Friday, December 31, 2010

Revisiting "Beauty and the Beast" and its Diamond Edition Extras

Confession: it's been a long time since I've seen "Beauty and the Beast." By a long while, I mean at least five years, probably more. I never remember loving it as a kid (it's not the most appealing story to a young boy), so there was not a whole lot of motivation for me to see it again.

Now that I'm on vacation, free time is abundant and lucky for me, we had the new Blu-Ray Diamond Edition Super Spectacular, soon-to-be-back-in-Disney's vault version of the film waiting to be opened and watched. I figured I'd pop it in and see what it looks like on our beautiful semi-new HDTV, especially now that "Beauty" has been remastered.

All I have to say is: "Damn!" I have been missing out on a lot. I know that "Beauty and the Beast" was the first animated feature to get a best picture Oscar nomination, and it won a handful of other awards, including the Golden Globe for best picture, but I guess I just took it all for granted.

The animation itself was gorgeous. Having just seen "Tangled," which was made 19 years after "Beauty," I felt that the older film held its own and then some concerning the art department. You can definitely tell how much using computers enhanced the beauty of animation. That was then though, and only Pixar and Disney's Animation Studios use computers to make things better, everyone else just uses them to make money.

On the BluRay, there is a great little featurette about how the film nearly never made it to the public.  It was a great little documentary, exploring the different obstacles that were overcome to make the film. From getting kicked off the Burbank lot and out of the building Walt built specifically for animation, to how the film had it's original first 20 minutes, which were already fully animated, scrapped. It discusses the issue of Katzenberg and the attitude that eventually got him booted, leading him to create the inferior-to-Pixar Dreamworks SKG.

A couple days later, I received "Waking Sleeping Beauty," which chronicles the animation rejuvenation at the Walt Disney Studios that started with "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "Making Beauty and the Beast" was very much like a companion piece to the film, focussing on just one of the films mentioned in "Waking." Some sound bytes were used in both films, but both are fascinating and educational in their own right. I recommend viewing both; you can never learn too much about Disney's history.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Music: the Backbone of Disney, and a Fascinating Story

It's been a good year if you're someone who's fascinated by the history and lore of the Walt Disney company. Three films were released for home viewing in 2010: "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story," "Waking Sleeping Beauty" and "Walt and El Grupo," two of which I have had the privilege of seeing so far. "Waking Sleeping Beauty" is next on my Netlfix que.

"The Boys," lucky for me (and anyone else with a Netflix subscription), is available instantly via Netflix's online service, a surprise I discovered and then immediately took advantage of.

"The Boys," a great documentary, made by the sons of Bob and Richard in hopes of getting their fathers back together, tells the gripping story of two of the most iconic songwriters of all time. Their works include the score for "Mary Poppins," the "it's a small world after all" theme, the "Winnie the Pooh" score, and many other songs, who sheer volume and notoriety is surprising even to someone familiar with their work.

Even more intriguing is the brothers' story itself. Robert, the older brother, served in WWII and was one of one of the first American soldiers to discvoer the Dachau concentration camp, and was wounded in the knee during his service. His temperament proved to be, as Roy E. Disney put it, the "Feed the Birds" to his younger brother, Richard's "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." The two contrasting personalities proved to be extremely different, and that contrast helped create some of the most memorable music that has ever been written.

The pair also proved to be one of Walt's closer acquaintances, having written Walt's favorite song, "Feed the Birds," in their first film score for "Marry Poppins." "The Boys" provides a unique view of Mr. Disney, one where he his not the focal point, but seen through the eyes of two friends who worked for him.

It's both an intriguing story and a great history lesson on the Walt Disney Company and the United States. But most of all, it's a great look into two of the most fascinating, and contrasting, personalities behind some great music. Even more so because they were behind it all, their work being much more famous than themselves.

So if you've got a Netflix subscription, pull up "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story," and enlighten yourself, then maybe go fly a kite, sweep a chimney, or explore the Hundred Acre Wood.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Believe...That the Holiday Fireworks Show Could Have Been Better

It's that time of the year again, and all that other cliched jazz. Not that you'd be able to tell in Southern California right now. Disneyland has quite a bit of work for them the day after Thanksgiving, getting the park to look like it's located in some inhospitable midwestern location that's appealing for about 25 days of the year.

It really is one of the most wonderful times to visit the park. With its gigantic christmas tree, nightly fallings of fake snow, wreaths, hand made candy canes, and hundres of other little things that make Disneyland one of the most festive places during the holiday season.
The show

Yet not everything about the holiday overlays makes me jolly. As I previously discussed, the holiday overlay at the Haunted Mansion spooks me, but not in the right way. In short, some things about the Christmas time at Disneyland are an improvement, and some aren't.

Under the category of going from great to good would have to be the holiday fireworks show, "Believe...In Holiday Magic." After waiting for over an hour, so we could views the show from the perfect spot, I was sad to find out the fireworks display was not what I expected. In all, the show was too short, and lacked a good story.

Over the years I've been lucky enough to view "Remember... Dreams Come True" a couple of times, and unfortunately for all other firework displays following it, it's the standard I use to evaluate. This means that I'm disappointed by just about every local fireworks show, but being dissatisfied with a Disneyland show, that was something new.

Disney, having made the standard for telling stories with fireworks, achieved near perfection with "Remember," using Julie Andrew's narration, the "E-Tickets in the Sky" segment, it was so much more than just fireworks, even with the fireworks. There was fire, lasers and more. With "Holiday Magic," I was honestly just as thrilled with the lighting of Cinderella's castle. The fireworks show left me wanting so much more. I actually waited for a while in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle, just to make sure it was actually over. Unfortunately, it was, and I was left with a kind of void.

I guess even Disney can't bat 1000. They're no Pixar.

What's been your favorite fireworks show of the past? Does any part of the holiday overlay at the Disney parks leave you disappointed?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tron: Legacy, and Why Big Box Office is Important

So the numbers are in, and it looks like "TRON: Legacy" will win this weekend's box office. It is projected to beat "Yogi Bear," and "How Do You Know," which really isn't that surprising. Those two films didn't even try to compete with "TRON's" boisterous ad campaign, and even if they had tried, they would have failed.

E-Ticket Light Cycle Attraction? Let's hope so!
People who know things that I don't predict that TRON will take in north of $40 million this weekend, which is a good amount of money, but not spectacular. Good money is really all that matters though, and it's not just this weekend that's impoartant. The long run will really prove how strong the film is, hopefully making upwards of $100 million domestically.

So what does this mean for us Disney enthusiasts? Quite a bit. First off, there will almost definitely be a sequel, which we'll only know to be a good or bad thing when that film comes out. It also means that Disney has a new successful franchise on their hands, meaning more merchandise sales and money for the film studios.

That's not the most important part to us Disney devotees. It's another successful movie, good for Disney. But how will this effect our beloved parks? Now that it's a fact the movie is popular and no longer speculation, Disney will hopefully start putting more money into research and development for a TRON: Legacy E-Ticket attraction. There's been some here-say about Disney doing putting some Imagineers on the job of developing an attraction, and now there's TRON's popularity as a motivator.

The ride will no doubt be based on some sort of light-cycle experience. What I hope they do at Disneyland is finally put the money into banking the curbs of the old People Mover (which itself used to have a TRON section when it was running the in 80's) and design a radical new light-cycle vehicle that gives the feeling of riding a motorcycle while it zips around the old track. But I doubt that's what will happen. I'm sure they will start from scratch, building another warehouse-type attraction, like Space Mountain or Indiana Jones.

Speculation aside, one thing is fact: now that TRON: Legacy has proven to be a success, its presence will be much more prevalent at the Disney parks. Hopefully will one day have an attraction that brings the amazing visuals of the film to life. If Disney is smart, they won't ignore an epic concept with TRON's light cycles like they did with "Monster's Inc.'s"door labyrinth.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tron: Legacy: Fun for Your Eyes, Lackluster for Your Brain

After months of extreme hype, December 17 is finally here. What happens on this day of days? You should know, but I’ll tell you anyway. "TRON: Legacy" comes out, and you should probably see it within the week, both because it’s a good movie, and because I own stock in Disney, so the better the box office, the better the stock price. Mostly for the first reason though. 

The film as a film is slightly above average. It’s riddled with cliche lines and the pacing leaves something to be desired. As a visual, it’s fantastic. When the rebellious, motorcycle driving Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) goes into the grid after he’s provoked by a page coming from his long lost father’s (Jeff Bridges) abandoned office, the movie goes from 2D to 3D, that third dimension adding more than just visual gimmicks.   

The decision to not make the entire film in 3D was a brave one, and the right one. Tim Burton with “Alice In Wonderland” wanted to do a similar thing, only having the part of the film taking place down the rabbit hole be in 3D, separating the real world from the imaginary one. “TRON” had the courage to actually do this, and it’s one of the small details that make this film stand out. 

It takes a while for Sam to get into the grid, with all the explaining having to be done so the audience can know exactly why he needs to go into the grid. One becomes a tad bit restless waiting for the visuals to start, that part of the film that was so heavily advertised and got their butt in the seat.  

Once Sam gets in, the action immediately starts. He must fend for his life gladiator style, because every futuristic film is inspired by the Romans. Sam gets to grips with what’s happening to him quickly, not running around whining about how he doesn’t know what’s going on, a convention in films where the scenery changes drastically. Eventually, he’s saved by Quorra (Olivid Wilde), who takes him to his father living in the hills of the city, and doing nothing. 

At this point, the film again becomes a little monotonous, the action screeching to a halt and uninspired dialogue taking its place. Every good film needs a fascinating story, and action is not the best storytelling device. Breaks are needed to give the film purpose, just not as many breaks as Tron’s director, Joseph Kosinski, thought there needed to be. 

Then the gang is off The End of the Line nightclub, where the DJ’s are none other than Daft Punk themselves, the duo that wrote the original music for the film. On a side note, the score the duo wrote works perfectly for the film. It aids to the visual in a fantastic way, melding both Daft Punk’s electronic style with a traditional orchestra in a way that harmoniously compliments the film. 
At The End of the Line, they meet Castor, a David Bowie inspired, extremely pale man-with-all-the-hookups, played against type by Michael Sheen. Then the action starts again and everything feels as it should. There’s a high speed chase, physical quarrels, explosions, and then a scene eluding to fascism, where Clu (the young version of Jeff Bridges, who looks creepy, but in the right way) rallies his thousands of re-programed programs (people in the grid are called “programs”). 

The acting in the film is so-so. Olivia Wilde does the best job, giving life to a role that so easily could have gotten to job done with a corny performance. Hedlund was hired for his looks, not his acting. Sheen is a ton of fun as the Bowie-esque Castor, and the computer programers did an ok job with Clu, except when he opens his mouth and it’s obvious he’s brought to life by CGI. 

With the “TRON: Legacy,”, your eyes and your ears will be stimulated to the maximum level with, but your brain will be left a little underwhelmed. Go into the film knowing this, and you’ll have a great time. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Retro Disney Creates Nostalgia, Even for the Young

I recently turned the ripe old age of 20, the anti-milestone of milestones: no longer a teen, not yet of drinking age. I'm still a young person, but for some reason I have nostalgia for Disney history that I haven't even been alive to witness, and I don't seem to be the only one.
Disney merchandise for rides that no longer exist

Retro, or vintage, Disney is extremely trendy right now. It could be because of the down economy, which some say causes people to look to the past for comfort. This is not the case for me because I have yet to join the workforce and fully realize what a hole we're in, but I still look with admiration towards the things of Disney past, and Disney seems to be quite aware of this. Or it's that Disney also has released some exclusive merchanidse to celebrate their 55th anniversary.

With their Disney gallery, one of the first things you stumble upon when walking under the Disneyland Rail Road's berm, models of the original Disneyland, sketches of past Disneyland attractions are displayed along with paintings of what made Disneyland iconic when it opened in 1955. In the store, you can buy the prints, take them home, put them on your wall, and be constantly reminded of Disneyland past.

Or you can buy the $75 vintage pin/lanyard combo, designed after all the original Disneyland merchandise. Head down to D-street and you can buy retro-Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, or Flying Saucer t-shirts.

Maybe you're not at the parks. You could go to the Disney store, where their bags are modeled after the classic versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, or pop in one of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD's.  If you've got a Wii, you could play the new Epic Mickey video game, where Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey's predecessor, is a main character involved in the gameplay. The creator of the game, Warren Spector, laboriously went though the Disney archives while researching the game.

New merchandise, old look

Or you could just wait for the Jon Favreau directed "Magic Kingdom" film, about a family trapped in Disneyland over night that discovers the rides come to life when the sun goes down. In a recent interview with Geek Time Radio, Favereau discussed how he looked to Walt's original Disneyland and vision for inspiration:

"I've got to watch every Disney property. I started with 'Steamboat Willy' working my way all the way up. I really want to focus on the classic stuff like 'Dumbo,' 'Steamboat Willy,' all the early black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons -- all the Fantasyland stuff. I think there was something timeless about what Walt [Disney] did, and I want to explore, not just Disneyland, but Walt’s vision of Disneyland. If you look at his concept art it diverges a little bit from what the park turned into over time; but if you look at his original concept art and really explore what that world is, I think there is something really fun and magical to be done there," Favereau said.

Or you could watch one of Walt's ultimate pet projects: "Fantasia"on BluRay, a format on which it was recently released, or watch the Sherman brother's documentary, "The Boys," also having been recently released for home viewing.

I've never been on the Flying Saucers, nor was I around for Oswald, or the opening of Disneyland. With Disney's new marketing scheme subtlety focusing on the Disneyland of the past, it's left me longing for the old days. Those old days, that for a young person like me, would be completely new.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What You Miss Makes the Magic

Disneyland is an overwhelming place. Its dozens of attractions, plethora of eateries, and its many shows and parades, it's impossible to see and experience everything.

The intricacies of Sleeping Beauty's castle
On top of all that, Disneyland has many hidden gems put in place to add that extra spark of magic that makes the park such a unique place.

On my last trip, I tried to take as many pictures of the little things I noticed as I could. First off, on Main Street, Disney has some great window displays, depicting scenes and characters from their popular films. This not the least well known of things at Disneyland, but they're easily missed.

In Fantasyland, there's a myriad of little things here and there that, if in a hurry, are easy to look over. First off, a walk through Sleeping Beauty's castle makes for a great discovery. It functions as a kind of walk through dark ride, with different scenes from the movie portrayed with animation and art. It's a great experience, and hardly ever crowded.

In front of the castle you can visit Snow White and her seven dwarves. This makes as a good lesson in fixed perspective, as the marble statuettes are all the same size, but arranged in such a way that Snow White looks bigger than the dwarves. While you're there, make a wish at Ms. White's well.

Then, if you look above Snow White's Scary Adventures, the evil queen will open the shades and maliciously peer out every so often. To the right of that, you can see Rapunzel's hair flowing out of her tower. Or the beautiful clock hanging below the entrance of Sleeping Beauty's castle, or the suit of armor in the same area. Go through Fantasyland quickly, and you'll miss it.

In Adventureland, there are the hieroglyphics on the "Indiana Jones" que that Imagineers made up specifically for the ride. There's also the record player at the end of Tarzan's Treehouse that plays the old Swisskapolka song used for the original Swiss Family Robinson treehouse.

 Look at the rooftops in New Orleans Square, and you'll see sails, as if there were a harbor behind them. Open your ears at the train station, and you'll hear part of Walt's opening day speech in Morse code.

Another thing I recently noticed were the statuettes of the other classic Disney characters surrounding the classic Partners Statue. It's a great touch, and extremely fitting. The symbolism was not something that escaped me, reminding me of why I love Disney.

But, I did have five days to wander the parks, giving me the extra time needed to notice such fine details.  Even if you don't notice them, you do subconsciously, because it's those things that make the park exactly what Walt wanted it to be.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tired of Pavement? Try Walking on Ropes: The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

Let's face it, we all get into a routine when it comes to the Disney parks. Even people who are visiting for the first time have a sort of pre-fab routine planned out for them: do all the big attractions. For more frequent visitors, it's the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" routine, where you visit your favorite attractions, and forget about all the others. Well, at least I have a routine.

The Redwood Creek Challenge trail original sketch
This routine had made it so I only see certain parts of the park every time I visit, and since I like to see myself as well rounded when it comes to all things Disney, on my last visit, I decided the monotony had to end: I was going to do every attraction on the map. I know, I've talked about it before (and thanks for reading more than one of my posts), but it was an instrumental part of the trip, and opened my eyes to many new things.

One of those new things was the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in the Golden State area of California Adventure. I'd been to it once before, when the park opened, but I skimmed it more than I embraced it.

This last trip, I took some time and really explored the whole Disney's-version-of-a-jungle-gym in full, and guess what? It was great. I've always loved gigantic play structures, probably because that's the only size that has ever been able to accomodate me.

Realistically, anytime anyone thinks about a jungle gym, they think small children and ball pits with hidden surprises. A fair assumption that is...generally. At the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, there are none of those pesky height, age, or weight limits (unless you want to ride the tire-ziplines, then you're out of luck).
The course

The huge towers with webs or rope connection them and rickety bridges were almost more fun for me than they were for little kids. Running up and down them at top speed (probably a little dangerous), I whisked by many youngsters creeping up the webs with a look of extreme caution on their faces.

It was great being able to let my inner kid out again, having a playground that was big enough for anyone to play on again. And to think, I skipped the area because I thought it was geared towards younger people!

Next time you're in California Adventure, you've got some free time, and you want to experience what it's like to be a kid again in a more first hand point of view, then take a hike down Highway 49, and pull over at The Redwood Creek Challenge trail. Because you know you miss that good ol' playground.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Disneyland More Popular than Walt Disney World? Technically.

According to the O.C. Register, Walt Disney World, on average, had a lower rise in attendance than the Disneyland Resort did this year.

DCA's World of Color
This is probably because California Adventure's opening of "World of Color," the terrific new nightly water show.

Or it's because Disneyland is better, at least as a concise Disney park. I've always held this theory, but numbers don't lie, and they say that I'm right.

Other speculation is that WDW attendance is being siphoned off  by the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter section at Universal's Islands of Adventure. This is probably also true. If it is, it wont last for long. Disney World will eventually open something that far outshines the wannabe Fantasyland "world" at the Universal park.

But look at the statistics on how the opening of the Wizarding World at Universal and the opening of "World of Color" at DCA. According to the OC Register's article, "Universal Orlando’s attendance jumped 36 percent since the opening of the Harry Potter-themed attractions in June" while according to Bob Iger, President of Disney, "California Adventure had a 20-percent leap in attendance since the debut of the “World of Color” show in June."

"World of Color" is a integral part of the DCA update happening in California, but it's not the main feature. Over at Universal, "Harry Potter" is their big shebang, their E-ticket attraction. It's the big thing getting people to walk through their gates. But it only raised Universal's attendance 16 percent more than a nightly water show, that can only be experienced twice in a single day for about 40 minutes total. I think that says a lot about the attractiveness of the things Disney does and thow Universal does things.   

"Harry Potter" world will always attract people, but it will never be comparable to anything Disney does. Attendance will even out, and WDW will reign supreme once again. With the rumors of an Australia section coming to Wild Animal Kingdom or a reproduction of DCA's soon to be opened Cars Land at Hollywood Studios, Universal's Islands of Adventure will once again be a footnote to WDW in Orlando.

The Disney Town murder and Why It's Not so Newsworthy

It has recently come out that a Homeless man has been charged with Disney town murder, and my Google news alerts have been bustling all about it.

The quaint town of Celebration, FL
Maybe it's because I live in a microcosm where Disney news takes precedent over everything else (which is entirely possible). But big papers have been writing about it, so obviously, people are reading about it, and it's newsworthy.

Why is it newsworthy? Well,  it's because the image Disney has created for itself, and even more so, how the world interprets that image. Walt created Disneyland as a utopia, and then taking the idea further, wanted to create the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT. Walt's EPCOT never happened because he died, and with him, the ideals of changing society for the greater good, instead of creating cash cows. Thus, present day EPCOT is a Tomorrowland-meets-world-showcase educational park, with a thrill here and there and a giant golfball in the middle, not a utopian community with design inspired by the spokes of a wheel.

Years later, Mike Eisner, whose delusions convinced him he was the next Walt, became heavily involved in building the community of Celebration, Florida. The town, created by Disney in the 90's, still has certain services provided to it by Walt Disney World, but it's not owned by Walt Disney World, because it's a town with private property owned by individuals. Disney was the mastermind behind the operation, which is why it's referred to as "Disneytown" by so many people, but really, it's just a small town at this point.

Celebration's movie Theater
Not that those facts are important to the media. Much more enticing is the fact that "murder" and "Disney" can be mentioned together in the same sentence, which is just too tantalizing a headline to pass up.

It's always been big news when something not so perfect happens in a place known for its near perfection. Last year, the Monorail crash at Disney World was the big headline, before that, the occurrence of a fatal incident involving Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland.

It's a kind of "gotcha!" moment for the Disney dissenters, proving to those who are excited about the company that it's not as perfect as it presents itself to be. Just like the urban legends about Walt's anti-semitism or his cryogenically frozen head (not that the deaths are myths), it's one of those things people love to talk about because they see it as fringy, enlightening and bubble bursting. It's just like people informing WWE fans that it's all an act, like they didn't already know and have looked past it.

This new murder case has its own special roots, having happened in a town that is often criticized as being to "Stepford Wive-ish" or "Truman Show-y." The reality is, as I'm sure every person in Celebration is aware of, and every Disney enthusiast as well, all things Disney exist in an imperfect world. Things happen. Walt was a human, and the parks are ran by humans. Accidents happens and nothing is perfect. This is not new information to us Disney devotees.

So thanks for the deft reporting, news media, but a murder in Celebration is just another murder. Murders occur fairly often, even in places with an attitude of perfection. There's undoubtedly other, more important homicides going on around the country, and while we feel for the victim of the Celebration incident, the truth is, he was probably just one of many people murdered that day in the U.S. But we get it, you have to sell those papers, or get those hits, and if it sells, it's published. Just don't think you're doing anything new.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Innoventions: A Waste of Tomorrowland Space

Tomorrowland is a place, that at one point, represented the future. It's the land that is made over the most often, the last time in 1998. Since then, not a whole lot has changed. The Rocket Rods came and went rather quickly, "Buzz Lightyear's AstroBlasters" has moved in, "Space Mountain" got a new track, and that's about it.

Innoventions: A big building with a tiny, tiny punch
The land hardly represents any type of "Tomorrow." From the dated "Astro Orbiter," which takes its design from "Dumbo The Flying Elephant," a 1955 original ride, to "Autopia," itself an original ride, Tomorrowland's name is becoming almost ironic: Captain E.O. has just moved in, an attraction that was most popular in the 1980's. "Star Tours," which will reopen next year, is based on a movie where the first words of the introduction read "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far way."

Which brings us to Innoventions. Sheesh. I haven't checked it out in a while, but had to last time as the group was on a mission to experience every attraction on the map. I'll probably never check it out again.

Thinking harder than I needed to
The first stop on Innoventions is a cheesy ABC programming commercial disguised as a game show. I was lucky enough to get picked as a contestant, but alas, the show was rigged, and  ended in a tie. Funny enough, I already watch "Modern Family" and "The Middle," so the commercial was wasted on me. The third show, "Wipeout," I will never watch, because I have that thing called taste.

Then it drops you off in the new "House of Tomorrow," which itself is a disguise for a Microsoft ad. In every room, a Zune, a product available today that sales show will probably not have a tomorrow.  In other rooms, computers running Windows. Embedded in a table, a large touch screen whose controls were less then functional. And in the kitchen, well, I don't know what was in the kitchen because it was broken. Apparently, technology is still sporadically functional in the future.

Up to the second floor, and I can see what my face will look like when I'm 60, or what it would look like if my face was wax and it was a hot day. Such cool technology. That was sarcasm. I can buy the FatBooth app and do virtually the same thing.

If that's not your thing, you can maybe play some dated Disney video games, or check out the new Honda CRZ's, which a Honda spokesperson will happily try to sell to you.

If you're lucky, you might get to see Honda's ASIMO show, you know, that robot that was cool like 5 years ago?

This pin may be less vintage than you think
It's not that I'm anti-product placement. Disneyland was built on the concept and I appreciate what it can bring to me, the guest. But when it feels like the attraction you're on is a commercial, that is overstepping the boundaries.

The whole concept for Innoventions is a hard thing to keep current. Technology becomes dated so quickly, that to keep up something boasting it has "the technology of tomorrow" and live up to that claim, the thing would have to be updated monthly, which is not something that can realistically happen.

Really, Innoventions is just the tip of the ironic iceberg. Tomorrowland is anything but a land about the future. It's in dire need of a makeover. a makeover that will hopefully replace Innoventions with something a tad bit more exciting, put something fun on the empty PeopleMove/Rocket Rod's track (Light Cycles!), update the engines of Autopia's vehicles to some sort of hybrid or Hydrogen model, and make the land more about "tomorrow."

At the very least, make it something we will even remember tomorrow.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happy 109th Birthday, Walt Disney!

Today marks what would be Walt Disney's 109th birthday. By now, he would have passed away from old age, but sadly, Walt only lived to be to be 65 and 10 days, dying from lung cancer after a life full of chain smoking.

Walt still managed to do some amazing things in a what seemed by many, a life cut short. His achievements include the first sound cartoon, bringing color to cartoons, the first feature length animated film, building Disneyland, buying the land in Orlando, and overseeing the plans for EPCOT, which was never built as Walt wanted it.

One of the best ways to thoroughly learn about Walt's life is to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. I have written a blog post about it in the past, and hope to go back when I am back home for winter break.

It's an odd coincidence that 10 days from now, on December 15, it will mark the anniversary of Walt's death. He died only 10 days after his 65th birthday, having come down with lung cancer, which he had only known about for a short time. But we'll discuss his death more when that day comes. Today is the day to celebrate his birth, and life, and what he did during those 65 years and 10 days.

As I have discussed at length, and will discuss even more, I was at Disneyland for 5 days a few weeks ago. Besides visiting the Family Museum, this is the the best way to explore what Walt loved about life. It was his personal utopia, built to be as close to perfection as possible. A place for both the young and old; not just for children, as many people seem to think. It's a place he loved so much, he would often sleep over there, a place he was an integral part of since day one of construction. A place that frustrated him when the surrounding area was developed by less than classy establishments.

To really celebrate Walt's life, to really walk in his shoes, you have to walk through Disneyland. So today, we celebrate Walt's life, and his greatest achievement, Disneyland.

Happy Birthday, Walt.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Disneyland's Disney Gallery: Fascinating and Educational

"Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" was Mr. Disney's personal favorite, and for that reason, I always save a visit to the Opera House for last when I visit Walt's Magic Kingdom.

Since 2005, when "Great Moments" was temporarily replaced by "Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years" for Disneyland's 50th and "Great Moment's" refurbishment, the lobby of the opera house has transformed into the Disney Gallery, with fantastic models and a wealth of information about the park's inception, opening day, and everything else that's happened in its 55 year existence. The Disney gallery has been around for a while though, its old space having been taken over by the Dream Suite.

It's the little things that make the gallery great
I have to say, none of the models are quite as great as the "Disneyland of Walt's Imagination" at the Walt Disney Family Museum, but the smaller models, this time of Sleeping Beauty's castle and Splash Mountain were great, as well as the model of Disneyland on opening day. I love seeing the intricacies of the attractions and land marks, and models have always caught my attention. Someday I hope to get into trains like Walt, and at an early age, my father did.

Then there are the artifacts, like the early sketches for attractions around the parks, pictures of forgotten attractions, and one of the coolest pieces of Disney history, the bench from the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round where Walt first imagined building the Happiest Place on Earth.

Then there's the gift shop, where you can buy special edition Marty Sklar autographed books, apparel unique to that shop, and prints of some of the great artwork the gallery has on display. Oh how I wanted to get a couple of those prints, but adding more junk to my nomad-esque lifestyle would do me no good. Maybe later, when I have an actual income.

Walt's Bench
It's a great thing that Disney sees value in recognizing its past finally, something I feel it forgot in the 90's under Eisner and his inflated ego. Of course, I would love to see the Disney Family Museum and the Disney Company get along, but the company did some terrible things to Ronald Miller, wounding his wife and Walt's only biological child Diane in ways that will never heal.

But the company has a vast amount of artifacts from walt, and it's great they found some places to display them. An attendant told me of two display cases from "20,0000 Leagues Under the Sea" that the company had taken out of storage, refurbished, and used in the gallery. It's great that they still have the Steve Martin/Donald Duck hosted film playing in the gallery, giving vistors to the opera house the best of both worlds.

To me, there is nothing more fascinating than the history of the Walt Disney company and Disneyland, and being able to learn new things about it while in Disneyland is a great treat, and something more people should take advantage of.

Who thought this was a good idea?
One thing that seemed a little out of place though: a section of the wall devoted to the great musicians of our time: Elvis, The Beach Boys, Michael Jackson...and Miley Cyrus. C'mon Disney, we get she's your brainchild, but that's insulting to the artists who share that wall space. Maybe now there's that incriminating video of her on TMZ, Disney might try to distance itself from the troublemaker's new 18-year-old image. Overall, Disney doesn't seem to have the best track record when it comes to turning young girls into celebrities. Better stick with the gender making pu the majority of the photos that aren't of Hannah Montana.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to Never Wait in Line

I recently discussed how having a plan can make all the difference when you visit a Disney park. It's a tested theory that has always proven true and my recent trip to Disneyland was no exception.

All in all, we probably spent no more than  hours in line during our entire 4 and-a-half day stay. Considering we were there during some of the busiest days of the year, and we got every attraction on the map done, I'd say our group did pretty well.

How'd we do it? Fastpasses. Clean and simple.

The first thing we did right was getting to the park when it opens. The parks take about an hour to really start filling up, so you've got a good amount of time to dash to your favorite attraction and hop right on.

But before you get on, get a Fastpass. You know you're going to want to hit up that attraction at least one more time that day, so it makes sense to ensure you skip out on the line your second time around too.

Since it's early in the morning, there are not a whole lot of people lining up to get Fastpasses just yet, which means it's only about an hour's wait until the Fastpass becomes valid. This means two things: you don't have a long time to wait to get back on the ride, and you can get another Fastpass in a decent amount of time.

Something new I discovered this time around is that you can often get another Fastpass before your current one becomes valid. The rule is, according to my Disney College program ambassador Jovanie Seghers-Narvaez, the official rule is that you can get your next Fastpass either at the time of your current Fastpass, or in 2 hours, whichever comes first.

Now my next tip is kind of cheating, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. If you have a Fastpass that you didn't use from a previous day, chances are you'll be able to use it after the date on the pass. The Fastpass attendants really only pay attention to the time the Fastpass becomes valid, so as long as it's after the first time listed on the pass, regardless of the date, you should be good. Another tip that could fall under the category of cheating, according to my fiend Jovanie, is that you can get one Fastpass from one park, and then another Fastpass in a different park. Say, "Space Mountain" and "Soarin'" at the same time.

Now, there's the odd attraction here and here that's an E-ticket experience, yet has no Fastpass. "it's a small world holiday," "Matterhorn Bobsleds," "Pirates of the Caribbean, "Peter Pan's Flight" and "Toy Story Midway Mania" are the ones that stick out. For the former two, get there when the park opens, or just before it closes. I can just about guarantee you there will be no line.

"Peter Pan's Flight" was built pre-Fastpass, but its counterpart has a Fastapass at Walt Disney World, so there's no good excuse. It's the most popular dark ride, so there's always at least a 20 minute wait. The best time to hit that one up is closer to closing time.

 For "Pirates," just don't go between 1 and 5. Any other time the line moves swiftly because of the attraction's hundreds of boats.

With "Midway Mania," you're going to have to wait. I don't know why there isn't a Fastpass, it's hugely popular and was constructed post-Fastpass, so there's no excuse to not have one. I'd say your best bet is to check on the wait time, from a smartphone app if you have one, around noon. Getting there right when the park opens is a bad idea. That's what we did, and it was a 70 minute wait almost instantly. When the gates open, everyone heads straight to "Midway Mania." So skip the opening rush and stick around until the line dies down a little. But good luck getting on the attraction with less than a 30 minute standby time.

With this advice, the only obstacle crowds should provide is slowing you down while you dash to the next attraction, where you can laugh out loud at the 110 minute wait time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Duffy the Disney Bear: Here to Stay

In the past few months, Disney has been introducing Duffy the Disney Bear to visitors in their domestic parks. The bear was originally created at Tokyo DisneySea where he has been a huge hit, and it looks like he's catching on over here in the states.

Duffy's logo
The legend goes that Minnie Mouse created Duffy for Mickey as he was packing for a long voyage at sea. As far as Disney characters goes, he's not the most creative creation of the bunch, being a typical teddy bear dressed up like Donald Duck. It's as if Pooh and Daisy Duck had a bland, inimaginative lovechild.

So, during my recent trip to California Adventure, I decided to wait in the short line to meet Duffy the Disney Bear, just to get a picture with the new character. I thought it'd be a good momento to have, considering the bear's existence might be fleeting.

I got something I totally did not expect. Duffy was hilarious, trying to steal my lanyard, along with my fastpasses and Steam Boat Willie emblem, which I think is the thing that caught his/her eye. (Duffy's gender is also something that is a bit of a mystery, just throwing it out there. There was definitely some flirting going on, considering Duffy greeted me with a kiss, so I'm going to say it's a girl sailor teddy bear.)

Even Duffy's character attendants were laughing as Duffy tried to walk away from his meet and greet area, reminding Duffy, "There are other people, too."

In all, Duffy and I spent about three minutes together, much longer than I would have gotten with Mickey or Minnie, and I felt it was a great experience. I was a little iffy on Duffy before, but because of our interaction, I've grown fond of the little guy.

I'm not the only one. While shopping on my last day at the parks, I talked to a cashier at California Adventure, and she told me that Duffy merchandise was selling extremely well. She told me of one customer who buys Duffy swag in bulk, by the fifties to be precise. I've heard of this happening, as the American Duffy is popular to the Japanese.

Apparently, he's very hard to get a hold of at the Tokyo Disney Resort, where guests are limited to only three Duffy's a piece. The New York Times had a great article about the new bear, which you can read here.

So, do I think Duffy's transition from Japan to the US while be a lasting one? I hope so, but that's probably just because we are now totally BFF's.