July 31, 2009

Disney's Construction Adventure

What an amazing, terrific, purposeful mess! Aren't you glad to see the progress as Disney is putting their money where their mouth is by improving California Adventure? As the sister park right next to Disneyland, the resort deserved much better than what it got on February 1, 2001- and it's getting it now.

For the time being, it is Disney's Construction Adventure. However, coming soon, it will be a park everyone in Southern California will want to see. From World of Color to a voyage with Ariel to the rush of Radiator Springs Racers, the park is becoming something worthy of the Disney name. Let the construction continue!

Earth Worship

"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires will pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever."
I John 2:15-17

July 30, 2009

A Trip to Disney World? Maybe...Maybe Not

As the new school year approaches, it is the time I begin to think about travels for the following year. It is just the way things work when you are married to a teacher! So, what is on our horizon for 2010?

Speaking of Horizons, should it be Walt Disney World? Probably not. There's nothing really happening on or the front burner for our favorite Florida park, Epcot. I was underwhelmed by the recent remakes to both the Mexico and Canada showcases. The cartooning of the once beautiful El Rio del Tiempo and the silly humor of adding Martin Short to O Canada! continues a trend of removing the dignity of their national representation. Please- update the print of the gorgeous film in France, but leave the beautiful score and serious but romanticized presentation intact. No Gerard Depardieu comedy, please. And no Belle from Beauty and the Beast either.
Hmm, World Showcase is only half of Epcot, you say. And you'd be right, but it has become our favorite section of the park since Future World has seemed to lose its focus and its optimistic view of the future. I think we'll wait to see what comes next.

Disney Studios. Certainly, I changed my perspective of the park since our last visit. (See an earlier post.) American Idol won't bring me back. Neither will Toy Story Midway Mania, especially it can be found on the west coast. Love, love, love the original Tower of Terror, but I can still have fun on the stripped down, cheaper version at California Adventure.

What about Disney's original Florida park? The Magic Kingdom is still quite the place. Liberty Square is elegant, Tomorrowland is now stuffed with toons but a visual delight. Seen the refurbished Haunted Mansion, and I'll pass on the new Hall of Presidents for now. The presentation is not worth the sole purpose or expense of a trip. If the recently circulated plans for a brand new Fantasyland are true, I will return upon its completion. That is, as long as the other parks have new attractions to stage as well.

Lastly, there is Animal Kingdom. I will say this much: If it is true- and I doubt it is- Disney can win me back to the park by adding a version of Tokyo Disney Seas' impressive Mysterious Island. However, I have a strong feeling that Disney management is very content to let Expedition: Everest carry the park for a few more years. We'll see. All said, I guess this eliminates a Walt Disney World visit for a couple of years.

Maybe it will be the Disneyland Resort that brings us back. A trip to the original kingdom is still one of the most satisfying visits for a true Disney geek. Walt's touch seems to be everywhere. Detail is heaped upon detail. Sure, Tomorrowland is a mess, but hopefully that will soon change- starting with the overdue Star Tours 2.0. Unfortunately, there's not much coming here as the attention is being lavished on its slowly improving but still needy stepsister, California Adventure.

Speaking of Disneyland's younger sibling, I think I'll wait until 2011 or 2012 for a return visit. The Little Mermaid attraction will open, the bay will be refilled, and a beautiful new Buena Vista Street will be complete. If I wait for 2012, Radiator Springs Racers will open. This should be the premier attraction that will finally put DCA (or whatever its new name will be) on the map, finally moving the park out of its "clones only" status. I guess all this means no Disneyland Resort next year either.

On the other hand, I am a true Disney geek, and the lure of a Disney park visit is hard to resist. Be it Christmastime and the wonderful atmosphere or the charm of a cool summer evening ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, I am drawn in. Yet, money is tighter and will get even more so in the future.

What to do? No idea. Maybe I'll just sit tight for now until Imagineering builds something that is impossible for me to resist. Maybe I can... or maybe not.
(Photographs Copyright Mark Taft)

July 29, 2009

Notable and Quotable: George Bernard Shaw


"This is true joy in life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."

July 28, 2009

The Fairest of Them All

Just uncovered another wonderful piece of Disneyland concept art. Here is Snow White's Scary Adventures for the Fantasyland remodel of the 1980s. As good as the artist's interpretation is, the reality is just as stunning. The Imagineers constant attention to detail and commitment to immersive atmosphere is what sets Disneyland's and Disneyland Paris' Fantasyland high above the others. When given an inspiring idea and the budget to pull it off, no one does it as well as the Walt Disney Company.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 27, 2009

Happy 70th Birthday, Dad!

Dad, there are many things that I am thankful for when I think of you. You are a great role model as a husband, a friend, a father, and a believer in Jesus. You've lived a sacrificial life, giving so much of your time, energy and money to others less fortunate- both inside and outside our family. Thank you, Dad, for being who you are. I appreciate you, and I love you.

July 26, 2009

WTF

No, not that. But not that I haven't thought it or said it. (True confessions here!)

Let's face it- dealing with people can be a pain. That includes dealing with ourselves and our own anxieties, fears, frustrations and disappointments. To say this has not been a good season for me would be a gross understatement. But I have to say, "WTF". No, not that.

In an effort to redeem the letters and have a bit of fun, I've changed it into "Where's the Faith?" Speaking to myself here. Everytime I get mad or depressed or just don't understand, I try to remind myself to stay focused on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of my faith.

My faith is imperfect- and it is being worked out in my as I choose to trust Him. Thank God- really- that no one ever told me the life of a Christian would be easy because it isn't. C'mon, if Jesus is our example, how can we expect anything less than hardship at times. He ended up crucified on the cross because He chose to be obedient to His Heavenly Father. Can we really expect less? No.

So, when things get tough, just shout "WTF". Your friends may laugh or snicker, but use it to put yourself, your emotions, thoughts, and your choices in check. Where's the Faith?

Magic Eye on Disneyland

Sometimes something so fun just gets taken for granted. Mint Crocodile's blog, Magic Eye, continually surprises me with its fresh look at the Disneyland Resort. Whether it is a photo journey through California Adventure, scraping up some fun video from Tokyo Disneyland, or anything else you can imagine, Mint puts its together nice, real nice.

Amy Grant in Africa

One of things I have always appreciated about Amy Grant is her humility. At the peak of her popularity, she seemed to always take time to focus on others, be it answer questions from fans, express care and concern for friends, or focus her efforts on serving others. On her recent blog entry, Amy takes the time to share about her thoughts from her trip to Africa. And she shares a few pictures. Check it out.

July 24, 2009

Well Done, Good and Faithful!

Congratulations to the barrister! Well done- We are so proud of you and amazed by all your hard work in the midst of family and life! With love from your friends on this side of the pond...

July 23, 2009

"Hoax" Revisited


NOTE: One year later and my original post may be right on the money. At least we can dream. Here's a reposting of the article from July 2008:
--------------------------------------------

Let me state up front that the "concept art" above is (poorly) photoshopped by me. But let's pretend for a moment...

Rumors abound in what Disney will do in Florida in response to the emerging world of Harry Potter. These include a revamped and amazing Journey into Imagination at Epcot, Monsters Inc coaster for Disney's Hollywood Studios, and a Little Mermaid attraction for the Magic Kingdom. All bound for Florida by 2011 or 2012 depending on your web sources. 

Why nothing for Animal Kingdom? Disney loves to market with a "something new at every park approach".

If Beastly Kingdom is truly dead, what about importing the premier and centerpiece attraction from Tokyo Disney Sea- Journey to the Center of the Earth? A detailed attraction with a popular and thrillingly used ride system. Oh yeah, comes complete with a show building of instant recognition and it is inhabited by a fantasy-inspired Lava monster. Makes for a pretty enticing first impression walking into the park. (By the way, below is the original artwork that I used. It is for an alternative impression of the Tree of Life.)

So, check out the "art" in larger form and see what DAK's skyline could look like. Here's hoping!

Merlin's Magic

The impact Imagineer Herb Ryman had on Walt's original kingdom cannot be overstated. From the first overview of Disneyland used to sell the idea of the California park to financiers, Herb's wonderful eye for design just kept blessing the land(s). Above is an unused rendering for Merlin's Magic Shoppe in Fantasyland. Whimsical, complex, full of charm. Sounds like a description of the artist himself!
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 22, 2009

Ko Olina Update

Thanks to my friend Len, here are a few picture updates of the construction of Disney's Ko Olina resort on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. As you can see, they are just starting to some degree. Yet we have all seen how quickly construction crews move when they have to!

This new Vacation site is on a gorgeous piece of land- one I've seen with my own eyes and posted about long before it was Disney property. (You can search the blog for an old post or two.) Let's hope this all comes together really fast and well!

July 21, 2009

Looking to Her

I somehow missed this while I was overseas for two weeks. Time to put all the Michael Jackson jokes aside before you read this post. Ready?

Does Whitney Houston still have what it takes? We'll soon know. On September 1, Arista will release Whitney's comeback album "I Look to You". Sure to be much better than her last effort in 2002- and much better than her oh-so-trendy Christmas album, the disc is designed to showcase the Whitney we first knew.

Expect ballads that soar and uptempo numbers that rock soulfully. Included will be her version of the Carpenters' Leon Russell-penned "A Song For You." What not to expect? A hit of Bodyguard proportions. But hopefully this is the beginning of round two for an artist who may have once again found her way.

July 20, 2009

Disneyland's Road Race to Nowhere

"The Happiest Place on Earth" had a bit of a glaring problem. At least it was obvious to the suits watching the park and its traffic patterns. Marc Davis' sweet but amusing Country Bear Jamboree seemed to have run its course with park visitors. Numbers continued to decline.

The attraction occupied a big and beautiful wooded piece of real estate at Disneyland, just around the bend from the Haunted Mansion. It wasn't front and center as in the case of the attraction's location at Walt Disney World's Frontierland, but it was still a substantial chunk of the very small original kingdom. What to do?

The Imagineers with a soft spot for the attraction began coming up with some new concepts to save the Hillbilly bruins. Among the considerations were a small flume type attraction and a silly roadrace. Ultimately, even the terrific "Critter Country 500" with its rending by Christopher Merritt, couldn't save the bears from a quick and out of place swap out with another little cub. The singing bears were now only to be found in Tokyo Disneyland and at Florida's Magic Kingdom. Oh, Pooh!

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 19, 2009

Here She Comes Again

Late night and enjoying the Cars rocking on and on!
Shaking It Up to My Best Friend's Girl and Magic-
It's Just What I Needed to chase these Sunday night blues away!

July 17, 2009

What Disneyland Means to Me

Journeys to far off places contrasted with an America of old never to be seen again. Hopes for the future while appreciating the timeless and ageless values of the past. Making you proud to be an American. Looks of awe and surprise on the faces of my preschoolers. Riding the Matterhorn Bobsleds with my grandmother. Watching my parents dance under the evening sky on Main Street just before the park closed. An impressive birthday dinner date with my wife to be at Club 33. Seeing something new every visit- even after hundreds of them. Knowing not just that Walt walked here but that he loved the place. This is what Disneyland is and will always mean to me.

July 16, 2009

Takes More Than Pixie Dust

Now making the rounds: a proposed Fantasyland redo for Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Includes The Little Mermaid "E" Ticket, a bunch of restaurants, and a few other nice flourishes among the shops, gardens and requisite meet and greets. Will it happen? I'll believe it when I see the concept art and the construction cranes move in. I didn't really believe such a massive redo would ever come to California Adventure, however, so I have been wrong in the past.

Are the changes necessary? Absolutely! The most beloved park in Florida needs a Fantasyland that has a beauty that extends beyond its castle. The current incarnation is charmless, flat, unimaginative. I'd love to see it- and seeing is believing.
(Blueprint copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Paradyme Shift

Time for a change in perspective- and here's just the latest and greatest book to make you stop and think. Francis Chan's Crazy Love is playing with my mind. I don't always like it, but my soul is crying out for it. In a world gone crazy, it is nice to know love can win out. (Yes, an intentional pun- sorry!)

July 15, 2009

Coming Soon to a Theme Park Near You?

Interesting, isn't it? From Hong Kong Disneyland's well overdue expansion, California Adventure's massive makeover to recent additions to Tokyo Disneyland and announcements for Disneyland Paris' growing sister park, it is very strange that not a single thing (other than new retail outlets) have been announced for Walt Disney World. Certainly, something new is in the works! To ignore the megamall complex of Disney parks and allow nothing to happen would be a disgrace. Just a large, monstrous mistake.
(Art copyright Disney/Pixar.)

July 14, 2009

In the Disposal

It is about time.

One of the most unfortunate and glaring statements that Disney's California Adventure had very little Disney in it begins to vanish today. The ugly and charmless "Orange Stinger" ride begins its transformation into the mildly better "Silly Symphony Swings". 

Will Paradise Pier ever become an area worthy of the Disney name? Probably not, but it is markedly better than the carnival that premiered in the Disneyland parking lot in 2001. Hopefully, this Friday's debut of the latest version of the Blue Sky Cellar will bring something more to cheer about.

July 10, 2009

Venice's St. Mark's Square

Almost two years ago to the day, my wife and I were standing in Venice's St. Mark's Square in awe of our surroundings. Italy at large is a sight to behold, yet a trip to Venice mesmerizes with its contradictions: crowded and quaint, charming and vibrant, noisy crowds and quiet gondolas skimming the murky water.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

July 8, 2009

Notable and Quotable: G.K. Chesterton

"When men cease to believe in God, they will believe in anything." - G. K. Chesterton.

July 7, 2009

Arrival Expected Shortly...


Still putting together my trip report for my time in Asia. Almost done, it will be arriving soon!

July 6, 2009

The Show Must Go On- Carpenters Live at the Palladium

In spite of its bright moments, the album "A Kind of Hush" was a major setback and disappointment for the Carpenters, their team, their standing on the pop charts, and maybe even some of their fans. Certainly, while they were planning and recording this album,Karen and Richard saw with their own eyes and ears what was going on stylistically around them, so they cannot escape their decisions and therefore, the results. However, responsibility for their decline involves many parties even though Karen and Richard were at the helm.

At this point in their career, the Carpenters were represented by one of the most powerful and influential managers in the music business, Jerry Weintraub. John Denver, who was at the top of his career, was a client. There were many others. About him, Richard is quoted as saying ""we heard Jerry was somebody who actually molded careers—like Brian Epstein did with the Beatles." So, where was Mr. Weintraub in the mist of this? Certainly he would have listened to their catalogue and look at their sales and chart measurements before he took them on as clients. Ultimately, when you pay someone for their wisdom and savvy, they have to take some of the responsibility.

The trio of "Now and Then", "The Singles 1969 - 1973" and "Horizon" had the Carpenters at the highest point of their career- if not in sales, definitely in artistry. "Horizon" showed maturity and a lot of guts. Covering (and besting) an Eagles and Linda Ronstadt tune? Done. A 40s classic recorded for a pop album eight years before "What's New" by Ronstadt? Sheer foresight. Richard and John's songwriting kept improving, and Karen never sounded better. "Only Yesterday" was a masterpiece of mixing and production.

Ultimately, "Horizon" was another "Close to You"- a second landmark album to build a career on.


At the time of "Hush", someone, even Herb Alpert, who always had Karen and Richard's best interests at heart, should have said, "Too soft, no edge, cut the MOR choir! Back to the drawing boards." This album should have been redefined or even cancelled or postponed before its release. Herb was the boss. Even if they could have done what they wanted to do, Karen and Richard knew Herb cared deeply, and they probably would have listened to his wise counsel.


On the management side, Jerry Weintraub's counsel was a mixed bag. It was wise to get them to reconstruct their live show and revamp their stage persona. But he made a serious mistake by encouraging more television exposure when what Karen and Richard really needed were hit songs. Television? Fine- but use it for guest spots on high profile specials (like Olivia Newton-John's) to premier new songs or use videos, the tender of the day for the 80s. Hire some artistic talent to give them a look keeping them current without sacrificing their standards.

The sold out and much publicized tour of the United Kingdom was just what the duo needed at this point in their career. It was great to be loved and appreciated even if it wasn't on home turf. It was in the midst of this tour and their new show that I first got to see the Carpenters live while in Las Vegas. I was not disappointed.


The Riviera Hotel, at one point in time, was one of the nicer spots in Las Vegas. I would have to say that by the time 1976 rolled around, it was just sightly on the decline. The Carpenters were the main act in the showroom, with comedian David Brenner opening. (Neil Sedaka, above, was with them in 1975, and I know Karen's duet with him is out there somewhere.) We stayed at the hotel, assuming this would assure us a better seat selection. Reserving seats for both evening shows meant I had a chance to see Karen and Richard perform twice. Nice, very nice.

Of course, even though my sister and I were "of age", we were very young and quickly given poorer seats. A fast tip to our host meant a better table was soon found. Such is the way of the world and Las Vegas. After a very funny but, honestly, filthy routine from Mr. Brenner, we patiently waited for the lights to dim and the show to begin.


The announcement of Richard's name and the beginning of the overture had my heart thumping with excited anticipation. It seemed like hours until Karen appeared, but she graced the stage soon enough. The crowd applauded wildly, and there were even a few whoops and hollers. Karen looked beautiful, and she smiled warmly at the audience. For this young man, that point was the moment the show truly began.


Once we were quiet, the opening line of "There's a Kind of Hush" came slowly from her lips, with the extended phrasing of the word "all" bringing emphasis to the romance of the lyrics. If there was any doubt I was smitten by Karen before, it was now fully cemented. I couldn't take my eyes off her the entire performance.


Following it with a delicate and heartfelt version of "I Need to Be in Love" proved Karen was every bit as gifted in person as she was in the studio. Since this is really just an album review, I'll stop here before I move on to the recording. (But let me say the infamous Grease medley was a lot of fun to watch in person!)


Between performances, we walked out of the showroom. Then came concert number two- as precisely perfect and an exact copy of the first one. I walked out dazed, so impressed with the talent of my favorite duo. Then the unexpected happened.


God bless her- my sister had the guts to ask the security guard if we could meet Karen and Richard backstage. He left, and we waited. As thrilled as I was to see Karen and Richard in concert, I would never expect I would get to meet them. Returning with an affirmative answer, we followed him backstage. I panicked. What if my favorite singer was rude or uninterested? I'd be heartbroken.

As it turned out, my fears were unfounded. Karen was down to earth and friendly. I noticed how small and thin she was, but she did not look unhealthy. 

We spoke briefly with her, Karen asking if we enjoyed the show and me thanking her for the music. I was surprisingly untongue-tied. I remember sharing my favorite songs with her, mentioning "I Need to Be in Love" and "Solitaire". The only glitch: I had no film left in my camera as I has used all my shots for the evening's performances! After a few more words with Karen, we walked by Richard, who was sitting in a room. He briefly waved and then returned to business matters- and the many women who were waiting around him. My sister and I were then escorted out to the hallway from which we entered.


Months passed, and I continued to keep track of Karen and Richard and their career and chart performance. I was pleased to see them on the cover of the new People magazine, and the interview inside provided additional insight and some great photos.


I think it was late September that I wandered into Licorice Pizza and headed right to the "Carpenters" section. Much to my surprise, I saw a new album, "Live at the Palladium". The recording wasn't the best it could have been, to be totally honest, but it brightly captured the heart of their performance. Turning the album over, I saw the song line-up:

1. Flat Baroque/Only Yesterday
2. There's a Kind of Hush
3. Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
4. Piano Picker
5. Strike Up the Band/S'Wonderful/Fascinatin' Rhythm
6. Warsaw Concerto
7. From This Moment On
8. Medley: (They Long to Be) Close to You
For All We Know
Top of the World
Ticket to Ride
Only Yesterday
I Won't Last a Day Without You
Hurting Each Other
Superstar
Rainy Days and Mondays
Goodbye to Love
9. We've Only Just Begun

It was all there minus a few important pieces, along with the addition of the popular "Jambalaya". Karen's drum solo is a bit muffled compared to her vibrant performance, and Richard's "Warsaw Concerto" drags on disc, but vocally, the duo sound absolutely terrific here.


The closing hits medley is powerful. Especially decades later, this is a stunning reminder of just how popular and how good the Carpenters were. Hit after hit after hit- with many left out.


For those of you who have not had the good fortune to hear them live in concert, this disc is your best bet to experience them in their more "modern" persona. "Live in Japan" captures the younger and more serious minded artists, but this album shows them more as real people than just performers. The closing "We've Only Just Begun" poignantly reminds me how much I wish this disc was truly just their beginning, instead of the beginning of their end.

July 4, 2009

Waving Proudly!

And long may it be! Happy Birthday, United States of America! I am proud to be one of your citizens. May God continue to bless us!

July 3, 2009

Beastly Kingdom's Riddle of the Sphinx

Until I get around to finishing Part 4 of my series "Disney's Animal Kingdom: A True- Life Adventure", here's a nice rendering of the sphinx that was to grace the now defunct Beastly Kingdom. Just look at the detail! Absolutely beautiful.

The biggest riddle of the sphinx is the simple question of "Why?" Such as, "Why abandon the concept of an entire land devoted to imaginary animals?" or "Why let the design work ripped off by Universal's Islands of Adventure stop the Walt Disney Company from thrilling guests with an even more astounding creation?"

Yes, I know, the concept is dead they say. However, as stunning as the 4th park at Walt Disney World is, it would certainly be more complete if another land was created to celebrate animals imaginary to complement those real and extinct. The Imagineers are the best in the business. It's time to let them spread their wings and fly.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 2, 2009

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

Sound's of the 70's kept running through my head as I visited Disney's Hollywood Studios, specifically of Canada's Five Man Electrical Band: "Signs", their hit song hummed through my brain as I rediscovered the beauty and detail of this park.

Everywhere I looked, the park was filled with beautifully designed visual descriptions of attractions, restaurants and shops. It was a feast for my eyes, a delight to behold, a thrill to my lens. I couldn't stop noticing them everywhere I walked. Nor could I stop taking photos.

I gotta say I see God the same way. If I stop and look at the beautiful world around me, the world He created, the evidence of his hand is profound. Creation sings his praises in the bubbling of every stream, the roar of thunder, the quiet majesty of the mountains. Some say I am a fool for not believing in the theory of evolution, but the signs everywhere of God at work are just too numerous to ignore or explain away.

In the midst of a fallen world full of disappointment, sorrow and pain, only Jesus offers complete beauty, joy, and satisfaction. Many other religious sytems offer their explanations, but they tell of man needing to strive to please and appease God. Only Christianity shares of a God who so loved the world He created, that He chose to stoop down to earth, reaching out to men and women he loved, offering salvation through his death to all who would follow Him. Here, because of His loving heart, God reaches down to man, offering hope, love, and a rewarding new life.

The signs are everywhere. Even in your own life, God is knocking on the door to your heart. As the Five Man Electrical Band said, "Can you read the sign?"
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

July 1, 2009

Won Over

Every once in awhile, a Keith Urban song catches my ear. The last one was "Somebody Like You", from the 2002 "Golden Road" album. I had given up on him after that point until this new disc arrived in stores.

The new collection, "Defying Gravity" is almost impossible to resist. It's filled with the catchiest of songs and arrangements! "Kiss A Girl" may have had revived interest due to his American Idol duet with Kris Allen, but Urban's original solo version sparkles with fun. And the disc just keeps getting better.

Standouts include the catchy "Hit the Ground Runnin'" and "Sweet Thing", but it is with the tender ballads "Only You Can Love Me This Way" and the ode to Nicole Kidman "Thank You" that give this collection its heart and soul.