October 9, 2015

EPCOT's Unbuilt Costa Rica Showcase

How to Save Epcot, Epcot Past, Epcot at 30, etc. There are so many posts on the Insights blog that focus on this once glorious theme park. Why?

It's creation was cutting edge, coming from the best that the world of entertainment, education, international business, and even corporate America had to offer. There was a sweet, some would say naive, optimism that grounded the park, bringing together the World in such a way that caused us to embrace the very goodness that the Creator of the Universe put into Man but was lost in his fall. The Imagineers stuffed the park with one of a kind shows, filled with a variety of art, music, and experiences.

The concept which opened to the public in 1982 was not what Walt Disney envisioned, but it did contain some of the elements and much of its spirit.  Guests would be intrigued and pleased by the variety of experiences available in both World Showcase and its neighbor Future World. Not everything would be exactly the same from one location to another. The merchandise would be unique, and the food would be deliciously different in each country.  

Attractions in World Showcase would vary from film presentations to boat cruises to a ride on a high speed train, a bobsled, a walking path, an Audio-Animatronics experience and more. Folktales and legends could be told without having to squeeze in synergy with current Disney product. Guests would enjoy the very different feeling from visiting this park and visiting the Magic Kingdom.

EPCOT Center was a success, no doubt, but a small number of folks that required foam head characters for a complete vacation experience complained just loud and clear enough to force change to the park and begin the character invasion. 

Somewhere along the way in the effort for increased popularity, the suits lost faith in this product. Perhaps they let greed or public opinion sway them. Regardless of the reason, the original vision for this grand park died, and many unbuilt projects were left by the wayside. 

Such was the unfortunate fate of the Costa Rica pavilion (image above) once beautifully designed by the Imagineers for World Showcase. Even though the area was to include this beautiful conservatory, it just wasn't meant to be. And it was more than just not finding the right corporate sponsor. 

Somewhere along the journey, it wasn't just the Walt Disney Company that had changed. Sadly, guests to the park lost their innocence and with it a desire for a richly authentic cultural experience, making it easier for the suits to continue this slide downward from the higher plans it once had. Maybe it was all the wars and political strife that killed the innocence. Perhaps the focus on consumerism versus relationship. Could it be the success of the Food and Wine Festival and the drinking around World Showcase games that have become popular? Maybe it was the doting parent who needed to overindulge little Johnny and Susie with every whim. Pleasing the children at all costs instead of teaching them about the world and what made each of us different became the focus. I guess none of it really matters. The park as it was at opening was past its time.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 7, 2015

Four New Attractions at Tokyo Disneyland

Hot breaking news from Tokyo Disneyland! The great site TDR Explorer, links to a very detailed breakdown of the planned attractions, restaurants, and shops soon to be added for the park's New Fantasyland. Of course, attractions planned from the films are a must- and Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland and more will be represented in the very large expansion. 

The source reveals a coded list:
Total of 11 buildings (English Translation):
  1. 2 Story Water Ride (Attached to a Restaurant(?))
  2. 1 Story Attraction with Basement
  3. 2 Story Dark Ride
  4. Single Story Dark Ride (FastPass?)
  5. 3 Story Theatre with Basement
  6. 2 Story Restaurant with Basement
  7. 2 Story Restaurant
  8. 2 Story Shop
  9. Single Story Store
  10. 3 Story Cast Member Cafeteria (Break Room)
  11. Single Story Electrical Building
If you want to read more about what insiders say is coming, go here.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Design Detail: Phantom Manor

Disneyland Paris' incredible Frontierland has to be among the Imagineering's greatest achievements when it comes to combining thrilling attractions, thematic consistency, and beautiful eye candy! (If you appreciate it now, you'll only even do so more once all those changes come to Disneyland in preparation for Star Wars Land. And if you've heard all the rumors out there about the proposed new attraction in Frontierland for Florida's Magic Kingdom, think it through and realize similar changes could be on the table. It's not for the classic but unbuilt Western River Expedition either.)

I've been blessed to go to Disneyland Paris three times and in three different seasons. (Search the blog for trip reports.) After each visit, I left in awe of what was designed by Tony Baxter and his team. What they all accomplished- and this Frontierland was headed up by the gifted but recently deceased Imagineer Pat Burke- is the greatest incarnation of the Wild West since its earliest days and the creation of Nature's Wonderland in the California park under Walt himself.

Oh the pain a father can cause!

As for the manor itself, from various angles and distances, the detail reads well, contributing to the eerie and sad story of the Ravenswood family. The manor rises majestically over the Rivers of the Far West with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad within sight but just out of shot from the fort which protects the inhabitants of the town. Phantom Manor's tale of greed, lust, and an out of control father who was not happy with his daughter's husband to be, doesn't just serve as a story of woe, it gives Frontierland an energy and atmosphere that guests can feel. The other castle style parks may have their own take on the American West but this park stands above them all. It's like walking into a book by author Louis L'Amour!

The top photograph in the dead of winter was taken by my during our third trip. Much to my chagrin, unfortunately, back then all the effects inside the manor were not working, making the hour plus long wait somewhat frustrating. However, I was thrilled to be seeing an original take on the Haunted Mansion and not the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. Certainly with Disney's greater financial interested in the French resort, we can guarantee that the manor will be restored to its fully decrepit state.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photograph copyright Mark Taft.) 

October 6, 2015

Keys to Success

Sometimes, something is worth repeating. As I begin to engage again on the Insights blog, I'm giving much thought to how I want to look at it all. A few years ago, I was asked to speak at a club for young businessmen. 

As part of my presentation, I delivered my "Ten Keys to Success". Here they are for your reading pleasure:

Be thankful for the opportunity you have to do what you love. 
Don't compare your life to others.

Do what you say you will do. 
Be the same person everywhere you go.

In every situation. The lack of words can be as negatively impacting as the wrong words said at the wrong time.

Speak the truth kindly. Don't lie and don't change the story depending on the hearer and how it will benefit you.

Don't just work hard when people are watching.

Don't dwell on them. Apologize if necessary and move on.

There's much to do and limited hours in which to do it. 
Set your priorities.

This includes not being threatened by their success but instead helping work toward it.  

Don't always do things the way they have been done. 
Think new thoughts, try new ideas.

Life goes by so quickly! Enjoy it!

(Copyright Mark Taft.)

October 1, 2015

Pirates, Prophets, and Princesses

It's been good to take a break from posting on the Insights blog and actually, from visiting many websites too. But it is time to return as there is too much news to talk about and much too much going on in the Disney world and our world to ignore.

What have I been doing on my break? Home repair projects, working in the yard, resting, thinking about what's important, what's eternal, serving at church, and taking a bit of time to visit our son and his family. Busy times at work too- and you know in this economy, that's a good thing! I've also been updating the blog, making it easier to find the articles you like and making them easier to read. I've added some things as well. Enough about me and the work of the blog! On to the fun stuff...

You have to love the photo above. It's an untouched screen shot from the incredible WDWMagic site and their equally incredible video of the recently refurbished Pirates of the Caribbean. You can give it a look below.

Video from WDW Magic.

As you can easily tell, when the budgets given are decent and the Imagineers have the right amount of time, the final results can be breathtaking. In all our visits to the Magic Kingdom, I do not recall the attraction looking this good in decades. Really. When I stop and think this through, I must say it is unfortunate that refurbishments seem only to come when attractions seems to be in the absolute very worst state possible. It's a business model that seemed by be embraced by Robert Iger and the Board of Directors for much too long. 

Perhaps as the competition from Universal Orlando continues to increase, the old school methods of keeping things in top shape will return. Guests pay big bucks and invest their precious time to go to Walt Disney World, and they expect and deserve the best show possible. We'll return to the World in a few paragraphs.

Watch at your own risk. More horrifying than the Haunted Mansion.
Video from the Center for Medical Progress.

The real world continues to be a mess. It seems to get worse as time goes by. What a barbaric mindset we've embraced when we find ourselves defending the decision to dissect and sell off body parts of babies both aborted or even killed first on the table! Are our consciences so seared that we do not see a problem with this? There's too much proof to ignore the overwhelming evidence that this is happening. Even my liberal friends who support choice are wondering what the hell happened to common sense and decency. We will be judged by the Lord for such atrocities and calling evil good and good evil. 

On that note, take a look at the world politics around us. From a personal email I received, I can tell you ISIS is going crazy in the Middle East. What did I read from my friend? Christians are being pulled from their homes in small villages. Their children being beheaded in front of their poor terrified parents- who are sometimes left to live with the horror they have just witnessed. 

Once again, this administration turns a blind eye to it all, but our president invites a Muslim kid to the White House who brings a clock that looks like a bomb to school. The school did it's job and according to the safety standards set by the district. No racial profiling here. 

I wonder though- would the kid be given an invitation by the President if he were a Jew? Let's think about it. This president has done more to favorably bring Islam to the forefront of our country than any other. This is all too strange and something to be thought about beyond political preferences. It's ongoing getting worse.

Noble goals. Is there a nasty dark side beneath it all?

Let's take a minute and talk about recent declarations by the United Nations. On September 25th, they set 17 very ambitious goals known as The 2030 Agenda. It includes very nobles aspects like ending world hunger, fixing the climate, and more. Unfortunately, to make this happen, every nation must comply with and adhere to their standards. 

They've even set up a glitzy website and campaign, a star studded plan that includes a video with endorsements by everyone from Jennifer Lopez, Robert Redford, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Bono, Meryl Streep, Stephen Hawking, Daniel Craig, Charlize Theron, and Jennifer Lawrence. Under the leadership of the United Nations, make no mistake- a one world government is on the way. Maybe not today and maybe not in a couple of years, but I think the writing is on the wall. I'm not ready to give up the uniqueness, character, and self-governing of my country to a small group of politicians. Are you?

China- In a stunning piece of rare concept art. 
Click on it for the largest size and look at all the details!

How about all those blood moons? Just science or is something else going on? Coupled with the current state of political affairs in the world and the aligning of major powers intervening in the Middle East, (China in the Mediterranean and Russia in Syria?) all this news reads like something out of the book of Revelation. Or Jesus' warnings to his followers in Matthew 24 and 25. Or in the book of Daniel chapter 12. 

What's coming next? At some point in the future- again maybe not right now but it will come- a  required marking placed on our right hands or forehead so we will be able to buy and sell food and other goods. (See Revelation 13:16-18.) Accepting this signifies our reliance on this one world government versus God- but accepting this also comes at the highest price possible- eternal separation from God and endless torment in Hell. (See Revelation 14:9-11 and Jesus' own words: "Depart from me you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Matthew 25:41 ).

Beautiful Red Square recreation.
Never built along with so many others.

There's good news here- Jesus has come to save those who are lost from being drenched in their sin; those who are willing to give up their lives and turn from their humanistic ways, devoting their life to Him and His Ways- regardless of the cost. Let me ask you- Do you believe Jesus died to pay the price for your sin and that He rose again from the dead? If so, pray and ask Him to take over your life, giving up this one for life eternal to come. As I've told you many, many, times and in many different ways- Jesus said He is The Way, The Truth and The Life. No one comes to God the Father but by Him. (John 14:6). He states it clearly because of His great love for man, not because of his sometimes perceived hatred or bigotry or narrow-mindedness. Everyone- regardless of what they have done- who calls out to Jesus and trusts him will not be put to shame.

Ah, Pandora!

"Can we please go somewhere peaceful?" 
I'm hearing you say. OK, let's talk Pandora! It is becoming a very impressive project. Very, very,  impressive- and this is from someone who was not all that sure he wanted it to be built. Is it true to the original theme? Maybe not. Is it enough to get me to book a trip to Walt Disney World in 2017? Probably not, unless the boat ride is stellar- but I may have been very wrong about this project. It happens from time to time. 

I'd say all of Animal Kingdom is looking pretty darn good, and the future looks very bright. Whether or not Rivers of Light will be great versus "good enough" will be seen soon enough. The test images that have leaked out do look impressive. Regardless, both projects mean the most gorgeous of Florida Disney parks will begin staying open regularly after dark. (It's one giant Adventureland- I love it and write about it constantly! A seven part series on the park can be found here.) Maybe, just maybe, Universal's astounding success with Harry Potter has brought the Mouse roaring back. Time will tell.

What surprises will the boat ride bring?
You know the Imagineers have something up their sleeves.

What a beautiful environment to wander in the evening hours with its lovely lighting! Wouldn't it be great if each of the attractions were refurbished back to their opening day glory before the nighttime safaris begin? Perhaps that's a project on the drawing boards. The new eateries look pretty great though!

All those little projects are certainly bringing detail to the park. Unfortunately, there's still one big and very hairy detail that needs to be addressed. You all know what it is. I don't have to tell you.

Soon to be hiding behind the forests of Frontierland at Disneyland. 

In preparation for Star Wars Land- or whatever they will call it- both coasts are slowly taking the steps necessary to make this a reality, and sooner than later. The most surprising news comes from Disneyland, however. Walt's park is in for some big and perhaps some very controversial changes to bring Star Wars to life in a new way. Those fans of the Disneyland Historical Preservation Society will not be pleased by what the suits and Imagineers are working on... but maybe they should be. Or maybe they have it right.

At Disneyland, major work is beginning in January. The Rivers of America will be forever changed. It will be a shorter ride on the watercraft which ply the river, be it in the Mark Twain Steamboat, the Sailing Ship Columbia or the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes.

Goodbye Tom, Huck, and Becky!

The northernmost piece of Tom Sawyer Island will be transformed into a creative use of existing space, making the most of the 14 acre plans for the expansion. The newest rumor is that access to the island by guests may not be returning at all. If it's true, at least that incredibly ugly stage can disappear from view, and the Disney suits can approve some planting of new trees and shrubs. A bit of a warning and a question here: Carnation Plaza and Gardens went first, then Club 33 as we knew it. After changing the Rivers of America and Tom Sawyer Island, which other iconic attractions will be considered fair game to remove in the years ahead?

The iconic Disneyland Railroad will be rerouted with travelers now rounding the bend by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Should make for some nice photographs as the speeding trains zip past. If the Imagineers do something to add more scenes, it will make the shorter trip more interesting than the previous one. Disneyland has it good, though. There's even less to really see from the railroad in Florida.

At first, I was troubled that Robert Iger and his suits would mess with something Walt personally had a hand in creating.  However, if these changes will 1- Spread out the crowds as guests will now be able to walk all the way around the river, 2- Help keep the river and all its watercraft, and 3- Bring two major E Tickets to an area of the park that is underutilized, it will be well worth it.

In spite of the fact that Star Wars at best belongs in a third park altogether or at the very least, in our out of date and multi-focused Tomorrowland. The public is fickle, and the investors demand the company make as good a use as possible for maximum returns. Especially difficult in Anaheim, where available land is already scarce and diminishing by the year. Guest experience should be improved, and Disneyland will remain the Magic Kingdom styled park for die hard fans. After all, it is chock-full of most major attractions and plenty of charming smaller ones that have Walt's touch all over them. (And Tony Baxter!) There's some slight changes that could improve the guest experience and satisfaction, but that is a topic for a separate post.

Coming to Anaheim.

Apparently, Toontown is spared but the nearby Fantasyland Theater is on its way out. It's a pretty ugly building, but it has brought in some pretty good shows in its time. In place of the theater (once dubbed the "Wonder Bra" theater) and using the available space next door, it is a certain bet that Frozen attractions are on the way. Elsa, Anna, and company are the new superhero princesses of the Disney film library. Let's just hope the plans involve attractions that look more like what is planned for Tokyo Disney Sea rather than the poor man's version set for Norway's Maelstrom redo at Epcot. (Poor Epcot! Left in the dust with plans for all the other Florida parks. How the great have fallen!)

The Disney Company loves synergy and rarely misses a chance to make a buck. Happily, this will guarantee younger guests pull in their obliging parents to Walt's original park for the latest offerings. The mesmerizing one-two punch of Star Wars Land and Frozen will make Disneyland the place to go for decades to come. That's a good thing! It forces the suits to keep adding to the Disneyland Resort. Now about that space formerly occupied by the Motor Boat Cruise...

Once planned for Paris, now headed to Tokyo.
And you thought eating in Beast's castle was the best experience...

To the credit of the Company we love to follow, there's been quite a few major announcements made for our Stateside parks, and there's more on the way, specifically Avengers attractions for California Adventure. (They had to save something for D23 in 2017! And Frozen replacing the brilliant Aladdin performance? It's long overdue.) The real fun will begin when Disney hosts its D23 expo in Japan later this year. Then we can begin comparing plans and complaining about how the Asian parks get the best versions of the attractions Imagineering can dream up. Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland and more. That's not all. Get ready to repeat the process when Shanghai Disneyland opens its doors in the Spring of next year.

Well, that's it for this first post back. Enjoy it, reread it, think about it. Very good to have you along for the ride. See you real soon!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 30, 2015

Returning Tomorrow

Watch for my first post back tomorrow...

September 24, 2015

Checking In

Just checking in. 

I've been busy while I've been away, but I am getting ready to come back in a bit. More stories to tell, more Disney concept art, more commentary- all the things you love about Insights and Sounds.

August 17, 2015

D23: Thinking It All Through- New Adventures as Old Ones Go Away

In its 4th exposition, this year's D23 convention offered Disney theme park fans some of the most rewarding announcements to date. As expected, the biggest news concerned the building of two massive Star Wars themed lands, one for each of the U.S. resorts. This move was expected as was the announcement of something Toy Story themed and an increased look at Animal Kingdom's Pandora.

Disney itself advertised a gigantic section of the display space would be to hype the incredible looking Shanghai Disneyland. But I did not expect anything for Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort or Disneyland Paris. (I was wrong on this part of my pre-opening prediction as there was a brief film showing a piece of the Iron Man Experience for the Hong Kong park. And wrong again, as absolutely nothing was announced for California Adventure.) 

Long ago and far away...Now the Adventure is truly real!

The animation announcements only reinforced what I truly expected from the park's announcement: Disney Intellectual Properties would be the focus for both. I mean, have you ever seen such a slate of films that were so tied to previous hits and popular series? I haven't. Certainly, I think this would eventually lead to burnout, but remember, these days, it seems to be all about stock prices. Hit while the Iron Man is hot.

Honestly, if you look backward, post 1969, almost every addition to Disneyland (and later Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom) were tied into either a company film property or a tried and true earlier Disney attraction. Let's face it, after Walt's death, few folks carried the torch, and it all became about "synergy" long before Michael Eisner made it a mandate. Robert Iger has just made it a company lifestyle.

EPCOT Center was the last real attempt at non-IP imagination. The next park, Disney-MGM Studios, was all about the movie tie-in, helping propel Disney animation and Touchstone films to even greater profitability. The cycle just keeps repeating itself. Now, I think Disney Imagineers cannot even present an original idea as an option for the parks. Nor do the suits apparently think they have any to offer for Stateside parks.

Nonetheless, even though its now mostly all about the sizzle and often less about the substance when it comes to park additions (see Florida's New Fantasyland), D23 does an excellent job at making sure fans leave very excited about what is coming next from the Company they love. This includes fans from Orlando who may have rightly thought the convention was too Disneyland Resort centric in the past. Not so in 2015.

Can Disney really pull it off?

With the biggest announcements for this year, thankfully, Star Wars brings both the substance and the sizzle! 

For California's Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida, 14 acre parcels are being created to provide fans of the epic film series the chance to finally experience a full blown experience. Bringing with them what sounds like not one but two "E Ticket" attractions and a long list of shops, restaurants, and entertainment experiences tied directly to the series of George Lucas' beloved Sci-Fi classics.

Surprisingly, it seems no one in the Disney fan sphere is crying foul when it comes to cloning the new lands (or "planets" as Disney's promotional machine is calling them).

But are they really cloning them, one model for each resort? I have my doubts. The pieces of land set aside in each park seem to be vastly different from each other in shape and configuration even if they remain the same size. This alone may make the layout and the rides themselves different from park to park. In fact, in sunny California, we know the existing Star Tours is in Tomorrowland- which will not be take over by Star Wars Land (or whatever it will be named). Meanwhile, in sunny Florida, the larger version of Star Tours will be absorbed into the expansion and in an entirely different park. All this could easily bring about two vastly unique configurations of acreage with very different placements of the same type attractions, shops, and restaurants. 

Drinks anyone?

Both are guaranteed to feature the two headlining attractions: a chance to control your own Millennium Falcon and another which promises it " puts you in the middle of a climatic battle between the First Order and the Resistance". Throw in a visit to a famous cantina, plenty of unique shopping, and interaction with the planet's inhabitants, well- it will be a Star Wars geek's dream come true. Or at least we hope it will!

I'm totally alright with it taking up a chunk of real estate in a Florida park themed to films, but even though I'm looking forward to it, I feel very differently about an entire land dedicated to one film in Walt Disney's original Magic Kingdom. That said, I am glad to see the suits are freeing up some land for this expansion. They are certainly going to need it in order to accommodate all the growth in park guests. (This makes me think there are big plans for California Adventure to help in that arena, but that's a discussion for another time.)

For now, I'd like to skip what also is coming to the Studios, and discuss the in process Avatar / Pandora themed land coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom

Thanks to Alain Littaye for the great posters.

With a fairly large and detailed model, Disney presented guests of D23 a very nice look at what is planned to open in 2017. The model seemed terrific, but the two supporting exhibits were nothing special. Aside from that promotional travel brochure from Alpha Centauri Expeditions ( ACE ) and their little film creating interest in travel to Pandora. A film that included Imagineer Joe Rohde and Lightstorm's Jon Landau, the former playing himself, and the latter in disguise as a tour operator for the company that takes you to this new and exciting destination. It's a clever piece of promotion played to great effect.

Of course, after all that, then you add in all these really wonderful travel posters. What would a Disney park attraction be without one of these beloved pieces of artwork? My hunch is that in the park, they will be found somewhere in the mess hall, akin to all the smaller set pieces found all through Grizzly Peak Airfield at California Adventure. My second hunch is they will be for sale somewhere as well!

Banking on it being a beauty at night.

If the headlining simulator Flight of Passage attraction isn't your speed, it was confirmed that the boat ride through the jungle forests filled with bioluminescence did make the budgeteers cut. I'm thrilled for this piece! Supposedly titled "Na'vi River Journey",  some Imagineers have said this will be on par with Pirates of the Caribbean in scope, scale, and detail. Whether that's company hype or fact remains to be seen, but the Animal Kingdom park certainly needs more attractions and more classically styled dark rides. (Now, there's the place for a great indoors restaurant a la Blue Bayou!)

Is there more to it than Soarin' 2.0?

 The final beautiful poster for Pandora.

I must admit that this addition to the park has me excited. I was not happy for what I perceived to be the break in theme, and I still believe a different option would have been better, but I am liking what the Company is showing us. The addition has all the earmarks of something pretty groundbreaking. There's no question it will look spectacular in the evening.

Flight of Passage

With the Rivers of Light evening show and all the recent changes and additions to Harambe in Africa, this once neglected park will finally be worthy of an all day excursion- and anoint the night as well. That's probably the piece I am most excited about as the park is stunning when the sun goes down!

All this talk of Avatar and Star Wars (and Marvel) made me think- Why all the Sci-Fi additions to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and other Disney parks? Is this the last bastion of creativity and fantasy? Do the suits forget how to make compelling movies or are they just reflecting the tastes of our world- a world that is looking for and hoping for something far better than what we have? I think so. And I hope they find it and fast. 

Nice way to add some deeper story and a growing fan base to "classic" Magic Kingdom thought.

One minor addition we all knew was eventually coming to the Magic Kingdom was the addition of a Jungle Cruise themed restaurant. I really enjoy it when the Imagineers layer on the story, adding a layer of depth to the theme park experience. In this case, it's a tie in to the S.E.A. private club found first at Tokyo Disney Sea, then Hong Kong Disneyland, and soon in Shanghai. Could it be the Disneyland in California and Paris are not far behind? I'd love to see a reopening of the classic Tahitian Terrace at Walt's park, but I'd certainly opt for something different and great.

The Toy Story gang's all here.

Back to the Studios. In addition to the new Star Wars land at (the soon to be renamed) Disney's Hollywood Studios additional announcement was the kid friendly Pixar themed Toy Story Land.

I'd say the crowd reaction was mixed. The similarly styled land in Paris seems a desperate afterthought. Although it seems to present better in Hong Kong Disneyland, there's no denying the land is populated by dressed up rides found in local state fairs and carnivals.

Will a Slinky Dog coaster redeem a troubled concept?

The reality that something like this was coming to the Florida park most in need of re-Imagineering was not a surprise to those in the know. But the content seemed to be! With a fleshed out palette of seemingly unique restaurants (this time with a real Pizza Planet please!) and space for more additions in a highly themed land, Toy Story Play Land at least has some real atmosphere and family friendly attractions going for it. Imagineer Kathy Magnum says it will be as richly themed as California Adventure's Cars Land, but the concept art seems to deny it.

How about a rethemed Mater's Junkyard Jamboree?

Couple of questions: Is "shrinking down to the size of a toy" the new "something goes horribly wrong" concept so many attractions in the 80's seemed to be based upon? I hope not. Also, where is the Monsters Inc. coaster? Some think it will be announced later as part of another look at Streets of America. That would be nice.

Regardless of its faults, this park needs much more than theater shows. It needs real attractions for the whole family. Certainly an 11 acre Play Land and a 14 acre Star Wars land are not all the company has planned. There's room and time for much more to come. Let's hope this Phase Two happens- and would somebody please tell the Imagineers that the great One Man's Dream attraction needs to resurface? If not in the Studios (and wouldn't someplace on Hollywood Blvd. be perfect for it?), then have the class to move it to the Magic Kingdom.

By the way, a big Thank You to everyone who covered D23! This landlocked Denverite couldn't make it to Anaheim, so I relied on many, many great sites to keep me up to date.

Speaking of staying covered in up to date news, it's time for me to take a break. Between two jobs that place me on three continents, my marriage, four children, and eight grandchildren, I just cannot keep up with it all. When I began this blog seven years ago, I sensed it was a direction I was to take. Now, I sense its time to let it go- at least for a season. 

I've been blessed by your continued readership, comments, and enthusiasm for the site. I'll pop in from time to time when I've got something to say or really have a desire to write a story. There's almost 50 articles in a partially completed state, and many more I wanted to but never completed. 

As I would when saying goodbye to other friends, let me close with a prayer: "Lord Jesus, I thank you for the gift of time together and the friendships here. I pray that we would grow to love you more and more and share you with others. We're in a world that is slipping away, and we know there is no one like you. No one else could ever fully pay for the price of our sin! We thank you for your gift of death on the cross and that you rose again to life- giving all of us Life Again to those who would believe and turn toward you. Bless my friends! In your Name Jesus. Amen."

(All art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 14, 2015

Disney Odds and Ends - D23 Edition and More

There's surprisingly a lot going on in the Disney news world these days, but not too much of it rattles fans stateside- that is until D23 comes along today. 

Just for a little fun, I thought I'd spit out my predictions in great anticipation of D23's announcements for the theme parks.

(By the way, why this photo above for D23? Just a reminder that the best plans of men who work for the mouse get changed all the time.) 

Darth Vader and friends coming to a new and expanded location.

Mouse on the Web: Sadly, Al Lutz has gone missing, and his once powerful MiceChat / MiceAge has almost morphed into just another fan site- almost. They've brought some gusto back to the game with their latest update, however! As sure as the Second Coming of Christ, you can bet Disney suits will be doing something huge and significant with their stellar Star Wars property- at least at my beloved Disneyland for now. (It does leave Tomorrowland a thematic mess, however.) It would be nice to feel assured of the same quality coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios/Adventure, but given the recent track record, I have my doubts. Prove me wrong, Disney! And please finish the work before 2021.

Spiderman and more coming to California Adventure.

Marvel, however, makes perfect sense on the West Coast (perhaps not in theme at California Adventure), since the suits are under contract to forbidding anything with the Super Heroes in Florida. Imagine a really compelling new Spiderman attraction, one so good that it just might discourage folks from going to Islands of Adventure in Florida- that is, if that pesky Harry Potter went away. Anyway, expect Marvel at California Adventure in a big way. Even though it is out of theme in my mind, I help it is excellently done. Well, at least this leaves the space for the Third Park free for a brand new concept.

Close by on the web, Mouse Info remains a fun place to visit with& WDWMagic being the place to go for the inside scoop on Walt Disney World. My friend Alain Littaye still rocks on Disney and More, and my little boutique blog Insights and Sounds continues on doing its own thing. I know these guys will all be bringing us great stuff in the days ahead. Can't wait and Thank you!

Animal Kingdom: Yes, the big news out in the lushest Disney park ever built is Avatar land / World of Pandora. That fun website Da Mouse was the first one to really hit the nail on the head and identify it as a "quiet transformation" on the scale that the parks in Florida have not seen that often. Moving of the Lion King show, creating an expanded Harambe in a couple of areas, changes to the Tree of Life and to Discovery Island. Lots of construction- and perhaps even a few things we know nothing about. Of course Rivers of Light is scheduled to open sometime next year. I go back and forth on Pandora. Sure, it will look cool- but will it have something unique that really is a compelling attraction or two? Doubtful. I'm kind of over simulators, Soarin' aside. But the Disney suits have lots of prove after their big push for the project coming off their loss of Harry Potter to Universal. All said, Animal Kingdom has some of the best potential to be a powerhouse of a theme park since Tokyo Disney Sea. We'll see.

China, China, and more China!

Disney's (Disastrous) Hollywood Studios: With Star Wars certain and Pixar expansion a necessity, this park will be the one to watch in the year ahead. Closures abound in preparation for the future. Magic Kingdom has had its big splash in New Fantasyland, and Epcot is being ignored for now. The big budget almost guarantees a relaunch a la Disney California Adventure, but unless the suits allow the Imagineers to do it up big time, the park will become one where folks talk about "what could have been". Not a good thing- unless you're Universal Orlando. Many see Robert Iger as a man who cares most about stock value versus great product. When will he finally see real quality and real investment bring great results? Toy Story Playland? Been there, done that. It's time for something new instead of another rehash from overseas.

Beautiful, yes!

Shanghai Disneyland: Speaking of Iger, the plans for Mainland China's Disney park look great. Many unique aspects and that Tron coaster than should have come to the States. My bet is there's a few more pieces of concept art and some great models. Should be fun to hear what the Imagineers have to say abut it all. Expect nothing political, though.

The one that got away!

Frontierland Expansion for Florida: This one will be on hold for a couple of years. I'm sure something will happen in the Magic Kingdom for its 50th, (not that they need a new draw for THIS park), but the plans will stay wrapped up. Unless a miracle happens, long time park fans can kiss any version of Western River Expedition goodbye. It's too bad- this could be a great way to honor Walt Disney World's story- and Imagineer Marc Davis- and build that dedicated fan base similar to that of Disneyland. Instead, I fully expect a toon-based attraction.

Do you want this in your park or the truncated version below?

What won't we see at D23? Anything Frozen for Tokyo Disneyland or even the slightest peek at plans for their new Fantasyland expansion. The suits will never reveal so clearly why the Asia parks are the ones to get most all the great stuff while the States can sometimes get knockoffs and second rate versions of what's built overseas. 

Fast, quick and easy.

Would you want your U.S. fans to compare what's coming to Epcot vs. what the Imagineers are doing with their biggest hit in Tokyo? I didn't think so.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)