Google And Disney Read Books To Kids

Before I learned to read, I used to listen to recorded read-along books.  I had a stack of them about twelves inches high and each book came with a cassette tape.  The majority of these books were Disney read alongs, particularly of Disney movies released in the 1980s and earlier.  All of the Disney read-along books had red cassette tapes, unlike the others which were white and there was the odd yellow one for a My Little Pony book.  I would sit for hours going through the pile and although I didn’t know how to read, I loved listening to the narrator and hearing the cue to turn the page.  The cue was either a fairy chime, bells, or some sound effect that coordinated with the story.  Remember?  “Turn the page at the sound of the fairy godmother’s magic wand.”

I must say Disney paid attention to littlest detail even back under the Miller and Eisner epochs.

Google is one of those companies people have a love-hate relationship with, sort of like Disney.  People love to hate Disney as much as they adore certain aspects of the Mouse House.  Other than some technology, Google and Disney have yet to combine their resources for world domination, but I must say that their recent teammate is wholesome and nostalgic.   Also Kristen Bell is amazing!

 

I’m sold!

Google Nest providing sound effects for Disney books is a sensational new reading tool, especially for kids who have difficulty reading or for parents trying to get their kids off the screen and onto the page.  The old read-along books were exactly like this, except not as intelligent.  I had to rewind and fast forward to get to my favorite parts.  Other than Kristen Bell, I find the NLP AI amazing at recognizing speech to cue the proper sound effects.

Disney is using its popular Disney Golden Books series to tell stories with the Google Nest.  Only certain Disney Golden Books are compatible with the Google Nest Disney mini read alongs.  It’s hard to believe a book has to be compatible, but c’est la vie.  Disney is also genius in this deal, because it will promote their book sales and no one can argue with the educational value.  A book is a book, even if it is a book inspired by a movie.

If readers so choose, they can also purchase a Disney shaped Google Nest smart speaker.  It is utterly adorable with the trademark Mickey Mouse ears and the red pants with buttons, but I don’t like smart speakers.  They vibrate too much of an Orwellian Big Brother atmosphere and with the mouse ears, it makes me think Disney is listening so they can make the perfect plan to wipe out my life savings with merchandise and themed vacations.

For the naysayers, who will say that the Google Nest Disney story time is taking away kids’ imaginations I call a solid BS.  I read the Disney read-alongs and look at me, I’m making references to George Orwell-one led to the other.  There are vast metaphors I could also make between Orwell and Disney, but that’s completely another story.  See!  I’m smart!

Episode 31: Interview With Myself

I wanted to offer more details about my hiatus.  In episode 31 of Toon-In Talk, I interview myself and describe my experiences being misdiagnosed with autism, depression, bullying, PTSD, and other issues.

I’ve said it once and will continue to say it for the remainder of my life: being misdiagnosed effs up your life.  My life was effed up for years and I’m still dealing with the consequences today.

While I have a supportive family, animation, comic books, and puppetry really become the things that made my worth living.  Take a listen and hear part of my story.  I say part because I haven’t written the rest yet.  (Aren’t I poetic? HA!)

Episode 30: “Interview” With Frank Welker

I made this last year as an April Fool’s joke that got out way too late.  It was an attempt at coming back from hiatus the first time, but no dice.

I would love the chance to interview the real Frank Welker, but he’s harder to pin down than me during tax season.  Did I just write that?  Oh boy…I pay my taxes, I swear unless my CPA is pocketing my money and running.  That would explain why he took off to Bermuda and has an office there now…

While I investigate my CPA, enjoy this “interview” with cartoon voice over king, Mr. Frank Welker.

Aggretsuko Accurate On Japanese Work Environment

 

I have never been to Japan, but I have learned about for years due to my love for anime and manga.  Despite being a modern, developed country, there is still something ethereal about the land of the rising sun.  Just in the country’s nickname: “land of the rising sun” it sounds like a place akin to Oz or Never Never Land.  Alas, you can tell when one has consumed too much anime and manga when they believe Japan is the embodiment of anime cliches.  Usually this occurs in the younger otaku, who are still wide-eyed and naive.  They’re better off searching for Never Land and Oz, because the Japan in anime and manga doesn’t exist.

Continuing the theme from my last post related to the Japanese anime industry, I found this video about a great anime called Aggretsuko.  Brotakuza (Get it? He made a pun on otaku and the American slang word “bro.”  This dude is awesome!) and on his channel his discusses anime and various aspects about living in Japan.  In this particular video, he shares his experience about working in Japan, the tough realities, and how Aggretsuko does a fantastic job depicting it.

Aggretsuko is an anime inspired by none other than a Sanrio character.  Can you believe that the same creators behind Hello Kitty actually created one of the most progressive, female anime characters?  Aggretsuko plays on Netflix and is currently on the second season.  The show focuses on Retsuko is a twenty-five year old red panda and an office lady who works in an accounting department at a huge company.  Retsuko is constantly frustrated and unhappy with her job, romantic life, and lifestyle.  She gets her catharsis on by singing heavy metal karaoke.

It’s popularity has soared due to its accurate portrayal of not only a Japanese office environment, but also offices around the world.  One could say it is Sanrio’s version of the office with cute animals, but not as enduring.  Brotakuza shares his views and it’s another reason for otaku to be aware before they head to Japan for the desired “dream job.”

Watch Brotakuza’s video:

 

Working In Anime Sucks, Otaku Stay Home

I love anime.  I proudly say, “Otaku desu” among my fellow geeks.  (I am very familiar with the negative associations the Japanese attribute to otaku as well as the term “weeabo.”  I use otaku in the positive definition in that has gained traction since the first anime bubble in the late 1990s.). In my book Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation, I discuss the early anime and how Reiniger influenced some Japanese animators.  Her film The Adventures of Prince Achmed was even shown in major cities before Japan exercised imperialism.  

I can also make a good argument that Sailor Moon, DragonBall Z, Pokémon, and other anime kept me going through the throes of my depression.  I wanted to live so I could read the manga, watch the newest dubbed show, and to catch them all.  

I love anime, but I do not love the system that creates it.  I’ve heard about poor treatment in the US for animators, particularly Ed Catmull (one of Pixar’s bigwigs) and the wage-fixing scandal.   What is grievously ironic is Catmull’s book Creativity Inc. and how he speaks about respecting animators and their creativity.  

While I am familiar with the US animation industry, the Japanese anime world appears one hundred times worse.

Vox recently published, “The Dark Side Of Japan’s Anime Industry” and I am appalled.  I first started as an otaku, then transformed into a Japanophile.  I joke that when I visit Japan the country is going to throw me out, because I’m going to eat all their food, steal all the art in their museums, lay siege to Studio Ghibli, and annex all their botanical gardens.   As a Japanophile, I know that it is part of the culture to put work before family life.  This often leads individuals to work long hours, deal with unhealthy stress levels, and falling asleep on the job is normal.  Western media does overdramatizes the differences between cultures, but Vox’s article states things are really that bad.

This quote slams it to me: 

“But anime’s outward success conceals a disturbing underlying economic reality: Many of the animators behind the onscreen magic are broke and face working conditions that can lead to burnout and even suicide.”

Unlike the bulk of US animation, particularly films, anime continues to be hand drawn.  Cels have long since gone the way of the passenger pigeon, but animators still hand draw each scene with fancy technology.  Japan currently faces a huge talent shortage in the anime industry, so if you ever wanted to move to Japan and become an animator now is the time to do it.  The downside, however, is that Japan fills the shortage with freelancers who love the craft and are paid $2.00 a drawing (200 yen) and it takes an hour to make one drawing.  Do the math, it’s not a living wage!

Then we get to the Japanese high stress levels:

“Working conditions are grim. Animators often fall asleep at their desks. Henry Thurlow, an American animator living and working in Japan, told BuzzFeed News he has been hospitalized multiple times due to illness brought on by exhaustion.

One studio, Madhouse, was recently accused of violating labor code: Employees were working nearly 400 hours per month and went 37 consecutive days without a single day off. A male animator’s 2014 suicide was classified as a work-related incident after investigators found he had worked more than 600 hours in the month leading up to his death.”

And I LOVE Madhouse!  Now I don’t really like them anymore.  The old adage is that artists make art for art’s sake, it’s not about the money, and more gag me with a spoon cliches.  In Japan, the animators are living for their art at the cost of their mental health.  Freelancers allow studios to bypass labor codes and crack the whip on owning an individual’s time.  The end products are beautiful as seen with the many anime that travel overseas.  Japanese animators are obsessed with details to the level that Disney and Pixar animators.  These are TV series churned out at a quick rate, not the masterful films that take years to create.  

What I abhor even more (I made a rhyme) is that this goes all the way back to Osamu Tezuka’s days!  This is nuts!

“Tezuka was responsible for an endless catalog of innovations and precedents in manga, Japanese comics, and anime, onscreen animation. In the early 1960s, with networks unwilling to take the risk on an animated series, Tezuka massively undersold his show to get it on air.  

‘Basically, Tezuka and his company were going to take a loss for the actual show,’ said Michael Crandol, an assistant professor of Japanese studies at Leiden University. ‘They planned to make up for the loss with Astro Boy toys and figures and merchandise, branded candy. … But because that particular scenario worked for Tezuka and the broadcasters, it became the status quo.’”

Tezuka set the standard for quality anime art and storytelling, but also for industry treatment.  The solution is not as simple as shaving money from the top level and dividing it among animators.  If higher salaries were demanded and given to animators, the anime industry would go bankrupt, particularly the smaller studios.  Thurlow said if that happened, the anime industry would mutate into a Japanese version of Hollywood with “mass marketing and generic content tailored to the lowest common denominator.”  Think US superhero movies before the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Disney in the 2000s.  Oh, those sad latter Eisner days!

I take back about what I said about immigrating to Japan to become an animator.  The Japanese animators are even telling foreign fans to not come over.  The stress is high, the payout is nix, burnout is quick, and the culture shock is going to smack you straight down into KO.  If the creators behind anime are struggling, the foreign otaku won’t last.  

There aren’t any clean katana cut solutions, but there is a burgeoning storm on the horizon.  From what I know about Japanese culture, however, is that it’s an extremely slow moving storm.  The Japanese value group dynamics over the individual, upsetting the inkwell is not the norm.  When the storm does break, it will be a tsunami that crashes and flashes faster than Porygon sent kids to the hospital.

I don’t see this as a reason to boycott anime, not that anyone would other than my fundamentalist aunt who believes I’m going to Hell because I watch the medium.  Animators are able to make what ends meet they can because of the fan support.  As otaku, we love anime because it is so different from the majority of cartoons made for western audiences.  The Japanese (and European studios, particularly the French) is one of the few cultures that takes animation to its peak in regards to subject matter and artistic experimentation.  Yes, some of the content raises questionable eyebrows (sibling incest is big these days, why?!), but one has to respect animators who sacrifice literally everything for their craft.

Why I Took a Hiatus from Toon-In Talk – Wanderlust, PTSD and Autism

Some may ask why I won’t show my full face. That’s because I want my voice to be heard instead.

It’s been a while since I picked up the microphone for the Toon-In Talk podcast. Instead I was dedicated to the pen and keyboard working on may book Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation (McFarland Books, 2017 and available at fine purveyors such as Amazon) and my second graphic novel script. I sold a second animation history book to Theme Park Press about the golden age of Nickelodeon animation. What is even more exciting is the Trident Media Agency picked me up as their client and my agent is as big a geek as myself. I have traveled across the Atlantic, got lost in Germany, angered a British doughnut seller, and wished that London had more street signs. Perhaps the most exciting thing was speaking at Walt Disney Animation Studios about Lotte Reiniger, who directed, animated, drew, puppeteered  and wrote when Walt Disney was still in inkwell water wings with Ub Iwerks.

Through all my wanderings, I’ve dealt with thoughts inside my head, particularly those related to my mental health. By nature, I am a very private, introverted person. That appears contrary to the personality I project through my interviews, doesn’t it?

Despite the cheerful energy conveyed through my voice, I am different from other people. The difference is my brain. It’s neurological wiring is atypical. I am autistic. To be more specific, I’m an individual on the autistic spectrum a.k.a. a high-functioning autistic a.k.a. what was formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome before the employment of the DSM-V. Autism isn’t the only thing lighting up my synapses (or not lighting them up). I also have depression due to a chemical imbalance and complex PTSD. I probably have dyslexia too, but it was never formerly diagnosed like the other things bobbing around in my head, like Canadian geese inhabiting a pond and making a mess of things.

My PTSD stems from being misdiagnosed and years of bullying. I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I graduated college and started paying adult taxes. I bet you’re wondering why wasn’t my autism caught when I was younger? There are many reasons, but the biggest ones are that I never displayed the typical autistic symptoms and autism research was more concentrated on boys. There were autistic girls when I was growing up, but they had more severe symptoms. Due to being high-functioning, I skidded under the radar. Socialization, especially reading body language, sarcasm, etc., were difficult for me then and now.

The depression and dyslexia are hereditary. I inherited dyslexia from my father and there is generational depression and anxiety on mother’s side. My parents were attentive throughout my entire childhood as providers, supporters, and exercised their right to embarrass me in public. They did take me to therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists. They did correctly diagnosis the depression and placed me on medication. Some worked, then stopped working as is the case for many people.
Due to my research on autism, I believe my parents’ neurological differences are the cause of my autism. (It wasn’t vaccines, because I displayed signs as a newborn before I was old enough to receive them.)

When you’re misdiagnosed with any health problem, mental or physical, it effs up your life. Toss in years of bullying and it makes the perfect neurological concoction for complex PTSD (or so my therapist says).

I deal with my mental issues everyday. During my hiatus, I’ve had to come to terms with my identity and whether I wanted to keep them secret or share them. Frankly, I’m tired of these mental illnesses controlling my life, ruining relationships, and making me the awkward person in the room. Instead of fighting them, I’m embracing them. I will continue to be the awkward and annoying person in the room, but I’m aware of it. If others are too, then my faux pas are understandable and forgivable.
I strive to present my best self in public and through my podcast. I still annoy people, but that makes me human like everyone else on planet Earth.

Animation, comic books, and puppetry are the three mediums (four, if you count video games) that have kept me alive. (Yes, my family and pets deserve credit too.) I live to read books and watch new shows. I want to make my own. I’m already off to a good start on the book part and someday soon someone is going to buy a graphic novel script written by yours truly (That’s a hint for the publishers out there. Buy my scripts!).

Other than my monthly therapy session and a medication that hasn’t stopped working yet, animation, comic books, and puppetry are what drive me to live and that’s why I’m ending my hiatus.

 

Originally posted at FanboyNation.com.  Many thanks to my editor R.C. Same for his support. (Feedback WOOT!)

Mel Blanc In Neptune’s Daughter

Can you believe it?  I’m actually making a second update this month.  Let this be the start of a new trend!  Despite popular belief, I do more than read comic books and watch animation.  I love watching and learning about old films.  I watched the box office flop Hail, Caesar! (great concept, actors, costumes, and sets, but the story execution was confusing) and learned about aqua musical star Esther Williams.  I rented her film Neptune’s Daughter and it wasn’t her best, but I did discover something fun related to animation.  The movie’s story is not that great: typical Shakespearean case of mistaken identities mixed with Hollywood glamor.  Williams starred in it along with comedian Red Skelton, Betty Garret, and Ricardo Montalbán played her romantic interest.  Older fans will recognize Montalbán from Paradise Island and if you’re born in this century you will know him as Señor Senior, Senior from Kim Possible.  Yes, dear Trekkies, I know he was also Khan.

The movie takes place in Argentina and is full of Hispanic stereotypes.  Skelton tries to pass himself off as an Argentine polo player and engages in this ridiculous scene:

It’s also the first cinematic presentation of the famous Christmas carol “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Maybe it’s just conditioning, but this song doesn’t fit in a non-winter themed movie.

While watching Neptune’s Daughter, a character named Pancho had a familiar voice.  I turned to my TV and saw some white dude masquerading as someone of Hispanic origin and he sported a stereotypical Mexican accent.  I thought the actor was ripping off Mel Blanc, then I read the credits.  The actor was Blanc himself in one of his few screen appearances!

I’d post a clip, but I don’t know how to rip or edit videos.  Blanc used his Speedy Gonzales voice for his role as Pancho and even more interesting is that this was before Speedy existed.  The movie was released in 1949 and Speedy came along in 1953.  It goes to show that Blanc was practicing his vocal skills well before he strictly specialized in voice acting.

If you don’t want to watch Neptune’s Daughter, you’ll get the just of Blanc’s performance in this old Jack Benny clip.

Support Beyond Ink and Paint: The Women of Animation

Long time, no see or write Toon-In Talk fans!  A lot has happened to me in the past ten months.  I’ll write about that in another post, but one of the things that happened was something remarkable.  As a member of Women In Animation, I’m privy to a lot of really cool news, including this documentary directed by Christine Guest called Beyond Ink and Paint: The Women of Animation.

I am the first person since 1931 to write a comprehensive biography in English about Lotte Reiniger.  I am also the first person EVER to write a critical approach to Reiniger’s career in relation to the animation industry and puppetry community as a whole.  What does that mean? I read and wrote a lot and I did something before everyone else did.  Wait…FIRST!  It really means I’m one of the only experts on Lotte Reiniger in the world.

Apart from correcting 90% of available information about Reiniger, I can also speak with authority about her career.  Christine Guest knew she couldn’t make a documentary without mentioning Lotte Reiniger, so she interviewed me to speak about her career.  I’m going to have my own IMDB entry now!

Christine needs YOUR help to complete production on Beyond Ink and Paint: The Women of Animation.  Beyond Ink and Paint needs to raise $75,000.  Christine interviewed many big names for the documentary including moi, my friend Brenda Chapman, Darla K. Anderson, my other friend Yvette Kaplan, yet another friend Jinko Gotoh, Lauren Faust, Don Hahn, Emily Hubley, Candy Kugel, Lisa Goldman, Tracey Miller-Zarneke, and more.  Much like my book, Christine’s documentary is the first of it’s kind and it is important to acknowledge how far the animation industry has come.  See the trailer below and please support Beyond Ink and Paint:

 

Toon-In Talk Episode 29: Interview with Brenda Chapman

Hello and welcome to twenty-ninth episode of Fanboy Nation’s Toon-In-Talk, your rendezvous for animation interviews.  Concluding Whitney’s longer than expected series the Ladies of Animation is an interview with Academy Award winner director Brenda Chapman.  Brenda is best recognized for her work as the writer and director of Pixar‘s Brave and the director of DreamWorks’s The Prince of Egypt.  She also had an extraordinary career at Disney working on Beauty and the BeastThe Little Mermaid, and The Lion King.  Brenda Chapman has since embarked on an independent creative career with her husband, director Kevin Lima.

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  • Brenda Chapman is the director of Brave and Prince of Egypt. She has worked in the animation industry since the early days of the Disney Renaissance and first worked on The Little Mermaid.
  • As many an animator, Brenda grew up watching Looney Toons and through close, personal connections contacted Disney Feature Animation, who sent her a brochure about CalArts.
  • The main influence on Brenda’s work was her mother.
  • Brenda had the privilege to know legendary animator Joe Ranft and he encouraged her to concentrate more on storytelling.
  • Brenda has experience storytelling for the screen and page. The biggest difference for her is that regular prose writing demands more detail that is usually visually communicated.
  • When Brenda was applying for jobs after CalArts, she put together a portfolio consisting of her clean-up work and tossed in a storyboard in the back. Disney loved her storyboard over her clean-up animation.
  • She shared that the only reason why Disney hired her was due to her gender, but once she was in the department Brenda never felt any discrimination.
  • Whitney is curious about the chaotic neutral will o’wisps in Brave and Brenda clears up her confusion.
  • Brenda shares the lowdown on George Lucas’s Strange Magic that delivered an odd story. In short, there wasn’t much of a story to begin with.
  • Brenda shared that getting a greenlight and keeping her job on an animated film are some of the biggest challenges she faced.
  • Brenda is keeping busy with many writing projects and is starting a company with her husband.
  • Brenda’s husband, Kevin Lima, isn’t a stranger to animation. He directed Disney’s Tarzan, Enchanted, and A Goofy Movie.
  • Brenda declares that girls need to get out there and animate.

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Toon-In Talk Episode 28: Interview with DragonCon’s Dan Carroll

Hello and welcome to twenty-eighth episode of Fanboy Nation’s Toon-In-Talk, your rendezvous for animation interviews.  Every year Whitney heads to Atlanta, GA to mingle with other geeks and practice her puppetry skills at DragonCon.  DragonCon is the biggest fan run convention in the United States and in 2016 there will be over 75000 attendees and over 3500 hours of programming.  Even though he is working 24/7 until the convention ends, Dan Carroll, DragonCon’s head honcho, had an hour to chat with Whitney about the new happenings for 2016, including animation and puppetry guests.

 

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  • DragonCon is a totally volunteer run convention located in Atlanta, GA.
  • Whitney and Dan both love the diversity of programming available to attendees. The program topics range from the classic sci-fi shows like Star Wars and Star Trek to science, puppetry, podcasting, animation, anime/manga, and, this year, boy bands!
  • DragonCon is also a huge music festival within a convention featuring singers and musicians from all genres.
  • One of the new things for 2016 are the Dragon Awards! The Dragon Awards honor individuals in literary, TV, film, and other mediums who have made extraordinary contributions to science fiction and fantasy anniversary.
  • The Dragon Awards also celebrate DragonCon’s 30th. anniversary.
  • DragonCon is four days log with over 3500 hours of programming. These hours include performances, lectures, presentations, and dances. DragonCon is alive 24/7 during Labor Day weekend!
  • Whitney and Dan both encourage DragonCon attendees to take care of themselves by showering, eat two meals, and get at least five hours of sleep. Also don’t forget to wear deodorant in the Georgia heat to avoid the con-funk.
  • The best way to ensure attendees have the best DragonCon experience is to download and use the DragonCon app to make a schedule, view programming, and rate programs.
  • Brian Henson and several other famous puppeteers are going to be there, much to Whitney’s excitement. The cast of iZombie, William Shatner, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon cast members, Mystery Science Theater folks, and Adult Swim guests will be in attendance.
  • As for voice actors, Jason Marsden, Will Freidle,Christy Carlson Romano Dino Andrade, Bob Bergen, Trevor Devall, Rikki Simmons, Richard Horvitz, and Monica Rial.
  • Whitney is a huge Labyrinth fan and this year is its 30th anniversary as well. The Center for Puppetry Arts is holding a masquerade ball with original props and puppets from the 1986 film. Unfortunately, that has sold out. However, there will be more Labyrinth based programming at DragonCon.
  • DragonCon does host two sports: professional wrestling and robot battles. In Whitney’s defense, some people do attempt to play Quidditch sans broom.
  • DragonCon could officially become a five-day event in the future.
  • One day Whitney hopes to be a guest at DragonCon with her book on Lotte Reiniger.
  • The DragonCon Masquerade Parade is the most popular event and this year it will be broadcast on network television.
  • DragonCon limits the amount of time reporters spend with guests, so they too, can enjoy the convention.
  • The shopping has expanded as has the art show, comic creators area, and gaming.
  • Dragon expects to have 75,000 attendees this year, when in past years they only had 28,000.
  • DragonCon has a huge programming track for animation fans. There is Kaleidoscope, a tween-based animation track, and then the animation track itself that covers a variety of topics related to the medium.
  • Dan Carroll has fun at DragonCon by practicing his stand-up comedy at Project Cosplay.
  • DragonCon has a staunch anti-harassment policy for all attendees so they fell safe and can have fun.
  • Whitney and Dan hope Toon-In Talk listeners visit DragonCon this year.


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