Monday, April 30, 2007

Cereal Premiums: A Part of This Complete Breakfast

It’s fitting that on a Saturday afternoon, the day of the week associated with cereal and cartoons, I would come across an almost extinct pairing: a character-based premium in a box of cereal. None of this five-UPC-codes-and-an-order-form-then-wait-six-to-eight-weeks business. It was right there in the box, hermetically sealed either for my protection or that of the toy.

For me to extol the virtues of cereal (especially the sugary variety endorsed by iconic characters) would be post onto itself. Simply put I love cereal. Bluntly stated, I love cereal even more when there’s a toy in the box. It could be something as simple as the thick cardboard Madagascar figures offered in Cheerios in 2005 and all-of-a-sudden I’m whistling showtunes for no damn good reason.

You can imagine the royalties I owe Jerry Herman after seeing this one:
Yes, Spider-Man 3 Water Squirters. And who should I acquire upon my first purchase of the specially-marked package? (If you answered Spider-Man, you would be correct):
According to the back of the box, I’m three water-squirters away from acquiring friends. I’m kidding, of course – according to Dale Carnegie you only need one additional water squirter in order to win friends and influence people. In case you’re curious though, the remaining characters are Sandman, New Goblin and Venom.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Robinsons Help Disney to 'Keep Moving Forward'

“We didn’t want to appear to be setting up a Disney department that ‘did what Pixar does,’ primarily because we wouldn’t want to spend a lot of effort on anything so impossible…John Lasseter and his crew are simply geniuses, and so unparalleled at what they do that trying to ape them would have been an exercise in foolishness.”

Thomas Schumacher
Former President, Walt Disney Feature Animation

The quote I chose to open with comes from Dinosaur: The Evolution of an Animated Feature, the companion ‘making-of’ book to the ambitious 2000 film, Dinosaur. Ironically, by 2004, Disney would become the antithesis of this statement. Thanks to then-CEO Michael Eisner, traditional (2-D) animation was deemed obsolete and abandoned after eighty-one years as the studio’s medium of choice. Instead, Disney would begin exclusively producing CG feature-length films.

Three years later this decision has been reversed as a result of the 2006 Disney/Pixar merger. Animation President Dr. Edwin Catmull and Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, both from Pixar, are bringing back traditional animation to Disney with 2009’s The Frog Princess. CG and traditional animation will co-exist at Disney. More immediate changes have included a studio name change (from the more corporate-sounding Walt Disney Feature Animation to Walt Disney Animation Studios) and a greater emphasis on story/director-driven filmmaking.

The studio name change and story emphasis are already evident in Disney’s latest release Meet The Robinsons. Were it not for the novelty of seeing the film in 3D though, I probably would have avoided it altogether. My initial aversion toward the film was due to the film’s trailer – it remained unchanged (Dog wearing glasses, the caffeine patch and T-Rex jokes) for at least six months leading up to the release.

Poor marketing aside, Meet The Robinsons is a decent film.

From the beginning you realize that this is a different breed of Disney animated film. The obligatory ‘pathos’ moment arrives at an unconventional point – right at the beginning when Lewis, the film’s hero, is left by his mother on the steps of an orphanage as an infant (this may be where Pixar’s influence enters the realm of Disney: Finding Nemo began with Nemo’s mother being consumed by a barracuda). As far as emotional impact, it’s almost reminiscent of the scene in The Rescuers where Rufus attempts to cheer-up a tearful Penny following her unsuccessful experience on ‘adoption day.’

Meet The Robinsons features a supporting cast comprised of some of the most eccentric characters (Uncle Fritz and his controlling hand-puppet wife Petunia) ever to appear in a Disney film. With such an extensive set of secondary characters, it's amazing how well developed they are. Many could have easily gotten lost but everything connects nicely by the film’s end.

The film looks great in 3D, but as is the case with anything shown in this medium, it’s really only effective when something comes flying at the ‘camera.’ In addition, a classic short subject Donald Duck cartoon, Working For Peanuts (1953) is shown before the film, also in 3D (On-screen trivia beforehand proclaims it as ‘the first stereoscopic 3D film made by Walt Disney’).

Danny Elfman’s score is a brilliant homage to 1950’s science fiction/B-horror film music, making good use of the instruments associated with that sound (organ, bongo drums and Theramin). For scenes like “To the future” and the song he wrote for the closing credits (The Future Has Arrived), the music is reminiscent of that of his band Oingo Boingo and '70's/'80's rock group, Electric Light Orchestra.

I opened with a quote, so I might as well close with one. A declaration (of sorts) of a new era at Disney is presented prior to the closing credits of Meet The Robinsons:

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Walt Disney

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Poke 'Em...One Of Them Is Bound To Giggle.

Sometime during the winter, while passing a Burger King I noticed a banner advertising their new breakfast menu. I hate eggs, so fried chicken embryo on a biscuit scaled up 800% serves no purpose other than triggering my gag reflex. But something else on that banner made me do a double-take: Cini-Minis. For those unfamiliar, they were (and are once again) four bite-sized cinnamon rolls with icing dip (see mug shot on right).
I love cinnamon rolls and have sampled the spectrum of good and bad with many bordering on building supply rather than baked good. However, for a product originating from a fast food restaurant, Cini-Mini's were exceptionally good. I hadn’t seen them since at least 2003 when suddenly, and without warning, they disappeared. In trying to reason their disappearance I devised this theory: they were a headache for franchisees. Cini-Minis were, according to a Burger King press release dated April 27, 1998, "Baked fresh daily on restaurant premises…” My theory made sense as there were a few rare occasions when I could swear that corners were cut and they were deep-fried (dark brown and greasy…yum!).

Cini-Minis share an interesting lineage with another popular cinnamon roll; Pillsbury produces them for Burger King. A small image of the Poppin’ Fresh, The Pillsbury Doughboy found on the bottom of the carton offers the only evidence of this [Note: While I’m no Annie Leibovitz, the blurred quality of the following photo comes courtesy of the package printer and not my jangled nerves - click for an enlarged view]:

This makes sense as the corporate information on Burger King’s website reveals that Pillsbury was a one-time owner of Burger King, purchasing the company ten years after its founding in 1967 (Burger King was sold in the late 1990’s).

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Macy's Flower Show on Parade

Last Friday, most dogs not using the newspaper for house-breaking, probably came across this two-page ad placed by Macy’s:

On Sunday, those same dogs dug out their most ridiculous spring ensembles (and in some cases, the matching human-sized versions as well) and participated in Macy’s Petacular Fair. This was, however, only a portion of a larger event: Macy’s Flower Show.

As the description below this blog’s title suggests, I am an avid fan of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As a result of my obsession, I’ve learned that Macy’s often re-purposes Parade paraphernalia for their other events. Take for example the following image from this past Sunday:

The two novelty balloons featured come direct from the Parade. The Dachshund (or wiener dog) is Frida, a reproduction balloon circa 1933 – the original, incidentially, was actually named Fritz. The Macy’s star is of the variety usually seen leading and closing the Parade.

Re-purposing is not limited to inflatables either; Last holiday season, the live-action/CG film Charlotte’s Web was promoted via a Parade float. On this day, it served as a promotional concert stage for the DVD:

Promotional floats and balloons are often a one-time deal though, so just like the baseball player balloon in Miracle on 34th Street, they find new life through a new paint-job. Case-in-point was the Disney/Pixar sponsored Falloon (combination float and balloon) promoting A Bug’s Life. Prominently featured on it was a cold-air inflatable of Heimlich the Caterpillar from the film. After the 1998 parade it was never seen again. Or was it? During Macy’s 2001 Flower Show, Heimlich re-appeared as a generic caterpillar atop Macy’s Broadway marquee.

It is not my intention to give the impression that the Flower Show is comprised merely of Parade cast-offs; there were a variety of inflatables and sculptures that appeared to be created expressly for it:

And of course there is the flower show itself within the store and in its Broadway windows featuring a new theme annually. This year’s theme is “Flora Exotica,” and features stunning African motifs and animal topiaries. It runs through April 15th at Macy’s flagship Herald Square store in New York City.