May 13, 2014

Odds and Ends: Disney and More

Where to begin? There's not enough at this point in time for a single topic post, but there is just enough for a variety of comments regarding Disney news and More. So, with apologies to my friend Alain Littaye...

A return to the name Polynesian Village Resort? Great move. Usually when Disney suits play on nostalgia, it is accompanied by lots of retro merchandise. It's a clever way to acknowledge the buying power of long term fans, make a few bucks, and take their eye off the fact most of the Walt Disney World property is much ado about nothing compared to Universal Orlando. A demolished waterfall lobby? Bad news- no question. The iconic center and heart of the resort is now under wraps. And it is a tragedy. Not like real human loss, but it is an aesthetic loss to be sure. Trader Sam's whatever-they-are-going-to-call-it. Um, ok. If it's a great retro 60's thing, it may work well. I'll wait to see it for myself.

Michael Jackson. A previously unreleased track, Love Never Felt So Good is really... good, almost great. And why shouldn't it be? Either version, with or without Justin Timberlake, sparkles. The production is top notch, but it is Michael's understated vocals that pull no punches and set it apart. Recorded after the Off the Wall sessions in 1983, it fits on that disc, and it is instantly better and more danceable than anything off Thriller.

The glut of Christian themed films leaves me mixed. Noah plays nothing like the Biblical truth. Heaven is for Real entices with a great story, and Son of God puts in a good word for Jesus. Yet, if you really want to know what God has to say about Himself and the state of mankind, pick up a Bible and begin with the book of John in the New Testament. Don't rely on someone else- do your own reading, your own research, and make up your mind on your own. Your choice for all eternity is on the line. 

After a brief visit to the Disneyland Resort as few weeks ago, I am convinced that the California Kingdom is in much better shape than its counterpart in Florida. The hotels and Downtown Disney looked terrific- especially the shopping area's new Starbucks- and just a quick peek into California Adventure shows it to be a park with much potential now that there's been an awakening of sorts with its extensive remodel. I didn't do into either park, but I can guarantee Disneyland's once majestic Tomorrowland is still well overdue for a revisioning. 

Back on the East Coast, I am loving the look of the new Lion King theater at Animal Kingdom. Not only does it belong in Africa as it has from the opening of the park, it looks appropriately authentic. Let's just hope the crowds don't overwhelm the area of this already underdeveloped, low attractioned, but exceedingly beautiful theme park. It has all the potential to be my favorite park in Florida. But let's be honest, however beautiful Avatar / Pandora might be, it will not be enough. Rivers of Light will be a nice addition as it allows guests to tour in the evenings when the parks are usually their most beautiful, yet it still needs something. More charm, more hidden little attractions, something.

After seeing the completed Seven Dwarf's Mine Train and the effect is has on the entirely opened New Fantasyland, I am starting to think this Magic Kingdom may eventually surpass Disneyland in the beauty category. Not the attraction count or quality, not the shop and restaurant options, but the physical look of the place. The vast expanse of concrete that once was is now a beautiful, almost mesmerizing piece of placemaking. Even though there's fewer dark rides, the foliage is lush, and the opportunity to enter the worlds of Belle, Gaston, Ariel and Eric is hard to pass up. There's no New Orleans Square here and Liberty Square has lost some of its unique offerings, but Tomorrowland is much more cohesive in theme and execution- and it has the Transit Authority. However,  Adventureland is a mixed bag, but its made up in Frontierland by no pirates on Tom Sawyer Island and the venerable favorite, Country Bear Jamboree

The current state of Sports and Politics generally leaves me disgusted, so I'd best go back to the realm of entertainment...

The Voice's on the show's namesake are much more gifted this year than most of those found on American Idol. I'll miss Shakira, and I don't get Adam Levine's new blond do, but the judges are much more engaging than the three on Idol. I do like them individually, but the chemistry is not there.

Why The Voice can't build a superstar like Idol can is something I do not understand, but they have yet to produce a Carrie Underwood or even a Chris Daughtry. Or even an Elliott Yamin. (And what is he doing, by the way? The man can sing.) There's just not much else to enjoy on television, and Downton Abbey isn't back for another seven months. It's good. It's time to be outside anyway. 

There is one good thing on television these days- the commercials for the Harry Potter expansion at Universal Studios Florida. I've seen exactly one film and read none of the books, but my wife and I agree that our next visit to Florida will mean two days away from Disney so we can visit both the Studios and Islands of Adventure. The Mouse had better get going. Universal has upped the ante by adding attraction after attraction in a speed that Disney only uses for building out timeshares and new restaurants at Epcot

Oh, my beloved Epcot! What a shadow of its former glory. The Future World paint scheme does reveal how out of touch the suits are with the purpose of the park, trading its former glory for the latest trends in Disney films. Ratatouille in France? I don't believe it for a moment. Another bakery perhaps, but an attraction in World Showcase? Nope. Restaurants and bars are all they build there these days. And speaking of Ratatouille, what is it with building a French themed attraction in Paris? Isn't that akin to building a California themed park in California? ;)

Well, enough ranting. I'm going to go back and enjoy my family. Time passes much too quickly, and I have other places to explore. Our next trip will be to Switzerland and France- without a Disney castle in sight. I cannot wait!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Most photographs by Mark Taft.)

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