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What Would my D23 Expo 2019 Experience Look Like?

For a variety of reasons, my family and I couldn’t make it to the D23 Expo 2019 this year. But since it is a Disney event, I feel confident that it’s okay to dream about being there. So, here are the panels and events I would most like to do if I were able to go.

Friday, August 23, 2019

While most people would hit the Disney Legends ceremony, and it is always spectacular, I tend to opt for an easier seat at another panel. This year would be different though. I would head to the Disney Legends ceremony and bask in all its glory. If for some reason, I couldn’t get into the Legends ceremony, I would head to “Great Moments with Walt Disney” and “At Work with Walt.” Both would be interesting, and they’re back-to-back at the Archives Stage where I spent most of my time in 2017.

I would then head over to the Disney+ Showcase because we all know I’m going to sign up for that as soon as I can. People at D23 who sign up for the streaming app will get a discount and become Founders, so that would be something I wouldn’t want to miss. I have my D23 Charter Membership, I would want to make sure I get the same thing with Disney+. This presentation may not allow me to sign up for it, but it would give me a better idea of what’s in store.

Then I would hustle back to the Archives Stage to see if there was space for the “In Search of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse” panel. That would give me about an hour on the floor to see what books are available to make sure to stop by the Sweep Spot booth to pick up their new book with autographs!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

This is another of those days when I should probably hit the big panel, but I don’t actually want to know about films before they come out. I like being surprised. Saturday morning is still jampacked, so there’s no way to go wrong with the panel choices, and in this case, it’s a toss-up for me. Do I go see “Women of Impact: Meet the Nat Geo Explorers Changing the World” or do I go to “Digging Deeper: Uncovering Disney’s Hidden History?” Nat Geo could be inspirational and provide actionable ideas on how to change the world for the better, but I love Disney history. I would probably have to discuss the panels with my family, but today, I am leaning toward the History panel. It’s at the Archives Stage.

The panel of the day would be “The Haunted Mansion: Celebrating 50 Years.” Considering the book I wrote in celebration of the Haunted Mansion and that it’s my favorite attraction of all time, this would be my “not miss” panel of the day. It’s at 12:30 and at the D23 Expo Arena.

From there, I would head over to the Archives Stage to see “Ken Anderson’s Haunted Mansion ‘57: A Year of Horror, Humor and… Voodoo?” Ken Anderson is one of the heroes of the haunted mansion, and he paved the way for the attraction we all know and love today. It starts at 3pm, so I should have plenty of time to get there. The next panel I would like to see is in the same place. “Collecting the Creepy: 50 years of Haunted Mansion Merchandise” would be right up my alley.

The last panel of the day would be “Travels with Marty: A Conversation with the Sklars and Imagineers.” It’s on the Archives Stage as well. That leaves about an hour to look at the floor booths and get my Indie book buy on.

The only other panels on Saturday that give me pause for thought are the “Secret Walt Disney Company Project,” which could be anything! ANYTHING! (and will be announced on August 22), and “Marvel Comics: Marvel 80th Anniversary.” There’s a good chance that people going to the latter will get some sort of comic book out of the deal. No guarantee, just a good chance.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The morning’s “Sneak Peek! Disney Parks, Experiences and Projects” is sure to be crowded and to be the premiere presentation. If I could get in, it would be my first choice. It would also mean missing out on “Heroines of the Disney Galaxies Presented by Box Lunch” and “Marc Davis in His Own Words – Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks” or “Hidden Gems of the Walt Disney Animation Research Library.” All three of these panels will be amazing. Marc Davis was essential to bringing humor to the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Imagine what could be in the research library… Yeah, it’s like that. Still, I would try for the Sneak Peek first.

Between the Sneak Peek and the next panel, I would probably have a little time to get on the floor and go through one or two of the presentations. I would want to see the Haunted mansion D23 Design winners up close and in person.

Then I’d head to the Archives Stage for the 2:30pm “50 Years of the Walt Disney Archives: A Gold Mine of Fun Finds,” and after that in the same place would be “Magic Journey: Tale a Fantastical Ride with Imagineer Kevin Rafferty.” Though I would also think about “The Art of Disney Storytelling” because it fits with what I would like to do for a living. Because of the time conflict, I’m leaning toward the first two.

The last panel of the day would be “Disneyland ’59: Matterhorn, the Monorail, and Submarine Voyage.” If the floor was still open after that, I would make one more pass to make sure I got what I wanted. If any of these fell through, the Center Stage has “Marc Davis and the Masters Behind the Haunted Mansion” from 4:45pm to 5:15pm.

At any convention, there are always tough choices to make. D23 Expo 2019 is no different. The Expo is sold out, but D23 did announce that they will be streaming certain panels. I may be able to settle for that depending on which they choose and what time they are as compared to my time zone. To those that will be there: Have a magical time and think about getting me a souvenir!

Check out our archive website for D23 Expo 2017.

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An In-Depth Look at the Biggest Problem of Disney California Adventure

As a Penguinator, does it make sense to be critical of Disney California Adventure (DCA)? No one at the Disney Company is likely to read this post and think, “Oh, yeah, we did forget that,” or “Schnikey! We need to fix that ASAP,” especially if I were to leave this post private and for Penguinators only instead of giving you an advanced viewing opportunity. I don’t have any Disney employees on my Patreon list that I’m aware of, and I’m decently certain there aren’t any that visit my blog. Even if there were, the company is notorious for not accepting unsolicited ideas from outside.

Besides, anything I say has already been said by someone else and probably thought of by the imagineers. Still, as a mental exercise to improve creativity, looking at DCA provides the opportunity to unleash the judge, find what’s wrong with the current park, and figure out how to make it better. Imagineers can talk about the idea of Blue Sky thinking where everything goes and there are no rules, but in the end, they are constrained by the park’s current footprint and the bean counter’s budget, which would include the opportunity cost of any major renovation that would significantly change the park. We have no similar constraints if we choose to offer up possible solutions to the DCA problem. We can truly engage in Blue Sky thinking without reference to financial consequences, thinking only about what’s wrong with DCA and what would make the park better.

Where’s the Theme, Park?

Disneyland changed the amusement park industry by, among other things, theming itself and its lands. Walt Disney established early on that spacemen and cars don’t go into Frontierland, and the cowboys stay out of Tomorrowland. The sightlines were created so that people viewing a building on Main Street, U.S.A. would see a different roof than they would see when viewing the same building from Adventureland.

The berm with its train and trees was devised to keep the rest of the world from interfering with the guests’ ability to suspend disbelief. When coupled with the negotiated rules that Anaheim passed for buildings outside the park, guest don’t see anything that Disney doesn’t want them to see (beyond the occasional plane or helicopter flying overhead). Even with Tomorrowland’s current shortcomings (there are plenty of them) and the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy Edge, Disneyland is all about theming – right down to the dolls making the popcorn in the popcorn carts.

As ill-conceived as it may have been to put a theme park about California in California when a majority of Disneyland visitors are from California, DCA was themed appropriately when it opened. The Sunshine Plaza was upbeat and California themed through and through. Hollywood Backlot Studios had the glamour of the 1930s. Golden State celebrated the architecture of the Bay Area, and Paradise Pier took its cue from the Beach and Boardwalk parks. Condor Flats took on California’s aviation history, and Grizzly River Peak with the neighboring Redwood Trail were a tribute to California’s north. The park may not have been good when it opened, but it was themed.

Unfortunately, the theme wasn’t the right one, and the Disney Company had to come up with ways to get people to spend their money to go over to their second gate. Bug’s Land was added to appeal to youngsters. Not really California themed, but it didn’t intrude on the rest of the park, and there were bug’s in California. “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” was built in the backlot; the perfect place for it. As a hotel from Hollywood’s glamor days of the late 1930’s, the Tower of Terror fit in with the rest of the theme.

When “Monsters, Inc.: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue” opened in 2006, it signaled the beginning of the end for DCA’s theming. Placed in Hollywood in the same area as the defunct Superstar Limo ride that lasted less than a year; Mike and Sulley weren’t (and still aren’t) Hollywood themed. Still the monsters occupy a prominent place in Hollywoodland as one of the two rides in the area – the other one being the Tower of Terror.

In 2008, Paradise Pier saw the opening of the beloved Toy Story Midway Mania. Set within the games of the pier, Midway Mania could be forgiven its intrusion; even if its story, guests being shrunk down to the size of toys so they could play the game, didn’t fit with the theme, the game element of the attraction worked. With Mr. Potato Head playing the Midway Mania Barker, the Toy Story characters didn’t do much to detract from the theme though no self-respecting boardwalk would have such a sophisticated game during the time that Paradise Pier was supposed to reflect. (And let’s face it, Midway Mania is one of the best attractions in either park.)

Other rides on Paradise Pier were rethemed over the next three years to include Disney characters. Mickey’s Fun Wheel received a new paint job and a giant Mickey Head. The Orange Stinger became the Silly Symphonies Swings and Mullholland Madness became Goofy’s Sky School. Within the singular concept of the ride, the retheming of the last two was brilliant. The Silly Symphony Swingers opens up to reveal a painting of Mickey Mouse conducting the band from “the Band Concert,” which isn’t from the Silly Symphony series (highlighting the theming problem again). Still, the use of the whirlwind cartoon on the swings support pole is a great idea. Goofy’s Sky School is just “plane” fun. The problem is that none of the changes align with the area’s theming at the time, and these rides are exactly that – rides – not attractions. These are off-the-shelf, experience-them-at-your-local-carnival rides.

While hyped tremendously as a new attraction for the park, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure quickly became DCA’s version of Snow White’s Scary Adventure. At seemingly twice the size and half the fun, this show-stopping, audio-animatronic disappointingly doesn’t carry the story far enough or strongly enough. Still, it’s routinely 5-minute wait time makes it a nice place to take a break from the heat, and it features some interesting advances – the descent into the sea and the Ursula figure. It’s still in the wrong place. The Little Mermaid has nothing to do with California or Paradise Pier.

In 2012, DCA attempted to keep with the California theming and connect to its mythical beginnings. Missing a golden opportunity to capitalize on its largest changes, the park turned the Sunshine Plaza into Buena Vista Street of 1923, the time when Walt Disney arrived in California with a suitcase and a dream. The Carthay Circle Theater was opened and fit in with the Tower of Terror in the background, but Cars Land with its decidedly Arizona feel debuted at the same time. Arizona isn’t California. How is Cars Land a part of the California Adventure? It’s not, thematically speaking.

In 2016, the popular Soarin’ Over California was replace with Soarin’ Around the World. California is not the world, and the world is not California. In 2017, the Guardians of the Galaxy took over the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and, in one fell swoop destroyed the themes of Hollywoodland, Grizzly Peak Airfield and Buena Vista Street. These are both popular and fun attractions, but popular and fun aren’t a theme, and the original versions were just as popular and fun.

Pixar Pier
Pixar Pier

In 2018, Paradise Pier became Pixar Pier. Pixar isn’t a theme. It’s a collection of (if the Internet is to believed) vaguely related films with different settings. Even if Pixar properties were relegated to Pixar Pier, the them wouldn’t work. Mixing the superheroes of “The Incredibles,” the shrinking you down to toy size of Midway Mania and Jessie’s Critter Carousel, and the Inside/Out characters of the mind isn’t a theme; it’s a cacophony. Add to it that Mickey’s Fun Wheel and Flik’s Flyers just received paint jobs, with no significant changes otherwise, to go along with the Pixar theme and it looks like Disney has just decided to throw in the towel. They probably could’ve left Flik’s Flyers alone since it was a Pixar film and the theming would’ve worked with Midway Mania, but “A Bug’s Life” has other problems when it comes to theme parks.

Leftovers from Paradise Pier, the Golden Zephyr and Jumpin’ Jellyfish make no sense in terms of theming. They aren’t related to Pixar or Disney characters and only represent the former California Beachside aesthetic. With all of the incohesive changes, Disney California Adventure doesn’t really celebrate Disney or California. Instead, it focuses on providing Pixar a place to put its movie franchises. Things won’t be much better when Marvel joins the scene with its own land. Marvel Land will be able to adopt Guardians of the Galaxy, but this will leave the Red Car Trolley out in the cold and gut the main attractions of Hollywoodland – the Marvel Meet and Greets.

This mishmash of rides and attractions keeps DCA from achieving greatness through theming. Instead it’s a great example of what Disneyland never wanted to be – an amusement park (except DCA is clean and the cast members are friendly).

Why Bug’s Land Had to Change

While the new Marvel Land may not fix DCA’s theming, it does address another relatively small problem: the relevancy of A Bug’s Land. Based on the 1998 Pixar film “a bug’s life,” the land opened in 2002. The land itself was made to be attractive to the younger set, except the 4D film experience “It’s Tough to Be a Bug,’ which was terrifying for some adults. It’s environmental and educational feel was a welcome respite from some of the larger areas of the park, but there was no way these bugs could survive.

The film itself was not one of Pixar’s best. It earned $363 million at the box office, but without a sequel, TV shows, or a cuddly, iconic character, the film has no relevance to today’s children. How many people even remember the film without confusing it for “Antz”? Disney’s classic animation fare has been able to remain relevant through marketing (specifically, the creation of the Princess line, which keeps all of the princesses in the public light as long as new princesses are added every couple of years or so) rereleases and remakes. These movies hold up even through the changing times, and the theming of the lands act as a crutch.

Attractions at Disneyland also remain relevant through the sheer size and scope. The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are iconic, beloved attractions that create their own atmosphere and fans. Flik’s Flyers? Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies (which were not bumper cars)? Francis Ladybug Boogie… Does anyone even remember this ride? These were all rides with no real creation to them and without a Dumbo to keep them aloft. Only Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train seemed to make an effort to provide something akin to a new place to visit.

With nothing new on the bug front, DCA needed to come up with something new. Marvel provided the answer. As long as they stay away from the now deceased Iron Man, the land will remain relevant for the next few decades.

World of Color’s and Incredicoaster’s Footprints

The World of Color, which debuted in 2013, is arguably the best show in DCA. The fountains are spectacular, the water screens are amazing, the pyrotechnics are amazing, and the show is flexible enough to be changed almost on the fly to advertise new movies subtly and include new animated sequences. One Christmas show featured the magic of snowflakes a foot in diameter that floated up into the sky. Even the dining options and the viewing areas that go with them are incredible.

The investment in the equipment that Disney made and the popularity of the show make changing the venue area around the show basically impossible. Imagineers are constrained by the World of Color’s space needs.

Just as constraining is the space required for a lesser attraction, the now-called Incredicoaster. Wait times for this attraction hover around 25 minutes, but it is still large enough and technically advanced to warrant protection by the bean counters. It’s change over from California Screamin’ is also an advance in storytelling, especially when it comes to roller coasters.

By Any Other Name

When it first opened, the park was called Disney’s California Adventure. Ironically, it didn’t include Buena Vista street, but was more the company’s interpretation of what California was. Wine country, the Bay Area, the Redwoods, these were all represented. Yes, critics wondered why people would want to see the Disney version of the Golden Gate Bridge when it was just a seven-hour drive up north or a 2-hour flight. Still, that’s what Michael Eisner and his team came up with.

It changed its name to Disney California Adventure in 2010. Linguistically, this could mean that this park is an adventure in California Disney-style. Something along the lines of “have yourself a Disney California Adventure.” It doesn’t have to have the California theming in order to work, except it’s already associated with its first incarnation, and the California parts haven’t been drummed out of it. Choosing another name might work better as far as managing expectations, but it doesn’t change the fact that the park has no cohesive theming.

People come to Disneyland and its related theme parks for the cleanliness, the wonderful cast members and the theming. In its effort to cash in on its acquired IP, the Disney Company has forgotten about the theming at least as far as Disney California Adventure is concerned. Maybe they’ll get it fixed sometime in the future, but for now DCA will suffer from its continued lack of relevance and inability to inspire people to come for more than a day.

It’s our turn for Blue Sky thinking! What could Disney do to make California Adventure better?

If you would like more of this type of discussion, check out “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Join our email list and Patreon!

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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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Movie Buffs Rejoice! Russian Lobby Cards Coming to Lilac City Comicon 2019

If you love movies and movie memorabilia or you love a certain movie from the last couple of years, we’ll have something for you at the Penguinate table (A1). Our Russian lobby cards are double-sided advertisements for films given away at the Russian cinemas.

Lobby cards used to be a staple of the American cinema, but now, they are collectible and rarely seen at movie theaters in the United States. However, in Russia, movie cards are put out every week, and they are an exact replica of the Russian movie poster. We have brought a limited number of these cards from Russia to the U.S. for you to enjoy. These cards range in size from approximately 3×5 to 4×6 with some being more unique than others.

We have done our best to get the lobby cards from every film in the last year, and many of the cards are from foreign films. We have Marvel, Disney and DC lobby cards, as well as other top-rated films, including Godzilla 2.

Here is a complete list of the lobby cards we will be bringing to our table (A1) at Lilac City Comicon 2019. Come by and find your favorite movie (while supplies last).

24 Hours to Live
A Dog’s Way Home
A Quiet Place
A Star Is Born
Adrift
Alita Battle Angel
American Assassin
American Made
Animation Film Ad
Aritmia (Russia)
Asterix and the Secret Mission
Atterados (Argentina)
Baby Driver
Bad Mamas 2
Bad Samaritan
Bad Times at the El Royale
Bahubali: Birth of a Legend
Bicycles
Big Road (Russia)
Blade Runner 2049
Bohemian Rhapsody
Brothers (Russian)
Byez Mnya
Charming
Chernovik
Chudo-Yudo (Russia)
Coco
Cold Pursuit
Cold Skin (Atlantida; Spain)
Cold War
Corridor of Immortality (Russia)
Crimea (Russia)
Daddy’s Home 2
Dark Mirror (Russia)
Darkest Minds
Day of the Dead: Bloodline
Death Wish
Dessert Ad
Disney Aladdin
Disney Christopher Robin
Disney Dumbo
Disney Incredibles 2
Disney Mary Poppins Returns
Disney Ralph Breaks the Internet
Disney The Jungle Book
Disney The Last Warrior
Disney The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Disney Wrinkle in Time
Disney Zoopolis
Disney: Beauty and the Beast
Dva Khvosta
Early Man
Equalizer 2
Escape Plan 2
Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindewald
Ferdinand
First Man
Fixiki: The Big Secret
Foto na pamyat
Future World
Gangsterdam (France)
Geostorm
Ghostbusters
Giant Pear
Glass
Godzilla 2
Gogol Beginning (Russia)
Gogol Vii (Russia)
Gogol: Scary Place
Going Vertical (Russia)
Golem
Goosebumps 2
Green Book
Gringo
Halloween
Happiness! Health!
Happy Death Day
Hard Times (Russia)
Holmes and Watson
Hotel Transylvania 3
How to Train Your Dragon 3
I Feel Pretty
Island of Dogs
It
Jim Pykovka and Machinist Lucas
John Wick 3
Jonathan
Jumanji
Jungle
Jurassic World 2
Just Getting Started
Just not them (Russia)
Klubara (Russia)
Kong: Skull Island
Ladybug 2
Lego Film 2
Lego Ninjago
Life
Logan
London Fields
Lucky Logan
Magnificent 7
Mama
Marrowbone (Spain)
Marvel Ant-Man and Wasp
Marvel Avengers: Endgame
Marvel Captain Marvel
Marvel Kingsman: Golden Circle
Marvel Thor: Ragnorok
Marvel Venom
Marvel/ DC: Defenders (Russia)
Marvel/DC Hellboy
Marvel/DC Shazam
Marvel/DC: Justice League
Marvel/DC: Suicide Squad
Marvel: Avengers: Infinity War
Marvel: Black Panther
Marvel: Captain America: Civil War
Marvel: Deadpool 2
Marvel: Once Upon a Deadpool
Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Mary Queen of Scots
Mathilda (Russia)
May Bee
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
Meg
Midnight Sun
Millions (Russia)
Mission Impossible Fallout
Monster Family
Monster Island
Mortal Engines
Mowgli Decoy Planets
Murder on the Orient Express
My Favorite Dinosaur
My Little Pony
Nevedimka
Night Games
Niproshchenyi (Russian)
Niscrushimi (Russian)
Ocean’s 8
Overboard
Pacific Rim 2
Paddington 2
Peppermint
Pet Semetary
Piligrim (Russia)
Play or Die
Power Rangers
Prishelits (Russia)
Proza Brodyach Psob Anime
Rampage
Ready Player 1
Red Sparrow
Renegades
Ribbit
Robin Hood 2018
Robot Park Ad
Rossvet (Russia)
Santa and Company (France)
Saw 8
Searching
Second Act
Selfie from Hell
Serenity 2019
Shape of Water
Sicario 2
Skyline 2
Skyscraper
Smallfoot
Smurfs: The Lost Village
Snow Queen
Snowman
Spascti Leningrad
Star Wars: Solo
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Suburbicon
Super Bobrovyi (Russia)
Tad and the Secret of King Midas
Tag
Tanks (Russia)
The Boy and the Beast
The Cured
The Curse of Llorna
The Dark Tower
The Foreigner
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
The Greatest Showman
The Hitman’s Bodyguard
The Hustle
The Kid Who Would Be King
The Legend of Kolovrat (Russia)
The Little Vampire
The Mercy
The Mountains Between Us
The New Year (Russia)
The Nun
The Predator 2018
The Professor and the Madman
The School (2018)
The Upside
Three Warriors and the nasledushi prestola
Three Warriors and the Princess of Egypt
Time of Monsters
Titan
Tobol (Russia)
Tomb Raider
Truth or Dare
Unsane
What Happened to Monday
Who Is Who
Widows
Wildling
Winchester: The house that Ghosts Built
Wish Upon
Wolf Obtsi
Wonder
Wonder Park
You Were Never Really Here
Your Name
Zapovednik (Russia)

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Endgame Spoilers: The ‘Black Widow’ Movie Has a Problem

Patch Penguin and the Avengers

Marvel was hailed for its decision to finally give fans what they had been asking for: a “Black Widow” movie starring Scarlett Johansson. This is a movie fanboys and fanwomen can get behind with little controversy. The only problem is (spoilers ahead) –

Black Widow is dead.

ICYMI, (and with a global box office take heading beyond $2 billion, how could you?): Black Widow sacrificed herself to get the Soul Stone, so that Hawkeye could go back to his family. This exchange is permanent according to the paragon of truth known as the Red Skull (Do we really trust his word on it and how did he get to be an expert after being sent to Vormir by the Tesseract?). Hulk Banner tried to bring her back with his snap and failed. So, as far as anyone knows, Black Widow is dead forever and ever. Amen.

Of course, permanent in the comic book world is really more like “until pent up demand will sell a whole lot of comics with the right story line.) And Marvel has a problem with keeping its characters dead. Just ask Agent/Director Phil Coulson (I thought his name was “agent”), or any of the dozens of characters brought back in “Avengers: Endgame.” So, what will the “Black Widow” movie be about?

The Prequel

Let’s assume that Black Widow is dead and not coming back. That makes the “Black Widow” movie a prequel – or, as I like to call prequels, a movie with no stakes. We already know what happens to Natasha Romanoff in the future. We know she joins the Avengers and ends up sacrificing herself for the greater good. We spent the last decade learning who Romanoff is now, not knowing much about her past.

This type of “Black Widow” movie would have the same problem that “Solo” had. It’s playing with a character that everyone knows and loves. In “Solo,” there wasn’t enough character turning to explain how Han went from someone who loves a woman to someone who is only out for himself. (Maybe future movies would’ve explored this arc, but those look to be defunct as do many of the other Star Wars movies that were planned.” To succeed, the prequel would have to fully explain how Romanoff went from U.S.S.R. super spy to S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, especially after going through extensive brainwashing and the cultural brainwashing that comes from living in any society.

You could write her change in heart and nature while comparing it to the fall of the U.S.S.R., but this type of political and historical action will need a context that many people today, even those who lived through it, simply lack. It’s a risky proposition fraught with peril and landmines.

A prequel would also necessitate another landmine situation. Scarlett Johansson would have to go through the same de-aging process as Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, and to a lesser extent, Michelle Pfeiffer. In the body-positive age, will anyone be happy with a de-aged ScarJo? No one’s made a bug deal about it with the men or with Pfeiffer, but done incorrectly, it could have a negative impact greater than the trolls that regularly come out to jeer Marvel’s superwomen.

While it’s unlikely that any titular character is going to die in his or her own movie, the possibility of Black Widow’s death in a prequel is zero. Prequels, like flashbacks, have no weight. They have no stakes. Instead of advancing the story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they stop it dead in its tracks. “Captain Marvel” was well-received, but knowing she was in Endgame took away some of the power the movie could’ve had. “Black Widow” would suffer in the same way. The film will be like watching a biography or documentary made by a company that usually deals in high stakes movies.

The Alternate Timeline

It’s an alternate timeline Black Widow! This could certainly be more entertaining to watch as Romanoff gets plucked out of time and transported to the present day that requires her specific set of skills. This “Black Widow” could more fully develop Marvel’s version of time travel and the problems it causes. It could even be set up as part of the story line that Black Widow’s death and some seriously negative side effects. (What if she’s the glue for a team that otherwise won’t work together and fails at their mission?) The story could really be anything with an alternate timeline Romanoff.

The problem with this “Black Widow” movie is that people are used to Marvel films and television (even the Netflix shows) taking place in the same timeline. That’s what built up the colossal success of “Endgame.” While some shows may be moving in that direction (i.e. Disney+’s “Loki”), the movies could have a problem keeping their audiences and their tie-ins to each other. Marvel could come up with a designation to separate out the timelines, but it could get messy for quickly and destroy the cohesiveness that has allowed the MCU to flourish on the movie screen. Fortunately, fan sites can help keep people straight on which movie goes where.

The Soul Stone

The Soul Stone is said to trap the souls exchanged for its use inside a pocket dimension or alternate reality. Exploring this world would definitely be interesting and move the story forward. Perhaps, because Black Widow sacrificed herself, the Soul Stone reacts differently to her. It may be the reason she’s able to return, proving the Red Skull wring in the process. The self-sacrifice and its purity in act and intention would explain why Gamora can’t escape, as could her child form. However, it’s possible for her child form to play the role of mentor and guide for Black Widow.

The souls trapped in the stone could be like crabs in a bucket. They keep each other trapped, and Black Widow will have to figure out how to fix that. In this scenario Gamora could be used to betray Black Widow when its revealed that Gamora has been sabotaging Romanoff from the beginning. The Soul Stone doesn’t sound like a good entity if it wants to trap souls. In the case of Gamora, it may be that the longer a soul spends in the stone, the more corrupt it becomes.

If Marvel still wants to include an origin story for Black Widow, it can use the Soul Stone alternate reality as a place made up of the person’s past experiences. This could be a sort of health, especially if the Soul Stone gains its powers through the torture of souls (or through their screams, like Monstropolis in “Monsters Inc.” before they found the true power of a child’s laughter).

Marvel continues to surprise and wow audiences, but even the best of studios is going to make a misstep. Let’s hope “Black Widow” isn’t the next one.

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Marvel Fans Shouldn’t Care about Final Box Office of ‘Avengers: Endgame’

Patch Penguin and the Avengers

The biggest debate in the movie community is where will “Avengers: Endgame” end its box office run. Will it finish in the top spot worldwide and domestic, or will it finish second? Some movie writers have gone so far to call out the manipulations of misleading articles saying that the box office for “Avengers: Endgame” could never reach the domestic gross of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” or the global box office of “Avatar” if the numbers are adjusted for inflation. Comparing today’s box office with 2015’s take for “Force Awakens” and 2009’s gross for “Avatar” is a bit of mathematical chicanery according to critics. “Endgame” is only ranked #36 domestically when adjusted for inflation.

However, whatever ranking “Endgame” finishes with shouldn’t matter. In fact, true Marvel and movie fans shouldn’t be concerned about the final numbers. These movies are so huge, even if they don’t look that great when compared to the adjusted for inflation numbers, because they are currently making money hand over fist for the company that owns their creative rights: Disney. People who love Marvel films have nothing to worry about, even if one of the films underperforms. Instead, Marvel fans need to worry about the other movie properties that aren’t going to rake in the types of numbers these tentpoles do. Those are the films that Marvel fans should rally behind.

I’m not talking DC films or the other big budget releases that may fall into the Box Office hole never to recover (i.e. “Solo”). I’m talking about genuinely small budget films that are amazing. Films like “Hidden Figures,” “BlackKklansman,” or “The Imitation Game” have something to say about our world and are great entertainment to boot. They may get recognition at the Awards ceremonies, but they need box office recognition in order for movie goers to see more films like them on the big screen.

Rather than seeing the next big tent pole five times, or even three time, put that third movie ticket behind a film that isn’t getting much love from the advertisers or from the movie industry. Check out an indie film, a documentary, or even a film that was just overlooked because of the hype behind the big tent pole films. This will help bring more diversity to the movie screen. Creatives will have more opportunity to step away from the ordinary that big budgets have become, and you’ll have a richer life experience. Every time, you see a film, you vote with your dollars showing what you want more of. Don’t let superheroes be the only films we have an opportunity to watch.

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Who Has the Better Fans: Marvel or Star Wars?

As “Avengers: Endgame” prepares to fall short of the domestic box office total of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” we should ask who has the better movie fans. Are Star Wars fans better than Marvel fans?

In the top 20 domestic movie box offices of all-time, there are five movies form the Star Wars franchise: “Star Wars” at 16, “Star Wars: Episode 1 – the Phantom Menace” at 15, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” at 12, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at 9, and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on top of the domestic box office with almost $1 billion. The total take for these films is about $3.02 billion.

Marvel also has five films in the top 20: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” at 17, “Marvel’s The Avengers” at 8, “Avengers: Endgame” at 7 (still in theaters and projected to grab the number two spot), “Avengers: Infinity War” at 3, and “Black Panther” at 2. These films have totaled about $3.1 billion. Based on these two metrics, Marvel movie fans have the edge over Star Wars fans. (“Captain Marvel” is still in theaters and could make it to the top 20 if it receives a continued “Endgame” boost. It stands at 24 and is about $14 million away from passing “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” and taking the 20th spot.)

Until “Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker,” Marvel fans will continue to have the edge, especially with “Endgame” making it to the second spot, giving Marvel three films in the top 5 for domestic gross. (In case you’re counting, when “Endgame” passes “Titanic,” Disney properties will own the top 5 movies of all time for unadjusted domestic box office.)

Marvel fans can make a huge statement with several films still on the docket before the next Star Wars release. The biggest statement would come if they can propel “Endgame” to the top spot and get “Captain Marvel” into the top 20. “X-Men: The Dark Phoenix,” “Men in Black International,” “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” “The New Mutants,” and “Kingsman 3” are all opportunities for Marvel fans to exercise their power as the best fan base by voting at the box office.

With the crash and burn of “Solo,” Disney has taken a step back from its Star Wars movie properties. However, in real life, Star Wars is the only property with its own land: “Galaxy’s Edge.” While Marvel characters have taken over Hollywood Studios at Disney California Adventure, it isn’t Marvel’s land; the heroes are scheduled to be moved into the former Bug’s Land in 2020.  This seems like a tie. So, what do you think?

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The Problem with ‘the Single’ in Disney’s Movie Business

Disney movie tie ins

In his examination of Disney’s “Dumbo,” “Forbes” writer Scott Mendelson laments the Disney Company’s penchant for releasing big budget films that have already been made, including the live-action remakes of animated classics and the multiple sequels that Disney has released over the course of roughly the last decade, and while he acknowledges that the studios are in part to blame, he also lays the blame on movie goers. “The studios can’t responsibly green-light what they know audiences will not go to see in theaters.”

The Dollars and Sense of It All

In 1984, when Michael Eisner became CEO of the Disney Company, the top grossing movie was “Beverly Hills Cop” with almost $235 million and $316 million worldwide. Disney’s movie releases were in the tank and not making what they should be with a few exceptions. In 1984, Touchstone’s “Splash” opened at No. 1 on the chart and grossed over $69 million (Box Office Mojo) by the time it finished its run; it cost $8 million to make. The film was a huge success at the time, and it brought in about $62 million profit.

Eisner looked at the situation and decided that Disney and its movie making companies would make smaller budget films that would make money rather than hope for a summer blockbuster that could fail. They were going to hit singles rather than try for homeruns. In 1986, “Ruthless People,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “The Color of Money” were released with grosses of $71, $62 and $52 million making them the 9th, 11th and 12th highest grossing movies of the year. Eisner’s strategy was successful, and Disney carved out a niche with these low budget, over-performing types of films.

Flash forward to 2018 and the surprise hit (not Disney) “A Quiet Place.” With a budget of $17 million dollars, this is the type of film Disney would’ve happily made in the 1980s. The movie made $340 million dollars worldwide ($323 million profit). Marvel’s “Black Panther” cost about $200 million to make and brought in over $1.3 billion; domestically, it was the top grossing film of the year. It would take about three “A Quiet Place” size releases to make the same amount of profit as “Black Panther.” However, “Black Panther” was a surprise in its own way.

Marvel’s sure thing for the year was “The Avengers: Infinity War” – a sequel, which according to the just over $2 billion box office gross, you’re probably familiar with. The estimates for the cost of the film run between $300 million and $400 million. Even on the high side of the estimate, the film brought in $1.6 billion, or the rough equivalent of five “A Quiet Places.”

I understand these numbers aren’t exact. There are marketing costs to consider as well as what the actual theaters make, which is different depending on the country. However, the point is it doesn’t make any sense for a company that brings in $12.6 billion (2018 net income) to worry about $10 or $20 million, the budget of “A Quiet Place” for a return of only $323 million. As Mendelson pointed out, Disney had taken risks with “Tomorrowland” (profit at a scant $20 million), “The Finest Hours” (losses estimated at $20 million), and “The Queen of Katwe” (estimated loss of $5 million). These movies didn’t return enough profit to justify their existence.

Other Sources of Income

When “Star Trek” dolls were released and the series ended, the sales of the toys dried up as well. There wasn’t anyway to remind people about the purpose of the toys without the show. When “Star Trek: The Next Generation” returned the Star Trek universe to television, toy sales skyrocketed.

In 1983, Funimation released “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” after Reagan deregulated children’s programming. The show was designed to sell He-Man action figures. Once it made it on the air and He-Man sales sky-rocketed every toy company got involved in Saturday Morning Cartoons: “Transformers,” “Go-Bots,” “M.A.S.K.,” “Jem and the Holograms,” and “G.I. Joe” to name a few. Whether the show or the action figures came first is of little consequence, what mattered was that some of the cartoons were pulled from the air not because of the cartoons’ popularity, but because the toys lacked sales.

Disney’s synergistic approach to marketing means the media giant isn’t looking just at the movies. It’s also looking at what it can make from tie-ins. Dumbo’s new movie release, regardless of how it’s received, sells more stuffed Dumbos. Marvel’s movies sell more superhero action figures, Lego sets, and whatever else they put their characters on. These things all bring in more money. Disney princesses outsell Barbie now are a multi-billion-dollar market segment. Their inclusion in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” keeps them fresh, updates them for this generation and keeps the product moving. The Disney company not only needs to create movie sequels and remakes because they are smaller financial risks, but also because they sell more toys, products and Disney park experiences.

What’s It All Mean?

There’s no incentive for Disney to green-light smaller film projects, even if they become the next “A Quiet Place.” The movie industry can only stand so many new films before there aren’t enough movie-goers to see them all. Worse, people say they want new stories, but they only think they want new stories. Audiences still flock to their favorite characters and movie franchises because its an acceptable risk. To spend $10 to $15 on a movie that you may not like or know nothing about doesn’t make much sense when you know that Marvel (or DC or Pixar) has a release right around the corner.

Moreover, Disney can make more money from product friendly franchises that it can tie into its theme parks than it ever could from a movie that has to stand on its own two legs. This all becomes more problematic with Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, and it’s looming control of 40 to 50 percent of the box office. The studios will have to schedule movies so they don’t cut into each other’s profits, which will mean fewer movies and fewer opportunities for a smaller film to get made.

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

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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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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.”