Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December 5, 1901

Today would be the 111th birthday of Walter Elias Disney, so let's wish him a Happy Birthday, wherever he is!

Happy Eleventy-First birthday!  Same age as Bilbo Baggins when he left the Shire to live out his days in Rivendell!


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Disney Files Magazine

The DVC-published Disney Files came yesterday, and in addition to neat features by Disney historian Jim Korkis and others, it contains a nice overview of the new Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom.

As I don't have it in front of me, I can't say too much about it.  But the photos and artwork look pretty interesting.  The "Be Our Guest" restaurant looks pretty interesting, and Maurice's cottage looks to be a fun little place to visit.

We all know what sorts of things are going to be there.  It seems to me that it will make Fantasyland out to be a really fun and much more ride-intensive area to visit. 


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Disney Books

It seems that there are a lot of books out there about Disney lately.  I think with the advent of self-publishing, there has been a rush by Disney fans who can write and have something to say to get their thoughts on paper.

One such project is Leonard Kinsey's company, Bamboo Forest Publishing.  Kinsey is best known as the author of The Dark Side of Disney and the fictional work, Our Kingdom of Dust.  (I haven't gotten around to reading the second yet, but it's coming up...)  His publishing company has released books by Disney Legend/Imagineer Rolly Crump and by former castmember Ron Schneider, aka Dreamfinder.  Kinsey's Dark Side of Disney blog is as entertaining as his books, often, but it is for those more, shall we say, "irreverent" Disney fans...not necessarily for family vacationers looking for Disney tips...

Bob McLain of Disney Book Beat  review site is launching his own venture, called Theme Park Press.  His blog is going to go dark for a while, but there are a ton of interesting posts there to review.  More on his publishing venture when it comes available.

Of course we all know Kevin Yee, the MiceChat columnist and blogger at Ultimate Orlando.  Kevin has published many books on Disney, which are published by Ultimate Orlando Publishing.  Then there is Ayefour Publishing, which has published Chad Emerson's Project Future and Sam Gennawey's Walt and the Promise of Progress City.  

You get the idea.  There are a lot of small presses/publishers, mostly run by authors themselves, doing Disney books these days.  We have a wealth of information out there, available for our perusal.  I hope they are all successful!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Puss'n'Boots by Dreamworks

My kids chose this film to watch Saturday morning, picking it over John Carter, and they both enjoyed it.  Me, I was a bit less impressed.  It took a lot of the tropes from the Shrek films and used them to tell the story of the dashing swordsman, Puss In Boots, voiced by Antonio Banderas.  We were treated to the cat's backstory, where it was revealed that he grew up as "brothers" with Humpty Dumpty.  He left Humpty crashed into a bunch of pieces, after the Egg betrayed his trust.  And when Humpty sends his feline thief to attract Puss to his lair, he's all about begging for forgiveness. 

But from there, it's one plot twist after another, as the trio unites to kidnap the goose that lays the golden eggs from that kingdom at the top of that famous beanstalk.  And for me, it was one or two plot twists too many.  I've read reviews that suggest that this is one of Dreamworks' best efforts, but I sort of felt it was little more than an attempt to capitalize on the Shrek franchise a bit more. 

I didn't hate it.  It was good and entertaining, but I think I've come to expect more from Dreamworks.  Like Pixar, they rarely lay an egg (no pun intended).  And recently, I think they've hit some real home runs.

This one was more like a double.  Doubles are good, but they don't score a run on their own, necessarily.  Just my opinion. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Disney Film: Wreck-It Ralph

Finally, I have something to post about, something that comes from me, instead of just being my take on some news or something pointed out on another blog.

I took my boys to see Wreck-It Ralph yesterday.  I can't say I had any burning desire to see it.  It just didn't excite me that much - a big video game bad guy who gets tired of being a bad guy and makes friends with a little girl.  Sounds forced.  Like they looked at the success of the Toy Story franchise, and thought, what can we do that's like THAT?  And came up with lovable video game characters - but then thought they'd give it a little twist and go the other way with the unlovable video game character instead.

And for the first part of the movie, that's exactly what I was thinking.  But, like a lot of stuff seems to go with me, at some point, maybe around the 1/3 finished point, it went from being mild entertainment to actually becoming engaging.  Sucking me in.  I started to like the way Ralph was thinking.  I started to feel sorry for him.  I was rooting for him.  It had me guessing as to what was the truth of the situation he found himself in when he sort of crashed into a racing game called Sugar Rush.  The little girl, Vanillope, voiced by Sarah Silverman, was funny and likable after a rough start, and I found myself laughing and caring about the character.  Ralph's game nemesis, Fix-it Felix, was also funny, and it was interesting to see him come to understanding about Ralph's existence. 

So I ended up liking the movie quite a bit.  No, it didn't quite have the heart of most Pixar releases, but I think it stacked up favorably to their latest, Brave.  But it was a fun, entertaining animated feature and I was glad I saw it.  And for the 10-12 year old set, my boys liked it from the beginning.

The short that preceded it, called Paperman, was also fun, and well done.  It involved a young man and a young woman's encounter over a piece of paper, and then he sees her again, and tries to get her attention by using paper airplanes.  Cute.  Maybe not Pixar-cute, but entertaining.

On another note, we did see a preview for the first of The Hobbit films, to be released in December.  Looks good.  I wanted to see a preview for Les Miserables, but that one was not among these coming attractions.  Both of those are MUST-SEE's for me.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween treats for Disney!

Disney got a nice little treat in their Halloween bag yesterday after going trick-or-treating at George Lucas' place!

I heard on the news last night that George Lucas has sold LucasFilms to Disney, along with the rights to all their movie properties. 

Is this a good thing, a great thing, or just tossing money away?

Seems to me that it's a great thing for Disney.  More Star Wars movies WILL apparently be made.  Lucas will be a "creative consultant" on future projects.  I'm assuming that this purchase also includes the Indiana Jones franchise as well, though the news focused on Star Wars.  Is American Graffiti part of the package?  (I'm thinking of the 50's Prime Time Cafe...) 

Anyway, besides the film possibilities, there is the theme park possibilities.  Might that long-desired Star Wars Land be coming to Florida in the however-distant future?  With the rumors of Avatar Land fading out at Animal Kingdom, perhaps the money will go toward something like this, a property that Disney now owns and doesn't have to share with Universal (like the Marvel properties)?  Not right away, of course, but maybe down the road?

Lessee...Tattoine, the Death Star, Endor, Hoth...the list of worlds and places to draw from in designing a new land at DHS seems to be full of possibilities. 

And I haven't even mentioned the film possibilities.  Mostly because I don't know whether they'll be as great as those first three (the second three weren't quite up to that standard, by the accounts of most Star Wars true fans, at least).  But the money they could bring in...

Well, that's probably why I didn't really focus on them.  I don't care so much about the money they bring in for Disney.  I'm not a Disney shareholder.  I do care about the entertainment possibilities, and that seems like it would center on the theme parks, for my own interests.

Let's see what happens next...


Monday, October 29, 2012

Science Centers...

We went to the Museum of Science and Industry yesterday, and it made me think of my last post (which was inspired by the Passport to Dreams blog entry) about Epcot and inspiration. 

I remember a similar discussion, a few years back, on the Reimagineering blog (now gone quiet, unfortunately), where some of the comments got to discussing whether regional science centers like the Museum of Science and Industry did a better job of educating and inspiring people than Epcot could do.  Those centers have the ability to change rapidly.  Exhibits come and go.  For example, yesterday the MSI had a special exhibit for the life of Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts.  I learned a ton about the cartoonist.  It isn't really science, perhaps, but it was fun and educational. 

There are larger scale permanent exhibits, too - like Science Storms and YOU! the Experience.  Every so often these exhibits undergo wholesale upgrades or changes - recently YOU! The Experience was closed for renovation and updating, and they made it much more pertinent to today's kids (and adults).  Science Storms is a relatively new exhibit where kids (and adults, again) can control a tornado and can learn about waves and air currents and a lot of other stuff.  Fast Forward also is relatively new and showcases some scientists' and inventors' work on cutting edge technologies and ideas.  Not everything is new every time we visit, but there have been modifications to the content of the exhibit. 

Science centers like MSI  do an excellent job of entertaining, educating, and inspiring visitors.  But the problem is that they can only do so one or two (or at the most a small group) at a time.  You can't have a thousand people working the controls to the tornado exhibit all at once.  And you can't rush a kid who is doing it.  There's a lot to do, and kids generally wait their turns and do things in an orderly fashion.  But can you imagine something similar at Epcot? 

It reminds me of Innoventions (the one on the Land and Seas side - I can never keep it straight if that's East or West).  It's the same sort of stuff.  It's fun if you're the one doing something.  But I for one find Innoventions to be perhaps the most boring part of Epcot.  Not because there isn't anything interesting there...more because you just can't really do too much when it's super crowded, like it always seems to be when we're there.  And then of course, you're always rushing to get in line for Soarin' or make a dinner reservation or whatever. 

I wish I would have gotten a chance to see Horizons.  The way people talk about it, it must have been something special.  It seems to have really inspired a lot of bloggers.  But I wonder if it was as impressive as they make it sound.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say.  Epcot as a science center plus theme park was a difficult proposition.  It's still pretty unique today.  Just not nearly as inspiring, or so I'm led to believe...


Monday, October 22, 2012

Epcot Angst...

As I surf Disney-themed blogs, I read a lot of angst about that fact that Epcot today is not what it was supposed to be, or what it could be, or what it used to be.  It's probably true:  the Epcot of today doesn't really seem to educate, or inspire, its guests.  I have to take it on faith that it did this in the past, because I've read so many excellent blogs that lament the loss of their favorite park.  The latest entry I've read, An Epcot Generation Manifesto at the always informative Passport to Dreams Old & New, comments on the changes in the park, and in the mission itself for the park, saying that "What's really missing from EPCOT today isn't just Horizons, it's the whole package of information, of inspiration, the message of hope which cumulatively moved us all."

Epcot doesn't inspire anymore.  That seems to be a common lament.  So why doesn't it?

I never visited Epcot before 2006.  My only visit to Walt Disney World was in 1975, as a member of my high school band, and, well, you know how high school kids are.  Especially 15 year old male high school kids, when released in the parks along with other high school band kids (read that as "GIRLS!") from other parts of the country.  I took a few pictures, but basically I have few memories from that visit.

Epcot wasn't an option in 1975.  It wasn't built yet.  I was in college when EPCOT Center opened, and it didn't register on my radar.   Too busy majoring in chemistry and hanging out with my friends and playing rock and roll music and trying to get into dental school.  (I succeeded in all of them...)  Did I need inspiration?

I did not.  I grew up in a time where men were launching rockets to the moon.  Neil Armstrong stepped onto that world when I was 9 years old.  I found the SF of Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke at around 12 years of age, and moved on from there.  Brin, Card, Benford, Sawyer, Bear, and many others made me think a lot about what was possible.  The shuttle program began, and I wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune after the Challenger disaster.  (The link brings you to a blog post with the link to the piece, not to the piece itself.)  If you read it, you will read the thoughts of someone who had been inspired by a lot of stuff.  But not by EPCOT.

Foxxfur states in her excellent piece that "We can argue semantics about Walt Disney's original vision for E.P.C.O.T., the political and cultural reasons these were transformed into a theme park, so on and so on but the fact remains that the guiding principle behind E.P.C.O.T. and EPCOT Center remained the same; like Captain EO, it was here to change the world.  And EPCOT did change the world, actually. This is no lie."

It may have.  I think it changed the way that science centers and museums around the world present their information to their visitors.  I remember, as a kid, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and being inspired by it back then.  I loved the place.  (So many buttons to push...)  Today, however, it presents its information and its stories in much different fashion.  It's much more interactive, much more entertaining.  I might hazard a guess that a lot of this change in the way that information is presented is due to EPCOT.  I could be wrong; after all, I never went to EPCOT before 2006 so I'm not sure how things were presented back then, but from everything I read, it sounds like EPCOT's presentation of information inspired museums to do a better job of presenting what they were trying to show.

I'm sure it changed the world in other ways as well.  But I can't enumerate those ways.  I'm not sure Foxxfur can, either.  (I looked for some specific examples but didn't find them.) 

Foxxfur makes this statement:

But every child of the eighties or early nineties who passed through those wide turnstiles and squinted up at the glare of the Florida sun off that big geodesic sphere left the park permanently marked with its message. Those catchy theme songs, so easy to dismiss as irritating simplifications, got into our DNA. They became homilies. How many kids eventually discovered the name Buckminster Fuller and connected his writing to the social concerns espoused by the theme park just because Disney name-checked one of his most famous ideas as the title of the park's iconic attractions? How easily we can come up with phrases like "nature's plan will shine above", or "the future world is born today", or "if we can dream it, then we can do it", or "one little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation" - all genuinely good advice, and all from EPCOT? These sound like notations not from a theme park, but from something like "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth".
 I agree.  But these things are still inspiring our kids, I think.  I know that when we walk through the turnstiles today, we are wowed by the view of Spaceship Earth.  We listen to music at home and find ourselves saying, "That sounds like something that we'd hear at Epcot!"  My kids seem interested in all sorts of things because we've encountered them at Epcot.  "Living with the Land", "The Living Seas", "Mission: Space" - the consensus seems to be that these things are sort of lame.  Maybe they are, but they still inspire.  They still can connect to kids of today, a video game generation that, no matter what we might wish, need a lot to "wow" them.  At least if I judge by my own kids, it does inspire.  The video-game-ish "Mission: Space" might be a little basic for their own video game skills, but it got them interested in space travel in a concrete sense.  "Living with the Land"'s greenhouses are still interesting enough that they talk about the methods of growing exotic foods on occasion, and they compare every aquarium exhibit we come across to "The Living Seas".  They may connect in a different way, but they do connect.

It will be interesting when I read a blog (if there is one) by a Disney fan who has grown up with this incarnation of Epcot.  I've only experienced this version, but I'm old.  "Pong" astonished me when it first came out.  Technology today is light years further advanced than what I grew up with, and I got to see it all.  I'm not saying that Epcot can't do a better job of inspiring its guests.  I'm just saying that it still does inspire, by its very existence.  And that's harder than ever to do, with the way things are in our world and nation today.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

4 Year Blog Anniversary

Hey, I missed it.  Again.  But at least this time, only by 2 days. 

Today is 10-11-12.  On 10-9-08, I wrote the first entry on this Disney Fan Ramblings blog.  4 years ago (okay, 4 years and 2 days). 

I didn't have any followers back then.  Now I have 13 followers.  I don't promote this blog very much.  There are only a few sites that link back to my blog.  (Thank you to those sites, especially FutureProbe!)  I don't know if that's because I don't have much to say that interests the authors of those blogs or if it's because...I don't know...because I'm just not that active.  Or not enough strictly Disney content. 

Traffic seems to be winding down a bit more month by month, and with it my interest in the blog seems to wane further. 

I guess I should just write when the muse is upon me; I shouldn't care if anyone's reading it or not.  It's like a journal - no one EVER reads that, yet I kept one for years.  But when you throw your thoughts out there, you appreciate any feedback you get. 

Anyway, happy 4th birthday (or is it technically an anniversary?) to Disney Fan Ramblings!  Hope you make it to age 5! 


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Young Adult reading

Since I have a couple of young adult readers in the house (okay, they're not really close to adults yet but they're good readers and they love good stories), I thought I'd post about some of the things that I and they have been reading.  They've been reading more YA than I have; they've both read most of The Mysterious Benedict Society series, and most of the Nicholas Flamel series, and I have not tried any of those.

But I have found some very good YA stuff for the Kindle, and I thought I'd make a post telling a little about some of them.

The first is titled The Elemental Odyssey by Derek J. Canyon.  This is a YA science fiction/fantasy with an intriguing cover.  Errol Flynn as a raccoon?  How can you not try this one?  I did, and so did my older son, and he really liked it.  (He wants to build Zura, the fictional world of the "alien" animals from the book, in Minecraft.)  In this book, four children who are vacationing with their families in the Black Hills of South Dakota are kidnapped by these aliens and pressed into service.  Where Earth is based on science, Zura is sort of a magical analog, where intelligent animals rule the roost.  They are taken on a journey around the world, visiting various landmarks in search of "elementals" which are the powerful stuff of Zuran magic.  Does it sound sort of fun?  It was.

The sequel to this book is titled Where Magic Reigns, and is also a fun book.  In this follow-up, the children find themselves somehow transported to Zura, where they are hunted by similar alien/animals.  Also a fun read.

Another I read recently is Mark Terry's The Battle For Atlantis, a "Peter Namaka Adventure".  It reminded me of Rick Riordan's two series featuring mythological gods.  In this one, Terry combines Atlantean legends, Arthurian legends and Hawaiian mythology as Peter Namaka finds himself underwater, drowning, but then rescued by a young girl and brought to Atlantis.  There he finds himself in the midst of a coming war with Mordred, who is martialing forces against Atlantis.  Peter has a job to do, and it involves the Hawaiian gods.  I found it to be a very quick, engrossing read.  I've read one of Terry's adult novels (a Derrick Stillwater spy novel), and I find his style to be easy to read and get into.

The last one I want to touch on in this post is Steven M. Moore's The Secret Lab, a YA SF novel set on a space station orbiting Earth.  There's hard science here, but there's also a neat mystery involving a renegade scientist, a bit of political intrigue, genetic engineering, and a super smart cat (who narrates the story).  I liked this one as much as any of them, but I'm a sucker for real science fiction, and this one fits the bill. 

I've read a bunch of other stuff, but not all of it is YA, and I won't burden you with my thoughts on writers like Barry Eisler, Marcus Sakey, Steve Umstead, and Douglas Preston.  At least not now...


Wednesday, September 26, 2012


If you've read this blog for any length of time, you may or may not recall that I've reviewed other books in this series:  the first two books and the third book.   This is the fourth book of the series, and in my view, it is the best yet.  To me it looks like Mr. Pearson took the plotting of this book very seriously, not allowing it to become overburdened with details and keeping the story moving (my criticisms of the third book) and kept it consistent and sensible (my criticism of the first book).  (I liked the second quite a bit; I thought that was well done.)

In this story, it seems like the Keepers themselves are being compromised in some way, and when they discover that a couple of new evil Overtakers have taken over the leadership of that group, they learn why:  the Evil Queen (from Snow White) can cast spells.  And the OT's can now access the DHI servers and can become DHI's themselves.  And they have a plan, and the Keepers are having trouble ascertaining exactly what they're trying to do.  The OT's are keeping the Keepers off balance with recruits from their high school and with continual wrenches thrown into their best efforts to guard the Kingdom. 

The story takes a logical and welcome step forward with the addition of the "good" Disney characters, who will hopefully play a major role in the next book (which has been out in hardcover for some time now), and I look forward to reading further in the series.  I've known that Mr. Pearson is a very good writer from reading a few of his adult novels, and was waiting for that talent to manifest in this young adult series.  It has done so in this book, I feel.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Lincoln Child's UTOPIA revisited

I'm sort of a book nut; I've got thousands of the things laying around.  I mostly read mystery and thriller fiction, but at a given time I could be reading something in any genre:  I read a lot of science fiction, horror, and some fantasy.  (I read a lot of books on Disney, many as I can...)

A while back I made this blog post about the Lincoln Child novel, UTOPIA, and talked generally about the story, which was a thriller about terrorists holding a huge indoor theme park sort of built into a canyon near Las Vegas hostage.  It was a good taut story, in my opinion, with interesting characters, from a really good thriller writer (Child is well known for his collaborations with Douglas Preston, stories featuring Agent Pendergast).  One of the major characters in this book is not a person at all, but the theme park where everything takes place.  Child delves into the details of the place, and I have always found it to be a repeatable read for me.

This is a scan of the drawings at the beginning of the book, depicting the park as it is designed.  You can see that there are four distinct areas to the fictional park.  The first, Boardwalk, is sort of a carnival area with thrill rides and an aquarium.  From there you can go to Camelot, which is sort of self explanatory.  Gaslight, a third area, is an area themed to a part of London, England, and last is Callisto, a space station/skyport futuristic area.  A fifth area is scheduled to open, themed to Atlantis.

I think that the detail of the drawing is really well done.  It's a very thoroughly thought-out concept brought into book form.  According to Child, there are no plans for future novels set in Utopia.  But I wonder about Child's obvious fascination with the art form known as the "theme park".  Where did his inspiration for this come from?  There are some obvious (to Disney fans, anyway) comparisons to be made between the found of this park and Walt Disney. 

I'll just reiterate:  it was a fun read and I probably will read it again someday soon.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Art of Animation or the Polynesian?

I always like reading Kevin Yee's articles on his own blog or on MiceAge, and his latest, titled Roar or Bore?, was interesting.  It is a review of the new Art of Animation resort, which is a value resort themed to various classic Disney animated features.  So far there is a Nemo section, a Cars section, and now, newly opened, a Lion King section. 

Kevin doesn't give the Lion King section very high marks, unlike those other two sections, which he feels are really well done and really immerse the guests in the world of Disney characters and stories. 

I don't have any opinions about this resort.  I've never stayed in any of the value resorts, and as a DVC member, will likely never do so in the future.  What I found interesting (besides the info on the resort in a general sense) was that Kevin says he sort of prefers this sort of a resort, themed to Disney stories, to something like the Polynesian.  His argument is that the point of a Disney vacation would be to immerse one's self in all things Disney, and the Polynesian is something that could be experienced elsewhere, as there are other, "real" Polynesian type resorts out there.

There are other resorts like the Polynesian, probably.  Most of them are probably actually in Hawaii, though I'm sure there are some on the mainland as well.  I know of a resort in the Wisconsin Dells called the Polynesian, which is a hotel and water park.  It's on the lower to middle end of the resorts there, I think, though I've not stayed there.  Still, I suppose the point is valid.  Anyone can open a Polynesian themed resort. 

But which of the Disney resorts are fully immersive in the sense that they are themed to Disney movies and characters and such?  I don't think ANY of them are, not fully.  Animal Kingdom Lodge has some Lion King stuff around, but it's really not immersive in the sense that you're living in the movie or anything.  The Polynesian, actually, has a few Lilo-and-Stitch moments around, I think, though I really don't pay much attention to them. 

I suppose that if I was really THAT Disney crazy, I wouldn't mind staying in such a resort.  But people already say I'm Disney-crazy enough.  And I don't have any issue with staying in a unique, comfortable resort, especially one where you can look out and see the castle rising over the Magic Kingdom, you can watch the fireworks over the park from a beach, you can hop on a futuristic (I know it's not, but it still sort of looks the part) monorail and ride over to the park.  I like the people there.  I like the decor, the rooms, the grounds.  To me, the Polynesian says "Disney". 

The Contemporary also says "Disney" to me, even though I've never stayed there.  Where else can you see a monorail running through the lobby?  The Animal Kingdom Lodge says "Disney" to me.  Where else can you go out and watch animals roaming a savannah from your balcony?  The Port Orleans says "Disney" to me, too.  It has a very "New Orleans" feel to me, but with the proximity to all that Disney immersiveness. 

I feel that resorts like these give me an experience that I can't get elsewhere.  That says
"Disney" to me as much as seeing Cars or Lion King characters around.  I'm looking for comfort and relaxation, least as much as I can get when we're not attacking the parks, commando-style.  I get enough of the crowds at the parks.  It's not about "escaping" the characters, it's about being on vacation.  To me, "vacation" means getting as much comfort as I can afford. 

I'll take the Polynesian, every time.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Personal thing...Tribune Article

Back in 1986, I was a senior in dental school.  Something bad happened in January of that year - something that has impacted our nation's space program, echoing even to today.  The space shuttle Challenger exploded on launch, killing all seven astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.  (Did I spell that wrong?)

Neal Armstrong died a few days ago.  Most of you will remember that he was the first man to step onto the surface of the moon.  Well, I was reading science fiction author Steven M. Moore's blog entry on the subject, where he discussed his own feelings about Armstrong's legacy and what has happened to our space program, and I recalled in the comments there that I wrote an op-ed piece shortly after the disaster and submitted it to the Chicago Tribune. 

I never was contacted by the Trib to let me know the fate of the article, but a couple weeks later, my friend called me and told me that his mom had seen the article in that Sunday's Tribune.  I went out and bought some copies, of course, and I was always proud that they thought enough of the article to put it in there. 

Steve asked if I could maybe repost it as a guest entry on his blog, and I said okay, assuming I can locate my copies.  I immediately googled it and, lo and behold, there it is! 

Man's Destiny Is In Space

I wrote this as an idealistic, enthusiastic young man who was inspired by the future promised by continued exploration of space.  Have a read if you would like.  I think it holds up pretty good.


Monday, August 27, 2012

What is that...??? Joe Rohde's left ear?

Yesterday we were flipping channels and I came across a History Channel showing Modern Marvels:  Walt Disney World.  I have the DVD of this one, but it's hidden aways somewhere and so my son and I watched just about the whole thing. 

When we got to the part on the Animal Kingdom, they show a lot of Imagineer Joe Rohde discussing the construction of that park.  At first I didn't think much about it, but my son asked me, "What's that thing hanging from his ear?"  I told him it was an earring or something, but thought that it was awful big! 

A bit later, they showed him a bit more from the left side, and it looks like his ear lobe is grossly stretched out. 

Anyone know what it's supposed to be, and what is the point of doing that?

I guess I'm just getting old...but Joe doesn't look like a spring chicken (as they say)...


Friday, August 17, 2012

Six Flags Great America Gurnee Visit

We visited Six Flags' Great America in Gurnee, Illinois, on Wednesday.  It was our first visit to that park in two years.  We planned on going earlier this summer, but with 100 degree heat much of the season, it just wasn't happening.  As it worked out, going in mid-August was a good experience.  Not too hot and not overly crowded, right before school starts. 

Great America started its existence as "Marriot's Great America".  I know this because I was a teenager when it opened.  Back then it attempted to be a bit more of a theme park with a handful of thrill rides.  The log flume and the boat flume rides that were there at opening are still there.  They actually sort of fit the theming.  The Whizzer "Family" coaster was there back then, too.  Then it was called "Willard's Whizzer".  It's the same coaster, though. 

Now it's a thrill ride park with a nod to the themes of each land.  And not much of a nod.  The log ride was and is in a part of the park called "Yukon Territory", and the boat flume ride, called "Yankee Clipper" was and is still in a part of the park called "Yankee Harbor".  Aside from those two rides, however, rides don't have much relation to the part of the park where they're located.  For example, the "Southwest Territory" area contains coasters called the Viper (a wooden coaster) and the Raging Bull (a big steel coaster).  The Southwest Territory has nice theming in the buildings, but really, that's about it. 

Orleans Place and Mardi Gras sections (separate sections according to the park guide map) are both themed like New Orleans.  What rides might you expect to find in New Orleans?  A swamp tour, maybe?  A riverboat?  A streetcar?  These sections house The Dark Knight indoor dark coaster, Superman: Ultimate Flight (a flying coaster), the Condor (a spinning ride that raises you 112 feet in the air) and Roaring Rapids (a whitewater raft ride).  There are bumper cars called Rue Le Dodge and a spinning coaster (think Primeval Whirl) called the Ragin' Cajun.  Again, the buildings are nicely themed, but that's pretty much it. 

Other sections of the park include the County Fair, Hometown Square, and Carousel Plaza.  The park features a waterpark called Hurricane Harbor. 

None of this affected my sons' enjoyment of the 7 coasters they rode.  (I myself only rode one - the new X-Flight wing coaster - and my neck told me that no more coasters would be ridden that day.)  It's a thrill park.  I guess those "lands" are convenient markers for the map, but not much else today.

I'm still trying to figure out what Batman: The Ride has to do with Yankee Harbor, however.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Disney's X-Pass (Virtual Queues...)

I don't regularly read Jim Hill Media but I find his articles interesting usually.  I was perusing his site and came across this article which discusses rumors and inside info about the X-pass virtual queuing system that will allow WDW guests to reserve up to 4 attraction/experience times depending on how far in advance they are making their reservations.  It sounds like a super-Fastpass thing except that according to the article it will extend to things like shows and spots for fireworks and parades and such. 

Reaction in the two pages of comments I read was mixed.  Either people hated it or they thought it was a great idea.

I know that studies show the number one thing that bothers/irritates theme park guests is waiting in long lines.  I hate it myself; we use Fastpass to bypass lines at most of the popular attractions.  It means only experiencing those attractions one time (via Fastpass), but really, so does standing in a 60 minute standby line.  There are only so many hours available for attractions in a day as it is.  Fastpasses make it possible for us to relax a bit more at lunch, or do a little shopping, or maybe see that movie in Canada or China that we'd never seen before. 

So the search for a solution for long queues predictably passes from theming to make those queues more interesting and entertaining while in them to figuring out a way for more guests to line up "virtually", through a reservation system of sorts.  I just don't know if this is a good move. 

As many Disney bloggers and cast members have pointed out, Fastpass works by allowing people to "stand in two lines at the same time", be it a line for food or for a less popular, low-wait time attraction.  This in turn increases wait times for those who don't have Fastpass.  A cast member in Disneyland commented on how long the lines for the Nemo Subs would be if they had Fastpass at that attraction.  I see the logic in this assessment.  Yet I use it to my advantage when we go to WDW or Disneyland. 

It seems the best way to reduce wait times would be to have more attractions.  And by that I mean they should have more "popular" attractions.  Carousel of Progress and the People Mover have short waits most of the time, and their presence does not seem to affect the wait times for Buzz or for Space Mountain.  What if there was another "Buzz" or "Space" type ride that was as popular as those two?  Wouldn't it follow that there will be less people in the other lines? 

More capacity would seem to be a better answer than virtual queues.  After all, those people in the "virtual queue" are still in line, and still making the lines and wait times longer; you just can't see them from the standby line...


Friday, August 3, 2012

Disney Books: The Dark Side of Disney

Ok, I finally read this book.  Hadn't heard anything good or bad about it, really, before buying it, but I was intrigued by the description and read a bit of the first review.  Heck, it was only $2.99 on my Kindle, so it wasn't like I was paying a lot.  Plus, with that cover, I thought that it might be a book better confined to my Kindle in our house.  In any case, here's my Amazon Review:

I love most things Disney, and this book kept popping up on my "recommendations" (since I have a "list" here on Amazon of the books on my Disney Bookshelf, I guess). The cover was intriguing - so un-Disney! So I finally bought it, and read it very quickly.

What I found were a lot of fun stories and 'tips' that really are of no use to me. But so what? It was well written enough, and interesting enough, that I don't really care that I'll never do the things that the author or some of his subjects do at Disney. The irreverence comes through loud and clear in the sometimes 'R' rated language and depictions of occurrences. I find that refreshing in a way. It's sort of a way of experiencing some things at Disney vicariously, things I'll never experience in person. There's no way I'm jumping off a ride vehicle to explore the sets in a particular ride. I'm not going to crash the Utilidors, or look for a place to have sex or score drugs. I'm not all that concerned about saving money while I'm there; I'm on vacation and it's all about convenience for me. The most useful information I got was about the DVC point rentals and about the scams for discounted tickets that are so prevalent just off-property. I'd wondered about both of those things. This book talks in a general way about these and other issues.

If you're easily offended, or if you hold your Disney experiences to an almost-religious standard, this book might not be for you. But if you just like reliving your own Disney experiences and maybe getting some of those questions you might have answered, this is a fun fast read!
I wrote the review without reading too many of the other reviews, just the first couple, which were positive.  But after my review went live, I read a sampling of the other 81 reviews, and was amazed to see how differently people see things. 

First, it is definitely NOT for kids, or for those who are easily offended.  I'm not offended by "bad" words in a book, and I thought that this author's use of them fit his irreverent tone perfectly.  He uses them almost conversationally.  I actually know a few people who talk like that.  The words have lost their shock factor for them; they're just a handful of extra words that help convey meaning.  I'm always amused by people who say that using "swear words" shows a lack of intelligence; why would that be true?  We could say that people who used "hot" and "cold" and "straight" and "curved" have a low intellect just as easily, since there are plenty of words that are more colorful and nuanced that convey the meaning.  Neither is accurate.  There is a time and place for those words; this book uses appropriate words for its tone.  If "swear words" offend you, don't buy this book.

Second, why does telling a story about something that happened, whether perpetrated by the author (Leonard Kinsey) or someone he interviewed, and whether legal, illegal, or borderline, make it a bad book?  I for one will never use 99% of the "tips" offered in this book, but it was still sort of fun to read about them.  I thought the stories were interesting and made for a good read.  If you don't want to read about drug use, or people having sex on Disney property, or tresspassing backstage at the parks, this is not the book for you.

Personally, I thought it was pretty fun to read, and that was a tribute to the author's style, because there was plenty in there that I wouldn't really care about otherwise.  He made reading about bedbugs and fireants sort of fun! 

I'll probably try his fictional work, Kingdom of Dust, because if he can make bedbugs entertaining, he might do even better with a made-up story!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Disney Film: Pixar's BRAVE

I went to see this one over the 4th of July holiday, when the temps in Chicago were hitting 100 degrees.  Didn't know what to expect; the previews really didn't get me that excited about the story, but after Up I vowed to never doubt Pixar again.  (Still, some bits of doubt were creeping in.  Cars 2 was good but didn't knock me out.)

What I found was a movie with the same "heart" as Up, to go along with the same degree of humor and the same great story.  The story of Merida, a headstrong teenaged princess in feudal Scotland, seemed to me to be brimming with true-to-life, if exaggerated, qualities of teens and parents everywhere.  Merida wants to determine her own path, and her mother wants her to do what she is required by law to do.  Merida's wishes (like many a teen in real life) that her mother treat her more like a person and less like an object or a slave (from the teen's point of view) are taken a bit too literally by the overzealous witch in the woods (or is she just evil?  Not sure!) and Merida's desire to "change" her mother does not work out the way she wants it to. 

I read a review, just before seeing the film, that Merida was Pixar's first attempt at a female heroine, and in creating her they fall into the trap of making her too like other Disney princesses.  Could she be Rapunzel?  Tiana?  Belle?  Jasmine?  I don't know.  She didn't "feel" like those others to me.  This wasn't a classic fairy tale to me.  It was more a story about the evolution of a daughter's (or even a son's) relationship with her mother (or parents in general).  I felt there was some depth to it, especially for my pre-teen kids, who loved the movie. 

The three little brothers provided much welcome comic relief, and they were my kids' favorite characters.  The caricatures that served as the men of the other clans were also quite humorous, maybe more to me.  There weren't a lot of jokes aimed over the heads of the kids to the adults in the audience (like there are in a lot of Dreamworks' pictures - and I do appreciate that about Dreamworks products). 

I think it was a worthwhile addition to the Pixar collection of movies, and while not quite reaching the heights that I felt Up reached, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon in the hot city!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Took my boys to see this one yesterday.  I enjoyed the other entries in this series (the first more than the second - see my review of that second movie right here) and also have enjoyed the PS2 videogame based on the first movie.  My sons were taken in by the advertising for this third installment and chose it over The Avengers and Men In Black 3.  Personally I might have rather gone to one of those two. 

But after seeing it, I was happy with the experience.  It's a better movie than the second one, I think, with plenty of gags, and with a better love story than the others.  As with many Dreamworks movies, there are plenty of jokes aimed above the kids' heads. 

Chris Rock is really good again as Marty, and Ben Stiller does a good job with the voice of Alex the lion.  The circus angle is fun, with the comparisons to Cirque Du Soleil.  The new characters are fun, too, with the gruff Russian tiger, the silly sea lion, and the sexy cheetah adding a lot to the cast.  The penguins, now stars in their own right, are really funny as well.

So I was glad that we picked this one to see.  Dreamworks is generally good for a nice afternoon of entertainment, and this one is no exception.  If I was rating it I'd probably give it 4 stars. 


Monday, June 25, 2012

Compare and Contrast

It's been interesting, having gone to three distinct amusement/theme parks in the span of about 2 weeks, to note the differing approaches these parks take to satisfying their guests.  At the end of May, we went to Michigan's Adventure, an amusement park with classic thrill rides.  In early June, we went to both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando, two sets of parks that depend on theming to entertain the customers. 

Michigan's Adventure has moderate thrill rides and almost no theming.  Their marquee ride, Shivering Timbers, is a huge wooden rollercoaster that sort of fits in with the way the park sort of just appears in the middle of the forest.  They have another ride, a whitewater raft experience called Grand Rapids, which of course is the name of a city in Michigan (President Gerald Ford was from there).  Their one and only indoor, sit-down restaurant is called Coaster's.  It's sort of themed like a 50's diner.

Then you go to Disney, and you get story and theming around every corner.  I don't have to talk too much about it on this blog; anyone reading probably knows as much or more about what Disney has to offer than I do.  There are thrills to be found here:  Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Mission: Space, Rock'n'Roller Coaster, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - all are moderate (at least) thrill rides.  But all depend on theming to make them more than just a rollercoaster with inversions, than a drop-ride, than a log flume, than a dark coaster - to make them memorable and repeatable. 

Going over to Universal Studios, we find a few more thrill rides like Hollywood Rip-Rocket, Revenge of the Mummy, and even The Simpsons Ride.  Again, their rides depend on theming to make them memorable.  Each delivers a fairly unique experience.  Their theming uses a certain edginess, a certain hip-ness, that you don't find at Disney, and that a place like Michigan's Adventure doesn't even try to use. The jokes are different - often aimed at adults and older teens.  There's a blog post in there, somewhere, comparing the "feel" of the Universal Studios Resort parks and the Disney parks.  But I don't know if I'm ready to write it. 

I for one don't connect to either Michigan's Adventure, or Universal Studios in the same way I do to Disney.  I did feel that connection over at Islands of Adventure, but that was a year and a half ago, and I think much of it was due to the current-ness of the Harry Potter movies and the timeless feel of Dr. Seuss and some of the other properties they used there. 

Our next trip will likely feature more visits to Universal and maybe even none to a Disney park.  If it happens that way, it will be because of Disney's all-or-nothing pricing policy, where it doesn't make sense to buy a two or three day ticket instead of a 6 or 7 day pass.  Orlando and central Florida have more to offer than Disney, but we have discovered very little of it.  So I'll see if those parks seem to foster more of a connection in the future. 


Disney Books: Walt Disney: An American Original

Whenever I visit Disney, I try to come away with one new book for my collection. I usually buy them in the parks, so my acquisitions tend to be the Disney-approved titles. This trip's book purchase was the Bob Thomas biography. I have his bio of Roy O. Disney, but I had never read this one. I have, however, read the biographies by Gabler and by Barrier, so the material being covered is not really new to me.

Still, I find that Thomas has a lot of anecdotes and information that I didn't read in the other books. At times the fact that he had worked on a project in 1956 called The Art of Animation and on another in 1965 which was a bio of the man for children really showed through, in that he had done four lengthy interviews with Walt himself and numerous interviews with key animators at Disney for those projects.

I'm about a third of the way through the book and I'm finding it to be easy reading, holding my interest quite well. I will post a more thorough "review" after I finish.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Poly is still my favorite...

We just concluded a stay at Disney's Polynesian Resort. And it recemented its status as my favorite Disney resort. Now admittedly, we haven't stayed at too many different resorts. But we've walked around a few, and the look of the Polynesian, the amenities, the monorail, the restaurants, the pool...well, I haven't seen anything else that makes me want to stay there more than I want to stay at the Polynesian.

 Since we're DVC members, we probably won't stay there again for a while. We did so this time because we had a whole bunch of points that were going to expire on June 1, so we banked them forward and blew them on an exchange so we could stay at a hotel instead of at a DVC Villa resort (usually Animal Kingdom Lodge for us).

We got a nice room, close to the main building. We took advantage of the pool on two days, spending the morning in the water. We ate at 'Ohana and at Kona Cafe, and also at Capt. Cook's for quick breakfasts on several days. We used the monorail to get to Magic Kingdom and to return from Epcot on our last night there.

All in all, it was a good stay. Beds were comfy, accommodations were roomy, and the Poly was everything we remembered it to be. I almost hope it never becomes a DVC resort, because maybe in a couple years we'll do the same thing and stay there again. It just might be worth the extra points to do so...


Monday, June 18, 2012

Renovation at the Polynesian?

A few weeks ago Kevin Yee wrote a blog post about sight line balloons being spotted at the Polynesian Resort, speculating that perhaps major changes were coming. Well, we were just there for a week, and were told that the Polynesian will begin renovations in November of this year. Apparently the rooms will be redone. Designers have been tweaking the new room look in a couple of rooms in one of the longhouses, though the front desk folks haven't been able to get into those rooms to see what it's all about.

A DVC rep at the hotel says that it is very doubtful that DVC villas will be coming to the Polynesian. Since DVC rooms are being built at the Grand Floridian currently, and Aulani (actually IN Hawaii) is still coming online, he said it would not be happening any time soon.

But the front desk cast member who checked us out suggested that there ARE rumors of DVC villas being incorporated in the Polynesian sooner than later, but so far they're just rumors. Nothing concrete. He had some ideas of his own where they should go. Said that a tower would be unlikely, just due to the design of the resort. That's about all the news I was able to garner about this rumor. Renovations are apparently NOT a rumor, but DVC villas remain just that.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Michigan's Adventure 2012

We made our annual pilgrimage to Muskegon, Michigan, and as usual, the trip included a visit to Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park. 

The park is owned by Cedar Fair, and it was a great weekend to go.  Everyone else must be picnicking or out on their boats, because there were short to no lines.  They have 7 coasters, including Thunder Hawk, which they describe as a two seat version of one of Cedar Point's popular coasters (can't think of the Cedar Point coaster's name), and Shivering Timbers, one of the largest straight line wooden coasters in the country.  (I think they say it's the third largest in the US.) 

It was opening weekend there, and so the park is nice and clean and everything is running.  Sometimes it seemed like there were more employees around the place than guests, but then when you look at the parking lot, you realize that there must be a LOT of people in the wet parts of the park - the water park (included in the admission price) and the Adventure Falls/Grand Rapids section.  Their Grand Rapids raft ride (one of the few that my kids didn't go on) was the only one I saw with a substantial line. 

It's an interesting attraction in that it seems to literally be in the middle of nowhere.  You're driving north of Muskegon on a tree-lined divided highway (US 31) and finally you see a sign for Russell Road and Michigan's Adventure, and so you get off the highway (which seemed already like you were in the middle of a deep woods), and drive a little distance through forested lands, seeing a few ramshackle houses along the road, and then on your right, you see the long wooden trestles of Shivering Timbers and the entrance to the parking lot - also seemingly in the middle of a deep woods.  It comes out of nowhere...almost literally.  I tried to post a satellite view of the location from Google Maps but can't figure out how to do so, so, if you are interested, go here:'s+adventure&ie=UTF-8

I know it gets busier later in the summer, because we've been there in mid-August and the lines for rides are substantial.  This is not a Disney type of park; there aren't any shows and very little cohesive theming.  It's focused on the rides and on the water park.  Still, it's a fun park to visit, and we will likely continue to visit it in the future...


Friday, May 11, 2012

Kevin Yee's post - changes at the Polynesian and Frontierland in the future?

I saw this on Facebook today. Well-known Disney critic and blogger Kevin Yee posted this story about a sight-line balloon being spotted over the Polynesian. He says he had previously been advised to document Frontierland and the Polynesian because they may be up for redos or renovations in the near future.

He says that in the past these balloons have indicated the advent of a construction project. You can read Kevin's assessment and his thoughts on what might be going on...if anything.

Good read. I'm glad we're going to be returning to the Polynesian for our upcoming Disney trip. Not that it would be bad if they do something to improve it, but we do like the way it is right now.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Are Theme Parks "Shallow"?

I recently saw an interesting Facebook post by one of my Disney friends. This particular friend (David) runs the blog Disneyology, which is linked to over there at the left (Favorite Internet Spots). He posted a quote from someone suggesting that theme parks are shallow representations of a much richer reality and that people who enjoy them are pathetic. Here's the exact quote:

“The overwhelming feeling that one carries away is sadness for the empty lives which accept such tawdry substitutes. On the riverboat, I heard a woman exclaim glowingly to her husband, “What imagination they have!” He nodded, and the pathetic gladness that illuminated his face as a papier-mâché crocodile sank beneath the muddy surface of the ditch was a grim indictment of the way of life for which this feeble sham represented escape and adventure.” - Julian Halevy.

So, my question would be, is this news? Newsflash! Disney Theme Parks Aren't REAL! Do visitors to Disney theme parks think they are? Somehow I don't think so. Does it make it less entertaining to ride on Expedition Everest because it's not the real Mt. Everest? Again, I don't think so.

The interesting discussion in the comments centered on whether this critique is a critique of all art, or simply a prejudiced attack on theme parks specifically. I saw comments where famous films and famous paintings were mentioned; that if Mr. Halevy was criticizing all these experiences, his argument would hold water better. That could be true. Perhaps a Disney theme park is not comparable to the Mona Lisa, but it is a matter of degree.

Because both things are works of art. Lots of things are works of art. We wandered around a suburban art fair last Sunday, and I saw plenty of things that showed imagination in varying degrees. Some I liked. Some I'd never consider hanging in my own house. Some, I could tell with a mere glance, were simply not my cup of tea. But does that make them "bad" or "shallow", or their artist "talentless"? No, it just means that I didn't like them.

The first thing I thought of when reading the quote was the Jungle Cruise (because of the dated-ness of its special effects, and because of the mention of the crocodile), but then I thought of EPCOT's World Showcase. I thought of the detail that goes into making these small reproductions of various countries. Does it make me willing to forego a European vacation, because I've walked through Disney versions of England, France and Italy? Not at all. But these reproductions are accessible and entertaining to us. Simple economics say that we are going to be able to experience Disney more often than tour the great European cities.

The second thing I thought was that the first sentence is quite condescending. To presume to know anything about the lives of that woman and her husband, to know if they "accept such tawdry substitutes", or simply cannot experience anything other than this, seems to me to be irritatingly condescending. What is "grim" about something that brings someone pleasure, however small and fleeting? I think that Disney parks aspire to a bit higher level of providing enjoyment than he seems to give them credit for. But that's a matter of opinion.

David's take on it seems to be that there is no reason that the two things cannot both be appreciated on their own levels, and that while theme parks shouldn't be substituted for real experiences, they CAN be enjoyed as well for what they are and for the artistic ability and effort that goes into their creation. Others seem to feel that, as a work of art (however "tawdry" it may be) Disney theme parks should be compared to other works of art, not to real experiences. I hope I'm stating those positions accurately. Perhaps David will blog about it himself.

This blog has over the years concerned itself with Disney movies, other types of animated film entertainment, with Disney theme parks and with other amusement parks, and with attractions in the Midwest and in a few other places where we've vacationed. It has never advocated stopping one's experience at the Disney park, even though they are the main focus of the blog. But I don't see how one precludes the other.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Disney's Magical Express passes arrive!

It came! It came!

Checked the mail today and there they were - our DME passes and luggage tags and everything.

The excitement is building up for our first Disney visit in a little over 18 months.

We're going to stay at the Polynesian (our favorite resort of those we've experienced) and we've got a handful of dining reservations at Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and at Emeril's over at Universal.

One thing that's struck me as I look at our options for this trip is the cost of park tickets. It only costs a couple dollars per ticket to add on extra days after 5 days. It's almost becoming an all-or-nothing thing - we'll either visit Disney parks every days, or we'll visit no parks at all and spend our time at Universal and Sea World and maybe another place or three. And maybe enjoy our resort a little more than we usually do. For this trip we have all those reservations in the parks for dinner and lunch, but I could see skipping all of them and just hanging out and enjoying the pools.

Meanwhile, our excitement continues to grow...


Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Little History

The Disney Company got started with short films and animation. Many of you may know the history of this corporation better than I do, but it is still worth mentioning that Walt Disney was a pioneer in the movie business. No one thought he could make a full length animated film, but he went against opinion, spending his own (and his brother Roy's) money to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

His boldness and confidence paid off and the studio was rewarded for their perseverance. Over the years, Walt Disney pushed the envelope, embracing media before it was popular to do so. He devoted his studio to making animated features, then embraced television when others didn't quite know what to make of it. He didn't worry about "what" to make of it; he worried about doing the "shaping" of the medium himself.

Likewise with Disney theme parks. No one had ever done what Walt Disney and his company did with this form of entertainment. In fact, his representatives were told by amusement park owners and operators at a meeting in Chicago, point blank, that there was no way his ideas about amusement parks would ever work. He should go back to what he knew, making movies and tv shows. As was usually the case, Walt ignored the conventional wisdom and followed his instincts. You see, what Walt had, and what no one else really saw up until then, was content.

Walt saw the synergistic possibilities between the various media, and to him, the theme park was just another media available for him to display his content. A lot has been written about "telling a story in three dimensions", and perhaps Walt even said exactly this at some point. Whether he meant to or not, he hit upon another way of experiencing the things we (and he) loved.

They're still doing it today. What came first, the Pirates of the Caribbean movie or the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride? For some, today, it might be hard to tell (which in and of itself is a mark of the genious of this company and this man), but the theme park attraction was there long before the movie. Walt wanted to tell a story of adventure on the high seas, with funny, exciting pirates, in a way that hadn't been told before, and that was by letting his guests experience "a pirate's life" up close through the use of animatronics and movie sets. Same with The Haunted Mansion. Long before it was a mediocre (at best) movie starring Eddie Murphy, it was a theme park attraction. It may be the reverse of their earlier methods, but it displays the same sort of synergism - giving the audience another way to experience the story.

At first, people delighted in experiencing those classic early Disney tales through the magic of audio-animatronics as they rode through a series of set pieces. But it wasn't all about movies. Walt was never one to repeat himself ad nauseum. His theme park soon had its very own Jungle Cruise a mountain that guests could ride a bobsled through called The Matterhorn (after the mountain it was modeled on), a ride where kids and parents could be the drivers of their own cars (Autopia), and the aforementioned Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. And it kept growing and growing. A train ride encircled the park (from the very beginning), shows and exhibits popped up (and sometimes popped back down), and a fairy tale castle was its centerpiece. The world had never seen anything quite like Disneyland.

The impetus for expansion to Florida and the mega-resort we now know as Walt Disney World was not to build more theme parks. It was to build a working community - a real place where real people would work and live under a new, almost experimental system that Walt was working out with prominent city planners and futurists of the day. EPCOT came to be built in the 1980's, but it was never the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that Walt wanted to build - that died when Walt died, too early.

Would it have worked? We will never know - and honestly, perhaps we're better off not knowing. What if it had been a colossal failure? Walt pretty much succeeded, or got his way, in everything he did. But there's always that first time, and maybe he was finally headed for a fall, dabbling in things that were really beyond his expertise, no matter how much he read and educated himself on the pertinent subjects.

And what we did get, instead, is in many ways preferable. We got four theme parks, a couple of water parks, a dozen or so first class resort hotels, ancillary facilities like miniature golf courses, real golf courses, boating, car racing, sports, and who can forget Downtown Disney? Because the company went in this direction, we also got a couple theme parks in Europe, two more in Japan, another in Hong Kong, a second gate in Anaheim, a new one opening soon in Singapore and Disney Vacation Club resorts in Hilton Head, Vero Beach, and now Hawaii. That's not bad, is it?


Thursday, April 19, 2012

About those DVC Waterpark Resorts...

Well,first, there aren't any. I mean, they all have pools and some water features, but none of them are designed as a resort hotel whose focus IS on the water park.

I suggested, a couple of times, that DVC should build an indoor waterpark resort in the Midwest. Perhaps in the Wisconsin Dells, where there is more than just one game in town. I said it would give midwesterners a way to use their points besides flying to a Florida, California or Hawaii location. Without flying at all, actually.

But as I thought about it, I thought - who would buy ownership in this park? It doesn't have the home resort luster of Hawaii, of the Atlantic Ocean, or of WDW or Disneyland Resorts. Why own points at the Disney Dells Resort and Waterpark?

I can't come up with a good reason. I stated last summer that perhaps we, as DVC owners, might be interested in buying some points there, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that we probably would not be inclined to add on points there. We would probably prefer to buy a few extra points at our home resort at WDW.

We would use it, certainly. Perhaps that would be good enough for Disney. But I'm not sure how this timeshare thing works. The fact that ownership in that particular resort might be a hard sell, even though I suspect the resort would be full much of the year, might mean that it could not be a DVC property.

That's okay though. As long as, like the Disney Collection now, we could use points to stay there, we probably would still use it on occasion. And if there was one there, we might be more inclined to buy those extra points. We actually had trouble using our points this year. Part of that was because we were saving up to go to Hawaii, and then couldn't get in, but part was because a Disney vacation every year is getting to be something we don't really want to do anymore.

But the kids LOVE those waterparks in the Dells (and elsewhere). So maybe this just becomes the test case for those Location-Based Entertainment venues that Kevin Yee wrote about a couple years ago over on MiceAge.

I think it would be an easy sell to vacationers, if not to DVC owners via the timeshare route.

(And since everything Disney does these days seems to be related to constructing DVC villas, maybe they wouldn't even consider it. But I wish they would.)


Monday, April 16, 2012

Midwest Atttractions - Great Wolf Lodge

We spent a couple days at the Traverse City, Michigan version of the Great Wolf Lodge over our spring break. Why Traverse City, you might ask? (Or maybe you won't ask, but I'll tell you anyway.) Because of the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas and their wineries, and because of the restaurants in Traverse City, and because Saugatauk was on the way home and a convenient spot for a couple nights' additional stay. That's why we drove 6 some hours to that waterpark instead of going to the closer Wisconsin Dells park, or one of the Illinois indoor waterparks like Grand Bear Lodge near Utica, IL, or Key Lime Cove Resort and Waterpark in Gurnee, IL.

Why Great Wolf Lodge? Because they do a wonderful job with their facilities, in my estimation. It is what it is - a facility for kids to enjoy pools and water features, and just nominally for adults. The Dells in Wisconsin are a huge tourist trap, really gauged to families with children from toddlers to teenagers. The Lodge is the same, but they don't necessarily allow anyone but hotel guests in their park (unlike so many other water parks in the Dells), and they have fun activities for the kids besides the pools. My kids love MagiQuest and most of the Great Wolf Lodges have this available. Nice sized rooms (even if the beds leave something to be desired), and on-site dining and shopping facilities.

What does this have to do with Disney? I posted last summer that I thought that Disney should open a DVC resort in the Dells; they could do it really right, and it would be a hit with the many midwestern DVC members who might not want to fly to Florida, or Hawaii or California, to take advantage of their time share points. I think such a place would be jammed to capacity year around.

Disney could do these types of themed resorts as good or better than anyone, I think. They already do. While Great Wolf Lodge does a good job, it isn't up to Disney standards, as low as they may have become over the years.

Anyone from Disney listening? This might be a real opportunity for expansion, and for making even more money, which is, after all, your real motivator!


Thursday, April 5, 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES - the movie

The Hunger Games probably wouldn't have been a must-see movie for me, but it certainly was for my kids, who both liked the first book a lot. I liked the book, too, but not enough to read on in the series immediately.

But after seeing the film, I did want to read on, and I did. Partly that was because of the vision of the filmmakers, who showed a dark, unwelcoming future where people live almost like pioneers, even as the ruling classes in the Capitol live in luxury. I wanted to find out more about this future; how did it come about and how did it work? The second and third books give more insight into these ideas; presumably the films will also.

Some things work better, in my opinion, on film, and I think it's very possible that The Hunger Games is one of those things. I'm a verbal, not so much a visual, person. So when I see a richly rendered vision I'm impressed. Personally, I thought that The Hunger Games did just that. Some may disagree.

I thought there were pretty decent performances. Yes, some of the tributes seemed to be caricatures of violent youths, but then again, that's sort of what they are. They are stunted in their growth purposely for these Games, and the performances more or less matched what I was thinking about those trubutes. But the main characters, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch, all were very good portrayals with some depth.

I'm not a film reviewer; I tend to like a lot of stuff I see and I am not overly critical of things I don't know much about. What I saw here was a big budget movie that succeeded in conveying the vision and in telling the first part of a broader story. I'm not saying that this is a great film, destined to be a classic, but I think it's a solid entry into the subcategory of dystopian fictional films.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Hunger Games - film and books

I recently watched The Hunger Games on the big screen. It inspired me to read the final two books in the series, which I did over the course of the last three days. They ended up being pretty decent, quick reads.

I liked the first book of the trilogy, but not enough to rush into reading its follow-up book, Catching Fire. I've seen and heard criticism of the series regarding the fact that kids are fighting and killing other kids in the series, and that is an issue, but then again, that's sort of the point of the story. They were written for young adults, so it sorta follows that they'd be about young adults doing things.

I see the point though. It's sort of disconcerting to watch children fight, as it was in the movie. It's sort of disconcerting, though less so, to read about it, at least for me, because of the context that the reader gets that the moviegoer might miss. In the end, though, after all three books (I finished Mockingjay today, a few hours ago), I found them to be pretty decent dystopian fiction.

I want to digest the material a bit more before commenting further, but I'm going to try to say more about these works. Maybe I'll separate them into movie and books. I'll also be interested to see what they do with the next book in the series, which doesn't seem as film-ready.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Disney Channel

While laid up, I got to spend more time around the family than I usually did. In the winter months, I usually don't get home till relatively late, and by the time I'm home the kids are getting ready for bed, or at least immersed in homework that I need to go over with them.

This additional time translated in part to watching some TV shows with my middle school kids that I usually wouldn't see. A fair number of them were Disney Channel shows.

The shows that they like a lot are Wizards of Waverly Place, Shake It Up, Jesse, Austin and Ally, and of course, Phineas and Ferb. Three months ago, I doubt that you could have forced me to watch these programs. But they have their charm, as I realized from sort-of-forced viewing. They have their innocent humor, their cute girls, their cool guys, and stories that are simple but at least effective enough to occupy my middlee schoolers' minds. They have another show or two that they like quite a bit, but not on Disney. (They're big fans of Big Time Rush.)

These aren't just shows for girls. Austin and Ally, for example, has my kids interested in internet programming and its possibilities, not to mention songwriting and playing music. (They already have a pretty strong basis for this interest.) Wizards of Waverly Place (which has apparently ended as a series but is still being shown in reruns) entertained them with its Harry Potter wannabe vibe. They just find the other shows entertaining.

I'm glad to report that maybe Disney is doing something basically right with their programming on the Disney Channel.


Monday, March 12, 2012

John Carter...really?

It's been awhile since I've posted anything substantial hereabouts. I've been injured, as you may note from my previous post over a month ago, and my time has been very limited. My limited work schedule has been quite packed since I have a significant backlog of work to do, and lots of paperwork needs to be done this time of the year, regardless of the disability and medical insurance stuff I have to also pay attention to.

Anyway, as I was coming into work this morning, I heard on the news that John Carter was expected (by analysts) to lose 150 million dollars. It did 30 million (if I heard right) last weekend. And it cost 250 million to make.


Who is John Carter, anyway? I mean, here I am, a SF fan, and I have never read the Edgar Rice Burroughs book. I loved Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and dabbled in others also. I read a lot of Brin, Benford, Card, Bear, among others. But I've never read A Princess of Mars. So maybe I'm making an assumption here, but is this story set on Mars? If it is, well, our well-known scientific knowledge (even my middle school kids know this) points out that Mars doesn't have any life on it.

However, I have to admit that I don't know what exactly the premise of this story is. Maybe they've retold it to make some sort of sense. I don't know.

So here are these big ol' commercials for the film, and they look pretty nice, but they aren't compelling. I asked my kids: Does that movie look cool? And I got a lukewarm "Yeah, it looks pretty cool." Not an "I gotta see it, it's so cool-looking" answer. You'd have to hear it to know the difference. There was no follow-up for them, asking about it. Once my younger son asked, "Who's John Carter?" (My answer was that he was a classic character from an early science fiction novel...but I've never read it.)

I feel the same way about the previews and commercials for the films. I got way more excited about the previews for Enchanted when it was coming out a few years back. Or for Bedtime Stories. These commercials don't excite me at all.

It's hard to believe that they spent that kind of money without knowing what their audience was. Is 30M a good opening weekend for a "blockbuster"? It doesn't sound too good. But maybe I'm wrong on that.

Maybe this movie is one of those things that sounds like a great idea but can't really live up to it, even if done extraordinarily well. Time will tell, I suppose.

addendum: Honor Hunter over at Blue Sky Disney posts THIS about the film, suggesting that it's a pretty good movie after all. Maybe even a great movie. I didn't realize that Andrew Stanton directed it. He points to huge marketing flaws as the reason for its suck-y opening. And that's more or less my point here. The marketing for this film stinks. My kids agree with what Honor says. They want to see The Hunger Games, not John Carter.

addendum #2: Cory Gross gives this film a pretty darned good review HERE at Voyages Extraordinaire also. I always considered myself a science fiction fan, but it seems I've missed something by missing this series. OTOH, it doesn't sound like the cerebral SF of Asimov or Clarke, which was more what I went for. I did recognize some of the names as I read the review from a book by Heinlein, especially Dejah Thoris...(Was that book The Number Of The Beast?)


Monday, January 30, 2012

A January without posts is like...

...well, like any other month, I guess. But I couldn't let it get past me.

I had a bit of a setback late last month. I fell. Broke my ankle in multiple spots. Now I have lots of metal in there. My buddy says that now I get to look forward to the body cavity searches when I fly. I hope not.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, before the month ends, that DFR has not gone dark. I have a thought or two for posts. (Though, that's about it...literally...) I was going to make some comments on the fact that there are NO Disney animated films for Oscars this year. Not even the Pixar release Cars 2. Is that fair? I suppose. Perhaps I'll get to do an entry on the topic before the Academy Awards near the end of February.

But for now I think I'll just concentrate on getting my ankle better and getting back on my feet. Again, literally...