November 30, 2017

Perhaps Harry Connick Jr.'s Most Important Interview

Besides being a great musician, Harry Connick Jr. seems to be a good man with a solid head on his shoulders. His talk show has featured some incredible guests and some some stirring interviews. This may be one of the most important ones ever.

Take a look at this!

Shanghai's Toy Story Land from the Air

Mainland China's Shanghai Disneyland may be the home to one amazing attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, but as the concept art above proves, it's also prone to building on the fast and cheap. 

Witness Toy Story Land from the air.  Proof that even the most expensive park slides in filler to build more capacity quickly. Lower right attraction is clearly a Mater's Junkyard Jamboree knockoff from California Adventure. Slinky Dog ride from the Paris Studios and Hong Kong Disneyland,  and RC Racers as well. 

Perhaps this all reminds us that one man's discretions (John Lasseter) - and potentially one man's cover up of them (Robert Iger) - won't necessarily always be associated with the Disney-Pixar brand. Movies, theme parks, or otherwise.

The groundbreaking ceremony.

More artwork below:

(Concept art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 29, 2017

New Disney Park Coming to Japan?

It looks as if those Disney Imagineers may be in the formative stages of developing a third theme park for the Tokyo Disney Resort. Wouldn't that be amazing to have a third world class theme park next to the beautiful Tokyo Disneyland and the incredibly gorgeous Tokyo DisneySea?  The full article can be found here. Other articles claim its just an expansion, but we will surely know soon enough!

(Photo copyright Len Yokoyama.)

November 28, 2017

Castle's Stana Katic No Longer Absentia

Are you looking for something new and fresh to brighten up your television viewing? The very talented actress Stana Katic debuts in a brand new series, Absentia. With an intriguing plot line and a more than able supporting cast, this may be just the thing to mix it up. I won't tell you more, but I will say, you won't be disappointed.

November 27, 2017

A Darn Good Coach

Believing in giving a "Good Job!" when its due, Jennifer Hudson is a very, very good coach on The Voice. I think she gives Adam Levine and Blake Shelton a serious run for their money. Much like Alicia Keys did. I really don't like how often she seems to bring everything back to her and her career journey, but as far as doing a great job at supporting and developing her team, she's pretty darn good!

November 25, 2017

Bittersweet Coco

Disney - Pixar's stunning Coco is an incredible work of art from so many perspectives, but it is ultimately a mixed bag for young children and their parents. The characters are rich and emotionally complex. But mostly, they are dead, and this creates some of the most difficult pieces to reconcile as a parent (or grandparent) of young children wanting to see the film.

The Mexican celebration of Día de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, forms the foundation for the events of the movie. The main characters build ofrendas (altars) as part of the lively celebration to invite the spirits of the departed to visit them on the holiday, allowing them to cross over into the land of the living for the celebration. If their photo is not on the family altar, and if they are forgotten, those living on the other side disappear into nothingness.

Miguel, the young boy who is the heart of the film, is a musician at the core of his being. This creates difficulty for he and his family, and it seems only his small street dog Dante- a reference to the famous poem- understands him. The family hates music because a beloved patriarch had deserted them in order to find success and fame. In a town that is alive with music, it's all around Miguel, fanning the flames of his desire. Not for fame, but for the ability to follow his dream and create music he loves.

The animation in his village is gorgeous and true to life. Having spent so many family vacations in rural Baja California when I was a child, I can attest that the artists did their homework in capturing the charm of the small town. The artwork is as vibrant as the music that's played. 

Yet, it's absolutely nothing compared to the imaginary world Miguel encounters when he finds himself in the land of the dead. In this next world, there's an equal energy and color that is very appealing. From an artistic standpoint, the animators did a brilliant job creating a world we would love to explore. There's nothing dark to be found aside from the outskirts of the city. It's a different twist on the afterlife, but it draws on an appealing idea of what we might like it to be. An effective take on the place, playing on the same fascination with the spiritual world that makes Disneyland's enduring Haunted Mansion attraction so appealing.

The story gets high marks for reinforcing the value of family and sacrifice for the greater good. It even wins points for dealing with lack of forgiveness, selfishness, and bitterness. But there's a dark undertone that punctuates the whole morality tale. 

While I certainly do not get my theology from popular films, I certainly can't run away from the spiritual aspects of this film. Nor would I not attend a movie, animated or otherwise, because of themes contradictory to my beliefs. If so, I'd never enter a theater.  That said, because its theology is so central to the story, I can't ignore it either. 

There's a interesting mix of theologies in Coco, ultimately setting aside Biblical truth. (According to Jesus Christ himself, eternity exists for all humans- a place in Heaven or Hell dependent on each individual's acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior or not. See Matthew 5 and 10, and Luke 5 in your Bible.) The newest Pixar flick is interwoven with religious ideas, folklore, and mysticism. (Theologians refer to this as syncretism, the mixing of multiple religious beliefs.) But there's no need for a Savior here because there's no penalty for sin, only an end to eternal life if not remembered by your family. Heady stuff. Even if its true to the Mexican culture, the belief system taught in Coco intertwines some aspects of Roman Catholicism with those of other indigenous thoughts, including the idea of "spirit guides" being with them and guiding them into the netherworld.  

This is not new territory for Disney. The company's television show, Elena of Avalor has already included the supernatural companions. All said, this means younger children need the opportunity to hear from their parents about the individual family's religious beliefs, Christian or otherwise. 

Why is a parental follow-up necessary? Even traditional Disney animated classics are filled with characters and often pagan plot lines that are troublesome when compared to the truths found in Biblical Christianity. It's easier to look at other Disney films that deal with mythology (such as Hercules) with a bit more forgiveness because we as Westerners now doubt anyone in Europe really believes in multiple deities. Even Moana gets a bit of a pass in this department as the Hawaiian culture has a relatively small group of folks who follow the religious part of their culture. Coco is in a different league entirely. Millions of people adhere to the theology being taught alongside the important lessons of love, forgiveness, and the pursuit of dreams.

Back to the film. Act One sets the stage for the story, hitting a high mark. Act Two lags a bit, even getting very, very serious in tone as some of the main characters reveal there are skeletons in their closets, including some very evil deeds. Although at times the music gives viewers the feeling of sweetness and joy, there's very little comic relief in Coco. That alone sets it apart from other Pixar films. Imagine Act One of Up lasting for an entire film. It's that intense, and it's probably the point that younger children would lose interest. Act Three is a fitting conclusion, full of bittersweet moments. Pain, suffering, and disappointment co-mingled with warmth, love, and peace. Much like life itself.

Many critics are hailing Coco as a return to form for Pixar. It is a refreshing change of pace from all the recent sequels as well as something new in the realm of settings and characters. And it is true to the culture, making it an excellent addition to the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. (Particularly if the company continues to force the stable of characters into their parks. Rest in peace El Rio del Tiempo!) However, it does drag in the second act, moving it away from the top tier of Pixar films.

Should you see Coco? The choice is always yours. As an animation fan, it's a solid but imperfect work of art. View it as such. If you're taking children with you, be responsible have have the important spiritual discussions with them after the film. There's certainly plenty to talk about.

(Art copyright Disney - Pixar.)

Southern California Coast

Given that the holiday rush has now officially started, I thought I'd offer this small slice of serenity. A look at the simply beautiful Southern California coastline. I took this shot several years ago while walking the beach, and it has become one of my all time favorites. Enjoy- and may God bless you with peaceful days as you celebrate the birth of the King!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

November 24, 2017

With Love From Japan

We're getting even closer! Just a teaser shot from Japan from our very good friend Len Yokoyama. I cannot wait to see what stories and photos he has to share from all over Japan, including the Tokyo Disney Resort!

(Photograph copyright Len Yokoyama.)

November 23, 2017

Pooh and Piglet Give Thanks

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” 

                            A.A. Milne 

The author sure had the right idea! Even with its darkest moments, life is certainly something to be thankful for. God is so kind and so merciful to us- and He alone is deserving of our thanksgiving.

"Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song." Psalm 95:1-2

May your heart be light and full of joy and thanksgiving on this day!

November 21, 2017

A Preview of the Tokyo Disney Resort

Take a look at these absolutely stunning photos from our good friend Len Yokoyama! The top photo shows the iconic castle at Tokyo Disneyland, and the one immediately below is an equally  gorgeous shot of the world class Tokyo Disney Sea.

Len has spent about two weeks exploring Japan and its theme parks. Upon his return, we'll be hosting his stories and photos to match. Disney was a must do, but so was Universal. Expect some surprises along the way. Coming soon.

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

November 20, 2017

World Showcase in a Circle

Brilliant, beautiful EPCOT Center. It's not what it used to be, but even then, it wasn't what it was once intended to be- and here's the proof. I'm talking about the second Disney theme park in Florida, not the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that was intended when Walt first began to dream. Just imagine a World Showcase as a theme park all its own, with a similarly separated Future World as another park. Yes, that is exactly what the suits and Imagineers had in mind at the beginning of it all. Just make believe there are dozens of national pavilions represented in each slice of this arc of a building, one of two. That particular concept itself has been copied by other Expos and World Fairs as well.

The design of two parks of two separate parks gave way to what we know today. The opportunities were once endless to make EPCOT a minimum of a two day visit. For now, the place is a shell of what it once was and still only a memory of what was once planned. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Marvel is coming and so are more attractions themed to animated adventures such as Coco

Will we ever see anything as future focused as Horizons or as culturally educational and entertaining as Wonders of China? Perhaps not soon, but the thing could come full circle once Disney begins to trust its instincts once more instead of just following the dollar. 

I could give you other photos to show this two park idea as well, but then I'd rob you of the fun of discovering the more than 350 posts on this blog alone that show concept art and more about this incredible Disney World. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 17, 2017

WEDWAY Peoplemover Attraction Poster for Florida

Disney attraction posters. Who doesn't love them? Certainly they are a hit as many people create their own. Some good, some bad, some great (like those created by Greg Maletic). 

Here's an official one created by Disney Imagineering for the Magic Kingdom's beloved and enduring WEDWAY Peoplemover. It's a family favorite. An attraction that's a must do several times on every visit to Walt Disney World's Tomorrowland. Long lost at Disneyland and the envy of fans of classic Walt Disney inspired Imagineering. You know, the era from opening of his magical park in 1955 to his very unfortunate passing approximately ten years later. The era of Pirates of the Caribbean, New Tomorrowland, It's A Small World, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and so much more. 

Folks viewing the Insights blog love my Disneyland Attraction poster series! But until I can get it together and do one for Walt's Florida kingdom, here's a retro look at a great attraction and a pretty good poster as well!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 16, 2017

Unseen Karen Carpenter

Given she had such a short life, Karen Carpenter was constantly at the end of a photographer's camera. Here's a photo I had never seen before from Norman Seeff, a man known for his more rock and roll clientele. 

The year was 1981, and she and her brother Richard Carpenter were nearing completion on their new album, Made in America. The beloved duo had not had a non-Christmas album since 1977, so their public seemed to be ready for something new. The disc was better received over in the U.K. and in Japan than it was at home, but the first single Touch Me When We're Dancing was a pretty solid return to the charts, making the Top Twenty for four weeks. 

Smaller but in color.

This photo and others in similar clothing from the session didn't make the cut. But they were used for the 1989 release of Lovelines, coming on the heels of the Karen Carpenter Story. In two years, A&M Records will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Carpenters first release, Offering (later renamed Ticket to Ride). Maybe we'll see more unseen Karen then. And hear more unheard recordings as well. Until then, the new Vinyl Collection presents the major Carpenters releases in album form. A treat for collectors.

(You can read about Karen's last days here.)

(Photograph copyright Norman Seeff.)

November 14, 2017

An Early Promotional Map of EuroDisneyland

Announcing EuroDisneyland! Here's the theme park map from an early promotional brochure. Make sure you enlarge it to get a picture of what the great Imagineering team led by Tony Baxter had in mind. 

There are marked differences between what was initially proposed and what came to fruition years later. Do you see a new route for the railroad? A Roaring 20's themed Main Street U.S.A.? A new elevated transportation system within the park? How about a French version of the famous Jungle Cruise? Yes, it's all there and more. Even with the cuts from the Board and Michael Eisner, it's still the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 13, 2017

As Time Goes By

Happy birthday to our eldest son, now with a family of his own. Time goes by so, so fast- and this Dad couldn't be prouder!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

November 10, 2017

Ahoy Mateys!

Don't let the diminutive size of this piece of Imagineering concept art fool you! The original Disneyland Submarine Voyage was huge on mystery, thrills, mermaids, and fun. 

Tomorrowland premiered this fan favorite attraction in 1959, proving again Walt Disney's words that Disneyland would never be completed. Guests couldn't get enough of this incredible one of a kind experience. 

The voyage through Liquid Space, with or without a little clownfish attached to it, remains thanks to Tony Baxter. It's still something that cannot be experienced in any other Disney park. (Their were plans for something more here, a journey to the lost city of Atlantis- rare concept art here- but the suits opted for the cheaper in the moment character attraction instead.)

The subs were also an opening day attraction at Walt Disney World, but the Magic Kingdom in Florida removed their beautiful 20K Leagues Under the Sea voyage and left it as an Ariel meet and greet - or just left it empty- for years. Eventually the space was filled in and New Fantasyland took hold. The stunning ships were destroyed aside from one found in the Bahamas as a snorkeling prop on Disney's private island for those cruising the beautiful teal waters.

Guests can ride a submarine at Tokyo DisneySea, but it isn't a real water filled adventure. Dry show sets are made to look real through the power of Imagineering skill. Nearby, the journey with the popular little clownfish is also dry- a simulator attraction that's enhanced by some in cabin effects. It's still not the real thing.

On the other side of the world at Disneyland Paris, the steampunk ship known as the Nautilus is open for exploration, but in reality, the painted concrete vessel of Jules Verne's Captain Nemo goes absolutely nowhere.  

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 9, 2017

Elliott Yamin's Time

Just when I'm ready to give up on this guy, I run across a song that is just so good that it gives me hope for his career. Elliott Yamin was my pick for Season Three's American Idol winner. It wasn't to be. But the guy's got talent. Yes, I wish he would record his version of A House is Not a Home, but that's another story. 

Give a listen to the new As Time Goes By. So good! 

If you're in a throwback kind of mood, here's his audition tape for Moody's Mood for Love, a very difficult song sung effortlessly.

November 8, 2017

Party On

Just a bit of a party. But it does have some of the cutest kids at it ever. Don't you think?

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

November 7, 2017

Tokyo's World Bazaar in Living Color

Here's Tokyo Disneyland's incredible World Bazaar in its original design. The concept art is stunning, and the end result just as good. The Disney Imagineers really hit a home run with this. And it was just the beginning with more to come. Tokyo DisneySea just cemented the resort as being the one fans just have to see.

One more thing - yes, it's 100% true. Yesterday, my good friend and fellow blogger Len Yokoyama took off for a week of fun at the Tokyo Disney Resort. When he returns, expect detailed trip reports from the parks and tons of his amazing photos. The only thing better would be traveling with him!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

November 3, 2017

Kevin Spacey Deserves to Die

Kevin Spacey, star of television's House of Cards, was forced to show his own hand. Allegations from other male actors came into the light about their sexual abuse at the hands of Mr. Spacey. More and more stories come up about him preying on minors as well as adults. Coming out as gay at the same time did not make things any better. His decision to seek help is only the beginning, but he will not be able to run away from the pain he has caused others as well as himself. He has to live with that. So does Harvey Weinstein and a host of others. 

As with many people whose crimes are heinous, Kevin may even contemplate suicide. It's a way out many take, including those cowardly attackers who steal innocent lives in New York, Las Vegas, and way too many other places. Perhaps due to abuse, his victims have thought about it as well.

There's just something even more evil when crimes are committed against children. Straight or gay or in between, pedophiles deserve the deepest parts of Hell as far as I'm concerned.

I remember seeing him in a film years ago and sensing he was a creep. I was right. What Mr. Spacey did to those young men is inexcusable. It's totally evil, but it's also human. Our dire human state is one of intense selfishness and brokenness. The Bible calls it sin- and we are all corrupted by it and the choices we have made.  

God's laws designed because of His love to protect us and protect each other. When you break them, nothing good comes from it, and pain is the result. I'd have to learn the hard way, and so do you. We all do. 

Ever spoken against doing and saying these things but chose to follow through anyway?  If so, welcome to the club called humanity, a club for broken and lost people. A club for hypocrites trying to find their way. And a club for everyone who tries get their needs met in ways that hurt others. We're all in it. 

Let's be honest- just because you know the truth doesn't mean you always choose to live it. I know I don't. And I would bet you don't either. Sometimes we are swept away by desire and do the wrong things. Some of us even make it a regular pattern in our life and try to justify it away. 

Truth is, in God's eyes we are all sinners and deserve death. But by God's goodness and His great Love for us, He chose to send Jesus to earth to die for the sins of all men- so that those who would choose to believe in Him, that he died and rose again, would not be destined to life in Hell forever, but would instead live with Him in Heaven for all eternity. We've got to choose to walk His way and turn around from our evil choices. Is it tough? Damn right it is! But there's no other way. God knew we couldn't pay the price on our own by being perfect, so He sent his Son because of his love- making it clear He is the only way to eternal life in Heaven. 

So, yes, Kevin Spacey deserves to die. So do you, and so do I.  Thank God, Jesus paid the price for our sins. Through Him, we can all have a fresh start. What will Kevin do now that his life is falling apart? You get to make the decision or not to follow Christ and walk life out following him, in spite of your sin, your life, your mistakes. I made mine. Hope and peace and a future was the result of my choice. What is your choice and what will be the result of it?

November 2, 2017

Goodbye California Screamin'- Hello Incredicoaster!

Here's your first look at the new-ish Pixar Pier- the really awful but ultimately unavoidable transformation of the better than it was but still not great Paradise Pier. Just when the park was getting more cohesive, somebody from headquarters forces Imagineering to come up with this. Glad they left the Mickey head.

Screamin' goes goodbye in January, and the Incredicoaster launches in Summer of 2018- just in time for chapter two of the Incredibles story. One of my favorite Pixar movies, but the transformation is unnecessary. At least the coaster will finally be painted.

Hopefully the attractions from A Bug's Land will make it over before the area is destroyed to make room for Marvel

Lastly, I'm glad this is happening in place of the Disneyland Resort "gaining" its own Toy Story Land. That would be much worse.

More transformation information on the Disney Parks blog.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Island Song

One of my prettiest shots from our recent trip. As I was praying today, this verse came into my mind from the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament: "Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands." It's chapter 42:12 - a not so subtle reminder that all who are created by God should be telling of His Goodness, His Power and His Love. 

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

November 1, 2017

The Sign Says It All

A picture is worth more than a thousand words, but I'll give you about a hundred...

A couple of weeks ago, I uploaded High Sierra software for my Mac, a system upgrade that promised better and faster everything. What I ended up with was a paperweight. 

Corrupting my discs and keeping my system in a perpetual state of not being able to power up. (My discs were apparently already corrupted and unable to back up what I had- without me knowing it.) The techs at the Apple store, who are really great, could do nothing but wipe my hard drive clean but couldn't access my files. Of course, I had to start over, recreating my digital world, including a huge project that was not backed up as it was only three days of work. 

I don't think there should be much delay in newer articles, but I currently am short on time. So please be patient with me. I'll be back soon with all the things you love to read on the blog. In the meantime, God bless you.