Author Archives: Cassandra Hsiao
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Genre: Young Adult
Age Range: 8+ (Grade 5+)
A talented master at infusing wit, humor, and twists into her tales, Megan Whalen Turner pens an excellent narrative enjoyable for all ages, not just young adults.
Skillful thief Gen is selected from prison by the king’s magus for a quest that only the most dexterous and brave can survive. Together, with two apprentices and a soldier, they set off on a risky journey to retrieve the precious Hamiathes’ Gift, a jewel that bestows sovereignty upon the wearer. Every character has their own agenda that highlights the complexity of their personalities as they travel over the dangerous lands of Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia. Turner infuses stories of old gods and goddesses throughout their odyssey with style, spirit, and heart.
Although it takes a while for their journey to really kick off, Gen’s charming narration hooks readers from the start. The trickster’s pure nerve, his humorously sarcastic jibes, and his paradigms of other characters makes Gen one of the most exceptional characters I have ever rooted for. Turner also weaves in political philosophy as well as snippets of the wide spectrum of human nature, where every character is three-dimensional and fleshed out with care. Young children will love the precarious adventures and older teens will appreciate the plot twists, the arcs in character relationships, and the intricate tale.
It’s a long process to bring a movie to life.
At the Frozen press day at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, I got the rare opportunity to try my hand at becoming an animator myself!
I learned from the special effects team that one of the many challenges of making Frozen was shooting the film with all the angles and the camera tracking. In an empty room, six LED lights track the movement of the camera. On the computers, however, it’s a different story. When the camera moves, the tracker on the computer moves as well.
“At the end of the day, the goal is to map an organic, three-dimensional motion for a layout artist from the real world into the virtual,” says Evan Goldberg, Disney Animation’s Manager of Technology. “How do we decide where to put the camera to tell the story in the best possible way? How dramatic do we want it to be?”
The five monitors in the room begin to play a blocked out, pre-production scene from the movie, where Sven the reindeer is dashing towards a falling ship. I got to experiment with the camera, which showed what I would be seeing had I been standing in the virtual room myself. I could move the camera wherever I wanted in the virtual world. I could stand right next to the ship and watch Sven dash towards me, I could shoot the sky and swing downwards, I could run with Sven and make the scene as thrilling as possible – the possibilities in the virtual room were endless.
Another department was the character development. “This department is primarily responsible for building character rigs, the cloth rigs and running stimulation on the show,” says Frank Hanner, character CO Supervisor.
The riggers build skeletons to the characters, attach muscles and skin on the characters, and build animator controls to allow the animator to determine how the characters move around – from a slight smile to skipping down the street.
In Frozen, there are 312 unique character rigs, more rigging done than on any other Disney film. There are 245 cloth stimulation rigs, an impressive number because it is more than double the number of all stimulated costumes in the combined Disney films preceeding Frozen.
“An average human has a 100,000 hairs on their head. Elsa has 420,000 hairs on her head. She has really thick, lustrous beautiful hair. Our last very famous Disney leading lady was Rapunzel, who only had 27,000 hairs,” explained Hanner.
In the end, I tried my hand at animating Olaf, the snowman who has the uncanny ability to disassemble his body. The countless buttons and controls took a while to get used to, but soon I realized it’s ridiculously fun to stretch Olaf’s mouth as wide as possible or make him cross-eyed and silly.
Cool off with Frozen, in theaters November 27!
For a movie about a kingdom locked in winter, Frozen is as heart-warming as the summer sun. Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, Disney brings to life a beautiful tale of sisterly love, a story structured in a way that differs from archetypal Disney Princess movies. Anna and Elsa are sisters, and best friends—at least, in their childhood years. With her power to sculpt winter wonderlands of snow and ice, Elsa accidently strikes Anna. Elsa isolates herself from Anna by retreating into her shell of fear, wrestling with her uncontrollable wintry power. Come coronation day, her emotions are released, and Elsa triggers an eternal winter over the kingdom of Arendelle. Branded as a “monster,” Elsa flees into the mountains to protect those she loves the most. Plucky high-spirited Anna, along with mountain man Kristoff and his lovable reindeer Sven, sets out to find her sister and bring summer back to the kingdom.
It’s a wonderful, gorgeously rendered musical. Taking place in the enchanted Scandinavian fjords complete with breath-taking dramatic cliffs and the resplendent Aurora lights, the kingdom is unique in its design unlike any other Disney realm. My hat goes off to the artists who crafted this tour de force. Elsa’s icy powers enchant in the thousands of ways that snow and ice reflect light, depending on her mercurial personality. Her ice castle is splendidly magnificent—it’s tall, proud, regal, and poised, much like the way Elsa tries to carry herself on the outside.
The songs, penned by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, tell the story in a fantastic way, appealing to raw emotion and heart. Disney’s casting of Kristen Bell (Anna) and Idina Menzel (Elsa) is unsurpassable. Combine these two powerhouse voices together with poignant, emotional melodies and you get a duet that will send shivers down your spine. The songs also add a touch of comedy with witty lyrics, such as the musical number by show-stealer Olaf (Josh Gad), a talking snowman with interchangeable parts created by Elsa. He has a hilariously unhealthy obsession with the hot summer, a season with dangers that Olaf is quite merrily unaware of.
Frozen breaks out of the standard princess movie cutouts by the Anna-Elsa sister dynamic and also, by not revealing the antagonist until late in the movie. Their sisterhood is complicated, but Disney doesn’t shy away from exploring this relationship. Anna represents love and Elsa represents fear. This is an allusion to the film’s title in that Anna must thaw Elsa’s frozen heart. Produced by the Tangled crew, there are a few similarities between Rapunzel and Anna, not just in the way they look, but that Anna has also been behind closed doors for most of her life. I love the fact that Anna is not just a very fearless protagonist, but also she is strong-willed, stubborn, extremely awkward, easily excitable, and very relatable. Frozen also throws in a couple unconventional ideas about true love, deviating from The Little Mermaid‘s love-at-first-sight syndrome.
Disney is starting to break out of its traditional mold, giving audiences a refreshing ride through uncharted lands. It’s a triumph in its own rights, 5 stars out of 5, a jewel in the crown of the Disney vault. Aesthetically stunning, Frozen is an enchanting tale that will tug on your heartstrings and leave you with a feeling of breathless wonder. It is accompanied by the short “Get A Horse,” which literally bursts out of film boundaries, showcasing creative impeccable animation of the Mickey Mouse crew. Be sure to catch Frozen in theaters, November 27! All Ages.
Directed by John Stephenson (Five Children and It), The Christmas Candle tells a tale of the quaint little village of Gladbury in the 1890′s, the beginning of the electric age. It is said that every 25 years, an angel descends from heaven and selects one Christmas Candle. Whoever lights the Christmas Candle will receive a miracle on Christmas Eve. However, the neighbors in the town are set at odds with each other when the candle is lost. When Rev. David Richmond, the new pastor at church, tries to revolutionize the town with both modern technology and with his strong disbelief in miracles, the legacy of the Christmas Candle nearly dies out. Christmas must be saved by faith, hope, and miracles from both the divine and the human.
Acting was solid, especially from one of my favorites, Samantha Barks (Les Miserables), who played the lovely but skeptical Emily Barstow, who befriends the lonely Reverend after the town rejects his hard-hitting sermons. The overall sense of the film gives it a dated aura, with the gorgeous costumes and palette perfectly set for the 1890′s.
At the core, this really is a sweet movie about hope. As a Christian, the film hit home for me. The movie explored both the supernatural wonders and the human capacity to be the miracle, showing the transformation of a broken, weary man to one finding comfort in hope and the possibilities of miracles again. Reverend Richmond tries to “fix” the town by doing good works, but he soon learns that there is a limitation to what humans can do. The town of Gladbury is transformed by the miracles in which God answers their prayers, in His own time, way, and purpose.
Compared to all the fast-paced CGI action blockbusters hitting theaters in this month of November,The Christmas Candle may not hold the attention of children. However, this movie makes up for the pacing with depth, tranquility of the 1890′s, and honey for the soul. The Christmas Candle will be sure to warm your heart and perhaps rekindle another spark of hope within you. Ages 7+
First Published @http://kidspickflicks.com/component/content/article/9-drama/3483-the-christmas-candle
Author : Jaclyn Moriarty
Another outstanding YA novel from author Jaclyn Moriarty, continuing in her loosely connected Ashbury/Brookfield series that revolve around two schools. Bindy Mackenzie is at the top of her class. The high-strung, ambitious, precocious high school student’s academic excellence sets her a notch higher than her classmates, or at least she thinks it does. When Bindy finds herself slipping in her classes, and becomes the target of detestation from her fellow students, her life quickly starts to spiral downwards. Is it the pressure of being a teenager, or perhaps, something more sinister? Moriarty retains her unique style as we glimpse into Bindy’s life through diary entries, notes, and memos. She’s the singular most unique character I have ever read – passionate, egotistical, intelligent, and humorously clueless. Her development is fertile ground for an interesting character arc. In fact, the reader will be so caught up in the everyday confusing matters of Bindy’s life that even without the plot twist in the story it would still make a fantastic read. It takes a while for the novel to get moving, but readers who stick with the book through the first chapters will be rewarded in the end.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
First published @http://www.colapublib.org/teens/reviews/
FROZEN: A Tale of Two Princesses. Two Really Cold Princesses.
ELSA ISN’T JUST A PRINCESS, SHE IS CROWNED THE QUEEN!
Disney’s Frozen will introduce headstrong Anna as the 12th Disney Princess. In fact, Frozen not only has one princess, but two – Anna (Kristen Bell) and sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) will be joining the lineup of Disney Princesses. The two siblings are drastically different from each other, but the love and sisterly bond between them hold strong throughout the movie.
“Elsa represents fear in society. Anna, of course, represents love, the small light through the fear. We just loved that theme from the original Hans Christian Anderson story,” says Jennifer Lee(Wreck-It Ralph), co-director of Frozen. Walt Disney himself had wanted to tell Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” fable and now the studio has finally brought the tale to life.
ANNA GETS HELP FROM NEW FRIENDS OLAF, KRISTOFF AND SVEN
As for the characters’ royalty? “I look at Elsa and Anna as characters first and princesses second,” says Chris Buck(Tarzan), the other co-director ofFrozen.
Certainly, Disney loves to make a princess movie but Lee says she didn’t set out to fulfill some sort of Disney quota. “We were really free on this,” she says. “We didn’t have any pressure to make them princesses or queens. For the stakes of the film, we set it in a time where the people who have the most pressure on them are the royal people, the ones who are in charge. Anna is in this situation where her sister, the Queen, has just accidently cast an eternal winter. Anna is stuck between protecting her
THE LOOK OF LOVE
kingdom and wanting to help her sister. To us, those were the greatest stakes. When people see the whole film…the characters being princesses have to do with responsibility.”
Aside from Anna being an heir to the throne in the kingdom of Arendelle, Anna is actually a very relatable character.
“Anna is a princess but she’s also ‘the ordinary hero.’ That’s what we call her,” Lee says. “She has no powers. She’s only 18. She’s lived in a castle for most of her life. Suddenly she’s out in the woods, and she’s fearless. Anna’s got a good heart. That’s our theme of fear vs. love. That’s a girl that I feel a lot of us relate to her, the ordinary hero.”
HAYWARD, HARRISON, WILSON & POEHLER
Turkeys are undoubtedly an iconic part of Thanksgiving: sitting at the center of the table, covered with cranberry sauce and crammed with stuffing. However, this animated movie just might change your mind. In Free Birds, Reggie and Jake, two talking turkeys, travel back in time to the very first Thanksgiving to change history and save the fate of turkeys.
Though the movie isn’t very historically accurately (except for the part about talking turkeys, states the disclaimer at the start of the film), Free Birds still has a lot of heart and good morals for kids.
“We felt it was important that the movie is entertaining and has a good message, a message about the flock, togetherness, being part of something bigger than yourself, that’s the most educational part of it,” explains director Jimmy Hayward.
When the two turkeys travel back to 1621, days before the first Thanksgiving, they meet Jenny, a smart turkey who lives underground with her beloved flock of turkeys.
REGGIE, JENNY & JAKE
“It was fun to play someone who was part of a flock, which is what my character focuses on, the idea that you can’t do it alone, you have to stick together,” says Amy Poehler, who voices Jenny. “Those are universal themes that feel understandable. That character Jenny is not dumb at all, she’s really quite smart. She is a leader.”
If the actors themselves could travel back in time, what moment would they relive? Woody Harrelson (Jake) says birth. Poehler had a different answer.
“I was in a dog run once and I threw two tennis balls up in the air and my lab caught them both at once and everybody clapped,” said Poehler. “I’d like to see that again.”
Although Poehler and co-stars Owen Wilson (Reggie) and Woody Harrelson (Jake) did not record in the studio together, they certainly did learn new things about each other.
“I’m surprised Owen takes this stuff very seriously,” says Woody Harrelson. “Once, he came in covered with feathers, with a waddle. That was weird. And he had a snood, the flap at the side of the beak. He takes it seriously.”
Why turkeys? The vegan ideology certainly stands well with Harrelson, who is vegan. Owen Wilson, on the other hand, thought that turkeys were a funny idea to be traveling back in time.
STAR REPORTER CASSANDRA & OWEN WILSON
“We could have just been easily playing soybeans, traveling back in time to Japan, to get tofu out of miso,” laughed Wilson. “I just thought turkeys were funnier than soybeans.”
As for the holiday tradition, the cast shared their own Thanksgiving memories.
“We would always have a Football game and have arguments,” said Wilson. “And we’d have my mom’s stuffing with turkey. And cranberry sauce. Apple pie.”
Amy Poehler and her two kids watch a movie that they’ve never seen before on Thanksgiving. Last year, they watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This year, she says, maybe they will watch Free Birds.
Owen Wilson pitched his thoughts about what ages would enjoy the movie.
“My son was watching a clip the other day, and he’s three, and he loved it. So I would think from age 2.9 all the way up to teenagers.”
According to Wilson, if you’re anywhere between the ages 2.9 to the teenage years, you’ll love Free Birds – in theaters, November 1!
Two turkeys go back in time (on a time machine called S.T.E.V.E) to the very first Thanksgiving in history to take turkeys off the menu. Reggie has always been different from the other turkeys. He’s an outcast – he’s skinnier and smarter. When the President’s daughter selects Reggie to be the Pardoned Turkey, Reggie thinks he has it all – TV, bunny slippers, and most importantly, delicious pizza. In a fowl,bizarre turn of events, Reggie meets Jake, a macho turkey, who drags him into an adventure into a past where turkeys are just as smart as humans. The pilgrims are starving and eying the turkeys, and the movie culminates in an epic battle between humans and turkeys.
Of course, this is probably not the movie for teachers to show in history class about the First Thanksgiving – only nitpicky pertinacious grouchy hermits would wag their fingers at the complete inaccuracy and disregard for history. After all, who can resist the joy of changing history? Even better, what about birds changing history? The concept is pure childish fun.
However, the plot was a bit far-fetched, but that doesn’t matter if you’re a kid. Suspend your disbelief and brief annoyance about the plot holes, and you’ll still be able to wring out at least a little enjoyment. I was hoping that the movie would be a laugh-out-loud riot from the start to the finish, but that is not the case. There was a lot of potential for hilarious scenes, but it seems as if they were skipped over and rushed.
Even so, voice-overs are fantastically fresh, especially with Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Jake. In fact, Jake’s character development is highly unusual for a children’s animated film – typically, secondary characters or sidekicks are mostly just that: secondary sidekicks, flat and only existing for comical relief. In Free Birds, I was pleasantly surprised to see Jake’s backstory, even if it was slightly cheesy. I also loved S.T.E.V.E. played by George Takei. As an interactive time machine, S.T.E.V.E. steals a lot of laughs in the movie. Can I please have S.T.E.V.E. on my iPhone instead of Siri?
All in all, if you’re a kid, Free Birds is a fun light-hearted movie, raucous and riotous, and historically inaccurate in the best way possible. Reggie and Jake reinforce positive themes repeatedly such as never giving up and believing in yourself. It may not be worth it to see in theaters, but for DVD, it’s a mediocre PickIt for parents to keep their kids riveted for an hour and a half at home. At least it’s refreshing to see a movie about turkeys, and not chickens. Ages 5+
So why did the turkey cross the road?
It was the chicken’s day off.