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Miyazaki Mania, Part 2
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A couple of years ago, we posted on the IML Blog about the DVD releases of four films by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. It was one of our most popular blog entries ever, because as it turns out, we weren't the only mega-fans out there! IML'ers write on our YSI boards about their favorite Miyazaki films, everything from "Spirited Away" to "Ponyo." With the never-ending barrage of animated flicks from Hollywood, some great and some awful, it was wonderful to see that these unique, beautiful, imaginative, and totally entertaining movies are still popular with tweens.

arrietty_secret-world-of-arrietty1.jpgRecently, Miyazaki's company, Studio Ghibli, along with Walt Disney Studios, released "The Secret World of Arrietty," a new take on the classic children's book "The Borrowers." Featuring the voices of Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie in a lovely tale of friendship between two very different young people, this film brought Miyazaki's trademark visuals and storytelling style to a new generation of viewers. Now, "The Secret World of Arrietty" is available on DVD and Blu-ray...and all we can say is, wow! What a perfect choice for family movie night, because your 3-year-old sister and 43-year-old mom will probably love it equally. Anyone curious about how animation will enjoy the storyboard version of the film in the bonus features, which also includes music videos for the movie's catchy songs.

Thumbnail image for castle.jpgLast time around, we reviewed "Castle In The Sky," and now this movie is also released on a DVD and Blu-ray combo pack. "Castle In The Sky" is an adventure-filled tale of courage, friendship, and two teens' search for a legendary floating castle named Laputa. Since this film is considered one of the most stunning art-wise of Miyazaki's films, it's great to see it getting the chance to be discovered by new fans.

whisper.jpgFinally, there's "Whisper of the Heart," a Miyazaki film we had not yet seen....even though it's totally perfect for IML'ers! In the story, Shizuku, a quiet schoolgirl, sets out to find her true talent in life. With the help of Seiji, a boy she dislikes at first but then comes to respect, and The Baron, a magical cat figurine, Shizuku learns to listen to the "whispers of her heart" and push her imagination to amazing new places. The DVD and Blu-ray combo pack features more goodies for animation buffs, with storyboards and segments on how certain scenes evolved.

We'll leave you with one of our favorite scenes from "The Secret World of Arrietty." It's fun to hear Disney Channel stars branching out like this!

Earth Day 2012 + "Born To Be Wild" on DVD
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This Sunday, April 22 is Earth Day 2012 -- an annual worldwide event aimed at spreading awareness of environmental issues. You're probably already bombarded with information at school, on TV, and elsewhere on the Web about Earth Day and how you can help preserve our planet's precious and beautiful resources. We're going to bombard you just a little more: If you haven't already checked it out, please visit our section on Green Living and share your own thoughts on how to help the environment.

borntobewild.jpgWhen we help the environment, we're also helping our planet's co-residents -- the animals. As you probably know, the issue of helping animals and wildlife conservation is a big one for us, because it's a big one for IML'ers. There's something about the way animals touch our hearts and remind us of the incredible power and beauty of nature. We were on the lookout for something that illustrates this in a fresh way for young people, and found the IMAX film "Born To Be Wild," which has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray.

In "Born To Be Wild," we meet amazing people who are dedicated to rescuing and raising orphaned wild animals so they can be returned to the lives they were meant for. In the rainforests of Borneo, Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas and her team care for baby orangutans who are the victims of deforestation, while in the savannahs of Kenya, Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick works to save and rehabilitate young elephants after their mothers are killed by poachers. The film, which is narrated by Morgan Freeman, made us laugh and go "awww" a lot (and even made us cry), really driving home the importance of the human-animal bond. It reminded us of just one of many reasons why environmental awareness matters.

Extras on the discs include wonderful additional footage, which is a good thing because you probably won't be able to get enough of the baby orangutans and elephants. It's a perfect DVD choice for your next family movie night, and unlike other things you might spend time watching, it will make you think...and hopefully act!

DVD Review and Celeb Interview: "The Muppets"
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In the world of entertainment, stars don't come much bigger than the Muppets. Movies, TV, records, web videos... you name it, they've conquered it over the course of many decades. The latest project from our fabulous furry, feathery and felty friends is a smash hit motion picture called, simply, "The Muppets."

Muppets Wocka Wocka sm.pngIn this musical comedy we're introduced to a brand new character called Walter, who doesn't seem to fit in with the "normal" humans in his town. Walter is smaller, more colorful and, well, just plain more Muppety than even his brother Gary (played by Jason Segel). These siblings may look very different, but they support each other through good times and bad, and they share a fanatical devotion to their favorite TV stars who guessed it...the Muppets. When Walter and Gary visit the Muppet Studios in Hollywood, they find that it's fallen upon hard times, and uncover a bad guy's dastardly scheme to take over the property. Determined to set things right, they resolve to find Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the rest of the Muppets, and get the whole gang back together.

We won't spoil the rest in case you haven't seen it, but suffice to say that the international adventure that follows is filled with jokes, slapstick, songs, dancing, guest stars, and everything we've come to expect from The Muppets.

We're really psyched that the movie is now out of DVD and Blu-ray Disc, too. We watched the 3-disc "Wocka-Wocka" version, which includes a bunch of hilarious extras, including deleted scenes, bloopers, a making-of feature, and even a copy of the movie's awesome soundtrack, which features the Oscar-winning original song "Man or Muppet."

We also noticed that, although they mostly play it for laughs, "The Muppets" has a lot of great themes and ideas that fit right in with what we talk about every day here at It's My Life. Themes like trying to fit it, finding your place in the world, getting along with siblings and friends, and standing up to bullies.

We had a chance to talk about all these ideas, and a bunch of others, with Muppet stars Kermit the Frog and Walter. Kermit is, as always, so wise and inspiring! Check it out:

DVD Review: "Happy Feet Two"
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happyfeettwo.jpg"Happy Feet Two," the sequel to the 2006 Oscar-winning smash about a tap-dancing Emperor penguin, has just come out on DVD and Blu-ray (and even in 3D Blu-ray), and we at IML have watched it...well, let's say quite a few times. Why do we like it so much, you ask? Well, there's the awesome music, animation, and story, of course, but we think it's mainly because it has so many positive messages...messages that just happen to click with a lot of the things we talk about all the time here at It's My Life. Like these:

Don't give up on yourself. In "Happy Feet," we followed the story of a misfit penguin named Mumble, as he searched for his "heart song" and tried to save his flock from a mysterious fish shortage. This new movie gives us Mumble's son Erik, an awkward little guy who's mocked by many of the penguins in Emperor Land because he can't seem to sing or dance. Erik joins up with his two best pals and strikes out for someplace where he can find his true calling. There are missteps, and there are moments of doubt and fear, but Erik never truly gives up until he finds what he's after.

krill.jpgYou don't have to follow the herd. Or, to put it more accurately, you don't have to follow the swarm. Will and Bill (voiced to hilarious effect by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) are two krill (those tiny, shrimp-like creatures) who have lived their whole lives as part of a vast red cloud made up of "krillions" of their cousins, destined to be some larger creature's lunch. But when Will suddenly decides he's an individual and starts swimming in the opposite direction, the two embark on a funny and fascinating adventure that leads them to understand that they don't have to live like everyone else, and that every person's actions and decisions, no matter how tiny, can have a huge impact on the greater world. Also, Will tries to eat a leopard seal 10,000 times his size, which is pretty hilarious.

Bullies can change. In this story, the bully is Bryan the Beach Master, an elephant seal who's accustomed to getting what he wants by throwing his weight around (and we mean it literally -- this guy is HUGE). Stubborn and set in his ways, Bryan must eventually face the fact that his way of life isn't doing himself, or anyone else, any good, and that he might have to alter his thinking and his behavior so that things can get better.

Honesty is better than popularity. One of the great new characters in this movie is Sven, the "flying penguin" with the Swedish accent. Penguins cannot fly, of course, which is why Sven, a newcomer to Antarctica, blows everyone's mind by taking to the air on his little wings. This amazing ability turns Sven into the ultimate popular kid, with all the girls wanting to date him and all the guys wanting to be him...but he's hiding a secret: it's all based on a lie. Sven is, in fact, pretending to be something he's not, and in the end he must admit the truth about who he is, to himself and everyone else.

When in doubt, just dance! The world of "Happy Feet Two" is one where dancing and singing is a great way to express yourself, and even provides a solution or two. We'd like to live in that world...oh wait. We already do! (Some people just can't see it.)

The Blu-ray version of this release also comes with a great package of extras. For fans of Animal Planet and Discovery Channel type shows, there's a documentary about Antarctica that's every bit as entertaining as the animated feature. For the artists and aspiring animators, there's a way-cool feature that teaches viewers how to draw a penguin. And for you music lovers, there's a great making-of with singer Alecia Moore, a.k.a. Pink, who talks about acting as the voice of Gloria the penguin, and about writing a new song for the movie.

"Happy Feet Two" is rated PG for "some rude humor and mild peril." IML suggests you ask a parent or guardian before watching, but chances are, this is something everyone in the house will enjoy.

We'll leave you with one of our favorite scenes:


Yoga for the "Shanti Generation" (that's you, by the way)
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Yoga. Does it make you think of celebrities, hippies, or your mom? Does it bring to mind pretzel-like positions and standing on your head? Does the yoga stereotype of thin and super-attractive, healthy-looking people make you think there's no way you could "qualify" to do it too?

shanti-generation-yoga-skills-for-youth-peacemakers-abby-dvd-cover-art.jpgIf that's the case, you could be missing out on a great activity that makes a big difference in your life...or at least is a lot of fun. We've always been a fan of yoga here at IML, and included it in our section on great "Solo Sports." A new DVD called "Shanti Generation: Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers" aims to get that message across, helping tweens and teens discover

"Shanti Generation" is organized into different yoga sequences, breathing techniques, and meditations that are perfect for beginners, and lets you focus on certain skills each time. We loved that the DVD doesn't talk down to tweens, and especially liked the "Meet the Peacemakers" section where the young people featured on the DVD share what they love about yoga (see video below!).

We asked Abby Wills, a yoga educator and the creator/host of "Shanti Generation," to tell us more about why yoga might be something IML'ers should check out.

IML: When did you first start practicing yoga, and what difference did it make in your life at the time?

member-abby-wills.pngAbby: I started practicing in my late teens and it really improved my overall quality life. Yoga helped me find my way through a challenging time and cope with depression. Through my practice, I found a way to see my life as a treasure!

IML: What are some of the preconceived notions and stereotypes that tweens have about yoga? How can they get past them?

Abby: Sometimes tweens and teens think they need to already be a certain way to try yoga. For example, tweens might say "I'm not flexible enough." Or, "I'm not fit enough." Or, "I don't have enough concentration." What may surprise people is that anyone can participate in yoga and however you are right now is the perfect place to begin. I think the only way to get past preconceived notions and stereotypes is to give yoga a try and have your own experience.

IML: Why do you think yoga can be especially beneficial to tweens?

Abby: Between academics, sports, chores, friends and family, tweens lead super-busy, full lives. A lot of people don't get enough sleep, either, so they can get fatigued in all the whirlwind. Yoga is a way to relax and rejuvenate your energy in a short amount of time. And, it's free! Costs less than energy drinks and it actually works!

IML: What would you say to a young person who tells you he or she can't practice yoga because they're overweight, out of shape, bad at concentrating, has poor flexibility -- or any one of a ton of other excuses out there?

Abby: I would say, those are all PERFECT reasons to practice yoga! Yoga can help you with weight management, fitness, flexibility and strength. Practicing yoga most certainly helps to build concentration, too.

IML: You're on the faculty of two schools. How cool is that! Is yoga part of the curriculum there?

Abby: Yes, yoga is part of the curriculum and it's also part of the culture at the schools where I teach. Yoga is one of the ways students and teachers take care of ourselves and one another. We do lots of group and partner exercises in yoga that give us all a chance to connect to one another in a peaceful way. Yoga practice in the curriculum gives an opportunity to be mindful of our own state of mind. This mindfulness helps is every other part of school, from academics to peer relationships.

IML: What would you like the "Shanti Generation" to get out of this DVD?
Abby: Empowerment that your choices MATTER. How you live your live is the most powerful choice you have. No one can take away your power to choose how you want to be. Yoga skills are tools that help you become the healthiest self you can be. When you feel healthy and empowered, it's easy to be yourself and have a positive impact on your world. Peace!

IML: Peace to you too, Abby! Thanks for helping introduce yoga to a new generation.

To learn more about the Shanti Generation, visit

Celeb Scoop: Adam Hicks
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Here are two things we really love: (1) when they make a movie for young people that promises to be about true-to-life characters and positive, empowering themes...and then actually lives up to that promise; and (2) when a young actor is given a chance to show (and surprise people with) just how multi-talented he is.

Lemonade-Mouth-DVD.jpgBoth of those things have happened with the Disney Channel Original Movie "Lemonade Mouth," which is out on DVD this week. If you didn't catch it during the jillion times it ran on TV, we do recommend it. There's something in there for every viewer and of course the music is pretty darn great. The DVD is officially an "extended edition" because of a bonus scene after the end credits, and there's a "Rock-a-long" version with lyrics so you and your friends can back up the band.

And then there's Adam Hicks. Yes, Bridgit Mendler is stunning with those lead vocals and just watching Hayley Kiyoko makes us feel cool, but for us it's Adam Hicks's performance as Wen that really shines. We were excited to have the opportunity to talk to this very sweet and humble guy who, after years of being a child actor, is finally defining himself as a performer and artist.

IML: First of all, congrats on the success of "Lemonade Mouth." The movie is really terrific!

Adam: Thank you so much! It's funny because you do a project, and then you're in a waiting period where the anticipation is crazy. For it to come out and do so well, and to see the responses from the fans has been incredible.

IML: What first attracted you to the film?

adamhicks.jpgAdam: I read the script and fell in love with it. I didn't read the book until after I got the part, but I just love the character Wen. He's a big change from Luther, my character on "Zeke and Luther." Luther is this zany, outrageous comedy-driven character, and to make that transition to Wen, who's quieter and more thoughtful, was an amazing opportunity for me as an actor. The cast of "Lemonade Mouth" was picked so perfectly. A lot of people see us as a band on camera but not a lot of people know that Lemonade Mouth was a band off-camera too.

IML: That definitely shows, and is probably one of the reasons why the movie is so successful. What was the best part of the experience for you?

Adam: The best part of the whole experience was having the movie finally come out! But in terms of the shooting, the best part was Madison Square Garden. My dad compared it to a Rolling Stones concert. We had these 75-foot monitors and a camera that would swoop in on your face and then shoot into the air. It was an incredible feeling with the fans there -- they were hired fans, but the screaming gave me so much adrenaline. I haven't done a lot of performing in front of big crowds before this.

IML: We hear that you helped write three of the songs...

Adam: Yes! I wrote all the raps for Wen on "Determinate," "Breakthrough," and "Highwire." The producers came to me before I even auditioned for the role of Wen and said they wanted me to help write the music for Lemonade Mouth. The first song I worked on was "Determinate." It took about a day to write. They sent it over with the temporary vocalist and then they had a breakdown area with a beat and I got the vibe from the singer and made up my own twist. Right before we left to film in New Mexico, the producers decided to do a bonus track called "Highwire" to use in a bonus scene for the DVD so I got to jump on that also.

IML: What do you think are the most important themes in the movie?

Adam: I feel like "Lemonade Mouth" is really such a well put together script and really gets across the idea of "be heard, be strong." A lot of kids have experienced the feeling of being outside looking in, and trying to figure out what clique they want to fit into, and a lot of people camouflage themselves in the school and don't really try to be heard. They feel like they're young and so their voice won't be heard. But "Lemonade Mouth: represents the underdog stepping through, and the movie lets people know that anyone can follow a dream and make it happen. Another great thing is that the movie went into every character's life, so at the end of the movie the fans really know them. They're not really left with a lot of questions or wanting more.

IML: How and when did you start rapping? Did it come before or after your interest in acting?

Adam: It started in 4th grade. For my 4th grade talent show I did a rap. And then for my 5th grade DARE essay, I did a rap in front of my school. I just liked putting words together. And then there's that element of surprise: I'm a red-haired, freckled kid...I shouldn't be able to rap! It kind of just happened and I took it so seriously, every single day writing music constantly. I used to carry a dictionary around with me and just look at words. It's more like poetry in that way and a lot of people can relate to it that way. I jut worked at it and jumped into acting and loved it and have done that professionally for 11 years now. So until recently I wasn't doing the music professionally. Now, to combine these two things is like a dream come true.

IML: Who are your musical influences as a rapper?

Adam: I love all kinds of music. My dad's from London so he loves David Bowie, the Stones, The Clash. I grew up with that influence while loving poetry and loving all kinds of current music. I just kind of made my own style because I feel like as an artist, the first thing people realize first about you is your style...who you are, what makes you different.

IML: Where do you get your inspiration for songs and raps?
Adam: I'm a mad thinker in general. I think about everything, all the time. Especially when I write music, a lot of the influences come from personal experiences or from being on the outside looking in, being that person who witnessed things that stuck with me throughout my life. And also not being scared to share an opinion about something that you know about and want to be heard on. Lyrics are a way to express how I feel in a way that people appreciate.

IML: What were you like in middle school?

Adam: Middle school was crazy for me because in elementary school I was top dog, 5th grade...but coming into 6th grade you're right at the bottom again. I went to a lot of different schools so I was a quiet and shy kid, not really expressing how I felt, like Wen was in "Lemonade Mouth." I relied on a couple of personal experiences for that. I was chill, relaxed, writing music but at the same time just hanging out with friends.

IML: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Adam: I think they'd be surprised to learn that I read every single night before I go to sleep. I'm reading a book right now called "The Black Pearl," I recommend it. It helps me sleep and I've just been doing it ever since I was a kid because I love books. I think reading is how you understand the world.

IML: What would be your dream project?

Adam: I think I'm living my dream project right now! Honestly, it's been shocking and's all coming down on me right now. I'm just processing everything and taking it day by day!

IML: Thanks, Adam! Good luck with everything!

Adam: Thank you!

DVD Review: "Tangled"
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Do you have a parent who you feel is unfair? Too strict? Just plain overprotective?

IML'ers have written in to our "You Said It" section, complaining about what you feel is unjust parental treatment. Many of you wish the rule-happy adults in your life would let you date, or have a cell phone, or wear makeup, or at least hang out with friends at the mall without being followed around by a smothering, paranoid guardian who watches your every move. Sheesh!

But what if the freedom you longed for was, actually, freedom? What if your parent sheltered you by, y'know, sheltering you?

Tangled Blu-ray art sm.pngIn "Tangled," Walt Disney's latest animated adaptation of a classic fairytale which was released this week on DVD and Blu-ray, a teenage girl named Rapunzel faces this exact situation, having been literally locked up in a tower by the most overprotective mother in the world. Only the woman, Gothel, isn't really her mother, and she isn't really protecting Rapunzel so much as the girl's amazing secret. Rapunzel's incredibly long and flowing blonde hair isn't just nice to look's magic. In fact, the mystic healing powers of the hair have been keeping Gothel alive for hundreds of years.

But Rapunzel, on permament lockdown, dreams of seeing the wider world, and when a rogueish thief named Flynn Rider decides to hide from the law in her secluded tower, she hatches a daring escape plan. Will it work? Will she find out more about the mysterious floating lights she watches from her tower window? Will she finally "get a real life"?

When "Tangled" was released in theatres last fall, it was a big hit with filmgoers of all ages thanks to the updated story, beautiful animation, catchy music, and voice acting talents of Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, among others. Now that fans can add the movie to their home entertainment library, it's fun to look at what may or may not help make it a lasting favorite.

Here's what we like about "Tangled":

A complex relationship. Gothel keeps control over Rapunzel by using the power of Fear against her; from an early age, she brainwashes her that the outside world is dangerous and filled with people who will do her harm. She'll yell at Rapunzel, then tell her how much she loves her (unconvincingly, at least to all of us). Gothel adds a touch of belittling and teasing, too. Rapunzel can't resist the urge to rebel, but she also can't shake the need to please her "mother" despite being treated this way. It's a dynamic that we think many viewers can relate to. Have you ever felt controlled or belittled by someone you love? Is there someone who treats you not-so-nice, which makes you want their approval even more? If not a parent or relative, then maybe a friend? It's one of the most complicated relationships we've ever seen in a Disney movie.

tangled-disney.jpgA good bad guy. Or is he a bad good guy? It doesn't matter.  Everyone loves a "bad boy," as long as he's secretly good at heart, and Flynn Rider is just such a boy... er, man. Guy. Whatever.  Handsome and vain, and just a bit rugged, he's an outlaw who has a better sense of right and wrong than most good guys. And he knows how to smolder, which is, hot. Whatever.

A hairy problem, solved. You can't really do a cartoon of the Rapunzel story if you don't get the girl's hair right, and the animators working on Tangled did exactly that: they got it right. Rapunzel's hair is like a character all its own in this movie, moving and flowing and trailing behind her in a beautiful ribbon of gold. A "making-of" featurette included on the disc includes some early work-in-progress animations that show just how hard it was to get all that hair to behave properly while Rapunzel walked, danced, and leaped around in her tower. No wonder this was the most expensive cartoon ever made! (See the video below for a sneak peek.)

Pretty paper. One of the most visually stunning moments in the film involves a boat, our two main characters, and thousands of floating, drifting paper candle lanterns. Impossible to adequately describe with words, the sequence is lovely to watch.

Maximus to the max. There have been a lot of horses in animated fairy tales, but Maximus, the big, noble Roman-inspired white steed in Tangled, is special. He's got personality (horsinality?) to spare, and he's one of the funniest things about the whole film. His relationship with the thief Flynn Rider is complicated, and particularly hilarious. We haven't liked a cartoon horse this much since Pegasus helped the hero save the day in "Hercules."

Dreamy songs. "Tangled" is a musical, and while it can't quite compare with classics like "The Little Mermaid," the songs are some of the best to be featured in a Disney movie in many, many years. Our favorite show-stopper is the hilarious "I've Got A Dream," which stars a gang of underworld thugs and killers who, deep down, long for different sorts of lives. It's wacky and wonderful, and kept us singing long after the movie was over.

Modern heroine, timeless themes. Disney princesses have come a long way from characterized as simply "beautiful," with a nice singing voice, kindness to animals, and ability to get a dwarf's house really, really clean. The Rapunzel of "Tangled" is strong and determined and brave. She has a dream and she's focused on making it happen. All good. Very, very good! Big like! 

Here's what we didn't like so much:

Barbie-esque Rapunzel. Okay, so we know she's got to have long blonde hair. But did they have to give her ginormous, Littlest Pet Shop eyes? A tiny waist and stereotypically "princess" body? Of course, Rapunzel dolls and other merchandising must appeal to little girls, but we're still waiting for Disney to create a princess who looks even a tiny bit like a real person.

"Tangled" is rated PG for brief, mild violence.

IML's Rating: A

Here's a cool look at how they animated all that hair:


DVD Review: "Alice in Wonderland: 60th Anniversary Edition"
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Where do you go when you dream?  Is it some completely random place you don't recognize at all, or is it a land made up of some combo of the people, places and things from your real life? Do you hang out with your crush? Your teachers? Your favorite celebs? Are things basically the same as in the daytime, or are they weird, warped and wild?

AliceInWonderland60thAnnBlurayCombo.jpgPoet and novelist Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) thought, and wrote, a lot about dreamscapes. His two most famous books, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," read a lot like dreams themselves, following a curious girl through strange and spectacular realms that get "curiouser and curiouser" the deeper she goes. Animals, plants, and even objects like playing cards become bizarre and funny characters, often poking fun at human follies and emotions. The books made Carroll rich and world-famous, and continue to be huge sellers around the globe more than 100 years after they were first published.

Given the fantastic source material, Walt Disney had his work cut out for him in adapting Carroll's stories to the screen. But feature animation, it turns out, is the perfect way to bring Carroll's dreamy writing to visual life, and the Disney version of "Alice on Wonderland" went on to be a huge hit and a timeless treasure of fantasy filmmaking.

Disney has just re-released Alice in a 60th anniversary Blu-ray and DVD package, complete with the fully restored feature and a nice selection of extras, including a thought-provoking behind-the-scenes documentary.

Our Favorite Things:

The girl power. Alice is no shy thing. Anyone who jumps into a seemingly bottomless hole just to follow a white rabbit has got some guts, and she seems unruffled by most of Wonderland's challenges. She says what she thinks, asks for what she wants, and can be pretty resourceful when necessary. Considering this movie was made in the era of Disney princesses that didn't do much more than look gorgeous and sing to cute little animals, Alice is one of animation's first steps towards a more "modern" character.

The colors. We were lucky enough to see this new 60th anniversary release on Blu-ray disc, and TBH, it looks awesome. From the very opening scene in the flowery English countryside, the colors seem to just pop off the screen with bright, dazzling lusciousness. We'd bet that even original movie audiences back in 1951 (yeah, we're prolly talking 'bout your grandparents) didn't see an Alice this pristine and colorful.

The voices. From Kathryn Beaumont as the sweet but befuddled title character to Ed Wynn as the maddest of all Mad Hatters, AIW has what is possibly the best line-up of voice actors in animation history. Our absolute favorites are Bill Thompson (the marble-mouthed White Rabbit), Verna Felton (the hot-headed Queen of Hearts), and Sterling Holloway (the other-worldly Cheshire Cat). Disney fans will surely recognize Holloway's voice; he was Kaa the hypnotic snake in "The Jungle Book," as well as the voice of "Winnie the Pooh."

teaparty.jpgThe Mad Tea Party. This scene isn't just a great bit of cartooning, it's an expertly-choreographed routine of slapstick comedy. It's the craziest moment in a crazy story, and we also give it props as the inspiration for one of our favorite theme park rides (gotta love those spinning teacups...unless you get motion-sick, of course). A very merry unbirthday to you!

The Walrus and the Carpenter. Alice experts might know that this story is taken not from "Wonderland," but "Through the Looking Glass," but we love that it's in this movie, because it's just so twisted and weird.  The baby oysters are so adorably cute in their little bonnet-shells and then...well, we won't spoil it, because, well...nobody likes spoiled oysters, right? Let's just say that it's funny, but also a bit creepy.

If you're a fan of the recent Tim Burton version of this story, you might enjoy seeing the original film treatment. And as is usually the case with these animated classics, it's a great Family Movie Night choice because your little sibs will probably enjoy it as much as your parents (and even grandparents).

IML's Rating: A-

DVD Review: "Step Up 3" and "Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition"
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If you're a dance fan, these are long months when neither "So You Think You Can Dance" or "Dancing With The Stars" is on TV. Fortunately, a pair of new home entertainment releases should help cover the rough patch. As you may know by now, here at IML we are big supporters of dance because of the amazing creative and self-expression outlet it can give young people, and how anyone can do it. You may want to re-visit our interviews with Lauren Gottlieb, Legacy Perez, and the "Ballroom Kids" to see what we're talking about!

So you can imagine how excited we were to be able to check out the DVD/Blu-ray combo of "Step Up 3" and the DVD of "Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition." The perfect cure for winter blahs, indeed.

stepup3.jpg"Step Up 3," like its predecessors "Step Up" and "Step Up 2," is heavy on dancing and light on story and characters, but that's okay if you accept that going in. "Step Up 2"'s Moose is headed to college in NYC, along with "Step Up"'s Camille (played by teen dance queen Alyson Stoner), and finds himself in a new world of awesomely sick dancers and heated rivalries. There's some romance and betrayal, a big competition, lots of humor, the joys of forging a virtual family among people who all love the same thing, and dancing, then some dancing, and more dancing, and extra incredible dancing...and oh yeah, great music too. You'll recognize some familiar faces along the way, including "SYTYCD" stars Twitch, Legacy, and Joshua, and "Glee"'s Harry Shum Jr.

The Blu-ray includes some cool bonus features such as deleted scenes, a faux documentary on dance by the character of Luke, a bunch of music videos from the likes of Flo Rida and Trey Songz, and "extra dance moves" that were cut out of the finished film. (The DVD has all bonus features except the deleted scenes and Luke's documentary.)

So get comfy with a BFF or two, fire up the popcorn, and turn off your brain...your heart and body are all you need for this one!

IML's Rating: B+

strictlyballroomse.jpgBack in 1992, before today's tweens were even born, a quirky Australian film about ballroom dancing made a big, sparkly splash. "Strictly Ballroom" was the first movie by director Baz Luhrmann, who went on to make "Romeo + Juliet" starring Clare Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio and "Moulin Rouge" with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Some people say it was the film that revived a worldwide interest in ballroom dancing. Whether that's true or not, "Strictly Ballroom" is definitely a funny, heartwarming, still-fresh-and-original flick that your whole family can enjoy.

Like "Step Up 3" (and many other dance films), "Strictly Ballroom" focuses on a big competition; this time it's the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. Our hero, Scott Hastings, has been training his whole life as a competitive ballroom dancer and it's his dream to take home this big prize. However, he wants to do it using his own personal dance style and not the "strictly ballroom" steps everyone else does. His parents are former ballroom dancers and now help run a dance studio, so the pressure is pretty high for him to win, and everyone wants him to just do the regulation moves. Everyone, that is, except awkward beginning dancer Fran, who convinces him to take her as his partner and teaches him some new moves of her own.

With all its flash and dazzle, some of it wonderfully weird compared to what we're used to seeing these days, the film explores timeless issues that you may relate to...such as: doing something to win versus doing it because it makes you happy, trying to live up to other people's expectations, and the classic Cinderella/Ugly Duckling story of a girl searching for self-confidence and identity.

The Special Edition DVD includes a "making of" documentary, a dance featurette, deleted scenes, a design gallery, and audio commentary.

IML's Rating: A

One of our favorite moments in "Step Up 3" occurs early on and sums up what people love about dancing: "I feel most like myself when I'm dancing," says one dancer. Then another says, "Dancing lets me be someone else for a few minutes." In other words, it can be whatever you need it to be!

DVD Review: "The Original Christmas Classics"
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What's your go-to DVD for getting in the holiday spirit? Is it the Christmas episode of your favorite sitcom, or a heartwarming movie where some greedy, grumpy guy has to learn the true meaning of the season? Maybe you love to laugh at some cheesy old variety show where celebs of the past croon carols and put on skits.

For millions of people, nothing says "Holiday TV" like the works of producers Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. Back in the 1960's and 70's, Rankin and Bass were a two-man Christmas special factory, creating such classics as "The Little Drummer Boy," "The Year Without a Santa Claus," and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

rudolphfrostysanta.jpgNow, a new boxed set of Blu-ray discs called "The Original Christmas Classics" offers three of the best Rankin/Bass shows ever: "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman," and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." With stop-motion puppets (Rudolph and Santa) and traditional cel animation (Frosty), along with inventive storytelling and catchy songs, these three specials are timeless classics, as awesome now as they were in your parents' and grandparents' day. More recent holiday specials may have better special effects and celebrity voices, but there's nothing quite like the old-school magic you'll see here.

Here are IML's picks for the best and not-quite-best things about each show:

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"

misfittoys.jpgBest: That would be the Island of Misfit Toys. We know that Rudolph is the star of the show, but King Moonracer the gryphon is one of the coolest things about this story. He's a little strange and potentially scary, but he has a good heart and we love that he takes care of all the unwanted toys in his special kingdom. He's like the ultimate foster parent for toys, looking out for them until they can find a child to love them. The oddball toys are awesome too, and we've always thought that most of them would be big sellers, instead of rejects. Who wouldn't want an ostrich-riding cowboy or a squirt gun that shoots jelly? And while we're on the subject, what's the story with the Charlie-in-the-box? If his name is his only problem, can't he just change it? Whatever. We still love them all.

Not Quite: Jerky Santa. We're not sure what the writers were thinking with this particular version of Santa Claus, but he's not very jolly. More like, bully. He insults the elves after they go to all the trouble of rehearsing a Christmas song just for him, and he tells Rudolph's dad Donner that he should be ashamed of his red-nosed son. Yeah, Santa comes around in the end, but for most of this story he just doesn't have the Christmas spirit that he's supposed to have all year round.

"Frosty the Snowman"

frosty&karen.jpgBest: Frosty and Karen. Frosty is goofy and lovable, and Karen, the little girl who helps build him, is sweet and kind. These two characters form a great friendship, and they look out for each other like best friends should. When the temperature goes up and Frosty starts to get "all wishy-washy," Karen makes sure he gets on a train headed north. And when the refrigerated boxcar chills Karen and makes her sick, Frosty risks everything to get her someplace warm and cozy. Talk about a BFF!

Not Quite: Wanting more. This is one holiday special that's just too short. If you don't count the song itself, there's only like fifteen minutes of story here! Frosty is a classic character, and his story could have been so much more. This disc also contains the bonus sequel Frosty Returns, but while it's cute and entertaining, it just doesn't have the charm of the original.

"Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town"

jessica.jpgBest: Miss Jessica. There are a lot of wonderful characters and scenes in this special, but Sombertown's red-headed schoolteacher is our fave. We love that she pretends to be all serious and strict, only to have her heart melt when the young Santa gives her the China doll she always wanted as a child, and we love that she grows old to become the iconic Mrs. Claus of the North Pole. We also dig the weird, wild, swirling and psychedelic animation that accompanies her solo song "My World Is Beginning Today." Wow...1970 anybody?

Not Quite: Complicated story. The filmmakers seem to be trying too hard to craft a plot that combines all the various details of various Santa Claus stories (not all of them accurately), and the tale comes out a little muddled in the end. We didn't really need to know that reindeer fly because of the Winter Warlock's magic feed corn, and the bit that explains how Santa's name is both Kringle and Claus seems a tad forced. Different cultures across the globe have different origins for our December stories, and it seems unfair to shove a bunch of them together without any background or explanation.

These three shows may seem as old as Christmas itself, but we enjoyed seeing them all crisp and shiny on Blu-ray, and being reminded of why they can honestly be called "classics."

IML's Rating: A