April 30, 2018

The Disney Dark Ride Series: Peter Pan Flight

Perhaps the most beloved dark ride attraction in Disney park history, and a definite Fast Pass favorite at any Castle park, Peter Pan Flight debuted with the opening of Disneyland in 1955. It was an instant smash. After all, who could resist flying in a pirate ship over the evening skies of London and Neverland?

They can't resist Peter in Tokyo!

Yes, fans found in France!

Attraction poster for Pan in Shanghai Disneyland.

English author J.M. Barrie's novel of the boy who wouldn't grow up debuted in 1911. Readers were immediately enthralled with Peter Pan's journeys. The cast of characters were just as interesting: the Lost Boys, the villainous Captain Hook, and the manipulative but good hearted fairy, Tinker Bell. Toss in some mermaids, a few Indians, and an amphibian with a gastric problem to create more adventures than a boy could envision. Dreams of flying over a darkened but starlit London past the Big Ben's clock and onto the island of Neverland were birthed in the hearts and minds of children everywhere. Adults, too!

Click to make all the images large.

Naturally, as Walt and his film makers looked at classic literature as the main source of animated film inspiration, the book and Peter Pan's adventures were a natural choice for exploration. The colorful characters and lush environments screamed for the Disney animators to tell their stories. When it was finally released to theaters in 1953, the movie drew universal praise for its enchanting theme, instantly singable songs, beautifully colorful textures and backgrounds, and of course, its endearing characters.

The idea for a family friendly park had been brewing in Walt's mind for more than a few years when he finally decided to take a chance and build Disneyland. He risked everything to do so. This park, Walt's park, had to be unlike anything ever seen before, and that meant the attractions contained within needed to be creatively satisfying as well as crowd pleasing. With a handpicked crew, Walt and the team went to work. Each land would be unique, and Fantasyland would draw guests into the stories the animators told so well in their films.

During its initial creation and design stage, Walt Disney wanted his Fantasyland section of the new park to give guests the unprecedented ability of experiencing the fun and excitement of his animated films by becoming part of them. Remember, this was years before Universal Studios got into the act. Again, Walt Disney was ahead of his time. With this perspective and dedication to excellence, his Imagineering team created and set the bar for all theme parks to come.

With Disneyland, not only was the concept unique, the choice and execution of the attractions would be as well. Although carnival operators of the day pressed Walt's team to include the expected Ferris Wheels and iron carnival rides, Walt insisted on the new and innovative, instead creating adventures that could not be duplicated elsewhere- a trend that would continue for decades before a change of direction and lack of vision at the end of the 20th century.

Testing the ride vehicle.
Check out the great Disney Avenue site. 
Blogmaster Keith Mahne uncovered this photo.

Dark rides were a staple of amusement piers from Coney Island on the East Coast to various locations dotting much of California. Some were scary, some held promises of love or at least affection, but all of them held a certain mystique to paying customers as they could only guess at the wonders within the building they saw. This medium fit the Disney team perfectly. The art directors could fashion the rides just as they could a film, directly the riders eyes to carefully chosen scenes.

The later to be named Imagineers went right to work. Fantasyland's courtyard would hold these smaller but still innovative adventures. Since the film was one of the most recent Disney hits, Peter Pan was prime for exploitation. Beyond the marketing potential, the possibilities to tell the story were endless, and Peter Pan Flight, as the attraction was initially named, was quickly decided upon as a necessary choice for opening day.

The simple but effective exterior of the attraction, as shown above, fully met the strict budgetary requirements of the new venture while still presenting a fanciful, enticing entrance. The tournament tents, banners, and other decorations created an atmosphere not found elsewhere. The style of Fantasyland wasn't what was fully envisioned, but the more extravagant surroundings would have to wait for later.

The actual attraction, however, was filled with lavish and sometimes expensive little details that others might deem unnecessary. The queue area may have been decorated with a painted mural along the side of the building but even that was done with great care. Loving creation of the attraction- including a unique ride system whose cars were ornate pirate ships suspended from a track in the building's ceiling - rightfully enchanted guests from the very first flight.

In many ways, this Peter Pan attraction and the more elaborate Jungle River Cruise would define Walt's park by showing what could be accomplished by the artisans and engineers when the goal was to please, entertain, and delight its guests. This relentless dedication to excellence whether large attraction or small brought great rewards and extremely long lines. Upon the park's opening, these two attractions became instant icons along with the it's physical centerpiece, Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Not only was Mr. Disney a premier showman, he was also a savvy marketeer, and he worked hard to make sure every American knew of his beloved park. Walt and his brother Roy enticed television's ABC network into a creative and financial partnership that truly benefited both parties. Bringing Walt Disney to television was a coup for the young struggling network, and the weekly television exposure of the plans for the park guaranteed much anticipation for its opening, resulting in hoards of guests with money to spend. Anticipation was high, and so were expectations due to the buildup given Walt's magic kingdom.

Unlike some companies of our day, Walt, Roy, and the Company delivered on their promise. Disneyland actually made available one unforgettable experience after another, becoming the new gold standard for the American family vacation. Word quickly spread.

With television consistently whetting the appetites of millions of viewers, fantasies became realities- and the company was soon flush with cash to create even more amazing experiences. This meant even more ambitious and innovative attractions than what the Disney team was first designed.

As with any unprecedented venture, initial budgets were underestimated and therefore strained for the park, with Fantasyland and Tomorrowland suffering the most changes compared to what was originally desired. Still, no one could resist Peter Pan's Flight. Where else in the world could guests fly over London without being on a real airplane or cruise down exotic jungle rivers? Yet, this dream and others would become real for those visiting Anaheim.

Peter Pan Flight was so iconic, it had to be duplicated in Florida's Walt Disney World and its Magic Kingdom. Sure, other dark rides unique to Florida's park were considered, (Mary Poppins and Sleeping Beauty among them), but nothing past or present has held its own with the undisputed champion.

New addition:
Rare piece for Disneyland's New Fantasyland opening in 1983.
Artwork from 1981.

Back on the West Coast, Fantasyland, and the newly named Peter Pan's Flight, remained the same for almost 30 years, until Tony Baxter led a group of Imagineers on a total revamp of the land. Now with the cash they desired, the carnival/circus tent/medieval fair look of the heart of Disneyland soon gave way to a fanciful take on the villages and atmosphere of Western Europe.

Typical Walt Disney:
Personally involved in the park that bears his name!

These changes also brought the dark ride's namesake characters into the attraction for the very first time. Originally, guests were supposed to be the main characters, but few understood the concept and many were left wondering why they never saw Peter Pan in an attraction that carried his name. This problem was corrected with the extensive remodel, much to the appreciation of frustrated parents trying to explain the initial idea to their bewildered children.

Disneylands to come, in Tokyo then Paris, were designed with the crowd pleasing Peter Pan's Flight as a centerpiece to each respective Fantasyland. Only in Paris were the Imagineers smart enough to increase the rider capacity. However, even with larger pirate ships sailing into the night sky, guests continued to make the queue time one of the longest in the park. In fact, the lines to hop aboard are just as full in Japan and Paris as they are in Anaheim and Orlando!
Paris' Peter Pan. A bit gritty as I blew it up so you could see the details.
On the other side through the arcade? Skull Rock!

Disneyland Paris seemed to be home to the best version of the attraction. Not only were the ships able to seat four, but just on the other side of the arcade was Adventure Isle. This large area for exploration leaned heavily on Neverland for design. Captain Hook's Pirate Ship awaits explorers as does Skull Rock and trails leading in and out of mysterious caves. Only the addition of Swiss Family Treehouse high up on the hill takes from the illusion its Peter Pan's island home made reality.

Unrealized Tokyo Disneyland Peter Pan mini-land.

A newer change proposed but not realized.

The Oriental Land Company, majority owners of the Tokyo Disney Resort, actually considered an entire Peter Pan mini-land of sorts. Unfortunately, it never made it from the Imagineers' drawing boards into reality.

Perfectly maintained dark ride in - where else?- Tokyo.

In a perfectly designed kingdom, Peter Pan's Flight would be a full scale "E" Ticket attraction with a lengthy ride time. Yet, the shorter flight seems to require repeated trips to soak it all in. And guests continue to line up over and over again with each new generation. It's a rite of passage every bit as strong as a first flight with Dumbo or the first ride on Space Mountain.

The Magic Kingdom in Florida finally enhanced the experience for guests- but only in the queue. Disneyland, however, plussed the attraction with new lighting effects and smaller paint enhancements to make the flight even more magical after 60 years.

A new and greatly detailed queue in Florida. But what about the inside?

In September of 2019, I would finally see the new revised queue for myself, and the three surprising photos I took in one day (below) tell quite a story!

September 4, 2019- Hurricane was on its way, but we decided to risk going anyway. This photo shows a 10 minute standby wait for Peter Pan's Flight. Not that its impossible if you rope drop or have a breakfast reservation with early entry. But this photo was taken at 9:45am! That is, after three walk on rides on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and one on Splash Mountain. Amazing but true!

Here's part of the new queue. Quite charming!

Same day at 2:45pm walking by the ride. My wife, our daughter and her family. We were awed by the lack of crowds! This made for a day at the Magic Kingdom when we rode just about everything.

Back to the ongoing history of the attraction in the castle parks. What would the Disney suits and Imagineers decide for Shanghai Disneyland? Much like the castle, bigger, better, and a decision to make this the best variation of an American classic. Almost an "E Ticket" actually!

Here's a stunning piece of concept art showing the beloved attraction as it appears at the newest castle park, Shanghai Disneyland, in the lacking and misguided Fantasyland. Seen on the far left. And a look at the pirate ships below. The end result was much better than anyone thought it would be. Who imagined you could improve on an original?

Off to Neverland! Now departing from Mainland China!

Walt enjoying the fruits of his team's hard work.

Proving once again that a great story and near flawless execution are much more important than sheer mass, big thrills and excessive budgets, Peter Pan's Flight has held its own with Imagineering's "E" ticket attractions- for 60 years...and counting.

And now to end the article, here's a video of the new Shanghai attraction! Courtesy Mouse Info

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 26, 2018

Thursday Night in Epcot's Germany Showcase

Time for us to travel in Epcot's World Showcase from a Saturday night in Italy to a Thursday in Germany. Here's a fairly rare piece of concept art. If you look beyond the arch, you'll find the Rhine River Cruise, a planned but abandoned attraction that never made it past the drawing boards due to budget cuts. Such a shame!

From a distance, the pavilion shines at night, and you can just tell an Oktoberfest celebration is in full swing. Going inside, the beer hall is lively with music making it all the better.

Ah, yes that Rhine River Cruise would have been a hit! This piece of art, first shown in an Epcot book and scanned here by the great Yesterland site, teases with what should have been. It's a shame that since the opening of EPCOT Center, Disney Imagineers have not created a new river ride attraction until Animal Kingdom's Pandora boat ride. 

Maybe once the suits get the character invasion out of their system, the park will return to featuring culturally based attractions. Here's hoping!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 25, 2018

Fools Like You, Fools Like Me

Sometimes I'm an idiot and so are you. Even with the best of intentions in doing the right things as we try to serve a Holy God, we screw up. This article about the life of Samson, the flawed hero, resonates with me. Give it a read, and see if you can relate.

(Art copyright Jonathan Bartlett.)

April 22, 2018

Reflections on 20 Years of Disney's Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom's 20th Anniversary. Can it even be that long ago that its gates first opened to the public? It has certainly changed the face of Walt Disney World and the way tourists visit. 

From the beginning, the park's been one of contradictions: Beautifully designed and "value engineered", consistent in theme but with glaring exceptions, at the same time both exciting and boring. It's certainly been a park that has stagnated and then experienced incredible change over these twenty years!

I remember first visiting in 1999 with two main goals in mind: Seeing this new Disney park and visiting my beloved Epcot during the Millennial Celebration. One was hugely successful in my eyes, the other half-hearted in execution. And it's one park that will probably remain a Florida exclusive, making it all the more fascinating.

Harambe Market concept art by Imagineer Joe Warren.

Yet, it's a very fascinating park with an equally fascinating history that reflects the varied complexities found within the business and design halls of the Walt Disney Company. 

I was fully mesmerized by everything surrounding it and began finding everything I could about it. The end result is to date a seven part series full of great stories, concept art of both attractions that survived and those that didn't, part travelogue and part history lesson. If you love this park, you'll want to use the links below.

Just a few examples of what's to be found:

Beastly Kingdom(me)- a beautiful land that gave way to Pandora.

The stunning entrance to Dragon's Challenge, a high speed roller coaster.

A rare piece of concept art.

Full disclosure here: Having not been to Walt Disney World for almost a decade, I have not created Part Eight of the series... yet. After this summer's visit, the next segment will make its debut on the blog. I know there will be much to write about again, but I've got to see it myself to let the park's magic have its full effect. The last visit to Animal Kingdom was not so magical. Read about it here. There's also 150 plus more posts about this park, but I won't link to all of them. 

As I end this post, here's a parting gift. The top photograph of the park's Tree of Life icon is our friend, blogger, and photographer Len Yokoyama. Beautiful shot rich in detail! This gorgeous photo huge, and I left it full sized so it could be used as a desktop picture. Just click on it.

Here's to the park's next 20 years!


Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
(All artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photo by Len Yokoyama. All rights reserved.)

April 21, 2018

Saturday At World Showcase's Italy

From the very talented Imagineer Herb Ryman, a black and white sketch of the proposed Italy showcase for EPCOT Center. While the end result is firmly focused on Venice, the concept art shows a bit of other regions, rounding out the presentation. As it stands now, its akin to letting only the city of Philadelphia represent the United States. Beautiful, charming, but incomplete. 

Nonetheless, I can't get enough of EPCOT art or the park itself.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 17, 2018

Sex Marks The Spot

Sex marks the spot. Shame is gone, so is restraint. Anything goes. We've been reduced to what drives our animal needs even if at expense of others. Another one falls. Pain multiplies as we hurt each other, abuse each other, take advantage of each other. De-evolution at its worst- and it comes back to haunt us. What happened to serving each other? How many do we wound as we choose to do what we want versus what is right? It's time to rethink how we handle ourselves.

April 16, 2018

The Imagineers' Moroccan Surprise

Good design at Disney parks goes beyond the easily seen elements. In fact,what makes Disney parks unique is the Imagineers ability to go beyond the expected, surprising and delighting its guests. Here is a case in point. Standing in Epcot at the edge of the lagoon, I positioned myself for a shot of the beautifully detailed Morocco pavillion. Something in the background caught my eye. It was the Tower of Terror, an entire park away, fully in view and consistent in theme with what I saw in World Showcase. Nice job, Imagineers.  

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

April 13, 2018

Love the Incredibles?

Love the first movie. Love the poster. Will probably love the second Incredibles movie. Here's the trailer:

Love the Incredicoaster coming to Pixar Pier at California Adventure? Probably, even if it is shoe-horned into the park. At least Mickey is still on the Fun Wheel!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 12, 2018

A Booking Nightmare- What We Gave Up at Walt Disney World

Dinner for six at California Grill? How about an evening at Chef's de France in Epcot for the family? These are just some of the things we had to give up due to the crazy hyper-planning necessary to visit Walt Disney World these days.

Chef's de France 

It shouldn't be this way. At Disneyland, it takes a minimal amount of advance planning, and you can still have a great vacation there with a sense of joyous spontaneity. Not so in Florida.

Morimoto Asia (photo by WDWMagic.)

At Disney World, the overcrowding and delayed but long needed expansions to handle the millions who visit have created a booking nightmare. Now in order to see and do the primary attractions at Magic Kingdom (let alone the other three parks), all this extra work takes the fun out. Pre-choosing Magic Band characters for each person in the party doesn't make up for it. Nor does Magical Express. 

Frankly, it's all just exhausting, and I decided to give up. I cancelled reservations to maintain some sense of freedom from a set agenda, and decided we'd take our chances. Morimoto Asia lost out to Flight of Passage. Chef's de France to Test Track. More examples than I will write about. We will now forgo table service and instead go to late night counter service places in out of the way spots, particularly at Epcot.

The greedy, short-sighted suits have created a mess. Yes, we booked that dinner at Be Our Guest, but we will never eat there again after the price increase coming in July. Fifty-five dollars a head for a theme park dinner? No, thanks. Quick bucks now for less customer loyalty long term. Poor business decision. Never in my life did I think aspects of a trip to Disney World would be "one and done".

I guess one good thing about the last two decades of blatant underdevelopment meant we explored the real world. That has been a delight. But the Walt Disney Company has lost tens of thousands of dollars from just one family. How many more families did what we did and went elsewhere? 

Last trip to Florida, some in our family skipped Disney altogether, preferring Universal. Less hassle, newer attractions, less cost. Could be a trend. This trip, we've even scheduled less days to visit the World than we ever did before. 

Will we have a great time on this upcoming visit? Of course. We're going with family, so how can we not? Will we go back? Yes....eventually.

(Photos copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 10, 2018

Shiny New Metallic Tomorrowland

From the Wally Crump Exhibition and Auction at Van Eaton Galleries: The Story of Aluminum brochure for Kaiser Aluminum, a sponsor in Disneyland's sparkling new Tomorrowland. The image by this renowned Imagineer is just too cool not to keep a copy of!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

April 9, 2018

Down for the Count

As bad as boxer Ricky Hatton (above) after being knocked out by crazy good opponent Manny Pacquiao, I've been down for the count over a week now. One day, I was up an entire time of about 4 hours. Then back to bed, more meds, and no relief from the headaches, nasal junk, dizziness, and more.  More posts coming later. 

(Photograph copyright Daily Mail.)

April 6, 2018

Parker, Jesus, and That Dirty Tomb

From my daughter regarding Easter:  "Laughable moment: we had the kids clean up so that we could do the egg hunt. Parker threw a fit and said "well Jesus didn't have to clean out the tomb..."

Gotta love that kid! (The one on the right, our miracle boy. Read the story.) He has a very funny way of looking at life without even trying! Happy Birthday, Parker!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

April 5, 2018

Show Them

This gift from a recent trip has a very special meaning to me. Thank you, friend, for this- and the opportunity to serve with you and your husband.

April 3, 2018

Happy Anniversary to Us!

My wife and her "first husband".  Happy Anniversary to you!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

April 2, 2018

Indiana Jones Has Nothing on Her

Made famous by Indiana Jones, but known all over by citizens of the Middle East, here's Petra in all its glory. It's just one of many stops from a friend on a worldwide exploration. One that has lasted two years so far.

She says there's something amazing about riding on the back of a camel. This young businessman is learning the trade. Tourists decide to make use of his services for the several mile hike.

Will they ride off into the sunset? Maybe, but it's not the movies.

April 1, 2018

Some Special Gift

Yes, it's true. Just for you and me and the whole earth - from the beginning of time. Jesus chose to lay down his life to redeem us from Hell. The Hell we deserve for our sin. Ever lie? Cheat? Slander? Then, his sacrifice via the cross was just for you. It's a gift that cost him much pain and sorrow. The only perfect gift for the payment of our sin. No one and nothing else. We can't earn it. But if you receive this gift of eternal life by choosing and following Him, believing He is God in the flesh and payment for your sin, rising from death to life, it is yours. Your life it's a gift back to Him that will bless him. Yes, something special.

Easter Sunday morning- the Triumph of Jesus over sin and death- for our benefit! Never a victim- always a champion. Preachers everywhere should remember this! As should the people He gave his life for. There's only ONE way to Heaven, and that's through the sacrificial gift of the life of Jesus. God wasn't being a bigot by making it this way. He was keeping it simple. Now you know- what are you going to do about it?