Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Average and Incapable Oz

Disney's "Oz the Great and Powerful" opened with a strong weekend, making upwards of $80 million. That's the important thing, really. Not if it was a quality film or if it stunk, not any of the politics behind it, just if it makes money. A quality film would indeed be a good thing, but a film that makes money is the best thing, or else we might not see any investment in the parks for a while.

As a Disney die-hard, hopefully you enjoyed some aspect of "Oz", because it's going to be around for a while (and it's probably going to be the thing in the parks they invest money in). Disney's strategy is to put tons of money into a select few films that it can then turn into brands and make gazillions off of in synergy, from rides, to toys, to sequels and more. They wanted to do that with "John Carter." It didn't work.

"Oz" didn't break the coveted $100 million mark, but it did have the "best release of 2013," as the headlines say (a title that fits into the category I like to call "the tallest midget awards").

As things go, that which is popular is rarely high in quality (Cars 2). Thus is the case with "Oz." You can feel the attempt to appeal to the masses at every turn with the movie trying to be many things at once. When you try to please everyone, you dissapoint all.

"Oz" has its moments. I audibly laughed just once, but that's pretty good, considering I'm jaded in that department. I saw it in IMAX 3D (so, anyone want to pitch in a couple bucks for my rent this month?), and thought paying the extra for 3D was worth it (not the "IMAX" though. They need to have universal standards on screen size). This movie actually used the 3D to both add depth and pop things out at you like spears and hats and such. Sometimes it was gimicky, but it overall wasn't too distracting.

James Franco, who plays the title chracter, does an OK job, but you can feel that his heart isn't into it. Rachel Weiz as Evanora is OK, until she tries to be dramatic about something, and it doesn't quite come off the right way. Mila Kunis as Theodora is great at the beginning, but then, something happens to her character, and her whole performance would seem corny even on a daytime soap. The witch that truly shines is Michelle Willams as Glinda the Good Witch, who immediately sees through Oz's shenanigans, yet keeps her faith in him. Her performance is engaging and she's pulls off being convincing and cute at the same time.

Just like in the original film adaptation of the L. Frank Baum novels, the characters that exist in Kansas also inhabit Oz. Glinda is the lost love of Oz from back home and Zach Braff, who plays Oz's under-loved assistant in Kansas, shows up as a flying monkey (sans fangs and bloodlust) in a bellhop uniform, whom Oz learns to love. He provides some comic relief by keeping Oz honest, and didn't bother me much. The other character that goes along the for the journey with Oz and appears in Kansas as a crippled girl who asks Oz to grant her the ability to walk, is the China Girl. She's cute enough for being a completely CG'ed character, but does little to advance the plot beside helping Oz to realize his faults.

The movie is no doubt gorgeous, but some odd casting decisions as well as an uneven script leaves one wanting. Disney put itself in a tough place in terms of critical acceptance, as its predecessor is one of the most beloved films. They did an OK job with this one, with its greatest weakness being uneveness. That's OK though, because they'll get the chance to make it better with the second, third, fourth, fifth and six itterations. Because "Cars 2" and "Pirates 4" were such critical darilings. Right...

The Faire Expansion

Carnation Plaza Gardens is no more. Blasphemy. Fantasyland is in front of the castle. Sacrilege. What was once an iconic red and white tent is now a Pepto Bismal colored atrocity.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

That's what everyone has been saying about Fantasy Faire, the new area at Disneyland where you can have a meet and greet with the princesses or catch a retelling of one of their stories, told with heavy "theatrical" liberties (don't worry, that's a good thing.)

Well, those hipsters who swing (swung) dance can shut it. The new Fantasy Faire is a great addition to Disneyland, and turned an area I never used into something I just might visit every time I'm in the park. I'll go so far as to say I'm in the majority on this one, too.

Fantasy Faire doesn't officially open until March 12, but since I'm awesome (and dropped a ton o' cash on a premium annual pass), I was able to get a sneak preview of the new area that sits between Sleeping Beauty's castle and the entrance of Frontierland.

After getting in line to get a wristband, then getting in line to get into the new area and trying to get off a Vine of Figero (didn't happen), I sat down next to Dusty and Norman from MiceChat (a happy coincidence) and watched the retelling of Rapunzel, a 20-30 minute show put on by Rapunzel, Flyn Ryder, a pianist and two jesters, with the latter two wearing many different hats (and wigs) throughout the performance, playing parts ranging from Mother Gothel to Maximus the horse. It was all in a funny, self-aware way that kept the heart of the story while providing laughs for both young and old. It was a very entertaining show and I cannot wait to see the Beauty and the Beast show they also run in the theater. Way better than swing dancing!

I don't mind much the Pepto Bismal color of the Royal Theater, but I forsee a change coming. If we can whine enough to get Ariel's hair-do changed, we can complain till they change the color scheme to more naturally fit in with the rest of the village.

As for the rest of the village, the theming was spot on. It fit in like it was a part of the 1983 Fantasyland renovation. Disney seems to be all about theming and "guest experience"lately, (New Fantasyland and its one presently operating ride), and with the Fantasy Faire expansion, they don't disappoint (unless you're some crazy person that thinks Walt would have stuck with "tradition" and kept the CGP. I have a book full of quotes that proves you wrong, but hey, logic and proof, they suck sometimes [if you're disappointed by the theater, that's ok with me]).

Clopin's music box, a small box that plays music and rotates through scenes with a hand crank sitting by itself by the entrance to the princesses, is a nice little detail, featuring some familiar characters on the background of its many different, moving layers, and Figaro lazily swiping at the chirping caged bird next to him on a windowsill and fun little details and add to the thoroughness of the new area.

I finished off the experience by grabbing one the the three new twists on food they have, that are literally twists made from bagel dough. You can get strawberry, chocolate or garlic cheddar, and I got the garlic cheddar. It was delicious, and made for a great snack. I also got the apple freeze drink, which is the same thing they serve at the cones at Cars Land. It was still good. Count on long lines for this little cart in the future.

Having gotten my breath stinking to high heaven, I decided it was prime time to visit the princesses. My first stop was Ariel, who dug my shoes and asked if I swam from my hometown in NorCal, then to Cinderella, who also dug my shoes, and pointed out hers were of a similar ilk, and I told her they could have used some lime-colored laces, she said her fairy godmother would be assigned the task. Then onto Aurora, who dug my shirt, because it's blue and had her castle on it. Princess training 101: COMMENT ON THE OUTFIT. Got it?

Overall, I spent nearly two hours in the small area and had a great time. It's a perfect little area that will provide both live entertainment and a nice area for the princesses to call their own. I'll probably never visit them there again, but I know that there are millions of little girls out there who will be completely psyched and it will provide a more Disney-esque experience for them. That's a good thing, as is the whole area.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Extra Ordinary Definition of "Limited"

This past week, Sarah Tully, wrote a blurb about how Captain EO, the attraction more people stand above while waiting in line for Space Mountain than actually go on, will be around for the "foreseeable future."

The "tribute"
The attraction, which originally ran from 1987 to 1997 was reinstated on Feb. 23 after the untimely death of the star of the short film, Michael Jackson, in 2009.

Now it's 2013, no one is really thinking about MJ's death, and yet Captain EO, produced by now-Disney-"owned" George Lucas, still plays daily at Disneyland.

I've mentioned before that the theater that is now showing Captain EO, and before that (and after that) showed "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience" has been an underutilized section of the park for years. To be specific, probably since 1992, five years into the first run of Captain EO.

As someone who goes to the parks on a weekly basis, it's always nice knowing that there are a few attractions you will never have to wait long in line for. It's even better when those attractions happen to be ones you actually want to ride, like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Storybook Canal boats or every dark ride that isn't Peter Pan's flight. Or, at the Magic Kingdom, my personal favorite no-wait standby, The TTA People Mover (Bring it back, Disneyland!).

Captain EO is not one of these attractions. For starters, the whole concept of a 3D/4D film-as-an-attraction idea is cheap and a bit of a cop out. Their capacity usually stinks, but that detail doesn't even matter, because they rarely fill up to capacity, proving that I'm hardly alone in giving them a thumbs down.

Secondly, when you look up dated in the dictionary, the entry after Taylor Swift (because who has she not dated?) just happens to be Captain EO. The film had to be quite spectacular when it debuted, but then again, a 10 MB thumb drive would have a technological marvel in 1987. Nostalgia for anything from the 80's will never be a thing, and Captain EO proves it. It's clunky, ugly, boring and a little too grimy to appeal to a 2013 (or 2011 or 2010) audience. Just like the decade it's from.

As a whole, Disneyland's Tomorrowland leaves something to be desired in so many ways, and Captain EO, along with Innoventions, Autopia, an empty people mover track, the boring Astro Orbiter, the remnants of an older, more exciting Astro Orbiter, and the gigantic waste of space/capacity nightmare that is the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The land would, hands down, be the weakest land at The Happiest Place on Earth if it didn't have what are arguably the park's two best attractions in Space Mountain and Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.

So what should be done withe the space that lays underneath the Space Mountain queue? Maybe take the queue of Space Mountain down a floor and make it interactive. Maybe do something with Wreck It Ralph and use a bit of the space that's used for the also under-used Starcade (who wants to play a video game when you're in between Space Mountain and Star Tours?). I don't know though, I'm not an Imagineer, and furthermore, I'm not the guy that says no to every good idea Imagineers have.
It's been nice to see Iger and co. put in a billion across the promenade, but now Disneyland could use a little love and investment, and Tomorrowland would be the best place to start, today.