tiistai 9. elokuuta 2016

Disney's recess and democracy in the school yard


Disney's recess is animated tv-series made by Walt Disney Television Studios. Recess is created by animation screen writers Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere. Series ran in the ABC channel in USA from 1997 till 2001. Series has shown as rerun in Disney Channel several times. First time between 2001-2006. 

First time I watched Recess was from Finland's Disney Channel and it's one of my favorite Disney animated series's. We even have them recorded to old VCR tapes.  

Overall Disney's recess is one of the most popular animations from Disney studios. One of the biggest reasons to show's popularity is the way it portraits different layers of society in a regular school yard.


T.J. Detweiler

T.J is the leader of the main six in the show and has been best friends with them since kindergarten (except Gus who moved to town in the first episode). T.J. is kindhearted, friendly, accepting, open minded, outgoing and he takes having fun very seriously. T.J. gets along pretty much with every one. In the episode "Best Friend". He wrote and essay about his six best friends. Everyone in the school likes T.J. so much that even when he gets into troubles people still like him. T.J. and his gang are famous for their ability to influence everything that is going on in the school yard. Often he ends up making speeches where he pledges his school mates to stick together. T.J. always takes the side of the underdog making him a true democrat. 

T.J.´s nickname comes from his full name Theodore Jasper. Originally T.J´s name was supposed to be P.J. after the creators of the show. For whatever reason they decided to change name to T.J. It is believed that T.J. was named after USA's 26th president Theodore Roosevelt. According to Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere T.J.´s described to be "a funny looking guy with lot of charisma". T.J. has freckled cheeks, light brown hair and red baseball hat facing backwards. He is seen without the hat only in few episodes. He is wearing white t-shirt, green jacket and baggy jeans. T.J,´s wardrobe portrays his relaxed nature.

T.J. comes from a normal family. He has mom Jan Detweiler, Dad Dan Detweiler and big sister Becky who works in a local Floppy Burger. His parent pop in few episodes and in the movie Disney's Recess School's out. 

Finnish actor Jon Jon Geitel is T.J.'s voice in the Finnish voice over Recess (I personally think it's one of his best roles).

Gretchen Grundler

Gretchen is the smartest kid in school. Probably in the whole town! Gretchen in a friendly girl. She is leader-type and is almost a mother-like character in T.J's gang occasionally.

Gretchen and Spinelli are the only girl in T.J.´s gang and they get along very well. Gretchen is also close with Vince. They are both very competitive. Sometimes Gretchen also gets into fights with T.J. but this is probably because both have large egos.

Gretchen is tall, skinny and she has beautiful face. Freckles in her face (or are they pimples?) Large eye-glasses. Brown hair in two pigtails and pretty large front teeth. Blue-white dress with a pink bow in the middle and pink socks. Gretchen´s parents aren't shown in the series  but they are told to be very smart people as well. Gretchen¨s "sidekick" is her small computer Galileo.

Ashley "Spinelli" Spinelli

Ashley is the toughest kid in school. This Italian-American girl loves wrestling and is not afraid to speak up her mind. In T.J.´s gang Spinelli is the most aggressive member. Fortunately her friends keep her in the right track.

Spinelli is short. She has small now, almond-shaped eyes, short black hair in two pigtails. Pretty much in every episode she is wearing her orange beanie, black leather jacket and army boots.

Spinelli´s dad is Bob and her mom is Flo. Spinelli often is ashamed her parents since they always manage to embarrass her. She however seems to have good relationship with her mom and dad. Especially with her dad with whom she watches wrestling together. Spinelli is told to  have big brother Joey but he isn't never seen in the show. Flo's american voice is wonderful Katey Sagal who is also Leela's voice in Futurama.

Spinelli's first name is Ashley but she doesn't use her first name because school's four popular girls are formed from four Ashleys and Spinelli absolutely despise them. In T.J.´s gang Spinelli's complete opposite is pacifist Mikey. However Mikey and Spinelli are very good friends.

In few episodes there are hints of possible romance between T.J. and Spinelli. In several episodes T.J. puts her other hand to Spinelli's shoulder. This could be a hint of a possible romance or T.J. just wishes to calm down his fiery friend who likes fighting.

Mikey Blumberg

In T.J.´s gang Mikey is the peace maker and very sensitive and forgiving young man. Other students often assume that Mikey is a big bully because of his size. This isn't true and Mikey is very calm peaceful pacifist. Mikey writes poems and his dream profession would be a modern day bard. Mikey also has wonderful singing voice and he is also a talented dancer.

Mikey is tall, thick and he has blonde hair. He wears white t-shirt and brown trousers. Like T.J Mikey's clothes represent his relaxed attitude towards life.

Mikey gets along very well with T.J. He admired Vince because he is so popular. However in the gang Gus probably Mikey's best friend. Like T.J. Mikey always defends those who can't defend themselves. Mikey is also good friend with Spinelli.

Vince LaSalle

Vincent "Vince" LaSalle is very athletic and basket ball is his passion. In T.J.´s gang Vince is T.J.´s best friend. In some episodes T.J. refers Vince as his "right hand",

Vince is black, he always wears gray t-shirt, green basket ball shirt with yellow number 1 on it, gray shorts and sneakers. Vince is very competitive (maybe that's why he has number 1 in his shirt). Vince is friendly, he has sarcastic sense of humor. In school Vince has reputation as "nice cool kid".

Vince has big brother Chad. Vince always thought Chad was the coolest kid but in reality Chad was the biggest nerd. Vince has had crushes on both girls Gretchen and Spinelli. Gretchen might have thing for him as well. In sports Vince's greatest enemy is annoying bully Lawson.

Gus Griswald

T.J.´s gang has known each others since kindergarten. Gus was in the same kindergarten but only for a day before family moved away. Gus joins T.J.´s gang in the second Recess episode called "The New Kid" when his family moves back. Gus father is in the army so family had to move a lot.

Gus is the most shy member in T.J.´s gang. He also has big heart and defends himself and his friends if needed. Sometimes Gus also takes the role of a leader. This usually happens in situations where army-like discipline is needed. Because Gus´s father is in the army he can name any tanker or fighter plane.

Gus has short army-hair style, olive green shirt, dark green trousers, brown shoes, wristwatch and eyeglasses. His character design is a bit different compared to other human characters in the show. They have white-eyes with black dots in the middle. Gus only has black dot's as his eyes.

Democracy in the school yard 

In T.J.´s gang there are kids with different social statuses making the gang democratic. There is also authority in the form of principal Prickly. Monarchy in the form of King Bob. Security system (Big brother) in the form of Recess superviser Muriel Finster and her right hand Randall who quickly reports her if anything suspicious is going on. Security system is flawless of course because students enjoy fooling these two around and they don't always approve the commands from principal Prickly.

There is also controlled chaos, total anarchism in the form of kindergarten children. Teachers also have their own separate cast system that is completely detached from the happenings of the school yard. King Bob is tolerated mainly because he rarely sticks to other kids businesses. Ashley's also have their own monarchy. In the top are Ashley's themselves and then other popular students (like the court of king Bob). There also lot's of eccentric students that can not be classified like chip-girl, swing-girl, upside-down girl or the diggers. However they are not the lowest of the low. Lowest of the low are D&D geeks who spent their recess inside role-playing.

In T.J´s gang there is fighter girl with anger-issues, pacifist Mikey, popular athletic student Vince, young genius Gretchen, new kid Gus and glue that keeps the gang together T.J. What it comes to popularity scale Vince is pretty high, followed by Gretchen, then Spinelli, Mikey and Gus. As die-hard democrat T.J. is all the way against cast-system. Still he is extremely liked by teachers, kids, adults and both non-popular and popular students, This is also the reason why T.J.´s gang work together so well. These six don't give a damn about their social status. They just enjoy each others company.

maanantai 11. heinäkuuta 2016

Movie Review: Hammer of Ukko

I recently bought Hammer of Ukko for myself. It is a first documentary ever made from Finnish traditional paganism (Finn Belief) and it's roots. 

I consider myself quite well-read what it comes to Finnish mythology and folklore. Still there was things mentioned in the documentary I hadn't thought that much before. Narrative is singer and songwriter A.W.Yrjänä. There was many people interviewed in the documentary. Professor Juha Pentikäinen, members of Taivaannaula , several archaeologists and folklorists

When I was younger I read some books written by Juha Pentikäinen. I like the way he pointed out the differences between the "new" and "old" Kalevala's. New Kalevala is the one majority of the Finns know. Still it is only Lönnrot's take on Finnish here-epic and mythology. Lönnrot's Kalevala is also monotheistic unlike ancient Finns worldview that was animist-shamanist and more polytheistic/pantheistic. 

Lönnrot's Kalevala appeared in the end of 19th century with more attempts to rise and form national identity so it was written to serve politically than anything else. In the end both old and new Kalevala are just tine fractures of the universe of Finnish mythology and folklore.

All the most important deities were mentioned in the documentary. Ukko, Akka, Tapio, Tapiotar (Mielikki), Annikki, Ahti, Vellamo and of course the Bear. Also the way Bear worship has changed when ancient Finns turned from collective culture to hunters and later on to agriculture. 

Big part of Finn belief is the concept of three souls. This was also mentioned in the documentary. The way Itse-soul (self) could born into a same family. Also the importance of spirit world. The way everything in nature has their own spirits. They all belong to the four elements water, earth, air and fire. Each spirits having powers of their own. Faith to different spirits still lives in Finnish modern-day culture. Especially during different festivals and cultural habits.

There was also lots of talk about the way our nature connection has changed dramatically within past decades. Overall majority of the Finns have very good nature relationship (at least compared to many other western countries). However our nature relationship has changed the same way as lifestyle has changed.

I really like the visual look and style of documentary, especially these mystical cover photos. There was only tiny glimpse of a city scenery in the beginning of the film otherwise it is all about beautiful Finnish nature. Naturally there is Kantele playing and occasionally shaman drum.

A.W.Yrjänä's deep voice is quite relaxing. He looks a bit like a bear himself so I thought he was pretty good narrative. Stories of the deities were told with animations. Animation style was quite minimal and I think it fits well with the style of the documentary. 

I recommend this documentary to anyone who is interested on Finnish mythology and folklore. You can get English subtitles to the film as well. I watched this together with bunch of my British friends last week. They liked it. 

Official web-page for Hammer of Ukko http://www.helomedia.fi/ukonvaaja/

I also made a review on this to my YouTube channel

perjantai 8. heinäkuuta 2016

Midsummer Solstice Flower Girl Chalk Pastel Drawing

Drawing I did during the Midsummer Solstice.

Materials used:
Windsor & Newton Fints Pastel Paper
Seawhite Soft Chalk Pastels

Art (c) Niina Niskanen

Music: Niina Niskanen (playing Kantele randomly) 

Wonderful model my friend Janna: http://kuoma-stock.deviantart.com/

keskiviikko 6. heinäkuuta 2016

Fantasy & Eco Art workshop

Learn to paint fantasy landscapes, fairies, mermaids, dragons and other magical characters in the Fantasy & Eco Art workshops. You'll also find out how to use every day & recycled materials to give that extra touch to your paintings.

First workshop takes place in Friday 8th of July (5pm-7pm) and the second workshop is Thursday July 15th 2016. 
Course fee is £10 with materials included (feel free to bring your own as well if you wish).
Course fee is £15 if you sign up for both days. To confirm your place. please e-mail niinaniskanen@gmail.com

Discounts for those in need :D

You can find us from Glyndwr University Student Guild in Wrexham

Niina Niskanen is an artist and illustrator specialising in fantasy art and creative use of sustainable materials.

torstai 30. kesäkuuta 2016


I watched Pinocchio in the spring. It was perhaps fourth or fifth time that I watched Pinocchio. This was first time in English. Pinocchio is second Disney classic movie and it premiered in February 1940. Pinocchio wasn't financially successful. Part of the reason is believed to be in  the Second World War and american not going to the movies that much at the time. However what it comes to development of western animation Pinocchio is remarkable film.

What it comes to Disney animations Pinocchio hasn't ever been one of my favorites. Later as an adult I have learned to respect it more. Often I like to compare animations to their original sources. What it comes to Pinocchio I have read some scenes from Collodi's book and also analyzes from fairy tale anthropologist Jack Zipes. Zipes has done lot's analyzes from Disney films. Some of them are quite insightful then some or pretty far-fetched so I am quite critical what it comes to them.

Pinocchio's creator was Carlo Collodi. He was Italian writer and a journalist. Originally Pinocchio was published as serial story in Italian children magazine Giornale per I bambini  between 1881-1882 and completely book in 1883. I have only read pieces here and there from the original book. I doubt I'll ever read it completely. Stories are pretty creepy and disturbing. Pinocchio in the book is really mean child.  Jiminy Cricket only makes short appearance in the story. Pinocchio actually kills him by stepping on him. In the end of the book Pinocchio is hanged for being a trouble maker.

I much more prefer the Disney version. 


In the movie my biggest problem is with the main character. In the book Pinocchio doesn't regret his bad behavior.  In the Pinocchio has developing morality.

What's a conscience! I'll tell ya! A conscience is that still small voice that people won't listen to. That's just the trouble with the world today...

I think this sentence summarizes the whole movie pretty well. Disney's Pinocchio is about morality and the way human learns to separate right from wrong. Greatest power in the film is Gepetto's strong love and trust for Pinocchio. They don't have that much time to spend together quite early in the movie Honest John and his helper seduce Pinocchio to Stromboli and the world of theater and later to Pleasure Island. In the movie transformation to real boy is reward Pinocchio receives from well behavior. 

First scene where Pinocchio starts to understand Jiminy's words is the scene where Stromboli throws him in to the cage and threads to make fire woods out of him. When Blue Fairy arrives Pinocchio regrets his actions but is however too ashamed to admit that which is why his nose starts to grow.

By the end of the movie Pinocchio has developing morality. When he gets message that Gepetto has been eaten by a whale his first unselfish action is to go and safe them. Second one when Pinocchio saves Gepetto's life by pulling him to the cave away from the whale Monstro. In the end Pinocchio does become a real boy since he has proved himself to be brave an unselfish.

Biggest reason why I never really liked Pinocchio's character is that he doesn't know how to say no but is easily manipulated and each time follows the person who he happens to be around. However when I last time watched Pinocchio I got a revelation and understood why he behaves this way. When Blue Fairy makes wooden puppet a living puppet Pinocchio has no understanding about being a human. He is sent to school when he is 1-day old. Straight away Honest John seduces him to theater. Next day he is captivated by Stromboli and next few days in the pleasure island. Can I assume that wooden boy that has only lived for 4-5 days to have perfect judgement of human behavior? No I can not relate myself to the character situation even if I'd like to. 


Jiminy has always been my favorite character in Pinocchio. He climbs the social ladder when Blue Fairy makes him Pinocchio's conscience. Jiminy becomes found of Pinocchio and he want's the help him the best way he can. However for me Jiminy is most familiar from "All of us to all of you". Disney's Christmas special that as far as I know hasn't been aired in the USA since the 70's but is aired in Finland and all Nordic countries each year around Christmas. Hosted by Jiminy Cricket and each year there are clips from up-coming Disney films as well. I also like the way Jiminy was portrayed in the Once upon a time -series as a psychologist. I think it was very fitting for the character. 

Gepetto, Cleo and Figaro

Gepetto represents unconditional love of a parent. He is a bit silly old man but he is very good-hearten. This can be seen the way his pets care for him. After Pinocchio has gone missing and Gepetto has prepared dinner Figaro is really mad when Gepetto tells him not to eat the fish. He is really mad but still respects Gepetto's wishes. 

I also love the scene where Gepetto tickles Cleo's stomach. Both pets are very found of Gepetto. He also has very playful sense of humor. You can see this in the scene where he dances with Pinocchio and makes him kick Figaro's but. One can also see his playful character in the music boxes and clocks he has carved. Figaro gets little bit jealous for Pinocchio just because he gets so much attention from Gepetto. Figaro's and Cleo's relationship is like watching brother and sister. Cleo is angelic sweet and Figaro is rebel. Both are still very found of each others.

Pinocchio you have a tail!

Disney's Pinocchio is way less creepy than Collodi's original story (and many other animated movie Pinocchio). Still Disney's Pinocchio is considered to be one of the darkest Disney animations ever made. There is big amount of bad guys. Puppet theater owner, violent Stromboli. Leader of the Pleasure Island creepy Coachman.  Honest John and Gideon are also crooks of the story but more characters that start the unfortunate events. I always thought creepiest scene in whole movie is the one where Lampwick turns into a donkey. Pinocchio has lot's of psychological horror.

I really like the Pleasure Island Game Hall design. I think it was quite clever to make it as an 8-ball. There Pinocchio drinks bear, plays pool and smokes cigars with Lampwick. I find the whole concept of Pleasure Island pretty absurd. It is like trauma-therapy for young boys since they get to break everything. 

Pinocchio also includes lot's of sociological themes like child labor. Little boys are seduced to the Pleasure Island. When they turn to donkeys Coachman is planning to sell them as "free labor" to salt mines and circuses. Scene where little boys/donkeys are send to the boat trip is heart breaking. 

I don't know what other people think. When I was watching Pinocchio I hoped that there had been some kind of magical interfering (Blue Fairy perhaps?) who could have saved the lost boys. Pinocchio is such dark film. Who knows maybe story team thought about it but it didn't fit into the film.

One thing that I have noticed in Pinocchio is the episodic feeling. This also links the film to Collodi's original story. In many ways the bad guys in Pinocchio remind me of Disney's early animation episode characters from Silly Symphonies.

Little wooden head

I had forgot that Pinocchio also begins with a story book. Jiminy is the story teller. Beginning of the film is fun when camera work goes through eyes of jumping cricket. One of my favorite things in the film is Gepetto's workshop. Every time when I watch Pinocchio I can't stop admiring the amount of details and funny looking clocks. Quality of animation is very much advanced compared to Snow White. Another beautiful scene is the underwater scene. I find under water scenes and battle with Strombo actually much more light hearten than the anxiety driven scenes in the Pleasure Island. Probably because family is back together no matter what happens.

One of the things I do like in Pinocchio are the songs. Hi Diddle Dee Dee is very deceitful song. I think it's hilarious but of course gives very unrealistic image of actor's life. 
When you wish upon a star - is actually a Disney song that for me is pretty much the same as  Christmas Carol. No doubt because  each year it is included in "All of us to all of you".
I've never liked the character of Stromboli  but I've always liked the song I've got no strings and the puppeteer performance. Especially different dolls that represent different nationalities Russian dancers, Dutch dancers and French can can dancers. I also like the songs "wooden little head" and "give a little whistle" during those two songs viewer is introduced with Gepetto's workshop and the main characters.

There are many scenes in Pinocchio that I like. When Pinocchio finally finds his family in the belly of the whale Monstro Gepetto accidentally hugs and kisses a fish. I also love the end scene. Figaro is so happy when Pinocchio becomes a real boy he jumps into Cleo's tank and gives her a kiss. One of my favorite scenes happens right before Blue Fairy arrives. Gepetto has so many ticking clocks on the wall Jiminy has troubles getting sleep. Then he shouts "QUIEEET" and all the clocks get quiet.
                                                                 Voice acting

Majority of the Disney films I have ever watched I have watched them in Finnish. Last time we watched Pinocchio in Disney society. That was first time I watched it in English. I usually prefer Finnish versions (Finnish animation voice overs are usually very high quality). But because Pinocchio hasn't never really been my favorites I didn't mind watching it in English. In fact Pekka Lehtosaari who has directed most of the 90's Finnish Disney voice overs got orders from Disney to find voice actors matching with the original voices. They indeed are very much alike (Finnish of course being completely different language compared to English). Wonderful Finnish actor Matti Ranin who passed away few years ago (he also worked as director for Disney's Finnish voice overs) did voice of Gepetto. I thought it was quite funny because Ranin's appearance was very similar to English voice of Gepetto Christian Rub and in fact Disney animator's used Rub as physical model to animate character of Gepetto.

Pinocchio may not be my favorite Disney animation I still highly recommend any Disney fan to watch it at least once or twice in their life.