever. I made it through it, as off key as I ever was... and felt proud of it. Not sure anyone else got anything out of it, especially the Puerto Rican family in the front row... they didn't know Sunday Drive from Reese Witherspoon, but for me, it was courage. And humbling before God.
What sacred delight. What infinite wonder, that I'm precious in Your sight. You love me like no other, not other. Sacred delight.
So, this coming Sunday, I'll sit down with my notes, my Sword, my lesson book and we'll discuss the proper ways of taking on Hell with a water pistol. I'm sure I'll "uh" and "um" and " know..." and "" alot. Count on it.
But, if like that night in the Bronx, if can get my fat head and large ego out of the way, God just might say something important. Something delightful. Something sacred.

Did you think of me the day you died, and know that I'd intend this... did you know one day I'd come to you, in search of your forgiveness... is it true, I'm your heartbeat... and you choice to die than to live without me...  
Of course, it wasn't all serious... in one of many skits, Kendrick and I
do something a little more comical--a two person, five character skit
called something like "No No Not Today"

Sunday, May 05, 2013

fresh fries make the difference

Yes, we are fast food fans.  We always have been, and like it or not, we might always be.  I can eat just about anywhere, but I do enjoy Arby's, Sonic, Whataburger, Milo's and Wendy's.  I do eat McDonalds sometimes, but its lower on my list.  The Lovely Steph Leann really only likes Wendy's, and sometimes Burger King... but our Burger King here is just terrible. 

I speak of the one on Hwy 280, right down the way from The Cabana, maybe a mile or so away.  They closed it and refurbed the entire thing a year or two ago, and it looks great.  But the service took a downward spiral fast.  Yes, the Caramel Bacon Sundae is almost worth it... but after ten years of working for Starbucks, plus another 15 years of eating at and experiencing the service at Chik-fila, I don't dig on bad service. 

I kinda quit going to Burger King on 280 altogether... food is not great, and the service team is full of people that just don't give a crap.  Yeah, you can experience "just don't give a crap" in most places, but it seems like they actually work on, and take pride in, their "just don't give a crap"ness.

So, when I went to Wendy's tonight, I was pleasantly surprised.  Their service is just average.  That's not really a knock on Wendy's, as ho-hum service is generally what you get elsewhere... tonight, I walk in and order.

The Lovely Steph Leann gets her burger with ketchup and mustard only.  Value fries and a small drink.  I get my burger with mayo, mustard and ketchup, with cheese.  When I order these meals, it usually blows the mind of whoever is behind the counter.  I get home with the food, and her burger will have cheese and mayo on it, I'll be missing cheese and mustard... or there will mayo on both and cheese is nowhere to be found.  I've actually taken to ordering and paying for them separately, just to keep confusion to a minimum. 

The guy behind the counter was as nice as could be.  He was chatty, friendly, and though I'm not sure of his name, it said "Dakota" on the receipt.  In conversation, I mentioned that our burger had unwanted cheese on it last time, and he said, "Well, let me check to make sure its right..."  He did, and it was, then he replied, "Yeah, our girl working the grill really knows what she's doing." 

He came back with two things of fries, but then stops before placing them in the bag.  He looks at me and says, "Ya know... we have fresh fries cooking.  Two minutes.  Would you like to wait?"  I said, "Sure, I'll wait for fresh fries!" and he says, "Yeah, you don't want these.  They have been sitting there for a while."  Then he just chunks the fries in the trash. 

Perhaps its a small thing, but it was a great gesture.  I feel like most people would have just said "Whatevs", tossed the old fries in the bag and sent me on my way.

Dakota, I thank you.  You made my Wendy's experience actually enjoyable.   

Its the little things, really.