Mike's Bookshelf

  • The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Phil Szostak Book Review

    The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Phil Szostak

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Following the purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company in the fall of 2012, the power of the Force was reignited by fans worldwide at the prospect of new adventures carrying on George Lucas’ sci-fi legacy.  With famed producer Kathleen Kennedy (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park) steering Star Wars’ future, Director J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek) was selected to bring viewers back to a galaxy from far, far away.  Aided by the industries most creatively talented artists, Phil Szostak’s The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens pulls back the curtain on the challenging three year journey of development that took place to realize the many new worlds, characters, costumes and set pieces designed for the long anticipated Episode VII.

    Accompanied by a foreword from the film’s Co-Production Designer Rick Carter (Forrest Gump, Avatar), The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens unsurprisingly focuses on the design aspects of the film beginning with stunning inspirational art establishing early looks for the new characters and imaginative possibilities for new planets.  As the book progresses with production nearing, more refined design work is showcased on the evolving costume choices for the stormtroopers and our heroes while, several unique considerations for the appearance of Jedi killer Kylo Ren is displayed.  While Szostak’s behind-the-scenes hardback is relatively slim on text, interesting insight is revealed as Rey and Finn, the young heroes of the film, were originally named Kira and Sam.  In addition, artwork by Concept Artist Iain McCaig (the Star Wars prequels, Guardians of the Galaxy) suggests that the ghost of Anakin Skywalker was at one time considered for inclusion in the film.  As anticipated as the latest film is and with several episodic sequels and spinoffs currently being prepped, The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens may not be the definitive making-of account for the franchises rebirth but, still provides readers and fellow artists with an incredible look into the awe-inspiring artistry that has made the film an immediate success with viewers.

    Available now from Abrams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens can be purchased via AbramsBooks.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Art of Krampus by Michael Mallory Book Review

    The Art of Krampus by Michael Mallory

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Inspired by the genre blending fantasies of Amblin Entertainment, Michael Mallory’s The Art of Krampus sends readers down the developmental chimney of this year’s hilariously terrifying Christmas-themed opus.  From the macabre imagination of Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat), Krampus centers on a midwestern family overwhelmed with the holiday season and the arrival of their tedious visiting family members.  When young Max (Emjay Anthony, Chef) loses his faith in the Christmas spirit, the shadowy demon Krampus, joined by his evil minions, crashes his household to unleash their own frightening season’s greetings.  Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), David Koechner (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), Allison Tolman (Fargo) and Conchata Ferrell (Edward Scissorhands) comprise the ensemble cast.  

    An admitted throwback to the 80s efforts Dougherty was raised on, The Art of Krampus explores the early mythological origins of its titular character to the popular modern greeting cards bearing his likeness that sparked the film’s inspiration.  Successfully bringing his love for the Halloween season to fruition, Dougherty and his team vowed to conjure the dark fairy tale aspects of Christmas for a unique experience.  Unlike most live-action films, extensive pre-visualization and storyboards were conducted to firmly establish the film’s tone ahead of filming.  Beautiful concept paintings, character sketches and detailed costume depictions are showcased alongside insight into the film’s uses of puppetry, CG animation and practical makeup effects accomplished by New Zealand’s Weta Workshop (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong).  With a foreword by Dougherty, The Art of Krampus is the perfect combination of textual substance and behind-the-scenes visual exploration, leaving fans (naughty and nice alike) with an exceptional post-holiday treat into the film’s making.

    Available now from Insight Editions, The Art of Krampus can be purchased via InsightEditions.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Olaf's Night Before Christmas by Jessica Julius Book Review

    Olaf’s Night Before Christmas by Jessica Julius

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Just in time for the holiday season, Olaf, the warm-hearted snowman of Disney’s Frozen, charms readers with his own rendition of the favored Christmas Eve bedtime tale.  Following its originators simplistic setups melded with Olaf’s own adorable curiosity, Olaf’s Night Before Christmas traces the snowman’s investigation of a nighttime clatter leading him to the discovery of jolly St. Nick.  Through laughter, warm hugs and beautiful illustrations by Olga T. Mosqueda, Olaf’s Night Before Christmas reinterprets this timeless story in a new heartfelt light with Anna and Elsa’s lovable friend guiding the way to the merriest day of all.  Accompanied by a CD featuring narration by Olaf himself, Olaf’s Night Before Christmas will continue to make the magical retelling of this poem all the more enjoyable for young fans of Disney’s popular fairy tale.

    Available now from Disney Press, Olaf’s Night Before Christmas can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars: Moving Target - A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry Book Review

    Star Wars: Moving Target - A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set between the events of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, this newly conceived adventure centers on freedom fighter Princess Leia as she leads a rebel crew on a risky decoy mission to combat the ruthless Galactic Empire.  With the Empire actively building their second Death Star, Leia initiates Operation Yellow Moon to attract Imperial attention in order for the Alliance to gain defensive momentum in the war.  Aided by ace pilot Nien Nunb, communications specialist Kidi Aleri, tech specialist Antrot and veteran resistance fighter Major Lokmarcha, Leia travels aboard the Mellcrawler to distant planets such as Basteel and Sesid, encountering supporters of their cause and familiar threats.  Still reeling from the carbonite-freezing and capture of Han Solo, Star Wars: Moving Target expands on Leia’s determined personality and her commitment to the Alliance against oftentimes impossible odds.  Hunted by the novels evil female antagonist Captain Khone and her surge of stormtroopers, Leia’s mission comes with great sacrifice and nonstop action.  Complimented by illustrations by Phil Noto and intriguing links to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Castellucci and Fry’s Leia based saga excellently delivers the excitement of the films’ original trilogy while, solidifying the Alderaanian as one of science-fictions strongest female characters.

    Available now from Disney-Lucasfilm Press, Star Wars: Moving Target - A Princess Leia Adventure can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • The Tim Burton Encyclopedia by Samuel J. Umland Book Review

    The Tim Burton Encyclopedia by Samuel J. Umland 

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Chronicling his nearly 35 year career and impact on pop culture through his uniquely dark and whimsical tales, The Tim Burton Encyclopedia by Samuel J. Umland provides readers and film enthusiasts of Burton’s colorful career a detailed overview of the artist, his many works and frequent collaborators.  Organized alphabetically, The Tim Burton Encyclopedia spares insight into the relevance of CalArts’ A113 homeroom class, Burton’s earliest and seldom seen projects including, Hansen and Gretel (1982) and Aladdin and His Magical Lamp (1986).  In addition, Umland delves into the backgrounds and impact of Burton influences such as Dr. Seuss, Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) and Roald Dahl while, surprisingly lacking a formal section for stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen.  Covering each of Burton’s film projects in great detail, this reference guide also shines light on Burton’s many collaborators dating back to former Disney executive Richard Laurence Berger who green-lit production of Burton’s live-action short Frankenweenie (1984) to more commonly associated artists such as Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows) and Composer Danny Elfman (responsible for musical contributions to all of Burton’s films minus 1994’s Ed Wood).  Although sharing more scholarly asides pertaining to the inclusion of monsters in Burton’s works and a foreword from Production Designer Bo Welch (Beetlejuice, Batman Returns), The Tim Burton Encyclopedia treads familiar ground covered in more enthralling efforts from Burton biographer Mark Salisbury.  While not meant to be absorbed cover to cover, The Tim Burton Encyclopedia serves its purpose as a solid reference of the Beetlejuice director’s eccentric career with countless sections of enlightening material for Burton’s most informed appreciators.

    Available now from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, The Tim Burton Encyclopedia can be purchased via Rowman.com, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness by Mark Salisbury Book Review

    Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness by Mark Salisbury

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Best known for his texts focusing on Director Tim Burton and the makings of his films, Author Mark Salisbury’s latest effort chronicles the creation of Director Guillermo del Toro’s hauntingly gorgeous descent into Gothic romance.  Culled from extensive interviews with del Toro, his talented cast including, Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Tom Hiddleston (Thor), Jessica Chastain (Mama) and Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) plus, the countless artists involved in its making, Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness explores the sumptuous detail and obsessive passion put forth into the making of this uniquely conceived ghost story.  Influenced by dark fairy tales and literary Gothic romances, del Toro’s vision for his own influenced tale dates back nearly 15 years.  Hailed as one of cinema’s true visionaries, del Toro’s latest grand opus continues the darkly rich path of the director’s previous surrealistic masterpieces, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.  

    Containing the intriguing biographies of its characters and a splendid array of color photographs and inspiring production art, Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness also extensively details the exhaustive design work and construction of the film’s haunted residence, Allerdale Hall.  Furthermore, Salisbury explores the practical and digital makings of Crimson Peak’s ghostly apparitions and the sublimely stylized costume designs, realized by Kate Hawley (Pacific Rim, Edge of Tomorrow).  In addition to several speciality items including a miniature movie poster and a foreword by del Toro, Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness is a sprawling look into one of this year’s most eerily seductive films.  An exceptional creation that only refines the particular genre its based on, Salisbury’s excellently conceived Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness offers readers a magnificent companion piece to the film and an entryway into del Toro’s boundless imagination.

    Available now from Insight Editions, Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness can be purchased via InsightEditions.com, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters by David A. Bossert Book Review

    An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters by David A. Bossert

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Highlighting the artistic abilities of famed Disney Supervising Animator Eric Goldberg, David A. Bossert’s latest opus gives readers a brief history into Goldberg’s earliest attractions to animation and his lifelong appreciation for iconic caricaturist Al Hirschfield.  Perfecting his skills at Richard Williams’ New York and London studios before beginning his career at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, Goldberg would ultimately bring to life the memorable characters of Genie in Aladdin, the Danny DeVito voiced Phil of Hercules as well as lending his directing abilities to 1995’s Pocahontas.  Invoking the Hirschfeld touch, Goldberg was selected to draw many of Disney’s iconic characters for placement in the halls of the Roy E. Disney Animation Building in Burbank, California.  Presented in their entirety, Goldberg’s brilliantly crafted caricatures from Disney’s Golden Age classics and Pixar’s finest to characters from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas showcase the exquisite detail and emotional value these enduring creations continue to have on audiences, all from one remarkably talented hand.  A visual feast and well deserved celebration of Goldberg’s distinguished talent, An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters is an essential volume for animation enthusiasts.

    Available now from Disney Editions, An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • Trick 'r Treat: Days of the Dead by Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey, Zach Shields & Marc Andreyko Book Review

    Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead by Michael Dougherty, Todd Casey, Zach Shields & Marc Andreyko

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From its devastating direct to video release to its rise as a bonafide cult classic that continues to increase with the passing of each Halloween season, Michael Dougherty’s (X-Men 2, Krampus) Trick ‘r Treat has quickly become a staple of the spookiest time of year.  Joined by Todd Casey, Zach Shields and Marc Andreyko, Dougherty weaves another terrifying anthology across four tales of Halloween based madness.  Illustrated by the talented team of Fiona Staples, Stephen Byrne, Stuart Sayger and Zid, Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead finds Sam, the costumed puppet master of the original film, appearing through various interconnected vignettes where witchcraft, spirits and monsters are central.  Set in 16th century Ireland, Seed finds a series of massive witch hunts taking place when a God-fearing man is bewitched by a misunderstood sorceress leading to a forbidden romance.  Meanwhile, wild west horrors occur in Corn Maiden when young Sarah’s loneliness is healed by an accepting Native American tribe.  Corrupted by her father’s railroad expanding desires, a tragic act clouds the frontier land as Native American spirits take revenge in the comic’s standout story.  Moving forward in time to 1950s Los Angeles, Echoes is a haunting noir focused on a hard-drinking P.I. tasked with finding a missing dame.  Forced to confront his own dark past, Jake Perkins discovers a link between Hollywood hotshots and devil-worshippers during the longest Halloween night of his life.  Finally, the modern day Monster Mash is an exciting tale of two best friends who dare to live dangerously with a frightening pack of monsters.  Embracing their wicked side, Monster Mash is a charming coming of age story about friendship and relishing one last Halloween.  Joined by a reoccurring segment of an elderly man telling his granddaughter the Halloween set stories, Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead is a frighteningly fun read that captures the tone of Dougherty’s original masterpiece.  With anticipation building for a cinematic sequel, Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead arrives just in time for Halloween, offering an endless supply of treats for fans desiring more supernatural shenanigans from Sam.

    Available now from Legendary Comics, Trick ‘r Treat: Days of the Dead can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History by Michael Klastorin with Randal Atamaniuk Book Review

    Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History by Michael Klastorin with Randal Atamaniuk

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Serving as production publicist on its sequels, Michael Klastorin, along with noted Back to the Future expert Randal Atamaniuk, launch readers on an explosive journey into the past chronicling the history and enduring legacy of the Back to the Future franchise.  Dating back to Director Robert Zemeckis and Co-Writer Bob Gale’s days at USC to their earliest developments of the time-traveling tale, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History is an unprecedented retelling of the trilogies making, told from the creative talent who were there.  Featuring countless never-before-seen stills as well as concept art, storyboards and additional removable treats, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History gives fans a comprehensive look into the series like never before.  

    Granted full access to decades old material, Klastorin and Atamaniuk’s passionate love letter to one of the greatest film franchises of all time is an expertly detailed and consistently intriguing chronicle.  From an acorn of an idea through its countless drafts, Back to the Future was unbelievably rejected by every studio before Steven Spielberg’s belief in the concept and Director Robert Zemeckis’ box-office success with Romancing the Stone changed the winds of destiny.  Established at Universal Studios, Klastorin and Atamaniuk guides readers through the weekly production schedules that involved shooting on the Universal backlot, crafting visionary special effects and filming with another actor in the lead role of Marty McFly for several weeks before making way for the original choice of Michael J. Fox.  Complimented by phenomenal production stills and remarkable conceptual drawings, interviews with Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg and many others paint a clearly defined picture of the difficult but incredibly rewarding experience.  Furthermore, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History details the lengthy production schedules of shooting both sequels back to back as the makers juggled bringing the story into the then long-distant future of 2015 before sending Doc and Marty in time to the Wild West.  In addition, the fascinating but rarely told history of Back to the Future: The Ride at Universal Studios’ theme parks and the short-lived Saturday morning cartoon are also recounted in this definitive document of all things Back to the Future.

    Celebrating the original film’s 30th anniversary, Michael Klastorin and Randal Atamaniuk’s Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History is the perfect literary companion to the beloved time-traveling trilogy that altered cinema.  Definitive and excellently researched, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History provides readers with overwhelming insight and extensive imagery into the franchise that demands a spot on all fans’ bookshelves.

    Available October 20th from Harper Design, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Disney Movie Posters: From Steamboat Willie to Inside Out by Kevin Luperchio and All Aboard: The Wonderful World of Disney Trains by Dana Amendola Book Reviews

    Disney Movie Posters: From Steamboat Willie to Inside Out by Kevin Luperchio

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Highlighting the lush history of Disney’s most memorable promotional materials, Kevin Luperchio’s Disney Movie Posters: From Steamboat Willie to Inside Out provides readers with a look back at the art and advances made in the crafting of Disney’s infamous posters.  Collecting over 135 posters from Disney’s earliest short subjects including the Alice Comedies, Steamboat Willie and the groundbreaking Silly Symphonies to golden age milestones like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Dumbo, domestic, international and various rerelease posters are on full display over lavish spreads.  Also documenting live-action highlights from the productions of Treasure Island and Mary Poppins to more recent fare like Hocus Pocus, Pearl Harbor and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney’s successful collaborations with Pixar from their classic debut Toy Story to the recently released Inside Out are also included.  While Luperchio’s effort can hardly be considered definitive, Disney Movie Posters: From Steamboat Willie to Inside Out gives art lovers a sizable introduction to some of Disney’s most beloved images of the last 90 years for fans to appreciate on a large canvas.

    Available now from Disney Editions, Disney Movie Posters: From Steamboat Willie to Inside Out can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

    All Aboard: The Wonderful World of Disney Trains by Dana Amendola

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From his early beginnings in Marceline, Missouri, Walt Disney’s passion and enthusiasm for train culture has been well documented.  Serving as a news butcher on the Missouri Pacific at an impressionable age, Disney’s love affair with all things locomotive would remain an enduring part of his legacy in the formation of his famed studio and enchanting theme parks around the world.  Sharing a personal appreciation for steamers, Dana Amendola’s All Aboard: The Wonderful World of Disney Trains guides readers through a tour of their important place in Disney’s history beginning with Walt’s earliest fascinations, Mickey Mouse’s inspired creation aboard The Chief and the well-researched appearances of trains throughout Disney’s vast film history.  With each section accompanied by “inside track” extended notes and littered with gorgeous still photography, Amendola traces animation legends Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnson’s infatuation with their own backyard railways for reigniting Walt’s love for trains and establishing a close knit bond with their boss over their shared love.  As Disney’s magical flair expanded into the world of theme parks, Amendola covers the unique visual history of the various locomotives circling Disney parks from California to Hong Kong with exquisite concept art on display.  Accompanied with a warm introduction by John Lasseter, All Aboard: The Wonderful World of Disney Trains is a fabulous read for devoted train enthusiasts while, casual fans will be treated to a splendid crash course through the steam powered history that continues to chug along for Disney.

    Available now from Disney Editions, All Aboard: The Wonderful World of Disney Trains can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972 by Mark Voger Book Review

    Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972 by Mark Voger

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Recounting the yesteryears of monster madness, Mark Voger’s Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972 guides readers through the countless magazine publications, late night creature features and endless memorabilia that haunted likeminded baby boomers with an appetite for the spooky.  With interviews from television/movie stars of the era and monster magazine tycoons, Voger’s look back at his frighteningly fun youth comes littered with colorful collage-filled pages of eerie goodness.

    With a foreword by John Zacherle, Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972 takes readers back to the humble beginnings of monsters’ popular hold on prepubescent boys.  From the debut of Shock Theatre and local horror hosts including, Zacherley, hypnotizing young viewers with Universal Studios’ iconic monster films and other B-movie schlockfests, the hunger for more horror-centered content began.  Voger highlights milestone publications including, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Creepy and Eerie as the premiere outlets that captivated young horror fans imaginations while, chart-topping hits including “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett further cemented the movement’s increasing popularity.  Sharing the joys of Super 8 reels centered on countless movie monsters, Voger details the popularity and short-lived availability of Topps’ controversial Mars Attacks! trading cards while, discussing the highs and lows of the charmingly chintzy Ben Cooper masks based on famed characters.  While parents often forbade their children to partake in such entertainment, barriers were abolished with the arrival of The Addams Family and The Munsters providing families with hilariously wholesome sitcoms centered on rather eccentric family units.  As Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Rat Fink dioramas and General Mills’ Count Chocula and Franken Berry cereals entered into the zeitgeist, the monster craze showed little sign of slowing down.  With a considerable portion of the book focused on the enduring popularity of the long-running Dark Shadows series, the show’s eventual cancellation and arrival of game changing features including, The Exorcist spelled certain doom for the more innocent scares of age-old monsters and their cobweb-infested lairs.  

    With his passion apparent in every page, Mark Voger’s recollections of the past nicely scratches the surface of the various layers of creepy entertainment provided during the golden years of monster fandom.  While each section is limited to only several pages each, the lack of more detailed information is substituted with Voger’s personal insight and a plethora of images showcasing the toys, board games, dioramas and magazine art that marveled fans.  Accompanied with countless, if not dated, interviews with Famous Monsters of Filmland’s James Warren and Forrest J. Ackerman, The Addams Family’s John Astin and Lisa Loring, The Munsters’ Al Lewis, Butch Patrick and Pat Priest plus, multiple cast members of Dark Shadows, Voger’s sit-downs deliver entertaining pitstops although rarely providing information unknown to fellow monster kids.  

    Best appreciated as a hauntingly nostalgic walk down memory lane, self-professed monster kid Mark Voger provides an excellent sampling of the multiple facets that defined the monster craze.  With a stunning array of images graced across each page, Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972 may not be the definitive statement on the monster movement of yesterday but, stands as a charming crash course of the thrills and chills that fascinated baby boomers during the aftermath of horror’s golden age.

    Available now from TwoMorrows Publishing, Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972 can be purchased via TwoMorrows.com and Amazon.com.

  • Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic by J.B. Kaufman Book Review

    Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic by J.B. Kaufman

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Considered one of the finest achievements in Disney’s revered animation history, Author J.B. Kaufman’s Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic takes an extensive look into the making of this monumental effort that continues to thrive 75 years after its original release.  Containing never before seen art and countless original concept sketches, Kaufman’s in-depth research and obvious passion for this Golden Age classic will educate lifelong admirers and deeply enrich future viewings of Disney’s finest animated film of all time.

    Following up Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first and deeply praised feature-length animated film, Walt Disney and his talented team of artists had their work cut out for themselves formulating their followup.  With Bambi in active development and originally planned as Disney’s second feature, several challenges including, the additional prep work required for such a project shifted gears within the studio bumping Pinocchio as the top priority.  Riding high on the financial riches of Snow White’s success, Walt Disney saw the tale of Author Carlo Collodi’s wooden puppet longing to be a real boy as a remarkable concept, bursting with imaginative opportunities for his artists to push their talents to soaring new heights.  Far from a simple undertaking, Kaufman presents the early origins of Disney and his staff hammering out story details, many of which omitted from its final presentation, that took liberties from its source material to capture a scaled down adaptation without sacrificing the Disney standard.  Culled from interviews and recorded internal conferences with Disney veterans including, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, T. Hee and of course, Walt Disney, Kaufman’s painstaking fieldwork provides an expert documentation of the struggles and artistic triumphs the Disney studio encountered on their journeys.

    Collecting over 200 pieces of art ranging from the film’s gorgeous background paintings and other never before seen gems, Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic visually demonstrates the film’s perfectionist style, revolutionary effect techniques and refinements of existing innovations including the multiplane camera crane that preserves its timeless majesty.  From its earliest developments through its rigorous animation process, Kaufman provides added insight into the film’s Academy Award winning music, its vocal performers and promotional campaign.  In addition, although regarded as a classic and landmark achievement in Disney’s history, Kaufman also shares the troublesome release of the film that was critically praised but, stunted at the box-office due to the arrival of World War II closing film distribution in countless European territories for many years.  Through its magical years of creation to its premiere at Rockefeller Center’s Center Theatre and WWII’s ominous cloud darkening its full potential, Pinocchio, with assistance from countless rereleases and such, has endured, capturing the hearts and imaginations of audiences young and old since 1940.  

    75 impressive years later, Disney’s Pinocchio arguably stands as the studio’s finest artistic achievement where rich storytelling and skilled artistry came together in perfect harmony.  Unquestionably considered one of animation’s most inspiring feats, J.B. Kaufman’s fascinating achievement provides the definitive statement on Pinocchio’s treasured history.  With a foreword by Academy Award winner John Canemaker and a special final chapter by noted professor Russell Merritt, Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic is the result of wishing upon a star and receiving one of the most exceptional celebrations of an animated classic.

    Available now from The Walt Disney Family Foundation Press, Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • Knight Rider: Volume 1 by Geoffrey Thorne, Jason Johnson, Shannon Eric Denton and Brian Denham Book Review

    Knight Rider, Volume 1 by Geoffrey Thorne, Jason Johnson, Shannon Eric Denton and Brian Denham

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the 80s hit television show starring David Hasselhoff, Knight Rider makes an action-packed return courtesy of IDW Publishing.  Given a modern facelift for a new generation, Knight Rider focuses on secret agent Michael Knight assigned to protect his girlfriend Dr. Katherine Beachum and her top secret Project: Rider.  After a ruthless team of mercenaries interrupt their plans, Michael and a mysterious ally named Bishop, team up to protect Katherine and the highly intelligent Rider vehicle.  Packed with plenty of thrills and horsepower, Knight Rider, Volume 1 collects the first eight issues of the popular comic series.

    Sticking true to its source material, Knight Rider takes the hokey yet, undeniably cool concept and refashions it for a current, more tech-savvy generation that aren’t so fast to question the believability of a talking Trans Am.  Set in the sunny climate of California, secret agent Michael Knight’s date with girlfriend Dr. Katherine Beachum quickly goes from 0 to 60 after a group of shrouded mercenaries intend on abducting Beachum and her highly desired secret project.  Upon realizing that Knight‘s organization has been compromised, he has no one to turn to except Bishop, a mysterious likeminded agent determined to assist him in keeping Katherine and her technology safe.  In addition, Knight forges an unlikely partnership with the doctor’s life work, the intelligent Rider vehicle capable of immeasurable talents, to bring the mercenaries down.  As a nonstop barrage of high-speed chases and shootouts ensue, conspiracies are uncovered and danger looms at every turn.  Spending the bulk of the collection on this exciting precursor tale, Knight Rider supplies readers with an action-packed backstory on Michael Knight before his more familiar vigilante efforts with KITT, the talking Trans Am, take place by its conclusion.  

    Excellently illustrated and maintaining a tight pace, Knight Rider, Volume 1 keeps the fun and flair of its nostalgic television beginnings while, injecting a contemporary tone where face changes and vehicular A.I. feels more fitting and even cooler.  With its pedal to the metal on high-octane action and adventure, Knight Rider, Volume 1 is a fitting modernization that welcomes Michael Knight and KITT back into the fast lane once again.

    Available now from IDW Publishing, Knight Rider, Volume 1 can be purchased via IDWPublishing.com, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • John Hughes: A Life in Film by Kirk Honeycutt Book Review

    John Hughes: A Life in Film by Kirk Honeycutt

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In the first illustrated celebration of the late icon, John Hughes: A Life in Film traces the early beginnings of Hughes’ career at National Lampoon before taking Hollywood by storm with a string of hits including Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Featuring new interviews from close friends and frequent collaborators, Author Kirk Honeycutt’s retrospective love letter to the enduring impact of Hughes‘ films is also complimented with rich visuals throughout the auteur’s extensive career.

    Synonymous with capturing the feelings and heartaches of youth like no other, Writer/Director John Hughes defined a generation with his endless streak of comedy hits.  Since his untimely death in 2009, Hughes‘ legacy has only increased with time, influencing audiences and fellow artists alike.  Author Kirk Honeycutt’s John Hughes: A Life in Film guides the reader through Hughes‘ career from his early days in advertising before abandoning ship to write for National Lampoon.  A heavy chain smoker who often worked late through the night, Hughes churned out gold at an alarming pace that  quickly caught the attention of Hollywood.  A devoted husband and father firmly rooted in his midwest surroundings, Honeycutt pulls back the curtain on the generally private family man who just so happened to capture the teenage voice of the 80s.  Detailing his screenwriting efforts on Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation before stepping up to the directorial plate, Honeycutt rightfully spends considerable time on the genesis and production of Hughes‘ landmark opuses, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.  From the discovery of his muse Molly Ringwald to revealing behind-the-scenes stories, Hughes‘ ear for music and marketing genius is also well documented.  As the young at heart creator’s popularity increased and his empire grew, more hits including Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles followed, allowing Honeycutt to detail Hughes’ friendship and working relationship with the late John Candy.  In addition, other Hughes productions including Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful are covered that shed light on the sometimes difficult relationship Hughes shared with fellow collaborators.  

    While Hughes’ career achievements are expertly detailed, Honeycutt tends to jump the gun in several areas to discuss films that will ultimately be covered later in the book.  In addition, Honeycutt spends a mere two pages discussing Hughes‘ rejuvenated interest in the Vacation franchise that gave way to 1989’s Christmas Vacation.  Long considered a holiday classic and arguably the best sequel of the series, Honeycutt unfortunately dismisses the charmer as a “tepid affair”.  Fortunately and appreciatively, the later half of the book spends considerable time exploring films under Hughes’ producing eye including Home Alone, Dennis the Menace and the fascinating nightmare production of Baby’s Day Out.  Furthermore, Director Patrick Read Johnson (Spaced Invaders, Angus) provides insight into the rewarding and tumultuous relationship shared with Hughes that makes for some of the book’s most intriguing stories.  Hughes‘ partnership with Disney birthing the live-action redo of 101 Dalmatians and Flubber is also covered along with unrealized and ahead of their time concepts including The Bee leaving readers curious at what could have been.  

    With a heartfelt forward provided by Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire), John Hughes: A Life in Film is an excellent companion piece to Hughes‘ cinematic offerings.  Author Kirk Honeycutt provides ample information on the late icon’s works with countless interviews from Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Jeffrey Jones, Steve Martin, Jon Cryer and many more.  While high profile titles like The Breakfast Club are covered at great length, lesser appreciated works like Curly Sue and Hughes‘ many producing credits are thankfully given their time to shine much to the delight of film enthusiasts.  Honeycutt’s insight into Hughes‘ loving family life and tearjerking friendship with John Candy make for some of the book’s more humanizing moments.  Bursting with colorful photographs and fueled with genuine passion for its subject, Author Kirk Honeycutt’s John Hughes: A Life in Film nicely captures the complexities and genius of the eternally youthful Hughes.  

    Available now from Race Point Publishing, John Hughes: A Life in Film can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

    My favorite book of all time was introduced to me by an elderly lady, hip beyond her years.  Her name was Miss Sterling and she taught my second grade class at good ol' Washington School.  Miss Sterling was smart and funny but also knew how to crack the whip when needed.  While it may not seem unusual, Miss Sterling was one, if not the only teacher, that would give us crackers and allow us to bust open a juice box everyday around 10AM.  She would spend each day reading to us and overtime her admiration for a certain author became clear.  Works like Matilda, The BFG, The Twits and Fantastic Mr. Fox were all read aloud as Miss Sterling put so much enthusiasm into reciting Roald Dahl's words.  At some point during the year, Miss Sterling chose another classic in Dahl's canon, his 1964 effort of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Perhaps it was the eccentric character of Willy Wonka or his dark handling of the greedy and selfish children who entered his factory.  Maybe it was my love for chocolate and sweets that roped me in.  Nonetheless, this story captivated me.  Dahl's ability to speak on a child's level without ever talking down to them was what made his stories timeless.  While I was simultaneously obsessing over R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series, Dahl's work quickly became my favorite and propelled me into a voracious reader.  A track that I have not steered from since the tender age of eight.

    Upon completion of the book, Miss Sterling allowed us to experience the 1971 film adaptation, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory starring the great Gene Wilder.  In retrospect, the film takes certain liberties with the book while still charming the viewer.  In 1996, my eight year-old self, was stunned.  This film was an absolute revelation that threw my imagination for a loop.  The larger than life sets, excellent soundtrack, memorable performances and of course, the chocolate deepened my love for the source material.  From that point on, I’d consider myself obsessed with Wonka and his wonderful factory.  I remember my parents buying me the 25th anniversary clamshell VHS for Easter and re-watching it nearly a zillion times.  My passion for the story continued as I decided to have my own golden ticket giveaway.  I took days drawing my own golden tickets for a very secret project.  One day during indoor recess, while others were playing Nok-Hockey, I randomly selected five students and hid the tickets under their desks.  Miss Sterling kindly gave me the floor right before class resumed and I advised the class to look under their desks.  The selected winners made their way to the front of the classroom where I explained their exciting prize.  A visit to my house reconverted into Wonka’s factory and a buffet of all the chocolate and candy they could eat.  My eight year-old mind, was buzzing with excitement as I envisioned using cardboard boxes and paint to create my own backyard version of the factory.  Unfortunately, I never made that dream come true.  Thankfully, the lucky winners never sued.

    The last day of school is the only day of the year kids look forward to attending.  All-day parties, snacks and no work!  On this sunny day, Miss Sterling sat us down the final minutes of the day telling us what a wonderful year she had.  We all couldn’t have agreed more until Miss Sterling started getting teary-eyed.  Fighting back the sadness, our enchanting teacher explained that after so many years educating young minds she would be retiring, marking us her final group of students.  She proceeded to tell us that we were her favorite class, a genuine statement from the heart.  We all individually gave her hugs as we walked up to get special congratulatory diplomas she made for us.  While, we all kept our excitement levels high with summer vacation around the corner, I couldn’t help but feel the sadness take over me.  Miss Sterling was my favorite teacher who opened my imagination to so many worlds, it was tough to know that I wouldn’t see her in the halls next year.  Right before we all lined up to count down the final minutes of the day, Miss Sterling called me up to her desk.  “Mikey, I know how much this story means to you so I want you to have this...” Miss Sterling said.  She proceeded to reach into her desk and pull out her personal copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The book was aged to hell with a big red stick of tape holding the spine together.  Miss Sterling had been reading this first edition of the book to her students throughout the years.  I certainly had my own paperback copy by this point, but there was something magical about her tattered version.  This old, faded book was responsible for my introduction to Wonka and his remarkable world.  It was Miss Sterling’s delivery of the words that made this story so special to me.  I took it from her hands practically speechless.  “Just do me one favor” she said, “get a marker and write today’s date”.  I didn’t really understand why and frankly I didn’t want to cause the book anymore harm but looking back, I’m glad I did.  June 17, 1996 was the day that this sweet, elderly lady gave me the personal passport to so many of my dreams and I’ll never forget her for that.  Nearly 20 years later, I have read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory countless times and it never grows tired.  I can still close my eyes and be whisked away to imaginative worlds of all kinds, but reading Dahl’s tale of a chocolate extraordinaire, I can’t help but think back to that classroom and the sweet, old lady who showed me how to dream.  Thanks Miss Sterling.