March 31, 2011

One More for the Family

Two of the cutest children ever! Not much more to say!

March 30, 2011

All A Twitter

The MiceChat boards at MiceAge are flying with tweets today as photos reveal the beginnings of the Carthay Circle Theater, additions to Goofy's Sky School, plans for a new shop in the small San Francisco are aand more. To catch up on the latest via Twitter, look for the Disney California Adventure Project Tracker or go here.

A Love Story

An engagement photo a few weeks before the Big Day. How wonderful God is to bring the two of them together. What a blessing to have your children marry folks you love. Welcome to the family!

(Photo copyright Sarah Severn Photography.)

March 29, 2011

Download to Donate: Tsunami Relief

Many of us are heartbroken for the people of Japan after the earthquake and tsunami. Most of us cannot hop on a plane and help. But how about an easy way to make a difference in Japan? One of my favorite singers, Elliott Yamin, has included a song for a benefit collection from Donate to Download. You can go there now and pick up his song Self Control as well as more by other artists. Check it out.

March 28, 2011

Epcot's Japan Showcase That Never Was

The temporarily closed Tokyo Disney Resort and its two theme parks, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea, are world class. Some of Walt Disney Imagineering's finest work, actually. As we wait for more news, let's take a look at Epcot's stylized take on their beautiful country. (Click on these images for a much larger picture!)
Prior to the realization that EPCOT Center would be blowing past the funding to build it, the Imagineers at the Walt Disney Company had pretty grandiose plans for each of the World Showcase pavilions. Some of these plans came to fruition, but in the case of the Japan representation, earlier plans gave way to a scaled back version of what was intended. On opening day, the World Showcase section of the park was comprised of three films, one boat ride (the elegant El Rio del Tiempo in Mexico- which was also a victim of cost cutting), and one single Audio-Animatronics show, The American Adventure. In park entertainment from each participating country was always planned from the beginning, but dining, shopping, and cultural experiences would form the overwhelming reason to visit this side of the lagoon. The attraction roster here was extremely light.

In this piece of concept art from the Company annual report in 1975, you can see that the Japan showcase was originally planned to have a real attraction: Meet the World, a history focused Audio-Animatronic presentation that premiered at Tokyo Disneyland. This was to be theater in the round, using the same revolving stage design originally engineered for Carousel of Progress. As with other politically or historically based shows, Meet the World was custom tailored by Disney for its specific audience, here presenting a light glossing over of Japan's role in World War II.

The two images above show an altogether different attraction planned to highlight the beauty of Japan. In this unnamed attraction, a bullet train ride would take guests from the city to the countryside, showcasing the nation from a new perspective. Enlarging the second graphic, you can see that guests would board vehicles that look similar to the ones used for the Peoplemover. The first piece of art shows a version where the guests would stand. Guessing this would be a variation on a motion simulator. Either way, a combination of film and carefully placed props would be used to set the stage for the journey. Having seen a good portion of Japan for myself, I would have much enjoyed this particular ride!

Although neither adventure was ever built, these were not the only concepts thrown about. A long rumored Mt. Fuji based thrill ride was also on the books at one time - and discarded along with all the others. Urban legend says Kodak, one of Epcot's major sponsor's, objected to naming an attraction that would use their main competitor's name (Fuji Film), so the plan was scrapped. The Imagineers considered the same Matterhorn Mountain inspired attraction from Disneyland for a proposed Swiss pavilion. Had some of the original plans for the Millenium celebration come together, there even would have been a smaller version of Tokyo's Ginza district built toward the back of the showcase!

Until the suits decide to reinvest in this esquisitely stunning part of Epcot, World Showcase will remain without a brand new attraction, relying instead on the same type of plan they moved to from its opening. Recent additions of restaurants to both the Italy and Mexico pavilions seem to indicate this disappointing stagnation will continue. Before the next renaissance hits, guests to this side of the park will have to appreciate it for what it is. In Japan, this means enjoying beautiful architecture, sublime food and drink, excellent shopping, and hidden, lovely gardens.


Come back tomorrow to explore an interesting way in which you can help the people of Japan as they rebuild. And for those of you who pray, keep it up!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 25, 2011

Paradise Pier Becoming What It Claims to Be

Could it be? Is it possible that the re-Imagineering of California Adventure's Paradise Pier will result in the area being the prettiest in the park?

This photo from the latest report from Magic Eye shows much progress as the Imagineers finish the exterior building of Ariel's Undersea Adventure. It seems as though it is just the crowning jewel of the remake! The rest of the area is being fully built out to reveal a gorgeous beer garden, beautiful restaurants, and heavily shaded pavilions to enjoy the views. Bursts of flowers are sure to be added as well. All it needs is some period appropriate entertainment and a great salt water taffy shop to complete the environment. What a difference Paradise Pier will be from the barren wasteland found there on opening day, when a walk around the bay revealed one big disappointment after the next and barely a drop of shade.

Don't get me wrong: I wish the seaside carnival theme had never hit a Disney park. Haven't waivered on that- yet. Perhaps my next visit to the park will make me a believer. I'm trying to be open to that idea. With World of Color and California Screamin', already there, adding the Audio-Animatronic adventure with Ariel ups the ante for this guest. (How can you not love the animatronic of Ursula in all her evil glory? I'd say its up there with the Auctioneer in Pirates of the Caribbean or the Wicked Witch of the West in The Great Movie Ride and perhaps even with Mr. Lincoln on Main Street.)

When the suits get smart, and adding both new attractions and permanent extended closing times to the park so we can see it at its best in the late evening, Paradise Pier may truly live up to its name. From disgrace to charming, seems Disney is finally on the right path here.

(Photo copyright Mint Crocodile and Magic Eye.)

March 23, 2011

More Marvels from Vintage Disneyland Tickets

There are many super websites and blogs in this Disney World. I like them all for different reasons, but I just have to say I am always surprised by the excellent Vintage Disneyland Tickets site. Blogmaster Tim never ceases to amaze me with the stuff he digs up! And he's just a great guy on top of it all. Today's post on the New York World's Fair and the Disney attractions is just stuffed with concept art and other goodies. Go here now and just marvel!

Winding Up / Winding Down

Just checking in here. Need some fresh inspiration for new articles or maybe some time off. I have quite a bit in the queue but not much oomph to finish them up. (Almost done with my first post on what should be a very fun The Disney Dark Ride series- starting with Peter Pan Flight!) On the home front, another wonderful wedding coming fast -next month-, some great projects both at work and home, snippets of down time, and summer. What more could a guy ask for? Right?

March 22, 2011

Eyes Closed

Maybe Kanye West, in spite of his arrogance, had it right. It's time for each of us to close our eyes so we can see with our mind, our soul, our spirit. Times are hard- and they may get better; they may get worse; but we must start thinking about things beyond what we can see with our physical eyes. A battle's been brewing with our very souls at risk. We, I, most of us, get engulfed in the stuff offered by our world: money, sex, power, passion, consumerism- and get lost in a swirl that takes us down costing us the very fullest life possible. The one offered by Our Creator. What good does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Jesus offered that question two thousand years ago, and it is a question worth asking ourselves today.

March 21, 2011

Concept Art for the Old Midway Games

Paradise Pier and its assortment of Midway games has long been a sore spot for many a Disney park fan. And for good reason! The initial execution screamed cheap, second rate, and undercooked. Many folks believe an area like this and its carny games have no place in any Disney theme park- even California Adventure. However, with the reopening of so much of Paradise Pier coming so quickly, the past is almost gone for good. And it looks to be a great big beautiful tomorrow.

All said, here is a piece of rarely seen Imagineering concept art for the games closest to the now defunct Pizza Oom Mow Mow. Although the Paradise Pier transformation is almost complete minus a few shops and other theme strengthening elements, we can now enjoy that the past is soon behind us. Just viewing the building for the Little Mermaid attraction shows a new direction. In a few months, we will be personally experiencing the place and not just savoring the photos we see of a finally real Disney park!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 18, 2011

Just Doesn't Seem Right: Reflections on Japan

My heart just breaks for the wonderful Japanese people! Granted, my only visit thus far to the Land of the Rising Sun was way back in another decade, but I still remember the graciousness and warmth of the people. One particular story still sticks in my mind.

I was lost in the backstreets of Tokyo. Not exactly the easiest way for an American with no Japanese language skills. Seeing no one in this little whisp of a street. Walking around with my little map knowing where I wanted to go. Finally, I came upon an elderly woman, and I asked her how to get to where I wanted. She nodded, took my hand, and gently led me several blocks away. She slowly walked me to my desired destination! How many places can you imagine that happening? I was thankful and stunned. The power of kindness and good will cannot be destroyed by natural disasters.

Yesterday, I was pondering all this in my reading time, and I came upon the following: "The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea- the Lord on high is mighty." And farther down the passage, "When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul."

Join me in prayer, won't you, for the nation of Japan and its wonderful people. Pray they would see God's merciful hand in spite of the disaster from a fallen earth. May they see His goodness and kindness beyond what their physical eyes may tell them.

March 16, 2011

Walk This Way with Aerosmith

How cool could Walt Disney World get? In some ways, the increase in advertising for the Six Flags parks and those of Universal made Disney parks seem focused on elementary school children. Where could Disney get hip and relevant to the teenage crowd?

In California, Michael Eisner's plans to bring in the teens to Disneyland added such significant attractions as Star Tours, Splash Mountain, and the edgy for Walt's park, Videopolis. What to do for Florida?

At Walt Disney World, the story was different. The Magic Kingdom would get its hand slapped by guests when the Imagineers did add the truly scary/fun Alien Encounter. Over at Epcot, the park wasn't focusing on the teens at the time, instead placing its emphasis on the adult oriented Food and Wine Festival and their version of the spring gardens shows found all over the country.

This left Disney-MGM Studios, so Rock N Rollercoaster starring Aerosmith shoved its way into Sunset Blvd. with a building so out of theme but an attraction that kept the teenagers walking this way through the queue. The stretch limo ride is an incredible race through the streets of Hollywood at night. All said, this is a do-not-miss attraction, one that feels as fresh today as when it first opened.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 14, 2011

Japan Earthquakes: Food for Thought

The news of the massive earthquake and follow-up tremors in Japan and the resulting tsunami came on my radio alarm early that morning. I listened sadly and intently as I knew many lives would be lost.

Not one to be an alarmist, I was quite surprised when the following piece of text (italicized)popped into my head:

"As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24: 3-14)

Sci fi films about the end of the world have been made almost since the beginning of the medium, and more films are to come. Yet, there is something that makes me think about these words of Jesus Christ recorded almost 2,000 years ago. Many would call Jesus a good man, even a prophet. If so, here's one of his prophecies. Others know He is also the Son of God, the only way to heaven, the god made man who paid for the sins of the world by his death on a cross. His resurrection proves he is who he says. It's why we celebrate Easter, and it is why millions of people through the centuries place their faith in Him. What about you? Who is Jesus to you?

March 12, 2011

It's Official: Ratatouille Ride Coming to Walt Disney Studios Paris!

Finally a bit of official news that all fans of Walt Disney Studios Paris have been waiting for. The wonderfully themed and very complex Ratatouille attraction will be making its debut. Disneyland Paris will finally have some serious competition from its smaller sibling next door! Go to the article from DLRP Today here.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 11, 2011

Disneyland Attraction Posters: The Critter Country Collection

With the smallest of Disney lands, comes one of the fewest number of attraction posters. The story of Critter Country aka Bear Country aka the Indian Village truly speaks to one of the constants of Disneyland's evolution: the park will always be changing, influenced by both the history of the Walt Disney Company and the future of it.

The grand opening of Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom in 1971 had a significant impact on Disneyland in California. Following several years of very impressive attractions and explosive growth in guest numbers, the focus shifted to Florida. With New Orleans Square, the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and the New Tomorrowland, the risk-taking Imagineers amassed an incredible string of stunning successes. The public was quick to respond with increased attendance and increased spending in shops and eateries. It was now time to focus on Florida where the company was opening an entire resort and not just an individual theme park.

Certainly, Florida's Magic Kingdom used Disneyland's primary attraction roster and general layout as its blueprint with several attractions being slightly tweaked due to placement in a new land compared to the west coast park (The Haunted Mansion) or adjusted for Central Florida's less hospitable weather (It's A Small World). There were a few new attractions for the Magic Kingdom, and one of these quickly made its way to California: the Country Bear Jamboree.

The show itself began life as an entertainment concept for Disney's proposed Mineral King development, but when those plans fell apart, the very corny but clever Audio-Animatronic theater show was placed into the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland. It's blend of country music and hillbilly bears made it an instant hit.

Back in the day when a few years between new attractions was unheard of, the Disney suits decided to clone this Florida gem back to the California park, adding one additional theater to handle the expected crowds. The Indian Village closed, and the bears moved in, bringing a north woods feel to this quiet corner of the park. Along with Teddi Berra's Swinging Arcade, the seemingly Mile Long Bar, and the Golden Bear (now Hungry Bear) Restaurant, the new show created a brand new land that drew in guests- for a season. Interestingly, it was the first time that guests could be in the park and walk beyond the boundaries created by the tracks of the Disneyland Railroad.

When Michael Eisner took over the reins at the Walt Disney Company, he was wise enough to see the parks needed an injection of attractions that would compete with the thrills found at other amusement parks in the area. The fading popularity of the old Tomorrowland show, America Sings, provided the perfect opportunity to further expand Bear Country.

Imagineer Tony Baxter and his team executed an idea for a log flume based attraction themed to Song of the South, an old Disney film filled with charm and controversy. With its deep storytelling, catchy music, repurposed animated characters, and a thrilling flume drop, Splash Mountain was destined to be another hit. The poster above celebrated its grand opening on July 17, 1989. The attraction continues to draw some of the longest lines at Disneyland regardless of the season.

Country Bear Jamboree was quickly losing an audience as guests from the west coast grew bored with the show's hillbilly flavor. The Imagineers tried to reuse the bears by creating a new thriiling attraction of a different flavor (go here), but the budget minded management- the same leadership involved with the creation of the disaster of California Adventure 1.0- vetoed the plan in favor of bringing another Florida attraction to California.

It was a silly old bear that created more change for this little corner of Disneyland. Winnie the Pooh remains a popular, beloved character in children's literature and in film. The Walt Disney Company opened a dark ride attraction in Florida which replaced Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in the Magic Kingdom.

Four years later in 2003, another version of Pooh's attraction appeared in Disneyland, replacing the Country Bear Jamboree, which had run its course of popularity. Had the suits and the Imagineers planned better, Country Bear Jamboree could have stayed open if reduced to one theater, and Winnie the Pooh could have still been designed using the available space more creatively. This would have resulted in two attractions for children and families who chose not to ride or couldn't meet Splash Mountain's height restrictions. Bear Country became Critter Country to better reflect the home of its newest inhabitants. The new attraction's poster, however, did not appear until many years later, when Disneyland management continued to build a fan base for this less than wonderful dark ride.

Editor's note, July 2014: Above the 25th anniversary poster of Splash Mountain!

As you can see, changing tastes affect the popularity of the park's attractions, and this in turn changes what ends up in the parks. What will come next to this area of Disneyland? Who knows, but my bet is the Imagineers still have some new tricks up their sleeves.

Next stop on our grand circle attraction poster tour- the Old and Wild West!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 10, 2011

Really Red

Not my photo, but that of my youngest daughter. We are kind of a traveling family! Taken during her most recent trip to Russia, she snapped this shot of Moscow's Red Square, later telling us, "It really is red!" Quite beautiful detail in these buildings. Maybe one day, I'll get to see Moscow. It's on my "bucket list"...

March 8, 2011

Surprised by Peace

"No one escapes life unscathed." I tell folks this all the time. Tradegy strikes, we make poor choices and the results live with us for years, we lie, cheat, steal, and hurt others as well as being hurt by them.

It's been one of those seasons where life has intense and painful moments. And I have spent months praying for blessing for the people that have hurt me and my family. And I have been praying to forgive and to be forgiven. Many times, this was an act of obedience to Jesus- as He has told us to forgive those who sin against us- just as He forgives our sins when we ask Him. So, out of obedience, I prayed.

I was surprised by peace the other day while praying. As I thought of these folks, I was reminded later in the day that I could pray blessing for them, and here's the kicker, without a shred of anger. There was just peace. Amazing. The very thing I prayed for them out of obedience was the very thing God blessed me with!

In a world where "choice" means folks can choose good or evil, there is also God who is always good and always there right when we need Him. As I learned about Him and His ways once again, obedience is its own reward but sometimes we get to experience joy and freedom and peace jusy by doing what He says to do.

March 7, 2011

Third Year Ramblings

Today marks Year Number Three of the Insights and Sounds blog. When I started this a few years ago, I had some pretty simple goals. My heart was to share my many pieces of Disneyland memorabilia with as many folks as possible and to share bits of my life as well.

Never expected much, but after almost 1,000 posts, what this blog has became is a combination travelogue, diary and journal, chicken scratches on lessons from life, media reviews, and family photo album. Never expected this little project to be something that would draw any readers beyond a few hard core Disney park fans like me! But you have all surprised me by your insights, your friendship, and your desire to make the world a better place. Thank you for welcoming me into your lives- and for becoming part of mine.
Tomorrow, begins year four! Wow...

March 4, 2011

Dreamworks, Disney, and Glen Keane

Could the wonderful Disney animator, Glen Keane, really be leaving Disney for Dreamworks? Blue Sky Disney thinks it is a possibility. Glen seems to be a good man as well as um, a "beast" of an animator. In fact, on animating the Beast for the film Beauty and the Beast, Disney animator Glen Keane says,

"This is the moment- this is what I was born for...
As I started animating it, for me it's really an expression of my spiritual life. There's a verse in the Bible that says 'If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things have become new...'

Because it is really about an inner spiritual transformation that's taking place with the Beast. I saw it as a parable of my life."

If you want to see Glen's great artwork in various forms, here's the place to go:The Art of Glen Keane . In the meantime, may God be with him wherever he goes!

March 3, 2011

The Queen Rocks Ursula

My favorite Disney villain and one of my favorite songstresses, Queen Latifah, team up for this new portrait by Annie Leibovitz! Go here for more.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

A Perfect Fit for Cars Land

California Adventure's expansion of 2012 swings wide open with the completion of Cars Land. With the beautiful buttes found along sections of Route 66, vintage architecture, and loads of neon to light the evening sky, it will be the place to be seen at night.

The big thrill there will obviously be the lavish and expensive Radiator Springs Racers, but my hunch is the sleeper hit will be Luigi's Flying Tires - a modern updating of the old Disneyland favorite Flying Saucers. Rounding out the trio of attractions will be Mater's Junkyard Jamboree.

All these fun attractions and the long wait to ride them will certainly create a hungry crew. Yes, there are some fun little places planned to catch a quick bite, but the one clone I'd really like to see from Walt Disney World is not on the agenda for now: The Sci-Fi Dine In. Change the theme from Disney's Hollywood Studios old school B grade horror movies to auto related films, and this drive in themed restaurant is a perfect fit. What could be more fun than sitting in a convertable under the stars while watching film clips and having a nice little meal? Not a lot!

Certainly a great adddition for Phase Two. And trust me, California Adventure 2.0 will be a big hit, and the suits will need to expand the park faster than they expect!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 2, 2011

Kodak Moment: Almost Everyone

It really was years ago now, but in my mind, it wasn't all that long ago that many of us got to be together for Christmas in California. Here are some of the younger ones of the crew at the beach just about sunset. Even this photo represents a now forgotten place in time. Time marches on, and today's activities will be tomorrow's memories.
(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

March 1, 2011

A Cynical Disney World View

What in the World is going on with Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom? There are construction scrims all over Main Street, new interactive queues being built at the Haunted Mansion and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, a total rebuilding of the Adventureland entrance bridge, and walls o'plenty in Fantasyland for the development of the Fantasyland Forest and Storybookland Circus.

I'll tell you what it is: the Walt Disney Company suits have finally realized they need to invest in their old dependable cash cow! With Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey now leading the way and the 40th Anniversary of Walt Disney World coming up fast, the Magic Kingdom must look and feel like everyone's collective memories and better.

If management has its way, the Magic Kingdom will see numbers of guests substantially rise for the celebration and create a wave of nostalgia oriented purchases and renewed passion for the place. Its the type of goodwill advertising a company thrives on, one that can positively affect the bottom line for years. Florida's management is wisely putting its spin on Matt Ouimet's playbook for making Disneyland's 50th memorable to wild success. Smart move.

All this means, the guest experience has to match expectations. The overflowing crowd of guests waiting for the Haunted Mansion have to fall neatly into line and not create the bottleneck in Liberty Square. You know, the mass that has frustrated guests for years. The long neglected El Pirata y El Perico restaurant in Caribbean Plaza within Adventureland now becomes Tortuga Tavern to play off the strong attachment to Disney's hit film franchise Pirates of the Caribbean. Waiting in line for Pooh becomes more enjoyable. 

Space Mountain is finally given a dusting over and the PeopleMover name reinstated. Small World's recent remodel and new paint job is not a mistake and neither is the new facade for the perennially popular Peter Pan's Flight. Mickey Mouse even moves to the front of the park, solving the problem of the demolition of his home while Fantasyland finally becomes more than a shadow of what is found in other Magic Kingdoms all over the world.

A cynical World view? Absolutely! For far too long the company has left Florida's first Disney park happily deteriorating and under performing when it should have been polished and cared for, treated like the crown jewel the company stated it was.

There are also signs of this mentality hitting all over the World. The majestically beautiful Twilight Zone Tower of Terror over at Disney's Hollywood Studios finally gets a face lift to return it to its horrifying glory. Star Tours 2.0 on the horizon. Shrubs and small trees are planted around the Hat that dares to exist. One Man's Dream gets an update. New restaurants at Epcot's World Showcase will also help ease the crowds maddened by the overbooking results of the Disney Dining Plan. Meanwhile, Disney's gorgeous Animal Kingdom gets... nothing.

The movement for a gussied up Magic Kingdom moves beyond the gates of the parks. Long abandoned expansion for the Pop Century changes to a sure fire hit Animation Resort. Refurbished rooms at the Polynesian Resort. Hyperion Wharf replaces the failing but once incredible Pleasure Island. And I'm sure I'm missing a few things.

Will Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey partnering with Walt Disney World's 40th make or break Disney's reputation as theme park king in Central Florida? Probably not, but the crown has temporarily been given to the new contender. Will Disney nostalgia win over Universal Orlando's innovation and shear effort to create the spectacular? Ultimately, it is all a grab for tourist dollars, and the visitor stands to win in a competition like this.

Regardless of the cash driven motives, maybe this will signal the return of a Walt Disney World when quality was the goal and not overlooked in pursuit of the dollars the company could extract. A time and place when long term investment yielded high guest satisfaction, when integrity matched advertising, when the promise of the experience was only superceeded by the actual visit. Maybe it is the beginning of a Golden Age instead of the Age of the Golden Parachute for departing executives.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)