April 22, 2015

Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True Life Adventure (Part Seven)

Today I offer up Part Seven of the extremely popular series, Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True Life Adventure. The very first part of the series dates back to Earth Day 2008. From the very beginning, my goal was to present some rare concept art and photos as I told the story of the evolution of Animal Kingdom- from concept to reality and all the changes in between. Toss in an objective analysis, a few trip reports, and rumors in the mix, and you've got a lot of enjoyable reading. 
-----------

When we left off in Part Six, it was clear that Disney's newest theme park in Florida was in transition and without a clear vision for the future.  


Rare Beasty Kingdom(me) art found on a limited edition collector's pin.
Thanks to my friend Mike S at WDWMagic.

Old concepts such as Beastly Kingdom (above and below) were tossed aside as expensive and old school- plus they were blatantly stolen over at Universal's Islands of Adventure- brought to Disney's competitors when several Imagineers took up residence there after being laid off by the Mouse.

Thanks to Werner Weiss for this excellent scan of the Beastly Kingdom(me) overview.

Coming after the park saving Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, was next year's Finding Nemo the Musical. It's debut in 2007 was hailed by hard core theme park fans but failed to deliver an attendance bump. 

In the new Disney world, which meant that character infusions were forced into places they did not belong, the Nemo musical fit surprisingly well into a park which celebrated animals in an extremely creative way. The beautiful huge puppets and consistently good musical numbers perfectly complemented the sweet, heartwarming story. The songs were written by the husband and wife team that brought Frozen to life, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. One number, (In The) Big Blue World also found its way into The Living Seas at Epcot. At 40 minutes in length, the new production took up another large chunk of the guest's day with schedules that offered differing times than the park's other must see musical, Legend of the Lion King

The next attraction to make its way to Animal Kingdom was...


Rare concept for the Tree of Life.

...Nothing. Absolutely nothing but the closing of the Pocahontas show. The park sat stagnant for several years. The Walt Disney Company was reeling from its loss of the Harry Potter property to competitor Universal. In an unexpected twist of blessing for the attendance starved Islands of Adventure, author J.K. Rowling turned over the theme park reins to Universal Creative and not Disney. It was a stunning coup for the fledging park operator. For Disney, it was back to the drawing boards.

Welcome to a kingdom of animals... real, ancient and imagined:    a kingdom ruled by lions, dinosaurs and dragons; a kingdom of balance, harmony and survival; a kingdom we enter to share in the wonder, gaze at the beauty, thrill at the drama, and learn. 
  
—   Michael D. Eisner, April 22, 1998


Would the Imagineers (and the suits that controlled the budget) take a look back at the opening day inscription for the park when thinking and planning for its future? What would they do?

Come 2010 and the opening of Harry Potter and his wildly thrilling Forbidden Journey, the massively big, popular attraction at Disney's competition, took the public interest by storm. Not only did the new area increase Universal's guest count by several million people annually, it also made Florida visitors rethink an all-Disney vacation. More and more folks took a day or two off from the Walt Disney World property in favor of time with Harry. The Disney suits took notice.

Disney publicly denied they were worried (as anyone with any business sense would suspect) but privately, the frantic search began for a property they could use to create their own must-see experience for Animal Kingdom. 

Another up charge tour.

In the meantime, the suits dreamed up a new adventure for the elite tourist with big bucks to spare. With minimal investment, the Wild Africa Trek promised a more personal and up close look at the animals found in the Kilimanjaro Safaris. Of course it was expensive just for the experience of more animals and a trendy meal. Of course it pleased the suits because of the instant cash flow. And of course, it infuriated theme park purists, like myself, that new Disney was into milking all it could from its guests versus steadily improving the parks and the guest experience. 

The gorgeous Tree of Life.

 More characters were thrown into the park. Disney bloggers who benefitted from personal invitations to Disney park "events" went into high gear promoting the wonders of the world. On the other end of the spectrum, press was solid if not enthusiastic for the soon to come Cars Land in California. It seemed 2012 couldn't come soon enough to divert some attention from Universal. 

Pandora coming your way in 2017?

In the Fall of 2011, the Walt Disney Company announced a partnership with filmmaker James Cameron to bring the world of Avatar to the animal based park. Instant controversy. 

What place did movie aliens have in celebrating the animals on planet Earth? The Discussion Boards on Disney park websites began to debate back and forth about the merit of the addition. Sure, there was a shared conservation theme, and yes, a giant tree played a pivotal part in both the park and the film. But was there more commonality between the two projects?


James Cameron, soon to be CEO Thomas Staggs, and Imagineer Joe Rohde

Actually, there is more in common than you would think. There's a spiritual emphasis that links the two. The theme park digs deeper into our emotional connection between animals and man with an underlying- sometimes blatant-  theme of conservation.  At Animal Kingdom, Disney carefully straddles the lines between man as guardian and steward of creation with man as equal with the rest of creation. This is done with the utmost sensitivity as to not offend guests with a Judeo-Christian ethic and world view, creating either controversy or decreased revenue. In this way, Disney's lovely and charming and peaceful park is no different in its presenting philosophy than the core belief system of Cameron's equally beautiful and artistic film.   

More explanation might make sense: The opening act of the park, the Oasis area, was once named Genesis Gardens during the initial planning. The Tree of Life is a direct reference found in the holy books of all three major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In each of these books, Man and woman were created by God and placed in this beautiful world. In the very middle of the garden stood the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When the first couple disobeys God and eats of the forbidden fruit, they are punished for their choice and must await a savior to pay the price for their grievous sin of disobedience.

(Photograph courtesy Main Street Gazette)

In Disney and Cameron's Eden, man may return to favor by harmoniously blending with his surroundings. Here guests have the opportunity to return to this glorious place, a place where man,  beast, and nature co-exist in harmony. The concept of Gaia is the realm of belief in both kingdoms; the Earth (and in Avatar, the other planets) is a seen as a one living, breathing creature. This living land is able to sustain life on its own. 



How could the Imagineers walk a very thin line between offending paying guests by subtly teaching earth worship theology to a large segment of guests who believe otherwise? By creating a gorgeous park! Sometimes it's not so subtle- see photo above- and you can see where Disney Imagineers have openly embraced the new age/old school pagan philosophies. Directly in opposition to the classic Judeo-Christian teachings, Gaia calls for east worship, revealing these truths as real for today as when they were written: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse...They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator- who is forever praised." Right from the Bible. Of course, here Islam and Judaism part ways with Christianity, as Jesus claims to be God and proclaims He is the only One through which one might get to an eternal place of peace, joy, and life. Now back to the park story...


A new look for the Tree of Life after dark.
Paired with a version of World of Color, Rivers of Light,
the park should look terrific after dark!

Ground was finally broken on Pandora in early 2014 with a projected opening date of 2017 once Cameron finished the next two films in his planned series. Disney released a series of new pieces of art to showcase the project as well as announcing the arrival of a nighttime water show designed to make this once half-day park into a full day excursion, Rivers of Light. The concept art for both projects is spectacular! If the end result is nearly as true to the artists' work, I'll be very happy this Avatar addition came to Walt Disney World... even if I think that stylistically the world of Pandora belongs elsewhere. 


Great photo from DaMouse website.

In a move that took years to realize, the tremendously popular theater show, Legend of the Lion King, finally moved to Africa, making room for the expansion.  This allowed the placeholder Camp Minnie-Mickey to finally be replaced with Cameron's vision built in concrete and steel. The new home for the show was so beautifully designed and executed, it is almost as if it was planned from the beginning. Harambe, the fictional city of Animal Kingdom's Africa, seems fully realized now, and there's more to come.

Anticipating increase in park attendance once Pandora opens and the Rivers of Light water show debuts, Disney Imagineers are hard at work on a marketplace expansion to Africa, falling between its borders and Asia. More shops and eateries will make for a pleasant experience during the growing attendance bump.

Smaller projects are happening as well. Good or bad- the choice is up to you. Starbucks is on its way, and a newly expanded open space around the Tree of Life has recently opened. A table service restaurant will debut on Discovery Island, taking up some space from Pizzafari

Rivers of Light: Enough to keep park guests after dark?

More questions remain: Will the Discovery River once again find watercraft filled tourists on its waters? Will Pandora be home to more than one attraction? Will Disney continue to invest in this park after this most recent expansion or will that take decades? Those questions will have to be answered later in the next installment.
--------
This concludes Part Seven of the series. If you've never read the first pieces and want to discover all the rare concept art as well as read more about the park's development and history, you can find more information here:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
(Concept art and top photo copyright The Walt Disney Company. All other photos copyright Mark Taft.)

April 17, 2015

Disney's Animal Kingdom Series Continues

Coming on April 22nd, look for Part Seven of the series, Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True Life Adventure. This look at the creation and evolution of Disney's fourth theme park in Florida is a very fascinating story, and I'll filled the first six parts with rare concept art, photographs, advertisements, and personal trip reports. Until then, a brief introduction to whet your appetite:
-----------------------

For long time readers of the blog, you know I have a longstanding  love/hate relationship with Disney's Animal Kingdom. As with so many Disney attractions stateside, there's much potential, much anticipation of what is being done, and sometimes much disappointment with the results. Occasionally, concept art delivers what is promised. Case in point most recently being Cars Land at the beautifully  done, revitalized California Adventure. Unfortunately, there are many cases where the hopes and dreams for something fantastic falls flat. Looking at you, the extremely nice to look at but woefully, mostly hollow New Fantasyland at Florida's Magic Kingdom.

The image above is my favorite ad from 1998 introducing Disney's Animal Kingdom. The shadows in the photo are compelling as is the text, telling stories the Imagineers wanted to share- and also those adventures that were left by the wayside when the budgets thresholds were surpassed:

"Keep your eyes open and your wits about you. 'Cause you never know what you'll come across here. Herds of wild elephants, prowling lions, fire breathing dragons, and dinosaurs whose return from extinction hans't mellowed their bad attitudes one iota. Where on earth are you? Disney's Animal Kingdom, a whole new Walt Disney World theme park. Where an African safari pits you against poachers, a mad archeologist sends you back 65 million years on a thrill ride of mammoth proportions, and over 1,000 animals roam freely."


Wild animals? Of course. Audio-Animatronic Dinosaurs? You bet. Fire breathing dragons and imaginary creatures? Left off the list. The beautifully elaborate Beastly Kingdom never materializes. Even attractions planned for opening day never make the cut or eventually are built much more modest than originally planned.

Proposed Tiger River Run- you won't find those animals along today's Kali River!

Don't believe me? Take a look at the image above, showing a much more immersive and lengthy Kali River Rapids and the surrounding Asia area. And the original plans for Dinoland U.S.A. (found in one of the articles in the series) were equally impressive- and never utilized.

Animal Kingdom's story is fascinating. It's chock full of dreams, competition with other area theme parks, intrigue, disillusionment from the Company suits, and the end result is constantly guided by the whims of the guests and the shortsightedness of the Disney Board who places making money as the ultimate goal regardless of the destruction done to the art of the park. 

A look at the Safari's savannah in art form.

Disney started with a goal to pull out all the stops in order to compete- and make obsolete- parks such as the nearby Busch Gardens in Tampa. Bringing in the Imagineer Joe Rohde to lead the team was a brilliant move. He was intimately involved in the now defunct Adventurer’s Club at Pleasure Island and possessed a great feel for bringing the exotic and mysterious feel to his work.  Leading the small but talented team, including eventually bringing in a significant old school genius to landscape the new park, they began to plan and dream.    


A look at the originally named Safari Island. 

The park map at opening... not much to do!

Want to keep going and take an in-depth look at this incredible place with a history of twists and turns? 

Part Seven debuts on the 22nd of this month on Earth Day.


Need to read the first Six articles before the 22nd? Start at here at Part One of my series, The Genesis, Evolution, and Revelation of Disney's Animal Kingdom. Six parts and counting. Each article shows rare concept art, photographs, and more. Including detailed trip reports. Enjoy the journey!


Part One

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

(All artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 15, 2015

Notable and Quotable: Theodore Roosevelt

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause. Who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst – if he fails- at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat!”

          Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

April 10, 2015

Disney's Unbuilt Burbank Backlot


Creativity at the Walt Disney Company may go in spurts. Fresh ideas arise and come to fruition in great new films and attractions at the parks. Or things may be a bit stale as the Company rehashes old ideas and markets them afresh. (Think all the remakes of animated classics into live action films.)

Years before Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland were even a thought of forward thinking (some might say greedy these days) corporate executives, the Disney Backlot project in Burbank was on the fast track to become a reality. The piece of concept art displays what would have transformed a busy street corner lot into something special: shops, restaurants, etc. Along the lines of Anaheim's Downtown Disney except with with a few small scale  film based attractions through in to draw a crowd.

The project was a cleverly designed people eater- a combination of the current Grove shopping center found by the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles and many others like itcombined with elements of classic American nostalgia and a bit of riverboat flair, not unlike the beautiful Empress Lilly at Walt Disney World. All to be discovered right in the middle of the city. This "lifestyle center" would be a creative concept new to city living, a concept developed long before the phrase was ever coined. 

With Disney's marketing and established showmanship, Disney's Burbank Backlot had the potential to be a smash. One that could be duplicated all over the country- much like the aborted Club Disney kid's concept that once debuted in Denver, Colorado.

Unfortunately, cold feet, city politics, and way too many other projects killed the idea, much to the disappointment of Disney fans. Had it been built, it would have been a very nice way to spend a few hours as well as being a great reminder to visit a full fledged Disney resort.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 8, 2015

American Pie Revealed

"Bye, bye, Miss American Pie"... I bet by now, you are singing the rest of the lyrics by heart.

Don McLean, songwriter and singer of one of the most beloved and mysterious songs ever, American Pie, finally reveals his thoughts about the song and the message he was trying to communicate. This 1971 hit could not be missed on just about any radio station.
Nobody could touch it. Even Madonna's bewildering delivery of it in the year 2000 added nothing to the masterful original.

So, are you ready to read about the secrets behind the song? If so, go here.

April 7, 2015

Grandpa's Girls

Two of the sweetest little girls on the planet with their crusty old grandpa. Of course, these two have a way of turning me to mush!

April 3, 2015

Jesus: Who Do You Say That I Am?

That's the question we all must answer. If you don't understand, read ahead. 

It's Good Friday for we who believe and so commemorate the passion of Jesus of Nazareth.

Just like Mel Gibson's movie masterpiece, Jesus is controversial- and His story timeless. Magazines still devote cover stories to Him, books continue to be written, songs composed, and films made. Each piece brings to the forefront Jesus' own question to his disciple Peter, and it is one we all must answer: "Who do you say I am?"



Yes, it's true. Just for you and me and the whole earth - from the beginning of time. Jesus chose to lay down his life to redeem us from Hell. The Hell we deserve for our sin. Ever lie? Cheat? Slander? Then, his sacrifice via the cross was just for you. It's a gift that cost him much pain and sorrow. But if you receive this gift of eternal life by choosing and following Him, it's a gift back to Him that will bless him. Yes, something special.

God is gracious and loving by making it clear and easy to understand. Jesus Himself says He is the Only Way, the Only Truth, the Only Life and that no one would be able to come to an eternity with God the Father except by receiving Him. (Read the Book of John in the New Testament, Chapter 14). God could have made it difficult to find, but He did not. 

It was His same great love for the people He created- that includes you and me- that caused Him to sacrifice Jesus in our place. And it's His same love that draws you to Him. Can you feel the call to Him in your heart? Does your spirit leap at the sound of His name?
If not, it's time to ask yourself why. 



First comes death on a cross, but oh, Easter Sunday morning- the Triumph of Jesus over sin and death- for our benefit! Never a victim- always a champion. He accomplished the mission the Father gave Him. Jesus the triumphant one! Preachers everywhere should remember this! As should the people He gave his life for.

At the end of time, known as the Final Judgment in the Bible, (See the last book of the Bible. It's called "Revelation"), Jesus has returned to earth as the Triumphant King that He is. Mankind, one person at a time, must give an account for how they have lived their life. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have lived to please Him all their days will proceed to an eternal glory free from pain and suffering.

Unfortunately, those who have turned away from Jesus, rejected Him even though He was God's gift to pay for our sins, they will be sent to Hell, the place of fire and torment forever. Hell was designed for Satan and his demonic angels, but those that deny Jesus as Messiah (Christ) and follow their own path, end up in that place as well.

So, Jesus' question remains: Who do you say that I am?


To My Still Beautiful Bride

Thirty three years ago, when I married you, we had no idea what God had planned for us. But four children and many grandkids later, we've seen the blessing of a marriage where we've lived life together as unto Jesus Christ and for his glory. It hasn't always been easy, but it's been worth fighting for. And to what a wonderful result! You are still the one I want to wake up to, go to bed with, and my favorite person to spend the day with. Thank you, Stephanie for all these years, all the love, and so much more...

April 2, 2015

Playing Pac Man in the Magic Kingdom

Again, I'll say it as I did yesterday: This is not an April Fool's joke.

You really can play Pac Man in the Magic Kingdom. Or in any Disney park for that matter. In any city, in any nation, on any continent. How?


Step 1- Go to Google Maps. 
Step 2- Enter a destination.
Step 3- Click the Pac Man icon on the bottom left corner.
Step 4- Turn on the sound. Use the icon.

The game will begin shortly. The screenshot above shows Pac Man by the Tomorrowland Speedway, with his nemesis on Main Street approaching the Hub.


This works at Epcot, too. I tried Tokyo Disney Sea, but there were not enough roads to set up the game. Take some time to explore it for yourself. Have fun!


(Images copyright Google Maps)

April 1, 2015

Disneyland Annual Passport for Everyone

No April Fool's Joke. Did you know everyone can have an annual passport to Disneyland? The Happiest Place on Earth offers a truncated experience to those who visit this page. Please make no mistake. It's not a day in the park, but this will give you a little insight into the question about what annual passport holders are offered and how they are treated.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 31, 2015

Walt Disney Studios Paris: The Little Park with an Identity Crisis

It's not for lack of trying. It's for lack of trying hard enough. With the truly incredible remake of Disney California Adventure, the woefully under built Walt Disney Studios Paris theme park is now the bastard child of sorts in the Disney theme park collection.

Following the Michael Eisner disaster era of post- EuroDisneyDisneyland Paris, build them on the cheap, this park continues to suffer from a poor beginning, desperation in expansion, an uncertain future, and the sheer misfortune of sitting next door to the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever built. 

As with any Disney park, including the now lost Epcot, the disaster of Florida's own Studios park, or the beautiful but lacking Animal Kingdom, there are "nice" attractions to be found among the ruins of potential greatness.

Crush's Coaster is a fun-filled zippy excursion through the world of Nemo, but its big box exterior and less than fully executed interior still make it a second rate attraction. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is also fun but as its straddled with the same design as that found in California, by its very beginning it's far less than it could have been. Rock n Rollercoaster looks every bit as thrown together at the last moment as it was, yet, these three attractions do provide some thrills for those wanting more of an adrenaline rush than can be had at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad next door. 

Aside from a film based avant grade "sophisticated" theater show, the park's rounded out by a very sorry Studio Tram Tour and the kiddy amusement park rides of Toy Story Playland. It's certainly not a compelling mix- and faced with a one day only choice, a wise park goer would opt for the park next door. Nor does it make Disneyland Paris a destination resort.

Although, in the current Disney world where Trader Sam's Grog Grotto is better executed than the most current Walt Disney World attractions, perhaps the Imagineers have hit it out of the park by creating the Bistrot Chez Remy. This popular but pricey and very well themed restaurant, is the French equivalent to Be Our Guest in Florida's Magic Kingdom. As with the Grog Grotto, the Paris stop and Florida's Fantasyland eatery are attractions all their own, luring guests who have now forgotten Disney used to be in the attraction business long before it was in the restaurant one.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 27, 2015

Never Built Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris

Imagineering's Tim Delaney crafted an incredible Discoveryland at the beautiful Disneyland Paris. At opening, the entire place had a Jules Verne theme that drew guests into his amazing world. The vibe was electric- especially at night, when the multitude of neon lights illuminated the area. Just fantastic!

As beautiful as the final execution of the land was, some of the concept art for buildings that were not built is every bit as beautiful. Just look at the piece above, and make sure you click on it to bring it to its full size. 

When you do that, you'll discover a resemblance to some of what was built years later at Hong Kong Disneyland. Naturally, that area was designed with more of a fantasy cartoon version of the future, but many of the elements borrowed from the original art for Paris' futuristic land. 

Much to the delight of this Disneyland Paris fan, the incredible Space Mountain was not duplicated anywhere else. For that matter, many of the elements of the French park are exclusive to Paris. A wise choice, making it absolutely necessary to see the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever in person.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Trader Sam's Grog Grotto Open at Disney's Polynesian Village

First look from the Disney Park's Blog:  Looking good! I'm ready for a drink. Are you?

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 26, 2015

Disneyland 60th Anniversary Poster

Just something for my records: Disneyland's 60th Anniversary poster. Very cool!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 25, 2015

Design Detail: Disney's Hollywood Studios

Today's Design Detail post takes a look at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Now, before you grumble about what a sad state of affairs this park is in, remember, that's not what this series is about...

I won't say much about this photo. When I took it, I already knew it wasn't terrific in its composure. However, when you blow it up and take a close look, you'll find plenty of design flourishes that make the park a treat for the discerning eye.

(Not much in the realm of attractions however. Sorry, I broke my own request. Just couldn't resist!)

Photograph copyright Mark Taft.

March 24, 2015

The Blessing of Friends

The blessing of new friends! What a great thing.

Clearly, as brothers in faith in Jesus Christ, folks who don't know each other can become good friends in a short amount of time! And so is the case here. 

I am so thankful to consider these men my friends- and to be counted as one by them. God is good all the time.

March 23, 2015

Walking Away

I want to quit.

Apparently, I'm like everyone else.  If you look at the numbers, so many people are walking away. Leaving marriages, companies, friendships, churches, their faith etc. Doesn't seem to matter what the core factor at question is, people are generally walking away from it all.

I'm not going to quit.

Yes, I'm tired. Yes, it's hard. Jesus himself described there would be an ongoing battle for those who want to follow God. A battle of flesh against spirit. Thankfully, He promises eternal life for all who would endure until the end.

It's sad though. I see some of my friends' children walking away- and some of them as well! Not all my kids follow Jesus with their whole heart. Some just don't want to press in when things get hard. Some just like the mindset of the world instead and invest little.

The big question: Is the way you're living drawing you closer or farther away to Jesus? Think about it. Standing still is really walking away, little increments at a time.

I won't do it. I want to, but I won't. My heart's desire is to finish my human race well- and right into the arms of a God who loves me.

What about you?