Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Future Disney

The last post didn't seem to have much to do with Disney, and while I reserve the right to depart from Disney topics on occasion, I feel that it is actually the impetus for some thought about the future as it relates to Disney theme parks.


EPCOT = Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow

Obviously, Walt's grand dream did not become realized in the form he wished it would. Even now, with Disney execs and Imagineers spinning it, saying that the Resort was the community that Walt envisioned, with guests, a transportation system, hotels and parks, and maybe even including the town of Celebration as part of the "vision", you'd have to agree that Disney World is not a magnet for corporate research and development in the way that Walt wanted it to become.

But what we do have is a unique theme park, with its two distinct "worlds", Future World and World Showcase. The latter attempts to present the differing cultures of the countries showcased in it. And the former was supposed to present to park guests, and perhaps even be part of, the cutting edges of research and technological achievement.

We also have a "land" in the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, called Tomorrowland, which is supposed to give the guests the feeling of entering the world of the future. This is different from the Future World part of Epcot in that it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with reality, instead being more of a cinematic or even literary version of the future. It doesn't need to project future technologies, it needs to give the illusion of being in a far flung future that is at once optimistic and unfamiliar to the guests.

Our true near-future is probably more concerned with our fiscal and social problems. We're all concerned about the realities of our financial system, of our housing market, of our health care, of our involvement in the world. We really don't have time or resources to devote to any sort of optimistic long term outlook for humanity.

But we don't go to Disney parks to be reminded of our failing health care system, or of our lack of good employment opportunities for both our current workers and our young incoming workers. We go to escape the realities of life, to be entertained, and maybe even be inspired and encouraged about our future.

So maybe Disney could give us some lands that look forward in a positive and optimistic way. I am good with conservation and ecology and recycling and such being a part of of my park experiences, but I don't want to be hammered on the head with them as part of the experience. I want those types of things to be "background radiation", to be sort of taken for granted. Because in "my" future, I don't want those types of things to be issues. I want them to be part of that future, but I don't want to be debating the effectiveness or even validity of these matters. Does that make sense?

Instead, start with this sort of thing. Make "green" the way of these parts of the parks. And focus instead, on what sort of future we could have if we solve our problems. What will our transportation look like? Our homes? Will space be a part of our future, as I hoped it would be when I was a child? Will the oceans become a part of our experience on this planet? Both? (Don't tell me neither...)

Push Tomorrowland's future far enough out that it won't become obsolete in ten years, and then keep it fresh. Push Future World's future out just far enough to give us a taste of real cutting edge possibilities.

I'm planning on writing a few more posts on some future possibilities, and their possible inclusion as part of Disney theme parks.

Monday, February 23, 2009

THE WORLD WITHOUT US - by Alan Weisman

Alan Weisman starts out by asking his readers to look around and imagine the world they see - houses, businesses, roads, power lines, cities, farms, etc. - without humans. Then he asks, how would nature respond to our absence? Just how long would our creations, our architecture, our art, our accomplishments, stand to leave our mark on this planet? And have some of our marks left a more or less indelible imprint on Earth?

The rest of the book examines various environments, deserts, rain forests, cities, farms, forests, and oceans and how they would possibly respond to the fact that no longer were humans maintaining any of the structures we've created. Nature is powerful, and would likely display its staying power and relentlessness over time. But what of the artifacts, like Uranium 238, that we've distilled into concentrations that would otherwise not be found? What of our chemicals, like rubber and polymers What of the emissions we've sent into our atmosphere and into our waters? What of the radio and TV signals we've sent beyond the solar system itself?

It's a very interesting, very thought provoking book. I read a lot more fiction than non-fiction, but this one kept me reading for a few days now, and whether you are a person who feels that humans can affect the planet on a macro- basis or not, it's something that will make you ask questions, if only of yourself, and perhaps make you more aware of your environment and your impact on it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Narnia films

This is sort of old news, probably, but I recently read in someone's blog (possibly Blue Sky Disney) that Disney was no longer going to be associated with the Narnia films. I assumed it was because they were flops.

I was going through a stack of old magazines (dental and waiting room publications) and came across an article comparing the first Narnia film to the film made of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. The suggestion was that while The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe cost the same as the Pullman film to make ($180 million), it was a huge hit compared to that other film. It earned $291.7 million at the US box office, and $453.1 million abroad, making it Disney's all time top-grossing live action film. (Apparently it's been overtaken in that honor, though I don't know by what, exactly.)

I don't know what Prince Caspian did, but it must have tanked to make Disney give up the franchise.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Off Track?

Has Disney really gone that far off track?

It seems like whenever I read an article on someone's blog criticizing a Disney park there are about two responses: First, some responders who criticize the article itself while saying how good (fill in your park here) is today. And second, a bunch of people who are far more negative than the original criticism.

The first bunch are categorized as "fanboys" or something of that nature by the second group, and the second group are categorized as living in the past.

I'm probably somewhere in between. I enjoy the parks a lot. I think that Kevin Yee over at MiceAge takes a lot of flak for being negative when really he's quite positive much of the time. It's clear that he'd like things to be better: he'd like the parks to be maintained better, he would like to see good areas kept open, he'd like to see less cheap additions like snack carts and such. But he clearly loves the parks - all of them. I agree with Kevin for the most part.

Could they be better? Of course. Tomorrowland seems to be losing its identity little by little. Every time I go there it seems less fresh, and less about "tomorrow". Adventureland just looks in need of some TLC, as does Fantasyland. And Epcot would benefit from not having a pavilion completely closed, and from better designed pavilions that right now really don't have much beyond a queue for the E-ticket attraction housed there and a bit of a post-show for the attraction, a post-show that is too easily ignored and bypassed. Animal Kingdom could use some Imagineering in the Dinoland area, and could benefit from having that area down by the river reopened. I've never seen it open, but it looks nice from the vantage point of the top of the closed walkway down.

Those are just the things I notice. I'm sure there is plenty that I don't notice, that doesn't register. But does it make me not enjoy the parks, or maybe not enjoy them as much? Not that I can tell.

I think there is a problem with our generations today. We live in a far different world than we did when Walt dreamed up Disneyland, and the Magic Kingdom. We live in a different world by far than we did when Epcot was born. We're a lot more immune to the "wow" factor. Think of film. Think of the achievements in cinematography, in movies like Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump. We watched Mary Poppins last night (because we're going to go see the musical in May) and while I love the charm of the scenes combining animation and live action, it looks - well, quaint! And dated. Those scenes in a film today wouldn't wow anyone, though I bet they did when the movie was released.

A friend and I were talking about music. He was lamenting that, in his opinion, no one was doing anything new in music. The songs of today don't take music in a different direction from where it was going all along. There's no new "branch" analogous to jazz, or classical, or rock, or hip-hop. I've tried to look for an example of something that would fit his definition of "new" but haven't been able to.

Maybe it's like this with theme parks too. I mean, the future no longer seems like it's looking outward - and the advances that appear to be coming down the pike, perhaps, do not look like they would make for excitement at Epcot. I read a lot of know...stuff like "I loved this ride or that ride and why can't they do something like that?" It has to be relevant, it has to be forward looking, and it has to have a "wow" factor.

What would "wow" you, as a theme park goer? I'm open to ideas.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Usually we don't do well at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Oh, we agree with all the folks who think it is a beautiful park. It is really neat to look at the lush tropical vegetation, with lots of animals in natural settings. And it has, for me and my son, the number one attraction at Disney World - Expedition Everest.

Usually, however, it's pretty darned hot in Orlando when we visit Disney, and DAK feels even hotter than the other parks. I've heard from cast members that it can be as much as 10 degrees hotter there than in the other parks, and that the beautiful vegetation helps to increase the humidity in the immediate vicinity of the park. My family does not do that well with soaked t-shirts and sweat running down the foreheads. I don't even like it, and usually stuff like that doesn't bother me that much.

But this last time, with the temps in the high 60's on the day we went to DAK, we enjoyed the park the most of any time we'd ever been there. No sweat running down the brow. No sense of rushing through the park. The crowds were relatively light that day. Everest had a long wait, but we had FastPasses, and so the lines didn't affect us much. We also had FP's for Kilamanjaro Safaris. Lunch at the Yak and Yeti was one of the higher points of our dining experiences. And the much maligned Dino Land was the source of great fun for my younger son, who discovered that he loves the Primeval Whirl. The waits for it were generally about 10 minutes. And Dinosaur ended up being a walk-on attraction when we went on.

The other thing we experienced for the first time was the Nemo musical. It was very well done, I thought. It told pretty much the whole story of the movie in the span of a half hour or so, and told it understandably, hitting all the high points of the tale. And the puppetry was very good. I suppose some day they'll adapt this thing for the stage and take it on tour, also.

We were in line to go on the train back to Rafiki's Planet Watch when they announced that the OTHER train was not running, and they wouldn't be running any more trains out there until they had that one fixed (I guess it was blocking the tracks somewhere out there), so we did not get to experience that part of the park.

All in all, I could see why others love this park so much. When you don't have to listen to kids (or spouses) complaining about the oppressive heat and humidity, it's a very enjoyable experience.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Disney's Hollywood Studios

I think that the Disney Hollywood Studios is an underrated park. I've seen it described as a half-day park. I've also read numerous complaints about the BAH in front of the Graumann Theater replica.

But my kids love the Hat. And it does sort of fit with the theme of the park, with Walt being the wizard who created all the movie magic. I believe it was Yensid's hat in Fantasia, right?

But I'm not here to defend or demonize the Hat. It wouldn't bother me if it was gone at all, but it doesn't bother me all that much that it's there, either. I'm just thinking that the park is pretty good!

First, there are the dining options. We've never tried the Brown Derby or Mama Melroses, but the Prime Time Cafe and the Sci Fi Dine-in are both great fun. And both the Back Lot Express (?) and Pizza Planet work as counter service options. We're not as crazy about the counter service options down on Hollywood Boulevard, but overall, it's a nice park to eat at.

Then there are the attractions. The Great Movie Ride wasn't as good as I remembered it (even though it was basically a walk-on attraction when we did it this time), but it was still fun. Some have said it doesn't have repeatability, but for me, it does. Toy Story Mania was sold out of FastPasses both times we made it to this park, but I know from riding it a couple times last visit that it's a bunch of fun. Very repeatable. Then there is Star Tours. Yes, it could use an update, but yet, it's still fun to ride. (The fact tha both of my kids were willing to ride it this time made it more fun for me, I think.) And the E tickets - Rock'n'RollerCoaster and Tower of Terror - are two of the better rides in the resort. (It helps that I'm an Aerosmith fan, and I like the pre-show, because the coaster itself is over pretty darned quickly...)

Then the shows: Lights Motors Action is a fun show every time we see it. Admittedly we've only gotten into it two or maybe three times so far, but it seems to be something you'd really like on repeat viewings. And The Muppets 3D - well, we've seen it several times and it's still fun. This last time, the Backlot Tour was closed, but usually the Catastrophe Canyon is good for one try per vacation. And I have never seen the Indiana Jones Stunt Show, but my wife and son and inlaws caught it this last time and they liked it a lot better than LMA! even. Next, there is the Jedi Training Academy. Both of my kids could probably watch this over and over, though most likely because they keep hoping they'll get picked. (If they ever do, that will be fun!) Even Voyage of the Little Mermaid is pretty fun.

One of our favorite things to do when at the park is visit the Animation Academy. This short drawing class is a ball, and you get to come away with your handiwork. We do this a couple times every visit. And I can't leave out One Man's Dream. It's an interesting look at Walt's life, and we didn't even have time to get to it last time.

And I didn't even mention Caspian or Americal Idol or Playhouse Disney, both because we didn't do either of them and neither one exactly pop OUR corks...but I'm sure they interest plenty of guests

The park is spaced out nicely, has a lot of eye candy, and a very good mix of dining, shows and rides, and we don't seem to have any trouble hanging out there for more than one day of a vacation.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Visit to Epcot

I was thinking about this in relation to reading I did on Epcot Central about many issues with that park, as well as past reading at other sites (like some posts at FutureProbe and discussions at MiceChat (which I link to from MiceAge).

Epcot is our favorite park. But when I asked my 8 year old son (who is a pretty smart kid in my opinion) what he likes best about Epcot, why it is his favorite park, his answer: "I like Test Track and Mission: Space, and my favorite ride is Soarin'." When I ask my younger son, he pretty much copies his older brother, but did add, "I like Spaceship Earth and the part where we push the buttons on the computer at the end and then watch the video."

Then I asked my wife. Her answer was that she loves the World Showcase and loves the dining options and the shops.

I thought about their answers, because they are all part of why it is my favorite park, too. But there's more to it for me. I love the ambience of World Showcase, the architecture (which FoxFurr over at Passport to Dreams writes about in this article entitled From Paris To Provinces). I love the dining choices, even if we have only tried the food at Mexico (food quality - fair), Japan (good), Italy at the restaurant that is gone now (good), Morocco (good), France (very good), and Canada (excellent). (We've also eaten at the Coral Reef but my wife was so sick that it put a damper on the experience and the Garden Grill (fair).)

I love the faux sense of culture you get as you walk through these pavilions. I love the Beatles tribute band. I love the show at The American Adventure. I love the look of Spaceship Earth. I enjoy the fireworks show (that is more than just fireworks), though my wife and kids are not crazy about fireworks in general. I love the themes of The Land and of The Seas, and I love the music as you walk through the park. I loved the fountain, too, though it was behind the renovation walls and I hope they are making it even better. I love the kinetic energy of the monorail as it loops through FutureWorld.

In other words, I just love the FEEL of the park. The attractions, the food, the ambience, the appearance, everything works to make it a unique Disney experience.

But one thing I noticed that I didn't really care that much about, nor did my kids or wife, was the educational aspect, or lack of it, in the pavilions. The Spaceship Earth ride was fine. It was interesting to listen to Dame Judi Dench detail the history of western civilization while observing the animatronic figures. And it was fun to do the computer thing at the end. But otherwise, what did I learn?

Not much, really. Living With The Land is an interesting ride through the greenhouses and such, but it feels so staged after the first couple of times through it. I didn't learn much at the Seas or at any of the other pavilions, nothing that I didn't know or that wasn't pretty superficial. (We did get to see a cochlear implant of the exact same model that Grandma wears, but not much else excited me or the family.)

The Museum of Science and Industry, and the Adler Planetarium (a fine attraction in Chicago, even if John McCain obviously didn't know what it really was when he referred to funding for their overhead projector during the campaign) probably do the "science education and inspiration" far better, and in far more depth, than Epcot does. Should it be that way? That's for others to argue about.

Even without the education aspects, Epcot is still a fine experience and it is and will likely remain my favorite park to visit on my Disney World excursions.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Disney Theme Parks and the Sense of Wonder

As I read my new book by Jeff Kurtti, I found myself very interested with some of his characterizations of the theme park embodied in Disneyland. Kurtti writes:

For Walt, Disneyland was a world seen through fantasy, a place of warmth and nostalgia, full of 'illusion and color and delight'. A 1953 proposal for Disneyland promised, "Like Alice stepping through the Looking Glass, to step through the portals of Disneyland will be like entering another world."

And further on:

In a sense, the Park is a form of "virtual reality," because it is a place that, although not real, creates its own reality.

Today, is there anything "real" about Disneyland? The parks at Walt Disney World? I mean, in the sense that people really suspend disbelief when they pass through the turnstiles? Or are we jaded and cynical to the point where nothing on Planet Disney can break through this shell?

I'm not talking simply about enjoyment; the parks are full of enjoyment for one and all. There's something there for everyone. But I find it hard to imagine that there is the same sense of wonder about the places that there probably was when they first opened.

I wasn't around then. I never went to Disneyland before 2008. And I only went to Disney World one time, that being in high school, when I visited with our high school band, and we drummers were more concerned with chasing girls from a band from the New England area than appreciating the park. (And that was in 1975!)

I'd love to experience these parks as something really new, something that had never been done, or even tried before. There is still some of that, since most places fall far short of the Disney ideal. Marriot's Great America (now Six Flags Great America) tried to theme their areas according to parts of the country, but as the big coasters invaded, the theming disappeared.

I love experiencing the parks today; I love seeing them through my sons' eyes, and I love the enthusiasm that they both have for discovering new and fun things about different parks. But I know I'm in a theme park, and not just academically.

Maybe I'm just too old. Maybe I've got too much life experience. But I do wish I could have seen them as those early visitors did, as something that didn't exist until Disneyland was opened by the visionary we call Walt Disney.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends - John Hench

I did purchase one book while at WDW in Florida - Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park - and I hoped it would provide some inspiration for both me and for my blog here.

A paragraph on John Hench resonated with me, considering the many discussions and articles I read online.

"But the resemblance to Walt didn't end just there," Sheila Hagen wrote. "He also had the same philosophy as Walt on how to operate Disneyland - not everything had to make money. He would point out that a popcorn wagon by itself would not make money, but in the long run, it would all even out. It was all about 'show,' about creating an environment that when the sum of its parts was totaled up, would create a richer and more satisfying experience."

It's a particularly relevant quote, considering how so many things at the Disney theme parks seem to be judged on how much revenue they produce and not on how much they support the overall 'show' at the park. I'm not privy to internal decision making, obviously, and I don't have specific examples, but I've read in many other blogs and in articles (by Kevin Yee, for example, on MiceAge), that things go away for no other reason than it isn't considered 'cost effective' to maintain them, apparently by some in management with a beancounter mentality.

John Hench wasn't one of those types, and neither was Walt Disney.

RIP Robert Broughton, 1917 to 2009

I noted in the Sunday Chicago Tribune that longtime Disney cameraman Robert "Bob" Broughton died on January 19th in Rochester, Minnesota, at the age of 91.

Some of the memorable camera effects Mr. Broughton helped create for Disney films included the penguin waiter scene in MARY POPPINS, where Dick Van Dyke danced with the animated penguins, and making Hayley Mills appear as twins in THE PARENT TRAP. He also worked on Hitchcock's THE BIRDS when the director contracted out the special effects work to the Disney studios.

Mr. Broughton retired from Disney in 1982, according to the Tribune obituary.

I see that there is also a post about Mr. Broughton at 2719 Hyperion.