January 29, 2010

Demanding It All

We Disney fans are quite the lot, aren't we? We expect top quality in the parks- we are right to do so- and we expect cutting edge attractions popping up every year. We want the suits and the Imagineers at the Walt Disney Company to deliver what they promise. It's the least they can do when they demand so much of our hard earned money just to walk through the gates.

We are frustrated when we do not get what we want and when we get what we hate. Whether it is cheap off-the-shelf attractions like at California Adventure, old parades, or the endless character infusion into areas and attractions where they do not belong. We get ticked off at half-hearted commitment to quality when manintenance stinks at Walt Disney World, when buildings are left to rot at Disneyland or attractions close for no apparent reasons. And we hate it when we are given lip service about it. Where's the follow-through? Where's the integrity? Where's the passion?

Let me turn the tables and say we are not the only ones who demand it all and yet we do not deliver.

The challenge before me is to give my all. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I took from him the gift of eternal life through His sacrifice by promising I'd give up my life to gain His. And yet I find I compromise or forget about it at times. Don't you?

I'm telling you, Francis Chan's book Crazy Love, is knocking me on my rear and causing me to reevaluate what it means to be a Christ follower. Do I really live like I am giving it all up for God- or am I playing games with it. I can fool others, even myself, but not the Creator of the universe. Here's the clear scriptural challenge before me:

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."

Jesus is calling us to a life of personal, daily sacrifice and devotion to Him and His purposes. He demands it all from those who call on his name and expect eternal life upon his return. This isn't philosophy here- this is relationship. Christianity is not a set of rules, and "believing" in Jesus is not the answer. Believing and obeying Jesus and living for Him daily shows our devotion to him, proving we are truly his followers. It is a high price and a high calling.

We are going to be so surprised to discover that giving God a small piece of our lives didn't do the trick. We think we can give him head knowledge but live and act as if He doesn't require more of us. He wants all of us not just the parts that we want to give him. Ouch! I fall short here- and I need his grace and forgiveness to keep going.

The great apostle Paul puts it in perspective: "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body do that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness". This means discipling ourselves in how we talk, what we do, and what we choose to think about. In other words, a radical change in our life as we now belong to Jesus and His purposes.

So, I ask those of you who claim to believe in Jesus, calling yourselves Christians- Where's the follow-through? Where's the integrity? Where's the passion? Lest you think I am harsh, these are the same questions God asks of all of us- the very ones I am asking myaself these days.

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Comapny.)

January 28, 2010

A Wedding on New Year's Eve

Weddings and New Year's Eve are great times for friends, photos, and fun. When the two collide, it's even more fun! And so it was on December 31, 2009! Just a few shots from the very memorable evening...

How good God is to give us friends that feel like family!(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

January 27, 2010

Tom Fitzgerald Over Tony Baxter?

Now, if this news is true that Tom Fitzgerald has been promoted to the top of the heap at Walt Disney Imagineering over Disneyland...

1- We can bet on more film based shows instead of real immersive attractions (but please prove me wrong)!
2- You can almost guarantee that Tony Baxter isn't too happy (and I'm not either). Can retirement be far behind?
3- California Adventure's terrific sounding makeover may be a thing of the past once Radiator Springs Racers is built. Say "Goodbye Phase Two".
4- We'll see downgraded quality in attractions- worldwide.

Tom seems like a great guy- but just the wrong one for the job! Tony's profile is pretty outstanding. Look here.

The Problem with the Symphony

What is it about California Adventure's Silly Symphony Swings that makes me less than enthusiastic about the Imagineers plans for this extreme park makeover? Sure, it takes up so little acreage that it makes sense to do something similar to the previous Orange Stinger attraction. Yes, it is nice to see Mickey make a comeback in the parks versus adding yet another character attraction from the great Pixar films. Still, something remains, and it is disturbing.

Here it is- cheap carnival rides like this remind me of the ego and the disrespect the suits in charge of California Adventure had toward its long time Disney park fans. And rides like this and the Mailboomer and Mulholland Madness remain.

The simplest arguments to support their actions say "Disneyland has its spinners as well." Absolutely, but the difference between the ugly Paradise Pier and Fantasyland is as profound as the artistic difference between the whole of each park. At Disneyland, the few spinners flesh out the park, while at the other, these carnival rides make up a large portion of the attraction roster.

Disneyland was crafted with care by Walt himself, but the resort's second gate was ultimately designed by the accountant's pen and the corporation's financial gurus. Big difference and even bigger different end results. One park is a cultural icon for all generations; the other a punchline for joke after joke. Here's hoping World of Color and The Little Mermaid begin a great relaunch in earnest to an ill executed project.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 26, 2010

Somewhere Down the Road with Amy Grant

Editor's Note: In addition to recording for California Adventure's World of Color show, Amy Grant has a new album. Here's the press release:

01.25.10 - Official New Bio for Amy's "Somewhere Down The Road" project
Amy Grant – Somewhere Down the Road

With six Grammys, numerous Dove Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and numerous other accolades to her credit, Amy Grant is an American music icon who has erased lines between genres and earned the respect of fans and peers with her honesty, vulnerability and ceaseless creativity. Whether laying her soul bare in her 2008 Book “Mosaic: Pieces of My Life So Far” or exploring faith and family in a diverse catalog of hits from “El Shaddai” to “Baby Baby,” Grant’s artistry has continually resonated with audiences since she first hit the national spotlight as a fresh-faced teen with a guitar three decades ago.

Her latest effort, Somewhere Down the Road, is a potent collection that takes the listener on a musical journey that reverberates with messages of resiliency, promise and hope. The 12-track set includes four new songs, several previously unreleased gems from her musical vault and a newly recorded version of “Arms of Love.” The new album also serves up four poignant treasures from Grant’s existing songbook, including the powerful title track.

“From a work stand point, I’ve had the amazing opportunity that anything I’ve ever wanted to try, for some reason, the door has opened. I love music as much as I always have, but I feel very contented when it comes to work. What brings the sizzle back to me is a great idea and it can be somebody saying, ‘hey, I have this idea for a song!’ As soon as they speak the words I go, ‘Ahhh, that’s great. We’ve got to sit down and do it right now.’ That’s how I felt about this project.”

Somewhere Down the Road reflects an accomplished artist at a time of renewed creativity and also echoes the life of a woman who is not afraid to write and sing about life’s most heart-wrenching moments as well as the sublime joys. Amy Grant has always been honest, vulnerable, real, never afraid to share where she is on life’s journey. “There have been times in my life that I was sitting in the cat bird seat and everything was going my way but currently, this is a time [with] a lot of uncertainty within my extended family as we’ve experienced pain, loss, and joy,” admits Grant who has dealt with aging parents and the loss of a close friend this past year. “This is the kind of record where it takes maturity to put out, so we went back and looked at old songs, unreleased songs, and new songs that fit together in a way that I think will make a really amazing and intriguing journey.

The first single from the new project, “Better Than a Hallelujah,” penned by Chapin Hartford and Sarah Hart, is Grant’s first new radio single since “Simple Things” in 2003. When Amy’s manager, Jennifer Cooke, emailed her the song, she knew she had to record it. “The honesty of it, the vulnerability of the lyrics, the beautiful melody, and that the song found me right where I was in my own journey was incredibly powerful,” says Grant, admitting the song resonated strongly with her as she dealt with the death of her longtime friend musician Ruth McGinnis. “The song is just so poignant and redemptive. In the lyric there is no religious code or lingo going on and the message is true, it’s good news. I love every scenario it’s painting.”

Though Grant is an industry veteran, and one of a short list of artists to have scored No. 1 hits in each of the last three decades, Somewhere Down the Road finds her enjoying several first time experiences---among them recording in the new studio she and husband Vince Gill built in their Nashville home, contributing one of her own paintings as part of the cover art, and for the first time recording a duet with her 17-year-old-daughter Sarah. “‘Overnight’ was written by Luke Laird, Natalie Hemby and Audrey Spillman. I’ve known Natalie since she was six and she’s a great songwriter. She sent me a song that she had written called ‘Overnight.’ It’s talking about if things happened overnight, you wouldn’t appreciate the process. It says ‘If it all just happened overnight, you would never know what it means. If it all happened overnight, you would never learn to believe in what you can’t see.’” Though her stepdaughter, Jenny, sang background vocals on Grant’s hymns records and her eight-year-old daughter Corrina added a spoken word contribution to her last Christmas collection, this marks Grant’s first duet with one of her children. “I’ve wanted to sing with Sarah for a long time and when this song showed up I thought it would be perfect for us to record.”

“Hard Times” is another new tune on the album, which Grant co-wrote with Ian Fitchuk and Justin Loucks. “Mindy Smith asked me to sing a background part on her latest record and they were producing it,” Grant says of her introduction to her collaborators. “They already had the idea for the verses and I wrote the chorus and we wrote the last verse together. It’s been hard times on a lot of levels for a lot of people. I don’t know anybody that is saying this is the easiest and best time in life.”

Among the other new tracks, “Unafraid,” is a poignant ballad that has become a favorite at Grant’s live shows. “Women really relate to it,” Grant says of the song whose three verses chronicle women’s relationship to their husband, children and aging parents. “Anytime I have sung it live, I always have requests, ‘Please record that’ and that’s why I did.”

In culling through her musical vault to select previously unreleased recordings that fit with the theme of Somewhere Down the Road, two songs stood out as perfect for this collection “Come Into My World” and “What is the Chance of That.” “’Come Into My World’ is the rawest, most vulnerable of the two and it just required a lot of distance from that time in my life. I wrote that in the years prior to going through a divorce. . .and so the song is really a downer,” she admits. “I don’t feel that same way now and I hadn’t actually heard it in over a decade but was moved by it and thought ‘Wow, I remember how that felt. Thank goodness I don’t feel that way now, but that is a very real feeling for a lot of people at different times in life.’”

Every song of the album represents part of Grant’s journey as a mother, wife, songwriter, and believer. Born in Augusta, GA and raised in Nashville, the youngest of four daughters, Grant began her career in her teens, a young singer/songwriter with a guitar and an intense desire to share her faith with the world. Her talent took her beyond contemporary Christian music circles and she became a mainstream pop star in the 80s, her crossover success opening the door for every Christian artist wanting to share their faith from a broader platform. From her chart-topping pop success with “Baby Baby” and “Every Heartbeat” to songs like “Father’s Eyes,” “Lead Me On” and “El Shaddai” that shaped the Christian music landscape to her recent No. 1 duet with Matthew West “Give This Christmas Away,” Grant’s artistry and integrity have placed her at the forefront of American music.

She could easily rest of her considerable laurels, but the dawning of a new decade finds her as passionate as ever. “It’s all about the idea,” she says. “I love the song ‘Better Than A Hallelujah.’ I love the opportunity to get to do a song with my daughter. I love the concept of Somewhere Down the Road. I am personally moved by the concept of our journey through life and because of all the years that have come before, I find myself in a unique and somewhat rare position to be able to sing about that journey, and that’s an opportunity I don’t want to miss.”

Extreme Makeover: Face Edition

Maybe it was the face of Heidi Montag (and her ten surgeries in one day story) staring at us from the cover of People magazine resting on the breakfast room table. Could be the fact that we were a bunch of folks of all ages gathered together discussing the challenges and joys of growing older while we try to grow up. Regardless, the discussion about how we change from youth to old age led to a conversation about wedding photos. My wonderful wife went into one of the other rooms and pulled out a wedding photo of us on our happy day.

Now, you have to know this to enjoy this moment: my wife is just as beautiful and youthful as she was the day we vowed before God to love and honor and cherish each other. In fact, I think she is more beautiful as she ages, but that is another story for another time.

She brings in our wedding photo (above) and shows it off. A few folks gasped in shock and disbelief- I do not look anything like the young man they see in the photograph. I know this. My wife knows this. They do not until they see it for themselves- and they cannot help but react.

In a society where youthfulness and beauty reigns supreme, I do not fit the category yet am not much (mostly) bothered by the fact I look my age. Why? I am more than what I look like. And I am being transformed into looking more like Jesus as I prepare to one day leave this earth for what lies beyond it.

Would I like to look like the handsome movie stars of the day? Who wouldn't! Do I miss a thinner body, thicker hair, a firmer jawline, and less wrinkles around my eyes? Yep. but it is not my focus. Besides, even if it were my passion for it to happen, Ty Pennington himself wouldn't have enough tools to transform me!
Now, I try to stay in shape, eat (mostly) right (OK- I love Nutella and anything caramel), and dress my best. 

But I also know that physical training is of value but not as much as spiritual exercise. My inner peace and growing graciousness and thankfulness as I age comes from the life I have led and the God that I love.

He's been faithful over and over again in hardship, kind and forgiving in my failures, and encouraging about my future. His words found in my Bible give me direction, conmfort, joy and hope. Not just for now but for later as well. One day, I'll have a new body, new life, new future. But for now, I am what I am- and God's grace is sufficient for me- sagging, aging body and all.
(Family photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

January 25, 2010

Monsters Inc: Ride and Go Seek at California Adventure?

Just when I thought I had seen all the concept art imaginable for Disney's California Adventure, I unexpectedly stumbled upon a great little website by Imagineer Julie Svendsen.
Although her site lists this concept art as for the Disneyland Resort's second gate, if you look closely, it sure seems to be for Tokyo Disneyland's Monsters Inc: Ride and Go Seek! If you click on the images for a larger view, you'll notice riders are holding flashlights and pointing at different objects.
The obvious question: Is Julie's site incorrect or did The Walt Disney Company's Imagineers originally plan Ride and Go Seek for California Adventure? Could it be that the originally planned replacement for the lackluster and strange Superstar Limo was really the new line buster at Tokyo Disneyland? One part of me says, "Nah, this is California Adventure after all". The other part of me knows full well that the Imagineers can do amazing things when given the budget and the support.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 24, 2010

Rare Imagineering Concept Art

Come back tomorrow morning for a glimpse at some rarely seen concept art. Quite a surprise to me- and the story behind these pieces raises fascinating questions...

January 22, 2010

Back By Popular Demand- Imagineering a New Dream: Disney's California Adventure 2.0

Editor's Note: While I finish up some new posts in the midst of a busy work schedule, I present a very popular post for viewing once more. The Disney Imagineers have worked up a great plan for California Adventure 2.0- and here it is in all its concept art glory! (If you want even more DCA art, search for "Bargain Basement Imagineering"- there are additional articles and art to be found!)
California Adventure was the not astounding success the Walt Disney Company wanted for the Disneyland Resort in California. Most fans detested the park, staying away in record numbers and complaining loudly at Guest Services and on line. Word of mouth was bad. Visitors to the resort saw Paradise Pier from afar, rightly thinking "carnival", and this poor impression only kept them away as well. Sponsors began to drop out. Quick fixes and "sure fire" attractions like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror didn't do much for attendance.

Robert Iger wisely admitted the park hadn't met expectations, and along with a proposed one billion dollar plan to fix it, earned much respect from fans. Imagineering a New Dream began, and California Adventure 2.0 was on its way.

Much has already been written about what is ahead. No rehashing here, as a picture is worth a thousand words...

Pixar Play Parade

Toy Story Midway Mania

Blue Sky Cellar

New Paradise Pier

Games of the Boardwalk

Mickey's Fun Wheel

Grand Californian Expansion and Disney Vacation Club Units

Silly Symphony Swings

World of Color

Goofy's Sky School

New Entrance to the Park and Buena Vista Street

The Little Mermaid


Hollywood Pictures Backlot

In this case as always, the end result speaks louder than concept art, so let's just hope the end result matches some of this beautiful artwork!
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)