November 30, 2009

When the Future was Forward Thinking

What was it about the 1967 version of Disneyland's Tomorrowland that inspired so many? If you look at this piece of Imagineering concept art, you'll catch a small glimpse and begin to understand the passion of those older Disney park fans that saw this version in real time.

Here is the McDonnell Douglas sponsored Flight to the Moon adventure, a prominent first version of the Peoplemover, and off to the far right, a freshly rendered version of Space Mountain. Much like Epcot's original version of Future World, the future has never seemed so thrilling, hopeful and inviting!

What do we have today? Potential- but little representation of what is to come. Buzz Lightyear (My favorite space ranger!) and Nemo take up prime property, the space flight to other planets is now a restaurant, tracks from the Peoplemover sit waiting for something to come, with all of it housed in an architectural environment consisting of a mish mash of styles and outdated 80's concepts.

Myabe this last visit to Disneyland and California Adventure reignited my passion to see Tomorrowland return to its glory days. Or my mid-February visit to Walt Disney World and its sci-fi version in the Magic Kingdom. If nothing else, both reminded me what the Walt Disney Company can achieve when they put their mind to it- and what they don't when they focus first on synergy and cross-marketing.

Let's keep looking forward as we continue our explorations of Tomorrowland on Monday mornings.

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 29, 2009

Tomorrowland Mondays

If the idea of Tomorrowland makes you stand up and take notice. If you miss the 1967 version and detest the newest incarnation in Anaheim. If you long for the bronze Space Mountain to return, and love or loathe what has transpired in Florida's Magic Kingdom, you may want to check in on the next several Monday mornings. I'll be sharing some concept art, some photographs, and a few things to think about as I explore Disneyland's Tomorrowland and onto Walt Disney World.

November 27, 2009

More California Adventure Bargain Basement Imagineering

Blogger Note: While I enjoy a quiet weekend, please enjoy a reposting of one of my most popular articles. Look for versions 1.5 and 2.0 as well!
Watch for a Monday morning series on Tomorrowlands worldwide- starting this Monday!

While Disney fans around the globe are checking out the beautiful new Blue Sky Cellar at California Adventure, it seems more than appropriate to look back on what was actually built come opening day. Why? First, it will help us keep all this new and wonderful concept art in perspective. Remember, this is what the park will potentially look like once work is completed. The painters brush can be unintentionally deceiving! Secondly, due to the cost-cutting measures of the leadership of the time, it reminds us what poor foundations the Imagineers are stuck working with trying to improve this discount park.

As we look at concept art from the first incarnation of California Adventure, let's compare what we saw in the preview center versus what the park really looked like to an opening day guest. Many visitors, myself included, expressed displeasure at what was found at this new park. So did the media and for a good reason.

Let's begin with the park entrance. The tile murals flanking the sides are really well done. The CALIFORNIA letters are a unique touch and both together clearly communicate this is not Disneyland. It's not a bad design, there's just no follow through. When the Disney advertising experts have to create a fictionalized version of the entrance for promotional purposes, this should be the first clue that the park has some serious problems and design flaws.
It is what we encounter once walking past the turnstiles that shouts "bargain basement" design. Looking right through the gates brings a very ordinary looking area, nothing to entice a visitor who is considering a day at this park.

The Sunshine Plaza reigns as the ugliest and least original park entrance area in Disney's history. Yes, this includes the even less imaginative Walt Disney Studios in Paris! Framed by an out of place replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, the environment matches a low budget outlet mall, appropriately setting the stage for what is found in most of the park.

The Sun fountain is an interesting structure, but it really belongs in an open garden at a hotel, in the midst of a walkway from the parking area or just someplace else. Not large enough in scale to impress, not a fitting centerpiece for the park. In some ways, it is appropriate. This is big and flashy with a contemporary edge- but it lacks substance.

Moving on, let's head to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. At first glance, it is a pretty Disneyesque area, a more playful version of the main drag at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The centerpiece, and clearly the highlight at opening, is Disney Animation.

Frankly, this is one impressive showcase! Beyond the park's signature flight simulator attraction, this gem is filled with the kind of care in execution that should have been found all over the park. The Animation Courtyard has an impressive layout that dazzles, and The Sorcerer's Workshop, including Beast's Library, feels like a walk-thru dark ride, drawing guests in further and further inside. It's easy to spend an hour here just watching the transformation in the library. Well done, Imagineers! In a nod to the Studios old working animation area, The Animation Academy truly provides a fun and informative demonstration of the art of the wonderful and ageless 2-D process. (Below is altogether different concept for Disney Animation.)

Beyond this great little attraction is where the troubles begin. Wandering around the rest of this land, guests discover raw steel and bland walls lie behind the great looking storefronts. Even the seemingly impressive Hyperion Theater is really just one great optical illusion. Just a big box but one with state-of-the-art facilities inside. However, it is a facility with no lobby and no restrooms!

Nearby, the past its prime MuppetVision 3D show is found. Not too thrilling an idea or presentation. It's a quick retread from Florida to save some cash- and an attempt by Disney to relaunch a very tired but admittedly once charming franchise.

The worst of the (Back) lot, however, is the only dark ride found here in 2001. In one of the oddest moves ever for a Disney park, the Imagineers designed and built the strange Superstar Limo attraction. The building housing the ride is at once quirky and likable to some degree, but the experience inside is just plain bizarre. Hosted by an on-screen agent who seems like someone you'd never let your children be alone with, the limo ride takes you through a tongue in cheek and trendy Hollywood filled with animatronics of "B" list celebrities from the Disney Studio. It quickly became the laughing stock of the theme park industry and a symbol of everything wrong with California Adventure. Less than a year from its premier, this ride quickly disappeared forever.

In a bit of poor planning, the Backlot's main street becomes a dead end, so let's cross back over to Condor Flats, a recreation of a California desert airfield.

Condor Flats effectively marks the entrance to The Golden State district, the portion of the park that truly strengthens the California theme. The airstrip is a small area to be sure, but it houses the park's signature attraction, Soarin' Over California. All the quibbles of the queue and its minimal theming aside, this film experience is the emotional heart of the park. Californians are rightfully proud of their state and its stunning diversity of landscapes. The photography is exhilarating, the musical score heightens the mood, and the ride mechanism impresses to thrilling results. It is the single standout attraction in the park. This crowd pleaser should not have been duplicated at any other resort. Period.

The true icon of this park, and one that for the first time is positioned to please hotel guests instead of park visitors, is Grizzly Peak. No expense was spared in creating an authentic and beautiful mountain environment. The rockwork created by the Imagineers ranks with the best of their efforts, including Big Thunder Mountain and the younger Expedition Everest. The landscaping is superb. The network of waterfalls, winding paths and viewing areas makes this part of the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area the most beautiful location of the entire Disneyland Resort. (Below is an amazing piece of artwork. Like the others, makes sure you click for a larger image.)

The setting for the Grizzly River Run is spectacular and "E" ticket worthy. However obvious short cuts have been taken with this attraction, starting with the design of the watercraft. The promotional poster below shows a whitewater excursion with an authentically styled raft. Somewhere between concept and execution, the attraction ended up with standard theme park fare circular rafts. Certainly the same company that could imagine and engineer leading edge ride systems for other attractions could find a way to build an authentic raft that was safe while providing the desired thrills!

Further cost-cutting took place by the exclusion of animatronic animals. Every other nature-based attraction designed by Disney uses them to good effect. From slow moving rides like The Jungle River Cruise to the high speed adventures of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, there is simply no excuse for their absence except budgetary restraints. It's still a very fun attraction with terrific views of the park (and the less than beautiful city of Anaheim), but it could be so much more than it is.

Guests quickly noticed a trend in this new era Disney park: there may have been discounting on the attraction detail, but no expenses were lost when it came to the shops! California Adventure has some Disneyland quality shopping areas, and the Rushin' River Outfitters (below) is no exception.

Continuing a trend that began with Disneyland itself, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is a new take on the original park's Tom Sawyer's Island. Both provide plenty of fun as well as an area where younger visitors can run free. It is a nicely themed playground but not much more.

The limited number of attractions and cutbacks aside, this region of California Adventure provides the immersive environment that Disney guests are accustomed to finding at the parks. If only the rest of the small park had this much charm and care taken with it! The glaring shortcomings are only heightened when we enter into the San Francisco area, one far removed from the Golden Gate Bridge we found at the park entrance.

This tiny little sliver of San Francisco houses only restrooms, leaving guests who expected an elegant area such as New Orleans Square in a state of shock. In place of a fully realized cityscape, we find Golden Dreams, the film tribute to the history of the state. Originally envisioned as Circle of Hands, it was intended to be a heartwarming multimedia presentation of the brave men and women who settled and worked the land. Budget cuts again derailed the project. We are now left with a small scale but warm and politically correct vision of history. Unintentionally, this show is also one of the best arguments for Disney to stop using its a film stars as part of their attractions.

As we move around the bend, the beautiful Golden Vine Winery comes into view. Of course, so does the Pacific Wharf food court, Bountiful Valley Farm, and the surprising Paradise Pier.

The winery area charms guests with a sophistication not found elsewhere. Of course, like Napa Valley itself, we find a couple of pricy restaurants among the park's vineyard. Attractions? Oh yes, Seasons of the Vine is here- yet another film, this one highlighting the process of the art of winemaking from field to table. It is a slice of Epcot Center, an undiscovered gem. The music and photography perfectly capturing the area.

Across the way on this side of the bay is the Pacific Wharf. What could have been a wonderful setting for some California themed Disney attractions is reduced to mostly a food court with a couple of bakery tours using short films to tell the manufacturing story. The educational aspects of the park are important, however, they needed to be balanced out with traditional Disney attractions to justify the full ticket price.

Butting up to the Wharf is Bountiful Valley Farm, showcasing the agricultural impact of the state. Aside from yet another film, this one a clone of an additional 3D attraction from Florida, guests to the area are left without much to do except viewing tractors and watching a quite unimaginative fountain. In the age of "bargain basement" Imagineering, it's Disney storytelling at it's sorry best.

Controversial. Cheap and tacky. Off the shelf. Not what Walt would have wanted. Paradise Pier is all these things and more. And less.

Once guests had experienced the limited number of attractions in the other areas and the truly good live entertainment to be found, many headed toward Paradise Pier hoping to round out their day at Disney's recreation of a seaside amusement area.

The California Screamin' coaster stands tall over the area, and it is a roller coaster ride very worthy of a Disney park. Unfortunately, it is just a coaster- no great theming to be found here. No journey to outer space, no wildest ride in the wilderness, just an exposed track reaching for the sky. It is fun, day or night, but there are no Disney touches to be found except the giant glaring Mickey head. In this new fangled park, big, loud and obvious has mostly replaced the charming nuances of designers from earlier generations.

The rest of Paradise Pier is fleshed out with carnival games, kiddie attractions, swing rides, and an impressive Ferris Wheel. There's truly nothing magical or Disney here, yet the advertising department thought this was one of the best areas to show to promote the new park. What were they thinking? The public was not fooled, and the executives at Disney were left with an embarrassment on their hands.

Which brings us back full circle to the Blue Sky Cellar, housed in the old Seasons of the Vine building. Yes, it seems Disney is seriously trying to redeem itself by re-Imagineering the park. Starting with the areas that guests complained about the most, the makeover has started. The entrance to the park will be reworked. The Hollywood Backlot will get more improvements. The Pier will be a challenge but will still be a carnival. Plans even exist for a wonderful new land and a couple of great attractions worthy of the Disney of old. Will we see them? Will the proposed changes turn California Adventure from dud to star?

What can we learn from the "Bargain Basement" Imagineering? Concept art can be deceiving, and budgets can be reduced. However, I have a hunch Disney has learned some important lessons from trying to fool us as they did in 2001. They've got one last chance to redeem themselves, and my money says they will.
(All art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 26, 2009

Turkey and California Adventure

Waiting for the turkey and ran across this old California Adventure map from the now defunct DCA Central. Hope your day is a great one!
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company)

Reasons for Thanksgiving

So much to be thankful for, isn't there?

Just stop and think of the blessings in your life. Even if this season of life has been one of hardship, there are always little things as well as big reasons why God deserves our thanks.

My heart of thanksgiving grows each year I am on the planet, and here are a few of the reasons I choose to give God thanks:

His goodness and His great gift of sacrifice in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ- The Ultimate expression of God's love for mankind, and the only payment in full for my sin. That God Himself would reach down to us still amazes me.

My family- What more can I say? Through hardship and trial, my family has been a visible expression of God's heart toward me. Have our lives always been easy? NO! Not even close, but we stick together through it all.

The freedom we have in the United States- Many bash this great country of ours and try to turn it into something that it was never designed to be, but at its core, it is the best representation of our rights and our freedoms in human governments. Yes, there is always room for more improvement, but in all of my travels, I have never experienced a community so hopeful and free to be who they are as I do back home.

Entertainment- Yep, I am thankful for that! Isn't life a whole lot more fun with it? From our theme parks to our sporting events to television, music, the internet and movies, to be able to be blessed by the enormous amount of talent amongst us is a gift.

The ability to work- What a joy to provide for my family in a way that I enjoy. And to have a job in this economic situation is even more of a blessing.

Sharing with others less fortunate- Whether it is sharing food, faith, or in service, giving to others is a gift we also give ourselves.

There are many more reasons to celebrate and thank God together.

May God bless you this Thanksgiving Day with joy and peace and a heart of gratefulness!

November 25, 2009

Is the Past in Tomorrowland's Future?

Here's something I really miss from Disneyland and thoroughly enjoy while visiting the Magic Kingdom in Florida: the Peoplemover. Florida's Transit Authority has returned to mixed reviews on its audio tour, but just having this great attraction up and running is a tribute to good old common sense. The future belongs in Tomorrowland, and nothing aside from Space Mountain has represented the land as well.

This great old piece of concept art comes from back in the day when the executives at the company and Imagineering were really interested in keeping Tomorrowland about tomorrow. I still have alot of faith in the Disney Imagineers, especially those working on Walt's original park under Tony Baxter's lead. Can't wait to see what is up next!

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company)

November 24, 2009

Wedding Belles and a Beau

Nice photo of some of our family. Taken at a wedding where our daughter was a bridesmaid. Isn't she beautiful? (And my wife, too!)

November 23, 2009

Shanghai Disneyland Whets the Appetite

All this talk of Shanghai Disneyland whets my appetite to visit Disney's second park in Asia. Tokyo DisneySea may always hold title to the most elaborately themed park on the face of the earth. And rightfully so. We have been told for almost ten years now that photos do not do it justice. The stunning views, the premier attractions, and the gorgeous shops and restaurants only prove its status in the eyes and minds of Disney fans worldwide.

But I am concerned. Will the addition of Toy Story Mania do the park any justice? The continued infusion of Disney characters can certainly contribute to the watering down of the theme. (Sorry, pun intended!) First Crush invades with Turtle Talk, now this. When will they stop and how will this growing epidemic impact the first Mainland China park? Stay tuned...

(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company.)

November 22, 2009

Sunday Night Addiction

Wow- what has gone on tonight? My brain is running in a million different directions. Maybe it is just knowing I am only working two days next week. Maybe it is a lack of Disney news of significance and not much to blog on. Certainly the upcoming and current music releases have warranted my attention. And yes, there are about five service projects and ideas running through my mind. Maybe its just too much sugar after weeks of "being good" on my diet. Whatever it is, stay tuned in the next few days for much more Disney related postings...

Susan Boyle Dreaming Her Dream

Susan Boyle 's modern day success story will only get better! Her long desired album I Dreamed a Dream hits stores tomorrow much to the delight of fans worldwide. For those of us older than we might care to admit, Susan's success is an encouraging one and a faith story to behold- a nice reminder that regardless of our circumstances, age, and status, God can put us in places we could never imagine. Yes, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him." (I Corinthians 2:9) I think this album is only the beginning of the dream.

Bond, James Bond

The recent running debate in our house is "Who is the Best James Bond?" Of course, 007 has been played by many men. Purists would say Sean Connery, newbies reply Daniel Craig- of which I echo the sentiment. Mr. Craig brings style, dry wit, and a toughness required for the role- and his new movie in 2011 cannot happen fast enough. Your choice for best Bond?

American Idol Men Make Their Mark

With Kris Allen's album out now and Adam Lambert's due in a couple of days, it's going to be another American Idol Christmas. Can't speak about Adam's yet, but let me tell you Kris' first one is a solid effort. It's one of the best debut collections from an Idol winner yet. Kris rocks convincingly yet with heart and soul. His trademark high notes are there, his songwriting impressive, and his passion for the art is evident. Go pick up the disc. You'll be glad you did.

November 20, 2009

Burning Heart

My heart is longing for God today! I want to see Him work in me and through me. I want to be changed even moreso into the image and likeness of Jesus. So many options available to me to be used by you in service. Help me know where to invest my time and not waste it. And I want to see those friends I hold near and dear even though they are far away. Seeing them would be like a visit to Disneyland for my heart and soul! Lord, please hear my prayer and give me direction.

November 19, 2009

Give It A Rest

Overexposed celebrities range from the truly talented to those who have nothing more to offer than outrageous personal lives or incredibly beautiful looks. Without further ado, here is my list overexposed folks who need a rest from the media.

Remember, we made this situation what it is by our fascination with them, and I am guilty as charged...

Tom Cruise- Whether it is pimping his latest movie or waxing on about Scientology, I'd love to see him get some rest. Us, too.

Oprah- She's so big that we don't even use her last name anymore. The big "O" is everywhere. She's an industry unto herself and a generous one at that. However, the American public, and perhaps even Oprah herself, takes her way too seriously. How can they not when we cannot get away from her long enough to think for ourselves. 2011 cannot come soon enough.

Madonna- The music industry's queen of self-promotion. Go back to making the great music that made you shine. Haven't seen it for about a decade now. Will we again?

Rush Limbaugh- I already turn him off. Off the radio and the television. I am all for free speech be it MSNBC to Fox News, Time Magazine to Rolling Stone, National Public Radio to Conservative Talk. But enough is enough.

Lindsay Lohan- Once talented and focused on acting. Whether stoned, drunk, or showing off her body all over Hollywood, it's a disgrace. I miss the young talent she used to be and may never be again. That said, she is everywhere- but for all the wrong reasons.

Kim Kardashian- An example of the new generation media bringing us celebrities with no purpose. Just another overexposed (in more ways than one) pretty face.

Kate and Jon Gosselin- See above description. They played the game, made the money, and now it's time to set us free from the drama.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie- OK, they do the humanitarian thing. I'm truly glad they do. The media seems to think we cannot live without hearing about them. Guess that's the norm for overexposed celebs who find themselves on the covers of magazines or in the headlines each week.

I'd like to add to this list the following: overpaid sports stars; egotistical politicians of both parties; charlatan, money-grubbing television preachers who distort God and His Word; and businessmen with no scruples that steal millions from the people they are supposed to serve.

Who do you think is overexposed and needs a rest?