Monday, February 22, 2010

Shoulda Been Disney...

I experienced two things this weekend that made me immediately wonder why Disney didn't get involved with either of them...

The first was The Lightning Thief movie, from the popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. My 9 and 7 year old sons have been reading this series, and I've been reading it right along with them. It's pretty darned good, in my opinion...the book series, that is. The movie - not quite as good. But not bad, either.

I thought, as I watched the movie, that this series would have been a perfect property for Disney development. When I went into the theater, I was struck by the number of boys my son's age and a little older and younger than them, who were there to see it. It has everything a boy could want - adventure, cool settings, swordplay, monsters, Greek gods and myths come to life - it would have made a good addition to the Disney film library.

And it would have made an interesting subject to develop part of a theme park around - ala The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. The Underworld, Olympus, the Labyrinth (of the fourth book), and even perhaps Camp Half-Blood, where the demigods like Percy Jackson train and learn about their world...all these different locations might even have made for a richer land than Harry Potter will provide. I'm not saying that they would have seriously considered adding something like this, but it would have been a good property to have in their pocket should they want to develop an area of a theme park in this direction.

On Sunday, we went to see a stage production - The 101 Dalmations Musical - which apparently has no involvement from Disney that I could find in the credits. This was a pretty good musical production, well done in how they portray the dogs against the humans, with good songs and very good sets. Dennis DeYoung, of Chicago rock band Styx fame, was the composer for the music and wrote quite a few lyrics also, and he does have some talent in this direction. (I've always been a Styx fan since I was young, but I didn't hear anything in this music that reminded me of that band.)

The story was actually based on the book by Dodie Smith (by the same title), which is more "English" in feel. There are many of the same characters as in the Disney movie, but presented in different ways. If you've read the book, you know that Pongo's "wife" is Missus (as in Missus Pongo), not Perdita. Mr. Dearly is an accountant of sorts, not a songwriter. Cruella's husband is part of the story, as is their business of manufacturing and selling furs. And more puppies are named. In the movie I can only think of Lucky, Patch and Roly Poly, but a little puppy named Cadpig is in the book also. These are the characters of the stage play, not the Disney characters at all.

And unlike Mary Poppins, no songs from the Disney movie are used at all. One of my favorite Disney tunes is Cruella DeVil, and I was disappointed to see that it wasn't used. But not too disappointed, because the songs that ARE present are pretty good and tell the story well.

At the end of the play (and the book), we are left with the realization that there are only 100 dalmations - 97 puppies, Pongo, Missus, and Perdita, the liver spotted dalmation who is brought in to help nurse Missus' litter. Who is the 101st dalmation? (I guess you'll have to read the book to find out...or see the play.)

This is another property that I was surprised that Disney had no involvement in. With their experience in putting on stage productions, by now pretty extensive, I wondered why they chose not to be involved in this one. It would have done them proud, had they done so.

So...two missed opportunities...Olympians and Dalmations.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Disney Feelings

I think about our Disney vacations a lot. They're very memorable, and when one is coming up, I anticipate it with excitement. Low key excitement, but still.

What makes these vacations so memorable? A stroll through the tunnels at the Magic Kingdom brings us to Main Street USA, and this is where the excitement, the anticipation, has led me to. The smell of popcorn, the balloons, characters in the street and in the center of the circle, maybe a train whistle, and the architecture!

Oh, the architecture! It's not quite real, and I don't mean that in a cartoon sense. It's bright and clean and cheerful, unlike the real world. I look down the street, at the signs, at the facades, at the people and maybe the trolley with its performers, and I get a chill. And there, at the end: A Castle!

I've strolled through the streets of some perfectly charming small towns, in various states. Several of the towns along the eastern edge of Lake Michigan fall into this category. And one that stands out is Niagara-on-the-Lake, in Canada, up the road a bit from Niagara Falls.

But none of those towns have the perfection of Main Street USA. They're clean, maybe, and cheerful in their own ways, but in a lot of cases they feature older buildings, architectural styles gone by. But I suppose it is the real life aspect of them, businesses selling more than Disney merchandise, crowded restaurants, and the more sophisticated (in their own minds at least) wanderers of these streets. Older, well-to-do folks on permanent holiday. Not many kids.

The Disney version of this American iconic image is hustling and bustling. Crowded, yes. Packed with kids, check! Street performers abound in Disney. Photographers accost you every twenty feet or so, it seems. There shouldn't be anything really relaxing about this scene.

Yet for me there is. Relaxing, perhaps, because of the comfort I derive from being in their enviroment. I know it's artificial, I know that it only superficially resembles anything out of real life. And that castle...clearly not from reality.

I guess that's the point. At that juncture, we put ourselves into Disney's hands, give ourselves over to the fantasy, and let it become real to us for a few days. And we come away, even after a lot of rushing around to get to dining reservations, to rides and shows, and finally, back to the hotels, somehow feeling better than we should.

Worn out, exhausted, perhaps. But it's a good "tired".

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Disney and More post - Universal Studios Singapore

Disney and More (link under Favorite Internet Spots, over there on your left) has a really neat photo article about the Grand Opening of the only major theme park to open in the world this year: Universal Studios Singapore. Here's the link to the article. (It's a bit slow loading, though I don't know if it's my internet connection or the sheer amount of content on the pages of Disney and More.)

Part of me says it looks almost like a Magic Kingdom ripoff, except really new and clean. They have a castle, a "Sci-Fi Land" and other themed areas, including a neat Hollywood themed area. But the bigger part applauds it, and would love to see it. (The chances of that are slim and none, probably, at least in the foreseeable future.)


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Disney Films - Boys vs. Girls

I read over on Blue Sky Disney that Disney is scrapping their plans to make an animated feature called "The Snow Queen", and have also begun contemplating changing the title of "Rapunzel" to something less fairytale-ish, like "Tangled". (The specific posts are here (The Killing of a Queen By A Princess) and here (Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow).

The discussion in the "Comments" section of that first post (especially) was interesting to me, because it dug into possible reasons for the killing of the project. It seems that "The Princess and the Frog" has not done as well as Disney hoped, and they believe in large part it is because boys had no desire to see it.

Being a big Disney fan, and having two boys 7 and 9, I can attest to the fact that there was a bit of reluctance on their part to go see TP&TF. Some of that was related to the fact that we just don't go to very many movies at the theater, and they recognized that there just weren't that many opportunities to go to see what was out there. And what they really wanted to see was "Alvin: The Squeakwel" or whatever it was called exactly.

But in the end, I was paying, and I was driving. :-) So I told them that I REALLY wanted to see the Disney feature in the theater, and that Alvin would be the same on DVD (and cheaper by a few dollars if we buy the DVD when it is first released at Best Buy or Target). I also told them that if the opportunity presented itself, we'd go see Alvin next. They bought into this; they agreed to go to see the Princess.

But they didn't put up too much resistance, either, because they are accustomed to Disney features being entertaining - even the ones they might not get excited about seeing like "Sleeping Beauty" or "Snow White". They realize that they're in for a treat when they view almost any Disney feature.

As I think about it, we've let our kids' entertainment expectations become segmented - it is definitely harder to satisfy everyone nowadays. Boys are used to fast and sometimes even violent action in video games and movies. A "Princess" movie just doesn't appeal to them as much as it may have in the past.

One poster pointed out that today is not the same as the time when Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were released, that there are different expectations, and also many more options. I think there is a lot to this. Just like we had a choice between Alvin and TP&TF, there are other choices too. Not only that, but there are so many choices on cable or satellite. Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks features are easy to find on HBO, Showtime, or whatever else there is. Then of course there are the DVD's in the collections. The other night I asked my 9 year old what movie he'd like to watch and he immediately picked "Meet The Robinsons". Pulled out the DVD and there it was.

Then I think some parents might even be afraid to let their boys become too "soft". They want them tough and physical. There are boys in the neighborhood who I can't imagine watching a Disney feature, let alone a Princess feature. I think that's a shame but there's nothing anyone, including Disney, can do about it.

It was also suggested that maybe TP&TF just isn't that great of a movie, and that might account for some of its lackluster performance. I can't comment for everyone, but I thought it was up there with some of the better Disney does not reach the heights of the "Golden Age" films, but it's far better than a lot of the stuff between then and now. I'd see it again, and I'll certainly buy it on DVD or BluRay. (I admit to being a bit of a sucker for Disney films on DVD...have most everything.)

And then there is the commentary about the marketing campaign. I've read that they definitely directed too much of their marketing efforts at young girls, and not enough at attracting the entire family. That could be true. My own desire to see it came from my pre-existing love of all things Disney, and my reading of Disney blogs like Blue Sky Disney, who were hyping it before it was even released. I had some expectations, and I felt they were met. Had I only seen the TV marketing campaign stuff, I may have been less inclined to go see it. But even so - Disney's commercials tie in to some deeper emotional attachment I have to their products, an attachment that was formed YEARS ago. I don't know how someone without this attachment would react to them.

Anyway, I think there are likely a myriad of reasons that it didn't do as well as Disney hoped, not the least of which is just the poor economy and the knowledge that we will soon be able to buy the DVD for less than the price of three matinee admissions to the theater. I wish that Disney would still see value in creating from-the-heart animated features, the kind of features they still do the best in the world. Stuff like Rapunzel and The Snow Queen, probably.

By the way, we did also go see Alvin: The Squeakwel. It was about what I expected. Somewhat entertaining, but nothing really for me (though my boys enjoyed it as much as TP&TF).


Friday, February 5, 2010

Legoland Florida

Old news, perhaps, but I saw this in last Sunday's travel section of the Chicago Tribune. (It takes me a while to find the time to read the Sunday paper, so I don't see stuff like this till late...)

Legoland Florida plans on opening its gates in late 2011. Merlin Entertainment purchased the Cypress Gardens theme park for the reported amount of 22 million dollars. The park is a 145 acre property, and is located about 1 hour southwest of Orlando and Disney World. (The article says it's about 40 miles from WDW.)

They are apparently aiming at kids ages 2 to 12, and this will be the fifth Legoland in the world, and the largest, with around 50 rides, shows and attractions. The article also states that they're going to do a multi-million dollar expansion of this property, and turn it into a multi-day resort, promising to add hotels and attractions from its other holdings. (Those holdings include Sea Life aquariums and Madame Tussauds wax museums.)

22 million doesn't sound out of this world for a 145 acre chunk of real estate, presumably with some infrastructure in place for the Legoland park, but then again, I don't know what Florida real estate is worth these days. (I know it's depressed.) I also don't know much about the town of Winter Haven, which is where this is located.

I tried to find the article online, but found this longer more detailed article instead.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Animal Kingdom Lodge In!

Well, one thing goes down, another comes up. This morning I called and booked our stay at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge for Thanksgiving week, 2010. We'll be staying in a savannah view room at the Kidani Village section.

We will be certain to eat at Jiko and/or Boma on this trip. Maybe we'll go for one of those on the day of our arrival.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the Osborne Family Light Festival at DHS, and perhaps we'll do the Magic Kingdom ticketed Christmas party too. I don't know what the weather is typically at that time of the year but I'm given to believe that it's pretty good yet; that later in December, January and February are the months that are less predictable. I'm hoping for a still-temperate but not blazing hot week.

Still looking for something to do over the 4th of July.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hilton Head out

Well, it looks like there won't be a DVC Hilton Head vacation this summer.

The first roadblock was the airfares. It's a pretty big chunk of change to fly from Chicago to Savannah, or even to Charleston. The savings to fly to the further away and presumably bigger city were not enough to justify the 2 to 3 hour drive from there to the Hilton Head Resort. But we had pretty much talked ourselves into doing it anyway.

So this morning, we called DVC to try to book. Bad news. No availability at all for the week that includes the 4th of July.

This is just about 5 months in advance. As a DVC owner with no points at Hilton Head, we can book as early as 7 months in advance. I have heard recently that HH is a hard one to get into, since it is relatively small compared to other properties.

Oh well. On to plan B, or C, which will apparently not involve DVC points. Might be banking more of them next year.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Museum of Science and Industry Visit

We love going to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. It's sort of like going to Epcot without the thrill rides.

They have redone their human biology section and called it "YOU! The Experience" or something pretty much like that. It was chock full of interactive exhibits and games for the kids to try. It was their favorite of the sections we visited yesterday. They have a few "cut-away" dissections of human bodies on display; these remind me of the Body Works special exhibit that I never really wanted to go see (and didn't). Everything is a video game for kids these days. Oh well... Still, this was a really interesting, well done reworking of their old classic exhibit.

The special ticketed exhibit that was open at this time was their White House exhibit, with a bunch of memorabilia from White House functions through the years, and a history lesson to boot. The most interesting thing, to me, was the miniature version of the White House itself, where the rooms are accurately depicted in the White House proper and the East and West Wings. Tons of detail to look at in this model, where the front was a closed model and you'd have to look through the windows, but the back was cutaway so that you could look into the various rooms. Much of the memorabilia had a focus on the four presidents who lived in Illinois: Lincoln, Grant, Reagan, and Obama.

The IMax show that we got to see was titled "The Human Body" and was a very well done, very educational film depicting the systems that make us "alive" in huge detail all around the viewers. My wife and I liked it a bit more than the kids, but we all thought it was interesting.

Another exhibit that I don't remember seeing before was the Art + Science = Architecture exhibit. In this one, an architect who has become a Lego artist has built several of the city's and the world's tallest buildings, as well as some planned buildings. The Lego models are displayed here along with facts about the buildings.

We finished our visit to the museum with the obligatory watching of the Swiss Jolly Ball exhibit, where a steel ball rolls through its paces on a track that takes it through buildings, up an elevator, on a ship ride, on a trolley ride, and along a bunch of track. For some reason kids (mine, and others) find this contraption mesmerizing. I referenced this pinball machine in one of my posts on things to use to fill an amusement park. Click the link above if you'd like to see a picture of it.

All in all, a very good day at the MSI.