Disney Odyssey #27 – Cats And Dogs, Living Together! It’s MADNESS!

The Disney Odyssey treks ever onward, friends, and this time we’re back with our final movie of the Bronze Age – it’s an oft-overlooked animal-centric tale inspired in equal parts by Charles Dickens and Billy Joel. The Fella was off at rehearsal, so this marks the first Disney Odyssey episode sans-Fella. So, to revisit this gritty, dog-eat-dog food world of New York City in the late 80s, I invited my dear friends Josh and Stace to watch with me!

Stace is a fellow writer and also a big tough city lawyer as well as a widely recognized animal lover. Josh is a stage combatant and performer, as well as a noted lover of 80’s music, and both he and Stace are also performers at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. There was no question that they were both highly qualified to weigh in on this final film of the Bronze Age.

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The Film: Oliver and Company (1988)

The Facts:

  • This is the final movie of the Disney Bronze Age – and the transitional elements are definitely in play. The animation quality has been upped considerably here, when compared to previous Bronze Age films, but it does not quite stand on the same level as its following Renaissance Era films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the BeastAladdin, etc.
  • The film’s plot is based loosely on Charles Dickens’ classic novel Oliver Twist.
  • Cast members include Dom DeLuise (in his first Disney voice role), Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Joey Lawrence, Cheryl Lee Ralph, and Cheech Marin.
  • The almost-cast of this film offers a world of curious possibilities: Sir Patrick Stewart was almost the voice of Francis the bulldog, and Marlon Brando was offered the role of Sykes (but turned it down flat).
  • Although much of the film was still hand-drawn, many of the inanimate objects were done on computer – a hint at the major leaps ahead in CGI that were soon to come.
  • Quick cameos of Peg, Jock, and Trusty from Lady and the Tramp and Pongo from 101 Dalmatians can be spotted during the song “Why Should I Worry” and “Streets of Gold.”
  • The real brand names that appear as background advertising in the street scenes in  New York were done without actual sponsorship – the animators believed New York simply wouldn’t be New York without the advertising.
  • The film debuted the same week as Don Bluth’s number one at the box office The Land Before Time, consequently making Oliver and Company fourth at the box office. It was reviewed generally as fun and harmless, but most agreed it would not stand up with classics like Pinocchio or Fantasia.

 

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The Brother-Sister Fable (An Audio Short Story)

Happy Halloween!!!

To celebrate this most delightful of holidays (sweets, treats, spooky tales, chilly weather, costumes, parties, and frivolity of all sorts!) I have brought you a present.

In 2014, just before my novel came out, I published a short story called “The Brother-Sister Fable” in an anthology called Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions. This short story is what I have brought out for you today, freshly recorded and polished up by audio producer and fellow author KT Bryski. I am thrilled to offer you this audio short story today and hope you enjoy giving it a listen!

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“The Brother-Sister Fable” by Alyson Grauer

Read by Alyson Grauer

Audio production by KT Bryski

Music by Kevin MacLeod (Tracks used include: “Come Play With Me,” “Magic Forest,” “Dark Walk,” “The Snow Queen,” “House of Leaves,” “Shores of Avalon.”)

Some sounds provided by the Free Sound Project

This podcast story is copyright 2016 under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives 4.0 Unported License.

 

 

8 Spoopy Books 4 Hammaweens: A Non-Comprehensive List

I love autumn. If asked what my favorite season is, I’ll more than likely say spring because of my birthday. Or summer because of the Ren Faire. But honestly I adore fall. I love layering up, I love comfy stuff, I love dumb Instagram-perfect leaves and pumpkins and hot chocolate. I love cozy socks and sick boots and leather jackets and a feeling of anticipation in the air – for parties, for the weekends, for Halloween, for whatever.

It being the season and all I thought I’d present a thoughtful yet utterly non-comprehensive list of my personal favorite thematic books for your Halloween and/or autumnal enjoyment. Don’t let the fact that Halloween is this weekend prevent you from enjoying these gems year round!

Make some tea or hot chocolate in a big, stupid mug, swathe yourself in your fluffiest blanket, and enjoy one of these books at Maximum Autumnal Introvert levels today!

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digital faux-crayon art provided by: me, in MS Paint

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Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn (1986)

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Published in 1986, this book won the 1989 Reader’s Choice Award and has been on and off school reading lists ever since. It is a middle grade novel which deals with heavy topics: lying, family issues, adolescence, death, and even suicide. Young Heather moves to a new house in the country with her father, stepmother, and stepsiblings. Heather is super against her stepfamily and lies at every chance she gets about what the kids are up to to try to divide her father from her stepmother. At their new home, which used to be a church, Heather meets a ghost named Helen, who is just as lonely and miserable as she is. The two become friends, and plot against Heather’s stepfamily together. The stepsister, Molly, begins to realize that something is not quite right about Heather’s imaginary friend, and the mystery unfolds…

My Thoughts: I read this book when I was in elementary school and it scared the crap out of me. It’s definitely scary to a younger reader.

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (1981)

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This is the first in a series of books which collect urban legends, myths, folk tales, and generally spooky stuff into one compact place. Some of the tales and poems are funny, and some of them are horrifying. The first book came out in 1981, followed by More Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark in 1984 and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones in 1991. They were mind-scarringly illustrated by Stephen Gammell and were scrutinized in the 1990s as to their appropriateness for children by the American Library Association. The violence in some of the stories, and the chilling illustrations were both considered to be too intense for most younger age groups.

My Thoughts: These books are the proto-Creepypasta of the 1990’s. These books were ALWAYS checked out at the library and if you had one in your possession, everyone wanted to be your friend that week. Actual nightmare fuel to a young mind.

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Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)

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This middle grade novella (short novel!) by Neil Gaiman is a sweet and unsettling tale of a lonely girl whose parents are just too busy to spend time with her after moving into their new home. Coraline, the girl, meets a talking cat, some friendly but ominous neighbors, and her button-eyed Other Mother, who wants nothing more than to spend all her time with Coraline and make her happy so that she will stay with her forever. Seems like a good deal, until the Other Mother reveals what Coraline has to do in order to stay there forever…  Coraline was made into a stop-motion film by Laika studios in 2009, and the book won the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella, and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Young Readers.

My Thoughts: A delightfully eerie, sweetly creepy young adult story. Have you noticed how intense things happen after children move to a new home? I moved a few times as a kid. Let me tell you, this trope is not wrong.

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)

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Okay, I know, another Neil Gaiman book but for real. This is a good one. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, this story follows the tale of Bod, a young boy abandoned in a cemetery while he is only a baby, and who ends up being raised by the ghosts in the cemetery. Bod (short for Nobody) love his ghost parents and neighbors, but there are greater mysteries at hand: what lies beyond the cemetery in the world of the living, and what happened to Bod’s parents?

My Thoughts: Like several of Neil Gaiman’s books, Graveyard Book appears to be aimed at middle grade readers but has deeper things lying in wait for those readers who have surpassed the middle grade level. I found it lovely and confidently spookywithout being terribly scary to me personally. There are some lovely adventures and twists along the way and I enjoyed it thoroughly. “Come and dance the macabray!”

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The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury (1972)

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A group of boys gather on Halloween to go trick-or-treating, but one of their friends is missing. Pipkin is nowhere to be found, and together the boys along with a strange man called Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud must seek him across time and space, experiencing different versions and origins of the autumnal celebration, kind of like A Christmas Carol for Halloween. Author Ray Bradbury also did the screenplay for the 1992 animated feature film adaptation of the same story, for which he won an Emmy Award. Also in 1997, Disneyland added a Halloween Tree to their annual decorations.

My Thoughts: I freaking LOVE Ray Bradbury. This book reminds me of my brother. Actually, most of these books remind me of my brother. Except for the first one. But THIS one for sure. This book is more fun and spoopy than scary.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)

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Written before The Halloween Tree, this novel chronicles two thirteen year old boys and their peculiar and frightening experiences with a traveling sideshow which visits their small Midwestern town. Mr. Dark, the proprietor of the carnival, seems to have the ability to grant the townspeople’s deepest desires… but at a terrible price. There was a film adaptation of the book produced in 1983 which stars Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark  and Pam Grier as the Dust Witch. As if the creepy circus vibe wasn’t enough, the title of this book is taken from one of the Witches’ lines in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Ominous as heck, yo.

My Thoughts: I saw the movie as a kid because my dad loves Ray Bradbury (and subsequently I came to love him as well even though this sh!t is for real terrifying at some points). The book is probably even scarier. This is a legitimately scary one.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

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 This debut novel from Erin  Morgenstern swept the bestseller lists in 2011 when it was released. An alternate history filled with powerful magic and unsettlingly lovely characters, The Night Circus is many tales woven into one larger story. “The circus arrives without warning…” and brings with it powerful magicians, mysterious contortionists, sentimental clockmakers and more. The circus itself seems to take on a life of its own, its attractions shifting and changing with every performance. Something so miraculous, so beautiful and captivating can’t last forever, though…

My Thoughts: This is one of my top ten favorite books of all time. It reads like a fine French dessert: exquisite, surprising, familiar, transformative, romantic, and so delicious that I wanted to read it again immediately after I finished. It captures the mystery and imagination of autumn perfectly for me, and I recommend it to everyone ever. It is not a spooky story but there is the delightfully unsettling quality of a dream about it, and even though you may have questions about it that go unanswered, it is a very good dream.

 

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)

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 This book is a mystery wrapped in puzzles and enigmas, some of which reach so far into your own personal subconscious that its pages leave you dizzy and breathless with confusion and fear. It has multiple narrators, multiple plots, and multiple angles from which it must be read. Words tumble and scatter across the pages, sometimes like escaping rats, sometimes like leaves gently falling from trees. The shapes and colors and fonts change, as do the narratives, and you cannot help but experience the ride Mark Z. Danielewski has created. Or has he? In one of the main narratives, a character is studying notes and material academically examining a documentary about a family who moves into a house with peculiar qualities. But as the character notes, no such documentary exists. Some readers have gone so far as to say that Danielewski did not write House of Leaves, he discovered it, arranged it, and published it. The events contained in its pages are no doubt extraordinary, but you must read it  yourself to decide what is true and what is fiction.

My Thoughts: First book to give me nightmares since Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Insistently given to me by my brother (surprise, surprise) who refused to elaborate on What It Was About, I read it with a healthy dose of skepticism. This book is mind bending both in execution and in emotional response. I had to stop reading it before bed because, duh, but once I got into the swing of it I read like the wind to find out what happens. This book requires full attention and deep contemplation – once you start reading, it will conquer your thoughts and free time. It is a dazzling read that is unlike anything else out there. And, if you aren’t into horror (neither am I) then remember that the author never bills it as horror fiction. It is not a tale of terror, according to him, but really at its core it is actually a love story.

Mind = blown.

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Bonus Round: AUDIO FICTION!

Six Stories, Told At Night by K.T. Bryski

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Up and coming Canadian author K.T. Bryski received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council which allowed her to write and produce a six-episode audio story based on Canadian folk tales. Before you roll your eyes, take a second to think. Most of these Canadian tales have French origin, which means some of this stuff is gonna be dark. Six stories are set into an original tale of Bryski’s own design, about a girl  named Sam searching for her friend who recently disappeared, and things become even stranger when Sam figures out that Joëlle may have disappeared right into the faerie realm.

You can tune in for free on iTunes or click here to stream it on Podhoster.

My Thoughts: This short form podcast fiction is outrageously good. Excellently performed by Blythe Haynes and edited/produced by Bryski, it is equal parts chilling, imaginative, heartfelt, and captivating. I only wish there were more stories!

 

 

 

 

 

Disney Odyssey #26 – Stand Back, Dawson, I’m Going To Try SCIENCE!!!

HERE WE ARE. London 1896. The fog permeates every corner of the omnipresent darkness. The cobblestones are slick from an earlier rain. The gaslamps flicker and cast long shadows on every brick building on the street. The greatest detective alive is on the prowl for clues to his latest case… and no – it isn’t Sherlock Holmes. It’s an adorable mouse-based fan fiction of Sherlock Holmes! To dive into one of my favorite Sherlockian tributes of all time, the Fella and I brought our pal JR over to the house to watch and talk shop about mysteries, mustaches, and mice.

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Admit it – you read this in Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice.

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The Film: The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

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Game Time: Playdead’s “Inside” Gets All Up In Your Mind

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A boy scrambles down a short but steep rocky incline in the middle of the woods, in the dead of night. He hits the ground, unhurt but a little breathless, and looks around. Although we may not have any idea where he is or where he is going, he seems to always know exactly what he’s doing. He moves forward without hesitation, without panic, and with astonishing strength, even though one false move will cause a sudden, abrupt, and brutal death.

This is how “Inside” begins.

There are questions that arise immediately. Why is the boy sneaking and hiding? Why does a terrible fate befall him if he steps into the light, or gets spotted by the strange figures in masks, or the dogs catch up to him? Where is he going, and why is everything so grim, so dark, so unexplained?

What is this world, and what happened here?

Perhaps, in some scenes, it is more important to ask – what is happening here right now?

 

Playing the Game:

Disguised as a lush, shadowy 3D world, “Inside” is actually a 2D side-scrolling puzzle adventure. You play as the Boy, a kid in a red shirt and black pants, and you have only two directions to move in: left or right. You travel ‘forward’ in search of…what? It isn’t clear. But something lies at the end of this journey, and the Boy presses on through challenging obstacles, strange rooms, terrifying surprises, and curious puzzles.

A lot of this gameplay is about timing. There are people (and things) in this game that want the Boy dead, and the second you miss a step or a cue – he’ll be dead before you can blink.

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I kind of wish we had filmed some of the gameplay reactions when the Fella was playing “Inside” the other night. There was a lot of horrified face-making, jumpscare gasping, and slow-burn squinting at the screen while saying “What….the hell….is that?”

I don’t want to say too much about the actual content of the gameplay, because the surprises and mysteries that unfold are fascinating and deeply unsettling.

If dying repeatedly in gruesome ways because of tiny errors in judgement and timing bothers you, don’t play this game. This is a tactic used by the game designers and engineers to ‘steer’ the player toward the ‘correct’ solution to a problem – and it certainly does the trick. This style of gameplay is something that stresses me out to no end – but the Fella managed to mostly keep his cool as he worked piece by piece to figure out how the Boy could make it through to the next section.

“How the hell are you supposed to beat this part?” I kept asking as panic rose in my throat. Bear in mind, I wasn’t even the one playing. I was just an observer.

The Fella was dauntless, however, and pressed onward, and I found myself completely unable to look away.

 

 

Reactions:

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This game, while skin-pricklingly eerie, is beautifully designed and elegantly presented. Although I wouldn’t quite categorize this game’s genre as horror, it definitely has a deep underlying sense of dread and anticipation throughout. Not to mention the Very Abrupt Sudden Deaths the Boy can experience if you step into the wrong light, or lose control of the submarine vehicle, or wait a little too long to move forward. It’s a game designed to keep you on the edge, to keep you racing the invisible clock towards — or away from — something big. Like I said, not my style of gameplay, but I loved watching it happen.

The Fella and I both had intense dreams about this game after he finished playing. I don’t want to go into detail because this game is absolutely worth playing if you get the chance. I also don’t want to put my own thoughts and names on things that have no thoughts and names of their own – this game, having no text and no verbal dialogue, is a delightfully refreshing mystery.

As for the finale? The ending will leave your skin prickling and your mind in a whirl.

This game is awesome. Play it if you can, and if not, watch someone else play it. This is wordless storytelling of a high caliber, and we highly recommend it.