There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

Humor me for a few minutes as I time travel a bit.

I'm old enough now to remember the days when Walt Disney was the visionary of our time. I remember the days when the Tomorrowland located in Disneyland Park really conceived a distant world of the future. 

Back then, the iconic Carousel of Progress was really a vision into a future that was possible, but still "out there." 


The latest offering from Disney Pictures, Tomorrowland, starts us out at the New York World's Fair in 1964. I practically came out of my seat when they began with the Sherman Brother's song, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" that they used to play in the Carousel of Progress.  

Perfect, Disney. You've totally got my attention. 

I got to see the film in the beautiful Grauman's (now TCL) Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. In IMAX. (Side note: Go see this film in IMAX. It's sooo worth it, but that's not important right now.)


You know the one I mean. It has every Hollywood legend's footprints and autographs captured forever in cement.


I immediately found who I was looking for.


And the inside of the Chinese Theatre was so over-the-top-crazy-beautiful. Before the picture started I was already in Hollywood Movie Heaven.


The film, Tomorrowland was introduced to us by none other than the director, Brad Bird himself. He tried to explain what type of movie we were going to see.

Science fiction? Yes.

Action Adventure? Yes.

Mystery? Yes.

Suspense? Yes.

Comedy? Yes.

Family? Most definitely yes.

Tomorrowland553532d134e3f 2

Tomorrowland was created by Walt Disney as a section of Disneyland in 1955 - also the year I was born. (Coincidence? I think not.)

It was a time when Americans imagined an optimistic future. Over the years since, the public’s view of the future grew dark.

Director, Brad Bird: “Any time that there is an empty canvas, there are two ways to look at it: One is emptiness and the other one is wide open to possibility. And that’s how I like to look at the future—wide open to possibility. It is a view that has fallen out of favor in terms of looking at the future.”

This shift in thinking also intrigued writer-producer Damon Lindelof, so when he began to synthesize the story for Tomorrowland, he looked for what Tomorrowland meant and how it could be represented in a story line. “I really wanted to recapture that earlier optimism.” 

The story of Tomorrowland started with a box labeled “1952,” supposedly discovered by accident in the Disney Studios archive. The mystery box contained all sorts of fascinating models and blueprints, photographs and letters related to the inception of Tomorrowland and the 1964 World’s Fair.

Lindelof was excited by the find and recalls, “I began to imagine that the contents of the box were a guide to a secret story that nobody knew. But if so, what would that story be? And the most obvious answer to me was that there really was a place called Tomorrowland that was not a theme park but existed somewhere in the real world.” 

So that's where the concept of the film began. With a mystery box. How delicious is that? 

The film itself is beautiful and the acting top notch. As the audience we are taken on a wild ride from the 1964 New York World's Fair and 'It's a Small World' ride to Cape Canaveral to Texas to Paris and on through time and space.


George Clooney is fun to watch as curmudgeonly Frank Walker. His two young female co-stars, Britt Robertson (Casey Newton) and Raffey Cassidy (Athena) hold their own and kick some serious butt along the way. Tim McGraw (Eddie Newton) is a wonderfully believable dad. And Hugh Laurie (Nix) is the guy you love to hate as the overseer of the world of the future. 

Great cast and amazing special and technical effects make this a wonderful movie for all family members. Rated PG, it's sure to engage everyone's imagination. Also, it ends with great optimism, making it a very satisfying picture.

"Imagine a place where nothing is impossible."


Disney Pictures happily takes us there.

Tomorrowland opens in theaters everywhere on May 22nd, 2015. 

George Clooney - Boy Genius. Talking about Tomorrowland

"Imagine a place where nothing is impossible." 

Of all the things that I thought that I might be writing about, never did I ever imagine that "interviewing George Clooney" would be one of those topics. 

But that happened and here we are. 

The context is that Disney Pictures has made a wonderful, oh-so-Disneyesque film called, "Tomorrowland." 


And George happens to play the lead character, Frank Walker. 

And I was invited as part of the press junket for the film, Tomorrowland held at the beautiful Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. 


The rest of the cast, Britt Robertson (“Casey Newton”), Tim McGraw (“Ed Newton”), Raffey Cassidy (“Athena”), Brad Bird (Director / Producer / Writer), Damon Lindelof (Producer / Writer), and Jeff Jensen (Story By) were also present and were all very articulate and lovely.


But, as you can imagine, I only had eyes for George. (Can you blame me?)


Clooney describes his character Frank as “a disenchanted grump who was a bit of a dreamer as a young boy, a smart little scientist kid. Young Frank goes to a place that he thinks is the greatest in the universe, and he believes the world is going to be much better off because of it.

He finds out that those things were untrue and becomes probably the most cynical person one could be. He isolates himself on his family farm and plans to spend the rest of his life there but is forced to deal with his past because of situations that happen in the film.” 


QUESTION - George, at the heart of this movie is a really big idea, which I think is powerful. You’ve made a lot of bold films in your career, particularly the more political ones. But I think this one is right up there, as far as being quite bold. Do you see it that way? 

GEORGE CLOONEY - "Putting me in a summer movie is a very bold thought." [Laughter]

"You know, listen. First and foremost, I think it is a really bold thing for Disney to be willing to do a film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t a comic book, to really invest in a summer film of this sort of ilk.

"The fun part of it, to me, was when you read the screenplay, although I have to say, just so we’re clear, when Damon and Brad showed up at my house, they said,

“We’ve got a part that we’ve written for you.” And then I opened up the description of the character and it’s a 55-year-old has-been, and I’m kind of going, 'Hang on a minute, which part am I reading for?'"

JEFF JENSEN - "It said genius, by the way. It said genius." 

GEORGE CLOONEY -  "It said former genius, boy genius, who has gotten bitter in his old age."

"I just loved the idea of, you know, we live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it’s rough out there. And it’s not fun. And it can really wear on you after a period of time. And we see generations now feeling as if it’s sort of hopeless, in a way, and what I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you’re involved, a single voice can make a difference and I believe in that.

I happen to believe in it, and so I loved the theme or the idea that, you know, there’s still so much that we can all do to make things better. And I liked it. I thought it was great."


BRAD BIRD (On growing up with great optimism for the future.) - "I grew up and remember the moon landing. I remember how that felt. I was actually in the air when they were about to get out on the surface. We were flying in from Denver, and I was like, “I’m going to miss it!” Fortunately, there were some kinds of technical errors and we landed in the airport. We ran to the nearest TV monitor and there were, like, 400 people just packed in, watching when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. And everybody just went, “Whoo!” That feeling has never left me." 

Having seen the film, I can tell you that that same feeling has never left me, either. I'll do a review on it in a few days. But for now, I'm glad to report that Disney has a vision for the future and this vision includes George Clooney. Boy Genius. 


"Imagine a place where nothing is impossible."

Like Marta interviewing George Clooney? I know. Shut up.

Tomorrowland opens in theaters on Friday, May 22nd, 2015.

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' Review - Marvelous!

Let's face it, I'm already a self-confessed Marvel Fangirl, so I went into the screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron with really high expectations. 


I am not exaggerating when I say that not only were my expectations met, they were fantastically exceeded. 


Yes, of course, this much anticipated entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an excellent popcorn movie. That was to be expected. But it's the unexpected that makes this film a home run for writer/director Joss Whedon. 

First of all, imagine taking such a formidable cast, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all accomplished actors in their own right and treating them, not just as an ensemble, but each as the stars they are. Whedon absolutely accomplished this in Age of Ultron.

Avengers255353118812fc (1)

He has taken six characters, heroes no less, and not only developed their heroic mythologies, but deepened their personal characters and advanced their relationships in a very satisfying way. 


The screenplay accomplishes this in a wonderfully compelling story which is moved along by absolutely jaw-dropping action scenes. Juxtaposing those two things was no small feat. 

Again, coming from an Uber-Nerdy Fangirl perspective, I was blown away. 

Even the introduction of a few new characters, notably, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen), even they are given a chance to shine in their own right.  Their backstory makes you love and hate them all at once. That was just genius. 


The Super Villain, Ultron (beautifully voiced by the awesomely talented James Spader) is a very credible match for the world's six most amazing superheros. 


I have to add here that the dialogue and the comedy in the film truly delivers real belly laughs. Much more so, dare I say, than many films calling themselves comedies. The one-to-one moments between the characters, (particularly the celebration that ends badly) are just as enjoyable as the action scenes. And for this type of film, that's saying a lot.


The action scenes. Ah, this is what this movie is all about, isn't it?


Yes, the world is about to be annihilated by Ultron. Of course.

But what makes this particular story more compelling than the usual the-world-is-in-peril-and-we're-all-surely-going-to-die is what I would call the "little" moments. Whedon makes us worry about a litte boy, a dog, and a family trapped in a high rise building all while the world appears to be coming to an end. I won't get into the minutia, but this is where Joss Whedon as storyteller absolutely shines. 

This type of thing is what makes us as the audience so invested in the action sequences. 


In the film's best moment, which I won't give away, the Avengers reveal that they aren't really fighting to save the world, they are fighting to save a very simple way of life depicted by a typical middle America farm with the stars and stripes proudly displayed. This humanity is what adds to the genius of this film.

I hope you appreciate how much self-control this fangirl has displayed in not giving away any of the film's best, most revealing moments. I will just say that it was an absolutely satisfying movie. 

What makes it so fantastic is that when you leave the theater, after spending 141 minutes of your life in this world, your appetite is absolutely whetted for more. 

Bravo, Marvel. Agents of Ultron is not just a home run, but a grand slam.

Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron opens in theaters everywhere today, May 1st, 2015.

Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron - Press Day

I should probably start with a disclaimer about how this post is going to have lots of photos (you can thank me later) and be really long and fangirly (<--is that a word?) and I'm probably most definitely going to be gushing.

(Oh, no! There's going to be gushing?)

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron Press Junket at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. 

And I just had the distinct pleasure of typing that last statement and can hardly believe it actually refers to my real life, but that's not important right now.


Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard that the newest Avengers film - Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be coming out in theaters on Friday, May 1st.

I promise to write a review on Friday to give you my thoughts on the film (Warning: there will probably be gushing), but today I just want to share what it was like to attend the press junket and interview the amazing cast. 

The interviews were held in the Walt Disney Studios Main Theater, which is an automatic set-up to expect something magical. 

And just in case we were a little confused about who we were interviewing, the names of the participating talent were prominently displayed in front of each seat and its corresponding microphone. 

Right here is where the pinch-me-is-this-really-happening moments began.


This is the list that we got before the event.

·       Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man”)

·       Chris Evans (“Captain America”)

·       Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”)

·       Scarlett Johansson (“Black Widow”)

·       Mark Ruffalo (“The Hulk”)

·       Jeremy Renner (“Hawkeye”)

·       Cobie Smulders (“Maria Hill”)

·       Elizabeth Olsen (“Scarlett Witch”)

·       Aaron Taylor Johnson (“Quicksilver”)

·       James Spader (“Ultron”)

·       Paul Bettany (“Vision”)

·       Joss Whedon (Director)

·       Kevin Feige (Producer)

And suddenly, there they were in the flesh. I know. Pinch me, please. Although I have to confess that I was a little disappointed because I really, really wanted the moderator to say, "Avengers, assemble." It would've been fantastic, right? I know.


The fun began as soon as they all sat down. 


First of all, I was kind of blown away by all that star power. And I just started clicking away with my camera hoping to capture what it was like to be in the same room with all that talent. 

Wait. I was in the same room with all that talent. *sigh*


 I was half listening to their answers to the very thoughtful questions being asked.


Because I was also appreciating how much fun they all seemed to be having together. And again, that I was there in the same room with all that awesome. (Did you pinch me yet?)


I did, of course, have moments of great and intense focus. (See what I did there?)


But the distractions were many.


Which was a related question asked of filmmaker Joss Whedon, the director.

QUESTION - Can you talk about, what were the biggest challenges that you faced putting together the story and then shooting the film? What were the things that surprised you on your journey?


JOSS WHEDON - There’s like 47 of these people. I really didn’t think that through, and I regret very much doing this at all. You know, it’s just making sure that everybody’s, you know, got their moment, that everybody’s got their through-line, that it’s connected to the movie. I have all these people. I love all these people. They’re extraordinary. But making sure that they’re not just all being served, but all within the same narrative structure, that they’re in the same movie, that it’s all connected to the main theme. At some point during the editing process, I could not have told you who they were, who I was, what movie I was making, I got so lost in it. But I think it all came together, and you know, it’s just about making these guys look good, which takes a long time.


Without giving too much away, I'd say he did an amazing job with each story arc and keeping them all connected to the same theme. Again, more on the film itself coming soon. I was still just trying to track what was being said and I couldn't decide where to direct my focus.


KEVIN FEIGE (Producer - on what the experience has been like for him as the man with the grand plan to make all the films and bring these characters to life) - It’s crushingly overwhelming expectations, particularly on this movie. But it’s incredible, and it’s incredible, to look down the line and the table keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s the greatest ensemble ever assembled in cinematic history, and it is amazing to be a part of it.


I have to agree with Mr. Feige. Just look at this group.


We had already asked a few questions  and were about halfway through the interviews when Robert Downey Jr. (much to my everlasting delight) jumped in with this:

ROBERT DOWNEY JR. - I must be mellowing with age, but I want to say this very clearly. The next time I’m not asked the first question, [LAUGHTER] I’ll f___ing walk out. I read Joss’s script, I said, I think this is great. Now, ask Kevin, didn’t I say that? I said that.

KEVIN FEIGE - You did say that.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR. - Thank you. I said: "I think this is great."

Kevin said, “You never say that. You can’t mean that.”

I said, “Yeah, I think it’s great. Let’s go shoot it.”

I thought it was a Swiss watch to begin with and Joss really created some great new situations for Tony to be in, so rather than dig in my heels and try to rewrite every scene, to make them even better, if possible, I showed up and it turned out great.


He was very obviously the ringleader of this merry band and pretty proud of what they had accomplished together. I loved that they all collapsed in laughter as he joked about it all with a straight face. 


Those of us in attendance just felt accidentally cool to be in such awesome company and privy to this delicious banter.


I think you get a great taste for that same camaraderie in this (my favorite!) scene from the movie.

I am afraid that if I keep writing I will definitely let loose with the spoilers. Let me just say this: if you're a Marvel fan, this film is super satisfying. (<--no pun intended.) Again, I promise I will tell you all about it on Friday. 

Was that fangirly enough? Also, is "fangirly" a word? That hasn't been determined yet.


Le sumba. You know?

Avengers: Age of Ultron opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, May 1st, 2015.

All the "feels" at Pixar - That's Inside Out.

If you thought I was insufferable talking about my visit to Skywalker Ranch in January, just wait until I start telling you about Pixar. 

Pixar. *sigh*

I have often (metaphorically) knelt and worshipped at the altar of the animation gods (little g) at Pixar. Ever since I attended my first animation festival back when I was in design school (in the 80's) and was amazed by John Lasseter's Tin Toy, I have been in love and in awe. 

When I received the invitation to actually visit the Pixar campus in Emeryville, I was completely beside myself. This was an item on my Bucket List that I hadn't actually ever added to my Bucket List because it was such a far fetched concept. 

It was more of a "If I could, one day I would love to visit Pixar." 

Ta-da! (Somebody pinch me.)


The occasion was an invitation from Disney/Pixar to visit their campus, watch a portion of their upcoming animated feature, Inside Out and the newest short, Lava. We also got to interview director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera. 

The fun began immediately upon our arrival. (Yes, I'm saving my badge forever. Why do you ask?)


Greeting us as we walked up to the main building was Luxo Jr. the iconic desk lamp that happily dances and bounces its way across the screen before each Pixar film.


Full disclosure: I tried doing the jumping up and down photo. It was not pretty. You'll just have to trust me on this.

Luxo Jr. stands in front of the Steve Jobs Building. I seriously stopped in my tracks and had a moment of silence. I was about to enter the heart of Pixar. Pixar! (Hold me.)


As you enter those hallowed doors you are greeted by some familiar old friends.


Everywhere you look there are the beloved life-size Pixar characters.



Imagine a group of 25 we-must-document-everything bloggers let loose in this space. 


The award cases were full of Oscars and Golden Globes and People's Choice awards. Duh. Of course. This is Pixar, remember?


As I stood there, looking back to the entrance, I had a take-a-deep-breath-I'm-really-here-at-Pixar-somebody-pinch-me moment. I was truly feeling all the "feels." 

Excitement. Joy. Nervousness. Fear. Anticipation. Awe. This-is-not-my-real-life amazement.


We were treated to a preview of the first 20 minutes or so of the new animated feature, Inside Out and then interviewed director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera. 

Inside Out was inspired by Pete Docter’s daughter, Ellie, who was an outgoing kid until she got to the age of about 11 and then things changed a bit and it became more difficult for him to understand what she was thinking. 

"That was really the origins of this film, is trying to figure out what's going on inside her head, you know?"

Inside Out

Pete and Jonas used the ideas of emotions as their main characters. With the focus on emotions, they did tons of serious research by talking to psychologists and neurologists to get a deeper understanding of how and why we think and feel. It seems funny to me to go through this process for an animated film, but there's the beauty and genius of Disney/Pixar. 

According to Pete, “a lot of that research has shown up in the film, and then of course we made some stuff up too, ‘cause it’s supposed to be fun to watch.”

Jonas Rivera (producer) shared with us that “It was really that idea to personify the emotions. Like wouldn’t that be fun to do. I think when we pitched it to Disney and to John Lasseter, we talked about like our version of the Seven Dwarfs. You can really do something in animation, you only do it in animation, really get these characters and do something really unique, specific and fun. And it just really appealed to us.

We obviously love animated movies. We talk about the classic Disney animated movies a lot. Like what was it about those movies that lasted forever? Why do we still talk about Lady and the Tramp and Dumbo, and these movies that we grew up with? And they’re all very emotional. And, and so we thought, well what if we like movies that are emotional, what if we made one about emotions?”

And so they did. 

It's not just because I got to see a portion of the film that I'm already looking forward to it. (Okay. Maybe it is, a little.)

But it's Pixar. And after interviewing these guys I could feel how much joy and devotion they invested in this project. I also loved how cognizant they were of the Disney legacy.

And because Pixar does not disappoint I can almost guarantee Inside Out will be a must-see summer movie. 

Inside Out opens in theaters everywhere on June 19th.

Gary Rydstrom Brings 'Strange Magic' to Life

As part of our whirlwind trip to Skywalker Ranch (She's at it again!) we had the privilege of interviewing the director of the film, Strange Magic.


Director Gary Rydstrom may not have a household name like George Lucas, but the man has some serious film credits to his name. 


Gary Rydstrom's name is practically synonymous with Skywalker Sound. He has won 7 Academy Awards along with other various and sundry awards in his field. You will find his name on the credits of such films as Finding Nemo, Saving Private Ryan, and Minority Report.  

Strange Magic is Gary’s first feature film as a director. And we bloggers had a great time talking to him about what that was like.


I loved Gary's sense of humor and the laid back ease with which he talked about doing films and his career.

You’ve had an incredible career. You’ve received seven Academy Awards for sound design and editing.

"And if I win three more, I can open a bowling alley."

See what I mean?


About what attracted him to Strange Magic. 

"I was really attracted to the use of song to help tell a story. This was such a great idea to tell a love story.  And if you think about the songs in the movie that are love songs, there aren’t that many positive love songs because love is hard, it’s not always happy." 


About love. (Did I mention that this film is a love story?)

"If you think about it, it, we are really surprised I think by how we fall in love and with who, it comes at us as a surprise.  When you reveal your true self, then the other person falls in love with that true self.  

Often we try to hide that true self, because you think it’s odd or different or just not in the norm. you hide it because you think, who would fall in love with that.  But then we fall in love with that what makes you unique."


About the voice cast.

"Casting is pretty key for a movie like this – you have to find people who both act and sing. Alan Cumming, both actor and singer amazing, Evan Rachel Wood is as good a singer as she is an actress. Sam Palladio who plays Roland is an amazing singer, as well as a very funny actor. And then Kristin Chenoweth – I was in the room with her as I was with all the actors when they were singing their songs and when she hit some of those high notes in Love Is Strange, it was like my glasses broke – it was amazing."

About the songs and karma. (Did I mention this was a musical?)

"The karma and the irony of this movie for me is that I did have a long career, in this building mostly, a career as a sound designer, doing sound effects for movies. And then by the end, I found that I often felt at odds with the composer, so it was kind of a fight between the composer and I to have our stuff heard. So I thought of it as karmic revenge from the universe that I get to direct a feature film here and it’s a musical.

But I was really attracted to it as George is.  And American Graffiti is one of my favorite movies.  The use of song to help tell a story was really attractive to me and this was such a great idea to tell a love story. If you think about the songs in the movie that are love songs, there aren’t that many positive love songs, which I always like to point out. Because love is hard, it’s not always happy. But I love that part of it and making a musical was really fun."

Gary Rydstrom is so prolific and talented as a director. Not only that, he obviously has a history of making George Lucas happy. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Strange Magic opened in theaters everywhere on January 23rd.

{I was invited to pre-screen the movie by Disney and Touchstone Pictures. All opinions are my own.}

Movie Review: Strange Magic

Last week during my visit to Skywalker Ranch (Is she ever going to stop talking about that? I got to screen the new film from the mind of George Lucas, Strange Magic.


We had the unique privilege of watching the film in Skywalker Ranch's state-of-the-art Stag Theater with George Lucas himself.

Insufferable. I told you. Also, please notice the familiar head of shock-white hair right at about the center in the photo below. I know. Shut up.

Skywalker-Ranch-theater-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

So, first of all, it's a musical. Deriving, it seemed to me, partly from Lucas' 1973 American Graffiti and Marius De Vries' arrangements for Moulin Rouge. That was a surprising and pleasant surprise. 

The songs are everything from oldies like "Tell Him" and "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" to a couple from Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" becomes a pretty funny running gag throughout the story.


It's a (very) loose adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, mostly because there are love potions and star crossed lovers and weird infatuations happening. Strange Magic tells the story of sister fairies Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull).

I don't doubt that Marianne was so named to make good use of the Four Season's song of the same name, but that's not important right now.

A comic fairy tale that mostly takes place in the Dark Forest over which the Bog King (Alan Cumming) presides and has made it his life's mission to eradicate the primrose flowers from which a particular love dust is created. Of course, as you can already guess, the elf, Sunny (Elijah Kelley) is tasked with breaking into the Dark Forest, finding the Sugarplum Fairy (Kristin Chenowith) and talking her into making some love potion that things start to get a little nutty.


Truthfully, I didn't love the film for the first half. It wasn't until Marianne sheds her fairy princess daydream about the caddish and handsome boy-fairy, Roland (Sam Palladio) and takes on a tough punk-rockery-warrior-fairy look that I was fully engaged. 


And I was happy that most of the action took place in the Dark Forest because the creatures there were much more fun than the humanoid fairies.


The characters in the Dark Forest are just what you'd expect from the mind of George Lucas. A cross between the inhabitants of the Mos Eisley Cantina (<--see Star Wars, Episode IV A New Hope) and Jaba the Hut's palace. The un-named mischief-making-rodent-thing reminding me strongly of Salacious Crumb (again from Star Wars, Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back). I don't know if that was director Gary Rydstrom's intent, but the striking comparison between the two made it much more fun for me, personally.


Favorite character? Hands down, Sunny the Elf. That may or may not be because I'm kind of smitten with Elijah Kelley right now.


The soundtrack keeps the movie flowing and there are enough funny bits - the mushroom telephone line, especially - to keep youngsters engaged. 

Strange Magic was nothing like I expected. Visually and technically beautiful. The songs helping to carry the plot to a wonderfully romantic twist at the end.

However, it's the moral of the story: that true love trumps infatuation every time, that makes it worth the price of admission. 

"The course of true love never did run smooth." ~Shakespeare

Strange Magic opens today, January 23rd in theaters everywhere.

{I was invited to pre-screen the movie by Disney and Touchstone Pictures. All opinions are my own.}

Elijah Kelley Shares the Love in Strange Magic

I told you I couldn't stop talking about my visit to Skywalker Ranch and everything to do with Strange Magic and today is no exception.

To recap, I was invited by Disney and Touchstone Pictures (along with 24 other fabulous bloggers) for a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the famous ranch and for a screening of the new animated film, from the mind of George Lucas, Strange Magic.


Here's my interview with George Lucas.

And here's my oversharing about our visit to Skywalker Ranch.

Today I want to share the time that we bloggers got to spend chatting with Elijah Kelley.



Elijah Kelley is probably best recognized from his performance as Seaweed in Hairspray (2007). Also, he's absolutely adorable in person. 

When we arrived at Skywalker Ranch, I recognized Elijah right away and greeted him like an old friend. He was lovely. Very personable and willingly posed for photos with all of us bloggers. Every. Single. One of us. 

And, as you can imagine, every single one of us fell in love with him.

"Elijah, kissy face!" 


Elijah is the voice of Sunny the Elf in Strange Magic.

He's the central character in the film, who, much like Elijah himself, has a heart of gold. I can see why Elijah was chosen by George Lucas to play Sunny. 


photo credit:

Before he sat down to talk with us, we were treated to his wonderful performance of a mash-up of "3 Little Birds"/"Say Hey! (I love you.)" 


Here's his "Elf-Sized Serenade" from Strange Magic that is just one of the many songs in the movie. 

After all the impromptu concert, he sat down and talked to us about what it was like for him to be the voice of Sunny.

First of all, I’ve never done a voice-over before in my life, so it was a little bit of a challenge because see he’s (Sunny), hyper and super into everything that he always does.

I thought that it was gonna be so easy. I thought it was gonna be a piece of cake, but I would go in there and guarantee you, I would leave, lightheaded and sweaty from all the running and everything.

It was like P90X. Bringing it to life and understanding the world that Sunny lives in, and understanding that he’s kind of like, you know, I see him sort of the nucleus of trying to get everything together, and pulling everybody together, and trying to save the day, and messing up the day, it’s a lot like me.


photo credit:

The theme of the movie is about finding true love. Did he think people could connect to that through this film?

I think that people will connect for fighting for what you love because as you can see that everybody goes through a lot of trouble to be able to grasp the love of their life, and I think that love is so complicated.

I think that the wiring of love is just so weird, you know, and the fact that people can go to the ends of the Earth to capture something like that is very, very inspirational.

I think in a time like this where we are in the world, it’s an animation, but the subject matter is universal and it’s timeless, you know?

Was it weird seeing your facial expressions and such on a character that doesn’t look like you?

The whole process is weird. Honestly, I’m not over it yet. Being that this is only the second time I’ve seen the movie. On film you get used to yourself. You can see yourself in a different character. They literally bring your voice to life. And so all you do is talk and sing, and they do everything else. It’s really amazing.


He's also a philanthropist. Who knew?

I have a foundation; the Elijah Kelley Foundation.  And basically what we do is I try to be a liaison between underprivileged kids back from where I’m from and their dreams in arts and entertainment.

And so during the tenure that we’ve had the non-profit, I’ve given out, four scholarships over the last five years, with students from low-income housing that are going on to pursue careers in performing arts. From the Savannah College of Art and Design to, there’s a very small, great art school in Georgia called Gordon College.

I was deeply impressed by Elijah Kelley. Not just that he is so warm and personable or that he's a "quadruple threat," but that he is so dedicated to giving back. 

His performance in Strange Magic will make you love him all that much more.


Elijah Kelley @oneelijahkelley loves me. He said so. #strangemagicevent #ontheblog #ElijahKelley #video

A video posted by Marta Darby (@smrtqbn) on Jan 22, 2015 at 11:54am PST

"Every little thing is gonna be alright."

Strange Magic opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow, Friday, January 23rd, 2015.

About Love and Strange Magic with George Lucas

Last week (as you know because I can't stop talking about it) I visited Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California.

I was invited by Disney and Touchstone Pictures (along with 24 other fabulous bloggers) for a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the famous ranch and for a screening of the new animated film, from the mind of George Lucas, Strange Magic.


What you don't know is that we bloggers were treated to an up-close-and-personal interview with George Lucas himself.

I wrote all about our tour of Skywalker Ranch here. Today I'm going to give you a peek into, well, the mind of George Lucas and his impetus for making Strange Magic.

Before the trip, I think we had all sort of fantasized about Wouldn't it be so great if we could see George Lucas himself when we visited Skywalker Ranch?, but again, that was still in the realm of fantasy.

Then, just before the movie was about to start, George Lucas walked into the theater and sat down (right behind us!) to watch the entire film all the way through for the first time.

Stop it. That's just crazy talk!

Skywalker-Ranch-theater-George-Lucas-selfie-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy 

Imagine our extreme delight and the pinch me no, seriously, Pinch me! moment when we were informed that yes indeed we would get to, not just see, but actually interview George Lucas.

Seriously? We would actually get to hear what was coming from the mind of George Lucas?

Skywalker Ranch truly lived up to its reputation for turning fantasy into reality.


So where did the concept for this film come from?

"It actually started about 15 years ago. I had the notion of making a film that was fun.

I like working with music and I like doing fairy tales and I love to do musicals especially when I can use my favorite music and so it kind of harkens back to my pre-Star Wars days.

I started working on it with a small group of people and we started designing it. Eventually we hired the director (Gary Rydstrom) and brought in Marius de Vries from Moulin Rouge to do the music because I wanted to try to tell this story through the music.

As George began talking about the music, he really became animated (no pun intended). Every song in the soundtrack to Strange Magic is very recognizable and it's practically impossible to not sing along.

George Lucas Interview

I love music. Music’s a huge part of my life.

I love all kinds of music, and obviously I listen to music every day – on the radio, top 40 and everything in between. But with this one, one of the inspirations was, I wondered if I could tell a love story using love songs. Would it be possible to take them and string them all together so they actually told the story?

That was the original challenge and, in the beginning the movie was about twice as long as it is now. Its like American Graffiti - I could sit and listen to it all day and that was a part of American Graffiti. I just wanted to have a movie that I could sit in the editing room and listen to and have a good time."


"I tell people I’m going to go back and do experimental films like I did in college, and this is getting myself back there. This is just a fun movie that I love to listen to. A lot of the songs were my favorite songs but a lot of them really had to do with trying to tell the story, trying to say what we needed them to say.

It was all about finding the right song that actually had the musical mood that would get us from point A to point B but also actually say the words that the actors were supposed to say to each other. That’s where Marius came in. Thanks to him, we were able to use different genres from different time periods, really different everything, but knit it all together so it sounded like it belonged together. And he’s a genius at doing that because ultimately, it had to have an evolution where some of the story was told in dialogue, some of the story was told in music and the story itself had to be tightened down and things connected which, in just using music you couldn’t do.

We hadn't really heard much about Strange Magic until very recently.

It really started to fall together over the last 4 or 5 years. It wasnt involved in any studio or anything, I made it in San Francisco where I live and I have my studio there and were not into promoting or any of that kind of stuff – were into making movies.

Nobody really hears about it until its ready to come out. It all seems fast. We actually just finished it and 3 weeks later itll be in theaters.


At this point, George started to talk about his daughters. About his family. About his wife and falling in love. He grew very tender as he spoke about his favorite song in the film.

The song that started it is the opening song, that was the first song I picked and its also at the end, ‘I Cant Help Falling In Love by Elvis. I love that song. I grew up under the tutelage of Elvis and my wife says I still have that pompous pompadour.

It, to me, was the inspiration to say this is what this movie’s about. You know, wise men say only fools fall in love. And ultimately the only thing I can say is there’s no accounting for love, it’s just no matter how rational you think you’re being, you say well I’ll never do that, and you do it.

"Strange Magic," he says, "is a story that needs to be told to every generation over and over again. The message is so simple and, you know it’s been around for thousands of years and yet still can always be retold.

George Lucas waxing poetically romantic about love and the power of music?? I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this is what is coming forth from the mind of George Lucas.


Speaking of music, we also interviewed Elijah Kelley who lends his voice to Sunny the Elf in the film. I'll share that later this week. 


Strange Magic opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, January 23rd, 2015.

Strange Magic at Skywalker Ranch #StrangeMagicEvent

There are places in this world that are legendary to us über-nerds. Skywalker Ranch, located 40 minutes north of San Francisco is one of those places.

Earlier this week I was privileged to visit the fabled home of Lucasfilm's amazing postproduction facility, Skywalker Sound and tour the ranch itself.


I was invited along with 24 other bloggers to come up to Skywalker Ranch and preview the latest film from the mind of George Lucas, Strange Magic.


So, let's just review so far: 

I went to George Lucas' famed Skywalker Ranch to preview the latest film from the mind of George Lucas. (I know. Shut up.)

Let's continue now, won't we?

I have made notes and composed this post at least a dozen times because I want to share every little detail with you, but seriously, there's just too much to tell. 

Skywalker Ranch is a gorgeous slice of heaven. It's George Lucas' vision of perfection. Tranquil, without any extraneous signs of techi-ness (is that a word?) lies the most celebrated (arguably) audio post-production facility in the world.

Skywalker-Ranch-vineyards-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

The feeling I got when we arrived at the property was that I had stepped right onto the set a beautiful movie. 

The Tech Building

Our first stop was the Tech Building, which looks nothing like you would imagine a Tech Building to look like, because it fit right into the scenery and looked more like a fabulous Tuscan vineyard.

Skywalker-Ranch-tech-bldg-sign-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

Skywalker-Ranch-vineyards-del-cielo-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

This is the home of Skywalker Sound. This Tuscan-villa-looking place houses a world-class scoring stage, six mix studios, ADR and Foley stages, 34 editing suites, and a 300-seat screening room. All in this breathtakingly pristine setting. 

Skywalker-Ranch-tech-bldg-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

If you didn't know any of this, you would just be in awe of the majesty of the place and wondering which way to the tasting room.

Skywalker-Ranch-tech-bldg-entrance-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

But right when we walked in, I felt comfortable, and welcomed. Not intimidated at all. (Unless, of course, I stopped and remembered that we were truly in the very heart of all that is good and holy about the center of the Lucasfilm Universe, at which point I freaked out just a litte, but that's not important right now.)

Skywalker-Ranch-vineyards-fence-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

The property includes the iconic main house, just down there, past the vineyard at the end of the road.

Skywalker-Ranch-main-house-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

Skywalker-Ranch-main-house1-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

And the beautiful Lake Ewok. (I swear that's the name of it. Isn't that just delicious?) We were told that it's stocked with fish and even suitable for swimming in the summer time.

Skywalker-Ranch-Lake-Ewok-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

We entered the Tech Building. (did I mention it looked more like a villa in Tuscany than anything to do with tech?)

Skywalker-Ranch-entrance1-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

And we were escorted straight into the main dining area. (This made me very happy, but that's not important right now, either.)

Skywalker-Ranch-tech-bldg-entrance-dining-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy copy

This open, airy, bright, naturally lit space was much more "ranch-like" than what the exterior portrayed. It was decorated simply with George Lucas' extensive collection of classic movie posters from as far back as the 20's and 30's.

Skywalker-Ranch-tech3-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

The Stag Theater, a 300 seat beauty with the Most Perfect Sound and Acoustics of Any Movie Theater on the Planet (OF COURSE), was where we were treated to the screening of the film, Strange Magic. 

Skywalker-Ranch-theater-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

The screen is guarded on either side by the statues that were seen in Star Wars Episode II in Emperor Palpatine's office. (Excuse me, please. My nerdiness is showing.)

Skywalker-Ranch-theater-statues-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

Strange Magic opens everywhere on Friday, January 23rd. I promise to review the film next week, but until then, here's a preview.

Just before the film began, George Lucas himself snuck into the theater to watch the movie with us. (I know. Don't hate.)

Skywalker-Ranch-theater-George-Lucas-selfie-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

Kudos to Tee of That's IT Mommy for this amazing Ninja Selfie

So, again, let's just recap where we are right now. We were screening the new animated film, Strange Magic from the mind of George Lucas with George Lucas. 

I can barely stand it myself.

After the screening of the film, we were treated to a performance by Elijah Kelley (Hairspray, Red Tails, The Butler), the voice of Sunny the Elf in the film.

We interviewed director Gary Rydstrom, Elijah Kelley, and George Lucas himself. I'll post those interviews next week, I promise. 

Meanwhile, back at The Ranch... (<--see what I did there?)

Lunch happened. And excuse me while I get off track here for just a moment, but wow! that was the best strawberry shortcake I've ever tasted. *starts researching strawberry shortcake recipes* 

Please notice Humphrey Bogart, the obvious predecessor to Indiana Jones watching over our strawberry shortcakes. 



The Main House

The 50,000 square foot main house was all comfort and charm. With miles of wrap-around porch around this Victorian home with all redwood construction, it is the crown jewel of this property.

Skywalker-Ranch-main-house-photo-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

"Wait. What? We get to go inside?" Color me crazy-happy.


photo credit:


This is the part where I could not take any photos, so you'll just have to bear with me

The furnishings were very comfortable and had an earthy down-home feeling. Nothing pretentious at all. It could have been anyone's home, except for the curio cabinets found in the main entry. Imagine my delight that the first thing we encountered was a cabinet housing George's collectibles, mementos and gifts.

Among those was a weathered brown hat and bullwhip. (Use your imagination, please). And the Holy Grail. The HOLY GRAIL, people. Luke and Obi-wan's original light sabers and small scale models of the all terrain armored transports from Star Wars. I was in Star Wars über-nerd heaven. 

And then...

The Library

Lucasfilm Research LIbrary

@Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved

The Lucasfilm Research Library.

You know that moment in Beauty and the Beast when Belle breathlessly sees the library for the first time? Yeah, that was pretty much all of us.

A stained glass dome at the top covers the 2-story fabulousness that is this library. Seriously, it has to be one of the 7 Wonders of the Movie-making World. The centerpiece of this glorious place is the grand spiral staircase, made entirely of wood, which was constructed right there at the ranch. The library houses the entire Lucasfilm collection of books, magazines, and periodicals.  I could have easily spent days right there. 

The Magical Light

I was impressed with the beautiful natural lighting everywhere in the main house. Lots of skylights and windows welcoming nature to literally come inside.

It felt warm and a little ethereal. There was a feeling of magic almost everywhere. And yet, maybe it was just the peaceful vistas from every window.

Skywalker-Ranch-main-house-atrium-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

Skywalker-Ranch-main-house-atrium-ficus-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

Skywalker-Ranch-main-house-fountain-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy


The General Store

We wrapped up our visit with a stop at the Skywalker Ranch General Store.

Skywalker-Ranch-general-store-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

As you can imagine, I came home armed with logo gear for the entire family. Because SKYWALKER RANCH, of course. 

Lake Ewok

Skywalker-Ranch-across-lake-ewok-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

As we finished up our tour, we stopped and looked back at the house from the aptly named Lake Ewok. This is the picture I wanted to keep in my mind of the beauty and perfection that is Skywalker Ranch. 

Skywalker-Ranch-pier-Lake-Ewok-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

What a blast to get to share the adventure with all these lovely bloggers. Thanks to Disney and Touchstone Pictures I can cross another item off my Bucket List.

Skywalker-Ranch-bloggers-selfie-my-big-fat-cuban-family copy

photo credit:

The spell cast by Skywalker Ranch is indeed some Strange Magic. 

Stay tuned! I'll be writing much more about this trip next week. Strange Magic opens in theaters on Friday, January 23rd, 2015.