January 31, 2014

All the World's a Stage

Everyone is watching. Right now in the theme park world, everyone is looking to see how the infusion of Harry Potter into Universal Studios Florida will impact the industry. First, Harry's Forbidden Journey created waves of cash and guests when it debuted at Islands of Adventure. The sales of Butterbeer and specialized wands created another flurry of income. 

The next wave of impact comes to Universal Studios Summer of 2014 when the Escape from Gringott's attraction is opened and the two parks are linked in one savvy, game-changing move. It's a win for theme park guests, even if it comes at increased prices for park tickets. 

Visitors are watching, and so is Disney. They are watching their primary competition move in to what was once their domain. They're watching New Fantasyland not be the impact maker they hoped. On the positive side, the suits are watching as plans for Pandora / Avatarland at Animal Kingdom are finally being turned into reality. But they are also watching Epcot rot one piece at a time as are the fans who so dearly love the place.

Will Walt Disney World ever return to the place of delight and wonder it once was? Who knows? But we're watching.

(Photograph by Mark Taft.)

January 30, 2014

Discovering an X-Rated Disney World

Yesterday, much to my dismay, I discovered one of my favorite Disney sites had been hacked. In the place of the family friendly welcome page was a very large piece of not-your-garden-variety Playboy centerfold porn. Very, very sad. What kind of sick person would do this, exposing others- including children- to these kinds of images? In my opinion, it is the parent's responsibility to teach their children about sexuality, and no one else's. Be that letting their kids learn about sexuality from proper authorities at school, at their place of worship, or at home. But on the web? Really? Pure evil.

Further, it is not the job of television or films, Disney or otherwise, to do it either. Yet, again, the news broadcasts have generally become places where news is interpreted as its being reported- another sign of responsibility being bent.

January 29, 2014

Musical Meringues: Crystal Gayle, Donny & Marie, Diana Ross

Fluffy, light, delicious, and impossible to partake just one. Everyone once in awhile, you just have to indulge! On my i-pod this week, a few bites of musical sugar went down so smoothly while I ran on the treadmill. Just to review a few:

Crystal Gayle, "Cry"- The country songstress sister of Loretta Lynn first hit the pop charts big with "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue". It only gave the slightest hint to what she could do, but it did win her many pop fans who would not have found her on country radio. I didn't buy every release, but when I did, I was rarely disappointed. Her stinging ballad "Cry" had it all- diva vocals pulled off effortlessly, a piercing arrangement, and very personalized lyrics by Keith Stegall and Dan Hill. So much fun!

Donny & Marie, "Deep Purple"- In the 70's, it was a pretty common pattern for the duo of Donny and Marie Osmond to record remakes of 60's pop songs. Taking on a popular recording of Nino Tempo and April Stevens, their rendition is faithful to the original and totally irresistible. Pop perfection.

Diana Ross, "The Boss" - Although this 1979 release was followed up by the better selling Nile Rogers' production, I've always found this title single much more fun than "Upside Down" and the singles from the latter disc. Diana is a modern legend, part of one of the most powerful girl groups ever.  When she moved on, she then assured her place in music history by an almost equally successful solo career. 

With pop fun such as this, my hour on the treadmill went by quickly. I had so much fun sharing about these ones, I'll just have to share some more musical meringues in future posts.

January 28, 2014

Newbies to Orlando Choose Universal

A family of four that are friends of mine (father, mother, daughter 20, son 17), departed for a first time trip to Orlando a few weeks ago. They have five days total for the parks. Their choices? We'll see. I'm guessing the Boy Wizard mixes things up.

So, it's now been a week after their return, and what did they have to say? After one day at the beach, here's a review of their time by the 17 year old:

Next day we went to Universal which was a lot of fun. We only went to the main park and all really enjoyed the transformers ride and the roller coaster in the park. Some of the stuff felt a little dated however like the Twister ride. The next day it was too cold to do anything outdoors so we went to a mall and shopped all day. Then, the last day was Disney and we started out at Epcot. From a vacation standpoint, it felt a little less enjoyable than a normal amusement park but, from an educational standpoint I think it would be an awesome place to take your kids to learn about culture. The only thing we all really enjoyed there was the Soarin' ride. Then we only had enough time to head over to magic kingdom and the only major ride we rode there was space mountain. The experience of being in the area made you feel like a little kid but, it was a bummer that the lines were so long. I think I would of enjoyed the park more if we had an extra day to explore and it was a little less crowded but, overall it was a great trip!

Interesting, isn't it? If you read between the lines, when choosing a park, Transformers at Universal Studios outranked Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey at  Islands of Adventure. Parts of the Studios park seem "dated". Over at Disney, Epcot and Magic Kingdom were half day parks. Soarin' and Space Mountain, respectively, were the only attractions popular with the family. Epcot was "less enjoyable than a normal amusement park". There was no mention of much else at Disney. What I found most interesting of all was the fact this family had scheduled 5 days for visits to the parks and only ended up going two total.

Met Mom for coffee, and her take was somewhat different: She wished they had more time to explore the Magic Kingdom and Epcot... she loved Soarin' but she was disappointed in Epcot in contrast to her visit there 25 years ago. 

All said, perhaps the battle for the dollar still rages. At least from one family's perspective.

January 27, 2014

Carpenters Naked Truth

Even as they were on their way to becoming the largest selling act on A&M Records, it was generally understood that the label didn't have a clear idea of how to successfully market Richard and Karen Carpenter. Much to label head and musician Herb Alpert's delight, the music did it for them. The runaway success of their  recent 1970 album, which included hits Burt Bacharach's epic (They Long to Be) Close to You and Paul Williams' beautiful We've Only Just Begun, guaranteed another collection would soon follow. 

The duo's next release Carpenters, also known as the Tan album, was an instant smash. How could it now be when it included radio successes Superstar, Rainy Days and Mondays, For All We Know and fan favorite Let Me Be the One? Karen sounded incredible on every cut, and Richard's work shone brightly.

Even if some inside A&M were embarrassed by having the uncool Carpenters as part of their family, they had to work with Karen and Richard, acknowledging their success since the cash they made the label continued to roll in. 

The image above comes from a trade ad that poked a bit of fun at the duo's image. Whether it was meant in good humor or whether it was a jab at their image, it was a pretty unique piece of marketing magic. "A&M execs stand by their artists", I believe was another tag line. In the image, it is one time Carpenters producer Jack Daugherty who is fully clothed standing behind their Tan album.

The debate about the musical genius from a production standpoint was eventually settled. It was Richard, not Jack, doing the arrangements and working with the musicians. Starting with the classic album Now & Then, Richard would get the production credit he long deserved. The naked truth eventually came out that Jack just booked the studio and session players. So, even though he looks fully dressed, the Emperor really had no clothes.

(Image copyright A&M Records.)

January 25, 2014

Notable and Quotable: Pope John Paul II

"A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope."

Pope John Paul II

January 24, 2014

Walt Disney World Coming Attractions, 1969 Edition

In 1969, the publicity machine for the opening of Walt Disney World and its Magic Kingdom was running full steam. With the park scheduled to open only two later, Disney publicists were busy releasing pieces of art as often as they could to a public wanting as much information as possible.

The suits and the Imagineers had an interesting task: They had to build on the success of Disneyland in order to ensure an audience, but they also had to distinguish the new resort from its older sibling park. The Walt Disney World preview piece included art for Western River Expedition (Imagineer Marc Davis' legendary but unrealized cowboy and Indian take on his classic Pirates of the Caribbean), Cinderella Castle, Swiss Family Treehouse, and of course, Space Mountain

As we know, the company publicity machine did its trick, and within months of opening, guests were coming in droves to see this incredible magical kingdom in the middle of the Florida swamps.

Want to read more about the history of Space Mountain in detail, see some great concept art from this iconic attraction and in Disney parks all over the world? If so, head on over to this blog's refresher course. You'll find it here.  It's filled with almost twenty pieces of concept art and many photos.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 23, 2014

Universal Launches Next Strike With Diagon Alley

Disney may think the competition is light and friendly, but with Universal Orlando's Diagon Alley, it's clear Universal means to go for the jugular! With an exclusive presentation today, Universal Creative released an entire batch of fresh concept art for the new area at Universal Studios. I'm guessing that the new Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is just the next step in the battle between the two Orlando giants. From the looks of things, Universal will be getting two full days of my next Florida vacation. One for this park and one for the constantly improving  Islands of Adventure. It's time for the Disney suits to get serious. Blue aliens of Avatar and a beautiful but weak New Fantasyland are not enough to bring me back- and make me stay on the Disney soil as it was in days gone by. 

(Art copyright Universal Creative.)

Facebook's Fake Community

As with many people, I am a face book user. Albeit with some self-imposed restrictions i.e. only my in the flesh friends are my face book friends. My personal life has some restrictions which make this choice necessary. Posting every day is not something I do, but I watch and read regularly.

In conversations around town, I am discovering an interesting train of thought. In too many cases, I am discovering that on line friendships are now the primary source for companionship versus real face to face, "Can you meet for coffee or come by for dinner?" relationships. Pretty sad, isn't it?

Granted, on line friendships have advantages, but nothing can replace the traditional real life friendships. We were designed to be relational. We were created to be touched, to be spoken to, to eat together, to celebrate together, to worship together, to laugh together, to cry together, to help each other. Much of this cannot be accomplished with Facebook.

Yet, it is becoming a poor substitute for the real thing, even when the real thing is openly available to us. (And don't me started discussing televised worship services, where viewers are encouraged to sit at home and be passive. Sure, for those homebound, it can be a blessing, but for the rest of us, ugh.)

The problem I see with substituting on line friendships for real ones is we get used to it- and then we begin to forget the benefits on flesh and blood relationships. Just think about how our society has changed since texting replaces so much actual conversation. In my opinion and from what I've seen especially among teens, folks are forgetting how to interact appropriately as texting and Facebook both can give genuinely great people a false bravado they do not have in person. 

Do I want to go back to the "good old days"? No, but I want to encourage us to use technology wisely to the benefit not detriment of the human race.

January 22, 2014

Denver Biscuit Company Excels

With the holiday, my wife and I decided to stop in at the Denver Biscuit Company.  We'd heard about it on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the popular television show on the Food Network and hosted by chef Guy Fieri

In a word: delicious. Worth every cent and the drive. My BBQ pork and cole slaw biscuit dish was almost worth licking the plate. Yet, it was my wife's Chicken Pot Pie that was the winner today. The gravy was an incredible mix of garlic and rosemary. The flavors melted together wonderfully.

I know this will be a regular destination for years to come.

January 21, 2014

Friends Unknown

Quite out the realm of my normal reading, I found Marilyn Hickey's exhortation to befriend those who follow Islam very intriguing. I'm not into the "prosperity gospel", an ideology she's been accused of, so I was skeptical when handed this book. Interestingly, she talked about hardship and loss in a very real way. She also never dodged the truth about the differences between Islam and Christianity. Namely, worshiping two different gods and with two different, and in some ways opposing, views of Jesus. (Islam would say Jesus is a prophet but not God in the flesh.) Her main point is very strong: Regardless of our differences, we can learn to love and serve others and be friends. Not a bad idea.

January 20, 2014

The Challenge from Martin Luther King Jr.

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
                                                                        Martin Luther King Jr.

January 19, 2014


Don't watch much football at all, little really- but I have to hand it to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. GO! 

January 17, 2014

Favorite Disney Film Musical Moments

With the Oscar awards snubbing "Saving Mr. Banks", probably due to that nasty diatribe by Meryl Streep, but with all the love and a nomination given to Frozen, I thought it would be appropriate to take a quick look at some favorite musical moments in Disney animated films. The winners are (and in no particular order): 
  • "Jolly Holiday" Mary Poppins:

Not only is this the standout number in a groundbreaking film, this is the first scene where I understood what Bert saw in Mary. Who didn't want to jump into a chalk drawing and right into a fantasy world as beautiful?

  • "A Girl Worth Fighting For" Mulan:

As a husband, I love the take on Mulan's version of what makes a woman worthy of attention. I have to laugh- and do- at what the other soldiers' found desirable. I agree almost 100%, too, on all opinions expressed! In a great piece of filmmaking, the way this scene leads into the next is just powerful. Mulan is a highly underrated film. The story is terrific, the scenery incredible, and the characters very likable.

  • "Kiss the Girl" The Little Mermaid:

Sure, it would be a favorite pick from the film if I'd choose Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's enticing Under the Sea. Yet, I find this number has much more charm and leaves a lasting impression. Perhaps as Ursula says, a girl who holds her tongue gets her man. And, as a Dad, you just have to love a movie where the Father sacrifice's it all to save his daughter.
  • "Be Our Guest" Beauty and the Beast:

The follow up to the incredible success of Mermaid is my favorite animated film. I so relate to the Beast, as does main animator Glen Keane. (See his views on Beast here.) Although Beast is nowhere to be found in this clip, Be Our Guest always makes me think of our visits to Paris. My love for this city grows each visit, and I have plenty of photos on the blog to prove it.

  • "You Can Fly" Peter Pan:

Let me be honest, this song is now so strongly identified with Disneyland, that much like When You Wish Upon A Star, it's difficult for me to think of them in the context of the great classic films from which they come. Peter Pan remains a favorite, with its colors and whimsy.

  • "I See the Light" Tangled:

To all of you who adore Frozen, and I am one of you, I submit Tangled as a much better film with a stronger set of songs. Love the story arcs and twists found in the newer film, but the coming of age of Flynn Rider makes this as much a guy film as a princess one. The centerpiece, the "falling in love" song is "I See The Light". In this man's not always so humble opinion, it is the best piece of animation every created by the Company. Note to the Imagineers and the budgeteers: should you ever get the guts and the money to build a dark ride attraction on this film, I will show up immediately to see this scene presented. That alone would make your New Fantasyland worth the visit. You've built the village restrooms, now its time to really get creative and build an attraction!

January 16, 2014

Loss of Two Television Favorites

Russell Johnson of Gilligan's Island fame and Dave Madden of Partridge Family have both passed away. From all accounts, these were nice guys. And they were well loved by television audiences from generations past. Goodbye, Professor! And goodbye Rueben Kincaid! Those of us who love TV land will always enjoy your work.

Lovely Santa Barbara

Isn't she a beauty! In all of California, you'd be hard pressed to find a town as beautiful as Santa Barbara. The beaches are not as stunning as say Laguna Beach, but the town itself is chock full of interesting places to explore. The "American Riviera" indeed!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 15, 2014

Serving in India

Serving others is a pretty common trait in our family, and it's done in a variety of ways. Here's a photo of my nephew in a remote part of India. He's there helping build a water treatment plant so the people will have clean water. I couldn't be prouder of him. But then, he's always been led to travel to other places, doing what is best to help others. A true humanitarian and a great guy.

January 14, 2014

Leaving Disney World Behind

Due to a stagnating Walt Disney World, my travel dollars this year are going to Europe. We haven't been to the World in 5 years, and there is nothing there that is drawing us back. And, as much as I love it, Disneyland Paris is not on the drawing boards as part of our visit. Not even the new Ratatouille attraction will pull me in. Perhaps when something is added to the original Paris kingdom, I will gladly return.

Our "home base" destination for Europe has already been established, and thanks to tons of miles from business trips, the flights are booked. I am not entirely sure exactly where we will end up, but I know it will be magical. 

How can a guest not explore any portion of the continent without feeling it? The wonderful main cities, the small quaint villages. New people, new experiences.

I'd suggest others follow my advice, and go elsewhere this year- even explore your own city. Until Disney gets we fans are serious about demanding more, they will continue to give us less.

January 13, 2014

Steampunk Parade at Magic Kingdom

Disney hasn't impressed me much since Cars Land and Radiator Spring Racers, and I certainly have been underwhelmed by the recent goings on at Walt Disney World. That said, this steampunk version of villain Maleficent for the new Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade is great looking. Not enough to make me book a visit however... parades, stage presentations, and fireworks shows alone will not do it.

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

5 Deadly Terms and a Husband's Response

A female friend of our family sent me the non famous graphic seen above. Entitled "5 Deadly Terms Used by a Woman", it attempts to explain what a woman really means when she says something else. Of course, all in good fun.  I told her I would think about it and send her the male equivalent. Here it is:

One word: "OK", translated as...

A- "I don't really care."
B- "I'm not listening"
C- "When is dinner ready?'
D- "Just don't spend too much."
E- "Leave me alone so I can do what I am doing."
F- "Unless its an emergency, don't interrupt."

We are just as communicative as women, we just use fewer words! ;)

(Response copyright Mark Taft.)

January 10, 2014

Epcot Past: Wonders of Life

It was during a quick peruse of my more than 1,000 posts on this blog that I realized I write quite often about the Epcot that was. It was then I decided to make it official: I would begin a series of posts that would periodically look at Epcot Past, when the park was truly at its peak of creativity and wonder.

Ah, speaking of wonder, let's begin with the Wonders of Life in Future World.  

In 1989 and continuing on (untouched no less) for almost 20 years, the Wonders of Life joined the park in an effort to educate guests about the wonders of the human body. The beautiful golden dome and the genetic spiral metalwork beckoned to guests, drawing them into a pavilion just slightly out of synch positionally from the others around it. yet, it was worth the journey. While Imagineering's concept art (above) is pretty nice, for once the rendering paled in comparison to the reality.

Stepping away from the crush of the crowds and into the airy, white ceiling but color filled building was delightful. It felt like a World's Fair destination with its festive and playful approach. The attractions themselves were each presented in a humorous way, even if tongue in cheek at times. 

The centerpiece draw was to be Body Wars, a trip through the human body using the latest flight simulator technology of the day also found in Star Tours at both Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios (then Disney-MGM Studios). It was also the most vomit inducing attraction since the Mad Tea Party, long before the crown was claimed by the overrated Mission:Space. Personally, one ride was enough for me. I'd have preferred the same theme presented a la Disneyland's classic Adventure Thru Inner Space. The other part of the attraction I was not fond of had nothing to do with the ride itself as much as the Studios inspired trend of adding contemporary actors to the story, in this case, Elizabeth Shue. As I mentioned in an earlier post this year, using Hollywood celebrities instantly time stamps an attraction.


Since Body Wars wasn't my favorite, why did I enjoy the pavilion so much? Cranium Command, a journey into the head of an adolescent boy was great fun, but The Making of Me, a short film on procreation was an absolute side-splitting riot. With actor Martin Short playing the lead in a tightly crafted little film, the writing was so sharp, so witty, so dead on, I found myself laughing with little control. Something pretty rare in a Disney theme park. (That is aside from the Comedy Warehouse and its spoof of Disney park culture.) 

Other attractions included a series of hands on activities (Fitness Fairgrounds), lessons on staying healthy with a bit of character influence (Goofy About Health), and other odds end ends which made the Wonders of Life pavilion an easy two hour diversion. 

That was then, and this is now. Wonders eventually transitioned to a cheaper to run corporate event facility as a destination location for the park's seasonal festivals. It's a shame, really, as the mix of attractions and the differing presentation style was a complement to Universe of Energy and Horizons, its nearby neighbors.

To see a greatly detailed look at the transformation, go to Werner Weiss' excellent Yesterland article here.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photographer unknown. The last photo might be mine!)

January 9, 2014

Camp Minnie-Mickey Fades Away at Animal Kingdom

Camp Minnie-Mickey closes at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Avatarland is on the way in 2017, and it is time for construction to begin. There's a great little video and photo tour of this original land from the park at WDWMagic. The above shot shows the entrance in all its non-glory. Sure, Festival of the Lion King is a deserved if recycled smash, but the rest of the area? A pacemaker at best, be it the aborted Beastly Kingdom(me) or now Avatarland. Where's Joe Rohde and will we see the acclaimed Imagineer around the park now?

(Photo from WDWMagic, but altered by Mark Taft.)

January 8, 2014

Meryl Streep Bashes Walt Disney

With a clear lack of class and a self-righteous attitude, Meryl Streep decided to bash Walt Disney while presenting honors to The Walt Disney Company's latest film, Saving Mr. Banks. Dropping the F bomb and deriding a man unable to defend himself, Ms. Streep, revealed herself to show a bit of a white trash mentality and disgraceful manner. You can find her full comments on line elsewhere. I will not dignify her words by reprinting them here. Clearly, she is an excellent actress, no doubt, but in this regard, she displays a side of her rarely seen: an uninformed bigot with an angry agenda. 

Design Detail: Radiator Springs

Normally when I visit the Disney parks, I keep an eye open for the little Design Details that make Disney Disney. You know, the small touches that set the work of the Imagineers apart from the designers of Six Flags parks, the attitude that Universal Creative artists now use when they build their attractions.

Every once in awhile, my eye catches a detail that overwhelms both in scope and in impact. Such was my most recent visit to Disney California Adventure. Love it or loathe it, Cars Land is here to stay, and the Pixar influence will be felt on the parks for decades to come.

The queue for Radiator Springs Racers is chock full of detail, but the most impressive piece of eye candy is the rock work itself. Everywhere you turn, reward awaits in the views surrounding you. The image above would be spectacular on its own. But if you saw the uncropped photo that I took, you would realized the shot was taken from the route to exit the attraction. Stunning, isn't it?

Even the most diehard critics of the toning of the parks, myself included, mellow out a bit when the results are this incredible. If this is the future of Imagineering, keep it coming.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

Friends Again: The One After the Ten Year Break

Rumors of a Friends reunion have been coming ever since the show departed. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, and Lisa Kudrow, well this time, perhaps after years of failed television series and unsuccessful films,  these stars are probably ready to really do it. If it's true if it happens, one thing is certain: I'll Be There For You! (Note: Don't look to close at the image- seems it may be just another fan's wishful thinking.)

January 7, 2014

Disney by Mark's World Showcase Game

No, I'm not going to give it all away, but go to Disney by Mark's fun little Epcot game at this World Showcase related post, and play away. Odds are, you'll do a way better job than Disney executives from the past 20 years!

(Photo and alteration by Disney by Mark.)

Distress Signal

The Winter Blues are hitting me hard, hence the distress signal flag. I should have seen the obvious coming: a strange mix of lethargy and energy. Deep thinking and an "I don't really care" attitude. But it's here.

So, I've done some creative things for relief. More prayer, more reading, replacing and adding lights, slightly lighter eating, and a bit more home organization- which always makes me feel a bit better. Nothing like cleaning out the cobwebs of an old year and a messy office to get the New Year rolling.

Lastly, planning a bit of an ocean break always lifts my spirits. I have much to be thankful for- freezing temperatures are just not one of them!

January 6, 2014

A Frozen Epcot and the Three Caballeros

The talk around the Disney World regarding the pending transformation of Norway's Maelstrom attraction to one celebrating the movie Frozen has me thinking a lot about what EPCOT Center used to be. It's now been so long since the whole premise of the park has changed that a new generation of Disney parks fans may not really know what was intended- or what they have lost- by never personally experiencing the park which opened in 1982.

The cartooning of Epcot has been slow and steady. Perhaps it came from desperation, trying to be more things to more people while attendance dropped. Or maybe those in charge lost faith in the excellence (and marketing strength) of their original product. Regardless, bringing in the characters seemed to be a way to save the day. Be it adding Nemo to the Living Seas or Simba to The Land, the increase has been deliberate and sly. Mostly under the radar to not upset older fans (and those with the disposable income) who were accustomed to the elegance of Disney's version of a World's Fair. Even Martin Short's invasion of the Canada Showcase could be argued as a cartooning of sorts. Ellen DeGeneres being added to Universe of Energy is another example of a move away from the park's original  integrity and intent.

The ultimate bastardization of World Showcase came much earlier than those changes to Future World. When the Mexico Showcase dismissed the lovely El Rio del Tiempo and accepted the newer Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros, the dumbing down of the pavilion and the cheapening of the rich Mexican culture began. Gone were the riveting Aztec dancers. In its place, Donald Duck and friends became the centerpiece. The transformation was done so quickly and so cheaply that the Disney Suits couldn't even pony up the cash to reward riders with a finale that brought Audio-Animatronics of the three stars. I guess digging them out of storage or making new casts from their use in the Mickey Mouse Musical Revue was out of the question! 

The new mandate of synergy must have felt ugly to any remaining Imagineers who remember the heart and soul put into there work during the park's creation. Imagine their hard work in examining history and the tales and lore of other cultures. Imagine the thrill to educate guests in an entirely new way, to place their stamp on arguably Disney's most nuanced theme park. The loss must have been deeply felt and very disappointing. Oddly, in an effort to keep the park fresh and interesting, the powers that be have transformed Epcot from something timeless to almost instantly dated as time goes on. Well, at least now you never forget you are in a Disney park. Of course, its also more difficult to imagine you are now in another time and place.

For younger guests now visiting the park, Epcot is still a place of discovery, but it is now an odd mix of thrill rides, Disney animation stars (to mixed results), and an opportunity to drink around the World. How different it was, yes, "back in the day"- but oh, how much more rewarding and rich!

(Afterthought: Frozen really belongs in the Magic Kingdom- and in the New Fantasyland, giving guests a real E Ticket reason to go there. Imagine the famous trackless system in Tokyo put to great use! And the potential of a fantastic Christmas overlay to the ride!)

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 5, 2014

Downton Abbey Season Four Tonight

The long wait is over! Sure, Karen Carpenter has always been a guilty pleasure, but now, Downton Abbey takes first place as the guiltiest pleasure ever. My wife and I did not love the first few episodes of Season One, but by episode four, we were hooked.

Season Two is my favorite thus far. The World War I angle was fascinating to watch. Season Three was full of drama- ending with the most unexpected and unwelcome surprise.

What will Season Four hold? Most likely, Downton will continue to draw in viewers with its mix of wit and melodrama. Tom Branson, excellently played by the gifted Allen Leech, pulls us American common folk into the world of the aristocracy he once served. It's a compelling and intriguing storyline. Certainly, the story most viewers are curious about is that of Lady Mary. As a new widow and young mother, I'm betting Michelle Dockery's portrayal is spot on. So, grab a cup of tea tonight, enjoy a scone or two, and enjoy the return of a cultural phenomena.

January 2, 2014

When You Wish Upon A Star

A brand new year sounds like a great time to put together a wish list, doesn't it? Does to me! So, in no particular order, here are some things I wish for in 2014:
  • People to say what they mean and mean what they say. So tired of sarcasm and innuendo. Show some integrity and say and do what you say you will.
  • I'd like the suits at The Walt Disney Company to really go toe to toe with their theme park competitors. What would be even better would be if they would view their parks as works of art to be enhanced and added to due to the love of the place and not just the financials. Walt Disney loved his park. It showed, and folks flocked to see his living work of art.
  • A change in focus in how news is reported. If you're like me, you'd probably enjoy the news facts being reported and not interpreted for the reader or listener. We are grown up enough to understand what you are telling us. Stop treating us as if we need you to explain events to us. 
  • World Peace. Sure, Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality and all the women of pageants clamor for it, convinced it will make them memorable. I want it, but I do not want to have to sacrifice my morals for it. God bless our military men and women for standing up for freedom and humane treatment of others. Yes, someone has to do it. 
  • Less Miley Cyrus more Danielle Bradbery. Our culture is prone to produce young women who feel like they have to flaunt their sexuality to sell and make a point. Yes, this includes you, Lady Gaga. Let's give it up instead for some good old-fashioned music made for real people and not Hollywood and their wannabes. Madonna has shown more class throughout most of her career.
  • Sports figures you act like good sportsmen. I'm a bit tired of entitled NFL players and the like who act as if they can break the law and get away with it. Say what you will, but men the likes of Tim Tebow are good role models for our youth.
  • Politicians that truly care about America and what she stands for. I'm sick of 99% of our politicians, including our current president. Time for something new.
  • The church. And I do not mean just the Roman Catholic Church. May we be the light on the hill that Jesus spoke about. We can and must speak the truth in love or who will listen to the only true message that calls us to The One who can save us from ourselves?
  • Lastly, I'd like to be a better me. More like the Lord I follow and more like the man He created me to be. Oh God, please change my heart and empower my life.

January 1, 2014

Family Reunion and Happy New Year!

What's the saying? Herding cats? Here's a not-often-enough photo of our family gathering for Christmas. With folks out of state and busy lives, it's not easy getting us together. But here we are- our four children and their families. What a gift! What a blessing!
So... from our family to you: Happy New Year! May 2014 be a year full of blessing and a deep awareness of God's love for you! 

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)