CrunchyMetroMom

Trying to create balance…

Has Disney turned a feminist corner? May 31, 2014

WARNING: THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR “MALEFICENT”, “FROZEN”, AND “OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL”. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, FORK OUT THE $$ TO WATCH THE FLICKS AND THEN COME BACK!

 

And so it was that last night, I saw “Maleficent”. In this twist on a classic tale once done up by Disney in animated form, Maleficent is the center of attention. Most tellings of the story of The Sleeping Beauty share the same general elements: a baby girl is born to King Stefan and his Queen; a big party is held to celebrate the baby’s arrival; fairies from across the land are invited to the party and all but ONE bestow gifts of beauty, kindness, etc.; before the final fairy can bestow her gift, she’s rudely interrupted by an evil fairy – Maleficent – who’s terribly offended by the lack of invitation and decides to curse the child to die on her 16th birthday when she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel; the final fairy “softens” the curse by instead having her go to sleep until true love’s kiss awakens her; natch, this ALL comes to pass no matter what King Stefan does to prevent it; Prince Philip, who fell in love with the princess when she was incognito turns out to be said true love; AND – key plot point – he slays Maleficent and frees the princess from her sleep by giving her true love’s kiss.

It all sounds so…Disney, right?

 

Maleficent

Maleficent revealed in adulthood (played by Angelina Jolie)

 

So, then we have “Maleficent”, where we start out with a backstory of Maleficent as a kind, brave fairy in the Moors, a magical land bordering a wretched kingdom led by a cruel, greedy King. Maleficent saves the life of a young thief, Stefan, whom she befriends and soon falls in love with. In one example of how much he cares, when she tells him that iron burns fairies, the dirt-poor Stefan tosses away an iron ring, probably his sole possession of any value, before it can hurt her again. Over time, their friendship does turn to romance – sealed with a true love’s kiss they share when they’re both teens. As time passes, Maleficent becomes the protector of her magical home, and she turns away the King’s army before it can pillage and plunder. Stefan, now a royal retainer, takes up the King on his offer to become his successor by slaying Maleficent. He goes to the Moors and they spend a magical evening together that ends with – sorry, no polite way to say it – Stefan rufeeing her and stealing her wings instead of her life. Maleficent awakes to find herself violated, horribly in pain and maimed both by the betrayal of her love and the vicious amputation he’d performed. She manages to recover physically, over time, but her emotional scars run deep, as one might expect. Her only trusted ally is the crow, Diaval, she transforms into a man (or other creature), and he becomes both her familiar and her lieutenant.

 

Diaval and Maleficent

Diaval (Sam Riley) and Maleficent (Jolie)

 

When (now) King Stefan and his Queen have a grand party to celebrate the birth of their daughter, Aurora, three simpering, Keystone Kop-like fairies come to bestow their gifts – and the third is interrupted by the arrival of BOSS Maleficent, resplendent in her black “crown” (a pleather skull-and-horns cap) and full of cruel revenge. At this point, she offers her “gift”: the curse of a death sleep that can only be awakened by true love’s kiss. Maleficent curses her in this fashion because her jaded soul now believes there is no such thing as “true love”. King Stefan, completely freaked out by the ex-girlfriend-from-Hell (and totally in denial that HE MAIMED AND BETRAYED HER), becomes obsessed with saving Princess Aurora from her fate. He sends her to live with the trio of witless fairies (a terrific waste of some great actresses), puts all of the kingdom’s spinning wheels in sequestration in the castle dungeons, and violates every iron worker union rule by having them work around the clock to manufacture iron implements of destruction.

Maleficent and Diaval oversee the three fairies’ raising of the child, becoming surrogate parents to Aurora and generally making sure she survives. Over time, the “beastie” (as Maleficent calls her) turns into a lovely – if completely vacuous – young girl, and Maleficent realizes that the ice in her heart from Stefan’s violation has thawed thanks to his daughter. She attempts to undo the curse, but she’s unable to stop it. When she sees that there’s no way to keep Aurora from her fate, she even rushes heroically to her rescue, dragging along a sleeping Prince Philip to serve up true love’s kiss. Philip’s kiss fails to revive anything (except maybe One Direction fans in the audience), but a teary kiss from a regretful Maleficent brings Aurora back to consciousness. Maleficent and Diaval fight their way out of the castle, so Aurora may escape to freedom in the Moors with them, and redemption comes at a heavy price. Aurora finds Maleficent’s wings, which – once freed from imprisonment in a display – rejoin their owner and make Maleficent’s physique finally match the wholeness of her heart. King Stefan, driven mad by obsession, dies in a final battle with Maleficent. Once Stefan dies, the tale can finally have its happy ending: Maleficent can return to her homeland to be a kind protector, Aurora is crowned the good Princess, and Prince Philip makes a sheepish appearance so there can be puppy love stares.

The new storyline puts Maleficent firmly at the center and finally gives us some justification for how she got to be thought of as the evil fairy. You can clearly see that the reason she’s so angry and badass is because she was mutilated by her human boyfriend, who thought he was doing the right thing by sparing her life. Of course, his ruse still involved maiming her, so perhaps he just didn’t understand that his lust for power was evil? This calls to mind the new-fangled origin story of the Wicked Witch – Theodora from “Oz the Great and Powerful” – who, while scheming, was certainly “turned evil” by Oz’s rejection. And Queen Elsa from “Frozen” wasn’t an evil queen, but she is terribly misunderstood; others expect her to control a power she’s never been taught to use or manage, and she is horrified to be treated like a monster after she’s already endured years of solitary confinement.

 

Elsa

Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) in self-imposed exile at her ice palace

 

In “Maleficent”, as in “Frozen”, the love that saves the younger female is one between family. Princess Aurora mistakenly believes Maleficent to be her fairy godmother, and their bond is far stronger than that between her and her “aunties” (the fairies), although the mistake may be more Maleficent’s. As she protects, guides, and ultimately interacts with Aurora, Maleficent unwittingly becomes fairy godmother to the child, and the completely-off-the-rails King Stefan provides the perfect counterpoint to show just how she’s the righteous one in this fight. Similarly, Princess Anna of “Frozen” can only be saved by “an act of true love”, and while much time and teeth gnashing is spent identifying exactly which boy will save the girl, it’s actually her sister – the familial bond – that thaws her and brings her back from icy statuehood. Boys on the side, indeed.

Not to say that I think this is a plot device that should be used all the time, since eventually it may get played out, but I’m happy to see Disney doing something other than the same old tactic they used for so long: a girl who’s in trouble just needs saving by a man. Now, it seems, someone believes that sisters are doing it for themselves. Beyond giving Maleficent the humanity that (oddly) is missing from the humans in her story, she’s given motivation and earns sympathy. She’s not just some evil creature, she’s a flesh-and-horns person deserving of respect and dignity. Princess Anna, for all her gullibility in believing that Prince Hans was THE ONE, acts solely out of sisterly love – risking her life and that of her companions to save Princess Elsa from herself. As much as Elsa saves Anna, Anna saves Elsa right on back: teaching her the key to controlling her power and giving her hope that they can both be happy.

I like where Disney’s headed lately, giving young girls – and boys – a new paradigm to consider. Instead of girls’ eyes fluttering open from a death sleep at the slightest peck from some wandering prince, girls (and women) are being given motivation and depth, and they’re saving each other instead of waiting for a guy to come along and do it for them. Little girls who dress up as Maleficent will think of her as a villain, and a hero, and they’re right on both counts. She finally has depth of character. By putting these characters on film and giving them wide release, Disney seems to be attempting to undo (or at least soften) the curse of the myth that all girls need a prince to save them. And like Maleficent, while the horse is firmly out of that barn and the curse can’t be revoked, it’s nice to see some stories riding to the rescue that help “flip the script” and give girls a chance to realize that they can have depth of character, strength, courage, and love – with or without that prince.

 

Movie Review: “The Pirate Fairy” April 1, 2014

The Pirate Fairy

 

This latest direct-to-home release from DisneyToon studios takes us back to Pixie Hollow for the first time since Tinkerbell learned of her sister, Periwinkle, in 2012’s “Secret of the Wings”. In “The Pirate Fairy”, Tinkerbell (Mae Whitman of “Secret of the Wings” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) is relegated to the ensemble, while a new fairy takes center stage – the adventurous, inquisitive Zarina (Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men”). Zarina is a dustkeeper fairy, entrusted with the production and safekeeping of the pixie dust the fairies use to fly.

We meet Zarina on her way to work at the depot that serves as the dust factory, and she seems distinguished from her fellow Pixie Hollow residents primarily in that she walks rather than flying. There’s teasing along the way about how she’s used up all of her dust (again), suggesting that perhaps she spends a little too much time playing around. As it turns out, she’s using the pixie dust for experiments she’s been conducting – trying to understand the magical properties of pixie dust. Her fellow pixies are more interested in that the pixie dust works and have no desire to understand how or why it works, but Zarina persists, even pestering her foreman, Fairy Gary, while helping him transfer the precious blue dust that serves as a multiplier for the gold dust. Just one speck of blue dust in the gold dust produces prodigious quantities of the latter, as Gary explains.

 

Tinkerbell and Zarina

Tinkerbell (Whitman) and Zarina (Hendricks) experiment with pixie dust

 

Zarina is later found in her home, experimenting with chips of blue dust, flower petals, and gold dust. Tinkerbell finds her and lends a helping hand, enabling Zarina to concoct multiple colors of dust in short order. While both pixies are fascinated with the results of the experiments, Zarina’s enthusiasm leads to an unfortunate industrial accident that causes a vine to grow out of control – wreaking havoc everywhere, including the Dust Depot. Fairy Gary strips Zarina of her dustkeeper duties, and she runs away from Pixie Hollow in her despair.

A year later, all of the pixies gather for an annual spectacle that brings together all four seasons’ worth of their clans, and the prodigal pixie returns under the cover of night. She uses some of her homemade dust to grow poppies that emit a powerful sleep pollen; all but Tinkerbell and a small chosen few of her friends remain unscathed and awake. With the majority of the other pixies out cold, Zarina pilfers the entire supply of blue dust and heads for the coast. Tinkerbell and her friends race after her, but Zarina scatters a series of dust colors on them – switching their talents – and heads to a pirate ship under her command.

 

James and Zarina

Cabin boy James (Hiddleston) and Captain Zarina (Hendricks) lord over their pirate ship

 

Tinkerbell and her friends, including Silvermist (Lucy Liu of “Elementary” and the “Charlie’s Angels” movies), have to learn how to control their new talents and sneak onto the pirate ship, where they find the spunky Zarina and her shipmates, including her cabin boy, James (Tom Hiddleston of the “Thor” movies and the forthcoming “Only Lovers Left Alive”). Zarina and James hatched the scheme to get the blue pixie dust so they could produce more gold pixie dust from the tree grown by one of Zarina’s special dust batches. The pirates hope to use their private pixie dust supply to make their ship fly through the air, committing acts of pillage and thievery world-wide with their untouchable “flying frigate”.

 

Tinkerbell and Zarina

Tinkerbell (Whitman) tries to reason with Zarina (Hendricks)

 

Suffice to say that the twists and turns in this plot are telegraphed nicely, and while kids may miss out on the origin story that emerges – keen-eyed adults will spot it and be pleasantly amused. There’s even a subtle reference to “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, for those keeping an ear open during a scene on the pirate ship. Clocking in at just over 70 minutes of actual movie (and don’t skip the first half of the credits, lest you miss the final BLINKING ARROW that points to exactly whose origin story is being told), “The Pirate Fairy” is a cute, family-friendly visit to Pixie Hollow that shows the value of friendship, persistence, and the scientific method. Hiddleston has a really great singing voice, so chalk one more point up for the young, talented Brit. One can only hope that he’ll continue to participate in future adventures, since James has many more stories yet to be written.

 

3 stars out of 4

“The Pirate Fairy” is available for sale on DVD and in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo pack starting April 1, 2014. This movie is rated G for general audiences.

 

Showing off our #DisneySide March 26, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 7:30 am
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At the end of last year, I started to see tons of ads for Disney’s “DisneySide” campaign – this notion that everyone, regardless of age, has a side of their personality that’s influenced or personified by something Disney. These days, what’s considered “Disney” is so incredibly broad that it encompasses not just the characters made famous by Walt but also incredible acquisitions that have their own fan bases and fandoms (such as The Muppets and Marvel). Even people who are fans of shows on ABC or of watching countless hours of ESPN networks (*raises hands*) are showing off their DisneySide as they do so, since Disney claims both network conglomerates as part of their media empire.

And so, when I was asked to show off MY DisneySide, it was hard to come up with just one thing. As I noted in a prior post, about getting Disney Fever, I was asked to host a party. OK, twist my arm. And the party was about showing off your DisneySide. No, seriously, what’s the issue here? And then they sent me a bunch of swag to have and to share. Are you kidding? Are you making this up? These nice people at MomSelect and Disney were kind enough to offer up all sorts of things to help host the party, so with that, I offer up the following disclaimer: I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebrations. As with every other post on this site, all of the opinions expressed here are very much my own. The free products included a very cute American Tourister bag for me and party supplies, t-shirts (for a decorating game), and party favors for my guests. This party was sponsored by MomSelect and Disney Parks and I greatly appreciate their including me!

Now with that out of the way…let’s talk about the party, shall we?

Party Kit

Time for a #DisneySide @Home Party!

 

This lovely party kit came filled with all kinds of goodies: Ocean Spray Craisin boxes, Disney decorations (tons of Mickey, natch), white t-shirts from Hanes – along with fabric markers – so we could have a t-shirt decorating contest, a thick stack of HP photo paper packages, lovely Minnie & Mickey prints, RunDisney bracelets and window clings…just so much stuff it was amazing to dig through it all.

The first order of business was to find 10 kiddos. Thankfully, I had a headstart with my own two, so I contacted some friends and encouraged them to bring their kiddos over to join in the fun! Then, it was a matter of figuring out the food and party favors. Sure, I got some stuff from the celebration kit MomSelect and Disney Parks sent over, but that didn’t mean that had to be ALL that I gave my friends!

 

Favor Bag

Each favor bag was stocked with DisneySide goodies (like the Craisins and HP photo paper), along with thematic pretzels, decks of playing cards, notepads, pencils, stamps, and sunglasses

The favor bag issue thus settled, it was time to get down to the food. I really wanted this party to have a cohesive theme – and so many of the other #DisneySide @Home partiers really had some amazing party themes going on. There were costumes and food and games and things and stuff and I nearly hyperventilated at the thought of it all. And then I had a moment of clarity: why not just celebrate all the things we love without worrying about sticking to one thing? To that end, we went with the theme of “A few of our favorite things”, meaning: anything and everything we liked was totally fair game. I even set up a Pinterest board just to track the ideas I found…most of which were too complicated to do in the time I had (but still totally worth pinning).

With that, IN went the Sofia the First purple party mix and IN went the Frozen cupcakes and ON went the nail polish decorated to look like snowflakes and…oh, of course I had to get in on the action. Why would I let an opportunity like this pass me by? Being the non-selfie-taking person that I generally am, there is no photographic proof of my outfit, but let’s just say that I was the walking embodiment of the theme. Sporting a Marvel t-shirt, sequined Minnie Mouse ears, and my “Frozen” nails, I did what I could to hold up my end of the bargain.

Frozen Nails

Frozen fractals all around…on my nails

 

Sofia the First party mix

Sofia the First…I’m finding out what sugar shock is all about….!

 

Frozen cupcakes

In Summer? Nah. How about “In Mah Belleh”?

 

Of course, it wasn’t ALL sugar. We also put out what we termed a “Hundred Acre Wood Veggie Mix” for fellow Winnie the Pooh fans who wanted something to counteract all of the glucose on the table: celery and carrot sticks, pepper slices and cherry tomatoes. Somehow, I managed to forget to put out some of the food I’d bought (like tortilla chips), but the kids effectively plowed through what was out, so it didn’t seem like more was needed.

When it came time to get into games, we dug into the items from the Celebration Kit: namely, the t-shirts/fabric pens and a Disney Parks Bingo game. First, we had the kids make up their own t-shirts, some using stencils that we made from pictures we found on the web, printed, and laminated for sturdiness, and some free-handing their own ideas. DS was all about having a train of some kind, so when his designated artist (dh) got into the mix, a monorail appeared on his t-shirt. Another party goer free-handed a castle with fireworks on a spare sheet of paper and then transferred her drawing to her t-shirt by layering the paper inside the shirt and tracing. Brilliant!

Kids working on t-shirts

Small hands, quite busy making t-shirts

 

My dd's shirt

Of course, dd wants a castle with fireworks

 

A t-shirt with a project plan

Not everyone wanted to wing it…

 

My ds' t-shirt

A monorail, a Mickey, and a Magic Express bus – of COURSE this shirt is for ds

 

The kids then voted on their favorite design, and the winner won a Little Mermaid Disney Golden Book I’d picked up at the grocery store. When we did the Disney Parks Bingo, all of the kids had similar cards, so I was biting my nails wondering if I’d have multiple winners. Luckily, only one winner yelled out BINGO – and he won a Cars Disney Golden Book I’d picked up at the same time as the other book was acquired.

By the time we made it through Disney Parks Bingo and the kiddos all got cupcaked-up with the “Frozen” confections, the party started winding down. After all, what’s better than giving kids sugar and then sending them home with their parents? A good time was had by all, and each kiddo left with a favor bag, a Minnie/Mickey print, and a balloon (another thoughtful inclusion by the folks at MomSelect and Disney Parks), and one family even left with plans percolating for their own Disney World trip (which they just took!) – fueled partially by the Disney Parks informational DVD included in the celebration kit. I’d be jealous if it weren’t for the fact that we have our own Disney World trip on tap…my first visit to the Magic Kingdom in Florida!

This post would have gone up MUCH sooner had it not been for the Adventures in Strep and rather incredible work schedule that have put me on the brink of exhaustion for the better part of the last four weeks…but I had to get it out so that I could share how much fun we had. Again, I’d like to thank MomSelect and Disney Parks for their generosity in including me in this #DisneySide @Home campaign. I had a lot of fun at the party, and the smiles on the faces of the kiddos were just wonderful. Even better, and proving the point further, the adults had lots of smiles and laughs, too. You don’t have to be a kid to have a #DisneySide. I think you just need to remember that spirit of fun, of play, and the belief that dreams can come true.

 

Disclaimer (encore): I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration. The opinions expressed in this post are mine all mine. No animals were harmed in the making of this party. Kristoff may or may not be right that all guys pick their noses. And kids – don’t try this much sugar at home without a parent and some vegetables. Seriously.

 

Movie Review: “MUPPETS MOST WANTED” March 21, 2014

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

 

As I wrote a few weeks back, in my review of “Jim Henson: The Biography”, I’ve been a huge fan of Henson and The Muppets since I was a wee kidlet. I still remember the first time I saw “The Muppet Movie” and how amazing it was that The Muppets were on the big screen. We even watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol” every Christmas, without fail. So, it was with no small amount of excitement that I brought the family to this screening, planning to introduce the next generation to the wonder of The Muppets writ large.

The plot of this film revolves around The Muppets needing the next thing to do following finishing a movie. They’re slyly coerced into going on a world tour by the smooth operator, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais of “Extras” and “Derek”). Badguy – who reassures them that the proper pronunciation is “Badge-e” (It’s French,  he coos across the table) – is a tour manager who wants to take The Muppets across the Pond to perform in some of Europe’s most famous cities. Coincident with their agreement, the scene changes to a gulag in frozen Siberia, where an evil character is set to make his escape. Constantine, the world’s most wanted villain, is a dead ringer for Kermit (except for a mole on the right side of his face), and he busts out of the Russian joint courtesy of a stockpile of explosives. Not long after, he connects with Dominic and makes plans to meet up with him in Berlin.

 

Dominic Badguy and Constantine

Dominic (Gervais) and Constantine blow this pop stand

 

While the tour spins up and Kermit books them into a series of fleabag, run-down theatres, The Muppets begin to look more and more to Dominic for leadership and a more glamorous experience. Dominic encourages a despondent Kermit to take a calming walk in dense fog (oh, sure), where he’s ambushed by Constantine – who’s armed with a fake mole and some industrial-strength glue. Kermit is immediately nabbed by the German police, who conveniently deliver him directly to the gulag, into the control of Nadya (Tina Fey of “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock”). And thus, the plot splits in two: one track follows Kermit (who Nadya reluctantly accepts as not Constantine), while he waits patiently for his friends to rescue him from the gulag; one track follows The Muppets, with Constantine and Dominic pulling off heist after heist, as they gather the pieces needed to steal Britain’s Crown Jewels, tucked away in The Tower of London, always one step ahead of the buddy cop pairing of Interpol’s Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell of “Modern Family” and “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”) and the CIA’s Sam the Eagle.

Jean Pierre Napoleon and Sam the Eagle

Napoleon (Burrell) and Sam, on the case

 

As one comes to expect from Muppet movies, there’s quite a bit of song-and-dance action by both Muppets and humans. These range from the sinister (a gloating Constantine singing “I’m Number One”, accompanied by Dominic glumly agreeing to his “Number Two” status) to the steamy (Constantine soulfully seducing Miss Piggy with “I’ll Get You What You Want”) to the downright silly (the gulag inmates warming up to “I Hope I Get It” from “A Chorus Line”, as they audition for the gulag’s annual talent show). The songs are generally okay, but few are memorable enough to make me suggest rushing right out for the soundtrack. For whatever it’s worth, the humans hold up their end of the singing bargain against tough competition; Gervais and Fey show off decent singing chops that nicely complement their well-toned comedic muscles.

 

Nadya and Kermit in the gulag

Nadya (Fey) introduces Kermit to life in the gulag

 

In general, I really wanted to love this movie – but I came away with the feeling that it was trying too hard. Clocking in at just under two hours, it runs a good 20 minutes longer than most small kids’ attention spans – and that brings me to my other concern. While Henson apparently struggled against the public perception that The Muppets were just for kids, this movie is clearly being marketed to young children. I took both of my kids – my 7yo daughter and 4-1/2yo son. My daughter generally liked the film, but the explosions and violence were off-putting for her. The reaction from my son was more visceral; by the time the film reached its climactic scene, he was in tears, snuggled up against me for comfort. So, as the question inevitably comes up as to whether “MUPPETS MOST WANTED” is good for kids, my answer would be that it depends greatly upon the age of the child in question and their comfort level with violence or “action”.

This is much the same problem I had with “Cars 2”, which was a spy film disguised as a kiddie film. That’s not to say that “MUPPETS MOST WANTED” was over-the-top with the explosions or the guns from an adult perspective; Henson loved explosions, so there are definitely scenes in this that he surely would have loved. On the other hand, marketing this film to young kids presupposes that it’s okay for them to watch…and that’s really very subjective. It all depends on the particular child’s tolerance for violence/action (which, in my son’s case, is really low).

On the plus side, “MUPPETS MOST WANTED” delivers the requisite cameos (too many to name without ruining the surprise), bad puns, and some really terrific movie tributes – including “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Moonraker”. In many ways, it’s a really cute film, but it runs a bit long in the name of trying to maximize all the usual gags. It’s also a bit unbelievable that The Muppets, who know Kermit so well, would somehow fail to notice that their fearless leader now sports an Eastern European accent and a permanent sneer. But, so what if things aren’t always fully baked? The Muppets continue to entertain, and their human counterparts hold up their end of the bargain. Consider it cute, light entertainment for adults and a mixed bag for kiddos, especially once you get below 8-10yo.

 

2-1/2 stars out of 4

“MUPPETS MOST WANTED” opens nationwide on March 21, 2014. This movie is rated PG for some mild action.

 

I have a bad case of DISNEY FEVER January 17, 2014

Filed under: blather — crunchymetromom @ 10:18 am
Tags: , ,

We really only get to do one BIG family trip a year, and this was the year that dh and I decided we’d want to take the kids to DISNEY. I kinda feel like you have to go capslocky when it comes to DISNEY because of what DISNEY represents to me: fun, family, a sense of wonder, and something for kids of all ages. I’ve been a fan of DISNEY movies since I was very small, but the one and only time I’ve gone to DISNEY was when my parents took us to Disneyland on a trip to LA nearly 30 years ago.

So, this year is a big deal for us since it’s the first time that the kids will experience DISNEY up close and personal. My parents offered to defray some of the costs of the trip, so we’re all headed to Florida to DisneyWorld. DH has been to World before, I’ve only ever been to Land, and the kids have only seen the parks during the Disney Christmas Parade that gets televised every year. It took me about 10 minutes last night to explain to my daughter that Nick Cannon DOESN’T work at Disneyland. (“No, honey, he’s an actor. He’s married to a singer.” Her: “Who is he married to?” Me: “Mariah Carey” Her: “Who’s that?” Me: “She’s a singer. Um…I’m not sure what she’s done recently, but she was a big star when I was younger.” Her: “…”)

We’d kept the trip under wraps, so we had to come up with a big unveiling. In this case, DH took a page from the same book his mom used with him and his brother: putting the message on a puzzle. I got a 25-piece magnetic puzzle from Target, and dh wrote a message on it announcing the trip, and then we hid the pieces. Four baggies with 6 pieces each were stashed around the house, with the 25th piece wrapped in a box and placed under the tree with a clue that led the kids to the first bag. Each hidden bag had a clue that led them to the next, and when they’d collected them all they put together the puzzle.

Naturally, the kids lost their nut when they found out we were going to DISNEY, and once I was able to take the two guidebooks we bought out of hiding, dd threw herself headlong into learning everything she could about the attractions and events. Needless to say, the kids are extremely excited, and I have the feeling that this will be probably the best trip they’ve been on yet.

We wanted to wait until we thought they were old enough to remember it and enjoy it. Since ds is turning 5 this year, he’s old enough to get it – and dd (who’s 7) has been on our case for several years to get to DISNEY, just like all of her friends. It was exhausting trying to find a hotel that would work for both family’s myriad needs, but once we did, it was easy as pie getting our booking done over the phone. We’ve since been customizing pieces through the My Disney Experience part of their website and researching through the guidebooks we’ve acquired and the Disney website.

And so, it was with great surprise (and excitement) that I opened the email saying that I was picked to host a #DisneySide @Home party. I have a box that weighs nearly as much as my four-year-old coming to my house, packed with some amount of swag and party supplies, and I get to spend time with friends squeeing about DISNEY and showing off my “Disney side” (easily seen in the part of my personality that has NO shame or self-consciousness about walking around wearing dd’s sequined Minnie Mouse ears).

Mind you, I’m not someone who has gotten numb to any of this. I know people who’ve been to DISNEY so many times that they talk about it like they’re going to just any old amusement park. Honestly, I never want to go to DISNEY so often that it loses its magic for me, although A) I could never afford that, especially since we don’t live in Florida, and B) I don’t understand how you could lose appreciation for all that magic. Then again, I’m the kind of person who appreciates it when a hotel has bath sheets instead of cheesecloth squares posing as bath towels, so there’s that.

In any event, between the planning for our big family DISNEY trip and now the planning for this #DisneySide @Home party, I think everything’s coming up DISNEY in our house right now. And I think I’m okay with that…

 

Movie Review: “Frozen 3D” November 27, 2013

Frozen

 

It’s been a long time since I can say I saw a movie that was a home run, and I’m incredibly glad the drought is finally over. “Frozen”, the latest product of Walt Disney Animation, is a delightful musical loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Snow Queen”. The movie opens with ice choppers singing as they hack away at a frozen fjord, while a young boy (Kristoff) does his best to handle pint-sized tongs and his pet reindeer, Sven. In the nearby castle, two young princesses – elder sister Elsa and younger sister Anna – awake in the middle of the night for some mischief. Elsa has the power to create ice and snow at a touch, and the two young girls frolic in the interior winter wonderland. But as the play gets slightly out of hand, Anna is accidentally sideswiped in the head by a touch of ice from Elsa, and their parents (the King and Queen of Arendelle) take Anna to rock trolls to extract the ice before it freezes her forever.

The head troll, Pabbie (voiced by the stoic Ciarán Hinds of “Rome” and “Game of Thrones”), does as they bid, but he warns the King and Queen that he had to remove all of Anna’s memories of magic, and he further cautions them to hide away all evidence of magic. The King counsels Elsa privately: “Conceal it. Don’t feel it. Don’t let it show.” From that point forth, the family is effectively in isolation; they close the window coverings and the castle gates, and the girls are separated for reasons Anna will only learn far later. As the girls grow, Elsa becomes increasingly cold and sad, and Anna becomes eccentric, missing the company of her beloved sibling. Tragedy strikes yet again a few years later, as the King and Queen are lost at sea in a storm, and the girls have to wait in their confinements for enough time to pass before Elsa is due for her coronation as the queen.

The young queen-to-be (voiced by Idina Menzel, a Tony Award winner for “Wicked”) fears accidentally putting her power on display, since her forced isolation and her father’s instructions to hide her gift left her with no practice on how to properly control her chilly creations. Meanwhile, the boisterous Anna (Kristen Bell – of “Burlesque” and the forthcoming “Veronica Mars” movie) explores the town in eager anticipation of the coronation festivities and all the excitement they’ll bring. In her enthusiasm, Anna bumps into Prince Hans (Santino Fontana of “The Importance of Being Earnest”), in a meet-cute involving a horse, a rowboat, and the end of a dock on the fjord. He later sweeps her off her feet during the evening’s amusements, but his whirlwind marriage proposal to Anna is quickly dismissed by the new queen. When Anna challenges Elsa over her decision, emotions flare out of control and Elsa’s powers are revealed to a wide audience, splaying ice spikes and frozen coverings in every direction. Elsa flees, and a distraught Anna heads out after her – leaving Hans in charge.

Hans and Anna

Hans and Anna

As Elsa arrives in the cold mountains, she finally takes the reins off her powers and creates a beautiful castle of ice atop North Mountain, the tallest of the peaks. She casts off every bit of evidence of her prior life, and settles into a blissful exile in her cold fortress. Anna finds herself unable to negotiate the snowy environs on her own, so she enlists the help of Kristoff (Jonathan Groff from “Glee”) and Sven. On their way to Elsa’s new seat of power, Anna and Kristoff bump into an old friend of Anna’s and Elsa’s: Olaf the snowman (voiced by Josh Gad of “1600 Penn” and “Ice Age: Continental Drift”). He is based on the same design Elsa had made for Anna on that fateful night when they were children, and the icy queen’s awakened powers have somehow brought him to life. He tags along, a physical comedian of the highest order. Being blissfully unaware of the limitations of a snowman, he sings a giddy tune about how much he’d love to see summertime that leaves the audience giggling over his naïveté.

Olaf

Olaf dreams of summer

The quartet manages to reach Elsa’s castle, but she’s in no mood to return to Arendelle with Anna, even upon hearing that she has frozen the town in the middle of the summer. She simply doesn’t have the ability or understanding of how to control her powers. The sisters quarrel again, this time with Elsa accidentally throwing a spike of her ice into Anna’s heart. The effect is insidious: Anna is mortally wounded but doesn’t yet realize it. Only after the foursome have escaped the castle do they realize something is horribly wrong, and Kristoff takes the princess to his friends – the same band of rock trolls – to be healed. Only an act of the truest love will save her and warm her heart again, and Kristoff rushes Anna back to Arendelle in the hope that she will find there what she needs to heal the wound to her heart.

Kristoff and Sven rush to Arendelle

Kristoff and Sven rush to Arendelle

The climax of “Frozen” seals it an excellent addition to the growing catalogue of Disney movies featuring women who come by their strength on their own, rather than only through the love of a man. The songs are crisp and effective, and small details in them show the excessive (and occasionally modern) humor threaded throughout this movie. Additionally, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ technology and artistry are clearly improving by leaps and bounds; Sven’s fur and the texture on the snowflakes exemplify the lessening distance between Disney’s internal animation studio and Disney-owned Pixar.

“Frozen” is either a movie for kids that grown ups would enjoy or it’s a movie for grown ups that kids would enjoy. Either way, it’s really a fantastic effort from Team Disney. The songs, written by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon”) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Winnie the Pooh”), are sure to have the kids clamoring for the motion picture soundtrack in no time.

Anna and Elsa, in Elsa's icy fortress

Anna and Elsa, in Elsa’s icy fortress

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about the 3D used in the movie. In some films, when I see the 3D version, I end up shrugging about how it’s okay but it didn’t really need the 3D or it didn’t lose much if you watched it in 2D. This is a movie that really begs to be seen in 3D, and it’s the first case in a long time – perhaps since I saw “Avatar” – when 3D  was used properly. Sure, there are a couple of early cases where the 3D leaps off the screen in almost gratuitous fashion, but that’s some of the joy in playing with this technology. Why should all the depth only be leading away from you? If it’s possible to see this one in 3D, I strongly recommend doing so.

There are a couple of scary scenes – but they’re really brief and things move on immediately.  For a movie that runs 1hr 48mins long, you’d think it would drag for the kiddos, but the constant nature of the action and the storyline keeps things moving apace from start to finish. The opening credits are a thing of beauty unto themselves, so moviegoers should be in their seats on-time, and they should stay put through the end credits – to catch a small extra scene at the very end of the credit roll.

“Frozen” is also preceded by a lovely short film, “Get a Horse”, a marvel of 3D animation that should win an Oscar on technical merit alone. The short showcases Mickey and Minnie Mouse in both 2D and 3D, literally giving a chase scene all new dimensions. I’m sure Walt Disney would be weeping tears of joy if he saw it, since both pieces together really show just how far his team’s animation has come.

4 stars out of 4

“Frozen 3D” opens nationwide on November 27, 2013. This movie is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor.

 

Movie Review: “Planes 3D” August 9, 2013

Planes

 

“From above the world of Cars…” is the teaser from the promos, intended to remind potential viewers that “Planes” is another view into a beloved universe created by the folks at Pixar. This teaser ends up being rather unnecessary – since everything about the movie, from the cow-tractor cameos to the underpinnings of the storyline cherry-picks liberally from the “Cars” franchise. As it happens, while the world was created by Pixar, the movie was created by DisneyToon – originally intended as a direct-to-DVD production and then shifted to a theater release.

The movie centers on Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook of “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Luck Chuck”), a crop duster with dreams of becoming a racer. Dusty wants to compete in the “Wings Around the World Rally”, an around-the-globe challenge that would pit him against the world’s fastest planes. It’s a 7-leg challenge, stretching from New York City to Iceland, Germany, India, Nepal, China, and Mexico, before finishing back at the starting line in New York. In desperate need of a real trainer, Dusty and his trusty sidekick, the gasoline tanker Chug (“Everybody Loves Raymond” actor Brad Garrett), enlist war hero Skipper (Stacy Keach, a TV/movie veteran of everything from “Mistral’s Daughter” to “The Bourne Legacy”). The cranky Skipper is highly dubious that Dusty has what it takes to win, especially when it’s revealed that Dusty is terrified of heights and will only fly less than one thousand feet off the ground.

 

Dusty Crophopper

Dusty Crophopper

 

Nevertheless, Skipper trains him – and then off goes Dusty for a Rally qualifier. He manages to hold his own but initially fails to make the cut-off; however, thanks to the aerial equivalent of doping discovered in another racer, Dusty squeaks into the qualifying group and heads off for the Rally. It’s there that he meets a suite of racers from around the world – including the refined and sarcastic Bulldog (“Monty Python” icon John Cleese), the amusing and sweet El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui of “Reno 911!”), and the dastardly and arrogant Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith of “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”).

 

Dusty and Ripslinger

Dusty and Ripslinger

 

Dusty squares off against a field of talented and much faster planes, trying to prove to himself – and to others – that a simple crop duster can manage to be something more. As Dusty explains while wistfully examining the Rally’s course on a world map, “I’ve flown thousands of miles and never been anywhere.” He struggles with his own limitations as much as others struggle with them, but the more he competes the more he’s able to stretch even his own idea of what he can and can’t do.

The only problem with “Planes” is that, as much as it’s a new production, there’s little about it that’s truly original. The concept of a young hotshot in need of guidance from someone more seasoned is territory well-mined in the relationship between Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson in the first “Cars” film. Keach’s gravelly voice makes the cantankerous Skipper a gray, aerial Doc, and the green villain, Ripslinger, was very much Chick Hicks with a propeller. Even the idea of a multi-leg, around-the-world race between a mouthy, arrogant nemesis and the good guy was well-covered in “Cars 2”.

 

Chug and Dottie

Chug and Dottie

 

The only real original bits came with El Chupacabra, especially around his romantic intentions towards Rochelle, a French Canadian plane voiced by the ever-talented Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Seinfeld” and “Veep”, among many others). The rest of the movie seemed very much a recycling of “Cars”-world motifs and storylines, sometimes with the roles reversed, but ultimately so similar that this wasn’t so much “from above the world of Cars” as it was just “from Cars”.

A cute tale with only a small amount of scary bits in it, “Planes” is a perfectly fine film for kids. The run time is just about 90 minutes, so it’s a quick enough film for viewers of all ages. Also, I saw this movie in 3D and while I’m sure it’ll be available in 2D, there’s something to be said for seeing this with the additional depth that 3D brings.

While this movie used some of the same technologies routinely employed by Pixar and even had some Pixar heavyweights in lead positions (like Executive Producer John Lasseter), this was a Disney-made movie. Clearly, the cross-over worked well from a technical execution standpoint; the renderings were nicely done, with good texture on the trees, grass and other items that have variable surfaces. The smooth surfaces of cars and airplanes tended to look too shiny and unreal – but this is how things looked in “Cars”, as well, so I’m less likely to think that a limitation of the DisneyToon team. As an approximation of a Pixar flick not from Pixar itself, this is very decent work.

For fans of “Cars” and that universe, this is a fun, brief diversion. If you’re looking for something original and breathtakingly new from Disney, this won’t really get you there…but maybe the upcoming sequel (“Planes: Fire & Rescue” – advertised at the end of the credits) will provide something new for Dusty and Co.

 

2 out of 4 stars

 

“Planes 3D” opens nationwide on August 9, 2013. This movie is rated PG (Parental Guidance suggested) for some mild action and rude humor.

 

Movie Trailer World Premiere: “Delivery Man” July 2, 2013

What does family mean to me?

I was posed this question by my friend at Disney, who asked me (along with 532 other “mommy bloggers”) to participate in a unique stunt: to offer the premiere of the official trailer for the new Vince Vaughn movie on our websites. By now, y’all are used to me saying that I DO NOT shill. So, let me start this off by reminding everyone that I don’t shill and that I only write about or promote things of interest to me. Disney didn’t pay for this space and there’s no quid-pro-quo going on. I’m writing and posting this trailer because the topic is of interest to me and…really, if the trailer is an indication, this is a movie that’s got some serious promise.

Before I get back to the question at hand, let me give a brief take on what “Delivery Man” is all about. Vince Vaughn (“Swingers”, “The Internship”) plays the lead – David Wozniak – a bit of a loser, a drifter, someone who doesn’t seem to have his act quite together and who is failing at his attempts to hang onto his girlfriend (Colbie Smulders – whose jumpsuit alone stole many scenes in “Marvel’s The Avengers”). Wozniak’s life takes a decidedly left turn when he’s informed that his decades-prior sperm bank donations prolifically spawned 533 children, 142 of whom are suing the sperm bank so they can find out the name of their dad. Wozniak then stumbles through trying to learn what it means to be a dad by playing “guardian angel” to some of those kids, against the arm-waving advice of his attorney  friend, played by Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”, “Zero Dark Thirty”).

Chris Pratt and Vince Vaughn

Wozniak gets schooled on what it means to be a parent

Clearly, the movie has some classic elements of the typical Vince Vaughn comedy – he pratfalls, he acts the oaf, he does things that make you wince and squirm in your seat because no well-adjusted person would do half of what he does. However, the movie also appears to have a strong emphasis on what it means to step up to the plate to be a dad, even when your family is as non-traditional as they come. Pratt’s character clearly provides not only the voice of caution but also that of experience: playing a dad on-screen, he’s showing what the traditional dad figure looks like, which is a stark contrast to the converted dad played by Vaughn.

Wozniak looks over profiles of his kids

Is this Vaughn’s shot to show he has range?

I can’t truly predict whether this movie will be one-star or four, but I can say that it’s intriguing to see Vaughn try to branch out into something a bit more dramatic. This has the potential to be his “Truman Show”, which displayed Jim Carrey’s solid dramatic chops in a fashion that took seemingly everybody by surprise. Having seen Vaughn be ever so money in “Swingers” years ago, and loving him as the “EARMUFFS!” dad in “Old School” and Wes Mantooth in “Anchorman”, I’d like to see if he has some serious range.

So, then, back to the idea of family…and this is where the whole Vince Vaughn piece really comes together for me. When you’re a parent, you can’t always be serious – it would be too exhausting. Kids want, need, and crave playfulness, humor and a sense that a smile is always around the corner. On the other hand, you can’t always just be a playmate – you have to provide structure and security, things that kids need but can’t create easily on their own. Family structures have evolved so much over generations, and the family image some people loudly deify as “traditional” isn’t even a century old. Go back hundreds of years and traditions involved families run by and around the mothers or grandmothers, families where multiple generations lived under the same roof, and families where children followed only in the footsteps of their father. Well, male children, at least.

What family means to me is the people that I come home to – whether that home is my house or somewhere else. For so many years before I started dating dh, my friends extended the family into which I was born; in addition to my parents and my sister, I had several close friends with whom I share everything but a common genome. Ten years ago, I decided to make a family with my best friend by marrying him, and then we expanded our family further by having dd 3 years later and ds 3 years after that. Our family unit may seem “traditional”, but I think we’re no more or less valid as a family than unmarried couples with kids, families with parents of the same gender, single parents, childless couples…

To me, family is whatever you make of it. It’s the people who support you and who love you, even when you’re driving them up the wall. Family doesn’t have to be one-man-one-woman. Families are based on love, not on chromosomal content.

So, without any further ado, here’s the official trailer for Disney’s, “Delivery Man”, which opens in theaters on November 22, 2013. And before you get any ideas about taking YOUR family to see it, please note that it is rated PG-13 for mature themes, so it’s probably not appropriate for the smallest members of your brood.

  

 

Movie Review: “Monsters University 3D” June 21, 2013

Filed under: movie reviews — crunchymetromom @ 7:49 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monsters University

  

In a time when sequels and reboots abound, Pixar decided to breathe a little new air into the “Monsters, Inc.” universe with a prequel to explore how Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) became friends. When we first saw Mike and Sulley in “Monsters, Inc.”, they were an unbeatable “Scare Team” at Monsters, Inc.: a company that harnessed frightened children’s screams to generate power. “Monsters University” opens with a fresh-faced Mike as an elementary school student on a field trip to Monsters, Inc. It’s on this trip that Mike falls in love with the idea of being a “Scarer”, and he’s encouraged by one of the hot-shot scarers to go to his alma mater: Monsters U.

  

Mike Wazowski arriving at MU

  

Fast-forward a few years, and Mike is now a retainer-mouthed freshman at Monsters University, majoring in Scaring. His roommate is the terribly insecure Randy (the character of Randall, reprised by the remarkable Steve Buscemi), whose chameleonic powers are exceeded only by his creepiness. As Mike attends his first scaring class, he’s introduced to the most powerful person on campus: Dean Hardscrabble (played delightfully by Helen Mirren). The Dean has a warning for all potential scarers: failure to pass the semester final exam will result in expulsion from the Scaring program.

  

Mike Wazowski vs Dean Hardscrabble

  

Mike hits the books, while classmate Sulley spends all of his time partying with the alpha fraternity, RΩR (pronounced “Roar Omega Roar”), led by BMoC Johnny Worthington (Nathan Fillion). Come the final, Mike knows all the theory forwards, backwards, sideways and down but lacks the technique to pull off a true scare. Sulley, riding the coattails of his father’s legacy, has the roar without any of the book-smarts. It’s easy to see where “Animal House” provided ample material for Pixar; there’s even an (accidental) guitar-smashing moment that’s vaguely reminiscent of Bluto’s run-in with a guitar during the Delta House’s toga party.

  

Oozma Kappa Fraternity

  

When the two are dropped from the Scaring program, Mike blames Sulley and charges out on his own to win back his shot at being scary through the “Scare Games” – an inter-fraternity scaring challenge that’s some kind of Pan-Hellenic nightmare tour. Requiring a Greek sponsor, Mike and Sulley join up with OK – Oozma Kappa – the misfit fraternity that’s clearly chronically under-recruited and undesirable. This is where the movie mines the “Revenge of the Nerds” oeuvre rather liberally, with results as satisfying as those when Lambda Lambda Lambda went up against the Alpha Betas in the Greek Games.

  

Roar Omega Roar

  

There are still challenges left for Mike and Sulley, but most of those revolve around the pair’s complex relationship: built first on mutual dislike that eventually turns into respect and true collegiality. You see the delicate machine of their Scaring Team come together brilliantly by the end of the film, and the pair really learn how to leverage each others’ strengths to win – together.

  

Scare Games

  

While Mike and Sulley’s story is satisfying from a perspective of “Ah, this explains everything“, it’s not exactly original – and that’s really the only issue I have with the film. I came out of it having definitely enjoyed myself, but it was all too easy to see where the filmmakers had taken a bit too much inspiration from teen/college/coming of age movies that came before – “Animal House”, “Revenge of the Nerds”…even “Carrie”. At least Dean Hardscrabble wasn’t the fool Dean Wormer was, but it’s impossible to imagine Helen Mirren ever playing the fool. “Monsters University” was an enjoyable and amusing film, but it lacked the originality and spark that so many prior Pixar films showed (including the original “Monsters, Inc.”).

  

From a technical perspective, I have to say that this was a delightful view in 3D. I’m sure that it’s fine in 2D, but the depth and scale of both the characters and the Monsters University campus really stand out far more with the very well-done 3D. The voicework is fantastic, with the reprising actors (including Crystal, Goodman, and Buscemi) all turning in great performances.

  

The movie is rated G – raising the natural question: “Should I take my kids to see Monsters University?” I can’t speak for all kids, but for little ones that had no trouble dealing with the scare factor in “Monsters, Inc.”, “Monsters University” should be fine. I actually found this movie less scary than the first movie in the franchise, so I’d say this movie should appeal well to little ones and grown-ups alike. “Monsters University” is preceded by a really fantastic short film – “The Blue Umbrella” – providing ample reason to make it to the seats on-time.

  

3 out of 4 stars

“Monsters University 3D” opens nationwide on June 21, 2013. This movie is rated G (General Audiences).

 

Movie Review: “The Blue Umbrella” (Short) June 19, 2013

Filed under: movie reviews — crunchymetromom @ 7:16 am
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The Blue Umbrella

  

Last year, I extolled the virtues of Disney returning animation to its true form with “Paperman”, a short I was sure would win an Oscar (and it did). This year, Pixar’s short “The Blue Umbrella” presents yet another wonderfully done sweet tale of love – albeit with a twist.

As the scene opens, a city starts to experience the first few fat drops of rain from an oncoming shower. Inanimate objects on the city streets begin reacting to the rain with muted joy and subtle smiles as they soak it in. Umbrellas soon emerge as the protectors of the various passers-by, mostly the generic, stalwart black umbrellas sported in every city. There’s one standout, though: a blue umbrella. This bright blue umbrella revels in the rain, clearly enjoying the shower as much, if not more so, than the other supposedly lifeless characters on the street.

Waiting at a light, the blue umbrella spots another colorful protector in the crowd; a lovely red umbrella shares a shy, coy moment with the blue umbrella until they’re cruelly separated by their owners heading in opposite directions. The two umbrellas are heartbroken, and the blue umbrella does his best to make his way back to his beloved – to sometimes jarring consequences. In the end, love does conquer all, even the rain, providing a wholly satisfying ending for the adorable pair.

  

Blue and Red Umbrellas

  

The more I think on “The Blue Umbrella”, the more I think it certainly has a decent shot at winning the Oscar this year. It’s a sheer joy to watch, and the computer graphics feel and look so real as to be wholly believable. Well, if you believe that umbrellas can fall in love…and really: why not?

  

4 out of 4 stars

“The Blue Umbrella” will be shown in theatres prior to viewing of “Monsters University”, which opens nationwide on June 21, 2013.

  

   

 

 
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