May 29, 2012

RetroDisneyWorld's Stunning Look Backwards

Word's are not adequate to express the delight I took in finding previously unseen Imagineering concept art for Walt Disney World theme parks. Particularly, the once spectacular EPCOT Center. As you can see from the beautiful piece of art above, Imagineer Herb Ryman took a delicate and majestic approach when painting the American Adventure

Exactly where did I uncover this stream of beautiful pieces? On the brand new RetroDisneyWorld website. It is filled with gorgeous pieces. If you are a fan or concept art, here is another place to feast your eyes. Nice work!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 28, 2012

Thank you Veterans and Your Families!

This one says it all! Thank you for keeping America... and a lot of the world free!

May 27, 2012

Time to Celebrate with Whitney

Looking around the internet last night, I found the new Whitney Houston song, "Celebrate". No, the movie Sparkle with Jordin Sparks is not out yet. Someone just leaked the song. No link here. Find it if you want it, but you might be pleasantly surprised.

May 25, 2012

Ugly Duckling of DCA Becoming a Swan

Thanks to Mint Crocodile over at Magic Eye, we've got one of the first looks at the Carthay Circle Theater with the fountain in front of it. Looks like Walt Disney Imagineering was 100% determined about turning the stunningly short changed California Adventure into a park known for its beauty and charm. 

At this rate, Buena Vista Street is set to be the New Orleans Square of the second park at the Disneyland Resort. The detail is rich, the remodel tremendous even from viewing photos, and I am convinced the overall impact will bring serious money into the accounts of the Walt Disney Company as visitors are finally convinced to give the once ugly duckling another look. They will be rewarded for taking the risk!

With a mostly re-Imagined Paradise Pier, Cars Land with its thrilling Radiator Springs Racers, and a wonderful "first act" in Buena Vista Street, finally Disney California Adventure is in the first stage of giving Disneyland a run for its money as a full day park. Job well done!

(Photograph from Mint Crocodile.)

May 24, 2012

Another White Guy With Guitar

Yes, Phillip Phillips has won season eleven of American Idol. Before another person shouts "White Guy With Guitar", I'd like to toss in some thoughts that should cause folks to stop and think.

The guys has talent. Real talent. At times, his voice reminds me of a young Sting, at other times, Jack Johnson. For once, his "star" match in the finale was spot on: John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame sounded great, but it was Phillip's strong but subtle voice that showed he was on par with the superstars before him. Both their duets revealed Phillip could add his own flare and still honor the original artist and style. 

He's 21 and has a lot of growing to do, but he seems to know who he is. Solid style. Honest approach to music. Phillip's humility will serve him well as he learns from those around him. (Was this the unintended by-product of living with his double name? And does it really matter? Not in the least. Grow up, Jim Carrey.) His guitar playing skills will strengthen. Phillip has a camera ready smile that will make photographers happy when they cover his concerts. All in all, it's pure and real music from a real, authentic artist. He'll be around longer than some hope.

This is all much better than a million other Rihanna wannabes or Lady Gaga followers or flash in the pan carnival acts like LMFAO. Take away the light show and raunchy poses and lyrics from these "artists", and what do you have? Nothing that appealing. They pander to the lowest common denominator.

Jessica Sanchez may be the real deal as well. Her voice is amazing. I am a big fan, and I cannot wait to see what she turns out on her first album. Comparisons to Whitney Houston may be too early, and Jessica needs to reveal whether she wants to be great or settle for trendiness like the above mentioned women. Hopefully, she and her producers will realize the gift of her voice and let it soar above instantly dated arrangements and material. Handled correctly, Jessica will also mature into a timeless artist.

So, give Phillip Phillips a break (Jessica, too). Enough with the beefs about American Idol being a white artists man's show. It's a cheap and easy cop out.

May 22, 2012

A Princess Among the Princes

Happy Birthday to my lovely granddaughter! You are truly a princess among a group of princes. And you are absolutely loved and adored. Bless you, bless you, bless you! Love, GrandDad Mark

May 21, 2012

Ready, Set, Go!

Can't get your fill go photos of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street? Dying for more pics of Radiator Springs Racers? Waiting for the latest shots on California Adventure? Well, Westcoaster has them today. Now, live, and ready for your viewing pleasure. Ready, set, head over here.

(Photograph copyright


I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

Psalm 34:4-5

May 20, 2012

A Man Exposed

It's the middle of the night, and I'm a naked man sitting. Not literally, but I feel stripped bare before God wondering about my life. No, do not misunderstand. It's not like that. No midnight confession necessary to cleanse my soul or ease any pain. It's just a stark reminder that ultimately, my life boils down to a few very simple things in the middle of being a bundle of complexities. I am the sum of many parts. Sometimes, I am singularly focused to the point of being an easy target for those who love me- and those who dislike, even hate me. And yet, I survive and persevere. Blessing, curses, and indifference. Commitment, betrayal, success and failure. All parts of life, my included.

Often, I do not even know myself, and I am thankful that God himself understands this man He made. Nothing escapes Him, terrifying and comforting me at once. Whether its a season of being the boy inside or the man who knows his priorities, time continues to pass while I am refined and redefined. I'm alone yet never really alone. My wife and my God stand beside me. My children surround with lives and families of their own, priorities and responsibilities molding them and directing their lives.

Friends known and friends unknown yet. Those to come from future travels and those who have made major impacts on my life. Thankfulness and sorrow. Life, death, and muddling through. Things I'll always be, and things I'll never be. The contradictions of life and love, and time running out. And time washing away, eternity waiting. 

May 18, 2012

Official Attraction Poster Book

The Disney Parks Blog just announced their intent to sell a long realized dream- a book showcasing the attraction posters found at the parks. It will be on sale at Disneyland at the Gallery on Main Street U.S.A., starting at the end of the month. Guess I better get going on finishing my Attraction Poster series! The first piece of the series begins here. So far, I've covered all the lands but Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Until the book arrives, to my knowledge, it is the largest collection of attraction poster art on the internet. Enjoy!

May 17, 2012

Wandering is Over for Donna

Donna Summer is dead, and many in the music world are mourning- including me. I did not love everything she recorded, especially in the early years when those audio orgasms punctuated her "Love to Love You Baby", but I had to admit she was pretty catchy when her "I Feel Love" brought Euro/Pop/Disco to the forefront. It was totally mesmerizing. A couple of years later, her remake of "MacArthur Park" was just so good, I had to buy it.

In the early 80's the announcement that Donna had become a born-again Christian made me take greater notice. There was a change in her approach and style as well, and her gay fans seemed angry about it. Disco was dying, and Donna moved on temporarily to New Wave-ish sounds, R&B, Rock, and other styles. Some folks pronounced her dead on the charts, but it was clear she could conquer any style. Few had as powerful a voice, and even fewer her self-mocking charm. 

After a few years of quiet, a new release "This Time I Know It's For Real" couldn't be resisted by pop radio, and Donna had one of her biggest hits in years. Then things got quiet again.

Her autobiography, Ordinary Girl: The Journey, detailed a powerful encounter with the Living God that forever changed her life. She knew her sin and recognized Jesus Christ as the only one who could pay for it. After that, not much else mattered, and it seemed this far from ordinary girl was a wanderer no longer. Rest in Peace with your Lord Jesus Christ, Donna. You finished well.

Another Idol Showdown

Talk about diversity! The final three contestants on American Idol are some of the shows best singers ever, each with individually unique styles and endearing personalities. All in all, qualities making this the most enjoyable season that I have watched in years. 

Three rounds and three winners.

First go around, Phillip Phillips' high energy "Beggin'" walked away with round one, edging out Joshua Ledet's take on Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind", an odd choice for a young artist. It also surpassed the effective and delicate "My All" by Mariah Carey. When Jessica Sanchez took on this song, I expected something different, but I was pleased by the amount of restraint and grace she used, really highlighting her beautiful voice over her ability to belt it out.

That wise restraint won Joshua Ledet round two. Jessica's Aerosmith number was alright, and Phillip's "Disease" by Matchbox 20 was much better than the judges gave him credit for, yet Joshua's control on a stunning "Imagine" convinced me he could also do something different. I still find it interesting when a Christian sings the song ("Imagine there's no heaven"), but it is a lovely melody.

Round three belonged to Jessica. Taking on the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There", she displayed an incredible versatility as she took on several different ranges in the song, hitting the money notes in the lowest registers instead of the highest pieces as a listener would expect. Joshua's "No More Drama" had too much of it, and by taking on Mary J. Blige, it was back to what he is most known for. For all the praise given Phillip's "We've Got Tonight", I found it to be stripped down to the point of being dull- something a song should never be, especially this one. It's made for his voice but not with this arrangement. 

With one win for each of the contestants, it should make tonight's elimination all the more difficult. These are three terrific kids, and my prediction is each will have long and successful careers.

(Photo by Michael Becker, Fox.)

May 16, 2012

Elliott's "House" Has No Home

After the events of yesterday and the last few days, I went into the gym to blow off a little steam. Plugging in my i-pod, I starting running fast and furious, barely letting the music slip into my mind. And you know, sometimes it's just good to get away from yourself and your circumstances for a bit.  

I wasn't really paying too much attention, but I knew my shuffle mode threw in Sting's "Nothing 'bout Me", a great oldie in Peter Frampton's "Sign Sealed Delivered", and a few others. But in was all in the background.

All of a sudden, on came Elliott Yamin and his incredible live version of "A House Is Not A Home". Immediately, I was back in Season 5 finale of American Idol, hearing his voice soar on the tune... and wondering why the heck this song has never made it to one of his albums.  It's stunning, really- and certainly on par with other artist's renditions, i.e. Luther Vandross, Dionne Warwick, and the Carpenters. (And that last one is really saying something as Karen Carpenter had one of the most warm and emotional voices of all time. Backed with Richard Carpenter's elegantly restrained arrangement, their version of the song set a new standard.)

Perhaps when his new album "Let's Get to What's Real" runs its course, Elliott will go into the studio and record some old school gems that show off his retro side. While you are doing that, Elliott, how about throwing in a remake of "Where Is the Love?" as well. I can only hope this will happen one day soon.

May 15, 2012


Get ready for a bit of a rant. I'm just furious.

After finally getting my car out of the shop after I was hit in a parking lot, I walked out to my garage to find that I was grafittied by some idiot with yellow paint last night. Of course, this came after a very difficult night and hard conversations with people I love.

What is it lately with people not taking responsibility for their actions? Why am I the one that has to constantly excuse and live with someone's immaturity in relationships, job insecurities, or flat out refusal to do what is right. It's never alright to be a coward and let someone else pay the price because you can't man up. I'm tired of people pouting when they do not get their way or when they are challenged when they lie, cheat, steal, and gossip. What's true is true- and it's not relative to what you feel at the moment.

No one is exempt. Not our politicians, not our leaders in any arena, not you, not me. And for that, I'm most furious at me when I do it, too!

May 11, 2012

Give A Little More

Love them or hate them, it's a fact. Adam Levine, Jesse Carmichael and James Valentine write some of the catchiest songs of the last decade. But as a Maroon5 fan that has to constantly be watching the lyrics before I purchase off i-tunes, I have a request: C'mon guys, Give a Little More, and dig a little deeper to give us some music with cleaner lyrics and a wider range of topics than how long the lead singer can remain aroused and the girl who is causing all the Misery. You've got the Moves Like Jagger, but you can keep it clean and still have the swagger.

May 9, 2012

Marvel Theme Park in California's Future

Marvel Theme Park, Marvel attractions, Marvel character shows? Marvel resorts? Bring it on!

Disney chief Robert Iger has confirmed that plans are moving right along to bring Marvel themed attractions to California. But I'll bet bigger and say he is bringing a third theme park to the Disneyland Resort.  The Imagineers are hard at work creating new attractions that thrill with characters America and the world have embraced for generations. The spectacular success of The Avengers is paving the way.

Due to restrictions, you won't see a Disney / Marvel park in Orlando. Universal's Islands of Adventure retains the rights to the characters for the East Coast parks. Spidey is see, for now.

Ups and downs? Westcot will not be built. Ups? The West Coast will finally rally for first place with Walt Disney World when looked at from a parks only mindset. With a stale Animal Kingdom, an out of focus Disney Hollywood Studios, California will easily compete on a park to park basis with Florida.

Until the New Fantasyland opens at the Magic Kingdom, there's only a handful of Disney park lovers that would rate it above Walt's Original Kingdom. Epcot is pretty special but now its focus is on selling meals and entertainment not amazing attractions.

The revitalized California Adventure is moving beyond a "best of all the other parks" perspective to finally becoming something incredible on its own. When the third park does open, Marvel attractions will provide the thrills originally intended for the second gate but with great theming as well.

California's theme park standing just moved up and by quite a margin!
(Art copyright Marvel and The Walt Disney Company.)

May 5, 2012

The Avengers Lose Their Way

Robert Downey Jr. owns this film, but that is not his fault or the fault of the other actors. Compared to Tony Stark's suave and focused Iron Man, Marvel's poor superhero Captain America has little to do in a film where brotherhood should rule the day. For all the other characters, it's more of the same. Much ado about nothing. 

Captain America's heart is full of integrity, straightforwardness, and outright old fashioned patriotism. Combined with his self sacrificial attitude and military training, Steve Rogers is a true hero and a nice counterbalance to Stark's cynicism and irreverence. It's part of what made his first appearance in his own movie so compelling. Chris Evans does the best he can with a script strong on visuals but weak on dialogue, terrific one liners aside. It's a problem all the others seem to share. 

The centerpiece villain is left to inactivity for most of the film. Huge misstep. Tom Hiddleston is made to play the evil character, Loki, yet the script treats him as if he were a nuisance versus a real threat. His brother, Thor, is better here as part of the team than a solo star in his own film. Perhaps Chris Hemsworth just needed a better cast to pull it all off. The sole key female, Scarlett Johannson... just doesn't fit.

I'd give The Avengers a high mark for visual appeal and interesting main characters. However, the film also gets low marks for making poor use of the cast and an even poorer story line. Seems Jon Favreau and company cannot decide between making a Transformers film, sticking to what Marvel does best, or just spending his time setting up a series. The team, including Stan Lee, is stuck between playing tongue in cheek with it all and creating a film where the characters truly believe the world in which they live. 

The potential is huge, and the market is waiting. There's always the next film and a theme park on its way.

Cinco de Mayo EPCOT Center Style

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... at Epcot's gorgeous Mexico World Showcase!

This one pavilion has the unique distinction in all of World Showcase of being mostly indoors. From a casual view, all guests can see is a waterside restaurant, a small taco stand, and a large, imposing pyramid. Once inside the pyramid, it's a showstopper! In shades of Disneyland's Blue Bayou, night skies dominate, and the music of mariachis fills the air. The quaint central plaza built in the beautiful Colonial style includes shops, a small museum, and a waterfront restaurant. Colorful lanterns hang in the air while mariachis play. A distant volcano spews smoke, and a smaller pyramid just on the far side of the river beckons further exploration. 

Although the very charming, dignified, and mysterious El Rio del Tiempo attraction has now been replaced by the escapades of three fowl friends, the pavilion is still a cause for celebration. Margaritas, anyone? No? How about a boat ride through history instead?

At the opening of EPCOT Center in 1982, the Disney Imagineers set a new creative standard for themselves. Walt Disney's EPCOT- Creating the New World of Tomorrow by Richard R. Beard details the creation and execution of this cutting edge park- the first non-Magic Kingdom style playground ever built by the Mouse.

Let's look at a few pieces of concept art and photos of the splendid Mexico pavillion circa opening year. (All images are able to be enlarged.)

When we first visited EPCOT Center in 1983, this pavilion was a clear favorite among all the World Showcase countries represented. The main medium for telling the story of the country was a Disney first: a large part of the signature attraction was told through the medium of dance, but any Disney fan will also see the strong influences of other attractions, most notably If You Had Wings, and old Magic Kingdom favorite.

Inside the large temple, a small Mexican village is darkened by eternal nighttime, and there is some celebration happening!  A perfect afternoon lunch sitting waterside sipping margaritas and eating Queso Fundido made it tempting to do nothing else, but the boats cruising El Rio del Tiempo got us get out of our seats.

The boat cruise was designed to be much more grand, closer on the scale of Pirates of the Caribbean in length and immersion. However, the budgets were blown, time was short before opening day, and adjustments had to be made. Such is the life of an Imagineer! Their accomplishment still impresses, so on with the journey!

Once aboard, our departure onto the river is at once peaceful and mysterious. As  we enter another temple, and our adventure begins with a dose of Disney magic: Encountering a high priest, dancers soon surround, moving to ancient rhythms. In its original form, this section was the showpiece of the attraction. The history of the people makes for a stunning story, and here, it was told in an equally stunning presentation.

The doll filled celebration of the Day of the Dead startles with the flavors of It's a Small World, but it's only a small segment of the ride. The contrast from one style used to tell the story to another is almost jarring, but it does keep the guests from getting bored! 

We continue into other regions depicting the Mexico of the Travel Channel: Beaches, parties, and tourist sites. It's a step down from the elegance of what we saw earlier, but it is playful and enjoyable. The music is memorable, and any EPCOT Center lover worth his title as fan can hum the song even while reading this post!

The Imagineers did an excellent job capturing the culture of our friends south of the border. The end result reflected a true labor of love even if doused with a shot of economic reality. It was a beloved attraction that only needed a tune up. However, the suits at Disney were looking for a new way to make a buck once sponsorship had ended, so in came the movie tie-in.

Recent revisions to the boat ride employed an insertion of The Three Caballeros film and Donald Duck and friends. It's sassy and kid-friendly, but just plain wrong. This major mistake stripped the dignity and sophistication imbred into EPCOT Center since its inception. It is a trend which must stop if the Walt Disney Company wishes to capture the travel dollar of discriminating guests looking for something different than a new style Magic Kingdom.

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.  There are dozens of YouTube videos, but one of my favorites is here.

The past is the past, but what a glorious time it was back at EPCOT Center's opening...

 Vaya con Dios!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 4, 2012

News Roundup!

What a busy, busy, last couple of weeks! So let me fill you in on whats coming in the next few weeks on the Insights and Sounds blog.

Tomorrow, is Cinco de Mayo, and if you've been reading here for long, you'll know I love the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. We'll be celebrating on line with an article about the place but focusing on El Rio del Tiempo, the beloved attraction housed inside the pyramid. It's full of concept art and photos. Those Imagineers did a great job, didn't they?

Down the line, we've got the next installment coming in the Disneyland Attraction Poster series, and this time its Fantasyland. Think I've got every one of them for this land of delight. You'll have to let me know.
Of course, I'm still writing another episode of the Disney Dark Ride series. Peter Pan Flight was very well received, so we'll just keep going!

And after that, we'll have more on the transformation of California Adventure, something Carpenters, and all the odds and ends you love. See you tomorrow!

May 3, 2012

Today is The Day

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Especially in an election year, it is a perfect day to set aside our differences and join in unity, praying for our country, our community, our leaders, our world. Abraham Lincoln said it best, " It is the duty of nations as well as men, to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God."

Join me, will you? Take a moment and pray, focusing on these seven areas: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church, and Family.

In 2009, the brilliant teacher, Beth Moore, was the Honorary Chairman that year, and she offered her own prayer:

"Father in Heaven, We lift our eyes toward Your Throne, where You reign in righteousness. Your Word assures us that when Your people cry out in sincerity and humility, You will never turn a deaf ear towards us. We call upon You now, seeking Your forgiveness and favor. Look over this fevered landscape and heal us, Lord. Drop knees to the floor and raise eyes to the sky, for we know where our help comes from. United these States again in devotion to You, and blur every dividing line. Do not give us over to our sins. Give us, instead, over to passionate prayer that moves Your heart. 'May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You." In the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen."