December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013!

There are few years in my life that have been more difficult than the one we are leaving behind. In fact, the last five years have been pretty difficult. In the midst of the pain, immediate family in the hospital, and questions about our future, one thing has been certain: God has been up close and personal.

No one escapes life without sorrow, loss, betrayal and the like. And yet, He cares for us. Jesus Christ knows us, loves us, and stands with us. Adam and Eve's disobedience in the garden set about the disintegration of the world and the blessed life God intended. Yet, even in their sin, God provided a sacrifice to cover it all for those who would believe and turn their lives over to Him.

The perpetual sin of man keeps evil going. I am thankful God Himself forgives my sin and the sin of others- including that of those who have sinned against me. 

The story is not all doom and gloom! 2013 has held some wonderful joys as well- births, new friendships, and the reintroduction of old ones. I saw God's hand at work all through the year. I hope you did, too.

If 2013 was a bad year for you and your family, praise God it's over. If it was a good year, give Him thanks. Regardless, the Creator of the Universe loves you as his own, calling you into a deeper relationship... There's no where I would rather be.

December 30, 2013

Red Pill, Blue Pill: Disney Parks Edition

I had good intentions- really I did! Planning to write a post "Ten Reasons I Love Disney Parks", my mind started to fill with what I find absolutely great about them. But as with most interesting stories, this writer's thoughts turned dark and foreboding. Sort of like walking into the gardens of that beautiful mansion in Disneyland's New Orleans Square, and discovering once you're inside the house, its a bit creepy, and it's too late to turn back.

Rabid park fans like me tend to fall into two camps: Those who can't see much good in what's happening now but love "the Good Old Days" when Walt himself was alive (founders of the Disneyland Historical Preservation Society), and those fans who seem to relish everything Disney Imagineering does today but have  little regard for the history and richness of the past. Sure, there is a fairly rare middle ground, but truth be told, both sides make compelling cases.

In the spirit of the modern movie classic The Matrix, let's consider our options as we look around the Disney World: Are we more red pill folks- where there's a harsh darkly realistic  underbelly to the current situation? Or do we take the blue pill as we look at Disney parks- where everything is hunky dory? 

Red Pill considerations:
  1. Yes, California Adventure is mostly looking pretty terrific these days. Yet beyond that incredible transformation, there are still areas of the park in dire need. Let's not forget Paradise Pier still has too many carny rides and large empty spaces; Hollywoodland is still a backlot; and the transitions between regions in the park are abrupt, ugly, and out of place. For the gorgeous transition into Cars Land from the Wharf, there's still the unfortunate mess into Cars Land from Bug's Land
  2. Disneyland looks tired. Tomorrowland is a mess- and there's no amount of Star Wars theming that will it cohesive, make it sparkle and shine with a common vision. It will remain a mixed bag until the slate is wiped clean. This includes removing the track remnants of my beloved PeopleMover, demolishing buildings and creating something fully fresh.  How can you successfully tie together Buzz Lightyear, Nemo, and Darth Vader? That is just the right side of the park. Problems also are apparent on other parcels as well. Big Thunder Ranch? A waste of the property in a small theme park. Alice in Wonderland? How about Alice in scaffolding land? Unused Motor Boat Cruise space. Goodbye to Carnation Plaza Gardens and the Market House. Traffic jams in space-locked Adventureland. An out of place Aladdin meet and greet where the Tahitian Terrace once stood. That's just the West Coast.
  3. As we move East, things look worse. Much worse, red pill-ers. Empty promises were delivered to the Magic Kingdom when  New Fantasyland arrived half complete. Granted, I have not seen it myself, but I have seen  Ariel's Adventures on the West Coast. A nice D ticket but certainly not an adequate response to the Boy Wizard next door. Disguising queues, restaurants, meet and greets, and restrooms as attractions. Really!? And why did it take some stiff competition from Universal to up the ante anyway? Regardless, the land is filled with eye candy but little real substance. Adventureland is a thematic mess. The older, poorly maintained attractions (like Carousel of Progress) and the newer Stitch/Monsters mess makes this Tomorrowland a  beautiful looking disaster. Mixed bag at this Magic Kingdom at best.
  4. Epcot- What can I say? The longest list of neglected attractions in one half of this enormous place (Energy and the soon to be closed Imagination) and newer botched "enhancements" hit too close to home. Character invasions replace culturally engaging attractions. (Looking at you, Gran Fiesta Tour!) Future World isn't, and World Showcase is so overdue for new countries and attractions, it's now just a pathetic excuse to make money off the hoards of hard partying masses that descend upon the Wine Festival. The most recent- and the most effective- additions are restaurants. What does that say? Enough already.
  5. Disney's Hollywood Studios continues to underwhelm. The attraction roster is either incredible (the original and best version of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror) or dismal (a once glorious but now outdated and falling apart Great Movie Ride). There's not much in between the whole family can enjoy save for some mediocre and tired shows and an incredibly crowded Toy Story Mania.
  6. Disney's Animal Kingdom- Honestly, it's painful to even go here. It was once a crowning jewel in Florida with potential that outpaced all the other parks. Now, its the world of overpriced restaurants (Yak & Yeti), few attractions, and broken effects on those that do exist. Even the exquisite Tree of Life is falling apart, limb by limb. Disney may say its "Natazu" but when the non animal exhibits are left to rot, that's all that's left. 
  7. My Magic Plus. Data mining at an evil park goers should avoid. Who wants to pre-plan an entire vacation at an estimated 2 Billion Dollar price tag- and at the expense of new attractions?

Blue Pill considerations:

  1. Cars Land aside, Disney proves it can still be the best of the industry. Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Manor is a case in point. Original, innovative, and whimsically engaging, this Asian exclusive may be among the best attractions Imagineering has ever created.
  2. Disney Dreams Paris and World of Color- The same descriptions used above could also apply to the nighttime shows. I've seen these first hand, and the crowd response was phenomenal. Fully justified. 
  3. Tokyo DisneySea is still the cream of the crop. Sure, the character invasion has started to temper the World Showcase meets Magic Kingdom themed park, but there's a reason that ten years later and counting, Disney park fans all over the world consider this the crowning jewel of Imagineering's work.
  4. Disney Cruise Line. Excellence from bow to stern.
  5. Promising a bright future, The Walt Disney Company insists that planned additions themed to Star Wars and Avatar will propel the company ahead of its competition for years to come. Will reality match the sales pitch? Hard to say, but perhaps the suits have learned from the less than stellar response to the New Fantasyland
You've seen the evidence and probably have data to add of your own. Which pill do you swallow and why?

December 27, 2013

Christmas Buddies

What started as a fun idea turned into a great family photo! My wife and I decided it was time for Grandpa and his three youngest grandsons to share some pajama time. In our family, pajamas for Christmas is a tradition, and the gifts are opened Christmas Eve. Then we all eat treats and play games. The Disney Store provided the perfect pairs: silhouette Mickeys in a deep red background. The photograph a little cherry here, but it worked out perfectly!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 26, 2013

An EPCOT Center Souvenir

Way in the recesses of our cupboards, we stumbled upon this little gem from EPCOT Center: a souvenir mug. Perfectly preserved, the silver finish looks elegant and striking even to this day almost 31 years later. I wish the same could be said for the park itself. Sadly, its lost its way, and Walt Disney World is all the worse for it.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 23, 2013

New Treasure

Here's a relatively new site, at least to me. Disneyland Paris Treasures pulls gifts from year's past and brings them to the web. Want to see an old parc video or catch a glimpse of Walt Disney Studios Paris at opening? This is the place to go. Love a copy of the original EuroDisneyland map? Find it here. Enjoy!

December 21, 2013

Toon Invasion at Tokyo Disneyland's Tomorrowland

The Oriental Land Company has just announced that Stitch Encounter will replace Michael Jackson's Captain Eo in 2015. This move continues a trend of toons invading the streets of Tomorrowland. In the not so distant past, Monsters Hide and Go Seek arrived and before that Buzz Lightyear. It seems that even the stunningly maintained Tokyo Disney Resort is not immune to a lack of imagination.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 20, 2013

Treat Yourself at Disney and More

Anyone who has read my blog for some time knows that I very much appreciate the hard work of Disney and More's blogmaster and friend Alain Littaye. His cup runneth over with terrific articles. But my favorite of all his series is The Disneyland Paris That Never Was. And here it is in expanded fashion. Please do yourself a favor and go over there- while you're at it, buy his book. As one of my first purchases during my first visit to Paris, it is a treasured tome. Filled with concept art and Imagineering insights. Treat yourself this Christmas!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 19, 2013

London Christmas

Perhaps our next Christmastime travel destination: London. Having visited the City of Lights (Paris) during the season, my wife and I cannot wait to try another location in which to celebrate the birth of The Savior. 

(Photographer unknown.)

December 16, 2013

Christmas Cheer From Disneyland Paris

Christmas travels to a Disney park? It's an absolute must for many Disney park fans... and it was for us when we lived in Southern California. There's just something fantastic about Disneyland at Christmastime. It's now been years since we have lived there, so a trip out doesn't happen as often.

Christmas cheer isn't limited to the US parks. In fact, this photo I took at Disneyland Paris shows the international parks do just as good a job as celebrating the holidays. Main Street U.S.A. shimmers in winter glory and lovely trees abound in shades of sparkling blue. No, it isn't the castle, but the touches of elegance found all through the park remind guests that celebrating Christmas happens all over the world, be it Paris, Orlando, Tokyo, Hong Kong or Anaheim.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 15, 2013

Snow Meets Sun Meets Water

In what world does one of my least favorite things (snow) become one of my most favorite things? Walt Disney World, of course! Blizzard Beach mixes metaphors, and the end result is a whole lot of fun. There's not much art to show for this water park, but here's a small piece. A perfect blending for a wintery day.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 14, 2013

Time for a Bath

Adorable or what?
(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 13, 2013

20,000 Leagues Poster

As we all know, the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom covers land previously occupied by the epic adventure, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This Jules Verne novel was interpreted in attraction form more directly in Florida then when it was revealed at Disneyland. The subs were more artistically true to the novel on the East Coast. The attraction artwork by Imagineering and the proposed poster (above) revealed it all in beautiful color. Stunning, but it paled in comparison to the actual "E" Ticket adventure.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 12, 2013

Samland's Rare Space Mountain Art

Sam Gennawey shares some pretty amazing stories over at his blog and at MiceAge. And of course, he presents some incredible pieces of concept art too. Here's one for Walt Disney World and its Space Mountain. Could this image of Tomorrowland's iconic thrill ride be any more enticing?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 11, 2013

Paris Placeholder

Exactly what the title says. Family matters (hospital stays, etc) keep me from posting. Paris in its winter glory. Patience and prayers please.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

December 5, 2013

New Shanghai Disneyland Concept Art

Look at this beautiful new piece of concept art for the castle at Shanghai Disneyland! The combination of water elements and gardens will make for quite the show. Let's just hope the planned attractions contained within are just as special.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Celebrating Walt Disney

A Happy Birthday shout out to the man who made the world a happier place! Mr. Walt Disney himself. There is so much to admire about the man: creativity, ingenuity, and placing a high value on others. And now, my favorite quote from the man himself-
"Think beyond your lifetime if you want to accomplish something truly worthwhile." 

December 4, 2013

Christmas, Colorado, and Santa!

If you happen to be in the Denver area, and need some free photos with Santa...

December 3, 2013

Boys Will Be Boys

And then, they will be men. Fine men. Does a father's heart good!
(Photograph copyright Marisa Bryant Photography.)

December 1, 2013

Carousel of Progress Christmas Concept

You have to wonder about the Disney Parks Blog at times. It feels like an online outlet mall, sometimes something from the Food Network, and all too rarely do they give us something meaty about the actual attractions at their world famous parks. 

Today, however, they surprised me with a piece of concept art from Imagineer Dorothea Redmond- and one for Walt Disney World's classic Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom. It's almost as if someone in charge of the design of the blog is actually of fan of their product instead of just being put in charge of promoting it. Imagine that!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)