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Holy Moley! Another Monday Mélange

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Holy Moley! Another Monday Mélange

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"Dream on Silly Dreamer."

No, I'm not telling JHM readers that it's okay to slip back into a tryptophan-induced coma. "Dream on Silly Dreamer" is the name of an important new movie. A film that -- in spite of it's "Dream-y" title -- is sure to give Michael Eisner (as well as a number of executives at Disney Feature Animation) nightmares.

"What's 'Dream On Silly Dreamer' ?," you ask. To be blunt, it's a movie about the death of traditional animation at Disney Studios. Longtime WDFA employees Dan Lund and Tony West have put together a guerilla-type short that chronicles the end of an era. That sad, sad period from 2002 - 2003 when short-sighted studio execs decided to shut down the traditional arm of Disney Feature Animation.

But Dan & Tony didn't just do what we try to do here at JHM (Which is attempt to recreate key moments in Disney Company history). Thanks to Mr. Lund's ever-present digital camera, these two captured events as they were actually happening. Interviewing their coworkers just minutes after the infamous "Tom Meeting," when Thomas Schumacher -- the then-head of Disney Feature Animation -- basically told the crew in Burbank that their jobs were going away.

"Dream On Silly Dreamer" offers that rarest-of-rare views. The insider's perspective as events are actually happening. Given that the Walt Disney Company really doesn't like it when the public gains any real insight into how WDFA actually operates (EX: Look how deeply Disney buried "The Sweatbox," Trudie Styler's film that detailed how "Kingdom of the Sun" went off the tracks), that's why "Dreamer" is a must-see for any real animation fan.

The only problem is ... Dan & Tony don't actually have a distributor for their film yet. But Lund & West aren't going to let a little thing like that stand in the way of "Dream On Silly Dreamer." That's why they already got a website set up which features a trailer for "Dream On." And -- even as we speak -- Lund & West are deep in the middle of trying to get "Dream On Silly Dreamer" qualified to be screened at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

So -- obviously -- this is an evolving story. One that JHM will be paying very close attention to in the weeks & months ahead.

But -- in the meantime -- remember that name, folks: "Dream On Silly Dreamer." The movie that Michael Eisner most definitely doesn't want you to see.

Okay. Now that we've talked about something that Disney did wrong, let's talk about something that Mouse House executives appear to be doing right. And that's relaunching the Muppet franchise.

Ever since the Walt Disney Company finally closed the deal to acquire Miss Piggy & pals back in February, Disney has taken a slow-but-steady approach to reintroducing these characters to the public. For starters, Kermit, Piggy & Pepe made a well-received cameo appearance in the "Nick and Jessica Variety Special" back in May. The Mouse then followed that up by having the Frog, the Rat and Sweetums provided the entertainment for the closing night banquet at this year's N.F.F.C. convention (Which won the Muppets quite a bit of goodwill among hardcore Disneyana fans). Then -- in September -- Disney had Kermit & Piggy interviewing celebrities out on the red carpet at this year's Emmies.

After that, Disney had Kermit & Co. head on up to Lions Gate Studios in North Vancouver. Where they spent six weeks shooting a new TV movie, "The Muppet Wizard of Oz." Less than a month after that project was completed, the Mouse launched Muppets.com.

When asked to comment on the November 17th launch of this high profile website, Christ Curtin -- the general manager & vice president of the Muppet Holding Company, the inhouse organization that the Mouse uses to supervise all Muppet-related projects -- said: "Today is the first day of the Muppets being back." Suggesting that everything that we'd seen with Piggy & pals up until this point was just a tease.

In the weeks & months ahead, we can expect to see the Muppets take on an even higher profile at the Walt Disney Company. Just last Wednesday, for example, veteran Muppeteers Steve Whitmire, David Goelz and Eric Jacobson were out in Anaheim -- putting Kermit, Gonzo and Piggy through their paces while the Muppets served as the anchors for the Disneyland portion of this year's "Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade" TV special.

(FYI: Look for Disney to use this two-hour-long holiday special to launch ABC's initial publicity push for "The Muppet Wizard of Oz." Which perhaps explains why Kermit's human co-star from that TV movie -- R & B star Ashanti -- was selected to sing a holiday song as part of next month's "Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade" show.)

2005 will see Disney pushing Piggy & pals even further out into the spotlight. May will see the debut of a new Muppet-themed street show at DCA as well as the first airing of the "Muppet Wizard of Oz" on ABC. Come the Fall of 2005, look for Buena Vista Home Entertainment to put the very first set of "Muppet Show" full season DVDs up for sale. Then -- come November -- look for a new holiday show starring Kermit & Co. to pop up at both Disney-MGM & California Adventure.

Which -- you'd think -- would be enough to make most Muppet fans happy. But -- to be honest -- I've already heard from a number of longtime Henson Co. watchers who believe that Disney may actually be taking the wrong approach to reintroducing the public to Miss Piggy & pals. These folks believe that Chris Curtin has been far too conservative with what he's being doing with the characters. That -- by moving so slowly and playing it too safe with Kermit & his fuzzy friends -- Chris may actually be hurting the Muppets in the long run.

So who's right here? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. Which is why I'm planning on exploring this story in depth next week here at JHM. Taking a close look at Disney management approach to reviving the Muppets (Paging Mr. Curtin!) as well as talking with fans about the various ways that they'd go about reviving this franchise.

That debate sounds like it has the makings of a fun series of articles. So keep an eye out for that piece, okay?

Speaking of things that you need to keep your eyes out for ... I've recently received e-mail from a number of JHM readers wondering what has become for my ex-wife (I.E. Michelle Smith aka the Fabulous Disney Babe)'s website. Sadly, www.fabdisbabe.com is no more. Michelle opted to shut down that site earlier this fall.

But the good news is that my ex is already hard at work on a brand-new version of her website. Tentatively titled www.fabsfaves.com, this site promises to have some pretty snazzy features. Or so says Michelle.

fabsfavs.com is supposedly launching sometime after the first of the year. But -- for those of you who can't go without having a little fabulousness in your life 'til then -- there's always Michelle's discussion boards: www.fabsboards.com. So be sure to check those out.

Speaking of checks ... This is the time of year when -- typically (thanks to all that holiday shopping) -- people write a lot of checks. Which (I know) isn't a whole lot of fun.

Well, the folks at Carousel Checks are determined to change all that. They've decided to try & make paying your bills much more amusing by printing up a series of checks that actually feature images from classic amusement parks. You can check out Carousel's first set of checks -- featuring photos of Holiday World as well as Linda Barnicott's Kennywood paintings -- by following this link.

Okay. I know. That's a lot of plugs to have to wade through. Particularly on the first Monday after Thanksgiving. So how's about I try to make it up to you by announcing the next JHM contest?

This time around, there'll be no trick questions. In fact, this contest should be downright easy for all you folks who bought the 2-disc version of the "Aladdin" DVD last month. All you have to do to win your very own copy of the "Aladdin" screenplay is send me a listing of all the different characters that Robin Williams morphs into as part of his portrayal of the Genie in this 1992 film. The JHM reader who produces the most thorough listing wins the script.

All entries must be received by midnight EST on Thursday, December 2nd. Good luck, everyone!

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