Inside the Creative Mind of George Lucas and the Team Behind Strange Magic

Inside the Creative Mind of George Lucas and the Team Behind Strange Magic

StrangeMagic movie poster

I’ve written before about my childhood obsession with Star Wars.  And of course, as a Gen Xer, I am not alone in the cultural impact that film had on me. And while my 5 year-old self would have been most eager to meet Carrie Fisher, My grown up was incredibly excited to meet George Lucas and hear about his creative process and sources of inspiration for his new film Strange Magic. (I’d still be THRILLED to meet Carrie Fisher, by the way, and even more so for her work as a fantastically witty and bold writer.)

George Lucas

Strange Magic is a a fairy tale (really, it’s all about fairies) that gets to the heart of true love that comes from seeing someone for who they truly are, and not just what is on the surface.  One of the things George Lucas discussed was his own long quest to find someone after his first marriage ended in divorce.  He said he and his current wife seemingly have nothing in common, and yet in the most important ways they have everything in common – their outlook on life, their beliefs, their morals, the way they think about things in the same way at their core. And that is the thread that runs throughout Strange Magic.  Plus, I loved that he talked about how having daughters influenced him to tell a different kind of story from the female point of view.

Strange Magic is above all about the music. In a very throw back, American Graffiti kind of way, music fills very second of the movie, and is central to how the characters tell the story. The entire cast, director and musical director joined us for the second half of the press conference, and I couldn’t have been thrilled to see Sam Palladio as one of the main characters since I’m a nutty Nashville fan. And of course, Alan Cumming can do no wrong.

cast and director of strange magic

Gary Rydstrom (Director), Meredith Anne Bull (voice of “Dawn”), Sam Palladio (voice of “Roland”), Evan Rachel Wood (voice of “Marianne”), Alan Cumming (voice of “Bog King”), Elijah Kelly (voice of “Sunny”), Marius De Vries (Musical Director)

Watch this wonderful featurette of the cast talking about their characters:

The cast reiterated much of what George Lucas talked about – that sometimes you find love where you least expect it, or in the words of Elijah Kelly, “No matter how weird and strange you are, there is someone else out there just as weird and strange as you,” And if that’s not a great message for kids I don’t know what is.

STRANGE MAGIC opens in theatres everywhere on January 23rd!

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Into the Woods: Wit and wisdom from the cast and creators

Into the Woods: Wit and wisdom from the cast and creators

There are dream casts, and then there are DREAM casts.  Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Tracy Ullman, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine star in the new film adaptation of Into the Woods, and all of them bring exceptionally unique and wonderful performances to the movie.

into the woods press junketinto the woods press junket

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the press junket with all of these actors, plus the director, Rob Marshall, the brilliant writer, James Lapine and the producers. It was apparent from the interviews how much everyone enjoyed working with each other, and how having a real rehearsal period resulted in an extraordinary adaptation from stage to screen. Often times musicals don’t make the transition well, but Into the Woods transforms magically on the screen – with the lush sets and art direction and fantastically clever songs.

Rob Marshall talked about this balance and risk when directing a musical at the press conference in this exchange:

MODERATOR: …Rob, musicals being so different from all other genres, are they more difficult to direct?

ROB MARSHALL: They’re very fragile. I mean, I feel like you’re always this far away from like a Saturday Night Live sketch, because if the song doesn’t come out of the story in an organic way, in a seamless way, and you feel the number beginning, it’s dangerous, because of the fact that somebody’s singing. What’s so beautiful about this amazing piece that James wrote and Steve Sondheim wrote is that the material is so organic. I mean, you said this the other day, James, which I loved, which is if you pull the songs out of the piece, the piece falls apart. You know, there are musicals you can take the songs out and it doesn’t affect it at all.

ROB MARSHALL: …But what’s fantastic about this piece is it’s so interwoven. I mean, you can see that in the first [SOUNDS LIKE] 16 minutes, that opening prologue. It’s so beautifully created and written because it moves in and out of dialogue so seamlessly, but it’s very delicate, creating a musical. I mean, I feel like it’s two movies in one when I’m working on it because you have the whole side of the music, etc., and you have the rehearsals and all of that. That’s almost its own thing. Then you have the filming of it and the piece and so it’s a balancing act, and the only way you can do it well is if you have great material and brilliant actors.

Which, of course leads back to the exquisite cast. One of the aspects of Into the Woods that makes it so powerful and successful is the strength of the acting, and the singing seems to organically spring out of those performances.

Since Into the Woods is based on such well known fairy tales – Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel – it was even more important that the actors find something true and universal at the core of their characters that resonates with a modern audience.

Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine talked about this specifically, especially since Cinderella and Prince Charming are two of the most iconic fairy tale characters.

PRESS: …You know, a bunch of us grew up on Disney fairytales, but how do you guys think that these stories apply, or maybe they don’t apply, to the craziness of modern day dating?

ANNA KENDRICK: I think that this has something very mature and modern to say about separation. When Cinderella and the prince, they have this conversation and a lot of people, you know, they’re like, this isn’t your everyday Cinderella and she kicks him to the curb and while that’s sort of true, the fact that it’s done with so much civility and compassion, I think, you know, my parents set an amazing example for me because they divorced when I was 15 and I mean, we’re having Thanksgiving dinner together in a couple of days. And I know that that’s not always the case, but I think that that scene meant so much to me because I feel love for people that I have loved, and I think that’s so beautiful, and I think that’s such an important lesson for children that, you know, people can have disagreements but it doesn’t mean one is bad and one is good. And I feel so grateful to my family for setting this amazing example within separation, and I hope that that scene is a reflection of that.

CHRIS PINE: You know, I think obviously we tell each other stories in life and as storytellers that’s what we do. We tell each other stories so we can understand the world better and there’s catharsis and we understand the models of what a hero could be and what the hero’s journey as a human being is all about. But unfortunately I think sometimes those stories too can be very prohibitive and confining, and this idea that we, especially in Western culture, Western literature, [PH] Tristan and Isolde, and Romeo and Juliet, that there’s some kind of all-encompassing burning passionate love that will never die out unless you both die, is so depressing and not real. And that these two people, the prince living out this storybook life all the time, in a completely non-relational manner, with a woman that he’s apparently in love with, I think it’s very telling that this relationship, there’s not one conversation until the last moment where they break up. I mean, if you look at the film [OVERLAPPING] it’s just these little eighth page things of looking up gazingly, fervently at one another, and it doesn’t mean anything. And I think the beautiful thing about it is that here’s a woman that chooses to get out of the story of Romeo and Juliet and Tristan and Isolde, it’s like, check it out, I don’t want you, ‘cause you’re lame, and you don’t listen to me. But actually in that final moment he does listen and I think it’s very telling for the prince that he says, “Is this what you want?” He’s actually, [Yeah.] he’s being very respectful and the boundaries are very clear.

And of course, the highlight of the press junket for me was being about ten feet away from Meryl Streep. She, Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman were incredibly funny, smart and really gave a brief master class in acting and an actress’s thought process and methodology during this brief Q&A.

Christine Baranski also talked about fleshing out what can normally be a very stereotypical character: The Evil Stepmother:

PRESS: …Christine, the role of the wicked stepmother is such an iconic character type in stories. What was your take on the role of Lapine and Sondheim’s stepmother and what did you end up bringing to the role?

CHRISTINE BARANSKI: Well, you know I worked with Rob. We talked about what is this particular nature of, you know, she’s always described as the evil stepmother and the evil stepsister. So what exactly does that mean and how is that kind of activated? And actually I found that Cinderella is somebody who just is at the house and she just does thing for us. And a lot of the evil of the character — no really. And then when she suggests that she come to the ball, it’s like are you kidding? Look at your nails, look at your dress and it’s like laughable. They’re very — I think, you know, we wanted to figure out how to make these characters kind of resonant in the contemporary world and this particular trio of women just seem right for presenting a kind of narcissism and fashion absorption and from the brilliant clothes of Colleen (Atwood) are like a little too many ruffles and the hair is just a little too high. And they look like they’re trying so hard and this is their one shot and it’s like they’re getting ready for the Oscars. They’re obsessed. And, you know, they’re just comparing. There’s even a little ad lib in the carriage after we come back from the first night and obviously Cinderella’s girl — some girl was at the ball and I did an ad lib and said, “Who is that skinny girl at the ball?” You just know that these women are just, you know, they gossip. And I think they’re benow. They’re venal characters. They’re narcissistic and opportunistic and we see this. We see this when we kind of watch television or media. It’s very interesting. It’s like, “Mmm, these are women that, you know, it’s part of our culture.” So I’m really happy that we did it this way. It was interesting. It was good.

And lastly, the brilliant Meryl Streep talking about the multidimensional motivations of The Witch – and how it relates to all parents and raising children. This is the very soul of the film.

Into the Woods opens on Christmas Day – be sure to get your tickets in advance!

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Sleepless In America: Are we raising a generation of sleep deprived kids?

Sleepless In America: Are we raising a generation of sleep deprived kids?

I attended a very large NYC public high school.  And by large I don’t mean the physical building – though that was a pretty big WPA era monolith – I mean that 2400 hundred kids were shoved into a building probably built to accommodate a population half that size.  So we did what so many other NYC public schools did, and still do, we started in shifts.  By my senior year, I began the school day at 7:45 and ended at around 1:00.  I left the house at around 6:45 for the subway, usually in the dark, and always tired.

I think about this more and more as my daughters approach high school and will inevitably have a commute to school adding an hour or so to their morning timeline.  Recently, a slew of reports have come out confirming what most parents of teens already knew – teens have different body clocks, they stay up later and need to sleep in longer.  Finally, studies have proven that teens need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep and that schools that push start times to 8:30 or later see an increase in student performance and decrease in behavior issues.  But, most school districts have not heeded the message.

So, I was really interested in learning about a new special on National Geographic Channel on November 30th at 8pm, “Sleepless in America.”  The special explores the importance of sleep on many facets of American Life, education being just one.

I really believe that true change in education can only come when parents band together to act on behalf of their kids and use their voting leverage and voices to affect change.  Since many school districts site budget concerns as a reason for not changing the school start time it may take legislation (and support) to make districts move their start times and take this issue seriously. I’m not always sure if blanket legislation is the answer since schools have a myriad of different factions with which they must contend, and different populations that might need earlier start times to benefit parents’ situations, but it certainly seems like the reasons for making school start later far outweigh the reasons to keep too early start times.  The American Association of Pediatrics is recommending no start times before 8:30 am.

Tune in to Sleepless in America on November 30th on National Geographic Channel and think about how sleep, or lack thereof, affects you and your family in ways you may never have considered, but really should.

Frozen – Destined to be this holiday’s biggest hit

Frozen – Destined to be this holiday’s biggest hit

The holidays are here!  And with that first chilly frost comes the first wonderful family film of the season: Frozen, Disney’s animated twist on the classic fairy taleThe Snow Queen.

We were lucky enough to see an early screening of the film, and sit down with the stars and creators including Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Chris Beck and Jennifer Lee, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

You can tell when films are made with love, and the passion behind Frozen was so apparent from the joy and excitement in the way every person involved spoke about the making of the film.

While loosely based on The Snow Queen, the team behind Frozen focused the film on the relationship between the two sisters, fearless optimist Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) and Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter.  Anna sets off on an epic journey to find her sister—teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven – and reuniting with a magical, goofy snowman named Olaf along the way.

One of the things that makes Frozen different from your typical princess film is Anna, Kristen Bell’s character who is anything but a prim and proper princess, and more of, well, Kristin Bell in all her goofy, fabulous real-ness.

With Kristen Bell

In our roundtable with her she talked about ad-libbing and how they incorporated her awkward and unexpected choices into the character, even small things like how Anna would wake up:

“…when she woke up, like, the first time you see Anna as an adult when she woke up it just said she wakes up…then they pressed record and I started doing it and I was, like, coughing and snorting, which is what I do when I wake up. And then I was like had some of my hair in my mouth…Which if you’re a girl you know. Your hair is probably in your mouth and,then when she falls back asleep I always do that ’cause I hit snooze like six times. I’m up two hours before I have to get out of bed ’cause I love hitting snooze. And so I wanted her to sit up and fall asleep and then pretend like she wasn’t and all these things they just kept letting me add.”

From the art directors that were sent to Norway and Canada to study the way snow and ice move and reflect light, to the Lopez team crafting Broadway caliber songs with wit and melodies you don’t hear very often in original musicals, to the powerhouse extraordinary voice of Idina Menzel (trust us, you will be singing “Let it Go,” her signature number in the film, for days after seeing the film), to the truly wonderful true love twist, Frozen delivers a film experience that is different from what you expect.

Idina Menzel (center)

When Kristen Anderson-Lopez talked about writing “Letting Go”, it was apparent that this song changed the actual direction of the character of  Elsa and how the concept of a villain in Frozen would be different:

“…once we captured what you would feel like if you had held onto this secret and then you went up to go up a mountain and let go of everything you know but it also meant letting go,letting go of all the holding back you’ve been doing for so many years and becoming your true self. Once we captured that moment and that truth about Elsa there was no way she could ever really be a villain”

And, if that song doesn’t win the Oscar I can’t imagine what would!

So, bundle up the family and head to the theater to see Frozen this weekend.  It’s the perfect film to celebrate being together – and a great soundtrack to stick in the stocking (or under the Menorah!).

Even our tween reviewers loved it (and yes, they have “Let it Go” on autorepeat on their iPods, it’s seriously addictive).

Find out more!

“Like” FROZEN on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DisneyFrozen

Visit the official website: http://www.disney.com/frozen

and have your kid review FROZEN on KidzVuz.com!

FROZEN opens in theaters everywhere on November 27th!

Star Wars is for Girls

I saw Star Wars about 22 times the summer it came out when I was 5.  I wore my hair like Princess Leia before there was anything called Cosplay.   I’ve written about all of this before.  But last weekend I went with a young KidzVuz reporter (and her mom!) to New York Comic Con where she interviewed Ashley Eckstein of Her Universe.

Ashley is best known in the Sci-Fi world as the voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series.   But she is also an awesome fangirl promoter and supporter who saw the need for girl fan merchandise and so she built Her Universe.

I first met Ashley at Disney Social Media Moms Conference – and immediately loved everything she was about.

I will let her tell you why she started Her Universe, and you can see some of the cool merchandise yourself!  But, if you have a fangirl in your life (or if you are one, since she’s got loads of grown up merch too) be sure to head over to HerUniverse.com and pick up something great.  Don’t be afraid to let that geek flag fly.

Tiger Eyes the Movie: Meeting Judy Blume, again, 30 years later

tiger eyes movie poster

Judy Blume is easily the first author I remember LOVING.  I was probably around seven when I read my first Judy Blume book. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and quickly headed to Barnes and Noble for more.  I had to read EVERYTHING she wrote.  Like most girls of my generation (that would be X) Judy Blume helped define our childhood and adolescence.

Deenie, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, Blubber and of course, Forever.  These books taught you something about being a girl – what might happen, what may have happened, what you hope didn’t happen – all of it perfectly written in exactly the right voice.

When I was 10 I waited for two hours with one of my best friends at the original Barnes and Noble in Manhattan to meet Judy Blume and get the first copy of Tiger Eyes.  That autographed copy of Tiger Eyes is one of the very few books that has moved with me from home to home – surviving over 30 years and 5 moves.  Like many of Judy’s (she told me to call her that!) books Tiger Eyes is about a strong, young girl named Davey on the verge of womanhood.  In Tiger Eyes she is also displaced, confused, and recovering from the sudden, violent death of her father.  It’s a much more mature book – not quite Forever, but definitely more hardened and sad than Margaret.

The film is very loyal to book,  beautifully shot and the lead actress, Willa Holland, is extraordinary.  I highly recommend it not just for Gen X women who grew up with Judy Blume, but also for older tween and teen girls.  It’s amazing to see how much Twilight and The Hunger Games follow in the footsteps of the Judy Blume tradition of smart, capable – slightly wounded, girls like Davey in Tiger Eyes.  It’s not action packed or fully of vampires and love triangles, but it has at its core those paradoxical feelings of adolescent sadness/joy, fear/courage, ignorance/wisdom that universally resonate at that age – particularly with girls.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending a screening of the new film version of Tiger Eyes – and Judy Blume was there to take questions and sign books!

judy blume and lawrence blume

I was thrilled to dig out my copy of  Tiger Eyes from 1982.  Judy was shocked and touched to see her autograph from way back then  – she called over everyone to see it, and then signed the book anew here in 2013.

It was an awesome moment.  And I can tell you that there were many, many women in attendance that day who brought their original copies of Forever, Tiger Eyes and the other faves – tattered, battered and well-loved – for Judy to sign as well.

You can check out the main Tiger Eyes page to see if the film is coming to a theater near you, but it is also On Demand, and online on the usual outlets.

Raising Broadway Babies – and A Totally TONYs Partnership (pinch me!)

b_totallytonysI grew up going to the theater, performing in musicals, doing ballet.  Living in Brooklyn meant going to a Broadway theater was an event.  We planned ahead, tickets were bought in advance, reservations made, more often than not a special occasion was involved.  I didn’t really care what I saw – I just loved going.  And the truth is, when you’re a kid, if there’s singing and dancing and a big velvet curtain it’s all magic.  If you also got Tommy Tune, Bernadette Peters, Mandy Patinkin or Patti LuPone – well then that magic elevated to a level of serious wizardry.

When I’m being totally honest with myself I will admit that I miss being a part of the theater.  For most of my childhood and early 20’s it is where I assumed I would be.  And it does not surprise me that when I look at most of my closest friends many, many of them are theater geeks too – with their own drama stories and a bit of wistful regret.  I never doubted that I would raise my daughters as theater goers.  They do not have quite the performing bug I had – they participate, but that love of the stage is not deep in their bones like mine. They are more attracted to singer/songwriters, not all out musical theater.  However, they love to go.  Even when they were little – when they hated movies, were terrified to watch previews or sit in a movie theater, they loved watching live theater.

Nothing can replace that feeling of being in the audience and watch real people, feeling real emotions, working through relationships, love, loss, and joy right in front of you.  Theater is almost a basic human need – going back centuries – the desire to connect, relate, tell a story, entertain, educate.  And you don’t need much to put on a show right in your own basement, backyard, school auditorium, or neighborhood park.  It’s enough to inspire Broadway dreams in kids across the country.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that KidzVuz is partnering with The Tony Awards this year to promote the June 9th telecast of the Tony Awards hosted by Neil Patrick Harris (woot!).  We are holding a contest for kids all over the country to tell us about their favorite show, or sing a bit of their favorite Broadway show tune.  And the response has already been amazing.  Here’s one of my favorite video entries so far:

If you’ve got a Broadway Baby in your life make sure to let them know about this contest – they can win a giant bag of Broadway Show swag with hats, T-shirts, soundtracks, autographed Playbills and more.  AND they could be featured on the Tony Awards website!

The kids have taken over Broadway this year in Matilda, Newsies, Kinky Boots, Annie, Motown, Annie and more.  There’s never been more family friendly fare on the Great White Way – so if you’re in NYC be sure to see a show.  And make sure to check out the regional theaters near where you live.  Support your local theater since that’s where so many kids’ dreams begin.

And in the meantime, they can enter the Totally Tonys video contest by clicking HERE!