GKIDS Retrospective: Sita Sings the Blues

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We continue our series of reviews chronicling all of the (non-Studio Ghibli) animated films distributed by GKIDS Films — some of the most original and breathtakingly beautiful animated films from around the world — and how they hold up for a young American audience.

We’re traveling chronologically (the entire retrospective is found here), and this time we’ve got…

Sita Sings the Blues (2008): Nina Paley

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Day Out With Thomas…and Percy!

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Last week, we had the joy of attending another Day out with Thomas event at the Strasburg Rail Road outside of Lancaster, PA. (To read about our previous visit, when Percy made his grand debut, click here.)

Not much has changed since last year, so our review of the event and offerings still mostly hold true. The biggest difference is that rides on Thomas and Percy are sold separately now. Thomas trains (22-minute trips) depart every 30 minutes and alternate with 12-minute Percy rides.

In addition to the train rides through beautiful central Pennsylvania farmland, there are still photo ops (with Thomas, Percy, and Sir Topham Hatt), temporary tattoos, Thomas video screenings, storytimes, and more Thomas train tables than should be legally allowed in one place.

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Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise

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  • Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise
  • written by Sean Taylor
  • illustrated by Jean Jullien
  • published by Candlewick Press (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise might be my favorite book of a recent spate of bedtime storybooks we’ve read here at Roarbots HQ. The art is adorable, the main character is a total joy, and the story is a genuine pleasure.

Hoot Owl is, as the title would suggest, a master of disguise. Or so he thinks. Everywhere he looks is a tasty treat. Here’s a rabbit, there’s a lamb, over yonder is a pigeon … and is that a pizza??

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Power Down, Little Robot

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  • Power Down, Little Robot
  • written by Anna Staniszewski
  • illustrated by Tim Zeltner
  • published by Henry Holt / Macmillan (2015)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Books starring robots have an almost unfair advantage with me, but I think it’s safe to say that this one is succeeds on its own.

The conceit with Power Down, Little Robot is nothing remarkably new … but it has ROBOTS! Little Robot doesn’t want to go to bed, so he does everything in his power to delay the inevitable. Mom Unit (yes, that’s the mother’s name) is not amused and keeps trying to get Little Robot into bed.

Mom Unit will brook no argument about another can of oil, just one more bedtime manual, or nightmares about error messages. She needs Little Robot to enter sleep mode.

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Orion and the Dark

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Orion and the Dark is an absolute charm from beginning to end. The story is about a little boy (Orion) who is scared of a lot of things … but mostly the dark. As you can probably guess, he’s not a big fan of bedtime and all of the darkness that usually comes with that.

But one night, something strange happens. The Dark comes alive and creeps down into Orion’s bedroom … and it turns out not to be as scary as Orion thought. In terms of bedtime / scared-of-the-dark stories, there’s really not much new ground to tread, but this one, like I said, is a charm.

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Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2015: The Recap

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In May of this year, I attended the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration (DSMMC) at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. All told, it was a fantastic event and a wonderful opportunity.

If you haven’t already listened to my podcast or read my FAQ about my experience at DSMMC, you might want to go ahead and do that for some background.

This post is all about the recap — an image-heavy and pixie-dust-free recap. It’s the details of what happened and what attendees got to do and see during the event. It’s long, so buckle down and get scroll happy.

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Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2015: The FAQ

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In May of this year, I attended the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration (DSMMC) at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. All told, it was a fantastic event and a wonderful opportunity. I’ve heard many fellow attendees refer to it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. However, I’ve had more than my fair share of legitimate once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so I’m fairly judicious when using that term.

Still, it was incredibly memorable and — as you’ll see — I have quite a bit to say and share about it. This is the story of my DSMMC adventure. As with many things Disney, there’s a heavy fog of mystery surrounding the event. I’m here today to try to dispel some of that mystery, pull back the curtain a little, and let you know what it’s all about.

Search Twitter for the #DisneySMMC hashtag or read other event recaps, and you’ll probably notice a heavy coating of pixie dust over everything.

That’s all fine and good if that’s what you’re looking for. But I’m much more interested in being honest, transparent, and helpful for those on the outside looking in. With that in mind, I’ll try to be as straightforward and honest as I can. I’m not going to hide anything.

I’ve already discussed some of my thoughts about the event on my podcast here. It caused a few ripples, which is good in my opinion.

But now I want to present a more detailed FAQ for those who are curious and want to learn more about it or for those who are interested in attending in the future. (I posted a detailed recap of the events separately here.)

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Questions From a Kid: Jim Cummings

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of Questions From a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with legendary voice actor Jim Cummings. Jim has given life to hundreds of characters, but he’s best known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Darkwing Duck, and Pete.

He’s also the voice behind Hondo Ohnaka on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the Tasmanian Devil, Tantor the Elephant on the Tarzan TV series, various characters on Sofia the First, Curious George, and on and on and on. The list is seemingly endless.

It’s no understatement to say that Jim Cummings is the voice of many childhoods. Scroll through his filmography on IMDb and you’ll undoubtedly find a show or movie you know and love. Many of the roles for which he is most well known are not original to him. He took over Winnie the Pooh in 1988, Tigger in 1990, and the Tasmanian Devil in 1991 (after Sterling Holloway, Paul WInchell, and Mel Blanc created those distinctive voices).

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Questions From a Kid: Jess Harnell

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of Questions From a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with voice actor (and all-around great guy) Jess Harnell.

Zoey knows him best as the voice of Wakko on Animaniacs, but Jess has given life to hundreds of other characters, including Chilly on Doc McStuffins, Cedric on Sofia the First, Ironhide in the Transformers movies, and dozens and dozens more.

Zoey had the chance to chat with Jess at this year’s Awesome-Con DC. In a weird twist, it was at last year’s Awesome-Con that Zoey began this journey by interviewing Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche. Almost a year later exactly, she comes full circle back to Animaniacs.

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Giveaway: Day Out With Thomas: The Celebration Tour Tickets

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It’s that time of the year again! It’s time for that little blue engine Thomas to make the rounds. And this month, the Strasburg Rail Road is kicking off summer with not only Thomas the Tank Engine but also a return of last year’s surprise favorite: Percy!

That’s right, Percy’s back! (Click here for our review of last year’s event when Percy was unveiled for the first time.)

From June 20–28, both Thomas and Percy will be giving rides at Strasburg Rail Road! Additional activities include photo ops with Sir Topham Hatt, art-and-crafts stations, more train tables and Thomas toys that you’ve ever seen assembled in one place, and storytelling sessions, among other things.

Frankly, if your kids love Thomas, this event is everything they could ever want.

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Blog Tour: Eden West with Pete Hautman

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Today, I’m thrilled to be joined by Pete Hautman, the extraordinarily talented writer of Eden West, out now from Candlewick Press. Pete’s 2004 novel, Godless, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Eden West covers similar ground in that both books deal with the interplay between religion and control.

However, where Godless was about inventing a new religion, Eden West is about the world of cults. It is about the 12-square-mile land of Nodd, a “paradise” run by the Grace. Specifically, it’s about 17-year-old Jacob who knows nothing else about the World, except that it’s wicked and doomed to destruction. That is, until he meets Lynna and the two test their belief in the Grace with the temptations of the World.

It’s a tough YA book that tackles some serious issues in a thoughtful, respectful way. Thankfully, Pete Hautman also knows how to laugh. Which is a good thing, because for his blog tour stop here at the Roarbots, I decided to throw him some curveballs.

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Cirque du Soleil: La Nouba

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(Check out some of our previous adventures with Cirque du Soleil: Dralion, Varekai, and our tour of International Headquarters in Montreal.)

La Nouba was the first Cirque du Soleil show I ever saw. Since I’ve now seen more than 10 different Cirque shows, I guess you could say this is the one that made me a fan. I recently had the chance to see the show again, and it didn’t disappoint.

La Nouba premiered in Orlando in 1998 and was the third resident show created (Mystère and O in Las Vegas were the first two). The theater it calls home (on Downtown Disney’s West Side at the Walt Disney World Resort) was the first freestanding, permanent structure built for Cirque du Soleil, and Walt Disney Imagineering was involved in its design and construction.

Despite what many think, though, La Nouba is not owned or operated by Disney. Downtown Disney is its home, and it’s certainly a major draw to the area, but it’s not part of the larger Walt Disney World Resort. In other words, don’t expect Mickey and Goofy to be part of the highwire act.

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Blog Tour: Kids Comics Q&A with Maris Wicks

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Today, I have the privilege and honor of being a stop on the Kids Comics Q&A blog tour. The tour is sponsored by First Second Books and cosponsored by the Children’s Book Council, Every Child a Reader, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Talk about good company!

This year, Free Comic Book Day officially kicked off Children’s Book Week (May 4-10, 2015), and even though that’s past tense at this point, that shouldn’t stop you from exploring and celebrating all the joy that children’s books provide. So, please, click through to some of those links above and check out all the great stuff that’s available at each.

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The Kids Comics Q&A blog tour is meant to celebrate the many fantastic creators who are writing and drawing some downright incredible “comics for kids.” Among the many brilliant participants are several friends of The Roarbots, including Kazu Kibuishi, Jeffrey Brown, Frank Cammuso, Gene Luen Yang, Mike Maihack, Andy Runton, and Ben Hatke!

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Interview With Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsuki: Bringing The Dam Keeper to Life

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(This post originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

The Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film is always a collection of some of the most beautiful and artistic stories set to film in any given year. Last year was no different. Even though Disney’s Feast grabbed a lot of the headlines and spotlight (mostly by being attached to the mega-successful Big Hero 6), fellow nominee The Dam Keeper is arguably a better film.

Directed by former Pixar art directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke (Dice) Tsutsumi, The Dam Keeper tells the story of young Pig who lives and works in a windmill perched high atop a huge dam on the edge of town. His job is to keep the windmill running and thereby keep the encroaching black fog at bay. If the windmill stops, the black fog could envelop the town.

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Fight to the Last Man — Interview With the Creative Team Behind ‘The Stranger’

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(This post originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Maybe I’ve just started noticing it for some reason, but it seems like there’s been an uptick in the number (and popularity) of graphic novels by French creators making their way States-side recently.

Toon Books has begun publishing the first English-language translations of the Philémon series, Snowpiercer made quite a splash thanks to its big-screen adaptation with Chris Evans, and now First Second Books is publishing English-language versions of the massively popular Last Man series.

The first book in the series, The Stranger, released in March, and First Second is planning to release Books 2 and 3 later this year. Books 4–6 will hopefully follow in 2016, which will bring us more or less in line with the French releases. There are a total of 12 volumes planned for the entire story.

The Stranger focuses on a gladiatorial contest–the Games–in what seems to be a medieval world in which magic is not only possible but also the very soul of the Games. Teams compete and wield elemental powers against one another in the ring (think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Ultimate Fighting).

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Light It Up With Max Traxxx Tracer Racers

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(This post originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Cars are a big deal in my house. My three-year-old son has more Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and other assorted cars than any other kid I know. My mother never parted ways with all of my toy cars, so he now has all of mine in addition to a growing collection of his own. (It doesn’t hurt that individual Hot Wheels cars make perfectly reasonable impulse buys.)

In short, if it has four wheels, my son will play with it. Therefore, it was with some fascination that we saw Max Traxxx Tracer Racers. Despite the surplus of Xs in the name, these cars and track sets immediately grabbed his attention.

Promising “glow powered racing,” the sets (put out by Skullduggery) include glow-in-the-dark track and cars with small lights on the bottom. In a darkened room, turn on the lights, let the cars race down the track, and you’re rewarded with cool green streaks of light in their wake.

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5 Questions with Cece Bell

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of Questions From a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with Cece Bell, author and illustrator of (among other things) the graphic novel El Deafo.

ElDeafo_NewberyCece Bell already had several picture and chapter books under her belt before El Deafo hit the shelves. Among them: the Sock Monkey series, Itty Bitty, and Rabbit and Robot. But it was El Deafo that made the biggest splash.

El Deafoin case you’re unaware, is an autobiographical graphic novel that tells the story of how Cece lost her hearing at a very young age (from meningitis), struggled to appear “normal” and fit in throughout elementary school, and ultimately discovered her own superpowered altar ego in the guise of “El Deafo.”

It’s a charming, honest, warm, and funny book that’s a pure delight for all ages. And it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. To name a few, it won the 2015 Newbery Honor, was a Kirkus Prize finalist, and was recently nominated for an Eisner Award.

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Razor’s Crazy Cart Brings Mario Kart to Life

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(This post originally appeared on GeekDad here.)

Here’s another one to file under “I wish they had these when I was a kid.” Razor, the company perhaps best known for revitalizing the “scooter industry” and making kick scooters cool again, has branched out in some surprising ways.

One of those ways? The Crazy Cart. The second I saw a Crazy Cart, I knew I had to have one. What is it? It’s essentially a drifting go-kart. OK, what does that mean? In a nutshell, it’s a battery-powered go-kart that has the ability to drift sideways, go backwards, and make complete 360s.

Have you ever wished ‘Mario Kart’ were real? Of course you have. We all have. Well, it’s time to set up the Chain Chomps and prepare the turtle shells and banana peels; Razor is bringing real-life ‘Mario Kart’ to your nearest empty parking lot. Boo-yah.

Let’s take a closer look.

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Bugs in the Kitchen

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  • Bugs in the Kitchen
  • Designer: Peter-Paul Joopen
  • Publisher: Ravensburger
  • Plays 2–4
  • Ages 5+
  • Playing Time: 10–15 minutes
  • Initial Release: 2013
  • Elevator Pitch: Rotate plastic utensils to force the robotic Hexbug into or away from your trap.
  • Roar Score: 4/5

I love it when simple games are both surprisingly fun and a big hit with the kids. All too often, simple = boring. Not so with Bugs in the Kitchen. And most of that is thanks to the inclusion of a Hexbug Nano as an integral component of the game.

The concept of the game is very simple. The board is composed of rotating plastic utensils, which form the walls of a maze. The Hexbug is let loose in the middle, and then players take turn rolling a die and rotating one of the utensils in an effort to either lure the Hexbug into (or away from) your corner, collecting tokens as you go. (There are a few different ways to play.)

The first person to collect a certain number of tokens wins.

That’s all there is. The Hexbug moves by itself, and you simply need to stay ahead of it by rotating the right utensils. It’s fast and frenetic, and it’s a total blast with kids.

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Giveaway: Bazooka Joe prize pack

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Believe it or not, Bazooka Joe is 60 years old! Doesn’t look a day over 12 if you ask me. I still remember going to the 7-11 on the corner when I was a kid and buying loose, single sticks of Bazooka Joe gum (off the bottom candy rack) for 5 cents each.

And get off my lawn while you’re at it!

To celebrate the anniversary, the brand is getting a bit of a makeover. Topps (Bazooka’s parent company) has enlisted the aid of four stellar illustrators who will design new looks for Bazooka Joe: Benjamin Balistreri (How to Train Your Dragon), Robert Lilly (Nickelodeon Animation Studios), Ben Reynolds (mobile Games for Ghostbusters and Monster Pet Shop), and Victor Instrasomnbat (Clockwork Animation).

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