May 27, 2011

This Mermaid Has Legs

With soft openings the last few days, we've finally had to chance to see the debut of The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure in Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure. OK, ok. Not in person but via several videos posted by the not so poor unfortunate souls who have had a chance to be there in person.

The consensus? It's a nice little "D" ticket ride full of Audio-Animatronics, special effects, and showstopping music by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The building is stunning- "E Ticket" worthy, the queue fairly elaborate, but by all accounts, the attraction is a bit too short with a truncated story. Picture, if you will, an attraction more on par with Epcot's Living Seas with Nemo but with better animatronics, somewhat longer, and with award winning music. What's not to like?

Apparently, plenty. Objective critics and die-hard fans alike seem to point out flaws big and small. From the style of Ariel's hair, the clunky transitions between show sets, and the abundance of simpler animated characters in the Under the Sea scene, there are aspects of the attraction that look like they could have been better. Yet, without giving the Imagineers a pass, this is California Adventure's first real old school Disneyesque attraction and given the limited budget and space, looks like they did one heck of a job.

This style of attraction is light years beyond the awful Golden Dreams with its politically correct presentation of California's history, with Whoopi Goldberg and her face projected creepily onto statues in a cut-rate theater. Ariel's Undersea Adventure is much more in line with the beautiful renaissance of Paradise Pier and ultimately more satisfying. With so much to see at every turn, families will line up more than once for this show- probably making Mermaid a must-do with every return to the park. That is a good thing.

Admittedly, I have yet to see it myself. But I'll take it over another film or carnival iron ride any day. This is the style of attraction California Adventure has been missing since its hip and edgy opening days, and I'm glad Ariel is finally here. Bring on more.

(With thanks to MintCrocodile for the image.)

May 25, 2011

Mattel and Disney: Vintage Goodies

If you never explore something for yourself, you can be fooled by a name. The incredible Vintage Disneyland Tickets blog is so much more than you would think just by reading the name! For those of you that love Imagineering, old Disneyland maps, and more, you have to check out today's post and discover what Disney and Mattel Toys were up to in the 50s- entire decades before their sponsorship of It's A Small World. Wanna discover more? Go here.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 24, 2011

Down for the Count

This Spring time cold is keeping me down for the count- and unable to focus well enough to post anything new. More coming- stay tuned~

May 21, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Indeed

Here's a summertime movie that makes it impossible for you to move your eyes from the screen... waiting for something incredible to happen! Pirates of the Caribbean 4, On Stranger Tides, is in fact quite strange. Not horrible by any means, but it is a single plot line movie with plenty of gaps in the story, new but underused characters with great potential, and some clumsy, occasionally clever, dialogue.

Captain Jack Sparrow has to be one of the most iconic characters ever created and exploited by the Walt Disney Company. Johnny Depp was born to play the part, but too many times throughout the film, it seems he is playing a caricature of himself. Yet, there's not much to work with. Penelope Cruz is stunning to watch and effective. Ian McShane could have been great as Blackbeard, but it is Geoffrey Rush's Hector Barbosa that gives the film its depth. While there are no spoilers here, let's just say if you are the parent of a young daughter who loves Disney's Little Mermaid Ariel, well, you may just want her to skip the film.

(Photo copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 19, 2011

Something Borrowed, Someone Blue

Behind the clean cut images and the party like atmosphere, the new romantic film Something Borrowed is actually a morality tale told by (for?) a group of 30 somethings that are rewriting the dating and marriage rules.

Confusion reigns as Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) longs for Dex (Colin Egglesfield), the fiance of long time best gal pal Darcy (Kate Hudson). In the first few minutes, Rachel finally does have sex with him only to more spoilers here.

Let's just say the film is interesting and mostly holds the attention of the audience. With enough twists and turns, no one is exactly what they seem or really very happy. Seems no one grows up from the experience, with the self-focused and shallow Darcy remaining exactly that. Kate Hudson plays her to perfect myopic effect.

Go see it just to watch The Office's John Krasinski- he's warped, too, but at least he knows it.

(Photo by Jason Merritt, Getty Images.)

May 18, 2011

Here's to the Newlyweds!

One of several favorites from a beautiful wedding! Not only were my daughter and son-in-law incredibly happy and blessed by God, they made quite a handsome couple on the dance floor as well! As all the guests could tell you, Denver's Mile High Station was a stunning place for the reception. Classy, elegant, and lots of fun. The perfect follow-up to a simply beautiful wedding ceremony performed by their two close friends.

Sarah Severns Photography captured this special moment and many others, creating an incredble album of memories captued in a unique way. Thanks Sarah and Ryan, for doing such great works for your dear friends.

(Photograph copyright Sarah Severns.)

May 17, 2011

Disneyland's Rocket Rods and the Short Lived Journey

Rocket Rods. The name conjures up so many reactions. Failure. Short-lived. Poorly engineered. Perhaps all these descriptions are true. But there is another adjective I apply to this now defunct attraction from Tomorrowland '98: fun.

I happened to be at Disneyland within the first few weeks of the opening. Without hesitation, I gladly endured the lengthy queue for a chance to cruise the Land of the Future aboard the sleds of Tomorrow. The saving grace of it all was a beautifully re purposed America the Beautiful building showcasing blueprint type art and vintage Tomorrowland graphics and memorabilia in a cool, dimly lit environment. Getting to the old Peoplemover platform involved a bit of Disney engineering magic!

The ride itself was a stop and go affair. At full speed, it was a blast cruising above the land with the wind in my hair and a smile on my face. When it had to slow down for those pesky unbanked curves, it was a bit jerky, to say the least. Yet, the views were terrific even if the duration much too short.

I planned to get back into line for another ride, but after the lengthy wait, there was still the rest of Imagineer Tony Baxter's Tomorrowland '98 to explore. (Count me in as one who loved the copper version of Space Mountain!) Unfortunately, time got the better of me. My next trip out would be in 2001 for California Adventure, and the dazzling Rocket Rods were history.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 16, 2011


Caught bits and pieces of this movie the other night. Laughed my tail off at most of the film and was amazed at the mass of talent found on the screen. The list of stars reads like a Who's Who of Disney Channel stars from the recent past with a sprinkling of mega stars from 20 years ago. John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, James Marsden, and extremely talented newcomer Nikki Blonsky. (And why isn't Elijah Kelley a big star by now?)

The music rocks in an innocent and appropriate early 60's kind of way. Hairspray has a storyline that helps the viewers remember the strides made for racial equality in the past forty years. Snappy dialogue, stunning visuals, good acting, especially from Michelle Pfieffer playing the beautiful and villainous Velma Von Tussle. Good stuff. Almost perfect.

While I appreciate the breaking of stereotypes so central to the film's message, writers Leslie Dixon and John Waters with director Adam Shankman wrongly reinforce one while they break one: Allison Janney's character Prudy Pringleton is a bigoted, abusive woman who adheres to a version of Christian belief that paints a broad ugly stroke across an entire sea of people. With no comparison to others who share her commitment to God and the Bible in a healthy, loving, and normal way. Wrong move.

If the same negative stereotypes were applied to other characters in the film, there would be outcries from the public. What if every single black character was portrayed speaking in a poor, broken, Southern English dialect? All white characters couldn't dance? All gay men portrayed in drag, femininely parading down the streets of the town? Imagine the anger.

Prejudice and stereotypes are ugly in all forms, aren't they?

May 13, 2011

Welcome to the Hotel California

The album and the band who created it are both American classics. The Eagles' masterpiece Hotel California continues to be heard all over the world even almost 35 years after its initial release.

Just heard the title track in the gym today, and it sounded as fresh as ever. Glenn Frey, Don Felder, and Don Henley composed it, Henley sang lead, and Joe Walsh and Don Felder traded off blazing guitar parts to make it sting. Terrific! Also heard today the older, rawer James Dean, a tribute to the film star. Another track that jumps with playfulness. It has the same zing as the Beatles' Daytripper.

Various personnel made up the band over the years, each bringing a special something to the mix. Following up the landmark album would be tough, but the addition of Timothy B. Schmit in 1977 brought us one of the most beautiful ballads they ever recorded, I Can't Tell You Why.

May 11, 2011

Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Skull Rock

After seeing the deplorable state of Captain Hook's pirate ship at the beautiful but crumbling Disneyland Paris, I thought I'd take a look in my files for something to remind us of what it should be like. Various websites have posted photos of the ship falling part in full view of guests- you can search for yourself. But on to the fun stuff...

Of course, the original ship was in Disneyland's Fantasyland, and like many early additions to the wildly successful park, it was sponsored by corporate America. In this case, Chicken of the Sea tuna. I last remember seeing it just prior to demolition to build the new Fantasyland of 1982.

The concept art (shown above) was very well done, but in this case, the execution was even better! (See the photograph below, by an unknown source). Click for the larger version of the photo.

Skull Rock was also destroyed along with the ship to make way for the new European styled Fantasyland and later reimagined and recreated as part of Adventureland in EuroDisney aka Disneyland Paris.

In Paris, Tony Baxter's team for Adventureland had Chris Tietz at the helm. The end result was quite different than all the previous Adventureland incarnartions. And very successful! Take one part Tom Sawyer Island, add in Skull Rock, Hook's Pirate Ship, plant the Swiss Family Treehouse, stir in tropical vegitation, and viola! Adventure Isle was born.

Anchored by Pirates of the Caribbean on one side, Indiana Jones on the other, this island paradise was destined to be a smash. Last visit, we spent well over an hour exploring the island's caves and trails as we were searching out the highest vantage points for some incredible views- and photos of our own.

Speaking of searching, if you do a little bit of it on this blog, you'll find several more posts about Adventure Isle, our trip reports, and even a map of the island itself. It is worth the search!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 10, 2011

Disney's Hollywood Studios Scrambled Mess

Although you might never know it from the jumbled mess the layout is, Disney-MGM Studios, now Disney's Hollywood Studios, had a fairly cohesive layout at opening. As this concept for the park suggests, great care was put into deciding its design. (As always, click to enlarge the art.)

Unfortunately, it was not designed well for expansion. From its penned in location to the hastily added expansion areas, the pretty little "Hollywood that never was but always will be" began to lose its focus even as it added some of its most popular attractions.

Michael Eisner knew hits when he saw them, and the concepts for both The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock N Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith, had smash written all over them. Sadly, what could have been a fully realized expansion with a few "C" ticket dark rides added, Sunset Blvd. instead became an excuse to house the two attractions and not much more. It's a terrifically themed street, but it is lacking in so many ways. Don't misunderstand. The street is way better than what was created for the Hollywood Pictures Backlot version at California Adventure- where the stunning main attraction has been reduced to the lowest possible acceptable creation.

Later additions to the park in Florida only added to the confusing layout. The whole other side of the park seems strangely unused aside from Star Tours and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. What are the suits thinking?

Is there even a plan to add to the park and bring it to its fullest potential? Or is it Walt Disney World's dumping ground for any attraction that doesn't fit elsewhere? Could Marvel based attractions end up here? What's the plan?

My bet is on the Imagineers. These talented folks probably have wonderful concepts lined up- but the budgeteers probably have them frozen in the pipeline. And as long as that is the case, Harry Potter will continue to draw in guests who might otherwise visit Disney's third park.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 9, 2011

A Father's Speech

While we wait on photographs from the professional, I thought I'd share one of my favorite candid shots from my youngest daughter's wedding. Here, the bride and groom share their first dance and a private moment.

Next up, my dance with her, followed by my speech, below.

"My Darling Daughter, you have been a delight to us since the very beginning- and to those around you! Your zest for life, your loyalty to those you love, and your passion to please God, make you a remarkable young woman. You are not only beautiful and wise, you walk in purity, integrity, and obedience to God. You have strong gifts of encouragement, discernment, and leadership. And you’re just a lot of fun!

Many times your mother and I wondered who would be your husband as we saw no that came close to being worthy of you or being your equal. How pleased we were that you held your ground and waited for God. Even as a little girl, you’ve known your value in Christ did not depend on what others said about you.

My new son-in-law, we are thrilled that you are her husband- and you are her perfect match in every way! You are a man of equal passion for the Lord, warmth, integrity, and wisdom. Your brilliant mind, kindness, and good humor, make you a man who is comfortable in his own skin.

Everyone here, everyone around you, can see how you two were designed by God to be together! What a good thing this is!

As gifted as each of you are individually, you will be even more powerful in the Lord and much happier as you serve Him together in unison. Even though you are peers in every way, always remember God brought you together for His purposes together, that your giftings match well.

May God Himself be in the middle of all you do and bless you with a long and happy life together!"

May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to my wonderful mother and my equally wonderful mother-in-law! What a blessed man I am to have both of them. Thanks for all you do and for all you are!

May 7, 2011

What's New and What's Next?

"Whats' New and What's Next?" It's the question of the season, isn't it? As Disney peppers us with elaborate concept art and showcases Imagineering models of the coming attractions in California Adventure's Blue Sky Cellar and on the East Coast with the New Fantasyland, it has become an ingrained question in the hearts of die hard fans. Some of the end result is wonderful, some not so much. Other works remain to be seen.

I'm sort of in the same place in my life right now. What's next? Having our third child (of four) get married- two in one year!- has created something that will one day become "a new normal"; but for now, it has left me wondering about my life and what is coming around the bend.

It would be much easier going about my life as always and not thinking about it. Fill up my free time with things like hanging out with my wife, my friends, working out at the gym, reading my Bible, resting, listening to music, watching movies and television, blogging. Sometimes even mindless activities that eat up my day even though they do give me something in return. (Those rock hard abs are still not visible, but I do really like prayer and the peace of mind and connection with God it brings!)

Yet, if I pause long enough, I cannot help but think about these recent big changes and what is waiting for me. Honestly, I just do not know- and maybe that's better. However, I like to have things figured out, to see what's coming up and to affect the outcome, to be prepared, to be in control. So a season of waiting, a season of faith like this is, can be frustrating and worrisome.

A season of reevaluating is not a bad thing unless I stay in this place too long. Bottom line, I trust God's plan and purposes for me. I just want to discover them, and I don't want to screw it up. Does that all make sense?

May 6, 2011

The Voice Takes on American Idol

Just browsing through the selection of television shows the other night, and I happened upon The Voice. What a great surprise!While I expected this to be a slight variation of American Idol, this is actually something very, very different.The judges are actually the coaches as well.

The kicker is those auditioning do so without the judges being able to see who is competing. Brings the competition into a whole new arena. It's quite fun, especially when the judges turn around to see the contestant for the first time. Sometimes, they just cannot hide the shock on their faces when the voice doesn't match what the mind imagines.

Nowadays, a video friendly persona is a must, but it wasn't always that way. Back in the 1970's, artists were judged more on their craft than their appearance. Case in point: Karen and Richard Carpenter.

Over at A&M Corner, where many Carpenters fan congregate, there's always some sort of discussion about the poor image representation of Karen and Richard, their less than stellar album covers, and their fairly cheesy videos. It wasn't until late in their career that A&M Records executives finally understood how to market them. But back to The Voice...

All four judges/coaches, Adam Levine- the lead singer with Maroon 5, Blake Shelton, Cee Lo Green, and the always flamboyant Christina Aguilera, make for an intriguing team. Each brings wit, charm, enthusiasm, and in Cee Lo's case, a bit of raunch to the proceedings. (Why does it feel as if he hits on each of the female contestants? Is he trying to teach them it may take some moral compromise to get to the top?)

Adam- who has one of my favorite modern voices- comes across as very sweet and kind, while is Christina everyman's best friend. Blake Shelton, on the other hand, seems like the savvy music executive with a heart of gold. Always supportive but ready to make the right choice, showing great restraint in his selections. Think Idol's Simon Cowell without the bite. It's a nice change of pace.

Each judge builds a team of eight and the competition continues on from there. Lots of talent here and an very pleasant way to spend an hour. Sidenote: keep an eye on one of Adam's picks, Javier Colon. Not only is he an established recording artist, his October Sky duet with Vanessa Williams is an amazingly beautiful composition of his.

Once you check the show out, you may be hooked. The Voice has it all. I know I'll be watching each week!

May 5, 2011

Viva Cinco de Mayo!

There's plenty of reasons to celebrate Mexico and her culture today- and I wish that I could do it by going back in time to ride Epcot's gorgeous but long gone, El Rio del Tiempo. Its replacement, the Gran Fiesta Tour, is admittedly a fun-filled romp with the Three Caballeros, but it lacks the elegance of its predecessor. (And the catchy theme song, too!) Today, May 5th, Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico's conquest of the French during the time of the Civil War in the United States. Its the perfect day to be with family and friends over chips, salsa, and frosty margaritas celebrating. (Check out my previous Cinco de Mayo posts for more artwork.)

Today is also the National Day of Prayer. On this day, we are called to remember God's goodness to our nation and to humbly go before Him offering up our prayers while we offer up ourselves for His service and for His glory. This year's theme is a good reminder: "I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust." (Psalm 91:2). May God Himself bless us as we seek after Him and celebrate His faithfulness. Vaya con Dios!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 4, 2011

Star Tours - The Adventures Continue Poster

Being a fan of Disney attraction posters, I was excited to see a brand new big and beautiful one debut for the revamped Star Tours attraction at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida. It was just too good to wait to show it off! But if you want to see the land by land history of the park as told through attraction posters, start here for Main Street U.S.A.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 3, 2011

Oh, What a Wild Ride!

Hang on, lovers of the Disneyland Resort! Seems like Mr. Toad won't be the only one taking us on a wild ride this summer.

With Ariel's Undersea Adventure preparing to submerge guests under the sea at California Adventure within a matter of weeks, and R2D2 blasting us into the worlds of Star Wars at Disneyland during the same timeframe, the summer of 2011 looks to be one in which the lines are long. Very long, and maybe for the first time, California Adventure's attendance will go nose to nose with Walt's park.

Let's hope that is the case! If high numbers come in filling the queues, shops, and restaurants- not to mention the hotels- this will be very pleasing to the big suits at the House of Mouse. Then we might just discover that all those plans for California Adventure's Phase Two could truly come to pass, layering more detail upon detail, attraction upon attraction. Maybe this little park could become a worthy addition to the Disneyland Resort after all.

(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)