February 29, 2012

Spider-Man Rocks Again

Several years ago, I was blessed by my wife with a few days in Orlando and a couple on the beaches of Florida. Since I had never been to Islands of Adventure, I just had to sacrifice a day the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World to do so. Was it worth it! The entire park has pretty impressive elements even though it was a mixed bag, (the trip report is here,) but the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man was everything it was cracked up to be. Now, with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and a refreshed Spidey, I just have to go back.

(Photograph copyright Universal Orlando.)

February 28, 2012

The Disney Magic is Wearing Thin

Let me say up front that I appreciate all of the ongoing expansion plans at Disney California Adventure and even the new and somewhat impressive Fantasyland Forest at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. In my mind and heart, however, something is just not right, and I couldn't put my finger on it. Until now.

It used to be that Disney Imagineering was ahead of the game, and they were also ahead of the tourists. What I mean by that is, Disney used to be best in the business but now is playing catchup to Universal and its Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure. That's the easy one. Many folks who are theme park enthusiasts understand this point and I would venture agree as well.

The other is much more difficult. In days of old, Disney anticipated their guests' needs and surprised and delighted them year after year with new attractions as well as news shows and parades. Now, parades and shows are supposed to keep fans happy for years. Even at Walt's original kingdom, Disneyland, things seem, well, stale. Sure, the park looks pretty good. But it feels old, even tired.

Refurbishing attractions is necessary for show quality, but it is no replacement for new and exciting attractions. The still great oldies of the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Jungle Cruise, and the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Submarine Voyage, and Star Tours, should be given new elements and refreshing. It's just not enough. The magic is wearing thin.

Don't let the argument of lack of space fool you. Tomorrowland is a mess. A big, disjointed one. And Frontierland has more than enough acreage for something big and new. Even Fantasyland has room. There's no excuse aside from not wanting to do it.

Don't let the $1 billion investment into California Adventure make you think this is why Disneyland has been left alone either. Cars Land and its Radiator Springs Racers and Buena Vista Street will be fantastic additions to the once bare bones park. However, Disneyland has been left alone for the most part since Indiana Jones Adventure in the mid-nineties. Again, no excuse.

Lest I forget Florida, let me say it's just as bad over there, if not worse. The gorgeous Animal Kingdom remains a couple of hours of diversion. Avatar will not be its savior. Something substantial must happen in the meantime. And fix that Yeti!

Disney's Hollywood Studios is as much a jumbled mess as Disneyland's Tomorrowland. Again, no excuses for a movie based park from a company that has the rich history and future Disney has. Poor Epcot may be the worst of the bunch with its outdated exteriors of Future World attractions, pavilions that are a shadow of their former glory, tired films of World Showcase, and lack of anything new in that section of the park for decades.

Hear this: Lack of corporate sponsorships is the result of a park that is losing its focus, momentum, and excitement. The Walt Disney Company can build great attractions that will draw crowds without someone else's money. They just need to do it. And they have the money. They keep building timeshares and cruise ships, don't they? And they keep building foreign parks. There's just no excuse, but while they wait, the magic is growing thinner and thinner while competitors up their game.

February 27, 2012

American Idol's Good Girl

Gotta hand it to music's Carrie Underwood. When she hit it big on American Idol, I wondered if everything would go to her head, with her losing her sense of self, her values and morals, and her high standards.

Seems she's doing a pretty good job of remembering what's important.

Her latest single, "Good Girl" is just the kind of thing she should be recording. Not only is it a fun and catchy musical romp made to last through the summer of 2012, it shows young fans it is possible to live the kind of life that won't cause you or your family and friends unnecessary pain and grief. It's upbeat rollick reminds me of Shania Twain hits of long ago. Rock on, Good girl, rock on!

February 22, 2012

Yo Ho Indeed!

Merchandise is not my thing- unless it is attraction specific and done really well. In this case, Disney artists have done a great job with taking Pirates of the Caribbean and turning it into something we want to buy! In fact, it makes me want to "Yo Ho, Yo Ho" all the way to California's Disneyland or Florida's Magic Kingdom! (And thanks to the great photographer of this shirt. I have no idea who it was, but nice job!)

February 20, 2012

Frontierland: Disneyland in Anaheim Meets Disneyland in Paris

Here's just a snazzy little piece of Imagineering concept art for Disneyland's Frontierland. There's much to like about it, although I must admit that having the Indian encampment outside the fort's gates feels very politically incorrect these days.

As far as I can tell by looking backwards, this buildout never happened once the park was opened. Instead, the tepees made their way over to the far side of the park out in a secluded area of wilderness far from Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and other heroes of the American West. In a sense, the park was all the better for it. The new remote area was a perfect place to showcase the customs and art of the peoples who occupied the land long before settlers from the East Coast.

However, at Disneyland Paris, where being politically correct is not an issue, this same piece of concept art looks similar to what was actually built for Disneyland Paris decades later. The tepees and their occupants are out in front, next to the fort, and the references to American folk heroes are not nearly as pronounced. But there is much detail to be found everywhere you look.

A walking journey up inside the stockades of the fort provides some great information as well as some truly spectacular views of Frontierland. This is one of the areas in which Disneyland Paris outshines the other Magic Kingdoms, even Walt's original park. The vistas are so expansive and yet so focused on only the land in which you are presently inhabiting. It's so easy to imagine yourself really being there "back in the day". Well done! (It's a trademark of the entire park. Read my detailed article here.)

In place of the Old West focused on cowboys and Indians, the town of Thunder Mesa is present with its folklore tied to a search for gold (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) and a rich mining family torn apart by greed and suspicion (Phantom Manor). With the beautifully majestic Molly Brown cruising the river, Paris' Frontierland has an energy and a presence that the other kingdoms can only dream to possess. Kudos to Tony Baxter, Jeff Burke, and the team of Imagineers for pulling this off.

Back in the States, Disneyland's ode to the Wild West is in need of some love and care. The original saloon show at The Golden Horseshoe needs to return, pirates need to be given the boot at Tom Sawyer's Island, and the Mike Fink Keelboats should return to the river.

There's even room for expansion, and I hope a newer version of the Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland can take its place next to whatever Disney Imagineers have planned for the area. Let's face it, it will never be rebuilt. Most likely, we will see a tie-in to the soon coming Lone Ranger movie starring Johnny Depp. An even longer shot would be to build Imagineer Marc Davis' unrealized Western River Expedition. We can dream, can't we? In California, where the Pirates of the Caribbean plays to full audiences even after 45 years, Western River Expedition would be appreciated perhaps as much as the beloved New Orleans Square staple.

For one more additional improvement to return Frontierland to its glory days, I would go so far as to say Fantasmic needs to disappear as well. In fact, save Fantasmic's return for the Third Park. With the nighttime show removed, the evenings on that side of the park could once again feel as remote, romantic, and mysterious as they were years ago. It would make those delightful nighttime cruises on the Mark Twain all the more possible.

Needless to say, if I had the money to transform Disneyland, it would certainly go to Frontierland (and of course, Tomorrowland as well). And let me say one more thing: please do not add Splash Mountain to Disneyland Paris' Frontierland. We do not need more characters invading this gorgeous park!

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 18, 2012

The Death of the Queen, the Return of the King

Based on sales alone, if Pop Music Superstar Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, love her or loathe her, Whitney Houston is definitely the Queen. May they both rest in peace, but I cannot get her out of my head. Beauty and talent rarely go hand in hand to this magnitude, yet here she was, seemingly just waiting to be discovered, waiting to be adored. Upon first listen of "Saving All My Love For You", I knew a superstar was born.

As part of my mourning process, I created a mini "Greatest Hits" CD of my own. Even then with 80 minutes to play with, I had to cut out some songs I truly enjoyed. Lest you think this was just the work of a newly anointed fan, I have listened to her since the beginning of her career. In fact, "Until You Come Back", one of the songs from 1998's "My Love is Your Love" has always been part of a ballads compilation in the car since first listen.

In some ways, Whitney was the soundtrack to my adult life, just as the Carpenters was the soundtrack to my youth. (I always thought of Whitney's "Run to You" in the same vein as I felt "I Need to Be in Love" was to Karen Carpenter.) Her voice had its ups and downs as the years went on and drugs took their toll, but whether it was "The Bodyguard", "The Preacher's Wife" or "Just Whitney" she was always interesting.

There's many angles I could take to approach Whitney Houston as an artist, an icon, a woman. But at her core, I believe her to be a follower of Jesus. Even with her faith and upbringing, she did not finish well at all. However...

I've been captivated by what is reported to be some of her last words to friends: She couldn't wait to see Jesus. Her world seemed to tire her, and her body and soul were aching for something different, something more. My bet is she never forgot Jesus alone had paid the price for her sins.

Whitney's life is the modern day parable. Success wasn't everything and in fact, may have helped keep her enslaved. All this makes her early hit "Didn't We Almost Have It All?" take on an entirely new meaning, as does her brilliant take on the gospel classic "I Go to the Rock". I'm sure there is more I will say about her over time. But for now, the Queen is gone.

Pretty catching advertisement, isn't it? Viggo Mortensen's eyes pierce the page, and his look is at once regal and challenging while being reaffirming. In The Lord of the Rings films, this hero finishes well, blessing everyone around him. The people waited, and he returned as promised, to the delight of some and the pain of others who opposed him and his kingdom.

"'I am the Alpha and Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.'" This quote out of the book of Revelation from the Bible promises the return of the real king, Jesus Christ. And the thought of this at once brings me terror and peace, fear and hope. I fall short in so many ways. And unfortunately, so many people I love dearly view Jesus as a fable, or at worst, a philosophy to embrace versus the God made Man for our benefit. One who requires a relationship with Him in order to see eternal life beyond this earthly one. The Return of the King indeed.

Perhaps it is the recent deaths of a dear friend and the death of Whitney Houston that is making me look a bit inward to what really matters. I know my own sin all too well. Perhaps it is watching the Middle East, and knowing that once again, Israel is being threatened. And then I add in all the tragedies, both natural disasters and those done by the hands of man. In all this I think, "Lord Jesus, we need you. I need you. Save us- and save me from myself." Do you look inward too? Do you look at the world and see we are going downhill? Then I say, don't give up, and don't give into despair. Look to Him, and have hope now and for the future.

February 16, 2012

Something's Gotta Give

With so many changes in my life, there's been little time for hitting the gym and exercise. They say "No excuses" but sometimes something's gotta give. (It's also the title of a pretty clever movie with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, by the way.) So, in the spirit of full disclosure, let me say, that is not me seen above. Of course not!

I've got to find a new rhythm, a new pace, a new schedule that makes sense, but how to do it? Anyone out there find yourself in this situation before? What ideas do you have? I'm loving the changes, but I'm not understanding quite yet how to fit it all together.

February 15, 2012

The Giving Tree Gives Again and Again

This beautiful old book just kills me. Shel Siverstein's wonderful "The Giving Tree" tells a tale of love and friendship over the years between a young tree and a young boy. As a grandfather of three, and soon of two more, I read it with a tenderness I didn't understand when I was younger.

The possibility of a miracle aside, one of my new grandsons will be born with Dandy Walker Syndrome, and will probably deal with much difficulty in the simple things in life, things we never think of or take for granted. Much to their credit, my daughter and son-in-law refused an abortion, believing every life has value and a plan. A book like The Giving Tree reminds me the delights of life can be found in the simplest things, the little joys. A good reminder to be thankful for all the good we find in life.

Give Shel's book a read- with a box of tissues handy.

February 14, 2012

To My Only Valentine

Happy Valentines Day to my one and only valentine! After meeting on this day many years ago and now 30 years of marriage, there's no one I'd rather spend my life with. Here's to all that God has ahead for us - with much thankfulness for His faithfulness and your love for the years behind us.

February 13, 2012

Rolling in the Deep at the Grammys

Probably the most memorable Grammy Awards night in recent memory. Adele clearly rocked the night with six out of six wins for each nomination. Jennifer Hudson delivered true superstar power with her tribute performance of Whitney Houston's landmark "I Will Always Love You". It was at once honoring of the late icon as well as a career defining performance. Add to it a rocking good job by Paul McCartney at the finale, and it all adds up to a stunning end to a weekend full of shock and grief.

February 11, 2012

Whitney Houston Dies

Just minutes ago, before I even heard of her death, my wife and I were comparing Whitney Houston's Grammy appearance and performance when she won for "Saving All My Love For You" to the more recent "Million Dollar Bill". With the beautiful "I Will Always Love You", the Dolly Parton written hit from the film "The Bodyguard", Whitney seemed on the top of the world, but drugs and hard living took its toll. Such a loss for her family, friends, and the music world. I pray that she rests in peace.

February 10, 2012

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Can't say I was drunk last weekend, and I cannot even say I was in Margaritaville (or even Key West), but I certainly feel a bit lifted. Like Jimmy Buffett, there's a buoyancy in my step. But there is also a song of hope buzzing in my heart. A new job, a church I love being a part of, and a very thankful heart to God for my lovely wife. Could it be any better? Sure, but I know that in all things, God works for good in my life, drawing me closer to Him and making me look more like Him as I obey. It's not a bad deal- eternal life and eternal hope, and all because I love Jesus and try to live the way He desires.

February 9, 2012

Cruising the Blue Sky Disney Blog

Ever find a Disney blog that is so much fun that even the old posts are worth looking at now and then? Well, Blue Sky Disney is one of those for me.

Above is a piece of artwork for a post on Cars Land, circa December 2007.

Honor Hunter creates compelling reasons to read: fresh news, great art, and insightful commentary on the world of Disney. Be it the transformation of California Adventure, new plans for Disneyland, or the latest in movie and television news, Honor never disappoints. Thanks for all the hard work!

February 8, 2012

A Look at Eleven Years of California Adventure

Last year, when Disney's California Adventure turned ten years old, I posted a week's worth of articles about the creation of the park, included my many trip reports, and added in my popular posts on the creation of the park and Disney Imagineers' former Bargain Basement Imagineering of the place.

We're on the brink of a new era for the park, so on it's 11th birthday, here is a look backwards using those articles. Cars Land and Buena Vista Street are quickly on their way, but may we and the Imagineers and suits never forget the disaster created with "cheap" becomes synonymous with the Disney experience. Enjoy!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

February 6, 2012

The Disney Dark Ride Series: Peter Pan Flight

Perhaps the most beloved dark ride attraction in Disney park history, Peter Pan Flight debuted with the opening of Disneyland in 1955. It was an instant smash. After all, who could resist flying in a pirate ship over the evening skies of London and Neverland?

English author J.M. Barrie's novel of the boy who wouldn't grow up debuted in 1911. Readers were immediately enthralled with Peter Pan's journeys. The cast of characters were just as interesting: the Lost Boys, the villainous Captain Hook, and the manipulative but good hearted fairy, Tinker Bell. Toss in some mermaids, a few Indians, and an amphibian with a gastric problem to create more adventures than a boy could envision. Dreams of flying over a darkened but starlit London past the Big Ben's clock and onto the island of Neverland were birthed in the hearts and minds of children everywhere. Adults, too!

Naturally, as Walt and his film makers looked at classic literature as the main source of animated film inspiration, the book and Peter Pan's adventures were a natural choice for exploration. The colorful characters and lush environments screamed for the Disney animators to tell their stories. When it was finally released to theaters in 1953, the movie drew universal praise for its enchanting theme, instantly singable songs, beautifully colorful textures and backgrounds, and of course, its endearing characters.

The idea for a family friendly park had been brewing in Walt's mind for more than a few years when he finally decided to take a chance and build Disneyland. He risked everything to do so. This park, Walt's park, had to be unlike anything ever seen before, and that meant the attractions contained within needed to be creatively satisfying as well as crowd pleasing. With a handpicked crew, Walt and the team went to work. Each land would be unique, and Fantasyland would draw guests into the stories the animators told so well in their films.

Imagineer Bill Martin's rare concept art.
Check out the name of the attraction!

During its initial creation and design stage, Walt Disney insisted Fantasyland section of the new park to give its first guests the unprecedented ability of experiencing the fun and excitement of his animated films by becoming part of them. Remember, this was years before Universal Studios got into the act. Again, Walt Disney was ahead of his time. With this perspective and dedication to excellence, his Imagineering team created and set the bar for all theme parks to come.

With Disneyland, not only was the concept unique, the choice and execution of the attractions would be as well. Although carnival operators of the day pressed Walt's team to include the expected Ferris Wheels and iron carnival rides, Walt insisted on the new and innovative, instead creating adventures that could not be duplicated elsewhere- a trend that would continue for decades before a change of direction and lack of vision at the end of the 20th century.

Dark rides were a staple of amusement piers from Coney Island on the East Coast to various locations dotting much of California. Some were scary, some held promises of love or at least affection, but all of them held a certain mystique to paying customers as they could only guess at the wonders within the building they saw. This medium fit the Disney team perfectly. The art directors could fashion the rides just as they could a film, directly the riders eyes to carefully chosen scenes.

The later to be named Imagineers went right to work. Fantasyland's courtyard would hold these smaller but still innovative adventures. Since the film was one of the most recent Disney hits, Peter Pan was prime for exploitation. Beyond the marketing potential, the possibilities to tell the story were endless, and Peter Pan Flight, as the attraction was initially named, was quickly decided upon as a necessary choice for opening day.

The simple but effective exterior of the attraction, as shown above, fully met the strict budgetary requirements of the new venture while still presenting a fanciful, enticing entrance. The tournament tents, banners, and other decorations created an atmosphere not found elsewhere. The style of Fantasyland wasn't what was fully envisioned, but the more extravagant surroundings would have to wait for later.

The actual attraction, however, was filled with lavish and sometimes expensive little details that others might deem unnecessary. The queue area may have been decorated with a painted mural along the side of the building but even that was done with great care. Loving creation of the attraction- including a unique ride system whose cars were ornate pirate ships suspended from a track in the building's ceiling - rightfully enchanted guests from the very first flight.

In many ways, this Peter Pan attraction and the more elaborate Jungle River Cruise would define Walt's park by showing what could be accomplished by the artisans and engineers when the goal was to please, entertain, and delight its guests. This relentless dedication to excellence whether large attraction or small brought great rewards and extremely long lines. Upon the park's opening, these two attractions became instant icons along with the it's physical centerpiece, Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Not only was Mr. Disney a premier showman, he was also a savvy marketeer, and he worked hard to make sure every American knew of his beloved park. Walt and his brother Roy enticed television's ABC network into a creative and financial partnership that truly benefited both parties. Bringing Walt Disney to television was a coup for the struggling network, and the weekly television exposure of the plans for the park guaranteed much anticipation for its opening, resulting in hoards of guests with money to spend. Anticipation was high, and so were expectations due to the buildup given Walt's magic kingdom.

Unlike some companies of our day, Walt, Roy, and the Company delivered on their promise. Disneyland actually made available one unforgettable experience after another, becoming the new gold standard for the American family vacation. Word quickly spread.

With television consistently whetting the appetites of millions of viewers, fantasies became realities- and the company was soon flush with cash to create even more amazing experiences. This meant even more ambitious and innovative attractions than what the Disney team was first designed.

As with any new venture that was unprecedented, initial budgets were underestimated and therefore strained for the park, with Fantasyland and Tomorrowland suffering the most changes compared to what was originally desired. Still, no one could resist Peter Pan's Flight. Where else in the world could guests fly over London without being on a real airplane or cruise down exotic jungle rivers? Yet, this dream and others would become real for those visiting Anaheim.

Peter Pan Flight was so iconic, it had to be duplicated in Florida's Walt Disney World and its Magic Kingdom. Sure, other dark rides unique to Florida's park were considered, (Mary Poppins and Sleeping Beauty among them), but nothing past or present has held its own with the undisputed champion.

Back on the West Coast, Fantasyland, and the newly named Peter Pan's Flight, remained the same for almost 30 years, until Tony Baxter led a group of Imagineers on a total revamp of the land. Now with the cash they desired, the carnival/circus tent/medieval fair look of the heart of Disneyland soon gave way to a fanciful take on the villages and atmosphere of Western Europe.

These changes also brought the dark ride's namesake characters into the attraction for the very first time. Originally, guests were supposed to be the main characters, but few understood the concept and many were left wondering why they never saw Peter Pan in an attraction that carried his name. This problem was corrected with the extensive remodel, much to the appreciation of frustrated parents trying to explain the initial idea to their bewildered children.

Disneylands to come, in Tokyo then Paris, were designed with the crowd pleasing Peter Pan's Flight as a centerpiece to each respective Fantasyland. Only in Paris were the Imagineers smart enough to increase the rider capacity. However, even with larger pirate ships sailing into the night sky, guests continued to make the queue time one of the longest in the park. In fact, the lines to hop aboard are just as full in Japan and Paris as they are in Anaheim and Orlando!

Oddly, at Hong Kong Disneyland, Peter Pan's Flight never made the initial roster of opening day attractions. Quite strange, considering Hong Kong's history of being under British rule and given their knowledge of the culture. The only Brit represented there in China would be A. A. Milne's cuddly bear, Winnie the Pooh. He could be found as the star of his own dark ride next door to the 3D film, Mickey's Philharmagic. Whether Peter makes it to Shanghai Disneyland is yet to be revealed.

In a perfectly designed kingdom, Peter Pan's Flight would be a full scale "E" Ticket attraction with a lengthy ride time. Yet, the shorter flight seems to require repeated trips to soak it all in. And guests continue to line up over and over again with each new generation. It's a rite of passage every bit as strong as a first flight with Dumbo or the first ride on Space Mountain.

Proving once again that a great story and near flawless execution are much more important than sheer mass, big thrills and excessive budgets, Peter Pan's Flight has held its own with Imagineering's "E" ticket attractions- for 55 plus years...and counting.

This is the first in a series of articles on the Disney Dark Rides. What's next? You'll just have to come back!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 5, 2012

Disney Dark Ride Series Starts Tomorrow

Do you love those smaller "C" Ticket Disney dark rides? I do! Starting tomorrow, I'll take a look at these Fantasyland mainstays. Taking them one by one- I'll begin with the undisputed favorite, Peter Pan's Flight. See you then!

February 4, 2012

Three Decades Without Karen Carpenter

It was 29 years ago the world lost the voice of my generation.

Karen Carpenter passed away then, but almost 30 years later, the music she created with her brother Richard lives on.

After years of frustration in the Los Angeles music scene, Herb Alpert, the mastermind artist behind A&M Records, had the wisdom to sign the young duo to a recording contract. The first album, "Offering" was not a hit, but Herb got them back into the studio and insisted on them recording a minor Burt Bacharach number, "They Long to Be Close to You", and the string of hits began.

She and Richard were poorly portrayed in their videos, almost always miserably represented on their album covers, and mocked by many of their peers, but they were eventually very good live in concert in their later years.

The real magic came forth in the recording studio. Karen's tones were pure as fresh spring water and as warm as honey. Songs with her voice front and center and all those wonderful overdubbed vocals sparkled, revealing Richard's genius in arranging the songs and producing Karen's voice. Whether it was the complicated and elaborate "Only Yesterday" or the simple layered background vocals of "Our Day Will Come", the blending of the sibling voices created an irresistible charm.

Richard's often overlooked songwriting teamed with Karen's ability to sell a song, creating some timeless classics. "Close to You", "Yesterday Once More", "Top of the World", "For All We Know", "Rainy Days and Mondays", and the wedding song for a generation, "We've Only Just Begun". (Go ahead, I'll say it again. You can sing along. Admit it, you love it.)

Dozens of hits all over the world, Japan to England. But don't stop at the hits, and you'll find the definitive versions of some other songs you know- great songs covered by other artists after the Carpenters introduced them: "This Masquerade", "A Song for You", "I Just Fall in Love Again". Sure they did their share of covers ("Please Mr. Postman", "Baby It's You", "Ticket to Ride"and "There's a Kind of Hush") but Karen's performance of the Eagles' "Desperado" on their beautiful and landmark Horizon album bests Linda Ronstadt's lovely version.

Karen and Richard crafted a legacy by being original regardless of covering a previously recorded song, introducing new material, or debuting an original by Richard and songwriting partner John Bettis.

In fact, they could surprise you by being unexpectedly bold. It was most noticeable on their 1977 album Passage, but even back in 1972, they were taking chances. Once they had firmly established themselves as the reigning Prince and Princess of Soft Rock, Richard shocked and eventually delighted both fans and critics by releasing the ever first "power ballad". By adding the fuzz guitar solo by virtuoso Tony Peluso on his own composition "Goodbye to Love", Richard created a firestorm in the industry and almost single handedly, a new type of song was birthed.

Karen and Richard's love for music also meant they experimented with various genres. Whether it was country ("Top of the World", "Sweet, Sweet, Smile"), jazz ("All I Can Do", "Bwana She No Home"), pop opera ("Don't Cry For Me Argentina"), or standards from the American Classic Songbook ("I Can Dream Can't I?", "When I Fall in Love", "Little Girl Blue"), Richard and Karen showed such love and respect for the songs and the artists they loved. And when no one was recording it, they set the new standard for Christmas music with their 1978 release of "Christmas Portrait".

Karen played her voice as the instrument it was, showing as much versatility as their diverse song selection. She could be playful, mournful, forceful, and even sensual. The "A Kind of Hush" album cut "Boat to Sail" reveals a very laid back, breezy arrangement partnered with a silky voiced Karen cooing to her man. Since she rarely pushed her voice or screamed out the lyrics, Karen was often dismissed and taken for granted as the great vocalist she was. She even held her own on a wonderful duet medley of songs with Ella Fitzgerald, and even earlier with crooner Perry Como.

Each and every album has its gems. But don't just listen to them for the hits. Go deeper into their catalogue and discover the bluesiest Carpenters classic you've probably never heard: "Ordinary Fool", a Paul Williams penned ode to the lost hope of love. It's got one of the best saxophone solos ever put to record. (Check it out here.) It's the perfect match of the premier vocalist of her generation with one of the best arrangers and producers of the 70s. My absolute favorite recording.

Vocalists as varied as k.d. lang, Madonna, Shania Twain, Christina Aguilera, and Gloria Estefan have listed Karen as an influence. A wider range of artists created a 1994 tribute album, If I Were A Carpenter, showing love and respect from peers to the artist that got little during her lifetime. Her influence is still heard today. Every time I hear Adele sing "Someone Like You", I hear Karen and her first take- the one released as a single- on the Leon Russell classic "Superstar". There's a reason so few Carpenters songs are remade. It's just impossible to match the original definitive versions.

Karen is still greatly missed- and Richard is as well. He's missed from being in action. There's plenty of material left in the vaults, but sadly for us, he is comfortable living with their legacy. But what a marvelous legacy it is!

Follow this link if you want to read about Karen's last hours and the documentary that was made.
If you want to read about my reviews of each Carpenters album starting at the beginning, go here.

February 3, 2012

Coming Attractions

Just a bit of an update about what's coming on the Insights blog. Monday will bring the debut post on my Disney Dark Ride series. Starting with Disneyland's Peter Pan Flight, we will take a detailed look at these minor but beloved "C" Ticket attractions.

Tomorrow is the 29th anniversary of the passing of Karen Carpenter. She and brother Richard, known as Carpenters, created some of the most beautiful, timeless music of the 1970s and 1980s. Tomorrow's post will be a look at her legacy through examining their music.

There's more coming, too. Yes, I'll get to the next article on the Disney Attraction Posters. The next is Fantasyland, and it's a big one, but it will be worth it! C'mon back, will you?

February 2, 2012

The Disney Dark Ride Series: An Introduction

What would a visit to a Disney Magic Kingdom be without a ride over Neverland or a journey through the Hundred Acre Wood? A lot less magical!

These attractions, although rather simple compared to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Test Track, are mainstays at each of the resorts. Join me on Monday as I begin a detailed look at each of these "C" Ticket attractions. I'll start with an undisputed fan favorite: Peter Pan Flight.

See you then!

February 1, 2012

Dapper Day at Disneyland

The folks at DapperDay.com have come up with great idea. Celebrate a visit to the Disney parks the way the Imagineers themselves presented guests: in fine apparel on par with what you'd wear to a Broadway show or a night out for fine dining. From Disneyland to Epcot, to Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, February 5th, 2012 is the day to show at at your local park looking, well, dapper. It will be a nice break from the tank top and jeans that's become so acceptable. Wish I could go!

By the way, don't forget to come back Monday for the beginning of my Disney Dark Ride series!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)