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Toy Tuesday: Donny Osmond introduces Dance Star Mickey

Jim Hill is back with even more news from the American International Toy Fair. Where — yesterday morning — the reigning “Dancing With the Stars” champion helped showcase Fisher-Price’s hot new toy for the 2010 holiday season



So how long has Donny Osmond been closely associated with The Walt Disney Company? “About 200 or 300 years,” this pop icon joked as he made an appearance yesterday in the Mattel showroom at the American International Toy Fair.

Which isn’t entirely true. I mean, Donny’s brothers did get their big break while performing at Disneyland. But that was back in 1961. Not 1761. Tommy Walker — that theme park’s original director of entertainment — happened upon the Osmonds as they were doing their barbershop quartet bit for a bunch of Guests at Carnation Gardens. recognizing talent when he saw it, Walker immediately hired the boys to perform at the Park that summer. Which eventually lead the Osmond Brothers being showcased in an April 1962 episode of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” which was entitled “Disneyland After Dark.”

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It was during their days at Disneyland that Andy Williams‘ dad, Jay heard the Osmond Brothers sing and then he suggested to his son that Andy invite Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay to come perform on his variety show. And the boys got such a strong reaction that Williams quickly made them regulars on this NBC series. Which is how — back in December of 1963 — Donny Osmond was able to make his network television debut at the tender age of 6.

And once Donny got in front on that microphone, there was just no stopping this kid and his talented brothers. Which is why — back in 1970 — when Walt Disney Productions was looking for a little extra star power to help promote Disneyland’s then-newest attraction, The Haunted Mansion, they asked the Osmonds to return to The Happiest Place on Earth and then appear in an new episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney” entitled “Showtime Disneyland.”

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As he stood on stage at the Javits Center yesterday, Donny spoke with obvious affection about his connection to Disney. How his work for the Mouse House has actually prolonged his career, allowed him to connect with multiple generations of fans.

“Take — for example — last week. I’m in Las Vegas, walking into the Flamingo to go perform with Marie. And on my way into the casino, this guy stops me and then asks me to pose for a picture with his daughters,” Osmond remembers. “And it was obvious that these two little girls had no idea who I was. So I leaned down and said: ‘Do you know the movie, “Mulan“? ‘ And they quickly said ‘Yes.’ So I told them that I did the voice of Shang in that movie. And then suddenly these girls were very happy to have their picture taken with me.”

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By Donny’s reckoning, he’s had “five or six careers” at this point. With The Walt Disney Company periodically stepping in and allowing this pop icon to reinvent himself yet again. Like Osmond’s 2006 Broadway stint, where he joined Disney Theatrical‘s long-running production of “Beauty & the Beast” as that boorish, brainless bully, Gaston.

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Mind you, it was Mr. Osmond’s most recent gig for the Mouse that brought him to the American International Toy Fair yesterday. Given that he’s the reigning champion from ABC‘s hit reality series, “Dancing with the Stars” …

Donny celebrates his victory back in November of last year with his dance partner, Kym Johnson (L)  and his wife,  Debbie (R, in pink). Copyright 2009 American Broadcasting Company. Disney. All Rights Reserved

… the folks at Fisher-Price felt that Donny would be the perfect guy to introduce what they hope will be the hot new toy for the 2010 holiday season, Dance Star Mickey.

And being the good sport that he is, Osmond strolled into the Mattel showroom clutching his mirror ball trophy …

Photo by Nancy Stadler

… saying that — as one dance champion — he was pleased to able to introduce another dance champion to the world.

Yesterday morning’s presentation officially kicked off with Donny showing a brief film clip that then showcased Mickey’s on-screen dancing performances over the past 8 decades. Then Osmond challenged a walk-around version of the Mouse to a quick dance-off. Which — given the moves that Mickey busted on that itty-bitty stage — may have been a mistake.

And then it was time to introduce Dance Star Mickey, the latest innovative plaything from the people who brought us Tickle Me Elmo and Get Up and Bounce Tigger.

 Photo by Nancy Stadler

Based on what I saw yesterday morning, this new Mickey plush really is impressive. It dances to five different songs in styles that range from latin, soul, techno and disco. And wait ’til you see this mechanical mouse moonwalk.

Mind you, I wasn’t the only one who was impressed with this animated Mickey Mouse toy. Donny talked about how — during the previous day’s rehearsal — his 12-year-old son Josh just sat there, mesmerized by this thing. “I gotta warn you,” Osmond said to Neil Friedman, President of Mattel Brands, as Donny referenced his rather large family,”Once Josh gets word back to all his brothers and cousins about how cool Dance Star Mickey is, there aren’t going to be any of these toys left on store shelves.”

Donny Osmond’s wife, Debbie and their son, Josh. Photo by Nancy Stadler

And even though Dance Star Mickey won’t actually be showing up in stores ’til October of this year, Donny declared this new Fisher-Price product to be the hit toy of the 2010 holiday season. Which is why Osmond then presented this piece of plush with its very own version of “Dancing with the Stars” glitter ball trophy.

Donny presented the mirrored mouse ball trophy to Dance Star Mickey. Photo by Nancy Stadler

Only this time around, the trophy was made up of three glitter balls. Which then made it look an awful lot like … Well, you-know-who.

 Photo by Nancy Stadler

We’ve got lots more stories coming out of Toy Fair 2010. But just a word of warning regarding tomorrow’s article (which will showcase many of the “Rapunzel” products that Mattel will be bringing to the market later this year). Given that Nancy and I will be driving back up into New Hampshire just as this region’s latest snowstorm starts winding down … Well, that could delay our trip home. Which may result in JHM’s story for Wednesday being posted later than usual.

UPDATE: Yep, a trip that normally takes us 4 1/2 – 5 hours wound up taking 8. And what with having to dig the house out after that storm, that “Rapunzel”-related piece didn’t get published ’til just now (i.e. 4:30 pm. ET). Again, I apologize for the delay. Go check that story out.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Marvel Animation bets big on shorts as it launches the second season of its Funko-inspired comic match-ups



Marvel Funko Shorts

Marvel Entertainment has long been celebrated for its ability to weave these epic-length narratives that can then play out across multiple motion pictures, TV shows and comic books.

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So if length really plays to this studios’ storytelling strength, why then is Marvel Animation headed in the opposite direction? Creating a series of stand-alone, 90-second long shorts that – rather than putting Marvel’s super heroes through their usual action-adventure paces – opt to shine a spotlight on these characters’ more comic side?

“It’s all about new formats, new audiences,” explained Cort Lane, Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Animation & Family Entertainment. “That’s been our mission statement for this past year here at Marvel. I mean, we obviously have the affinity of our core target audiences. We have those people who already love our characters, go to see our movies or are aware of them. But we wanted to do something that would possibly help Marvel reach a broader audience. And we thought that comedy might be the way to get there.”

Mind you, what spurred Cort & Co. to initially explore this idea was this series of animated promos that Funko created for its Marvel Collector Corps subscription boxes.

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“These promos were created by this tiny little studio in the U.K. called A Large Evil Corporation. And the folks who work there, they are very inventive and have a great comedy sensibility,” Lane enthused. “Even though the Funko versions of our characters don’t have mouths, A Large Evil Corporation was still able to animate these very simple versions of the Marvel characters in a way that was very expressive and highly entertaining.”

So – building on A Large Evil Corporation’s previously existing relationship with Funko – Marvel Animation launched a trial balloon late last year. They put together a trio of shorts that were basically expanded versions of those animated promos for the Marvel Collector Corps subscription box scripts.

The first of these shorts (i.e., “Spellbound.” Which debuted online back on November 30th of last year and starred the Funko versions of Spider-Man, Iron Man & Loki) was viewed 600,000+ times. By the time the third in this series (i.e., “Chimichangas.” Which featured Funko’s versions of Deadpool & Venom fighting in & around a food truck) bowed on December 14, 2016, these shorts were now getting 4 million views. Which is when Marvel Animation decided to go all in with its comic shorts initiative.

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“Our thinking was – by placing these comedy short form pieces across multiple platforms – we’d then be able to reach a broader audience. Getting all the eyeballs that we might not traditionally get through our animated series. Which – while they have been doing well on Disney XD — have been more boy-targeted,” Cort stated. “By deliberately making these pieces only 90 seconds long, that then makes it possible for these comedy shorts to go on social media, to be put up on YouTube. Which then makes it possible for them to reach an exponentially larger audience.”

Ironically enough, though it obviously doesn’t take as much effort to craft a scenario for a 90-second long comedy short as it does to write a teleplay for a 22-minute long episode of an animated series or the screenplay for a feature-length film, Lane still insists that a lot of thought & effort goes into each o these short form pieces.

“Creating fully formed, independent little stories that can actually be told in 90 seconds requires a lot of discipline and some really tight storytelling,” Cort said. “You’d think that – given that the Funko versions of our characters don’t have mouths – they’d then be easier to animate. But they really aren’t. And given that A Large Evil Corporation has such a small staff of animators … Well, we had to be careful. Make sure that we didn’t overwhelm that studio by sending them too many shorts to work on at any one time. Allow them to turn each of these short form pieces into a comedy gem.”

The first of these gems which were created for Season 2 of this series – “Cosmic Sleigh Ride” – can be seen below:

“For Season 2, we’ll be ultimately be releasing eight of these comedy shorts. Some will be synergistic. ‘Cosmic Sleigh Ride’ – which features the Funk versions of Star-Lord, Rocket and Taserface — is bowing now because the Blu-ray / DVD version of “Guardians of the Galaxy – Vol 2″ hit store shelves a few weeks back,” Lane explained. “While other shorts in this series will premiere online when buzz is building around a particular character. Our ultimate goal here is to give our audience more of what it wants. Which – in this case – is connecting with the characters, but connecting in a different way. With comedy. And in a different format.”

So does Cort have a favorite among the eight new short form comedy pieces that will be debuting online as part of Season 2?

“From a storytelling perspective, there’s one coming up with Hulk and Black Widow that’s a personal favorite of mine which plays on their interesting relationship. I love those two characters because there’s such contrast there,” Lane teased. “I don’t want to reveal too much about this comedy short in advance. What I will say is that they’re on a spy mission and Hulk isn’t so great at spy missions.”

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So what with this “new formats, new audiences” initiative, should fans of Disney XD series like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Marvel’s Spider-Man” be concerned? Cort says no.

“Moving into shorts is obviously a big shift for us. But we’re still in the business of creating long form animation. That said, all of the diverse platform opportunities that you get with short form really open you up to new audiences. And we’ll continue to explore that opportunity with things like our pre-school series, the Marvel Super Hero Adventures. Those will be a series of 3 & ½ minute shorts that will be coming out soon,” Lane concluded. “So, as you can see, we’re stretching. We’re committed to exploring short form as a format because the kind of audience that you can potentially get out of it is so significant.”

And that’s the long & the short of what Marvel Animation is doing with its new short form comedy pieces. 


This piece was originally published by the Huffington Post on Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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“Let It Go” gets the LEGO treatment as a whole new Disney “Frozen” story unfolds across books, TV & digital with “Frozen Northern Lights”



What with “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” opening in late May at Disney California Adventure Park and Epcot‘s “Frozen Ever After” attraction opening its doors later this morning, Anna & Elsa have had a very busy month.

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So what will these Scandinavian sisters be doing for an encore? Would you believe joining forces with the LEGO Group? Anna & Elsa – along with Kristoff, Olaf & Sven – will be starring in four new “Frozen” animated shorts that will air on the Disney Channel. Not only that, but these new LEGO shorts will be based on a brand-new published-by-Random-House story, “Frozen Northern Lights.”

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The fun officially gets underway in July as “Frozen” fans can once again return to the kingdom of Arendelle thanks to a cleverly interconnected collection of books, animated shorts from the LEGO group as well as digital games & activities.

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“So what awaits ‘Frozen’ fans once they return to Arendelle?,” you ask. “Frozen Northern Lights” tells the story of Little Rock, one of those trolls that adopted young Kristoff & Sven in the original “Frozen” film. Little Rock needs help earning his tracking crystal. So Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Sven & Olaf join this tiny troll on an epic mountain adventure to restore the glimmer of the Northern Lights.

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The hardcover novelization of this story — “Disney Frozen Northern Lights: Journey to the Lights” – will hit store shelves next month. As for those four animated shorts, the LEGO Group will definitely be bringing its unique style of animation and quirky sense of humor to the world of “Frozen.”

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And did I mention that the vocal talent from the original Disney “Frozen” will be returning to reprise their roles? Or that a full compilation of all four of the LEGO “Frozen Northern Lights” shorts will air on the Disney Channel later this Fall?

So are you ready to see “Let It Go” get the LEGO treatment?

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post’s Entertainment page on Tuesday, June 21, 2016

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“Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls” coming to America



If you’ve been watching Disney XD lately OR If you’ve been in a Target, a Walmart, a Hot Topic OR anywhere that sells video games … Heck, if you’ve been around a group of kids lately, chances are you’ve heard of Yo-Kai Watch.

Initially released in Japan by Level-5 in 2013, just last year the first of Yo-Kai Watch games were translated and brought over for American audiences. In Japan, the game was a huge, bombastic hit. And why not? The creatures within the game were based on characters from popular Japanese stories. The kappa, the nekomata, and the kitsune, just to name a few. Via use of their Yo-Kai Watch, the main character — Nate in the English version — is able to see the invisible Yo-Kai, who haunt and inspirit the world around them.

Given it was so rooted in Japanese culture, it was thought that this series would have an uphill battle once it arrived in the US. But luckily, Yo-Kai Watch wound up with an extremely solid viewership on Disney XD. And the game — despite a demo that was sort of ‘eh’ — was a really inspired, beautifully detailed, fun game. The writing in the game really held it up, despite the battles sometimes becoming repetitive. Overall, it was a fantastic, moving experience to play.

So imagine how excited I was to see that the long-awaited sequel was finally announced. English fans had been campaigning under the hashtag ‘#LocalizeYW2’ passionately, and it seems they’ve been heard. Or the game sold enough. Or hey, probably both. “Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls” will be arriving in America on the 3DS on September 30th, 2016. 

Kind of an odd name, right? Well, there’s going to be two versions. If you’re familiar with Pokemon (And sorry. it’s a bit of a sore point when Yo-Kai Watch is brought up next to Pokemon. But sometimes comparisons need to be made) you probably are aware of the fact that typically two versions of one game are released — Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, X and Y, etc. Well, that’s what’s happening here. The game introduces 184 new Yo-Kai, and some are split between the two versions of the game. There’s also different quests, and different exclusive DLC add-ons between the two.

With new merch coming out, and the sequel on the horizon, it seems Yo-Kai Watch is really picking up speed here in North America. If you’d like to check out this phenomenon, “Yo-Kai Watch” airs weekdays at 5 p.m. on Disney XD

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