October 31, 2016

Not This Christmas, Herb Alpert

The "A" of A&M Records, Herb Alpert, is in the midst of recording a new Christmas album. It's release date is not this Christmas but tentatively scheduled for next year this same time.

The founder of the label that brought us The Police, Sting, and so many others, also made solo pop stars out of Peter Frampton and Janet Jackson, and a household name out of siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter. Alpert has enlisted his old friend, brother Richard, for the disc. They'll be recording a new version of the Carpenters classic Merry Christmas Darling. 

While Herb is still going strong and recording into his 80's, this will be the first appearance of Richard Carpenter on disc in quite awhile. Should be terrific as Richard is an amazing arranger, composer and producer. Perhaps this will lead up to something new in celebration of the Carpenters 50th Anniversary of their first A&M record back in 1969. 

Promoting the Haunted Mansion Florida Style

Sometimes you just hold onto something for years waiting for the right time. And this is it. 

Here's a great advertisement for the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. When it opened it the park in 1972, the attraction into otherworldly realms was only a few years younger than its original counterpart at Disneyland. I was there in 1969 during the opening week with a friend visiting from Mexico. My family had decided a good thing to show Maria would include a trip to the park. What a great choice (as always), but the lines down into New Orleans Square for the attraction snaked on and on. It was this ways for weeks. Next to the four hour wait I endured at the opening of Indiana Jones Adventure years later, I had never seen anything like it. 

The suits and the Imagineers were assured of the instant popularity of the attraction. They were 100% right in duplicating the insides for a new mansion on the soon to open Florida park- with some slight changes, of course. 

Situated in Liberty Square, the new mansion took its inspiration from the Hudson Valley. The elegant and foreboding exterior was a stark contrast to the southern charm and warmth of its older sister. 

A new ad campaign played up the mystery of some of the park's inhabitants. Just as with the Disneyland's version, the brand new Haunted Mansion was a hit with crowds from opening day, just over 45 years ago.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 30, 2016

Happy Birthday to My One True Love

Any lover of art will recognize the famous place shown here as we took a lunch break in Paris. The works of the Impressionists at the Musee d'Orsay will dazzle, but nothing human shines brighter than the woman in the photo.

My wife- a wonderful woman to be compared to none. In every role, there's none like her. And the years keep revealing just what a treasure she is to all who know and love her. 

The words found in Proverbs, Chapter 31 provide the closest description of her:

10 Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
And willingly works with her hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
She brings her food from afar.
15 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
And a portion for her maidservants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
From her profits she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
And strengthens her arms.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.
19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hand holds the spindle.
20 She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.
22 She makes tapestry for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies sashes for the merchants.
25 Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.
Happy Birthday to my true love, my best friend, and my favorite person to spend the day with!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

October 28, 2016

Concept Art for Pinocchio's Daring Journey

The year was 1983 when, finally, Disneyland's brand new sparkling Fantasyland opened to a very excited public. With much fanfare, the drawbridge to the castle was lifted and lowered for the first time since the park's opening in 1955. 

It was quite a day. I avoided the exact re-opening but visited shortly afterwards, being quite excited at the transformation. Gone were the quickly (and cheaply) built tournament tent surroundings. In its place was an elegant recreation of a European village. Under the heartfelt leadership of Imagineer Tony Baxter, the original Magic Kingdom had finally received the kind of Fantasyland Walt Disney always intended but couldn't afford. 

In addition to all the changes, a brand new attraction appeared: Pinocchio's Daring Journey, a dark ride to match all the others found around the castle. It joined an impressive line-up beginning with the beloved Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and Alice in Wonderland. (Want to see a nice little article on the transformation of Fantasyland? Go to Imagineering Disney. It's chock full of some great before and after photos!)

The man himself with a marionette of Pinocchio.

For some reason, this new dark ride, recently installed in Tokyo Disneyland months earlier, never became a fan favorite. In spite of it being a masterpiece as a film, the transition to dark ride never caught on with park guests as did its dark ride predecessors. Thirty plus years later, the attraction seems to have a very short queue, even on the very busiest of days. Quite the shame, as I think this attraction has it all: a compelling story with dark and light elements, a variety of scenery, wonderful characters, and great special effects. Most of all, the attraction boasts music that has stood the test of time. It may be too much of a morality tale, but it's a solid attraction in its own right. Truly an undiscovered gem of the California park.

(Art and photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Disney's Animal Kingdom- A True Life Adventure (Part Two)

Editor's Note: As I prepare Part Four of this series, I thought I'd post the first three parts for our newer readers. Here is Part Two. Enjoy!


“Well, I think we’ve got the best animal facilities in the world. We’ve got the best keepers that are here, we’ve got an advisory board- that is a very impressive list- that helped us plan and develop this park. We really think we’ve done the right things for the animals in the overall basis.”

Al Weiss, President Walt Disney World Resort, at the Grand Opening

Disney's Animal Kingdom had to be different. With three parks already on their Florida property, this new park was purposely designed from the beginning to be unlike anything Disney had previously created. Was the theme powerful enough to draw guests to spend a fourth day at yet another park? It had to feel fresh. It couldn't look or feel like a zoo. Reaching a new audience would be a necessity, and it would be a benefit to deal a blow to another competitor. Disney's Animal Kingdom fit the profile. If built as created, it's beauty would astound, its attractions thrill.

Once the park was completed, in order to communicate this place was something special, Disney’s advertising expects kicked it into high gear. First came a preview souvenir booklet (top), followed by some terrific print ads.

The cleverest ad produced played on the sense of mystery the park strove to create: a young explorer walking down one of Animal Kingdom’s paths, looks behind him as shadows of animals imaginary, extinct, and wild are cast over him, clearly telling prospective visitors that exciting animal encounters were the order of the day here.

Enticed by the advertising campaign, curious visitors at the entrance gates received the newest park’s handout. The “Adventurer’s Guide” gave a small hint of what was ahead.

Once visitors crossed the turnstiles, those expecting a traditional zoo environment or yet another version of Main Street were taken aback, finding a lush jungle instead. There was no icon to be seen, no ride vehicle or transportation system in sight, no vendor cart. Here’s a rare map from Disney News introducing what guests found opening day.

Looking inside the Adventurer’s Guide or at the Disney News map, and we find the park is a little short on attractions. The actual count is less than ten, but several others are there to pad the list: character greeting kiosks, the village of Harambe in Africa, and Discovery River apart from the boats that cruised it.

Rounding out the Animal Kingdom were a limited number of shops, mostly found in Safari Village. These are beautifully built with handcrafted carvings and stunning décor, and they surround a few small eateries. The merchandise offered included unique and park specific offerings, something Disney has seemed to forgotten about in most of their other parks- a very nice touch.

Back outside, the lush gardens, waterfalls, and meandering paths (including the famous “hidden” one), beg for exploration, filling more of the visitor’s day. Just what would the paying visitors think? After considing many incarnations of the park, settling on what was to be built and committing to it in concrete, there was no turning back. Park gates opened for the first time on April 22, 1998. What did guests find and how did they react?

(Above, the original proposed Animal Kingdom centerpiece, a carousel!)

(Disney's WILD Animal Kingdom- that is until copyright issues got in the way!)

The setting is spectacular and unique to all the Disney kingdoms. Just like the Earth it celebrates, this newest Florida gem was lovingly created and intelligently designed. Nothing was left to chance. Walking through the turnstiles, it is a fully immersive experience, its a wonder for the eyes, satisfying to the soul. The old saying "The Devil is in the Details" comes to mind, but let's not give him the credit for the magnificent work found in here.

The Oasis is an area in which the designers made up for items removed due to monetary constraints. The very hard working Imagineers produced a stateside park that hasn't seen this much elaborate theming since the original Disneyland. Between the hand carved details all around, lush landscaping, hidden animal grottoes, and various meandering paths to explore, many visitors could spend an entire day discovering unexpected delights. However, guests conditioned by decades of running for Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean – those wanting traditional Disney attractions- could be severely disappointed. Some were, and park management was quick to be told about missed expectations.

It is these guests that were focused on the shortcomings, many deeming this “new breed of Disney park” a half-day excursion charging a full-fare. Disney responded equally fast that this was a place to be savored, not a rushed experience. Both camps were right, yet since Disney understood that guests vote with their wallets- and their experiences were now shared worldwide via the internet- plans were immediately made to add to the park. Soon to come additions included attractions for the Asian section of the park not yet ready for opening day.

(Proposed design for Asia.)

Our Journey Begins...
Due to other obligations, it was about a year and a half after opening that I first saw Disney’s Animal Kingdom for myself. My wife and kids were curious and asked the obvious questions regarding a park that seemed to be the Disney version of a zoo. Having familiarized myself with the park from every form of promotional material I could get, I thought I was ready to go and “knew” the park. Was I ever wrong!

On our first journey to the newest kingdom, two erroneous design choices stood out. The majestic Tree of Life is truly a draw in itself, but the 3D film experience inside, although quite good, uses space that should contain an iconic, timeless attraction. Additionally, the tacky and very unnecessary Rain Forest Café takes up prime real estate at the park’s entrance, lending a stench of commercialism to an otherwise organic and visually appealing piece of land. This is a major mistake, akin to placing a prominent Home Town Buffet at the grand entrance of Main Street. However in the larger scheme of things, these are quite minor. This was a brand new Disney park after all and a marvelous one at that!

When looked at through a critic's eyes, although not immediately obvious, the final execution of Animal Kingdom reveals that there are many similarities with the quickly built Disney-MGM Studios. Both parks are light on attractions, a trend that continued in later years with Disney’s California Adventure and Paris’ Walt Disney Studios. Instead of a lengthy Backlot tour, guests at Animal Kingdom travel via safari truck through the quite realistic African savannah. Exhibits abound in each park. Animation and behind the scenes artifacts are on display at the Studios, while creatures of all sizes reside in the main lands of the Kingdom. Time-consuming theater presentations are plentiful, replacing the absent traditional Disney rides while accommodating large groups of guests. Noticeably lacking, however, are Disney’s trademark and lavish Audio-Animatronics adventures. These costly extravaganzas are relegated to one per park: The Great Movie Ride, and Countdown to Extinction, respectively.

Back to our visit. Entering the Oasis, we realized the place is designed for adventure as we found the multiple winding paths curving through a lush jungle filled with small creatures and colorful birds. Folks who choose not to rush through this section of the park may uncover a small waterfall cascading before a bridge, all hidden from view. In fact, I didn’t find this place until my 4th visit! Small caves contain unexpected animal exhibits, including fish. The scent of flowers and the distant sound of music filled the air.

I did not expect the impact this type of “Scene One” would have upon my view of the park. To experience this in person is to feel a combination of serenity and excitement, the desire to remain all day and the need to explore even further. Amidst the adrenaline rush, I never realized we would later be hit with an educational experience as well as a day of fun.

(Above, the Proposed plan for Dinoland U.S.A.) 

Journeying beyond the gardens into an open pedestrian area and its small but colorful village, the Tree of Life transforms into a breathtaking piece of art upon closer inspection, as the hundreds of animal carvings found in its trunk and branches become evident. I couldn’t help but stand and stare at it or photograph this masterpiece all through the day from various angles. Even if it didn’t have the rather funny “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” show inside, the tree would become an instant favorite.

Standing on a bridge looking at the Tree on one side and the Discovery River below,

I was lost in a brand new faraway place. The park's clear shortcomings faded. Then it hit me: I hadn't been on a single attraction in over an hour, but I was thrilled with everything I saw. Couldn't wait to keep exploring the park. Yes, Disney had done it again.

This is the end of Part Two of this series. Part Three is on line now with Part Four on its way!

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company, photos by Mark Taft.)

October 27, 2016


Three adorable kids. Look at this photo- it's one of my new favorites, and it reminds me of one we took of our own kids years ago while we were at the beach. Priceless!

And now the full family photo. It would be impossible to love them all more than we do...

October 26, 2016

Timeless Shows Potential

What on earth could Abraham Lincoln, Frank Sinatra, and James Bond have in common? The answer: Seeds for a potentially captivating television series.

After the disappointment of what happened to Castle- an end of a series less than idyllic- I was skeptical we would find a television show of much interest, something with substance, humor, heart, and style. Then along came Timeless

Missing the first half of the premier episode was not a good way to begin judging a show for long term viewing. As my wife turned the channel to it, I was captured by the late 30's focused episode about the Hindenburg. Granted, the music of the era is truly timeless and the fashions beyond cool (the fedora is still being worn today), but I was still not 100% sold. 

Abigail Spencer's Lucy Preston is a likable if nervous history professor turned spy. She balances a fine line between compelling and not yet being the focus of the show. On the other end of the spectrum, Wyatt, played by Matt Lanter, started off written as fairly one dimensional. The most interesting of the trio so far is RufusMalcolm Barrett's hero caught in the middle of some spy on spy melodrama. 

I was satisfied enough to give the show a second viewing... and a third, and a fourth. The series continues to get more interesting as the characters grow richer, deeper, more complex. The artistic direction is beautifully done, and the tales increasingly of interest- even if history is altered a la Forrest Gump

Overall, it's not Beckett and Castle, but it is what it is. Who knows? It could end up being a favorite of mine. With likable characters, stylish representation, growing humor, and limitless ideas to draw from, the series could last awhile. The possibility of it becoming this fan's favorite new show increases each week. Unlike so many others, I'm happily willing to give this one a chance. 

October 24, 2016

A Grand Californian Adventure: Part One

Aloha regular and new readers of Insights and Sounds!

Some of you may remember me from my trip reports to Walt Disney World last year. (Editor's note: The multi-part series starts here with a comparison between Disney and Universal.) Thanks to the generosity of this blog’s author Mark Taft, I am back to do an in depth investigative report on Disneyland’s 60th.

My wife Sue and I first stayed at the Disney Grand Californian Hotel back in 2010. As big fans of the Wilderness Lodge, one can understand why the thematic similarities would appeal to us. 

While some may call it “Wilderness Lodge Lite”, I feel the resort has its own identity/game plan and isn’t necessarily trying to totally mimic its Florida cousin.  Due to space limitations, GC definitely has a cozier, more intimate feel (eschewing the “WOW” factor one gets when walking into the lobby of WL). This lends itself to a more authentic feel that this could be a place that exists outside in the real world. Service and cast members are both top notch with security going above and beyond the call of duty (more on that later). The cast member who checked us in, Jeremiah, was extremely helpful and even comp us fast passes due to a slight mix up in the reservations. The rooms are clean and comfortable, but nothing extraordinarily spectacular. 

The Lobby. You just HAVE to click on this one to see it full size!

With two fantastic restaurants, and entrance straight into California Adventure, is this hotel worth the price tag? At a shade under $300.00 (which is what we paid back in 2010), the answer is an emphatic YES! At $550.00 per night, “Are you kidding me?” can be heard echoing throughout Radiator Springs Valley! Yes, this is what I reluctantly paid for during our stay there. There is no way I would have booked  at GC were it not my wife’s birthday. 

Sue is not a big Disney fan, but she was gracious enough to allow me to stop off at Disneyland before heading to Vegas. I have horror stories about our Super 8 Motel stay trying to save a  few dollars during our last visit. Not wanting a repeat performance, I bit the bullet and booked the hotel. Putting aside that no room (talking your standard affair, not a suite) is worth that type of money to me, we did have a wonderful time at the resort.

My wife and I were able to enjoy meals at both in-house restaurants, Napa Rose and Storytellers Café. We’ve been to Storytellers before, and always for the breakfast buffet. You can’t go wrong with the selection and quality of food here. And although I seem to run into Chip and Dale at every character meal, the service and theming make them more than bearable.  

Stories waiting to be told.

Overall, I think Storytellers is one of the nicest looking restaurants at any Disney resort and the way it integrates into the overall theming of the hotel is first rate. I definitely give Storytellers the edge over Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge.

While breakfast was on familiar ground, this was our first time dining at Napa Rose. It was either here or Carthay Circle Restaurant for my wife’s birthday, and Napa came in second (more on that in Part Two).  But it’s the end results that really matter…and Napa Rose was the clear winner. Not to say that Carthay was bad (it was great), but the food quality and selection at Napa was just that much better.  

We started off with the "Seven Sparkling Sins" as an appetizer. I can’t do any better than Disney’s official description,  so I'll just copy and past Disney's explanation:
"An array of tantalizations featuring spicy beef & peanut roll, curried crab taco, seared ahi nacho, shrimp in cucumber wrap with lemon dill creme, citrus cured salmon corn cake, tangerine grilled scallop and grape leaves with pheasant for two".
Immaculate in presentation, this appetizer proved to be worth the $45.00 price tag, with the spicy beef and ahi nacho my two favorites (probably because its so reminiscent of Hawaii food). As with our meals at WDW, we split the entree and went with the Skillet Roasted Prime New York and added a side of Truffled "Mac & Cheese" Orecchiette Pasta.

Although we had celebrated Sue’s birthday the night before, our waiter still presented my wife with a complimentary birthday dessert (Chocolate ice cream with a cookie foundation and a pinch of sea salt. The contrasting flavors of sweet and salty made it quite a treat!). Overall, it was our best dining experience of the entire trip!

Author Len and his wife Sue.

I suppose I should touch a bit on Downtown Disney…Disneyland’s shopping/dining venue. While there is nothing wrong with the assorted shops and restaurants, I think most folks coming over from the East coast will be sorely unimpressed. The Florida counterpart was already in a different league prior to the theming change, but now that Disney Springs is coming into fruition, the Anaheim complex seems even more underwhelming. It’s hard to place the blame squarely on Disney’s shoulders. The limited space really hampers what one can do in terms of creative ideas and visual synergy. Nonetheless, that area could use a strong thematic narrative like Disney Springs.

Up Next: Disney California Adventure

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

October 20, 2016

The Very Thought of You

One of my all-time favorite songs from the American Standards songbook. Now sung by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Mr. Michael Buble. The Very Thought of You. What a gem! I hope the new album, Nobody But Me, is as good...

Minty Fresh Holiday at Tokyo Disneyland

Want a fresher than fresh look at the Tokyo Disney Resort? Then head on over to the always wonderful Magic Eye blog hosted by Mint Crocodile. He's just traveled the Asia parks and has some incredible photos to share. I've always appreciated his insights and his photos of the Disneyland Resort- and now it just gets even better. Thanks, Mint!

(Photo copyright Mint Crocodile.)

October 14, 2016

Nemo Takes Over Tokyo DisneySea

The toon invasion of Tokyo DisneySea continues. Nemo and Friends SeaRider is soon to replace Storm Rider at the new Marine Life Institute. 
...and what it used to look like.
Too bad Turtle Talk with Crush isn't in the area as well. Imagineering concept art from the always great Disney and More blog.
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 12, 2016

Sweet Liberty

A visit to the Big Apple! Well, not me, but my wife, one of her sisters, and their mom. Enjoying all the sights and sounds of New York City without me there to drive the ship. 

Central Perk- I mean Central Park.

My mother-in-law loves both sunflowers and this artist!

Love Lady Liberty! Glad the ladies are having fun!

October 6, 2016

Unexpected Beauty

It really was a grand late summer afternoon, and the image of this beautiful flower against an old wooden blue fence caught my eye. Fortunately, I had my camera with me. I just love discovering the unexpected.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

October 4, 2016

Strong Man's Cry

Today there's not much to be said about the Disney World. Nothing to report about Disneyland or any of the parks that would be of great interest. In fact, it's a pretty slow season, even with Guardians of the Galaxy taking over Tower of Terror in California. 

So, instead, today I share what's on my heart. Am I a strong man in my own strength?Absolutely not. But as I humble myself before God, He gives me what I need. And my heart's prayer has been written before:

Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again. Do not send away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation. Keep me strong by giving me a willing spirit. Then I will teach your ways to those who do wrong, and sinners will turn back to you.

                            Psalm 51:10-13

October 3, 2016

EuroDisney by Imagineer Herb Ryman

EuroDisney. The relatively short lived and ill-conceived name for the wonderful Disneyland Paris. Above you'll find Imagineer Herb Ryman's concept art for the castle. It's clear here they were wisely going for something new- not quite like the cookie cutter concepts used for Tokyo Disneyland or Hong Kong Disneyland. As far as I can tell, to do so is a huge mistake, and I hope the next Magic Kingdom styled park has a unique castle all it's own. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 1, 2016

Coffee Wisdom

Loved this sign in a coffee shop far away from home...