Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day!

Merry Christmas!  It was a beautiful white Christmas here, and it was so great to spend it with Julie's family.  My wife is so amazing, she managed to surprise me so many times with presents, which is no easy feat when we live together and didn't even really go shopping separately.  My favorite presents are this, this and this, but ask me sometime about the fortune cookie...  !!!!!  (Though seriously, in this day and age, I love getting the practical things like sweaters and shoes and dress socks too, not to mention the pearl snaps.)  I managed to throw her off the scent for a couple of mine too, and Julie's special surprise presents for her family were a big hit.  Our new photobook from Blurb even came a couple days earlier than expected, so we were able to enjoy that for the big day as well.

We're also really excited about a couple new Wii games, but we're still quite baffled at the source of one of them...  In case any of you don't know, it appeared at our house a few weeks ago in an Amazon package addressed to me, but without a packing slip or note or anything, and neither of us ordered it.  I thought it would be revealed throughout the course of this moste special day, but alas, not a word!  I wonder if the mystery will ever be solved.  I guess it must truly have come from Santa Claus, but whoever it was, much thanks!  William quite enjoyed playing it with me this afternoon.  I just love that Diddy Kong, and now he has a jet pack!  It's a Christmas miracle!

For those who didn't see it, here is our delightful Christmas card.  We were so excited to do one!  We didn't really have time to get one together last year, so this is our very first.
Much thanks to Artography by Kami for the great photo, and for Julie for making it look even better.

God bless us, every one!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve!

'Tis the night before Christmas!  We are in Missouri spending the week with The Wife's family for the first time.  Here's the rundown of what has happened so far today:
  • Had pancake breakfast with so many wee niece and nephew types!
  • Watched fresh snow fall beautifully, and the kids excitedly get in their snowclothes and run out to play.
    • Took a Walmart (etc.) run with the brother-in-law and his Santa hat-wearing 1.5-year-old daughter for some last-minute presents.  We had a great chat about society and iPods and modern parenting and running. 
    • Had a delicious lunch of Reuben sandwiches.
      • Wrapped Julie's presents and added them to the pile under the tree while talking to the sister-in-law (brother-in-law's wife) about our respective family traditions.
      • Tried to make friends with some sassy household felines. (I'm getting there.)
        • Played "Balter" with the kids (they had watched Balto earlier that day.  My part was Boris, the goose).
        • Had an awesome, festive buffet dinner, which included ham, French onion soup, fruit and vegetables, a meat, cheese and cracker tray, clams and oysters, cranberry juice, and egg nog.
          • Was dogpiled violently and mercilessly by three kids under the age of six.  I was laughing so hard.
          • Watched and participated in the Christmas Eve program, which included musical numbers, a reading from The Friend, a viewing of Luke II, setting up the porcelain crèche, a live (brief) Nativity, a couple rounds of Telephone at William's insistence, trying not to fall asleep (still recovering from our late arrival last night) during a reading of the Christmas story from the New Testament (though the little ones made sure I didn't nod off), and playing Christmas songs on the piano while the kids put on their new pajamas and made ready for bed.  (I should mention here that Julie played a duet with me.  *sigh*)
          • Had an impromptu photo shoot with Julie in front of the Christmas tree.  She was exceedingly fierce and really worked her angles.  I was similarly smoldering.
          • Opened an early Christmas present from a six-year-old nephew (an envelope containing sixteen cents in change).
            • Currently watching It's a Wonderful Life with the in-laws while Julie gets in some girl-talk time with her sister in the other room and people make final preparations for the morning, and getting ready to put on the pajamas Mom sent along with us.
            I love Christmas Eve.

            (Consider this my Annual Christmas Eve Journal Write, Melody.)

              Tuesday, December 21, 2010

              The Chronciles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

              A couple of weeks ago the latest installment of the Narnia film series was released.  We went on opening night and I really loved it!  I guess I can't say I was more excited to see this than I was to see the latest Harry Potter, but I did have to think about it for a few minutes.  I get more into the hype of HP, but Narnia makes me feel all happy and warm inside.

              So Disney has for some ridiculous reason(s) relinquished their hold on the Narnia film franchise, but luckily Fox teamed up with Walden Media to produce the third in the series.

              It was wonderful to see that with a new director and even a new studio, the film is very consistent with the world and feeling created by the first two movies.  It feels very much like a believable continuation, picking up with a slightly older Edmund and Lucy, as well as newcomer Eustace Clarence Scrubb as they join King Caspian on board The Dawn Treader.  It was great to see Caspian again (having by now thankfully ditched the distracting accent in favor of his natural English inflection), and Eustace was a nice addition, though I'm afraid to say the actor chosen was sort of repulsive at times (and yes, I know that's sort of the point of Eustace, at least at the start, but it made it kind of difficult to even watch him act for a while).  The (almost completely) returning cast are always great to see, even as far as Tilda Swinton returning with yet another cameo as Jadis, which would lead nicely to her possibly playing the Lady of the Green Kirtle in The Silver Chair, should the film series continue, and there are brief appearances by Peter and Susan as well.  The movie was as faithful an adaptation as the films ever have been, sincere in theme and message, making slight story adjustments as needed, and as appropriate, but maintaining the established Narnia feeling and tone.  The score was excellent, incorporating a few new nautical themes while maintaining the major Narnia themes thus far expected, even though a new composer has been enlisted (unlike the composers for other recent franchise films, who totally ignore the iconic themes of the series up until that point...  Yes, I'm looking at you, Deathly Hallows composer Alexandre Desplat...).

              I admit The Voyage of the Dawn Treader didn't affect me as emotionally as the previous two (especially Prince Caspian--that movie made me feel some kind of miraculous cinematic emotion for whatever reason), but I think that's just because the story structure and one-quest-to-the-next format of the storytelling don't really get to me quite as much.  It was still excellent, even if just to see them continue the wonderful series in such a consistent and quality manner.

              So it was an excellent evening in the theater, and I was glad to see a good number of people present, though from what I hear, I still fear that low numbers could be the demise of this series from this point (which is, I think, why Disney passed over the reins after unfortunately lackluster box office numbers for Prince Caspian, which is also a bummer since now I won't hear about it on my various Disney podcasts or see it in any capacity in the parks).  I encourage everyone to see this movie, take your family, tell your friends, spread the joy.  There's so much rubbish in the theaters these days, I think we really need to support when such quality films come out.  It seems like a lot of people didn't even realize it was out yet.

              I really can't think of a way this movie could have been better.  Keep it up, Narnia.  I'll be buying my tickets to The Silver Chair around 2012 or so.

              Tuesday, December 14, 2010

              Pen and Pencil

              Hello!  I write to you today with a short but shameless little plug.
              Official logo currently in progress
              As most of you know, one of the many things that Julie and I have in common is our inclination toward the visual arts.  My degree is in animation, and there was a time Julie studied illustration.  We both keep regular sketchbooks and love to draw.  And, while we both have art websites and/or online portfolios, we were thinking it would be fun to have some kind of joint online project where we could post some of our more current work (and sometimes maybe not so current), even if just for a few interested parties to see, and of course for our own pure joy of creating and sharing art, not to mention motivation to try new things and keep creating, even when we're busy or artistically frustrated.  We decided the easiest way to do this would be to create a blog on which we could both post and contribute.  So, we are very proud to announce the launch of Pen and Pencil*, our brand new space on the interwebs devoted to our art!  It's very much a work-in-progress at the moment, and there will new posts and overall design updates as time goes by, but for now, there's a welcome note, and there's a first joint post.  We will be posting artwork there occasionally, some by me, some by her, and some by us, since we have taken to joining artistic forces lately (a lot of times, I'll do the rough sketch and Julie will take it onto Photoshop and work her magic there, or some variation of that formula).  We're not sure how often we'll post, but we'll have regular updates, so visit often and take a few moments to experience some visual and artistic stimulation.

              If it's your kind of thing, we would be ever so glad if you would follow us, or link to us (we're happy to exchange links with other art blogs or websites we like), and/or add us to your blog Reader/bloglines.  So, visit!  Enjoy!  Comment!  Subscribe and follow!  Tell your friends!  Add us to your Reader!  Return often for updates and original arts by me, her, or us!

              Much thanks. 

              ... Tell your friends.


              * Blog name derived from the fact that I generally use a pen when it comes to sketching, while Julie usually prefers pencil.

              Friday, December 10, 2010

              Thanksgiving 2010

              Has it really been two weeks since Thanksgiving?...  Wow.

              Well, we had Thanksgiving!  It was a delight from start to finish.  Of course I was still kind of glowing from the Tangled experience, but there were good times to be had, so off we went.

              We started with Amber's annual Cedar Hollow Turkey Trot in Lehi.  Julie wasn't feeling well, so she wasn't able to attend (though she was much missed by all), but Mom, Dad, Cami, Melody, Jonny and I all had a good time running the 4-mile race in temperature that measured in the mid-teens (yeah, it was cold).  I came in second overall at about 30:17, just a few minutes after Jonny, and everyone made good time.  It might have been the option of either hurrying really fast or dying from cold.  The hot chocolate and cider at the finish line was certainly much appreciated.

              I went home to retrieve my now feeling-much-better wife, and we made a few dishes and headed to Mom's house.  It was a delicious feast including all the things we hoped to see, a it was great to be with such a lot of family (though Emily, Elise and Matt and their respective families were missed).  Julie's doubled-recipe green bean casserole was a big hit (which you can observe below), as was her now-famous Pumpkin Whoopee.
              We relaxed for the rest of the day and tried to get some rest so we could be ready for Black Friday the next day (never has been one of my traditions, but Julie thinks it's fun).  In short:

              • Target with its insane line-up outside the store and wanna-be security "cops" with a power complex manhandling people = FAIL.
              • Target with its no Lego Harry Potter for the Wii = FAIL.
              • Target with an open express lane so we could buy our two DVDs without having to wait three hours in line = win.
              • Walmart with its "on-sale starting at 5 am, but really we're giving out tickets at around midnight, so don't bother trying to come later than that to get that really good deal" = FAIL.
              • Walmart with its "ON SALE camera price, but really it's the regular sale price" = semi-fail.
              • Sam's Club, with its low crowds and regular sale price of a beautiful new LCD TV, which we much needed, and which I love = WIN.
              It was so nice to spend another Thanksgiving here at home, but according to schedule, we should be in Missouri next year, and I look forward to enjoying the holiday the Christensen way for my first time.

              I am thankful for so many things, but what I am most thankful for is my beautiful and patient wife and the Gospel that allows me the very real opportunity I have to be with her forevermore.  Smooches.

              Monday, December 6, 2010


              It's out!  I have seen it!  (Twice now!)  I really liked it!  (Even more the second time!)
              Here are my animation-major (that is, -snob) thoughts.  I'll try not to make it TOO long, and break it up for easier perusal.

              First, some pros:

              •  It was a Disney movie through and through.  As much as the trailer tried to convince me that it was a so-so Shrek knock-off, this is no film from DreamWorks.  There's nothing cynical or sarcastic about it at all.  It was sincere and sweet, honestly funny and genuinely warm (without, I should point out, being sappy).
              • It did look quite beautiful as a film.  Rapunzel's hair was really pretty stunning to watch, and it was interesting to see how they handled it, even as sort of a character itself (though not as a sentient, thinking entity as the previews made it seem).  The light and the colors and the sets were all really interesting and notably Disney as well.
              • The story was strong and the characters really propelled it.  It didn't rely on potty humor (at all) or cliché plot devices.  In hindsight, there are hints of previous Disney films reflected in the story (Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin), which is probably partly why it fits so well in the Disney canon.  It was contemporary without being overly-anachronistic, and it really surprised me in a couple of places (since I was pretty much spoiler-free with this one, which is not my usual thing with Disney movies).  I won't give it all here, so as not to ruin anyone's future enjoyment, but it really was funny and the ending was surprisingly touching.
              • The characters were charming and likeable.  Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are an excellent unlikely duo, and their relationship is believable but also really fun.  Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi provide both the speaking as well as singing voices for their respective characters, and are both fine voice actors.  I was hesitant about Mandy Moore, but as it turns out, she does pretty well with voicework for animation.  At times I forgot entirely it was Mandy Moore, she just knew the character so well.  Design-wise, she was cute and believably young, naive and optimistic, but still spunky and funny.  She had a really nice arc of development, growing up just enough to keep her endearing but making you care about what happened to her.  Zachary Levi also played his part with charm and swagger, but also really knew his character and where he was supposed to go.  I don't really know him as Chuck, but word is that a lot of people are surprised at his performance in this, especially his unexpected singing voice.  His development was a little more subtle than Rapunzel's, but it was just as it needed to be for who he was.  Mother Gothel is a standout Disney villain, with a surprisingly subtle and nuanced character, and Broadway veteran Donna Murphy was an excellent casting choice.  There was a slew of secondary characters (the "Pub Thugs") who perform their function adequately and amusingly.  Also, as a sort of departure for this sort of film from Disney, the animal sidekicks did not speak, but their acting was perfectly clear regardless (which is a real sign of great animation--non-speaking characters emoting and expressing dialogue--see Dumbo and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron).
              • The music!  Don't get me wrong, Randy Newman did a fantastic job with his work on The Princess and the Frog, but it was great to see (read: hear) Alan Menken back in action.  The man really is the sound of "New Disney," and his writing was in fine form for Tangled.  It's interesting because it is sort of a unique sound compared to some of his other work for the studio (a little more pop than his other more Broadway-styled work, think Enchanted rather than Beauty and the Beast), but it's still decidedly Disney.  I liked the songs and score when I watched it, but it grew on me even more each time I listened to the soundtrack (which is to say at least once every day since I saw the movie--in fact, I'm listening to it even now).  It has all the types of song you would hope to hear in a Disney movie:  The main character's "I Want" song, setting the stage and developing the character; a fun and memorable villain song (with its more sinister and dynamic reprise); a random story progression showstopper featuring a band of secondary characters; the love song; a thrilling and moving score.  "I See the Light" is a lovely and understated love song, and fits perfectly in the Disney songbook:

              Now for just a few minor cons:
              • I just kept wishing the entire time it were a traditionally-animated film.  I love the look and feel of 2D animation so much, it just seemed in some ways a shame that Disney's "50th Animated Feature" should deviated in such a fundamental way from the artform that the studio is so famous for and perfected.  It was pretty enough, and in a lot of ways really played like a 2D film though, so I was able to mostly get over that (after all, it's not like I'm against ALL 3D films, as Pixar has yet to let me down).  It was more about the characters and the story than the medium, and it didn't rely entirely on the form of visuals used, but there were a couple of visual/story things that didn't seem to work quite as well.  For example, someone flying through the air over a castle tower and landing astride a horse or sliding down a conveniently-placed slope to safety after falling hundreds of feet down a ravine just seem to work when they're hand-drawn, but the element of slightly more realism in a 3D film seems to just make those sorts of things... kind of hard to accept.  Also, Rapunzel's eyes are just SO big.  It worked with Ariel and Jasmine, because they were drawings, but when it comes to this, it's a little off-putting and distracting.  You get used to it, sure, but I muttered to Julie about how big they were more than a few times.  Sometimes I see drawings of the characters and just sigh at how it could have been, the drawings are just so beautiful (see here and here and here).  Anyway, I could go on, but there you go.
              • I still think it should just have been called Rapunzel.  I know the reasons they changed the title (a few times actually), or the few reasons they seem to hand out, and they make sense to me, but I just don't think it was necessary.  It just doesn't seem like the Disney thing, but then again, neither did the marketing campaign, which, I should say, according to box office reports, seems to have worked.
              • It made me the slightest bit sad to see the Disney movie I've been dreaming of working on for over a decade made without me (yes, I have character sketches of Rapunzel from 9th grade), but at least it was made, you know?
              So yeah, I had some minor issues with it, but I just can't not like it, it's just too much of everything I love about Disney movies.  It wasn't directed by Glen Keane, as had originally been announced, but his influence was quite evident in the character design and general look of the movie.  Overall, I really liked it, but it just didn't make me feel like The Princess and the Frog did.  (I still cry when I watch that movie, and this one did get me a little emotional, but not to quite the same level.)  I do get a tad defensive when people say things like "the first classic Disney film in years!" or "FINALLY a Disney princess movie!", because, HELLO, there was one barely one year ago!  And it was classic in a couple of ways that Tangled never could be.  That was the one that really needed the box office attention, which, sadly, it didn't seem to get.  I believe Disney will on occasion go back to their roots, since I really think both 2D and 3D animation can co-exist in life, but at least 3D films are getting better and not relying so much on the gimmick of the shiny look and feel.  And anyway, Tangled was a sight better than Disney's previous computer-animated films (don't get me started on Chicken Little...), and I'm glad to see it doing well.

              As a sidenote, one of my friends from school worked on it, and I was inordinately excited to see the name of someone I know personally in the credits for a Disney movie.  He has achieved one of my life goals, now I hope to one day do likewise.

              I highly recommend it, but REALLY people, if you haven't seen The Princess and the Frog yet, PLEASE do.  I have it on DVD and even Blu-Ray if you need to borrow it.