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Tiny Kittens

Over the last couple of months I’ve been watching a group of kittens through a page called Tiny Kittens. They have a Facebook page, but more importantly they have a live stream page. Ceej turned me on to them.

These particular kittens are six called the “tiny dancers”, born to a mother named Calypso, and with six dancing names: Mambo, Foxtrot, Jitterbug, Lindy, Salsa and Hula. Over that time the kittens have grown from barely-able-to-move to being small but fully-functional cats, running and playing. Their mom has been great, too: Once they started weaning from her, she became playful and would even wrestle with her kids. And she was a beautiful calico to boot. (She was a little clueless about monitoring her kittens sometimes; once one of them fell out of their bed and was meowing on the ground, and Calypso would go down, then jump back up, and back and forth until a human came in and picked up the kitten and put it back.)

Anyway, the kittens are now about three months old and have been getting fixed and are heading out to their forever homes. Mambo and Hula headed out on Wednesday, and Calypso – who has also been spayed – went to her own home today, after one last morning snuggling with and cleaning her kittens. I watched Wednesdays’ departures being packed up with little plastic lunch box care packages, and being shown to the camera one last time before they departed. (Each pair has their own Facebook pages: Hula and Mambo, Foxtrot and Salsa, Lindy and Jitterbug.)

Watching them get broken up has been sad. Even though I know they’re all going to good homes, living together is all the kittens have known and I wonder how the seven cats each react to being broken up like this. It’s totally anthropomorphizing on my part, since I know most cats adapt to their new situation, and they’ll all be happy with their new humans. It’s great that it looks like each kitten will have one of their siblings to spend their lives with: I remember telling Newton several times that he got to spend just about his whole life with his brother Jefferson. Of course I don’t know whether they really cared about that, but we humans like to think they do. I still have small regrets that none of the other three cats got to say goodbye to Jeff, since he went so quickly.

Anyway, I can’t imagine fostering kittens myself. It would be too hard to let them go, I think. It’s hard enough watching these kittens – who I haven’t even spent times with directly – head off. Debbi has thought about volunteering with our local Humane Society, but I think she worries that she’d have trouble saying goodbye to them, too (not to mention that not all of the animals will come to a good end; even if the shelter is no-kill, some of them will get sick or have other problems).

In any event, I guess the Tiny Kittens shelter will get some new kittens in at some point, and I’ll get to watch them grow and then leave. It’s adorable and entertaining while it lasts. But it’s sad because what the end is for me comes all too soon.

Three Disney Films

Recently we watched the three most recent Disney animated films, and I wanted to write a few words about them.

The Princess and the Frog (2009), based on the fairy tale “The Frog Prince”, takes place in New Orleans in the 1920s where Tiana (Anika Nona Rose) wants to open the restaurant her father – who died in World War I – always dreamed of. Her plans are derailed when Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) comes to town intent on marrying into money, and the villain, Dr. Facilier (Keith David) turns him into a frog in a scheme to get rich himself. The twist is that when Tiana kisses Naveen, she too turns into a frog, and the pair embark on a quest of personal and mutual discovery as they try to get changed back.

This film has bold and flamboyant characters somewhat reminiscent of Aladdin – particularly the jazz-playing alligator Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) – and the dialog crackles effectively. Debbi liked the music a lot, and I enjoy it but felt they were bending over backwards a bit far to cover all the kinds of music in New Orleans and Cajun territory. I also felt there was a little too much “frog time” and not enough “people time”. I kind of felt like there was a story about Tiana as an adult woman rather than a transformed frog which I’d rather have seen. But it’s an enjoyable film, and the climax and denouement are both worth cheering for.

(I did wonder a few times during the film about how it willfully ignores the fact that slavery would have been in the living memory of people in the 20s, and the film’s awkward predecessor among Disney films with black characters, Song of the South. But of course it’s not in Disney’s nature to consider such things.)

Tangled (2010) is probably the weakest of the three films. Based on the fairy tale “Rapunzel”, it features the character of that name (Mandy Moore) being the daughter of a king and queen who is spirited away by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) who is using the magical properties of her hair to keep herself young. She keeps Rapunzel trapped in a tower at the edge of the kingdom, where Rapunzel sees the floating lanterns released each year on her birthday, and she longs to go see them up close. One day a thief, Flynn (Zachary Levi), stumbles upon her tower while on the run from both the law and his partners whom he’d double-crossed, and she captures him. She then extracts a promise from him to take her to see the lanterns, and they set out on a journey pursued by his ex-partners, by Mother Gothel, and by the King’s men.

Worst things first, I felt the songs in this film fell flat. None of them stood out to me or really stuck in my head after watching it. I also felt the villains were pretty weak, in particular Mother Gothel needed to be more of a big bad than just a schemer and manipulator. Not that seeing her defeat wasn’t satisfying, but she just didn’t feel very threatening. Maybe if she’d been a true wizard, or even the queen of a rival kingdom she might have had the necessary weight.

Flynn and Rapunzel are both fun characters, but the story ultimately belongs to Flynn. Partly because it’s the more flamboyant character, but also because he’s the one who grows and changes and gains redemption – and who ultimately is the one who makes the big sacrifice in rode to thwart the villain. Rapunzel is on a quest to discover who she is – because at the beginning she isn’t anyone – but the growth of a more complex character like Flynn just flat overshadows her arc.

The highlights of the film are generally the action sequences, which are very well-staged. Also Flynn’s act of sacrifice. But while it’s worth watching, it’s not one of the classics.

Then there’s the surprise breakout animated film of recent years, Frozen (2013), inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen”. A pair of princesses, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) are best friends as children, but Elsa was born with the power to generate cold and snow. After almost accidentally killing Anna, Elsa is put into seclusion by their parents, and Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers are removed. Alas, their parents die at sea and Elsa grows up to become the new queen, but she’s unable to control her powers during her coronation, and takes herself into exile, also inadvertently dropping a magical winter over the land. Anna heads out to find her, and is helped by an ice farmer, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and an animated snowman, Olaf (Josh Gadd). Elsa’s powers again threaten Anna’s life, and a plot to take over the kingdom threatens all of them.

Frozen captured peoples’ attention partly for its soundtrack, which is surely very good. “Let It Go” has been almost unescapable in pop culture over the last nine months, and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” has also been popular. (For my money, the best song behind “Let It Go” is “Fixer-Upper”.) The other songs, and the orchestral music, are also quite good. If anything I think some of the tracks are a little under-orchestrated – one can rarely say that anything in a Disney film isn’t enough over-the-top.

It also grabbed some headlines because both main characters are female, and ultimately they solve their own problems (though Kristoff helps a little). The characterizations suffer some from both of the women being relative ciphers. To some extent they suffer from the same problem as Rapunzel, since both have grown up in isolation and they don’t have much in the way of backstory or personality. Anna’s central conflict prior to the coronation is that she wants something – anything – to happen to her. Elsa just wants to be normal and is frightened by who she is. This is enough to drive the plot, but it makes their motivations and characters pretty one-dimensional.

Like Tangled, Frozen involves a lot of running around, and at least the running around is fun and well-staged, which is good because there’s just not that much to the plot. But as with the other two films Frozen does stick the climax and resolution (even if its “true love conquers all” approach to solving Elsa’s dilemma doesn’t make any more sense than it usually does).

Reading about the film’s development, it does sound like fundamentally it suffered from not knowing what kind of story it was telling, and changing direction along he way. Even the core story between the sisters changed (for a while Elsa was apparently going to be a flat-out villain). It might have felt like a deeper film is Elsa had already become queen and something went wrong with her powers (a villain exposing her for his own gain, perhaps), adding more sophisticated elements to Anna’s coming-of-age story (because the coming-of-age story doesn’t really seem to fit Elsa).

I feel like I’m only saying bad things about Frozen, but it’s certainly not a bad film. It’s just kind of strange from a story construction perspective, but it is trying something outside of Disney’s usual comfort zone so perhaps it’s not surprising that it feels awkward (the supposed villains, for instance, feel basically bolted on, if not outright redundant). Anna’s quest and growth along the way are enjoyable and work fairly well, and have a number of entertaining set-pieces.

If you’re curious about the difference between a Tony-award-winning Broadway singer and a Disney pop princess, compare the cinematic version of “Let It Go” sung by Menzel and the music video sung by Demi Lovato.

Oh, on the Blu-Ray release don’t miss “The Making of Frozen”. Really, don’t miss it. Really.

Anyway, three Disney films. All of them flawed, two of them trying substantially new things for Disney’s oeuvre, and both feeling not entirely comfortable in doing so, but the more traditional one (Tangled) feels less artistically successful than those other two. But they’re all worth watching. Worth watching, that is, if you enjoy Disney films, because the stretching that the two films do isn’t enough to make them feel substantially different from what we’re used to from a Disney animated feature.

Magic Draft: JBT #3

We didn’t have much planned this weekend, so I did two Magic drafts.

Saturday’s draft was a Black/Red deck where I first picked King Macar, The Gold-Cursed – and then lost my connection to Magic Online, and lost my next 3 picks. I ended up with a weak deck and got blown out in the first round. While some of it was poor drafting, there were some signals late in the first pack which make me wonder if I would have taken another approach had I been able to see those three picks.

For today’s draft I decided to try the new client (since the old one is being shut down this week). My initial experience is that the client is a small improvement over the old one, particular in the draft experience, so that’s pretty nice. Also, placing the cards during a game in the middle of the battlefield rather than on the left feels better, and clicking lands to pay mana is a bit easier (it seems like you don’t have to click on a specific Swamp, just “the top Swamp in your stack of Swamps”, which is usually fine). I think I can safely say that if you spend maybe half an hour familiarizing yourself with the client, it will feel pretty familiar. (Note that I’m not saying anything about its stability, although it hasn’t crashed on me yet.)

The results of today’s draft after the cut:
Read on, Macduff! »

Kid-Filled Weekend

We had a surprisingly busy long weekend over this past holiday.

Friday we planned to have Lisa and Michel and their kids over for a barbecue, and we learned that OSH was having their “we pay the sales tax” sale this weekend, so Friday morning we went and bought some more liquid propane for the grill, as well as quite a few other things: Bulbs for our outdoor accent lights, daisies, basil, a new hose for the back yard, and new cushions for two of our patio chairs, whose cushions had been shredded by something – I suspect crows. A much bigger run than we’d planned on!

The BBQ went well, though the kids are strangely intimidated by the cats, even Ms. 6, who has been visiting our cats since she was about 2. Plus, our cats are pretty harmless. So we mostly ran around in the yard, tiring all of us out until Mr. 3 was exhausted. Then we went back to their house and swam with Lisa and Ms. 6 in their complex’s pool.

In the evening we biked in to Shoreline Park to see the fireworks; last year we walked there, which is do-able, but means we don’t get home until close to 11. Biking shaves about half an hour off of that. But some pedestrians really need to learn how to share the trail with bikes when there are a lot of people coming back from an event – there seemed to be a lot of walkers who didn’t know to keep right for bikes to pass, and one woman who was telling us to walk our bikes. Twit.

Saturday we went over to Chad & Camille’s house for an unbirthday party for their twins, who were turning 5. There were several other adults and three other kids there too, and their pool got pretty busy, so Debbi and I stayed out of it and chatted with the adults. Once other folks had shown up, I think this is the first time I can remember that the twins weren’t pulling me around to play with them all afternoon! We had fun, though, and stayed a couple of hours later than we’d planned. Oh, and they had delicious cupcakes from Frost in Campbell, which we picked up for them before heading over there.

Sunday we went back to OSH to pick up a few more things, including some neat color-changing solar lights to accent out front and back yards. And I planted the daisies and did some yard work – there’s always more yard work!

I also did a Magic draft, which went pretty poorly and I lost in the first round to an opponent who was not very good, but who had a much better deck than I did. Plus I made a tragic misplay in the final game – though I might have lost anyway. So, not worth doing a draft recap. Also, I am getting pretty tired of having Bearer of the Heavens as the rare in my opening pack, which I did 2 weeks ago, and again yesterday. Blecch.

But mostly we stayed at home on Sunday, other than our errands.

This week I’m enjoying watching the A’s dismantle the Giants in their Bay Bridge series. The A’s are such a good team this year, while I think the Giants have peaked and are now being exposed as merely average.