December 2, 2016

An Attraction All Its Own

One of the advantages of going to Walt Disney World in Florida instead of Disneyland in California is the abundance of activities available on the grounds. Sure, Downtown Disney in Anaheim is really great, but that's about all there is to do on the property once you've toured the parks and walked through the hotels  It's a very different situation in Florida. 

This terrific Fort Wilderness Poster really captures a small piece of what's available to guests. The sense of really getting away from it all happens there. Nighttime campfires, the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue (which offers up some of the best food and entertainment on the property, and a chance to explore nature- God's ultimate theme park- are just a few of the reasons millions go year after year to the World.

Thanks to the Imagineers of old and to Walt Disney himself for having the wisdom and insight to dream big and pull it off!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 1, 2016

Chip and Joanna and The Controversy

Well, that didn't take long! In an expect turn of events, some LBGT viewers and political groups (spearheaded by a manipulative article on BuzzFeed by Kate Aurthur)have taken a bigoted- yes bigoted- turn against the talented stars of HGTV's Fixer Upper. Totally expected. The charge against Chip and Joanna Gaines leading to this slander about their character and intentions? The fact they attend a church that believes marriage was designed by God to be between one man and one woman. Shocking! 

Even the least amount of viewing time - or reading their new book- reveals this couple to be exactly what you might think: a kind, loving, funny, hardworking couple fully committed to caring for people of all kinds. You certainly can't say that about these groups that are going after them. It's a witch hunt led by a group of special interest bullies.

It's time people from all sides realized is ok to disagree with someone without it being taken as if they are being hated. That is one of the signs of a real, mature, and healthy adult relationship. 

This is not the first or last time Christians will be targeted. Bakers are labeled bigots for not baking a cake for same-sex couples, but I guess it is ok for LGBT groups and their supporters to boycott companies and also to refuse to provide their services to those whom lifestyle choices they view as wrong. 



Even a gay writer, Brandon Ambrosino, in the Washington Post sees Aurthur's and LGBT's targeting of the Gaines as a bad choice. Don't believe me? Here's the article. Compare it to Aurthur's. As I said, her's is a thinly-veiled piece that's really a witch hunt.

Now, let me ask you- Who are the real bigots here?

I'm standing behind the Gaines- and I will cancel my HGTV should they remove them from the network because of this. You should stand by Chip and Joanna as well.


November 29, 2016

Strange Gym Interactions

Strange interactions at the gym seem to come in spurts. A few days ago, I was in the locker room changing into my work out clothes, and this crazy guy with dark sunglasses comes into the room. He starts talking to himself about how things will change under President elect Trump, and how he doesn't want any more "White guys coming into the country". Then he starts getting louder and louder, his pony tale flying behind him. 

I choose to ignore him. Especially as I'm the only other person in the room. Not wanting to start a fight, I don't respond as his words get more and more inflammatory.

Later on the gym floor, he begins walking up to other white guys trying to start a disturbance, saying more racist things. (Yes,  friends, people of color can be racists too!) Eventually, I finish my workout, full of sweat and pretty exhausted.  Glad to walk out and away from the crazy man.

November 28, 2016

More Rare Shanghai Disneyland Art

Dig deep and keep looking. This thought process has been the key to finding so many pieces of rare and unused Disney concept art from the Imagineers. Here's another rendering created for Shanghai Disneyland. Sort of a companion piece to the one I posted last week. This one is for the Tribal Table restaurant.

With the recently announced expansion on the table for Hong Kong Disneyland, it seems the grudge match between both China resorts will last for awhile. Hong Kong is pulling out the big guns with Frozen, Marvel, and Moana coming their way quickly. And a huge new castle, too. But don't underestimate what will be done in Shanghai. There's too much ego on both sides of the table (Disney and the Chinese government) to let that park not continue to expand and shine for decades to come. 

While these two Asia resorts duke it out, let's not forget about the first to be built on the continent. The Tokyo Disney Resort still has more coming their way as well. The long standing political and cultural feud between these two countries may be very slowly changing, but you can rest assured the fight for the money will continue. Besides, how can Tokyo Disney Sea and the original Tokyo Disneyland not continue to get even better under the guidance of the Oriental Land Company?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 27, 2016

Shanghai Disneyland Pirates' Attractions Poster

Easily the best designed attraction at Shanghai Disneyland- the next and newest version of the classic Pirates of the Caribbean. This one entitled Battle for the Sunken Treasure. Jack Sparrow may be the star of the show, but in reality, his story is the excuse for a new slew of stunning Imagineering special effects. 

This fresh yet comic book retro styled attraction poster- courtesy a great photograph by  Mint Crocodile over at Magic Eye blog- provides an intriguing hint of things to come.


Here's an extra large version from Alain Littaye at Disney and More.

Speaking of intriguing hints, I won't be as coy. Tomorrow on the Insights blog, I'll post another piece of concept art for the new park's Adventure Isle. Yes, there's quite a bit out there it you take the time to find it. This one is another treasure...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 26, 2016

The Pleasures of Switzerland

Never did get back to posting about our last trip to Switzerland and the South of France. No matter. Even though this great photo is not mine, it does tell a story. We took the drive around this exact lake, seeing this incredible view. 

I didn't take time and stop the rental car as I was mesmerized by everything around us. It's a great big wonderful world to explore out there. Although I somewhat miss my more regular Disney park visits, I just can't quit exploring this incredible world that God designed. Even my work related trips take my to exotic locales I never imagined I'd see. Travel has got to be one of my guilty pleasures.

(Photographer unknown.)

For the Family Album

A few family photos from the weekend. Brother and sister...

...Brother and Brother

...Granddaughter and Grandpa. What a blessing all my grandkids are to me!


November 25, 2016

A Carpenters Christmas Tradition

Note: It's a long-standing tradition in our home (or should I say rule,) that any and all Christmas music only gets played beginning the day after Thanksgiving. It's my tradition that there first disc always played is Karen and Richard's classic album, Christmas Portrait. My initial review of the album is below, continuing my original series of reviewing Carpenters albums one by one. 
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Richard and Karen Carpenter's Christmas Portrait was the culmination of the longest wait ever for a full length Christmas recording. Not just of the decade but by any recording artist. 


Billboard magazine ad for Merry Christmas Darling- an instant classic!

From the 1970 release of their first holiday recording Merry Christmas Darling, fans waited and waited for the Carpenters to complete an album full of old favorites and new songs dedicated to the season. The gorgeous song written by Richard and Frank Pooler achieved instant standard status upon first play, with Karen's deep and warm vocals played against Richard's lush arrangements and Frank's romantic lyrics. It was constantly on my turntable.

The near decade in between the single and the album had been far from unkind, however, with the duo turning out hit after hit. Things began to slow after the release of The Singles: 1969 - 1973, but Karen and Richard were still quite productive. A new arrangement of the seasonal classic "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" came in 1974 along with an appearance on Perry Como's Christmas special. (Find it and watch Karen perform "It's Impossible"- one of her most tender readings of a song ever!) "Please Mr. Postman" ended '74 as a worldwide smash.

Horizon arrived in 1975, with A Kind of Hush coming the following year. Although both discs contain some of their best individual recordings ("Only Yesterday", "Solitaire", and Desperado" from the first, and "I Need to Be in Love" and "One More Time" from the latter), neither produced the sales of years previously.

The duo's next album in 1977, Passage, was not the large hit they wanted and their career so desperately needed. The result was fun, playful, and largely uninspired. Even die-hard fans like myself started to move on to other interests.

I discovered that in the midst of recording Passage, the Carpenters were also beginning to record for another project at the same time this eclectic album was forming. Perhaps both the A&M Records executives and Karen and Richard expected the Christmas recordings to be completed in time for a 1977 release, as their second television special "The Carpenters at Christmas" was to air in early December.


Above- the photos that inspired Robert Tanenbaum's beautiful portrait


My personal life was taking a dramatic downturn as well. My post high school life had been an interesting mix of fear, loneliness, increasing depression, and anticipation. I began to search for greater meaning in life than what I could see. After years of looking into various world religions- and after a near disastrous automobile accident shortly after seeing the Carpenters in Las Vegas- I found myself at an evening gathering at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. A young evangelist, Greg Laurie, presented the truth to me as shared in the Bible: I was a sinner, a broken man, and the only way to a relationship with God and a restored life was through faith in Jesus Christ. God Himself reaching down to man and not man's efforts to reach Him. What a difference it made to hear about a god who loved his creation.

My heart jumped as I chose to make a decision to embrace Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. I knew I'd have to live differently, and I was ready. As I prayed for a new beginning, I hoped for the best. The result was better than I ever expected. For the next six months, my depression was replaced with hope and joy. My friends and family could not believe the transformation. Neither could I!


Christmas was very different that year. Finally, all those hymns made sense- and watching and listening to Karen sing them touched me deeply. By this point, I was also smart enough to understand a Christmas album had to be coming soon.

Celebrating the Season's sales.
Billboard magazine ad from December 1978

As the following year progressed, many good things began to happen in my life. My job situation improved greatly, I formed some deep friendships, and even though life was more back to normal with expected ups and downs, I had peace and hope. Guess my faith "stuck", and I'd never go back to my old life.

On the musical front, things were fairly uninteresting. I was thrilled to finally hear something new from Karen and Richard. "I Believe You" was a terrific little single that got next to no airplay, but my lengthy wait was finally rewarded again when the Christmas Portrait album hit the shelves. Couldn't wait to get it home! Little did I know the album would end up being one of my favorites by them and a very personal one- one that would always touch me deeply.

Finally, the album was out of the sleeve and on the turntable. I patiently listened through the opening songs. Finally Karen came in singing "Frosted window panes"...


I was mesmerized. What an introduction Richard designed for his favorite vocalist! Thirty-two years later, hearing her opening to "Christmas Waltz" still signals the beginning of the season, and Christmas Portrait is the traditional first disc played in our house. (And one played only after Thanksgiving!)


The album, continued to sparkle. Hearing the Carpenters band sing on "Sleigh Ride" was great fun! The new single "Christmas Song" made famous by Nat King Cole and recorded by seemingly thousands of other vocalists, was a natural choice for Karen's voice. It was at that moment of first hearing it that I realized Karen was the new voice of Christmas for my generation. Considering the millions of copies sold, I am sure I am not alone in this assessment.

Richard was oft-quoted for his influences being the "3Bs" (the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Burt Bacharach) but here on their first Christmas release, it is clearly Spike Jones, the 40s bandleader with his group, the City Slickers. (Does the name sound familiar? Remember their newer live show or the 1st TV special?) Check out Spike's holiday albums in its various rereleased forms, and you'll find similar song choices, medleys, and arrangements. That said, Richard's genius is evident here. Between the arrangements of Peter Knight and the concept of the album, not including his terrific playing throughout, Richard's contribution is unmistakable. This album is as solid and strong as any of their previous work, and it holds it own against any modern day releases.


There are plenty of additional gems on the disc. One of my personal favorites is "First Snowfall/Let It Snow". The playful arrangement is quite fun but when Karen's voice is overdubbed on the former and she emotes on the phrase "if you really hold me tight" on the latter, it's pure magic. Next, Richard's "Carol of the Bells" is stunning. The newly rerecorded "Merry Christmas Darling" is made even more beautiful by Karen's softer vocal approach. And it just keeps getting better. The disc's closing "Ave Maria" reveals how powerful and under control her voice was. It also shows how unmatched it is by those vocalists of her day and those of ours. How many other artists have dared to perform such a demanding piece?

Christmas Portrait was an instant success and became a radio staple for the decades. Beginning with the following season, recording artists began to mine the gold found by the recent success of Karen and Richard, and they recorded their own holiday albums. As with their earlier work, others once more followed the duo's instincts and groundbreaking lead.

Since Karen's untimely death, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" has taken on a poignancy stronger than its already heartfelt lyrics. Her passing means the end of an era. Beyond the later release of "An Old Fashioned Christmas" in 1984, there is not much Carpenters material left other than television show recordings, and the chance for additional Christmas albums is gone. Over and over again, Richard has started and stopped work on his own collection of holiday tunes. Will we ever see it? If only in my dreams...


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As I mentioned, this post is only one piece in a series focusing on Karen and Richard Carpenter, a review of their many albums and the impact of their music on my life. If you'd like to read the entire series, begin here. As time goes by, I've begun to reassess my view of their music. Starting with Ticket to Ride once again, here's another look at their music: Carpenters Revisited. Or, if you prefer, search the blog for articles on my favorite duo. Last count, there's more than 60 of them with rare photos to be found.

November 24, 2016

Truly A Season For Thanksgiving


We live in a land of plenty. Think about it. Yes, there are places where people have little, but we have our freedom. Beyond even that, there is so much to be thankful for.

Are there blessings to be found in your life? Absolutely! But we may have to look deeper than normal to find them. I know this all too well as I tend to be a "glass have empty" kind of guy at times. Yet, God deserves our thanks. 

Here's a few of the reasons I choose to give God thanks:

His goodness and His great gift of sacrifice in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ- The Ultimate expression of God's love for mankind, and the only payment in full for my sin- and yours. That's no small gift!

My family- Are things always easy in my family? No. Do we always treat each other well? Absolutely not. However, at the end of the day, we are a blessing to each other. A very real extension of God's heart to each of us. Even those of us that don't have faith recognize the blessing of family. 

The real freedom we have in the United States- Especially in a Presidential Election Year. Let's celebrate this freedom! And let us celebrate those that have given their lives to keeping us free. Many love to badmouth this great country of ours, trying to bring change for the worse and trying to make us more like other more repressive governments. Our news agencies love try to increase readership by inciting trouble to sell advertising space, but at what expense do they exploit us? Be different and don't fall prey to their trap! Ours is still the best representation of freedom and peace and unity among all others. All you have to do is talk to people who came here from other places or to those who live overseas, and you will hear it for yourself.

Sharing with others less fortunate- Whether it is sharing food, faith, or in service, (how about in all three?), giving to others is a gift we also give ourselves- and it blesses our God- the One who gave it all to us to begin with.

May God bless you this Thanksgiving Day! Bless you with joy and peace and a home of love and gratefulness!

November 23, 2016

Live From Florida's Magic Kingdom

Hot off the press! Sent to me moments ago from my son, daughter-in-law and grandson visiting the Florida Magic Kingdom for our grandson's first visit. Fantasyland in all of it's day before Thanksgiving glory.

You have to be brave to take a toddler this time of year, but even in the busyness, there are quiet nooks and crannies to explore. Be our guest.

Crowds seem to be lower than normal- perhaps It's A Small World After All!


And goodnight...


In a Land Far Away

My youngest daughter has had some amazing travels in her young life, and dare I say, she is a great photographer as well! Today, I was browsing a few of her photos and came across this one. It's a Muslim cemetery- taken from her moving bus! The contrast of the red stonework on the left, the blue sky and the crisp mountains make for a stunning piece of art. One day I may post her photos of Moscow- they are incredible!

(Photograph copyright Lauren Taft.)

November 22, 2016

New Hong Kong Disneyland Castle

The rumors were true! Hong Kong Disneyland is replacing their original castle- a cheap duplicate of the Anaheim original- with an expanded, new one. Along with a slate of new attractions themed to Marvel and Frozen, the park's getting ready to go toe to toe with Shanghai Disneyland. More later as I'm off on a non-Disney vacation this week...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 21, 2016

Rare Shanghai Disneyland Concept Art

Adventure Isle at Shanghai Disneyland, (not to be confused with the attraction of the same name at Disneyland Paris), is full of eye candy. The Imagineers did quite the job in creating brand new environments that would be considered exotic for Chinese park guests. 

This rare and beautiful piece of concept art shows an area that leads to Camp Discovery, an "extreme playground" of sorts unique to this park. Attorneys in the States would actually quiver in their pants should Disney build an attraction like this in our country. 

Not coming to a park in the States!

Rope courses are risky. Humans like to experience thrills that border on danger- and corporate lawyers are adverse to activities such as this. Trust me, it will never happen here in Anaheim or Florida.

So for now, if you want to experience this attraction, off to China you must go. Or glance on line, perhaps finding a rare video of the experience. Hard to do- but possible. Until the lawyers get in the way.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 18, 2016

A Grand Californian Adventure: Part Two- DCA Reborn


Editor's note: My friend Len Yokoyama returns with part two of his California Disney Resort Trip report. In addition to being a great photographer and all around nice guy, did you know Len also is a huge comic book fan with his own comic book series? Anyway, onto his interesting take on Anaheim's second Disney park. Enjoy!
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I can't recall the exact year I first visited Disney California Adventure, but I do remember being vastly underwhelmed. There were hints of creative inspiration...the postcard motif at the entrance gate, the Golden Gate bride replica lit up at night, and of course, the debut of Soarin'. Other than those few bright spots, DCA struck me as a low budget Disney park, hastily slapped together with bits and pieces from whatever the company could cobble together. Comparing the layout and theming of both Disneyland and DCA, one could see the vast differences that put them apart at the farthest ends of the spectrum. Whereas Disneyland's layout guides you down Main Street, past the hub, and straight on to Sleeping Beauty Castle, DCA's entry path lead you to Sunshine Plaza who's reigning carrot was a sun icon above a rather plain looking fountain. The whole thing felt and looked like a visual dead end. You could imagine then CEO Michael Eisner telling his Imagineers to just slap something in that space...the visitors won't care, they'll still come in droves. Well, the visitors did care, and they did come in droves...to Disneyland! Our vacation strategy was to run over to DCA for a relaxing lunch and then head back to DL for some real park fun. The second gate ended up being a rest stop for us, albeit one with an expensive entry fee. My biggest disappointment, however, was that it wasn't Disneysea. Now I know if that particular park had been built, it’s would’ve been in Long Beach, but the thought of having a park resembling the Tokyo version always makes me a bit melancholy. 



Flash forward a few years later with park in full renovation mode thanks to a generous 1.1 billion dollar budget signed off by new CEO Bob Iger. Gone are the large letters spelling out C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A replaced by an art deco style entrance that immediately sets the stage for the classy upgrades. Replaced too are the large postcard tiles and homogenous mix of stores and eateries. Paying tribute to the California that existed when Walt arrived on the west coast, the strong theming and overall composition immediately transports one back in time to an era of fun, whimsy, and style! 



Although I often bypass Disney entertainers in order to rush to a popular attraction, I find myself stopping dead in my tracks to enjoy the live performances on Buena Vista Street. The current group, Five and Dime Swing Band (a talented quintet of jazz performers and a lead vocal singer) belt out a number of catchy, danceable tunes that harkens back to the past. The group loves playing to the audience, pulling them into the show as active participants. 



Also in this area, you’ll find a lot of cast members dressed up in 1920’s attire such as a photog or police officer. The one officer I ran into reminded me a lot of Ward Kimball (I think the round spectacles he was wearing had a lot to do with it) – one of Walt’s “Nine Old Men” from the golden age of animation. 


Wonderful food at the Carthay!

The centerpiece of Buena Vista, is of course, The Carthay Circle Restaurant. Standing tall and proud at the end of the street, the Imagineers did a magnificent job of replicating the original movie palace circa 1926. 


Beautiful!

On a moonlit night, after park closing, you can buy into this place existing in a time long since past. The restaurant inside is just as beautifully designed with strong attention to period detailing and style. The food and service are excellent (although not on par with Napa Rose), but it’s the atmosphere and overall environment that will stay with you long after your meal has been digested. 


Condor Flats- now in California Adventure's Yesterland.

I love the area known as Grizzly Peak! I could be happy with a whole park that is designed similar to this area. While I miss the now gone Condor Flats (love that name), the newly redesigned Grizzly Peak Airfield fits nicely as a transitional space between the Peak and Buena Vista Street. There's an open airy feel here that reminds me of Andy Griffith's Mayberry and its small town hominess. Soarin' Around the World is still the big draw here, and the newly updated ride means long, long lines. 


Truth in advertising.

Wet guests are a trademark of Grizzly River Run, but truth be told, I haven't rode it since I started lugging around my Nikon DSLR...lol! My good friend Eddison Esteban, an amazing photographer, gets some crazy cool shots as he's going down the rapids, but some men are just born with nerves of steel (mine are more like house grade aluminum). Taste Pilot's Grill has been replaced by Smokejumpers Grill...a really cool restaurant celebrating the legacy of those airborne firefighters of yore. Sue and I ate there for lunch and found the sandwiches (both a burger and chicken) quite ono (Hawaiian for delicious) with the french fries nice and hot! The downside was the crowds ... plenty of 'em, so finding seats was a challenge. We ended up in the dining area outside which I don't recommend due to the heat. But inside tables are very limited, so you have to make due. 

There were two special parties I attended at DCA, both on my first day at the park. The first was the Frozen Dessert Party. A $60.00 price tag gets you into a pre-show event with sweet treats, photo ops, and alcohol (wine, beer, and hard liquor). Since I don't drink, I gave my complimentary ticket to another guest to enjoy. I had a snow cone (similar to shave ice in Hawaii), which is a blend of fine crushed ice and sugary syrups. There were 5 or 6 dioramas where families could have their pictures taken against the backdrop of Arendelle and other assorted winter scenery. Olaf made an appearance to the delight of the children and the event was capped by a cool snowstorm in the middle of the room. Being the only adult, I didn't get much out of it other than the treats (which wasn't the reason why I signed up). Come show time, we were escorted to the Hyperion Theater for priority seating. Now, priority seating at some other events (looking at you Candlelight Processional) doesn't mean much, and can often be disadvantageous for photographers (sort of looking at you World of Color Dessert Party). But for Frozen Live! “priority” truly lived up to its billing as we were first to arrive and allowed to choose whatever seats we wanted! I choose front row...smack dab in the middle! 


Sisters, sisters.

Frozen Live! features great vocal talent, first rate scenery, and high production values. Does it surpass Aladdin for me? No, but that's because I don't have strong emotional attachments to the film (and that’s purely a subjective issue...I know it strikes a chord in many of the younger audiences). One thing that did bother me though out the play (and found it a major distraction) is the actress who plays Anna...looks much older than the one who plays Elsa! This really kept me from suspending disbelief and buying into the play's reality. I do want to clarify that Anna had a great voice, and she is very talented...but it would have worked better for me if Disney had casted a younger actress. 


Outstanding food choices all over the park- even if you pay extra for some.

The other hard ticket event I attended was another dessert party, this time for the World of Color. The first time I saw this show was during its premiere back in 2010. I watched it twice. The first with friends while I recorded the entire thing on my video camcorder (I dabbled a bit in videos, but eventually went back to still images. I found that I rarely, if ever, watched my recordings once I got home). I thought the show was pretty cool, if a little underwhelmed by the nearly non-existent narrative. 


The second time was with Sue strictly as a spectator (no cameras). As the show started, my wife turned to me and said, "This is so cool!" The colorful images and cascading waters popped up one after another...and another...and another. After about 10 minutes of this, Sue turned to me and asked "How long is this show?"…hahaha! I found myself getting a bit antsy around the 15 minute mark and was ready for it to end a good 5 minutes before the finale. Besides the lack of a narrative, WOC ends up being a bunch of images that have no connection other than being Disney produced. I liken this show to a summer blockbuster with lots of action and great special effects. Interesting for a bit, but no real story or characters to get me invested. So why did I even book this event you might be asking yourself? Pretty much to use my camera. Unfortunately, the area reserved for this party, while very nice, is not conducive to taking good photos. Guests are more off to the side of the show, directly behind a couple of huge speakers. While the photos are a total loss, I must say the desserts and service were excellent. Being alone, I was seated with this wonderful retired couple from Oregon. We started talking and I really enjoyed my time with them. So, I still give the event two thumbs up (but still don’t recommend it if photography is your main purpose)! 


A classic San Francisco lunch.

The Pacific Wharf area is another favorite area of mine at DCA (I seem to say this a lot about DCA in general). I love the variety of foods here, and I'll pretty much head there by default to have the Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bowl at Boudin Bakery. The Mexican food at Cocina Cucamonga is also darn tasty and who can go wrong with a sundae or ice cream cone from Ghiradelli's? 


Better than before but still very weak.

Due to the short time I was allotted at both parks, there are still many areas I did not photograph or explore. For DCA, I barely glanced at Paradise Pier, but part of the reason being it’s my least favorite area. I understand how it fits into the period of California when carny games were popular, but it comes off as unimaginative and "low budget" to me. Mickey's Wheel is definitely the centerpiece of the pier, but even the ride itself is nothing you can't experience at a local state fair or carnival. And while I love Hollywood Studios in Florida, I don't spend a lot of time at the California version either. We did see the "Pete's Dragon" 4D preview at the Sunset Showcase Theater which was pretty cool. And the obligatory multiple rides on Tower of Terror is a must. If I had known that the end was coming for the ride's theme, I would have taken a bunch of pictures, but as it is, I only got a couple of the cast members. 


Webslingers!

I used to scoff at waiting to take pictures with Disney characters. That was before I got into photography, and now, I laugh at a mere one hour wait time! Make it a Marvel character, and I'm willing to camp out all night if necessary (okay, I'm getting carried away, but what do you expect from a comic book nerd?). 


Protecting America for all!

Captain America and Spider-Man were both there for pic ops and autographs. One thing I noticed is how much better the costumes looked at DCA compared to their Universal counterparts. The main reason is that Universal probably has the license only for the comic book look while Disney can do the actual movie versions. The difference is night and day since the movie takes real world aesthetics into consideration. While waiting, I struck up conversation with this family in front of me from New York. Super nice people and it helped the time go by faster. It also occurs to me that I'm becoming more like my mom as I get older. I'm talking more and more to strangers I don't even know...LOL! 


Even great photographs do not do the place justice!

The current "Piece De Resistance" of DCA is Cars Land by a wide margin! Now, I don't even like Pixar's Cars...I still think its their weakest animated film to date. But regardless of how you feel about the movie, Cars Land is an amazing area, a true testament to the skills and creative geniuses of the Imagineers. This place literally feels like Radiator Springs come to life. Not sure if the fact that its based on a CGI animated film (as opposed to traditional hand drawn animation) is what enabled Disney to make such a seamless transition from screen to park reality. I'm thinking the more realistic, three dimensional nature of computer generated images provides a much better blueprint for bringing characters and environments to life (of course, the amazing job they also did on WDW Beast's castle in new Fantasyland pretty much tears major holes in my theory). Still, I can't imagine being able to faithfully reproduce the stylistic backgrounds of Eyvind Earle from Sleeping Beauty with this degree of accuracy (although I would love to see Disney try). 

Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters replaces the much maligned (and deservedly so) Luigi's Flying Tires. Sue and I rode Flying Tires when it first opened, and the ride had all the thrills of waiting in a dental office to have your teeth cleaned. Okay, it wasn't that bad, but it struck me that even 50 years later, Disney still can't get this type of floating ride to work (Flying Saucers anyone?). I probably won't be alive when the Imagineers give it another shot, but hopefully the third time's a charm! 


The new standard for theme park attractions.

If Cars Land is the "cream of the crop", then Radiator Spring Racers is the "cherry on top of the sundae"! Is this an E-Ticket ride? Absolutely. RS Racers has jumped to the top of speed rides, surpassing both Test Track and Rock 'N' Roller Coaster. What gives Racers the edge? For me, it's the depth of immersion felt through the entire ride. From the audio-animatronics that brings the citizens of Radiator Springs to life to the incredible desert landscapes as the track takes you out into the open air. Not as fast as the WDW rides, the vehicle acceleration is still nothing to sneeze at. Overall, this attraction puts Cars Land on the map in a big way. If you have to ride only one ride in DCA, this is the go to guy! 

From a photography standpoint, you can't take a bad picture here. Every inch of space, every angle has been maximized for visual impact and storytelling. Disney's attention to detail is a company trademark, but here it's taken to a new level. The downside of all this "theming goodness" is the place is literally packed from dawn to dusk. This is one area that security begins to close down access almost immediately at park closing. On the first night, I made the mistake of shooting Pacific Wharf first, and 15 minutes after closing, a guard would not allow me to enter Cars Land. While getting shots without people is challenging, the quick closures does usher folks towards the front much faster, clearing out areas for isolated images. 



Overall, Disney California Adventure is morphing into a really terrific park. It’s finally begun to forge its own strong identity, tapping into the potential that was absent during the initial opening. While it has a bit more work ahead, I can see DCA one day standing equal to its sister park Disneyland

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

November 13, 2016

We Are Family

In honor of my oldest son's birthday today, I thought I'd put up this photo of he and his brother along with dear old dad. These days, our lives have each taken us to different places with different ideas of what our faith means in how we live out our lives. But one thing is certain- we love each other. Happy Birthday!

November 12, 2016

Princes and Praises

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!
      (Psalm 146)

November 11, 2016

Shanghai Disneyland at Its Best

Say the words "Shanghai Disneyland", and I'm sure you'll get a thousand different responses, everything from a head nod up and down to a puzzled look. Business analysts watch closely, Disney's competitors more so, and certainly governments are keeping a close eye on everything. 

While Disney park fans drool over Tron Lightcycles and the new version of Pirates of the Caribbean, bloggers such as the always excellent Mint Crocodile from Magic Eye give viewers a close up and personal look at a park many will never visit.

So far, my opinion on the park has been mixed. I love Disney's  "Castle parks", and on that alone, a visit might be on my list. When you add Tron Lightcycles to the mix, well, the urge to go gets even stronger. On the negative end, the castle seems to do little for me. Chunky, clunky, and a bit showy for its own sake, I'm just not impressed. However, these photos from Mint do take my breath away a bit. Why?

Mickey Avenue looks its very best as taken in photo one, and a zoomed in version of the same photo presents the castle in a much better light. I wonder how many more shots like this will change my opinion of the place.

I'm certainly looking forward to additional posts on Magic Eye about the trip to Shanghai. If you've missed part one, start here.

(Photographs copyright Mint Crocodile.)