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Are There “Small” Choices? Free will versus Fate in “The Adjustment Bureau” and “The Good Place”

Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers for “The Adjustment Bureau” and “The Good Place” through season 3. If you haven’t seen either of these shows, I suggest you bookmark this page and return to it after watching them. The article is below the trailers.

In “The Adjustment Bureau,” Senate candidate David Norris, played by Matt Damon, finds himself confronted by a shadowy organization of supernatural beings, who answer to the Chairman. The Chairman has set mankind on a path so that it doesn’t destroy itself. Norris’ burgeoning relationship with Elise, played by Emily Blunt, threatens this plan.

Norris is told that humanity has the illusion of free will. He can choose the brand of toothpaste he wants or what beverage to have with lunch, but some choices are made for him with an adjustment by the shadowy organization. It can be as something as small as spilling coffee or missing keys, or it can be something larger like a mind scan. These things affect what people do and thus affect the path they take in their lives. In this scenario, the type of toothpaste or beverage one chooses has no effect on the outcome of his or her life or the way the world will go.

Flip to “The Good Place,” a surprisingly smart sit-com that deserves a better designation. When people die, they are sent either to the good place or to the bad place based on how points they scored while alive. However, no one has gotten into the good place in 521 years because life and its choices are too complicated to sort out. A good deed can have several bad consequences, that though unintended, count against the person doing the good deed. (For example, a boy scout saves an old lady from being hit by a bus, but the old lady is a serial killer; the boy scout would get negative points, even though he had no way of knowing about her and actually believed he was doing the right thing.) In this world, selecting a toothpaste or choosing the wrong drink to have with lunch could have dire enough consequences to send someone to the bad place.

So, which is it? If we have free will, are there small choices? And if we’re constrained by some master plan? Which of our choices would affect our after-life destination and/or how the world would change as we make them? How would we know?

These questions are hard to answer. The only things we can do are treat each other with kindness and make the best decisions available to us with the information we have at the time we have to make those decisions. That still means we have to overcome our defects and work hard to improve ourselves and our decision-making abilities. With the Internet and media literacy, there’s no excuse for being uninformed. But starting with kindness, compassion and empathy towards others will make those decisions much easier.

Get “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories” for ideas on how to improve your creativity for better life and world.

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‘The Lion King’ Be Prepared for Disappointment

When Pamela Travers confronted Walt Disney about changes she wanted to see in “Mary Poppins” after the film premiered, Walt Disney said, “Pamela, that ship has sailed.” It was one of Walt’s frustration with film. Once it was done, he could change it or tinker with it to make it better. It’s part of the reason he created Disneyland; it gave him something he could change and improve. You would think that the company’s live action – or in ‘the Lion King’s” case, CGI animated – films would allow them to improve on the story.

You’d be wrong. Jon Favreau’s self-proclaimed live action “Lion King” does nothing to improve up on the original and eliminates some of the best parts of the 1994 classic. Was there nothing the filmmakers thought they could improve upon?

The elimination of Ed the hyena who communicated through laughter is one large change. It was Ed’s change from bumbling fool to evil, backstabber that was the most frightening change in the original.

The “Be Prepared” sequence lacks the emotional impact that the Jeremy Irons number had. The visuals and message in the original are staggeringly relevant and scary. It may have been the best song in the movie.

Favreau’s animals are limited to the things that animals can do. This necessitated a huge change to the visuals for the “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” number. There’s no Hula dancing meerkat, and staff-wielding Rafiki is only revealed in a lackluster moment of no import. Rafiki pulls the staff out of a hiding place in the tree and says, “My old friend.” There’s no connection to this staff in the film, so this statement doesn’t serve a purpose, except as fulfilling fan expectations. Seriously, you don’t need any fan appreciation because it’s ALL fan appreciation.

I can respect that Favreau wanted to make these animals photo-realistic; it’s something Disney tried to do with Bambi in 1940. But in doing so, Favreau eliminated a lot of what makes the 1994 version a standout film. In fact, this new version doesn’t even do justice to the stage play, which was truly something new and fresh when it debuted – and it’s still a work of art.

The last battle between Scar and Simba has less drama than an episode of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” where the lions’ strength would be on full display. Here, it comes off as “Man, this would be powerful if they were real lions in the wild; instead, it’s artificially enhanced by sound effects.”

In the past Disney released their animated films in the theater every seven years so new children could become acquainted with them. That worked for the new “Aladdin.” There were enough changes that it was clear the movie was released for the next generation. “The Lion King” just seems like it was developed because the original made a billion dollars. For those who love the originals, the 2019 version plays like “Phantom Menace” without a new plot line.

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Kindness takes a trip on “The Kindness Diaries” Season 2, Episode 1

In “The Kindness Diaries,” Leon Logothetis is traveling from Alaska to Argentina relying on the kindness of strangers to feed him and give him lodging. He’s driving a Volkswagen Beetle without a heater in the winter over the Al-Can through Canada.

We were just into the first part of the show, before he made it to Canada, when my wife asked me if people in Alaska were really that kind. I got teary-eyed remembering my time there because yes, they are.

Alaska is a harsh and lonely country. I once traveled on a highway for three hours, and no other car passed me. If you get in trouble, you need the very next person who passes by to stop and assist you. Alaskans, in general, are more than happy to do so because they know what they would want if they were in trouble.

Most of the kindnesses I received while in Alaska were from friends. My first camping trip with a couple of people I barely knew set the stage for the next six years. I received freshly caught salmon on more than one occasion. Even a couple of my rooming situations sprang up because I had a friend who needed a renter, and he was willing to rent to me (at a price I could afford even when I was a student).

I don’t know if I paid back all the kindnesses. I gave my fair share of unexpected gifts. I stopped at traffic accidents in town (because of my Red Cross training and that same friend who rented me a room on more than one occasion).

One time we stopped to see what the vehicle at the top of a hill just outside of Valdez was doing – maybe he was parked, maybe he was taking a break. The truck was broken. My friend and I didn’t know how to fix his vehicle, so we drove back toward Valdez to a phone that the guy could use. (Cell phones were out of range at the time.) When he made the call, we drove him back to the truck though we would have driven him into Valdez if he needed. He gave us fresh caught prawns. I would have refused, but again, my friend was there to accept the gift, and we turned it into one of the best meals I had in Alaska.

Alaskans aren’t friendly because of guns or out of fear. They’re friendly because they know the value of life. They know the value of kindness. They know how hard it is to survive on the frontier. As much as many of them move to get away from people, I always felt like I could count on them to help me out before I experienced any real trouble.

We need more kindness in our lives. Alaska taught me that, and this program has brought back memories.

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Disneyland Doubles Down on Star Wars

The opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was either handled correctly or greatly misfired depending on who you talk to. With limits placed on annual passholders, a complicated reservation system that required many guests to stay at the Disneyland Resort hotels, and fears of overcrowding keeping other guests away, Disneyland’s first half of June was light on crowds in the park as a whole. Wait times for HyperSpace Mountain rarely rose above an hour. Other favorites had manageable wait times from 35 to 45 minutes, and many Fantasyland attractions had walk-on wait times of 5 minutes.

For those fans interested in the theming of the world’s first “theme” park, Galaxy’s Edge signaled the return of Tomorrowland to its original concept: exploring the world of tomorrow. Instead, Disney has kept its Star Wars Tomorrowland attractions open and is using them to hype Galaxy’s Edge. Instead of offering 51 different variations, Star Tours ends in Batuu, the setting for Galaxy’s Edge. As mentioned above, Space Mountain is in its Star Wars garb. Star Wars Launch Bay features meet and greets with the Star Wars characters.

All of this would be fine if there were an indication that Disneyland would move it to Galaxy’s Edge when the Star Wars Land is completed. However, the Disney Company and its development of Epcot attractions is showing that it no longer cares about the educational parts of its parks or the exploration of the future. Instead, it will rely on its pop culture aspects to draw in the crowds for entertainment. It makes sense for the company to want to use its acquired billion-dollar IP, even if it doesn’t pay respect to the educational and innovative history of the business.

Fans of the Tomorrowland concept may have to go back to their memories, old YouTube videos and TV Specials and Yesterland to experience a version of Tomorrowland that made sense within its dated context. Unless we all start a gofundme campaign and build our own Tomorrowland project. Leave a comment about what you would like to see in Tomorrowland.

For more Disney Company analysis, get “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” For more on Disneyland’s history and how it relates to creativity principles, get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” For a tour of the Haunted Mansion, its history and how it relates to creativity principles get “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity” (also available at the Candy Cane Inn in Anaheim).

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Check out my Interview at the Sweep Spot!

Haunted Mansion Is Creativity cover

I was interviewed by Ken Pellman and Lynn Barron from The Sweep Spot for “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity!” My newest book uses the history and structure of the Haunted Mansion, just in time for its 50th anniversary, to illustrate creativity principles.

Ken and Lynn are former cast members from Disneyland. The Sweep Spot is a podcast that talks about all things Disney, including current events. The two hosts have written “Cleaning the Kingdom” and will be releasing their second book “Cleaning the Kingdom: Night, Day Past and Present” on July 17. Visit their website and check out their books, t-shirts and Patreon.

During Podcast 263, I am at about the 30-minute mark for stories about the Haunted Mansion, Journey Into Imagination and creativity. After my interview is Alastair Dallas, author of “Inventing Disneyland.” Check out the podcast and get some books!

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Endgame Spoilers: ‘Black Widow’ Doesn’t Have to Be a Prequel

There are few things more annoying than a prequel. Even if it’s a character that I care about, prequels lack the necessary tension and drama. Instead of being worried whether or not a character will be able to survive his or her trial, the outcome is already certain. There’s no reason to be worried that the character will die or face other drastic consequences. Black Widow and Scarlett Johansson deserve better than that. Unfortunately, all signs point to the Black Widow movie as being a prequel. After all, Black Widow is dead. She traded her soul for the soul stone and that trade was “an everlasting exchange.”

Why and how would a stone require a soul? In order for the information on the deal to be transferred to the Red Skull and enforced by the stone, the stone itself must have a consciousness. It must be a living entity. Unless Vormir, the stone’s home, is the living entity that guards the stone.

If the stone is a living entity, it is clearly evil. It desires a living sacrifice in order for others to access its power. That soul for a soul exchange and the disposition of the stone could be the subject of the Black Widow movie.

The stone could just require the soul to power it up. However, other versions of the soul stone have included a soul stone universe where all the souls that were sacrificed reside. Black Widow could realize she’s trapped in an alternate universe and work to find and fight her way out, possibly with the help of Gamora.

It would be an interesting story line to explore and with obstacles that Black Widow would be more than capable of overcoming. Imagine Marvel’s next villain being the Soul Stone Irregularity. Of course, the Black Widow movie doesn’t have to take place in the current MCU at all; the multi-verse and alternate timelines open up so many story telling possibilities.

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Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ Could- and Should’ve Had a Bollywood Cut

One of my friends say that he was waiting for the Bollywood version of Disney’s Live Action “Aladdin,” and it’s a brilliant idea. After all, isn’t that where movies in the cinema should be headed? By filming different versions of the film with the same actors and changing parts of the film to elicit greater responses in different cultures, movie companies could reap millions of more dollars. And the Disney Company has already set the precedent with Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Steve Rogers has a list of things he needs to learn about, and it was different depending on where the film was viewed. Of course, it didn’t remain a secret, and fans posted the lists online, which garnered more free publicity for the film. Did it lead to more views? Who knows, but it certainly showed that film companies could alter movies based on different audience expectations.

So, a Bollywood Disney’s “Aladdin” doesn’t have to be a cheap imitation. The film already showed that its actors could dance, and it had random musical numbers inserted into it. All that would’ve had to happen is for the script to be adapted to Bollywood styles, and Disney has the assets in India to do that. Sure, Disney missed out on pioneering in the movie world this time. Maybe, they’ll do better next time.

For more on the Disney company including “Frozen 2” plots that Disney probably never considered, get “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”

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The Genius of the New York Knicks Free Agency 2019

The New York Knicks are three steps ahead of everyone in the NBA, and no one has realized it. While everyone is laughing about the Knicks free agent acquisitions during the first day of free agent negotiations in the NBA, the Knicks will ultimately be the ones to have the last laugh.

The Knicks announced their free agents Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis and Julius Randle as they missed out on top tier talent like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Fans booed. The rest of the NBA made thousands of jokes at the Knicks expense. These three players play the same position: power forward, and its one that has also been filled by current Knicks player Luke Kornet. Here’s why the Knicks are at the next level.

Teams had success with “the Twin Towers” concept of playing two centers like Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Two centers led to better defense and better shooting percentages.  Teams had success with small ball like Don Nelson’s Warriors. Playing three guards provides more ball-handling and more speed.

But no team has played three power forwards on the floor at the same time. Basketball is a game of innovation. The time for the next evolution of basketball has arrived, and the New York Knicks are just a little quicker at getting there than everyone else.

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Don’t Let Lilac City Comicon 2019 End

It’s been about a month since Lilac City Comicon 2019. The end of a good comic convention is always bittersweet. A lot of memories were made and laughter was plentiful, but real life has to catch up with con-goers at some point. Fortunately, you don’t have to totally let go of Lilac City Comicon 2019. If you’ve already read all the books and comics you bought and you’ve already put up all the posters and prints, here are some tips to keeping that comicon feeling alive.

If you met an artist, writer, or crafter whose work you loved, you can help keep them motivated by following them on social media, sharing their work with your friends, and when you’re able to buying something from them. Some artists and writers, like us, have a Patreon account that you can support at small levels. (We’d love to have you join our Patreon Penguinators at any level, and you’ll get one Patreon-only creativity post a month and one penguin of the month photo.)

Of course, you’re probably already following Lilac City Comicon’s social media pages. If not, be sure to put your voice out there to tell people how much you loved LCCC 2019. Be sure to follow the stars that did show up for Lilac City Comicon and tell them how glad you were to see them at the convention in Spokane.

Books can transport you to places you never even knew existed. Check out the books from the authors at Lilac City Comicon, including Brian C. Baer, D. Alexander and me! Review those books on Amazon and tell people how much you enjoyed reading their work. More motivation is good for any writer.

Do you need some cosplay inspiration? Order one of our cosplaying penguins to help you find your inner costume. Then get to work on your own costume for the next comicon.

Get ready for Lake City Comicon! From the organizers of Lilac City Comicon, Lake City Comicon in Coeur d’Alene isn’t too far from Spokane. If you can get there and make it a bigger comicon, Lilac City may be able to grow, too. Organizing two cons gives both of the conventions more bargaining power to bring in bigger stars in both the movie and comic world. And since you already love Lilac City Comicon, you know that Lake City will just as good if not better!

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Who Will Be the Next Iron Man? Avengers: Endgame Spoilers

With Captain America handing his shield to Falcon, one of Marvel’s next heroes has already been chosen. The question remains: Who is Tony Stark’s successor? Iron Man is too hot a property to leave languishing because of a simple death. Here are the top prospects for Marvel’s next Iron Man.

Spider-Man: The trailers for “Spider-Man: Far from Home” make it seem like the world is looking for a new Iron Man. Peter Parker felt like Stark was his mentor, and his sense of duty requires that he try to take up the mantle. Parker invented his web shooters, so he has the engineering acumen to take up the Stark suit improvement mentality. He also has a suit made by Stark that he can improve upon and reverse engineer, and his relationship with Happy would probably give him access to the resources of Stark Industries – resources his aunt can’t provide.

But making Spider-Man the next Iron Man removes Spider-Man from the movie scene. It might work for a couple of movies, but ultimately, it hamstrings the opportunity to make more money from two popular franchises. Since Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man, Peter Parker is probably not going to be the next Iron Man. The world may need a new Iron Man, but it won’t be Peter Parker unless the MCU wants to introduce a live action Miles Morales.

War Machine or Iron Patriot: James Rhodes is the first one on the scene of Tony Stark’s death. He has an Iron Man inspired suit with more weapons. Marvel has already proven that it can take second rate properties and turn them into blockbusters, and Don Cheadle is no chump actor. He could carry a movie. The only things standing in his way are resources and the ability to engineer new suits. Rhodes has yet to show his genius side.

Pepper Potts: “We’re going to be okay. You can rest now.” Pepper Potts to Tony Stark, “Avengers: Endgame.” This statement could be Pepper taking the mantle from Tony. The “we” she is referring to could be her and her daughter, or it could be the planet Earth. Pepper may be signaling to Tony that she is ready to take on the responsibility of the suit. She has a different demeanor than Tony, but she is adept at managing resources and has the financial wherewithal to keep improving her Iron Man suit.

Morgan Stark: Sure, Morgan’s only five in “Avengers: Endgame,” but she could don the suit in as early as nine years (She’s already shown a penchant for wearing the suit parts). She’d be 14, which is still young, but if she has inherited the Stark genius and the Stark determination, there’d be nothing that could stop her. Picture Morgan teaming up with Pepper in Iron Man suits and imagine what kind of powerful story that could be. It would also give people time enough to heal from the death of her father while she isn’t healed herself. Who would she take revenge against?

Harley, the boy from Iron Man 3: At the end of Iron Man 3, Harley has a dream workshop and a Potato Gun Mark 2. There’s every indication that Stark kept in touch with his protégé, and Harley is at the funeral. Harley would likely have the Stark resources, like Peter would, and he has proven he can build things. If he’s worked hard at it, he may be able to invent and modify with the best of them.

Robert Downey Jr. from another universe: The multi-verse has been revealed. Any hero can come back at any time, and they can come back differently. Iron Man could return exactly as he was, but what if in his universe, he lost Pepper and Morgan? How would that make him different? What if the next Iron Man pits Pepper and Morgan against a Tony Stark bent on taking them to another universe? Would they go or would he kidnap them?

Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man seems to be to popular to leave dead, but Marvel will achieve the most integrity if they don’t bring him back. Except this is a comics universe: No one ever truly dies. Tell us who you think will be the next Iron Man in the comments.