Walt Disney World: It’s A Small World

Having a pint of Guiness in Dublin. Placing a bet in Vegas. Taking a photo so it looks like you’re holding the Tower of Pisa up.

There are somethings that you pretty much have to do in certain places.

A trip to Walt Disney World wouldn’t be complete without a go on one of their most famous rides. The slow boat ride through various settings showing small animatronic children representing various nations. They are accompanied by the eponymous song, a cheery, upbeat number about peace and brotherhood. (The song written by the Sherman brothers who wrote the songs for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book)

The ride is often dismissed as cheesy and a little naff. Even Disney themselves have poked fun at it.

These criticisms are fair enough, although the quaint, optimistic tone has a certain charm. But for me the major problem is that it is creepy as hell.

I should clarify that I have a minor case of pediophobia. This is the fear of dolls, and dummies. Ventriloquist dummies, old china dolls, they freak me the hell out. After clowns they are my major phobia. Clown dolls are literally the worst thing I can encounter.

WOM had warned me it might creep me out, but I put on a brave face and climbed aboard. Right off the bat there was a problem, the bench was painfully low and so my knees were up by my chin, not the most comfortable ride.

Made worse by the fact that the dolls stare at you with their dead eyes. And there are seemingly thousands of the buggers.

I tried to enjoy the ride but it’s hard to when you’re trying to keep your eye on every single doll just in case one moves from it’s cycle. Had one of them done so there would have been a Chris shaped hole in the wall and I wouldn’t have stopped running until I was out of the state. 

I was glad when the ride was over, and having unfolded my legs got off quickly, and now done I never have to do it again.

Kinda bummed they don’t actually sell the badge below as I earned it.

The dolls have slipped into my subconscious now, to haunt future dreams, while the impossibly catchy song is bound to make an appearance on the Random Mental Jukebox, so it might be that of all the things I saw and did at Disney this will be the one that stays with me the longest.

 Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.

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Walt Disney World: Hollywood Studios Top 5

We started our honeymoon here, at WOM’s favourite of the four Disney parks. Boasting some traditional Disney stuff alongside Star Wars and Pixar things, this park seems geared at the middle range of pre-teens to adults. There’s plenty to do here and it was good first taste of what the parks are like.

Here’s my personal top 5 things to do:

5. Toy Story Midway Madness 

You hop aboard a ghost train style carriage with a buddy, armed with a string pulled cannon each. As it whips you around you fire at 3D screens, each themed around a different Toy Story character or setting. It’s hugely entertaining and it keeps score to add a competitive aspect. WOM bested me here, leaving me vowing revenge.

4. Muppetvision 3D.

I absolutely love the Muppets and this 3D extravaganza is loaded with their trademark silliness in charms. Light on plot it basically serves as a framework for daft gags and 3D trickery. It’s great fun and the fact that several characters appear in the theatre is a nice touch. 

3. Star Tours

This is what used to be called a 4D ride, which mixes a 3D screen with actually throwing the audience about.

You get on board with C-3PO and R2-D2 and take flight. You’re pitched about as the ship takes you through various settings. As a huge Star Wars fan I loved it especially making the jump to hyperspace. 

A cool touch is that there are several storylines for the ride meaning that the two times we rode it were different adventures, encouraging you to ride again. 

2. Indiana Jones’ Epic Stunt Spectacular

A live show filled with actions and explosions, its appealing cheesiness is carried off by the great cast, who play the crowd well and inject humour. Also the big stunts are genuinely impressive.

1. Fantasmic

WOM saw this on her previous visit to WDW in 2007 and still raves about it, so expectations were high. But boy did it deliver.

A journey into Mickey’s imagination this makes great use of fireworks, fountains, lights and projections cast onto the mist. The show is about the power of imagination and sees various Disney villains try to use it against him. This sequence might be too scary for some younger kids but good prevails.

The finale which features many Disney characters is a massive crowdpleaser and the whole show is guaranteed to charm and impress all ages.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #17: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I remember reading the book this is based on in school, I think because the English department decided it would get them an easy day or two as they took us all to see the live action version. They could have saved themselves the hassle of a shepherding us on to buses and making sure none of us wandered off in Swansea by just sticking this on for a couple of lessons, as this is definitely the superior version.

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The story starts with narration from Pongo (Rod Taylor), who laments the bachelor life he finds dull and decides to find partners for himself and his “pet” Roger (Ben Wright). From the window he spies Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her human companion Anita (Lisa Davis), and rushes out to win her over. This sequence is quite well done, with Pongo looking out the window at the passing canines and dismissing them for various reasons, which match with their owners, going along with the notion of owners looking like their dogs.

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After a short time Roger and Anita marry, and Perdita announces she is expecting puppies. The joy is slightly marred by the arrival of Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), an old schoolmate of Anita’s who is obsessed with furs, and delights in the pattern of the dogs’ coats. When Perdita delivers fifteen puppies, Cruella offers to buy them all, but Roger refuses.

Cruella De Vil is a great villain, a gaunt figure surrounded in noxious cigarette smoke. From her entrance at the wheel of a careening car, she is a dynamic, captivating presence and over the course of the movie she becomes increasingly dishevelled and unhinged as her mania takes over. The film’s most memorable song is the theme tune that Roger creates for her, detailing her wicked nature.

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Shortly after while the parents and their owners are out, two goons Jasper and Horace (J. Pat O’Malley and Frederick Worlock, respectively) trick their way into the house and steal the puppies. With the human police having no leads the dogs take the lead (unintentional pun) and get the word out through “the twilight bark” a method of relaying messages across the country.

One of the cool things about this sequence is that there’s a nice little easter egg for observant viewers, with several characters from Lady and the Tramp having little cameos.

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The chain yields results and the puppies, along with many others, are discovered. The message is sent back and Pongo and Perdita rush to the rescue.

The rest of the film is an enjoyable adventure, with the courageous canines saving the puppies and then trying to avoid capture as they escape through the snow. The whole thing is quite pacy and there are a few tense moments as they try to escape. The action is slapstick in places, but it works far better in cartoon form, and watching it back I was impressed, with the movie holding up quite well.

It could do with a few more songs, and the goons are a little too bumbling for my tastes, but these minor quibbles aside this is a good adventure which has a certain charm.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #16: Sleeping Beauty

The third Disney Princess arrives to a suitable fanfare at the opening of this movie and the “hail to the Princess Aurora” song is irresistibly catchy. But the movie really kicks into gear with the arrival of Maleficent (Eleanor Audley), one of Disney’s best villains.

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I can’t think of another kids’ movie where the villain is such an overpowering presence, even in Disney flicks that include baddies like Ursula, Scar and Jafar, the heroes match up to them, but here the iconic image of the movie is Maleficent in her dark, regal glory.

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Stealing the show

Annoyed not to have been invited to the christening of the newborn, rocks up and curses her, possibly providing an insight into why she doesn’t get invited to parties. The curse? When the Princess is 16 she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Luckily good fairy Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) steps in and changes the curse so it’s not death, but rather a deep sleep until true love’s kiss wakes her. Still, the King isn’t happy and burns every spinning wheel in the country, which seems a short sighted move as what will happen when people need new clothes? Also, you had sixteen years!

The good fairies, Merryweather and her sisters Flora and Fauna (Verna Felton and Barbara Jo Allen, respectively), match the King’s overreaction by kidnapping Aurora and going into hiding until her sixteenth birthday, renaming her Briar Rose. Unbelievably, as the big day approaches she is still hidden from Maleficent, because her minions have still been searching for a baby. How much more successful would Disney villains be if they hired better help?

Briar Rose (Mary Costa) now an adult goes into the forest as her three guardians plan to surprise her for her birthday, because apparently revealing that she’s a princess and that they are her kidnappers isn’t going to be enough to drop on the poor girl. While out she meets a handsome young man, who turns out to be Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley), who is captivated by her singing (princes appear to have a major weakness for singers). They fall in love, neither knowing they’re actually already betrothed, and Phillip (named after Britain’s own Prince Phillip, fact fans) heads off to tell his dad that the arranged marriage is over, planning to return to Briar Rose.

The love story here is done quite well, and the sequence where the two meet and dance together to the glorious “Once Upon a Dream” is wonderfully charming. Sure, it feels rushed, but just go with the love at first sight conceit, and it’s rather sweet and well executed. At least there’s actual conversation here.

Unfortunately, despite not using magic for almost sixteen years, the fairies are useless practical skills like making a cake (even I can do that) and dress making (I’d struggle with that, admittedly), and resort to breaking out their wands. But this catches the eye of Maleficent’s raven sidekick Diablo, who raises the alarm.

I always loved this sequence as a kid, and it’s still very entertaining as the fairies make a pig’s ear of the whole situation. Throughout the movie the three fairies are good fun, bickering with each other and my three sisters each assigned themselves a different fairy.

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Briar Rose learns the truth and is taken to the castle, where she is bewitched by Maleficent and pricks her finger. At this point Maleficent adds to her evil stakes with some top quality gloating over her fallen foe before legging it.

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Maleficent gloats

Knowing that Merryweather has messed with her plans, she dispatches her minions to grab Phillip and take him prisoner.

The fairies work out that Phillip is the mysterious man Aurora mentioned and, put the entire kingdom to sleep and before setting off to rescue Phillip. At this point, Maleficent cements her place as a great villain with a truly evil plan- she’s not going to kill Phil, she’s going to keep him locked up until he’s old and allowing him to revive the still youthful Aurora. That’s delightfully vindictive.

The fairies save the Prince, and arm him. This is another of the movie’s strengths, in that Phillip is far more heroic than the other princess. He fights off the minions, and rides out to the rescue. And then he faces off against Maleficent who has transformed into a gigantic, menacing dragon.

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After slaying the dragon (Maleficent having made the classic mistake of getting caught doing a monologue), he gets to his girl and breaks the curse. And there was much rejoicing.

I used to love this as a kid, and watched it a fair few times, and I’m really happy with how well it holds up. It’s got action, romance and comedy, and benefits from a decent script and some solid characters. The three fairies and their rivalries stop them from being too goody goody, Phillip is a better hero than what had come before and then of course there’s Maleficent and her pure evil. Her imperious mannerisms and voice are fantastic, and it’s so much better that she has no back story. She’s evil. That’s what she is and we don’t need to know how she got this way.

Disney Score: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Disney Classics #15: Lady and the Tramp

Maybe it’s no surprise that as a cat person a movie dedicated “to dogs everywhere” didn’t really float my boat as a kid. In fact I grew up in a house that had, and loved, cats, so a film where the only felines are villains was unlikely to go down well.

That being said it’s hard to deny the film’s charms especially the classic spaghetti scene, which could warm a heart of stone.

Plot wise it’s pretty simple, fancy uptown dog Lady (Barbara Luddy) is feeling threatened by her owners’ new baby. She also meets Tramp (Larry Roberts), a charming stray from the wrong side of the tracks. They get into a variety of scrapes and Lady learns despite his carefree, roguish reputation Tramp is actually a good dog. After they rescue the baby from a rat Tramp accepts a place within the family and settles down with Lady.

It’s a rather sweet tale and it’s helped by a good supporting cast and some good moments. These include a rather dark sequence at the dog pound which is like a doggy death row and set’s up what for me is the film’s best song, the bluesy “He’s a Tramp” performed by Peggy Lee’s Peg.

Watching it back I realised that the story with Lady and Tramp rescuing the baby only to be blamed for the attack is similar to the Welsh legend of Gelert.

It’s not the strongest Disney movie, but it has a few high points contained within a sweet and charming story.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #14: Peter Pan

I don’t know why but this wasn’t one of the Disney flicks that I liked a lot as a kid, which doesn’t make sense as it has pirates, Native Americans, sword fights and flying, all of which would have won me over.

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I think the problem is that even as a kid the main character kinda annoyed me. Peter’s a self centred braggart and for me the idea of never growing up held no appeal. As a kid you can’t do a bunch of stuff which adults can, I wanted to be a grown up. It was only years later that I find myself wishing I could stay away from adult responsibility. I must have seen it as a kid but it never wowed me.

Watching it as an adult, Peter (Bobby Driscoll) still irritates me, but I think that might be the point? That growing up is kinda important and staying as a child would be daft?

There’s another aspect of this that I don’t think I picked up with, in that I actually feel sorry for Captain Hook (Hans Conried). I mean, sure, he’s a villain and he tries to make them walk the plank, but the poor dude lost his hand and is now a frazzled mess, reduced to a jibbering wreck whenever the crocodile that swallowed his hand is nearby.

Incidentally, this is one of my favourite parts of the film, the way the ticking arrives and the croc’s eyes move with each sound. It’s wonderfully done, and the croc is shown to be quite a malicious beastie, gleefully awaiting Hook to fall into his jaws.

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Back to Hook, he’s actually quite a good villain, with a clear motivation and some smart plans (he plays Tinkerbell like a fiddle), and there’s quite a lot of humour from the inept crew he is surrounded by.

This film actually made me laugh quite a few times, and there are some very funny moments and the action is quite good too. The plot moves along at a decent pace that just about covers up the flaws.

The flaws are numerous, with Peter’s obnoxious nature being just one- almost all the female characters are shown at varying times to be either stupid, jealous or vindictive. Wendy, Tinkerbell and the mermaids all seem besotted with Pete, and react badly when he shows interest in someone else.

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And the representation of the Indians on the island is horrible to watch. All the braves have giant noses and deep red skins, talking like cliches. You may say it was a different time, but watching it in this time it’s not pleasant.

One thing I had forgotten was just how angry and sassy Tinkerbell was. In the more recent films featuring the character she’s shown as a heroic, nice character but here she’s quite nasty. She’s madly jealous of Wendy and Peter’s interest in her, to the extent that she tries to kill the poor girl and rats out the Lost Boys’ hideout to Hook. I have to say she’s one of the more memorable characters thanks in part to the great animation which captures her mannerisms and quickly shifting moods.

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Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned

When it works, this is great fun, and the times it stumbles are fairly brief, and you can ignore most of them if you go with the movie.

It’s a fun adventure story but the ending baffles me. Was it all a dream? If yes, then how did Wendy’s dad have the same dream? If it wasn’t a dream does that mean he was a Lost Boy who chose to leave? It makes no sense!

Disney Score: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Disney Classics #13: Alice in Wonderland

I’m going to be upfront with you, I’ve never been overly fussed with Lewis Carroll’s creation and none of the versions I’ve seen have won me over. I think it’s because there’s a sense of self conscious, deliberate, quirky weirdness to the whole thing. It’s clearly a matter of taste as this is one of MWF’s favourite Disney movies, whereas in the Page house it was one of the ones which got taken off the shelf less often.

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For the unfamiliar, the story follows a young girl named Alice (Kathryn Beaumont) who winds up in a weird place called wonderland filled with unusual characters and creatures, where the rules of logic and sense don’t apply. The plot is kinda hard to nail down as it’s less of an overall story and more just a series of episodes as Alice goes along bumping into different characters.

It’s not without any charm and some of the visuals are quite striking and interesting in their psychedelic weirdness. There are some nice little touches along the way such as how the different flowers are portrayed and the whole size-shifting aspect is used rather well. I also like the croquet sequence with the Queen of Hearts, who falls somewhere between unpredictably scary and ridiculous, which seems the best way to approach the character.

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The “Very Merry Unbirthday” song is quite catchy, and the weirdness plays better in animated form, because at least you can’t see the actors trying their damndest to be “mad” (yes, I am talking to you, Mr. Depp). But some of it still feels like it’s trying to hard and some aspects like the Dodo don’t work for me. It feels like too many ideas were being thrown around and a lot more could have been dumped to make the film flow better.

It’s not a terrible movie at any rate, but with Alice being a bit annoying and it all feeling rather fragmented, it’s not the most satisfying either. I mean, it uses the “it was all a dream” ending that we were told to avoid at GCSE!

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Mrs F, my old English teacher probably hates this ending.

That being said, it’s probably my favourite film version of the story.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #12: Cinderella

Finally, Disney get their groove back returning to familiar territory with a feature length single story fairytale. The film introduces the second of the Disney Princesses and is a delightful movie.

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The story should be familiar but a quick recap- after the death of her father Cinderella (Helene Stanley) has to live with her evil stepmother Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley) and her two ugly stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia. They treat Cinderella as a servant, making her do all the work and living in a tiny attic while they spend all of her dad’s cash.

But one day the King (Luis Van Rooten), eager to marry off his son arranges a ball, to which all the women of the country are invited. Lady Tremaine says that Cinderella can go but only if she completes her chores and finds an appropriate dress. Too busy to mend a gown that belonged to her mother Cinderella is aided by her animal friends and shall go to the ball. But Lady Tremaine and the sisters realise she has used stuff they rejected. They tear the dress to shreds in a scene which is genuinely upsetting. It’s just so bloody mean, those jerks!

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Seriously, this scene gets me so angry!

Luckily, Cinderella’s fairy godmother arrives and magics her a fancy dress. She also makes a carriage for her from a pumpkin and footmen and horses from the animals around. The catch? At midnight it all goes back to normal.

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Cinders hits the ball and dances with the Prince who is smitten with her. Unfortunately it reaches midnight and she has to make a run for it, on the way losing one of her glass slippers.

The King sends out a Grand Duke (voiced by the same actor as the King) to see who fits the shoe. Lady Tremaine wants one of her daughters to win the prince, and realising that it was Cinderella at the ball locks her in the attic. Fortunately, her animal friends manage to slip her a key and she proves she was the mysterious girl. She marries the Prince and they live happily ever after.

I’m not getting into a discussion of the story’s attitude towards gender roles or how it altered the traditional story, arguments which have been flogged to death. Instead let’s just have a look how this holds up as a film.

And it works. The music is solid, especially “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” which is insanely catchy, seriously, it’ll rattle around in your head for a good while after the credits roll. The art style is a little dated, but in places genuinely gorgeous and the character work is superb.

Cinderella has a simple, elegant beauty and the stepsisters are ugly without it being overdone. The King is a Disney staple- short, rotund, bearded and bald, and the Prince is rather dull. The success comes in Lady Tremaine, voiced by the same actress who would go on to voice Maleficent, is superb. A detestable villain who is petty and cruel to her stepdaughter.

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Pure evil

The most charming characters are the animals, particularly the chubby, dimwitted mouse Gus and the more courageous Jaq. They provide comic relief and help Cinderella out along the way, and are rather entertaining.

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Also stealing the show is Lady Tremaine’s cat Lucifer. Proving that nominative determinism exists, he is properly evil, tormenting the mice and going out of his way to make life difficult for the heroine. The scenes with him and the mice, pad out the rather simple story and provide some action along the way.

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The whole thing is very simply done and sweet, with the familiar story retold in a charming manner. It might have dated in the style or the way a female heroine is portrayed (Cinderella is never really mistress of her own destiny), but it’s a gem of a movie and easy to see why it still captivates young audiences to this day.

Following the underwhelming run they had delivered before this is a major return to form for Disney and a film which still stands up. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am glad to be out of the wilderness and into Disney’s Silver Age.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #11: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad

The final film of the wilderness period is another I hadn’t seen before, this includes stories based on The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These are narrated by Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby respectively.

For my money the Ichabod Crane story works best, as it’s got a stronger story and is done with genuine humour. The story is handled well and the animation is cartoony but well done, and Crosby’s voice is a good choice for the narrator.

The eponymous character is slightly pompous which makes the mishaps that befall him more entertaining.

The Headless Horseman rides

The Mr Toad portion was unlikely to score big with me as I’ve never liked The Wind in the Willows and the character of Toad is such a douche. The court sequence however is well done and the characters are well realised, but the plot is simple and like I said, Toad is just annoying.

This feels like a lesser film from the get go and despite sterling work from Rathbone and Crosby, neither half really catches fire. It’s entertaining enough, but compared to many other Disney movies it’s weak and rather forgettable.

A shame because as a short the Ichabod half would work quite well, but bolted together it doesn’t quite work. It’s better than the compilation of shorts that preceded it, but it still doesn’t feel like a proper film.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #10: Melody Time

Another compilation movie, which like Make Mine Music uses popular music as the driving force behind many of the sections. And again, the results are a mixed bag.

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These package movies were later cut up and distributed in different ways and the opener “Once Upon a Wintertime” must have appeared on a Christmas video because I’d seen it before. The short is rather quaint, dealing with a young couple who go skating on a frozen pond and there’s a nice touch in having the young lovers followed and copied by a pair of lovestruck bunnies.

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Quaint and sweet

It’s all cutesy stuff, but not without its charms and there’s a little bit of action as tragedy almost befalls them thanks to some thin ice and a waterfall. It’s decent enough, and in the context of this movie one of the high points.

The low comes courtesy of a section called “Trees” which is instantly forgettable. Another duff entry is the story of Johnny Appleseed, who is apparently an American folk hero. Why is hard to see from this offering as the story seems to be that this fella went and grew apples in the West. That’s it. I’m sure the real story has more to it, but here it’s all rather dull.

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Johnny Appleseed, one boring, boring folk tale

Johnny goes West, befriends the critters, plants the trees and these help the westward expansion of America. I don’t want to get too political here, but even for a kids’ movie this dumbs down the pioneer years and we see Native Americans briefly at a festival where they celebrate apples, everyone is happy with the new status quo. Most worryingly is a kind of manifest destiny vibe where Johnny’s guardian angel tells him to go West to help the frontiersmen, as if the whole thing is divinely mandated.

The musical accompaniment is alright, but the story is rather uninvolving. Slightly more entertaining is “Blame it on the Samba” which reunites Donald Duck and Jose Carioca for the third time. This upbeat number is quite fun and the visuals, featuring the cartoon characters interacting with live action organ player Ethel Smith. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be a story or much of a point, and it’s just a nice upbeat part.

Similarly “Bumble Boogie”, which presents a jazzy update of “Flight of the Bumblebee” is quite fun. It’s got a surreal vibe and the marriage of music and visuals is well done, with the musical instruments morphing into flowers and other things which the bee hero navigates his way through.

The remaining two sections have clearer stories and the first of these, “Little Toot” sung by the Andrews Sisters is quite good fun, dealing with a young tugboat who wants to be like his dad but only succeeds in causing trouble before coming good.

The last section, and the one which closes the film, is the story of Western folk legend Pecos Bill and is narrated by Roy Rogers. It’s got some nice moments, mainly from the hyperbolic exploits of the hero, who lassos a tornado and uses lightning to light a cigarette. There’s a goofy spirit to the proceedings and it’s probably the most fun of the sections, and the story is well done. The visuals are reminiscent of the madcap Looney Tunes style and it has an energy which is lacking elsewhere.

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Pecos Bill in action

Again the wilderness period throws up another package film, and this one has more misses than hits. While the art is solid throughout, and the marriage of live action and animation is slicker here, it still feels lacklustre and too much seems to be included to bump up the running time.

I can’t wait to get back to proper feature length stories, oh well, at least the end of the wilderness period is in sight now.

Disney Score: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.