July 31, 2012

The Great Tony Baxter Debate: Part Two

The Greatest "Second Generation Imagineer". The man who totally ruined Disneyland's Tomorrowland. The beloved creator of the much beloved Figment from Epcot's Journey Into Imagination. The Imagineering "Heir Apparent" to Walt Disney. A devout fan with a larger than life ego. Who really is Imagineer Tony Baxter? 

Awhile back, I published the first article on The Great Tony Baxter Debate. Given the recent viewing of Mr. Baxter accompanying The Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger around the nonpublic access areas of Disneyland, well, it seems it might be time to take a second look at just what the man may be up to these days.  

Word was Tony would be retiring soon, and until then, Disney suits were comfortable giving him small vanity projects that well suit Tony's deep love for the park Walt walked as well as keeping some of its old school charm. His caring touch on old favorites like Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk Thru, and of course, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, were a resounding success. Seems not only the guests realized these gems large and small have an impact on the overall feel of the place. The Disneyland Historical Preservation Society must have been thrilled.

Fast forward to the grand reopening of Disney California Adventure. Old (and wise!) thought  brought extravaganzas like Cars Land and it premier attraction Radiator Springs Racers partnered with the beautifully sublime Buena Vista Street to turn the once ugly duckling of a park into a young, growing swan of beauty. Almost instantly, the Company redeemed the reputation of the park. With refurbishing of the Disneyland Hotel and ongoing changes at Downtown Disney, seems like the Disneyland Resort is finally becoming true to its marketing slogan.

All well and good- but what would be the next act for Disneyland as it approaches it 60th anniversary? Enter Mr. Baxter. 

As a protegee of the great Imagineer Marc Davis, I will say with much confidence that there is no one like Tony Baxter in the last twenty years of Disney design and excellence. A running list of attractions that bear his involvement of leadership read like a "Who's Who" of Imagineering's best projects:
  • Splash Mountain
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Journey Into Imagination
  • Disneyland Paris... and more.

Above: Art for Tomorrowland '98

Sure, he's had a share of less than successful ones, Tomorrowland '98 and the Rocket Rods (One reader commenting below said this truly belongs to Imagineer Eddie Sotto- but the real responsibility lies at the Disney suits who didn't cough up the cash to adjust the track) come to mind, but Tony Baxter has also had his share of deep disappointments as the suits went the cheap route over one that stressed quality and guest experience. His gorgeous design for Anaheim's originally announced  second park, Westcot, lost out due to sheer misunderstanding of what the public desired and acknowledged as Disney quality. Replacement came in the form of the Bargain Basement Imagineered and disastrously received California Adventure 1.0.  (The above link sends readers to the first part of  the series telling the story of California Adventure 1.0 through concept art.) Tony was smart to distance himself from all of it, from design to hype to public ridicule and backlash.

Quoting my previous article here, "Understanding the politics, he shrewdly positioned himself as the guardian of Disneyland and a link to the creative genius' of the past. It is the place in which he belongs. Disneyland is better for it- and the fans should be grateful. If Tony was not keeping watch over Walt's park, it would soon end up looking like the Magic Kingdom in Florida! Just imagine Main Street U.S.A.'s unique shops being turned into one giant mall, the Cinema being removed, and the Opera House turned into a theater for Hannah Montana, and you get the idea of where the park would be headed."

If adventure has a name, it's Indiana Jones!

Beautiful work, wouldn't you say?

Yet, it is a delicate line the man must walk. There's rumor that Tony is not all that popular in the hallowed halls of Disney Imagineering and that his projects are just too expensive. On his side comes his history of excellence in creating beloved masterpieces and truly understanding what made Disneyland great. On the other end, it is said he has no fan in Tom Fitzgerald, who now heads up Imagineering.

My gut instinct tells me, quality will win the day this time. The turnaround in fortunes for California Adventure has not gone unnoticed nor has the huge success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, soon making its way to California to take another chunk out of Disney's pocket. Yes, it has worked in Florida. 

So, what will be on the drawing boards? Early contenders include a Lone Ranger themed attraction for Frontierland. Let's be honest here. Few attractions see the light of day this century unless there is a movie tie-in, so this could be a go. Just adding Johnny Depp a la Pirates of the Caribbean, and you've got a sure fire but expensive hit. Die hard Disney geeks might be wanting to see a repurposed and revised version of the old Marc Davis legend, Western River Expedition, but I do not think it will happen. Land is just too rare in Anaheim. And the attraction deserves to be built at Florida's Magic Kingdom where it was intended. In can still be done in a new form around the bend from the exit of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. All it takes is some engineering magic of old. 

Another movie tie-in brings us to option number two. An attraction built on the upcoming Disney film, Oz the Great and Powerful.  The open land does straddle Fantasyland and Frontierland, and the storyline could lend itself to some stunning adventures utilizing new technology. Can Disney pull off relaunching the Oz series? That has yet to be seen.  One thing is certain. Currently, James Franco does not have the star power of Johnny Depp... at least for now.

Disneyland Paris' Space Mountain- a quite incredible journey!

The last attraction to be speculated is also a movie tie-in. Tron Legacy. Perhaps a fan's dream, but the idea of riding a light cycle would bring a chunk of futuristic pizzaz to a tired and worn Tomorrowland. (Breaking News: See Al Lutz's new MiceAge article- seems to confirm this thought!) For now, the land is a cartoon filled shadow of its former glory. It's probably the least utilized area of the park- and its the one spot in which the Magic Kingdom in Florida wins the park comparison competition. 

Where's Tony's heart and strength? Probably in creating the fantasy worlds of the past, although the Jules Verne inspired Discoveryland in Paris was one of the successes of his team. My hunch tells me Tony Baxter has a heart for attractions with a strong story and a full host of Audio-Animatronic characters. Given this project could be his last big hurrah, I'm voting he creates a new classic with old school execution. 

Is Tony the right man to lay hold of some of the last acres of available land at Disneyland? Yes- with no qualifications. Besides, who would you suggest that could pull it off with such class?

(Concept art from various artists. Copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 30, 2012

Before Hong Kong Disneyland Got It's Bear Hug

Howdy! Yep, those Runaway Mine Cars in Grizzly Gulch at Hong Kong Disneyland look putty snazzy! So does that up and coming Mystic Manor which will be open to the public in 2013. Those Disney Imagineers did some great work there!

You might know that these we unknown and unplanned additions when the park first opened. In fact, one of the original pieces of art made the park look entirely different than what guests found when it first opened. From the latest Disney  Imagineering book, here is an early concept for the park.

It looks small, but just click on it and see it full size. What will you see? A very interesting variety of attractions and a very different layout for the park's Fantasyland. The castle is at the back, but it is the rest of the park that looks just as unique!  Way back is a lagoon for an evening show to the east side of Main Street. An early version of World of Color from California Adventure? Maybe Fantasmic? There's also a big chunk of land for the Indiana Jones Adventure. Would this older plan or the newer one we are seeing have been a better competitor to Shanghai Disneyland? 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 29, 2012

Returning Tomorrow

After a whole week of processing the events in my city, it was time to start posting articles again. So, come back tomorrow. I'll be sharing some concept art  one of several looks for Hong Kong Disneyland from the Disney Imagineers; what is now and what might have been. Tuesday, we'll dig into part two of the Great Tony Baxter debate and make some speculation on expansion at Disneyland park. After that, we'll...

July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises While We Fall in Aurora

Most readers of this blog know I am from Denver. The truth is, I actually live in Aurora, Colorado, the city that is now having to live through a masked gunman shooting patrons at a movie theater showing the next installment of the Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises. We've lived through Columbine, and now this.

What's the issue, and why do things like this keep happening? Is it a gun control thing? Is it a right to bear arms problem? Both and neither. At its core, it is an issue called sin. Yes, sin. Human nature is inherently bad, not good, and things like this are the result of it. The farther we move from the God who created us, the more we engage in our own harmful choices. You can argue all you want that 1- guns are evil, 2- people who use guns for bad are evil, and 3- man is basically good. The final question will eventually end up, "What is the character of man with and without God?" 

There is evil in the world because God has given man the gift of free will- and man chooses evil over good. You do. I do. We all do. Some just want to live in it, indulge it with a lust for more, while others choose to move toward Jesus and confess their sin and go forward with His grace to live in a manner that pleases God. 

Why does God allow evil? Complex question, but my main and fast answer would be as a result of our sin or the sin of others, all would come to know Him through the perfect sacrifice for sin, Jesus Christ. God alone is good- so good that He cared enough to give up His Son to save us from ourselves.

May God have mercy on our city and be gracious to the family and friends impacted by the shootings.

July 19, 2012

Disney's New Price Point Breaks Our Bank

Rumors abound on WDWMagic that Disneyland and Walt Disney World will both break the $100 per price point by late Fall 2013. I'm not sure what to think of that. Granted, I will probably still go, but just not as often. My wife? Well, let's just say she avoided seeing California Adventure for over ten years, and it didn't matter to her one small bit. Not even Cars Land and Buena Vista Street makes her want to return anytime soon. 

 We've always enjoyed going to the parks as a family. However, that is mainly because they know their dad is a Disney Geek. If The Walt Disney Company bumps the price to over $100, well, they just won't go now that they have families of their own. It's just not worth it anymore. Especially with the present state of the parks in Florida.

So, from a family of 7 or more now down to one. Hope the Walt Disney Company does the math. We already have.

A Fight to the Finish

As you might be able to tell from my last few posts, I'm not exactly in the "family friend" mood I usually am. I may write about Fantasyland from time to time, but I certainly do not live there! Life can be hard. 

I'm really tired of the soft peddling of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all he accomplished on the cross- and at the price he paid for the victory we get to enjoy. Somehow, we have succeeded in turning Christianity into a "what's in it for me" philosophy instead of the truth of faith in Jesus meaning we die to self. Our churches have become the poorer for it- a shallow gathering of the country club instead of the place to worship God and become more like his Son given for our sins. We almost encourage each other to stay in our sin at times, choosing to live like victims and make excuses for how broken we are. What a mistake and a misrepresentation of the truth and freedom we have in Him. It pisses me off. If the slang hurts, sorry.

I'm just as bad as the guy next door, but I'm trying to fight til the end. Temptation and disappointment will come my way. Sometimes, I will give in and sin, but my heart draws me back to God, asking for forgiveness as I strive to overcome. Other times, I will be victorious, and God himself will be pleased by my perseverance.  It is a fight to the finish, and I am believing He will give me what I need to win.

July 17, 2012

1000 Ways to Die

Love it, hate it, never seen it. Truth is, I stumbled across 1000 Ways to Die a couple of years ago, and I was fascinated by what I saw on the television screen. Spike TV presents a pretty compelling show here. Granted, it is sometimes littered with the usual sex, drugs, and rock and roll of television as a soft porn turn on, but when it stays "on task" - a relative term- the show can be hard to turn off. There's the assorted beheadings, bloodlettings, and unexpected animal encounters of both the human and nonhuman kind. Throw in stupid tricks by even stupider people, and the possibilities are endless.

There's clearly a thousand and more ways to die, but only one way to live, "Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness...for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
 (Romans 6:19, 23)

July 16, 2012

A Brand New Animal Kingdom

It's not every day that a theme park guest gets to experience an expansion of this magnitude. Yes, California Adventure has it's long awaited Buena Vista Street- and the icing on the cake, Cars Land's Radiator Springs Racers. Elsewhere on the West Coast, Universal Studios has its new Transformers attraction, while things are very quiet in Orlando- other than the first Dumbo inspired expansion of the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland.

With vacation dollars shrinking and summer quickly passing us by, those of us with limits on both time and money are taking day trips and "staycations". We're no exception. Fortunately, the Denver Zoo has provided a bit a escape for city dwellers wishing to experience the wildlife of Asia. The new Toyota Elephant Passage is just about  everything you'd expect from an expansion this size. There's enough detailed elements to temporarily fool a guest into thinking they had stumbled into a new section of Disney's Animal Kingdom, doing some things better than Disney itself.

In the last several years, it has been apparent that Zoo officials wanted to move beyond the expected "animal in a cage" arrangement. The Predators (Lions) section was elaborately redesigned as was the African Gorilla exhibit. A brand new entrance area with a noticeable increase in vegetation and walkway elevations gave the zoo a whole new opening act. The venerable elephant exhibit was next- and the results do not disappoint.

The new section is at the back end of the zoo, and the long walk over filled me with anticipation. Sure, there wasn't an Expedition Everest or even a Kali River Rapids waiting for me as a reward, but I was only paying fifteen dollars a piece for several hours, not the almost one hundred dollars a person a day for a more lush environment with a few great rides added in.

After passing through the entry gates, we were drawn into the village area. In contrast to the intentionally weathered look of Asia at Animal Kingdom, the Denver Zoo chose to present a more kept up version. It looked sparkling new- and I wasn't sure if I liked that or not. Had I been spoiled by a faux weathered Animal Kingdom? Regardless, the exhibits both large and small are filled with details. Themed signage is everywhere as are small artifacts placed throughout the village to give it an inhabited appearance. Bags of rice stacked up against a building, prayer flags hung high above, and in a touch of whimsy I found charming, the drinking fountain has a small metal frog on it- while its lunch (a small metallic fly) is placed just out of reach on the wall right above it. Pretty clever!

Being built on a tight schedule, there certainly was a lack of trees at the zoo compared to Disney's version of Asia, but you could tell where a couple years of growth would fill things in. Even winter hardy bamboo was planted to make a study fence here and there, sheltering guests from seeing the harder side of the clever animal enclosures. Lily pads fill a natural shaped pond, and there are plenty of flowers to be seen, making for lots of color where it is needed.The animals were plentiful, although on this particular day you had to see farther in the back as many were hiding from the 90 degree heat- but without any humidity!

In a nod to the hoards of littler guest that visit, there are a couple of small tents set up with telescopes they can use to watch the animals, radios that play clever bits describing what was around the area, and small bridges and rope swings that certainly encourage a bit of playtime. All were right in theme along with the more traditional zoo like signs talking about feeding habits, geography, and local conservation efforts.

Stopping for a cool drink as we backtracked through the park made for a nice break. In a little over two hours, the designers had given us enough to see and do in one new area. No rides, no animal shows, no expensive gift shops. I walked away thinking they had done a pretty good job- and sadly being reminded of what Disney's Animal Kingdom could and should have been. It's a stunning setting for an absolutely neglected theme park. Perhaps between now and the pending Avatarland, the Imagineers- no the budgeteers- will surprise us. But don't hold your breath. Support your local zoo instead for a fraction of the price.
(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

July 15, 2012

Where Art Thou, Brother Tim?

Our friend Tim over at the great blog, Vintage Disneyland Tickets, has been gone way too long- over a month now. I'm sure missing his posts! The mix of old and new, tickets and maps, and trip reports make this one terrific site. Check in, Tim, please check in.

July 12, 2012

In the Cool of the Evening at Cars Land

Here is a terrific reason why I cannot wait to personally experience the new Disney California Adventure!  This photograph just draws me into the action and leaves me enough room to imagine why it would be like to be in Cars Land in the cool of the evening. Unfortunately, I cannot remember or give credit to whoever took this photo, but thank you. Yet, it feeds this obsession as well...

July 9, 2012

Bieber Gets It

"I really don't believe in abortion," he said. "It's like killing a baby?"

We can hear Fox News salivating from here. When pressed on the topic, and asked if he felt any differently if the unwanted pregnancy was the result, say, of rape, Bieber pretty much stood his ground.

"Um. Well, I think that's really sad, but everything happens for a reason," the admittedly inexperienced 16-year-old said. "I guess I haven't been in that position, so I wouldn't be able to judge that."

Justin Beiber quoted from E-on-line

July 7, 2012

Philosophy Lesson

Submission to the authority of the Bible and the Spirit of God moving in our lives. Obedience is highly underrated. But following Jesus at all costs is what will keep us on track as a people, as a church, as a nation. Everything else falls apart and becomes a philosophy of man- which amounts to empty positive thinking and will not save us from our sin. In Christ Jesus, it is all or nothing. Thanks for letting me rant. :)

July 6, 2012

Danger Around Every Curve at Cars Land

Time for an Imagineering prediction. With the overwhelming success of California Adventure's incredible Cars Land and the centerpiece Radiator Springs Racers, you can bet the suits and Imagineers are planning for an expansion to handle the crowds and create even more revenue. 

Taking its inspiration from Disney's Hollywood Studios terrific Sci Fi Dine In, a new automotive themed drive in theater will eventually make its way to this corner of the park. It was designed and then cut from the original plans for Cars Land. In a move eerily similar to what got DCA 1.0 into its original mess, the suits cut it, saving a few bucks. Now, to be fair, they were already spending a billion plus dollars to improve the place!  But just imagine the lines to get in and the money earned had it been built.

It will be coming. You can bet on it. There are rumored additional attractions coming to Cars Land once the newness wears off, and there will be additional shops and eateries like this one to sop up any remaining cash guests may have to burn. That's the ultimate goal of the suits- and you do not need to predict they are working on a way to make it happen!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 5, 2012


Always loved this pic of Olivia Newton-John. It reminds me of the fresh-faced young woman with the sweet singing voice and when she spoke, the charming Australian accent. Back then, there was no need for trendiness or a revision of persona. Her voice and the songs she sang carried it all quite successfully, thank you very much.  And then there was Grease with John Travolta, and nothing would ever be the same.

July 4, 2012

Honoring Our Patriots

In honor of our great country on this 4th of July, here's a beautiful piece of concept art for Liberty Square at Walt Disney World.  

When plans for the Magic Kingdom finally came to the surface, the Imagineers included this tribute to the patriots of the past, those hard working, God-fearing men and women who sought freedom for all. I was thrilled for Liberty Square to come about, and it remains one of the lands I most enjoy at the Florida park. 

With all the gorgeous details everywhere you look, it is a place of quiet dignity and peace. The Haunted Mansion may provide a different kind of thrill, but the stunningly sober Hall of Presidents reminds guests of the great sacrifices made by those who have gone before us. I only wish this sacrificial attitude would continue on in the hearts of our politicians and not just in the hearts of those serving our country in the military!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 3, 2012

It's Your Move

One of the most delightful things aspects of traveling to the different Disney resorts is going to each of the Magic Kingdom styled theme parks.  Be it Walt's original kingdom, Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom in Florida, or Disneyland Paris, I have loved exploring attractions that carry a common name but have a different style and execution. 

Pirates of the Caribbean is my favorite Disney attraction, so its no surprise that I have loved riding as many versions as I can! Of course, Disneyland Paris' is the best of all, but Walt Disney World's version has some pretty cool parts as well... including this little gem in the queue.

Imagineer Marc Davis designed this small scenario with a gag built in- the pirates are in a stalemate as they play chess. I couldn't find this piece when I celebrated Pirates' 45th anniversary on this post, but just now ran across it. So, here it is- it's your move.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

July 2, 2012

From Carousel of Progress to America Sings and Beyond

With Fourth of July just around the corner, it seemed so appropriate to honor a beloved attraction from Disneyland's past. Although misplaced in Tomorrowland, the musical journey brought guests to the park a lighthearted look at our country's musical heritage.

Some long time fans may have been dismayed when the classic Audio-Animatronics filled attraction Carousel of Progress was replaced. I know I was one of them! Yet, Marc Davis, Imagineer extraordinaire probably won them over with a show filled with memorable characters in this charming musical revue. The new show became one of my must sees on every visit.

Much to my disappointment, the show itself did not last, and the characters inside were recycled for Tony Baxter's new classic Splash Mountain. Thrilled to see the frogs I loved find a new home!

As for the old carousel building, well, Walt Disney Imagineering wanted to use it for another musical show, Plectu's Intergalactic Revue. This even newer show for the planned new Tomorrowland would have showcased aliens from other planets entertaining patrons from Earth. Wisely, cooler heads prevailed, and the plans were put aside. Unfortunately, this meant the west coast version of Alien Encounter never made it off the drawing boards either!

(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company.)