Thursday, August 26, 2010

Disney's Hollywood Studios: The Hat

There always seems to be criticism of DHS's "new" park icon, the Hat. Most of the blogs and commentaries hate it. They hate it with a passion. Kevin Yee recently posted a question about what to do with DHS to increase the bottom line, like what shows or attractions to cut down on or cut out. Several of the suggestions on his Facebook page boiled down to "Tear down the Hat and sell it for scrap metal."

(My own suggestion, there and in a blog entry, was to create a boutique experience a couple nights a week, or maybe just several times a year, where they turn the park into a "Glamour Night", like a movie premiere or a big star studded event. The architecture is there and so are the facilities to put on some special shows, roll out the red carpet for guests. I'm sure Imagineering could come up with some wonderfully fun stuff to do at this party, much like the Christmas and Halloween ticketed events at Magic Kingdom...but that's not really the point here...)

Everyone seems to hate the Hat. It never bothered me all that much. I didn't like that it blocked the beautiful reproduction of Graumann's Chinese Theater, and I didn't like that it only houses a pin trading store. That seems to cheapen the whole thing. And as I said in the last post, it makes a certain amount of logical sense, since it is Yensid's hat, and Yensid is the sorceror who makes the magic happen, and who also stands for Walt himself...

But the more I think about it, the more I look at the various park icons, I've decided that it just doesn't work as a park icon. It struck me as I was watching the video in my Disney Parks 6-pack on Animal Kingdom, when one of the Imagineers (Joe Rohde, perhaps?) was talking about constructing that park's icon, and he referenced the Castle and Spaceship Earth as icons to live up to. And DAK's Tree of Life DOES live up to those icons. It's a work of art on its own, and it is striking!

There is an elegance to all three of those icons, the geometric perfection of the Epcot geodesic dome, the sweeping spires and detailed architecture of Cinderella's Castle, the portrayal of LIFE itself by the big Tree.

There is no elegance whatsoever to the Hat.

It's a cartoon.

I realize that this is a park about movies and that animation is where Disney made its bones as a studio. But something else is needed as the icon, if it is not going to be the Theater.

Most bloggers and folks commenting on the issue seem to feel the Theater building is a perfectly adequate 'weenie' and perhaps they are right. But if Disney, for whatever reason, feels that it cannot be the symbol of DHS, then I'm going to weigh in on the side of those who feel that the Hat is not elegant enough or iconic enough to be used as the symbol. Surely they can come up with something that rivals the beauty, elegance and power of those other symbols. (Just off the top of my head I thought of some sort of sculpture featuring an Academy Awards statue and empty film reel spools. It probably wouldn't work since that Oscar statue is a copyrighted and protected symbol of the Academy, but something like that. There have to be ideas out there.)

I like the Hat but not where it is, and not as the park's 'weenie'.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Disney Bookshelf: The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios

There are plenty of factoids in this book, mostly listed under the "Quick Takes" sections of various topics, that I didn't know. Most of them I won't remember. But there were some larger items that will undoubtedly stick with me. Not a ton of them, but a few.

So here's my list of "Stuff I didn't know about DHS (and learned from the Field Guide):

  • The concept for DHS came from the Eisner/Wells management team, and was originally envisioned as an entertainment pavilion for Epcot's future World.

  • The architecture in the park is of the Streamline Moderne style.

  • The initial liner acceleration portion of the Rock'n'Roller Coaster ride serves to bring the ride to a seperate show building far enough away from the Tower of Terror so that it doesn't compete with the view dominated by the Tower in that part of the park.

  • Four theaters from around Hollywood are represented on Sunset Boulevard: The Warner Beverly Hills Theater, the Academy Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Carthay Circe Theater.

  • Each player in Toy Story Midway Mania is "handicapped" in the target practice round, with difficulty levels for the rest of the experience being determined by how well individual riders do in that round of play.

  • There is an interactive umbrella on the Big City Streets that lets guests do a Gene Kelly impression. It has a switch that triggers a little downpour over you for a good photo opportunity. (I have never noticed this when visiting the park!)

  • There is a lot of good information in this book; maybe not as much as some of the other Field Guides, but still, it's a fun read. Those six items stood out to me as things I didn't know but thought were pretty fascinating.


    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Disney's Hollywood Studios and the Imagineering Guide

    Talk about timely! As I'm finishing up The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios, Jason over at Disney's Folly posted an entry titled Disney's Hollywood Studios: A Boulevard of Broken Dreams. In that article he describes the current state of the park in less than glowing terms. Jason suggests that the park was quite popular, and was a worthy addition back in 1991, but that it hasn't aged well and needs an injection of, well, something (read his article!) to get back on track.

    Some who have read my entries in the past might remember that I really like DHS, that I don't see it as a half day or second rate experience, and that I feel it offers an excellent mix of attractions. We all know what's there: Tower of Terror, Rock'n'Roller Coaster, Toy Story Midway Mania, Star Tours (though it closes soon for an update), the Great Movie Ride, and the Backlot Tour. As parks go, it isn't a lot. But it does feature several shows: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Lights, Motors, Action, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast at the Theater of the Stars, MuppetVision 3-D, the American Idol Experience, and Playhouse Disney Live on Stage. I didn't even mention Fantasmic! because I've yet to see it. As parks go, that's a LOT! And there is also the experience of One Man's Dream, the museum walkthrough dedicated to Walt and his life, and the one-of-a-kind (at least in my experience) Disney's Animation Academy. I'm sure I'm forgetting something. Is the Sounds Dangerously still showing? And there are also those cute little street performances that are quite entertaining.

    Aside from Epcot, I believe that DHS has the best dining experiences of any Disney park I've visited (this includes all six stateside parks but nothing overseas). The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater is unique and tons of fun, even if the food isn't the best and perhaps is overpriced. The 50's Prime Time Cafe is also fun, and we haven't even tried The Hollywood Brown Derby or Mama Melrose's. It also has some decent counter service options in the Backlot Express, Pizza Planet ARcade, the ABC Commissary, the Studio Catering Co, and other places.

    The architecture, as Jason points out, is really well done; there is nothing second rate about that aspect of the park. Of course, there are the numerous complaints about the Hat which has been settled in the middle of the park, but it doesn't annoy me as much as it seems to annoy many purists. It's too bad it blocks the Graumann Theater building, but it does make a certain amount of logical sense, since the park is about the wizardry of movies, and the hat belonged to Yensid the Sorcerer, and Yensid is of course a not-so-hidden reference to Walt himself. It's Walt's hat, I think, and as such it does fit as a park icon.

    The problem with the Hat is that it blocks the beautifully done Graumann's Chinese Theater building, and I understand that. It is lousy placement, and to have it house a simple, almost crass, pin trading store under it, is less than optimal (to be kind). However, as the park's symbol, I do think it works.

    The Imagineering Field Guide sheds no light on WHY the change was made (from the theater building being the "weenie" to the Hat taking its place)except to state that:

    "In preparation for the 2001 celebration of the 100th anniversary of Walt's birth - known as 100 Years of Magic - the company looked for a way to create an iconic statement to represent the park during that celebration in the manner of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, and the Tree Of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom. After the event was over, the hat remained and continued to fulfill that role, much the way the Chinese Theater had in an unofficial capacity during the early years of the park."

    The Field Guide also points out (at the beginning) that the park used to be about the "nuts and bolts of filmmaking craft" but the advent of DVD's with their numerous special features and behind the scenes films included with most every film these days, the park needed to shift away from that focus and become "more about putting guests into experiences inspired by film, television and other media in new and exciting ways."

    I can't disagree with Jason that the park could use an expansion, some fresh subject matter. I love the idea, voiced in Jason's blog article and mentioned by Kevin Yee recently in one of his Miceage updates, of adding a Star Wars World, perhaps behind the Star Tours attraction where there is land to use. But I also do feel that DHS is still a very fine park and a mustn't-miss park to visit on any Disney World Vacation.

    I'm in the process of trying to accumulate the interesting facts and bits I got from the book, and compiling them into a blog post. Hopefully I'll get it done tomorrow and post something on Wednesday. Till then, I guess I should just yell, "CUT!" and finish this particular long winded entry up!


    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Disney Bookshelf - The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney's Hollywood Studios

    Hey, it's August, isn't it!?!!

    I remembered that the latest of the Imagineering Field Guides to be released had, in fact, been released, and there it was at Amazon for just a bit under ten dollars! So I ordered it (with a couple CD's, one by Adam Lambert for my wife and one by Tinted Windows, a sort of pop supergroup with members from Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne, Cheap Trick and Hansen - but if you want info about that, you'll have to wait a bit), and have been reading through it for the last couple of days.

    I'll probably make another post about this book after I read more of it, but it's what I expected - insights from the Imagineers about details of DHS, much like the previous books provided for other parks. I'm learning the background of many of the names of stores and buildings, and little tidbits about some rides and attractions. I think it's probably best if I reserve specifics for that future post.

    But, as I have posted here in previous entries, I do not consider DHS to be an inferior park. I think there's plenty of cool stuff to see and do, plenty of good places to eat and I love the ambiance of the place. So this Field Guide is going to make a handy travel companion in the fall when we head down to Disney World.

    So far, I'm satisfied with my purchase.


    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Disney DVD - The 6 Pack

    Not really about the content about the DVD's themselves, but today I found myself disappointed.

    I paid the 28 bucks plus to get them through Amazon, and I still haven't watched all of them. But I wandered into Sam's Club today in search of supplies for the office, and when I do that, I always have to see if they have any deals on DVDs. No deals on stuff I don't have, but...

    The DVD 6 pack of the Disney Parks programs was there, and had a price tag of something just over 18 dollars on it.

    It always bums me out when I spend more than I need to spend for something. And when it's 10 dollars, well, that's a lot of money!

    If you are looking for this collection, and you have a Sam's Club nearby, check it out before you buy at Amazon.


    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    D23 Magazine and Epcot Patch

    The latest issue of D23 is an entertaining and informative one, even if there isn't much that I'm particularly interested in blogging about. The main feature is a reminiscense about the development and opening of Epcot, through the eyes of Marty Sklar and SF author Ray Bradbury, both of whom had a lot to do with the way it looked on opening day, October 1, 1982.

    The article has some concept art and several photos from the development and construction of the park, most of which we've seen before. One interesting quote from the article itself:

    What had been two disparate concepts began feeling more and more like a uniform whole as Epcot took on the hourglass shape so familiar to today's visitors. Future World anchored the north side, with World Showcase laid out around a large lake on the south. Conceptually, they're radically different, but together, they contain an important underlying thread: The notion of progress, of working together to achieve a better tomorrow. One part of Epcot shows us what is possible, the other shows us who will make it happen: We will. By understanding and celebrating our differences, we can create a better future.

    Mr. Bradbury accepts this premise about the concept of Epcot as it existed on opening day, and today:

    "The whole of Epcot teaches us how miraculous we are," Ray says "We are very special people. We are part of something that began millions of years ago. So, all the time, on every side, Epcot points to you and says, 'You are individual. You are creative. I hand you the future; step into it. Believe and go forth.'"

    Other marjor articles include one about Jungle Cruise skippers, a feature on the upcoming animated offering Tangled, one titled "Journey Into Imagineering", and a salute to Fess Parker. They're all pretty interesting.

    The gift that came with it was an Epcot patch specially made for D23 members. This one is the symbol of "The Living Seas" pavilion. I wonder if it will be possible to acquire the other eight patches at some point.

    Here's the picture of the patch: (apologies for my poor photography skills)

    Have a great day!


    Friday, August 6, 2010

    D23 magazine

    The new magazine is here! The cover features the main characters from the upcoming film Tangled, which I thought (for some reason) was going to be hand-drawn animation, but looks to be computer generated by the quality of the image on the cover.

    The "gift" that comes with the magazine is a custom made Epcot patch. Apparently there are 9 designs, and each member gets one. Mine is for "The Living Seas". A nice design featuring white waves on a green background.

    I haven't had the time to look at the magazine in any depth but am looking forward to the article mentioned on the cover: "An Exclusive Tour of Walt Disney Imagineering". On the back cover they have an ad for next year's D23 Expo, which I had hoped to attend. Unfortunately, it will be held August 19-21, 2011, and I will likely not be able to go in August - busy month with birthdays and back to school rush at both home and work. Darn.

    Looking forward to reading the contents in more depth than a quick flip-through.