Mickey Doesn’t Talk Anymore. Now What?

Back in Spring of 2015, I had one of the most emotional experiences ever in my life.

Yes, read that again.

Right before watching the Festival Of Fantasy parade, I visited Mickey Mouse. My family waited near Town Square. The wait time was 15 minutes. The only way to share my experience was my phone and my memories.

“You know Mickey, Rafael is coming all the way from Venezuela to visit!”, a Cast Member said.

“Venezuela? Great! I have a great idea. ¿Nos tomamos una foto juntos?”, Mickey said.

That moment when he talked to me and even mentioned my country, I knew that this was the next step in meet & greets. My heart started pounding, my eyes got teary, and I was just talking to the most famous mouse in the whole universe.

Disney Parks management thinks differently. Mickey has lost his voice in the past few days, as well as any hopes for expanding this great character interaction to other characters. There has been no official announcements.

Park management arguments this decision because people get confused when Mickey doesn’t talk in other Meet & Greets or even other characters. But we can look at the problem another way.

What if Disney could expand this initiative to more characters? Why should Mickey talk only in the Magic Kingdom?
This decision is, mostly, a cost cutting measure. As simple as that, without any PR pixie dust. It’s a shame to see not only Mickey go, but the possibility of expanding this technology to more interactive Meet & Greets. I imagined the possibilities to use this technology in controlled situations such as dining experiences, designated areas and even Disney hotels. If Meet & Greets have become such an important aspect of the Disney experience, why not invest fully in it?

I’m not sure if this is only a temporary decision due to the further investments for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, but I’m sure that the company could embrace this technology for other characters, even justify the cost by first operating them in ticketed events and later expand for the day to day guest.

Or it is just a case to make hard decisiones like getting rid of this great experience while management handles the new structure of Walt Disney Imagineering and further expansion in the parks.

Respect, Don’t Revere: The Cultural Shift Of Bob Iger

In a recent episode of The Disney Movie Review, the hosts discussed about a recent interview Bog Iger did for Bloomberg, talking about how he views the legacy of The Walt Disney Company among other topics. Bob Iger mentioned that the company should respect the legacy, but don’t revere it, acknowledging the achievements of the past without letting it define the potential future of upcoming projects. The current CEO believes in this thought as a guiding principle, even admitting that he changed staff on order to make this cultural shift within the company.

This change of course that Iger tries to achieve is a battle that dates back to the early days of Michael Eisner as a CEO, begging the creative staff to stop asking “What would Walt do?”. With a company closely connected to Walt Disney, the master producer whose input goes from animated films to urban planning, with a rich legacy of stories that are part of the global culture decades later, it is difficult to know what to do with such a historical past.

What’s sacred in The Walt Disney Company? That is the question many fans ask, especially dealing with the parks’ attractions. If “respect, don’t revere” is the guiding principle, it makes it easier to understand the decisions they’ve made for the films and the parks. This is how they justify that remakes of old classics make sense, parks should evolve no matter which attraction needs to shut down, acquisitions are good as long as they make sense for the brand and why there’s less mentions of Walt Disney as the man behind everything.

“Respect, don’t revere” takes away the idea of something sacred within the company. This allows you to give tribute to many fulfilled creations, but also change them. This guiding principle reminds me about the phrase “Parks aren’t museums, a quote Imagineers say every time fans rage about an attractions’ closure. I believe these creatives value the projects of the past. At the same time, they’ll never hesitate if they need to get rid of them in order to move ahead.

Acquisitions reflect the school of thought under Iger’s tenure. They know their studios have an indisputable track record, but other companies and studios can show Disney new ways to manage creative projects. Pixar is one of those, bringing a new animation language and storytelling beyond the three dimensional aspect, including different characters that differ from the traditional Disney animation. John Lassetter would expand these aspect as Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Marvel was a tough one to understand back then. Iron Man and Hulk were independently financed, unsure if the Marvel Cinematic Universe could move forward with lesser known character due to the restrictions they had due to licensing contracts with Sony and Fox. Kevin Feige has created what Star Wars initiated, bringing a new universe of characters and storylines that keep loyal fans and casual moviegoers expecting the next superhero movie. The difference with Marvel’s sequel based strategy is that it actually weaves situations that pass the baton to other movies and characters to be explored.

Lucasfilm, a company that has one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time, have had a close relationship with Disney in the past, starting with the link both companies have due to Pixar’s beginnings. A studio that has family oriented adventures, a vast experience with merchandising, and one of the most talented visual artists, Lucasfilm allowed to expand upon existing characters from Star Wars and Indiana Jones as well as a great asset for film production.

“Respect, don’t revere” seems to be a common theme that unifies each move that Bob Iger has done to the company. From huge acquisitions, like the Fox deal, to revitalizing projects, such as the reimagining of Disney California Adventure, and more. As long as Iger has a strategy for each acquisition, allowing for each component to have its own identity, this philosophy could keep Disney a healthy creative space that builds upon the old and the new.

Rob Plays: The Universal Film Shot at Disneyland: 40 Pounds Of Trouble

Walt wasn’t happy when Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make a murder mystery film inside Disneyland, but Universal was able to film the remake of the comedy “40 Pounds Of Trouble“. In this episode, Rob talks about how the film came to be and why it would be the last movie to be filmed in Disneyland for a very long time.

You can watch the video here:

Industrial Light & Magic, The Most Important Company In Hollywood

In my past visits to the cinema, I’ve been staying for a few minutes to let the credits roll. There are many interesting aspects of watching the hundreds of people that work for a big budget company. More than that, you find out that companies that you thought were competitors actually collaborate in many of these films. This is the case of Industrial Light & Magic, the subdivision of Lucasfilm that became the secret weapon for almost every single big budget film.

Yes, they do the special effects for Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but they also did the special effects for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Universal), Black Panther (Marvel Studios), Ready Player One (Warner Bros.), A Wrinkle In Time (Disney), A Quiet Place (Paramount) and Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel Studios). This are just some of the movies they’ve worked on this year. Industrial Light and Magic has worked for all of the major studios in Hollywood.

Why do these companies go straight to ILM for their CGI and special effects needs? The answer is simple: they are the pioneers in the industry and they still are the best at getting the job done. But as movies rely more and more on special effects and CGI, the company has struggled in keeping up with the demand and delivering the stunning visuals that every movie wants.

During the release of Black Panther, EnGadget made a point in explaining why some CGI models look so bad, even though these are big budget, highly anticipated movies. This is the results of overworked artists in underpayed conditions. Many of these effects, models, and computer-made scenes require 10 hour work days (or more). As the amount of CGI models and visual effects needed for each film, artists just need to cut the corners in some places in order to deliver the results. So yes, the visuals from Planet Of The Apes look stunning, but mostly every single person mentioned a thing or two about the last fight scene between Black Panther and Killmonger (which, in my opinion, doesn’t look as terrible as EnGadget tries to point out).

For the release of “Avengers: Infinity War”, we don’t see the problems arising from Black Panther, even though some effects still look weird. There’s a balance between visuals and background imagery that blends well, while making Thanos a real villain in the movie. It shows that ILM can handle visual effects given the budget and the time to develop.

Should ILM keep focusing on other projects from other studios, or just keep their hands on productions from The Walt Disney Company? The question isn’t as easy to answer, because these employed artists are under a payroll, which means there’s inevitably some free time to spare in between each movie where they can do some client work. Unless they could use that time to dedicate even more resources to the special effects and CGI models instead of cutting corners from these big budget films. Many film critics and fans consider that no film has ever improved the CGI artistry that movies like Avatar (2009) and Life Of Pi (2012) achieved for their stories.

Everyday we want better graphics, improved visuals, and eye-popping imagery, but the reality is that these effects don’t happen by themselves; it requires an army of tech savvy artists for a simple object in the background to look great. Is it a problem of Hollywood relying too much on special effects? Most of the time. Still, it is more a problem about Hollywood not giving CGI artists the respect they deserve, taking into account how much work they have in their hands. The studios are relying on an outsider company, ILM, in order to develop most of the visual effects. If they could start developing in-house solutions, CGI artists will have more opportunities in the industry and competition will help a healthier management of visual effects.

Industrial Light & Magic will still be the most important visual effects company in the world. Studios should be aware of its importance and how it could change the landscape if they keep relying on the sole company able to handle the work.