February 26, 2010

Long Lost Lands at Disneyland: Edison Square

One part Carousel of Progress, one part Main Street U.S.A., and a touch of Walt Disney World's Liberty Square- mix together well, and then toss it aside!

Back when history was cool, and Disneyland still showcased the best of Americana, Edison Square was to be a bit of all these, with a look at how life had advanced through technology and ingenuity. Although the concept never got any farther than the drawing boards, Walt never gave up on the idea of an entertaining attraction about technological advancements and its effects on the family.

In some small way, it might even have planted the seed for the city of EPCOT, Walt's greatest and unrealized dream.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 25, 2010

New Season, New Idols

Missed the girls night- a guy's gotta have some family time- but I caught the guys tonight.

Having not seen the auditions, there were no preconceived ideas or biases on my end. Not a good night for most of them, however, there are a few standouts.

Love John Park's voice and the style he chooses to sing! But it's got to have a better showcase for it. God Bless the Child is a difficult song, so he just needs to find the right one to show it off. I'll have to give it some thought before I suggest one. (I had always said Adam Lambert should be doing Queen, months before he did!)
Regardless of Kara's cougarness, Casey James is ok. Hope he doesn't buy his publicity too soon. Yes, Simon, it was a good song choice.

Potentially the winner of the season is found in Lee DeWyze. Here's good and honest music by someone who seems to be a good guy. Possesses a man's voice- something sorely missing in much of music lately. Has an awe-shucks personality vaguely familiar of Season Five's super talented Elliott Yamin and last year's Kris Allen.
Since I missed the girls, guess I gotta YouTube it. Stay posted...
(Photo copyright American Idol.)

February 24, 2010

Unexpected Encounter at San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano. Just the name conjures up a restful and peaceful place. It was for me back in October as I squirreled away a day to soak up the California sun and sit quietly.

After leaving a rather busy day and a half at the Disneyland Resort, my heart was primed for something a little different. I awoke early that Sunday morning, starting the day with a bit of Peet's Coffee in Newport Beach. Just resting in the sun, replenished my well worn feet from the previous day's theme park marathon.

Hopped into my car and right on Pacific Coast Highway. Passing the rest of Newport Beach and then Laguna, I headed south, then a bit inland before I stopped at the mission. A quick car park, and I was just a couple of blocks from the place.

Ever since I was a small kid, I found something wonderful here, something that renewed my spirit. A treat for my eyes and ears. The quiet splash of the fountain, the gentle footsteps of other visitors, and the undeniable hush of reverence that comes from folks exploring a combination church, living museum, and quiet botanical park.

There was rich detail to be found everywhere I looked. From the handcarved doors to the ornate altars (this is a Catholic church after all), to the historical exhibits, there was much to see, much to read, and much to stop and think about.

This places seems so out of touch with the trendy and expensive locales in Southern California! I'm sure when Father Junipero Serra walked this land many years ago, the thought of elegant restaurants and trendy boutiques was something he could not even imagine. For him, it was just the desire to express his faith to the people inhabiting a dry and mainly unexplored land.

On occasion as I strolled the mission, the ancient bells seemed to ring- and they called me to a quiet and very personal time of prayer, reflection, and hearing God afresh. I proceeded to the chapel, and walking slowly to appreciate the surroundings, I finally found a small pew in which to sit.

The simple and restrained hallways seemed such a contrast to the wealth and majesty inside the church. There was gold everywhere! Having expressed my life through the Protestant perspective, I was forgetting the importance of giving God the best as viewed through my Catholic brothers and sisters. This included building an elaborate altar complete with crucifix to commemorate Christ's sacrificial death on the cross.

Admittedly, it took a bit of time to adjust, but then it happened. I was aware of God- and it wasn't a wowing "He was here" moment as much as it was a gentle and profound awareness that "He is here now". I spent time sitting, reflecting and listening. In the midst of my hustle and bustle vacation to California, the half an hour spent in the chapel refreshed my soul. I sensed God's love for me personally, and in response thankfulness welled up inside. How delightful it is to love the Creator of the universe and to be known by Him as well!
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

February 23, 2010

New Adventures for Mr. Toad!

Time for another great website find! If you fancy yourself a lover of all things Toad- and who doesn't- you'll want to have a look right here. Mr. Toad rides again in a whole new indoor and outdoor adventure, Motor Mania. Eric Scales has done a terrific job reinventing the beloved Disneyland and Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom attraction. There's concept art galore to find and much other things to discover.

(Art courtesy Eric Scales.)

February 22, 2010

Taking Off the Rose Colored Glasses

As mentioned in my post just below this one, admitting there is a problem is the first step. So, here I go. I am officially removing my Disney colored lenses to see some harsh but liberating truths. Dare to join me?

Truth Number 1:
It's time to admit to something the executives at the Walt Disney Company have known for decades: The company Walt built has very little left of him in it. If you want insight into the real man, head to San Francisco for the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Sure, his name remains iconic, but the man and his guiding principles of entertainment are a thing of the past- aside from images and soundbites being used for promotional purposes. The Walt Disney Company is first and foremost a business. It is one that has demands placed on it by its investors and its leaders. The bottom line is money. It's the American way; the guiding principal of the last few generations. Make money fast, make a lot of it, and deal with the consequences later.

Truth Number 2:
The Disney theme parks are no longer an expression of love for or the commitment to excellence in artistic expression. I'll linger awhile here as the Disney parks are the primary reason why I am interested in the doings of the company.

This change began with the purpose for the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Florida. Flatly, Michael Eisner was threatened by the arrival of Universal Studios. Being determined to beat them at his game, the chief okayed the construction of the third theme park on the Disney property. Upon its opening in 1989, it was a beautiful but very little gem. And it has turned into a patchwork quilt of creative and financial success ever since.

For every amazing Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, there is an equally off-putting Sounds Dangerous. Not even the very funny Drew Carey can save this attraction from being a placeholder at the near center of the park. Is American Idol really better and more of a tribute to the genre than Superstar Television? No. When in doubt about priorities at this park, think about the state of The Great Movie Ride and the placement and purpose of the giant sorcerer's hat. If those are not convincing, let me refer you back to Truth Number 1.

Money and making it also motivates what is and isn't happening at the rest of the Walt Disney World property. Before you scream "Fantasyland Forest", think about its last major addition. Or even the minor ones. Monsters Inc and Stitch? Ugh. It's the Harry Potter threat that is pushing the company to finally take action. Even this beautiful looking addition comes with a mixed bag of new attractions. I'm thrilled the Little Mermaid is making its way to Florida. Love the movie, love the music. It's about time! Coloring pages and character greetings? Not so much love there, but I cannot blame the company for doing it. See Truth Number 1. They do have a business to run. But do not get me going on Epcot and Disney's Animal Kingdom!

Truth Number 3:
California Adventure 2.0 will be a success. Due to the first point made, the executives are determined to make this happen. It will not celebrate the strengths of the Golden State but will celebrate the ability of the company to use their animation based success to bring guests- and their dollars- in through the gates. Who will be able to resist Ariel or Radiator Springs Racers? Not me- or anyone else with small children in tow.

Truth Number 4:
The Walt Disney Company can no longer make great films without animated characters. My point is made by presenting the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Film number one is excellent, and Johnny Depp couldn't be better. Live action, you say? Yes, but is there a character any more animated than Captain Jack Sparrow? Pirates aside, Disney films seem to have fallen flat- and the removal of Dick Cook seems to validate that Robert Iger and much of the executive branch of the company agrees with my Truth Number 4.

Truth Number 5:
The company Walt built can no longer build great attractions without using characters and stories from their films. Regardless of their greatness, Expedition: Everest really is the Matterhorn Bobsleds revisited, with Mission: Space and Soarin Over California also being new takes on old favorites from Walt's time. Originality at the parks is dead. Whether the wonderful Imagineers aren't given the freedom to do so or cannot come up with great ideas for something original, sometimes they cannot even build great attractions using the characters they do have.

Truth Number 6:
The company's focus is now "International first, United States second". It's a smart and savvy business move. And the company we love is playing whore whenever it can. (Remember Truth Number 1?) Setting aside human right violations and whatever else it needs to, the company wants the big bucks from China. Disney is an established name in the Western Hemisphere, land and people conquered. Miley Cyrus/ Hannah Montana, High School Musical and all the Disney characters own the younger student world here, so its time to move on to untouched territory.

Truth Number 6 explains one of the real reasons Tokyo DisneySea is so elaborate and why Shanghai Disneyland and a park in South America are on the horizon. It also explains why Walt Disney World has remained relatively untouched, why Disneyland was left to rot once upon a time, and why the company thought they could fool us with the original California Adventure, and the Walt Disney Studios theme park in Paris.

Truth Number 7:
I couldn't do it any better- and neither could you. There's a real reality check. Though we may view ourselves as budding Tony Baxters and Joe Rohdes, the truth is we are not. These men and women at Imagineering are the last of a great bunch- at least until someone else comes to the helm of the company. For now, they are stuck navigating the turbulent waters of politics and finance just to survive the for the ability to potentially be creative. We are a different America and a different people than we were in Walt's time. Innocence lost and dollars gained. There's the tradeoff.

(Art and photos copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 19, 2010

For Men: The Pornography and Masturbation Trap

Just recently, I was asked to speak at a Sunday morning church service. I left the crowd with a very unpopular conclusion: We are ineffective and broken people due to our addictions and compulsions, abdication of our responsibilities, and how we disrespect each other.

Addressing the men, I was pretty direct. Pornography and masturbation are destructive for married men and damaging to their relationships. It doesn't take rocket science or a degree in theology to understand this. If a man is busy pleasing himself and viewing other women in the process, certainly his own wife becomes less necessary and less attractive in his eyes. No real woman can compare to the airbrushed images found on line or in magazines. Additionally, very few wives are willing subjects to a game where every fantasy is fulfilled for her spouse while she disregards her own desires or dignity.

Instead of the focus on building a good and healthy relationship, many men take the easy way out instead of being truthful with their spouse about their needs. Preferring immediate pleasure all the while creating a prison of their own making, men become ensnared without intending to do so. No man I know wants to admit this, yet privately in my office, many have spoken of this trap they cannot seem to break free from. Ultimately this self destructive cycle creates hopelessness, bondage, and a sense of being of little worth.

In a case of "What comes first, the chicken or the egg?", many men begin to abdicate responsibilities at home. The current state of our communities verifies this to be true. There is an epidemic of single and divorced mothers with children, sometimes from multiple men, who have abandoned them. While many men hold firm to the commitments made at the marriage altar, just as many are choosing lives of selfishness, succumbing to the desire to remain teenagers forever. Affairs, addictions to sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, and many other things show that a life of self-centeredness and ambition is replacing the sacrifice needed for enduring marriages and healthy families. We must break free and change the cycle!

Here's the rub: Jesus promised freedom- but only to those who were willing to give up their lives for His purposes. This means serving the people around them by reflecting God heart and doing so from a heart that realizes its state of being lost without its creator as focus.

Marriage is the ultimate expression of God's love for his true followers. Jesus himself said he would never leave us or forsake us. In the book to the Ephesians in chapter five, the Apostle Paul clearly explains marriage is the real life expression of the bond between Jesus and those who are devoted to loving and pursuing Him. No wonder the American Christian church is weak! We look just like the world around us, mirroring patterns of selfishness, abuse, bondage and unforgiveness- especially in our marriages.

Is there hope? Of course. Yet the first step is admitting there is a problem. Then, what next? So I ask you, where will you go to get help? The God of the universe who made you and who knows how you are designed is waiting for you to call out to Him. And this Jesus, who did the miraculous and impossible, will never refuse those who call on His name.

Romance in the Air

Ah, Venice! Just the name conjurs up romance. Evening cruises on a gondola and afternoons exploring the amazing little islands that seem to go on forever. It's been almost three years since our anniversary visit, yet I remember so much of it as if it were yesterday.

If you've ever seen Disney's version at Epcot's World Showcase, do not make the mistake and think you've seen Venice. It truly does just whet the appetite for more. Trust me, if you go, you won't be disappointed!
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

February 18, 2010

Imagineering Disney

A new website discovery: Imagineering Disney! And what a great website it is! Concept art, good articles, and an insider's look at a Disney world old timers knew and loved. Above is a previously unseen concept for Disney's Animal Kingdom. Just a small example of the great things you'll find. Go there now- really!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Silliest Honey

Happy Birthday to the silliest little honey ever! Once a girl, now a woman... Time goes by so quickly, doesn't it? Bless you, Honey, on your 25th! Love, Dad.

February 17, 2010

Funniest Post Ever- If You See Yourself in It

Editor's Note: Something Totally Different; Maybe the Funniest Post Ever...


A Man's Age as Determined by a Trip to Home Depot

You are in the middle of some kind of project around the house- mowing the lawn, putting in a new fence, painting the living room, or whatever. You are hot and sweaty, covered in dirt or paint. You have your old work clothes on. You know the outfit - shorts with the hole in the crotch, old T-shirt with a stain from who knows what, and an old pair of tennis shoes.
Right in the middle of this great home improvement project you realize you need to run to Home Depot to get something to help complete the job.

Depending on your age, you might do the following:

In your 20's:
Stop what you are doing. Shave, take a shower, blow dry your hair, brush your teeth, floss, and put on clean clothes. Check yourself in the mirror and flex. Add a dab of your favorite cologne because you never know, you just might meet some hot chick while standing in the checkout lane. And you went to school with the pretty girl running the register. She smiles and you and you leave with a muttered, "Hullo."

In your 30's:
Stop what you are doing, put on clean shorts and shirt. Change shoes. You married the hot chick so no need for much else. Wash your hands and comb your hair. Check yourself in the mirror. Still got it. Add a shot of your favorite cologne to cover the smell. The cute girl running the register is the kid sister to someone you went to school with. You give a big "Hello" while raising your eyebrows up and down. She smiles and then rolls her eyes at the cashier at the next station.

In your 40's:
Stop what you are doing. Put on a sweatshirt that is long enough to cover the hole in the crotch of your shorts. Put on different shoes and a hat. Wash your hands. Your bottle of Brute Cologne is almost empty so you don't want to waste any of it on a trip to Home Depot. Check yourself in the mirror and do more sucking in than flexing. The spicy young thing running the register is your daughter's age and you feel weird thinking she is spicy. You decide to talk to her to see if she thinks you're hot. She knows your daughter and says she remembers you when she was little.

In your 50's:
Stop what you are doing. Put a hat on; wipe the dirt off your hands onto your shirt. Change shoes because you don't want to get dog doo-doo in your new sports car. Check yourself in the mirror and you swear not to wear that shirt anymore because it makes you look fat. The Cutie running the register smiles when she sees you coming and you think you still have it. Then you remember the hat you have on is from Buddy's Bait & Beer Bar and it says, 'I Got Worms.' You hear a snicker when you walk out.

In your 60's:
Stop what you are doing. No need for a hat anymore. Hose the dog doo-doo off your shoes. You hope you have underwear on so nothing hangs out the hole in your pants. The girl running the register may be cute, but she's your granddaughter's age. You quickly take off your glasses and ask if they might know each other. You decide to talk to her for a long time about your granddaughter. She smiles, but it looks fake.

In your 70's:
Stop what you are doing. Wait to go to Home Depot until the drug store has your prescriptions ready, too. Don't even notice the dog doo-doo on your shoes. The young thing at the register smiles at you because you have your shirt on inside out. You're just happy you remembered a shirt. You have no idea how old she is, but you don't care, she's definitely younger and you saw that smile. You chat her up, positive she finds you attractive.

In your 80's:
Stop what you are doing. Start again. Then stop again. Now you remember you needed to go to Home Depot. Go to Wal-Mart instead and wander around trying to think what it is you are looking for. Fart out loud and you think someone called out your name. You went to school with the mother of the old lady who greeted you at the front door. You decide to talk to her. You have some interesting stories you're sure she would like to hear.

In your 90's & beyond :
What's a home deep hoe? Something for my garden?
Where am I? Who am I? Why am I reading this? Did I send it? Did you? Who farted?

California Adventure's Wipeout

No, I'm not talking about the dismal attendance numbers for Disneyland's neighboring park since it opened, nor am I measuring its creative success or failure.

Once upon a time, Disney's California Adventure had a shoot-the-chutes attraction on its roster: Wipeout. This ride in Paradise Pier never materialized. In fact, with the earliest initial plans of the Imagineers, this area wasn't even known as Paradise Pier but rather, Surf City. While not exactly Splash Mountain, the attraction would have added a bit of action on the bay, becoming another must-do winner to a section filled with spinners and ordinary carnival fare.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 16, 2010

Valentine's Day: Surprising and Predictable

Star studded and enjoyable. Bland and predictable. Surprising and heartfelt. Valentine's Day is all these things and more. Overall, a fun little romp and timekiller. Not a must-own once on DVD unless you are a big fan of the cast: Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner, Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, Topher Grace, Queen Latifah, Bradley Cooper, and show stealer Bryce Robinson.

Glen Keane and the Beast (and Beauty) Within

On animating the Beast for the film Beauty and the Beast, Disney animator Glen Keane says,
"This is the moment- this is what I was born for...

As I started animating it, for me it's really an expression of my spiritual life.

There's a verse in the Bible that says 'If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things have become new...'
Because it is really about an inner spiritual transformation that's taking place with the Beast. I saw it as a parable of my life."

If you want to see Glen's great artwork in various forms, here's the place to go:The Art of Glen Keane .

February 15, 2010

Disney's Aulani Resort at Ko Olina

The Ko Olina beaches must be one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in Oahu, if not in all of the Hawaiian islands! It is here that the Walt Disney Company has wisely chosen to build a new Vacation Club resort.

My wife and I were at Ko Olina just a couple of years ago. The beach was fairly secluded, undiscovered by most tourists but known to the locals- and we were blessed to be staying with a local who loved the area and knew it would be the perfect place for a day's getaway. We'll see how long this area will stay feeling intimate. (Search "Ko Olina" on this blog for some photos.)

From looking at this skyview, it is clear that this will be a magnificent property!

The following tour of the resort is all based on the delicate renderings done by the famous Disney Imagineers. Joe Rohde, the genius behind the lush and detailed Animal Kingdom theme park, has the much coveted role of leading the design for the project. If it is anything as beautiful as his previous work or even slightly resembles Walt Disney World's Polynesian Resort, we are in for a treat.

Let's begin our tour with the rooms themselves. As you can see from the renderings above, the rooms at Aulani will have all the modern amenities required by today's demanding travelers with the charm of the island's culture.

A view of the lobby shows the incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail. In some ways reminiscient of Florida's Animal Kingdom Lodge, its an appropriately grand scale. But who comes to a lovely place like Hawaii to stay indoors? Let's go outside through the doors seen below.

Needless to say, the pool and surrounding gardens will be the showpiece of the resort. Of course, the gorgeous stretch of beach on Disney's 21 acres will give the manmade pools some fierce competition.

Being Hawaii, land is at a premium as with any island property. Therefore, as you can see in the rendering below, the resort will mainly consist of a series of towers. This enables a Disney to provide guests with over 350 rooms and more than 450 timeshares. And the requisite convention center, mini water park complete with a lazy river, and other outdoors attractions.

Since this is a family resort, activities for children will also abound beyond what is offered at the pools. Games, crafts, and storytelling are sure to please. To please adults needing a little time alone, babysitting services will be readily available.

Should some adults need to create a storybook ending all there own, weddings in the gardens overlooking the Pacific can be arranged as well! (There is also an existing and quite beautiful chapel on the Ko Olina grounds right next door to the Disney property.)

Come 2011, Disney's Aulani Resort will be the place to go! Hawaii in any form has always held me fascinated, so I know it will be difficult not to be dreaming of some time away at Disney's small piece of paradise.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 12, 2010

Notable and Quotable: Oswald Chambers

"Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time."

February 11, 2010

Genghis Khan Invades Epcot

Recently, I had the chance to experience the incredible Genghis Khan exhibit at the Denver Museum of Science and History. This is exactly the type of exhibit that needs to be found at the China showcase at Epcot. The visual media used is stunning, the artifacts incredible and his story amazing. Half warlord and all cunning statesman, Khan unified the Mongolian tribes to form the greatest land acquisition in world history. Just the kind of epic stories once told in World Showcase.

February 10, 2010

Football and The Art of Redemption

Watching the Super Bowl this year made me do a little bit of reflecting. You see, I'm really not the sports type most of the time- and for good reason.

People are gifted in many ways. Athletic ability was not one of the blessings I received when God decided to put me on the earth. I was awkward, shy, shorter than anyone should ever be, and rather uninterested in things in which I would not excel. This meant anything with a ball was a game untouched. I ended up being the brunt of a lot of jokes. I despised physical education class and being humilated on the fields and the courts- and that was only when the choosing up of teams took place!

Instead I excelled in art, loved music, history and English. Travel fascinated me. Loved the beach and bodysurfing. I enjoyed my solitude- and pretty much wrote off the rest of my world. Disneyland seemed to be the culmination of everything I loved. I was hooked from my first visit.

At the beginning of middle school, I made a pretty good friend who happened to love basketball. He was a good guy, and my interest in basketball grew. I wasn't half bad, but I wasn't good at it either! Unfortunately, when we entered high school, my good friend decided popularity was more important- and this geeky kid was dropped like the proverbial hot potato.

I was mad, hurt, and determined this would never happen again. I chose to hate any kind of sports from that day forward and anyone who loved them- especially if they were good at it. Bad decision. That kind of hatred, judgment, and positioning sets into place bitter roots which grab a person by the neck and eventually limit them. It happened to me, and I didn't even recognize it.

Years later, many years after I decided to become a Jesus follower, I met a guy at church that I hit it off with. He was pretty funny, kind, and had a deep passion for God. Problem was, he was a stinking jock- an ex college football player. I really wanted to not like him as he intimidated me and unintentionally dialed up all my old insecurities. Instead, I decided to look past my insecurities and false judgments.

Over time, our friendship grew. One day over lunch, I let the truth out. I told him I had not only misjudged him, but I had also made a wholesale decision against guys like him. This would be called "discrimination" if we were talking about age, sex, religion, or race. Then I bit the bullet harder as I felt God nudge me- and I asked him to forgive me. He did. Even better, he asked my forgiveness on behalf of the guys that had wounded me.  

I was embarrassed and ashamed, but I was free. Amazing what God can do when He chooses to step in as we ask for forgiveness and are honest about our wounds. It's never been the same since.

So, this past Sunday was a celebration of sorts. Not just for New Orleans and the Saints, but for this ordinary and awkward man. One who now even enjoys team sports- at least once a year!

February 9, 2010

Illustration for Epcot's Tutto Italia Ristorante

Here's a great rendering of Epcot's Italy showcase. If you look closely, it seems the much talked about pizzeria has been added. So, here the pizzeria of Tutto Italia Ristorante finally makes its first appearance. Or does it?

Actually, this beautiful little piece is from 1982! Right inside of the souvenir guide designed for pavilion sponsors is the same full color rendering of the Italian plaza shining in the Florida sun. What a delightful dining addition this will be! Unfortunately, it also closes off any potential for an attraction here. That is, unless the Imagineers have more magic up their sleeves.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 8, 2010

Steps in Time: California Adventure's Grand Opening 2001

Disney's California Adventure theme park opened 9 years ago today. The newest playground in Anaheim, and the long planned younger sister to world-renowned Disneyland, debuted to great expectations for fan and company alike. I was among those hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. The park's preview center did not excite me, as I was savvy enough to look past the artwork and models to discover what I heard was true: this park was clearly built to satisfy the need for a second park, but the Walt Disney Company was delivering a sub par product designed solely for profit and not for the love of the art of Imagineering.

The preview guide to the park tells a story all its own. Yes, there were gems to be found here, but by and large the development was filled with hand me downs from Florida and reproductions of rides found at numerous county fairs all over America.

The Eureka parade was one of the park highlights. Silly theme song aside, (Disney should never go for "trendy" in music or park execution), this parade was full of energy and a bit of class. The performers gave 100% and the floats excellently delivered tribute to the state and the people who call it home.

The full blown fold out map (click on the image for a very large view) promised new and special places to explore, but ultimately the park offered only a couple of world class draws. As with the attractions themselves, even the "districts" within varied greatly in quality.

Beyond the gorgeous tile murals and giant C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A letters at the front of the park, a poorly designed and cheaply executed "Entry Plaza" signaled this was a new era in Disney entertainment. Instead of immersive and thoughtful, this was a pedestrian area merely "good enough"; one to be found in any shopping mall nationwide. Garish and uncreative, this was a bad beginning to an overall mediocre experience.

Thankfully, as guests turned right off the plaza, Condor Flats came into view. As part of the central Golden State district, this all too small area was filled to the brim with a nod to California's roots in aviation. The park's premier draw, Soarin' Over California was the perfect blend of thrill and mild travelogue. Through the use of newly developed ride technology, this filmed journey through the state drew raves and rightly so.

The neighboring Grizzly Peak Recreation area offered a fairly common raft adventure amidst spectacular landscapes. Waterfalls, rock work, and grottoes enhanced this white water attraction, raising it far beyond the earlier completed Kali River Rapids from Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park in Florida. An imaginative playground rounded out the area.

A series of films flesh out the Golden State, each with varying degrees of success. The Whoopi Goldberg based excursion Golden Dreams showcased state history in a heart warming and politically correct manner. Now removed, the film was not a disaster but neither was it one that warranted repeat visits. Pacific Wharf, an area inspired by Monterey Bay's Cannery Row, the two small films on bread and tortilla making are only note worthy due to the free samples given out during the latter's factory tour.

It's Tough to Be a Bug, also right from the Animal Kingdom, is a bit of fun for those loving to be scared, poked and spit at. It's a stretch thematically, but it is a crowd pleaser.

The most successful of the area's films was to be found at the Golden Vine Winery. Housed in a small theater, the short presentation known as Seasons of the Vine brought a bit of Epcot's elegance and class to a mundane park. The soundtrack was as delightful as the film!

From this point, Disney's California Adventure begins to fall apart. The Paradise Pier area is one of the poorest excuses for a themed area that Disney has ever built. As seen in this opening day map (above), the area is filled with roadside carnival rides, cheap midway games and one magnificent- if unthemed- roller coaster! California Screamin' ranks among the company's best thrill attractions. Not for its great story and landscapes but for the adrenaline rush it provides. Day or night, it is one terrific experience.

Leaving behind the pier, the Hollywood Pictures Backlot concludes the offerings at the park. From the awful Superstar Limo- the park's only dark ride- to the beautiful Disney Animation exhibits, the area is completed by the Muppets 3D film and a great theater offering the Steps in Time musical.

To the observant, a few things were instantly clear:

1- The park is filled with film based attractions, county fair rides, repeats from Florida, and very few original attractions.
2- Budgets were slashed midstream during the park's construction. The end result is a park that feels incomplete and less than atmospheric.
3- Shops and restaurants are the true stars of the park, with lavish budgets given to create a strong pull for guests to be constantly opening their purses and wallets.
Guests were not fooled by this lackluster park. Long lines formed at Guest Services for complaints, refunds, and complimentary passes to Disneyland. Visitor numbers dwindled as the press reported what they saw. Even The Simpsons television show parodied and lampooned the place. The park was a creative failure and a financial flop. Disney had a public relations nightmare on its hands.

Stunned, Michael Eisner and the suits in Burbank rushed to revive their dying newborn. Plans were quickly put into place to add new excitement and shows. The next chapter of California Adventure was about to begin- and much sooner than the company expected.

(Images copyright The Walt Disney Company.)
One of the most popular series on the Insights and Sounds blog is focused on California Adventure's concept art. It's a multipart look at the initial designs, what was done to revive the park after opening, and plans for the park's total transformation as announced by Robert Iger. The "Bargain Basement Imagineering" and "Imagineering a New Dream" series begins here.