May 30, 2008

It's A Mad World

Without a doubt, Mad Magazine is one of the funniest publications ever printed. Discovered this gem around 1971 and have been laughing ever since. From the wonderfully clever Spy vs. Spy to Scenes We'd Like to See, I couldn't get enough. With biting satire and just plain silly humor on the entertainment, politics, and current events of the day, Mad remains the grandaddy of them all. Better than the Onion. Pick up a copy.

May 29, 2008

Just Wonderful

How grateful I am to have such wonderful in-laws! But they are so much more. They have been staunch supporters and confidants, partners in prayer and in play. Their home has always been my home. Generous, loving, and kind. Lots of fun to boot! Joe and Jo are wonderful grandparents and a blessing beyond compare. Thank you, God, for bringing them into my life.

May 28, 2008

Explore Uncharted Seas!

One of my all time favorite Disneyland attraction posters. Perfectly captures the adventure, the mystery, and the fun of diving down 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 27, 2008

Indy Disappoints while the Lion Roars

Having experienced both Indy and Caspian this weekend, the clear winner for most consistent presentation and execution of story and theme is Prince Caspian. Bluntly, it is just the better film. Clearly a surprise.

Couldn't wait for the lights to go down as I was absorbed by the big screen around me. Soon enough, my favorite fedora-clad action hero would be back in service...

Harrison Ford picks up wonderfully where he left off, older and wiser, but the wit and humor is still solidly in place. (The quicksand gag is perfect.) The action sequences are pretty good, with the villains holding up to their predecessors. The settings exotic, the sets extraordinary, the special effects great.

For all the special effects and whiz bang action, the Indy films are really about the character of Dr. Jones, his integrity and his loyalty to what is true and right. This is where Last Crusade shines. In the fourth film, this is mostly forgotten, certainly secondary. The characters and their interaction are very weak throughout the film. Karen Allen's talent and charm is wasted in her return. The dialogue does little in giving her room to stretch. Conversely, Mutt Williams surprises by being a decent character addition. His tough guy persona is a bit unrealistic, as Shia LeBouf doesn't bring much grit or edge to his role. Yet, once the real action starts with Mutt along for the ride, I found him to be a good and energetic sidekick for our aging hero. Silly plot aside, in the end, Dr. Jones remains true to form and true to his ideals, owning up to his own heart and to his relationships. In this, he is a real world hero.

So, what's my beef with Crystal Skull? The plot line is out of place with the rest of the series. I won't go into any detail, but once I understood where this was going early on in the film, all I could think was "Really?" By choice, I put my disappointment behind to enjoy what good was to be found. A viewer and a fan should never have to do that. I did enjoy the movie quite a bit, but I wanted to walk out loving it. Putting it in perspective, maybe Crystal Skull is just an expensive statement on the silliness that is Scientology. But it should have been more. Sure, I'll buy the film on DVD, especially for the behind the scenes featurettes, but it will sit beside Temple of Doom as one of the lesser movies in the series.

I did not have high expectations for the second Disney film based on the C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia. Having not read the books and not knowing what to expect, my attitude was one of neutrality. In my humble opinion, the first film was well done, good but not wonderful. For this American, it was filled with very capable but mostly unknown actors. Tilda Swinton was the lone name actor, giving an absolutely mesmerizing performance as Jadis, the White Witch. In contrast to The Lord of the Rings, the simpler and subtler charms of this film eventually won me over. A film stuffed with child actors and talking animals is normally not a draw to me, yet the substance of the film- the inherent deeper meanings found in the allegory, was profound and overcame my prejudices.

Caspian is much darker in tone and far less subtle than the film before it. This is both its strength and its weakness, as it is easier to understand the plot, but the battle sequences slightly overshadowed the truths found in its dialogue. That said, the filmmakers did an excellent job in keeping me engaged. The environments drew me in, the nonhuman creatures were interesting, and the transitional element from London to Narnia was far more compelling than the similar device in Harry Potter. Regardless of the title, Prince Caspian himself is not the hero nor is he the central character. At this point in the story, he functions as a reason to propel the plot. Aslan, the true hero, whose wisdom and power was the pivotal centerpiece of the first film, its heart and soul, comes late into this one. I eagerly anticipated Aslan's arrival, and he did not disappoint.

I had no attachment to the Narnia story or its characters, and this was to the film's benefit and my enjoyment of it, allowing me the luxury of growing to understand and appreciate the characters versus having preconceived expectations of them. Conversely, my emotional and youthful attachment to the Indiana Jones series and its characters worked against my loving the fourth installment. Ultimately, Indy disappoints because it trades its consistency and soul for cheap sci-fi thrills. Caspian wins converts because it remains true to form, steady and solid in substance and execution.

May 26, 2008

Empty Epcot

Memorial Day Weekend begins the heavy influx of visitors to both West Coast and East Coast Disney resorts. The high guest count lasts through the end of summer. In honor of that, I thought I'd post a few photos of Epcot during some less hectic days.

The photos above show Future World around 11:00am. Every attraction's queue was empty with the exception of Soarin'. In fact, after arriving at opening time and departing at closing shortly after Illuminations, I was able to experience every attraction in the park at least once. That included Soarin' twice, Test Track three times, and Gran Fiesta twice.

As you can tell, there were very few folks in the park, making for an odd day. Why odd? On the plus side, it was great experiencing everything at a leisurely pace. Very similar to our first visit in 1983. This made the day feel like a step backward in time. Negatively, there was a certain level of excitement missing due to the lack of people. The energy level was very low, and the audience response to the highlights of the individual attractions minimal at best.

These World Showcase photos were taken between the hours of 2:00pm and 5:00pm, which should have been the peak time for crowds. Pretty amazing, huh? Even more amazing is the fact these shots were taken the last week of August. Nice weather, small crowds, no lines, and late hours. Just like the Disney World of old.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

May 23, 2008

Carpenters: First Offering, Along for the Ride

I've been thinking lately it would be fun to take a fresh look at the musical output of the Carpenters disc by disc. Because the music of Karen and Richard has been woven into so much of my younger life, I will simultaneously share some personal stories as I go. The reminiscing has been pretty fun, sometimes not, and has even resulted in new insights. Here's hoping you enjoy what is ahead as I review each album.

Early fall of 1970 was the turning point. Living in Southern California, close to the beach and to Disneyland. Still two of my favorite places. Music was always on somewhere, as my parents were teenagers themselves when I was born- and they loved rock and roll. Growing up on rock, pop, and Motown, (which became my favorite after spending summers with my aunts who loved the Supremes and the Temptations), did not prepare me for what was about to happen.

There I was, just sitting on the bus waiting to take off, and this voice came out of the radio, catching my ear and grabbing my heart. It was very soulful in a whole new way than I was used to recognizing. Suddenly, that was all I could hear. What was that song, but more importantly, who was that singing?

As I quickly discovered, the answers were "We've Only Just Begun" and Karen Carpenter of the Carpenters. Fortunately, I lived three blocks from the local record shop, so off I went. The album was mine- and it stayed on my turntable week after week. Months later, while browsing patiently through the store bins, I discovered an earlier recording and heard a whole new Karen and Richard. Surprisingly different.

New and improved cover.

It has often been said this was the record Richard had to make. After more than thirty years of hearing it, I am not sure why. Clearly a product of the times and definitely not a bad record, Ticket to Ride, however, does not draw me in or capture my attention. Nor does it compare favorably to anything that came afterwards. Maybe it is the inherent contradictions that create a sense of lacking. Raw yet polished, contemporary yet old fashioned, biting yet sentimental. The change in title and in cover art, due to the success of the single Close to You, plays with these differences. Offering is fully 60s in presentation, while Ticket feels fresh.

As far as the songs themselves, it is a mixed bag. Covering the Beatles is always risky, but Richard's slow burn arrangement of Ticket to Ride passes the test because of the dramatic new arrangement and a female lead singer. Karen and Richard's love for choral music finds an expression in the songs Invocation and Benediction, providing a touch of class, but some would say stuffiness, to the album. Their jazz combo roots come to light with All I Can Do. Bookending this album and including styles of music began a trend that would continue in later albums and in various ways.

Sailing on the Tide

As songwriters, the original Carpenter/Bettis tunes represent some of the best and worst of their catalogue: All of My Life, in particular, and Someday give the listener a taste of what Karen and Richard (and John) can do, while Eve is forgettable, stung with unfortunate lyrics and an arrangement that seems to drag.
The final result is a product that embraces the contradiction: the album is extremely ambitious but fairly ordinary.

Photo outtakes from the original sessions.

As time passed, bit by bit, I unknowingly became quite a collector of Carpenters' music, newspaper articles, and photographs. Two important items have eluded my collection: the original Offering album, and the holy grail of Carpenters fans, the Karen Carpenter Magic Lamp single. Maybe one day, I'll find them- at a price I can afford.

As you can see, Ticket wasn't a record I loved, and even now, I seldom play it. But that was ok. My initiation was the Close to You album, and that would be the standard I measured their other albums against. Karen and Richard were young, growing artists, and the best was yet to come. I couldn't wait.
2021 Note: This is part of a continuing series of posts on the albums of Karen and Richard Carpenter. There are also numerous stand alone posts highlights different aspects of their career, recordings, and life. 

Below is the list of my initial reviews and then my "Revisited /Fresh Look" reviews a decade later. 

My Initial Reviews of the albums:

May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones- The Attractions!

The adventure lives on! Today is the day Indy fans worldwide have been waiting for! Between now and the time of the first showing today of Crystal Skull, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at how Indy attractions have impacted the Disney theme parks. (As usual, some photos and any concept art are property of the Walt Disney Company.)

As a new Chief Executive Officer, bringing Indy into the parks was among the first and wisest decisions Michael Eisner made. Although it would take a few years for the attractions to open, it brought instant name recognition- and a sign that Disney was serious about reaching audiences who had previously deemed Disney parks just for kids. With the upcoming opening of the new Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, the timing for this partnership couldn't have been more perfect.

First up was an Audio-Animatronics Indiana Jones, appearing in the Great Movie Ride at the brand new park. This was quickly followed by another attraction in the same park, the full blown Epic Stunt Spectacular, a 30 minute show highlighting several stunts from the films.

Our first visit to the Studios was during the opening year. The park was small but well laid out. The Great Movie Ride was fun and suspenseful. We just happened to walk by the Stunt Spectacular building and were asked to come in for a pre-opening performance. Even with the stopping and starting and minor technical difficulties, the show was a family favorite.

While these additions in Florida were highly entertaining, the best had yet to occur- and would come to fruition on the West Coast at Disney's original park. The Indiana Jones Adventure premiered in 1995, becoming an instant hit and a groundbreaking critical success.

At the time, I was employed by AT&T and was blessed to be chosen to receive a fairly prestigious award. The scheduled ceremony was held in Newport Beach during Indy's opening weekend. Since our company was the attraction's original sponsor, one of the optional activities was to go to Disneyland and experience this major new addition. It was one of the easiest decisions I have ever had to make!

Between the expected awards ceremonies and parties, I was free to go to the park that Saturday. Admission was free, but it did not include front-of-the-line privileges. No matter. Enduring a three and a half hour wait for my first ride through the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the time seemed to go quickly and slowly all at once.

The queue extended out from Adventureland into the plaza, wrapping around and passing by the entrance to Frontierland. When we still lived in California, I was at the opening of Captain Eo and Star Tours years before, but never had I seen anything like this! People in line couldn't stop talking to their friends and total strangers about how much they wanted to ride. Folks were getting off the ride, talking away excitedly, and turning around to get back in line for another journey! Everything about this day was just amazing, and the attraction lived up to the hype and my anticipation.
Finally being able to see the temple for the first time, I just couldn't believe my eyes! It all fit in so flawlessly, as if it had always been there. The camp set-up added to the atmosphere, watching the Jungle Cruise boats sail by added to the suspense.

Snaking through the queue and into the temple (pun intended), we were given a decoder card to translate the ancient language inscripted on the walls. The detail was so lavish throughout that I almost wished I had more time to take it all in.

As I got closer to getting in my "troop transport", watching folks return from their adventure and bursting into applause made my heart race with anticipation. Remember, this was before the web was used as a tool to share pictures and concept art and trip reports from the parks. I had heard next to nothing about what was inside but had only seen a promotional picture of the jeeps racing over a rickety bridge passing the fiery cavern. My maiden journey thrilled me to no end- and the rest of our jeep as well. We, too, starting hollaring and clapping as the ride came to an end.

Before I ran back to the line for my second journey, I hopped over to the Disney Gallery and purchased a signed print of the attraction's concept art- which hangs in my office to the is very day. All I did was ride Indy that day, getting in a third trip before I left, as crowds finally started to thin.
Years later, I would discover that the Indy attraction was potentially considered to be an assortment of Indy attractions. (Concept art above.) I was disappointed that this didn't make the cut, but what we did get is still one of my favorite attractions in any park. Needless to say, I absolutely love this attraction- and whenever I make a visit to the original kingdom, it and Pirates are the only ones that are always on my must-do list.

The next Indy incarnation was across the globe in France. Visiting Disneyland Paris in October of 1998 was a treat all its own. We had saved and planned to go to California to visit family, but when innaugural flights from Denver to London were sold for $99 each way- less expensive than Denver to Los Angeles, we were able to take our whole family overseas for a very "jolly holiday". (London is a wonderful city- and very kid friendly, by the way. Paris and all of France, too.) We'd seen the opening of EuroDisneyland several years prior, and I was drooling as I watched the telly. Praying God would let me go one day-really, as I just had to get over there and take a first hand look at this amazing park.

Knowing this attraction was a coaster, and having visions of an Indy version of Big Thunder, I expected it to be spectacular. This time, however, I would be sorely disappointed. The hour and a half wait moved very slowly through the camp area, and finally walking up the temple steps, I realized I was seeing folks return to the station very shortly after leaving from it in their ore car. It wasn't long before I realized this was a very cheaply done ride. No special effects at all. Actually, this was my only disappointment in the entire park. The rest of Disneyland Paris mesmerized me. The one redeeming factor of this attraction is the great views of the park from the lift hill and before the first drop.

From Paris to Tokyo was the next leap in the park additions. Now, I have not (yet!) been to the Tokyo Disney Resort, but anyone with good vision can see that Tokyo Disney Sea has to be one of the most richly detailed parks ever built. It premiered in late 2001 with Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull already awaiting guests. This version of Disneyland's original "troop transport" attraction was filled with enhanced effects, a new storyline, and a south of the border setting in the Lost River Delta section of the park. Another hit. (Next door on the map above is the later addition of Paris' Indy coaster, but in Tokyo, it is not themed to Indy.)

In celebration of the new film, Disneyland will have a small stage show happening throughout the rooftops of Adventureland and some additional nuances to capitalize on the film's opening. That is all for the future on the Indy front- unless you consider the strong and recurring rumors of another jeep attraction coming to the newly named Disney's Hollywood Studios. The Disney suits need to make this happen. In my opinion, this will be one the attraction on the horizon to truly keep Universal's Harry Potter in check- and the clock is ticking. One thing is certain, if or when Indiana Jones Adventure Florida does come to be, you can be sure it will bring in the guests, and I'll be there as well!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company and all photos except the top copyright Mark Taft.)

May 21, 2008

Design Detail: Moroccan Skyscraper

Good design at Disney parks goes beyond the easily seen elements. In fact,what makes Disney parks unique is the Imagineers ability to go beyond the expected, surprising and delighting its guests. Here is a case in point. Standing in Epcot at the edge of the lagoon, I positioned myself for a shot of the beautifully detailed Morocco pavillion. Something in the background caught my eye. It was the Tower of Terror, an entire park away, fully in view and consistent in theme with what I saw in World Showcase. Nice job, Imagineers. Well done is better than well said.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

May 20, 2008

Learning the Hard Way

Lately I have been reading through the books of I and II Samuel and studying about Israel's most famous monarch, King David. Although he lived approximately 3,000 years ago, his story is timeless, and the lessons learned are still relevant today.

A large part of David's story is how he chose to follow God even during times of great challenges- like being pursued by the current king who was trying to kill him. David patiently endured. Continuing to do the right thing, he desired to honor his predessor King Saul. This did not make sense to many people. Yet David chose to submit to God's will and timing versus attempting to take the throne in his own time.

Whether personally or corporately, we could learn a great deal from him. There is much peace when we act in accordance in ways that honor people and serve them. Think of the recent actions of major corporations and their leaders which let greed, arrogance, and unhealthy ambition lead them down a destructive path. It definitely muddied Eisner's legacy at Disney; ruined Enron, hurting many people; and brought the downfall of folks like Joe Nacchio.

Choose to learn life's lessons from others who have gone before you. "Learning the hard way" is not only arrogant but foolish- and costly to you and the ones around you. Be wise and willing to prefer others. You'll always sleep well if you do.

May 19, 2008

Saving Epcot

A while back, I took a fair but critical look at The Walt Disney Company's challenges in Anaheim with Disney's Real California Adventure. While the second park in that state is certainly worthy of a critique due to its numerous and oft discussed failures, it is by no means the only park that needs serious work. Disney's original second park, Epcot, requires a hefty dose of help as well.

Removing the wand was the right beginning. Now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's take a look at what Disney can do to save Epcot, restoring it to the wonderful park millions experienced at opening without repeating mistakes of the past.

Plan of Attack #1- Develop a Vision for the Park and Stick to It

This shouldn't be that difficult- one was already developed. Make it better, make it different, but do it. Be inspired and show it by the results. Let us be inspired by what we experience there. Animal Kingdom feels cohesive and unique due to this very factor, and for the most part, what was built at Florida's 4th park matches the vision. It is my belief that Epcot began to slide in quality and attendance when it moved away from its original plan.

Plan of Attack #2- Bring Back the Timelessness

Guests who enter Future World come in wanting, and expecting, to be inspired by... the future. This is not supposed to be Disney Studios 2.0. Nor is it the setting for cross promotion and marketing"synergy". Leave the insertion of current "hip and edgy" Disney television and movie stars for the attractions of Disney's Hollywood Studios park. Don't remove their voiceovers, just their images. Think of the number of pavillions and individual shows that have a present day actor in them: Universe of Energy, Imagination, Wonders of Life (now closed), Mission Space, even Soarin'. Not many of these have aged well due to this very factor. Is this a case of cause and effect? Something to consider. Admittedly, removing the original "Living Character Initiative" aspect is a lengthy process, but it is a major step toward making the park feel timeless once more.

Plan of Attack #3- Give Us the World
Remember World Showcase is fully half of this park- a major part that folks enjoy. Guests spend alot of money in its shops and restaurants. But please treat World Showcase with some dignity. Give us some new attractions, and keep the special effects working on the few that exist. Clean up the films with new prints and/or technology. Consider the original plans for the park and add a new country or two. Develop and execute outstanding and immersive attractions that celebrate the foreign cultures versus exploiting them. No more mistakes like "Gran Fiesta". There is real magic in experiencing a taste of other cultures that does not include the Disney world and its animated characters. Bring that kind of magic to us.

Plan of Attack #4- Strive for Greatness Not Profits
Don't just focus on the bottom line. Consider it, of course, but don't let it drive your decisions. Imagineers are among the the most brilliant folks on the planet with the best resources. As your fans, we love to see you astound us. We'll reward your efforts with large attendance and increased spending. Look what Everest did for Animal Kingdom, Tower of Terror for the Studios, or Indiana Jones for Disneyland. However, big budgets are not the determining factor for success. There are plenty of smaller gems found in the parks, adding to the atmosphere and creating a sense of awe visitors should feel at a Disney park. Again, inspire us. Don't rest on your laurels. Expectations are higher than those for your competition because of your reputation and your history.

Although the theme park version of Epcot is not what was originally imagined, it should continue to be seen as more than just another gated attraction. The unique vision, history, and heart of EPCOT the city and Epcot Center the park is rooted in a desire for a better future- with a chance to experience some of what lies ahead. Use your imagination. All it takes is one little spark.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

May 16, 2008

Chronicles Continued

Prince Caspian opens today, the second Disney film based on The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Should have a great crowd waiting for it. Time and profit will tell if Disney will continue on making all the books into film.

Lewis had much to say, and it was not always in an alagorical form. In his "Dogma and The Universe" in God in the Dock, he writes,
"When any man comes into the presence of God he will find, whether he wishes it or not, that all things which seemed to make him so different from the men of other times, or even from his earlier self, have fallen off him. He is back where he always was, where every man always is... Do not let us deceive ourselves. No possible complexity which we can give to our picture of the universe can hide us from God... It may happen to us at any moment. In the twinkling of an eye, in a time too small to be measured, and in any place, all that seems to divide us from God can flee away, as if nothing but He and I existed. And since that contact cannot be avoided for long, and since it means either bliss or horror, the business of life is to learn to like it. That is the first and greatest commandment."

May 15, 2008

Hong Kong Disneyland Mystery

Here's a piece of Disney concept art that's a mystery to me. It was sent labeled "HKDL", but I have no idea which attraction it is depicting. Looks pretty exciting! My hunch is that this is a concept for Adventureland- some new version of Countdown to Extinction mixed with a roller coaster. Anyone have an idea?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 14, 2008

Sky High View

Browsing the net for fun, and I ran across this incredible view of the Disneyland Resort from the sky. Clearest I've seen yet. It is a couple of years old but still a great shot. It will be fun to compare this to what happens to the resort in the next five years. Here's the link: Zan's Look for the pictures link. Be warned, this file is huge. Enjoy!

May 13, 2008

Invisible Children

Want a chance to make a difference in the life of a kid? Children and youth in Uganda have few resources and can use our help. Two decades of war has taken its toll on them. Check out the website of this agency: Invisible Children.

May 12, 2008

Indyless Adventures - 1975

Here's a great little map of Disneyland's Adventureland circa 1975. It would be another decade and a half before work would begin on one of Disneyland's premier attractions: The Indiana Jones Adventure. Years before Tarzan took over the treehouse from a Swiss Family and years before the crowding would force park management to come up with some solutions to a frustrating, and at times dangerous, problem.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 10, 2008

James Taylor: A Friend on the Radio

James Taylor possesses one of the warmest and friendliest voices in American popular music. It has been decades now since he first came on the scene, and what a blessing it has been to grow older with him. From Fire and Rain to You've Got A Friend to How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You, James helped define good taste on Top 40 radio when it seemed consumed by gimmicks like Kung Fu Fighting and Disco Duck. Thank you, Mr. Taylor. Hearing your voice on the airwaves is like visiting an old and much loved friend.

May 9, 2008

Ultimate Disney Concept Art Posting at Disney and More

Go to Disney and More now. This is the ultimate Disney Concept art posting of unbuilt attractions. Really. Covers all the Disney parks real and imagined. Thanks, Alain Littaye. You continue to deliver the goods!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Paris Side Trip to The Walt Disney Studios

Visiting the Walt Disney Studios Paris was on day two of our agenda to this resort, and we allotted only half a day. More than enough! It goes without saying that this park suffers from sitting next door to the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever created. I won't lie and say we didn't enjoy a few items during our visit, but we promptly returned to its older sister after a few hours. Here is a quick review- befitting a park that was thrown together quickly as well!

Crush's Coaster is one of the few small gems to be found here. Simply said: the coaster is just fun! The theming is minimal on the ride itself, but the track is laid out in such a way to evoke a good amount of laughs. The indoor queue sets the mood for what lies ahead. It's fairly basic, on par with an old "C" ticket attraction as in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Nothing special but it does set the pace. The line is understandably long for this attraction and was our first ride of the day.
From a firsthand look, the newest attractions from Cars are smaller than they seem from viewing them in photos. Very cute, highly detailed, but disappointing in scope. It does provide a very small taste of what California Adventure's Carsland will look like. Hopefully grander and more fully realized- as this extreme makeover will be the park's last chance at gaining a new reputation and at capturing the visitor dollar!

The newest additions to the park are the most highly themed of the attractions. It is almost as if Disney discovered that its guests like themed environments after all. This 180 in terms of detail is most welcome at this bare bones park, however, it also makes the Studios shortcomings more obvious than ever. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, I guess.

Many attractions are repeats from Florida, but Tower of Terror was not yet open- and was really needed. The real highlight of the few hours we spent were the original attractions- especially the effects-laden Armageddon. The tram tour, stage shows, and even Rock 'N' Rollercoaster had an overcast of cookie cutter boredom, as if Disney's Imagineers were themselves disinterested designing these attractions. Add to this, big box architecture, lack of greenery, and vast expanses of concrete. Not a winning combination.

We will not return to the Studios next trip- at least not until there are more unique attractions to be found- but we will certainly make a stop in the neighboring park and take one day out of our Paris visit. This Magic Kingdom continues to be magical but also badly needs new and original attractions. Hopefully, Disney is hearing this message from its theme park fans... and listening.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

May 8, 2008

It's a Beautiful "World"

Go to the Hong Kong Disneyland Source and catch a glimpse of some amazing photos of It's A Small World. Regardless of what you think of the character additions, the color schemes are extremely well done, and the fascade is beautiful. A Disney worthy addition to this small park.

May 7, 2008

Answering the Call

Heroes are found in our world everyday. Sometimes we read about them serving overseas, sometimes they are the policemen on the street, and every once in awhile, they are the firemen we meet answering our call for help. This was the case for my sister-in-law and her family.

The call to come home was urgent. Their home was on fire. Smoke everywhere, flames, blown out windows. Not only were they in shock, but a little girl's hopes were crushed. Everyone was safe, thank God, but she had a very special dress inside waiting to be worn for tomorrow's event at church. One brave fireman had a heart of gold for my neice. Hearing her cry of disappointment, he rushed back into the house returning with her prized possession. It was a little smoky but still in one piece.

In the midst of the shock and grief, one small girl and her family are very thankful for this hero who made a difference. Not only did all these fire fighters save their house, they showed once again what it means to serve the people around them- with all their hearts.

(Photograph copyright Ken Chen.)

Exploring Adventure Isle at Disneyland Paris

This is an absolutely beautiful little map of Adventure Isle in Paris. The Imagineers outdid themselves when they designed this playground of every boy's dreams. From the detailed Captain Hook's Pirate Ship to the deep grottos and caves waiting exploration, nothing is left wanting. Everywhere you turn, the views astound. You could say the exact same thing about the entire park! It is almost perfectly designed from every angle you can imagine- a true work of art.

During our last visit we easily spent a full hour exploring and still left feeling we missed quite a bit. Left the graphic very large so you could see it all. If you think the map is well done, you should visit the island. Seriously. Make that trip to Disneyland Paris. Not only is Paris one of the world's most amazing cities, this French park is the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 6, 2008

Kodak Moment: Rainy Day Kids at Disneyland

Just goes to show a rainy day at Disneyland can't spoil the fun! I snapped this many years ago, when the three older ones took off with Mom and Dad for a day of fun. Seeing this still makes me smile. Seeing my kids now makes me smile- and proud.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

May 5, 2008

Keeping It Real at Disneyland

The recent suicide at the Disneyland Hotel made my mind swim with a variety of thoughts and my heart jump with emotion. Sadness and disbelief mingled with shock. It brought about a heavy dose of reality. Even at the "Happiest place on Earth" life is not always carefree, and life is more than just what is happening in Disney's world. Life may have seemed simpler in the "Old Days", but even back when Walt was young, troubles took their toll. Human nature remains the same, and so does the Eternal God who loves us.

Helping others cope in times of pain is just part of the job. Not my job- although it is- but our job. It is part of the human condition. We all experience loss, grief, betrayal and eventually death. My prayers are with the family of this man who chose to take his life. Unfortunately, he also chose to take a part of his family's life- one that can never be replaced. It was the piece with his name on it. May this man Rest in Peace, and may his family rest in peace in the arms of Jesus.

Cinco De Mayo Celebration at Epcot's Mexico Pavilion

At the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, the Disney Imagineers set a new creative standard for themselves. Walt Disney's EPCOT- Creating the New World of Tomorrow by Richard R. Beard details the creation and execution of this cutting edge park- the first non-Magic Kingdom style playground ever built by the Mouse.

Today, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, we'll look at a few pieces of concept art and photos of the splendid Mexico pavillion circa opening year. (All images are copyright Disney.)

Upon our first visit to EPCOT Center, this pavillion was an easy favorite among all the World Showcase countries represented. The France pavillion, although extremely pretty and a close second, housed an admittedly wonderful travelogue. Yet it left us wanting to experience more. You cannot do that with a film! However, with Mexico, it was a different story- and this story is told uniquely. The main method for communicating was a Disney first: a large part of the signature attraction in this pavillion was told through the medium of dance.

Inside the large temple which forms a major portion of the area, a small Mexican village is found drenched in eternal nighttime. The quaint central plaza built in the beautiful Colonial style includes shops, a small museum, and a waterfront restaurant. Colorful lanterns hang in the air while mariachis play. Sitting waterside sipping margaritas would make it tempting to stay here all day, but the boats cruising El Rio del Tiempo beckon us to step aboard.

Our excursion onto the river is at once peaceful and mysterious. Cruising along, we enter another temple, and our adventure begins. After encountering a high priest, dancers surround us, moving to ancient rhythms. This section is the showpiece of the attraction, and its elegance does justice to this beautiful people and their fascinating history. 

Of course, the cruise continues into other regions depicting Mexican celebrations and modern life. Everything following the dance pales in comparison. Fortunately, a lovely and playful song sets us in a joyful mood for the rest of our journey, and as we depart, we reenter sunlight humming the tune for the next few minutes.

From the initial concept art to the final construction, the Imagineers did an excellent job capturing the culture of our friends south of the border. Year after year, visit after visit, the Mexico pavilion charmed us.

Unfortunately, recent revisions to the boat ride employed an insertion of The Three Caballeros and its associated music. This is a major misstep. The dignity and sophistication imbred into EPCOT Center since its inception has been replaced by a desire to please a less discerning crowd- and to increase sales of character merchandise at the cash registers. It is a trend which must stop if the Walt Disney Company wishes to capture the travel dollar of discriminating and aging adults.

(Art and photographs copyright The Walt Disney Company.)