Samantha Vilfort has been a Story Artist with Disney Animation for four years, working on Ralph Breaks the Internet and Frozen 2. In this episode of Sketchbook she draws Mirabel, the star of Encanto. (Disney/Richard Harbaugh)
SKETCHBOOK: an intimate instructional documentary series featuring talented artists and animators. Disney Plus Originals. Premieres on April 27, 2022.
Sketchbook is a new behind-the-scenes series, that features Disney top artists sharing their art process in a combination of a profile and dynamic how-to-draw demonstration. In a brief interview, I chatted with one of the featured talents, Story Artist Samantha Vilfort. She recently worked on the Disney acclaimed 2021 animated feature, Encanto. For her episode of Sketchbook, Vilfort did a step-by-step character study of Encanto‘s main character, Mirabel.
Mirabel is a kid just trying to figure things out, someone anyone can relate with. As a longtime cartoonist, I was intrigued by Vilfort’s very natural, careful and graceful approach to the character. This is an impressive demonstration that will inspire anyone interested in drawing, whether you’re totally new or a seasoned pro. During our conversation, I had to share with Samantha the drawing I did from following her instruction on Sketchbook.
It was a lot of fun drawing along with Samantha!
Samantha gained so much inspiration as a kid drawing from a Mulan how-to-draw book. So, it all comes full circle as she has a chance now to give back to fans and guide them on their creative journey. “I firmly believe that drawing is a teachable skill just like anything else,” says Samantha. “Anyone can draw–and not just stick figures!” This is something that I love to pass on to folks every chance I get! I encourage you to seek out Sketchbook on Disney Plus!
If you’re a Marvel Comics fan, or just about anyone game for some fun entertainment, it is hard to resist heading out to see the latest, and final, Avengers movie as we’ve come to know them. Last? Hey, it isn’t called Endgame for nothing! Now, let’s be honest, the Marvel franchise’s ideal audience, those most susceptible to having a mind-blowing experience from this movie, are way younger than my average reader. It’s kids who most love and most relate to this–as well it should be. Sure, without a heck of a lot of mature and professional adults, there would be no Marvel franchise but, at its heart, this is primarily kid-friendly fare. That said, there’s no shame in being a kid at heart and I definitely found that to be the case last night. What’s more, fueled by the Disney-Marvel powerhouse of pop storytelling, what is essentially magnificent entertainment excess manages to strike enough chords to not only satisfy hard-core fans but also those looking for some humanity with their popcorn. In fact, Marvel has proven time and time again to have a golden touch when it comes to character development.
A new Hulk among the interesting tweaks in new and final Avengers flick.
Without an end, we can’t fully appreciate the whole. With a satisfying and well constructed ending, we can often forgive any shortcomings along the way and we can take a satisfying pause before the next big thing. That’s how it works for regular comic book readers as they follow a certain story arc through a series of issues to its end. And that is what regular moviegoers have come to see ever since the current Marvel Comics franchise has been in existence. This Avengers movie rounds out a ten-year reign for Marvel Comics on the big screen. Never before has a mainstream audience been provided with so much of the narrative, full of all the nerdy and arcane details, that was once the sole domain of the comic book reading experience. Even the relatively obscure animated features based on comics books did not go as deep. All that said, with this Avengers movie, a mass audience gets to experience the bittersweet sting of finality. Yes, it should be no spoiler here, some stuff happens in this movie that is very, very final.
Among the very nerdy but usually quite delightful things you find in this movie that is a staple of comic books is something that subverts your expectations. The best example of that is what happens to The Hulk. It is right in the spirit of Marvel’s traditionally dry humor. The Hulk is no longer the aggressive out-of-control brute we’re so familiar with. Nope, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has been tinkering with his perpetual recipe for disaster and has managed to combine the best of both worlds! Now, he’s turned himself into a hybrid: the enormous strength of The Hulk has morphed with the brilliant mind of Bruce Banner! He’s now a kinder and gentler Hulk who can now discern what is the most efficient way to dispatch of a supervillain without wreaking havoc in his wake each and every time. There’s also a very funny makeover going on with Thor but I will let you find out about that on your own.
Again, the big takeaway here is that all things must come to an end–well, at least, for now. Avengers: Endgame, the fourth and final Avengers superhero movie, is the 22nd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which launched in 2008 with Iron Man. Those films have now eclipsed $19 billion in worldwide box office. The timing to bring the Avengers leg of the franchise as we’ve known it to a close could not be any better. We’ve had some true heroes here among actors, everyone from Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper to Josh Brolin. Box office records for Avengers: Endgame show a stunning $350 million in North America and $1.2 billion worldwide. It could not have been planned ahead for any better. If all the time and effort involved in getting this franchise right was used for something else, well, the results would likely be just as stunning. You can fill in the blank however you please. A cure for… Or and end to… Now, that’s a mind-blowing proposition.
Winnie-the-Pooh and an all grown up Christopher Robin.
Imagination has its own reality. Imagination is strongest in childhood. It takes a certain sensibility to carry you back into that world once you’re an adult. In the new movie, Christopher Robin, we see the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s vulnerable stuff. It’s made up of dream-like creatures like Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Piglet. In this movie, we see A. A. Milne’s celebrated characters from Hundred Acre Wood depicted as the very creatures of childhood we remember them as in our mind’s eye.
Winnie-the-Pooh and an all grown up Christopher Robin. This clever idea is refined into something much more. These two seemed to be like two peas in pod: dreamers in pursuit of nothing, happily stumbling upon something because sometimes something comes from nothing. And then the boy had to leave for boarding school and the greater world beyond and bid farewell to his childhood friends who had to stay behind. It is the grown-up Christopher Robin, played by Ewan McGregor, who must reconcile his youthful dreams with his adult reality.
Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends.
A movie about an adult coming to terms with his childhood may sound a bit heavy but it fits right in with the Disney cornerstone of embracing childhood. Any family understands the delicate balancing act between honoring the needs of adults and children. Conflicts are never too far behind. Christopher Robin, the man, is up to his eyeballs in conflict as he juggles family life with corporate life. It is on the weekend that Christopher must work overtime on budget cuts, and most likely layoff workers, that Winnie-the-Pooh stumbles back into his life.
The beauty of this movie is in its understatement, alternating between a foggy and hectic post-war London to a foggy and mellow Hundred Acre Wood. And, at the heart of this low-key approach, is Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. These characters do not light up the screen with manic frenzy like in the Toy Story franchise. Even Tigger gives off a more ambiguous vibe. These characters are not supposed to be so much larger-than-life as part of the stuff of life. You have to experience the movie for yourself to truly appreciate it. Essentially, the characters have been brought down to a childhood scale: sort of rumpled up as if left out in the rain once or twice. They look and feel as if lived-in, as if personifying childhood: milk and cookies, warm pajamas, and bedhead. What could be more wonderful?
Whimsy and Quirk Butt Heads with Harsh Reality.
Ah, the conflict between adult reality and childhood dreams. Thankfully, Ewan McGregor is up to the task of playing a Peter Pan in reverse. He is definitely all grown up and now must struggle to rediscover his inner child. McGregor, a naturally athletic and playful actor, is certainly up to the task. Also compelling is Hayley Atwell as Evelyn Robin. And, as the heir to the Pooh childhood, Bronte Carmichael is enchanting as Madeline Robin. All in all, you have just the right level of whimsy and ethereal quirk. I should mention here that The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers, written by Richard and Robert Sherman, gets it due as Tigger is easily triggered into singing it in any scene he’s in.
For late summer entertainment, Christopher Robin is just right. Think of it as the other side of a coin that includes Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Fallout. While the Cruise flick is relentlessly action-packed, the McGregor flick is relentlessly contemplative, even a bit melancholic, but in a very good way. Come to think of it, even the Cruise movie has its share of wistful moments! Both star men who somehow manage to defy age. Both can be Peter Pan if they care to be. And both can certainly entertain.
Visit the official Christopher Robin site right here.
GUM LUCK is the second in the Gumazing Gum Girl series, published by Disney-Hyperion Books, and it is as irreverent and quirky as you may expect. Illustrated by Rhode Montijo, written by Montijo, with Luke Reynolds, this is a perfect book for young readers. This book is hilarious and there is method to all the madness too. Gabby Gomez has quite a conflict to deal with: bubblegum gives Gabby superpowers but her dentist dad is totally against bubblegum. Gabby feels compelled to confess her big gum secret but she can’t risk losing her powers.
Reading GUM GIRL
The script by Montijo and Reynolds provides a fun mix of kid reality and kid fantasy. For example, in one chapter, Gabby is alarmed to see a car skidding its way towards a collision. Instantly, Gabby sets loose her gum powers and brings the car to a sticky, but safe, stop. However, once Gabby arrives at school, she discovers her permission slip to go to the zoo is covered in bubblegum. Without a readable permission slip, Gabby is forced to stay behind in a classroom with other kids who can’t go to the zoo.
Pages from THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK
Montijo’s bold artwork is a real treat and keeps the action moving along. Montijo has managed to channel is own take on the Power Puff Girls. Gabby Gomez and her family are easy to relate to while Gum Girl is whimsical and fun to follow along. Montijo offers up a very pleasant and animated style. It is spare and clear and will be especially appealing to a younger age group of ages 6-8. This book also happens to have a pleasing hint of bubblegum scent!
THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK is a 160-page color hardcover, available as of June 13th. You can find it at Amazon right here.
And so it begins, a Disney Star Wars movie. Disney had its share of false starts when it started venturing away from such titles as “Superdad” and “The Apple Dumpling Gang” to its first PG-rated movie, a sci-fi action flick no less, the box office flop that was 1979’s “The Black Hole.” At the time, it was deemed too expensive for Disney to use some Star Wars magic and rent equipment from George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic. Of course, all that was a long time ago. After the Disney buyout of Lucas to the tune of $4.05 billion, would Disney gain some real Star Wars cred? The goal seems to be met.
This Star Wars movie had to be better than the last three installments and it had to harken back to that something special from the original, without kowtowing to it. Were the Egyptian pyramids this intimidating to build? Yes, I think so. When I read Lev Grossman wax on about Star Wars in Time magazine, it felt like he was describing something too big to fail. When I saw the Star Wars special edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live, I saw in J.J. Abrams one relieved dude. The major players from the cast were there with Mr. Abrams. And they too looked relieved, after having carried a mighty weight upon their shoulders. They had all survived an enterprise involving enough money to bankroll a number of countries’ annual budgets.
Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
This movie was designed to not disappoint anyone. And, if you believe the speculation from diehard fans, the opening line says it all, “This will begin to make things right.” The opening line is recited by Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) at the prospect of finding a gone missing Luke Skywalker. But, as core fans will tell you, it sure sounds like a coded message related to fans’ distaste for the Star Wars prequels. This is something that Abrams certainly took to heart.
Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
There is no doubt that the shadow of the Star Wars legend looms larger than life here. An answer to R2-D2. Check. An answer to Han Solo. Check. An answer to Yoda. Check. And so on down the line to the Mos Eisley Cantina and Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder. The sense of urgency to get it right is ferociously palpable. It is directed into every single scene by J.J. Abrams. Abrams wrote the final script with original trilogy writer Lawrence Kasdan. The two best new additions to the franchise: John Boyega as Finn, a runaway deserter; and Daisy Ridley as Rey, a reluctant new hero in touch with The Force.
In simpler times: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford
Star Wars was never true science fiction. It was fantasy and, more to the point, a comment on fantasy. At its core, Star Wars was a quirky tribute by George Lucas, a nostalgic look back to Buck Rogers and action-packed pulp fiction. It was a nostalgia for childhood entertainment that was then reconfigured into something even more enchanting. By the time that the original trilogy was completed, George Lucas was done. So, it’s hard to really blame him for the direction he took with the prequels which was as far removed from the original source as possible. It was simply too early to get all nostalgic over something that was nostalgic to begin with. And, anyway, Harrison Ford would never have reprised his role at that point. More time would need to pass which brings us to what amounts to this fun revisit.
But how often can you successfully tap into nostalgia with a franchise like Star Wars? As the James Bond franchise has learned, it all needs to be measured out in proper doses. For now, it looks like a new trilogy has been mapped out that holds on to what made Star Wars worthwhile to begin with. In the end, at its best, Star Wars was an eccentric notion by an eccentric guy named George Lucas. It’s now a franchise designed to not disappoint anyone.
I’d really been meaning to see “Big Hero 6.” Now is definitely the time with its Oscar win for Best Animated Feature and it just becoming available for home viewing.
Disney certainly knows how to create an uplifting experience and “Big Hero 6” (Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams) is a beautiful example of it. I can imagine the Disney team, such as the Big Hero 6 team and character creators, Man of Action, and the screenwriters, Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Daniel Gerson, first pondering over what could work for a feature. What are some things that kids are always into? Hmm, well, there’s all things to do with Japan, and robotics, and a curiosity over, uh, puberty. Those three items will always get their attention, for starters. And you find them here.
Producer Roy Conli, from left, Directors Don Hall, and Chris Williams accept the award for best animated feature film for Big Hero 6 at the Oscars on Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (John Shearer/Invision/The Associated Press)
From the previews I’d seen, I wondered if this was going to be a fish-out-of-water comedy. You know, this Michelin Man robot is all blobby and out of his element, right? There’s some of that. Plenty of that, who am I kidding! But much more. Essentially, what you’ve got here is quite a compelling story about mind over matter.
The Michelin Man, a long lost relative to Baymax?
Meet Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). He may resemble our friend, the Michelin Man, but he’s a whole other deal. Baymax is at the heart of this story. He is a robot that was built to help. Basically, he’s a walking and talking medical dispensary and doctor. He knows what he’s about. That’s more than can be said, at least for a while, about Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter). Hiro is a 13-year-old genius, especially when it comes to robotics. However, Hiro will need some time before he realizes what to do with his skills. Baymax was built by Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney). Push comes to shove, and Hiro will need to rise to the occasion, with the help of Baymax. Do you see conflict on the horizon? Yes, plenty. There’s plenty of action and there’s plenty of soul-searching to keep you glued to your seat.
It won’t be spoiler to let you know that “Big Hero 6” refers to a six-member superhero team. With all the superheroes flying around, this movie proves there’s always room for more. After viewing it, you’ll welcome, wait for it…the sequel! Yes, I think we have us a sequel up ahead and probably more than one.
The original Big Hero 6 comic book series from Marvel Comics
Home viewing is now available. Of course, the bonus features are very cool and include a behind-the-scenes look at how Big Hero 6 made the transition from a Marvel Comics comic book series to the big screen. For more details, including a free game, Baymax Sky Patrol, visit our friends at Disney right here.
BURBANK, CA – DECEMBER 10: (L-R) Songwriter Richard Sherman, director Rich Moore, director Chris Buck, director Jennifer Lee, producer Peter Del Vecho, General Manager, Walt Disney Animation Studios Andrew Millstein, actor Josh Gad, music supervisor Tom MacDougall, Executive director John Lasseter and composer Christophe Beck attend the 90 Years of Disney Animation celebration at Walt Disney Studios on December 10, 2013 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney Animation)
The Walt Disney Company was founded in 1923 in a back room of a real estate office in Los Angeles. By 1928, a little plucky mouse danced and sung his way down the river in “Steamboat Willie” and the rest is history.
On December 10th Bob Iger, John Lasseter, Alan Horn and Ed Catmull hosted a cocktail reception in Legends Plaza on the Disney lot to celebrate 90 years of Walt Disney Animation with Disney legends, filmmakers, artists, and voice talent.
The 90th Celebration celebrated Disney’s animation legacy, its iconic living heroes, artists and filmmakers, while spotlighting the new wave and renaissance of artistry, creativity, and talent at WDAS, most notably evident with WDAS’s 53rd animated feature, FROZEN. A screening of Frozen preceded the event.
BURBANK, CA – DECEMBER 09: (L-R) Actors Colin Farrell, Annie Rose Buckley, Melanie Paxson, Bradley Whitford, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Emma Thompson, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman attend the U.S. Premiere Of Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks” at Walt Disney Studios on December 9, 2013 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)
If you want the inside story about the making of one of the great Disney classics, then “Saving Mr. Banks” is for you. It is quite a sophisticated revisit to an old favorite that is only matched this holiday season by another creative wonder, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Both original films, “Mary Poppins” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” will be out this month in new versions for home entertainment.
A premiere of “Saving Mr. Banks” was held December 9, 2013 at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA.
Martin Olson is a great comedy writer. And Olivia Olson is an accomplished singer, songwriter, and actress. It was a lot of fun to get to interview them both in a casual conversational style. I had a good idea about what I wanted to ask them. I had notes about the dynamics of a father and daughter working together. I had notes on Martin’s career going back to his founding of the legendary “Boston Comedy Scene.” I had notes about Martin’s writing for, and Olivia’s acting in, “Phineas and Ferb.” And, of course, I had notes upon notes on “Adventure Time.”
Vanessa in “Phineas and Ferb”
The new book by Martin Olson, “The Adventure Time Encyclopedia,” is a nod to his impressive “Encyclopedia of Hell,” from 2010, and is the ultimate source of knowledge on all things “Adventure Time.”
Now, wait for a moment here, and let’s back it up. “Encyclopedia of Hell” is a whole world to itself. This book is a manual for demons to prepare for Hell’s invasion of Earth. It’s a wonderful vehicle. As Martin Olson points out, “This is working from Mark Twain’s version of Satan. This is the most beautiful satirical platform to work from since all bets are off and you can satirize everything.” Check it out here.
Olivia Olson is well known for his musical talent but there’s no getting around the fact that she also has tons of fans of her role as Marceline the Vampire Queen. And that’s very cool. It’s an honor, really, and Olivia wears it well. At one point in the interview, I posed a question to Olivia from my own daughter, Emma, who was curious about how Olivia channels her vampire character and Olivia provided an inspired response. It lead to an interesting discussion on the power of fiction.
Getting back to “The Adventure Time Encyclopedia,” it does a remarkable job of describing the narrative underbelly of the show and all the activities on the postapocalyptic land of Ooo. Primarily, you have profiles that go into heavy detail on all the main characters, followed by smaller profiles on the wide assortment of minor characters. There are also a number of other features, including maps and descriptions on the many kingdoms and various miscellaneous treats. But, the great thing about this book is how it takes everything that may appear chaotic and gives it a more orderly form. No doubt, there is much to keep up with on a show that is far more than just about a boy and his dog, as you can see from a look at Season 5 here.
It sure looks like there’s room for a whole other book on this subject and maybe that will happen. For now, you’ll be glad you got yourself a copy of “The Adventure Time Encyclopedia,” published by Abrams Books, which you can purchase here.
And to add to all the fun, Martin Olson and Olivia Olson have a new album they have just released. It is an eclectic collection that rings true in its wide range of songs. You can check out “The Father-Daughter Album of Unspeakable Beauty” on iTunes here.
And, of course, you will want to check out Olivia’s EP, “Beauty is Chaos,” on iTunes here.
Just click the link below to listen to the whole podcast interview:
And keep up with “Phineas and Ferb,” on the Disney Channel, here and “Adventure Time,” on Cartoon Network, here.
“Tomorrowland” begins shooting today in Vancouver, BC. The details about this movie began to be teased out this January, going under the code name, “1952.” As this synopsis indicates, there’s an interesting story here with a lot of potential for an excellent stand-alone or maybe another franchise:
Tomorrowland is a place where science has surpassed the world we live in now, where it has become the future. Frank Walker (George Clooney) has seen this Promised Land once, as an 11-year-old. But he was thrown out of it by the great inventor Frank Nix (Hugh Laurie). Before his removal, however, the young Frank was able to learn that the girl he had fallen in love with was actually a robot.
Now, as a broken man, Frank has to team up with a young girl named Casey to understand what happened at Tomorrowland in order to save the world.
And then there’s this other synopsis that is considered the official synopsis. Whether it’s a continuation of previous ideas or a whole different turn, who knows. It remains intriguing:
Bound by a shared destiny, a bright, optimistic teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor jaded by disillusionment embark on a danger-filled mission to unearth the secrets of an enigmatic place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory as “Tomorrowland.”