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May 8

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May 8, 2009 – The Collaboration Film Trail of the Panda is Released in China

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“High in the mountains of the Sichuan province of China, a ten year old mute orphan boy, Lu, rescues a lost panda cub separated from its mother.”

On May 8, 2009, the second collaboration film between Disney and Chinese filmmakers, entitled Trail of the Panda, was released in China; it premiered in Chengdu on April 27. The film was set and filmed in the Sichuan Province, and features Daichi Harashima as ten-year-old Lu, a mute orphan who befriends lost panda cub Pang Pang and helps him find his way home. The film was eventually released on home video in the United States on September 6, 2011.

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July 27

July 27, 1994 – The Disney Live Action Feature Blank Check is Released on VHS

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“This morning, Preston Waters got something that’s going to change his life.”

On July 27, 1994, the live-action Disney feature Blank Check was released on VHS. The film, which had done reasonably well in theaters, was Walt Disney Pictures’ only release through the month of July. The movie has since been released on other formats. It starred Brian Bonsall as Preston Waters, Karen Duffy as Shay Stanley, Miguel Ferrer as Quigley, James Rebhorn as Fred Waters, Tone Loc as Juice, Jayne Atkinson as Sandra Waters, and Michael Lerner as Biderman. The film was directed by Rupert Wainwright.

September 20

September 20, 2002 – The Studio Ghibli Film Spirited Away is Given a Limited Release in the United States

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“Why should I hire you? Anyone can see you’re a lazy, spoiled crybaby, stupid to boot! I’ve nothing for you – forget it!”

On September 20, 2002, the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away (known in the original Japanese as 千と千尋の神隠し) was released in the United States in a limited amount of theaters, with a general release on September 27, 2002. The film was written by director Hayao Miyazaki, who was inspired by a friend’s ten-year-old daughter, wishing to write for her a character she could look up to. Disney asked Pixar’s John Lasseter, a fan of Miyazaki’s work, to oversee the English-language version of the film. The film became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing over $229,000,000 in the Japanese box office. It would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards; its success helped solidify the popularity of Studio Ghibli films within the United States, with Disney internationally distributing most of the studio’s library.

The film begins with ten-year-old Chihiro sulking in the backseat as she and her parents drive to their new home. Chihiro hates the move, and doesn’t hesitate to let her parents know. They end up lost on a back road, and Chihiro notices a rather strange stone outside. They come across a dilapidated old building, and although Chihiro doesn’t want to explore, her parents let their curiosity get the best of them. Not wanting to be left alone, she follows them. Her father thinks it’s only an abandoned theme park, but Chihiro still has a bad feeling about the place. Her parents then smell something delicious, and discover a delectable feast. Chihiro refuses to eat, but her parents dig right in. Feeling something isn’t right, Chihiro looks around the buildings, and notices black smoke from the chimney of what appears to be a bath house. She comes across a boy on the bridge, who warns her to escape before it gets dark. As she runs back to her parents, she is shocked to find that they have turned into pigs.

Chihiro runs through the bathhouse, looking for her parents, unable to believe they have been turned into pigs

Chihiro runs through the bathhouse, looking for her parents, unable to believe they have been turned into pigs

Chihiro runs around the bathhouse, and finds she is trapped at the bathhouse, as the nearest town is now far away across a river. As she moans to herself that she must be dreaming, she finds herself disappearing. She then sees several spirits making their way to the bathhouse from a ferry-boat and, frightened, she runs away. She is soon found by the boy from the bridge, who has her eat something so she won’t disappear, assuring her that she will not turn into a pig. He then protects her from a strange bird flying overhead, and takes her through several back passageways until they reach the bridge. He warns her not to breath as they cross the bridge, otherwise the spell keeping her invisible will wear off. A frog leaps into the boy’s face, and Chihiro lets out a breath of surprise, revealing herself. The boy, named Haku, continues to protect her, but gives her directions to go to the boiler room to find Kamaji and ask him for work, so she can stay and save her parents. Once she has work, the witch that runs his world will not be able to harm her.

Although frightened, Chihiro follows Haku’s instructions, ending up at Kamaji’s boiler room. When she asks him for a job, he first ignores her, then tells her that he doesn’t need any more help than the susuwatari that work for him. She assists one of the susuwatari by taking his piece of coal to the furnace, causing the rest of the susuwatari to pretend that they can’t carry their coal, wanting Chihiro to do their jobs. Kamaji then tells her that there is no work for her, just as a girl named Lin enters. As she panics upon seeing Chihiro, Kamaji tells her that Chihiro is his granddaughter. He convinces Lin to take Chihiro to Yubaba for a job, which Lin does begrudgingly. Lin then protects her from a suspicious attendant, leaving Chihiro to travel to Yubaba alone with a strange spirit. At first, Yubaba refuses to let Chihiro work at the bathhouse. She tries to find out who helped her, but Chihiro keeps demanding that she should be given a job. Yubaba then taunts her, but Chihiro tries to remain calm, even thought they are interrupted by a rather large baby.

Chihiro, after her persistent asking, is given a contract by Yubaba

Chihiro, after her persistent asking, is given a contract by Yubaba

Yubaba then agrees to give Chihiro a job as she tried to calm the baby down, and gives Chihiro a contract to sign. Yubaba then takes Chihiro’s name, leaving her as just “Sen.” She calls for Haku, who is tasked to take care of her. As she tries to talk to him, he answers her coldly, telling her to call him “Master Haku.” Haku then calls out to Lin to take care of her, as no one wants to work with a human. In private, Lin reveals that she’s actually a kind person who is happy that Chihiro was able to make it past Yubaba. Lin warns Chihiro to stay away from Haku, as he is Yubaba’s henchman. The next morning, Haku sneaks into the room where Chihiro stays with the other women and tells her to meet him at the bridge, as he will show her where her mom and dad are. As she runs to the bridge, she comes across a strange spirit that seems to be watching her. Haku then meets her and takes her to the pig pen, and she starts to cry after seeing them. As she sits outside, he gives her her old clothes, with the farewell card her friend gave her. Haku tells her that Yubaba controls others by stealing their names, and she needs to remember her real name if she wishes to leave, but must keep it a secret. Haku no longer remembers his real name, but he strangely remembers hers. He kindly offers her food that will help her regain her strength, but she still starts to cry as she realizes what kind of situation she has found herself in. She heads back to her residence and hides her clothes, unaware that the strange spirit from before has followed her.

Work begins for the night, and Chihiro works as hard as she can, although she is given rather challenging tasks. She meets the spirit that’s been following her and leaves the door open for it. Chihiro and Lin are sent to scrub the big tub, which hasn’t been cleaned in ages. Meanwhile, Yubaba senses a spirit coming that she can only call “scum.” As she tries to get a tab for her bath, the foreman refuses her, but the spirit she let in kindly gives it to her. He appears a few minutes later with more tabs, although she refuses them, making him sad. Yubaba is then alerted that a Stink God is at the gate and, while she can’t refuse the customer, she wants to rush it out as soon as possible. Chihiro is then given the job to attend to it, although she struggles due to its stench. The god enters the bath, but needs another tab to clean itself. As Yubaba watches, Chihiro successfully cleans the god, revealing it to be not a Stink God, but a River God. Chihiro then earns the respect of Yubaba and the staff, thanks to her actions.

Chihiro sees Haku getting attacked by the paper birds

Chihiro sees Haku getting attacked by the paper birds

Late that night, the spirit, called No-Face, tempts a frog worker with gold before swallowing him. He then demands to be treated like a customer, using the frog’s voice to speak. He pays everyone with gold he created, and everyone rushes to keep him happy, so long as he gives them gold. Chihiro, however, is the only one not tempted by the gold, and stays in her room. She spies a dragon being attacked by several paper birds, and calls out to him, realizing that the dragon is Haku. The paper birds fly away when Haku crashes into her room, and while she wants to care for his injuries, he flies out to find Yubaba. Chihiro then rushes off to stop him, but is interrupted by No-Face, who offers her a large amount of gold. She refuses him, and No-Face is saddened by this. Angered, he starts eating employees. Meanwhile, Chihiro continues her search for Haku, and breaks into Yubaba’s residence. She then comes across Yubaba’s rather large baby, who threatens to scream and break her arm if she doesn’t play with him. One of the paper birds, which had attached itself to Chihiro, starts talking, mocking the baby. It is then revealed to be Yubaba’s twin sister, Zeniba, who turns the baby into a mouse, and Yubaba’s bird into an insect. She then demands to take Haku to kill him for stealing a magic seal from her, but Chihiro refuses to move.

Haku wakes, breaks the spell that Zeniba cast to appear, and falls down a trap door, taking Chihiro with him. He regains consciousness enough to escape, flying into the boiler room. Chihiro then uses an emetic dumpling she received from the River God to free the seal from inside Haku, which is slowly killing him. The seal is spat out, and Haku is returned to human form, although he is once again unconscious. Kamaji then looks after Haku as Chihiro goes to return the seal to Zeniba. He gives Chihiro a train ticket to help her get to Zeniba’s, although she will have to walk back. As Chihiro looks for Yubaba, No-Face is tearing the place apart, wanting to see Chihiro. He tries to offer Chihiro anything she wants, but she refuses, telling him he should go back to where he came. He tells her that he is really lonely, and demands that she take the old. She gives him the other half of the emetic dumpling, and he releases everyone he ever swallowed. He follows her to the train, once again his silent, semi-transparent self. They all board the train and head to Zeniba’s.

Chihiro and her friends sit on the long journey to Zeniba's

Chihiro and her friends sit on the long journey to Zeniba’s

Haku wakes up later that evening, and asks Kamaji where Chihiro is, and what happened, as he doesn’t remember anything, other than Chihiro calling out for him in the darkness. He then goes to Yubaba, asking if she still hasn’t noticed that she’s lost something precious. She finally realizes that her baby is longer with her, and the gold is just sand. She panics, looking for her baby, and angrily demands that Haku tell her where he is. When she finds that he’s with Zeniba, she sits down in dismay. Haku agrees to get the baby back, but only if she allows Chihiro and her parents to be sent back to their world. Meanwhile, Chihiro and her friends arrive at Zeniba’s, and are greeted by a lamppost that will show them the way. Inside, Zeniba proves to be a kindly witch, but sadly tells Chihiro that she can’t help her, and she will have to do it on her own. When Chihiro tells Zeniba she must go back, she provides Chihiro with a magic hairtie that will protect her. Haku then appears at Zeniba’s, and Zeniba forgives Haku, making him promise to protect her. She then keeps No-Face as her helper as she flies away on Haku’s back. Suddenly, Chihiro has a flashback to when she was little and nearly drowned in a river. She was rescued by Haku, the spirit of the river, and reveals his true name to be Kohaku. He turns back into human form, and thanks her for saving him by giving him back his real name.

They arrive back at the bathhouse, and Yubaba tricks Chihiro again, as Chihiro must guess which pigs are her parents in order to break the spell. Chihiro correctly answers that her parents aren’t there, and the contract is broken, freeing Chihiro and her family. Haku takes her back to her parents, but he can’t take her further than the gate, but he promises they will meet again, although she must not look back when she goes through the tunnel back to her world. Her parents act like nothing has happened, and Chihiro quickly makes her way back, resisting the urge to look back. Chihiro joins her parents as they set off for the new house.

December 22

December 22, 1995 – The Feature Film Tom and Huck is Released in Theaters

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“I been to your funeral once, I ain’t goin’ again.”

On December 22, 1995, the feature film Tom and Huck was released to theaters. The film was based on the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and received mixed reviews on its release. The film was directed by Peter Hewitt, with screenplay by Stephen Sommers and David Loughery. It stars Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Tom Sawyer, Brad Renfro as Huck Finn, Eric Schweig as Injun Joe, Mike McShane as Muff Potter, and Rachael Leigh Cook as Becky Thatcher.

It’s a dark and stormy night, with a mysterious figure walking the streets of the town. The figure, who we find is Injun Joe makes his way to the town doctor, Doc Robbins; the doctor tells Joe that he has a job for him in the graveyard. Injun Joe accepts, but demands more money. Meanwhile, Tom Sawyer hears the clock alarm going off at midnight, and crawls out of bed, running away from life with his aunt Polly. He is joined by his friends, and they escape to the Mississippi River, climbing on to a raft and sailing away. Unfortunately, they hit a sharp rock in the rapids, and Tom is thrown into the river, until he is saved by a stranger. The next morning, Tom tries to sneak back home, but is caught by Aunt Polly. He is then sent to whitewash her fence as punishment for sneaking out, but tricks his friends into doing the work for him. While they all do his job, Tom runs off, running into his friend Huck Finn, who is back in town. After meeting with Huck, Tom attends school, trying to get the attention of Becky Thatcher.

Tom and Huck sneak into the graveyard to cure warts, only to be observers to the murder of Doc Robbins

Tom and Huck sneak into the graveyard to cure warts, only to be observers to the murder of Doc Robbins

Tom meets with Huck again, who informs Tom that he’s found a cure for warts, involving a dead cat and a graveyard. The two make plans to meet at the graveyard, where they accidentally stumble across Injun Joe with Doc Robbins and Muff Potter uncovering a treasure map from a grave, and watch in horror when Injun Joe murders Doc Robbins, using Muff’s knife. As Tom and Huck flee the scene, with Tom accidentally dropping his prize marble, Injun Joe spots them. Although Tom thinks they should tell the sheriff, Huck convinces him that Injun Joe will murder them if they say a word. The two write an oath and sign it in blood that they will never tell. Tom is still wracked with guilt, having nightmares that Injun Joe will find him and murder him in the night. The next day, Tom discovers that Muff Potter has been accused of murdering the doctor, with Injun Joe claiming he saw Muff do it. The trial is then set for the next day, with many in the town believing that Muff did it. Huck prevents Tom from telling anyone the truth of the murder, and Tom protests that all they need to prove Muff’s innocence without breaking their oath is the treasure map; Huck points out that the map is in Injun Joe’s pocket, and wonders why he should stick his neck out for Muff.

Later, Tom goes by the creek again and runs into Becky. The two pretend to be engaged, although Becky is furious when she finds that Tom has been engaged before. Back in town, Injun Joe is trying to find the identity if the boys in the graveyard using the marble he found, while Huck wonders if he’s doing the right thing by not telling anyone about what he’s seen. Huck agrees to try and grab the map from Injun Joe, and the two follow him, waiting for the right moment. Unfortunately, they are unable to grab the map before he finds the treasure, and he burns the map, destroying the only evidence of Muff’s innocence. While they are still wandering outside of town, they hear the church bells ring, signaling that someone has died. Injun Joe, returning to his task of finding out who saw him in the graveyard, runs across a boy who tells him that Tom Sawyer was the last to use the marble, but it no longer matters, as he is dead. Tom’s hat was apparently found in the wreckage of the raft, and the whole town believes he’s dead. Tom and Huck sneak inside the church, and Tom is amazed to see that the town misses him, and even more so when Becky announces that if she could see him just one more time, she would tell him she loves him and kiss him in front of everyone. Huck gets angry that Tom keeps up the charade, and tells him to stop making his aunt suffer and go home. With Huck pushing him, he falls through the ceiling of the church, much to the surprise of everyone.

Injun Joe, finding out that Tom was the observer in the graveyard, surprises Tom and threatens to kill him

Injun Joe, finding out that Tom was the observer in the graveyard, surprises Tom and threatens to kill him

The next day, Tom tries to find Huck, with Huck packing and leaving town. Just after Huck leaves, Injun Joe finds Tom, and taunts Tom, threatening to kill him if he says anything about who really killed the doctor. Tom then goes to the jail to see Muff, and Muff starts to cry when Tom says he believes Muff is innocent. The trial begins, with Injun Joe testifying that Muff killed the doctor while in a drunken rage. Muff’s lawyer, in a surprise move, calls Tom Sawyer to the stand. Tom hesitates in answering the questions, but when someone publicly denounces Tom as an outright liar, Tom bravely tells the whole truth of what he’d seen. Injun Joe tries to kill Tom on the stand and escapes the courtroom. Later that evening, Huck appears at Tom’s window. Huck is angry that Tom broke the oath, but warns his friend to be careful before disappearing again.

The next day is the town picnic, with Tom still nervous that Injun Joe will find him. All of the children are taken to a nearby cavern to explore, with Tom and Becky running off to a deeper part of the cavern. Huck, hiding nearby, hears that Tom and Becky haven’t gone back yet. Injun Joe, in another part of the cavern, hears them and follows the echo of their voices. The town is alarmed that Injun Joe is back in town, looking to kill Tom. As Becky and Tom try to find a way out, they come across Injun Joe, who pursues them. After helping Becky find a way out, Tom comes across the treasure chest Injun Joe was trying to bury. Injun Joe finds him, and is just about to kill him when Huck comes to the rescue. Injun Joe falls down a cavern hole trying to save his treasure, not knowing that Tom took out all the coins to trick him. Tom and Huck escape the cavern and are proclaimed heroes by the town. The Widow Douglas offers Huck a new life with her, promising him a future. Tom goes to find Huck, and sees Huck in all new clothes. Tom is surprised by this new change in Huck, but the two of them go into town together, still ready to cause a great deal of mischief for the town.

November 26

November 26, 1997 – The Walt Disney Pictures Feature Film Flubber is Released to Theaters

“The truth is Weebo, I’m not absent-minded because I’m selfish, crazy, or inconsiderate. I’m absent-minded because I’m in love with Sara.”

On November 26, 1997, the Walt Disney Pictures film Flubber was released to theaters. The film is a remake of the 1961 Disney film, The Absent-Minded Professor, starring Fred MacMurray; the 1961 film was based on the short story “A Situation of Gravity” by Samuel W. Taylor. Flubber was directed by Les Mayfield, with screenplay by Bill Walsh (the 1961 film) and John Hughes. It stars Robin Williams and Professor Phillip Brainard, Marcia Gay Harden as Sara Reynolds, Jodi Benson as the voice of Weebo, Christopher McDonald as Wilson Croft, Raymond Barry as Chester Hoenicker, and Wil Wheaton as Bennett Hoenicker.

Filming and special effects for Flubber took place at the Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco, California. Filmmakers had 90,000 square feet of space to create Professor Brainard’s laboratory, the locker room, and the basketball arena, all in one place. A major difference between Flubber and Professor is the substance Flubber itself: in the 1997 film, Flubber has a mischievous personality of its own.

Professor Phillip Brainard sits for breakfast, explaining his hope to save the college after his robot assistant Weebo shows him the news article about the shutdown threat

As the film opens, Professor Phillip Brainard is getting ready for his day, when his robot assistant, Weebo, tells him that Medfield College is facing a shutdown. Distracted by the news, Brainard feels that he’s forgetting something scheduled for that afternoon. What he’s forgetting is his marriage to the Medfield College president, Sara Reynolds, which he has already forgotten twice. He meets Sara for lunch, and she reminds him about the wedding and makes him promise he’ll be there; if he doesn’t show, she tells him that they’ll call it quits – permanently.

Later, while Brainard is working in his lab, his rival, Wilson Croft, stops by. Croft had been Brainard’s partner until he stole and profited from Brainard’s ideas. He announces his plans to steal Sara away from Brainard. As Brainard prepares for the wedding, he asks Weebo why the wedding wasn’t on his schedule. Weebo is secretly in love with Brainard, and pretends that she may have a virus. While he is looking at Weebo, he sees that one of his projects may have had a breakthrough, and sets to work on it, the wedding pushed out of his mind, especially as he sets off an explosion in his lab.

Brainard is so excited about his new discovery, “Flubber,” that he hasn’t realized that his missed his own wedding for a third time

Everyone waits at the church, and Sara finally realizes that he isn’t coming. Later that night, as Brainard cleans up the mess, he comes across the new substance he created: a green goo with a mind of its own. It begins to wreak havoc in the lab and the neighborhood after being startled by a camera flash. Weebo dubs it “flying rubber,” and Brainard names it “Flubber.” As he continues to experiment with Flubber, thinking that this is the breakthrough that will save the college, he finally realizes that he’s missed his wedding. Again.

The next day, Brainard arrives at Sara’s office to explain, but she is too heartbroken to hear it. She cares nothing for his Flubber invention, and declares that they are finished. Meanwhile, Bennett Hoenicker, star of the Medfield basketball team, goes to his father, furious that he’s been placed on academic probation after flunking chemistry. His father, Chester Hoenicker, one of the biggest lenders to the school, asks his flunkies to “persuade” Brainard to change his son’s grade to an A. The henchmen go to Brainard’s lab late at night and accidentally become a part of Brainard’s Flubber experiments (getting knocked out by a Flubber-coated golf ball and bowling ball). Brainard then applies Flubber to his car, which enables it to fly. He flies to Sara’s to show off the car, only to find her on a date with Croft. Although he is upset about this, he resolves not to give up, and to find a way to use Flubber to help the Medfield team win the basketball game and hold off the shutdown.

Brainard applies liquid Flubber to the basketball and his shoes, testing how it could be used to help Medfield win the basketball game

Brainard explains to Weebo that using Flubber to help them the rather inept Medfield team win is the only way to prove to Sara that Flubber will be a success. Brainard intends to sneak into the rival school’s basketball arena, and apply Flubber to the basketball and his own sneakers, testing how well it will work. As he leaves, he warns Weebo not to let Flubber out from its container. She promises, but the moment he’s gone, she decides to have fun with the creation, and the released Flubber begins to have a dance party around the house.

After a disastrous first quarter at the basketball game, the Flubber begins to take effect, and the Medfield team wins the game, 69 to 68. Brainard tries to convince Sara that Flubber helped Medfield win the game, but she doesn’t believe him, and continues her date with Croft. A dejected Brainard flies home in his car, but Hoenicker sees him in the aerial auto. As Brainard sadly explains his love for Sara to Weebo, he is unaware that Weebo records him. Later that night, Weebo goes to Sara’s house and shows her the recording, effectively winning Sara back for Brainard. Sara arrives at Brainard’s and the two make up, with Brainard taking Sara for a ride in the flying car; the two decide to sell the car to a car company to save the school.

Hoenicker waits for Brainard and Sara to return, offering them a chance to sell him the Flubber, in exchange for him forgetting the debt owed him by the school

When Brainard and Sara arrive back at Brainard’s, they are greeted by Hoenicker, his son, and his flunkies. Hoenicker offers to buy Brainard’s invention, but Brainard and Sara refuse his offer. The next morning, when Brainard and Sara take the car to Ford to sell, Hoenicker’s henchmen break in to steal Flubber, and destroy Weebo as she tries to stop them. Brainard and Sara return to see the damage and find the Flubber stolen, and Brainard holds Weebo as she dies in his arms. He believes that he could never recreate her, but finds that she secretly placed her plans on his computer so he could create another copy, with a final message from her hologram.

With a new resolve, Brainard and Sara head over to Hoenicker’s to retrieve the Flubber and avenge Weebo. They find Croft working for Hoenicker to interpret the Flubber, once again trying to steal Brainard’s creation. Brainard and Sara quickly put their plan in motion, using the Flubber in the hand cream, a water gun, and the car to recapture the Flubber. Brainard and Sara save the college, and finally have their wedding, although through a video link, with Brainard working in his lab while Sara is at the church. The two then fly off to their honeymoon in their Flubber-powered car, accompanied by Flubber and the newly constructed Weebette.