April 29, 2013

Rating the Latest Attractions from Disney Imagineering

Could it be? Are we on the verge of a renaissance at Walt Disney Imagineering? There's certainly some new magic spread around in these brand new attractions, but the answer to this question depends on which park and resort you examine!  

Let's look at some of these, and I'll give them a letter grade- just like in school. A few of these, I have seen for myself. Others, well, I'll have to go by a combination of Disney propaganda, on line videos, and just a bit of subjective observation. And lastly, I will not review shows or parades. Still interested? C'mon, everybody, here we go...

Hong Kong Disneyland is on most theme park fans' mind right now, as it's multi-year expansion concludes, so let's start there:

Toy Story Land- You'd think a theme park land focused on the vastly popular movies of the same name would show immense creativity and flair. You'd be wrong. In either Disney Studios Paris or Hong Kong Disneyland, the execution of the concept falls flat, reading just like it is- souped up carnival rides. There's little to be found that's clever. So different than Mickey's Toon Town at Disneyland. Interestingly, Toy Story Mania (or Midway Mania at California Adventure) is not found in either park. That attraction ranks a C+ at best. The rest of the area, I'd give a D. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Grizzly Gulch- The Runaway Mine Cars certainly earn their A rating. Every on-line video seems to show an attraction that packs a first class punch. Take one part Expedition: Everest, one part California Screamin' and throw in huge doses of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for atmosphere, and you've got a family friendly thrill ride worth its wait. Even with its namesake peak stolen from California Adventure, cute but mischievous Audio-Animatronic bears and a great thrill provide a dynamic storyline. The rest of this water-logged Frontierland is fairly boring, earning a B- rating at best.



Mystic Point- Almost as if to punctuate the build out plan, Disney Imagineers saved the best for last. Taking on an original look at Disney's chestnut Haunted Mansion, Hong Kong's Mystic Manor is so excellently done, it may in fact become the centerpiece of the entire park. Who can resist a mesmerizing adventure in an exotic location, with enchanted objects, and a unique ride system guaranteeing return riders? This stunning attraction is everything the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom should be but isn't. A+

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom reveals its own new land, a Fantasyland that never was. It's full of different flavors and experiences, even if it is only partially complete.

Let me say this up front- there's plenty to like in the New Fantasyland if you're satisfied by environments rich with detail, varied textures, and plenty of first class dining and shopping options. That piece ranks a clear, strong A from the fans appreciative of what the Imagineers built into this revamp of a tired space. When we take a close look at each individual attraction, it doesn't look all that great...

Enchanted Tales with Belle. If we look at this as solely a new generation meet and greet, it's a pretty solid A.  There's a compelling story, rich detail, beloved characters effectively brought to life through Audio-Animatronics and wonderful special effects. However, since Disney is looking at this story space as an attraction, I will as well. Therefore, the rating drops to a shaky C, on par with other smaller attractions found at the flagship kingdom.



Journey of the Little Mermaid- As discovered by many others before me, there was much more potential for an "E Ticket" attraction than what actually materialized. Smaller budget or was it smaller mindsets of those in charge, thinking this downsized attraction could compete with Universal's Harry Potter? Either way, Ariel deserves better than this. Although the queue stuns, the attraction itself rates a B, reminding us of what could have been. Another missed opportunity.

The last piece now opened is Storybook Circus.  Much like the rest of the reimagined land, the attractions are secondary to the atmosphere. A revamped Dumbo and kids' coaster earn a C, but exploring the area is bound to make me think more was planned and less was achieved. 

Let's move on to the West Coast, where Anaheim's second Disney park completed its own multi-year "expansion".

California Adventure has seen its own renaissance of sorts, turning an ugly duckling into an emerging swan. As with Florida's Fantasyland redo, some parts satisfy and others fall short. But the effort has done its trick. Turnstiles are spinning like never before. 

Buena Vista Street- Detail upon detail creates an opening act every bit as successful as Disneyand Paris' Main Street. That is saying a lot! The scale just feels right with Disneyand right next door, providing a sense of place and charm the park sorely needed. It's an instant classic- warm, inviting, and Disney-esque. I downgraded the original A rating to an A-, mostly due to the inclusion of only one attraction, the Red Car Trolleys

Paradise Pier Redo- Sorry, Imagineers and pencil boys, this quick and dirty carnival is much better then its predecessor, but the land is still only worthy of a C rating.  With the B rating of Mermaid, a tepid remake of a few carnival rides, and a C+ arcade shoot 'em up, only the evening show of World of Color makes the land a must see. The area that is a success is the revamp of the eateries and the buildings that house them. Elegant and very worthy of what the old school Imagineers would have built. 



Cars Land- I'd be a harsh fool intent on just dissing Disney if I gave this land and its premier attraction, Radiator Springs Racers anything but an A+. Disney has not created anything this spectacular since Tokyo Disney Sea. Sure, two smaller attractions round out the land, but the environment is so rich, so convincing, so mesmerizing, that it satisfies as well as an afternoon in Disneyland's New Orleans Square. Every nook and cranny has to be seen to be believed. Worthy of a trip west to see it for yourself!

Well, that about does it for this round of the Rating of Disney's recent attractions. If I know anything about the suits, or at least the accountants, these parks will remain stagnant for awhile. But the future could be bright if the Imagineers are allowed to really dig in and do what they do best.

(Photographs and art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 28, 2013

42 Hits a Home Run

Generally, I am not a big fan of sports hero stories, although I have succumbed at times to the hoopla surrounding a particularly good movie. 42 stands among the best.

Harrison Ford - I am a huge fan- has never been better, redeeming himself for making Indiana Jones 4 and that awful script. This true life "buddy" movie of sorts belongs to newcomer Chadwick Boseman. He is incredible as baseball's Jackie Robinson

Everyone knows the story about how the two men partnered to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. What they don't know is what lies beneath- and that is what gives this film its power. Go see it- worth the money, the time, and the emotional energy.

April 26, 2013

Tomorrow, Science, and the Future at Disneyland


While I am taking my dear sweet time finishing up my series on Disneyland Attraction Posters and the last ones, (a look at the posters for Tomorrowland),  I thought I'd give you a little taste of the future circa the 1960s.

Above is a wonderful piece of Imagineering artwork for a new attraction, Adventures in Science. Pretty cool, huh? What's every bit as cool- and certainly equally retro in approach- is the attraction's proposed entrance, seen below. (Sorry for the minute size.)


Perhaps fittingly, the concept never really appeared as originally planned, and instead transformed into the beloved Adventure Thru Inner Space, where guests were miniaturized. (Your spelling may vary!)

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 25, 2013

Food and Merchandise Rule the Disney Parks Blog

Is it just me or does the Disney Parks Blog seem to be taking a definite turn towards pushing the dining and merchandise options in the parks? Seems more often than not, there's a plug for something new to buy, some dining experience, or even some new place to travel with either the Vacation Club, the Cruise Line, or such. There's less and less about what is actually happening at the parks themselves and more and more about movie promotion. I'm seeing a continual de-emphasis on the things we love about the parks to start with and why we go.

Of course, this just reflects the lack of continual "plussing" to the Disney Company's main resort: Walt Disney World.  Sure, there's some new and relatively minor additions. Yet, even the "largest expansion ever of the Magic Kingdom", the New Fantasyland puts its focus on dining and shopping versus good, old fashioned attractions. And in the bigger scheme of things, well, that's just greedy and evil.

April 23, 2013

Mystic Manor at California Adventure

In the realm of new and coming attractions, I am most interested in Hong Kong Disneyland's new Mystic Manor. (The attraction has "soft opened".) This new take on the Haunted Mansion seems to have all the makings of a classic: intriguing storyline, interesting characters, and the necessary tie-in to merchandise to please the Disney accountants. 

With just a bit of tweaking, I really think this could be a perfect fit for California Adventure. The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California could be just the right inspiration and tie right into the California theme without being a stretch.  Not a clone, an enhancement.

Imagine a queue that lets you "explore" the house while you wait to board the attraction vehicle. Isn't that something every fan of the Haunted Mansion or Phantom Manor would love to do? Who wouldn't want to wander the halls, discover some of the rooms on our own? With these few additions, the Imagineers could thereby extending the length and drawing power of the actual ride. Or even create two different experiences within one location.

It all could be just the right attraction for those who crave something unique without having to board The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I imagine its placement just off to the side of Paradise Pier, drawing guests to an underused area of the park. An instant landmark making use of available space that also blocks out some ugly sight lines that still remain.

With the official opening of the attraction just weeks away, but a great video here, we'll soon get to see for ourselves if the Imagineers have created a masterpiece or if fans receive it as just another attraction that's "good enough".

New Thought:
Per the comments below, what about a new take on the idea? Perhaps a magician and we tour his home a la the old Magic Island and Magic Castle dinner / entertainment / attractions that used to be in Southern California?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


April 22, 2013

Disney's Animal Kingdom at 15 Years: Much Ado About Nothing


On this day, I had planned to write Part Seven of my popular series on the creation and evolution of Disney's Animal Kingdom - A True Life Adventure, but it seemed to me that even on this 15th year anniversary of the park, perhaps Part Seven of this series should be entitled, "The De-Evolution of Disney's Animal Kingdom".

In 2006, the park triumphantly opened Expedition: Everest and Finding Nemo the Musical. Since that point in time, absolutely nothing new other than a premium upgrade experience of the standard tour and a lot of talk about Avatar. Oh wait, nets under the falling limbs on the Tree of Life. A broken Yeti. The closing of a very poor animal show with Pocahantas. Minor tinkering with the park's premier attraction Kilimanjaro Safaris.

The once majestic park with so much potential just sits there. Still. Doesn't matter how much the suits at Disney trumpet its success. It's remains an eroding park, falling apart one limb at a time.

April 21, 2013

Disney and More Debuts Mystic Manor Video

Alain does it again! The wonderful Disney and More blog gives us the first look at Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Manor with a full length video of the attraction. It seems as if this hybrid Haunted Mansion, Phantom Manor and Indiana Jones Adventure is an instant masterpiece! Go here to see it! Or try this one with the preshow and you can see additional details!

April 20, 2013

Upward Climb

At this stage of my life, all I really want to know without a doubt is that my children are giving 100% in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Although this photo was taken a long time ago, it reminds me of the journey our youngest son has taken in living out his faith. We had lunch yesterday, and I left so encouraged with regards to where he is. Does a father's heart good!

April 19, 2013

How Mercy Looks From Here

Glad to have Amy Grant back with a new disc, How Mercy Looks From Here. It's due in stores on May 14. Featuring music with the likes of James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and hubby Vince Gill, it has all the makings of a significant contribution to the music world.

April 18, 2013

Mercy



Lord Jesus, we mourn for our country, but we know that you are in control of all things- even if we do not understand, we trust you. Have mercy on us, and let us seek you wholeheartedly!

April 17, 2013

Superman Flies

From the trailer, it looks like Henry Cavill might be a pretty good Superman. Certainly Amy Adams looks to be a better choice than any other Lois Lane before. But there's more to a good Superman flick than just two leads.

Will the story be compelling? Will the action be fun to watch and perpetuate everything a hero movie should be? Will we be challenged to live differently? To stretch beyond what we think we are capable of? These things make a blockbuster that captures our hearts. 

There's lots of heroes right now in our own world- like in Boston- and its the tales of their personal involvement in the midst of tragedy that inspire us to be more than we currently are.

Yes, the world's in need of a hero and a bit of an escape. I hope you're like me and that your faith doesn't rest in the tall tales of men...

April 16, 2013

An American in Paris: Day Four


Alright, I'll admit it: I cheated with this first photo, since I took it on Day Two, when we visited Notre Dame. Given it is written in the Disney font, I couldn't resist. It perfectly captures how I feel about this city with a special Disney flair.

It was a long but glorious Day Three spent at Disneyland Paris. I absolutely love the place and always depart with a mixture of thankfulness and sadness. Sadness as I know it could always be my last, but thankfulness that I could spend another day there due to God's goodness to me. 

We slept in until the very last minute, rushing to shower and check out. Walked to the shopping center at Val d'Europe for a quick late breakfast bite and some strong French coffee. Then it was back on the RER train to our motel by the airport- and back to the City of Lights for our last day.

Our top priority was the Musee d'Orsay, the old train station filled to the brim with amazing sculpture and the incredible work from the Impressionists. My favorite works of art are found here, and every visit to Paris must include a stop.


To call the museum building a converted train station is to do it a severe injustice. It is a work of art unto itself! At about the 5th floor, guests find a nice little cafe with a cracked glass mirror that elegantly and artistically reflects the gorgeous and large clock found on the back wall.


On Sundays, entrance to most of the museums is free. Easy on the budget but difficult as crowds are packed- absolutely packed, making leisurely touring next to impossible. No matter, we were not going to miss a visit.


Following our tour, we took a rest and ate at this little cafe shown above. The service was fine but the diners were a bit rushed mentally. We had places to go, but the elegant surroundings and the delicious quiche were both meant to be savored. 

Exiting the museum, it was starting to get dark, but this didn't stop us from going a bit of exploring. Our last destination would be Monmarte, a most beautiful section of town. The artists colony of Paris.



We were not disappointed! The decorations, the beautiful blue lights that sparkled in the night sky, the festive spirit of Christmas everywhere we looked. Lovely. Just lovely.



Are these too may photos? I think not! But then, I am the photographer, and it was our little getaway- an unexpected, totally surprising little gift from God in the midst of a business trip. Who would have guessed?



Sneaking into a little chocolate shop for our last Parisian treat of the evening, we stumbled upon a glorious chocolate version of the Eiffel Tower
Of course, we walked out with a few tiny morsels to share. The perfect way to reward ourselves for walking all evening.

It was getting later and later, but we chose to avoid the obvious. It was time to go back to our hotel, as we were departing tomorrow for the business portion of my trip. One last look behind us for a quick shot of Sacre Couer


We did not stop to see my favorite landmark as we had on each previous night. I now regret it. But this photo is a perfect way to end my four day trip report. The memories I have of this trip are among my most treasured. It was an anniversary trip to remember.

(All photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

April 15, 2013

Miss you, Bill!

It's been ten years that you've left us for heaven. I still miss you, Bill, and your wonderful, funny personality. Our community has not been the same since! God's taken good care of Terry and the boys...

Off to See the Wizard

Due to an extended business trip overseas, I was away during the time Oz the Great and Powerful premiered in the States. Finally the chance to see the film surfaced, and I jumped at the opportunity.

It's not the perfect film as much of the acting is slightly more than average. Rachel Weisz comes off the most successfully of the major characters, but James Franco does eventually win viewers over with his combination of goofy charm and all the slime-filled posturing worthy of a televangelist. 

The real star of the film is the atmosphere created. Old Kansas in black and white perfectly sets the stage for what lies ahead. Once we finally see Oz, it is a glorious land of thrilling landscapes and amazing color and texture. Whether or not a recreation by the Disney Imagineers belongs in Disneyland is up for debate, but if done to the fullest, it would at least be a fantasyland come true.

I'll give the next film in the series a chance to be even better than this one, which could have been great. Clearly a "B" rated film in an "A" quality package. Worth a view on the big screen, however.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 14, 2013

The Beautiful One


Wonderful so wonderful is Your unfailing love
Your cross is spoken mercy over me
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart can fully know
How glorious, how beautiful You are

Beautiful one I love
Beautiful one I adore
Beautiful one my soul must sing

Powerful so powerful Your glory fills the skies
Your mighty works displayed for all to see
The beauty of Your majesty awakes my heart to sing
How marvelous, how wonderful You are

You opened my eyes to Your wonders of anew
You captured my heart with this love
‘Cause nothing on earth is as beautiful as You

Jesus

(As sung by Jeremy Camp. Written by Tim Hughes.)

April 13, 2013

Design Detail: Le Curious Giraffe at Disneyland Paris


Our recent trip to Disneyland Paris resulted in about 400 photos. It's such a beautiful place! It's not restricted to the attractions however. The shops and restaurants are just as beautifully designed. The Imagineers spared no expense in order to make sure they got exactly what they wanted and to guarantee the guests did they same.

In Adventureland, Le Curious Giraffe, has unfortunately started stocking fairly generic items. Just like most of the park. Yet, the shops itself remains very, very charming. The namesake makes a surprise appearance by sticking his head through the roof, coyly watching guests as they search shelves for their treasures. It's a nice little unexpected treat. If I recall, at one point, he was a limited movement Audio-Animatronic. Can anyone tell me if this was in fact the case?

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

April 12, 2013

Buddy Jesus and Abortion

Gotta say- this article really gets to me! I saw this on face book, and I just had to read it. You may not know why.

You see, a couple of women in my extended family have had abortions. And their lives have been filled with a sadness they never really get rid of. 

I should have been an aborted child. My Mom was 16 and pregnant; my father 18 and not wanting to be a father. Thank God, they chose life instead! (And after 50 plus years of marriage, they are one of the happiest couples I know.)

Now, I do know some women who have chosen to let God do a great work in them, and even though they never forget their choice, they have found forgiveness and freedom. Isn't that just like Him? That's the God I choose to serve. We're all broken in some way, and we all have done things we know are not right.

The other ironic thing about all this- it's hard for us to admit there really is a child in that womb. So, we justify it away and think our decision will affect no one else- but it always does. On one hand, we teach our kids that each one is special and of value, and on the other, we teach them that prenatal life is just a blob. Does anyone else see this as a strange thing?

I am always pleasantly surprised when a pro-abortion advocate gets pregnant and then, within a few weeks of pregnancy, sees their child via medical technology. It's hard to deny that really is an active little one made in the image of God. 

The heart of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, was strictly out of love. It covers all sins and each is equal. Even this one which grieves me the most.

April 9, 2013

Shagtastic!

Josh Agle, otherwise known as the artist Shag, creates some of my favorite Tiki inspired artwork. Naturally, he is the perfect choice to design objects of art to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland

With a blizzard in Denver, just a look at this beautiful piece makes me a little bit sunnier...

April 8, 2013

Goodbye, Annette!

Another beloved icon from the Walt Disney era passed away today. Annette Funicello, beloved by Walt and millions of fans, died of complications from Multiple Sclerosis. From all accounts, she was a lovely woman. May she rest in peace.

April 7, 2013

A Gathering of Friends Old and New

What a wonderful way to start a Sunday morning! A gathering of friends old and new. Adventures galore and more to come!

April 6, 2013

Voice Trumps Idol...Again

American Idol or The Voice? Watching both shows via on demand, I just have to say "Voice Beats Idol!" Shakira and Usher join Blake Shelton and Adam Levine to create the most playful group of coaches since Season One of Idol. Can't stop watching...

April 5, 2013

Losing Taste

Becoming bored by Disney and losing taste for its marketing games. I think the last blow was the addition of a new restaurant for Epcot when the place, World Showcase in particular, is needing new attractions. It's becoming increasingly clear that extracting dollars - not providing a classic experience- is the new goal of the suits. The New Fantasyland looks beautiful but falls short in too many ways. Maybe it is just an East Coast thing. California Adventure's new Cars Land delivers what it promises. The crowds and revenue are flowing in.

April 3, 2013

Happy Anniversary!

Our anniversary gift to ourselves...

April 2, 2013

Friends

This one is for my records and for my family in years to come.

April 1, 2013

Epcot Changes Name to Restaurot

Spice Road Table may be the name of the new Moroccan inspired water front eatery at Epcot, but the bigger news is the name change of this Walt Disney World park. With so many new places to eat in World Showcase and the lack of new attractions, the Disney Company finally revealed the park's new name: Restaurot.
For the price of park admission, guests are given the chance to reserve a place at the restaurants in order to pay once again for their meals. Impressive game plan at increasing revenue. 

The park name change may be an April Fool's joke, but the plan for Spice Road Table is not. Nor is this the end of turning what once was a groundbreaking experiment in Future thinking into another celebration of consumerism. "Rot" is in this park's present and future.

The Day After


Today, the day after Easter, these words from Jesus are ringing in heart: 
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”