“I’m Harry Frikkin’ Potter!” A Very Potter Sequel Review

Don’t quote me when I say that any guy that admits to liking musicals is also more than likely the first person you’d ask if your outfit “works” or not; I just feel like in general, most musicals out there are aimed at one of three people: 1) old ladies that enjoy spending summer afternoons reading some Shakespeare and thoroughly enjoying their retirement, 2) teenage girls that don’t really fit in anywhere else and use it as an escape, 3) tween girls that don’t know that they’re watching Disney at one of its lowest points in its life—all of whom fall underneath the umbrella of having two X-chromosomes.

So explain to me why while watching A Very Potter Sequel, I didn’t feel any bit of my masculinity being drained like I did when my family dragged me to watch Cats oh so long ago.

When I was first introduced to A Very Potter Musical, the subject of today’s blog’s predecessor, I was intrigued that someone would go as far as to put on an entire musical to the seven book Harry Potter series, yet was turned off at the same time, knowing that the girl introducing the series to me has also been known for playing her ukulele into the wee hours of the night, to her roomie’s displeasure and my later amusement when I hear about the gripings. Also keeping in mind that the run time for the musical was pretty much on par with that of any other standard musical and yet you have to watch it in the ten minute time-chunks that is YouTube and you’ve got something that I’d much rather read a synopsis about and maybe a clip or two at most. Long story short, though, I spent a dull Friday afternoon marathoning through the thing and thought that as a whole, it had some alright songs blended together with some alright references and parody material.

So when I heard that the musical was to have a sequel, I wasn’t exactly the most ecstatic, but was still curious as to what else could be done, considering that the first musical worked well as a stand-alone, condensing the entire Harry Potter series into a manageable afternoon watch.

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s summer and any time not working is time best spent, but I actually thoroughly enjoyed this much more than the previous work.

The musical opens where the last one left off, right after Lord Voldemort’s defeat. His followers, the Death Eaters are anxious about what the future hold for them when Lucius Malfoy tells them that the past is what they should be more concerned with. Having somehow gotten his hands on a Time-Turner, the ragtag team of Death Eaters travels not to when Harry was a baby, but to Harry’s first year at Hogwarts in order to kill him off—a minor nitpick I’m more than willing to glaze over considering how the rest of the musical plays out.

What results is basically a play parodying the third and fifth entries of the series and having them take place in the first book’s timeline, similar to what the last musical did with the second, fourth, sixth and seventh books taking place in Harry’s second year. In a nutshell, the first and third books were like the black sheep of the series—the third with its use of time-travel and the fifth with it acting as one long filler—so it makes sense for these parts of the story to be skipped in the first musical.

To my enjoyment, the cast from the previous play (minus characters that haven’t shown up yet and plus characters that do) return in all their glory. And since this is the main cast’s first year at Hogwarts, it acts as an origin story of sorts, with the play giving its own humorous take on how the main trio and the rest of the cast came to be introduced to the series. The friendship formed between Harry and Ron, as inaccurate is it is at times, rings true on a different level that all inaccuracies can be glossed over. And the fact that Hermione serves only as the two’s tag-along friend when convenient is like a pie to the face to works out there similarly build around the trio of friends going through school life. In that sense, the friendships portrayed here are more real than those shown in other works because it pokes fun at the hardships as well as achievements the trio goes through. Parodies are fun that way.

Also following the apparent positive feedback from the first musical was that of the gender-bending. When I first saw that Malfoy was played by a woman, I was more entertained than disgusted, though, especially since practically every line s/he spoke was downright hilarious. The same holds here, as the spoiled female Draco is back with an even bigger role than I could have expected. Not only is the actress easy on the eyes (admittedly the one reason why I didn’t mind all the Draco/Hermione shipping moments) but the way she portrays Draco as a sort of to-be man-child, with her constant gripes about toilet training and insecurities with his father work completely for the character.

But when I first saw that book five’s baddie, Dolores Umbridge was portrayed by a man, I had some mixed feelings. In general, I can’t say I like the Order of the Phoenix in either book or movie form since it shoves Voldemort over to the backseat to the mini-boss that is Umbridge. And while she’s built up as a horrible person, that’s not the same as saying that she’s a force to be reckoned with, especially when we already know that the series’ main antagonist has already been resurrected and is making plans for evil whatevers in the future.

Thankfully, the liberties taken with her character, as well as shifting her in the timeline to before Voldemort’s resurrection boost up her evil-ness significantly. As for the gender-bending, Umbridge bears a striking backstory to Heavyweights Uncle Tony (as played by Ben Stiller) in that she directs all her anger on the students because she sees the failure that was her former self in every one of them, the insecure Hermione especially. And seriously, when you take a page from Heavyweights, that’s like an automatic grade-booster in my book.

Characters Lupin and Sirius also add to the mix, adding yet another bromance to deal with alongside Harry and Ron’s. Other character, however, Rita Skeeter’s especially just seem to be there, adding little to nothing to the table. Her old-time reporter shtick was entertaining for a full two seconds before I started to multi-task during her appearances.

The rest of the musical plays out swimmingly, with minor gripes I had with the first one taken care of and polished to perfection. The first time around, I’m sure having the musical put onto YouTube was a sort of post-production afterthought, since a majority of lines and the like were garbled out by music. This time, not only is the audio much clearer, but things like sound effects and varied camera angles are also used—minor things that you kinda miss when they’re taken away. The qualities of the songs themselves also seem to have been boosted up significantly. Perhaps it was the fact that I was watching the first musical during the school year, but half of the time whenever a character broke out into song, I found myself getting bored before the song was even finished. The sequel antes up (yeah, can you tell I’m running out of trite phrases?) making not only quality songs that fit each character perfectly, but also some alright choreography to accompany them—also a welcome addition to the only handful of dances in the first musical.

My only minor gripe with A Very Potter Sequel is its portrayal of (le gasp!) minorities. Yaxley and Dean Thomas, admittedly probably more than half of the black cast in the actual series, came off like how you’d expect any black person in a nineties sitcom—there to hive high fives, snide remarks, and swagger. Considering how they mocked series author J.K. Rowling’s depiction of Cho Chang (honestly, was that the best Asian name she could think up?) you’d think they’d come up with a similarly clever way to deal with Yaxley and Dean’s character. Second up are the homosexuals in the form of Dumbledore and quasi sidekick the Scarf of Sexual Preference. Coming from an all-boys’ high school, the casual use of sexuality jokes is nothing foreign to me, but it seemed like a good number of the time, the live audience watching during the musical’s filming just didn’t seem to get it. Diff’rent strokes all around, I guess.

As a whole, A Very Potter Sequel was something unexpectedly entertaining that definitely came during a time when abridged parodies, or at least good ones, were in dire need. The fact that everything was put to some jolly snarky music only made things that much better.

External Reference:
– StarKidPotter’s YouTube Channel (youtube.com)
– Very Potter Sequel Music List on StarKidPotter’s Live Journal (community.livejournal.com)

… And Beyond-er! Toy Story 3 Spoiler-Free Review

For the last couple months, I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that the hype behind Toy Story 3 is comparable to that of any Star Wars movie. Just the other day I was at Target to find that I literally couldn’t turn a corner without seeing some product from batteries to apples (seriously) advertising the second sequel in Pixar’s Toy Story series. But given the number of “3” movies not exactly coming out at their most spectacular (:coughcough: Spider-Man 3) was all the hype honestly worth it?

Lemme first start off with one particular way the movie has been hyped—in particular to college-aged students. We live in a very strange society in which aspects seen as punishable by excommunication back in the day are now slowly becoming more acceptable, if only slightly. That said, today’s young adults are growing up in a time when aspects of their childhood, from cartoons to toys and videogames are being taken by the media and being re-packaged in a way that is appealing to the type of person they are today. In some senses, the advertising campaign for Toy Story 3 really played up said description, resulting in, well…

I’ll just say that considering how my demographic is seen in the eyes of corporate suits (redundant?), I really, really hate being pandered to.

Besides tangible flyers being put up around select college campuses disguised in forms such as “Now Hiring Pizza Planet Drivers” and “Senor Buzz Spanish Tutor,” college-specific hype drowned the internet, especially on facebook. There, Pixar’s official page would put up trailers for the movie filled with synth/R&B music as well as internet slang seen in the form of a chatroom conversation. Personally, I think the fact that the guys down at advertising think that people my age must be swayed by such dumbed-down advertisement is just insulting and very much works against the messages brought up in Pixar’s films in the first place—a big “for shame” on all of you.

But advertising aside, if the movie’s something to talk about, I guess I can put all that aside.

Entering the theater just a few hours ago, floods of people came in from all ages, covering children, young and old, as well as adults, young and old. Conclusion: college-age-centric ads are a load of, especially for Pixar films which rake in all demographics anyways.

As for the movie itself, it very much lived up to the hype. I would have said “the hype and much more,” but I wouldn’t go that far—it was a good movie that knew its bounds and exactly what audiences wanted from a second sequel movie. With it being a whopping eleven odd years since the release of Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 takes a rough time jump, with Andy about to head off to college and the main cast of toys simply learning to deal. Certain lines and scenes were obviously made to explain what’s happened in the toy’s lives so far, but none of it came off as blatant, all coming off playing up the audience’s nostalgia factor, with mentionings of “the claw” as well as familiar elements such as “Pizza Planet,” the cloud wallpaper from the younger Andy’s bedroom, and a guest-appearance of a certain old character (you’ll know him when you see him). Though, that’s not to say that the film is completely ripe with the nostalgia and the nostalgia alone (this isn’t exactly, Turtles Forever).

While we see a handful of throwbacks and references here and there, the main force driving the film is the story and even moreso the themes surrounding it. In a nutshell, Woody, Buzz and the gang find themselves in Sunny Side Daycare and need to find their way back home to Andy—an alright enough plot that at least makes sense for the toys at this point in their lives. Now while a majority of the themes surround Andy and his ultimate decision in relation to his remaining toys, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the story itself focuses on him. In classic Pixar style, the toys have the center stage, with everything told from their perspective. Having seen better days, the toys are now in a slum of sorts. With their duty as playthings to their owner now long past them, they are at an odds as to just exactly what they’re meant to do next.

While a great deal of new toys have been introduced to the cast, very few of them donate to the overall movie—just a minor gripe. Unlike Toy Story 2, which made full use of its new cast of characters, TS3’s new cast is used more as a stepping stone for the old cast to make use of in their overarching story. Lots-o’-Huggin’-Bear (interestingly hyped up with a fake retro commercial posted up on YouTube) acts as one of the only major characters, and while he has an oddly similar backstory to the last sequel’s new character, Jesse, it’s different enough not to come off as a re-hash.

As advertising for the movie has made a point to demonstrate, the movie tagline this time is “No Toy Gets Left Behind.” With owner Andy having grown apart from his toys, the main cast has shrunken and has no one else to rely on but themselves. That said the point of family and sticking together through thick and thin is played off rather well. Also taking into consideration the time jump for this sequel, certain elements are at an all-time high this time around. We trade in the risk of disappointing a child Andy if his toys aren’t back home in one piece with the risk of the toys themselves in a world where they’re unsure just where they stand in the world now. Without Andy as a cliffhanger-cushioner, climaxes in the story reach their peak, with even the viewers unaware of what’s ultimately in store for the toys this time around.

As a whole, Toy Story 3 acts like any conclusion to a series should, taking its time to calmly work its way through the plot, saving its energy until the very end to deliver a satisfying conclusion for our favorite cowboy, space-ranger and crew.

External References:
– Pixar’s Fan Page (facebook.com)
– Other TS3 Campus Fliers (DaemonCorps’ Photobucket)

… And Beyond! Toy Story Blu Ray Reviews

As of this writing, my local Fry’s is having a deal on Toy Story and Toy Story 2: $20 each, or buy both and get an additional $10 removed—that’s $30 (~$32 with tax), or $15 for each movie… on Blu Ray! Considering how both releases have both the DVD and Blu Ray version of the movie (that’s a rant all its own) and that the retail price for each release is $40, I must say two things: 1) buy both releases on Blu Ray now, (even if you don’t have a Blu Ray player, you still get a DVD copy of the movie); 2) I can actually do a somewhat early review of the releases… at least early in comparison to most stuff I review.

For the uninitiated, there was actually a time when CG wasn’t the norm for a majority of things. That said, Pixar was the first group of people to create a movie that was entirely CG in the form of their first full-length film, Toy Story. And unlike its quasi CG predecessors (like, oh iunno :coughcough:TRON:coughcough:) Toy Story actually holds up over time, not using its nifty graphics as a crutch for the story, but as a different means to express itself.

The plot of both movies (and based on trailers, the upcoming third one as well) revolves around the concept of toys “coming to life” when the humans aren’t around, and goes off from there covering just exactly what a typical toy goes through on a normal basis, and in particular the role they play to their owners and how that role changes as their child owner grows up. I honestly can’t say more than that since well… if you honestly haven’t seen these movies yet, then for shame.

Now being the head honchos when it comes to CG movies, Pixar has always gotten the better end of the stick when it came to Disney releasing their films to DVD. That said, both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 have already been released to DVD five years ago for the first movie’s 10th anniversary.

… so is it really worth making the double dip purchase?

Honestly, when it comes to movies of this caliber, I say that re-buying the movies is perfectly fine. Then again, I was too cheap to get the DVDs when they first came out.

Both the DVD and Blu Ray menus have a theme focusing more on the behind the scenes stuff than anything else. And while this doesn’t lead to any compromising of the movies themselves (both the Blu Ray and DVD versions of both movies are crystal clear), it does make it clear that these releases were trying to appeal to the double dip customers with “ooh, look, new special features!” In terms of new special features, however, they are somewhat shallow. Besides an audio commentary track, both films have a handful of new things, going into slightly more detail about the production of the movies, including some personal stories some of the staff went through during the production of each movie in the form of a cutesy doodle-style animation.

And while seeing Pixar’s creative process in action is something I never get tired of, I have to admit that these new special features seem to be more of a last second tag-on than anything else.

The one new bit of information I was glad to see was the “Black Friday” animatic that made Disney threaten to shut down production of the first Toy Story. I would always hear Pixar staff talk about how bad Woody was originally in other Pixar special features, but it wasn’t until now that the actual animatic has been released… and for good reason. Man, Woody was a douche.

… and for those wondering about the special features on the original 10th anniversary DVD releases, the guys at Pixar were nice enough to also include all those in this new release as well for the non-double dippers out there. Sadly, they can only be accessed from the Blu Ray discs, and not the corresponding DVDs packaged alongside them (could they possibly be included in these DVDs coming out in May?), but that was probably done more so to further push for Blu Rays being the future, which is something I’m not surprised Disney would pull off.

Conclusion? Pixar never seems to disappoint, both in their movies and their home releases. And considering that the Fry’s deal for both movies on Blu Ray is good until November, I say you have no excuse to pick both of these up. Now.

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