January 31, 2019

Twenty Years Ago at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Stumbled across this photograph of our children taken during our last all-family visit to Walt Disney World. It was 1999, and Animal Kingdom was a year old park. There certainly wasn't too much to do because of budget cuts (no Beastly Kingdom) and Asia wasn't even open. Kilimanjaro Safaris and Countdown to Extinction were the big hits. It was a very pretty park, but it certainly was not a full day!

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 30, 2019

James Ingram's American Success Story

The announcement of tonight's death of singer James Ingram hits home. His love song One Hundred Ways has been one of "our" songs since we first heard it while dating. And it made it to our mix tape while we were on our honeymoon- and many compilations since.

James' career was jump started by his appearance on Quincy Jones' disc, The Dude, which featured him on One Hundred Ways and Just Once, the latter hitting the Billboard Top Twenty and making him an instantly recognizable singerHis was a real success story, but it was only the beginning of a long career. 

His first full length album was the best, boasting the mega hit "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" with Patti Austin. (Later that pair added Baby Come to Me to their list of hits.) One of my favorites was the swinging upbeat 40s tinged One More Rhythm meets 1980's R&B, showing his flexibility as an artist. Later, James duetted with Linda Ronstadt on the popular Somewhere Out There, used in the animated film, An American Tail by producer Steven Spielberg.

Well liked and much respected, James served other artists by writing and singing background vocals as well as leads.  From Michael Jackson to Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, the man was in demand. 

I was surprised and delighted when I heard about his "unofficial" duet with Donna Summer on The Mystery of Love- still one of my go to numbers due to his soaring vocals. (Check out the review of that landmark disc here.) It was one of the main reasons I purchased the disc, and I was not disappointed- it's one of the disc's strongest cuts.

He leaves a great legacy of music! May James rest in peace.

January 29, 2019

Design Detail: Shanghai Disneyland's Treasure Cove

It is the great attention to detail, the little things, is what differentiates Disney Parks from their competitors. (Although I'd say Universal Creative is doing a lot very, very well these days. Particularly just about everything associated with Harry Potter.) You can find these design details all over any Disney park if you keep your eyes open. 

When it came to Imagineering Shanghai Disneyland, this kind of thoughtfulness emerged among the other choices mandated by the government (such as having the biggest castle, little to do with outside "competing" cultures, etc.).

Treasure Cove, the pirate themed area with the landmark Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, contains a hidden detail that many pass by on their way to the mega-hit attraction.

Walt Disney's 1929 Silly Symphony, The Skeleton Dance, is honored by the image displayed at the top of this post. The original film slice is shown above.  Mint Crocodile, of the Magic Eye site captured this little detail as he was exploring the Chinese park. Quite a find, I'd say! 

(Photograph copyright Mint Crocodile. Film image copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 27, 2019

C'mon, Yell a Little Louder

We are a culture of hate. 
The louder we scream, the more we think we're heard.
From our social media to news outlets, it seems no one is immune.
We use sound bites to reinforce our views when an entire interview or conversation might make a person seem more balanced and thoughtful.

I'm tired of it all.

Listening to others is a dying art.
Respecting each other must now mean agreeing with each other.
Disagreeing must now mean bigotry. 
It's a black and white world where we categorize people in broad strokes because it's easier and takes less energy than listening and thinking and reconsidering. 

We're a culture of hate, and it is destroying us.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! 
Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, 
slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish 
God’s righteousness.
(James 1:19-20)

January 26, 2019

Dinosaurs Inspire Politicians

Why does this great photo of the dinosaur final of the grand circle tour on the Disneyland railroad make me think of Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump

January 24, 2019

The New and Old Bargain Basement Imagineering at California Adventure

Sometimes you just have to feel for the folks at Imagineering who are given a project that is just doomed for failure. Pixar Pier comes to mind most recently. Often these cheaper less glamorous assignments go to less experienced people. But not always.

Tim Delaney, one of the best of Imagineering's stars, had the unfortunate task of creating Paradise Pier at the highly discounted California Adventure park. With the added burden of having to make it "hip and edgy", Tim set about his work. Ultimately, he was responsible for one of the new park's only successes: California Screamin'. 

So, here you've got a guy responsible for Disneyland Paris' incredible Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune, designing a whole land of minimally themed attractions to flesh out a park that was mandated to be "just good enough". No win situation. But back to the concept art. This piece looks as good as can be under these dire directives. Originally named "Surf City", giant versions of California icons will the skyline, with even the Maliboomer taking on the look of giant palm trees.

After the park was received by the press and Disney fans as a resounding failure, plans were finally put into place to make it a bit more classic, a bit more engaging, and a lot more worthy of bearing the name Disney. The process began with the addition of Toy Story Midway Mania which was housed in a beautiful new San Diego inspired building at the Pier. Work on the new design aesthetic culminated in the 2012 opening of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land.

Tim's art made the best of bad directions from top brass.

It was all promptly thrown away at the new demand of bringing Pixar and Marvel into the park at any (but a minimal) expense.

Some considerable investment went into transforming Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, but not for the new Pixar Pier. It's just another version of Bargain Basement Imagineering, something that got California Adventure slammed in the first place. Sounds like the new Marvel area won't be much better.

Apparently, the suits have learned little as they dismantle what little charm they had once built into Disneyland's younger sister. 

Want to see all the concept art that chronicles the history of California Adventure? Look at my Bargain Basement Imagineering series which begins here.

January 23, 2019

Barbaric New York Politicians Lose Their Minds

"New York legislators cheered and applauded Tuesday night after the state Senate removed restrictions on late-term abortions, allowing unborn babies to be aborted on the day of birth. (Emphasis mine.)

The Reproductive Health Act passed with a 38-28 vote and was signed into law by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

"Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman's right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion," Gov. Cuomo said."

Is this what bigot Margaret Sanger wanted when she started Planned Parenthood or was it just the extermination of Black America? (Read that post at your own risk.)

New York politicians have lost their minds- and the rest of America is not far behind. God forgive us for this sin!

Read the full article here.

The Irony of Zootopia Going to Shanghai Disneyland

Am I the only one or is it strange to others as well that a film about human rights and respecting differences is being turned into an entire theme park land in one of the most repressive countries in the world? 

Yes, Shanghai Disneyland is getting Zootopia. (Think about this: Is it possible that the movie's dialogue- the parts that scream for tolerance and individual rights- were rewritten or even removed from the Chinese version of the film? Hmmm...)

Humans rights violations can be stacked up as dumplings on a plate: Forced abortions, mandating no one worships anyone but President Xi Jinping, and more. And the Walt Disney Company has jumped into bed with the government for the sake of a buck, um, yuan- billions of them. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Blanket Buddies

Two of the sweetest and cutest little movie fans I've seen! Big friends, though. It certainly was Frozen, inside on the screen and outside the house.

January 22, 2019

Zootopia in Shanghai Disneyland- Oh OK.

A very odd choice to be sure, but it looks like a new land based on Zootopia will be coming to Shanghai Disneyland. Promising guests adventures with the film's two main characters, Imagineering is designing an entirely new landscape complete with shops and dining to bring the film to life. A new attraction I can understand. An entirely new land? Interesting choice.

Can a sequel be far behind?

These recent choices for park additions to the distinctively Chinese Disney resort prove once again- for better or for worse- Shanghai Disneyland is like no other Disney park.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

New Orleans Square Coming to Disneyland Paris

This is more than just another fan circulated rumor. Yes, it's absolutely true. During the initial planning stages, at least in the realm of promotional materials, New Orleans Square was in fact planned to be part of EuroDisneyland aka Disneyland Paris.

As you can see from the early promo booklet, the Imagineers led by Tony Baxter were designing with the possibility of bringing this beloved Disneyland themed area to France. So beloved is this area, that for many park fans, it is considered the consummate blending of engineering and art- true Imagineering at its peak.

Would this have brought the iconic Pirates of the Caribbean over from Adventureland and the equally admired Phantom Manor from Frontierland? Or was this all just a marketing ploy to gain investors and visitors? Only Mr. Baxter and company know for sure.

(Art courtesy AngryAP.)

January 21, 2019

Monday Night Special: Imagineer Chuck Ballew's Indiana Jones Adventure

Here it is in all it's glory: Imagineer Chuck Ballew's look at the Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland. The film is one of the greatest of all time Saturday afternoon at the movies classics. The Adventureland attraction every bit as memorable, even if with a slightly different storyline at Tokyo DisneySea. The concept art captures the excitement of this cutting edge E Ticket attraction. Perfection on all levels!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

Words of Wisdom from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
                                            Martin Luther King Jr.

January 19, 2019

New Book on the Music of the Carpenters

Can't tell you how much I am looking forward to this new book on the music of Karen and Richard Carpenter! Just in time for the 50th Anniversary of their signing to A&M Records, the author of her bio, Randy L. Schmidt has put together a new book focused on each of their albums. Here's the official news release:

"Carpenters: An Illustrated Discography is an essential album-by-album retrospective of the legendary duo’s recordings.

With more than 100 million records sold worldwide, the Carpenters are among the most beloved and enduring musical acts of the past 50 years. Randy L. Schmidt, author of the acclaimed bestselling biography Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter has assembled a team of commentators—journalists, authors, musicians, and other entertainment industry figures—for a series of in-depth, insightful, and opinionated conversations on every release. Beautifully presented with more than 200 images, many never before seen, the result is a must-have for pop music lovers."

Coming late April / Early May...

January 18, 2019

What's Coming Next?

"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
                                  Martin Niemöller

This Lutheran pastor and theologian had the right idea. He was a outspoken vocal critic of Adolph Hitler. Persecuting people has not disappeared with the Holocaust.

Take a look at this new research compiled by Open Doors. It's called the World Watch List 2019. Fascinating stuff.

Sometimes, other numbers help explain what's happening a little better:
Increase in persecution jumped 14% from the 2018 report.

Persecution of Christians is happening all over the world, with extreme persecution (death, imprisonment etc.) happening mostly in North Korea, the Middle East, and Africa. The numbers also take into account violence, church life, national life, community life, family life, and private life.

If you look at the chart, you'll see the West is not immune. Mexico and Columbia make the list as well. What has this looked like in a year? Look below.
Eleven Christians are killed every day
because of what they believe.

For a further look at the report, look here. Or here for a much more detailed report. What's coming next?

Yes, it's very dangerous to be a Christian... but what will you do to change the situation?

(Images from Open Doors.)

January 17, 2019

Time to Trip A Little Light Fantastic

Reading the news just brings me down, down, down. This world and all its troubles, oh my. Things are going from bad to worse, and no politician or political party will get us out of it. Each group's makes statements that irritate the other, driving the division deeper between us. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us! 

So, until then, it's time to Trip A Little Light Fantastic. This sweet upbeat tune from Mary Poppins Returns brightens a dark day.

I'm growing to like this sequel and its soundtrack more and more.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 16, 2019

Disney Food Blog A New Favorite

When planning a trip to Walt Disney World, one of the most helpful sites I've discovered has been the Disney Food Blog. With articles, videos, and photos, A.J. Wolfe has put together a site that is a must if you want to move beyond the official perspective from the Disney site.

Last year, I found the videos and helpful hints just what we needed to choose our restaurants for a trip to the World after a decade when so much has changed. With the reimagining of Disney Springs, this site was even more helpful. A.J. is pleasant and upbeat but tells it like it is! We appreciate the forthright commentary and the whole series which compares similar restaurants to each other.

Make sure to check it out for yourself.

January 15, 2019

Beautiful Black and White Disneyland

The year:1956 The place: Fantasyland at Disneyland in Anaheim California. The map: A piece of artwork designed by someone- most likely in Imagineering- to give a feel of what Walt Disney's magical little kingdom would look like. These pieces were created to spark the imagination of kids and forever kids all over the United States. Flying elephants, spinning tea cups, a pirate ship, and a chance to ride into Monstro the Whale from Pinocchio. Who wouldn't love that? It worked like a charm! 

Millions visited this "Happiest Place on Earth", opening the door to Walt Disney World and then outside the country: Tokyo Disneyland, EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris), Hong Kong Disneyland, and now Shanghai Disneyland. Where will the next Magic Kingdom unveil itself? My bet is India. We shall see.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

January 13, 2019

Nature's Impressionism in China

While quietly resting inside during the last remnants of the snow storm, I decided to start nosing around for photos of my next international trip. Happily, I stumbled upon this absolutely incredible picture of the tea fields in Duoyishu, China. As my friends in Scotland would say, "I was gobsmacked by its beauty!" 

Instantly reminding me of the French Impressionist art at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, I was also thought of the Psalmist, and his realization of God's great hand in creating such a beautiful earth:

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
  Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.
  Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
  One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
  They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works. 
  They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
  They celebrate your abundant goodness

    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
                                                     Psalm 145

The original photograph can be found here.
(Photographer unknown.)

January 12, 2019

Season's First Big Snow

As is custom this time of year on the blog, I usually document the first big snow that we have in Colorado. Here you go! It started yesterday at 6:00am, and it is still going on as of 9:00am on Saturday...

January 11, 2019

Israel Before Brazil

Here's Imagineer Herb Ryman's beautiful Israel pavilion for EPCOT Center. Painted June of 1982, shortly after the park's grand opening, this piece of concept art captures all the warmth, history, and beautiful architecture the country is known for. 

The blueprint (shown above) for the pavilion has been in circulation for quite awhile, and it shows the expected mix of shops, a cafe or restaurant, and an entertainment venue. Blow the image up and explore a bit! It might make you wish this had come to pass- although it did in a much smaller version for the Millennium celebration.

Certainly, World Showcase needed this addition! As the park stands now, it is very Eurocentric, and fleshing it out with a country from the Middle East would have been a smart move. 

The proposed but not yet announced Brazil adition would be a good place to refresh this half of the park by bringing a new country and culture to explore. (Find out more in these posts with artwork included. Post One. Post Two.) Even if it is only shopping, restaurants and some entertainment. Perhaps we will know more at D23. Here's hoping! 

January 10, 2019

Train Wreck

Can't help but stare! Sometimes a wreck of any sorts captures our eye, and it won't let go. Morbid on our part or something more? Hard to say. But its provides some good food for though as we begin the new year.

Sometimes, my life is like a train wreck. I take my eyes off God or I choose to deliberately do something that I know displeases Him. What am I thinking?! Doing this just sets my life on anything from a short bad course on the wide road or leads to a long spiral down, taking me places I never wanted to go and costing me more than I ever expected. And it hurts people around me. People I love and care for.

Ah, but when I walk in humility and obedience before God, I'm like  a palm tree. 

"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
 planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
 They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
 proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
                                      Psalm 92

God is so good all the time! Today, I'm thanking Him for all the times He's forgiven me and let me start anew.

January 9, 2019

Dastardly Game

Some Christmas gifts are fun and others are just plainVillainous. If you're looking for a mesmerizing and challenging evening, this may be just the board game you want to bring to your next gathering if it includes fans of Disney animated films. 

What would Ursula, Maleficent or the Queen of Hearts do to defeat Jafar, Prince John, or Captain Hook? Just about anything and everything! But they first have to defeat the heroes in their own world. It's a strategy game like no other. And it has really sweet graphics to boot. 

Thanks to my youngest son for the gift- and for getting us addicted.

January 8, 2019

Hotel Emma of San Antonio- More Edison than the Edison

San Antonio, Texas is world famous for its beautiful River Walk, and rightfully so. There's tons of charm and fun to be found with its mix of restaurants and entertainment. New to me is a place that had just opened years ago on my last visit: The Pearl

The former brewery site has turned into a pretty great place for shopping and dining! There's an open market on Saturdays, and I'm sure much more the rest of the week. Yet, the real gem for me was stepping into The Hotel Emma

The hotel's tower is fairly plain. It actually reminds me of the California Adventure version of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror before Guardians of the Galaxy took over. 

As you know, I'm not a great photographer, so you'll have to do with these photos, but the porte-cochère at the entrance is a simply stunning,  beautiful, piece of black iron art.  

Inside the hotel, beginning with the lobby, it's just a feast for the eyes with its lovingly reworked machine parts, lighting, and tile floors and woodwork. It evokes more of the Edison at Disney Springs than the actual bar and restaurant. 

I won't give away any more details, but I will say this: Check this place out. You'll find just a couple hours away from Disney World, there's a terrific place to spend a long weekend, and there's much more to be found in this terrific city.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

January 7, 2019

Imagineer Rolly Crump's Midway of Life for Epcot

Disney Imagineer Rolly Crump is quite the character! And he's quite the innovative artist when it comes to bringing to life new ideas. Rolly's perhaps best known for his work at Disneyland and The Enchanted Tiki Room, the unrealized Museum of the Weird (for the Haunted Mansion), and It's a Small World's Tower of the Four Winds (for the World's Fair). 

The concept art you're seeing here was not designed for Disneyland, however. Instead, this Midway of Life was created for EPCOT Center's long gone Wonders of Life. (I guess I should say, the space itself is still used but as an event center for Epcot's ever increasing festivals.) It's quirky Victorian era charm was not to be as the art direction for the Future World pavilion took a more contemporary but eventually dated looking turn.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.) 

January 4, 2019

When Reality is Better Than Imagineering Art: Disneyland Paris' Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Imagineer Nina Rae Vaughn not only did some beautiful artwork for Tokyo DisneySea, she also produced some fine pieces for the equally incredible Disneyland Paris

Just take a look at this art in a large view. The delicate charm and beauty of the castle, Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, is highlighted by the graceful arches, geometric shrubbery (reflecting the art of the Sleeping Beauty film), and the fireworks cascading from the sky. Yet, the art doesn't compare to the reality.

My attempt to capture the castle in its Christmas finery.

Click here for the video.

Take a tour of the castle with this detailed look found in the above video. Make sure to turn on your sound. It gives the listener an ever greater sense of being in the Paris park, the most beautiful Magic Kingdom of all.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

January 3, 2019

My Most Anticipated Disney Happenings for 2019

2019- A new year, and a whole new year of exciting things to look forward to in the Disney world. What's on the top of my list? How about these items (in no particular order):

Phantom Manor redo. Photographer unknown.

The Complete re-Imagining of the Phantom Manor

For some of you, this will be an unexpected choice. The Parisian park is still the reigning champion of the title Most Beautiful Magic Kingdom. After a lengthy season of being ignored, the Walt Disney Company purchased remaining shares, completing ownership of the place. (A very shrewd move, I say.) One at a time, each major attraction has undergone a complete refurbishment. Phantom Manor seems to be at the bottom of the list but with the most enhancements coming. I absolutely love this unique new take on the Haunted Mansion! The score is a stunning centerpiece of it all with a storyline that will send real shivers down your spine. 

Even for someone not a huge Star Wars fan, this is a must see.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

No one in my family would call me a Star Wars fan. I've seen exactly three of the films. They vary in quality and execution, so you can probably take some educated guesses and determine which ones they are. But even a casual fan has to admit, these new lands are intriguing and probably the most well-themed Imagineering has ever created. It belongs in the Studios but is questionable at best inside Disneyland. Thanks again to Universal Orlando for upping the ante by adding Harry Potter themed lands to their parks. 

It had better be good as Toy Story 3 provided a perfect end to the series.

Toy Story 4. 

As much as the Disney theme parks are the reason I am a fan, I am also a fan of their animated movies, Pixar or otherwise. But not every Disney movie is of interest to me or a must-see. Toy Story 4 is an exception. Buzz Lightyear is my favorite character, but the entire cast and storyline of the original film has a soft spot in may heart. You'd think that would make me a big fan of the Toy Story Lands scattered throughout the Disney universe. Think again. I'm not.

Sisters not lovers.
Frozen 2.

Look- the main story here is about two sisters that love each other. It's a very good film, one with a surprising twist that became a new norm for those that came after it. The animation is old school Disney excellence, and the music is memorable. If the storyline goes lesbian, I'm out. (Pun intended.) Disney has to decide its audience, and little kids - the core audience- do not have the capacity to understand the nuances of sexuality and the complexity of relationships that come out from choices people make. That's the parents' job in their own time, not the filmmakers. I want to take my sweet little granddaughters to this film for a date. All I ask is you think it through for yourself. Openly gay attorney Joseph R. Murray II has the right idea. Here's his piece on the "gay element" in the live action version of Beauty and the Beast. (And yes, I have gay friends and family members.)

Great idea in a very wrong location.

Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.

I'm anticipating this attraction to be the runaway hit of our family when we are visiting Walt Disney World this Fall. My oldest daughter hasn't been to the World since 1999, and her husband has been to Disneyland once. This will be the first Disney park experience for him and their kids, ages 4, 6, and 8. Other than giving the boot to The Great Movie Ride, what isn't there to like about an E Ticket attraction focused on Mickey and Minnie? Absolutely nothing!


Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy.

Yes, a show. I'm not a big fan of theme park shows- although the two main ones at Animal Kingdom are amazing. But my little first time visitors to the world love the Cars characters, so I can't wait to see this with them. Is this a blockbuster? Not at all. In some ways, it's a filler to Disney's Hollywood Studios, a park with not much to do. Before and after Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens. If this is anything close to the charming Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot, I'll be a repeat guest.

Always something worth waiting for!

D23 2019.

Last but not least, I am looking forward to D23. Good or bad, Epcot's Re-Imagining should be the focal point of the Park's Presentation. Even though Disney's Animal Kingdom is gaining ground, Florida's second Disney park is still my favorite. What will they announce? Hopefully, only good things in theme with the park's mission. But I know it will be different than that. At this point, I just want to know what's coming.

What's on your list?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)