December 31, 2016

This Could Be the End

Happy End of Year 2016, and Hello 2017! It was not either the best of times or the worst of times. Like most years, it was a very varied mixture of both. Personally, professionally, and in my volunteer life.

You may have noticed I have not done my annual best of the year type post or my expectations and hopes for the new one. Why? 2017 will be the year to complete my 10th year of writing this blog. Will I continue beyond that? I don't know. The absolute truth is, I'm really out of inspiration when it comes to writing. And I'm tired. Pretty bored with many things Disney. 

Sure, there are great stories to be told. For example my 50th year anniversary of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean mega-post begs for completion. So does my piece on California's unbuilt and amazing Westcot - with some pretty rare artwork to go along with the words. (Along with over 200 new pieces I've started but never finished writing!)

I do have one new slice of news to share tomorrow. It should make many of you very happy. I'm very excited, and you'll read it and understand why the blog is still going to be around. Next year's articles will not be as frequent, perhaps it will be something in between regular posting and closing the blog. How's that for commitment? Either way, change is coming. Thanks for reading all these years. May God Bless You and Draw You to Himself in fresh ways. Stay tuned.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 30, 2016

Liberty Square Keeps Florida's Kingdom Unique

As a Disney theme park fan, one of the delights of visiting the different parks is seeing the unique attractions and lands each has to offer. It is one of the main reasons I am so against the quick cookie-cutter additions of attractions placed in several parks at once. It may be economically a smart move (or is it?), but in the long run, doing so only detracts from the overall experience. Even the same themed attraction can take on a new and fresh perspective and presentation, making it a must-see adventure for the fan to explore several different parks. The perfect example would be in the quintessential park attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean, uniquely different in the original vs. the excellent Parisian version and also in the new crowd pleaser in Shanghai Disneyland.  The same could be said for the Haunted Mansion / Phantom Manor / Mystic Manor trio of attractions.

Abandoned Disney's America.

For this reason alone, I remain thrilled that the Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square has yet to be duplicated anywhere else. Certainly if built as planned, the Disney's America project would have made Florida's land look like the standard cliff notes version, but for now, this elegant area remains an exclusive to Florida.  

The outstanding Hall of Presidents and the spirit filled Haunted Mansion are the headliners here, but a cruise on the riverboat is another must do. Looking around the land, two smaller items are worth notice. One, a copy of the Philadelphia Liberty Bell itself, and also, the Liberty Tree- a massive specimen that holds 13 lanterns representing the original states in the Union. These bits of history and historic reference strengthen the theme, making the area more compelling. (In an odd move earlier this year, Disney made a mistake adding the 20th century Muppets show to the land, but a guest can visit the area off times and not experience the break in theme.) 

Liberty Square is so much more than the sum of its attractions, however. The land is filled with shops once offering unique items completely in theme. Sadly, that is no longer. Even though the buildings are now filled with generic Disney merchandise, they remain wonderful pieces of architecture. There's still a couple of great places to eat, however, the Columbia Harbour House (one of the few places in the Magic Kingdom offering seafood) and the Liberty Tree Tavern.

The concept art (top) is not an often seen piece of Imagineering art. We usually find the more common finished product depicted instead. If you look closely, you'll find the Liberty Tree is there. What you'll also see but was never built is directly to the left of the Hall of Presidents: the beginning of a series of streets and even courtyards a la Disneyland's incredible New Orleans Square. Would it not have been great fun to explore colonial America by getting lost in a network of shops and cafes? New Orleans Square is certainly one of the greatest pieces of design at Disneyland, effectively mimicking real world New Orleans as well as places like Montmartre in Paris and numerous bazaars found in the Middle East and Asia. 

One day, the Imagineers may choose to expand the area around the Rivers of America, opening up a pathway beyond the Haunted Mansion to ease guest traffic flow or to provide access to new lands and attractions. If so, I hope they include a bit more Liberty Square into the mix. It's a land that keeps the Magic Kingdom unique and celebrates a country like no other.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 29, 2016

Christmas From Aulani

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year in Hawaiian) from the island of Oahu and specifically, Disney’s Aulani Resort! Your friendly neighborhood blogger Mark Taft has again kindly allowed me to take up bandwidth to amuse, bedazzle, and mostly irritate his reading audience with my random thoughts, words, and befuddling images.

For this guest post, I wanted to share some photos and thoughts from the Disney Aulani Resort! There won't be much reporting on the activities and events at the hotel as I was there for barely a day. My good friend is a DVC member and she invited me to spend some time with them. Since I arrived at Aulani in the late afternoon, most of the evening was spent shooting sunset and long exposure images. I did a lot of interior and people shots on my last visit, so there won't be much of that for this report. Hopefully, you'll get a feel for the overall ambiance and theming of the resort told through my pictures and words. But again, not much first hand reviews or anecdotes about dining, swimming, or all the other cool stuff one can do at Aulani . 

 Christmas in (Disney's) Hawaii!

Let's start with some photos of the resort area just prior to sunset. Aulani is located at the Ko Olina Resort & Marina in Kapolei. Situated on the west side of Oahu, it’s about a 45 minute drive from Waikiki (up to 2 hours during peak traffic hours). While it’s pretty obvious the hotel is immaculately designed and up to Disney standards, the area its located in is nothing to sneeze at either! With its pristine beaches and a skyline overlooking the mountainous landscape, the resort truly feels unique and apart from the daily lifestyle of most local residents.

I live in east Oahu, so I rarely make it to this side of the island. Because everything is new and mostly unexplored, it almost feels like I’ve traveled to another part of the world. While I remember initial resistance to Disney building a hotel in the area, I never doubted that the Imagineers would do a respectful job of integrating Hawaiian culture into the fabric and theme of the hotel. It’s obvious they did their research and worked with local experts to get the details right. I was lucky to encounter Imagineer Joe Rohde when the hotel first opened. He was walking the grounds early one morning so I ventured forward to ask for a picture and we talked a bit about the design process. Joe is obviously an extremely talented artist who takes great care and pride in his work.

The two towers, impressive in height, never seem to overwhelm or stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the property. Each and every element works in smooth harmony with the others to incorporate a breathtaking, yet natural vista. Much thought was also put into the surrounding attractions and eating establishments. “Makahiki” is clearly the centerpiece restaurant of the resort, with its traditional Disney character breakfast and buffet. I ate there when Aulani first opened and thought it was a mixed bag. Some of the food, especially the local cuisine (lau lau, kalua pig) seemed a bit bland, but I chalk it up to the kitchen staff getting their feet wet and finding that right mixture of flavor and taste. I’m sure the dining experience has much improved by this time.

While it’s hard to make up for the absence of a Disney park down the road, the Imagineers worked up a little magic in the form of a mini water park. From the active volcano that serves as a base for the water slides, to the lazy streams running throughout the property, children (and many adults) will find the poolside areas the highlight of the stay. I’m particularly impressed with “Keiki Cove’, a play zone for kids. The design work allows this attraction to seamlessly integrate with the resort while providing its own unique taste of Disney. While I was photographing the area after midnight, voices of menehunes (strange, magical creatures) were still being piped throughout the area (reminiscent of the snoring bears at Disney’s Frontierland).

One of the biggest surprises for me on this visit was the overall subtlety of the Christmas decorations. Part of it maybe a conscientious decision not to overwhelm the Hawaiian motif with tons of lights and Christmas d├ęcor. But after experiencing the beautiful lobby trees of such fellow Disney resorts as The Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge, not seeing a huge tree was a bit of a disappointment. Thinking of how the AK trees were adorned with ornaments that paid tribute to the local culture and arts, I could see something similarly done for the lobby here at Aulani. There were two small trees placed at the ends of the ground floor, but they were rather pedestrian and something you would find on display at your local Walmart store.

For a kamaaina (local), the cost of a night makes it prohibitive for most to stay at the resort. Being a visitor, and especially if you’re a Disney fan, I can see how this place would be a destination point regardless of the high costs. So if you’re thinking of planning a trip to Hawaii, Aulani should definitely be on your radar.

Until my next intrusion, take care, stay safe, and God bless us all!

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

Carpenters Christmas Memories A Winner

Sometimes a guy just has to buy himself a Christmas present, and mine came in the mail today. Richard Carpenter has put together a beautiful DVD comprised selections from their two Christmas television specials and two of their appearances on others. (Perry Como and Dorothy Hamill.) The sound and picture are nearly flawless considering they were recorded as early as 1974. 

Karen Carpenter proves once again to be the voice of Christmas for her generation. Merry Christmas Darling may be the only Carpenters song you know, but trust me, after watching and listening to this DVD, you'll want to find both Christmas Portrait and An Old Fashioned Christmas and add them to your holiday music collection. 

For more information on how to order this excellent disc, go to this post on the A&M Corner website.

Blossoms of Light

One of the most anticipated winter activities in our house - at least with me- is the once a year opportunity to see Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanical Gardens. Parking is always a mess (the city was not built to handle the numbers of people who now call this home), and the crowds are high, but the experience is worth it.

My favorite shot of this year's event.

The entire trip through the gardens takes about an hour or so. In the early visits, they used to serve hot chocolate and even had small plates for purchase, so you could "nosh" your way around the place.

The not so hidden path.

In addition to the crowds, the one change I did not appreciate this year was the new absence of Christmas music as you walked around. This always made it extra special, a bit of charm that you only got during this season. 

The gazebo.

There were a few new additions that added immensely to the evening's experience. Outdoor gazebos were decorated as well as the elegant home that is part of the grounds. I'm fairly certain I saw Santa and his elves working upstairs!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

December 28, 2016

Going Home

Even after all these years, as someone who is not a native to this state, I always get a twinge of envy when one of my friends gets the opportunity to move back home- especially under good circumstances. It happened again this week. And the pang hit. I guess I still see myself as a Californian at heart.

Yes, I have a good life here, and yes, God is good. Yet, I still long for home. Maybe it's just that I will long for home until I die and go to heaven to be with Jesus for eternity. (John 14:1-3) That's my real home anyway. All this is temporary.

San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts

Does this lovely building look familiar to you? If you're big a fan of Disney theme parks, you probably recognize it as being the inspiration for the California Adventure building which housed Golden Dreams starring Whoopi Goldberg. The film was actually pretty good even if it was originally supposed to be an Audio-Animatronics attraction like the American Adventure at Epcot and even if it included the obnoxious Ms. Goldberg as its star. Now, the repainted rotunda is just the entrance to the Little Mermaid attraction.

Back to the building. In reality this structure is the beautiful, stunning, and very large Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. My wife took this shot on an exceptionally beautiful Northern California day as we were touring the city and the surrounding towns this past June. San Francisco is a must-see city justifiably famous for its landscapes, restaurants and attractions.

What a view! What a city!

I have about 400 photos of our time there in the city as well as at the coast of the Pacific Ocean and Napa. My original goal was a trip report to cover it all including my first visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum. But I make no promises. Remember my Switzerland series?

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

December 27, 2016

Evolving Disney's Hollywood Studios

Oh, no! Honey I Shrunk the Disney-MGM Studios concept art! Here's a cool little piece of history. Back in 1989 when the park opened, the backstage studio tour offered a walking portion with a chance to ride a giant ant from the movie hit Honey I Shrunk the Kids. There wasn't much else to do then, but the Studios eventually evolved into almost a full day park.

With the rise of Star Wars Land and Toy Story (Play) Land, the park is down to minimal attractions once again. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, the Great Movie Ride, and Rock N Rollercoaster seem to be all that's left of a park that once showed so much promise.

The history of the park is quite amazing! Here's one of the largest, most detailed, posts ever on this blog: a 25 Year anniversary look at the park- filled with vintage photos, concept art of what was built and what was considered and much more. If you love this park or just want a good read, it's worth your time. Plus there are dozens more of separate posts about the third Disney park in Florida. Enjoy!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 26, 2016

New Star Wars:Galaxy's Edge Art?

Here's it is. This is what seems to be a brand new piece of very impressive Star Wars Land Disney Imagineering concept art - at least to me. (It's huge blown up full size!) I did not see this on any television special, but it's branded ABC. The more I see, the most impressed I am with this project. It should be a spectacular experience at both Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 25, 2016

From Our Family to Yours

As you celebrate the Christmas season, may you deeply enjoy your friends, family, and the God who loved you so much He gave you the best gift ever- eternal life through Jesus Christ. Be blessed, and pass the blessing of the Good News on.

Definitely a reason to celebrate!

December 24, 2016

Must See: Who Was Where at Christmas

Just discovered this incredible piece of work- and you have to see it for yourself in the largest size when you click on it. This is so well done! What is it? A timeline of where everyone was at the time of the birth of Jesus. If you've ever read the Bible's accounts of what led up to the biggest event in history (God coming to earth as a Man), you might have wondered how it all came together.  

From here on out, I'll let the text from BibleGateway do the talking... 
(Please note that the image above is referenced below several times.)

Senior manager of content for Bible Gateway.

Chances are you’ll be reading or hearing the Christmas story sometime this week! As a companion to your reading, here’s a timeline that shows where the myriad characters of the Christmas story were during events surrounding the first Christmas (click on the image below to enlarge):
(Also available: high-resolution image and PDF.)
This visualization traces the Christmas story as told in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, showing you who is with whom throughout the story. Verse references are provided so you can look up each event in the Bible for details.
Each line represents a person, and the narrative unfolds as you follow from left to right. When character lines meet up and run alongside each other, those characters were together during that event. It starts with the angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and ends with the return to Nazareth of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
The following detail shows the most famous part of the story, the birth of Jesus:
In this part of the story, Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem and find no room in the inn, so Jesus is born in a stable. Angels appear to nearby shepherds, who seek the newborn child and then depart, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

This visualization is a companion to our Holy Week Timeline, which takes a similar visual approach to the Easter story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Also see the Bible Gateway Blog post, Bible Gateway “Holy Week” Infographic Published in Newsweek.

It's a Small World Holiday

Perfect- Just an absolutely beautiful photo of Disneyland at Christmas. It's a Small World Holiday is one of the best overlays the park does each year. This great photo is from MouseInfo.

December 23, 2016

Prepare for Pandora

Apparently these "forbidden" images are from a recent Walt Disney World cast publication, announcing that Pandora - World of Avatar will be open to the public Summer of 2017.  The graphic and design work here all looks very 70's / early 80's- much like EPCOT Center to me. (Together with the type of science fiction represented here, this also seems to be the "future fantasy" look that park's Future World will eventually embrace.)

Once guests arrive on Pandora, the Flight of Passage and the Na'vi River Journey will be the two headlining attractions while they are "on tour" with Alpha Centauri Expeditions. The real showpiece isn't found inside these but instead all around. Disney Imagineers have created a stunning environment as never before. Looks to be Cars Land on steroids- and with a price tag to match. The recent aerial images found on WDWMagic (as where the above pieces of  promotional materials were also found) are jaw dropping. Hopefully, the attractions will be as stellar as the land they inhabit.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Another Tennessee Christmas

Clearly, Amy Grant loves Christmas- and why wouldn't she? As a Christ follower, the season is a celebration of Jesus coming to earth in the form of a baby to die on a cross for the sin of man. In our place, paying a price we can't pay.

As a singer, this has to be like Amy's 7th or so collection of songs both sacred and secular. The rarest being a collection recorded with Art Garfunkel in about 1986- hard to find but worth it. 

The first of many Amy Grant Christmas albums.

This album contains her update on the classic Tennessee Christmas, recorded first in 1983 and written by Amy and ex-husband Gary Chapman.  There's also her take on Baby, It's Cold Outside with husband Vince Gill, and finally a version of White Christmas

There are many, many songs I love from her multitude of albums, but Christmas Lullaby (I Will Lead You Home) from A Christmas to Remember probably ranks as my favorite ever. Akin to the classic  I'll Be Home for Christmas, there's a tender sweetness and innocence to the lyric and melody that makes it instantly memorable.

Don't misunderstand: Tennessee Christmas has a charm all its own. But it's a charm that comes from years of living through both good and hard times, a sweet melancholy that this new grandmother (!) now understands at a level her younger self never did. Bless you, Amy- and thanks for another special recording.

December 22, 2016

A Wild Ride With Mr. Toad

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. What a kick! I love this vintage photograph, showing Disneyland's Fantasyland in its early charm.  Even though its black and white here, we know the colorful buildings, banners, and pennants created a fun medieval environment to celebrate the joys of childhood. Really the simple joy of family and friends. The land itself has gone through so many changes and additions over time- most noticeably the entire revamp in 1983, but Fantasyland still remains the heart of the park. Just as Star Wars Land will soon represent its business mind.


Here's a great little card game to enjoy over the Christmas holiday. Codenames. It's a simple concept, but it takes a very intriguing twist as you play. I won't give this game of spying away, but let me say it certainly reveals how well you know the other players and how they think. (Plus, the graphics are pretty cool!)

December 21, 2016

A Little Carpenters for Christmas: Top Ten Songs

Christmas music and Karen Carpenter were made for each other. Clearly, a match made for the ages, a classic combination of artist and song as can be imagined. The first album of seasonal songs - one of two- a timeless work. Unfortunately, it was also the last great album recorded by the duo in a career tragically cut short. 

Much like when Nat King recorded his album of holiday tunes, when Richard and Karen Carpenter released Christmas Portrait in 1978, it became the must have Christmas album for a new generation. 

The original version is not found on any Carpenters Christmas disc.

The origins of the album begin with the release of Merry Christmas Darling in 1970 at the beginnings of their chart success. Fans and critics instantly realized it to be a powerful combination, wondering when more holiday themed songs would arrive. Darling was an instant classic. The Richard Carpenter / Frank Pooler song was followed by a mid-decade release of a jazz version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. 

When a full length album was finally released, a new version of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) became the newest 45 rpm release. It further cemented Karen's position as the female vocalist who owned the Christmas season. The album was originally planned to be a double disc, but for some reason, that was tossed aside by the executives at A&M Records. 

Karen's untimely death in 1983 left fans wondering what was left in the vault to be released. Following the fall release of the excellent Voice of the Heart, Richard answered the question by giving fans An Old Fashioned Christmas. It only brought seven new songs by Karen, but it was well worth it. Both discs get much play during the season in our house, and the Christmas music always begins when Karen croons "Frosted window panes"- even when we lived in temperate Southern California. 

On the set of the first Christmas television special.

With such a wealth of great songs to choose from, here are my Top Ten Carpenters Christmas songs in no particular order other than my memory:

1- Merry Christmas Darling
It may be a sacrilege to some fans, but this listener prefers the newer, sultry, and softer version found on Christmas Portrait over the huskier original. The multi-layered ending caps off the song perfectly. It's been recorded by many artists, but none compare.

2- I'll Be Home for Christmas
Admittedly, this one was hard to listen to after Karen's death. (Can you just imagine what emotions Richard goes through every Christmas season when their songs are constantly played? Pray for the man!) Wistful, sorrowful, and melancholy but perfect in execution.

3- Christmas Waltz
I had never heard this one on the radio prior to Christmas Portrait. As I mentioned, the opening lines are the "official" kickoff to playing Christmas music in our home. A romantic Christmas tune if there ever was one. Always made me want to dance with my wife or my daughters when they were little.

4- What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Speaking of romance, I find this to be the standout track on the second album, and it's one of my favorites by any artist. Her tender performance isn't as commanding as on the next song I mention, but there's something about the 40's big band sound with Karen's incredible voice that is just hits all the right notes.

5- Do You Hear What I Hear?
After a very effective opening by Richard, Karen comes in on this old classic with such presence, the listener remembers once again how powerful her voice was. Shades of Superstar and Rainy Days and Mondays. It's a majestic vocal performance befitting the pronouncement of the arrival of the Little King. 

6- Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Two versions exist. The first features an upbeat saxophone solo by Bob Messenger. It's terrific, but it has yet to make it's way to a Carpenters Christmas collection. The second one premiered on An Old Fashioned Christmas with the sax replaced by another with Tom Scott. This way feels very different, and it depends on my mood as to which I prefer. Either way, Richard outdid himself with the arrangement. The audio versions are great, but watching Karen and Richard perform this on the Perry Como Christmas Show is even better. 

7-  Tie: Carol of the Bells / Nutcracker Suite / O Holy Night
Showing his skill on the piano, Richard takes the spotlight on both these pieces, and he absolutely shines. It only makes me wish Karen had sung O Holy Night, my favorite Christmas song. 

8- First Snowfall / Let It Snow
A couple of playful tunes to break up the serious tone found in much of Christmas Portrait. There are two pieces to this medley that grab me: First the doubled vocal on Snowfall, "Folks put runners on their surreys and forget about their worries". Then on Let It Snow, when Karen coos "but if you'd really hold me tight", she melts the snow on a winter's day. 

9- The Christmas Song
The Mel Torme classic perfectly presented in arrangement and execution. It really doesn't get much better than this. There's a reason this one remains on the radio year after year.

10- Silent Night
The real meaning of Christmas comes through. Hearing Karen sing "Christ the Savior is Born" still brings me chills after almost 40 years. How could it not? My favorite vocalist singing about the One True Son of God and using her God-given incredible lower register. 

It's been said many times by Richard that Karen loved Christmas and its music. You can certainly hear the dedication to their craft in this music. By risking to record and release a Christmas album when it was out of vogue to do so, Karen and Richard continued to take risks as throughout their career- and in the midst created an enduring classic. 

Notable and Quotable: Tim Cook

“Personally, I’ve never found being on the sideline a successful place to be. The way that you influence these issues is to be in the arena. So whether it’s in this country, or the European Union, or in China or South America, we engage. And we engage when we agree and we engage when we disagree. I think it’s very important to do that because you don’t change things by just yelling. You change things by showing everyone why your way is the best. In many ways, it’s a debate of ideas.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook

December 20, 2016

The Red Eiffel Tower

Our love affair with Paris continues. This beautiful piece of art by Georges Garen from 1889 captures the spectacular impact the iconic structure had on the city when it debuted. This almost looks as if it came from the Disney Imagineers as they were planning the France pavilion at EPCOT Center's World Showcase. A piece of long lost concept art. Perhaps it was an inspiration. It inspires me- for another visit to the City of Light!

Trio of Cuteness

On a snowy Saturday afternoon, this trio of cuteness invaded our home...

December 19, 2016

Iron Man Experience On Ride Video

Get it quick before it disappears! We all know this Marvel based Iron Man attraction at Hong Kong Disneyland needs to be a big hit- 
and I must say, even though it's similar in some ways to Star Tours, I think it stands on its own pretty well! See for yourself...

(First found on WDWMagic. Video copyright Hong Kong Disneyland, Disney and Marvel.)

December 18, 2016

Ignoring the Obvious

Choose your analogy. Pick any one of them. It's clear at this time- all too many people around me are ignoring the obvious: We are all going to die one day. Not exactly the type of sentiment Hallmark cards are made of. 

Truth is, it is utterly unwise to ignore the fact we are created as eternal beings- and that this life is only an entryway to the next. If you've read the blog for awhile, you know where I stand. That baby Jesus is God in the flesh, came to pay the price for our sin which we can't pay. Everyone will have to answer His question: "Who do you say that I am?" Is He God and have you given your life to Him? Other ways lead to eternal death. Only Jesus leads to life.

December 17, 2016

Disney Attractions Continue to Inspire: Space Mountain

Iconic Disney theme park attractions continue to inspire films as well as spin off artwork. The latest to be found by Alain Littaye at Disney and More is a series of graphic posters by Tom Whalen. This blue tint retro / futuristic version of Tomorrowland features the incredible Space Mountain. Go here for more info. 

Goes to show when Disney Imagineers are given permission by the money guys to go big, attractions can have a huge impact on the culture. Guess we won't be seeing great products based on anything from Toy Story Playland in the future, will we?

December 16, 2016

Friday at EPCOT Center, 1966

What you say? EPCOT Center didn't open until a good decade and a half later! Well, you're absolutely right- but that did not stop the Disney Imagineers from creating World Showcase on paper in living color- in 1966!

This top piece of concept art by Herb Ryman normally appears in the black and white version. In full color, this idea of showcasing the world under one huge roof seems very appealing. A new version of the WEDway Peoplemover zooms overhead, carrying passengers from one area to the next, Future World just beyond the horizon.

The more often seen black and white version.

Far off Japan and China are within reach as are the delights of France, Germany, the U.K. as well as many others, including our neighbors and friends in Canada and Mexico. The charms of the Old World hold many delights, but so does the future.

Future World, that is! The opportunity to explore the worlds of Energy, Communications, the Land, Transportation and more await us. Who would ever have thought exploring the more commercial side of the future would be so exhilarating? Those incredible Disney Imagineers, of course- working wth the leaders in science and industry to create a one-of-kind theme park not seen since. 

As Epcot approaches its 35th anniversary, the suits seem content to play both ends of the game. On one hand, they are content to have us look to the past so they can continue to milk fans for retro-inspired merchandise. On the other, they ignore its future so they can sell lots of booze, allowing the fans to forget what used to be. Word on the street is that Epcot 2.0 is on its way. Probably a full-fledged immersion into the world of Disney intellectual properties. (See Frozen Ever After leading the way.) Yet, it doesn't have to be this way. Does it?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 15, 2016

Notable and Quotable: Walt Disney

"Think beyond your lifetime if you want to accomplish something truly worthwhile.” 

                                        Walt Disney

The man passed away 50 years ago today and still has an impact. Will my life have an impact after I'm gone? Will yours?

(Note: I took this photo during a walk through the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately, Walt's photo was right in front of the exit sign- which glared onto it in a bright green light. Hence, the side angle.)

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.) 

December 14, 2016

The Wall of Resistance

Resistance. It can be a formidable foe. Be it Captain America standing against Hydra or something as simple as writer's block. We all hit it some time. Certainly, I am feeling that these days. Many times, I have real inspiration for a post, a series, or even just a piece of Disney concept art or a photograph I want to share. Right now, be it the expected Christmas busyness or a pretty packed work schedule, things have been light on the blog front. 

I hope to back over the weekend- if I ever get caught up. In the meantime, try to train your mind to rest, enjoy the season, and allow the love of the Little King Jesus to bring you hope and peace and true unity with God the Father. That's why He came in the first place.

December 9, 2016

Epcot Placeholder

Not Epcot Placemaking, mind you! That project is continuing put on hold.

Here's Imagineer Herb Ryman's absolutely iconic look at what EPCOT Center was indeed to be. This piece of concept art is still a work that stuns, inspires, and now- to any EPCOT Center fan- disappoints. Yes, disappoints. It's a bitter reminder of an incredible past. A park that took two full days to experience the attractions and not just the shops, restaurants, and bars.

Journey into Imagination, World of Motion, Horizons. Classic. Forward Thinking. Beautiful. Some of the best work Disney has ever done. But that was then.

Theme park fans loved EPCOT Center, and you can still find many articles on it. On this blog alone, there's over 300 posts discussing the park, sharing a bit of history, and tons of rare concept art.

What will it take to save the park and bring it back to it's glory days? You can find that here as well.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

December 6, 2016

Notable and Quotable: Dr. Alveda King

"Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, once said colored (sic) people are like weeds; they need to be exterminated" 

Dr. Alveda King, 
director of Civil Rights for the Unborn 
                  (Niece of Martin Luther King Jr.)

December 5, 2016

A Grand Californian Adventure: Part Three- Disneyland vs. Magic Kingdom

Editor's note: This is the last piece of a trip report from my friend Len Yokoyama.
Disneyland's Diamond Celebration marked 60 years of operation since its initial opening back in 1955. In honor of this milestone, the park dressed up Sleeping Beauty Castle in appropriate party fashion, and brought in special events such as "Paint the Night" parade. But other than the slew of commemorative merchandise, not much differed from a standard day in the park.

For most regulars at Walt Disney World who have never been to the West Coast version,  the size differential would be the first thing you notice immediately. The park will seem very small, almost miniscule, when compared to WDW. Sleeping Beauty Castle will do anything but overwhelm you. Its size, in comparison to Cinderella's Castle, will seem quaint in appearance. (I first visited DL in the 8th grade, and back then, the SB castle seemed huge to me. I was surprised how much bigger Cinderella's Castle was when I finally made it to Florida years later). Although WDW is the clear winner in terms of size and scope, there is something about the smaller, more intimate feel of Disneyland that cannot be overlooked. While both Main Streets are very similar, I prefer DL's layout for some reason. It feels more like how a small town main street would look and sound (again, it could be nostalgia playing a big factor in my preferences. I really love both parks for a variety of reasons).

A great President and a godly man.

"Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" has the dubious distinction of being both my least and most favorite attraction on Main Street. As a kid, I couldn't have cared less about a president or the civil war. As an adult,  I love and appreciate what this man did for our country during one of the most turbulent times in American history. It's a one-man show, so it cannot compare (spectacle wise) to the sheer majesty of the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. But I can always hear Paul Frees' incredible voice as he narrates the story of Lincoln combined with a beautiful montage of paintings, just before the curtain pulls back, ready to showcase an amazing lifelike replica of our 16th president.

I'm pretty much fearless now when it comes to asking cast members to pose for picture taking...LOL! But a special shout out for the gang at the Photo Supply Company. Sue and I were there to pick up our free 5X7 pic and I started talking geeky camera stuff with Marcus. Bella soon joined the conversation and I ended up asking the entire group (including Ryan and Brenda) to pose for a photo. They happily obliged and, staying in character, really hammed it up!

Big fan of Mary Poppins, but I always seem to have difficulty finding her during those "Meet & Greet" moments. On my first day at DL, I immediately ran into Bert, gussied up in his "Jolly Holiday" attire. I'm thinking Mary’s not far away, but after waiting around for 10 minutes, I realized she was a no show. 

From Emporium window- "C'mon everybody..."

-to beloved Attraction "... here we go!"

I headed to Fantasyland to get in line for Peter Pan. This is the one attraction where I start questioning the sanity of waiting 45 minutes in the blistering sun for a ride that lasts little more than a minute. I don't feel this pain in any of the other queues, so curse you Captain Hook! It's no secret this is one of the hardest rides to photograph and my first attempt was a total bust. After that disappointing experience, I headed back to Main Street, and lo and behold, Mary was coming out of one of the secret doors to meet guests on Main Street. I was fortunate enough to catch her before the crowds arrived, and was able to get some great shots…more than enough to make up for Peter Pan and co.

My all time favorite shop on Main Street is the Emporium. I always start and end my Disney park trips at this location. I hardly have time for shopping anymore since bit by the camera bug. But, I always make time to pick up one (and only one) t-shirt for each trip. I use to bring home 3-4 shirts in the past, but it's ridiculous the amount of clothes I have sitting in my dresser. I shouldn't even be buying any, but it's hard not to bring home something that commemorates the trip. 

"Master, are you sure this will be enough to build Pandora?"

Another thing that I truly love about the Emporium are its amazing window displays. Through YouTube, I knew Disney had created all new, highly interactive, rotating scenes of various Disney classics including Peter Pan, Cinderella, Frozen, and Aladdin. It was one of my goals of the trip to capture some images, but of course, I had totally forgotten and was only able to quickly snap a few shots as we were exiting the park. People were giving me strange glances as I was partially shooting and wiping down the windows at the same time! 

I make it a point to have breakfast at Carnation Cafe during the visit. The prices are pretty reasonable and the food is always tasty. Service is excellent...I've never had a bad experience. 

Big shoes filled?

The new, more contemporary Disneyland band performed on Main Street during most afternoons. There was quite a bit of controversy and lash back to the dismantling of the original group. I heard a lot of the band members had years of service only to receive a pink slip. It's seems even Disneyland is not immune to the cost cutting methods of corporate America. I'm not enough of a regular park goer to judge which band is better, although I thought this group brought energy, fun, and professionalism to their musical numbers.

While waiting for Paint the Night to begin, guests were treated to a show by the Disneyland 2016 All-American College Band! By this time, I had met Eddison Esteban, a fantastic photographer who lives in California (check out his Disney Resort Images page on Facebook). We were sitting down, a ton of photo gear next to us, as this lively group of college performers put on an incredible show!

Quite a beauty!

As night rolled in, a quiet hush enveloped the crowd (not really, but it sounds dramatic...LOL)! Then, a cacophony of sound and light suddenly explode to announce the start of "Paint the Night" parade! Sad to say, I'm not a big parade fan. I take a ton of images, but when it comes down to processing them, I find it a chore! Not sure why… the parade is visually interesting ... a cross hybrid between a traditional parade and the Main Street Electrical classic. Part of my issue is that most parades don’t have a strong narrative drive, so it ends up being just a series of floats to me. It’s the same problem I have with World of Color.

Compensating for size.

Just before the parade ended, Eddison told me to prepare to rush the middle of the street to set up our cameras for the fireworks. I was ready, but the ensuing madness and crowds proved to be very difficult and challenging. I nearly lost track of everyone, but somehow managed to set up my tripod in the middle of utter chaos (Eddison didn't even bother trying, he shot handheld). I didn't have a chance to shoot the aerial night show at WDW last Christmas, so I was looking forward to this opportunity. It did not go very well. Unlike WDW, where you can lock down optimal spots if you're willing to camp for a few hours, DL's smaller size severely limits options. I was informed that prime areas near the hub are now reserved for VIP guests. My question is, at the prices Disney charges for admission, why is every guest not VIP status???

Beyond the castle awaits Fantasyland. After experiencing the new version in Florida, this area feels more like the "Mini-Me" counterpart...LOL! I like taking character pictures so the Fantasy Faire is a no-brainer for me. You're guaranteed to meet at least 3 to 4 princesses in air condition comfort for autographs and picture taking. It's always awkward when a grown man stands in line for these things without any children or wife in tow (my wife Sue had still not arrived in LA).

Who needs Frozen?

The cast members who played Ariel, Cinderella, and Snow White were all great, (I went on two different times so the actresses changed), but something about it felt a little generic to me. I'm sure a young child goes bonkers over meeting their favorite princesses, so my opinion is irrelevant. I actually liked the costumes of the cast members more at the entrances with their medieval style garbs. I was also lucky enough to see both Brave's Merida and the combo of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider outside in the gazebo. Now, these appearances were more up to my liking. Both Meridas were spunky and playful (again I did this one twice with different actresses), but it was Flynn who really stuck out from the pack. With his hilarious expressions, this guy really got into the character! 

Along with these "Meet and Greets", Fantasy Faire also showcases a "Beauty and the Beast" stage play. The tented stage is rather small so guest accommodation is very tight. I waited in line for 2 hours to get a good seat for picture taking, but still ended up on the side (even though I was the 4th person in line, some of the moms were very quick.)! The play isn’t bad, but like the “Frozen Sing Along” at WDW, you have two comedians narrating most of the story, taking up big chunks of stage time (Belle is almost a secondary character). One of the comedians also plays the Beast, which is hard to overlook (since he's goofy for the majority of the show). I would rate this one a little better than WDW's Frozen, but not by much...

As Walt said- cleaner than the real thing.

"This should cover the Pandora overages!"

It's no secret that New Orleans Square is one of my favorite spots in Disneyland. As a kid, the place seemed wholly uninteresting to me other than it showcasing the still awesome Pirates of the Caribbean (sounds like a repeat scenario of the Lincoln attraction). Older and semi-wiser, I've come to appreciate the architectural beauty and quiet grace that resides here. 

Looks can be deceiving.

It's obvious Walt had a soft spot for NOS with his never to be occupied guest house residing here as well as the infamous Club 33. I had a chance to visit the actual French Quarters, so it's clear that this New Orleans (like Main Street) is a idyllic version of the real place, a place that fully existed in Walt’s imagination. What will always make this place extra special is that you won't ever see it in any other Disney park. I can't imagine Bob Iger and company investing time and money into a themed area that is somehow not tied into its animated characters and/or merchandising machine.

Another fan favorite.

Besides POC, New Orleans Square is home to my favorite restaurant...the Blue Bayou Restaurant. I wouldn't say the food here is outstanding. I actually don't remember what I ate prior to this trip, but did order the "Count of Monte Cristo" sandwich and gumbo. I barely ate a quarter of my meal, not having much of an appetite (after an early breakfast) at 11:00 in the morning. Why book such a reservation knowing I wouldn't be ready for lunch? 

The concept has been duplicated, 
but the results never surpass the original Blue Bayou.

My main goal was to photograph the restaurant while still relatively empty. Because the dining area is so dark, I wanted to set up my tripod to get some long exposure shots. A cast member was kind enough to sit me close to the outer edge, but I found it difficult photographing the bayou itself. Overall, I was happy with some of the shots I got, but even the earliest slots have guests raring to go.

Yesterdayland- and not 1967.

Tomorrowland and Adventureland always get the short ends of the stick whenever I'm visiting here or Magic Kingdom. As opposed to my earlier feelings, Tomorrowland (along with Fantasyland) was one of my favorite lands growing up. But the outdated and constant "catch up" mode of this “futuristic” land has left me underwhelmed and disinterested.  I think Space Mountain is a very overrated "E-Ticket" attraction...the novelty of riding in utter darkness long since vanished. I would love to see a TL based on the retro late 50's idea of sci-fi that was so prominent in the Disney television shows. America was very optimistic in terms of space travel and exploration, and it would fit in with Walt's romanticized versions of the west, Main Street, and the far corners of the earth (jungles, islands, etc). 

My Adventureland photos are nearly non-existant. Not sure why I never shoot this area at night. Living in Hawaii, you would think I'd gravitate towards the Polynesian area, but it's quite the opposite. If I ever get back to DL, this land will be top on my priority list. One exception is that Aladdin and company frequently hang here for "Meet & Greets". I'm a huge fan of the movie, so I make an effort to stop by for some photos.

Another Tony Baxter masterpiece.

Frontierland is surely the most neglected land in all of Disneyland. I think upper management would totally do away with this place if it wasn't so etched into the park's iconography. In my wildest dreams, the Imagineers get the green light to produce Marc Davis' never built Western River Expedition...a major attraction that would put this neglected area back in the forefront. But the reality is  the old west has little appeal to the younger generations (and I can understand why). I do think Disney has to make a decision about this land sooner rather than later. They need to either recommit themselves to revitalizing the place or go forward in a totally different direction (I'm hoping for the former).

Not docked for too much longer...

The Rivers of America is a pretty quiet place, especially now since the Mark Twain is dry-docked while Star Wars land is being built. All of the trains are out of commission too, so no Grand Canyon tour for me...sob, sob! I was hoping to have one last meal at Big Thunder Ranch, but by golly, didn't get to do that either. In fact, I'm getting a bit bummed out typing out all the stuff that was either closed temporarily or permanently! It's a good thing that I could still take pictures of the train and boat at night, since riding them was out of the question.

Southwestern charm.

Right behind Frontierland, is one of the best restaurants in Disneyland...!Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante! I can never remember the name without googling it, but the dining experience was outstanding. 

Overlooked by most of the crowd, but the atmosphere screams California.

I've had breakfast there where they offer both American and Mexican cuisine. I opted for the Chorizo and Egg Burrito which was bueno uno! What is even better is that drink refills are FREE! Yes, that word does exist (on a rare summer night when the moon is a ghastly purple shade) at a Disney park...believe it or not! At night, this place looks magical...almost surreal. Visit here if you get a chance!

All in all, I had a grand time revisiting this old favorite of mine. Many of the later parks have surpassed Walt’s original through size, scope, and advancements in park technology. But like a an old jacket or your childhood home, some things will always retain a sense of magic and nostalgic aroma. 

Sue, Len, and some goofy guy.

Thus ends the last part of my Disneyland trip report. Mahalo to Mark Taft  for giving me space on his blogspot.  Thank you to any of his readers for putting up with these untimely interruptions. If the Lord and Mark is willing, I’ll be back sometime early next year with a report (and the usual photos) on the Aulani Resort during the Christmas season. Until then, stay safe and God bless everyone!

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)