February 27, 2009

Great Moments with Walt Disney?

For years now, the rumor has floated that the Imagineers at Walt Disney Company had thought about or planned an Audio-Animatronic version of Walt himself. I now have proof! Watch for an upcoming post and interview with an Imagineer who will tell us about it.

Yes, it will be great to see Mr. Lincoln again. But wouldn't it be sweet to see Walt as well? Stay tuned...
Watch for more Walt Disney World trip reports next week- filled with photos!
Have a great weekend! (Lincoln postcard artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Goodbye Rocky Mountain News!

Wow. Today is my day off, so I ususally sleep in a little later than normal. Just went to the driveway and picked up the newspaper. Today is the last day the Rocky Mountain News will be printed. The end of an era.

When we relocated here in 1989 from California via Oregon (a lon story for another time), the News was my guide to a whole new life. I relied on it to bring me international, national and local news unbiasedly and fairly presented- and it did. Yet it also displayed its unabashed love for Colorado and taught me what it meant to be a Colorado citizen- to enjoy the state's pleasures and protect its resources.

I'll miss you- my Saturday morning coffees on the patio with the paper won't ever be the same. And as for that other newspaper, well, they just fall short in so many areas.

Idol Starts to Warm Up

Let's just say that Season Eight of American Idol looks, well, interesting. Early standouts include Danny Gokey and Alexis Grace, although I'm sure the next couple of weeks will bring some surprises. Of course, once the Top Twelve hits, things really get fun- lots of stretching due to the competitors being forced to sing genres they don't feel comfortable in or songs they don't really like. The stress alone will cause some to break or just show off their bad side. Of course, if you've hung out here long enough, you know I am a big fan of Elliott Yamin and Chris Daughtry from Season Five. Not only could these guys sing, they remained good guys with tender hearts; their pride and ego in check all the way through. One of the true measures of a man is humility and grace.

Another Great Pictorial

Wanna see Disney's California Adventure in a whole new light? MouseTimes has done it once again. For some of the best on-line photography of the Disneyland Resort, this is the place to go. Well done!

February 26, 2009

Escape to the Islands!

Back in 1967, Imagineer Sam McKim did this wonderful rendering of the upcoming Tahitian Terrace at Disneyland. You can enlarge it to see what a beautiful piece it is. The end result built in steel and concrete was just as amazing. Too bad it no longer exists.  spent more than a few evenings of my youth hanging out and having dinner at the Terrace over the summer evenings. With the Enchanted Tiki Room off to the side and the launches of the Jungle Cruise rounding the bend, it was as close to Polynesia as I would get until my first visit to Hawaii many years later.

Certainly this version of Adventureland initialized and fed my love of locales tropical. With Denver's upcoming snowy season a few weeks ahead, for now the islands are just a daydream!
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company)

February 25, 2009

An Epcot Adventure

About a year ago, my wife and I renewed our contract with T-Mobile and were rewarded with four free airline tickets. We used one set to go to South Carolina, where we went to Charleston and Hilton Head, including the Disney Vacation Club there. (See my blog report for lots of pictures and details.) With two tickets left to use before March 1 and a very limited and mostly unappealing choice of locations, we chose to head off to Walt Disney World for four days sans kids. We booked our getaway in October. This was to be our first visit alone in two decades. (Not knowing we would be in California for Christmas - and at the Disneyland Resort at the time of booking.)

Having saved for a couple of years, we decided to splurge a bit and stay at one of the moderate resorts. After much discussion, we chose Port Orleans Riverside. Our last visit staying on the property was at All Star Sports in 2007- a great choice since we had our youngest son with us. Previously, we had stayed at the Caribbean Beach in 1989 when the price was an unbelievable $59 per night!

Mid-February was a new time of the year for a visit. We really didn't know what to expect aside from the fact we planned to take it easy, sleep in, eat at some nice restaurants, go swimming and enjoy the parks. What a great opportunity to get out of a Colorado winter and see some green landscape.

Arriving at 11:55pm into Orlando, of course we were glad to be making use of Magical Express to get to our hotel. The trip would end of taking two hours- arrival at 2am! We thankfully chose to carry on our luggage and felt quite bad for other folks who hadn't, as they wouldn't see their bags until morning.

After a quick check in and a glance around the lobby, we strolled through the silent gardens of the resort passing the tree lined grounds by moonlight. Very romantic! Onto the Alligator Bayou section, we found building 28 and our room rather quickly.
(Later in the week, I would discover this to be a perfect location- close to the pool and the West bus stop but far enough away from all the activity when we chose to sleep in. Easy access to what we needed while still feeling remote and uncrowded.)

Opening the door, we were pleasantly surprised by a nice sized, well appointed room. As I sat my bag down on my side of the bed, I discovered a little treasure just for me: a previously unseen piece of concept art by Herb Ryman for Disneyland's Blue Bayou restaurant. Although we were thrilled with our choice and anxious for our first day at our favorite Florida park, we were exhausted and collapsed into our luxuriously soft king sized bed.

Awaking at 9:30am, we settled into a schedule that would truly be a blessing: staying out late playing, then sleeping in the next day. There was no real agenda that drove us to early arrival at the parks, so we took each day as it came. Quite a different approach compared to when we would visit with our kids! If you are looking for a lot of action, this trip report may not be what you're looking for.

It was quite a treat to leave dry and brown Denver and wake up to a green and warm Orlando. Epcot was up first. Since our initial visit to this park in 1983, it was instantly and has remained our favored destination on the property. Beginning with Spaceship Earth, there is an air of elegance and sophistication here that appeals to us, a unique element that is not found in the other parks. Yes, we really enjoy each of the four themed playgrounds, but Epcot stands tallest. Admittedly, it is not the park it once was, however, there continues to be much to enjoy.

Our mid-morning arrival at 10:30am was unprecedented. So was our choice for breakfast- tasty Strawberry Shortcake and delicate Orange Creme Brule from the Land's food court. Dessert for breakfast! One of the benefits of traveling without children is breaking the rules just because you can! In years past, we'd head off to the Land Grille Room (or The Good Turn, if you are old enough to remember the revolving restaurant in its earliest incarnation) for a relaxing and unique way to start the day, but now in the time of Disney's cost-cutting, this is no longer possible as the location only serves meals beginning with dinner!

Just looking around this park fills the senses with a bit of wonder and enchantment that doesn't rely on characters to deliver it. Although the buildings of Future World mostly seem a bit dated and the landscaping is now more natural than manicured, the quiet beauty of the place is still breathtaking. There is a spaciousness found here that is lacking in California's Disneyland. The scope and scale of the parks and the resort as a whole is very different - it is a different setting, different place with its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Certainly, any observant guest knows they are in Disney World versus Land.

Our first attraction of the day was aboard a clamshell through the seas of little Nemo. In December, we had just journeyed through the renewed Submarine adventure in California. I must say, we both prefer Epcot's voyage by a wide margin. Instead of the overblown build up to the fairly overated experience created at Disneyland, we found the simple intimacy of the Florida version adds to the storytelling, all the while keeping expectations in line with the end result. We decided to leave the rest of the pavilion for later but in fact, we never returned.

Living with the Land remains one of our must do Epcot experiences. It reminds us of days gone by when a healthy and interesting dose of "edutainment" came with each experience. It is at once old school and simple- a refreshing change from the recent Future World move toward thrill rides and film-based attractions. Must say, we miss the gentle theme song that played for years as you cruised by the ending scenes.

Grabbing Fastpasses for Soarin', we headed to Test Track. What a rush! Although this replaced a much loved attraction that I wish was still around, here is my new favorite attraction at Epcot. Neither the sickness inducing Mission:Space nor the lengthy but boring Ellen's Energy Adventure nearby can compare. The queue is detailed and interesting, the pre-show amusing without being saccharine, and the ride itself thrilling but not over the top. It took awhile, but eventually I was able to photograph some vehicles on the outdoor portion of track upon exiting the building.

What to do next? Well, Energy was closed as was the now defunct Wonders of Life. Mission:Space was a walk-on, but with lunch coming up, we passed. Besides, this version of a flight simulator doesn't excite me in the least and leaves me longing for the Space pavilion that should have been.

After a short stop at Mouse Gear to look around- and buy none of the fairly generic merchandise to be found all over the resort- we decided to checkout the new Kim Possible attraction. We were to begin in Norway right after our lunch at Canada's Le Cellier. It was close to our reservation time, so off to Canada we walked.

Victoria Gardens looked much like we remembered Butchart Gardens. It was spotless and beautiful, as was the rest of the park. As we walked into the restaurant, our greeter took our information, welcomed us, and began to play a question and answer game on Canadian trivia. It is also the people interactions in Epcot's World Showcase that make the park interesting visit after visit. We were not the winners, but we didn't bomb all the questions either.

Le Cellier was a brand new and glorious experience. The Maple Barbecue Chicken was unique and tasty and the warm pretzel bread a winner. My wife said her steak and salad was her favorite meal on our visit (and that included a very pricey one at the Contemporary Resort's California Grill later in the week). Although I loved my selection and agreed we would now come back on each subsequent visit, it was the other guests that helped make this a memorable experience.

Two tables away sat Phil Stacey of American Idol. Cool but not earth shattering. It was the diners at the table behind me, however, that made me slightly giddy. Walking right past me was Imagineer Eric Jacobsen. He was joining a table of five other Disney executives or Imagineers that I did not recognize, but Eric was one face I knew from his many appearances in Walt Disney World cable television specials. If only I could have leaned backward to listen to the conversation without being too obvious...

Moving beyond my fanboy experience, we decided it was time to check out the Martin Short version of O Canada. Walked into the mine past a waterfall that was turned off. Poor show. As for the new film, it is certainly a friendly one but it trades dignity and grace for humor that will age poorly. The scenery is stunning but the treatment of the subject diminishes the art. Shades of The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management. This direction was an unfortunate decision, and don't even get me started on what they did to Mexico's El Rio del Tiempo! We left satisfied for seeing the film but even more perplexed that the upper levels of the showcase were closed to guests. More cost-cutting measures?

Our half an hour solving the Kim Possible mystery was a do-only-once experience. It will make World Showcase more interesting for tweens and kids, much like pin trading or those Kidcot stops, but for an adult, it won't hold much interest. One nice touch: an interaction with a hostess in the China showcase and a very flavorful clue-infused fortune cookie.

Picking up where we left off, we journeyed to the U.K. and enjoyed the scenery and some music by British Invasion. Although we wish there were more World Showcase attractions, the people, streetscapes, entertainment, shopping and dining make this our favorite slice of Walt Disney World acreage. For folks like us whom traveling is an extravagance, this is a sweet reminder of trips past or hoped for.

Stopping at the International Gateway, we decided to take a short break and cruise over to the Boardwalk area for a change of scenery. Surprisingly, the trip was very short! We had never done this before and were stunned by how close Epcot was to the area. After a short stroll down the Boardwalk, we walked back to the park when my eye caught sight of the Eiffel Tower from a whole new angle.

Without question, the France showcase continues to be one of our most appreciated. Impressions de France is a lovely film that sorely needs to be updated. The print is of poor quality after 25 years, and the theater in which it is presented needs repair. After what was done to the centerpiece attractions of the Mexico and Canada pavilions, however, I am cautiously suggesting this. Please don't lose the gorgeous soundtrack or insert inane jokes or out of place characters! We exited the film, took a brief look around, and realized our Faspasses for Soarin' were due. No worries. We knew we would return here.

Immediately after our wonderful flight, we encountered a five minute wait for Spaceship Earth. Here was the EPCOT Center of our younger days, and the park's premier attraction was back in top form. Everything looked, sounded, and smelled terrific. Bravo to the Imagineers who updated this without losing what made it so special to begin with. There has been much criticism of the ending of the attraction, yet we found it to be a fun touch. In fact, we enjoyed our journey so much that we immediately got back into line for another one.

After a short stop for a Mickey Ice Cream bar (a family tradition), we walked by Imagination on our way back to France. No stopping this time, as this once wonderful series of attractions has been reduced to a disheartening reminder of what once was there. Whether ride, film or exhibit area, what each has become is just painful to see. (This includes the awful paint job on the building!) The rumored updates to this place cannot happen soon enough- and it needs to be done right this time.

Back to France to continue our World tour. We spent some time inside the shops and savored a small taste of a country we have loved visiting. Exiting our final one, dusk began to appear, and the true magic of Epcot was about to begin.

Daytime in the park is a very pleasant experience, but it is at night when the beauty of Epcot becomes most evident. The park quiets as guests begin to settle into their chosen dining locations and lighting begins to accentuate the gardens and architecture. It is a wonderful time for a leisurely and romantic stroll through each nation represented and a great time for photographs.

We made our way slowly around the lagoon, stopping near China (with Margaritas in hand from the nearby stand in Mexico) just in time for Illuminations. The music is inspiring and the fireworks stunning, the ultimate Epcot experience. There is nothing else quite like viewing this show and watching the countries light up at the finale- or so I thought, but that is a story for another day's report.

As folks started streaming out of the park, we moved toward the Japan showcase for our evening dinner. Although we had made reservations at Tokyo Dining, we decided that a large meal was not appealing to us. In its place, we settled for a small snack from the tea house back in the gardens. What a great idea! Sitting on the patio with two very quiet parties, we enjoyed the warm evening under the stars. Eventually, we were the only ones left. The small latterns illuminated just enough to be enchanting and the bubbling stream provided a sweet serenade. I was instantly brought back to our first anniversary trip many years ago when we searched out the hidden gems of the park while others rushed off for the next attraction.

Our conversation turned sweet and sentimental. My wife and I were accutely aware that many years had passed but also extremely thankful to the Lord that after all our married years, we were still very much in love and still prefered each other's company. In our minds, "soul mates" is something that is built by years of staying together, choosing to serve and trust each other through life's joys and difficulties. The rush of new romance is fun, but it is only a taste of what can be ahead.

Slowly, we circled the lagoon and enjoyed the environments of each country. Every glance across the water reminded me how beautiful this park is and why it remains our favorite. Eventually reaching Norway, the Maelstrom was a brief two minute wait, so we hopped on. The ride's in bad shape, plain and simple- and the short film wasn't even running.

It was time to leave the park as we wanted to head back to our resort ahead of the crowds. Spaceship Earth practically sparkled in the night sky. Turning around for one last look, I snapped a few more photos, then we quickly boarded the resort bus. It was a perfect day to start our trip, and we hated to see it end.

(All photos copyright Mark Taft.)

February 24, 2009

Bungle in the Jungle (Cruise)

From Disneyland's Publicity Department:
Two Disneyland Resort Jungle Cruise Skippers 'Spiel' Their Way to Tokyo Disney Resort

ANAHEIM, CALIF., February 16, 2009 – Earlier this year, Jungle Cruise skippers all around the world were preparing their funniest material for a chance at representing their respective Disney Parks in Tokyo this month.

Since the attraction debuted at Disneyland in 1955, the skipper role has always been one of interaction and fun, telling the story of the Jungle Cruise through silly jokes.

As part of Tokyo Disney Resort’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, a total of eight Jungle Cruise skippers from Disneyland Resort, Hong Kong Disneyland, Walt Disney World Resort and Tokyo Disney Resort have been chosen to represent their resorts during a nine-day excursion to Tokyo Disney where they will participate in a unique dream opportunity.

In conjunction with the milestone anniversary, the Oriental Land Company, the Japanese company that owns and operates the resort, made 25 dreams come true for Cast Members. The Jungle Cruise skipper dream is one of the most unique being fulfilled. The request came from Kenichi Ito, a supervisor for Jungle Cruise, who dreamt to have Jungle Cruise skippers worldwide gather at Tokyo Disneyland and create an occasion where they could exchange best practices and, of course, best jokes!

In Anaheim, Jungle Cruise skippers Kevin Lively and Mickey Wright were chosen as representatives of the original attraction.At the Disneyland Resort, the competition began in January with 60 skippers. On Feb. 6, six finalists took to the jungle delivering their finest skipper antics to a panel of surprise celebrity judges including - Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios John Lasseter and his wife, Nancy, Executive Vice President and Walt Disney Imagineering Ambassador Marty Sklar, Senior Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering Tony Baxter, and Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Director and Concept Writer Kevin Rafferty.

Each finalist had one shot to deliver his or her spiel to the judges. Rain poured down throughout the skippers’ spiels making for a well-themed trip through the rainforest. Although conditions were soggy, the skippers were cool, calm and collected while delivering punch line after punch line.“All the skippers were terrific, every single one,” said Sklar. “They were all able to use their own unique style during their performances to make the jokes funny every time. We had a tough time deciding the winners.”

The excursion takes place Feb. 27 through Mar. 6, and will include a two-day tour of Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, Jungle Cruise skipper training on the Tokyo attraction, and the opportunity to present their personal spiel’s to the group.
Come back tomorrow for Day One Trip Report and Photos from our recent Walt Disney World excursion!


What a gift good friends are! To have a group of men and women who will stick by you through the hard times and celebrate when they are good is a blessing from God. Here's to you (and all you not pictured but so important as well)- and thanks for being who you are!
"Dear friends, since God so loved us, 
we also ought to love one another."
1 John 4:11

February 23, 2009

"Rip"-ped Off

Looks like a great little attraction, doesn't it? Universal Studio's Rip, Ride, Rock It followed by Islands of Adventure's Wizarding World of Harry Potter are sure to bring in the crowds in record time. Or at least keep the name Universal foremost in fan's minds for any trip to Florida.

After just having visited the Walt Disney World Resort, I can honestly say I am concerned that the company seems to have minimal plans in order to go head to head with the competition. A new parade? A new show? Refurbishments? A new promotion? These will not be enough to compete. Yet, there seems to be nothing in the pipeline. Monsters Laugh Floor and American Idol Experience or even Toy Story Midway Mania won't do.
OK, Disney, it's time to surprise and amaze us once again. I really do not want to wait seven or eight years before you successfully entice me to return. But I will if I must.
(P.S.- Watch for my trip reports starting Wednesday.)

A Plea

Oh, Lord, how I need you today! You have blessed me so much, it almost feels as if I shouldn't come to you and ask for more. But what I ask for is to know you more, to feel your gracious presence, to feel joy again.

I know this is just another one of those seasons when you go into the deepest parts of me to make me stronger and more dependent on you. But, oh, it is a lonely and scary place sometimes. You are so faithful Lord and have never closed your eyes to me or forgotten my face. Please bring back the joy. I know I sound like King David and even maybe a bit dramatic, but I know, Jesus, that you are not offended or afraid of my deepest and honest emotions.

In good and in bad, Lord, I trust you. You let me have and do so much- and I am so thankful for me recent opportunity to escape and play at Disney. Yet, it is time to once again engage in real life and face difficulties. Thank you for your grace and strength.

Today, I choose to bless you regardless of what the day brings!

February 22, 2009

Passport to Dreams Gone By

The great blog Passport to Dreams Old & New just posted a great update. Long known for deep insight and thought provoking posts on particularly the Florida kingdom, the latest is a running list on occupants of the Disney Village from 1975 on. Pretty cool- check it out!

February 20, 2009

In the Eye of the Beholder: Laguna Beach

Here's an absolutely wonderful shot of Laguna Beach, California at sunset. Stunning! My youngest daughter took this during our latest family vacation. She's a great photographer, but with a view like this, almost anyone could get a beautiful result. Doesn't God do great work by creating evenings like this?
(Photography copyright Lauren Taft.)

February 19, 2009


Returning from any vacation leaves me a bit cold and a little depressed. Yesterday, I felt lost, but once again, God comes to the rescue- this time in the form of Oswald Chambers' classic book My Utmost for His Highest:
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples went to sleep when they should have stayed awake, and once they realized what they had done it produced despair. The sense of having done something irreversible tends to make us despair. We say, "Well, it’s all over and ruined now; what’s the point in trying anymore." If we think this kind of despair is an exception, we are mistaken. It is a very ordinary human experience. Whenever we realize we have not taken advantage of a magnificent opportunity, we are apt to sink into despair. But Jesus comes and lovingly says to us, in essence, "Sleep on now. That opportunity is lost forever and you can’t change that. But get up, and let’s go on to the next thing." In other words, let the past sleep, but let it sleep in the sweet embrace of Christ, and let us go on into the invincible future with Him.

There will be experiences like this in each of our lives. We will have times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples, in this instance, had done a downright unthinkable thing— they had gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, "Get up, and do the next thing." If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.

Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step.

February 18, 2009

Design Detail: Dinosaur Gerties

While I work on my trip reports from my latest retreat to Florida (and recover from some unplanned dental surgery!), here's a bit of design detail: Dinosaur Gerties from Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Even back in 1989 at the park's opening, there was alot of eye candy to be found among the scant number of attractions. In my mind, this was among the best of the lot. It was easy back then to just walk around looking at all the detail the Disney Imagineers put into the place. And it still is. In fact, my last visit to the Studios made me do alot of rethinking about how I feel about the place- but I'll save that remarkable story for the trip report...
(Photo copyright Mark Taft)

Happiest Birthday, Silly Honey!

The years have passed by so quickly! Happy Birthday, to a wonderful young woman who will always be my little girl. I am so proud of you for how you've survived and thrived in this life. Your heart of love and gift of mercy very much intact. Much love always, Dad.

February 17, 2009

Stunt Show at Disneyland Paris? An Update!

A recap: While I was searching for a graphic for my California Adventure post (3/20/08), I happened upon this interesting piece of concept art for Frontierland at Disneyland Paris. Look at the bottom right of the concept art above. It is labeled "EDL"-EuroDisneyland, not Walt Disney Studios. What's even more interesting is the name this graphic was given "Stunt Building Paris Western". Could it be? How seriously was a stunt show for Frontierland considered? Maybe our fellow Disney fan (and author of a great book, Disneyland Paris, From Sketch to Reality,) Alain Littaye at Disney and More would be happy to fill us in.

Recent Note from Alain (2/15/2009): "Recently , i found on the excellent Mark Taft Insights and Sounds web site this rendering below. It's labelled "EDL - for Euro Disneyland which means that this concept-art was done in the early 90's when the park was still called by this name. And it shows the facade of a stunt show arena envisioned for DLP's Frontierland - a "western" stunt show, of course.

In his article Mark was wondering "How seriously was a stunt show for Frontierland considered?" and hoped that i may have the answer as i am the one who wrote the book about the park.Unfortunately, i just discovered Mark's March 2008 article yesterday (!) and i am a little bit late for the answer! However, i asked Jeff Burke who was Frontierland's show-producer if he ever heard about this project. And here is his answer:"I don't recognize this specific illustration, but there were discussions, after the Park had opened in 1992, to build a stunt show arena where the Chapparal Stage now stands. The discussions of Frontierland's own stunt showplace ended when operations said it would be too much of a repetition of the "Buffalo Bill Wild West Show" in Downtown Disney."

Another former imagineer friend sent to me these additionnal infos: "There were a number of discussions concerning a live western show in Frontierland, including a small rodeo which was not done due to the strict animal protection laws in France. This is why the animals in the original petting zoo were moved behind a fence after opening so that the guests could only pet an animal when it approached the guest on its own.As to the stunt show, this was developed under the Entertainment department on their own rather than Imagineering which was probably why it was not well known. An outside consultant was brought in and I seem to remember a model might also have been done. It was essentially a comic gun fight with exploding buildings and such but, as Jeff said, it was cancelled because of the clash with the Buffalo Bill show.After that, the Chaparral stage came into existence to house any number of live entertainment shows."So, there we have the answer about this mysterious rendering. The park DID envisioned a stunt show in Frontierland, but they finally cancelled it because of the Disney Village dinner show - translate: if we have a stunt show in Frontierland, people won't come - and pay - for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.Although i must admit there is a kind of logic in their decision, i think it's a pity that a "western" stunt show don't exist in Frontierland instead of the Chapparal Stage. A western stunt show is a classic in theme parks - think about the Universal's Wild Wild West stunt show - and it would have give more life in the back of Frontierland..."

Thanks, Alain!

Just Returned...

... from the Vacation Kingdom of the World. Stay tuned for trip reports and photos!

Worthy of a Greatest Hits

It's about time- an Annie Lennox greatest hits album worthy of her art. Available today in the U.S.A.

February 16, 2009

In Honor of Mr. Lincoln and His Peers...

Here's a rarely seen piece of art from Great Moments from Mr. Lincoln. This comes from the wonderful Behind the Magic book. May this humble and godly man never be forgotten!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 12, 2009

Bon Voyage!

Leaving today for a great little four day getaway to Walt Disney World. Just me and my wife. Time for some great restaurants, a nice walk around World Showcase at Epcot, swimming, and enjoying the warm Florida sunshine. Oh yeah, and time for a journey up one of my favorite Disney mountains- the Forbidden one at Expedition Everest. See you soon with a trip report and lots of photos!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

February 11, 2009

La Tour Eiffel

The landmark of Paris, possibly the most famous landmark on earth- La Tour Eiffel.

From any angle, in black and white, sepia, or illustrious color photos, just spectacular. Yet, even the best photography does not to justice to it.

You must go in person to experience the tower. Whether viewing it from a sidewalk cafe, a rooftop garden, or from a boat on the Seine, if you are a visitor or blessed enough to be a local, it is difficult to pull your eyes away from this magnificent work of art.
The only thing more beautiful than the Tower itself is the city which surrounds it.
(Photography copyright Mark Taft.)

February 10, 2009

Bird Brained

In the ongoing insertion of characters into the Disney parks, the really annoying but must be popular Stitch has invaded now Disneyland's It's A Small World and Tokyo Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room.

In the concept art above, one unused idea was pitched to have penguins entertain guests once inside the classic tropical bungalow. I cannot decide which choice was worse! What is going on at the Walt Disney Company and the Oriental Land Company? This pairing used to produce incredible attractions. Will Monsters Inc Ride and Go Seek reverse the trend? Here 's hoping.

However awful the ideas, these wonderful renderings are found in the latest edition of Tales from the Laughing Place, a fan magazine that ranks with the best of the Disney company's official publications of the past. You really should subscribe. If you're an obsessed Disney fan, to not do so would be... bird brained.

(Concept art The Walt Disney Company)

February 9, 2009

Monday Morning Blues

Songs have been sung about it. Movies have been made. It’s probably the main cause for groaning on Sunday night, and the universal subject around water coolers of the office on Monday mornings.

So, it seems to me that the following is a good reminder for the beginning of yet another week:“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
I Corinthians 15:58

Thank you, Lord, for the practicality of your word. Let’s be honest here: if our faith was strictly set in the realm of the philosopher but it couldn’t work in our real world, what good is it? But just what is “the work of the Lord”?I would venture to say that this goes back to the very beginning.

If we look in the book of Genesis to the creation and God’s plan for Adam, we see God gave him meaning work in tending the garden and also a wonderful helper for relationship. This is the same plan for each of us today.Whatever position you find yourself in, God has given you work to do and an opportunity to represent Him to those you labor with. He sets the place for us to be able to share Man’s need for God and His love expressed through Jesus, making the forgiveness of sins possible. Do you see these prospects in your workplace? Which folks are sensitive to God’s calling? Who needs encouragement?

The arena of the workplace provides us the chance to practice all the “one anothers” in Scripture. We get to be the hand of God- loving, challenging, and encouraging each person we encounter as He gives opportunity. It is great when it all comes together and we see God’s purposes and plans for us!

So, let’s choose today to stand firm and give ourselves to His work. He is always at work. Let’s join Him. The opportunities and rewards are right before us.

February 8, 2009

Greatness Recaptured?

Does Whitney Houston still have it or has she given all her love and talent to a life of partying and drugs? At last night's Grammy awards party for Clive Davis, seems like Whitney has the goods once more. She is well produced for the most part- her Christmas album being an obvious embarrassment- but its all about the voice. Some things just cannot be hidden. So, for this man, the jury is still out- and I'll gladly wait until her new disc to decide whether of not Whitney can still sing. Taking bets...
(Photo by Dan Steinberg)

February 6, 2009

Karen and Mickey Sing Together?

No, not Mickey Mouse! Mickey Jones, a singer.
. An interesting find...
(Thank you to Mickey Jones for his kind assistance.)
Karen's "other" Magic Lamp single.

For a while now, there has been some speculation stating Karen Carpenter might have provided backing vocals for another artist's single in 1966. Magic Lamp records, which was owned by prominent west coast bassist Joe Osborn, signed Karen Carpenter as a solo vocalist in 1966. With Joe's engineering assistance, they produced 2 songs: Looking for Love, and I'll Be Yours (both written and arranged by Richard).The Magic Lamp label only lasted 12 months, but during this time Joe Osborn also produced several other artists. One of these was a young drummer named Mickey Jones. His single I Can't Live Without You, is a catchy 'Beatles-meets-Beach Boys' kind of harmonious fast paced 60's pop song. It is rather difficult to hear all but the lead vocal. 

The 45 states the artists were 'Mickey Jones and the Triumphs'. The rumours claim that Karen Carpenter was the actual backup singer, and there were no 'Triumphs'. Until now, that is all this was- a rumour. I now have confirmation from Mickey Jones himself that Karen did indeed provide backup vocals for his 1966 single. My assumption is that she recorded this in the few weeks between the time she met Joe Osborn, and when she was signed to Magic Lamp under her own name. Here is what Mickey has to say on the subject:

"I can tell you the whole story. Joe Osborn produced that record, 'I Can Live Without You' and yes Karen is singing as a backup singer on the session. As I'm sure you know, Joe Osborn found Karen Carpenter and signed her to her first recording contract. He did not want Richard, and in fact Joe would not let Richard in the studio when he was recording Karen. Joe finally sold his contract to Herb Alpert and the rest is history".

So there we are, official confirmation! If you're lucky enough to own a copy of this single, hang on to it. I've seen it sell from between US $90- $250. Moreover, it's a very interesting piece of Carpenters history for completist collectors. One can only wonder why Karen's involvement was never documented anywhere.....

Not the End of the "World" As We Know It

The reviews are coming in, but It's Still a Small World After All. Yes, there are characters, and from what I can tell, they are mostly well placed if even a bit up and center. Yes, the United States - not America- is now represented by its own room. It's not as well done as the Disneyland Paris version, but it's about time.

Mary Blair continues to be represented well with her original designs still prominent. In this man's opinion, only the annoying Stitch is out of place. But I won't be a grump about it. Smiles still mean friendship to everyone. The legendary song still plays. It's a Small World After All.

February 5, 2009

The "Horizon" Review: The Carpenters Masterpiece

Elegant, ageless perfection- and way ahead of its time to be fully appreciated. Horizon is the culmination of the Carpenters' illustrious career and in some ways, the beginning of the end of it.

By the time 1973 had ended, Karen and Richard had permanently made their mark on the American music scene and the international one as well. Between chart-topping sales of Now and Then and The Singles 1969-1973, the smash successes of Yesterday Once More and Top of the World, the Carpenters were embraced by music fans around the world. The following year was a continuation of this spectacular chart success amid a hugely successful tour. However, chart success this year was paid at a high price.

A lame remix of I Won't Last a Day Without You made it to the Top Ten solely on the momentum of its predecessors. Its release confirmed that there was a lack of creativity happening for the duo. In their defense, no one else could have kept up the pace they had set for themselves. Nonetheless, what other wisdom or reason was there in taking a song from 1972- from an old album no less- and making it a single in mid-1974?

Their next two releases vaguely confirmed the creative slump: Richard and Karen's unique take on Santa Claus is Coming to Town kept the pump primed for an upcoming Christmas project. Additionally, they retreated into remake territory by releasing Please Mr. Postman as their last single release of the year.

In hindsight, my first listen to the remake of this Motown and Beatles hit, on Los Angeles station 93KHJ, was telling: It was the first time I was not 100% sure this was Karen on lead vocals. The recording of her voice seemed a bit fast and a little too sweet to my ears. Was this just a one-off placeholder or an audio taste of the next album? Ultimately, it didn't matter to me. The record was fun! I eagerly purchased this and each new release, happily waiting for them as they arrived.

December 21st Billboard ad celebrating Postman- a worldwide smash.

Closing out the year near the top of the charts, it was very frothy and playful- but a large step backwards in terms of establishing the scope of their artistry. By the end of January 1975, Postman was indeed a Number One hit all over the world. What would come next? The answer was a song many fans consider among their best. The fourth single release of a Carpenter/Bettis tune was among their strongest: Only Yesterday. Finally a truly new song- and a great one at that.

With a distinctive opening drum line, engaging, heartfelt lyric, and a mesmerizing vocal introduction by Karen, I was captivated by it at first listen. (And almost 35 years later, I still am.) My love for this song was made even stronger by the addition of their layered vocals, Tony Peluso's guitar solo, and the song's climactic ending. Only Yesterday had a fresh and very different sound, yet it seemed familiar as well. Just stunning. Couldn't wait to buy it. Once in my hands, the single was a visual treat as well. The sleeve of the 45 was as well done as the music it contained, with a brand new and very contemporary logo front and center. Karen and Richard had clearly moved on from days of old.

March 29th ad in Billboard magazine announcing the arrival of the new single.

History had taught me that a new single meant a new album was coming soon enough, and I was right. Horizon arrived in early June, just as school was ending. I left campus as quickly as I could, dashing off in my old Ford Mustang to the nearest Licorice Pizza record store. Once I entered my favorite music stop, I didn't have to search hard to find the album. It was nestled underneath a large Horizon poster. Picking up the LP, I just stared at the cover. Beautiful photography, very grown up and sophisticated. Certainly not thrown together. Nor did the brother and sister duo look as if they were lovesick teens.

Flipping the album jacket over, I surveyed the songlist. An earlier television appearance on the Perry Como Christmas Special left me hoping It's Impossible would be included on the new album. It was not to be. As I continued to read, I discovered to my dismay that there were only ten songs on this newest release and two of them were under two minutes in length. Was this another Tan album? No matter, the recording was mine, and the wait was over. 

From purchase to turntable was just under an hour, a combination of well-timed traffic lights and a lead footed driver. 

The anticipation was killing me! Arrived home and ran to my room. By now, I had my own stereo, complete with Altec-Lansing speakers as tall as they came. Plugged in my earphones, took the disc out of its paper sleeve, sat down, and closed my eyes to focus. I was set to go.

May 31st ad announcing the new forthcoming album.

The first ever listen to a new Carpenters album is a treat that I never took for granted. (And how I wish there were many more ahead!) This day was no different. Hmm, Richard's piano simply opened the album as Karen started in, "Morning opens quietly..." She sounded wonderful, warm but full of confidence and a little melancholy- my favorite type of Karen recording. That melacholy in her voice perfectly matched the growing somberness in my heart.

Just as I was getting used to Aurora, it was over, and the opening bars of Only Yesterday began. Soon enough I discovered a nice little surprise. Richard had given us an extended version of his latest masterpiece, making me enjoy the song even more than I had previously. I have always appreciated these little touches that seemed to be just for us fans, as if it was his way of saying "Thank you for waiting- I'm thinking of you." Be it special packaging, reprising songs thus creating bookends, or extended versions of the hits, these were the extra touches that helped make each Carpenters album an event.

A gentle harmonica opened the next song, perfectly signaling the end of one tune and the beginning of another. Desperado was a gutsy and surprising choice. Both the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt had recorded their own versions, yet Richard's arrangement and Karen's strong delivery on this song created the new standard to beat. This clearly seemed to be the Carpenters' way of informing their critics they were not going anywhere, and yes, they could hold their own with their contemporaries. Point well proven- and reviews of the disc by even the most diehard critics almost begrudgingly admitted these were in deed the facts. How I smugly relished reading those reviews!

Celebrating Postman's success in Billboard.

A different and weightier version of Postman was next up. This was not the single version; it seemed more in tune to the feel of the album. The inclusion of the song broke the mood of the disc and seemed like a concession to A&M's sales and promotion team. Placing it on the album reinforced Karen and Richard's love for the oldies but almost instantly dated an otherwise timeless accomplishment. Seeming an immature choice, it was only in hindsight I realized they were still in their twenties given the richness of their accomplishments.

Desperado was one surprise on this album, but it was certainly not the only one to be found here. I Can Dream Can't I? came right after their Motown sidetrip. It was quite jarring in contrast, but beautifully reestablished the mood. I loved the song instantly because of Karen's use of her lower vocal range. The stunning arrangement was true to its era, and Karen performed the song as if she was its queen. My grandfather was a drummer during the Big Band years, and this style of music was usually found on their radio. I was very familiar with many of those smoky classics, but this was a new one for me.

"Songbook" albums continue to be very popular, but this 1940s gem was delivered almost a full decade before Ms. Ronstadt herself decided it would be leading edge to record an album of such elegance. Once more leading the way. By its inclusion, Karen and Richard proved they were equals with the best performers of decades past as well as on par with any current act. This choice of song and its execution only magnified my musical respect for them. Frankly, I was dazzled by the performance, and in later years wished, as did Richard, that the duo would have recorded more songs from that season of time. Side One was now finished, and I turned the disc over for more.

Ad for Solitaire. An easy direction to take
but a very poor execution for a stunning classic.

A performer with a reenergized career provided Richard and Karen with the next selection. Neil Sedaka (along with writer Phil Cody), whose range of hits ran from Calendar Girl to Breaking Up is Hard to Do, composed what should have been a modern day classic: Solitaire. Taken from his recent compilation album of songs made famous in England, Karen makes his song hers and gives the listener a vocal ending that stands among her best. Richard's arrangement is at once stark, rich, and compelling. Solitaire is a powerful performance- and one that I wanted to hear in concert. Although I saw Karen and Richard perform live in 1976, 1977 and 1978, probably because of their infamous rift with Sedaka, they never chose to perform it. It would have been a treat. In fact, my initial appreciation of this song was so strong, Solitaire was the first one selected for a repeated listen once I completed hearing the album.

Discovering another entry in a rather quirky Carpenters tradition, I found this excellent album contained its own "sequel" recordings. In the same manner that Saturday followed Rainy Days and Mondays and Druscilla Penny followed Superstar with alternative views on the previous story, Happy followed Solitaire, continuing on with its card playing metaphors. While it is a pleasant and upbeat selection, it is one that always felt quite rote in comparison to what came before or after it. I enjoyed it and knew it well as it was the flipside to the new single, but it was never a big favorite. As with Postman, this song also timestamps the album. Richard's use of synthisizers placed it firmly in the 70s, although his up front use of them came prior to the pop recordings of Gary Wright, Alan Parsons Project and their peers. Again, Richard's song selection and arrangements were ahead of his time.

Horizon Tour Booklet photo scan by Harry at the A&M Corner.

The next two songs more than made up for this temporary and slight shortcoming. (I'm Caught Between) Goodbye and I Love You and Love Me for What I Am were excellent. I sat there and just soaked in what was surrounding my ears. On both, the production is pristine, the arrangements superb and Karen's vocals outstanding. Gorgeous! In Los Angeles, both these songs became FM radio favorites in the soft rock arena. (In particular, Karen seems to make Love Me for What I Am a demanding but desperate personal plea, something not lost on listeners hearing the song after her death.) As Love Me concluded, once again, Tony Peluso's guitar rang out, with the duos multi-tracked vocals making a majestic closing statement to another outstanding album. The reprise song Eventide ended the disc, sharing the melody of Aurora but with a different and fitting lyric.

My initial response was to turn the record over starting it again, but instead, I skipped back to Solitaire just to hear Karen's amazing closing vocal line one more time. Eventually, I did start back at Side One while I took in the wonderful album design, beautiful photography, and production credits.

As it turned out, Horizon, was not the sales hit the duo or label expected it to be. After Only Yesterday ran its course, A&M tried to make a radio hit of a remixed Solitaire. Unfortunately, it was much too serious a song to become an end of summer smash, falling short of the top twenty on the national charts.

It was during the making of Horizon that Karen's health and Richard's enthusiasm and creativity continued to decline. Even worse, their public image took an unexpected hit because of their concert fiasco with Sedaka. Trouble had been brewing for quite awhile, and now it was here. The next couple of albums reflected a quiet desperation to recapture chart hits and creative joy. I was oblivious to what was to come.

For this listener, Horizon was and remains the duos finest work to date. The album may have less youthful energy and experimentation compared to their earlier work, but it shows the duo at the top of their craft! Karen's voice is prominent and intimately strong (perhaps recorded the best ever compared to any other album), but it also becomes the hook which highlights the incredible craftsmanship of Richard's work. Four decades later, Horizon is still stunning and beautiful, a perfect late night listen, both delicate and substantial. Any true masterpiece reflects but also defines its artist. This album does both and is a work ahead of its time. Showcasing Karen and Richard as vocalists, musicians, song writer, arranger and producers, Horizon is at once contemporary without being trendy, timeless and elegant- also perfectly describing the artists that created it.
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: