March 31, 2014

Michael Jackson's Xscape

Captain Eo himself couldn't have seen this coming- but his record label sure did once the famously talented and odd superstar passed away.

On May 13th, Michael Jackson's posthumous disc Xscape will be released. The disc will hold eight previously unreleased performances with new production by superstar producers- the likes who pulled together Whitney Houston's excellent comeback disc, My Love is Your Love. A deluxe version of Xscape will contain the eight songs as they originally sounded when first recorded.

Most Disney fans know of Michael's attraction Captain Eo and his love for Disney parks. But did you know he also planned his own Neverland themed park? Go here to find out more!

March 28, 2014

Island Escape at Disneyland

Want to run away to a tropical paradise? You can at Disneyland! Long ago, before Trader Sam's bar at the Disneyland Hotel...

Way back in 1967, Imagineer Sam McKim did this wonderful rendering of the upcoming Tahitian Terrace at Disneyland. You can enlarge it to see what a beautiful piece it is. The end product built in steel and concrete was just as amazing as the art, in some ways even better. Too bad it no longer exists in its original form. Aladdin's Oasis just doesn't cut it.

I spent more than a few evenings of my youth hanging out and having dinner at the Terrace over the summer evenings. The food was great, and let's be honest- as a teen, the lovely lady dancers were an attraction themselves!

The feel of the whole experience came together as something only Disney could do. With the Enchanted Tiki Room off to the side and the launches of the Jungle Cruise rounding the bend, it was as close to Polynesia as I would get until my first visit to Hawaii many years later.

Certainly this version of Adventureland initialized and fed my love of locales tropical. Hawaii, Bahamas, Tahiti. The list is almost endless. With Denver's upcoming snowy season almost gone (it's always too soon to call it until mid-April!), for now the islands are just a daydream!

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company)

March 27, 2014

D23's Attraction Rewind a Move in the Wrong Direction

When D23 hosts an "Attraction Rewind" at Walt Disney World, they open themselves up to a lot of criticism for the company. Why? This is easy: Here they set up hard core fans for a look backwards. A look at cool, old school attractions like 20, 000 Leagues Under the Sea, If You Had Wings, and the Adventurer's Club at Pleasure Island. Attractions and venues fans are passionate about. Ever travel through the Might Microscope for an Adventure Thru Inner Space? If so, you remember classic Imagineering, and it is attractions such as these that made you fall in love with the parks. 

What will looking backward do? It won't make fans forget the future. It will only emphasize the comparison of the old days to what the company is churning out now. Especially at Walt Disney World, where great, iconic attractions like the original Journey Into Imagination has been transformed into the mess it is today- a world where Alien Encounter morphs into the dreadful Stitch and the Yeti remains broken at Expedition Everest.

For every Cars Land and Radiator Springs Racers, for every Mystic Manor, for every Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, there's a host of misfires, sloppy stage shows, quick meet and greets, and resting on nostalgia and reputation in place of groundbreaking experiences. Attraction Rewind will only point a laser focus on what is... and what is lacking.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 24, 2014

Dinosaurs Invade Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland is becoming quite the Magic Kingdom! Anyone who was thinking the suits would twist the Imagineers' hands into creating another mini-Disneyland a la Hong Kong Disneyland or another Florida kingdom as what happened at Tokyo Disneyland looks to be proved wrong. From the looks of the plans, the company is going the Disneyland Paris route and creating something brand new. With no Main Street, no Space Mountain but instead Tron Lightcycles Power Run and a brand new take on Pirates of the Caribbean, the park with have its own unique identity from opening day. And just look at that castle with its Crystal Grotto cruise inside it!

Treasure Cove, home of Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle of the Sunken Treasure, is not the only area of the park to be filled with thrills and exotic locales. Adventure Isle will be home to a brand new attraction, a Roaring Rapids whitewater cruise rumored to be filled with dinosaurs. The piece of concept art (above) was originally designed for Hong Kong and an Adventureland themed coaster. The idea was cut, and the dinosaurs were saved for mainland China instead. 

By the looks of it all, with a stunning Tomorrowland and two exotic lands to explore, Shanghai Disneyland could be the least  princess focused park ever designed by Disney. That alone could make the trip a very worthwhile one for this writer!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 23, 2014

Disney-MGM Before Star Tours

When Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, one of the highlights- and one of the few attractions available- was the Studio Tour, a combination of a tram and walking tour. Back then, The Great Movie Ride reigned supreme because there was no Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or Rock N Rollercoaster or Fantasmic! to soak up the crowds. The tour was intentionally lengthy to help fill the day. 

During the walking portion of the tour, selected guests were invited to take part in the flying bee scene from the popular Disney film "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids". This nice piece of concept art shows the bee in the back and an ant in the front, which became part of the playground instead. I was lucky enough to be chosen to board a bee, and a few years later, my nephews were also picked. It was a lot of fun! 

Over the years, the Studios took on a new persona with a few thrill rides and even more shows. In the last decade or so, it has been a park without a champion, however, and the lack of cohesiveness is as evident as the lack of upkeep and maintenance. With 25 years coming up May 1, isn't it time for some expansion plan?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 22, 2014

Gaga's New "Act"

Lady Gaga's new act is sure to induce some vomiting. At least her own. The CNN report here details some new aspects of her stage performance that is going to leave some of us heaving. She's already crossed the boundaries of good taste too many times. So many times in fact, that I have referred to her as "Lady GagMe". Now it seems to fit even more.

March 21, 2014

Caught With My Pants Down

Boxers or briefs? Or commando??? Regardless of the choice, it seems I got myself in trouble again. Caught with my pants down!

My anger, my doubt, my frustration, all got me into a spot where my true colors came out. I couldn't control my temper, my nasty thoughts, my bitterness.

It's easy to fool myself and mostly fool others, but I never fool God. I wish I could. I wish I could be better than I am. I want to be different. So, God, please forgive me as you always do, and set my feet on the right path.

Thanks for loving me in spite of myself- and for covering my nakedness. Again.

March 20, 2014

The Italian Job 2

One of the wonders of Epcot's World Showcase is what's not seen. Upon entering one of the pavilions, it is quite easy to get lost in the "feel" of each nation. It's just what the Imagineers intended to happen! 

This seems to be especially effective in Italy.  Perhaps it is the fact that the buildings create a sense of three walls which embrace guests as they explore. Maybe its the gondolas on the lagoon giving a taste of Venice. (It certainly isn't an attraction! Not even a film!) Ah yes, perhaps it's the food! The smell of deliciousness wafting through the air.

The Via Napoli Restorante a Pizzeria is the latest addition to this small area, unfortunately I fear, completing the plans. Could it be more was planned? But of course!

When you look around for Disney concept art in books or on line, you usually find the expect views of Italy from the lagoon glancing toward the pavilion. Instead, as shown above, here's a nice image showing what could have been. A mix of Venice with a touch of Tuscany (off to the right side). The walls and turrets remind me of villages found all over: Siena, Lucca, and San Gimignano (my favorite of all). Trust me, it was easy to spend days lost in the area, going from one beautiful village to another! 

Oh, what could have been! But isn't that the story of today's Epcot?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 19, 2014

The "Bargain Basement Imagineering" of California Adventure 1.0

While Disney fans around the globe are checking out the beautiful new Cars Land or Buena Vista Street at California Adventure, it seems more than appropriate to look back on what was actually built come opening day. Why? First, it will help us appreciate the transformation and put it all in perspective. As you'll see by looking at the concepts for the park version 1.0, the painters brush can be unintentionally (or intentionally) deceiving! Secondly, due to the cost-cutting measures of the leadership of the time, it reminds us what poor foundations the Imagineers are stuck working with while they continue trying to expand this greatly improved park.

(As you look at the concept art, most pieces can be opened up for a larger version of the image displayed. Enjoy!)

As we look at concept art from the first incarnation of California Adventure, let's compare what we saw in the preview center versus what the park really looked like to an opening day guest. Many visitors, myself included, expressed displeasure at what was found at this new park. So did the media and for a good reason.

Let's begin with the park entrance. The tile murals flanking the sides are really well done. The CALIFORNIA letters are a unique touch and both together clearly communicate this is not Disneyland. It's not a bad design, there's just no follow through. When the Disney advertising experts have to create a fictionalized version of the entrance for promotional purposes, this should be the first clue that the park has some serious problems and design flaws.

It is what we encounter once walking past the turnstiles that shouts "bargain basement" design. Looking right through the gates brings a very ordinary looking area, nothing to entice a visitor who is considering a day at this park.

The Sunshine Plaza reigns as the ugliest and least original park entrance area in Disney's history. Yes, this includes the even less imaginative Walt Disney Studios in Paris! Framed by an out of place replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, the environment matches a low budget outlet mall, appropriately setting the stage for what is found in most of the park.

The Sun fountain is an interesting structure, but it really belongs in an open garden at a hotel, in the midst of a walkway from the parking area or just someplace else. Not large enough in scale to impress, not a fitting centerpiece for the park. In some ways, it is appropriate. This is big and flashy with a contemporary edge- but it lacks substance.

Moving on, let's head to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. At first glance, it is a pretty Disneyesque area, a more playful version of the main drag at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The centerpiece, and clearly the highlight at opening, is Disney Animation.

Frankly, this is one impressive showcase! Beyond the park's signature flight simulator attraction, this gem is filled with the kind of care in execution that should have been found all over the park. The Animation Courtyard has an impressive layout that dazzles, and The Sorcerer's Workshop, including Beast's Library, feels like a walk-thru dark ride, drawing guests in further and further inside. It's easy to spend an hour here just watching the transformation in the library. Well done, Imagineers! In a nod to the Studios old working animation area, The Animation Academy truly provides a fun and informative demonstration of the art of the wonderful and ageless 2-D process. (Below is altogether different concept for Disney Animation.)

Beyond this great little attraction is where the troubles begin. Wandering around the rest of this land, guests discover raw steel and bland walls lie behind the great looking storefronts. Even the seemingly impressive Hyperion Theater is really just one great optical illusion. Just a big box but one with state-of-the-art facilities inside. However, it is a facility with no lobby and no restrooms!

Nearby, the past its prime MuppetVision 3D show is found. Not too thrilling an idea or presentation. It's a quick retread from Florida to save some cash- and an attempt by Disney to relaunch a very tired but admittedly once charming franchise.

The worst of the (Back) lot, however, is the only dark ride found here in 2001. In one of the oddest moves ever for a Disney park, the Imagineers designed and built the strange Superstar Limo attraction. The building housing the ride is at once quirky and likable to some degree, but the experience inside is just plain bizarre. Hosted by an on-screen agent who seems like someone you'd never let your children be alone with, the limo ride takes you through a tongue in cheek and trendy Hollywood filled with animatronics of "B" list celebrities from the Disney Studio. It quickly became the laughing stock of the theme park industry and a symbol of everything wrong with California Adventure. Less than a year from its premier, this ride quickly disappeared forever.

In a bit of poor planning, the Backlot's main street becomes a dead end, so let's cross back over to Condor Flats, a recreation of a California desert airfield.

Condor Flats effectively marks the entrance to The Golden State district, the portion of the park that truly strengthens the California theme. The airstrip is a small area to be sure, but it houses the park's signature attraction, Soarin' Over California. All the quibbles of the queue and its minimal theming aside, this film experience is the emotional heart of the park. Californians are rightfully proud of their state and its stunning diversity of landscapes. The photography is exhilarating, the musical score heightens the mood, and the ride mechanism impresses to thrilling results. It is the single standout attraction in the park. This crowd pleaser should not have been duplicated at any other resort. Period.

The true icon of this park, and one that for the first time is positioned to please hotel guests instead of park visitors, is Grizzly Peak. No expense was spared in creating an authentic and beautiful mountain environment. The rockwork created by the Imagineers ranks with the best of their efforts, including Big Thunder Mountain and the younger Expedition Everest. The landscaping is superb. The network of waterfalls, winding paths and viewing areas makes this part of the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area the most beautiful location of the entire Disneyland Resort. 
(Below is an amazing piece of artwork. Like the others, makes sure you click for a larger image.)

The setting for the Grizzly River Run is spectacular and "E" ticket worthy. However obvious short cuts have been taken with this attraction, starting with the design of the watercraft. The promotional poster below shows a whitewater excursion with an authentically styled raft. Somewhere between concept and execution, the attraction ended up with standard theme park fare circular rafts. Certainly the same company that could imagine and engineer leading edge ride systems for other attractions could find a way to build an authentic raft that was safe while providing the desired thrills!

Further cost-cutting took place by the exclusion of animatronic animals. Every other nature-based attraction designed by Disney uses them to good effect. From slow moving rides like The Jungle River Cruise to the high speed adventures of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, there is simply no excuse for their absence except budgetary restraints. It's still a very fun attraction with terrific views of the park (and the less than beautiful city of Anaheim), but it could be so much more than it is.

Guests quickly noticed a trend in this new era Disney park: there may have been discounting on the attraction detail, but no expenses were lost when it came to the shops! California Adventure has some Disneyland quality shopping areas, and the Rushin' River Outfitters (below) is no exception.

Continuing a trend that began with Disneyland itself, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is a new take on the original park's Tom Sawyer's Island. Both provide plenty of fun as well as an area where younger visitors can run free. It is a nicely themed playground but not much more.

The limited number of attractions and cutbacks aside, this region of California Adventure provides the immersive environment that Disney guests are accustomed to finding at the parks. If only the rest of the small park had this much charm and care taken with it! The glaring shortcomings are only heightened when we enter into the San Francisco area, one far removed from the Golden Gate Bridge we found at the park entrance.

This tiny little sliver of San Francisco houses only restrooms, leaving guests who expected an elegant area such as New Orleans Square in a state of shock. In place of a fully realized cityscape, we find Golden Dreams, the film tribute to the history of the state. Originally envisioned as Circle of Hands, it was intended to be a heartwarming multimedia presentation of the brave men and women who settled and worked the land. Budget cuts again derailed the project. We are now left with a small scale but warm and politically correct vision of history. Unintentionally, this show is also one of the best arguments for Disney to stop using its a film stars as part of their attractions.

As we move around the bend, the beautiful Golden Vine Winery comes into view. Of course, so does the Pacific Wharf food court, Bountiful Valley Farm, and the surprising Paradise Pier.

The winery area charms guests with a sophistication not found elsewhere. Of course, like Napa Valley itself, we find a couple of pricy restaurants among the park's vineyard. Attractions? Oh yes, Seasons of the Vine is here- yet another film, this one highlighting the process of the art of winemaking from field to table. It is a slice of Epcot Center, an undiscovered gem. The music and photography perfectly capturing the area.

Across the way on this side of the bay is the Pacific Wharf. What could have been a wonderful setting for some California themed Disney attractions is reduced to mostly a food court with a couple of bakery tours using short films to tell the manufacturing story. The educational aspects of the park are important, however, they needed to be balanced out with traditional Disney attractions to justify the full ticket price.

Butting up to the Wharf is Bountiful Valley Farm, showcasing the agricultural impact of the state. Aside from yet another film, this one a clone of an additional 3D attraction from Florida, guests to the area are left without much to do except viewing tractors and watching a quite unimaginative fountain. In the age of "bargain basement" Imagineering, it's Disney storytelling at it's sorry best.

Controversial. Cheap and tacky. Off the shelf. Not what Walt would have wanted. Paradise Pier is all these things and more. And less. Much, much less.

Once guests had experienced the limited number of attractions in the other areas and the truly good live entertainment to be found, many headed toward Paradise Pier hoping to round out their day at Disney's recreation of a seaside amusement area.

The California Screamin' coaster stands tall over the area, and it is a roller coaster ride very worthy of a Disney park. Unfortunately, it is just a coaster- no great theming to be found here. No journey to outer space, no wildest ride in the wilderness, just an exposed track reaching for the sky. It is fun, day or night, but there are no Disney touches to be found except the giant glaring Mickey head. In this new fangled park, big, loud and obvious has mostly replaced the charming nuances of designers from earlier generations.

The rest of Paradise Pier is fleshed out with carnival games, kiddie attractions, swing rides, and an impressive Ferris Wheel. There's truly nothing magical or Disney here, yet the advertising department thought this was one of the best areas to show to promote the new park. What were they thinking? The public was not fooled, and the executives at Disney were left with an embarrassment on their hands.

Which brings us back full circle to the Blue Sky Cellar, housed in the old Seasons of the Vine building. Yes, it seems Disney is seriously trying to redeem itself by re-Imagineering the park. Starting with the areas that guests complained about the most, the makeover has started. The entrance to the park will be reworked. The Hollywood Backlot will get more improvements. The Pier will be a challenge but will still be a carnival. Plans even exist for a wonderful new land and a couple of great attractions worthy of the Disney of old. Will we see them? Will the proposed changes turn California Adventure from dud to star?

What can we learn from the "Bargain Basement Imagineering"? Concept art can be deceiving, and budgets can be reduced.  Disney has learned some important lessons from trying to fool us as they did in 2001. Now, they are going back to the basics of good design and Imagineering quality... and I, for one, can't wait to see what lies ahead in the future... in Phase Two of the restoration ever gets built!
When I first published a revised version of this post in 2008, the response was incredible. It led to additional segments on the development of California Adventure, its concept art, and more.  Use the search feature to find more "Bargain Basement" Imagineering posts or cruising the blog- stopping to look at the week long series of posts for the park's 10th Birthday in February 2011. Just as with my series on the development of Disney's Animal Kingdom, there's a lot to see and discover- trip reports, history, and art galore!

(All art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 18, 2014

Shanghai's Pirates at Treasure Cove

Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle of the Sunken Treasure in Shanghai Disneyland by day. And below, Pirates at Treasure Cove by night. If it is half as beautifully fleshed out as Disney Imagineers plan and these pieces of concept art, it will be stunning. Robert Iger himself announced it today at the shareholder's meeting.

Could it be the Chinese have learned their lesson by watching the under-developed Hong Kong Disneyland and decided to hold Disney's feet to the fire? I think so.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)