5 Reasons to Live

5 Reasons to Live

Ken Tucker picks pop gems to get you through the week, including the new book by Neal Gabler, Britney's creative rebirth (fingers crossed!), and more

BIRDS OF PREY In his new biography (inset), author Gabler details Disney's intricate choreography for the would-be demise of Snow White, giving Tucker a Reason…
Image credit: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Walt Disney/Photofest
BIRDS OF PREY In his new biography (inset), author Gabler details Disney's intricate choreography for the would-be demise of Snow White, giving Tucker a Reason To Live

Of Mouse and man: A must-read bio of Walt Disney

1. Walt Disney plots Snow White's death in Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination
By Neal Gabler (Knopf)
Given unprecedented access to Disney's papers and doing his usual superhuman amount of research, author Gabler has come up with an endlessly fascinating account of the complex man who anything but Mickey Mouse. At once a shrewd businessman and a go-for-broke maverick (hard to believe now, but Disneyland was a huge risk), Disney was also an instinctive loner with a large extended family, a non-joiner who nevertheless went Mickey Rat for as a ''friendly'' witness for the Commie-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. But you've got to reserve some fondness for a guy who was so into the plotting of Snow White that he suggested, during the scene when the Queen's huntsman moves in to kill the heroine, Snow White should ''bend over to tend to a sick baby bird'': ''She is stooped over, which gives you a swell position for the knife in the back,'' suggested Unca Walt. Like the knife he put in the backs of the lefty organizations he named. Invaluable.

2. Greg Grunberg in Heroes
(NBC, Mondays, 9 p.m.)
Let others walk through fire and jump out windows to soar; Grunberg — stalwart supporting player in his pal J.J. Abrams' shows like Alias and Felicity — emerges as the most poignant leading-man/hero in this non-Abrams hit. As a cop who can hear others' thoughts, Grunberg uses the skills that make him such a sly comic actor (his brightly alert eyes; his small, wry smile; his slightly querulous burr of a voice) to convey concentration and distress when he hears unspoken words that reveal anger, fear, and (closer to his character's home) betrayal. In a show filled with first-rate performances — Adrian Pasdar is doing his best work since his late, great Profit — Grunberg is the most subtle and open-hearted of all these heroes.

3. Crossword puzzles as a measure of intelligence in Wordplay
(DVD)
What comes across (or goes down, if you want to be all crossword-y about it) in this clever documentary about puzzlers famous (Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart) and semi-famous (the brainiacs who attend the annual Stamford, Conn., crossword puzzle championship), is that crossword mavens can multitask and are open to multiple ideas simultaneously. These are excellent skills for both a President and a talk-show host, and also explains why my wife is so much better at juggling multiple responsibilities than I — a non-puzzler — am. That, and why I think she has a crush on New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, the star here...

4. Frisky Dingo
(Cartoon Network, Friday nights, 12:30 a.m.)
In the past, I haven't really gotten on this network's Adult Swim wavelength of hipper-than-Mom-and-Dad snarkiness, but this pretty freakin' brilliant chunk of minimal animation (each episode less than 15 minutes long) is a joy and solace. The show's hero-villain is Killface, an ivory-colored monster with blood-red eyes and a deep, British accent — sort of Boris Karloff as a malicious alien. The joke is that Killface's plan for world domination is forever sabotaged by minor glitches and his resulting temper tantrums. You gotta love an evil monster who becomes furious over the poor grammar his assistant uses in designing the postcards he sends to his imminent victims: '''Welcome To You're 'Doom'?,'' he thunders incredulously. ''Why did you misspell 'your'? Why is the 'doom' in quotation marks? Is the doom ironic? No!!''

5. The emancipation of Britney Spears
The demise of a marriage is always a sad thing, but in this case... yay! My take on Spears has always been that she's a smart pop artist (come on, her early singles are every bit as good as those of, say, Herman's Hermits or ABBA) who has been victimized by what we might call the Presley Prejudice: Her unfounded but real lack of self-confidence in her own instincts has prevented her from being more adventurous — from having more fun, in her music and her career. I'm not saying she's the titanic talent Elvis was, but like, for example, a lot of country singers of lesser talent, she gets dismissed unfairly by tastemakers who wouldn't know a hit single from a Hostess Twinkie. Good luck to you, Ms. Spears; now, as my colleague Nicholas Fonseca wisely counsels you in the current issue of EW, capitalize on your current wave of good will among sensible people: record something catchy and unpretentious soon.

Originally posted Nov 10, 2006
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