March 30, 2010

Carpenters Standing Still: The Singles 1974 - 1978

Karen and Richard Carpenter's track record on the Billboard album sales charts was becoming a bit spotty. After their stunning success from Close to You all the way through The Singles 1969-1973, their 1975 release Horizon was a letdown albeit an artistic triumph. Once that masterpiece peaked outside the Top Ten, the follow-ups fared no better. A Kind of Hush and Passage received a tepid response. Christmas Portrait became a perennial favorite, but for the studio pop albums, "The bloom was off the rose".

The fortunes of the duo were much better overseas, with Japan and the United Kingdom remaining lucrative markets. In Japan, compilation after compilation of old material hit the top of the countdown. In the United Kingdom, a very successful tour following the release of Hush resulted in the new Live at the Palladium collection and paved the way for the Carpenters second greatest hits disc.

While the original Singles album displayed the artists at their peak, The Singles 1974-1978 reflect the beginning of the end of their illustrious career. Contrasting the two albums reveals just how far they had fallen from the glory days of old. Whereas 1969-1973 was released worldwide, the second gathering of Carpenters hits collection was a U.K. only exclusive. That fact itself is telling for artists who were at one time among the top selling musical acts ever.

On the first greatest hits package, an elegant introduction to their first number one song gave way to We've Only Just Begun, a smash hit and instant trademark. On this newer disc, the listener must endure four different singles before encountering the first real hit among Phase Two: I Won't Last a Day Without You.

Just before that Paul Williams penned American hit, a recut version of Can't Smile Without You appears. Due to the incredibly popular version recorded by Barry Manilow, the suits at A&M or Richard Carpenter himself decided to give devoted fans a nice little treat. With a new lyrics, some new vocals, and new instrumentation, the song is quite different than the original. 

Twelve recordings are present here. Two are album tracks, and the popular but "international release only"Jambalaya fills out a mostly unimpressive album. The album is not without its charms, and the most popular sellers are reserved for the latter half of the disc.

The album is not a bad collection- how can it be with beautiful songs like Only Yesterday and I Need to Be in Love?- but it exists mainly as a place marker while the duo tried to figure out their next career move among a rapidly changing musical environment.
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:

March 29, 2010

With Love to My Sister on the Passing of Her Youth

Happy 50th Birthday to my favorite (and only) sister!

God has been so good to you! He's blessed you with a wonderful husband of almost 30 years and four great kids. Your heart, your character, and your willingness to serve people around you make you an inspiration- even if your addiction to Face Book is a riot to me!

Thanks for being a great friend as well as a sibling.
Much love always,

March 26, 2010

Disney's Animal Kingdom Adventures- Chapter One

Blogger's Note: As I prepare new posts, I thought it would be good to offer one of my most loved ones- especially as I will soon present the next chapter in my look at the creation and evolution of Disney's Animal Kingdom. If all goes well, come back on Earth Day. Fow now, here's the first chapter in the series:

Earlier this year, Disney’s fourth and largest Florida theme park celebrated ten years of delighting, thrilling, or frustrating Walt Disney World guests. Plans for the future have yet to be made public, but let’s look back at the past, discuss the present, and speculate on the future of this wonderfully imagineered playground.

Why is there such a deep appreciation and an equal disdain for Disney’s Animal Kingdom? It stands distinctly different from the Mouse’s other playgrounds in the Sunshine State. For its fans, the combination of a brilliant and daring design, consistent theme, and faithful execution brings new and unique adventures and environments. Its detractors would counter there are too few attractions to hold their interest for an entire day. Both sides agree the park is a beauty to view. However dazzling this combination zoo, botanical garden, and theme park is to behold, there are also the intangible factors that draw us to it when we can look past the limited number of adventures: there is a deep emotional connection that comes from our love for nature and animals. It meets our desire to run away from the concrete jungles of modern day life and reality- if only for the day! The park is a unique entity among Disney’s theme park roster, one that will probably never be duplicated.

Beginning with Mickey himself, animals of all types and depictions continue to be a great and profitable fit with Disney. According to company lore, Walt’s well-known love for animals and exotic locales, evidenced by the inclusion of Adventureland at Disneyland, California, and his True-Life Adventure films formed the emotional heart of Animal Kingdom long before ground was ever broken. In reality, when discussion began about the creation of this park in 1989, it may have truly been a strictly business decision that brought it to fruition.

The Magic Kingdom was a concept unique to Disney, successfully capitalizing and expanding upon the reputation of its older sibling in California. The next park, EPCOT Center, conceptually different in Walt’s mind but with its execution clearly inspired by world’s fairs and corporate America trade shows, transformed Walt Disney World from a single day destination to one that could consume a traveler’s entire week. Disney-MGM Studios debuted and was the least original of the three parks, taking ideas from Universal Studios in California and Disneyland, including a new Main Street of a different era for its entrance plaza.

Michael Eisner, brilliant or be damned, was the driving force behind the creation of a nature focused park. Bringing a competitive, and some would say greedy, nature to the business, he guided the company into direct battle with his once friendly neighbors, desiring to capture all the time and money any visitor may have in Central Florida. Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park had just successfully launched to square off with the soon-to-come Universal Studios. Pleasure Island was Disney’s answer to Orlando’s popular Church Street Station, Typhoon Lagoon their response to Wet N Wild, and myriads of resort properties were added to the entire Disney complex to grab a large share of the hospitality industry’s bread and butter. Earlier in the decade, Epcot’s Living Seas pavilion took a swipe at Sea World, and now Disney’s Animal Kingdom was looking to take a large bite out of Busch Gardens popularity in nearby Tampa.

The Studios park was jammed with guests from opening day on, and the atmosphere was rich but the attractions were few. Plans were quickly put into place for expansion, and discussions began on what to do next. Outside the new park, visitors filled the water parks and daytime entertainment and shopping areas. Flush with success and lots of money to invest, Disney executives believed a large audience remained untapped. With the astounding success of all the new offerings on the property, it was only a matter of time before the strategy gelled to add another park to lure and keep vacationers on Disney soil. Watching its competition for further clues, all it took was a glance at what was going on in Tampa to realize people’s love for animals and for the Disney characters would be a hit when combined. Polls taken at the other parks confirmed the company’s hunch. The “blue sky” imagineering quietly but quickly began.

Joe Rohde, who was intimately involved in the now defunct Adventurer’s Club at Pleasure Island, got the go-ahead from Eisner early in the new decade to proceed. He would head up the small but talented team to design the new park. With only a few months, a relatively short amount of time, and a high level of secrecy, this crew began to dream, plan and envision a park that would capture an audience and their money.

The designers instinctively knew Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom, (as it was first named), had to be different from the other Florida parks, yet it had to appeal to the masses as well. Could Disney pull off a zoological park that didn’t look or feel like one? It had to be one that could excite and not bore. These became the core challenges. The Imagineers and the money men were well aware that travelers would avoid the new park in droves if a run-of-the-mill zoo was the first impression the park left its early guests.

As with any Disney park, this one had to have its themed “lands”. Initial concepts blended traditional Magic Kingdom elements (Beastly Kingdom- home to imaginary animals and the expected Disney dark rides); an Epcot style pavilion (Conservation Station- highlighting advanced animal care techniques); and traditional zoo with safari essentials (Kilimanjaro Safaris and Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail- among others, providing real life animal encounters). Additionally, a few old school Disneyland elements reappeared with slightly different twists: an exploration into the era of prehistoric creatures from Anaheim’s Primeval World met the cutting edge technology of California’s Indiana Jones Adventure (Countdown to Extinction), repurposed Jungle Cruise boats became transportation (Discovery River Boats), and lastly another railroad line linked the more guest friendly areas with the research facility (the Wildlife Express). Of course, any and all great plans are subject to the accountants red pen!

(Thank you to Tales from the Laughing Place for the image above!)

The main themed areas were now in place, but the Imagineers had another challenge to solve as well. What should be the park’s identifying icon and how would they set the stage for an arriving visitor? The Magic Kingdom and Studios parks both used a long walkway leading from the park entrance toward its respective icon. Epcot utilized a welcome garden type area then allowed guests to walk under Spaceship Earth. After many different ideas were discussed, including entering the park through a recreation of Noah’s ark, Joe Rohde and team took a unique approach to solve the problem.

To quickly establish the idea this park was built for exploration, wonder, and maybe most importantly, was not your mother’s zoo, guests would pass the turnstiles and enter the enticing Oasis Gardens. This area establishes the feel of the park: there would be multiple paths to explore and animals and birds all around. With the vegetation lush and strewn with tropical flowers, streams, and small waterfalls, this place would be a place to relax as well as have fun. Nooks and crannies discovered along the way would contain animal exhibits quietly hidden for the folks who would choose to take the time to find them. Multiple paths into and out of the gardens encourage visitors to explore. All this to bring a sense of mystery. Once the chattering of birds and small creatures intermingled with the sounds of human laughter, anticipation would be built. What would it lead to?

To ensure the park had an extremely authentic and exotic atmosphere, the Animal Kingdom team wisely involved Paul Comstock, the modern day genius landscape architect behind so many of Disney's wonderful theme parks and resorts. Mentored by the legendary Bill Evans, his reputation is crowned by his breathtaking work on Disney's Animal Kingdom. This unique combination gives the park its bold flavor. (Below is one of Paul’s original landscape plans. To view more of his two decades of work at Disney, see his portfolio at his new employer, Valley Crest Design Group.)
The landscaping plan for the park is spectacular, but it is the man made masterpiece, the Tree of Life, the park’s chosen icon, that was intended to steal the show. This astounding structure is a piece of art unparalleled in Disney’s history. Designed to quickly brand the Animal Kingdom, there are more than three hundred animals are carved into its trunk and branches. Surrounding it are even more gardens, streams, and waterfalls. The Tree of Life was a bold and breathtaking choice. Situated on Safari Island, there were various concepts initially proposed for the area before the designers settled on the final one.

As expenses grew making accountants nervous, plans continued to evolve to balance the centuries old tension of art and commerce. The victims of cost cutting meant a haven for meeting the Disney characters replaced the beautiful landscapes and attractions of Beastly Kingdom, old parade floats from Disneyland were turned into the Festival of the Lion King show, and the exciting Excavator coaster for Dinoland U.S.A. became extinct. In what was ultimately another concession to the business side of the Mouse House, a 3D film based on an upcoming Disney/Pixar movie “A Bug’s Life” would be placed inside the majestic Tree of Life. Although fewer attractions would premier on opening day than what was originally designed, the park promised and would deliver enticing adventures for those guests who chose to look beyond the traditional Disney park experience.

This is the end of Part One in this series. Hope you've enjoyed it! Keep an eye out for the rest of the series as it unfolds. In Part Two, we'll look at the opening day and guest reaction to the new park. 

(All artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photos by Mark Taft. All rights reserved.)

March 24, 2010

Blog Spotted!

Another great blog find! The Meet the World blog has some great discoveries for the Disney fan, casual or in way deep! Take a look at these photos from Disneyland's construction of the New Fantasyland of 1983. Very, cool. Go check the site out, and you won't be disappointed. Find this terrific blog here.
(Photo copyright Meet the World.)

March 23, 2010

Meet the Other Robinsons

Currently on display on Main Street U.S.A., in Disneyland's wonderful new Disney Gallery, is this small gem of concept art.

In our day of mega theme parks all over the world, it is all too easy to forget that Walt Disney was a true pioneer when it came to creating immersive and delightful atmospheres in which to place his attractions. Walt's original Magic Kingdom grew quickly as fans responded enthusiastically.

The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse rose majestically among the jungle landscape and remained a fan favorite long beyond its transformation in Tarzan's Treehouse in the new century. Climbing the numerous steps upward to the treetop, this simple yet structurally complex attraction took explorers into a whole new world- and to the tune of the catchy Swisskapolka!

Variations of the attraction appear in Florida's Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland - potentially coming to Shanghai Disneyland as well. All this proves once again, that sometimes the classics are classic for a reason and not every attraction must be a huge production to be a crowd pleaser.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 22, 2010

Family and Friends

New portraits of our family. Needed them for my job, but it was a good excuse for an update. (Sorry for the self-focused post so our relatives could see them quickly!)

Redheads always photograph with a special sparkle- suits my youngest son's personality! Too bad our oldest son and his wife are out of state.

Our youngest daughter and her special friend Andy. He's a good guy!

He clearly has no problem fitting in and helping attack the redheaded stepchild !

March 19, 2010

It's a Mall World

It seems Disney is right on track for two new restaurants to open at Epcot's World Showcase, one for Italy and one for Mexico. This follows right after a new tequilla bar. Add in a new shop for China, and we've got the latest formula for success / cash cow for the park: more shopping, more dining, and more drinking. Is this at the expense of new attractions? Could be. Is this the new model for success at the other parks at Walt Disney World?

We'll see if the next D23 convention reveals anything for this park with so much to gain, so much to lose, and tourist dollars and reputation at stake.
(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

March 18, 2010

Off the Wagon!

Failing at my diet this week! I had lost so much, and I've recently gained back ten pounds. I was all inspired by the 650 lb Virgin, my weight loss left me feeling more energetic than I have in awhile, and the encouragement from my lovely wife kept me going! Of course in the midst of my relapse, I'm also discovering that I often use food as a crutch. Not good for a man with a faith in God and a heart to please him. Lord Jesus, change me please!

New Heights at Disneyland Paris

This is an absolutely beautiful little map of Adventure Isle in Paris. The Imagineers truly outdid themselves when they designed this playground of every boy's dreams.

Combing elements of Peter Pan's Neverland and the Swiss Family Robinson's island home, Adventure Isle takes the American concept of Tom Sawyer's Island to new heights. From the beautifully detailed Captain Hook's Pirate Ship to the deep grottos and caves waiting exploration, nothing is left wanting. Everywhere you turn, the lofty views astound. During our last visit we easily spent a full hour exploring and still left feeling we missed quite a bit. (You can find our detailed trip report here.)

I intentionally left the graphic very large so you could see it all. If you think the map is well done, you should visit the island! Seriously. Make that trip to Disneyland Paris (or EuroDisney). Not only is Paris one of the world's most amazing cities, this French park is the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever.
(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company.)

March 17, 2010

Audiophile: George Strait- Pure Country

When you hear twin fiddles and a steel guitar...

From beginning to end, this is the George Strait album for fans who don't particularly like country music. With such a glowing intro, I'll be the first to tell you the associated movie is enjoyable but not worthy of an Oscar. However, you just gotta give kudos to a man who insists his wife will be the only woman he will ever kiss! That's George- a gentleman and an example in a world where true life love stories don't seem to exist. But back to the music...

From honky tonk to traditional ballads, George is king. I'm partial to the two versions of "Heartland", both the upbeat opener and the closer- the sweet ballad starring his son. If I'm not mistaken, the co-composer of the great Carpenters hits had a hand here writing this. Lyricist John Bettis proves a good song can be done well in any genre.

"She Lays It All On The Line" tells a lusty little tale of his gal but in an adult yet unexplicit manner. The play between the guitar and piano is classic. George's vocals are confident. He is thoroughly enjoying this song.

Being a newbie to George, I didn't expect the clever and not always so vague lyrics found on "Overnight Male". Comparing the Pony Express to his sexual prowess, George woos his lady effectively, even if his tongue is firmly is his cheek and not hers. It's fun and frothy- fully unexpected and successful at making you think twice about his ability to kick up his heels.

Before you think the collection is all made up of upbeat dance hall swing, be assured that there are plenty of traditional ballads here as well. If you like your country with a heavy dose of pop leanings, I Cross My Heart and Last in Love fill the bill just fine. Should you prefer a more traditional approach, George's great voice shines on When Did You Stop Loving Me and The King of Broken Hearts, drawing from the late 50s/early 60s style of country, all while sounding amazingly fresh.

That, in fact, is the best pony trick of all- George has discovered a way to consistently give the fans and critics exactly what they want. He delivers contemporary and instantly classic music without compromising artistic integrity. The title track tells the whole story behind the man.

Midnight Musings

Various and wandering thoughts in the middle of the night...

Things do eventually work themselves out.

Vacation is good!

When faith is being tested, it's difficult to stand back and trust God will do what is necessary.

A little ice cream and prayer does wonders for the soul.

The wicked will be punished- maybe just not during this life.

A warm sunny day is a reminder from God He is still working.

Dinner with family al fresco lightens the heart.

There's always tomorrow. One day at a time.

God will not fail us though others do. Jesus already did the hard stuff on the cross.

March 16, 2010

Wonderland's Transformation

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is a shocking feast for our eyes. The visuals stun, burn actually, and the storyline is blurred from Lewis Carroll's original literary masterpiece and Walt Disney's movie of the same name.

As expected, Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter commands the screen. He's half Pierrot, the sad clown, and the other the moody Captain Nemo. Our heroine is spunky, determined, and constantly a bit bewildered by all she sees- just like the viewers in our theater. Mia Wasikowska fits this role perfectly.

This Burton film is whimsy for a new generation- one jaded and cynical by life's realities with tiny shreds of good humor, little lightness, and a small glimmer of hope.

March 15, 2010

Ariel's Risky Undersea Adventure

Just as it was in 1989 when this movie debuted to (thankfully) critical acclaim, The Little Mermaid plays a very significant and potentially fortune changing role for today's Walt Disney Company. This time, it's not the animation division needing some punch, it is a couple of the theme parks.

Between Ariel's attraction being the centerpiece of the new Fantasy Forest in Florida's Magic Kingdom and being the star of the first real new attraction at California Adventure since the billion dollar overhaul was announced, there's a lot riding on her poor little tail!

You wouldn't have to read the Disney blogworld for long to discover that many in Disney fandom believe the days of impressive "E" Tickets like the ones of the Golden Age of Imagineering are behind us. Disney's artists struggle to prove otherwise. Yet, to date, what has been produced that compares to the Marc Davis era? Not much, I say. Finally, here is their chance.

Certainly, the accounting folks at the Company are banking on the Little Mermaid to turn around the fortunes of California Adventure as well as fend off Harry Potter. It's a tall order.

Will it work or does it really matter in Florida? At Walt Disney World, tourists flock to second hand tripe like the Stitch disasters since they are placed in the Magic Kingdom alongside the true must-sees.

Not so at California Adventure. Without first rate attractions beyond Soarin' Over California, more is at risk. Will the first Audio-Animatronic extravaganza in Anaheim's second gate become a must see headliner? I hope so, but any way you view it, this is quite the task to accomplish. Disney put all their chips on the line for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to turn around the park. Unfortunately, a half-baked version of the terrific Florida original resulted in disappointment for fan and company alike. The same mistake cannot be made twice.

California theme park fans are giving the Walt Disney Company another chance to impress us. We'll be a forgiving bunch one more time as we not so patiently wait through a revamped Sun Wheel and Orange Stinger. But you cannot fool us twice. This time the company had better deliver the real deal or lose us for good. There's more fish in the sea beyond another pretty little mermaid.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 12, 2010

Notable and Quotable: Corrie Ten Boom

"Faith is like radar that sees through the fog."

Holocaust Survivor Corrie Ten Boom

March 11, 2010

Raising Hopes at California Adventure

California Adventure's Blue Sky Cellar raises the hopes of the Disney fan who walks through those beautiful oak doors. The centerpiece of the display, Radiator Springs Racers, takes the fun and technology of Epcot's Test Track and marries it to the storyline of the Pixar smash film Cars. The result should be stunning. Phase One of the billion dollar extreme park makeover cannot be completed fast enough!
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 10, 2010

Mission Accomplished

Designed to make us want to go see their new film, The Bounty Hunter. Between the preview and this cover of Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston on W magazine, well... Mission Accomplished.
(Photo copyright W Magazine.)

Editor's Note: My wife was mildly upset when she read the blog. She proceeded to gently tease me about Jennifer Aniston, making her point known with wisdom and humor. Sometimes a guy just makes an error in judgment!

Games People Play

What is it about people lying to get what they want?

I'm in the middle of a situation where I'm attempting to bring reconciliation between parties, but I continue to discover a series of lies as one party chooses to slander the other repeatedly then hides behind more lies when confronted. Following the maze is an incredible experience!

Can we just be honest with each other- please?

March 9, 2010

Design Detail: Alice's Wonderland

Long before Tim Burton had his hand is redesigning Alice's wonderland, the Disney Imagineers created the first virtual reality experience from the film. Disneyland's little gem of an attraction sports whimsical leaves painted in eye-popping tones, while giant caterpillars wondering who we are takes guests on a fantastic exploration into her world.

As an attraction goes, Alice in Wonderland is not a showstopper in the "E" Ticket tradition of Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion. It is, however, just one of many smaller charms that truly set apart Walt's original park from all those which came after. With detail galore, the end result is something Johnny Depp himself would be proud to call his own.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

March 7, 2010

Insights and Sounds 2nd Anniversary!

Today marks the Two Year anniversary of the Insights and Sounds blog. Thank you for reading!

Just as I did one year ago, I thought it would be good to recap my first post for a bit of fun. Now, with over 700 posts behind me, here it is:
"The biggest question on my mind today is "What am I doing here?" Or if I was in a fairly obnoxious mood, it might be "What are YOU doing here?"Random thoughts is a good name for this first post because I really don't know what I'll be sharing every time I add something. My hunch is this is where you'll hear about what interests me, what I think about what's going on in this world, what I'm trying to figure out, or how we can really make a difference. Maybe I'm really just looking for a place to journal...

Why "Insights and Sounds"? A play on words. Kinda thought it would be fun sharing reflections and revelations, music and movie perspectives, travel experiences and photos, and thoughts on faith. Regarding that last piece, a verse out of a letter called First Corinthians happens to be my favorite : "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

If you check in here often, you'll discover that I'm really a geek at heart, pretty sentimental, not sophisticated, and for the most part, that I really like people. Hope that works for you!"

In two years worth of time, this blog has become something very personal for me. I loved it, and I've hated it. It's become part family album, part music and movie review site, sometimes inspirational reading/writing blog, travelogue, and foremost an absolutely clear expression of my appreciation for the Imagineers and the Disney theme parks- especially the original: Disneyland.
Interestingly, many of my posts on sex and relationships are among the highest searched and read! (Guess my blog does reflect the Internet in general!)I'll be adding more of these as I feel the need or have some new and interesting insights to share. But feel free to search- and all of them are written in a "family friendly" way.

If this is your first visit, welcome! I'm glad you're here. You might like to see some examples of some of my favorite posts. They cover a wide range of topics just to keep things interesting. Here's 15 of the more than 700, with an emphasis on what was posted during Year Two:

Bargain Basement Imagineering- a multi-part series on the concept art and history of the development of Disney's California Adventure compiled in one place- Beginning with California Adventure's conception and on through the new "Blue Sky" phase.

Pieces of My Heart- A bit more personal look at what makes me tick and how I am changing in my understanding about life.

Taking Off the Rose Colored Glasses- A recent glance at my current search for truth about the state of the Walt Disney Company.

Space Mountain, Universal Thrills- An old favorite, both post and attraction. The History of the Disney attraction throughout the world-

Invasion: Dinosaurs Take Over the Disney Parks- To date the longest post I've ever written. Quite fun to do but time consuming. Part art, part photos, part history and part trip report. Wanna see how dinos rule the Disney worlds? This is the article for you-

Indiana Jones: The Attractions- Stories, details, and rare concept art on all the Disney Indy based attractions worldwide. Somewhere there's a movie review, too!-

Saving Epcot- How to restore the world's greatest theme park to the grandeur of prior years. EPCOT Center was mind blowing. Another oldie but goodie-

Islands of Mixed Adventure- After decades of visiting only Walt Disney World, I stop in and see what Universal turned out in Florida, pre-Harry Potter!-

The Horizon Review- a series of posts spotlighting the albums and career of a much loved and missed female vocalist, Karen Carpenter. Yes, I start with Offering/Ticket to Ride, and I am up to Christmas Portrait as of this date. However, if you want to read about the best album ever produced by Karen and Richard Carpenter, go here:

The Disneyland Historical Preservation Society- Uncovering a secret society that exists within and outside the halls of the Walt Disney Company.

Trains, Planes, and Automobiles- our 2007 European Adventure in words and photos: London, Paris, Venice, Tuscany, Wales, and Germany-

Disney's Animal Kingdom, A True Life Adventure- a continuing series (Five parts so far!) on the creation, execution, and history of this beautiful but controversial park. Lots of rare concept art and plenty of photos from my many visits there-

When the Future Was Forward Thinking- Will Tomorrowland Ever return to Thinking Ahead? A series of concept art, photos and insights on the subject.

I've got much more of Disney concept art to share, music reviews including a look at American Idol, segments on what it means to me to be a man of faith in our day, and more trip reports and photos from our travels- Disney and beyond. My popular posts on Walt Disney World circa 1989 (The World's largest expansion to date- a photo heavy trip report on the Studios and Pleasure Island and the Resorts)is still up. Also my reports on the Disneyland Resort, other Florida trips, and Disneyland Paris can be found too. No Asian Disney resorts- yet! ;)

I'll sneak in a few family photos old and new from time to time- thanks for letting me indulge. If you want a more personal look at who I am, here's my acceptance speech.

Thank you again for joining me for so long now. I appreciate your feedback even if I do not always agree with you! You've been good friends, making me think hard about my life, my faith, and the company I love to follow. Really, I am so blessed to have you with me!Let's begin Year Three, shall we?

March 5, 2010

Always Epcot

Whenever I am in the mood to go to a Disney park, it seems it's almost always Epcot.

What is it about this place that continues to draw me to Walt Disney World?

Certainly, it is not the new attractions in Future World. Nemo is nice, Soarin's much closer to me in California, and soon enough, I'll find a Test Track like experience at California Adventure with Radiator Springs Racers. Maybe, the old standbys of Spaceship Earth and Living with the Land still do the trick.

Can it be World Showcase? Hmm, that might be it. Admittedly, I deplore what the Imagineers have done to El Rio del Tiempo in my beloved Mexico pavilion. The gorgeous Impressions of France film badly needs to be upgraded and/or replaced- but not like the disaster that is the newly minted film found in Canada. The whole of China is still wonderful, and soon enough the lure of a new Italian pizzeria sounds nice. Yet, this doesn't explain the almost gravitational pull.

Every visit to the park leaves me delighted, even in awe at times. This is true in spite of that fact that some of my favorite attractions have left (Journey into Imagination, World of Motion, Horizons) and World Showcase has been left to stagnate. My wife and my family have always enjoyed ourselves none the less. My photos prove it.

Bingo- that's it! It's my memories of Epcot and how I see it through those rose colored glasses that draw me. So, some things must remain the same to bring out the feeling of discovery and exploration the Disney advertising team sells us.

The wide open spaces of Future World sometimes still do convey a sense of wide eyed optimism. There are times the music of old fills the air, and I hear the tunes calling me back to the day when Disney could create the future- and not just make a caricature of it. I can still hear my kids laughing at Figment as he discovers so much about his world. The sheer awe and magnitude of the Living Seas. The special family meals at The Good Turn restaurant as it revolved inside The Land.

Daytime in World Showcase has its charms as well. Yet at nighttime, ah, now we're talking! Illuminations still surprises me. Walking around "the world" in the cool evening as the lights of each country are turned on. Dining together, exploring exotic flavors, talking with the natives from each locale. Enjoying a sense of unity with the rest of my family as we play and laugh, forgetting our troubles.

Oh, the memories of EPCOT Center! I'm sure today's families find Florida's second Disney park just as magical, but our world is not as optimistic and hopeful as it once was. Innocence lost and "maturity" found. It's now Epcot Center, Figment's more annoying than charming, sometimes World Showcase mocks its host countries, and the future is bypassed because it looks dim.

Maybe one day, we can be inspired again- wowed by greatness- with new countries to explore versus exploit, and new pavilions in Future World to help us think beyond today. If there's any park in the Disney worldwide kingdom that can make this happen, it's Epcot. Always Epcot.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 4, 2010

Randomness and Nothingness

A very random post today, catching up on things I've wanted to say...

American Idol: Michael Lynche was really good last night! My money is still on Lee DeWyze, but hey, I've been wrong before. Casey James was a washout. Good for Kara to redeem herself with an honest appraisal.

Yep, Karen Carpenter would have turned 60 yesterday. Go to the A&M Corner under the Carpenters tab, you'll find a link to some amazing photos. Ones I had never seen before. Her voice continues to bless me, her loss saddens me, too.

Disneyland and California Adventure: Nothing new it seems. Captain Eo draws a mixed bag of reactions, while the ongoing prep for World of Color is getting exciting.

This Sunday is the 2nd anniversary of the blog. Look for a special post then.

Work and life are busy, but God is good! I'll have much to say in the days ahead!Thanks for reading.

March 3, 2010

Main Street's Meat Market

When designing Disneyland, Walt Disney and his newly minted "Imagineers" originally opted for a very realistic take when deciding what exactly would become Main Street U.S.A.

Along with the once proposed residential section (complete with an early rendition of the Haunted Mansion), shops along the avenue would take on a different approach to life at the turn of the century than how the California park was eventually built.

Many Disney geeks are familiar with the "Wizard of Bras" corset shop, but how many of us knew there were also plans for a butcher to make his presence known? As you can tell from the concept art above, no idea was left unexplored. Alas, this one never made the final cut.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 2, 2010

My Best Days

While we rush head first into 2010's American Idol season, Danny Gokey has been planning first debut disc for quite awhile now. It finally arrives today.

Those fans that love his renditions of Carrie Underwood's Jesus Take the Wheel or Rascal Flatts' What Hurts The Most will be pleased, as Gokey eschews the pop and rhythm and blues leanings of his idol performances for a solid country release. The man's got a warm, comfortable voice. Nice sense of control and a good stage presence.

Local lore has it that legend Randy Travis told Gokey to go country. Good call. Mark Bright, producer of both Carrie and Rascal Flatts steps into the studio to lead Danny's first effort. The man will have a long career on the charts if he continues to choose great material and equally great producers. Let's hope Danny's fans follow through and buy the disc, really making these his Best Days.

March 1, 2010

Tired of Tim

The man is certainly visionary.

That said, I am just plain tired of the same twisted visual look of his films. From Nightmare Before Christmas to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Corpse Bride and onto Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton's quirky style is becoming a bit boring- a one trick pony. His art used to be surprising but now has become almost cliche. It is unfortunate that his Alice would be predictable before the first images even became accessible! Maybe he should collaborate with someone other than the magnificent Johnny Depp to stretch him- and stretch Johnny as well!

Tim's presence at the Disney parks grabs the crowds but is in danger of being passe as well. The yearly transformation of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion into its Halloween meets Christmas form was once thrilling. Yet, last visit, I found myself sorely missing the attraction in its original Marc Davis and Claude Coats incarnation.

In order to assure his ongoing importance and enduring legacy, it's time for Mr. Tim to return to the drawing boards once again. Bring us something fresh. Bring us something bright, even something cheery. Surprise us and delight us once again.