Monsters at the Movies: Ralph Breaks the Internet


Grade: A-

by Nick Spake

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While Disney has a vast library of straight-to-video follow-ups, they’ve rarely delved into sequel territory on the big screen. Wreck-It Ralph paved the way for so many fun ideas and inventive characters, however, that its wonderful world couldn’t be contained to a single outing. Speaking with Story Monsters, Disney animator Michelle Robinson discussed the passion directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore had going into this sequel. “We describe ourselves as a director-driven studio,” she stated, “and they really wanted to do it.” In the same vein as Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet takes the foundation its predecessor laid down and builds upon it in a marvelous way. What we’re left with is a cornucopia of imagination with brilliant attention to detail packed into every frame. 

Where the original film was a love letter to video games, this sequel is a love letter to the whole digital world. John C. Reilly once again voices the lovable, not-so-bad guy, who is content with his day-to-day life as the villain of “Fix-It Felix Jr.” Meanwhile, Ralph’s BFF Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) feels as if she’s going in circles as a “Sugar Rush” racer. Vanellope is stopped in her tracks when her game is unplugged, but Ralph believes the solution awaits in a brave new realm known as the Internet. Once the Wi-Fi is up and running, Ralph and Vanellope boldly venture where no arcade character has gone before. Along the way, they cross paths with a trendy algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) and several shady figures with ties to the Dark Web. 

If you thought the OASIS in Ready Player One was an Easter egg haven, just wait until you feast your eyes on this film’s interpretation of the Internet. The animators have literally created a worldwide web where eBay is an auction house, viral videos put citizens on the fast-track to big bucks, and a search engine called KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk) can get users to their desired destination in no time. This is a film where you could pause the action at any moment and find a new visual gag. As such, this movie demands to be revisited at home after watching it once in the theater. While the Internet’s main hub is like a virtual version of Times Square, it’s just one of several vivid environments the filmmakers take us to. 

Vanellope finds a kindred spirit in a fellow racer named Shank (Gal Gadot), who lives a fast and furious lifestyle as the head honcho of “Slaughter Race,” a game that’s like a cartoony version of Mad Max: Fury Road. Our pint-sized heroine also makes an unlikely connection with several animated princesses upon venturing to Oh My Disney, which makes an actual Disney theme park look like a small-town carnival. Seeing all the Disney princesses together onscreen is perhaps the most astounding crossover since the Avengers first assembled. What’s even more astounding, though, is seeing Disney poke fun at some of their most recognizable mascots. 

Granted, Disney previously parodied their princess formula in Enchanted, but who thought we’d ever see Cinderella use her glass slipper as a weapon? While the sequence is wonderfully self-aware, it’s also clear that the writers have sincere affection for Disney’s legacy. It’s a clever spin on classic characters, demonstrating just how far the company has come in recent years. Apparently, it wasn’t hard convincing Disney to take a contemporary and satirical approach to Snow White, Ariel, and others. According to Robinson, “We had pitched this idea in the story screening and the executives saw it and they loved it.”

If there’s a downside to Ralph Breaks the Internet, it’s that there aren’t many new video game characters added to the mix. The film more than compensates, however, with characters from Star Wars, Marvel, and other properties under the Disney umbrella. For all the cameos it works in, the movie never loses sight of its heart or moral, leading to a poignant ending that isn’t conventionally happy, but sees genuine growth from our protagonists. In regards to the ending, Robinson says, “It needed to be a little bittersweet in order to honor both characters’ journeys.” One can only hope that Elsa and Anna experience a similar evolution in Frozen 2.  

 

Nick Spake has been working as a film critic for ten years, reviewing movies each month in Story Monsters Ink magazine and on his website.

Conrad’s Classroom: Fear the Roo

by Conrad J. Storad

What the heck is a Zip? If, like me, you are a graduate of The University of Akron, you already know the answer. I worked five seasons as a student equipment manager for the U of A football team during the late 1970s. That job helped me earn a degree without accruing any student loan debt. Nada. Zero. Zip. But what is a Zip?

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We heard that question from the fans at every college stadium we played in across the country. The answer was obvious once you saw Zippy, our school mascot. A Zip is a kangaroo—an Akron, Ohio variety. For a time, the school’s modern rally phrase was “Fear the Roo.” Huh? A kangaroo mascot? To get some history, go to Zippy’s web site at: uakron.edu/zippy.

Once you learn more about kangaroos, you’ll understand why the creature is a wonderful mascot for a sports team. Kangaroos are strong, agile, and fast. They have keen vision and a superb sense of hearing. Any athlete in search of glory in his or her sport of choice would love to embody the traits of this amazing creature from the down under continent of Australia.

Fully grown red kangaroos use their powerful hind legs to move at speeds of more than 35 miles per hour. They bound in leaps almost 6 feet high that measure up to 25 feet long per hop. In comparison, big jackrabbits in Arizona can jump 5 to 10 feet per hop. How far can you jump in a single hop?

Most young readers probably already know that kangaroos are different in many ways. Kangaroos are marsupial mammals. Humans and tigers and monkeys and elephants and horses and bats are placental mammals. Like all mammals, marsupials are hairy and warm blooded. The mothers produce milk for their young. But marsupials have an outside pouch where their young grow and develop.

A baby kangaroo is called a Joey. The Joey is hairless and only the size of a Lima bean when it is born. The tiny Joey actually must climb from the birth canal into its mother’s pouch. During six months in the mother’s pouch, the Joey will grow 2,000 times bigger than its size at birth.

More than 60 kinds of kangaroos live on Earth today. The musky rat kangaroo is the smallest. A full grown adult weighs less than a pound. Big red roos can weigh up to 175 pounds. Powerful hind legs give the kangaroo its hopping power. But how many legs does a kangaroo have? You say four, of course. Nope. Not according to a 2015 research study published in Biology Letters.

The correct answer is five legs, say scientists from Australia’s University of New South Wales. A walking kangaroo actually propels itself with its muscular tail. The tail acts like a fifth leg. The scientists learned that the tail of a walking kangaroo works as hard as our legs work when we walk down the street. No other animal is known to use its tail in this way.


More hopping fun facts:

A group of kangaroos is called a mob.
A Wallaby is a kangaroo that weighs less than 45 pounds.
A kangaroo has a head like a deer, can stand upright, and can swim.
Kangaroos are browsers. They eat a variety of leaves and vegetation.

Resources to learn more:

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Books:

Big Red Kangaroo by Claire Saxby
Kangaroo to the Rescue (National Geographic Kids) by Moira Rose Donahue
Kangaroos: The Symbol of Australia by M. Martin

Websites:

National Geographic Kids—Kangaroo

Kangaroo Facts and Photos—Bush Heritage—Australia

Basic Facts about Kangaroos—Defenders of Wildlife

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The award-winning author and editor of more than 50 science and nature books for children and young adults, Conrad J. Storad expertly draws young readers into his imaginative and entertaining “classroom” to help them better understand and appreciate the natural world.



In the Garden: Scarecrows

by Rita Campbell

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I could while away the hours
Conferring with the flowers
Consulting with the rain
And my head I'll be scratching
While my thoughts were busy hatching
If I only had a brain...

- Ray Bolger, The Wizard of Oz

Scarecrows throughout time have taught us lessons on thinking before you speak, generosity, loneliness, and feelings. They have been written about in songs, plays, and children’s books. Throughout history, scarecrows have been used to help farmers save their crops. The Egyptians used the first scarecrows along the Nile River to protect wheat crops from flocks of quail. Wooden scarecrows were used by Greek farmers in 2,500 B.C. These wooden scarecrows were painted purple and had a club in one hand to scare the birds from the vineyards and a sickle in the other to ensure a good harvest. Romans copied the Greek and Japanese farmers created scarecrows to protect their rice fields. In Germany, scarecrows were wooden-shaped witches while in Britain, young boys and girls were used as live scarecrows.

In the United States, immigrant German farmers created “bogeymen” or human-looking scarecrows dressed in old clothes with large, red handkerchiefs around their necks. From these, the straw-filled, human-like men with gourd faces developed. Many other types were used by Native American Indians and Pilgrims to protect their crops. Today, technological scarecrows have reflective film ribbons tied on plants to glimmer in the sunlight. We actually have some motion-powered recorded devices set in our garden to steer away deer.

Scarecrows have evolved over the years and many gardens have scarecrow festivals with competitions for creating the most original scarecrows. These scarecrows can be very creative from childlike scarecrows to adults ones. In the fall, scarecrows can also make fun decorations for your porch or Halloween.

Making a scarecrow to me is akin to creating a snowman and there are so many ways you can attempt this. At the end of the summer, you can decorate your sunflowers with hats, sunglasses, scarves, and old eye-glasses. Paper plate scarecrows are fun to make too. Using buttons for eyes, felt or construction paper for hats, yarn for hair, old shirts and pants stuffed with straw and old boots can be a fun activity to introduce a preschooler or elementary student to scarecrows.

For a garden scarecrow, you will need to create a T-shaped frame for his body and arms. You can drive a fencepost into the ground in the garden where you want to position your scarecrow. Fasten the frame to this post with wire or plastic fasteners. His/her head will need to sit on the top of this frame. An old pillow case stuffed or an old flower pot or lampshade will make a cute head.

Now you need to dress your scarecrow. Use an old shirt and pants or dress. The clothing will need to be stuffed with straw, old rags, leaves or newspaper and tied off with string. Using garbage bags to hold and shape your stuffing material is helpful and the plastic will keep it dry and from falling apart. Use safety pins, hot glue or yarn stitches to hold everything together. Adding gloves, shoes, hats, and scarves just add to the human qualities. Make your scarecrow part of the family.

Birds, rabbits and deer are adaptable. They will stay away from anything that looks suspicious. However, if it stays put for a while, they will get use to it and eventually will think it is there for them as a perch. A scarecrow that stays still in a garden will only be effective for a few days. It is important to make it as life like as you can and moving it around will help to fool the animals. He should be positioned everywhere in the garden meaning that you move him often. Make him lifelike by giving him a job with some tools or sitting on a fence. Simply changing his hat might be a way to fool the birds into thinking he is real.

While scarecrows are helpful in the garden to scare animals and birds away, there have been many stories written about them that can also teach your children about feelings. There is a beautiful story about a scarecrow who longs for the company of the creatures he scares away and in the winter he becomes a snowman that the animals play with. Once again working in the garden can also present many beautiful learning opportunities.

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Plant of the Month: Sunflowers

Sunflowers come in a wide assortment of sizes. Some cultivars grow as tall as 15 feet with flower heads as wide as 1 foot across; dwarf types, however, measure only a foot or two tall. There are also early, medium-height sunflowers that stand 5 to 8 feet tall with heads 8 to 10 inches across. Some cultivars produce a single large flower; others form several heads. Choose a site in full sun on the north side of the garden so the tall plants won't shade your other vegetables once they're grown. The seeds feed countless people, animals, and birds. Sunflower oil is used in cooking, soaps, and cosmetics. In the garden, you can grow sunflowers not only as beautiful aesthetic additions, but as windbreaks, privacy screens, or living supports for pole beans.

Rita Campbell is a master gardener. The Moonbeam-Award winning author has combined her love of gardening and teaching to create an educational series of books for children ... with a touch of magic. For more information, visit spritealights.com.

America’s Treasures: State and National Parks

by Diana Perry

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America is home to over 10,234 state parks and 59 national parks. While there are many to visit, I recommend starting with the parks in your home state, then try to visit as many others as you can, including our national parks. While every park has an abundance of wildlife to see as well as hiking trails, boating, camping, and other outdoor activities, each also has specific things to do or see that makes them special. Here are some to consider:

The Grand Canyon National Park, AZ – Made of red rock, it certainly is a most photographic park at more than 277 river miles long, 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and is the second highest national park. Most of the Grand Canyon is found here. Bison herds can be seen as you hike on the trails or ride a raft down the Colorado river.

Yosemite National Park, CA – Famous for its breathtaking waterfalls, Yosemite takes up 1,189 square miles and has one of the three largest exposed granite monoliths in the world; one is El Capitan, which rises 3,600 feet high from the valley floor. There is a train that you can ride throughout the park that exposes you to all the wonders of the nature, including the vast variety of wildlife. Stand next to the ancient giant sequoia trees or visit the Upper Yosemite Falls. At 1,430 feet, it is one of the five highest waterfalls in the world.  

Yellowstone National Park, WY – While you may not see Yogi Bear or his pal, Boo-Boo, you certainly won’t be disappointed when you visit this national treasure. You can see “Old Faithful,” the most famous geyser in America. It erupts on a regular schedule, which can range from 60 to 110 minutes between eruptions. Geyer spouts can vary from 106 to 184 feet high and normally last between 1½ to 5 minutes and can contain 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of water. Another great site to see is Mammoth Hot Springs, made of a form of colored limestone.

Niagara State Park, NY – It shares its border with Canada and is America’s oldest state park with over 400 acres. The Niagara Falls are what tourists come to see, but don’t stop there. Ride the Maid of the Mist, a boat tour that starts and ends on the American side but briefly crosses into Ontario. This ride takes you right under the falls and near the Rainbow Bridge, which is 1,450 feet long and 202 feet high.  Don’t forget to visit The Cave of the Winds, a natural cave behind Bridal Veil Falls. It is 130 feet high, 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep!

Moore State Park, MA – With 737 acres, there is much to do, such as canoeing, biking, hiking, motorized boating, cross-country skiing, fishing, hunting, and all sorts of fun activities and educational programs.  This state park is very historical and is home to some of the nation’s first stone mill foundations and a restored sawmill. There is a labyrinth of wooded paths that prove great fun to explore. 

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY – This park boasts of the longest cave system in the entire world with huge caverns and brightly colored stalactites and stalagmites. Make sure to take the Violet City Lantern Tour, where you walk through the cave with lanterns to light your way; it is three miles long and takes three hours to complete. You will also see the Star Chamber cavern, called that because there are formations in the dark ceiling that light up from the lanterns of visitors –they appear as if they’re starlights.

Everglades National Park, FL – This is one of the most primitive of the national parks and is the third-largest in the continental 48 states. The park is 2,400 square miles and offers some of the best birding experiences. Today’s high-tech population of young and old will enjoy geocaching. Geocaches are containers trackable by a GPS device and are hidden throughout the park. Families go on treasure hunts to find them. Make sure to visit Gator Park; not only can you see alligators in their natural habitat, but trainers put on gator shows!

Big Bend Ranch State Park, TX – This is as Wild West as it gets from the towering Chisos Mountain Range and much of the Chihuahuan Dessert. Take a rafting trip down the Rio Grande river through the beautiful Santa Elena Canyon with photographic limestone cliffs. You can also relax in one of the hot springs at Langford.

Custer State Park, SD – With 71,000 acres to explore, it won’t take long to spot one of their many buffalo herds. You can venture the territory on a trail ride or sit in a Safari Jeep. Try to make it up to Black Elk Peak. At 7,242 feet tall, it is the highest point east of the Rockies.

Sequoia National Park, CA – This is home to the world’s largest trees, one in particular is the General Sherman Tree at 275 feet tall and weighs over million pounds!

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There are so many reasons to visit your local state and national parks. While they all offer the chance to commune with nature, each park is unique. Unlike many vacations, visiting our parks is most affordable. You can even camp out in a tent or rent a cabin for very little money. With our lives so hectic, it is healthy for us both mentally and physically. There are not too many things more relaxing than being out in nature.

Kids and adults alike will get an education first-hand when exploring one of our parks. Rather than just reading about them, experience them for yourself, especially when you get to see some of the wonders of the world up close. It’s the perfect way for anyone to learn about America and its history. Fresh air and exercise are so healthy. Just take a hike to see the sights—you’ll feel better and you’ll certainly sleep well, too. Not only can you bond with family members and friends, but you get the rare chance to bond with nature itself. What are you waiting for? Go have an adventure at one our America’s great parks!

Enter the Story Monsters Coloring Contest

 

Attention Arizona Kids!

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It’s a monster of a contest!

Sponsored by Story Monsters Ink, Payson Public Library, and Payson Book Festival

Grab your crayons and download your coloring sheet or pick up at the Payson Public Library and return to the library in person or by mail to:

Payson Public Library
Attention: Story Monsters Coloring Contest
328 N McLane Rd.
Payson, AZ 85541

Prizes will be awarded in four age groups: 5 & under; 6-10, 11-14; 15-18

Winner to be announced at the Payson Public Library on July 18.

Prizes will be awarded by Story Monsters LLC at the Payson Book Festival on July 21, 2018 at the Mazatzal Hotel and Casino.


Deadline is July 17!
Happy Coloring!

For more information, contact Linda F. Radke at 480-940-8182 or email info@storymonsters.com

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