Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Buying New Galaxies, and Creativity

Unless you live under a rock, only care about real news like Hurricane Sandy, or don't have six news apps that all send you push notifications of breaking news at the same time, than you've probably heard: yesterday, Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion.

My first reaction was: "Neat!"

Lucasfilm and Disney have had a very close relationship ever since Star Tours opened at Disney in 1982. Some of the best Star Wars merch I've ever seen or bought has been at a Disneyland. You can find Jedi Mickeys or Donald Duck made up as Darth Maul at gift shops next to Star Tours. Hollywood Studious annually holds Star Wars Weekends, one of the most popular celebrations of the franchise anywhere. The Jedi Training Academy is a popular show, with walk around characters like Darth Vader and a couple of Storm Troopers making daily appearances.

To Disney dies-hards like myself, there won't be much of a transition from Lucasfilm being an independent company to one owned by one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world.

Some are decrying the deal, accusing Disney of being greedy, and predicting that when Disney makes episodes VI, VII and VII, they will ruin the "Star Wars" film franchise.

These people don't know what they're talking about and are hating on Disney because it's the convenient, typical thing to do. When Disney took over Marvel for a similar price, one of first films to come out of the joint venture, "The Avengers," is arguably the best Marvel film to date, and is inarguably the highest grossing. This was because Disney let acclaimed nerd Joss Whedon take over, gave him creative control and trusted him. I foresee Disney doing a similar thing with the coming "Star Wars" films.

So people, stop whining. You will be proven wrong.

Star Tours at Disneyland. (Photo by Preston Carter
Melbourne-Weaver/Main St. Monitor.)
Though I won't associated myself with those whiners, I do have something to whine about myself. My past co-worker while I was in the Disney College program, Patrick Johnson had this to say about the deal on facebook: "The most recognized entertainment company in the world that neglects to capitalize on their own intellectual property. Le sigh." In an article about reactions to the deal by USA Today, they quoted Former Columbia Pictures marketing exec Peter Sealey as saying: "It seems to me that Disney is bankrupt of new ideas so they've just gone out and made another big buy."

This deal will cement Bob Iger's legacy as "the guy who bought all that other stuff." From Pixar, to Marvel, and now Lucasfilm and Avatar Land, Iger has made it clear he is more interested in buying creativity than creating it in house. Pixar has created some of its worst films since being acquired by Disney, most of which were money grubbing sequels. Avatar Land's E-Ticket attraction is rumored to use the same ride mechanism as Soarin' over California.

What Iger has done with the parks, with New Fantasyand and the re-imagining of Disney California Adventure, has been great, but not exactly innovative.

I think acquiring Lucasfilm, Pixar and Marvel are overall good things for Disney, but I look forward to Iger's 2015 planned retirement and hope that his replacement focuses on creating magic inside the company. Iger is, by far, a better CEO than his predecessor Michael Eisner, but at least Eisner had 10 creative years at the beginning.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

First Impressions of Land

It's been two years, but I'm happy to say, I've finally been back to the one, the only, the original: Disneyland.

It's been more than a year since I've been to any Disney park, which is far too long, but two years without visiting Walt's original, that's just painful. Especially since so much has happened to the resort in the past two years. Finally, my family and I got around to getting a trip to Anaheim.

Flo's V8 Cafe with its stunning neon. (Preston Carter Melbourne-Weaver)
Obviously, the most exciting part of the re-theming of Disney California Adventure is Cars Land, and you've probably read enough to fill a novel about it. There's not much new insight that I can provide. It's everything everyone has said about it. Stunning, breathtaking, immersive, capturing the Disney magic that the park so terribly lacked since its opening in 2002.

It's also packed beyond belief. The best day to go, I would have to say, would be the day they had the press preview. I'm envious of those who got to go and just take in the new land, soak it up without the 30 minute wait for a Fast Pass, or the elbowing and shoving it takes to go up and down the strip. Overall, I didn't wait more than 30 minutes in any line while there, but that took a lot of strategy.

Luigi's flying tires didn't quite soar for me, but I enjoyed the attraction for what it was. It makes for a nice C-ticket attraction. The queue was far more exciting, with its classic Disney details displayed throughout Luigi's tire shop.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, despite being themed around my least favorite Disney character of all time (and by the way, he's nowhere to be seen on the attraction, only heard. What the heck?), were a pleasant surprise for an attraction that looked to be pretty basic. The whipping and constant change of direction made for a thrill.

The food was great. And by food, I mean everything served in a pretzel cone. I had the Chili Cone Queso, the Chicken Verde and the breakfast bacon, cheese and egg cone. The best I'd have to say was the Verde. Quite a surprise for me, as I was betting on the Chili, and had to sample my girlfriend's Chicken Verde. The Apple freeze was delicious, though too sweet for some members of my family, and the pomegranate lemonade was sweet and had just the right amount of tart.

The merchandise was appealing, using the art deco colors and style in a callback to the original screen printed posters of Disneyland. I didn't purchase any though, as I'm not a fan of the vinyl printing they used. It's cheap, uncomfortable and gets killed in the washing machine.

As in the film, Radiator Springs really shows its feathers at night. When the neon's flipped on, it's like the already beautiful land masterfully applies makeup and turns into a real stunner. I had a great time challenging myself with my newly acquired photo-knowledge by taking pictures of the fantastic neon signs and the deftly lit rock formations, and found myself overloaded with things to look at.

It's surely a place so fantastic, one visit will not be enough. I'm starting to understand why Lightening McQueen decided to stay.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Using Tech to Create Magic

When you think Disney, you think princesses, castles, children and fun. At least, if you think of Disney in a broad, stereotypical sense. If I think of Disney, I get all analytical and start rambling off facts and information people generally don't care about.

When you ask a tech-blog like Engadget about Disney, considering that they only cover the company when it creates news that wouldn't be out of place next to a high-performance camera or a rant about the new iPhone, they would probably give you their view of the more technological, innovative part of Disney.

The tech blog recently published an article on what Disney is doing over at its Pittsburgh research labs.

Yeah, Disney is in Pittsburgh.

Why? Because it partners with "Carnegie Mellon University...which has one of the country's top five graduate programs in computer science, and is particularly strong in robotics, computer vision, human-computer interaction (HCI), speech understanding, and machine learning," according to the lab's website.

The Engadget article was about 3D printing, which is the new big thing in the tech world. Wired Magazine featured MakerBot, the leader in 3D printing, on the cover of its October design issue, with the headline: "The New MakerBot Replicator Might Just Change Your World."

Disney is experimenting with "'printed optics,' the lure of (the) technology (being) the ability to transform inert 3D models into interactive subjects by embedding 3D printed light piping into an object with minimal electronic components," according to the Engadget article.

What does this mean? Well, to everyday people who enjoy Disney for its use of high-tech to nearly imitate magic, it means Disney is just being it's awesome self. The tech could be included in things in the parks or in consumer products, but wherever it's implemented, Disney will no doubt make it seem like magic, when really it's just good ol' math, science and advanced technology. That's why we love ya, Disney: you take nerdy things and use them to create a world of fantasy.