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.