July 31, 2011

Nineteen Years Without Walt Disney World

As a Disney geek, I find it hard to imagine. Nevertheless, my sister and her husband are right now at Walt Disney World nineteen years after their last visit in 1992. (Photo above with most of all the kids in our family circa 1992.) Absolutely unbelievable. I am thrilled for them!

Imagine experiencing a whole new theme park (Animal Kingdom), Test Track, Mission:Space, and Soarin' at Epcot , Toy Story Midway Mania and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Rock N Rollercoaster for the first time. Of course, they also have to deal with the dumbing down of Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom, the disintegration of the Imagination pavilion, and the same old World Showcase at Epcot. I'll report back in the days ahead with what could be a very interesting perspective on the current state of Walt Disney World through the eyes of someone not quite as fanatical as the rest of us.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

July 29, 2011

R.I.P. Disney's California Adventure

Here is a very large scale photo I took one early morning in 2009 as I was patiently waiting to enter Disneyland. (Make sure you click on it to see it full size.) Having my ticket in hand from purchasing it the night before and arriving at the resort at about 7am, it seemed like the Esplanade was deserted. That is, until about 15 minutes later when both day guests, hotel guests and cast members filled the area. But until that time, Southern California's early morning fog seemed thick for the middle of Anaheim.

Looking back two years later and the removal of the small replica of the Golden Gate Bridge and the giant C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A letters, and the replacement with the new Pan Pacific themed entrance, this photo now has a slightly nostalgic feel. Goodbye, Disney's California Adventure and your empty pathways, mostly mediocre attractions, distracting layout, and tongue in cheek tributes to the trendy world of Los Angeles. Hello, Disney California Adventure, where even more Pixar characters mingle with even more classic Disney characters, and Walt Disney's history collides with John Lasseter's world. Mater meet Ariel.
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

July 28, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour

If you've ever wanted a back stage pass to some of the most intrigiung places all over the world, this just might be the theme park lover's greatest undiscovered treasure. The Theme Park Guy feautures stunning photography, insightful commentary, and behind the scenes looks at theme parks all over the globe. Stefan Zwanzger covers both parks opened and those yet to come- including parks in the Middle East, Africa, China (Shanghai Disneyland is found here), and in North Korea. Be forewarned- you'll spend hours just staring at the photos...

(Photo copyright Stefan Zwanzger.)

July 26, 2011

Visually Impaired

Sometimes I just don't see things correctly. My eyesight was getting so bad before my youngest daughter's wedding, that I had to go into the doc to get a new prescription and a quick set of glasses so that I could watch the ceremony in crystal clear vision just a few feet in front of me. It was an important thing I did not want to miss!

Fast forward to just a few months later. With my wife, I am working through the study by Beth Moore entitled Breaking Free. The main focus is gaining true freedom from the things that hold our hearts and minds captive. It is an intense and deeply difficult study, but the results hold promise. So, I persevere.

The pivotal question for the day's study is "Can you think of several reasons why we should cast down pride to break free from any areas of captivity?" Much to my surprise, the answers come quickly from my heart:
  1. Pride can keep us from seeing things as God does.
  2. Pride can keep us from seeing other people as He does.
  3. Pride can keep us from seeing ourselves as He does.
  4. Pride can keep us from seeing Him as He is.
I think I have a lot of work to do...

July 25, 2011

Maddening and Addicting

Ever have a love / hate relationship with someone or something? That's exactly how I feel about this game, Settlers of Catan. the whole experience seems like one exercise in futility, and then just a moment or two later, you find yourself strategically planning your next series of moves. Why I didn't discover this game ealier, I do not know. Love it! Hate it! Play it!

July 21, 2011

Racial Reconciliation in America: Is it Possible?

Editor's Note: Interesting read below if you are interested in racial reconciliation in America. If you live in the Denver, Colorado area, you may want to check out this social justice gathering at Cherry Creek Wesleyan Church on Friday, July 22, at 7pm.-----------------------------

Why attend a – DoYouKnowMe.org - Real Relations event?

Even as our culture becomes more ethnically and culturally diverse from our neighborhoods to the President - there is a remarkable amount of polarization and tension driving division in this country. A culture of instant gratification encourages the use of stereotypes and superficial labels. We respond to people based on pre-conceived ideas rather than relationship. We cannot hope to find common ground because we are not really in dialogue – we are just preaching our own perspective. People can see examples of the tension exploding in a variety of ways, but is an issue that people don't know how to process. People don't have a healthy way (vehicle) to talk about racial issues - even if they are willing.

The idea is to bring people together in a relatively safe environment of music, story and prayer to acknowledge and give expression to the issue on a personal level. Because everyone is unique we are not promoting any particular agenda or ministry - specific approach or attitude. This is not a top down approach but an attempt to empower people and through them - local communities to action! If people are willing to expand their own understanding we hope people will take their personal commitment to the next level and seek to understand the people around them – even if they don’t agree.

DoYouKnowMe.org is based on the idea that much of the tension we are experiencing (some of it turning to violence) is because we are unwilling to REALLY get to know people through loving committed relationships. Each of us "labels" people based on our perception of them without really getting to know them. Changing this would be good for all people – but as Christians we have been called to this in our daily lives. As people of the Church and disciples of Christ we are not always living out the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself." If each of us would be willing to identify the person in our own "sphere" (that we may have chosen until now to pass by) and choose to get to know that person - things will change for the better. If each of us will change one thing in our own sphere of influence - every sphere influences another -and the ripple (or multiplication) effect can be tremendous.

Think about each of your personal, familial, relational, recreational, social, religious, educational, vocational, governmental etc. spheres. I really believe that if we can get people excited at a grassroots level about changing one thing in their own sphere of influence we can make a difference beyond ourselves for the kingdom.

The results could be exponential! (2 Cor. 10:13-16) Of course that transformation (willingness to change one thing) comes as we enter into prayer and worship! Please come and join us – and simply ask God, “Who is MY neighbor?” and “Do I really know them?”

Material Copyright Do You Know Me.org

July 18, 2011

Happy Belated Birthday!

And a Happy but Belated 56th Birthday to Disneyland! Sorry, but real life gets in the way sometimes...

July 17, 2011

Goodbye to the Golden Gate Bridge

Tonight, one of the last remnants of Disney's California Adventure version 1.0 gets removed. The hideous and misplaced miniature of California's historic and beautiful Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco finally gets lost for good.

Why did I include a photograph of the real thing? Just to show the stark contrast between the majesty of the original and the cheapness of Disney's knockoff. Adios, goodbye, farewell. Hope to not see you again- unless it is part of a fully realized and elegant San Francisco area in the park.

July 16, 2011

Lovely Bride and Dashing Groom

One of my favorite shots from our daughter's wedding. The great photographer, Sarah Severn, did a wonderful job of going beyond the "stand and pose" attitude of some of her peers. The end result- artsy, fresh photos of the couple in some unique settings in the Highlands area of Denver. But even here, an ordinary setting made for an extraordinary shot...Along with the required stand and pose shots required by Mom and Dad, of course!

(Photography copyright Sarah Severn Photogrpahy.)

July 13, 2011

Design Detail: Midway Mercantile

Lots of attention has been paid to the Paradise Pier makeover at Disney California Adventure, particularly its beautiful gardens and dining area. It's a stunning example of what happens when Imagineering is given the mandate to come up with something fantastic- and they do!

As the above photograph reveals, this extreme park makeover has brought great detail to a park previously known for its lack of it. The Midway Mercantile building's gorgeous woodwork was one of the first examples of this new commitment to quality. Isn't it beautiful! And I cannot wait to see Buena Vista Street!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

July 11, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Disney's Animal Kingdom

How can a Disney theme park with so much promise fall into such a miserable state less than 15 years after opening? Such is the case of Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Although it opened on Opening on Earth Day 1988, the park began capturing the interest and curiosity of the public years ago when the project was first announced. "Why would Disney want to create a zoo?" was a common question- one that Disney's own accountants had to be asking themselves as well. It was one the Company itself had to be asking after guest numbers fell year after year. And it is one die hard Disney theme park fans- and perhaps even Imagineer Joe Rohde- are now asking themselves while the Walt Disney Company lets this beautiful, rich kingdom die a slow death, watching it devolve into just another zoo.

With broken effects in most of the major attractions, shortened hours, overpriced restaurants, and rehashed parades, although Disney's Animal Kingdom once had the ability to match Tokyo Disney Sea in elan and beauty, the company tossed its potential aside due to neglect in both upkeep and lack of further enhancements. The pricey Wild Africa Trek does not make up for a lack of expansion, but it does explain away the reason for a broken yeti at Expedition Everest, closing shows without replacements, and offering nothing new in years. Clearly, corporate greed trumps customer satisfaction and high value for the dollars spent. Please prove me wrong, Mr. Iger, please do.

My intent here is not to rehash a detailed history of the park. (For those that are interested, I do so in a six part series that begins here.) Today, I just want to ask the question, "What happened?"

(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

July 9, 2011

Mudpies and Birthdays

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday, Dear Lauren! Happy Birthday to You! Thought I'd share one of my favorite photos ever, which includes the birthday girl on the left. Whether making mudpies or making friends with everyone you met, you have always exuded a love for people and for God. What joy you bring to those around you! Much love, Dad.

July 8, 2011

Kodak Hits the Spot at Disneyland

Here's one of those pieces I have had in my files for so long that I don't remember if I scanned it myself or found it on line! Kodak's Picture Spot was an easy guide to taking great looking photos inside Walt's original Kingdom. And Disneyland looked all the better for it!

All the novice cameraman had to do was follow around the park using this great little map as a guide- and surprise! The photos taken turned out looking like they were professionally staged- and they were- without anyone knowing the difference.This has to be an early map of the park as I see no Splash Mountain, Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad . In fact, there's no Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean either! Still, there was nothing on earth like Disneyland, and the crowds came, taking millions of photos!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 7, 2011

Take Me Away

Loving the summer but not digging the mountains this year. I miss the ocean. Missing the body surfing, the breezes, the balmy nights, and most of all- I miss the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore. Take me away...

July 6, 2011

Cool New Ex-Imagineer Blog

Beyond the work on films like Transformers, ex-Imagineer Thom Schillinger has done some pretty incredible work that was never built for Disneyland Paris.

The legendary Tarzan Coaster? Check. Other coasters themed for the Paris park's Adventureland? Check. I won't post the concept art for you- since finding it is part of the great discovery on his blog. It's filled with art for video games, comics, films, theme parks etc. Go here for a great couple of hours of searching his blog for hidden and not so hidden gems!
(Art copyright Thom Schillinger.)

July 5, 2011

Richard Carpenter Solo: Time to Move On

Sometimes life just hands you the hard cold facts. Karen was gone, and Richard Carpenter had to decide what he was going to do for a career. The Carpenters were one of the most successful musical acts to ever emerge from the United States. They were beloved all over the world as well as at home. Anyway it was measured, Richard and Karen Carpenter had accomplished what few artists would: a devoted following, massive sales, and an artistic legacy matched only by a select number.

After the moderate domestic success of Voice of the Heart album and completing the sessions for the release of An Old Fashioned Christmas in 1984, the creative genius behind the duo pondered his options. Rumors suggested he might retire, score a musical for Disney, or even partner with a new singer. One thing was certain. Regardless of direction, Richard had to establish himself as a artist without his sister even while he continued to oversee their legacy. After all, he was still a young man with a lot of life ahead of him. There was time.

True to form as the perfectionist he is, it took Richard a few years to complete his first solo disc. And this lengthy break worked against his album being a success. It finally arrived in 1987 but to little promotion and even less appreciation. Whether meant as an inside joke or truly just a title to reflect the instrumental song of the same name, Time was eventually released following the lead single, Something in Your Eyes with Dusty Springfield. The single was a moderate success on the easy listening charts. Tony Peluso's guitar solo had become a trademark of many Carpenters' songs and is used here to good effect. Dusty's vocals were solid and the song and production very engaging, but as with most all the selections, it was difficult to listen to without wondering what Karen would have done with it. The spectre of Karen would in fact be something Richard would deal with in every solo project.

I purchased the disc in the long form box, a cassette, and on vinyl. (Good thing, too, as it disappeared from shelves almost as quickly as it arrived.) Time wasn't a release I couldn't wait to hear but more of a curiosity I had to indulge.

The packaging was to my liking, and I felt it was true to the artist as well. Richard's well known love of the automobile was forefront. Even though Richard would never be seen as cool by the public at large, he could at least be viewed as contemporary. Looking good and fresh, without the geekiness in attire seen in most every other Carpenters photograph, it was a great shot. A&M's art/design department put some real thought into how to visually promote an artist known for not being the lead artist noticed by fans. The department even produced a nice looking logo. The video for the first single was similarly well done, tying it all together. But back to the music...

When the first cut came on, I was pretty surprised. Say Yeah! shocked me as it rocked me. The pulsating track was something more akin to the Alan Parsons Project, moody but aggressive. At times throughout the song, I could even hear a bit of influence from Jeff Lynne and the Electric Light Orchestra.

A promotional Japan-only single.

The next track was a pleasant surprise, one of the few I could actually hear being played on Top 40 radio: Who Do You Love? Playful and confident, Richard's vocals and the song's lyrical content were fitting for a young man still in his thirties. In my mind, this would have been the song to reintroduce Richard as a solo artist, but instead A&M, and perhaps Richard himself, played it safe by releasing the duet with Dusty.Following said duet, the fourth track on the album, When Time Was All We Had, was a fitting tribute to Karen. Woefully placed at the front end instead of the second half, this song was the Piano Picker of the bunch, belonging later in the set. The net result left me looking backwards, wondering how these tracks would have sounded with Karen. Especially Something in Your Eyes, but I guess the comparisons would not be avoided. The title song, a beautiful elevator instrumental, follows. Yet, it too would have been better received later in the album. After three pretty strong songs followed by two that seemed out of place, it appeared to me that Richard couldn't decide exactly who he wanted to be as an artist. Was he a pop rocker? A sentimental crooner and orchestra leader? Or just a pianist, arranger, composer and conductor?

The radio single Calling Your Name Again opened the second half quite effectively, but then the immediate comparison to the next song, In Love Alone with Dionne Warwick revealed greatness in her work that Richard could not reach as a vocalist. Elegant, understated, and masterfully produced, Dionne had never sounded better. Richard does bounce back with Remind Me to Tell You, a rather telling autobiographical sounding song but one that continues to steep the album with a sadness that lasts all the way through to the end of the recording.

A very young Scott Grimes enters at this point with a joyful, upbeat, That's What I Believe, and it is one of the few songs that sound as if they were fun to record. Very perky and bright but so out of place in a very serious minded album. (Richard would go on to produce a full disc with Scott and turn out a great little album.) The last song on the disc seems so appropriate for a man greiving the loss of his sister and musical partner: I'm Still Not Over You. There only needs to be a couple of changes in the lyric line to see Richard's mind had to be focused on Karen. It's a beautiful recording. Perfect, actually. Richard shines in all his roles here, and the presence of another Tony Peluso guitar solo makes the proceedings seem all the more powerful. Of course, once I had heard the disc, I started it again. Then the cassette made it to my car. As is my pattern, I listened to it as I would any new Carpenters album, trying to memorize the lyrics, listening to all the flourishes I knew Richard would add to the basic tracks. I tried to like the album, and I really wanted to. Ultimately I settled on the reality that I honestly just appreciated the album. Richard had clearly labored over it all, that could not be denied. What I heard was a performer desperately trying to find his way, without telling anyone who wasn't familiar with his work who he was as an artist. You cannot be all things to all people in the course of ten songs. To this day, I would like to hear the tracks that didn't make the final cut as it might give me a better picture of what Richard was trying to accomplish.

Don't misunderstand. Time isn't a bad album, it just feels incomplete. It could be the obvious lack of Karen on the project or a product of anticipation not met by the length of time before its eventual release. The project feels to be a marker, a collection of unreleased songs thrown together until an artist's next real album comes along.

After the failure of Time to be on his side, Richard immersed himself in many other projects. Work on a new Carpenters collection was in the plans as well, and Lovelines would be one the strongest albums by the duo. But that is a story for another article, and there's much to say between now and then.

2021 Note: This is part of a continuing series of posts on the albums of Karen and Richard Carpenter. There are also numerous stand alone posts highlights different aspects of their career, recordings, and life. 

Below is the list of my initial reviews and then my "Revisited /Fresh Look" reviews a decade later. 

My Initial Reviews of the albums:

July 4, 2011

Star Spangled Banner- The Last Stanza

The rarely sung last stanza from Scott Francis Key's classic song of America:

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace,may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

July 1, 2011

Time For A Beer

Summertime and the living is easy...

At Disney California Adventure, a break for a quick drink of an adult nature can be found at the Karl Strauss beverage truck over at the Pacific Wharf. For now.

When the new Bayside Brews opens up today at Paradise Pier, the truck may be a thing of the past. If so, the new and very beautiful refreshment area will be the perfect place to stop, relax, eat and drink among the beautiful gardens filled with shade and color. The rethinking of this area includes stunning architecture as well, making the barenness of Paradise Pier 1.0 a thing of the past. I'll drink to that!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)