Houston Symphony Honors the Dead With La Triste Historia

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Animation stills by Tick Tock Robot

Similar to many other holidays, El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of The Dead) has been commercialized and adopted by retailers hungry to sell masks and flowers. We see the image of la calavera (the skull) so frequently these days that its true value is lost, as if we forget that it represents the ultimate conclusion to this thing called life: Death.

Yet in the Mexican tradition, although it induces tears and mourning, Death is not something to be afraid of or vilified. El Dia de Los Muertos is a beautiful celebration of our loved ones and friends who have passed onto the next life, and we take the time to remember and honor them.

On Friday night in Downtown Houston (with showings on Saturday and Sunday as well), the Houston Symphony presented the classiest and perhaps most monumental honoring of the dead since the ancient pyramids were built. The world premiere of La Triste Historia tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers set during the backdrop of The Mexican Revolution. A classic scenario with not-so-classic characters.

The night began with the return of conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto, who previously was an associate conductor at the Houston Symphony several years ago. It was easy to see why this man is/was a crowd favorite; his smile and energy and heart makes your best friend in an instant, with enough flair and command to move even the stodgiest of works into symphonic masterpieces.

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As he raised his baton, the whole room seemingly came to attention, ready for the ride through the emotional musical journey that was set before us. Watching Prieto maneuver up and down and sideways made it clear that being a conductor is one of the most satisfying jobs in the whole world. Sitting in the audience that night became a festival of enjoyment and wonder, with the senses of sound and sight creeping towards overload.

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Top Five Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Dance Salad 2013, the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, Misha Penton: Selkie, a sea tale, Dave Attell and Anime Matsuri

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In Transit by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's curated version of In Transit by the Compañía Nacional de Danza/National Ballet of Spain is just one of a slew of premieres seen at Dance Salad Festival 2013, which runs Friday and Saturday. The piece was inspired by Ochoa's frequent stops in airports. Ochoa has a second piece on the program, L'Effleure, a solo she created for dancer Rubi Pronk, who performs it here. Pronk also appears in Kurt Weill by Krzysztof Pastor, artistic director of the Polish National Ballet. (The group is back in the United States for the first time since 1980.) Mauro Astolfi's Dangerous Liaisons is performed by Rome-based Spellbound Contemporary Ballet.

Nancy Henderek, the festival's artistic director, travels around the globe in search of new and exciting work to bring to the event every year. One of her most notable finds this year was an evening-length work called PUZ/ZLE by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. After seeing it per-formed in a rock quarry in France, Henderek worked with the choreographer to bring a section of it to Dance Festival. "This is the first time that PUZ/ZLE has been to the United States in any form and we're getting a [version] that hasn't been seen anywhere else in the world. That's very exciting, to be able to work with this world-renowned choreographer on something special just for us," Henderek says. Musicians from Lebanon, Japan and Poland provide live musical accompaniment for PUZ/ZLE. "They're even going to create some new music for Houston."

See Dance Salad Festival 2013 at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, visit the Dance Salad Festival website or call 877-772-5425. $20 to $50.

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Archer Season 4 Premiere, "Fugue and Riffs"

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If you love FX's spy-themed animated comedy Archer as much as I do, then you've waited for this premiere with bated breath. The wait is over at last. Let's get into it.

The episode kicks off with the much-ballyhooed Archer / Bob's Burgers crossover - H. Jon Benjamin voices the title character of both shows. "Bob," however, looks like Archer with a mustache. A few thugs with guns and Russian accents arrive and Archer-Bob shoos his wife and kids - all drawn to resemble their Bob's Burgers counterparts but in Archer style - into the back. The thugs make their move to abduct Archer-Bob. It turns into the robbery scene from A History of Violence, right down to the coffee pot smashed across the face.

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Celebrity Voice Suggestions for Cartoon Network

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That blue slug thing is Matthew Broderick's new gig.
In case you needed another reason to be in love with Matthew Broderick, the actor and husband of Sarah Jessica Parker will add his voice to an upcoming episode of the Cartoon Network animated series Adventure Time. Broderick will voice a used-car salesman named The Dream Warrior, which is not a common name for used-car salesmen.

According to Cartoon Network, Broderick was interested in doing the show because his son James watches it. How cute is that?

For all of you who do not have ten-year-olds, Adventure Time is one of those bizarro Cartoon Network shows that make very little sense, but kids seem to be just bonkers over it. In this particular show, a boy, Finn the Human, and his dog, Jake the Dog, travel about in a postapocalyptic world called "Land of Ooo," which is apparently filled with magic. Huh, this show sort of sounds amazing.

For actors, voicing a cartoon character is a sweet gig. You don't have to memorize any lines, you can literally phone it in and you don't have to wear Spanx to work. For us little people, it's always fun to watch a cartoon and smack your head a few times trying to figure out where in the hell you know that voice from, and then, "Holy crap, was that just Al Pacino?"

Broderick as a used-car salesman on an arbitrary Cartoon Network show is fairly random, but it's just not weird enough for the network that made a show about an animal that is half cow and half chicken popular. If Cartoon Network is looking for some other celebrities to make weird cameos, might I offer a few suggestions?

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First Look at Disney's Paperman Short

Categories: Animation

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Not this Paperman.
Walt Disney is releasing, in conjunction with its new animated feature Wreck It Ralph, a lovely-looking black and white short called Paperman about a lonely man who meets a woman on a train he believes to be the woman of his dreams. The short is set in the mid twentieth century and animated in pretty stunning grainy black and white -- probably an early candidate for an Oscar.

While this is not the quirky indie comedy of the same name that starred Jeff Daniels and Ryan Reynolds, it does appear to be a sweet, romantic tilt with an interesting look, which could offer a nice balance to the off-kilter video game-themed Wreck It Ralph. Both movies hit the big screen November 2.

Photos after the jump.

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Are the Disney Princesses Feminists?

Categories: Animation

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The new riot grrrl on the block
Pixar's new animated movie Brave opened this past weekend, and it kicked butt. It brought in over $66 million in the United States, and these dollars don't include the mountains of Brave-related paraphernalia. The movie focuses on the dogmatic Scottish princess Merida and her disdain for doing things her parents want her to do (marry, keep her hair kempt).

The reviews of the film are mixed. It's Pixar-pretty but no WALL-E or Toy Story. The compilation movie review Web site Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 75 percent, which is okay, but as Lisa Kennedy from the Denver Post poignantly states, "Saying that Brave is entertaining but not astonishing is pretty much admitting your straight-A student got a B."

More than the reviews and its financial success, what's garnered the biggest headlines is the fact that Brave is all about girl power, and this little princess is assertive and independent, which is crazy! Maybe the suffragettes did have an impact after all.

Granted, Pixar has not made anyone's "studios that make girl-centric films" list; the most memorable females from the Toy Story franchise were Barbies, but the media has really latched onto this concept like hair on lip gloss. What I find perplexing is why a children's cartoon about a defiant princess is Jezebel-worthy news? I can barely name a cartoon not about a strong-willed chick.

As the years have passed in the cartoon world, heroines have become increasingly independent. This does not make them feminist films by any means as, sadly, the young lady's independence is usually the thing that gets her ass in trouble, but that doesn't stop these girls from trying. How feminist are Disney princesses and how have they evolved over the years? Let us track the progression of the recalcitrant cartoon heroine, shall we?

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UPDATED: A Closer Look at the Upcoming Animated Portal Short

Categories: Animation, Gaming

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UPDATE: You can keep up to date on this project from Alex Zemke's new Twitter.

The geekier side of the Internet has been fair abuzz since test shots of Alex Zemke's upcoming animated short Companionship, based on the award-winning and impossibly excellent video game series Portal from Valve, were revealed. The shots bring the protagonist Chell to life, infusing the mute, determined queen of the portal gun with warmth and humanity.

"Well, of course, the game is phenomenal, and I was obsessed with the sequel the instant it was announced," said Zemke via e-mail.

Zemke, who's had a hand in projects like the latest Smurfs film and the Uncharted games, had been looking for ideas for test animation to add to his portfolio. At the time all he was working on was facial animation and cleanup duty on motion capture. Then he ran across this graphic. The initial idea was to do a simple animation of Chell tripping into a portal and ending up caught in a constant loop of movement between them.

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4 Disney Characters You Didn't Know Had Real Names

Categories: Animation

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Disney is famous for bringing fairy tales to life on the big screen, and most fairy tales are by nature made up of stock characters and archetypes. That's one of the ways they remain timeless as well as accessible to many different cultures.

Still, most Disney characters have names. It's awkward to call someone constantly by his or her title, so the nameless sea witch in Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid becomes Ursula, just as the Little Mermaid becomes Ariel. A few of the characters have held onto their honorifics, though, but you might be surprised to learn that they too have real names.

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Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss and Our Top Ten Favorite Seuss Books

Categories: Animation, Writing


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Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! On March 2, everyone's favorite master of rhyme would have been 108 years old. Dr. Seuss passed away in 1991, but his legacy will forever live on. In fact, right now his legacy is as strong as ever with the March 2 release of The Lorax on the big screen.

Not too many people know that Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Geisel, has had a checkered past. Surprisingly for someone known to entertain children, Seuss has had his hand in some very grown-up activities. He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1904 and found his way to the prestigious Dartmouth College. For a while he was editor of the university's humor paper, but was forced to resign because he and his pals threw an alcohol-fueled rager. He went off to Oxford, on his father's wishes, but dropped out soon after.

He pursued a career in advertising, most notably at the New Jersey company Standard Oil, where he would design the company's ad campaigns for 15 years. The work he did there would set the stage for the rest of his career.

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Theodor Geisel's print ad for Standard Oil


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The Mice and Men of Disney: 5 Heroes Who Never Get Their Due

Categories: Animation

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Like most adult people, we didn't really pay attention to the world of Disney. Whenever a new film came out, we briefly acknowledged whatever story they'd chosen to animate and then moved on with our day. Now we have a daughter, and like most parents you start getting into Disney culture...a culture that has some serious problems, in our opinion.

The Disney princess movement is really beginning to annoy us. We understand that the point of the whole thing, aside from making huge amounts of money, of course, is to give little girls a bevy of female protagonists to identify with. The problem is, we feel that they've become so dedicated to this narrative that they have actively begun sacrificing any male roles in the stories. That's too bad because there have been some truly badass boys in the films, and each one is dying the sad death of undermarketing. Such as..

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