December 31, 2010

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Wishing you a wonderful celebration this New Year's Eve! Please enjoy it with family and friends, thanking God for his goodness! Do it well- and whatever you do, make sure you are wise and safe. Blessings...

December 30, 2010

The Best and Worst of 2010


Just what the world needs- another "Best of 2010" list. But indulge me here as I look at some of the best and worst discoveries of the year. They won't all be from 2010, but rather from my discoveries this year. Let's start in music, shall we?

Music
"California Gurls" - Katy Perry
This is the song I hate to love! As I was sweating it off at the gym one day, this tune came on the overhead speakers, and I was hooked. Not having Shazam or one of those apps- or even an iphone- of course, I got home and described it to my kids. They laughed hysterically as they knew what song I meant and know I do not listen to songs with suggestive lyrics. Then they googled the lyrics for me. Really?! How about a "clean" version for us old school types. Yet, with fake apologies to Kylie Minogue, it is the song I cannot get out of my head. Granted the visuals from googling this image for the post were more than enough...


"October Sky" - Vanessa Williams and Javier Colon
Now here's a song I love to love. Not a 2010 release, but probably my favorite discovery of the year. Vanessa's Real Thing album is a delight. This song is elegant in both arrangement, lyrics, and performance. Stunning and timeless.


"Symphonicity", Live at Red Rocks - Sting
What a concert, and what an album! While some may say he is past his prime, I find Sting more interesting as he ages. No longer is he defined by the rock critics or media darlings of what's supposed to be cool. He does what he wants- and I happen to love his new found freedom. To hear Roxanne and I Hung My Head with new arrangements- just amazing.


"Breathless" - Corrine Bailey Rae
Why it took me years to hear this, I do not know. Every once in awhile, a new "our song" comes along- and this is it. Makes me fall in love with my wife all over again.


Movies
Not a banner year, but Tangled is great fun and worth a second viewing. Toy Story 3 had a better story than I expected, a great way to end the trilogy. Both prove Disney and Pixar still have years of life in them. I'm a sucker for the beautiful Katherine Heigl, but I have to well, watch what I watch, so most of her films are off limits by my choice. Thankfully, her pairing with Ashton Kutcher, Killers was a film that made me laugh all the way through the stunts and chase scenes. As for the poorer films of the year, there are sadly too many to name.


Books
For the Disneyphile, Jim Korkis' Vault of Walt is hard to beat. I've read many Disney related books over the years, yet there are many facts and stories new to me in this tome. Randy Schimdt has come up with a winning biography of the beautiful and talented Karen Carpenter. In spite of the stories claiming otherwise, Little Girl Blue aptly describes the life of this woman with the golden voice. It's heartbreaking and shocking and somewhat reverent all at once. Speaking of reverence, I am once again engrossed with the book of Psalms. From pain to joy to shame and encouragement, this book covers the range of human emotions, reminding me I serve a God who loves me in spite of myself and my shortcomings- He loves you, too, for that matter.


Television
The vast wasteland known as television and cable had a few bright spots: Castle and Criminal Minds. Although I was busy catching up on previous seasons of Criminal Minds, I found the new season's episodes to be just as powerful. Thomas Gibson continues to show the depth of his acting skills, proving he could have a career in film if he wanted it. On the down and out, I cannot help but wonder what happened to the Travel Channel (ghost stories and poker and food binging but no travel) or why the "Big Three" network news shows seem more and more like Entertainment Tonight.


Live Entertainment
To see Mary Poppins live on stage was a treat. The cast couldn't have been better. We walked out of the place believing in live theater once again. Following that up with Sting a few months later reminded me that few things can beat a live performance. California Adventure's World of Color was a noticeable addition this year. I had heard all the hype. The show actually surprised me by being better than I had expected and almost as good as its stellar reviews. Due to our daughter's wedding and a trip out of the country, we missed the Colorado Rockies playing this season. Maybe next year. We ended our entertainment year with a visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens and its Blossoms of Light. Our zoo here is terrific, but I look forward to an evening of walking hand in hand with my wife admiring the millions of decorations lighting up the gardens.


Guess that wraps up 2010. What surprises and disappointments await me in 2011? Who knows- but I'm looking forward to the year ahead.

December 25, 2010

The Sparkliest Christmas

On one of my recent trips to Southern California, I took this photograph while at the beautiful Roger's Gardens in Newport Beach. To call this location a nursery is as much a misnomer as it is to call Disneyland a garden variety amusement park. It's filled with all sorts of eye candy- including the original Disneyland Bandstand- and signage with a nod to the Daveland blog.

I love the "sparkle" of Christmas! It is a time when everything looks bright and new. Whether it is lights shining brightly on buildings old and new, ornaments hanging on the tree, the glow of candlelight at a Christmas worship service, or the gleam in the eyes of children, it brings the warmest of smiles to my face.

Just imagine what was running through the minds of the Magi as they encountered the Christ child centuries ago! Whether He truly glowed as many painters imagined or not, here was the hope of the world, the Light for all men, before their very eyes, given in the most easily received form- that of a child. Their gifts were humble compared to the Gift of Life He gave to all who would believe and turn to Him, but they were substantial and said much about the mission of Jesus Christ.

One brought gold- a gift given between kings. Its symbolism not lost on peoples of the region. Here was one king acknowledging another. A human king with limited realm honoring the King of All Creation.

Another brought frankincense- a gift given between lovers. A perfume of sorts, symbolizing the relationship that this God Who Became Man wanted to have with the people He created. It was out of love, Jesus came to earth to die; and it is from His love that we can be revitalized given hope when all is lost. God desires we love Him with all that is within us. A love that grows over time.

The last brought the gift of myrrh. Quite an odd gift choice, as this spice was also used for embalming the dead. Imagine the young mother Mary and her husband Joseph, receiving these visitors- and receiving the gifts intended for the young Jesus. They must have known the gift of myrrh symbolized his coming death. But little did they know He would rise triumphantly from the grave as well, defeating the plans of the enemy of men.

We can also carry this glow as we look to Him. In the Old Testament, the Psalms give us this beautiful description: "I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame."

I love this piece of Psalm 34. It reminds me that regardless of the evil I have done or continue to do, God himself waits to forgive me when I come to him in humility. This is the brightest and "sparkliest" of all Christmas messages! And I pray this is the Christmas message that rings in the depths of your soul- and may it be the Christmas message you pass on to those you know and love.

Merry Christmas to each of you! May His Love fill your home!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 23, 2010

Counting My Blessings

This time of year, one of my favorite things to do is stop and thank God for the wonderful blessings He has given me and my family. This year is no different!
We had another wedding with family and friends from all over coming to celebrate, a beautiful new grandbaby brought into the world, and the gift of a caring family to celebrate it all with!
Not only is my wife my best friend, she is a beautiful, godly, woman- with a heart to serve her Lord Jesus and her family with gentleness, wisdom and grace. (Plus, after all our years, she is still a lot of fun!) No one could ask for better than what I have received. In a world that seems to devalue sacrificial love, hard work, and long term commitment, she has been a rock for me- a picture of the God's love for me- when the storms of life hit hard.
Our little granddaughter and growing grandson are blessings that only He could give! His goodness to us is remarkable. We have also been blessed with some of the most wonderful friends anyone could have! Through the thick and thin of life, we have spent so many years together, loving and supporting each other.
This photo above show a dear friend of 30 plus years. I love we serve a God who continues to surprise us with the unexpected! Above are a couple of photos of those we love- although there are many, many more not pictured here but still in our hearts!
Our family continues to grow! Our children are choosing wonderful spouses- and there is even another wedding to come in the new year! More reasons to be thankful!
Here are our "original four"- pretty amazing young adults- but they were terrific children, too! In a way unique to each of them, they continue to bless us and delight us with their personalities and hearts to live life well. Boy, the years go by quickly...

Of course, we are so thankful for our parents, our brothers and sisters and their growing families. They continue to be friends as well as family- and not everyone can say that!


Sure, we've had our hardships this year, too. We've lost family members we love, endured tragedies, disappointment, and loss, but God has never lost sight of us, proving Himself faithful to those who love Him. May we never lose sight of Him.

I do not know what 2011- or even tomorrow- may bring, but regardless of what comes, may I be just as thankful this time next year.

December 22, 2010

Tron's Legacy: Why Tomorrow(land) Will Matter Again

Let me state this up front: I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of science fiction. Star Wars was a very creative and groundbreaking film, but it didn't rock my world. I'll even skip Disneyland's Star Tours most every visit, only riding when the queue is short or if I have first time guests with me. Even though I am a big fan of writer Jules Verne, its his earthbound stories that entice me, not those in outer space. I am not a techno fiend. I do not have to own the latest and greatest technology. Nor am I, by and large, a fan of house music, although some has crept into my library over the years.

With all that information as a lead in, I did not expect to be dazzled by Tron: Legacy, but was I ever! The acting is better than adequate but certainly not Oscar worthy. Jeff Bridges does the best he can with a limited script. The same can be said for Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde. Yet, all of them are attractive and somewhat compelling characters by nature of their circumstances.

So, what is it that pulled me into the story and kept my interest? Two words: Light Cycle. Give me one now and let me ride! I am sure Disney's Imagineers have designed the ultimate in Tron experiences for Disneyland. Hear this- If you build it, we will come! Whether it is something akin to DisneyQuest's virtual reality helmets, a new spin on Test Track, or a fresh take on Tomorrowland's now defunct Rocket Rods, riding a light cycle will have me queueing for hours. My bet is I won't be alone, as fans would swarm to the attraction and even more so for a Tron themed remake of Tomorrowland. The redemption of the land of the future could be near.

Not every film can be held together by great visuals and action, however. And just when I thought that is all Tron would be, the movie surprised me by offering a twist: the clear and not so subtle context of what goes wrong when someone attempts to build a Utopian world without a clear understanding of the nature of man and his need for his creator. Man minus God and his moral standards are the surest recipe for disaster. Flynn's immaculate library was filled with the world's greatest books. He himself had the greatest of intentions. Yet it all fell apart eventually until, well... no spoilers here. Go see the film and follow the storyline for yourself.

Sonically, the music of Daft Punk perfectly underscored the pulsation of the movie. It breathed life into the slowest of scenes and elevated the ones with high energy. This combination felt right, unlike so many other ideas where Disney tries to be hip and edgy. In this regard, Tron could be seen by music fans as a two hour long form video for the band- and they would be right. There was a nice retro touch early on. Hearing Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams and the classy touch of Annie Lennox's voice- perfectly positioned in the film. Also thinking Donna Summer's amazing "I Feel Love" could have fit in here, too.

Will Tron:Legacy be an Oscar contender next year? Not for Best Picture. It should get some nods for the artistic elements in the film, but it will be another "pretty" picture as was Avatar. Is it worth your time at the theater? Absolutely- go now and see it on the bog screen to get the full effect. Would it be worth a good portion of your day at Disneyland if made into a major attraction? Without a doubt. The potential for a classic, iconic attraction is that good.

As for me, I'm counting the days until Tron the Attraction debuts- and I'll see you there on opening day.

December 21, 2010

Carpenters Old Fashioned Christmas: A Holiday Turned Blue

Whereas the gorgeous and definitive Christmas Portrait has been  described by Richard Carpenter as his sister's first solo album, An Old Fashioned Christmas feels more like his first solo album with Karen guesting.

After Karen's tragic passing in 1983, I knew the days of the Carpenters were sadly over. Instinctively, I expected greatest hits compilations, perhaps one disc of unreleased material, and an eventual solo project from Richard. An Old Fashioned Christmas came as a surprise to me when it was released in the fall of the following year. The beautiful Voice of the Heart album had only been in release for a year, but I suppose it made sense to Richard and the executives of A&M Records to release another disc so soon.

In my memory, I recalled multiple but unused songs being recorded for Christmas Portrait when it was first intended as a double length album. I was still quite surprised and very delighted to find Richard had finished work on a second volume of Christmas music. It had to have been a very difficult labor of love for him.

It was still a season of vinyl then, even though compact discs had made their way into the market. There was no accompanying disc to be found for this release- only chrome tape for the cassette release- therefore, my first view of the album cover was large in scale as well as being wonderful to behold. It was another artistic take on the Norman Rockwell look and feel of the first disc's cover, but as with the music it contains, not nearly as charming or effective. I do appreciate the slight nod to Karen's well known love of Disneyland, as the elf on the right wears a pair of Mickey Mouse ears!

Similarly to the 1978 album, Richard begins the proceedings with a crisply sung "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear". After a quite lengthy choral and instrumental medley that includes slivers of Richard's vocals, the title song arrives, offering sweet sentiments but a fairly mundane melody, arrangement, and performance. Written in 1984 for this collection, An Old Fashioned Christmas is a nice composition with long time lyricist John Bettis, but it is not a classic to be cherished.

Immediately thereafter, Richard's stunning instrumental reading of "O Holy Night" begins. It is a powerful piece of music masterfully played. This is my favorite Christmas song, and few singers effectively capture the substance and drama of the lyrics.

Richard's performance of it is so well done, I do not miss the words. In fact, it seems to bring me to a place of worship for the God who became Man for our sake. Not many instrumentals have that effect on me! In fact, for his part, it's Richard's skills as pianist that are his strength here throughout the album.

After about fifteen minutes of music, Karen finally steps in. When her warm, gorgeous voice comes in on "Home for the Holidays", showcasing her lower register. It's in that deep part of her range that reminds no other singer can compare to her! Hearing Karen, the game instantly changes, reminding the listener this is a Carpenters album! She immediately brings a cheeriness, a buoyancy to the disc but also an instant and underlying sadness as we remember she is gone. The tune is quite charming but brief at a length of just over two minutes. Here is the pattern of this album: lots of Richard, little of Karen. By necessity, on an album comprising roughly 49 minutes of music, Karen's vocals make up only about 18 minutes total!

Richard's next instrumental medley is a bright blending of "Here Comes Santa Claus", "Frosty the Snowman", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", and "Good King Wenceslas". It feels fresh and sparkling, in direct contrast to the somberness of the next number, Karen's intimate and yearning "Little Altar Boy".

On the vinyl version of the album, this song ends "Side One". It also emotionally divides the collection with its stark, desperate lyrics. Karen's touching plea for intercession and ultimate redemption for her lost life burned in my ears from first listen. When a vocalist whose personal life held inner turmoil and ended in tragedy, these lyrics take on a haunting, new significance. "Little Altar Boy" is the spiritual equivalent of the duo's earlier "Goodbye to Love". She quietly screams to be noticed and loved.

Thankfully, "Side Two" begins with the triumphant "Do You Hear What I Hear?" In contrast to his vocals elsewhere, Richard sounds absolutely confident and terrific. Yet, this is ultimately a command performance by Karen. As the music builds to its crescendo, Karen's singing matches the song, ending in a powerful presentation of the last word, "light". For a vocalist known for her intimate, warm, soft voice and nuanced phrasing, this last note reminds us she was in control of that gift. Here, she belts it out with the best.

If we've heard Karen, it means it is once again time for Richard. "My Favorite Things" seems an odd choice and is not one of my favorite selections.

"He Came Here For Me". It is a testament to Richard's knack for finding great material that this song was ever recorded. Again, Karen goes to the lower end of her range to good effect. To my ears, the overall result is not as strong as "Little Altar Boy", but I so appreciate the richness of the lyrics:

"Born in a stable He came here for me
born of a virgin He came here for me
God's only son come to set the world free,
born of God's love and He came here for me.
Savior, of the world I praise thee

Jesus, Lamb of God, I pray to thee, hear me
As I praise thy birth bend down thy ear and hear my prayer
Over a stable a star shone so bright,
guiding three wise men who rode through the night
He was called baby Jesus, He came here for me,
Born to this world, then He died here for me."

From the sacred to the secular, Karen and Richard follow up the previous selection with their 1974 recording of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". This slower dreamy version perfectly shows off their skills. Richard's terrific arrangement allows Karen to take center stage. In contrast to the original release, the saxophone solo has been entirely reimagined. For the record, I enjoy each saxophone solo for different reasons. On this take, it brings a smooth jazz feel to the song, very appropriate and contemporary for its inclusion a decade later. (Just a side note here: I loved watching Karen and Richard perform this on Perry Como's Christmas special. She looks great!)


What can I say about "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" I was smitten at first listening! The 1940's produced some of my most loved recordings, and I had long thought Karen and Richard should be doing these kinds of classics. The inclusion of "I Can Dream Can't I?" on the Carpenters' masterpiece album "Horizon" confirmed I was right. Certainly, there are stronger performances on this holiday collection, but this romantic piece is my personal favorite. It is the perfect match of singer, song, arrangement and production.

After three vocals in a row by Karen, Richard's selections from "The Nutcracker" are a great way to draw near to the album's end. Somehow, he makes this sound new, even though the music has been heard for decades. Just beautiful.

The album's closer, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day", was a song I did not remember and one that took me awhile to appreciate. "Lower register" and perfectly sung- check. Well arranged and produced- check. But what was it about the song that I just didn't like? Took years for me to figure it out. The song signifies the end of an era for me. Really, for all of us.

Television outtakes, aside, there would be no more Christmas music from the duo. Karen and Richard's holiday themed television specials would not see release. Richard's long discussed solo Christmas album would be started, delayed, and ultimately shelved. (In 2002, he would go on to give two songs to Japanese vocalist Seiko Matsuda: "Christmas Turned Blue" and "December Morn".)
In my opinion, the Carpenters and Christmas go together. Christmas music means Carpenters albums. Karen's is the voice of the season, and "Christmas Portrait" is always the first disc played in our home when I control the player. It will always be that way. The second disc is good too, but regardless of its many charms, it is a patchwork project.

Thankfully, even though "An Old Fashioned Christmas" would be their last holiday release, Richard had more Carpenters music ahead for their fans- and in some ways, for posthumous releases, the best was yet to come.
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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.

December 20, 2010

Disneyland Attraction Posters: The Adventureland Collection

Now that we've taken a look at the posters which celebrate and advertise the variety of attractions on Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A., let's take a walk down this beautiful avenue and journey on to our first stop, Adventureland!

The Jungle River Cruise was an instantaneous hit upon its opening with the park. Nothing had ever been seen like this before! A waterborne attraction combining lush, varied landscapes, robotic animals, and the spiel of a lively narrator/guide was beyond cutting edge for an amusement park. It was Disney showcasing its unique storytelling at its best, quickly becoming the must-see attraction of its time. Was it based on the famous film The African Queen? Absolutely! Did it follow the narrative? Not at all.As any long time Disneyland fan knows, the attraction has been "plussed" through the years, with new scenes and creatures added. From more elephants to stranded safaris, to gorillas taking over a camp, to an encounter with dangerous piranha, the journey is as constantly changing and wild as the jungle itself.

Whether viewed as charming, campy, mildly thrilling, passable or a classic to be revered, the ongoing popularity of the Jungle Cruise means it has earned it place among Disney's most beloved attractions. Earlier posters of the cruise reflected the simple yet sophisticated style of the era it was created, but decades later. the elegant and detailed artwork (directly above) redefined the cruise in a whole new light.


I've seen an even newer version based on the one for Hong Kong Disneyland, but I forgot to take a photo of it! New note 12/30: One of my readers sent it to me (above). Thank you.
Let me say, I've done a fairly good amount of home improvements and landscaping in my day, but regardless of my success, nothing compares to the dream of living in the unbelievable Swiss Family Treehouse! Spent many afternoons high above it all, taking in the spectacular views and enjoying a respite from the mobs below. Rarely missed my chance to climb it. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I visited Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for the first time years later and found their namesake on its own island! Wow! Had the same wow factor during each visit to Disneyland Paris.
Adventureland remained much the same for many years, with the now gone Big Game Shooting Gallery, a treehouse home, and a very popular eatery premiering several months before the groundbreaking Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. This single attraction changed the game for the Disney theme parks as well, bringing new guests to its exotic locale and raising expectations for attractions built in the future by Imagineering.



Love the music, love the atmosphere, love the finale! And these posters capture it all. The two posters above are slightly varied in text and style, as well as tiki gods when compared to the first one shown! United Airlines was a sponsor for many years- and their beautiful pre-show film introducing the Hawaiian Islands was something I missed when Dole took over. Guess it was a trade off, as I really enjoy those Dole Whip desserts available at the entrance to the attraction!

Had Walt Disney had his way, desserts and other tropical offerings would have made its way into the Tiki Room as the attraction was first conceived as a restaurant with the birds presenting a show during the meal. Although this did not pan out, the lovely Tahitian Terrace was still nearby, offering delicious Polynesian treats, fire dancers and hula girls! Gotta say, I miss that place. I spent many summer evenings eating my meals and enjoying the sights...

Can there be any attraction in the last few decades that has been as eagerly anticipated as the Indiana Jones Adventure? Not in my book! (In fact, I love the Indy based attractions- and I have an entire post about them worldwide. You can find it here. There are many more Indy based articles to be found on my blog, too. Happy exploring!)

Seems that this poster is not all that visible these days. Unless I'm going through the wrong tunnel under the Main Street station of the Disneyland Railroad. Could it be? Regardless, the poster accomplishes the task of drawing us to the adventure. I was there opening weekend in 1995. Trust me when I say the advertising did the trick as the queue curled through Adventureland and Main Street resulting in a four hour wait my first trip through! Taking a fresh look at it, however, it is time for a newer version that celebrates one of Disneyland's finest Imagineering successes. The last stop on our Adventureland poster tour is this little gem for Tarzan's Treehouse. The debut of this Swiss Family Treehouse remake came about exactly one day after the animated film Tarzan hit the theaters. The poster honors the style and most of the coloring of the Swiss Family one and is a near replica of the one used for the attraction found at Hong Kong Disneyland. (I'd like to take a moment and acknowledge the work of Chris Strodder here. His wonderful The Disneyland Encyclopedia provided me with this tidbit about the timing of the film and attraction debut, and for this post, I used it as a dateline resource to check my memory.)

Let me comment here: I was more than surprised to see my beloved Swiss Family replaced by an animated character. Although the rather ordinary stationary figures in the attraction detract from the climbers imagining living the life for themselves, the tree was cleverly redesigned. In fact, it's architectural elements are detailed and quite beautiful. The Imagineering team did leave a tribute of sorts to its former inhabitant, many actually. I won't reveal there whereabouts, but rest assured there will be some wonderfully nostalgic music playing for old time climbers.






Late addition as of November 2013: Walt Disney Imagineering decides to add some Christmas cheer in an overlay of the Jungle Cruise. Here's the poster they chose to release to promote it.

Until the Imagineers figure out how to squeeze more thrills into Adventureland, this is the end of our look at Disneyland's attraction posters for this most exotic of the park's areas. Next up on our list, my favorite land in all of Disneyland: New Orleans Square. Just its existance proves once again that change will always happen- and sometimes its even for the better!

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 17, 2010

Goodbye to the Disney Report

Beginning the day with some sad news: Aaron Johnston at the wonderful Disney Report has decided to call it a day! Not only was the Report one of my daily visits, Aaron is just an all around nice guy who had a love for all things Disney. We wish him God's best as he pursues the other parts of his life. I'm sure there is much good ahead. Maybe, one day our friend will return!

December 16, 2010

Welcome to the World

There are few things more wonderful or more miraculous than the birth of a baby! Welcome to the world, Gabe. You are already loved by your Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and all your aunts and uncles. What a gift you are to us! Welcome to the world, little big guy... we are already in love with you!

December 14, 2010

Why My Next Walt Disney World Vacation Can Wait

Seems like it will be many more years until I visit Walt Disney World again. This post isn't about bashing the place, how expensive it has gotten, or the lack of upkeep or new attractions. It is about what I'll miss in the meantime and why I've chosen to wait. The short answer is not all just lack of cash- it's also being willing to wait for what is coming.
I'm waiting for the new Fantasyland Forest to open in the Magic Kingdom. I love The Little Mermaid and can't wait for the attraction- even though it will debut at Disney California Adventure almost a year earlier. Fantasyland does need an extreme makeover, however, and the new plans look stunning. Ariel's Undersea Adventure and the Beauty and the Beast village setting will be worth the wait. It's about time that the Magic Kingdom finally gets a Fantasyland worthy of its beautiful castle.

While I wait for the day I can experience all this, I will certainly miss riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at night. When the trains seem to disappear into the darkness by the river, it is a thrill I just cannot get while riding the different and very fun version at Disneyland. Love those Country Bears- and I guess I won't be in Tokyo anytime soon, so I will have to return here. I'll also miss the beautiful neon of Tomorrowland while riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover or whatever its called. And what can beat the nighttime view of the Magic Kingdom from the California Grill at the outdoor viewing deck at the top of the Contemporary Resort?! (Nothing- it's one of my all time favorite Disney dining experiences!)

I'd like to be able to say I'm waiting for Epcot's new version of the once incredible Journey Into Imagination! (Wouldn't it be nice?) In the meantime, I'll pine for Test Track's thrills, the majesty of viewing Spaceship Earth, wandering into the attractions at the Land, and of course, just strolling World Showcase after dark. While Innovention and Energy bores me, I do love Turtle Talk and Soarin', but with all the cloning of attractions in the States, I can find those on my next trip to California. Certainly, the ambiance is much different at Epcot than at California Adventure- not nearly as breathtaking and elegant- but when I need a ride fix, well, you know how it works. Dining almost anywhere in World Showcase is still enjoyable after all these years, and I never tire of Illuminations!
Hitting the beach as well as the lobby at the Polynesian Village remains one of our Walt Disney World traditions. It is still as beautiful as it was the first (and second and fifth and tenth) time I saw it. Viewing the castle at night from the shores of the resort - lined with lit tiki torches- just makes me ooze with a peaceful sense of calm. Of course, a quick monorail ride away, and I can be back at the parks- if you can get me off that beach chair- and pry that tropical drink away from me!

Although Disney's Hollywood Studios needs a lot of work, as does the very beautiful but very undernourished Animal Kingdom, each contains a couple of my very favorite attractions found in any Disney park: the original and best Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest! Unbeatable thrills!


At the Studios, the dining options are fun-filled even though the attractions are few. At the Animal Kingdom, the rich, thick, exotic, atmosphere almost makes up for the lack of attractions. Yet, both are beautiful places for leisurely walks soaking up the surroundings. I'll gladly put off a trip to return when that Monsters Inc. coaster finally happens- and if I ever see either Australia or any other land debut in the 4th park, well, I'll just have to go! Until then, I'll be ok to wait it out a few more years. Besides, I'll have an almost entirely new park to experience in California come the end of 2012.

Dinner at the Wilderness Lodge can be duplicated in restaurants in Denver or even at the Grand Californian, although admittedly, Boma does not exist here. We love Typhoon Lagoon, eating at Gloria Estefan's Bongo's Cuban Cafe, and wandering the hotels on the property. Even seeing what remains of Pleasure Island.
Offsite, there is much to do! The beaches are an hour or so away, and there is nothing Disneymade that matches the beauty of the waves hitting the white sands of Florida. Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey is a very strong pull, but I am happy to combine it with my next trip to Walt Disney World. By then, the crowds at Islands of Adventure should thin out a bit, and I'll be able to also get in mutiple rides on the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman. I will miss having two pretty good theme parks right down the street from my Disney favorites. There's also many places here in the States and overseas to keep me busy.

What I'll miss and why I'll wait will only make me enjoy my next trip all the more. In the meantime, there's a whole big world out there- and I've got a lot of living to do!
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

December 11, 2010

Coming Soon!

Wait until you see what the Insights and Sounds blog has coming in the next few days! More attraction posters, more concept art, more music reviews- just more of the things you love and come to this blog for! Stay tuned- and keep watching!

December 8, 2010

No Big Thrill

Pending all the funding coming into place, it seems like Orlando will finally get the Six Flags styled park some coaster enthusiasts have wanted for years. Will Orlando Thrill Park give the other theme parks in the area some serious competition? My guess is a resounding "no" and here's why.

From Circus World to Splendid China, theme parks in the theme park capital of the world have come and gone over the years. Raw steel roller coasters are just another theme, another gimmick- and the park would appeal to a limited market.

Parents bringing children to Orlando most likely will pass by a park they can find close to home. Those with teens in tow will find their thrills at Universal Orlando or even at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Most adults traveling without younger ones will choose Islands of Adventure, Epcot, or even the Magic Kingdom.

Take a quick lesson from South Carolina's Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach- the concept is dead. Orlando's local tourism market is not like that of Anaheim and Disneyland. Only a handful of places will survive as time goes on, Cedar Point being one of them. But that park is an institution that has survived decades of economic ups and downs.

What's a park developer to do? If they truly want to capture a thrill market, folks like Disney could add a bundle to the bottom line by spreading out the wealth with new thrill attractions with terrific stories, appealing to more folks than a bare steel ride ever will. Think Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest, or even the much less themed Rock N Rollercoaster. If you are Universal, a few more attractions on par with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will do the trick.

Most likely, the Orlando Thrill Park will open and close within a season or two. Disney will sit back, content with Fantasyland Forest, and Universal will again take the lead by adding more to Harry's World. As the song goes, the times they are a changing, and the real thrills will come from watching the transformation of the parks take place- or not.

December 6, 2010

650lb Virgin Revisited

What ever happened to the "650 lb Virgin"? David Smith (above left) is the young man that was miraculously transformed by his hard work with the coaching of Chris Powell.
At the beginning of this amazing transformation, David was direly in need of help.
Even after his weight loss, surgeons had to work hard to remove excess skin. Beyond the total transformation, something great also occurred: a deep friendship and a new business "Reshape the Nation".


It is the epitome of the great American Success Story. For a nation in midst of struggles, confusion, and a loss of identity, the story of David Smith inspires us to be better than we are! It all just goes to show that changing our ways as well as our words can lead to a better future.

(Note: If you have the photo credits, please pass them on and I will post them! Thanks.)

December 3, 2010

City of Lights

Can there be a city on earth as spellbinding as Paris? Between its beautiful streets, delightful neighborhoods and magnificent museums, I'd be hard pressed to find one that can hold a candle to it.

I ran across this photograph by an unknown photographer, and I was again in awe of the city I love. This was a view I had not seen until our second visit- and cannot wait to see it again. And at night, oh beautiful! The Eiffel Tower sparkles, with a cruise down the Seine the perfect way to see it. The sights are almost enough the make a visitor forget there is a Disneyland there.

December 2, 2010

Another Passports Travelogue

When I am in the mood for a thought provoking look at what makes Walt Disney World tick, Passport to Dreams Old and New happens to be towards the top of my list for some insightful examination of Imagineering design work. This month's post seems just as in depth and right on as the rest of what you'll find there. Wanna good read? Go here.

(Photo copyright the Passports blog.)

November 29, 2010

Rapunzel's Fine Form: Tangled Shines Brightly

Finally had the chance to see Tangled Saturday night. The quick and dirty answer to the question is "yes", this new Disney animated film is clearly worth your time. While Princess and the Frog was a much heralded return to traditional animation, and hopefully the start of the third generation of animation excellence, it was sadly not as well received as it should have been. Tangled shouldn't have this problem.

The Rapunzel fable was ripe for a great story by Disney. Any long time viewer of animated films would wonder how Disney could pull off yet another princess story and not repeat themselves. Surprisingly, there's only the slightest feel of deja vu at the end of the film. Everything else feels new.

The beautiful girl with the golden magical locks is only half the story, as her dashing counterpart Flynn Rider provides the male friendly action, giving the plot its excitement. Disney marketing may have changed the title to appeal to more male viewers, but in reality, it is a more accurate representation of screen time and story told. In fact, to its ultimate benefit, Tangled is filled with more action and better pacing than any Disney princess movie in recent memory. The previews would make you think the film is striving for a Shrek like ambiance, but this is actually a very traditional feeling film with one exception. Just a hint to those of you with small children: make sure you are there for the very beginning of the film. Flynn narrates the story and does it so quickly and covers so much turf, that the littler ones would need much explanation to understand the film. The same can be said for the ending wrap up to the story.


With any great film, where story is king, it takes terrifically engaging characters to pull it off. This time, it only takes three. Secondary characters are wisely few and are unimportant to the story. In the princess role, Mandy Moore is a great fit for the movie, her Rapunzel is at once youthful and charming. Beneath the obvious differences in storyline, parts of our heroine's personality remind me of a younger Belle of Beauty and the Beast, maybe even a bit of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. There's more depth to her love interest Flynn Rider than you'd first expect. His story unfolds at just the right time and pace. Zachary Levi gives him the perfect balance of brashness and vulnerability. Not a bad singing voice either.

The Disney Villainess, a staple of the genre. Mother Gothel is so well written, and she is so well played by Donna Murphy, that you almost expect her to redeem herself by the end of the film. Almost. This is Disney after all, and it would be a truly unexpected twist- and maybe a first- should an evil character repent and change their ways.

Due to the smart dialogue between she and Rapunzel, highlighted by the "I love you more/most" exchange - and a less than stellar song for her to sing as her centerpiece- Mother Gothel initially is less apparent the villain when compared to those before her. Even less obvious than Cinderella's stepmother Lady Tramaine or Beast's brute Gaston. When the exchange gets heated between she and Rapunzel, like almost any mother daughter relationship, it seems as if the two actually do love each other. This brings the film a true to life complexity that is rather bold, more akin to a Pixar animated film. There's a good moral to the story that shows people are not always what they first seem to be.

The animation of the film completes the package without overpowering it. Sleeping Beauty provided the most gorgeous background to any Disney animated film, but the characters seemed lost in that world. Here, the scenery is no less stunning, perhaps better and certainly more realistic, but the characters belong here and are not overpowered by the grandeur. (Watch the backgrounds in the movie closely. I think this is what Walt Disney World's new Fantasyland Forest should look like!) The landscapes are varied and traditionally rich looking. Such an accomplishment that I almost forgot this film was computer generated!

The character animation is very good, although at times Rapunzel's doe eyed look was a little too doe eyed. Computer generated humans are the shortfall of this tool and generally don't seem as warm to me as those drawn by hand. The work of Glen Keane is to be commended here as I could almost imagine he would press the animators for a more real look than those found in Toy Story, Up, or others. The film is all the better for his work.

Superbly executed chase scenes aside, when great characters meet stunning landscape meets great song, the result is Tangled's lantern scene. It is one of the finest moments in any Disney film in any era. Period. For this reason alone, go see the movie. There will be no in home screen large enough to capture its beauty. I won't ramble on here, although I could. It is that stunning.

Lastly, for a musical, I expected Mandy's singing to be wonderful, but it is only better than serviceable aside from her subtle and beautiful duet with Zachary Levi, "I See the Light", sung during the above mentioned scene. Maybe it was just the songs she was given to sing. The music itself may be the very reason I cannot give Tangled the A+ I'd like to. Alan Menken is a gifted man. The songs here are good, but this is far from his best work. I've long thought his strongest work ended with Howard Ashman's death, and sadly, this seems to prove me right.

If it is in fact true this is Disney's last animated fairy tale, which I think to say is a fairy tale itself, Tangled is the way to go out with style. The film is warm, funny, and unique. You won't leave the theater humming the songs, but you will leave thinking "Disney still has it!", and you'd be right.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 27, 2010

Paris, Pirates, and Plunder

It may be blasphemous to some old school fans of Walt Disney Imagineering, but in my opinion, the French version of Pirates of the Caribbean is the best of the bunch. Not only is Disneyland Paris the most beautiful Magic Kingdom park, many of the famous Disney "E Tickets" have been reimagined from scratch. Pirates is no exception.

After passing through the quite beautiful tropical fortress, our winding queue takes daring guests to the dock, where they depart on watercraft sailing by the lovely Blue Lagoon Restaurant. Rounding the bend, our boats take on an upward journey, ascending into the upper reaches of the attraction. Surprises are found on every turn, but here are a few: pirates swing overhead, some climbing up and over the town's protective walls, and stray cats float by, naking their temporary rescue on kegs of rum.

Beyond and below, we see a fierce battle taking place as one of the pirate ships is into port, and villagers are fighting for the life of their beloved town. Before we linger and watch for too long, we are discovered by the pirates, and craft plunges down right into the middle of the action! Now our high seas adventure truly begins- and it includes scenes not seen Stateside with an ending that is absolutely explosive. No more spoilers, you'll just have to ride it for yourself to see why I rank it Number 1...
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)