Thursday, December 01, 2005

Disney stuff


Musician Jim Brickman essays theDisney standards.

"I've always been a huge fan of Disney -- I grew up loving all the Disney music," says Jim Brickman.

The adult contemporary singer's legion of fans might be surprised to know that he's a Disneyphile, but Jim claims it makes perfect sense.

"My first album I ever owned was the 'Mary Poppins' record. It was the first movie I ever saw, too. The songs told me stories that I always thought were so inventive and theatrical, I just loved it. I think it was some of the first music that inspired me to want to become a musician," he says.

That love should soon be public knowledge, as Jim is embarking on an exploration of the music of Disney.

His newest album, "The Disney Songbook," has just been released. On it, Jim performs Disney classics in his own heartfelt style. He's an artist known for collaborating with talents across the musical spectrum and "The Disney Songbook" is no exception - it includes appearances by Wayne Brady, Lila McCann, Kassie DePaiva, and Josh Gracin.

"I always try to pick interesting combinations of people on my albums," Jim tells us. "In this case, because Disney music is so diverse, it was especially important to me to have an eclectic mix of singers bringing those songs to life."

The album also includes two new songs.

"I thought it was very cool that Disney let me do two originals inspired by the new release of 'Cinderella' on DVD," says Jim. "One of those is called 'Beautiful,' and it's a duet with Wayne Brady. It's a love at first sight story that was inspired by the Cinderella story."

However, asked to name a favorite, Jim goes with a classic - "When You Wish upon a Star," from "Pinocchio."

"The melody is so beautiful and it's so nice to play. It just sort of feels right under your fingers. Aside from the fact that it's just sort of the quintessential Disney song, I just happen to think it's beautiful."

The album is far from the only thing keeping Jim busy - he is taking this show on the road. Starting Thanksgiving weekend, his latest music special will be playing on PBS affiliates around the country.

"Jim Brickman at the Magic Kingdom - The Disney Songbook" features Jim at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, performing with the naturally dramatic backdrop of Cinderella Castle and the nightly fireworks display. Shooting the special also gave Jim the chance to enjoy the Parks.

"They wanted to show me on the rides, so it was actually part of my homework that I had to do!" he laughs. EDITOR'S NOTE: MY DREAM. SOMEONE PAYS ME TO GO TO DISNEY WORLD! (AND, PART 2 OF THE DREAM, THEY PAY ME TO MAKE APPEARANCES AT DWEEBFESTS. SIGH.....)

As if these projects weren't enough to keep a person busy, Jim is also currently on tour, performing songs from the new album.

In a coup, he was able to get permission from Disney to use footage from several animated classics as a backdrop - something rarely allowed.

"We hit 35 cities between Thanksgiving weekend and New Year's Eve," he says.

After all this, how does Jim feel about the possibility of working with Disney again?

"I would love to do an animated movie, or another album! I've talked to some of the powers that be about that. I think the sensibility I come from with my music is so similar; I like to write very positive, hopeful songs that are somewhat message-oriented. It's all family entertainment, and it's all multi-generational. I think it's one of the reasons that it's been such a great collaboration."
Check out song clips and more at the "Disney Songbook" site.

Filming C.S. Lewis' masterwork, the seven books that compose the Chronicles of Narnia, has been something of an impossible dream for decades. Ever since the first of the books, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," was published in 1950, children and adults have adored them alike - they have been perennial bestsellers for more than 50 years.

The history of Narnia has everything: magic, adventure, tragedy, humor, and triumph -- it's not surprising that Hollywood has longed to bring it to the big screen.

However, save for a few television adaptations, a Narnia movie never materialized - no one was able to find a way to convincingly capture Lewis' fantasy world onscreen. Film technology had not caught up with the richness of Narnia's gallery of creatures and enchantments until now.

On December 9, we will all have the chance to venture through an enchanted wardrobe with four amazed British children and explore a magical land locked in eternal winter.

The enchantment of Narnia begins for Lucy(Georgie Hensley) when she encountersMr. Tumnus (James McAvoy).

We'll meet fauns, centaurs, talking animals, the terrible White Witch who has enslaved Narnia, and the magical magnificent lion Aslan who will rally the children to free this fabulous realm.

The man who helmed "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is director/cowriter Andrew Adamson. He told "The Insider" about the creation of the film, his own love of Narnia, and what the movie holds in store.

The first thing we realize is that Andrew is as big a fan of the books as any child; in fact, he became a fan when he WAS a child, as so many readers did. And one of his inspirations in bringing Narnia to film was his own memories of how the book affected him.

"When I first became involved in the project I sat down and wrote out all of my memories, because before it got polluted by my adult mind, I wanted to get my childhood impressions," he says. Only then did he sit down and reread the books. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHAT A LOVELY NOTION. A TRUE FAN.

The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) entices Edmund (Skandar Keynes): a more sophisticated sort of villainess.

One great surprise he encountered was the climactic confrontation between the four children with their army of good creatures, and the forces of the evil White Witch.

"I remembered this epic battle," says Andrew. "When I came back to read the book as an adult, I read through it and thought 'Where's what I remember?' Because in the book it's about a page and a half, and it's mostly Peter telling Aslan about it afterward. It would be kind of disappointing to build the movie toward this epic battle, and then be with Aslan through the whole thing. So I wanted to film the battle that my eight-year-old mind had imagined the battle. And I think Lewis counted on that; there are places in the book where he says 'I can't tell you about it because your parents wouldn't let you read the book.' As a kid you go this must be really bad, and your mind fills out what happened."

A similar balance between the words on the page and the world they create in the imagination informed the creation of the White Witch (played by Tilda Swinton) and her castle

Bringing Aslan to life was a monumental achievement.

"C.S. Lewis describes her in great detail in the book, and of course I think Pauline Baynes illustrations in the book give you an impression of her, but at the same time I think that over the years that character can become somewhat of a cliche. One way you can read the White Witch is the screeching Cruella DeVil or the evil stepmother, these evil female characters. I wanted to make sure she was evil that was as evil as Aslan's good, she was as intelligent and sophisticated as our hero," Andrew explains. "Tilda Swinton was a huge inspiration to start from. She was the first person I wanted to cast, and I was lucky enough to have her agree to do it. But I also looked into the background of the White Witch, and the fact that she had come from the world of Charn - which is in The Magician's Nephew, we get the backstory of how she came to Narnia at the inception of Narnia. I really wanted to try to capture the otherworldliness about her - she doesn't come from Narnia, but at the same time she's made it her world by freezing it. We worked with the idea that she's almost not physical, and her dress changes throughout the movie as she does. We kept a lot of the specifics that Lewis mentioned, like the spiky crown, but we thought that making it out of ice was more interesting than how it was described in the book, so we started playing with that."

Similarly, the White Witch's castle has the jagged towers described in the book - but on film those towers are clearly icicles, a product of the wicked queen's wintry reign.

Nothing in the film, says Andrew, was as challenging as bringing Aslan to life. The great lion is central to the story, the creator of Narnia and the only one who can help the children succeed in freeing it.

"I knew going in that one of the most technically challenging things was going to be Aslan. Because it's a very complex thing to pull off, a fully furred realistic creature. And then you have to have him speak. And I didn't want everyone to be thinking 'Oh, that's a great computer-generated lion.' So he had to be photo-real, to just get the reality of Narnia," Andrew explains.

"We started the research and development on Aslan two years ago, just to get the wind in the hair and eyes that really have soul. Saliva in the mouth. Those things are very important - not because you notice that they're there, but when they're not there you really notice the absence and stop believing in the character. First he had to look like a real lion, and secondly characterwise he had to fit in the story."

That character is a complex one. "There's a great line in the book, 'Aslan is not a TAME lion,' and yet he's a very paternal character. He comforts and protects the kids, but you always know he's capable of great anger and great strength. I think that's why C.S. Lewis used a lion," Andrew muses. "Both the villain and the hero have an attraction/repulsion thing. The White Witch is physically attractive, and yet she's very evil. Aslan is very warm and approachable, and yet you know he could bite your hand off. Real lions have the same thing - I've been around a lot of them lately. You want to pet them, and at the same time you're terrified of petting them. What Liam Neeson brought to the character is this incredible resonance and power in his voice." EDITOR'S NOTE: LIAM NEESON!? I DIDN'T KNOW THIS. OK. I'LL GO SEE LIAM NEESON AS A LION. (I'M EASY WHEN IT COMES TO LIAM/LION).

On December 9, the wardrobe will open and we'll all be able to enter the world of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

From hero to villain to the incredible cast of fabulous creatures that fill the screen, Narnia never ceases to amaze - both the four children who have stumbled upon it and film audiences alike. Andrew Adamson and his crew have brought the Narnia in the minds of millions of children to vivid life, and 55 years does not seem like it has been too long a wait.


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