February 29, 2016

Beauty and the Beast: An Update from Around the World

Special Update on Beauty and the Beast and all that is up and coming. Notes from around the world, but let's start where it all began. The animated film.

Iconic scene from the film that started it all.

In 1991, Walt Disney Pictures released the animated film classic. The only animated release ever to be nominated for Oscar's Best Picture award. It did not win, losing out to Silence of the Lambs, but it did become an enduring and beloved classic for the ages. This amazing film also continued a new winning streak for the newly revitalized  Disney animation; a streak that would continue with Aladdin and The Lion King.

Clearly not one of the gang.

The title may begin with Beauty, the strong willed heroine animated by the gifted James Baxter, but under the artistic direction of animator Glen Keane, Beast became the central character of the film. Audiences could not take their eyes off the screen at his every appearance. Absolutely captivated by the beast! For very good reason, Beast captured his creator's heart as well.

A force to be reckoned with.

On animating Beast for the film, the beloved Disney animator says,

"This is the moment- this is what I was born for...  
As I started animating it,  for me it's really an expression of my spiritual life. There's a verse in the Bible that says 'If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things have become new... Because it is really about an inner spiritual transformation that's taking place with the Beast. I saw it as a parable of my life."


Advanced concepts of Beast.

Who could ever learn to love a beast?


Fully human and transformed by love.

There are a few pieces posted here, but if you want to see Glen's great artwork in other films as well, click here: The Art of Glen Keane . Or go right to Glen's website here. (Not to steal Glen's thunder, but just a bit of self-disclosure: I very much related to this same transforming power of Jesus. A broken and lost teen, I was totally chaned by God's love as well when I let Jesus in my life. This is also why I so associate with the Beast and love this masterpiece!)


Apart from her world.

Belle was a beauty from the moment we met her. Lovely, smart, and incredibly out of touch with her little village. Her love for books made her unique in the cannon of Disney princesses, setting a new trend of focused, intelligent young women who were not content to just wait for the man of her dreams to come along.


Human again!

The film and its love story found an audience. Actually, it fully captivated an audience, at once fully putting to form the fairy tale told for generations and by citizens of different cultures all over the world. Much like Ariel becoming the universally loved mermaid, Nemo the symbol for the humble clownfish and Olaf for snowmen, there would only be one Belle and  Beast from now on. Try as they may, other versions of the story could not compare to the Disney version of the tale.

Not being fools, the suits of the Walt Disney Company wanted to leverage the popularity of the film into other divisions of the company. The quickest and easiest place to begin was in the parks.

Beauty and the Beast- Live on Stage at the Studios park.

Debuting very quickly after the success of the film, the live stage production at Disney-MGM Studios, brought nothing new to the story. It was designed to capitalize on the success of the film and give families something else to do in a park that did not offer a full range of attractions to fill the day. We'd seen it twice over two different trips, years apart. The second time, the costuming and sets looked old and tired. Certainly not befitting such a wonderful film.


A fitting smash, I would say!

Disney's success on stage with the film adaption was much stronger once it left the theme parks. Beginning in the mid-90's, we were blessed to see the theater show twice and from excellent seats no less. As expected, the Beast transformation scene at the end was stunning as was the Be Our Guest musical number. Surprisingly, it was the rousing, beer mug clinking tavern song Gaston bringing  the house to its feet. I'd venture to say it was the success of the stage adaption that kept the ball rolling when it came to creating new ways to tell a tale as old as time.

Stage shows at the parks and Broadway productions were just the beginning of bringing it to the world. But what about theme park attractions and not just stage shows?


Who would have guessed this building would host 
something related to Beauty and the Beast?

Trust me. It looks better in person.
Photograph copyright yours truly.

As rightly criticized as it was on opening day, Disney's California Adventure did have one of the first Beauty and the Beast themed attractions of sorts. An interactive display in a very unique environment.


Beast's Library at California Adventure.
Photo copyright Disney by Mark.

The Sorcerer's Workshop included a visit to the Beast's library, complete with flashes of lightning and a changing portrait of our hero. It was relatively smaller and not true to scale than what the film portrayed, but at least it was the beginning of something beyond stage shows for the parks. Pretty soon, the film came to the world, Walt Disney World, in a big architectural way! 

Overview of the Beauty and the Beast mini-land
as part of the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World.

The long neglected Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom was ripe for a transformation all its own. The space once occupied by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea lacked substance, screaming for creative redevelopment. For quite awhile, the Imagineers working on the New Fantasyland project for Walt Disney World thought they'd done a fine job keeping it all under wraps away from the public eyes and ears. Of course, insiders leaked concept art- or was it intentionally leaked at they tried to overcome the smashing success of Harry Potter at Universal Resort Orlando and its growing Islands of Adventure?

Entrance to the restaurant. From concept art to reality.

Certainly budget and space were major considerations for both the suits and the Imagineering geniuses in charge of the project. Going back to the Golden Age of Animation II, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid would form the artistic cornerstone of what was planned. Keep in mind, this plan was created long before the unexpected and phenomenal success of Frozen, or the plans would have changed significantly, perhaps even stopping them from shoehorning an attraction in the World Showcase Norway pavilion at Epcot.

The Be Our Guest Restaurant would become
the true centerpiece of the mini-land.
So much for an "E Ticket" level attraction
when you can pay big bucks to eat!

Maurice's cottage under construction.
Photo copyright The Walt Disney Company.

Constructing the absolutely beautiful village addition in the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World and the must-see Be Our Guest restaurant was the first step, but these choices reflect the state of how the theme parks are viewed by the Walt Disney Company cash hungry executives. Think for a moment: The area's main draw was designed to be the beautiful and very expensive waiter service restaurant, Be Our Guest, not a& Disney designed groundbreaking immersive attraction. Some cry "foul" for pointing it out, saying guests need more places to eat. However, I counter with the fact that so many spaces in the Magic Kingdom are already underused or shuttered.

Would New Fantasyland be another example of placing shopping and eating above offering world class attractions as was California Adventure at opening? You wouldn't think so based on the absolute steamroller marketing machine of the Company. They created expectations beyond what they would actually deliver. After all, this is the same leadership that relegated Tangled to a set of restrooms!


2012 Overhead construction view from Scott Keating.


A front view of construction.
Photo from The Walt Disney Company.

Be Our Guest is a work of art to be sure, but where is the attraction which enables guests to be in the film? It is undoubtably a missed opportunity! When park goers ask staff if the entrance to the restaurant is a gateway to the nonexistent ride, something is seriously amiss. The public expects and deserves better- and has experienced it in decades past.


It's a quiet village.

Enchanted Tales with Belle is an attraction dedicated to the film, albeit a walk through one that also doubles as a meet and greet. It's an adventure for parents and kids (and fans) alike, beginning with a visit to father Maurice's cottage before magically finding yourself inside Beast's castle to meet Belle and an incredible mini Audio-Animatronic Lumiere. There are places the whole experience falters a bit, but these smaller charming little touches are what separates Disneyland from its younger sibling kingdoms. I'm glad to see them here even if there is more they could have done with such an important milestone of a film.

From outside Maurice's cottage...

... to Beast's castle...

... to meeting Belle.

Of course, it would not be Disney without an eatery for folks not able to afford premier dining or those who do not like to plan their vacations far enough in advance to get reservations.

A gift from Gaston to the town.

     
Brew and Meat! And more meat! And antlers!

Butterbeer, err I mean, LeFou's Brew, is the family favorite drink on tap at Gaston's Tavern. Lunch size portions of meat are available as well, making this place a quick stop for a bite while admiring all the trophies and perhaps sitting in the iconic chair from the film. It's a bit of a "boy area" in a land designed mostly for females.

Gifts and more in a quaint little shop.

Of course you can buy the movie there! Did you expect less?

Shopping with a Beauty and the Beast emphasis is not overlooked. Is it not about time to be able to buy a Mrs. Potts and Chip teapot set along with a DVD of the film?



Beast of an ad for the New Fantasyland!



A "Signature Image" on the official
Disney Parks Blog for promotion.

Just in time for a December 2012 opening, the very media savvy Walt Disney Company went all out to advertise their brand New Fantasyland. 

Great web content was created to launch the expansion.

The interactive web map.

The web presence was incredibly impressive and took viewers into the Fantasyland Forest to preview some of the attractions. Beyond the internet, you just couldn't watch television without being aware something big was new at the Magic Kingdom. 

An impressive Audio-Animatronic Lumiere
in Enchanted Tales with Belle.
(From Tampa Bay News.)

Disney suits expected the New Fantasyland to be a based-loaded home run. When visitors came expecting more than a charming village setting from the film, they left disappointed by the lack of cutting edge attractions. However, those guests loving the richly detailed atmosphere straight from the movie were more than pleased by what the Imagineers had created.  




Pass through these gates to dine in the castle ballroom!
Photograph copyright Len Yokoyama.

By opening day, it had been 20 years since the film became an international hit. When the construction dust had settled, previews were completed, and everything opened, it was not any of the attractions in New Fantasyland that drew rave reviews. It was the Be Our Guest restaurant that became the clear winner of that crown. It instantly became one of the premier dining locations in the park and certainly the most difficult of all Magic Kingdom eateries in which to get a decent reservation. Or even one at all. (The beautiful photograph above was taken by my friend and guest writer Len Yokoyama. For a full review of the place, the entire Magic Kingdom, and tons more gorgeous photos, go to the previous blog article.) New Fantasyland was complete, keeping millions of guests happy while finally giving the Florida kingdom a Fantasyland worth the Disney name.

Now, a few years after completion of the project, New Fantasyland has settled into its place. Guests love it. Old school Disney theme park fans have come to accept it for what it is. The controversy of what it could have been has been left behind... along with the thoughts and plans of Imagineers and suits of what it will become when built again in a distant land. 

What will come next this year in 2016? If I were a betting man (and I'm not), I would gladly wager we will see a 25th Anniversary musical collection or special Blue-Ray edition of the film to make the date... and make another warehouse full of cash. But we do know something is coming overseas.




Just an afterthought to some degree. 

Before we celebrate the anniversary of the film, the new Shanghai Disneyland will briefly represent it as part of its Voyage to the Crystal Grotto boat ride. The attraction looks to be a rather lavish, modern day movie promotion cruise a la Storybookland Canal Boats, but it will do the trick to introduce Chinese audiences to beloved Disney animated movies. An even more impressive Beauty and the Beast happening takes place the following year.



Dan and the Beast.


As most hardcore B&tB fans know, Disney is remaking its classic into a live action film starring Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens and Harry Potter's Emma Watson. It's a pattern they have recently begun, and I only hope this version of our beloved film is better than some of the other work they've done i.e. Alice in Wonderland.




Emma and Belle.



There's quite the age difference between the two lead actors. No question Dan has the Beast's blue eyes, but can he channel his inner torment? Furthermore can Emma give us Belle's wit, strength, and elegance? In contrast to Alice, the live action remake of Cinderella gives me hope. I'm wishing them both the best as I want this film to be great. Don't you?

Not the actual movie poster, just fan art 
designed by Prateek Mathur at www.Animation.Life

The March 17, 2017 release date is just about a year away, and all will be revealed. What has been revealed is the fact it will be a musical and include a few new songs by the legendary tunesmith  Alan Menken. Understandably, Ms. Watson has said she is a bit nervous but very excited to be singing as well.

Paige and Robby at Disneyland in 2010.

What remains to be heard if our new stars can match the vocal talents of the incredibly stunning singing talents of Robby Benson and Paige O'Hara, and of course Richard White who vocalized Gaston. Now, it's back to the parks...

As always, it's better overseas.

Florida may have received the first incarnation of the film created into theme park landscape, but the Magic Kingdom will not have the best version. As expected, leave it to the Japanese to hold that  distinction as Tokyo Disneyland transforms their Fantasyland to make room for much more than a top notch restaurant and an elaborate meet and greet. Announced in the Fall of 2014, the addition looks to be truly magical.

Coming to Asia, of course.

Above is a cutaway view of the brand new Tokyo Disneyland expansion dedicated to our duo and their story. If you notice, the castle is still under the spell of the enchantress, setting the stage for mysterious adventures within its walls and right behind that mountain range. Look closer and you'll notice guests walk into the castle directly. It's not just sitting on top of a hill in miniature. Beast's home will be far enough removed from the park's hub centerpiece castle so that it can be built in a very impressive and foreboding size more in line with the film. 


As always, it's better overseas!

Rumors abound this all will be the home to a super "E Ticket", perhaps "F Ticket" quality attraction for the whole family- a tour through the castle filled with music, adventure,  and lots of suspense. Think along the lines of exploring Beast's Castle a la Haunted Mansion but with trackless vehicles. As with most of the Tokyo Disney Resort, guests will be treated to a top of the line experience. The bar has been raised by Disney itself by building Cars Land, and now guests expect more than ever before.




Discarded concepts from Disneyland Paris' plans.



Location of the proposed but never built
Beauty and the Beast attraction
in the City of Lights

This new area is not full of retreads from Disneyland Paris! As you may recall, on the grand opening television show for the parc in 1992, Disney strongly told viewers that attractions based on the film (and on The Little Mermaid) would be coming in the next phase. It should have been an opening day attraction- "After all, dear, this is France!" However,  neither attraction materialized, instead giving way to other projects.




A grand show was planned.

The entrance to the proposed attraction can still be found 
on the side of Paris' castle!

The concept art above represents an Audio-Animatronics show that never saw the light of day. A live action Belle would interact with characters from the movie in a style similar to the Disneyland classic, Enchanted Tiki Room. These old musical type shows have long gone out of style. (See article here.) Perhaps one day, they will be in vogue again, but for now, do not expect to see this in Tokyo.

What you will find inside the Tokyo castle is a newer version of the beautiful Be Our Guest restaurant, a groundbreaking family friendly attraction in the grandest of old Disney traditions, and perhaps even a walking tour / character interaction to explore its rooms and hallways. 

Outside in the village, expect an environment similar to that found in Florida, just updated to provide a better guest experience. I'm sure there are some surprises planned as well. We certainly have seen that the Japanese do not stop short to provide its guests with the very best in themed entertainment.

One more great photo copyright Len Yokohama.

Lastly, you may be asking yourself, "Will Walt's original Magic Kingdom in Anaheim" ever see some of this?" The answer is "Yes"! The real question is when. Star Wars Land comes first, then what should be a breathtaking new Marvel mini-land, star studded attraction at California Adventure

Photo from ThemeParkLeague.com.

If the rumors are true and sources correct, the new addition to Fantasyland will arrive between Star Wars Land, the Fantasyland Theater, and Mickey's Toontown, the latter perhaps on the chopping block. Frozen? Well, that's a sure fire use of remaining land, but our beloved Beauty and the Beast is coming as well- and much more along the lines of the Tokyo version than the Florida one. Think classic dark ride and more. That, my friends, is an expansion worth looking forward to! One solidly worthy of the source material, I would say! Stay tuned...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 28, 2016

The Beast and The Beauty of It All Coming Monday

Coming Monday, at almost 25 years since the debut of the film, a detailed  look at the impact of Beauty and the Beast on the Walt Disney Company, its theme parks, stage productions, and film. A look at new attractions planned worldwide and an update on the live action version of the film due next year.

(Photo from the defunct DPNews.com.)