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March 2010 Archives

"Adoption" on IML
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Chris&Kali.jpgYes, it's been a while since we had a whole new topic on IML. That's why we're extra-excited to announce our section on Adoption!

Even if you don't think Adoption has touched your life in any way, we hope you'll check out the many sides of this subject. You'll probably learn something you didn't know or end up thinking about it in a new way. Thanks again to Chris, Kali, and Emily for sharing their personal stories, and to all the IML'ers who have posted on the Adoption You Said It page. We couldn't have done it without you!

We wanted to share this lovely video from AdoptUsKids, a project from the Children's Bureau, whose goal is to connect foster and adoptive families with waiting children throughout the U.S. Imagine how these tweens must have felt when they finally found the kind of family so many of us take for granted!






Join DoSomething.org's Battle of the Bands
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Sometimes it seems like every year, public schools have to cut more of their budgets. Teachers and aides lose their jobs, class sizes increase, and great programs go bye-bye. Usually that means arts and music education, because they're not seen as "academic" programs that give students more practical knowledge or help them score better on standardized tests.

Do you agree?

We don't! There are, like, countless reasons why the arts are a key element to anyone's education! Each of those reasons is a person who has learned something about the world -- or themselves -- through music.

If you feel, as we do, that it's important to "save the music!", here's a way to get your voice heard. DoSomething.org has launched a campaign called "Battle of the Bands" and there's still time (until April 16) to create an entry. All you have to do is create a video of your band, glee club, orchestra, or any other musical performance (that could mean you and your BFF's singing in your bedroom with hairbrushes for microphones), and in your video, talk about why music education is important to you. Then upload it, share it, ask people to rate it, then submit your results to possibly win prizes and have your video be presented to members of Congress.

Visit the Battle of the Bands website for more info, videos featuring celebs speaking out about music education, and to see a gallery of videos submitted so far. Here's one of our faves:






Movie Review: "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"
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wimpy-kid_tree.jpgGreg Heffley hates middle school, but he's determined not to let it destroy him. The key to surviving, he thinks, is popularity, and he's got a sure-fire scheme (actually a bunch of them) to become the A-number one cool kid in the school. But his bullying wanna-be rock star older brother Rodrick and goofball best friend Rowley aren't making his rise to the top of the social-status ladder any easier. Of course, losing a wrestling match to a girl and having to eat lunch on the cafeteria floor don't help much either. Can Greg overcome these obstacles and rule the school? Well, when the title of the story is "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," that's probably not gonna happen. But although Greg is doomed to failure from the start, it's funny to watch him try his best to make it. Too bad his "best" is usually also his "worst."

Based on your posts to our My Favorite Author and My Favorite Book You Said It pages, we know that a lot of you are fans of Jeff Kinney's illustrated "Wimpy Kid" books. So how was this much-anticipated movie adaptation?  Let's break it down, IML-style:

Here's what we liked:

Middle school life. The movie does a great job of capturing what it's like to be in middle school, from the anxiety of finding somewhere to sit in the cafeteria, to the pain of being thrown into a gym class with kids three times your size. There's even a hilarious running gag about a cursed slice of cheese that's been on the playground blacktop for years...just like we had at the middle school we went to. Oh, wait. We didn't have cursed cheese. But everything else felt very familiar!

Rowley.  Robert Capron plays Greg's socially-inept best pal Rowley, and he's great. Funny, likable and just plain nice, Rowley is the heart of the movie. He's even friends with his own mom, if you can believe that.

Angie. The awesome Chloe Moretz plays a live-by-her-own rules outsider who refuses to buy into the popularity game. She's exactly the type of friend Greg should be reaching out to for help, but he doesn't know it. Too bad this character is barely in the movie; we wanted to see a lot more of her!

Sibling rivalry. Just like in the books, the constant fighting and pranks between Greg and older bro Roderick provide a lot of the laughs in the movie. They aren't exactly subtle laughs, but we'll take what we can get.

Now, here's what we didn't like:

The sketchiness. We don't mean "sketchy" as in "creepy." We mean the movie sometimes  feels like a bunch of sketches that aren't connected by much. The main story centers on Greg's quest for middle-school fame and his relationship with Rowley, but lots of scenes don't seem to have much payoff, and the plot feels kind of thin.

The parents. Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris play Greg's mom and dad, and they act like somebody forced them at gunpoint to be in this movie. They certainly aren't having any fun with their roles, and it isn't any fun to watch them, either.

wimpy-kid.jpgGreg. It's weird to say this, but the thing we liked least about this movie was, well...Greg himself. Zachary Gordon is a fine actor, but he plays a character who is very hard to like and root for. And he's the main character of the film, the one we're supposed to identify with! Here's the problem: Greg never thinks of anybody but himself. It would be funny if he were a basically good-hearted kid who makes some mistakes, or gets into goofy trouble that isn't really his fault. But Greg Heffley isn't really good-hearted. He walks all over everyone else's feelings, cares only about his own popularity, and ignores the people who try to help him out. On top of that, he treats his best friend like garbage for the entire movie. It's hard to have sympathy for a guy like that. Sure, Greg comes around in the end, but it feels like too little, too late. You can't be a jerk for an hour and a half of a movie, and then suddenly make us like you with one noble deed, five minutes before the credits roll.

Overall, we walked out of the theater feeling like the movie was a mixed bag. There were moments when we laughed out loud, but other times we were a little bored, and kinda annoyed by what a jerk Greg was. It's as if the movie should've been titled "Diary of a Selfish Kid." The film is good, but not great, and lacks a lot of the silly whimsy of the books. Maybe an animated movie would've been a better idea!

IML's rating: C+

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is rated PG for some rude humor and language.

So what did you think? Are you a fan of the books? Are you satisfied with the screen version, or disappointed? And why do you think it might have been challenging for the filmmakers to capture the books' spirit in a movie?


DVD Review: "The Princess and the Frog"
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How do you feel about fairy tale princesses? Have you outgrown them, and left them in your "little kid" past? Have you handed all of your cartoon DVD's over to younger sibs or cousins? Or have you started feeling nostalgic for the days when you believed in magic, and spells, and wishing upon a star?

PrincessandTheFrog3DiscBlurayCombo sm.jpgWhatever your attitude about the whole princess thing, there's no denying that over more than 70 years, the folks at Disney have mined this theme to create some truly colorful characters, compelling stories, and groundbreaking animated masterpieces. Now, with the DVD and Blu-ray release of "The Princess and the Frog," they offer up a beautiful gem that not only adds to their princess collection, but actually offers up some clever commentary on the royal young women they've presented in the past.

The very first scene in P&F shows our main character Tiana as a little girl, listening with best friend Charlotte as her seamstress mama tells a typical Disney-style fairly tale. The girls are enthralled, and are even surrounded by dolls and dresses that look like they just came from the local mall's Disney Store (even though those didn't exist in the 1920's). It's a wink and a nod to all the classic heroines, and a great way to start a brand-new princess movie. Because Tiana, as we soon find out, is a little bit different. And why shouldn't she be? After all, it's the 21st century, and we deserve a new kind of princess.

snowwhite.jpgMovies, even cartoons, are reflections on the eras they're made in. Fairy tales are usually set in far-off lands in the distant past, but they can actually be pretty good way to understand the changing times, especially when it comes to attitudes about women. Check out these song lyrics:

Snow White (1937): "Someday my prince will come."
Cinderella (1950): "A dream is a wish your heart makes."
Aurora (1959): "I've walked with you once upon a dream."
Ariel (1989): "I want to be part of your world."
Belle (1991): "There must be more than this provincial life!"
Jasmine (1992): "A whole new world, with new horizons to pursue."
Pocahontas (1995): "Why do all my dreams extend just around the riverbend?"
Mulan (1998): "When will my reflection show who I am inside?"
Tiana (2009): "There ain't nothin' gonna stop me now, 'cause I'm almost there!"

tiana_cooking.jpgSee what happened there? The ideal of what a "princess" ought to be changed quite a bit over the decades, from a beautiful but fragile girl who dreams of being rescued by a prince, to a tough, resourceful young woman who dreams of a different and better life, and takes matters into her own hands to make it happen. These attitudes changed in real life, too...between 1937 and 2009, women in most parts of the world found their liberties, along with their opportunities and responsibilities, grow.

As for our latest entry, Tiana...like Belle and Cinderella, she's not a princess at first. She's a working class girl from the poor side of town, and she knows that, in the real world, you can't rely on a twinkling star or a magic wand to grant you your wish; you've got to find a way to make your own wish come true. This is a great theme for any movie, and particularly powerful in an animated fairytale. But it's far from the only thing we like about "The Princess and the Frog."

Here's what else we liked:
 
Thumbnail image for naveen.jpgNew Orleans. A lot of animated movies never really give you a sense of place, but here, New Orleans comes to brilliant, jazzy life. It's as if the city and the surrounding bayous are some of the best characters in the film. They're that entertaining!

The Frog Stuff. Tiana and Prince Naveen spend more time as frogs than they do as people, and we think this is great. Their amphibious adventures in the lush Louisiana swamp make up the meat (frog's legs anyone?) of the movie, with laughs and scares and romance.

The 2D. Hey, we love Pixar-style computer animation too, but sometimes fabulous 2D is the best way to tell a story...particularly a fairy tale. This isn't just a movie; it's artistry in the tradition of all the great cel-animated films of the last century. Yeah, we know that this was painted with computers, but it still LOOKS hand-painted, and we love that.

The Humor. There are a lot of funny moments in this story, but here's out favorite joke: "It's not slime! It's mucous!" Man, that cracks us up.

The Message. Love is more important than money. It's not the most original moral to a story, but it's worth repeating. Greed leads to no good in this tale, and that's a message we'll listen to any day.

Okay, as much as we like this flick, there are a couple things that could've been done better:

The Songs. The musical numbers in this movie are fun and rollicking, as they should be in a story that's set in Jazz-age Louisiana. But there's some spark missing...there's nothing that's quite like "Kiss the Girl" or "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid, or "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast. In the words of American Idol judge Randy Jackson, the songs in "The Princess and the Frog" are "just a'ight, dog." Good, but not spectacular.

The Baddie. Again, we like the Shadow Man as a bad guy. We just don't love him the way we love Malificent from Sleeping Beauty. He's spooky and creepy and the swirling, twirling colors that accompany him are very cool to watch. But he never really says "evil" in quite the way we want him to.

Overall, the strong outweighs the weak in this latest Princess movie, and Tiana is now one of our favorite princesses, in part because she defies the old Princess stereotype so well. You go girl!

IML's rating: B+

"The Princess and the Frog" is rated G. The Blu-ray and DVD come with a nice selection of extras, including behind-the-scenes documentaries, deleted scenes, and a music video by Ne-Yo. Here's a great clip that further explains how the filmmakers approached Tiana's version of the classic "fairy tale":






Dr. Jennifer Ashton answers girls' top questions about puberty
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All you have to do is take one look at our Puberty for Girls You Said It page to see that IML'ers have a lot of questions about puberty. A ton, really. And that's not surprising, considering how confusing, scary, embarrassing, and downright oogy certain parts of it can be, especially if you don't feel comfortable talking to your mom or another adult about this stuff.

BodyScoopforGirls_FINAL.jpgThat's why, when we saw that Dr. Jennifer Ashton, M.D. and OB.-GYN (that means she's an obstetrician and gynecologist), has recently published a book called "The Body Scoop For Girls: A Straight-Talk Guide to a Healthy, Beautiful You" (Avery/Penguin) we asked her if she'd answer the five most common questions we see you asking on IML. And she said yes!

So are you ready? Here we go:

Question #1:
"When am I going to get my period? Can I make a prediction based on how quickly my breasts are developing, when other women in my family got it, how much discharge and cramps I'm experiencing, and other things?"


Dr. Ashton: Usually, the first period arrives approximately two years after puberty first starts, but this can vary widely for many girls. The rate at which breasts develop is not the end-all and be-all factor in predicting when the first period will arrive, but it is a measure of the amount of estrogen exposure circulating in the blood. In turn, this can indicate the pace at which puberty is progressing, but again, it is very different for everybody. Family history is relevant, too, as is your height and weight. Taller girls who are heavier tend to get their periods earlier than girls who are shorter and thinner. Discharge is an indication of the activity of the cells in the cervix, and how much mucus they are producing. As you get closer to the first period, this discharge might pick up a bit, but there is no definitive telltale sign.

Question #2:
"My period started recently and it's driving me crazy how irregular it is. Sometimes I bleed for days, sometimes I go for two months without getting it. Why does this happen and when will it stop?  How do I deal with it?"


Dr. Ashton: Irregular periods are common in the first year or so after menstruation begins. It happens because the signals that the brain sends to the ovaries are not fully mature yet, and so communication can be a bit erratic. The best thing to do is to keep a "period diary" and mark down when your period comes and how long it lasts, plus how heavy or painful it is. It may be helpful to remind yourself that it doesn't mean anything is wrong or defective within your body, and most girls will grow out of it. But if the irregularity starts to interfere with your day-to-day life, in an emotional or physical sense, it may be a good idea to ask a parent to bring you to a gynecologist who specializes in treating teens. He or she may do some blood tests to check your hormone levels, and be able to give you some options on how to best manage your irregular periods.

Question #3:
"I'm getting a lot of vaginal discharge and it's really confusing.  It has different colors, thicknesses, and smells depending on the day.  Why does this happen and what does it mean?"

Dr. Ashton:
The rule of thumb with vaginal discharge is that as long as person has never had sex, and the discharge isn't green, smelly, or itchy, then most of the time that discharge is normal. It is just your cervix and uterus doing their job of making mucus to lubricate the vagina and help keep bacteria from traveling up vagina into the uterus. It is normal for the amount and texture of the discharge to change with respect to the part of the menstrual cycle. Typically, about two weeks after a period and two weeks before the next period, the amount of discharge will be at its peak. Usually, it is clear or whitish/yellowish and should not smell. If discharge persists for longer than a few days and is accompanied by a strong odor and/or itching, you should see a doctor because there may be a simple infection there.

Question #4:
"The worst thing about puberty for me is the emotional stuff. I get crazy mood swings and it seems like everyone only talks about crushes and dating. Why is this happening, and how can I deal with it?"

Dr. Ashton:
Puberty is a time of major emotional swings and changes.  Sometimes these changes can cause big outbursts and ups and downs in emotion.  Understand that this is very common, but if some of these swings seem very dramatic or extreme to you, then you should ask a parent or doctor for help.  Good tips for how to manage these swings is to find a habit that you like, and that makes you feel good, relaxed, and calm.  This could be anything from exercise to listening to music.  The key is to find some outlet that works well for you when you feel stressed.

Question #5:
"I don't feel like I have anyone to talk to about puberty. I don't know how my mom will react if I ask her about periods, or if we can buy some bras. I'm just so embarrassed and don't know how to bring it up!"


Dr. Ashton: This is very common.  In fact, this is why I wrote "The Body Scoop For Girls"! Most adults and teens may find it hard to bring up these issues, but try to remember the goal: getting good information and securing a healthy life both now and in the future. In terms of embarrassment, keep in mind that everyone goes through the same issues. Just take a deep breath, and forge ahead!  You can do it!

Thanks so much Dr. Ashton for sharing your wisdom and experience! We highly recommend this book as a great go-to resource for more answers and advice for girls.

You can also check out IML's section on Puberty for info when you need it.




 
TV Review: "American Idol Season 9"
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So. Top Twelve!

Even though it feels like "American Idol" is just heating up, we're actually about halfway through the season. What do you think so far?

american-idol-logo.jpgAI is kind of a fascinating show for us because it's a lot of things at once. It's a talent contest. It's a drama. It's a comedy. It's one big commercial for the sponsors' products, other Fox TV shows or movies, the live tour, and past Idols' record albums. It's something that appeals to a gigantic age range of viewers. And mostly, at the end of it all, it's pure, simple, addictive entertainment.

Here's what we like about AI right now:

Ellen DeGeneres. We love Ellen so we were pretty psyched when we heard she was going to replace Paula Abdul. People have complained that so far, she's not funny enough. But we think she's just the right amount of funny, because any more funny and she'd come off as belittling the contestants' hard work. The fact that she's the only judge on the panel without any official music industry background makes her comments fair, refreshing, and possibly closest to those of the viewers.

Boys with guitars. Ever since the show started to let contestants play instruments, things have been more interesting. It makes for another choice in addition to picking the right song: Do I just sing or do I play too? Guys like Andrew Garcia and Casey James can bring their performances to a whole other level with their guitars; Michael Lynche and Tim Urban almost take on a new personality when they're playing versus just singing. It's fun to watch.

Alterna-chicks. How happy we are that Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus, Didi Benami, and Lacey Brown have made it in to the Top 12. (We believe Lilly Scott should have been there too; we are sad and kind of like "What?" about that.) They're different and fresh and seem to take pride in being themselves. In fact, for the first time ever as AI fans, we are more excited about the girls this year than the boys!

"Wunderkinds." Okay, Aaron Kelly and Katie Stevens. You can sing. Really well. Can you show us that as teens you have what Jordin Sparks had, or will young people just vote for you because you remind them of their BFF/crush/themselves?

Simon (Yes, Simon!). He can be a bully and snide and looks like he's pretty much over this whole AI thing already. But you have to admit he knows what he's talking about; when he does realize he was wrong about something, he owns up to it. We believe Simon is just preparing these contestants for life in the music industry, where people really can be that cruel and you need a tough skin. His job, underneath all that attitude, is to help the contestants grow into the artists they can potentially be.

It's not all about winning and losing. Although there are more "losers" than "winners" on this show in that someone goes home each week until only one contestant can be victorious, there is a lot of emphasis on that fact that it's the journey, not the destination, that can really be the prize. Contestants have amazing experiences and are exposed to lots of new opportunities, and can take pride in having come as far as they did. You just have to look at someone like Chris Daughtry or Jennifer Hudson to see that "losing" on this show was really just the first step on their path to success.

So, we'll be watching on Tuesday nights along with all you other AI fans out there. During commercial breaks, share your experiences on Idol-relevant You Said It pages like Performing For A Group, I Play An Instrument, and How I Express Myself.


 
Book Review: "The Big Book of Gross Stuff"
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Quick: what do you think of when you hear the word "gross"?

Is it something that comes out of or is on the human body? Is it something you find somewhere? Is it just the concept of something?

Gross can be scary. Or nauseating. Or intriguing. Or hilarious. It can also teach us a lot about our attitudes and interests.

gross_stuff.jpgThat's why we were happy to find "The Big Book of Gross Stuff" by Bart King (Gibbs Smith). We don't really need to summarize it for you. It's a book. It's big. It's full of gross stuff. That means definitions, history, stories, fun facts and, of course, illustrations. Everything you could possibly want to know about everything gross...and then some. We can see this book as the kind of thing you'd bring to a sleepover party to giggle over, or as a place to find topics for a school report or science experiment. At the very least, it's something you'll probably read a bit of, then stop and read that bit aloud to the nearest person, because they just have to hear it.

IML talked to Bart about the book and about grossness in general:

IML: In the book, you talk a little about what makes something "gross" and how Gross Stuff is pretty much the same across most cultures. But has Gross Stuff changed with the times? Is it different now than what was considered gross say, 100 years ago? Has technology introduced a whole new collection of gross things?

Bart: On one hand, we are now exposed to more "fake" gross stuff than at any time in history. Our video games, movies, and TV shows can all show the latest in gruesome special effects. And technology's impact on gross stuff can even be seen with cell phones. Even a mini-app like iFart might make us less sensitive to how we feel about things like flatulence.

On the other hand, we're more cut off from the world's "real" gross stuff than ever before. Our sewage systems are so advanced that we have just the briefest encounters with our urine and poop. Most adults have never seen an animal slaughtered, much less a dead human. It wasn't that long ago that even really young children had experiences with all of these things. ("Junior, go clean the outhouse. Then slaughter a pig and bury your Uncle Jed!")

IML: The definition of what's gross can differ a little from culture to culture...and it also differs from person to person. Besides cultural influences, what else helps each of us decide that something is gross?

Bart: Disgust can come from two places: Your body or your mind. In your body, you have something called a "gut brain." This is a nerve network running through your digestive system with more neurons than your spinal cord. The gut brain allows us to "feel" the inner world of our digestion, and it can send warning signals if anything is going wrong.

So if you get butterflies in your stomach from looking over a cliff, that's your gut brain telling you to step back. And if you feel sick because you ate a piece of pizza from last week, that's your gut brain letting you know that it might be ejecting some pizza dough!

As for the mind, I think that most people have a "pet grossness." This is like a pet peeve. It's that slightly odd something that grosses them out. For example, I can't stand spitwads and other small, wet pieces of paper. I know they're not dangerous, but they really disgust me! I interviewed an emergency-room doctor who gets REALLY grossed out by athlete's foot. And my wife is sickened by the sound of someone chewing noisily, which doesn't bug me at all. *blows bubble while typing*

IML: What we loved about your book is that talking about Gross Stuff actually makes it seem...less gross. It takes the stigma and tension out of it, in a way. If we feel grossed out by something, should we try to get over it?

Bart: It's a good idea to examine ALL of our attitudes, even those about gross stuff. This process keeps us open minded and gives us a wider perspective on the world. And with gross stuff, I think it helps us recognize that many of our attitudes are things we can change. In fact, if I try, I might be able to make a spitwad right NOW. *thinks about putting small piece of paper in mouth* Nope. But even if we can't remove our blinders, just knowing that they are there in the first place makes us much more aware of the big picture.

IML: There's a lot of trivia and great stories in the book. How much research did you do while writing it? Where did you find all this information?

I'm a very curious person. So I really enjoy researching and trying to learn as much about my subject as possible. For this book, I got my hands on any book I could that might prove helpful, and I also enlisted the help of librarians to ferret out the most interesting research on topics like body odor. (My favorite was the two-year study that found men's b.o. smells like cheese while women's smells like onions!)

The research and writing took me about a year, and now, "The Big Book of Gross Stuff" has an extensive bibliography of my references at the end. I include this partly to show my legwork, and mostly so that people don't think I'm just making things up!

IML: Do you think it's better to NOT know what something is made of, if that includes stuff that would totally gross us out? Or is ignorance bliss?

Bart: I hate to sit on a fence -- it's painful! -- but the answer to this question is that it depends on the situation. I do want to know EXACTLY what's in my food. That way I can make a decision about what I'm eating instead of just shoving food down my throat. People who pay attention to their food, especially for ethical reasons, feel the same way. For example, vegetarians don't believe ignorance is bliss. They are NOT going to be happy if they find gristle in their vegetable stew! But is ANYBODY ever happy to find gristle?

BOY: "Mommy, I found the lucky gristle!"
MOM: "Yay! Did you hear that, everyone? Get the cake!"

Of course, if I were actually starving (and very few Americans are), I'd rather just shove food down my throat. So this answer was a long way of saying that ignorance is usually just ignorance! And there is nothing blissful about not knowing.

IML: What's the grossest thing that you, personally, have ever seen?

Bart: I don't mind if someone has food on or between their teeth. Some poppy seeds? No worries. A chunk of chive? I can look away! But the other day, I was talking to someone who had an unidentified, generic white thing between his teeth. Was it sourdough bread? Plaque? Paper? Gristle? Thinking about it now gives me the shivers! Ugh...So thanks very much for that question.

Bart King is also the author of "The Big Book of Girl Stuff" and "The Big Book of Boy Stuff."

IML's Rating: A



Miyazaki Mania
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Okay, we admit it. We here at IML are big, big fans of Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki. We know some of you talk about your love of manga and anime, and it doesn't get much more anime than this legendary filmmaker. What? You've never heard of him? Well, now's the perfect time to get to know his best work, courtesy of brand-spanking new Disney home entertainment releases of four of his greatest flicks:

castle.jpgCastle in the Sky (1986). A mysterious young girl named Sheeta and a brave boy named Pazu get caught up in an amazing adventure involving a magical stone pendant, gigantic robots, reckless flying sky-pirates, and a legendary lost city in the clouds called Laputa.

totoro.jpgMy Neighbor Totoro (1988). A ten-year-old girl and her four-year-old sister move to a strange old house in the country, and soon learn that the house and the nearby woods are home to magical spirit creatures, including Totoro, a huge monster that looks like a rabbit crossed with an owl, and a truly unique animal that's part-cat, part-bus (a catbus, naturally).

kiki.jpgKiki's Delivery Service (1989). A shy young witch-in-training arrives in a quaint seaside town and, with the help of her sarcastic black cat and a friendly local woman, sets up shop as a delivery girl. Zooming around on her broom, Kiki has many adventures, befriends a spirited artist, and attracts the attention of a boy who seems to be as crazy about this mysterious witch as he is about airplanes and flying machines. But when her powers unexpectedly vanish, Kiki feels lost and lonely, and must find a way through the crisis to become her true self again.

ponyo.jpgPonyo (2008). Inspired by the original Little Mermaid fairy tale, this story follows a magical little fish named Ponyo who falls in love with a human boy. She uses her magic to become a girl to be with him and learn more about the surface world. But the power she unleashes makes the moon come too close to earth, causing massive ocean waves to rise around the world and satellites to fall from the sky. Will nature be brought back into balance? Will Ponyo's powerful parents let her stay human? Watch and find out!

Okay, so why do we like these movies so much? Here are a few reasons:

The artistry. These movies are just amazing to look at. We love the lush, colorful hand-painted backgrounds, the great eye-popping designs of blimps, airships, floating castles, weird robots and machines, and the quirky cuteness of the human and animal characters. Any single frame from any of these four movies could be hanging on an art gallery wall -- the artistry is just that good. This isn't your run-of-the mill cartoon stuff. It's, well... dazzling.

The characters. In a lot of animated movies, character comes last. Not here. Kiki, Sheeta, Ponyo...they're all wonderful to get to know and root for. It's also great that these movies understand what it's like to be a kid: the ups and downs, the challenges and advantages of being young. There are plenty of grown-ups in these stories, but kids are always the real focus.

The magic. We mean this in two ways. Each of these movies has some sort of magic that's central to the story (floating castles, forest spirits, witches, enchanted fish-people), so that's one way. But the movies themselves are also kind of magical -- there's a spirit of happiness and adventure to them that a lot of other films just don't seem to capture. These movies make you dream and smile. They're odd and weird and strange...but in a good way. And we like that.

The voices. Some Japanese animated movies and shows don't get very good English-language dubs; they might be recorded quickly or be cast with actors who don't quite capture the original characters. Luckily, these releases have stellar voice dubs from some of America's best actors and actresses, and they really do justice to the original material.

The way they speak to everyone. We like that these movies appeal to lots of different ages, from kids and tweens to teens and adults. They really are great family movies. Little kids will like the silliness and the cute characters, while older kids and grown-ups will appreciate the incredibly detailed animation and emotional stories.

The extras. The Special Edition DVD's of Castle, Totoro and Kiki, and the Blu-ray and DVD of Ponyo, each come with some very nice bonus content. For instance, for anyone interested in art or animation, the "storyboard versions" of the films are really worth checking out. The moviemakers have taken all the original pencil drawings of each scene, and synched them up with the finished soundtracks. They're like completely new versions of the movies, and they really show the talent and creativity of the artists who worked on these beautiful films. There are also information-packed bonus documentaries for each film, including interviews with the director himself, Miyazaki, and a world of information about writing and producing the films, developing the characters,  imagining the locations, and painting and drawing the thousands of pieces of original artwork used in the finished movies. It's fascinating stuff. Also, IML'ers might especially enjoy a behind the scenes look at the voice talent for "Ponyo" and a music video for the theme song featuring Frankie Jonas and Noah Cyrus.

So if you're a fan of classic, hand-drawn animation, or just of wonderful storytelling, you might want to check out these four releases, new from Studio Ghibli and Disney. Totoro, Kiki and Ponyo are rated G. Castle in the Sky is PG.

We thought you might enjoy one of our favorite clips from "Ponyo." Watch her go!





Celeb Scoop: Jasmine
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JasmineEPcover.jpgMeet 15-year-old Jasmine Sagginario, a Nashville teen who we think we'll be seeing a lot more of in the future! Maybe you've already heard a few of the songs from her EP "The Next Me" because recently, Jasmine was named Radio Disney's Next Big Thing after a nearly three-month nationwide competition and has opened for -- ahem -- Justin Bieber  at concerts in Los Angeles and Orlando.

IML was happy to get the chance to speak to Jasmine and learn some cool things about her!

IML: Tell us a little about your album, "The Next Me." What were the inspirations for some of the songs?

Jasmine: I love to write songs with my dad that make you want to dance and have fun, but also songs that have positive and encouraging messages that can help people. "The Next Me" talks about being original and being yourself, then there's fun songs like "Make A Movie" you can dance to with your friends and there's no deep meaning behind it. I really get my inspiration from my family and friends, and situations we all go through.

IML: Have you written all the songs with your dad?

Jasmine: Yes! My dad has been in music forever and I give him credit because he's helped me so much. I wouldn't be here without him. When writing a song, we get in a room together and work it out, and I have a journal and write down ideas. For "The Next Me" I wrote down that it's important to be original, to yourself, a leader and not a follower. So we just incorporated my journal into the songs as well.

IML: It's great that your journal can become the source of your song lyrics! IML'ers talk about their journals too. Why do you think it's important for young people to keep one?

Jasmine: If you don't have friends you can trust, it's a good place to write down your feelings. It helps me in language as well, especially in my grammar. I can catch myself doing things, such as using "like" a lot. Then I realize I have to change that. In language arts, we journal a lot. That's become one of my favorite subjects. I think it's really important.

IML: Your faith plays a huge role in your life and music. Can you tell us about that?

Jasmine: I'm a Christian. My mom and dad were in the ministry and I got baptized last year. It was awesome! I went to a youth conference and it really just opened up my eyes. I've always known about the bible because my parents have taught me about it. I really encourage people to get involved with a youth group, to find people who have the same beliefs as you. I'm really close to my youth leaders. It's a great place to meet people! Now we have something called ATG (Against The Grain), where we hang out with kids who live in the projects and watch movies, play sometimes. It's really cool.

IML: Many young people out there share your faith, but many people do not. What do you feel your music offers these listeners?

Jasmine: I think my music is not just for Christians. I like to think my music encourages anyone. "The Next Me" talks about not trying to be like anyone else, that can help anyone. The songs "Make A Movie" and "Nothing Left To Say" have positive messages for everyone to listen to.

IML: You recently opened up for Justin Bieber on tour. What was THAT like?

Jasmine1.jpgJasmine: It was amazing! I'd never performed in front of that many people before. There were at least 20,000 screaming fans there. I've never felt so much excitement in my life. Justin brings in an awesome crowd, and right when you get on stage they're just so supportive. Justin is so talented and super nice and down to earth. It was really cool to meet him. I was a fan of his music before I did this.

IML: Were you nervous the first time you met him?

Jasmine: I was a little nervous when I met him. I don't really get starstruck, but I listen to his music and I was like, "Two weeks ago I was listening to his music in my room and now I get to meet him! What's happening?" He was so nice.

IML: Your family moved to Nashville from Los Angeles when you were almost 9 to get your music career started. Was it hard to adjust?

Jasmine: I've been in Tennessee for 7 years now and it's become like home now. Nashville is amazing and I love it. It's a great place to raise a family. Right away when we moved here, people were giving us cookies and waving to us even though we didn't know them. We were like, "This is different!" We weren't used to that in L.A. It was a good different. Everyone was really welcoming. It was funny because everyone would ask, "What church do you go to?" because there are so many more churches here. There are a lot of other artists here too, like Jordan Pruitt and Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban and Faith Hill. I see so many people. There's no paparazzi around. I feel like I can have a normal life here.

IML: You're homeschooled. What is that like, and how do you balance your music career with school?

Jasmine: Right when I get up, I have to log in and work. It's really different, being homeschooled. I went to public school most of my life and this is my first year homeschooling. It's great because I only have to do an average of 5 or 6 hours versus 8 hours in public school. Here, it's cool because I don't have any distractions. I don't have only 1 hour to work on a subject, I can work 5 hours on this one subject and go to the next subject tomorrow. I always put school first, and then after I'm done I'll have dance rehearsal or vocal lessons or do some song writing.

IML: Are you in a homeschooling group where you can connect with other teens?

Jasmine: It's funny because my younger sister and I have different homeschool programs. Mine is based in Pennsylvania but it's online. There's other kids you can talk to who live in Tennessee and all over. We don't get to see each other but we talk to each other online. It's really cool. I have some friends who I went on tour with and they use the same program as well, so whenever we need help we call each other.

IML: It sounds like you're a pretty typical 9th grader!

Jasmine: I still eat junk food, I put off schoolwork and cleaning my room. All that good stuff!

IML: You've been singing since you were little. At what point did you know you wanted to pursue a professional music career?

Jasmine: Probably when I was 12 years old. I always loved singing and getting on stage with my dad when he was a minister. He brought me on stage when I was little. I loved the feeling of being on stage. I really got serious about it when I was 12 or 13. I had to give up cheerleading because the screaming is bad for your vocal chords, and soccer and other stuff. But it was totally worth it because it's my passion now, and my career.

IML: Here's a fun question. How do you see yourself in 5 years?

Jasmine: I want at least to have a production company and find young artists. I'd like to look for other talent. I'll still going on tour, doing what I love to do. Going all over the world. And of course I want to keep writing and producing and making records.

IML: What do you think it means for a girl to be "strong"?

Jasmine: I think probably not cockiness but confidence. Being confident in who they are, not having to feel beautiful just because a boy thinks they're beautiful but knowing inside they're beautiful. Just confidence and originality.

IML: Thank you, Jasmine, and good luck!

Jasmine: Thank you!

You can check out more of Jasmine's music on her website at www.jasminesoul.com. In the meantime, here's her bouncy-fun video for "Make A Movie"!


Our favorite Olympic moments
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vancouver_2010_logo.jpgThe Winter Olympics of 2010 came to an end last night with the stirring, poignant Closing Ceremonies in Vancouver. It was a super-fun 16 days of competition, with hundreds of truly memorable moments. Here, in no particular order, are our top ten faves of the games:

"Both Sides Now."
The best sequence of the Opening Ceremonies featured a young acrobat gracefully whirling and twirling on wires, high above the stadium floor. Simple, poetic, and breathtaking, and made even more special by the fact that the ceremonies were dedicated to the memory of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died during a training run that day.

Competing through grief.
Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette was poised for her Olympic moment when the unthinkable happened: her mother Therese died suddenly of a heart attack just two days before the ladies' competition was scheduled to begin. Joannie inspired the world by choosing to skate as planned, and doing so with amazing grace and strength. We can't imagine how it must have felt for Joannie to be dealing with such heartbreaking loss and the pressure of the Olympics at the same time. Her performances resulted in not just a bronze medal victory but a lovely tribute to her mom.

The Flying Tomato repeats. Okay, so he doesn't want anyone using that nickname anymore, but we still love it. Shaun White became a star when he won gold in the snowboarding half-pipe four years ago in Torino, Italy. This year he did it again, with an amazing first run full of towering jumps and near-impossible tricks. He didn't even need to make a second run, but he did... and incredibly topped his already unbeaten score. Magic!

Canada wins home gold. Canada hosted the 1976 summer games and the 1988 winter games, but didn't manage to win a gold medal in either year. This time around, Alexandre Bilodeau finally broke the home-soil "curse" with a top finish in men's moguls, and a nation of fans breathed a sigh of relief. Then they cheered,  yelled, and went a little crazy, like sports fans usually do when they find a new hero. (Turns out they had nothing to worry about, since Canadian athletes went on to win 13 more golds, more than any country in any winter Olympics!) The fact that Alexandre dedicated his performance to his older brother Frédéric, who has cerebral palsy, made it all the sweeter.

Longtime partners rule ice dancing. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, along with silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, helped make the competition electric fun to watch this year. The two pairs train together in Canton, Michigan and have the same coaches, but they share something else in common: they've been partners for ages. Meryl and Charlie teamed up when they were just ten years old; Tessa and Scott when they were 8 and 10. Wow...can you imagine going through so much with one person for so long? It was great to see the rewards of all those years of hard work!

Great Britain finds a reason to cheer. Amy Williams won Great Britain's first individual winter gold in 30 years when she took first place in skeleton. She also managed to break the track record... twice. Good show!

Ammann owns the hills. In Salt Lake City in 2002, they called Simon Ammann "Harry Potter" because of his resemblance to the young wizard. The Swiss ski-jumping phenom won gold on both the normal and large hills that year. Amazingly, he did it again in Vancouver . This makes him the first man to win gold medals in both individual ski jumping events in two Olympics, and the most decorated Swiss Olympic athlete ever. A wizard, totally!

Rivals, friends, and champions. USA's Lindsey Vonn and Germany's Maria Riesch are considered two of the best skiers in the world, and they showed that on the slopes of Whistler, earning two Olympic medals apiece. But what we liked most were the "behind the scenes" videos that showed how these fierce competitors are also BFF's. They root and cheer for each other all the time, and Vonn even spends Christmas vacation with Riesch in her hometown in Germany. Somehow they make it work, and that's inspiring to us.

Bode redeems himself. Many consider Bode Miller to be America's best alpine skier ever, but in the 2006 Torino games he famously washed out, earning zero medals. This year Bode proved himself a true Olympic champ, taking a gold, a silver and a bronze. A true example of how "failures" can often lead to the sweetest successes.

Awesome hockey rivalries. The greatest thrills in hockey this year -- in both the men's and women's tournaments -- came in games between the USA and Canada. Fast, aggressive, spirited play between the best players in the world...it doesn't get any better than that! Canada ended up winning both gold medals, which is appropriate. Hey, they were the host nation and it is their national sport after all. But the underdog American men's and women's teams fought hard, earning their silver medals and making the Canadians work for their golds. If these teams meet in the finals four years from now in Russia, watch out! They'll be grudge matches for sure!

Yes, we're happy we can return to our regularly scheduled programs now, but we'll miss the highs and lows of the Olympics. What were your favorites?