Book Review: The Perfect Weapon by Delilah S. Dawson

As I’ve reviewed several Star Wars books over the past months, some of my favorites have been those with few stakes that make a genre fit within the universe. This is the case of The Perfect Weapon, a short ebook story that takes you to one of the missions of Bazine Nethal, a character briefly shown in ‘The Force Awakens’ at Maz Kanata’s castle.

Delilah S. Dawson takes this femme fatale character and takes her on a mission to find the identity of an unknown Stormtrooper. Bazine Nethal is headed to ask for her old mentor’s spaceship, making a deal were she can take the transport but she will do the mission with a trainee of his.

Bazine heads to a simple yet intriguing mission, as it has a couple on twists on the way that will keep you interested. The biggest forte of this short story is the fact that it embraces how simple it is, giving detailed descriptions of the action and scenes without making it longer than it actually needs. It’s a self contained story in the vein of the stories of Canto Bight. The story suffers from the simplicity, but the author has taken that and made a good plot out of it.

If you’re into simple stories that don’t have any stakes in the major plots of the galaxy we know, this could be a good story to read in one sitting. It isn’t a mandatory read for ‘The Force Awakens’, neither does it explain why Bazine was at Mas Kanata’s castle. We only see the merciless character that is Bazine Nethal. This mission driven story is a fun ride that will keep you turning the pages for a couple of hours.

‘Bao’ Crosses A Needed Cultural Shift In Animation

Checking the reactions from social media, it is clear that ‘Bao’, Pixar’s new short screened before ‘Incredibles 2’, hasn’t been understood by most audiences. This misunderstanding was evident during my screening, with diverging responses from the audiences. While some people cried, others were laughing out loud.

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Bao

The mixed reactions received by the short film happen to be due to a misunderstanding of the situation. While I was trying to understand the story as it developed in the cinema, my best friend instantly sobbed halfway through the short. In this sense, this is a very impressive short, one that connects instantly with those who have struggled with cultural pressures and family differences.

‘Bao’ tells the story of an Asian mother whose son grows with the American culture, thus leading to differences between family traditions and the culture were they live. She eventually replaces her son with a dumpling only to find out the same issues occur.

Even though I’m not Asian-American, the topic is much broader than it appears. Many films and series are so focused on American culture that they don’t show how they influence others. For example, even though in the US it is common to leave your house for college, in Venezuela teenagers stay at their homes almost until marriage. Some people stay at their homes due to the current economy in Venezuela, but it shows a cultural difference that could easily compare to those shown in ‘Bao’.

The misunderstanding of the short film shows that audiences are so used to one cultural way of living that they barely understand the struggle that the mother has during the short. Because people know other cultures and traditions, they consider the son’s actions as ‘normal’ because he’s living the life of a common US citizen.

Another thing that people might be confused is the fact that the dumpling and his son are the same person, one replacing the other after leaving the house. This article explains the fact that the mother is suffering of empty nest syndrome, a common situation in mothers who are left by their kids. Should the syndrome be explained in the short film? No. Maybe people without kids don’t understand it, but parents know the struggle that the mother has.

What ‘Bao’ does best is creating a deeper conversation about cultural influences and how this could affect a family relationship. Over the years, more and more people around the world with different cultural backgrounds are trying to fit in another country’s culture while staying true to their cultural roots. The problem is more present than ever, needing much conversation to comprehend the implications it has.

The fact that many audiences have been alienated by ‘Bao’ shows that globalization hasn’t been great at showing other cultures. The echo chambers of our current media homogenizes people, making it deeply complicated to confront another reality, tradition or culture.

‘Bao’ has crossed a cultural shift in animation that embraces a much more diverse global audience by showing a different culture but also expressing a struggle many people have as immigrants or even being exposed to media that shows other cultural norms. It is the kind of storytelling that shows that animation is able to convey a topic in such a way that opens up the conversation in a light-hearted manner. One of the strongest points from Pixar is how they deal with deeper topics in their films. Let ‘Bao’ be a sneak peek how what the future could hold for the animation studio. Just in the way ‘Coco’ expressed a different culture in a respectful way, ‘Bao’ exposed what the studio is able to achieve when they bring artists from different backgrounds, showing new realities that are relatable to a wider audience.

Right Down The Middle Of Main Street U.S.A.

January 2006.

Uncles and cousins were there, laughing and celebrating the trip. The Florida breeze and the fireworks blushing the myriad of colors over the park wandered on my eyes as I scream at Big Thunder Mountain. The score of the Wishes nighttime spectacular filled the speakers throughout the Magic Kingdom.

Time to go. Walking right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A., I made the mistake of contemplating Cinderella’s Castle. Sobbing started as we went to the monorail, as if they were taking from my hands a special sort of talisman.

Every time I walk out of Magic Kingdom and look at the castle, the tears of my internal child start falling on my cheeks.

My first visit to the Magic Kingdom was when I was nine months. Since then, I’ve visited Walt Disney World countless times. I’ve had the chance of visiting Disneyland in California and Disneyland Paris. It has been inevitable to be attached to these places that represent so many of my nostalgic memories.

The Disney parks represent family in many ways. They represent moments that I’ve shared with brothers, cousins and uncles. It has also been a place of sour farewells. Time sugarcoats the photos of past visits.

In an article named ‘Disneyland Is Good For You’, Imagineer John Hench pinpointed the ‘pseudomenace’ as the sentiment shared by millions of park guests. There’s no other place to have a trip to the second star to the right, survive a haunted mansion with 999 happy haunts and sing ‘Under The Sea’ in a single day. It is filled with minor details that really turn dreams into a palpable reality, bonding the experience to your inner self.

Theme parks are multisensory experiences. You will never understand a kid’s obsession to meet his favorite character until Mickey Mouse talks to you just like in the beloved animated shorts. Once you’re part of the fantasy, the game begins as if in a virtual reality experience.

Disney parks mean different things for different people. Decades elapse and millions of families keep visiting. It’s a second home to many fans. Every single change in the park affects their feelings and memories. They are part of a tightly knit fan community. When an attraction closes, many cheer and others lament it. Imagineers constantly use Walt’s phrase to justify closures or refurbishments: ‘Disneyland will never be completed. It will grow and change as long as there is imagination left in the world’.

These attractions and places have emotions and experiences attached to them. I understood that when a host from the Retro Disney World podcast told the story of how Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, closed in 1998, reminded him of his mother, who recently passed away on the recording date.

When people fly with Dumbo or hop aboard a pirate ship with Peter Pan, it creates a moment that is deeply rooted into your memories. It isn’t about the attraction, but of the feelings that takes you back down memory lane.

Disney movies are my infancy. Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Melody Time, Peter Pan, Fantasia, and more. The animated characters hypnnotized me. There was a mysticism behind them that lasted even after the movie ended. I remember that my Peter Pan VHS had a documentary that explained the behind the scenes story of the movie, showing animators studying real actors as reference for the characters. That was the first time that I understood how these movies were made frame by frame, changing my perception about the art of animation.

Every time I watch an animated film, I admire each detail of the frame. I laugh at gags I didn’t noticed as a child, admire the color palette, observe the depth of vision achieved by the multiplane camera. I have had a whole different experience every time I watch the movies.

Disney Channel is the sole reason to watch television. I came back from school, had lunch and went to see my favorite series. When ‘Zapping Zone’ started, I would take a bath in between commercials so I wouldn’t miss a thing. Then, there was the featured film. As the credits rolled, I went to sleep.

But what Disney Channel made the most was to relive my park memories and fandom. I would watch promotional material and featurettes, search over the internet about the most recent news and rumors, and I played endless nights in the Virtual Magic Kingdom, an online community that opened for the 50th anniversary of Disneyland.

When I discovered that there were fans with the same enthusiasm, I followed them. I stayed for hours reading Doombuggies.com, a site dedicated to The Haunted Mansion, and TellNoTales.com, a site dedicated to Pirates Of The Caribbean. I would read them thoroughly until I could say every single detail about the attractions’ history.

The history behind these two attractions grabbed me immediately. I saw the secrets behind the curtain, marveled at everything. As a magic enthusiast, the details of the illusions behind the attractions were fascinating to me.

Another aspect that I discovered during my research about the parks was the close relation they had with Walt Disney. When you consider that Walt invested so much to Disneyland even though nobody believed in the project, it becomes the story of a creative battle. The parks were the last big project that Walt oversaw. His ambitions in Florida wasn’t only a theme park, but a whole new city dedicated to presenting a new way of urban living. E.P.C.O.T. would be the name of this experimental city, while what we know as Epcot is just a tribute to Walt’s great and undone project.

While learning about all the process involved in the design and the construction of the parks and attractions, I also learned about other topics. My sensibilities regarding visual design, architecture, the use of color, storytelling, visual transitions, and the smart use of engineering solutions is thanks to all my investigations about the Disney parks. Every time I enter a mall or any public space, I think of a hundred ways of improving the experience. When I visit the parks, I know when a special effect is not in place, the sound isn’t in sync and there’s an malfunctioning Audio Animatronic.

The story behind Walt Disney Imagineering makes me believe that creativity has no limits. How can you explain that a group of animators, with no knowledge about three dimensional designs, architecture, engineering or the inner workings of a restaurant, were able to design a theme park? These are multi disciplinary creative geniuses. For them, the sky is the limit, no matter the tools required needed to achieve it. I identify myself with them because curiosity takes me to many creative projects, never sticking to one thing at a time. Some days I’m a magician, others I’m a film director, writer, or actor. My limit isn’t the craft, but the sky itself.

This history of the parks captivates me. It represents a world where they try to achieve the impossible everyday. It helps you dream and eliminate frontiers. There are no attachments rather than hard work and creativity. Walt Disney is the most visible example, moving from short films to fully animated features, then to the world of television and later to theme parks and urban planning.

I am grateful of the parks because of the memories, feelings, happiness and sadness that they have given me. I also thank them for my admiration for design, architecture, storytelling, engineering and technology.

Since that small discovery over the internet in 2006, my passion keeps growing. Everyday I have a list of Twitter users, podcasts, blogs, and books about the topic of the history of the parks. I even discuss about new color palettes in a building of Main Street U.S.A.

I’m a Disney fan because it has given me experiences, teachings and feelings that I have found nowhere else. It has accompanied me in every moment in different ways. The history of Walt Disney connects in many ways towards my aspirations of the future.

So when people ask me why I am a fan, to explain it shortly, I just tell them that story back in 2006, turning around to see Cinderella’s Castle with tears running down my cheeks.

‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ Review: Don’t Judge A Superhero(ine) By Its Size

How can you release ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, both films critically praised by critics and audiences alike, and still release a movie that tops both or equals the quality of these stories?

Well, apparently, Marvel can.

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Because ‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ isn’t only a palate cleanser after ‘Avengers: Infinity War’.

‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ is a great film about family and unique personalities, something that the studio has been able to pin down to a point were you’re not even interested about the powers a suit might have.

The story takes place a few years after ‘Ant-Man’, apparently slightly before ‘Avengers:Infinity War’. After Scott Lang helps Captain America against Tony Stark in ‘Captain America: Civil War’, he is placed under house arrest, ending the close relationship with Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne. When Hope and Pym find out a way to activate a device that transports you to the quantum realm, they recruit Scott once more while making sure the FBI still thinks he is under house arrest. All three will have to go under several attempts to open the quantum realm to save Hope’s mother, who went subatomical during a mission almost 30 years ago. Under the way, they’ll find a new compelling villain whose name is Ava, while they also deal with a black market dealer and the FBI.

The film does a really good job at explaining the stakes at hand and retelling the story of Janet Van Dyne and her disappearance, meaning that even a person who never saw the original ‘Ant-Man’ could easily follow the plot throughout the film. The explanation that sets up the whole plot from the very beginning allows the film to never stop, keeping its pace constant without rushing every scene. As we go through, Ant-Man’s involvement in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ is constantly hinted at, so you don’t need to necessarily watch the film to know what is going on. A round of applause to the screenwriters who were able to handle this amount of exposition in a short amount of time and still make it interesting. This compares drastically to ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2’, who was never really able to keep the story of Peter Quill’s father in a compelling way to get rid of to many scenes with exposition.

Because Scott Lang is under house arrest and Pym doesn’t trust him anymore, we se lots and lots of Wasp in the film. This is great to show her abilities besides the suit, because it really pays off after all the frustration Hope had of not being able to help during ‘Ant-Man’. The initial action sequences are filled with fun moments, easy to follow through, and very well directed by Peyton Reed. The movie is able to handle subplots that keep the main characters occupied while still evolving throughout the story, especially Scott trying to show Hank and Hope that he still can be useful for the mission.

Very early on we meet Ghost/Ava Starr, a villain with heart. She is mainly finding a way to stabilize herself, not making her a real villain besides the fact that she confronts the heroes out of frustration. This villain is one of the most empathetic characters from the Marvel Universe, so much that it competes with Killmonger’s ‘Black Panther’.

This movie differs from the comedic moments you might see from Marvel films, rather than the usual one liners, the movie focuses on great visual gags, especially in the final action sequences. I laughed from start to finish, while the movie still is able to deliver a lot of heart. ‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ couldn’t be complete without Luis and the gang. They eventually become an important part of the mission. And who doesn’t want a good story from Luis’ himself?

The story of Hope’s mother keeps you interested to see if they will be able to achieve it throughout the film. The family story is the through line that keeps everything tight plot wise. ‘Ant-Man’ was all about Scott Lang and becoming the father his daughter thinks he is. ‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ is about Hank Pym showing Hope he still cares about her and he always wanted to protect her after the disappearance of her mother.

Two end credits appear in the film. The first one directly relates to ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and clearly shuts down a possibility for the superheroes to be saved. The second end credit is a fun one, but it also could show a possibility were Ant-Man and The Wasp could be crucial in the next Avengers film.

‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ just became my favorite Marvel movie since Guardians Of The Galaxy, and it will sure win your heart over. Yes, it is another superhero film, but Peyton Reed and the cast has been able to create a unique film that departs from the MCU, balancing the personal struggles of the characters with the really fun action sequences.

Book Review: Three Years In Wonderland by Todd James Pierce

The construction of Disneyland has become a vital chapter of Walt Disney’s career. This project has been documented and talked about in documentaries, TV specials, promotional material, and more. Some of the difficulties they had, including opening day, have been mentioned several times, but others have been left out of the multi-year planning of Walt’s theme park.

‘Three Years In Wonderland’ narrates the untold story of Disneyland, shining light on one of the key talents that had been erased from history: C.V. Wood. This Texan businessperson was Disneyland’s first manager, as well as a planner that helped Walt and Roy during the early stages of the project.

C.V. Wood has been a lesser known character from the history of Disneyland because wasn’t fond oh him, thus erasing him from any official historiography. Even though C.V. Wood had many wrongdoings, there’s no doubt that his help was invaluable for Disneyland.

Todd James Pierce does a marvelous job documenting the life of C.V. Wood, from its early years to months before working with Walt. The beginning chapters flesh out Wood’s personality, business career and track record, showing the reasons why he would later have conflicts during the development of the Disneyland project. Later, the history of Disneyland is retold with this very important character in key moments from the development. These details are exhaustively researched, portraying the relationship between Walt, Roy, and Wood. The inclusion of the Texan businessperson even affects the opening of Disneyland, thus explaining some of the many other problems faced during what is known as Black Sunday.

Even though this book is mainly targeted at theme park fans, Todd James Pierce did an amazing job at writing a great book for anyone who doesn’t know anything about the history of Disneyland. This is what makes ‘Three Years In Wonderland’ a great read. The author didn’t just fill the gaps; he tells the story from the dry beginning and showing how the official history blends in with the omitted chapters. This book on the creation of the first American theme park will be cherished by theme park fans and historians alike for years to come.

Music Album Review: You’ll Find Me On Main Street By Tammy Tuckey

Many artists release their own take at Disney songs from the parks, films, and TV. Most of these albums are just a rendition of songs without a clear concept or through line. Tammy Tuckey has released ‘You’ll Find Me On Main Street’, an album that blends popular pieces to more personal songs, all with a clear concept.

Tammy Tuckey is the host of ‘The Tiara Talk Show’ podcast, who has interviewed many Disney artists from different areas and projects. With her ability to find obscure or unknown talent from Disney for interviews, she has a surprising number of artists who collaborated in many songs.

‘Tomorrow’s Child/ New Horizons’, a piece filled with hope that relives the nostalgia of a beloved attraction, kicks off the album with an arrangement that seamlessly blends both songs. The song also includes many technical flourishes, showing Tammy’s vocal skills. Subtle details and nuances make the track feel like it was made in the 80’s, an artistic decision that helps you transport to Epcot during those golden years.

Next song is ‘Someone Like Me’, a track from the Doug musical that performed at Disney-MGM Studios during the 90’s. I never heard of this piece, but it is a welcome addition of the album. It keeps the nostalgic mood of Horizons, slowly bringing up the cheer. The theme of hope transforms into joy as we head over to ‘The Great Outdoors’, a theme park classic from the Magic Kingdom. Tammy is accompanied with Byron Berline, the original banjo player from all the iterations of The Country Bears. This iteration of the song doesn’t derive too much from the original track.

In the middle of the album, the best track shows up. ‘Two Brothers’, featuring Ali B Olmo who sings the original track from The American Adventure, has some great interesting touches that transform the piece into the emotional track it is. It’s slow pace and simplicity bring this track to the main stage.

’Strangers Like Me’ is one of my all time favorite Disney movie songs. This cover uses percussions from the great Mike McKee that brings an energy on par with the original. The arrangement feels less grand, focusing more on the percussions and the vocals with offers a different taste for the track.

‘Celebrate The Future Hand In Hand’ and ‘Remember The Magic’ close the album with the same message of hope and joy that is introduced in the beginning. Each song has its own style that gives the lyrics a different message. This album portrays hope and moving forward in a way that is needed in the current moments of uncertainty.

Overall, ‘Youll Find Me On Main Street’ is an album that decides to deliver more than just a tribute of beloved songs. Tammy Tuckey takes the tracks and give them a structure so that they fit in the concept of the album. This is why it deserves a listen from many fans whose hopes are also reflected in these songs.

‘You’ll Find Me On Main Street’ is her debut album and is available on iTunes, Amazon, Apple Music and Spotify.