Saturday, December 31, 2011

DisFanReview's Very Best Stories Of 2011

11) Cars 2, PIXAR's Unnecessary Film?

Cars 2 was PIXAR's least successful film to date. Both in box office numbers and critical acclaim. In fact many fans wondered why the sequel to 2006's Cars, a subdued fish out of water tale, was an over the top spy thriller. If we are being honest, we must admit that there wasn't a major contingent of fans clamoring for a sequel. However, after Cars branded merchandise made the Disney company multiple millions of dollars, Execs were clamoring for a sequel to that financial success. While many dismissed Cars 2 as a well produced, well written, and well animated toy commercial... It is undeniable that PIXAR's signature charm is present. What is woefully missing, is the films heart.

However, Cars 2 serve's a simple purpose that may not seem immediately obvious to most. Disney is sinking a billion dollars in to a major refurbishment of their California Adventure park next to Disneyland in Anaheim. The centerpiece of this refurbishment is a multiple acre plot dubbed CarsLand, and themed after the desert town of Radiator Springs from the original film. Cars 2 keeps the PIXAR characters fresh in the mind of young children, who will do their very best to keep their parents aware of CarsLand and the vacation possibilities of the all new incarnation of California Adventure park in 2012.

10) The Passing Of A Visionary, Steve Jobs

When Apple's new CEO Tim Cook took the stage to unveil the iPhone 4s on October 4th 2011, the Apple faithful were more than a little surprised that Steve Jobs was not there to make the announcement. A little more than 24 hours later we fully understood the implications of Jobs absence.

On the evening of October 5th, Apple inc. announced via their website that Steve Jobs, former CEO of both Apple and PIXAR, as well as Disney's single largest stockholder lost his seven year battle with pancreatic cancer. While Job's accomplishments at Apple changed the way we interact with the world, his accomplishments as one of the founders and CEO of PIXAR, changed the way we see the world. Jobs influence was wider and more profound than most of us could have imagined.

9) The Bizarre Saga Of The Lone Ranger

During the summer, there was a lot of buzz here in New Mexico about Disney's upcoming big budget western, The Lone Ranger. On August 11th we reported that local casting had already begun under the production title "Silver Bullet" and that a lot of pre-production work was already underway in Silver City. Then, a mere two days later, Disney shocked the entertainment industry, and suddenly announced that the project was dead, due to serious budget concerns. Then, in mid-October all parties involved came to their senses and came to an amicable decision on the films budget.

Happily, we were able to report on December 6th, that New Mexico casting agency Elizabeth Gabel Casting has once again posted a listing for an upcoming production called 'Silver Bullet.' Which is quickly becoming the most un-secret, secret production name since Return of the Jedi was called 'Blue Harvest' way back in 1982. Anyway, production of 'Silver bullet' a.k.a. The Lone Ranger is set to begin in February of 2012, so things should be moving very quickly from this point on.

8) Walt Disney World Turns 40

On October 1st 1971, The Magic Kingdom Park opened it's doors for the first time and effectively gave birth to what we know as Walt Disney World. 40 years and 4 parks later, Walt Disney World is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world with storied and magical history of it's own. Millions of guests have entered this one of kind destination and been entranced by the magic inherent in the many resorts, hotels, restaurants and parks. Now, with the return of STAR TOURS to Disney Hollywood Studios, a vast refurbishment of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom and the upcoming addition of AVATAR land at Disney's Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney Worlds future has never looked brighter.

7) 'Lion King' Roars Again

When Disney re-released their 1994 animated film The Lion King to theaters, they did so for only two weeks. The re-release was an effort by Disney to promote the films release on to Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D. Only in their wildest dreams did Disney exec's believe that the film would turn out to be the number one film in the nation. It did exactly that. The film opened on September 16th and took in over $30 million dollars in it's opening week.

The following week, The Lion King 3D took in nearly $25 million beating out new, critically acclaimed, and star powered releases Moneyball & Dolphin Tale. The films unexpected success prompted Disney to keep the film in first run theaters for an additional week. Two weeks, in some places. As well, The Lion King 3D could be found in second run movie theaters well into November of 2011.

6) The Return Of Con Culture To Albuquerque

Before January of 2011, it had been over a decade since a large scale comic book convention had been held in Albuquerque. With the debut of the Albuquerque Comic Con, fans finally had a comic book, television, and film event to call their own. The first annual event was a substantial success with well over ten thousand fans attending over two days. What was made clear in those two days was that Albuquerque has a legion of geeky faithful who had been quietly waiting for this kind of event.

In June we discovered that the Albuquerque 'Con' scene was actually much bigger than first suspected. The organizers of the Albuquerque Comic Expo created a summer 'geek fest' the likes of which this town had never seen. With a slate of top notch film, television, and comic book guests as well as events designed for both families and hard core geeks, Con culture came to life in the desert like never before. Now, with only two weeks before the second annual Albuquerque Comic Con and days after Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes were announced as headliners at the 2012 Albuquerque Comic Expo 'Con' culture in New Mexico isn't just alive... It is thriving.

5) Avatar & Walt Disney World

In what is probably the most surprising announcement since Disney acquired MARVEL, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Disney Parks chairman Tom Staggs and Director James Cameron announced in September that AVATAR is coming to the Disney Parks. Namely, Disney's Animal Kingdom. The park will be the first home of an all new AVATAR experience in this long term deal between Disney, Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment and Fox Filmed Entertainment. Construction will not begin until 2013, but the prospect is absolutely exciting. The lush and vibrant world of Pandora will come to life with the kind of magic that only Disney can muster.

There are many who are finding this move a little hard to swallow given the fact that AVATAR is an edgier PG-13 film that perhaps on the surface doesn't quite meet up with Disney's core values. However the world of AVATAR does provided numerous possibilities for Disney imagineering to develop new and exciting content for park goers. Like Star Wars, and Indiana Jones before it, AVATAR is another addition to the world of Disney that while currently controversial, will likely provide a new level of excitement and entertainment to the Disney brand.

4) The Year Of The Muppet's (Being Elmo & The Muppets)

At the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011, we had the unexpected privilege of being some of the first people to see an amazing documentary about the man behind the furry red monster we called Elmo. Being Elmo chronicles the story of puppeteer Kevin Clash and his rise from poverty to becoming the voice, heart and soul of one of the most iconic characters in television history. The film also provides a powerfully intimate glimpse into the height Jim Henson's career. Filmmaker Constance Marks toured the film from festival to festival, and along the way, the film garnered a monster following. Being Elmo is currently in limited release across the United States.

During all of 2011, Disney had the monumental task of reintroducing the world to the Muppets. The Muppets hadn't been in a big screen adventure since 1999's Muppets In Space and Disney exec's were concerned that modern audiences couldn't connect with these felt covered stars of yesteryear. The solution was simple actually. Disney used two tools that seemed to suit the Muppet's perfectly. Parody and the internet. Disney produced several parody trailers and commercials that became viral sensations on video websites like YouTube. When The Muppets was finally released in November, Disney found that their viral gamble had paid off in spades.

3) Disney's 2011 D23 Expo

In 2009, Disney put on the party to end all parties. The 2009 D23 Expo was regarded by most as a monumental event that was most assuredly deserving of the Disney name. This year, expectations were high and the excitement surrounding the return of the D23 Expo was palpable. Unfortunately, it seems that everyone expected more from the 2011 version of Disney's ultimate fan fest, than the Disney company did.

From the very beginning, Disney fans saw significant cracks in the shiny happy facade that Disney had draped the event in. Many fans were frustrated that Disney CEO Bob Iger didn't find it necessary to show up to his own party, but the disappointment didn't stop there. Many fans told horror stories of waiting hours in line for panels or special events and eventually being turned away.

Even the most hard core of Disney fans, the D23 Charter members were outraged as well. It seems that the 'Charter Member Lounge' was little more than a well lit conference room with very few benefits. Even though fans were treated to exciting new content from upcoming projects like The Avengers and numerous cool details about new things coming to Disney Parks, many came away from the event wanting so much more.

2) The Return of Star Tours

Disney Parks and Star Wars fans alike had been clamoring for a refurbishment of the classic Star Tours attraction for years. In July of 2010 the Disneyland version was closed and the Walt Disney World incarnation at Hollywood Studio's was closed in September. For the first five months of 2011, tons of details about the all new 3D Star Tours were flying all over the place. While the little bits and pieces of information were exciting and even tantalizing... They were nothing compared to the mind blowing final product.

The Walt Disney World version of Star Tours officially opened on May 20th, the opening day of Star Wars Weekends. The Disneyland version formally opened a month later. The all new Star Tours has been an outrageous success with enormous lines being the status quo on both coasts to this very day.

1) 'The Avengers' In Albuquerque

While The Avengers wont even be in theaters until May of 2012, it was easily the story that took up the most of our time in 2011. Having this massive Disney production filming in our own backyard was an opportunity we simply could not pass up. Though production of the film began quietly in April, stories immediately surfaced that Samuel L. Jackson's script for the film had been stolen. This development caused production to stop for two days. Though Disney deny's that production was ever effected by the theft, numerous sources have told DisFanReview that the production stoppage did indeed occur.

As the production continued into the summer, details about the film continued to trickle out in spite of Disney's unprecedented set security. Only two photos of an Albuquerque set ever made it to the internet. Fortunately, we were able to reveal two major details about The Avengers before anyone else.

In June massive wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico contributed to atrocious air quality and near zero visibility in the Albuquerque area. As it turns out, the smokey air contributed in a very positive way to the filming of a 'massive evacuation' scene that was filmed at Atrisco Heritage Academy on the cities southwest side. This was confirmed in October when the first full length trailer for the film was released.

The biggest detail about The Avengers that we were privileged enough to break, was a detail that had been 'confirmed' wasn't going to happen. In numerous interviews, actress Gwyneth Paltrow had flatly denied that she would be in The Avengers. Her character Pepper Potts was heavily featured in Iron Man 1 & 2. Which had lead fans to speculate that she would at least have a cameo in The Avengers. In July, we literally stumbled into the truth. Our confidential sources informed us that she spent four days in New Mexico and filmed her entire part for the film. The Avengers blasts into theaters on May 4th 2012.

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