May 31, 2010

With Grateful Hearts

"And I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me."

~Lee Greenwood
To all those protecting us: Not enough said- but at least, it is a start. Thank you for your service to our country.

May 28, 2010

Epcot: Mission Space Revisited by Imagineering

Another piece from the new Imagineering book: a proposed but never used concept for Epcot's Mission:Space. The scope and scale seem massive, much more impressive than what was eventually built! Just look:

Oh, what could have been, oh, what will never be. Mission: Space seems to be Disney's most expensive "E" Ticket flop ever!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 27, 2010

The Life of Karen Carpenter

Out Now! A new biography on Karen Carpenter. Randy L. Schmidt has already published on Karen and Richard before, and his new book, Little Girl Blue, focuses on the woman behind the golden voice. The Carpenters' story continues to fascinate. Over 300 pages worth with contributors like Olivia Newton-John and Phil Ramone. Go here to see details.

May 26, 2010

Disneyland Hotel Rennovations Continue

Straight from the Disney Parks blog- a rendering of the new pool area- complete with Monorail slides and the Disneyland Marque. In addition to renaming the towers to reflect the park's lands, plans include a restaurant with a Tahitian Terrace theme and a bar themed to the Jungle Cruise. Sound like great fun!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Calling American Idol for Lee!

After fairly lackluster performances from some of my favorite recording artists-

Bee Gees, Michael McDonald, Christina Aguilera, Hall & Oates, Alanis Morissette, Carrie Underwood, Chicago, Janet Jackson and Joe Cocker, Lee DeWyze is crowned the 2010 Idol. 

I had a feeling it would be him back on February 27th. Congrats, Lee. Now, go make a great album!

New York City Board Loses Its Common Sense

Sure, go ahead and build that mosque by Ground Zero! Go ahead and do it while the radical Muslims laugh and the core of America stands by in shock and disbelief!

This action by the New York City Board only confirms what I have suspected for awhile: Political Correctness is the cause for much of a lack of common sense and good taste. An amazing display of disrespect for America and an astonishing insensitivity for those lost in the attacks and the friends and family left behind!

Christina Going Bionic

Love her, hate her, or tolerate her, former Mouseketeer Miss Christina Aguilera has a great voice. I keep hoping she'll do something with a bit more class than acting like the slut next door. Doesn't seem like the new album will fit the bill. Maybe next time, next year.

May 25, 2010

Notable and Quotable: Albert Einstein

"As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene....No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life."

Albert Einstein

May 24, 2010

Mickey's Mad House

Here's a great piece of art from the D23 calendar for 2010: Mickey's Mad House.

In 1976, years before California Adventure was misconceived, Imagineer Ward Kimball designed this funky little mad mouse coaster into an indoor dark ride attraction. Think Mulholland Madness fully fleshed out with a story and indoor special effects.

In fact, keep thinking about Mulholland Madness- this concept would be a great replacement instead of Goofy's Sky School. As the Paradise Pier makeover continues, its clear the Imagineers believe you can never have too much Mickey in this park. Guess it balances out the Pixar invasion going on!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 23, 2010

Almost Paradise Pier

From "Macro's" photos on Miceage's California Adventure tracker- this gorgeous shot of nighttime at Paradise Pier. World of Color fountain tests, California Screamin' lit up, and the beautiful evening skies of Orange County. How I wish I could be there now!

May 21, 2010

Imagineering Book Reveals New Innoventions

The long awaited Imagineering book just arrived at my home. There are many, many images and stories, photographs and explanations in the new tome!

Among the many images are a few smaller gems easily overlooked- like this dry for wet concept for a Disneyland Innoventions redo. (I left it large so you could see it all.)

The book is a great companion piece to the original- and if you're looking for something on Shanghai Disneyland, you'll be disappointed. If you want more on California Adventure's transformation, this is the book for you. More later!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Ride the Big Red Cars!

Come Hell or high water, World of Color will debut on June 11th.
Next up will be The Little Mermaid "E" ticket musical attraction with Cars Land and its Radiator Springs Racers right behind it. The remaining improvements to Paradise Pier may be delayed, but already the completed ones are making a difference. Seems like California Adventure will be on its way to becoming a park worthy to sit next door to Disneyland- not Epcot or Tokyo DisneySea, mind you, but at least much better than the dismal little park that couldn't in 2001.

The Imagineers are still left with a great challenge- the entrance. Plans are for the postcard look to be replaced with the immensely themed and detailed Buena Vista Street. It's Red Car Trolley will add some kinetic movement to the new area with shops and cafes rounding out the offerings. It has yet to be revealed if the Carthay Circle Theater will host anything noteworthy or just be an empty landmark.

If the suits at the Walt Disney Company are looking to rebrand and reintroduce the park to a hopefully-waiting audience, there's no place more pivotal to its success than the front gate acreage. Time is sliding away. Remember when the billion dollar project was first announced? 2012 seemed like light years away. Now, it's just around the corner. Those bulldozers had better be coming soon. Guests will walk by and wonder where to spend their hard earned money. The work had better be great as this is Disney's last chance to make a great first impression.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 20, 2010

Perfect Ending

Wow- what a riveting ending to the seaon for Grey's Anatomy...

Disneyland 1956 Video

A GREAT find- video from Disneyland taken in 1956. Epic look at the park when the idea of Imagineering and theme parks was brand new. Make sure to watch part 2 when Frontierland really rocked with the Stagecoaches and all. Go here!

Wall-E and World of Color

Hot off the press- from the Disney parks blog...
(Copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Lufthansa Film Festival

One of my favorite pleasures about flying is the journey itself. I just love takeoff, the food (really!), the solitude, and the chance to catch on on films I have missed over the year. This lengthy trip via Lufthansa offered quite a bit of time to catch up! So, here in no particular order, are mini-reviews of my on board screenings:

Avatar: Visually stunning even on the small screen. Creative idea but not Oscar worthy in any acting category.

It's Complicated: Meryl Streep plays another heroine in Nancy Meyer's fantasy film for every older woman ever left behind for a younger hottie. Not nearly as clever as What Women Want or even The Holiday, but an enjoyable way to pass the time. Alec Baldwin is well cast in a slimey way, with Steve Martin being the man you root for.

Up in the Air: I'll admit a bit of prejudice- I don't like George Clooney and his smug "I'm better looking and smarter than you" demeanor. But, dang it, he is excellent in this film. His corporate ax man learns to grow up- but it's his co-star Vera Farmiga who steals the film as someone who plays his game much better than he. This is a thinking man's film every businessman should see.

Leap Year: Once I got past the reality that male lead Matthew Goode closely resembles one of my Caribou Coffee barista's, I really enjoyed this flick for what it is- a fresh, sharp witted take on the old classic romantic comedy. Amy Adams does a fine job and is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses. Coq au vin, anyone?

The Young Victoria: Honestly, British period films are not my cup of tea- pardon the pun. That said, the beautiful Emily Blunt made this movie watchable and likeable. Quite an accomplishment.

Can't wait for another Lufthansa flight to enjoy the service!

May 19, 2010

Symphonic Sting

Couldn't get tickets to Sting at Red Rocks in Denver. This summer's performance by the Police frontman sold out so fast! No matter- just heard today that a full studio album by the man with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be released on July 13. Expect Police hits and solo smashes. Can't wait!

May 17, 2010

Disney Days from Far Away

When it comes to concept art, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom really has very few pieces compared to the other "epic" parks like Disneyland, Epcot, Tokyo Disney Sea, or Disney's Animal Kingdom. Even the reworking of Disney's California Adventure has much more to choose from. In one way, this makes much sense, as in Florida the emphasis was much more on the "world" than the park itself. That's not to say, it cannot be found!

Florida's Tom Sawyer Island is represented here in simplistic glory. Seriously. There's no Big Thunder Mountain Railroad yet, no oddly placed Splash Mountain, no other obstacles to distract from the quiet far away atmosphere of a land long forgotten.

With the paddlewheeler sailing by and a raft heading off to the island, this little gem of an illustration represents the early days of the Magic Kingdom and even of Disneyland itself: the emphasis was on Americana, our history, our future, and our childhood fantasies. Days when guests were encouraged to dream and play out being explorers, astronauts, cowboys and Indians- long before the current times of being force fed the latest popular films. We were free to create our own adventures, making the parks a very personal experience that is hard to find today.
(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 14, 2010

Shocking Encounter

I talk to everyone- waitresses, folks working at department stores, guys on the treadmill working out next to me. It's a habit- and I always learn interesting bits of truth and data.

Recently, my wife and I traveled to Asia to visit some friends. One day while sipping some tea, I was talking to a man I had happened to strike up a conversation with. As it would happen, this guy told me he had lived under the former Soviet Union for much of his life. I asked about the differences living under that regime compared to his current living situation. What he told me shocked me to the core.

It wasn't about the horrible living conditions, the second rate food available at the markets, or the poor healthcare. It was even about having to live under the watchful eye of the KGB. It was his last comments that struck me.

After telling me he had spent the previous three years living in the States, he ended his conversation like this: "I see so many things happening in your country that remind me of when communism took over. It starts off very subtle- as if the government wants to help the people. There is much propoganda. Then it quickly changes as force is used when the common man protests. Your President Obama is taking your government down the same course, and it seems your countrymen are willing to go along with it all."

Just sharing what I heard. Come to your own conclusions.

May 12, 2010

Lovely Levanto

When thinking of our last trip to Europe, Italy comes to mind quite often! From the beautiful beaches of Levanto to the canals of Venice and the art of Florence, each eyeful surprised and delighted.

And oh, the food! It wasn't just the gelato- which we ate everyday as part of our self titled "Campanile and Gelato Tour", it was the pasta and the ordinary dishes of each region that made us smile. The colors were gorgeous and the flavors sublime.

Friendly people, lovely views, and lots of art. All in all, a nicer vacation could not have been had!

(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

May 11, 2010

Promises of Things to Come

With the recently announced addition of a new game to Toy Story Midway Mania, the Walt Disney Company is making good on its promise to provide quick changes and additions to the newest attraction at California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The Imagineers are also hard at work on Star Tours for both the Studios and Disneyland. It is quite easy to change film based attractions. Just witness the changes to O Canada, the film in the China pavilion, and the transition from El Rio del Tiempo to Gran Fiesta Tour at Epcot. Certainly new programming is also on the way for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Isn't it? Quick and easy changes could be the way of the future in between blockbusters like Radiator Springs Racers.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 7, 2010

Notable and Quotable: C.S. Lewis

"If you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?"

C.S. Lewis

May 6, 2010

Created for Good Works

The National Day of Prayer is today- and prayer is always a good thing!

The newest Denver Broncos player Tim Tebow, above, is ending the National Prayer Breakfast by closing it in prayer.

On the pro ball front, in the National Football League, it seems the NFL acronym often stands for "National Felons League". Lurid tales of extra marital sex, domestic abuse and violence are almost daily news items. Yet, Tim Tebow is taking flack for doing something good? Let's get a grip! Instead of making heroes out of thugs, let's uphold someone who is imperfect but seemingly trying to do right.

By the way, ever wonder what the "Eph 2:8-10" means as seen on Tim's face here? It's a verse from the Apostle Paul to the church:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:8-10
(Photo By Bill Haber, AP)

May 5, 2010

Viva Mexico!

Long one of our favorite places in all of Epcot. the Mexico showcase sparkles from top to bottom- or should I say- from inside and out!

The pyramid outside beckons us to step in, and here the magic begins. It almost doesn't matter that the largely forgettable Gran Fiesta Tour is here instead of the elegant and mystical El Rio del Tiempo (see it again here or the amazing video on the showcase's creation here), this interior of this pavilion remains one of the most enchanting in all of Walt Disney World. Yes, the food at its signature restaurant, San Angel Restaurante, used to be great- anyone remember Queso Fundido?- but a margarita and a bowl of chips and salsa do just the trip for a mid-afternoon break.

Add a bit of shopping for colorful wares, great live music, a small museum at the entrance and now a tequilla bar. It all makes for a nice place to spend a moonlit evening, in the middle of a hot and sunny Florida afternoon.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

May 4, 2010

Three Peas

Sometimes friends, sometimes foes, always siblings. Here's three peas in our pod... of course, we're missing a few... and there's more to be added soon!

May 3, 2010

The Excellence of Epcot

Just to commemorate the opening of the majestic EPCOT Center, a special entrance ticket was created. Even though its debut was long ago and the park is now very different than at conception, the attractions still inspire and entertain, and the lush gardens delight. Future World may be less of the future than in the past, but it remains spectacular. Besides as a whole, the park is stunning! And there are few better sights than World Showcase lit up by the glow cast from Illuminations.

For a special treat, follow our advice: View the show from the Mexico or Canada areas. Wait until the show is over, then walk around World Showcase through the pavillions and bask in the nighttime ambience of the hidden spots here. Standout locations include the streets of Paris, the peaceful Japanese gardens, and the waterside of the Italy pavillion. Even better on nights with a full moon.

The Disney Imagineers outdid themselves here. Perhaps no other park built by Disney was as ambitious or executed with such hope. The Magic Kingdom may be filled with the classics and Animal Kingdom with the most potential, but Epcot is still our favorite Florida park!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 1, 2010

Audio-Animatronic Musicals Dead at Disney Parks

At one point in the not too distant past, Disney developed several musical variety attractions. The trend began in 1963 with the opening of "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" and continued on with various shows opening in many theme parks around the world. This was a good fit for the time as American television was dominated by comedy, music, and variety shows.

The spectacular success of "Tiki" meant there would be more to come. Eventually, there was a duplicate of the show in Florida dubbed "Tropical Serenade", as well as two others at the opening of the Magic Kingdom park, "The Mickey Mouse Revue" and "Country Bear Jamboree". In turn, the West Coast gained its own bear hoedown as well as another show - a tribute to America and its music, just in time for the country's bicentennial with "America Sings". With all these shows, theme park fans across the country had several chances to sit down and relax while they were entertained in air-conditioned comfort. A big bonus especially in the humid and hot Sunshine State.

The Magic Kingdoms were not the only Disney parks to receive these types of musical revues. The 1982 opening of the groundbreaking EPCOT Center, brought us Kitchen Kabaret, a strange little show about nutrition hosted by fruits and vegetables. For all of Disney's talk about the park heralding the next century, this cabaret was very retro, exactly the type of attraction that earned Disney parks the teen reputation of being "the place old people went." Or even just a place for little kids. (Think about the pizza hall Chuck E. Cheese!) It was an extremely long 12 years before this show was retired, but unfortunately it was replaced by an even worse presentation, Food Rocks.

Tokyo Disneyland's opening saw the first overseas presentations of the Magic Kingdom's shows, aside from "America Sings" which, thankfully had no place in Japan, and the Land pavilion's musical theater- which shouldn't have happened anywhere. Wiser heads prevailed for the planning of Disneyland Paris. None of these shows were featured, and the planned Beauty and the Beast musical theater presentation was axed in favor of other attractions. I must admit, since this is my favorite Disney animated movie, ( Do I really need to qualify this by saying "hand drawn"?), I was very much looking forward to this show.

Although initially quite fun, these musical shows were starting to wear thin with each repeat viewing. Attendance began to drop. Marc Davis' charming American characters found a new home in Splash Mountain, and the Mouse's Revue in Florida took up new digs at Tokyo's opening. A poorly planned and executed replacement for Serenade opened in Florida as a desperate attempt to keep an audience. At the Happiest Place on Earth, the Bears vacated their California home and made way for an English cub, with Food Rocks retiring for Epcot's version of the only California Adventure classic, Soarin'. In the middle of this transition time, the Imagineers wisely dropped plans for an alien cabaret to replace the poorly aging Carousel Theater in California. The era of theater shows starring animatronics had passed.

Being a music lover meant these shows had a longer life span for me than maybe necessary. Some shows weathered better than others. Having a soft spot for Hawaii and looking back fondly on our many vacations there, I was thrilled when the original Tiki Room was beautifully restored. I wished Disney had saved one theater for the Bears, but that was more for nostalgia value than anything else. (A rumored remake with famous country singers would have held some interest for another few years, however.)

Just recently, I listened to the full recordings of the Disneyland shows from the 50th Anniversary set. Sad to say, but I found myself thinking these shows needed to be replaced. The Jamboree was charming for its time. America Sings, as much as I appreciate the talent of Mr. Davis and his sense of humor, has aged the worst of the lot. Even my beloved Tiki Room survives as a pleasant distraction due to my love for the islands.

Attractions aging poorly is not solely the domain of animatronic musical theater. Disney faces the same kind of challenges with its reliance on 3D film-based attractions and also with stage productions using live actors. Due to its large base of international versus local visitors, the Florida parks can last longer with aging shows and films, but not so in California, as evidenced by the feeble crowds for "Muppets" and "It's Tough to Be a Bug". Viewing the latest plans for California Adventure, we see the Imagineers themselves understanding the struggle they face. New adventures either involve interactivity or those that physically move us from place to place, all the while telling a great story.

The biggest lesson here for Disney is to understand their audience is constantly looking for something not found elsewhere. Disney cannot continue to rely on yesterday's methods and whatever is easiest (or cheapest) to do. In fact, while these types of musical shows are quickly disappearing stateside, you won't find audio-animatronic musicals at Hong Kong Disneyland or at the still coming Shanghai Disneyland either. Developing new technologies are a vital part to keeping things fresh and to bringing return visitors. Disney cannot allow their competition the luxury of beating them at their own game by passing on cutting edge ride or show systems offered by outside firms.

While in the parks, guests desire something new and different. Particularly in California where it is so easy to travel between parks, a variety in types of attractions and experiences contribute to keeping visitors around through mealtime and into the evening hours.

Balancing these truths and budgets are all part of the new rules for today's theme park game. As shown by the public's lukewarm reaction to the poorly executed but quickly improving California Adventure, rewriting the rules doesn't always work. The lessons learned at this park prove it is better to do it right the first time or pay the price. This time, they won't get increased attendance for a song.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)