If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you probably saw status updates like this last year: “Time to coffee-up and get to work on Chapter 22. It feels like I’m barreling toward the end now.” Chapter 22 of what, you may ask. Well, chapter 22 of my first novel, Midlife Mouse.
This process began two summers ago. While dealing with the worst personal financial crisis of my adult life, I began to post blog entries here and on Facebook about my struggles and how my faith in God was being reshaped in the process. In the meantime, I shared with an old friend from high school some of my pie-in-the-sky ideas for becoming a novelist – whenever my busy life would allow me to pursue that dream. That friend then started a Facebook group called “I think Wayne Franklin should write his novel now.” About a hundred or so friends joined. The pressure was on.
Last August, I began writing. Given that I had been thinking about the first chapter for nearly two years, I was able to knock it out in less than 24 hours. Chapter two took a little longer – about 2 days. Chapter three took a week. Chapter four I worked on in fits and starts over the next four or five months. With a small break in my schedule, I knocked out chapter five in early Spring.
With five chapters under my belt, I asked my TV agent if she could pass them along to someone who could provide feedback and let me know if I was simply wasting my time. I expected her to send it to an agent who specialized in the literary field as she specializes in national cable TV. Instead, she sent the pages to a friend who just happened to be a senior-level exec and publisher of an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
A few weeks passed with no word. My schedule was about to get crazy with two big commercial campaigns. I wanted to get a sense of where I stood before then. While awaiting feedback, I became convinced that if my agent emailed me the feedback, it would be negative. If she called, however, that would be a good sign. One Thursday afternoon in April, I was driving home after running some pre-production errands when I received a call. It was my agent. Good news? My heart raced as I answered.
She told me that she had just received an email from the publishing imprint. Uh-oh. A phone call about an email. I hadn’t accounted for this variable. She said the editor was very enthusiastic about the first five chapters and wanted to read the rest of the manuscript over the weekend to present to her editorial board the next week. I had to reluctantly explain that there was no “rest of the manuscript.” And I wouldn’t be able to start writing again for at least three weeks. The editor was very understanding and we have had a friendly dialogue in the intervening months.
Fortunately, my busy spring of commercial production opened up a summer of opportunity to work on the novel. For the full of last summer, I worked as a novelist. No, I haven’t gotten a check yet for my endeavors, but it was a full-time job. In fact, my days writing looked an awful lot like some of my days editing TV projects: long and longer. On my best days, I would knock out an average 12-page chapter in a single day. More typical were days when I would write 8-10 pages. The book finally came in at 27 chapters and roughly 96,000 words – most of which I wrote over a two-month period.
Since finishing the manuscript, I have not heard any more from the publishing imprint. In the meantime, my TV agent is helping me find the right lit agent to move this thing forward, with the plan being that the two reps would work together to market both publishing and film rights. But is it any good? Well, I’ve had a handful of people read it. Two in particular are good judges of the work (because they don’t bear my last name.) Once is a professor and published author. Another is a writer and former editor at a small publishing house. They both loved it.
Back to our original question: what exactly is a Midlife Mouse? To best answer that, here’s the treatment I sent the publisher:
Bill Durmer is in over his head. Staring headlong at 40, having lost his family business and blaming himself for the impending demise of his hometown, he finds himself bunkered in a darkened hotel room, surrounded by the Mickey-eared commandos of the Walt Disney World S.W.A.T. team. This is not how he expected to spend his summer vacation.
In a genre mash-up of satire, Southern lit and mystery from first-time novelist Wayne Franklin, Midlife Mouse follows under-achieving genius Bill Durmer on an absurd adventure through American pop culture. The simple life of running his family’s electronics store (a life for which he had given up a promising tech career) comes crashing down in one fateful day for his idyllic coastal hometown of Decent Chance, Alabama.
Sleep-deprived and depressed, Bill experiences a hyper-caffeinated epiphany while watching a constant loop of Beauty and the Beast: he wants to be “the baker with his tray like always.” After a lifetime of being told he was destined for greatness only to find his life squarely in the middle of the road of mediocrity, Bill gives up. He wants to be a simple character living in the background of a fantasy world. In the mother of all midlife crises, he does what any formerly levelheaded, upstanding father of three would do: he runs away to Walt Disney World…and he takes his nine-year-old daughter, Cleary, with him.
At the Happiest Place on Earth, Bill finds himself doing anything but blending into the background. An eccentric elderly couple carrying a “towel baby,” costumed characters with a penchant for kidnap, a retro spaceman, ghosts, pirates, Imagineers and suburban housewives battle for Bill’s allegiance in a prophecy-driven turf war that promises to alter his destiny. With the aid of a mysterious bus-driving mentor, Bill navigates the strange and twisty waters of Disney fandom. Opposing him, however, are unseen foes known to Bill only as The Powers. Their efforts to prevent Bill from fulfilling the prophecy know no bounds. Then there’s the little matter of that S.W.A.T. team.
Compounding matters even more is the overbearing presence of his sister, Nancy, a classist Southern Belle to the manner born. Bill’s every move is made in the shadow of a long and storied family history in Decent Chance — a legacy literally blackened in the wake of Bill’s leaving town — and in the even longer shadow of his sister’s disapproval. In the end, Bill must choose whether to accept his prophetic destiny, return home to save Decent Chance or pursue his ill-conceived dream of simply fading into the background.
Through a quirky, but absurdly real, cast of characters and a fantastic series of events, Midlife Mouse holds a satirical mirror up to modern American life, offering a story about midlife crisis, the search for meaning, the changing nature of fandom and the uneasy, hypocritical relationship between Americans and corporate brands. But at its heart, it is a complex portrait of a simple family struggling with the pressures of class, success, and societal identity that threaten to tear them apart.
Oh, and there’s a mouse in there, too.
So that’s it in a nutshell. For a closer peek at the process, here is a list of chapter titles:
Ch. 1: “Skulking in the Shadows of A Giant Spaceman’s Legs”
Ch. 2: “The Mystery of the Towel Baby Couple”
Ch. 3: “The Buffet Promise”
Ch. 4: “According to the Bus Driver”
Ch. 5: “Beware the Cartoon Future That Never Was”
Ch. 6: “All Because of a Yard Sign”
Ch. 7: “Everything’s Disposable”
Ch. 8: “One-Eyed Jack and All of His Trades”
Ch. 9: “The Night of the Black Jubilee”
Ch. 10: “There Goes the Baker”
Ch. 11: “The Hyper-Caffeinated Delusion”
Ch. 12: “A Case of Mistaken Affinity
Ch. 13: “It Take an Army to Fight a Closed-Head Injury”
Ch. 14: “All the Best Storytellers Have Their CDLs”
Ch. 15: “Duct Taped and Stuffed in a Pig”
Ch. 16: “It’s a Big Bus After All”
Ch. 17: “Keep the Home Fish Mounds Burning”
Ch. 18: “Nine Words of Nine Words”
Ch. 19: “Just Call Me Mommy”
Ch. 20: “The Return of the Fishbowl Pajamas”
Ch. 21: “A Melodious Menagerie of Purveyors of Musical Perfection”
Ch. 22: “A Kiss for the Ages”
Ch. 23: “Under the Watchful Gaze of Dwarfs”
Ch. 24: “Fate, as Determined by a Head in a Jar”
Ch. 25: “Ontological Issues Ignored by a Hack Writer”
Ch. 26: “The Last Drawing of Walt Disney”
Ch. 27: “Closing the Book on Bill Durmer”
This has been a difficult year for our family, like so many others suffering in this economy. We’ve had several very lean months as the recession has taken its toll on the advertising industry in general and TV commercials in particular. In May, we lost my father-in-law very unexpectedly, and the summer brought a steady stream of disappointments and challenges. At first, I dealt with the adversity by channeling my fear, grief and frustration into creativity. But as the frustrations and futility mounted, I found myself numbed and facing a vicious case of writer’s block. Case in point: when I began writing my first novel during the summer, I wrote the first chapter in 24 hours, the second chapter in about 48 hours, the third chapter in a week, and chapter four is still incomplete.
Despite (or perhaps because of) our financial woes, my wife and I both felt that a vacation would be very important for our family. While we couldn’t afford anything so extravagant as a trip to the land of the felt mouse ears, we still believed our kids needed a break as the effects of our stress on them became apparent.
Funded by the sale of outgrown clothes and toys at a consignment sale, we considered our options for a cheap vacation. A trip to a friend’s Daytona Beach condo was ruled out by maintenance issues. That left a camping trip in the Smokies, which would necessitate acquiring a tent, (I couldn’t sell the wife on the plastic sheeting and sticks lean-to I learned to build in the Boy Scouts) staying in a borrowed rustic cabin in North Carolina, a cold October beach trip to a half-furnished condo in the Destin area or staying home and making our umpteenth trips to the Birmingham Zoo and the McWane Science Center.
But when my mother had to miss our son’s birthday because of recent health problems – the first of our kids’ birthdays my parents haven’t attended – our decision was made for us. We were going to Mobile.After a brief visit to the Montgomery Zoo, where we got in half-price thanks to our Birmingham Zoo membership, we arrived in Mobile late Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning we were up bright and early to visit one of Mobile’s most visible landmarks, the battleship USS Alabama. The South Dakota-class battleship was built following the decimation of America’s fleet at Pearl Harbor and saw action first in the North Atlantic and later in the Pacific theater during World War II. Facing the scrap yards in the early 60s, the old girl was saved by the citizens of Alabama, with nearly $100,000 raised in loose change from schoolchildren. My mother recalls gathering change for the effort, and my uncle recently found his “Charter Member” card good for free admission.
Setting foot on the deck, I was immediately flooded with memories of my visits to the ship in my youth. We drove past the ship almost every Sunday as my parents and I visited my paternal grandmother in Escambia County, Alabama. This was before the completion of the I-65 “Dolly Parton” bridge across the Mobile delta when all interstate traffic was diverted across the Mobile Bay causeway to Spanish Fort and north through Bay Minette. But despite tempting me with the sight of the ship on a weekly basis, my parents never took me to tour it. (I suppose there are many New Yorkers whose parents never took them to the Statue of Liberty, but that doesn’t make it right.) When I finally got the privilege of visiting the ship, the experience was largely a miserable one.
I was eight or nine years old at the time and deep into my “shoeless period.” My parents simply couldn’t make me wear shoes except to church and school. As a proud Alabamian, I felt it was my birthright to be ignorant and shoeless, and damn it, I was holding fast to it. Though my stubborn refusal to be shod certainly caused consternation for my parents, it was such an improvement on my earlier “pantsless period” that they should be forgiven for what happened next. On a Saturday morning with a belly full of Raisin Bran, I was sprawled on the floor of our den staring wide-eyed at the old RCA as it flickered with the brilliance of Super Friends or the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. My mom entered. “Get dressed. We’re going somewhere.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, never taking my eyes off the TV.
“It’s a surprise. Now get up.” She reached above the VHF channel dial and snapped the TV off. A few minutes and one Star Wars t-shirt later, I was ready to go. Or so I thought.
“Where are your shoes?” I shrugged. “Get your shoes on and let’s go,” my mother snapped. Those who know my mom would find it hard to imagine that she ever snapped, but trust me, she was quite the expert snapper when I was a kid.
“What’s taking so long?” my dad asked, his voice dripping with irritation. “I thought you were ready to go. I don’t know why we can’t get out of the house.” I didn’t pay any attention to this exchange, because I had heard every single day of my life. The problem was one of definition. My father defined the term “ready to go” as meaning the keys were in the ignition and halfway to the start position. My mom defined it as meaning it was time to gather everything we need for our outing, dress appropriately, make necessary lists and call everyone who might need to know we would be out. That was our problem. Somewhere between 15 seconds and half an hour was our problem. Dad disappeared out the screen door.
The next two sounds I heard were the routine follow-up to the “ready to go” debate: the driver’s side car door opening and closing and the engine of the ’73 Ford LTD starting up. I would venture to guess that my father spent roughly 76% of his time on any family outing sitting in the car. There was the roughly half an hour he spent in the idling car prior to leaving. Since he was a mechanic by trade, this would inevitably lead to my mother finally coming out of the house to find Dad’s head under the hood hunting down some phantom tap, tick or stutter. Once we got to the mall, the grocery store or wherever, dad would get bored and go to the car a good half hour before us. Sometimes he wouldn’t go in the store at all, choosing instead to sit in the car in the sticky heat of a Mobile summer (or the sticky heat of a Mobile winter – they’re about the same.)
I remember getting to the car before my mother and shortly after my father. I remember thinking we were likely only going to Delchamps to pick up a few groceries or WoolCo, Gaylord’s or some other now-defunct big box discount retailer. However, I can’t for the life of me remember if I deliberately sneaked into the car with no shoes on or if I was simply to brain damaged, as Bill Cosby would say, to be expected to put my own shoes on in the first place. Soon we drove past the strip mall where Delchamps then resided, the same one where Theodore High students would inexplicably hang out in my teen years. We drove past Food World, past Gaylord’s, past WoolCo. We kept driving, through downtown and the Wallace tunnel that passes underneath the Mobile River. I suddenly became very aware of my bare feet, but I said nothing.
We pulled into the parking lot of Battleship Park. Oh, crap. It was a sunny July day in Mobile. That could mean only two things: hot and damn hot. My parents looked at me expectantly, waiting for the wave of surprise and gratitude. Instead, I only gaped at the glistening, hot grey metal hulk roasting in the sunshine.
“Aren’t you excited?” Mom asked. “We’re finally taking you to the battleship.”
I would like to say that I responded with ebullient praise and adulation for my parents and offered a heart-felt mea culpa for disobeying my mother’s instruction. But I didn’t. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but knowing myself, it was probably angry, accusatory and worded something like “why didn’t you tell me we were coming HERE?” Then came the confession. “I don’t have any shoes on.”
“What!?” There she went with the snapping again. “Where are they?”
I shrugged. “At home, I guess.”
“You guess? Didn’t I tell you to put your shoes on?”
She had me there, but I wasn’t going down without a fight. “But I didn’t know we were coming here! I thought we were just going to the store!” Now I realize that the hundreds of stupid, illogical arguments my own children subject me to on any given day are well deserved.
What happened next, I honestly can’t explain to this day. For the next 3-4 hours, I toured the Alabama with my parents. Barefoot. I was relieved the tour took us inside to the cool, air-conditioned steel decks and in complete agony when it took us back out onto the wooden planks and super-heated metal sheeting of the main deck and tower. What’s worse is that, upon leaving the battleship, my parents then drove me to Fort Morgan – an hour-plus long drive past numerous stores and tourist traps replete with flips-flops, sandals and sneakers. And yet, they made me tour the Civil War-era fort of brick and concrete with blistered bare feet. Suffice it to say I never forgot my shoes again.Watching my kids explore the ship for the first time, those memories came flooding back. The tinny smell of oil and steel also took me back to my time as a Boy Scout. Every year, all the Scouts in Mobile area would gather for a jamboree at Battleship Park. The lawn was littered with tents, camp kitchens and boys dressed in khaki, green and red. The one time I attended the jamboree, I walked every square inch of the Alabama, from bow to stern, at least four times until I could hardly walk at all.
Thursday found us in Downtown Mobile. We started at Fort Conde, a small-scale replica of the original fort built by the French at the current site of Mobile. The fort was later occupied by the British, Spanish and finally, the United States who decommissioned it in 1820. The replica that sits at the foot of Church street today was opened July 4, 1976 in celebration of the Bicentennial, but my strongest memory of the site came in 1983. That year, Mobile played host to the British Faire, a weekend-long festival celebrating the history, culture and cuisine of the British Isles. I recall and angry Brit in full punk regalia arguing with a friend of mine about the merits of punk versus New Wave. Noshing on fish and chips while listening to a parade of bagpipers in the shadow of the fort was a surreal reminder of my hometown’s rich cultural history.From the fort, we then trekked around the corner to the Exploreum children’s science center (free to us thanks to our membership in Birmingham’s McWane Center.) On our way to the Phoenix Fire Museum, we stopped for a couple of pics at the foot of the statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes, the Confederate captain of the C.S.S. Alabama, the steamer and blockade runner that disrupted Northern shipping routes during the Civil War. As a result of his exploits, Semmes, once a hero in the U.S. Navy, was branded a pirate by the North. I am currently reading Semmes’ Memoirs of Service Afloat. Seeing the statue reminds me of a recurring nightmare I had as a child in which I found myself standing on the bay side of Bankhead Tunnel, staring up at the displaced statue and the ruins of the I-10 Bayway in a post-apocalyptic setting.
Next, we were off to the Phoenix Fire Station. This old fire station is now a free museum filled with fire engines and fire fighting gear from the late 19th and early 20th century. As an adult, the place seems tiny and cramped, but I recall seeing it as expansive as a child with fascinating surprise around the corner of each antique engine. When I think how much smaller the world seems to me now, I wonder if it would seem bigger if I dropped 30-40 pounds. Only one way to find out.
Friday found us at Pensacola’s National Museum of Naval Aviation. This was actually my first visit to the museum. The place is jam-packed with hundreds of craft from the history of aviation and, as luck would have it, is absolutely free. Do yourself a favor and go check the place out.
Saturday was spent nursing a heart attack while Alabama held on to narrowly beat Tennessee 12-10 and keep their national championship hopes alive. In fact, I’m getting palpitations just thinking about it eight days later. Let’s move on.Sunday was the highlight of our trip. We spent the afternoon and evening at the Greater Gulf State Fair. As a child and teenager, I never missed the fair. I’ve only once attended a fair as an adult, but it paled in comparison to the show Mobile puts on every year. Our kids were delighted with their first visit to a state fair, dazzled by the candy-colored lights of the midway, enticed by the smells and satisfied by the tastes of cotton candy, funnel cake and corn dogs, enthralled by the sounds of blaring music, ringing bells and the hawking of carnival barkers.
Walking the midway, taking in the sights of rides and games and fun houses, I was taken back to my childhood, when all of these temporary structures seemed huge, like rolling neon skyscrapers each offering the promise of 120 seconds of a better life for only three ride coupons. I recalled specifically riding the Himalaya during midnight madness as Duran Duran’s “Rio” blasted on the sound system. And I remembered one of my more inglorious moments when, after consecutively riding the Gravitron, the Zipper, the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Scrambler, I heaved up my corn dog in the nearest garbage bin while the girl I was wooing at the time looked on. Good times.
All told, our cheap vacation to Mobile has served to break down my writer’s block, as the 2,60o or so words of this post will attest. I’m not sure who first said you can’t go home again, but they were sadly mistaken. Not only can you, but you should go home from time to time. As artists, our unique view on the world is not only nature but also nurture – a Technicolor pastiche of images and experiences that make us the writers, painters, musicians and filmmakers we are. And every once in a while, it helps to revisit the places and events that shaped us, to remind us what inspired us to tell our story in the first place.
Check out the selection of iPhone pics from our trip:
(All images copyright 2009, Wayne Franklin & Wannabe Films, LLC)
As early as grade school, I remember teachers, friends and family members trying to convince me to be a writer. I would argue that there was one monumental problem with that idea: I didn’t like to read. As a kid, I was always playing, always on the go — hunting birds and squirrels in the woods behind our neighborhood (but killing few), riding bikes all over creation, riding my motorcycle on the twisty trails carved through the kudzu patch, backyard football games, tree houses, underground forts and once even trying my hand at stop-motion filmmaking. I simply couldn’t sit still to read a book. As an adult, I began to finally embrace the pleasure of reading — just in time, it turns out, to have the opportunity snatched away by the demands of parenthood and self-(un)employment.
I do some writing on a regular basis — blog post, scripts for client’s videos and commercials, a handful of screenplays. Screenwriting I could never really master. I find the form too limiting and have never been able to really find a voice as a screenwriter. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to write a few articles and a humor column for a friend’s magazine. That’s when I really got the writing bug.
I’ve had a number of ideas rolling around in my head that I’d hoped to explore as short stories, novels or graphic novels. And now, I’ve finally done it. I’ve started my first novel. (I won’t be so foolish as to use the cliché “The Great American Novel,” as it could turn out to be utter garbage.)
I’m debating as to the merits of posting snippets of the book as it progresses. I’ll decide on that soon. I will, however, post regular updates on my process.
For now, I’ll tell you this much: the title of the manuscript is Midlife Mouse and the title of the first chapter (the first draft of which is complete) is “Skulking in the Shadows of a Giant Spaceman’s Legs.” Curious?
Stay tuned for more…
I’m heading out the door in a few minutes to take the kids to see Pixar’s latest opus, Up. We had planned to see it in 3D, but when we checked the ticket prices, we learned that 3D costs an extra $3 per ticket. Recession, people! Somehow, I can’t bring myself to spend $11 each on a matinee. So 2D will be just fine. If the tech is anything like my first experience with digital 3D, I’m not sure it’s exactly a value-added bonus:
The following originally appeared as blog entry on my personal blog, then as a column in Coastal Homes and Lifestyles and now I’m posting it again. Reduce, re-use, recycle!
Last night, Savannah and I went to see the new Disney flick, “Chicken Little.” The film was showing on the only screen in Alabama to feature the new REAL D digital 3D technology. Gone are the blue and red paper glasses of the past. Instead, we received plastic glasses with polarized lenses. The glasses were modeled to duplicate the look of the glasses the titular chicken sports in the film. This means that even the most beautiful people in the crowd looked like complete dorks. Film truly is a democratic medium. In order to achieve the 3D effect, the polarizing lenses resolve a dual image coming from the new digital projector. I haven’t found out much more than that about how it works, but I’ll be looking into it after last night. You’ll see why soon enough.
We got there early to snag some primo seats — right in the middle, as far back from the screen as the screen is wide. (That’s the secret formula to the best seats in the house. Keep it between us.) There we sat — the two of us and four other early birds. We had our dorky plastic glasses and our snacks, and we were just waiting for the film to start. A twitchy-looking manager entered and asked that we all leave the theatre while his crew re-cleaned it. We had seen a couple of theatre drones in there doing a half-assed cleaning job when we arrived. I thought that was just the way they cleaned theatres these days. But now they were telling us they needed to clean again. Wow! Real customer service. Way to go, Manager Man!
The six of us gathered up our five-gallon buckets of soda, our bushel bags of popcorn and brick-sized boxes of candy — all puchased with 6 months, no interest financing — and headed out to form what would become a substantial line. As more and more people arrived, a sense of suspicion began to grow amongst the “Linies.” (That’s the term the popular media used to describe us. We prefer “Liners.”) “I wonder what this is all about,” said one. “I thought it was to get the glasses, but the glasses are right there in that box,” another noted. I decided to add a little dash of intrigue for the newbies. “The six of use all in there and they kicked us out.” The collective gasp from the Liners nearly sucked all the air out of the building, like the sudden pressure drop inside a hurricane.
Then a bunch of theatre goons walked past with about a half dozen stantions — you know, those pole thingies used for roping off areas. “They’re blocking us out.” “I heard somebody say something about reserved seating.” “No, it’s about the 3D. It doesn’t work if you sit too close.” I didn’t buy that. Why would any exhibitor spend a quarter million dollars leasing a new projector and screen only to sell LESS tickets? Of course that would explain the additional $1.50 charge on our tickets.
As more and more new recruits joined us veteran liners, I noticed a few impatient tweens edging their way in front of us. Now, I like kids as much as the next guy… as long as they’re my kids. If your kids get between me and the seats I’ve chosen using my special theatre calculus… Well, they better be insured.
Heir Manager returned to let us six orginal seat squatters back in. The unity of the Liners was broken. It was now a matter of Haves and Have-nots. We have been in the theatre already. The rest of you have not. Indeed that theatre was remarkably cleaner — not a single kernel of corn and only the lightest touch of stickiness to the floor, and that only for the sake of nostalgia. And, to my chagrine, the wing sections down front were roped off. I was at least partially wrong; I admit it. (Don’t get used to it.) Savannah and I grabbed our original seats and settled in for some three-dimensional, digital wizardry.
The place filled up pretty quickly with couples, families and a few brave souls who obviously lost a poker bet and were forced to bring a whole cadre of kids. And we all divorced ourselves from our shame and enthusiastically donned our dorky chicken glasses. Then the Manager-nator returned, looking even twitchier than before. He welcomed us to the theatre and the first-ever Disney 3D blah, blah, blah.
Then the evening took a turn for the surreal. “You’ll want to keep your glasses on the whole time, during the previews and through the entire film.” Interesting. Maybe it takes a little while for the 3D effect to kick in — a warmup period for your eyes and brain. Le Managére continued, “Because if you take the glasses off during the movie, it could make you sick.” Huh? “The way the picture comes out, it kind of sends like signals that scramble your brain.” What the? The unity of the Liners was back. “We’ve had a couple of kids… toss their popcorn today.” Great. Somehow, I missed the part about the vomit-inducing, brain-scrambling signals in the ads for the movie. (And yes, he literally said “toss their popcorn.”)
“The signals can affect your brain kind of like an epileptic seizure.” Okay, the gloves were off. It was us versus them now, and we weren’t going along willingly with these Shadow Government operatives and their Mickey Mouse mind-control conspiracy — at least not without some free popcorn or something. “But it’s not a seizure.” Oh, okay. Whew. It’s like a seizure, but not an actual seizure. What a relief. Roll the movie, then Über Manager.
So the lights dipped low and the trailers started. The first screen that came up was a graphic that told us to take off our glasses for the previews. Now what? Who do I trust; the Mysterious Managismo or the team of Disney flunkies who hastily put together this art card? Playing it safe, I told Savannah to keep her glasses on, thinking her the more likely to urp because of the alien brain waves. I alternated between glasses and no glasses — not because I was testing the differing physiological effects on my system, but because I couldn’t make up my mind.
I don’t know if it was from watching the 2D trailers with glasses on or from the effects of the 3D imaging, but for the entire film I had a the taste of metal under my tongue and a mild nausea. Yeah, this is going to revive the box office from its recent doldrums: the threat of seizures and the sensation of having just eaten an aluminum can. Brilliant!
As for the film itself, I’d give it two out of five stantions. This is not only Disney’s first digital 3D film, it’s also their first 3D digitally animated film. (Talk about a marketing nightmare.) In their infinite wisdom, the brains at Disney sold all of their traditional 2D animation stations (and canned a bunch of animators) to replace them with 3D systems. Their logic is that films like Shrek and the Pixar ouvre are successful because they are animated in three dimensions. Note to Disney: It’s the stories. The Pixar films could have been hand drawn on bar napkins, and they’d still be better than Chicken Run, because they’re well written. And they don’t give you seizures!
The Orlando Sentinel reports that ESPN (A Disney-owned company) will open a research lab at Disney’s Wide World of Sports with the aim of creating new sports broadcasting technologies. The cynic in me fears that we’ll see virtual ads placed on the jerseys of every college football player on the field, but I’ll reserve judgment. Now, if they’ll just find a way to project the yellow first-down line when you’re actually in the stadium…