Shine And The Moonbeams Debut LP A Solid Start For Kemp And Company

Courtesy:  Waldmania PR

Courtesy: Waldmania PR

The brand new self-titled album from Shine and the Moonbeams is an easy candidate for one of the year’s best albums for kids.  With its mix of upbeat music an equally uplifting lyrics, this album is one that even parents will appreciate.  It all opens with a fun Latin-tinged piece titled, ‘The Melody in Me’ that is sure to have kids and parents alike on their feet and dancing to the music.  It starts off with a group of horns set against the band clapping in time to the music while drummer Russell Carter kicks in a light New Jack swing beat.  That alone is enough to get kids and their parents up and moving.  Singer Shawanna “Shine” Kemp’s vocals make the song even more fun when she comes in.  What she sings isn’t just some kid friendly happy happy joy joy type of song.  It’s a song that celebrates the joy of music, period.  She sings, “There’s a melody/Music in my feet/Can you hear this beat/Right here in my feet/There’s a melody/Music in my hands/Can you hear this band/Right here in my hands/And I can clap my hands/And I can stomp my feet/And I can dance and I can sing/Sing it with me.”  It’s a fun song, plain and simple.  It’s one to which the whole family will find itself singing and dancing.  Suffice it to say that it is one heck of a first impression for this band.  Things only get more fun for families as the band launches into the album’s second song, ‘Imagination,’

‘Imagination’ is just as fun as the album’s opener for a couple of reasons.  The first and most obvious of those reasons is the song’s lyrical side.  It’s a song that encourages young listeners to—in simple terms—use their imaginations.  As the years have passed by and technology has advanced with each year, young audiences have increasingly demanded instant gratification.  It’s even gotten to the point that rather than learning to use their imaginations, children can just turn on Nick, Jr. or Disney, Jr., and voila, there’s the imagination right in front of them.  It takes away their reason to think for themselves.  Here in this song though, Kemp tells her young audiences just how fun it is to not get that instant gratification; to think for themselves and reap the rewards of doing so.  She sings, “I can be a lion or a jellyfish/I can be anything that I wish/Soccer player, rocket scientist/A peanut butter sandwich/When I use my/Use my imagination/yeah/I’m in a forest with two hundred-foot trees/I’m on the ocean sailing the seven seas/I’m a river/I’m a mountain/I’m even a breeze/I’m a bee/I’m a beehive/I’m even a sting when I use my/Use my imagination/Yeah/It comes in handy/In any situation/Yeah, yeah.” This is just one of a handful of inspiring and uplifting songs that parents will have no problem playing with and for their kids.  There’s at least one more prime example of what this album offers to its listeners.  It’s one of so many for which parents will be thankful.  That song is ‘Bully Bully.’

‘Bully Bully’ is a fitting song in the current era as the country continues to tackle the ongoing bullying epidemic of childhood bullying.  Kemp and her band mates sing straight forward about the problem of bullying, “It won’t stop until we all say stop/So STOP/Stop bullying me/Stop bullying me.”  This is a simple statement.  But it’s such a powerful statement at the same time.  It’s a true statement.  Rather than letting children be victims and in many cases become martyrs of sorts, all it takes is simply standing up to bullies and telling them to stop.  It’s incredible what someone standing up to a bully can do for a person.  The force that Kemp and company use when they say “STOP” really drives home the importance of not being mousy about standing up to bullies, either.  One doesn’t have to be as mean as the bullies.  One needs just stand up to a bully and be firm.  Tell that bully in a voice that lets them know a person means business plain and simple, “STOP!”  They’ll typically back down pretty quickly.  This is just one more of so many outstanding songs on this debut effort from Shine and the Moonbeams.  It’s one of so many songs that again, makes it one of the best albums of 2013 for both children and parents alike.  The album is available now.  It can be ordered online via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Shine-Your/dp/B00DDBEBE4/ref=sr_1_cc_2?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1371757895&sr=1-2-catcorr&keywords=Shine+and+the+Moonbeams.

The band is currently touring in support of its album.  Its next performance is at the River Celibration Day festival at West Harlem Piers Park on June 29th.  Fans can get a complete listing of the band’s tour dates and all of the latest news from the band on its official website at http://shineandthemoonbeams.com and on its official Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shine-and-the-Moonbeams/234481786657193.

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New Iron Man DVD A Solid Season Closer, Lead-In To Iron Man 3 Movie

Courtesy:  Marvel Animation

Courtesy: Marvel Animation

Marvel Animation releases the latest in its “animated” series, Iron Man: Armored Adventures next Tuesday, April 23rdIron Man: Armored Adventures Season 2 Volume 4 follows the continuing journey of the teenage Tony Stark and his friends as they face the forces of evil.  This time out, Tony finally discovers that his father is actually alive only to have to save his life again.  Also in this finale to the show’s second season, Iron Man and his friends also have to face off against the evil Dr. Doom, and Pepper Potts even gets her own suit of armor.  And what action series would be complete without an alien invasion?  The season closes out with an epic battle against the Makluans.  All of this and more spans eight episodes in one more disc that finishes off the second season of Iron Man: Armored Adventures.  The show’s cg-based “animation” continues to stand out from the rest of the crop of CG-based kids’ shows, continuing to help maintain its identity.  This is especially the case considering that the recent Hot Wheels animated series and Stormhawks have gone by the wayside.  Both of those shows used very similar cg based animation.  Together with the packaging and the action packed episodes, audiences get another set of episodes that makes for a nice lead-in to the upcoming theatrical debut of Iron Man 3.

Iron Man Armored:  Adventures Season 2 Vol. 4 succeeds as a continuation of the season’s previous volumes and as a lead in to the upcoming theatrical release of Iron Man 3 thanks to its writing.  This final portion of Season Two leads up to an epic faceoff with the Makluans.  The faceoff in question is a result of actions by the teenage Mandarin in his search for the tenth ring.  Viewers get an origin story not of just The Mandarin, but also of the rings.  According to the legend presented here, the rings are actual alien in descent, and were used by an evil alien warlord to enslave other alien beings.  In the process of everything, Pepper plays a role and is introduced as “Rescue” having gotten her own armor in the buildup to the battle with the Makluan.  Keeping this in mind, the writing of the episodes included in this set, and the timing of its release will really help to build hype for the latest upcoming big screen feature.  All involved with the series and its release are definitely to be commended for all of this.

The writing and the timing of this set’s release make it a success.  This goes without saying.  Its form of CG-based “animation” adds to its success.  There have been few modern “animated shows” that have used and use the form of CG-based art that this show uses.  Two that come to mind immediately are: Stormhawks and Hot Wheels battle Force 5.  Both shows have gone by the wayside.  By comparison, the current success level of Marvel’s properties would seem to suggest that this program still has some life left in itself.  And if that truly is the case, then fans can expect even more adventures from Tony, Pepper and Roady set against this largely unique CG-based animation style art.  Until then, fans can check out all the adventures from this final quarter of the show’s second season when it hits stores next Tuesday alongside, Iron Man: Armored Adventures: The Complete Season 2.  And for all things Iron Man and Marvel, fans can get all the latest when they “Like” Marvel on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Marvel or check in at the official Marvel website at http://www.marvel.com.

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Cinderella III A Good Finisher For The Cinderella Franchise

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Cinderella III is a good finale for Disney’s Cinderella franchise.  This franchise closer follows a tried and true formula but switches it up a little bit with an interesting twist that ties directly into the franchise’s second movie.  It proves once again that true love will always overcome all obstacles.  That includes an evil stepmother who would go to absolutely any length in order to get what she wants.  Thus is the story behind Cinderella III.

Cinderella III returns to the conflict between young Cinderella who is already married to Prince Charming, and her evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine.  When Anastasia (voiced once more by Tress MacNeille—The Simpsons, Futurama) discovers how Cinderella won over the prince in the first place and gets her hands on the fairy godmother’s wand, Lady Tremaine proceeds to use it to turn back time and try to keep Cinderella from ever being able to try on the fabled glass slipper that led to her happily ever after.  The irony of the whole story comes from Anastasia.  She ultimately plays a direct role in the final outcome of the story.  Now on the surface, this goes completely against the final segment of Cinderella II.  To that extent, some audiences may complain about an issue with continuity, since she was the one who caused Cinderella’s predicament in this story to begin with even after having found love in Cinderella II thanks to Cinderella.  But the final credits of this story do at least make the attempt to tie everything back together.

The final credits provide more than just an attempt to tie the first two movies in the Cinderella franchise together.  There is a final, funny moment that is tied in to the final moments of this story that will leave both parents and kids laughing.  It’s a moment of two characters getting what comes to them.  Who those characters are will be left to audiences who have yet to see this story for themselves.  It’s a good finish to everything and makes amends for a story that would have made more sense had it been Cinderella II instead of the franchise’s third movie.  Had this movie come second and Cinderella II come last, the entire franchise would have been near perfect because of how both sequels end.  Nonetheless, it still is a good story for a sequel and a good watch for parents and kids alike both during the holidays and throughout the year.

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Cinderella II One Of Disney’s More Underrated Sequels

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Cinderella II is an interesting work of a sequel.  It’s a sequel that both is and isn’t a sequel at the same time.  There are those who have already had their say with this feature.  And while many of the opinions on it have been anything but kind, it really isn’t that bad of a sequel.  Perhaps the reason that this feature was surrounded by so many negative opinions was its setup.  Rather than being a typical movie, Cinderella II was openly separated into three distinct acts.  From the very get-go, the separation of the story into three distinct acts likely threw viewers for a loop.  That’s not to defend the audiences who complained.  Rather, it made it come across as just a grouping of three different shorts, instead of an actual movie.  Take away the segment separation though, and audiences get what turns out to be exactly that.

While the first and third acts of Cinderella II work quite well together, the story’s second act seems to have no link to either the first or third on the surface.  This also likely threw off audiences and in turn, made them not enjoy it.  However, a deeper look at the story shows that its second act actually does indeed play a role in the near ninety-minute feature.  It ties the story’s first and final act in that dreams came true even for the little mouse, Jaq.  He found romance and learned a very valuable lesson at the same time.  In connection, even Cinderella’s now not so mean step-sister learns how evil Lady Tremaine was.  She even tried to keep Anastasia (voiced by veteran voice actress Tress McNeille—The Simpsons, Futurama) from having any romantic connection to a commoner.  Through help ironically from Cinderella, Anastasia finds love with him and even learns her own valuable lesson.  At the same time, even Cinderella herself learns another lesson in that now that she was gone from that house, both the sisters had seen for themselves how Lady Tremaine was.  It put things into perspective for Cinderella, which led her to be so willing to help Anastasia.  So it makes for a good conclusion to this story.

Just as the story ends solidly enough, its opening segment is a nice continuation of the original Cinderella, too.  What critics of Cinderella II have overlooked with this story is that despite being separated into three separate segments, it really does continue the original story.  What’s intriguing about the opening segment is that it shows Cinderella’s life after happily ever after.  The lead older woman of the house comes across as another evil stepmother type.  That is until Cinderella gets her and the King to loosen up.  In turn, even her dreams of living happily ever after come true.  So overall, dreams do come true for not just Cinderella, but for everyone in this largely underrated sequel to one of Disney’s most classic princess tales.  Now that it has been re-issued in a triple-disc blu-ray/DVD set, perhaps those people who criticized this story before will have a different view on it and give it another chance.  It’s available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct online via the Disney store and at the official Disney DVD website at http://www.disneystore.com/cinderella-ii-and-cinderella-iii-3-disc-set/mp/1324153/1000316/ and http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/cinderella-ii-and-cinderella-iii-special-edition-2-movie-collection.html#48097.

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The Muppets Bring More Joy And Heart To The Holidays With New Re-Issue

Courtesy:  Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Jim Henson was without a doubt, one of the most creative minds in both television and movies during his life.  So it goes without saying that in his death, the world lost both a great person and a great mind.  Considering the success of movies such as Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal and The Muppet Show, following up the success of those features while paying tribute to the Henson’s memory at the same time would not be easy.  However, Disney and Henson’s son made a valiant effort to accomplish both tasks with the release of The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992.  Now twenty years after the original release of that story Disney has re-issued it onto a new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for a whole new generation of audiences to enjoy. 

The Muppet Christmas Carol is just one of any number of renditions of Charles Dickens’ classic literary tale.  There are so many different takes on the classic tale that it would seem that one needs a program to tell them all apart.  This modern take on the classic tale is enjoyable first and foremost for its general structure.  Rather than trying to be just another take on Dickens’ story, it comes across as a stage play on screen instead of a movie.  The sets and musical numbers alone give it that feel.  And the cast’s acting adds to that feel, too.  Veteran actor Michael Caine (Secondhand Lions, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) does an expert job leading the cast as the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge.  While Caine does an extraordinary job as Scrooge, it’s The Great Gonzo and Rizzo who take the story’s other light.  Unlike other versions of A Christmas Carol in which the narrator is only heard and not seen, Gonzo takes on the mantle of Dickens, helping to guide viewers through the story on screen.  In its own manner, this is actually a visual aid of sorts for viewers.  It’s a very valuable aid, too.  The comic turns between Gonzo and Rizzo add for even more entertainment for viewers, as well.  Audiences will enjoy the pair’s physical comedy throughout the movie.  At one point, Rizzo falls down a chimney with rather warm results.  And the pair gets knocked off more than one window sill as it attempts to help viewers follow the story.  These are just a handful of examples of how the cast’s acting makes The Muppet Christmas Carol enjoyable for the family.  The acting aside, there is at least another aspect that makes this two decade old story enjoyable even today.  That aspect is the movie’s general presentation.  

The acting of both Caine and the puppeteers does a lot to make The Muppet Christmas Carol a believable and enjoyable story.  But it’s not all that contributes to the movie’s success.  The on-screen stage presentation is what really puts The Muppet Christmas Carol over the top.  As noted already, there are so many renditions of A Christmas Carol out there that it’s tough to keep them all straight.  Among that mass of different takes are movies that are obviously take offs of that story, just with different titles.  The Muppet Christmas Carol does the exact opposite of those adaptations.  Rather, it opted to pay homage to the original in its own way.  Instead of trying to be another movie adaptation of the original story, it takes the avenue of being a stage play complete with enjoyable musical numbers and sets that make audiences feel as if they’re watching a play on screen.  Combined with the acting, the musical numbers and sets will pull audiences in with ease and keep their attention throughout the near hour and a half story.  And for those audiences who perhaps might have to get up during the movie for any reason, they are treated to something very special courtesy of the bonus “Intermission” feature.  The “Intermission” feature allows audiences to pause the movie and enjoy extra musical numbers courtesy of other members of the Muppets cast.

Speaking of bonus features, the bonus features presented in the previous DVD presentation of The Muppet Christmas Carol are carried over to this new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack along with a pair of new additions.  The “Intermission” feature is one of that pair of new features.  The other new feature is an interview with Jim Henson’s son Brian Henson, who helmed this new take on the holiday standard.  The manner in which the interview was conducted is worth its own share of laughs.  That’s because Henson shares the moment with Gonzo and Rizzo.  The three discuss different aspects of the film and behind-the scenes stories that will keep the entire family especially entertained.  It’s just one more part of the whole that makes the new 20th Anniversary Edition of The Muppet Christmas Carol fun for the whole family this and every holiday season. 

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Disney’s New Fairy Tale A Welcome Addition To Disney Fairies Franchise

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Walt Disney Studios announced before the release of its 2010 movie, Tangled, that the movie in question would be the last of its princess movies for the foreseeable future.  It noted that it wanted to focus more on male audiences.  This announcement sent waves through the entertainment world.  While Tangled may have been the last of Disney’s princess movies for the foreseeable future, young female audiences did still have movies aimed at them in the form of the new Tinkerbell adventures.  These movies have seen their own level of success.  Now another new movie has been released featuring Peter Pan’s fairy sidekick.  It’s called Secret of the Wings

The Secret of the Wings is another good addition to the Disney Fairies franchise.  The first thing that stands out about this new release is that it carries on the long held Disney tradition of emphasizing the importance of family.  The continued tradition is directly linked to the secret that Tink discovers when she sneaks across the border into the Winter Mountains.  She meets “The Keeper”, and another fairy who as it turns out, will change everything that she ever knew about her life.  The secret that she learns the first time she goes to meet “The Keeper” is only one secret.  As a result of this first revelation, Tinkerbell also makes an even bigger revelation at the story’s end.  That revelation is tied into another familiar element that makes this a good movie for its audiences.

As already noted, Secret of the Wings will impress viewers as it maintains the theme of family importance that the company’s older works have held.  There is another long held element that makes this movie just as good as its previous princess movies.  Whether it was princess Jasmine, Ariel, Rapunzel, or any of the others, Disney has always made its princesses relatively headstrong.  That headstrong nature has helped lead to change in their kingdoms.  Tinkerbell is much the same way in Secret of the Wings.  It’s because of her determination to overcome the old ways that change eventually comes both to Pixie Hollow and the Winter Mountains.  Of course, that headstrong nature is also the catalyst for the conflict that would eventually lead to the change, too.

The conflict caused by Tinkerbell’s determination leads to another positive factor for the feature’s audiences.  It teaches audiences about the values of not only teamwork, but also of friendship and the importance of family.  The value of teamwork and friendship is something that both male and female audiences can appreciate.  And in terms of the value of family, young female audiences will especially appreciate this message as it’s directly tied to the secret that Tinkerbell learns in this story.

The central themes of Secret of the Wings are important elements in this feature’s success.  They go a long way toward making a story worth watching again and again.  The computer generated world created here will especially keep audiences watching.  The lush colors of Pixie Hollow and the contrast of the Winter Mountains are expertly designed.  They come together to stand out quite well against Disney’s other CG based features that have previously been released.  The people behind this world’s creation are to be commended for that, as it’s nice to see a CG based movie that doesn’t serve as a mirror image to so many others in its genre. 

So much work went into bringing Secret of the Wings to life.  Both the writing and the time spent creating the computer generated world had to have been intensive.  There is one more element that helped to make Secret of the Wings a success.  That element was the voice acting.  The voice cast for this movie reads like a who’s who of Hollywood A-listers.  Veteran actor Timothy Dalton (James Bond, The Rocketeer) joins Anjelica Huston (50/50, The Darjeeling Limited, Martian Child) who returns again as the voice of Queen Clarion.  Dalton lends his talents as the voice of Queen Clarion’s love interest, Lord Milori.  They aren’t the only well known names on board for this ride.  Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels, Kung Fu Panda, Kill Bill Vol. 1), Raven-Symone (The Cosby Show, That’s So Raven) and pop star Jesse McCartney are all on board this time around.  The chemistry between the cast adds another element of enjoyment for audiences of all ages.    That chemistry mixes with all of the aforementioned elements to make a feature that audiences will enjoy both the first and hundred and first time they have seen it.

Secret of the Wings is available now on DVD, DVD/Blu-ray combo pack and a four disc set including the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, a 3-D Blu-ray, and a digital copy of the movie.  It can be ordered direct via Disney’s online store at http://www.disneystore.com

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Cinderella Still One Of Disney’s Finest After More Than Six Decades

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Walt Disney’s take on the classic fairy tale, Cinderella is one of the most important stories in the history of Hollywood’s vast arena of animated features.  It is also one of the most important movies in the equally storied history of Disney’s company.  Cinderella was for all intensive purposes, the movie that saved Disney Studios.  Don’t believe that?  Just watch the special features on the brand new upcoming Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack re-issue of this classic Disney story.

Disney Studios’ debut animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was a hit.  But as noted in the bonus features of this new re-issue, the two movies that followed—Pinocchio, and Fantasia—paled in comparison to Snow White.  Yes, they were successful movies.  But they never reached the heights of Snow White.  Audiences learn here that until Cinderella came along in 1950, Disney had to rely on military training films for income.  It’s fitting that when Cinderella finally debuted in 1950, its very first musical number centered on dreams and wishes.  Cinderella sings that a dream is a wish your heart makes while you sleep.  When Walt Disney first started up his company, he had a dream; A wish if you will.  And fittingly, Cinderella helped to make Walt’s dream come true just as Cinderella’s dream came true.  As one of the figures interviewed notes, it is in its essence, a rags to riches story.  Take away the romance element of the story, and Cinderella really is an underdog story.  Taken from that angle, it’s a story that every viewer can appreciate.

Courtesy: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

The success of Cinderella can be attributed to a number of factors.  It’s not just that underdog/rags to riches story that makes it enjoyable.  It was the work that went into bringing the story to life that still makes it a success today.  From the animation itself to choosing voice talents to live shoots, the extensive bonus features included in this new re-issue show why despite all the knockoffs over the years, there is still only one Cinderella.  Audiences will be amazed to learn that before pen and pencil even hit paper, Disney actually shot a live action version of the story.  That live action shoot would become the model for Disney’s animators, the famed “Nine Old Men.”

Speaking of models, one animator even proudly displays his physical model of Cinderella’s carriage.  Anyone who has any interest in theater production will be in awe of how he came up with the model that would eventually become its own on-screen legend.

Along with discussions on live shoots and models, also included with this new re-issues is a discussion on Mary Alice O’Conner.  O’Connor was married to animator Ken O’Connor, who was charged with designing Cinderella’s fairy godmother.  It was Mary Alice who would be the model for the beloved figure.  The story of Mrs. O’Connor depicts a woman who was an exact fit for this iconic figure.  O’Connor gave of herself so selflessly throughout her life, expecting nothing in return.  She gave because she wanted to make people happy and took joy in seeing others take what she started and make something even greater from that start.  Anyone who is dry-eyed after watching this feature simply isn’t human.

The feature on Mary Alice O’Connor brings things right back to the feature focusing on choice of voice talents.  By now, audiences should see why Cinderella was, is, and always will be one of the most important works in the history of animated features.

Cinderella will be available Tuesday in a brand new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack in both DVD and Blu-Ray packaging.  Fans can order it online at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com.

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