Showing posts with label Disney+. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disney+. Show all posts

Meet The Voices Behind Young Simba and Nala in The Lion King

What would you get if you packed talent, brains, personality, and a little bit of spunk into two young actors?  You'd get JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph of course!  These two are rising stars and are the voices behind Young Simba and Young Nala in Disney's The Lion King opening everywhere July 19th.  I recently had an opportunity to sit down with these two when their press trip brought them to Washington, D.C. for an interview to get to know them better.  It's probably wrong to actually call this a true interview though.  I was joined by two other bloggers and the actors - that's it. It was an easy conversation in a suite at The Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. instead of the feel of a big media event.  Because of this atmosphere, we had a nice chat with the two young stars about making The Lion King, what it's like to be a star on the rise in the music and movie world, and what's next for them!  So let's check it out!

On Making The Lion King - Several of the questions we asked JD and Shahadi were about their experience making the film.  Both of them talked about the influence the 1994 animated classic had on their performance.  Like most everyone else, they've grown up watching the animated version of The Lion King and certainly thought back on it as they dove into their roles.  Shahadi shared that they wanted to stay "as authentic as possible while adding our own personalities to it."  JD agreed and described the opportunity to play Simba as a "dream come true."  When asked about their favorite scenes to record, Shahadi shared that her favorite was "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" as she has been "loving that song for a long time," while JD enjoyed recording the stampede scene.  Sharing a bit of the emotions that can take over when creating movies, JD told us that he really cried when recording that particular heartbreaking scene.  Along the same lines, each of the actors found ways that they connected with their characters.  JD talked about really looking up to his dad, just like Simba does with Mufasa, and also being brave adding "I used to get scared of stuff a lot easier than I do now."  On the other side of the table, Shahadi felt that she can relate to Nala's spunk, wit, and confidence.  I then posed a question about the new technology that Director Jon Favreau used in this film.  To create the world of The Lion King with a "live action" feel, Favreau used virtual reality to allow actors to actually be transported to Pride Rock, the Elephant Graveyard and throughout Africa. On using the new VR headsets, JD shared, "We put it on, we had these controllers in our hands, and just looked around.  You can see Pride Rock, the savannah, the watering hole.  We saw the elephant graveyard and everything was so real. It was crazy."  Helping to add to the realistic feel, Favreau had young Simba and Nala work with some of the other actors in the film as well when recording.  The two young stars had a chance to record with the hyenas, Seth Rogen (Pumbaa), and Billy Eichner (Timon).  The hyenas were apparently as scary to record with as they come across in the film!

JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph voice Simba
and Nala in Disney's The Lion King. Photo from
Walt Disney Studios.
What Their Lives Are Like Now - Both young stars are incredibly down-to-earth and humble, especially given the fact that their careers are literally exploding right now.  As musicians and actors these two keep themselves busy.  When we talked about balancing the entertainment industry with being a kid, both JD and Shahadi made it all sound easy!  Shahadi continues to attend regular school in New York and finds time to hang out with her friends when she's not working.  Likewise, JD enjoys playing video games just like many other 12 year old kids and is homeschooled in Los Angeles.  Both also talked about getting some rest and relaxation following this whirlwind press tour that ends shortly after the release of the film.  Shahadi couldn't hold back a smile when she talked about ending the press tour just a short subway ride away from home and looking forward to a family cruise later this summer.  My daily work with middle school students lead me to ask this 12 and 14 year old what advice they would have for kids their age about pursuing their dreams.  Shahadi, showing a maturity well beyond her years, began "I think that you should find something that you are really passionate about and just keep striving for it, keep working for it."  JD then added "The people that kept going for it and never gave up, always made it to where they wanted to go."

What's Next For Shahadi and JD? - Speaking of following their dreams, these two are certainly doing that! Shahadi has already starred on Broadway, coincidentally playing the role of Young Nala, and on screen.   Now, she's tackling the music world and was excited to share that she just released a new single, "Skin I'm In" that was debuted by Billboard just a few days before our interview.  JD has been busy making waves in the music industry himself, as the youngest male solo artist ever signed to Hollywood Records.  He released an EP, "Shine" that features 4 songs and was also beaming as he talked about his singles "Keep in Touch" and "My Name." One thing is certain - we are only beginning to hear from these bright young stars!

These two certainly shine on the big screen as Simba and Nala and I'm sure you'll join me in falling in love with them when The Lion King opens in theaters on July 19.  In the meantime, don't miss my thoughts on this film.  You can also download a FREE family activity packet courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.  You can follow all of The Lion King fun on social media below! Hakuna Matata!

Hashtag:  #TheLionKing

Can you STILL feel the love for The Lion King in 2019?

I should start out by saying that I was 10 when Disney released the animated version of The Lion King and it's been one of my favorite movies of all-time ever since.  From the music to the heartfelt story, it was everything a Disney movie should be.  The little girl in me was thrilled when I heard about a remake of this classic hitting the big screens in 2019 and with Jon Favreau directing (he also directed The Jungle Book), I had a feeling we were in a for a real treat.  So can you still feel the love 25 years later for The Lion King?  Short answer - YES!

If you're unfamiliar with the story of The Lion King, let's catch you up with the official Disney synopsis of the film:

Disney’s “The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau (“The Jungle Book”), journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne—has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.

Staying true to the classic story, director Jon Favreau utilizes pioneering filmmaking techniques to bring the iconic characters to the big screen in a whole new way. Featuring the voices of Donald Glover as Simba, BeyoncĂ© Knowles-Carter as Nala, James Earl Jones as Mufasa, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, Seth Rogen as Pumbaa and Billy Eichner as Timon, Disney’s “The Lion King” opens in U.S. theaters on July 19, 2019.

So the big question on everyone's mind is how does it stack up to the original.  The story is basically the same, but using CGI to create the characters and background you obviously have the more "live action" feel to film.  Along with that, you lose the cartoon emotions of the animals that you see in the original, instead relying on voice delivery to carry the emotions for the movie.  I think some may find this to be a bit disappointing when compared to the original, but I felt like it just made the story seem more "real." Standouts for me were young Simba and young Nala voiced by JD McCrary and Shahadi Joseph Wright.  They perfected the attitude and innocence of the two young cubs looking for adventure and being anxious to grow up.  I was really pleased to hear James Earl Jones back as the voice of Mufasa - I mean, could you imagine anyone else in the role?  Naturally Beyonce and Donald Glover crushed "Can You Feel The Love Tonight?" leaving you feeling all the feels.  The only performance that didn't click for me was Scar.  I always thought "Be Prepared" was such a great villain song in a Disney film and this one is very different than the original and just didn't work for me.  Hands down though, Pumbaa and Timon (voiced by Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner respectively) steal the show.  If you thought this warthog and meerkat duo were funny before, JUST WAIT until you see them now!
Timon and Pumbaa - stealing the show!!
Photo from Walt Disney Studios

The next thing to know is this movie is visually stunning - I mean unreal CGI.  You will feel like you are right there with the characters in Africa.  I was fortunate to have my screening in IMAX and I highly recommend that if you have a theater near you.  This movie was made for the biggest and best screen around.  With all of this true-to-life feel, the action in the movie is more intense than in the original.  Watching the lions fight is really like watching lions fight.  Watching the stampede in the gorge seems so real and intense that it may be a little much for small ones to handle.  Keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to bring your littlest cubs along with you to the movie.

Musically, the movie holds it's own with the tough-to-top 1994 original soundtrack.  I had chills listening to "Circle of Life" as the movie opened and I think this opening may even be more powerful than the original.  McCrary and Joseph bring the fun in "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" and Beyonce and Glover are powerful in "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"  Rogen and Eichner are hysterical in "Hakuna Matata" - they definitely use the previous version as an inspiration, but also put their own twist on the song. . .you'll see!  The only song that I didn't enjoy was "Be Prepared" which wasn't even much of a musical number in this adaptation.

I would definitely recommend this and I'm putting up there with Beauty and the Beast as my favorite "live action" remake.  While it wasn't perfect - it was pretty darn close in my book and I can't wait to see it again with the whole family.  And don't miss this FREE Activity Packet you can download which has both educational and fun activities for your whole family!

Hashtag: #TheLionKing

I was able to attend an advanced media screening to bring you all the details before it hits theaters!  As always, thoughts and opinions are my own!

What's New in Disney Movie News! - July 8th

Y'all the last few days have been enough to make any Disney movie fan's head spin.  It seems like there is trending, top news every day!  So let's break it down in case you've missed any of the hype.

The Lion King (Releasing July 19, 2019) - We are fast approaching the opening of this live action remake of the 1994 classic and I can certainly feel the love tonight!  This looks like a great film and features the voice talents of Seth Rogen, Donald Glover, and Beyonce - among many others.  I'll be attending an advanced screening of the film at the Air and Space Museum in DC on Wednesday, 7/10 and then will have the chance to interview some of the cast the following week!  That's right, I'll be interviewing Young Simba, JD McCrary, and Young Nala, Shahadi Wright Joseph.  I can't wait to share all of the excitement with you!  For now, grab a peek at the trailer before you join the stampede to see it in theaters!

Walt Disney Studios: Disney’s “The Lion King, directed by Jon Favreau (“The Jungle Book”), journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar, Mufasa’s brother—and former heir to the throne—has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends, Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.


Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Releasing October 18, 2019) - So a new trailer just dropped today for this sequel to the 2014 Maleficent.  I have to say, Maleficent is my favorite Disney villain and I was a big fan of the original.  I enjoyed the fact that Disney did a live-action spin-off instead of sticking to the usual remake option.  It's really cool to hear the story of Sleeping Beauty from the villain's side.  If you haven't yet seen Maleficent, do it and get ready to catch up with Aurora, Maleficent and the rest of the humans and fairies in the kingdom!

Walt Disney Studios: The years have been kind to Maleficent and Aurora. Their relationship, born of heartbreak, revenge and ultimately love, has flourished. Yet the hatred between man and the fairies still exists. Aurora’s impending marriage to Prince Phillip is cause for celebration in the kingdom of Ulstead and the neighboring Moors, as the wedding serves to unite the two worlds. When an unexpected encounter introduces a powerful new alliance, Maleficent and Aurora are pulled apart to opposing sides in a Great War, testing their loyalties and causing them to question whether they can truly be family.


Mulan (Releasing March 27, 2020) - Disney has a habit of releasing movies on my birthday weekend every year. . .they can keep that streak up.  Mulan will release the day before my birthday and the first teaser trailer was released Sunday during halftime of the Women's World Cup final.  The movie seems like it will be a little more "serious" than the cartoon (I don't know if that's the right word, but it's all I can come up with now). There's no sign of Mushu in the trailer the fan favorite songs weren't featured.  What does this mean for the film?  It's yet to be seen!  I was not a big fan of the original Mulan, and I can already tell I'm going to like this more.  The scenery and costumes look stunning.  What do you think?

Walt Disney Studios: When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father.  Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation. . .and a proud father. 


The Little Mermaid (Coming ?????) - Disney is just now releasing casting information for this film that is in the works and it's already making controversial headlines.  Social media lit up when it was announced that Halle Bailey will be Ariel.  Halle is a talented singer and actress, but because of the color of her skin, some people took to social media to voice their outrage and #NotMyAriel began trending.  My heart broke for this young girl when I saw this happening.  Imagine working incredibly hard to be at the top of your game, find out you get to play the role of a Disney princess in what will surely be a blockbuster film, and then see the ugly side of social media tear you down.  I have to say that I'm excited to see her portrayal of Ariel and applaud Disney for making a casting choice that will allow more young girls to see themselves as Ariel too.  The Little Mermaid is one of the first movies I remember seeing as a little girl and I can't wait to see it on the big screen again!

And if you think this is busy, just wait for the end of summer to heat up as I'm sure will get new details about Frozen 2 releasing in November and Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker releasing in December.  Walt Disney Studios is certainly on fire and doesn't show any signs of slowing down!  Which movies are you most excited to see??

Toy Story 4: New Toys, New Stories. . .Same Fun?

Photo Credits: Walt Disney Studios
Toy Story is one of my favorite movie franchises in entertainment - not just in the wonderful world of Disney / Pixar.  So when I first heard of Toy Story 4 in the making I ran through a number of emotions.  I was first excited at the idea of another adventure for Woody and Buzz, but then found myself questioning why they were making another movie when Toy Story 3 seemed to have the perfect ending.  As the time for release drew nearer, I followed some of my favorite bloggers who had the privilege to attend the press junket and see advanced screenings of the movie.  As they shared excitement around the film, I was literally ready to burst when June 21st came and it was time to load the family in the minivan and head to the movies.  But was it everything I wanted it to be?  Before I answer, let's take a look at what we knew from Walt Disney Studios ahead of the release.

Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) has always been confident about his place in the world, and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. So, when Bonnie’s beloved new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky (voice of Tony Hale), declares himself as “trash” and not a toy, Woody takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy. But when Bonnie takes the whole gang on her family’s road trip excursion, Woody ends up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts). After years of being on her own, Bo’s adventurous spirit and life on the road belie her delicate porcelain exterior. As Woody and Bo realize they’re worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy, they soon come to find that’s the least of their worries. Directed by Josh Cooley (“Riley’s First Date?”), and produced by Mark Nielsen (associate producer “Inside Out”) and Jonas Rivera (“Inside Out,” “Up”), Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” ventures to U.S. theaters on June 21, 2019.

I'm just going to say it, I wanted to love this one more than I did, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy parts of it.  It was awesome to see Bo back in action and more independent than you can imagine.  Proving that you don't need a kid in order to have a purpose, Bo Peep is a woman on a mission and knows how to get the job done.  I though Ducky and Bunny were hysterical and great additions.  Duke Caboom is another welcome face in the Toy Story family and the saying "Yes we Canada!" has already become a catch phrase in our house just hours after the film.  Forky was an acquired taste.  I wasn't keen on the character in the first part of the film, but he had grown on my by the end.  

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios
On the flip side, Gabby Gabby and her dummies terrified me.  After seeing Child's Play as a kid, I've always had a weird phobia about creepy dolls and these just fed into that.  Without spoiling the story, let's just say I wasn't keen on the Gabby Gabby storyline - particularly her interaction with Woody.  I also missed the connection between Woody and Buzz in this movie.  I didn't feel like they worked together as much in this one - and maybe that's part of the point of the film, but I loved that pair and wish they shared more of this adventure together.  And then there's the ending.  I've got mixed feelings on it.  There is part of me that is happy for Woody, but I also didn't see this coming and was a little surprised to see things wrap up this way.  While Toy Story 3 still has me crying at the end every single time, I felt extremely satisfied with how that ended, and I can't say the same here.

Overall, as a Toy Story fan, I'm glad I saw the movie, but I would honestly rank it as my least favorite of the Toy Story franchise - with Toy Story 3 being my favorite, followed by Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and now Toy Story 4.  My seven year old also asked a few times throughout the movie how much longer it was going to be - maybe it's just because he ran out of candy, but he didn't seem very engaged.  

So I'm anxious to hear your thoughts on the film! Share them in the comments below - I know my opinion is in the minority in the Disney universe right now and welcome the feedback on where you disagree with me.  In the meantime, don't forget that you can download FREE family activities here to enjoy and follow Toy Story 4 on social media.  To the movie theaters and beyond!


Top 5 Disney Movies to Celebrate Dad

Dad.  He's there for us offering wisdom, guidance, and advice to guide us on our way.  It doesn't matter that I'm in my 30s, I still talk to my dad several times a week and he is still my hero. Dads play a special role throughout our lives and we love celebrating them, not just one day a year, but all year long!  In honor of Father's Day, let's take a look at some of my favorite movies from the Disney universe to celebrate dad and all he does for us!

Finding Nemo - Is there a better movie out there to show the love of a father?  After the tragic death of his wife and the loss of all but one of their eggs, Marlin devotes his life to caring for his only remaining child, Nemo.  But when Nemo feels a little smothered by dad's overprotective nature and ventures out into the waters of the drop off, he finds himself taken by a scuba diver and whisked off to Sydney, Australia.  Now it's up to dad to travel the ocean, facing his own fears in the process, to save his son and be reunited once again.  And not only do you have the dad / son duo of Nemo and Marlin to love in this movie, but the totally cool dudes Crush and Squirt as well!


The Incredibles 2 - We all know that Bob Parr is Mr. Incredible, but he's also an incredible dad in this sequel to The Incredibles.  When Elastigirl (aka Mrs. Incredible) is called on to lead a new superhero initiative that should once and for all allow supers to return to public life, Mr. Incredible becomes a stay-at-home dad.  Like lots of other men, he dutifully cares for the needs of kids - sometimes with a bit of a struggle.  I mean, it's not easy helping out your teenage daughter as she is stood up by the boy she loves, figuring out all this "new math" homework that your son brings home from school, and dealing with a newborn baby who does not want to go to bed.  I think this movie will leave all dads happy though that at least their baby doesn't have Jack-Jack's super powers to handle!  While he loves his life as a superhero, I think Mr. Incredible would agree that his best job is being dad.


Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi - While it may be in Episode V that Darth Vader delivers the iconic dad line "Luke, I am your father," it's really in Episode VI that Star Wars fans get to look deeper at the complex relationship between Luke and Darth Vader.  For Darth Vader it's his intense love of family that both drove him to the Dark Side and returned him from it.  While Anakin Skywalker had been struggling with the pull of the Dark Side for some time, he fully turned to it and became Darth Vader after suffering the tragic loss of Padme.  Fast forward to his battles with Luke.  He battles his own son and tries to convince him to join him on the Dark Side.  But when Luke's life is in peril and the Emperor is about to kill him, Darth Vader disappears and and Anakin becomes a dad again, saving his son at the expense of his own life.  Luke, Leia, and friends give Anakin a farewell fit for a Jedi and at the end of the movie we see his true self restored.  A father's love is even stronger than the Dark Side - now that's power!


The Lion King - Ok, I know the dad dies in this movie so maybe it's a bit of a downer on the Father's Day list.  However, this movie once again shows us the power of a father's love and influence on our lives.  There is no doubt that young Simba idolizes his father and the lessons his father teaches him as a cub are powerful.  So powerful in fact, that despite Mufasa's death while Simba is still a young lion cub, Simba is able to recall the voice of his father - "Remember who you are."  The life and death of Mufasa have a profound impact on Simba and allow him to grow into the ruler that is confident and strong enough to return to the Pride Land and restore it to greatness.  I mean is there any line more dad-like than, "I've got to teach my son a lesson"?

The Little Mermaid - This is for all the daddy/daughter duos out there.  My dad would say this is his all time favorite Disney movie.  King Triton is father to a number of teenage mermaids - imagine how much drama goes on in his underwater castle. . .right?!? When his headstrong daughter, Ariel, falls in love with a human, daddy gets a little upset.  Maybe a lot upset.  Like any father, he's worried about his little girl and how dangerous the human world would be for her.  Ariel rebels against her father and makes a deal with Ursula the Sea Witch to become human and get the prince to fall in love with her.  When the deal falls apart and Ariel may have to pay with her life, Triton makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes Ariel's place in the contract - giving the Sea Witch his power and title as ruler of the ocean.  But Ariel and Prince Eric, her human boyfriend don't give up and defeat Ursula to restore her father to his former self and position.  Dear dad realizes how much Ariel loves Prince Eric and ultimately makes the difficult choice to allow her to become a human and follow her dreams.  You can tell just how hard this is for him and how much he loves her when he kisses her goodbye at her wedding to Prince Eric. 

So that's it!  My top five movies to watch with dad and celebrate him on his special day!  What did I miss?  Which Disney movies are your favorites to watch with your father??


4 Things to Do Before Your See Toy Story 4!

That's right, the toys are almost back in town and the "BUZZ" around the movie is huge!  If you haven't been following #ToyStory4 on social media, you have been missing out on a lot of excitement this weekend.  The press junket met at the Walt Disney World Resort for a super advanced screening of the film and a chance to interview the stars - Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, and many, many more.  Let's just say that I've been looking forward to this film since it was announced, and now I'm even more excited.  I mean, check out this trailer!

Did you see that Bo Peep is back and cooler than ever?!? But for those of us that didn't get to hang with Woody, Buzz, and friends this past weekend, we have a few fun things we can do in the days ahead before the movie is released.  Whether you are a 2 or 102, you're always a kid at heart and these activities have the whole family in mind!

1. Build a Forky - So Forky is just one of the new characters from Toy Story 4.  When word of this new character was released, there was a big question - is he even a toy???  Well, if you have little ones like me, we all know that even an empty toilet paper roll can become the coolest toy around so I have no doubt that Forky is going to be a hip addition to the toy crew.  One of the best things about Forky parents - you can make him instead of shelling out money at Target to make one!  Check out this cool tutorial from Patty over at A Mother's Random Thoughts and have fun making this craft with your kids!  Maybe you can even bring Forky to see the movie with you!

2. Visit the Toy Story 4 Summer Road Trip - That's right! Toy Story 4 fun is hitting the road and those of us in the Mid-Atlantic have a few opportunities to join the fun.  The Toy Story 4 Summer Roadtrip is traveling coast-to-coast hitting cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, Denver, Dallas, and Philadelphia.  If you live in the DC / Maryland area, the Road Trip will make it's stop at Silver Spring, MD on Thursday, June 13.  It's open to the public from 10AM - 2PM and can be found in Downtown Silver Spring at 900 Ellsworth Drive.  The Toy Story 4 Summer Road Trip features photo ops, film-themed prizes, carnival games and a lot more family-friendly fun! Keep up on all the fun by following #ToyStory4 #SummerRoadTrip and #GoRVing on social media.
Media Image for Toy Story 4 Summer Road Trip

3. Have a Toy Story Marathon - The Toy Story franchise has been around for a long time and it may have been a while since you've checked in on your favorite toys.  Setting up a Toy Story movie marathon is the perfect way to relive the entire adventure from the beginning.  Looking for fun ways to theme the evening?  Try ordering pizza for the family just like Andy visits his favorite hangout Pizza Planet in the original Toy Story.  While you're watching, you can have your kids color and complete some of these FREE downloadable activities.  And don't forget to cap the night off with a super cool dessert.  How about trying this Forky cupcakes that are from Desert Chica over on Pinterest?

4. Disneybound as Toy Story Characters - Anyone who follows me know I love a good Disneybound!  If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's where you take regular everyday clothes, and turn them into something pixie dusted by dressing "inspired" by your favorite character.  Challenge yourself to see if you can pull off some Toy Story inspired Disneybound looks or, better yet, gain some inspiration from my Pinterest board and see if you can get the whole family Disneybounding for your viewing of Toy Story 4 when it opens in theaters.

If this doesn't get you even more pumped up about the release of Toy Story 4, I'm not sure what will! These movies have been some of my favorites featuring heartwarming moments, laugh out loud memories, and, yes, lots of tears (here's looking at you Toy Story 3).  While I haven't seen the film yet, I've heard from many that the ending of this one is the emotional powerhouse we've now come to expect from Toy Story films and that fans are walking away giving these toys two thumbs up!  Toy Story 4 opens everywhere June 21.  Don't forget to follow the social media channels below for the latest updates and information regarding the film!


Where to Eat When You Can't Get Those Hard to Get Walt Disney World Dining Reservations

Eating at the Walt Disney World Resort.  It's the reason we go there, right?? Well, it's true there may be lots of fun things to during your visit to the Disney Parks, but one of my favorite pastimes is eating my way around all the parks. . .and I know I'm not alone.


Advanced dining reservations for table service restaurants open 180 days prior to your stay.  Guests staying on property at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel are offered an additional perk of being able to make reservations for the entire length of stay once they hit 180 days prior to arrival.  Still, some restaurants fill up before you have a chance to score your must-dos.  No need to fear though - there are some great alternatives when the most popular options book up quickly.  While these options are often "easier to get" it's not because they are less good.  And, as a disclaimer, even these restaurants book up at peak travel times so still follow all the tips out there to book your dining reservation early!  Let's look at great alternatives to some of the more popular options!

When Your Want to Meet the Original Gang but Chef Mickey's is Unavailable - Chef Mickey's provides a breakfast, lunch, and dinner character buffet where you can meet some of the original gang, but is also a tough reservation to get.  No worries though!  There are three great alternatives to find Mickey and friends.  The first is Tusker House Restaurant located in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Tusker House is an African themed buffet that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well.  Don't let the African flair scare you if your family is not adventurous eaters - there's plenty on the buffet for the whole family to enjoy.  Here you'll meet classic characters in apparel fit for a safari experience! The second option is Garden Grill Restaurant located inside Epcot.  I LOVE this dining experience.  Again, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all character meals offered here and the food is deliciously served family style.  That's right - it's served to your table so you don't have to get up and miss a character interaction while visiting the buffet.  The whole restaurant is a unique experience too as it rotates through the Living with the Land ride.  Mickey and friends greet diners wearing their best farming gear.  Lastly, you can see Minnie and friends at Cape May Cafe at Disney's Beach Club Resort for a character breakfast.  The food here is good and it is typically not a busy location.  However, since this restaurant is located in a resort instead of a park, you may want to allow extra transportation time - resort hopping isn't always quick!

When Your Little Princess Wants to Meet All the Princesses but Cinderella's Royal Table is Unavailable - I'll be honest, in my 30 years of visiting the Walt Disney World Resort, I have yet to be able to get a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table so I know how hard these reservations can be to grab.  With that in mind, there are two alternatives to princess dining to definitely check out.  Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot features character dining experiences for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that hosts an A-list cast of princesses!  This Norwegian restaurant is pricey for the food in my opinion, but it boasts great interactions with classic princesses.  The second option is the Bon Voyage Breakfast at Trattoria al Forno located on Disney's Boardwalk between Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  This was one of my favorite character meals I've experienced on property.  Here you meet two princesses AND their handsome counterparts.  Maybe it's because I'm partial to the smolder and Flynn Rider that I enjoyed this so much?!?

When You Want a Romantic Night of Deluxe Dining but California Grill is Unavailable - Let's face it. . .the entire dining experience at California Grill is hard to top.  From the fireworks, to the setting, to the high quality food, there are few places at the Walt Disney World Resort that compare.  But reservations at this location can be tricky to catch.  There are a number of signature dining experiences to choose from, but my favorite alternative to California Grill is Jiko - The Cooking Place located in Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.  While you can't watch fireworks exploding over Cinderella Castle here, you still get some of the best food on property and may even catch a glimpse of some exotic wildlife while you're exploring the resort before or after your dinner.

The moral of this blog post is that there are so many great restaurants at the Walt Disney World Resort, you have plenty of options to explore even if you're top choice may be unavailable.  If you have your heart set on one of those hard-to-grab reservations and can't get it on the day your Advanced Dining Reservations open, don't give up hope!  I've been able to grab some great reservations just a week or so before our trip as that's the time that people start releasing reservations that they made "just in case" or that they double booked.  For even more dining reviews, including a look at dining in Disney Springs, visit my restaurant review page here.  Bon appetite!

A Whole New World of Aladdin Magic!

When Disney's Aladdin released in 1992, I was just 8 years old and can still remember the excitement  experiencing the film as a child.  The songs, the animation, and most of all - the Genie!  Fast forward 27 years and I'm back in theaters, but this time as a mom to a 7 year old and 4 year old who are certainly not strangers to the story of Aladdin, but can see it told in a new way as Disney brings to life the live action remake of Aladdin.  The live action remakes that Disney has been doing for several years now tend to either hit it big with fans or be a big letdown from the original.  So what would be the case for our 2019 version of Aladdin?? First, let's look at what we knew from Walt Disney Studios before going into theaters:

A thrilling and vibrant live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic, “Aladdin” is the exciting tale of the charming street rat Aladdin, the courageous and self-determined Princess Jasmine and the Genie who may be the key to their future. Directed by Guy Ritchie, who brings his singular flair for fast-paced, visceral action to the fictitious port city of Agrabah, “Aladdin” is written by John August and Ritchie based on Disney’s “Aladdin.” The film stars Will Smith as the Genie; Mena Massoud as Aladdin; Naomi Scott as Jasmine; Marwan Kenzari as Jafar; Navid Negahban as the Sultan; Nasim Pedrad as Dalia and Billy Magnussen as Prince Anders.

“Aladdin” is produced by Dan Lin, p.g.a., and Jonathan Eirich, p.g.a., with Kevin De La Noy and Marc Platt serving as executive producers. Eight-time Academy Award®-winning composer Alan Menken provides the score, which includes new recordings of the original songs written by Menken and Oscar®-winning lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and includes two new songs written by Menken and lyrics by Oscar and Tony Award®-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

I was so excited to experience this film with the whole family, but have to admit that I was a bit nervous as critics weren't always kind when reviewing the film.  Big questions loomed going into the film.  How would Will Smith compare to Robin Williams as the Genie?  Was all the CGI going to take away from the film's authenticity?  Would the singing hold up to the original classics?  I have to say, I see why some of the critics raised an eyebrow as there were parts of the movie that didn't grab me, but overall I walked away enjoying the movie and would recommend it to Disney lovers everywhere.


Let's start with what didn't work for me.  I thought the first part of the film went by slow - like really slow.  The first few songs were lackluster performances in my opinion.  Will Smith opened singing Arabian Nights and it felt more like a lullaby then an opening song to draw the audience in while the whole One Jump Ahead number felt "fake" for lack of a better way of putting it.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but it just all seemed to be falling flat.  I wasn't feeling the chemistry between Aladdin and Jasmine at this point and was starting to wonder if I was going to get excited about the movie at all.  I was holding out hope for the Genie to turn things around for me so I was eagerly awaiting Aladdin's arrival to the Cave of Wonders.

The Genie was the turning point in the movie for me and things fell into place during the second half.  First, Will Smith nailed the Genie.  Was he Robin Williams?  No, but he wasn't trying to be - which is why it worked.  He made the Genie is own character - with his own style, his own swagger, and his own attitude - and I LOVED every minute of it!  Prince Ali was my favorite musical number in the whole movie - from the scenery to the arrangement of the music, I found it hard to sit still in my seat and was simply blown away by Will Smith's performance during that song.  It even seemed like Aladdin and Jasmine hit their stride in the second part of the movie as I felt that they connected more here than in the beginning.  Naomi Scott is a beautiful and strong Jasmine.  Her singing is on point and the new number, Speechless, is fabulous towards the end of the film.  And her wardrobe - I'll take every outfit, please!  I also enjoyed some of the revisions to the original story.  Without spoiling some of the surprises for those of you that haven't seen it yet, Jasmine has a hand maiden, Dalia, who is entertaining and carries her own mini-storyline with the Genie during the film.  There's also a revision to Genie's freedom which is even more heartwarming than vacation Genie at the end of the cartoon.  And Jasmine exudes girl power as a princess who not only wants to marry who she wants, but also desires to rule Agrabah with a fierce passion that wasn't in the original.  By the end credits, I was literally dancing in the theater along with the characters on screen and had a big smile on my face.  Give this one time - it will grow on you!

Looking for more Aladdin fun to share with the whole family?  Download the Family Activities from Walt Disney Studios to enjoy for FREE which includes mazes, games, coloring pages, and so much more!  You can also follow the magic on the social media changes below:

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Great Deals for Star Wars Fans at Disneyland Resort

The whole Star Wars fan universe has been waiting (with every ounce of patience we have!) for the exciting opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts this year.  While those of us on the East Coast still have a few more months to wait before experiencing the out-of-this-world excitement at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Southern California gets to enjoy what Black Spire Outpost has to offer beginning May 31.  Here's what you need to know in order to travel to a galaxy far, far away! Fuel up your Millennium Falcon, grab a Wookie, and let's go!

This post contains affiliate links. You save money and I earn a small commission - everyone wins!

From May 31 to June 23, guests wishing to enjoy Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at the Disneyland Resort will need a reservation at one of Disney's hotels to gain access.  My travel partner, Get Away Today, has a few reservations they can hook you up with if you're looking for a last minute opportunity to travel for the opening weeks:
If you can hold on to your lightsabers until June 24, more opportunities will open for locals and guests both on and off Disneyland Resort property to enter Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.  Disney is trying something out that is a great timesaver for guests, by allowing visitors to log into a virtual "queue" to wait to gain entrance for this popular land.  Once you enter Disneyland Park, you will be able to "get in line" while still enjoying all of the other great attractions at the park.  Get Away Today also has great deals going on throughout the summer months which you can learn more about by following the links below:
The Force is so strong with these deals, even the Dark Side can't resist joining in the fun! So what are you most excited about in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge?  Whether it's the rides, the food, the theming, or the character interactions, there will certainly be a lot to love!  I love the way that Disney immerses you in a story the moment you set foot in their parks and I'm sure Galaxy's Edge will not disappoint.  Don't miss out on your chance to experience it all!! Don't forget to use promo code PIXIEDUST when you visit Get Away Today to save even more money on your vacation package!


Avengers: Endgame - Can a Marvel Novice Join the Endgame?

Every great story comes to end and Marvel fans have waited over 20 films to get this one.  If you haven't heard the hype surrounding Avengers Endgame, you were probably destroyed by Thanos last year because this movie is pretty much all the entertainment world has talked about for a while now.


As my regular readers and friends are aware, I'm new to the Marvel universe.  Prior to October, I had only seen part of Avengers: Infinity War and that was it.  With all of the excitement surrounding Endgame brewing in my Disney circles, I decided to give Marvel a try.  Using the suggestion of my friend Patty, I made an attempt to watch all the Marvel movies prior to Endgame. (Check out her list of the order to watch all the Marvel films prior to Endgame)  I got through three by Christmas.  I wouldn't want to see how Bruce would feel about that. . .


I enjoyed the movies, but my husband was not a fan and my kids are too little to really get into them so I was trying to sneak them in when no one else was around.  Recognizing that I probably wasn't going to get through all of them, I changed my game plan and decided I would try just to watch the previous three Avengers movies to see what I could pick up before Endgame released.  I also made it to see Captain Marvel in March - you can catch my spoiler-free review here if you missed that one!

Prior to Endgame, here are the Marvel movies I actually watched:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Iron Man
  • Iron Man 2
  • The Avengers 
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Captain Marvel
So can a newbie to the Marvel universe enjoy Endgame?  

Absolutely.  The movie is incredibly well done and you don't have to be an expert in these films to appreciate that.  My husband went to see the movie with me and he only made it through Iron Man 2 on my list above.  He also really enjoyed the film.  I would definitely recommend watching at least the 3 previous Avengers movies before Endgame in order for the storyline to make sense.  While the film picks up immediately following Thanos' famous "snap" at the end of Infinity War, the main action actually takes place five years in the future as all of The Avengers (and the world) learn to adapt to life after half of all living creatures have been destroyed.  With the little background knowledge I had acquired from previous films, I was able to answer a lot of questions my husband threw my way during the film, but not all of them.

Without spoiling the plot or the ending, I'll say this.  I'm glad I had seen Captain America and Iron Man to understand their background stories.  I wish I had seen one of the Thor movies to tell me more about this Asgardian hero and Ant-Man as Scott Lang does play a pretty significant part in this movie.  You'll also notice I have not seen any of the Guardians of the Galaxy films.  While I know enough about the characters from Infinity War to put pieces together, I really didn't know anything about their backstories and there were probably important plot lines for them that were being played out too that completely went over my head.  I think with careful attention in the three previous Avengers films, you can grab enough info about many of the other characters to not be lost, but I know I didn't "get" everything the same way my deeply devoted Marvel friends did in the Endgame.  What this movie definitely did was inspire me to want to go back and play "catch-up" on the previous films.

Regardless of your background knowledge of the Marvel characters, this movie will leave you feeling all the feels.  I found many moments that had me (and the entire theater) laughing out loud.  The humor in the film actually struck me more than I expected. While there were funny moments in previous Avengers films, this one takes the cake in my humble opinion.  I also did sob like a baby during one particular scene - no spoilers though people! 

So let's wrap it up with a quick summary:
  • If you haven't seen ANY Avengers movies previously (aka: my husband) - You'll enjoy the movie for what it is.  There's enough of the previous plot recapped for you in the film to follow along, but you will feel a lot of holes.  The sheer cinematic perfection in this film is enough for movie fans, even if they aren't Marvel fans, to enjoy.  If you have any interest in seeing it, don't let the fact that you haven't been schooled in the past scare you away.
  • If you've ONLY seen the Avengers movies previously (aka: me. . .for the most part) - You'll feel "in the know" with most of the movie and the plot lines that you don't get, you probably won't even realize you're not getting because you don't know they exist.  There will be enough of an emotional attachment to the characters to feel the weight and the emotion of the Endgame.  
  • If you're a DIEHARD Avengers fan (aka: my friends who saw it with us) - You're in for one BIG finish and emotional rollercoaster.  While my husband's biggest complaint with the film was that he thought they could have told the story in way less time, those of you who are Marvel experts will most likely disagree.  The Russo brothers could have told THIS story in less time, but to wrap up everything they did from previous story lines, you need the whole film.
If you're looking for spoiler-free reviews from some die hard Marvel fans, check out the list below.  These lucky ladies got to stroll the red carpet in Los Angeles for the Endgame premiere and share their fangirl perspectives below!

I can't wait to hear what all of you think of Avengers: Endgame! As I'm finishing this post, it's already passed the $1 Billion mark before opening weekend is even concluded. . .I think the people have spoken!

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Get Animated at Animator's Palate on Disney Cruise Line

We're gEARing up for our next Disney Cruise Line vacation and I'm revisiting some old favorites from previous cruise vacations! Disney Cruise Line is known for bringing the magic of Disney to the high seas.  Even a simple dinner can be turned into an extraordinary experience.  This is especially true at Animator’s Palate on the Disney Fantasy.  Disney Cruise Line uses rotational dining where guests rotate their nightly dinner service through three different restaurants.  During our 7-night Eastern Caribbean Cruise a few years ago, we had the pleasure of dining in Animator’s Palate three nights and each featured a unique dining experience.

The restaurant itself celebrates the animation that Disney was founded on and continues to embrace.  Mickey Mouse inspires the chairs and the wait staff wears shirts featuring classic Disney sketches.  The art throughout the restaurant is mostly digital and changes throughout the cruise as each night features a different theme.  Fun Tip: Did you know you can request a particular order for your rotational dining experience?  I love Animator’s Palate so much that I plan to request this again as the first restaurant on a 7-night cruise so that we can visit it three times again! 

Our first night in Animator’s Palate featured a special guest – Crush from Finding Nemo.  Throughout the dinner, Crush swims up to tables and chats with guests.  He asks questions about what life is like in the human world and then teaches everyone to ride the EAC just like our turtle friends.  Kids and adults alike will have a great time playing and interacting throughout the meal.
One of the sketches on Pirate Night at Animator's Palate

The second night we dined in Animator’s Palate was Pirate Night.  Disney Cruise Line hosts a Pirate Night on each of it’s Bahamian and Caribbean sailings.  On this particular night, all restaurants on the ship feature a special pirate themed menu and the wait staff dresses as “scurvy scallawags.”  Spending Pirate Night in Animator’s Palate was a nice treat as the art in the restaurant changed to reflect pirate favorites like Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Jack Sparrow. 

The last night of our cruise was also spent in Animator’s Palate and featured the show that is unique to the Disney Fantasy and perhaps the one that people look forward to the most.  When you are seated for dinner, guests are given a paper to draw their own cartoon.  The wait staff then takes all cartoons and, at the end of the meal, you get to see your animation come to life.  Each drawing is featured alongside Disney classics in a magical cartoon experience that you won’t soon forget.  Also, all guests will have their names featured in the credits of the cartoon for contributing animation.

Regardless of which night you dine in Animator's Palate, you will certainly be treated to delicious food! With so many great options on board Disney Cruise Line, don't be shy and definitely try new things.  As you would expect, the Kids' Menus feature family favorites that will make even the tiniest artists happy to dine here.  And while your little ones probably won't want to miss a minute of the action in Animator's Palate, you can take advantage of the Youth Clubs during dinnertime so the grown ups can enjoy a more leisurely dinner.

Animator’s Palate will certainly satisfy guest appetites and quench thirsts for an entertaining evening on your Disney Cruise Line vacation!