May 31, 2017

Lanterns of Love...Memorial Day 2017

On Memorial Day in 1999, a tradition was started on Oahu of floating lighted lanterns out to sea in memory of those who gave their lives in defense and protection of our country. The lantern ceremony itself has strong ties to Japanese culture, so tying it into Memorial Day has especially deep significance to the islands. Never forgetting the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, this ceremony also represents cultural harmony and understanding between nations that were once at war. 

Held all day at Ala Moana Beach, the event attracts an estimated 50,000 people in attendance at various times during the day. At the setting of the sun (approximately 7:00 pm),  the ceremony climaxes with the release of thousands of lanterns. Although they look alike in the photos, each lantern holds a special meaning...honoring and remembering a specific person that died while in service. The "skin" or paper covering of the lanterns are individually personalized and decorated by the sender. At the end of the night, the lanterns are gathered up to be reused for next year.

The differences in race, age, and gender melt into oblivion as an unmistakable feel of unity and compassion encompass all those participating in this memorial service. While there are warm smiles, genuine laughter and camaraderie, there is also the sad look of loss and pain on the faces of those launching these lights of remembrance.

The weather had been iffy throughout the day, but at launch time, God provided the gathering with beautiful weather and just about the calmest waters one could hope for. To get a good shooting vantage, I waded into the water waist deep, camera held carefully above my neck, conscious of my footing so as not to slip and fall. Splashing water, especially salt water, is always a major concern for photographers, but the water was so glass smooth that not one drop of moisture touched my equipment.

As the sun began to set and the lanterns slowly drift to the horizon, the feeling in the air was one of  reflection, grief, and love. As a christian, I know the death of a loved one is but temporary and that I'll be one day reunited with my family and friends. But while still on earth, a ceremony like this is very cathartic and healing, helping each person to realize they are not alone. While God is watching over us from above, a hug or handshake from a stranger or friend at reminds us that others are watching over us down here too.

   (Photographs Copyright 2017 by Len Yokoyama)

Another Goodbye

No photo today as it can't describe how I'm feeling. It's time for a goodbye after three short years. Three years that went by much too fast. Thankfully, even though visits are difficult, they are not impossible- and there is always Skype or FaceTime. But it's just not the same as sitting across each other at the local coffee shop. That said, thank you, Lord Jesus, for allowing three years of in state friendship when it never seemed possible. And an eternity of friendship as well.

May 30, 2017

Griffin Goes Too Far

Kathy Griffin had better be thankful she lives in the United States. In another country, in a different world, her actions would have her immediately in prison or she would silently disappear never to be seen again.

This image from TMZ shows Griffin holding the head of a dummy of President Trump just after beheading. Is she making an example of what ISIS would do to those who go against their beliefs? Is she stating what she would like to do to the President? Or is she just  bigoted? Is this a publicity demanding celebrity expressing hatred in a way that will get her noticed? 

When even the liberal left takes a stand against her actions, you have to know it's pretty bad. I hope this image never disappears from the web. It's proof positive that hatred comes from all sides of the political spectrum.

(Image copyright TMZ.)

May 29, 2017

More Marvel for DCA, Prime Pandora, Promising Pirates

Now that Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout is a bonafide hit, its a safe bet that the already leaked plans for a Marvel themed expansion happen sooner than later. California Adventure will finally begin expansion in earnest after a long wait from the opening of the 2.0 remake which brought us Cars Land and Buena Vista Street. It's about time. 

The photo above is making rounds on the web, photographer unknown. Found text to the Tower - I mean power plant fortress- is a small piece of eye candy promising future Avengers attractions. Anyone who has read the articles and blogs and discussion boards knows Disney cannot use Marvel's key characters in Florida. California wins again, showing another reason why the Disneyland Resort will be the place for theme park fans to vacation for decades to come. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it all and the placement of these particular film properties in Disney parks there, but I have no doubt, it will be successful. With Star Wars Land at Disneyland, Marvel in California Adventure and a resort expansion coming, the suits will find the original Kingdom to be a long term money-maker, never again to be left to rot as under the days of Paul Pressler. 

Across the States over at Animal Kingdom, Pandora's another breakout smash. The Imagineers, the suits, and Joe Rohde are enjoying a very successful opening and positive word of mouth on a project many thought to be out of place, me included. From what I can see, there's not many animals in this kingdom, but the lush flora and fauna do seem to bring a beautiful fantasy element to a gorgeous park. As the quality of attractions in the park seems to go up and up, it's time for Expedition:Everest to see a repaired yeti and time to finally say goodbye to Chester and Hester. Neither can happen too soon.

The above nighttime photo is from Blog Mickey. It's an absolute stunning photo as is but even more spectacular when you click on it to see it full size. The photo report is one of the best on the web. 

Bit the bullet and saw Pirates 5 last night. In IMAX, not worth the extra expense. Promising beginning with some old school Jack Sparrow swagger (humor and action) and an eerily effective villain. The storyline remains fairly clear, but I had to wonder when the writers will run out of legends and myths of the sea to exploit. Seeing it, I was reminded a bit of Indy 4. With much promise came a healthy dose of weak closure to it all as the emphasis shifted away from the beloved Captain to other characters. Whether or not attendance and financial returns mandate another chapter in the series, fans need something better than this to close out the saga. I hope it happens. As with many, the original remains the best.

There's much more to say on the Disney front, especially after D23.  In the meantime, enjoy your Memorial Day and thank God for the brave men and women who gave their lives to keep us free.

May 27, 2017

Mission Breakout a Worthy Replacement for Tower of Terror?

As with most of you, I am currently limited to experiencing the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout from the safety and comfort of my home. Much like what I've done with Pandora, I've absorbed as much as I can to understand the attraction and present some informed opinion.

From what I can tell, Joe Rohde and the Imagineers did as much as they could given the constraints they had to transform the much loved Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into a worthy Marvel themed replacement. Did they succeed?

Here's a couple of videos, below, before I continue:

The building itself is a mixed bag. Even as Tower, it was one of the ugliest structures to ever be found in a Disney theme park. It's always been the cheaper version of the elegant one found in Disney's Hollywood Studios and the much embellished structure found in Tokyo Disney Sea.  

The revised Marvel based thrill attraction at California Adventure carries over a heritage it cannot be distanced from. It still suffers from the same ill-placement of its predecessor. This time, it's only worse and more intrusive. No, Joe Rohde, all the backstory its given does not make its intrusion any more appropriate. I respect you have a job to do and a job to keep. I get that. I can almost sense the tug of war you're in every time you speak of the project. 

Once the exterior shock subsides, I find the attraction itself to seem pretty enjoyable. And I'm not really a fan of the films. They're not bad; they're just quirky and not likely to become a beloved masterpiece in the Marvel canon of films. That said, the attraction holds a cohesive (if somewhat contrived) storyline, rich layers of detail throughout the queue, a first class Audio-Animatronic that Tower never had, and finally it makes good use of all those previous unused ride profiles. 

Had this attraction been built from scratch and had Tower never existed, my guess is hard core Disney park fans would embrace it wholeheartedly. As it stands, the response is much like the outcry heard when Adventure Thru Inner Space gave way to Star Tours- which means within a generation, Mission: Breakout will become a much loved, much accepted attraction.

Ok, Disney suits. Mission accomplished. Now go in whole hog and turn Hollywoodland into Marvel. But go in hard, do it well and not on the cheap. Be sure to give us park fans a first class "E Ticket" attractions and an immersive environment. Make it rich and compelling. And please move the animation exhibit somewhere else instead of just bulldozing it.

(Top photo copyright Orange County Register.)

May 24, 2017

Stars are Born

This is the year. NBC's The Voice has struggled since inception to have a break out major artist discovered a la Carrie Underwood and American Idol.  But no longer.

Can I brag that I accurately predicted the order of the Final 4? Jesse Larson was an easy number four as he had been in the bottom three before. Equally gifted Aliyah Moulden was my guess for number three. Still young and developing- and her final performances were not as riveting.

That left Lauren Duski and Chris Blue. Both incredibly gifted and consistent in their performances. 

Lauren's cover of Billy Dean's Somewhere in My Broken Heart is now one of my favorites. It's beauty strengthens with each play.  Her voice is at once classic and unique. Beautiful and understated. The Dance was equally gorgeous. Even ending the series at number two, Lauren will have a long career in the music industry.

Chris Blue. Wow! 24K Magic was great- the man has the moves of Michael Jackson and much stronger pipes- but I longed for his take on Uptown Funk. It took Kirk Franklin's gospel gem Take Me to the King to predict and claim that he should be number one. Rhythm Nation was just the icing on the celebratory winner's cake. 

Now, we all know the NBC executives have money on their mind. So, let me add my few cents. This is the first season of The Voice in which I've purchased their songs on i-tunes more than one or two times. Fourteen songs in fact by these top four. And I'll definitely be buying the discs from Duski and Blue.

May 19, 2017

A Pleasant Place

It's only been a vacation in my mind, but I can honestly say, much like Mint Crocodile, I've enjoyed the break from blogging. I'm fresh with plenty of ideas, so let's see what happens and when they come to fruition. Stay tuned. 

May 5, 2017

A Deeper Look at Westcot

Kudos to Robert Niles over at the Theme Park Insider blog and his fairly recent article questioning if Disneyland fans in Anaheim are finally getting their unbuilt Westcot park - the west coast version of EPCOT Center- partially realized in California Adventure's terrific food and culture festivals. Almost immediately, I was brought back to the original grand plans for Anaheim's second Disney park- long before the suits under Michael Eisner (with Robert Iger, by the way) cut the very soul out of the expansion project once the 2 billion dollar amount to build it was realized. Mind you, this was just for the park, and it did not include any hotels or what would become Downtown Disney.

As we all know, in its place, Disney built the much cheaper and ultimately disappointing California Adventure 1.0- a Disney park disaster equivalent to Disney's quick and dirty direct to video animated classic sequels. The park stunk. For me, the first visit anticipation of a new Disney park was ruined by the final product- and I was not alone in that assessment.

Fans knew it stunk, and deep down, I believe suits knew it as well- even if the folks working with them and the Imagineers weren't bold enough to stand up and say so. The hip and edgy contrived sibling was a test tube baby created by sharp marketing folks loaded up with charts, facts, and figures. In other words, it was a heartless disaster playing on the loyalty of Disney fans for a quick buck. (Want to see just how cheap the first version was? Go to my multi-part series here to see the concept art for the original park. It's truly "Bargain Basement Imagineering" at its worst / best. You'll be shocked at what the suits passed off as a Disney quality experience.) As we all know, eventually, the suits under Iger admitted the failure and approved a huge investment to make the park one which was no longer an embarrassment. 

In contrast to the opening day version, I love California Adventure 2.0. The whole Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy mishap aside, I see it becoming a pretty wonderful and complete Disney worthy park in another half decade or so. Once the Disney Imagineers continue to add great attractions as well as remove the remnants of what was first created, seen mostly in the Hollywood Land and large parts of Paradise Pier, the park should look terrific and be filled with unique must-see adventures. Yet, along with many other hard core Disney park fans, I've never forgotten the park we should have seen built: Westcot.

Let's now take a look at what would easily have been an instant fan favorite as well as a huge money maker for the company.

This piece highlights all of the planned expansion.
Lots to see, so click on it for the largest size.

In Florida, the Imagineers had "the blessing of size". This clearly was not the case in crowded, congested Southern California, particularly in the area right around Disneyland. The great enduring success of "Walt's park" brought with it lots of cheap motels and services, fast food restaurants, and traffic that overwhelmed the streets. Available land was scooped up by investors as soon as the park was a success, meaning almost immediately. It was land that Disney itself couldn't afford to buy at the time because Walt had gone "all in" on the park project, risking everything on its success just as he had done in the past with Snow White.

When enlarging Disneyland, it speaks to the incredible ingenuity of the Imagineers that they embraced these space restrictions as a design challenge and used it to spark creativity towards a greater goal. This is the exact thinking encouraged by Walt himself. It all makes Disneyland just so charming. The park is full of attractions, shops, and restaurants in layers to be discovered all around by park visitors. 

In Florida, the extra land certainly allowed wider walkways and larger gardens, easing guest flow and making for a much showier presentation, but it also created a park environment where large, iconic buildings almost seem to float relationally disconnected from one other. All that space became a huge plus for a park design as ambitious as EPCOT Center, but in contrast, it became a crutch of sorts, a pretty serious detriment when it came to the overall design and feel of the Magic Kingdom.  

Original site plan model for the Anaheim expansion project.

The site plan map. 
Take notice of the original plan for the lake.

There was no doubt that Disney in California had to expand to accommodate its ever increasing crowds. How do you build an all encompassing Downtown Disney, new hotels, and a brand new theme park with so little room? The blessing of size didn't exist in Anaheim so the key question had to be asked: Could that fairly compact slice of land available for the second EPCOT type park build out actually become an advantage? Clearly, that's up for debate as Westcot was never built, but I would say unequivocally, the answer is yes. As with the expansion to "Walt's park", the tight space limitations for Westcot ultimately demanded a very unique and exciting version of Florida's second Disney theme park.

By necessity, the design of this park would have to be different than its older brother, and it was. Anytime people look backwards, things could be done better. So it was this time as well. The Imagineers had learned from the past as well, listening to feedback given as EPCOT Center had been around a few years. The issues regarding families with young children and those seeking thrill rides would be addressed this time around. Not with a character infusion, however. The whole park would feel fresh and different- and in at least one very significant way that would make today's money hungry suits at Walt Disney Company wish they would have followed through and built it. I won't tell you what that is right now, but trust me, you'll surely recognize it when you read it.

As seen above, this wouldn't be the first time
Disney Imagineers considered a golden hued
Spaceship Earth.

As with EPCOT Center, the Anaheim park would include two segments blended together. Future World would be complete with a new golden version of the iconic Spaceship Earth- here called Spacestation Earth. The new name and color of the icon wouldn't be the only twist from the original. This time, the giant 300 foot sphere would be in the center of a small lake with the international focused World Showcase regions of the park encircling it. 

Not only would this huge building be the centerpiece of the park, it would be seen from all over Orange County- something that didn't occur with Disneyland's larger structures. Aside from the viewing the Matterhorn, no structure could be seen from outside the park. This grand vision for Westcot's icon would become a focal point of a bigger battle with the city of Anaheim, its residents, and the Company all waging war against each other with different opinions and angles on what should and shouldn't be built. In fact, Disney also played the city of Anaheim against the city of Long Beach with its plan for the proposed California version of Tokyo's rightly acclaimed DisneySea park... but that's another story to be told at a different time.

A vision in gold.

Many local residents and Anaheim government officials weren't too thrilled with this design choice as it was viewed by them as the company celebrating and showcasing its dominance over the city and the surrounding neighborhoods. Nightly fireworks were an issue for some already. This would be too much Disney in their face for them to handle.

The residents of the surrounding neighborhood fought against Disney's plans, with the giant golden spherical icon only providing a focal point for the community build its case. The epic and much publicized battle eventually assisted the Walt Disney Company in ditching their more expensive plans- something they were happy to do after overbuilding hotels at Disneyland Paris- to build a different kind, a cheaper kind, of theme park. Note to Anaheim in its current battle against Disney- be careful what you fight for. You may get it.

Westcot's icon would have dominated the skyline, but on the plus side, the glittering, golden sphere would have been an instantly recognizable advertisement for the larger than life new park. In a small effort to address those concerns as well as the growing building costs, the sphere was later replaced by a large spire. Certainly less inspiring and definitely less majestic, the spire was more in line with what both sides truly wanted. Cheap, quick, easy to build. In other words, it reeked of the Sun icon for California Adventure 1.0. (That park once had a spire proposed as well!) But back to the Westcot and the attractions that were supposed to be...

More ideas on how to make this new Spaceship Earth unique.

Naturally, this portion of the park would highlight the future. The prevailing idea here was to build a park that glanced at the future but intentionally would be constructed without shows or attractions that had to be updated to represent an ever-changing world. Again learning from the past, the Imagineers had already discovered how difficult it was keeping tomorrow in Tomorrowland. 

In this new Epcot, there were Future World type pavilions to be found, but the topics were more generic in nature: the Land, Living, and Science, making it easier to present an entertainment focused approach. More difficult topics such as energy and transportation have been left behind in favor of considerably lighter, fantasy-based fare. Some attractions and Future World environments were based on ideas once proposed but discarded for Florida, particularly those of Imagineer Tony Baxter. This included the content of the original glass based towers for The Land. (I've got it somewhere on the blog but can't find it. The man has always proposed great projects! Look at his unbuilt concept art for Fantasyland here.)

Additionally, in stark contrast to what was built in Florida, California's forward looking area would view what was to come through much more whimsical eyes- including those of Figment and Dreamfinder in a newer take on the classic Journey into Imagination. For good measure, the Imagineers would also toss in a shimmering version of Horizons and a fresh presentation of the Wonders of Life. Now looking backward, those beloved signature attractions would be very welcome in California where the Disney theme park fanbase is much stronger- and perhaps even more nostalgic.

Beautiful, golden, and expensive.

"FuturePort" is what the concept art named it.

From the base of the park's centerpiece was Ventureport, guests could explore these attractions and smaller exhibits, but it was also the main departure point into a newly reimagined World Showcase, now known as the Four Corners of the World.

A spire in place of Spaceship Earth.

The nighttime view.

The success of EPCOT Center gave the Imagineers a chance to objectively look at the park from a constantly changing guest dynamic. The original thought in design was that adult park visitors would be the core audience. In World Showcase, guests would be enthralled with the opportunity to explore other cultures through food and drink and travelogue films without the need for Disney character meet and greets or a large number of theme park rides. As Disney looked at the facts, they soon discovered families with younger kids were almost as much a part of the park's guest roster as the Magic Kingdom. This meant kids were more easily bored with watching travelogues than adults and need something else. More rides - including those for children as well as some thrill rides- were part of the order for the new Westcot.

Latin America in World Showcase.

Space restrictions also forced a new look at this portion of the park. Instead of individual countries being represented, now they were clustered together in continents. There's pros and cons to this approach. The pros are fairly easy to describe: more countries can be represented within a smaller space. The cons? It's not as easy to get "lost" in an individual country, feeling the full depth of the place. One of the best aspects of World Showcase in Epcot is the ability immerse deeply in an experience. Getting lost in the streets of Morocco, the hidden nooks of France and Japan or the backwoods of Canada would be much more difficult to accomplish at Westcot. There would always be new cultural icons acting as lures to the next area, but the risk of sensory over saturation would be a concern. 

According to Imagineer Tony Baxter, who once gave a lengthy talk on the project, (look here for the transcript), it was more than a best of recreation of what worked well in Florida. One of the most exciting parts of the Four Corners was a major attraction called The World Cruise. Imagine getting on board a boat at 5 various ports of the world and experiencing a bit of culture, mystery and romance on a 45 (yes, 45!) minute journey on the park's waterways. Along the way in between ports, boats would enter a series of colorful, rich, indoor panoramas talking about the culture and history of the continents explored. Think about the show scenes of Spaceship Earth, the now-defunct World of Motion, mixing in Audio-Animatronic actors depicting historical events and references important to that society. The epic nature of this attraction cannot be overstated. This was Disney Imagineering going above and beyond what they had already accomplished at Walt Disney World.

All of Asia in one easy to access area.

Red Square and Paris next door to each other- only in Westcot- 
or in Putin's dreams.

Kids rides would be cleverly incorporated into the landscape via smaller "B" and "C Ticket" attractions. Travelogues to highlight regions of the world? Of course, those owl make the cut. What about thrill rides for the teens? A roller coaster in the form of a slinking dragon moving through Chinese mountains was on the agenda. Toss in handfuls of smaller exhibits to be explored, numerous and varied artists providing traditional cultural entertainment, smartly designed children's play areas, and a simulator attraction or two, and you get the idea of what the Imagineers planned to fill out the park's roster of major "E Ticket" type attractions. Let's just say this re-Imagined version of World Showcase wouldn't be met by the cries of "There's too few rides, no thrills, and nothing for my kids to do!" There was even talk of an attraction or two based on the three major religions of the world in their own version of the Middle East- complete with a reflective "peace garden". This is something Disney wouldn't have the guts to do now in our politically correct but extremist charged, global neighborhood. 

There was one other discovery to be found at Westcot- one I found delightful once I got past the cash grab aspect - was the ability to stay overnight in the country or region of your choice. Popular buildings posing as landmarks during the day (and blocking out the city of Anaheim just beyond the park) would not just house new attractions, gift shops, and pricy restaurants, they would also be the home to expensive premium hotel rooms, making this the first Disney park to truly allow guests to stay within it. 

I'll close this article with some back and white pieces of rarely seen concept art for the Westcot park created by Conceptual Design Group in Irvine, (now in Trabuco Canyon) California. (One more is at the top of this post.) These tell only part of the Westcot story, but it's a good place to end.

Would the brand new Westcot have been the hit Disney needed in order to successfully expand the Disneyland Resort and keep the cash flow moving? Without a doubt, but Michael Eisner and his suits (including Robert Iger) got cold feet and opted for California Adventure instead. Will fans ever see Westcot on that third plot of land down the street on Harbor Blvd.? Of course not! The Walt Disney Company that created EPCOT Center is gone. At least in the U.S.A., the company is more interested in shoving its latest acquisitions and film characters into the parks, hoping our wallets will thin out as we purchase cheap souvenirs. They've proved what they think by changing the iconic Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into just another attraction to sell their latest film and by placing the incredible looking Star Wars Land in Disneyland versus in the third park where it belongs.

Even though a new version of Epcot was once planned but vetoed by the suits for Disneyland Paris (the concept art is here on the blog somewhere), it could eventually end up in Asia. Particularly at Shanghai Disneyland, where the always present Chinese government could proudly show the world why they are supreme. Again, that's a story for another time and place- just as Westcot as we know it is a piece of history and an opportunity missed.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

May 3, 2017

Two Goofballs

Like father, like son. And a bit like grandpa as well!

May 1, 2017

Observatron Me

Disneyland's Tomorrowland 1998. Supposedly, the new and improved version. Rocket Rods racing high above the ground on an elevated "highway in the sky" (of sorts- it ran on the former Peoplemover track, not the Monorail re: reference I just made) while the "interesting" Observatron presents an evening show against the backdrop of iconic Space Mountain. This was a slice of Imagineer Tony Baxter's vision for a brand new land of the future. 

Naturally, the project was truncated by the suits who doomed it to disaster. By robbing it of funds needed to bank those curves in the track, the Rocket Rods were difficult to maintain, and more importantly, financially impossible to keep running. The Observatron never functioned as planned- nor was it fixed. Problem upon problem. And by placing a retread of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience in the former Captain Eo space along with other budget cutting decisions, the brand new bronze hued Tomorrowland of 1998 became a major disappointment. It was almost as big of a disappointment as the California Adventure park that made its debut a few years later. Almost.

(Thanks to "phruby" on the WDWMagic boards.  Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)