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...