The Dinglehopper

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Hearts Going Boom Boom Boom for the New Finding Dory Trailer

Disney Pixar released a brand new Finding Dory trailer this week on, appropriately enough, The Ellen Show. This is the first new animation we’ve seen since early November. That was a sort of quiet anticipatory intake of breath. This, though, is the smile on one’s face after cheering.

The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish reunites with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

Finding Dory Poster

This is definitely a sequel, okay. There are three migrating species in the trailer alone. We reprise the worlds apart banter between Marlin and Crush. And we meet a new character, Destiny, for whom Dory’s signature trait is a gift rather than a burden. Which is honestly fantastic. When we saw the first teaser I wrote:

Frozen explained agape. Cars articulated wisdom. And Finding Nemo demonstrated persistence. Emotional vocabulary stuff that’s stickier for younglings than Inside Out.

And I couldn’t be happier that beyond the theme of family driving the trailer, those struggles are foregrounded and celebrated. It’s one thing to impart your values to your children. It’s another entirely to see them reified and reinforced in their favorite fictions.

I’ve come around to the notion that the additional characters and broadened contexts of the Pixar sequels are almost always vast improvements. The first installments are often sweet and powerful, but the expansions wrap up more stuff in a more engaging story. It can look crass to adults, but for kids the take home is much more significant.

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Exploring Emotional Theory in Inside Out with the Nerdwriter

Evan Puschak, aka the Nerdwriter, has been busy, pumping out a deep look at culture, art, and society every Wednesday. About a week ago, he dropped an examination of Inside Out. He looks at the scientific emotional theory which inspired the film, its accuracies and inaccuracies, and other competing contemporary emotional theories.


The video is loaded with great information, but one of the most striking insights he offers is the way Riley’s mind also reflects our world. Her memory storage looks like a data center, and the scariest place in her brain isn’t the subconscious jail with her greatest fear inside but the void where memories are lost. This mirrors the anxieties of our world where one of the biggest concerns is data loss.

And in the end, he reaffirms what all us parents have loved about Inside Out since it premiered: it teaches solid emotional intelligence through archetypal characters.

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Finding Dory: Revisiting the Sequel Solution

It’s been more than a year since I turned in my disaffected cynic card and posted “Monsters University and the Sequel Solution.” It was a short review and comparison with the original. I ceded my critical perspective, at least with regard to children’s fare, to our toddler, gave it eleven thumbs up and allowed that it was superior in almost every respect. Because actually whatever.

So here’s the thing. Cars 2 is supposed to be a bust. They took everything that was endearing out and overlaid a spy plot, or so I hear. I bet it’s awesome. Our toddler’s favorite characters vroomin’ more often.

Flash forward to today. We own Cars 2 and it’s at least as good as the first one. That’s all. So when this bombshell dropped last month, I threw my arms up in fiero.

Disney Pixar Release Schedule

But not just because of Cars 3Finding Nemo was more than a decade old when we watched it. It’s  scary and intricate and basically nonstop action. And it’s unforgettable. Frozen explained agape. Cars articulated wisdom. And Finding Nemo demonstrated persistence. Emotional vocabulary stuff that’s stickier for younglings than Inside Out.

So we get two major sequels. Major for our family anyway. Sequels that can be shared with a younger sibling. I apologize for being part of the supposed problem, I guess.

Even knowing it was on the slate, I could barely believe it when the Finding Dory trailer dropped. I had been a dead rumor for so long.

There’s hardly anything to it. Nemo, Marlin, Dory. Their house. Oh, no! Dory’s getting away. Our preschooler doesn’t need much more than that. So, y’know, good job. Thank you. We’ll be there.

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Frozen Friday: The Snow Settles

Do you want to build a franchise? A couple months ago we shared some of the details of a copyright infringement lawsuit brought against Disney over the structure and content of the first Frozen teaser. You know, the one with the wacky snowman and the reindeer racing to retrieve a carrot on a frozen lake? Wasn’t in the movie. Kind of gave the wrong impression.

It was also apparently modeled after an animated short by Kelly Wilson and Neil Wrischnik called, simply, “The Snowman.” Disney made two attempts to have the case thrown out, but could not persuade the court.

Wilson v Disney 1

“[T]he sequence of events in both works, from start to finish, is too parallel to conclude that no reasonable juror could find the works substantially similar.”

Wilson v Disney 2


The case was scheduled to go to trial in October. However, Wednesday saw the end of 3:14-cv-01441 Wilson v. Walt Disney Company. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria signed an order dismissing the case without prejudice because the parties had reached a settlement. We’d love to know what the details were, but not sharing them is typically part of such settlements.

We can assume the case was strong enough to encourage the conglomerate to settle, though. And that getting this out of the way was a prerequisite for moving forward with the sequel. Here’s hoping both parties walked away satisfied.

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Frozen Friday: The Snowman and the Trailer

Frozen Teaser

Last week, I learned about a copyright infringement lawsuit against the creators of Frozen. Or, specifically, the creators of the goofy-snowman-on-ice teaser. You know the one. Olaf and Sven struggle to reach the carrot nose on a frozen pond. It’s not in the movie. It barely has anything to do with the movie. But it’s cute. And it was apparently effective.

In March of 2014, the creators of a digital short called “The Snowman” brought suit. They acknowledge that the movie itself bears little resemblance to the short, but the teaser is another matter. It’s almost immediately obvious why they decided to go to court

The Snowman animated short film for all ages created by Kelly Wilson and Neil Wrischnik.

Disney sought a dismissal, as one does, but was denied. Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California Vincent Chhabria stated that “the sequence of events in both works, from start to finish, is too parallel to conclude that no reasonable juror could find the works substantially similar.” Their second attempt at summary judgement was a claim that none of their employees had seen “The Snowman.” This also failed. The Hollywood Reporter has more details and the judge’s full order.

The trial is tentatively scheduled for October.


The Snowman

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Star Wars Saturday: Disney/Pixar’s ‘X-Wings’

x-wingsIt seems like, in our combinatory culture, every few months something gets made/mashed/revised that shows up like a present with my name on the tag. Here’s the latest. Our toddler has been obsessed with Lightning McQueen, Mater, Dusty, and friends for months. Matchbox-style Cars cars, Duplo Cars and Planes sets, Cars underwear. I have long been obsessed with Star Wars: Original Flavor. My husband won my hand in marriage by winning Star Wars Trivial Pursuit (I’m simplifying…a little.) So Big Bee Studio has mashed up the two for a wonderful little parody of the overdone series of anthropomorphic vehicle films aimed at increasingly younger audiences.

The trailer is so well done, I’m afraid to show it to my toddler. What if ze can’t accept that it doesn’t exist? What then? There is only one answer: make it a reality. And there’s no conceivable reason why not. Disney now owns both Pixar and Star Wars, so there’s nothing to stand in their way. Except decency, maybe, but that always loses out to moneymaking. And I know at least one toddler who would happily line Disney’s pockets with the parents’ hard earned cash if this came to be.

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Monsters University and the Sequel Solution

So, our toddler was sick and I had a handful of DVDs from the library. There are popular titles that are just never in. Toy Story. Wall-E. An American Tale. So I picked up some classics and sequels with little hope. But there was one good bet. Monster’s University, the sequel to the popular and well regarded Monster’s Inc.

The first one was a relatively original plot with a core of engaging characters. Mike and Sully were definitely on our toddler’s mind for a good long while. Not like Lightning McQueen or Elsa, but there was some name recognition there.

I’d shied away from the sequel mostly because I’d heard the hip refrain, “It wasn’t as good.” I still have this strange optimism that there are really good movies that are also really good to toddlers. Since Monsters was a mixed bag, why bother with the sequel?

The sequel is a classic plot. Underdogs triumph over privileged jerks. Revenge of the Nerds. Simple. Mike and Sully get more focus. The background characters are exactly that. Background. This is perfect for a sick toddler.

Everything our little bundle of mucous loved about the first one was there. Mostly Sully doing his pose and roaring. RAWR!

It’s also pretty good. I know this is my problem, and I’ve talked about it over and over. But I think I’m officially done reviewing children’s fare as though it were aimed at me. Monsters Inc. was aimed at me. Clever, knowing jokes with a complex plot and adult motivations within a cute portal fiction amid corporate greed and plague scare. Monster’s Inc. is dense. The baby playing with the monsters was the hook for our little one. Luckily it came back often enough to prevent total disengagement if not zoning out.

But there was too much going on.

Monsters University is more fun. Monsters doing monster stuff. They’re learning how to scare and having a blast. And you know what? So was my toddler. We now have a scarer in training sneaking around and roaring and laughing and waiting to be scared, too.

So here’s the thing. Cars 2 is supposed to be a bust. They took everything that was endearing out and overlaid a spy plot, or so I hear. I bet it’s awesome. Our toddler’s favorite characters vroomin’ more often.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the emotional impact scenes from Frozen and Cars had. I’m touched by how well done they were and how effective they seem to be for all ages. And I’d love to find those moments again in other fare. But when our toddler’s down again and all i want is some calm sitting time, we’re totally checking out a sequel.

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Finding Nemo Terrifying

Finding Nemo is kind of a big deal.  Financial success.  Critical acclaim.  Industry recognition.  Merchandising longevity.  The alpha grandpa has Finding Nemo keys.  Our toddler got a Finding Nemo sticker after staring down the phlebotomist’s needle with steely Clint Eastwood eyes.  It was pretty much inevitable that we’d watch it.  It was a family first. 

Finding Nemo is crisply animated and brightly colored.  That along with the brand recognition made identifying and empathizing with Nemo relatively easy.  Still, the similarity between Nemo and Martin made differentiating them somewhat difficult.  I had to remind our toddler that Martin wasn’t Nemo for about half the movie.  By the end, though, it seemed sorted.  The separated environments had done their jobs.  Nemo’s underdeveloped fin was probably more necessary visually than it was in terms of the story.  Nemo’s trials are really those of a child learning to act on his own.

Those moments where he struggles to break free from Martin or overcome a challenge alone resonated, unsurprisingly, with a two year old enduring the same experiences.

There’s a scene where Nemo gets stuck in an intake tube.  This is the scene that hooked our toddler.  Make no mistake, this was hella scary.  Mom’s lap scary.  Hand wringing scary.  Even absurdly cute foot wringing scary.  But when Nemo finally wriggled free, a long held breath released in a yell.  “Yay!  He did it!  Nemo did it, Dada!”  That was when I knew we’d be watching this one again.  And, as of this writing, we’ve almost made it through a second time.

None of the frightening parts have lost their impact.  Finding Nemo is a terrifying movie.  It opens with a body count that makes Rambo and Terminator 2 technically tame by comparison.  Alongside the animation standard loss of the mother, three hundred and ninety nine infants are apparently massacred.  There are boats, sharks, explosions, anglerfish, jellyfish…

…whales, pelicans, seagulls, and Shermans.  The ocean is a vast gauntlet of monsters and deathtraps.  The movie was a cycle resulting repeatedly in a tiny tense ball of wide eyed vibration inching toward one parent or the other.  “No.”  “No way.” “No no no.”  Out loud.  Inaudible.  Somehow inexhaustible.

Finding Nemo is beautiful and terrible in all the right ways.  The searching parent and the struggling child touched something primal and wonderful in our toddler’s imagination.  The reunion of the two was a joyous occasion that netted me an unearned hug.

The near constant terror tended to inspire empathy rather than outbursts or a desire to turn away.  So that’s cool.  It’s a kettle of fish, but it’s a fine one.

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Writing on Cars with Kids

In order to avoid watching one movie on repeat forever, I picked up a handful of titles from the local library.  On the top of the stack was Disney/Pixar’s Cars.  Mater’s Tall Tales had distracted our toddler through a few nail clippings, so I figured it was a safe bet.

I wasn’t sure if anthropomorphized automobiles would be as engaging as talking snowmen and superpowered princesses.  And, at first, that seemed to be the case.  I wasn’t that interested to begin with.  Erin was pretty sure the opening sequence had left her neurologically impaired.  But we rolled with it.

What I learned, eventually, was that it might not matter what the thing on screen looks like as long as it gives a reasonably human performance.  I wasn’t too surprised when our toddler identified Mater, the comic sidekick, and Lightning McQueen, the star.  Netflix had primed that pump and Grandma had presented a field hockey stick with their images emblazoned on it some time back.

What did surprise me was the emotional engagement with Doc Hudson, The Fabulous Hudson Hornet, voiced by Paul Newman.  Emotional engagement with Paul Newman would be understandable.  Grandpa is essentially a tougher version of him.  But a secondary cartoon character?

Yes.  There’s a scene later in the movie where Doc puts on his old racing tires to work off some stress.  Lightning McQueen witnesses him doing laps around a canyon.  It’s a big deal for the plot.  McQueen’s been disrespecting this person who is essentially his hero.  Our toddler, who only kind of understands English, really shouldn’t grok that.  But a gasp preceded wide eyes, a pointing finger, and, “Oh! Doc vroomin’!” (Vroomin’ is what cars do.  The dropped g’s are my fault.)  There was some nodding and a single clap.

Somehow they’d set the stage for someone not yet two years old to comprehend a tonal shift.  We’d seen something similar with Frozen, but it’s worth noting that Disney, for all its flaws, seems to do this kind of thing really well.  Do I think Cars a good movie?  I kind of don’t care.  I love it a little bit for showing me something about my child.

Roger Ebert, in his review, suggested it lacked the stakes of other Pixar films without a child surrogate:

I wonder if the movie’s primary audience, which skews young, will much care about the 1950s and its cars.

But Doc isn’t a Hudson Hornet for kids.  He’s a Hudson Hornet for my mother.  When I related this story to her, she was quick to offer that her uncle had owned one.  He’s not The Fabulous Hudson Hornet for kids.  He’s the Fabulous Hudson Hornet for NASCAR fans, for the parents and grandparents paying admission.  Doc is a complex engaging character with emotional resonance for kids.