Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Disney Saving Mr. Banks...The Blu-Ray Review

by Al Kessel

By now, most of you probably know our thoughts on the Disney motion picture, Saving Mr. Banks. We LOVED it. We treated ourselves to an outing to see it at the theatre, and wrote a short review then and expressed our views. But recently, we were surprised to receive a review copy of the Blu-Ray/Digital HD version of this wonderful film, and our thoughts did change a bit. Now we TOTALLY love Saving Mr. Banks! 
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney

Ok, before you go saying "Uh-oh, they drank the Disney Kool-Aid", let me explain a few things to you. I love Disneyland. I do. I'm not ashamed to admit that, and say it proudly! And I love the Walt Disney, because of what he did for the world. No matter what a person may think of the Disney company, or of Walt himself, you have to admit that he IS responsible for so many wonderful things in our world. He reinvented entertainment, and, through his films and theme parks, reintroduced so many people to happiness and their inner-child. Saving Mr. Banks is the story of one particular project that he fought long and hard to bring to the world, called Mary Poppins. 
Walt, The Sherman Brothers and Don DaGrati

I'm not going to get into all the pros/cons of this film, but suffice it to say that a LOT of people vehemently dislike Saving Mr. Banks and accuse it of so many negative things, as well as being totally historically incorrect. Well, I wasn't there. I don't know exactly what went down during the period this film depicts. Disney may have taken some liberties with certain aspects, but you know what? No where did they claim this was a documentary. Right? Unlike many docudramas like Lincoln for example, who without any doubt at all took HUGE artistic liberties. But I don't recall anyone crying foul on that! Anyway, I digress...
Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

Saving Mr. Banks brings to live the untold story about the origins of one of the most treasured Disney classics of all time - Mary Poppins. Millions love and adore Mary Poppins, but few knew the almost impossible task it was to bring this film to the big screen. It took Walt twenty years to convince author P.L. Travers to allow him the rights to her beloved Mary Poppins (NEVER just Mary!), and Saving Mr. Banks shows us how Walt was able to fulfill a twenty year old promise to his daughters. Through flashbacks, we learn a great deal about P.L. and her childhood, her relationship with her adoring father, and how she found inspiration for her most treasured, and popular, character. 
Walt introduces P.L. to Disneyland

Strolling Down Main Street, U.S.A.

P.L. on Jingles...Joyce's Favorite as well!

Tom Hanks brings an incredible believability to his portrayal of Walt Disney. Although Tom looks nothing like Walt, through his vocal inflections and body language, you actually find yourself believing he IS Walt. Although until this film I was unfamiliar with P.L. Travers as a person, I have since watched video and heard the real Travers on audio, and I must say, in my opinion, Emma Thompson did a WONDERFUL job portraying the uncompromising and stubborn author of Mary Poppins. Featuring a stellar supporting cast that includes Colin Farrell as Travers Goff, Paul Giamatti as Ralph (P.L.'s driver), Jason Schwartzman as Richard M. Sherman, B.J. Novak (from T.V.'s The Office) as Robert Sherman, Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi and many more, Saving Mr. Banks is without a doubt an incredible, heartwarming and uplifting movie true to the Disney name. 
Colin Farrell as Travers Goff

Just a side note here: Paul Giamatti's character Ralph is a completely fictitious invention of Disney. Although many may say this is just another example of Disney altering facts to their favor, I see it in a different way. In order for the storytellers to portray P.L. Travers backstory, it was necessary to introduce a 'vehicle' of sorts. I'm certain 'Ralph' is an amalgam of many characters, but it was just simpler to portray them as one person. I personally feel his character worked very well!
Paul Giamotti as 'Ralph'

Saving Mr. Banks is now available on Blu-Ray, Digital Copy, DVD now and includes the following:

  • The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to Present (Blu-Ray & Digital HD) Join Director John Lee Hancock on a tour of the Disney Studios lot, reflect on studio life during the making of Mary Poppins, and discover how Walt’s creative spirit still flourishes today.
  • Let's Go Fly A Kite: (Blu-Ray & Digital HD) - Cast and crew sing break out in a rousing, heartfelt tribute to Composer Richard Sherman on the last day of filming.
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Stargaze (Blu-Ray & Digital HD) - A picture on Walt's desk leads to a flashback of Pamela's childhood
    • Nanny Song (Blu-ray, DVD, & Digital HD) – The Sherman Brothers perform a song for Pamela that she is less than thrilled with.
    • Pam Leaves (Blu-Ray & Digital HD) - After yet another disagreement with Walt, Pamela leaves his office and heads for the airport
All of the bonus material is terrific. The Walt Disney Studios special, however, is our favorite. This exclusive and wonderful behind the camera look at the Walt Disney Studios is, in my opinion, well worth the purchase of Saving Mr. Banks. 
The 'Real' Mary Poppins?

At just over two hours, Saving Mr. Banks is certainly a great family movie that's not too long, not too short, but "practically perfect"! A MUST HAVE for anyone who loves Mary Poppins, Walt Disney, or Disneyland (when Walt takes P.L. to Disneyland....well, I was just in heaven!). But of course, that's just OUR opinion! - Al 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Disney Frozen...a Review

 by Al Kessel

You know the story...You've got a brother, or a sister, and you're the best of friends. You do EVERYTHING together, you play, you build snowmen, you sing, you dance. Then, something tragic happens and you drift apart. You realize your powers to control winter are just to darned strong and getting stronger every day. So, your parents decide to hide you away from the world - even your best friend/sibling - until you can control it. It happens to just about everyone when we're young...well, except for the power over the whole winter thing...

In Disney's latest animated motion picture, that is exactly what happens to our heroines. As children, Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (voiced by the wickedly talented Adel Dazeem...err, I mean Idina Menzel) are the best of friends. Anna, being the younger sister, idolizes her big sis Elsa and Elsa just adores Anna. They love playing games, especially games that include Elsa using her secret blizzardy-wintery-snow-and-ice-making powers! Elsa loves to cover the room in ice so Anna can slide around. Loves building their favorite snowman Olaf for Anna. A perfect life. Until a tragic accident that Elsa causes nearly kills her little sis. An accident that causes her parents to keep Elsa protected from herself (and, I'd posit, everyone safe from Elsa), until they can figure out how to control those powers. Of course, years, and years pass by and the distance between Elsa and Anna grows, much to young Anna's dismay. 
Anna, Olaf and Kristoff

And in true epic fashion, one day, their parents (King and Queen of Arendell) perish at sea, leaving the young girls to be raised by the castle staff! Anyway, the day finally arrives, and Elsa comes of age and is crowned the new Queen. Of course, she's still wary of coming in contact with people and keeps to herself during the coronation ceremony. Anna, quite the opposite of her introverted sister, meets a young prince, decides she wants to marry him and begs her sister for approval. Elsa disapproves, gets in to an argument with Anna (who accidentally removes Elsa's glove), and in the heat of anger, Elsa unleashes her powers with a vengeance! And as she runs away into the wilderness, all of Arendell is turned into the a brutal winter wonderland. 

To prove her sister isn't the monster the villagers fear she is, Anna sets out, with the help of ice delivery dude Kristoff, to find Elsa, have her return summer and live happily ever after and, or, as Elsa would say "Let It Go".
Elsa Blasting Some Chill

Of course, there's a LOT more to this movie than what I skimmed over here, but if you're a regular reader of our blog, you know we don't like to give too much away. So, if you want more detail, you'll need to see the movie yourself. And, if you've already seen Frozen...well, then you don't need ME to explain it, now DO you?! :)

Disney Frozen IS a cute movie. Joyce and I didn't get to see it in the theatre when it was first released, so this screening was our first viewing. Now...over the many months since Frozen had been released, there's been a lot of hype concerning it, especially the main song, 'Let It Go'. Which, by the way, we've heard MANYMANYMANYMANYMANY times over the last few months! And, Mr. Travolta didn't help THAT any, now did he! Anyway, when we popped the Blu-Ray in, we were a bit concerned that Frozen wasn't going to live up to all the incredible hype and awesome recommendations by everyone. And...I'm sorry to say, it didn't. Now, before you leave the blog and banish us to the frozen wilderness for all of eternity, hear me out. I didn't say it was a bad movie - no, FAR from it. We LOVED it. The animation was, for lack of a better word, spectacular. Disney has pretty much perfected animation. Character movements were incredibly realistic. The scenery, all the way down to the finest of details were unbelievable. The story was great (based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Snow Queen), and the voice acting was terrific. We LOVED Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad). least in the beginning, there is WAY too many musical numbers. As you probably know, I'm not much for musicals. I just don't really love them. But in most Disney musical movies, the songs don't outweigh the non-musical scenes, so I actually don't mind them. But, in Disney Frozen, especially in the first half of the movie, every few minutes there's another musical number, and I personally feel they don't all serve the story well. But, that's just me. Now, I mentioned earlier that for us, Frozen didn't live up to all the hype. I remember many people who saw it in the theatre post on social media that it was the BEST Disney animated movie ever. Ah...well...I disagree. Perhaps technically (animation/production) it is, but I'd have to toss out movies like The Lion King, Bambi, The Jungle Book, just to name a few that I feel are a little better. However, Disney Frozen is DEFINITELY a new classic. 
Olaf, Always Looking At The Bright Side

All of the voice cast were spot on in Frozen. Kristen Bell was perfect as Anna. Idina Menzel (whom I've never heard of before) was terrific as Elsa. But, my all time favorite character in Frozen is of course, Olaf, as voiced by the very funny Josh Gad. Although Olaf isn't given a great deal of screen time, I felt his character brought a lot of heart to Frozen. His simple, yet deep meaning way kind of epitomizes the Disney Spirit for me. He's always looking on the bright side of things, always willing to lend others a hand (literally) and always the voice of positiveness. 

All in all, Disney Frozen is another great and epic Disney animated adventure. It is definitely a must see for the entire family. It has many things for children and adults to admire. Disney Frozen will be released on March 18th, 2014 in the following:

  • Two-Disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital Copy) MSRP $29.99
  • One-Disc DVD MSRP $15.99
Bonus Features Include:

  • The Making Of Frozen (Blu-Ray, Digital)
  • D'Frosted: Disney's Journey From Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen (Blu-Ray, Digital)
  • Breaking The Ice: The Real Making Of Frozen (Blu-Ray, Digital)
  • 4 Deleted Scenes (Blu-Ray, Digital)
  • Original Theatrical Short - "Get A Horse" (Blu-Ray, Digital, DVD)
  • "Let It Go" Music Videos by Demi Lovato, Martina Stoessel and Marsha Milan Londoh (Blu-Ray, Digital, DVD)
  • Frozen Teaser Trailer (Blu-Ray, Digital, DVD)

Now, just a few thoughts about the bonus feature "Get A Horse". Usually, we don't review the bonus features, but we thought this one deserved a mention. THIS cartoon short makes the purchase of your very own copy of Frozen well worth it. If you don't want to be spoiled on this part...stop reading now and skip down................."Get a Horse" starts out just as one of Walt Disney's original shorts used to. In fact, the animation, the music, the look and feel of this short looks exactly as if Walt himself had created it. It stars Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pete and all of Mickey's friends. Of course, Pete is causing all sorts of trouble and is trying to kidnap Minnie. Well, things happen and...Mickey is thrown out of the original cartoon and into the color world of 3D animation! I won't give more away, but this short is a wonderful blending of old school animation and new school 3D animation. And it is SEAMLESS! Trust me, you're going to LOVE this short, so don't skip over it.

So, we recommend that you add Disney Frozen to your Disney collection, but, if you haven't seen it yet, and have read all the build up on it, just be aware that it may not live up to EVERYONE'S accolades. IS a great movie! Enjoy - Al 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tales From The Mouse House...Ep 88

Well, welcome to Episode 88 of Tales From The Mouse House Disneyland Podcast!!! YAHOO! We’ve got a special sort of different kind of show for you today! Instead of our usual format, we change things up a bit and launch a (possibly) NEW style - FREE STYLIN’!! We go off script and share some of our favorite things about the Disneyland Resort! You’ve GOT to tune in to this EXTRA LARGE episode to find out!

Ok, we'll give you a hint: we decided to come up with a series of questions, like, what's your favorite attraction, that sort of thing. Then we'll reveal what we answered then discuss. Now, neither of us knows what the other answered so some things may be the same, some different. Joyce came up with this idea, to shake things up a bit and keep things FRESH. So, if you like it, be sure to thank her...WE certainly enjoyed recording this episode! We had a lot of fun and Joyce actually said this was her favorite show to record - out of the MANY, MANY we've done in almost FOUR years!

We'd LOVE for you guys to get in to this fun! How about, after listening, you come up with your own answers to the questions we posed each other and email them to us at 

Oh, our GREAT friend Dean Carrington sent us a terrific gift, actually two. He sent us a couple copies of a new Disney Hyperion Publishing book called Big Rig. Dean is friends with the illustrator of this awesome children's book, set in the Cars world, and both are autographed by the narrator! One for us and one for...whoever wins the contest we're launching soon!! So, be sure to keep an ear out!

Hey, if YOU'RE in need of a great travel agent, why not give our sponsor, Randy Crane from Mouse Ear Vacations a holler! I bet he can make YOUR vacation a MAGICAL one! Visit Randy at NOW is the time to book your 2014 Disney adventure! 

As always, If you’d like to send in comments for the show, you can send us an email to, leave us voicemail on the Hotline at 304-TALES23, leave us feedback in iTunes or leave comments for us on our Twitter account @talespodcast. Heck, you can even find us on FaceBook, just search for Tales From The House House - Disneyland podcast! 

Thanks for making us part of your Disney experience and remember…

"Make It A Mickey Day!" ~~ Al & Joyce

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Happiest Blog On Earth...A Year Later...

Well, a different sort of entry for me. This one won't be about Disney, or Disneyland,  it's going to be about me. No, I'm not narcissistic (yes...I had to look up the spelling), but I wanted to share some bits and pieces of the last year with you all.

Wow...a year. A YEAR. 12 months. 365 days. That's a long time, right? Well, guess that depends on what glasses you're wearing when you look back at that year. But wait, let me back up a bit...

On March 5, 2013 life for me and Joyce got very interesting, and I don't mean "hey, that's a nice flower growing in your ear" interesting. I mean life changing 'what now' interesting. 

As many of you know, Joyce and I work(ed) for the same University. Joyce has been there for 13 years, and I (was) there 14 years. A LONG time. A COMFORTABLE existence. Then, on March 5, I was called in to a meeting room and was informed that my job, of 14 years, was being eliminated due to 'major workforce reductions'. Wow. 14 years. In the same job. In the same building. Working every day with my wife. Did I mention it was 14 YEARS?! I was lucky. I LOVED working at the same company as Joyce. It was awesome. Now, a lot of people used to ask us "how in the heck can you live together, AND work together?". Well, simple. We LOVE each other. DUH! It was great! 

But one year ago, on March 5, 2013, that all ended. Life had been irreversibly changed, forever (yeah I know, VERY dramatic dude). I went from being gainfully and moderately comfortably employed to...well, nothing. I still remember that day quite well. It's funny too, because you hear of people who go into shock not able to remember certain events immediately following the event (trust me, I have experienced that sort of shock a couple of times in my life, and have actually experienced that sort of amnesia). And although I know I WAS in shock after hearing those words "I'm sorry, but there's no place for your oldness in our new world" (ok, MAYBE they didn't say EXACTLY those words...), I do remember the day quite well. Since Joyce worked (still does) there too, management was nice enough to allow her to take the rest of the day off to be with me. On the way home, I remember going through a few different emotions: Anger, Sadness, Happiness, etc, and I remember having some serious anxiety. Then, Joyce said something TOTALLY unexpected: "Hey, now you have the opportunity to pursue your dream! Start your voiceover company and do it full time! We'll be fine!" HUH? Really? See, THIS is why I KNOW that Joyce is my 'soul mate'. While I was going through Dante's Seven Levels of Hell, Joyce was looking at the positive side of this extremely horrible event. 

So, I began to change my thought process a little. I started to run different scenarios for a business model in my head: ok, straight commercial voiceover work, audiobook narration (because I had at that point already recorded one audiobook), or perhaps a combination. Yeah, that's it...offer BOTH services! So, at that moment, Storyteller Productions was born! I already had a profile on a site owned by Amazon/Audible called Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), which is an awesome place for narrators and authors to 'hook up' and create audiobooks. But I'd not really done anything with it. So, I added some more demo samples to my profile and started looking for titles accepting auditions. Funny thing, I had that profile since December of 2012 and never ever had anyone interested. But 2 days after 'The Event", out of the blue I was offered 3 audiobooks a day apart! Three that I didn't even audition for, the authors found my profile and thought my voice was right for their project! 

At Joyce's urging, I began building up the things I needed to start this Voice Over biz. I started reading lots of articles, following VO people on FaceBook and YouTube, watching HOURS of videos on how to place your microphone; WHICH microphones were better; audio editing software, etc. And, the most aggravating part - how to sound treat a room. You know, how to make your workspace nearly soundproof so external noises like AIRPLANES, LOUD CARS, MOTORCYCLES, LAWN EQUIPMENT, don't hinder the recording. Well, I've solved the microphone and software issues (purchased a GREAT editing software and a GREAT microphone). BUT...the sound treatment...well, let's just say it's a work in progress. Oh, I've got a fairly decent area, but still would LOVE to have a real audio booth. And there's the training issue. Now, for those unfamiliar, most successful narrators/voice actors spend years and thousands of dollars on voice lessons, technical training and acting lessons. Well, I do not have the luxury of years or dollars, so, this has been a very trying time! I've had to learn what I can 'second hand', bug and pester many excellent voice actors for advice (who I might add, I thank from the bottom of my heart for their patience and willingness to answer questions). But it's difficult to get someone to understand that, yes, I DO understand that it takes a long time to make serious money in this business, but I don't HAVE that kind of time. I'm 49 years old! And desperate for money! :-) 

At first, life was not so bad. We had the severance and some other funds, but those petered out. And life began to get stressful - financially. We went from living pretty ok, to scraping pennies at times. Now, it's not like I'm NOT looking for work. I won't name names, but I'm positive there are a few in my life who believe that I'm not looking and that I'm satisfied with letting my wife foot the bill while I 'play voice actor'. I've submitted no less than 300 resumes over the last year. I've even applied for jobs at fast-food restaurants and coffee places. Not. One. Call back. In fact, I was even rejected for a job at another University saying I wasn't qualified enough....FOR THE SAME JOB I'D DONE FOR 14 YEARS! Of course, there's probably some logical explanation, but I believe that A) I was in the same job for 14 years so many employers probably feel I won't stay in a low level position; B) I'm 49 years old. Most employers want 'young blood'; and C) I have two college degrees and possibly, employers will react like point A.

It's been a rough year. In many ways. Ok, let me stop here and admit a few things. When you've been at the same job for that long, the job begins to define you. It's your identification. I was 'the VA guy' (Veterans Affairs). That's what I did and WHO I was. Even though (honestly) over the last few years the job became unfulfilling and 'corporate life' began to suck the life out of me, it was still ME. When that is pulled away, you're left with a 'ok, NOW who am I' line of thought that can and does do a number on your confidence. It's sort of like going through a grieving process. You actually hit all 5 stages, and truthfully, it can drive you into depression and seriously damage your self-confidence. So, when Joyce suggested I begin a 'new' life as a voice actor, I thought sure! But deep down, I doubted my ability.

I've narrated quite a few books since last March, and THINK I'm on the upward slope, but still, there's that part of me that was 'damaged' a year ago that keeps saying 'you're no good. Quit now. You NEED a real job. EVERYONE is saying that you're not making it!' (I know, my inner voice is quite a jerk!). Trust me, I've had many melt-downs over the last year, and poor Joyce has had to suffer through them. But, she's NEVER lost confidence in me, even when I have great difficulty in having ANY in myself. She's never let me quit this endeavor, though I've 'given up' many, many, many times. But not Joyce. She, for some WEIRD reason believes in me. She believes that I have a talent for this business and won't let me quit. 

Besides my AWESOME wife, I have a couple of great friends (funny, we've never met face to face, but still...) that encourage me as well. You know who you are, so I won't embarrass you here (besides, I didn't get written approval to use your names, don't need a legal hassle! :-) ). 

So, what's the point in this long, boring and self pitying tome? That's a great question! I guess I just wanted to update you all. As many of you know, Joyce and I host a couple of podcasts (Tales From The Mouse House Disneyland podcast and Lost Flight 815), and have heard us chat briefly about this situation. But not many of you know how hard it's been. Change is NEVER easy. I don't care what anyone says, good change or bad change, it's never easy. There are always serious things to take into consideration. And that's the thing about THIS sort of's tough to plan for. Over the past year I've put myself through a lot of potentially damaging things. And I say 'put myself through' because thats exactly what it is: ME doing it to MYSELF. I used to say that no one can do anything to us unless WE allow them to. No one has power over you unless YOU give it to them. And...unfortunately over the last year, I've allowed my negative self to have power. And that is bad. Negativity sucks the life out of you. I've beat myself up horribly over this past year. Anytime over the last year when I'd start thinking positively, get some motivation to just keep swimming, that STUPID voice would shout...'STOP! YOU SUCK!' But the odd thing is, this morning I woke up in a pretty good, positive mood. For the first time in a year, I actually feel like things will be great. Maybe this last year has been a process...a rebuilding time (kind of like we ALWAYS hear about the Arizona Cardinals!). I had to be completely destroyed in order for the 'new me', the me defined by ME, to emerge. 

Don't get me wrong, it has been VERY difficult, and yes, I know the difficult times are not over. BUT...I know that with Joyce by my side, giving me that kick in the buttocks I need every once in awhile, we'll be fine. And, as I look back on March 5, 2013, I see it as the day my old life died - it was both a blessing and a tragedy. Blessing because I was released from a job that I was NOT happy in, one that was life sucking and left me mentally and emotionally exhausted every day. A tragedy because, well, you! It took a year for me to realize I had to let go of the past, of the 'old me'. 

So, my advice to anyone going through a similar life changing event is...go ahead, be sad. Be mournful. Grieve. It's natural to freak out about what happened and what WILL happen. the end, let that event trigger something glorious, something BETTER. Don't wallow in self pity and allow YOURSELF the power to bully YOU. Now, I'm not thinking life is all rainbows, puppies and unicorns. I'm fully aware that life is not done being hard. It's not done delivering blows to my man-berries. BUT...I know that that's part of life. You need some resistance in order to grow. Look at muscle building for example: in order for muscles to grow strong, you have to first break down the fibers to initiate your bodies adaptation mode. The harder you work the muscles, the more you break down the cells, the more your body will build MORE muscle to respond. It's not an easy thing to completely change your life, especially after nearly half a century, but it's not impossible. 

If you're interested in learning more about my voiceover career, visit our company website at or LIKE our FaceBook page at Storyteller Narration, or visit my Narrators Page on ACX at Al Kessel Narrator. Thanks for reading my rant.  - Al