Monday, November 30, 2009

Disney's Princess and the Frog and Ultimate Disney Experience: a review

I was fortunate to attend one of the hottest tickets in town... the premiere of Disney's The Princess and the Frog. The premiere ran in New York and Los Angeles, and online the tickets sold out long ago. Obviously, after the years of hype and controversy, many of us wanted to finally see the film. The result: an instant classic.

The songs, the animation, the story, the setting... all top notch. My ticket also came along with the "ultimate Disney experience", which I will also review. The experience consisted of a host of related events that took place at a separate location, including Meet the Princesses, Bayou Adventure, Learn to Draw from a Disney Animator, a peek at the Disney Archives, games, crafts, and more.

First off, I suppose only Disney would attempt to create an 'experience' out of a movie premiere... at least an experience in which one stands out in the cold two hours before showtime, gets hassled in line, and then has to walk three blocks away at movie's end to another location to complete the experience... in 90 minutes time! Confused? You won't be, after this blog. :0)

The movie premiered at the Ziegfeld theatre, and the ultimate experience was held at the Roseland Ballroom, three blocks away. When I arrived at the theatre, a little after five for the seven o'clock show, I asked innocently to the guy out front when a good time to come back for the show would be. He pointed behind me, and said "Now. I'm not kidding. We were swamped at the last show." Behind me were two lines already forming; one for the Royal Ticket holders, and one for the implied 'rabble'. I paid extra for Royal status, so got the Royal treatment. This included some purple beads with the movie logo on them, and the feeling that I was special because I was in the shorter line.

All this was great until they started harrassing us for our cameras. Yes, this was a Premiere, so we were lucky to see the movie a week before anyone else. God forbid we show the world pictures or video of the film that millions were going to see a week later. I mean, we could upset the apple cart quite severely, I suppose, although with a film this good, I am sure that any publicity will be good. I know, Disney is extremely cautious, and perhaps with good reason. Still, I don't think the fear of bootleg video warranted being threatened while I stood in line. They took people's cameras, put them in bags, and returned them to the people after the show. After the first wave, however, they started saying things like "We mean it! If we find you have a camera, then "insert threat here"." Some weren't so bad... I heard one guy offer a lady the chance to sign a waver instead of surrendering her camera, but they did take the camera in the end. The joke was, of course, that once we were in the theatre, the cell phones came out and people were taking photos left and right.

Enough of the complaining. Overall, the experience had the usual difficult moments, with standing in line too long here, standing in line too long there, and people around you complaining. However, the experience was enjoyable, and those uncomfortable moments were forgotten when the good times rolled around. The film was great, the Princesses were professional, and I got to take an Animation class with a top Disney Animator, which is always enjoyable. Our instructor was Anthony DeRosa, who was friendly, courteous, and fun, and incidently was an Animator on such films as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast! The class was great, although I find these classes to be rather fast-paced... and I'm a professional! I think Disney designs these classes to give people an idea of just how difficult it is to be an artist, but at the same time, the sense of urgency keeps people from fussing over their work and just drawing. It's fun, and I recommend anyone interested in art to take similar classes at Disneyland or World.

The rest of the experience was crowded, and full of wild children running amock, so I avoided the Bayou and craft areas. I did enjoy the archival material, such as Elizabeth Swann's dress from Pirates of the Caribbean, and props from movies like Narnia. The games seemed rather quiet, but I did not take the opportunity to check them out.

The evening ended with me realising that I had lost my tickets. I realised this when I was told that I couldn't recieve my free lithograph without the ticket, even though I had my wristband, purple beads, and an angry expression on my face. Eventually, after discussion with several managers of arying politeness, I recieved my lithograph. As an Artist, and art collector, I was looking forward to this. Sadly, I was disappointed. The lithograph had the muddy murkiness of an amatuer artist who doesn't know when to stop adding colors. Admittedly, it was a night scene taken from the film, but there were so many more beautiful moments they could have captured, or at least they could have captured this scene a little better.

But this does lead me to a very important realisation about this film: it has to be seen in its entirety, and in its medium of motion. I have not been impressed with any still ads I have seen for the film. The characters do not grab your attention at all until you see them on the big screen. It is the animation itself that truly brings this film to life, and makes it so magical. The characters must be seen in motion, and heard, and observed, and then they become so real and interesting. This particularly goes for Mama Odie, but can be said for any of them.

Again, despite the few glitches, the evening was fun, interesting, and worth traveling to New York for. The movie was the highlight, as it should be, but the experience had enough to interest everybody who attended it. And for those of you with kids? The Disney Princesses are wonderful, and always make your kids feel special.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS On a more personal note, I am a big fan of Disney's two great dark rides, the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean. The setting of the Princess and the Frog is New Orleans, of course, which fits right in there with those rides, and their location in Disneyland. I can't believe that noone at Disney has noticed this, and i really would have loved to see some 'tributes' in this movie. However, many elements were already there to remind one, from the stately manor houses to the meandering fireflies. Hopefully they will incorporate Princess into New Orleans square... without taking out any of our beloved places already there. :0)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Self Publishing 101: Book Sales

I received an email today from a new self publisher, asking just when he could expect his first book sale. Well, that's a great question, but there is no standard answer. I will say this again and again... you have to get the word out. With over a billion websites out there, and nearly that many people trying to sell something, you have to a) have great product, and b) find a way for people to hear about that product.

The first mistake everyone makes is building a website, or opening an e-store, or joining a site that sells stuff, and then just sitting back and waiting for the people to trickle in and buy stuff. Hey, that could happen... but once Mom has bought your book, and your sister, and favorite Aunt, well, things will start to slow down.

Here's the first bit of knowledge to share... once you start a website, it takes time for your keywords and images to get into the search engines, so it will be weeks before people start to find you. Until then, only people you actually give the web address to will find you. Unless you pay big bucks to Google, you can expect to wait a few months for an audience to build up.

Bit o'knowledge #2: Yo haev to have fresh content to get those people coming back. Trust me on this one... when I take a break from cartooning to do freelance stuff, my audience finds something else to do.

If you are writing a book, then you may want to post teasers once in a while, or offer a free download of your first chapter. An Artist may want to create a series of work, promising more for visitors to come back to.

Still, the biggest thing, even today, is getting word out somewhere OFF the web. Web advertising is so intense right now, it is easy to ignore 99% of it, and that bit you can't ignore is usually so repulsive that you may even get off the web for a day or two. :0)

Scott Adams became big when he started adding his web address to his cartoons... in the newspapers. All the big cartoonists, writers, movie makers.. everyone has websites, but those sites are suplimentary to their main product. They offer something additional, and ways to buy, of course.

It is possible to grow your business being web only, but I'm sure that strictly web businesses still advertise and make appearances in the real world. They have to.

So... my advice? Advertise, blog, or go to conventions... anything and everything to get the word out. And yes, it will cost money, and lots of it, but that's what it takes to run any business. And most of that is tax deductible!

Just promise me one thing. Don't SPAM people, or throw your advertising in our faces. That's a great way to lose business forever.

More about Permission Advertising later.

Have a great one... JOHN :0)

PS the above cartoon has nothing to do with selling books... or does it? That's a new comic strip from Knight and Day. You can read more about them in their first two books available at or at my Lulu store. :0)