November 29, 2010

Rapunzel's Fine Form: Tangled Shines Brightly

Finally had the chance to see Tangled Saturday night. The quick and dirty answer to the question is "yes", this new Disney animated film is clearly worth your time. While Princess and the Frog was a much heralded return to traditional animation, and hopefully the start of the third generation of animation excellence, it was sadly not as well received as it should have been. Tangled shouldn't have this problem.

The Rapunzel fable was ripe for a great story by Disney. Any long time viewer of animated films would wonder how Disney could pull off yet another princess story and not repeat themselves. Surprisingly, there's only the slightest feel of deja vu at the end of the film. Everything else feels new.

The beautiful girl with the golden magical locks is only half the story, as her dashing counterpart Flynn Rider provides the male friendly action, giving the plot its excitement. Disney marketing may have changed the title to appeal to more male viewers, but in reality, it is a more accurate representation of screen time and story told. In fact, to its ultimate benefit, Tangled is filled with more action and better pacing than any Disney princess movie in recent memory. The previews would make you think the film is striving for a Shrek like ambiance, but this is actually a very traditional feeling film with one exception. Just a hint to those of you with small children: make sure you are there for the very beginning of the film. Flynn narrates the story and does it so quickly and covers so much turf, that the littler ones would need much explanation to understand the film. The same can be said for the ending wrap up to the story.

With any great film, where story is king, it takes terrifically engaging characters to pull it off. This time, it only takes three. Secondary characters are wisely few and are unimportant to the story. In the princess role, Mandy Moore is a great fit for the movie, her Rapunzel is at once youthful and charming. Beneath the obvious differences in storyline, parts of our heroine's personality remind me of a younger Belle of Beauty and the Beast, maybe even a bit of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. There's more depth to her love interest Flynn Rider than you'd first expect. His story unfolds at just the right time and pace. Zachary Levi gives him the perfect balance of brashness and vulnerability. Not a bad singing voice either.

The Disney Villainess, a staple of the genre. Mother Gothel is so well written, and she is so well played by Donna Murphy, that you almost expect her to redeem herself by the end of the film. Almost. This is Disney after all, and it would be a truly unexpected twist- and maybe a first- should an evil character repent and change their ways.

Due to the smart dialogue between she and Rapunzel, highlighted by the "I love you more/most" exchange - and a less than stellar song for her to sing as her centerpiece- Mother Gothel initially is less apparent the villain when compared to those before her. Even less obvious than Cinderella's stepmother Lady Tramaine or Beast's brute Gaston. When the exchange gets heated between she and Rapunzel, like almost any mother daughter relationship, it seems as if the two actually do love each other. This brings the film a true to life complexity that is rather bold, more akin to a Pixar animated film. There's a good moral to the story that shows people are not always what they first seem to be.

The animation of the film completes the package without overpowering it. Sleeping Beauty provided the most gorgeous background to any Disney animated film, but the characters seemed lost in that world. Here, the scenery is no less stunning, perhaps better and certainly more realistic, but the characters belong here and are not overpowered by the grandeur. (Watch the backgrounds in the movie closely. I think this is what Walt Disney World's new Fantasyland Forest should look like!) The landscapes are varied and traditionally rich looking. Such an accomplishment that I almost forgot this film was computer generated!

The character animation is very good, although at times Rapunzel's doe eyed look was a little too doe eyed. Computer generated humans are the shortfall of this tool and generally don't seem as warm to me as those drawn by hand. The work of Glen Keane is to be commended here as I could almost imagine he would press the animators for a more real look than those found in Toy Story, Up, or others. The film is all the better for his work.

Superbly executed chase scenes aside, when great characters meet stunning landscape meets great song, the result is Tangled's lantern scene. It is one of the finest moments in any Disney film in any era. Period. For this reason alone, go see the movie. There will be no in home screen large enough to capture its beauty. I won't ramble on here, although I could. It is that stunning.

Lastly, for a musical, I expected Mandy's singing to be wonderful, but it is only better than serviceable aside from her subtle and beautiful duet with Zachary Levi, "I See the Light", sung during the above mentioned scene. Maybe it was just the songs she was given to sing. The music itself may be the very reason I cannot give Tangled the A+ I'd like to. Alan Menken is a gifted man. The songs here are good, but this is far from his best work. I've long thought his strongest work ended with Howard Ashman's death, and sadly, this seems to prove me right.

If it is in fact true this is Disney's last animated fairy tale, which I think to say is a fairy tale itself, Tangled is the way to go out with style. The film is warm, funny, and unique. You won't leave the theater humming the songs, but you will leave thinking "Disney still has it!", and you'd be right.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 27, 2010

Paris, Pirates, and Plunder

It may be blasphemous to some old school fans of Walt Disney Imagineering, but in my opinion, the French version of Pirates of the Caribbean is the best of the bunch. Not only is Disneyland Paris the most beautiful Magic Kingdom park, many of the famous Disney "E Tickets" have been reimagined from scratch. Pirates is no exception.

After passing through the quite beautiful tropical fortress, our winding queue takes daring guests to the dock, where they depart on watercraft sailing by the lovely Blue Lagoon Restaurant. Rounding the bend, our boats take on an upward journey, ascending into the upper reaches of the attraction. Surprises are found on every turn, but here are a few: pirates swing overhead, some climbing up and over the town's protective walls, and stray cats float by, naking their temporary rescue on kegs of rum.

Beyond and below, we see a fierce battle taking place as one of the pirate ships is into port, and villagers are fighting for the life of their beloved town. Before we linger and watch for too long, we are discovered by the pirates, and craft plunges down right into the middle of the action! Now our high seas adventure truly begins- and it includes scenes not seen Stateside with an ending that is absolutely explosive. No more spoilers, you'll just have to ride it for yourself to see why I rank it Number 1...

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 25, 2010

Seasons of Thanksgiving

This time of year, we stop and think about everything in our lives which cause us to be thankful. We are blessed by God even if in the midst of pain and hardship. If nothing else, we can be thankful that we've made it another year- and look ahead to the future. Only God knows what lies ahead, but one thing is certain: all good things come right from the hand of God.

Just as I used to make a list for Santa as a kid, here is my list for God of all the reasons I am thankful:
His goodness and His great gift of sacrifice in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ- The Ultimate expression of God's love for mankind. The only payment in full for my sin from the only spotless one who could accomplish this work. That God Himself would reach down to mankind still amazes me.

My family. We are blessed. I've seen death this year, but I also see new life coming. There's been hardship, pain, comfort, and deep joy. Our friendships are numerous and rich, many spanning decades. In a world of temporary relationships, my life has been enriched by the blessing of those who love me and are loved by me. When you count your family as your friends as well- all the better!
The future. There's a wedding and a baby ahead! More friends to make, more opportunities to display the love of Christ and to see Him at work in our world. I never cease to be amazed as I watch God care for those down here- and even more amazed when folks write off His goodness as coincidence.

Doing what I love. Sure, this includes work. What a gift to serve others as your full time profession. But also blogging here. To have so many kind readers- well, that also amazes me and makes me thankful.

What are you thankful for? As you reflect on that question, may each of you have a blessed and wonderfully peaceful Thanksgiving day!

November 24, 2010

Hiding in the Background

I love cruising the net to find all the latest and greatest, and always helpful, The Disney Report happens to be one of the places I visit daily.

One day while reading the updates, I noticed the background seemed very interesting. So, I thought I'd save it and open it up in another program to view it full size. What a great piece of art I've found! Looks like the work of Greg Maletic, but I could be wrong. Oh, blogmaster Aaron, would you reveal the artist???

November 23, 2010

It's the Right Season for Rumer

Check out this album...

Seasons of My Soul is the newest release from a wonderful artist with a rich and warm alto. Sounds much like someone else known and loved worldwide, a favorite of this blogger.

The music is varied and rich, showing influences from great artists of the past. Any Swing Out Sister fans? (Me, too!) Recent listeners posting on the A&M Corner website, seem to think there is a familiarity with Corinne Drewery there, too. Be it the influences of a voice like Karen Carpenter or anyone else, Rumer will now be near the top on my Christmas gift list.

November 22, 2010

Disneyland's Time Machine

Every fan of Disney parks knows the two cardinal rules of good theme park design:
Rule Number One- It's all about a Good Story, and
Rule Number Two- Keep it in Theme.

Tomorrowland 1998 was a mess- there are few disputes on this fact. God bless them, but Imagineer Tony Baxter and team did the very best they could under much pressure, shrinking budgets, and generally horrendous circumstances.

Without going into the details, let me highlight something they did very right: The Disneyland Time Machine. Where is it? Well, it is hidden in the guise of the Disneyland Railroad! Right at the station is this little flourish. A sign that could have been easily overlooked, ignored, or budgeted out of the remake of the land. Instead, its existence highlights the desire to do things well.

As guests walk to the Tomorrowland Train Station, an ever changing billboard announces the multiple destinations available for your journey to the past. Be it 200 million years BC to the realm of the dinosaurs, America in the year 1860, or the year 1900, this time machine on rails is ready to take you there.

Sure, it is just a small piece of advertising for an attraction in a theme park. Yes, it is not a big draw like Pirates of the Caribbean or Splash Mountain, but it is just another one of those things for which Disney Imagineering is famous. Layers upon layers of detail which build a great and consistent story.

No jokes here about taking this time machine back to the 1990's when California Adventure was conceived. But I'd gladly jump in for a ride to 2012 when the changes to the park are complete!
(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

November 20, 2010

Here Comes the Sun?

Quite a bit of talk these last few days of how Disney Imagineering is going to transform Walt Disney World's Pleasure Island into the Hyperion Wharf. Sure, all that great concept art you see looks great, but something seems suspiciously shallow. It's the content, the substance, the heart. This redo of the island sounds much like a contemporary version of California Adventure's Paradise Pier and Walt Disney World's Boardwalk. With all the demo going on in California, should we expect the recently removed Sun Icon or even the soon to be removed replica of the Golden Gate bridge to relocate to Florida? Hopefully not.

Before we are quick to criticize the Walt Disney Company for rehashing elements from the past, let me point out it is exactly the same sort of things we can do in our own lives. We can view people we haven't met through the lens of previous positive or negative relationships we have with others who seem similar. We can dress up and change our outside without ever really doing the hard work to change inside. Even worse, we can just let some things in us never change, causing us to deteriorate until we fall apart. (Want your Disney analogy? Think River Country here.)

Just as any Disney project needs a person with a vision and a great architect to pull it off, we need one, too. The Great Visionary who created us has a plan for us that is always better and healthier and more amazing than what we could ever expect compared to what we will get when we design our own lives. All it really takes to start fresh is agreeing to put your life in His hands, admitting we've made a mess of our life and possibilities. One step of faith, one choice of really giving your life over to Jesus is all it takes to watch new plans unfold. Then the son comes in, and the hope begins.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 18, 2010

Tennis' Love Match: Marathon

Here's one of the catchiest songs I've heard in a long time: Marathon by the new band Tennis. This Atlanta based band is vocally fronted by the talented Alaina Moore. Her voice sparkles on this engaging tune with a percolating rhythm. Working with husband Patrick Riley, the team has created a terrific first single. It's fun and frothy- just perfect. Can't wait to hear the album Cape Dory. Go to i-tunes and pick up the digital songs now.

November 17, 2010

Worth the Wait

For many years now, my children would want to talk to me about marriage and about their mate to be. My response would generally include this kind of fatherly wisdom:
  • Choose character over charisma

  • All I ask is two things, "Do they love Jesus?" and "Do they love you?" Everything else is secondary- I do not care what they do for a living, what color their skin is, or how much money they make. Troubles will come and go, but a spouse that deeply loves God and deeply loves you will always strive to do the right and God honoring thing.
Happily, I am pleased to announce the engagement of my youngest daughter to an equally fine young man! She is beautiful, smart, full of integrity, passionate, generous, charming, and deeply in love with her Savior Jesus Christ. He is her match: His faith is very important to him, his heart is to serve God. Equally full of integrity and life, funny and kind. He loves my daughter from the depth of his heart. What father could ask for more?
My lovely daughter was never the type of young woman to go from one man to another looking for Mr. Right. Dating was never her passion. She waited five years between young men, all the while pursuing her degree, her God, her ministry, her life. God has richly rewarded her with a young man that I would have handpicked if it were my choice. Congratulations both of you! It will be amazing to see what God does through you and the life He has planned for you!

November 15, 2010

Disneyland Attraction Posters: The Main Street U.S.A. Collection

Note: Today, I want to introduce a new series- Disney Theme Park Attraction Posters. As I do these series of posts, I want to thank the various sources from which I have collected these over the years. Some come from the incredible Daveland blog-  a very fine source for current and retro Disneyland history, photography and other fun tidbits, some "unofficial artwork" from Greg Maletic, and some from many others- including scans and photographs by me and others. Thank you to everyone involved in documenting these!

As you view these posters, you'll notice changes in colors, names of attractions, and even multiple posters for the same attraction. I am hoping the blog posts will be "living" in the sense that you the readers would feel free to send me any new ones or better scans that you may find. Lastly, have fun! This project has been growing over many years- and it has been a blast!
As Walt Disney and his team were planning Disneyland, they instinctively knew this was going to be a different type of park. How could they communicate to the public what they would see in it? Of course, television played a huge role in sharing the vision and the details.

With a plan for the park to be defined by the railroad tracks, it was only natural that the Main Street U.S.A. train station would be at the park's entrance. It would have two tunnels in which to pull guests from the front of the turnstiles into Main Street, one on the left and one on the right. Inside these tunnels, the Imagineering team proudly created posters advertising the attractions.

Over the years, the attractions would also be found in front of the park along the fences and over park benches as guests found seating alongside the main entrance. It's only fitting that we begin this look at the attraction posters by starting with the ones first encountered by the earliest guests- the ones for Main Street U.S.A.

Although the Grand Canyon Diorama was a very small part of the route, this poster did a magnificent job of communicating the grandeur and beauty to be found by guests making the full circle tour on the trains.

Primeval World would come later and provide even more thrills.

It's difficult to tell which color scheme of the attraction poster was actually used. Either way, the artist's use of colors not normally associated with railroading and bold imagery created a stunning representation! The beautifully intricate version at the top of this post came many years later, communicating the elegance of Disneyland's railroad in an entirely different way than earlier versions.

The Red Wagon Inn restaurant was the predecessor to the beautiful Plaza Inn and operated by that name until the mid 1960s. Again, the colors in these two posters are slightly different.

Arguably the greatest attraction found on Main Street U.S.A., Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was quickly recognized as a masterpiece of engineering, artistic accomplishment, and exquisite storytelling. The poster above advertised the attraction at its opening. 

 Above is a proposed version of the poster.

 Another variation on a theme.

Several years after Walt's passing, the Disneyland Opera House presented "The Walt Disney Story", a very fitting tribute to the man who started it all. The first version of the attraction replaced time with Mr. Lincoln in favor of a film about Walt. A later version left Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln as the stunning finale of sorts to the attraction. A new poster reflected that change.

This poster was used during the park's 50th anniversary.

The posters for attractions found on Main Street, U.S.A. are quite an impressive lot! There's more to come as we explore the other lands of Disneyland- and eventually Disney parks all over the world.Next time, we'll take a look at those posters for attractions in Adventureland. The exotic attractions form a very beautiful basis for another set are great artistic interpretations. Stay tuned for the next segment in this series!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 14, 2010

Coming Tomorrow- The Disneyland Attraction Poster Series

Here's a great poster by United Airlines advertising Disneyland. It's just a teaser! Beginning tomorrow on the Insights blog, will be taking a look at the beautiful attraction posters designed for each of the Disney theme parks. Certainly, we'll start with "Walt's Park" as Disneyland was the first of the company's many expressions of the theme park. Come back tomorrow for the first in this multipart series.

November 13, 2010

Michael Jackson's Unbuilt Neverland at Disney and More

Today, over at the excellent Disney and More site, Alain Littaye reposts one of my favorite pieces ever: an exclusive look at Michael Jackson's unbuilt Neverland Theme Park. The article is full of art and great descriptions of the attractions. What a delight it would have been! Go there now and read this piece.

November 12, 2010

Before There Was California Adventure...Westcot!

Don't get me wrong. I love all the wonderful changes that have been completed and those that are still coming to Disney California Adventure. All $1B worth for Phase One, and whatever else they decide to actually build for Phase Two- if its well done. I'm all for almost anything to make this park a respectable and worthy companion to Walt's Disneyland. But I will say unabashedly, I am a Westcot fan. (Just take a look at this stunning concept art for the abandoned second park, and you'll see why. Click on it to see it full sized.)

At the grand opening of California Adventure, the Walt Disney Company and its leaders Michael Eisner and Roy Disney promised us wonderful and charming attractions honoring the spirit, locales, and people of the Golden State. It was only half-heartedly delivered. It looked much more like outtakes from the abandonded Disney's America project. (Even then, some of the most true to concept pieces of the California themed park were discarded- the beautiful Eureka parade- with its awful "hip" soundtrack; the all too politically correct and cheapened from the original Circle of Hands Audio-Animatronics show, Golden Dreams; lastly the simply delicate and wonderfully delightful Seasons of the Vine show. And oh yeah, Superstar Limo... awful but in theme.) Gotta give Robert Iger credit for trying to right the wrongs now- even though he was part of the group that approved the original plans. The Paradise Pier makeover is a good start to a reboot of the park. Buena Vista Street looks great and Carsland terrific. However...

Imagine being delivered the world instead of just a Pixared California. Not just the world of the future, but the four corners of the globe. Imagine having the elegant World Showcase from Epcot reimagined for the West Coast. Beautiful nighttime vistas of global landmarks, wonderful and varied dining options, gorgeously lush landscapes, thrilling and educational attractions. Nice, huh- and very near the quality of Tokyo Disney Sea.

Instead of the world, we get Mickey's Fun Wheel, and we have to live with it. Let's just say the Imagineers and the suits have their work cut out for them to transform California Adventure into something worthy of the magnitude of Westcot. Can they do it? We'll see in 2012, but I still pine for what could have been. Some may say "Get over it!" but there's still that third slice of land holding court as a parking lot just in case the Westcot concept would rise from the ashes.

For the record, SamLand's Disney Adventures has the absolutely best series on the creation and history of this never completed Disney park. You'll find part one right here. For a transcript of the entire Westcot presentation as told by Imagineer Extraordinaire Tony Baxter, go here. The transcript is full of juicy details of the attractions proposed for the park- and how it was to be an improvement over World Showcase in particular. Go to these posts and drool. You will. Trust me.

For now, let us rejoice in the little theme park that is getting a second chance. The suits could have left it half-baked. Instead, it will become something worthy of a full and fun-filled day. But never forget what is found in Tokyo or what could have been. Hold the company we love to their previous high standards. Universal's done it with Harry Potter. We deserve it- and they can deliver more.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 11, 2010

Risky Business

In our day, Marriage is a risky choice- a courageously brave and difficult choice!

We live in a culture of short term commitments:
• Throwaway relationships and Disposable Marriages
• Employment that ends when the benefits don’t suit someone
Face book Friends we never see Face to Face

We can live our lives with the attitude of “What’s in it for me?” We can desire to live our lives without making promises, even those we have chosen to join in commitment. It's a real option for too many people carrying deep wounds from the past.

The problem is- if we all think this way, no one makes promises to us!All of which makes marriage the biggest gamble we take!

In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul tells us husbands should love their wives as Jesus loved the church. But what exactly does that mean?
It means marriage is a choice of dying to our own preferences for the sake of our mate- doing this on a daily basis and holding to the promises we make on our wedding day.

When Jesus, by choice, chose to die on the cross to pay for the sins of Man, he was taking a huge risk. He knew some would not accept His Love and His Sacrifice. And the Enemy was against Him. But the pending reward of eternity with those who believed outweighed the risk. So, Jesus gave up his life because He loved His Father and he loved the people He created.

There will be times when keeping the promises will be impossible. The pain will be so deep, when the anger and fear seems impossible to bridge, when you totally forget why you even chose to marry and may regret your choice. Your friends and family may even encourage you to opt out of your promises. But this is when Love can win.

As you persevere in marriage and do so with a heart to sacrifice, your rewards will be great. God will use you to heal and bless each other- and to be a witness of His Love to a world that is dying. As you persevere, you will be transformed into the image of Christ- and you will bless your Heavenly Father by choosing obedience and sacrifice versus self indulgence!

November 10, 2010

Design Detail: G Force Records at Disney's Hollywood Studios

For a park that has lost its sense of direction, Disney's Hollywood Studios is still full of great design and little details that we theme park fans love. Yes, this park is filled to the brim with stage shows that are dated and tired, a minimal number of real attractions, and a confusing layout. But if you look beyond the obvious, you'll find that even in the most haphazardly plans expansions, there can be found little additions that remind us of the days when Imagineering was blessed with cash to do things right.

Here's more proof. Take a walk down Sunset Blvd. As you are approaching the only magnificent version of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, take a sharp left for a raucous journey down those California freeways on the still cool Rock N Rollercoaster. Upon exiting the required but fun gift shop, pause to look at your feet and find this manhole cover. What do you see? A tribute to G-Force Records, the fictional company whose studio you just entered before catching your hot to trot limo. Shaped like a vinyl record. Again, proof positive that even the little park that has lost its way still has much for the devoted-to-detail Disney park fan.

(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

November 9, 2010

S*** Happens

How do I say this? Well, on one hand, I guess you could say that the title and the photo say it all. It happens, and it happens for about six months of each year, on and off. And now it is on. Our gorgeous Autumn couldn't last forever! Yesterday was a balmy and beautiful 74 degrees. This afternoon about 2:00pm, well a storm.

It moved in fast and furious, and before I knew it, my car was cover with wet, slushy stuff. SNOW! Not my favorite kind of weather, but S**** happens. Time to build a fire...

Not Quite a Merry Christmas, Darling

Some songs are better left alone. Merry Christmas Darling by the Carpenters is one of them. But given the popularity of the hit television show Glee, and its propensity of non-stop remakes of popular tunes, you can't blame them for giving it a try.

Granted, I've only heard a shot clip of the version by Lea Michele, but her take on this classic and beloved song by Karen Carpenter is breathy and high pitched, dramatic and somewhat, somehow, slightly endearing. She is a very talented young woman. Yet, her version does not bear up under scrutiny compared to the original. 

To be fair, no one's take on this Richard Carpenter / Frank Pooler song does- not even Amy Grant's ode to hubby Vince Gill. (And any reader of this blog knows I love Amy's music; Vince's too.)

Props to the producers of the show to include this song on their show. Hopefully, it will expose a whole new generation of music lovers to the music of the Carpenters. For that, I am thankful.

November 8, 2010

Disneyland Resort Expansion and the Paradise Pier Hotel

Regardless of what we die hard fans think about the expansion of the Disneyland Resort as it appeared in 2001, one thing is certain: The suits at the Walt Disney Company were smart enough to understand that fans in California are a very loyal bunch. In fact, it was very clear from my last visit, that trips to Disneyland are woven into the fabric of the life of Southern Californians. Birthdays, holidays, and special events are celebrated there. A ride on Space Mountain has become a local rite of passage and a visit to the park when it is decorated for Christmas is a must.

Back in 2001 then, many fans viewed California Adventure as certainly a misadventure and the beautiful Downtown Disney shopping area a success. Yet the serious transformation of the Anaheim property from park to resort truly began in earnest when Disney created the gorgeous Grand Californian Resort, following the purchase of the Emerald Hotel. Turning it eventually into the Paradise Pier Hotel, Disney worked hard to make changes and enhancements to the Emerald property. While not as stunning as most of the sites found at Walt Disney World, it is a far cry from the All Star Sports!

The Paradise Pier Hotel is not the most attractive spot on the property, but it has enough Disney- if just proximity to the parks- to pass. It has untapped potential, too. Imagineering art of the hotel is not commonly available. As you can see above, what is available is nice but really only serviceable. Inside the hotel, however, are many pieces of concept art relating to California Adventure 1.0. (Better check them out soon before they are removed, but you can also see some of them here. It's part one in a multipart series looking at the transformation of the park up to today.)

Rumors continue to persist that Anaheim will one day see another resort hotel, something more akin to Walt Disney World's beautiful Grand Floridian. Who knows when or where it will go- maybe next to that long imagined third theme park now being used as a parking lot?
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Midnight at the Oasis

Traces of romance in my head...

Visions of today when I watched one man die and another emerge through the ancient rite of baptism. New hopes rise, old sins die, life begins anew in Jesus Christ, the creator of the world.

Thinking of the power of forgiveness, not just towards us from Him, but from us towards others who have wronged us- and being delighted that change is coming and change has come. Real change, the kind stronger than political rhetoric from all sides. Freedom.

Sending my camel off to bed...with joy. (Another post later today...)

November 7, 2010

Update and Amazing Photos

Coming up this week on the Insights and Sounds blog: a view of some overlooked detail at Disney's Hollywood Studios, some reflections on the original expansion plans at Disneyland, an introduction to new fairly new recording artist and more. Before you return tomorrow, take a look at this photo update on MouseInfo. Just terrific!
(Photo copyright DLFreak at MouseInfo.)

November 5, 2010

Pleasure Island's Rock n Roll Past

Pleasure Island concept art is very, very hard to come by! But here is a little treat for our eyes as we lament the Island's past and anticipate the future: This is a scene of inside the long gone XZFR Rockin' Rollerdrome. Although it was only open for a very short time, it was an idea unique for Disney and an enjoyable place in the evenings. In 1989, after a half day at the new Disney-MGM Studios, our family was looking for something fun.

Very busy at night, but during the day when I first saw it well, it was lacking customers... and its fate may have been sealed when they couldn't reverse the trend.

Walt Disney World is certainly in need of nighttime entertainment that goes beyond theme parks and resort hopping. It needs a central and active place for movies, shopping, eating and drinking- especially since Animal Kingdom closes early and the offerings at Disney's Hollywood Studios are getting slimmer and slimmer. Maybe another day and time.

And please answer the poll to your left, would you? Thanks!
(Concept Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 3, 2010

A Little Pleasure Island For You

Coming tomorrow on the Insights and Sounds blog- something a lot fun, and maybe even a bit unique....and even a bit sad. Oh yes, please make sure you vote on the poll directly to your left. Thanks!

November 2, 2010

V is for Vote

Attention Americans: Get out there and vote. There really is no excuse. Democrat, Republican, or something different in the Third Party range, go do it. Or please be quiet about what you don't like in America. We have rights other countries have lost. Be brave. Be wise. But be on the road to the polls.

Male Ambiguity 3

Continuing on with our discussion of Male Ambiguity...

There is an incredible plan for each of us. Our unique personality, likes and dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and skills and talents are not happenstance. We are all different for a reason! That's a great thing- what a boring world it would be should we all be the same!

That said, we cannot be all that our Creator has designed us for if we fight Him and remain in unhealthy places in our lives. Have we created a hole so deep by "just surviving" that we are afraid to take steps to health?

"For as he thinketh within himself, so is he" (Proverbs 23: 7, American Standard Version)

Where can we get stuck? Author Leeann Payne writes, “In secure possession of their gender identity, the great majority of men moved from the chest, as it were, out of hearts freed from the Legalisms of Childhood, the Narcissisms of Adolescence, or the Perfectionisms of an Adulthood spent futilely seeking self acceptance (or even the affirmation of parents).”
Crisis in Masculinity; page 13

Question: Let’s look at these and see if we find ourselves here in one spot or in many…

“Legalisms of Childhood”

This may be best represented by folks who tell others what to do and how to do it- but don't follow their own advice, setting themselves up as an example. They live unrestrained lives, taking actions which immediately or eventually inflict pain on others or use them for their own pleasure or purposes. Everything is about them and what they want. As adults, we know real community and true love requires sacrifice and looking out for the needs of others first.

For those stuck in this childish mode, there can be an unspoken list of Do’s and Don’ts, Shoulds and Shouldn’ts. Maybe its is being Performance Driven and Oriented; the ends justifies the means. Success at all costs. “Fair” is a big deal, “The Way Things Should Be”. These folks stuck here can live their lives under expectations, judgments, and curses- and they tend to do the same to others, especially when they do not get what they want. Roles are important, so relationships may be difficult, and status means quite a bit to them. You might see them tend toward a joyless life.

“Narcissisms of Adolescence ”

May be best represented by those folks who are a slave to their passions. Characterized by a lack of self-control and a huge ego or a deeply wounded one. These kind of guys cannot control the carnal nature but instead indulge it with abandon, to the detriment of the truly important relationships they do have, risking health, career, and maturity. Very vulnerable to addictions- overeater, being a workaholic, alcoholic, sex addict. My needs and wants, my time, my interests, my hobbies- “It’s All About Me”, “What’s in it for me?” The common good is unimportant, so commitment may be a one way street. Relationships are probably many but may be shallow. I can fall into this one: he fears growing up and taking responsibility. If he is a parent, he could be living life through his children.

God wants to bless the people He loves with freedom and joy- and his patterns for life are guidelines which bring safety and blessing and personal fulfillment that is deep and lasting. Then, and only then, do our lives bring Him honor- and our soul is at rest. The great Apostle Paul writes, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." Ephesians 4:22-24

“Perfectionisms of Adulthood ”

For guys stuck here, there is a high need to prove authority and position. Image and control are very important. He'll use words and actions to manipulate. Having to look and be perfect, he is an easy target for a “secret life” where his addictions and actions that would disqualify him and ruin his image can take root and grow. Without friends for real support and honesty, he is lost in patterns which will destroy his life.

It's not just the "big" areas that can create problems here. I know men who couldn't tell the truth, men with uncontrollable tempers, men who stole small items at work, or others who couldn't control their need to look like the nice guy to everyone. Each experienced devastating consequences as something that didn't seem so significant finally became more important to them than what they really wanted in life. Most importantly, thet lost self-respect as well as losing sight of who they were. Patterns were set in place that couldn't be easily removed and without help.

What are some common characteristics in all these three stages and descriptions?

• Fear Based Decisions and Actions (or lack of action)
• Self-focused- difficult to think of or support others
• Can be emotionally inattentive to primary relationships
• Has difficulty focusing on God’s hand of blessing in their lives
• Compensates for something lost or something never gained
• For those of us married, we can turn responsibility over to our wives, leaving them burdened, confused and hurting
• Those of us with children can leave them confused, too.

Ultimately, we can be confused about who we really are as men, and instead, live a life full of good intentions without ever doing anything with them! Very disappointing and unfulfilling.

In an age where the world needs heroes, and we as men are looking at others by which we can model our lives, let's take a look at Jesus Christ as our model of manhood. Even if you are not a Christian, there are many things you can learn by examining the life of this extraordinary person.

The Bible says He dealt with the same temptations as us (Hebrews 4:15), so in this regard, his life on earth was no different than ours. This means ALL temptations- insert your own favorite struggle here. Jesus chose to be baptized by John, who was confused why the Son of God would want a baptism of repentance.

"Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. He took ownership of what was right, and He chose to live his life in a way that would be a blessing to others.

He was tempted with all things. Look at this passage in the Book of Matthew, Chapter 4:
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:

"'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

7 Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."

10 Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Notice that twice Satan says “If you are the Son of God…” questioning his identity in the Father. When Jesus doesn’t cave in, Satan offers him all the world has in exchange for His true identity. There is nothing that evil men like more than when we lose sight of who we really are and trade it in for short term pleasures and pursuits. We are designed to make a positive difference in our world, but we can throw it all away so easily.

Jesus could have tossed it all away, but instead chose to make the ultimate sacrifice, choosing to die on the cross for the sins of all men for all time. Was there ever a bigger or more difficult mission than that? He is the Hero of all time, a worthy role model for those of us who want to be more than we are and to make our world a better place.

Now, for those of us who are trying to follow Jesus, Paul again has encouraging words regarding Our Sonship, Our Manhood, Our Identity. In Galatians 3:26-28, he writes, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Be warned: When we choose to live differently, we will be challenged, even attacked for the choice. The Same Experience as with Jesus will happen to us: We will be questioned by others our identity (And we will sometimes question ourselves about our identity in Christ). Through the ways of the world, we will be offered whatever appeals to us in exchange for our Manhood, our True Identity! These offers will become available to us as we make choices along the way toward whatever we place before God, thereby setting our hearts up for deceit.

Let me ask you a question, "What have we exchanged for our True Manhood, Our Godly Identity in Jesus?” or even "What compromises have I made in my life in order to not 'rock the boat'?" If you do not know the answers, ask those you trust- and listen well.

The answers will reveal the very areas that hold us captive to a life that is far less satisfying than the one we want. Then ask God for the strength to do what is right and honorable. There will be blessing as freedom as you forge ahead in his strength.

November 1, 2010

Disneyland's Dirty Little Secret

Hope you enjoyed the trip report on California Adventure! Here now, is my take on the status of Disneyland... and please, don't forget to answer the poll to the left!

As you might remember, I had one full day to cover both parks in California. Normally, it might be somewhat of a lost cause, but with a cooler and overcast day and a bit of preparation, I was able to have a very casually paced day and see 23 attractions including World of Color.

Walked into the park just minutes before the rope drop. Main Street U.S.A. looked terrific in its Halloween garb. Ever since Matt Ouimet spruced up the place for the 50th anniversary, the old gal looks pretty good overall. (The same attention to detail in preparation for the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom seems to be happening as I write.) I had several minutes to look up at the buildings and view them in close detail. No peeling paint or rotting wood here. So different than what I saw at Disneyland Paris three years ago.

Normally this time of year, I would be in a rush to head towards the Indiana Jones Adventure, continue on to Haunted Mansion Holiday and then finally Splash Mountain before slowing down the pace. Since I had been to the parks almost exactly one year ago, I took a different approach. What would happen to the flow of my day- and the number of attractions I would experience- if I went "old school" and started with Fantasyland's dark rides?

Heading straight towards the castle, I was struck by how charming the courtyard was as I passed over the moat. Very charming without the crowds. Peter Pan's Flight was an early morning favorite for many visitors, but I was able to be the 5th person in line. It had been years since I had been over Neverland in the States, and since this attraction is the first one I will cover in my soon to come Disney Dark Ride Series, it seemed like a fitting beginning to the day. Ready for this? It was a let down.

Peter's invitation at Wendy's window didn't play, the music over London was off, and there were noticeable areas where Neverland needed some tender loving care by the Imagineers. Never even saw Tink! The whole flight was much less magical than I wanted, and I was so glad I did this first thing in the morning instead of queuing up hours later and experiencing a lengthy wait. This just hinted at a bit at Disneyland's dirty little secret, but more on that later.

Redeeming the first ride of the day, I journeyed off with Mr. Toad for a wild ride to nowhere in particular. The building looked beautifully elegant. The interior had oodles of detail, and my car seemed blessed with a brand new paint job. Yes, the attraction is an original, so it is old. And yes, it is simple. But it is still a pretty fun little jaunt. How did I manage to exit the ride with a smile on my face right after entering Hell? It is Fantasyland, after all!

Checking out the new effects in Snow White's Scary Adventures, I thought about how a combination mine train roller coaster and dark ride themed to this film could actually work in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. The story's a great one. If the attraction entrance looks like a combination of Disneyland's Snow White Castle sitting on top of a mountain that's to the right scale, it could fit into the atmosphere well. I cannot wait to see the new concept art for Fantasyland Forest 2.0. Taking the simple figures and lighting effects with a kid friendly coaster could be a big family hit. And definitely "boy friendly"!

From that point, I walked through a very quiet and lovely Fantasyland, passing the Mad Tea Party and Dumbo as well as Storybookland Canal Boats, Alice in Wonderland and the Matterhorn Bobsleds. Where was I headed? Right to Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

Two years ago, I experienced my first undersea travels in decades. I was not too impressed after a lengthy wait, so I wanted to give the attraction another chance. Again, it was a walk-on, something that would not be true later in the day when I queued for the Matterhorn. This time, with lowered expectations and riding in a submarine full of families with small children, I tried to experience the attraction through their eyes. Overall, a solid attraction. The thrill of being in a sub is not something I can experience every day. Does Nemo belong in Tomorrowland? Absolutely not. Was it the right choice to save the subs? Probably.

From one toon to another, Buzz was next on my to do list. Granted, I'm the low score king, but this is also the reason I didn't go on Toy Story Midway Mania at California Adventure later in the day. I will say this: the outside of the attraction looks very dated and the building needs some refurbishment. Disneyland's Tomorrowland is the worst of all the Magic Kingdom styled parks. A mish mash of designs and themes. It is so sad that this one time "World on the Move" has become the weakest land in the park.

After a quick jaunt back to California Adventure, I reentered Disneyland and began again with what would be my normal touring plan. This meant an awesome ride on Indy, (great new Harrison Ford Animatronic, by the way) followed by my favorite Disneyland attraction ever: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Although I was a young child at the time, I was among those who rode Pirates upon its opening in the Spring of 1967, and I have been held captive by their escapades ever since. No other Disney attraction save Epcot's original Journey Into Imagination has ever been as instantly loved.

Forty plus years later, this classic still has it all. In fact, I have never seen this attraction look or sound better, with one exception. The bayou night was as mysteriously dark as could be, the talking skull perfectly presented, and the caves and caverns spectacularly lit. Sure, the ride down the waterfalls will never equal those of Splash Mountain, but what follows the drops makes up for that in thrill and anticipation.

Three disclaimers here: 1- Disneyland Paris' version is still my favorite of all; 2- The attraction didn't need Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow and crew- but I like both pre- and post- Sparrow versions equally.; 3- Thank God the politically incorrect pirate activities are back! Pirates chasing women for their trays of food? Really!

As I mentioned, the attraction looked and sounded great. Yet, entering the main ship and coastline battle scene, the music was missing. It adds so much to the great visuals. Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa does a wonderful job blending old dialogue and new, and the first appearance of the beloved Captain Sparrow is inspired. All said, the new characters add to the attraction instead of detracting from it. Still a magnificent accomplishment in theme park presentations that is the industry standard to this day.

This trip through, I realized just how much available space there is in the show building to add new scenarios and characters. Maybe we'll see something new, perhaps Paris' sword fighting pirates will beach on American soil one day. Or even Will Turner (the true hero of the films) and Elizabeth Swann. The possibilities are endless or at least only limited by Disney's budget.

Returning back to the Lafitte's Landing, I should have opted for a second cruise, but instead I moved on to Haunted Mansion Holiday. The short walk through the streets of New Orleans Square are always enjoyable. It's easily my favorite land at Disneyland, and the whole of atmosphere enthralls me. The music, the props, the architecture, the food options, the attractions, the greenery. When you add the elegant Mark Twain rounding the bend, it's a complete package of perfection. Then, there is that beautiful abandoned mansion on the far end of town...

There's much to like about this Tim Burton inspired character makeover- great detail that's true to the Nightmare Before Christmas film- but I truly prefer the Haunted Mansion's original tour. It is one less cartoon inspired in a park that is adding characters all too often. The one big downside with being at the Disneyland Resort during October or Christmas- the two times I am most likely to visit due to my vacation schedule- is that I only get to see the original Marc Davis version when I go to Florida. Guess that makes the original concepts a treat for me.

It was still pretty cool, so I skipped Splash Mountain altogether. In hindsight, I probably should have gone on it as I did venture onto Grizzly River Run several hours later. How often do you get a 5 minute posted wait time? The weather did not stop me from walking through Critter Country however. Pausing to purchase a very pricey but delicious caramel pecan roll ($4.95 for a small piece!), I then walked through the land exploring the nooks and crannies of the Hungry Bear Restaurant.

This area of the park is gorgeous and feels so remote from the rest of it all. In this aspect perhaps among few others, Disneyland's 55 years of growth yields benefits California Adventure has yet to see. The "natural" landscaping and years of growth give Disneyland a lushness that has only been duplicated in Florida's Animal Kingdom. Hopefully, the current Imagineering team brought in to fix the second park should be thinking about this aspect, the one that was ignored in favor of endless streams of concrete. Nothing man made can compete with the natural beauty God builds into shrubs, trees, and flowers.

Moving into Frontierland, Big Thunder was next, then a cruise about the Mark Twain. At the top of the mountain for the climax to the "Wildest Ride in the Wilderness", the avalanche effects at the end were not working. Here it was again. Disneyland's dirty little secret: Many of the effects in some beloved attractions were missing in action, and upkeep on others was lacking compared to normal standards. I saw this later in other areas as well. Too many not to notice.

Perhaps the expense of updating its younger sister park was putting financial pressure on the care of Walt's Kingdom. Maybe Disneyland is being viewed as the cash cow, resting on its laurels, happy to be pleasing the large and loyal local crowd with retro merchandise, guest Imagineers and great holiday celebrations. Maybe a few other reasons as well, but there it was right before my eyes. Too many broken effects.

Back to the trip report. My cruise aboard the Mark Twain gave me a front and center view of everything new on the river. Love him or loathe him, Tony Baxter and his team did a fantastic job adding to the story. Even the old school minimal movement figures were a great touch. It's part of Disneyland's charm to leave some things this way, untouched by high tech/high touch enhancements. Unfortunately, from the ship, I could see how badly the second story building in New Orleans Square needed paint and care. More bad show.

I had one last Fantasyland attraction on my list- It's a Small World. Again, things looked and sounded great, but parts of the attraction's canal needed resculpting and repainting. The tribute to the U.S.A. is missing something, but I cannot put my finger on it exactly. Lastly, why or why not in Disney's thrust for retro merchandise, has there not been a series of limited addition Small World dolls for sale? They would sell like hotcakes. Think American Girl dolls, and you get a clear picture. Duffy is a go, but they are missing the mark on this one.

Returning to Tomorrowland and on to the next toon: Captain Eo Tribute. How dated this thing is! The visuals scream 1980's and the man cannot act, but boy, can Michael Jackson sing and dance! Regardless of what anyone thinks of him and how he lived his private life, Michael was gifted. The show is not timeless, but the music is. There's a rumor that Wall-E may one day make an appearance in 3D. (Look here for details on the Adventures with Disney blog. Given the blog master's fairly good accuracy rate, I have no reason to think it won't.) Makes sense- a futuristic character in a land that keeps adding characters- while losing its substance.

With lines still short, I took time for two back to back journeys I usually have to skip: one on the Disneyland Railroad and the other on the Monorail. On both, the backstage areas were in clear view- and were a mess. The view from the Monorail in particular was awful. Much like the tram from the parking garage, a visitor could see far more than they should. It detracts from the magic. And truthfully, the view of California Adventure from the monorail would not entice anyone to pony up the cash and walk through the gates. Maybe Buena Vista Street will hold true to its name.

One last attraction, then it was time for the Disney Gallery and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln before returning to California Adventure. A ride on the icy slopes of the mighty Matterhorn on its bobsleds. One of the best additions to the attraction was not the Abominable Snowman, it was the snow storm effects while you went up the lift hill. With the wind effects, it made for a terrific environment. Guess these were lost due to budget cuts as well? Who knew snow was too expensive?

President Lincoln. Wow! Sitting three rows from the front, I couldn't believe this was not an actor on the stage. His facial movements were as complex as could be. And his speech especially significant now as the idea of what constitutes America is being reevaluated. I loved the fact that old school, God mentioning history remained part of the show. Walt Disney was not afraid of acknowledging things of faith- and I applaud the managers of Disneyland for not going the politically correct route by removing the mention of His Holy Name. It was a terrific way to end my time at Disneyland.

Perhaps it is this presence of Walt and his influence that adds the intangible flavor which makes Disneyland my perennial favorite Disney theme park. In spite of its flaws, its lack of new cutting edge attractions, its limited space, or its ups and downs in management, this park showcases an America that makes me proud to be among its citizens. A visit here should be mandatory for any Disney fan.

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

Where Are You, God?

Are you even paying attention to what is happening in my life? Are you even there, God? It seems as though you have abandoned me, yet I know that You have always proven yourself faithful. The problem is that I cannot see where you are right now.

There are so many - too many- times I have been wounded and abused, attacked or experienced deep tragedy, and you have been there. But I always ever only see you in the aftermath when all is said and done. It's not that I do not feel your peace or the sweetness of your care, it's that I think I am looking for resolution instead of being patient for you to reveal yourself to me in the midst of pain and long suffering.

I'm the one with the problem. Maybe I have abandoned you, forgotten you, struggled to trust you. Yes, I think that is it. Help me, Lord Jesus, to really trust. After all these years, after all this time, I am still unworthy and proven to have a wandering heart. Forgive me for my lack of faith. Bring me back to you in full. Hear my prayer. Restore me please. I want to see you at work again.