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‘Shazam!’ bring the popcorn and have some fun

“Shazam!” is a fun DC romp that shows DC can use humor on its superhero films. Sure, there are some scary parts (The monsters are U-G-L-Y; THEY AIN’T GOT NO ALIBI; THEY UGLY!), and 14-year-old Billy Batson uses his newfound adulthood for some nefarious purposes, one of which he rejects outright. Another he indulges in and commits a crime to go back for more. It’s played for comedy, so it works if you don’t think about it too much.

Zachary Levi is at his goofy, charming best, and “Shazam!” is a fun popcorn movie. If you remember “The Greatest American Hero,” you’ll recognize elements of the TV superhero comedy as Shazam tries to learn about his superpowers.

I saw this in Russian with my wife, who laughed far more than I did, and after discussing with her some of the things I didn’t catch, “Shazam!” may be a little deeper than a popcorn movie. That being said, it was fun, even if it has a deeper message about envy and family.

Apparently, there are some people, aka trolls, causing a ruckus pitting “Shazam!” against “Captain Marvel.” A small part of this stems from the DC vs. Marvel rivalry. Small minds have an issue with holding two competing theories in them, and it’s the same with this rivalry. You can like DC AND Marvel. It’s not either/or; don’t fall for the false dichotomy. In fact, if you like Indie comics and want to see more of them on the big screen, going to see films that are like the Indie comics you love will cause the studios to scour the nation looking for stories they can adapt, thus creating a larger market for the smaller IP.

A larger part of this trollduggery is the unfounded fear that males, and usually white males, have at being rendered irrelevant as the world changes. They lose a power that has been a birthright since before the U.S. was founded, and the act of taking that power away and distributing it so that all people have the same equality of opportunity feels like discrimination. What good are the movies if you don’t share them? While we could delve deeper into the psychology of this issue, I’m just going to let Zachary Levi take it from here:

Of course, if you still want to ring in on the Marvel vs. DC question, you can take our poll.

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My Niece, the Haunted Mansion and Fear

Niece and Minnie at Disneyland

When my oldest niece was about five, my mom and I took her on the Haunted Mansion. We went through the Stretching Room, down the Portrait Gallery and boarded the same Doom Buggy. As we rolled up the stairs and into the mansion, I was getting into it. The Haunted Mansion isn’t scary, but it’s fun to pretend it is.

So, I was taking everything seriously. The armor, the endless hallway with the floating candelabra, the chair that seems to be staring at you. Each new “horror” made me look more fearful. As we rotated to see the body trying to get out of the coffin, my mom hit me in the shoulder.

“Lighten up. You’re scaring your niece,” she whispered at me.

I switched the way I was looking at the mansion and laughed at its humorous elements. I kept smiling through the ride, and my niece had a great time. She wasn’t afraid of no ghosts.

Fortunately, the team of Claude Coats and Marc Davis helped to provide the elements of a frightening atmosphere and comic presentations. (Of course, there are plenty of contributions from other prominent imagineers, like Rolly Crump and his human-like furniture and wallpaper and the effects pioneered by Yale Gracey with Crump.) So, you can see the Haunted Mansion the way you want to. It is the creativity that the team put into the mansion that makes it a classic attraction that everyone loves.

For more on the Haunted Mansion and creativity, preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” You can also get “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improve your Creativity for a Better Life and World.”

For more on the Disney Company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”

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One episode in: ‘Mars’ Proves We’re Not Ready to Be a Two Planet Species

Mars Rover is a result of the creative process in science

National Geographic’s “Mars” interchanges documentary footage with interviews from 2016 of the people trying to get there and scientists and authors who theorize what it’ll take with a science fiction story set in 2033 about the first manned mission to Mars. It’s a creative and ambitious attempt to get people interested in space travel again.

In the present day, the series focuses on SpaceX’s rocket building and failures. Interviews with Elon Musk are cut with scenes of rockets exploding and the SpaceX team reacting to the failures. Neil de Grasse Tyson has a small segment, and the author of “How We’ll Live on Mars” Stephen Petranek also makes his suggestions for successful colonization.

‘Mars’ celebrates humanity’s reaching for the stars while exposing everything that people will face, including the unknown, as they head to Mars. Humans are still in the infant stage of rocket control and production, even though rockets for transportation to space have been around since 1957’s Sputnik.

Sputnik, instead of inspiring an international cooperative effort, sparked a space race that sent Americans to the moon. It’s the international collective in “Mars” that’s still missing in real life. It exists in “Mars,” but in reality, the collective has yet to emerge. So, humanity is relying on Elon Musk, his SpaceX program and his ability to build a viable company in a capitalist society to send people to Mars.

SpaceX has already faced numerous failures, which is a part of the creative and innovation processes. They are attempting to do something no one has ever done. The failures and mistakes should be celebrated and learned from. They are the stepping stones to Mars. But what happens if SpaceX fails as a company? Who gets those records? Who will learn from the failures? If they stay with Musk or get lost in the dissolution of the company, those mistakes and failures are for nothing.

The 2033 depictions are entertaining, but given what we know now, 2033 is too ambitious of a deadline. With only 14 years left to get there and no infrastructure in place, the deadline will need to be pushed further into the future. At least, if we can judge by one episode.

Going to Mars is going to take more resources than one man has. Musk has the right intentions. He has the goal. The real question is how long his fortune can hold out while he pays people for failure after failure, and how much tie he’s willing to wait for success. At age 47, he’s got another 30 years or so left assuming an average life span. It may not be enough to get to the red planet. And the last unknown for Musk could doom SpaceX long before it gets to the end of its proposed road.

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‘Dumbo’ Takes Flight in Dark Fantasy

Tim Burton’s “Dumbo” is a cavalcade of stars with visually stunning environments that pays homage to the original while remaining wholly its own thing. With a visionary like Burton at the helm, it should come as nor surprise what direction the film takes. It is surprisingly dark, surprisingly, adult, surprisingly terrifying, and perhaps most surprising of all, endearing.

Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Danny Devito, and Colin Ferrell are great. I particularly enjoyed seeing Joe Gatt (whom I met at Malta Comics and Pop Culture Expo in Malta); he’s the man.

Dumbo pokes fun at Disneyland and provides a look at animal cruelty. It’s “pink elephant” segment is amazing to behold, especially considering the cinematic origin of the scene.

Burton’s “Dumbo” won’t provide a template for “the Lion King,” “Aladdin” or any of Disney’s other creativity lacking tentpoles, but it should. Bringing something new to the story is what keeps it fresh. Bravo to Burton and his beautiful pachyderm portrait.

For more on the Disney Company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company,” which includes “Frozen 2” plots Disney probably never considered. “Disneyland Is Creativity” is available today! You can also preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.

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‘Up in the Air’ Takes Flight with Destructive Innovation

airplane wing towards clouds

Up in the Air” provides and example of creativity and innovation being applied in a destructive and dehumanizing way. CTC is contracted to go to other companies and fire people though they never use that term. The position is no longer available, or there is no longer a position for you at this company are phrases they would use, and they offer re-placement services in theory. Newly hired Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) proposes a way for CTC to save thousands of dollars by moving from an in-person firing process to a virtual firing process.

Her innovation would allow a person to sit at a computer in Omaha to fire someone anywhere else in the world. The person that would do the job would have a script that he or she could follow, which would make the job easier theoretically. Long-time downsizer Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) sees his whole lifestyle collapsing in front of him and confronts his boss, Craig Gregory, (Jason Bateman) and Keener.

Gregory instructs Bingham to take Keener on the road and show her the ropes. He does so reluctantly, but through their partnership, it becomes apparent that a human connection is important in both their work and in their lives.

Firing someone is a personal (for the one being fired) and destructive consequence of capitalism. In the United States, it’s a devastating blow to one’s identity and social network. To have it be done by someone who isn’t a part of the company is bad. To do it over a conference call akin to Skype is like breaking up using a text. It’s a cowardly act that causes psychological harm to both people involved in the transaction. The lack of respect in dealing with the elimination of an employee’s position and hence, his or her employment, in such a way is underscored by Keener’s and Bingham’s girlfriend’s reaction to Keener’s boyfriend dumping her via text. It is further underscored and remarked on by Gregory when Keener quits with a text and he says the act is because of the lack of respect in the younger generation.

Keener’s idea was innovative and would result in a windfall for CTC, but the human cost would’ve been too high. There are certain actions that should be done face-to-face because human empathy can help cushion the blow. Creative efforts don’t always result in something good. Be sure to find a way to make your creative efforts beneficial for as many people as possible.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories” for positive creativity. Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”

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Season 3, 15 episodes in: ‘Lucifer’ and the Lost Book – An examination of pop culture’s need for violence and gore over peace

people standing beside black pickup truck

You never get to read the Kathleen Pike series in “Lucifer.” All you get to know is that it was a high school drama based on the real-life high school that the writer went to. There were teens, who while not engaged in explicit activities, were engaged in swapping boyfriends or girlfriends and petty jealousy. And there were robots, apparently. The last book in the series was finally finished, but the author was dead after completing the last novel with a robot uprising. At least that’s what the manager says, and it took five years to complete.

As the mystery unravels, it comes to light that the last novel in the teen drama sci-fi didn’t include a robot uprising. Instead, the author finished a novel that ended with peace and everyone brought together by the social outcast. The manager was furious, the author was going to kill the series with her ending, but the robot uprising existed, too, written by a fan who had shown it to the author. That was the ending the manager wanted, the one that would sell the most books and keep the franchise viable.

As in real life, violence and dystopia sell. They, along with sex, sell the “Lucifer” show. They sell “Game of Thrones.” They sell every police procedural on television, and almost everything is a police procedural. How many NCIS divisions do we really need? How many good cop, bad cops? How many ways are there to represent people dying? Those are rhetorical questions.

The real answer is that we need to bring balance to our shows. Charlie Brown, “Family Ties,” Mickey Mouse, “I Love Lucy,” “The Facts of Life…” We need more shows that focus on the good in life. Even though “M*A*S*H” was set in the Korean War, it focused on the relationships and the people trying to survive the horrors of war. What entertainment do we have now that’s helping us examine our best ourselves, rather than trying to solve the puzzles of our worst selves with violence and detail or skewering us with sarcasm, satire and rude jokes?

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Disney Fox Merger Sounds Death Knell for Creatives

Book cover for Penguinate! The Disney Company

The official merger of Disney and Fox has sounded the death knell for creativity. While scooping up Fox’s assets is the right business decision for Disney, it is one that writers, movie makers, ad executives and other creatives should fear.

With Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Fox, and its own studio, Disney will own an estimated 40% of the box office. The merger allows Disney to exercise economies of scale and negotiating power not seen this side of Wal-Mart.

Writers already face enormous competition to get their stories read. Every indie writer out there who wants to see their stories on the big screen has just had their chances reduced by one major player. Making a living as a writer is difficult enough without having Fox’s ability to seek out new storylines withdrawn from the market.

Looking at Disney’s upcoming movie slate, Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King are remakes of animated films. Dumbo will have to lose the crows. Will Smith will have to do his own genie thing because it would be ridiculous to copy Robin Williams. Other than that, these three films look to be Xerox photo copies of their animated counterparts. We’ve already seen them and we’re going to see them again.

The sequels list is longer. With Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far from Home (though not as far as you might think), Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Frozen II and Star Wars Episode IX on the slate, there is hardly any room for an original idea. While sequels can bring something new to franchise, they don’t require as much risk taking or creativity to make.

Which leaves Disney with Artemis Fowl and with DisneyNature’s Penguins as its only non-sequel, non-remake movies coming out in 2019. With 11 films left on the slate, Disney has one new story that will probably flop and a documentary to offer. Take a moment to ponder that.

Even if Disney remains true to form and let’s Fox operate the way Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm have, Fox was depending on its Avatar sequels and X-Men films to keep it in the black. Films Disney was already on board with.

Creativity will have to come from film makers with smaller budgets who, despite lacking marketing savvy and budgets for said marketing, have a film hit big. Like writers, these smaller film makers will have to find a way to cut through the noise of modern media and its giants to harness the power of going viral, and they’re going to need you to help. It’s going to be an uphill battle for creative people to get out there, but it always has been.

(Full disclosure: I own Disney Stock ad will go see all the Disney/Marvel/Pixar branded movies they make.)

For more thoughts on the Disney company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” For more on creativity, buy “Disneyland Is Creativity.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Exterior and trouble accepting new ideas

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

In a story about Ignaz Semmelweis, the survival rate of children and their mothers, and handwashing included in his book “How to Fly a Horse,” Kevin Ashton points out that even in a “field as empirical and scientific as medicine… Creation is seldom welcome” (74 – 76). People need creativity and change, and they resist it at the same time. It’s part of the dichotomy of being human.

When Walt Disney wanted his imagineers to envision and create a haunted house for his theme park, they all came up with the same idea: a decrepit, run-down building that had ghosts. Walt didn’t like it. He didn’t want a run-down building ruining his pristine park.

According to Sam Gennawey’s “The Disneyland Story,” Ken Anderson, the original lead on the Haunted Mansion as we now know it, wanted to hide the run-down mansion behind trees native to Louisiana. Walt didn’t go for it.

Harriet Burns built three models for Walt to choose from. The imagineers put the pristine building behind the other two decrepit versions. Walt chose the beautiful building every time. He wanted guests to feel welcome in his park; that meant everything had to be clean and in good repair, even the haunted mansion.

Walt was working with some of the most creative people in the planet. Imagineers knew Walt, had experienced his success and demeanor first hand. Even when he told them, “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside” (Surrell, Jason, “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic,” p. 13), they insisted on trying to convince him that a haunted house needed to look a certain way.

“Everyone expects a residence for ghosts to be run-down. But Walt was always looking for the unexpected,” (Genneway, p. 180) said Claude Coats.

When those who consider themselves creative and create for a living have trouble accepting new ideas and ways of doing things, everyone else has even greater problems to accept the changes that come with innovations. It’s okay. We just need to realize that creativity is just as necessary for the advancement of humanity as being wary of the change that it brings is. As soon as we can embrace our seemingly opposed sides, we can see they are working together to make us more successful, as long as we don’t let one win over the other all the time.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” For more on the Disney Company, preorder “Penguinate! The Disney Company” officially releasing on April 14, 2019.

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Old Creativity and New Creativity collide in ‘Happy Feet’

In “Happy Feet,” every penguin has a heart song that he or she uses to find a mate. If the songs work together, the penguins marry and have eggs. The heart song is so important that a penguin isn’t a penguin without it. When Mumble is hatched with feet that compel him to dance, his father is worried and upset. He admonishes his son to keep his feet still; he knows other penguins wouldn’t understand.

Time proves his father right. His dancing is seen as an afront to the Great ‘Guin, and Mumble gets blamed for the lack of fish. Mumble doesn’t think that the accusation makes any sense. Mumble is ultimately banished from the penguin community. He goes to find the real culprit responsible for the missing fish – people. In the end, it’s Mumble’s happy feet that save the penguin community from starving as humans take an interest in the him, and after he teaches his penguin community to dance, the penguin colony on the ice.

Singing and dancing are creative acts, but if a person or penguin keep singing the same song, the act loses its creativity. Creativity must be something new. In the case of “Happy Feet,” it’s the dancing that is creative, and because it’s new, it threatens the status quo. Mumble, its initiator, gets punished for his creativity. When he returns to the community, his new creative act saves the penguins.

People rely on creativity to continue to adapt and grow, as a species and as individuals; people are also threatened by anything that’s new. It’s the paradox of creativity: human beings need it to survive and embrace it in words, but fear the change that comes with it and reject it out of hand. Creativity can be great and terrible. It’s up to us to embrace the innovations that will solve current problems and to encourage those creative acts that bring more beauty and true enjoyment, like dancing and singing, to life.

For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity: 25 Tips for Becoming More Creative.” Order “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories: Improve Your Creativity for a Better Life and World.” Preorder “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.”

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Two episodes into the third season: Lucifer, Identity and the Human Condition

“We all have itchy butts.”

How long does it take for me to realize that the show “Lucifer” is about identity? Lucifer spends all of his time trying to convince his partner that he is, in fact, the devil. He does this without actually showing her is true face because somewhere inside of him, he’s afraid she won’t accept him. He wants her to see his identity, and it’s important for him to be identified as THE Lucifer. But he holds back from the detective for some reason unknown to him.

He reveals himself to the therapist. He reveals himself to countless bad guys. Maze, his two brothers, his mom and, for a time, God Johnson, know who he is. When someone punishes another person, he broods about how it’s his job to do the punishing. He gets his wings back and shouts that he decides who he is not his Father.

In season three, episode two, he confronts a comedian and says “the joke’s your identity.” She denies it telling him that everyone has an itchy butt, it’s what you do with it that counts. So, when Sinnerman shows up in the third season, Lucifer has found someone who has stolen his schtick. Sinnerman gives out favors for a price to be revealed at some unnamed time in the future. Sinnerman stole Lucifer’s identity, and he goes off about it until he realizes that everyone has an itchy butt.

Lucifer’s identity isn’t any less important to him than another person’s identity is to that person. People place value on who they think they are. It’s why some poor people won’t take government handouts. It’s why some religious people deny science. It’s why some people make choices that are seemingly set up to be bad for themselves. We cling to who we think we are rather than give up what we want to believe about ourselves, even when presented with incontrovertible truth that contradicts our beliefs. People will die to protect their identity, and if for some reason they survive the trauma of having their true identity revealed to themselves, they break. “Lucifer” makes it clear that identity is a powerful force. What identity are you protecting?