Carousel of Podcasts: Bringing Disneyland Home

The Disney fan community is well represented in the podcast medium with a varied collection of voices covering a multitude of topics in every way imaginable. But quality Disney-related video podcasts (also known as vidcasts or vodcasts) are a little bit harder to find. One of the best ones though is the Bringing Disneyland Home vidcast by www.Oakfan.com. Oakfan, or known by his proper name Brad, releases his videos sporadically but they are well filmed and edited, with scattered narration by Brad himself.

Typically lasting in length between 8-30 minutes, the videos are clearly a work of a passionate enthusiast and deftly combine history and trivia with a simple ride-through concept. However, Brad clearly imbues his passion for Disneyland into his videos which helps these rise above the typical videos you might find in forums and Bit Torrent, which sometimes forget about the subtext of the moments they intend to capture.

Oakfan doesn’t overdo it with the narration, but his pleasant demeanor is a nice Disney-esque touch in a world full of dry podcasts. It also helps bookend his vidcasts, thus making them a more complete presentation, another reason why his videos are more accessible than what's typically available.

Highlights include Vidcast #41 featuring the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. The is a difficult ride to film as you're fighting a number of non-film-friendly elements, including sun-glare, darkness, filming through a porthole, and, well, filming in a submarine. Oakfan does a great job fighting these elements to provide a great snapshot of the popular ride. And Vidcast #30's New Orleans Square tour which not only strolls the streets of perhaps Disneyland's most famous land, but also gives us ride-throughs of both Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion!

Some of the best videos on Bringing Disneyland Home are the ones that don't necessarily focus on a specific ride, but wander through a land like Main Street, U.S.A. or the aforementioned New Orleans Square. Brad has a very astute awareness of the type of Disneyland that viewers want to bring home. It's not always the flashes and thrills, but also the ambience and vibe of the sights and sounds of a stroll through the park.

Unlike a lot of ride-through videos, Brad often starts the film rolling as he encounters the outside of the attraction and doesn’t stop rolling until he leaves. For example, a recent Haunted Mansion vidcast shows the journey through the grounds and into the entrance, and ends as the camera emerges from the dark and back into New Orleans Square. This helps enhance the feeling of actually being there while also showcasing respect for the architecture and outside pavilion presentation as an equal part of the entertainment as the rides themselves.

Bringing Disneyland Home vidcasts are available on iTunes and through the website at www.Oakfan.com. On the carousel of podcasts, this is one that's absolutely a must-see, er, must-ride! (NOTE: Oakfan's videos have improved in quality over time. I would still suggest going back through his archives, even if you'll notice the best quality videos are the more recent ones.)


Pixel Hollow: Ciao!

Here I am at the Italy pavilion in EPCOT's World Showcase in July 1991, 17 years old and displaying all of my royal awkwardness in front of the King of the Seas, Neptune. Note the fanny pack, hiked-up shorts, protruding collar bone, big shades and summer league tank top (no less a league in a town that was our high school rival!). My only redemption is the socks aren’t pulled to my knees.

Even at this age, I was deeply interested in my Italian heritage and thus gravitated towards the Italy pavilion. I was also a big fan of mythology and fantasy, so the ancient statue was a natural photographic appeal for me.

Note that the irony of my seemingly malnourished weak body posing in front of a chiseled God was never lost on me.


The Tragedy of Captain EO

As news broke of Michael Jackson’s shocking, untimely death, most fans reminisced about his music or his pioneering music videos. However, Disney fans will remember Jackson as the star of the controversial 3-D movie Captain EO. The movie was produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola with Anjelia Huston playing the evil queen. The 17-minute film cost an astronomical $30 million.

Captain EO opened up at the Imagination pavilion in EPCOT Center in 1986, and a few days later in Disneyland. The movie replaced the vastly popular Magic Journeys movie, which to this day is considered a favorite among Disney purists. However, it was a popular attraction, due in large part to Jackson's visibility during the '80s. EO would eventually be replaced itself by Honey, I Shrunk the Audience in 1994 (EPCOT) and 1997 (Disneyland), allegedly in response to the many scandals surrounding Jackson, as well as the lack of repeat appeal of the movie and the artist's dwindling relevance in current pop culture.

Despite Jackson’s popularity, the movie has never made its way onto DVD, but (as seen below) can be found online. The website www.CaptainEo.com has plenty of information on the attraction as well as petitions for its release on DVD and in IMAX. Yesterland has a history of the attraction along with photographs.


Tales of Folly (June 24, 2009)

Faux (pronounced /ˈfoʊ/, like "foe") is a French word for false or fake. It is often used in English phrases such as faux pearls, faux fur, faux pas and faux news.

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Disney has refuted a rumor that a Lost-themed attraction is planned for Walt Disney World’s old Discovery Island area in Bay Lake. Thus completes our psychological experiment on Internet gullibility.

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Walt Disney World will be testing a Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party in the Magic Kingdom from June 23 through August 29. The party, clearly not endorsed by nutritionists, will be near the Tomorrowland Terrance Noodle Station and will cost $17.99 for adults and $9.99 for children, for an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet (and beverages). Consequently, the company has increased availability of motorized wheelchairs.

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Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton made good on her bet with Disneyland President Ed Grier by walking down the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, USA with purple and gold Mickey Mouse ears, emblazoned with “Go Lakers.” Across the country in a city that is not Los Angeles, MVP and noted adulterer Kobe Bryant marched in a Disneyland parade to celebrate his team’s victory over the Orlando Magic for the NBA Championship. Much like the NBA Finals, very few people noticed or cared.

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Disneyland Resort has announced a major remodeling effort for the legendary Disneyland Hotel. Upgrades will include fiber-optic-enhanced headboards and flat-screen televisions, designed for people who like to go to Disneyland and watch life-like high definition videos of the theme park attractions in their hotel rooms.

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Walt Disney Pictures released the first promotional pictures of Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland. The movie, which will be a combination of live-action and both CGI and stop-motion animation, isn’t set to be released until March 10, 2010 but advanced buzz has already begun. Alice in Wonderland will star the now-frequent headliner of Disney films, Johnny Depp, as well as Alan Rickman and Christopher Lee. Saruman, Snape and Sparrow!

. . . . .

Disney scored another #1 movie this summer with last weekend’s release of The Proposal. The movie edged out serious competition with a $34.1 million haul, a moderate distance ahead of reigning champ The Hangover and fellow-Disney-flick Up. However, there have been sightings of Megatron, who has a notorious hatred for romantic-comedies.

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Ubiquitous tween poster-boys and Disney Channel stars, the Jonas Brothers, had their second number #1 album in a ten-month span with Lines, Vines and Trying Times. The album, which was released by Disney’s Hollywood records imprint, sold nearly 250,000 units. No word yet on whether the Jonas Brothers will be inserted into it’s a small world.

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Miley Cyrus took a picture and once again the world mourned the loss of innocence. Subsequently, many have defended the seductive self-photography as a “part of growing up” and that the Hannah Montana star is being unfairly spotlighted for her pics and tweets. In related news, I finally feel less guilty that at that age my biggest sin was shoplifting a box of Nerds.


WANTED: Disney Photographs

We we are always cooking up new stories to post at Disney's Folly but our collection of photographs isn't always as extensive as we'd like it to be. If you have any photographs relating to the below topics, please send them in. Of course, the photographer will be given due credit.

  • Disneyland and Walt Disney World entrance photographs (monorail platforms, front plazas, resort entrances). Specifically trying to capture the feel of first arriving at either at the Kingdoms.
  • Disneyland's Royal Street Veranda and Bengal Barbecue. Food and eatery photos.
  • Polynesian Resort photographs (including Monorail station, Ceremonial house, wide hotel shots). Bonus points for photographs from the '80s.
  • Dreamfinder (specifically of the Dreamfinder who met guests outside of JII)
  • Photos of Main Street, USA in both Disneyland and Disney World, specifically panoramic shots and focuses on architecture.
  • Pictures of the Disney Railroad in both Disneyland and WDW, including the actual trains as well as views from the trains.
  • And of course, we're always looking for special photographs from any Disney park with a special memory or story behind the photograph for our Pixel Hollow section.



Lost Island Coming to Walt Disney World

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has announced extensive plans to convert the old Discovery Island in Bay Lake to a new Lost-themed attraction. Lost Island is set to receive guests by the Summer of 2011, a year after the show concludes its six-year run on ABC.

“We strong believe that the show will live on in popularity after its conclusion. This type of show can be successful in syndication for decades and with the advent of DVD—sales of which have been very high for this series—there is clear evidence that Lost will remain popular well after next Spring's series finale," said Celandine Coda, vice chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

The immersive experience will bring guests to the islands in disparate ways, providing two distinct experiences per each trip to the island. The attraction is also unique as the exploration of the island in its entirety forms one complete experience, however each area of the island works as an individual attraction.

“We have this great experience for the Swan station which guests get to tour as if they were the survivors first discovering the infamous 'hatch'. But suddenly things go wrong and this station tour becomes a ride! It’s an extension of the Imagineering used in rides such as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Star Tours taken to the next level!", explained Coda.

Imagineers will use similar technology to give the infamous smoke-monster a presence on the island, much like it was displayed in the first season. "There were some obvious issues with depicting the monster the way it's been portrayed in recent seasons so we took a page from those initial episodes and cast the monster into the trees," detailed Coda.

“In some ways, the island of Lost has always been like a twisted open-air haunted house, with dark mysteries waiting around the corners in the most unlikely places. When developing this, we knew right away that there wasn’t much we could do with traditional ride technologies as the whole point of the show was this wandering band of castaways. We wanted the guests to experience the world instead of pass through a non-interactive collage." explained Imagineer Lila R. Chiseavie.

That said, there is one ride vehicle that will be making its way to the island. The Dharma Volkswagen Van will take some guests from their arrival on the island to the barracks. Along the way, they will contend with hostiles and other surprises that the imagineers wish to keep secret.

Further, the island and the water surrounding will be enhanced with videos and auto-animatronics of the cast of the popular TV show. Guests arriving on the island will pass Michael’s raft and throughout the jungle of the island, will pass through popular moments from the television show.

Guests passing Michael's raft on the way to the Lost Island.

The Imagineers chose to plant the guests into the experience of the show after the survivors had established a presence on the island so as to more easily access the mythology of the show, which picked up significantly in the second season. As such, Dharma stations and the Others are an integral part of the storyline of the attraction.

Lost co-creator/executive producter Damon Lindelof and executive producer Carlton Cuse had a hand in helping the Imagineers pare down the show’s dense mythology and its presence on an island much larger than the old Discovery Island. “We had to take some obvious liberties with the geography of the island on the show since they cover a much larger distance. As such, we limited the amount of stations and other landmarks but tried to keep to the general area near the initial Oceanic 815 crash site. Carlton and Damon were extremely helpful in assisting our imagineers with mapping out the island in a way that stays faithful to the show but also creates a new experience," said Coda.

Concept art of boat leaving island and encountering Kate and Sawyer audio-animatronics.

The attraction will center mostly on the area of the original encampment, the Swan and Pearl stations, and the barracks. (Though there is discussion about adding the Orchid station at a later date.) The Statue of Taweret, the iconic four-toed statue that has come to epitomize the deep mythology of the show, will act as the island’s landmark icon, which will be seen from many vantage points around Bay Lake, including the Contemporary Resort and Wilderness Lodge.

“We wanted to focus on the iconic landmarks of the show which were all in relative proximity to each other in the show. Some landmarks such as the Hydra station and the Looking Glass were economically and logistically prohibitive but we connect to them in a clever way. The Orchid is essential in our future plans and we think that aspect of the experience will blow guests away," explained Chiseavie, who says that the Orchid station is unlikely to become part of the experience until 2013 or 2014.

The old River Country area will also be cleaned up and utilized as a launch to the island and will also be themed appropriately for the attraction. Imagineers are trying to keep some of the specific story points a mystery in an effort to capture the spirit of the television show. Much like the television show's viral marketing campaigns, Disney plans on incorporating clues into attractions and architecture at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Epcot's Future World. Also in Summer 2010, a preview center will be open at Disney's Contemporary Resort.

Discovery Island, an 11.5 acre island located in Bay Lake at Walt Disney World, was open from 1974 to 1999. The wildlife preserve contained swans, lemurs, tortoises and other animals and was a viable destination in Walt Disney World’s early days before its expansion into other theme parks. However, with the opening of Animal Kingdom in 1998, the island was rendered moo and ceased operations.


Disney's Folio: The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

A popular trend for many is to go to the Disney theme parks hunting for Hidden Mickeys. That once secretive cult following is now a mainstream practice for many guests and unfortunately can sometimes divert them from looking deeper for the other hidden treasures inserted into the architecture and design of pavilions, attractions, shops and restaurants. Some of these hidden treasures are chronicled in Disney guides (official and unofficial), Imagineering books, and the Imagineering Field Guides. However, Susan Veness’s The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World is an exhaustive compilation of all of these secrets into one volume.

The book takes a look at each of the four theme parks within Walt Disney World, offering up a virtual walkthrough of each of the parks’ lands and attractions, detailing the stories behind the secrets. Backed by historical reference and frequent Imagineer quotes, the secrets are presented to the reader as a guide for their own journey through the parks looking for these secrets themselves.

I particularly liked how Veness described all of the transitions between each of the lands in the Magic Kingdom. I’ve read a lot about how Disney did this, usually referencing the transition between Frontierland and Adventureland. But Hidden Magic describes all of the transitions meticulously, at the Magic Kingdom. Veness describes how the layout of the entire park makes sense geographically in both a global and domestic pattern. (For example, she notes that you move west from the London setting of Peter Pan's Flight to colonial America at Liberty Square and then onto western expansion as you cross the bridge into Frontierland).

This was also the first time that I read that because the distant Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (at Disney's Hollywood Studios) encroaches on the backdrop to Morocco in Epcot's World Showcase, the Tower’s backside was designed to emulate the minarets of Moroccan architecture, thus blending in with the Morocco pavilion buildings when seen at certain angles.

I’m not saying that nobody else has pointed these things out, but I think it’s a testament to the wealth of information in this guide that she doesn’t just repurpose the usual popular trivia suspects, but digs a little deeper to pay respect to even the most hidden minutiae.

Depending on the wealth of hidden secrets in each respective land or attraction, the book will vary in time spent on that area. The author devotes a lot of time to Animal Kingdom’s Asia area, likely due to the amazing amount of detail that went into the development of Expedition Everest and the expansion of the land to fit the popular roller coaster. The arrival of Expedition Everest really helped cement Joe Rhode and the entire Animal Kingdom team of imagineers as a band of pioneering, devoted followers of the world's distinct cultures. As such, the entire theme park and particularly Asia is a testament to their art. The book really helps highlight the many ways the imagineers paid homage to Nepalese and Tibetan cultures, and the distinct landscape of the Himalayas. (Which really supports the recent movement of Disney fans to trumpet the reality that Animal Kingdom isn't just a half-day park!)

The biggest complaint I’d have with the book is the total lack of pictures. However, the guide is meant to supplement your enjoyment of exploring the secrets of Walt Disney World, not necessarily chronicle them. Showing pictures of anything would certainly work as a historical document, but it would also take away the fun of discovering these secrets yourself. Also, as someone who works in the publishing industry, I understand that adding the photography would likely warrant better stock of paper and more pages, which would make the book cost more money. I can respect that the author and publisher determined their production angle and stuck with it, however plain it may be, to keep the book's cost to a very affordable price. (It also happens to make the book easier to dog-ear and tote with you around the parks.) However it might have helped the book to include more maps or example photos as the writing is very clearly geared towards families, yet the presentation might bore a child.

The writing can sometimes be a little hokey, as is often the case with Disney guides. This is typically forgiven as the theme parks are such a family-oriented destination and half of that fun is adults sharing the enthusiasm with their children. As such, this book would actually be a really good read for adolescents, giving them a little more appreciation for the artistry and history behind the entertainment. And I would absolutely encourage families to point these things out to their children as I believe it’s imperative that the theme parks be cherished for more than just the thrills and quick entertainment, but also the Hidden Magic surrounding it all.


Tales of Folly (June 18, 2009)

Disneyland kicked off Summer Nightastic! on June 12th (running to August 23rd). The celebration includes enhanced versions of the theme park's Fantasmic! and Electrical Parade as well as a new fireworks spectactular called Magical which is set to a medley of classic Disney tunes. Apparently they put a lot more money into the shows than they did the conceptualization of the name.

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What Will Stitch Celebrate? Apparently not anything super-sonic. According to buzz, Stitch's SuperSonic Celebration, located at the Florida version of Tomorrowland, which has only been open for six weeks, will close within the next two weeks for possible reworking or removal. Some rumors suggest that the lack of accessible shade around the celebration has affected viewership. If so, it’s good to know that the theme park giant is paying attention to basic concepts such as Floridian heat.

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The Disney-Pixar smash hit Up is likely to surpass the $200 million mark tomorrow, making it only the second movie to do so this summer (the first being Star Trek), and should soon surpass the domestic grosses of Ratatouille and WALL-E. Some experts predict the latest Pixar film could make a run at The Incredibles’ $261 million haul planted firmly in second place of Pixar’s all-time earners. (Finding Nemo sits atop the list and far out of reach.) The question remains to be seen whether other studios will follow suit and spend more than four hours crafting the scripts to their movies.

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It is now possible to make dining reservations at Walt Disney World on the Internet. Those looking to make the Advanced Dining Reservations, can navigate to www.Disneyworld.disney.go.com/restaurants and book their ADRs now. This completes the next step in the ongoing quest to completely remove vocal interaction from our daily lives. Next up: iPhone application to provide Jungle Cruise narration.

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Snow White may be taking up permanent residence at a character meet-and-greet in Germany at Epcot’s World Showcase. Disney’s first princess originated as a German folk tale by the Brothers Grimm. The Seven Dwarves already have a presence at Epcot as Happy is often sighted eating lamb at Morocco, Sleepy can be found on the floor of Reflections of China and Grumpy often paces in front of Mission: SPACE grumbling about Horizons.

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Around World Showcase lagoon, the long-rumored Tequila bar appears to be happening at the Mexico pavilion, making Epcot Around the World drinking tours significantly more obnoxious. However, it would likely create clean-up jobs at the theme park.

Ahhh, Snow White and Tequila, is this the first time you’ve shared a blog?


An Appetite for Disney on the iPhone

Whether you’re on the fly in Walt Disney World or planning your adventure ahead of time, the WDW Dining application is the preeminent iPhone application for the Disney dining experience. It’s also a fun app for completists and fanatics alike who like to see what kind of offerings WDW has to offer or just daydream about dining in a castle, a temple or at the base of a Tibetan mountain.

The application sorts restaurants out by the four main theme parks, Downtown Disney, and each of the resorts. When you click on your selection, you are brought to a list of that park or resort’s dining options. The initial list includes indications of price range and Disney Dining Plan eligibility. Clicking on the dining option will give you a brief synopsis of the restaurant along with a picture, location, suggestions, keywords and dining plan details. Click on the individual menus (if applicable) for breakfast, lunch or dinner to see the menu options and pricing for that meal.

This is the part where I think the App really went the extra mile. In the wave of applications (particularly Disney-themed) that have come out since iTunes' App store launched, many developers have rolled out uninspired product, rushing to cash in on the App craze and the lure of impulse buying on iTunes. The WDW Dining application doesn't skimp for information, explaining each menu item in detail as would the actual menu. If you’re like me and want to plot out your next Disney vacation with a spouse who has stricter dietary preferences, this really helps narrow down the places you’d like to visit. Of course, I understand it would make more sense to reference a website like AllEars.net instead of huddling around a cell phone but regarding portability, especially if you’re referencing this mid-vacation, this is an incredibly handy tool. And for those of you fans who just like to eat up anything Disney and have perhaps been disappointed with many of the poor Disney-related applications available on iTunes, this is a worthy purchase.

The software utilizes iPhone’s familiar graphic interface with a simple graphics key. As with most iPhone apps, you can easily backtrack to previous pages. There’s a link to call WDW-DINE from every restaurant’s main page, a smart touch despite the obviousness of Disney’s dining reservation line. More importantly, they came out with an update fairly quickly for both aesthetic (adding photos) and practical (noting Tables in Wonderland discounts) reasons. It remains to be seen how quickly they update the ever-changing prices but for now this seems to be a trustworthy app. And at $0.99, you’re spending a lot less than you’d ever spend at the theme park!

Developed by VersaEdge Software and available here at the iTunes store.


Exploring the Magic on Your Desktop

In recent years, Walt Disney World has been represented in all facets of new media. Its online presence is extensive and ever-evolving with the official website working as an informational, commercial and promotional tool. The Disney Channel has always provided a built-in forum for the parks (albeit less than hoped), and over the years has been joined by Disney’s significant presence on The Travel Channel and their own Disney Travel on Demand. The parks are well represented in the home video market with the occasional official releases as well as unofficial fan-created products. Disney is a major presence in podcasting, with fan-produced podcasts giving Disney’s official podcasts a run for their money. Of course, the console game and PC software markets are at the top of new media technology so you’d expect to find Walt Disney World in countless games and software, right? Not quite. 

While Disney has a presence in this market, the theme parks are almost entirely absent from the software and gaming media. That is, except for the Walt Disney World Explorer CD-ROM which arrived in the mid-‘90s. The Explorer had the unfortunate timing of being released during an onslaught of improved computer technology that immediately looked archaic after the start of the millennium. Such was the inherent problem with computer technology which, in the ‘90s, was growing in leaps and bounds between each step. Now, CD- and DVD-ROM technology has reached a nice plateau even as it continues to see amazing graphics and sound progress. (Blu-Ray promises to take these features to the next level.) Unfortunately, the Disney theme parks would not take any steps past that initial technology.

At the time the CD-ROM was released, it was nearly impossible to download videos on the Internet and even streaming them would lead to hiccups from restrictions of dial-up modems. Not long after, the advent of high-speed Internet connections led to an amazing surge in video and sound file trading, first with songs and video clips, and then with high-quality video distribution and full software piracy. 

But in 1996, this relatively new media was still getting its legs and moving away from being a strictly text-based informational tool and moving towards graphic enhancements. Without knowing how much the technology could evolve, everyone was still having fun with the relatively new CD-ROM technology and what features it brought to the PC. Disney’s official web-site had only just launched that year so the company and its fan were only just wrapping their heads around multi-media platforms. I imagine the seeds of the vast Disney communities that flourish on the Web right now, were planted right then and there. For many years prior to this, some brave soldiers lugged video cameras to the theme parks and took what would eventually become cherished video. But it would be a long time before they had a way to share these home videos beyond their living rooms.  

In retrospect, the Explorer is a fascinating time capsule for Walt Disney World in 1996-1998. (The version being review here is the 1998 update.) The program displays an animated map of all of Walt Disney Worldcaricatured and exaggerated to fit the landscape of a computer monitor screen. Tinker Bell is your mouse pointer as you navigate the map to enter the many resorts, lands and attractions for further information on the parks. All to the endless music of "It’s a Small World," which actually gets more tiresome without lyrics. 

Clicking on resorts and certain other points of interest will immediately bring you to a slideshow of that location, with a narrator briefly describing the location before allowing you to select trivia, backstage magic (which often includes videos), or a 360 degree panorama. Much of this is standard information and photos that have long been available to fans, via the slew of fan-run Web sites and third-party guide and trivia books available. But the retro presentation is still kinda fun.  

With the theme parks, you can click on each land which will bring you to a sub-map (with its own appropriately-themed background music). From there, each attraction, show or transportation mode has its own entry, including much of the aforementioned features. The theme parks also include selections for entertainment and eateries. All with the comforting Disney narration that was the norm in that era, shortly before they attempted to get hip.  

There are also tours that will take you to the Most Romantic Attractions, Scariest Attractions and others. But to me the best part of the program is the Timeline feature. Clicking on this will take you to a clean slate map with a monorail slider on the bottom of the screen. As you progress the monorail to each year from 1971 to 1998, narration explains the highlights, new hotel/ attraction openings and landmark ground-breakings with the map filling in appropriately to show the growth. 

This would still be a fun tool to excite younger children about a visit to Walt Disney World, though you may get them psyched to see an attraction that is no longer there. No child should have to see their father cry about the demise of Horizons.

Since this product was released, Disney hasn’t quite ventured into the same territory again. In 2005, the online game Virtual Magic Kingdom debuted and stuck around for three years. The game contained interactive features and minigames based on scenery and attractions from the theme parks. However, it wasn’t designed to be an actual virtual tour of the parks. Last year, Google Earth partnered with Disney to feature its parks via Google’s 3D mapping technology. This is a very interesting advancement of CG technology and could theoretically open the door to providing fans access to a virtual Disney World beyond everything that has come before. 

Why hasn’t Disney ventured into this virtual realm again? It’s likely that company management still doesn’t have a handle on how to determine if recreating the joy of their theme parks via video or 3D graphics would give people reason to avoid coming to the parks to fulfill that desire. Or it could be the simple reality that the market for this type of product is drier than some fans would like to imagine. 

The people who debate and overanalyze these things are the most tech-savvy and devoted of Disney fans, frequenting blogs and forums, and hunting for videos and photos to live out their Disney dreams vicariously. This is still a very small portion of Disney’s target audience. I have friends who are huge Disney fans who get to the parks even more than I do yet don’t pursue ride-through videos or fan-made documentaries. And, with children in tow, would gain no reason to avoid the actual theme park experience because of a virtual substitute. No parent is anxiously awaiting the bright-eyed look of their little daughter seeing Cinderella on her MacBook. 

But it might still behoove Disney to consider something to fill this market niche as 3D technology has been widely available to consumers for quite some time now and there are savvy creators out there who’ve already done non-animated 3D representations of Disney theme park pavilions and attractions. The technology is only getting better and could eventually allow for software development by unofficial Web denizens. Disney has already missed the mark with historical theme park video, allowing for entrepreneurs to hit the Web selling or showcasing their own takes on Disney history or lost attractions. The same could happen with computer technology. 

I, for one, would love to see software that recreated the theme parks in a truly interactive platform a la the Grand Theft Auto games (just without the violence). Disney could have it so that the participant is on a quest and must answer trivia, make decisions and/or complete certain tasks to gain entrance to certain areas. Within areas, you could have trivia, history or documentary footage relating to objects. And for fun, certain endeavors could put a ride at our control. Imagine being on Pirates of the Caribbean but having to control the speed of the boat to avoid Barbosa’s cannon fire or allowing a ride to stop so that the player could interact with ride scenery or acquire pirate booty! 

I’m interested in hearing from any readers who purchased the CD-ROM and/or its second edition back in ’96-’98, and how much of an impact it had on your fandom at the time. 


Tales of Folly (June 12, 2009)

A month after reporting a 26% drop in earnings, The Walt Disney Company is seeing "continued signs of stability in the marketplace," but warned that consumers and ad buyers are still "cautious", as reported by Chief Financial Officer Tom Staggs this week. Outside of Fantasyland, cautious consumers responded by asking if you could spot them $10 for gas. 

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According to the website HitFix, and its interview with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is now likely to happen before the new incarnation of Long Ranger, both starring Johnny Depp. Previous buzz had the masked hero ahead of the planned extension to the Pirates mega-franchise. But Bruckheimer was quoted as saying that “Disney’s priority is to get [a fourth] ‘Pirates’ made.” (Presumably because the franchise is still very popular and thus more bankable.) No story details have been released though one rumor has Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow encountering the rest of the Rolling Stones at the Fountain of Youth.   

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In other film news, Diane Lane will star in a Disney film about the famous 1973 Triple Crown-winning racehorse Secretariat. Lane will play the horse’s owner Penny Chenery. The movie is set to be directed by Randall Wallace, who wrote Braveheart (for which he earned an Oscar nomination) and Disney’s Pearl Harbor, and directed the criminally underrated We Were Soldiers. No word yet on who has been cast as Secretariat though rumored to have interest are Bullseye, Shia LaBeouf, and Silver (with Lone Ranger heading to the stable). 

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Disney has launched two new official Twitter accounts for DisneyPictures and DisneyPixar. DreamWorks Animation twittered in response with a fart joke. In 3D.

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Lastly, a Happy 75th Birthday this week to Donald Duck, the frustrated foil to Mickey’s inspiring icon and the last of Disney’s Fab Five to reach this milestone birthday. And as you might imagine, he’s not happy about it. The famously curmudgeonly duck reportedly threw an indecipherable tantrum after being asked how the anthropomorphic water fowl planned on celebrating his semisesquicentennial. Aw, phooey....Happy Birthday, Donald! 


Disney's Folio: Disney-MGM Studios, A Pictorial Souvenir

Released in 1989, in conjunction with the opening of Disney-MGM Studios, the Disney-MGM Studios - A Pictorial Souvenir was a brief snapshot of the park at the time, a way to sell the guests on this new theme park Disney was rolling out. It had only been seven years since the previous park opened (to significant grandeur). However, while EPCOT Center opened at the dawn of the ‘80s, Disney-MGM Studios opened at its twilight just as culture and wonderment were about to take a massive shift into the new decade and towards the advent of new media and a more cynical culture.  

While EPCOT in theory may have seemed a tricky concept for adventurers and youth, Disney had the advantage of its decades-old legacy and of course its original conception by Walt himself. It turned out that the decade was ripe for looking to our past and future with reverence and awe, supported by the movies of the time and the positivity of ‘80s pop culture and music. In turn, EPCOT would feed back into that vibe and enroot itself as a very part of that pop culture. 

Disney-MGM Studios probably didn’t need a lot of description as the concept of a studio theme park was not only in many of Walt’s original themed concepts pre-dating Disneyland itself, but also executed previously by Universal Studios in Hollywood. However, the company needed to appeal this third gate to the guests and these souvenir booklets were part of how they reeled people in. It’s hard to believe it now, but at the time there were plenty of guests who visited Walt Disney World completely unaware of all of its parks, and perhaps without the means to visit these parks. (Remember, the concept of “park hopping” was relatively new, as was the idea of a spending a week solely at WDW.) 

The souvenir accurately showcases the Studios’ mix of Old Hollywood, Backlot tours and faux filmmaking, strategically utilizing its key characters to sell the concept. In retrospect, I imagine the concept made it tricky to lure in families who had to envision how well their young children would enjoy a visit through the costuming department or the craftsmanship of reproducing ‘30s era Hollywood architecture. (Similarly, as cool as Grauman’s Theatre is, it wasn’t as spectacular an icon as Cinderella’s Castle or Spaceship Earth.)  Of course, that’s where George Lucas comes along. By advertising both an Indiana Jones stunt show and using the inside back cover to promote the imminent arrival of Star Tours, the Studios pulled its best aces out of the hole and essentially defined the first era in the Studios’ history. 

I actually didn’t become aware of this pictorial souvenir until I had a little run of Disney book-hunting a few years ago on eBay and used-book sites. I always loved the concept art and construction photography that was found in similar EPCOT printed products and wanted to investigate same in the other three parks. The book reminds me of the smaller EPCOT pictorial that was released in advance of that park’s opening, with concept art, photos, and descriptions of the rides, entertainment and shops. This pictorial also uses die-cut pages to effectively convey the concept of taking a look behind the scenes and into the elusive mystique of Hollywood. The opening illustration (above) of the Studios at night is a dazzling presentation. It’s not an angle the park is often shown at, and seeing it before the many additions and changes to the park is a great nostalgia trip. (And keep a look out for the world’s largest ever Hidden Mickey, now sadly chopped off by a big hat and Sunset Boulevard!) 

I’d recommend this souvenir only for the most fanatical completists or collectors. (Though you could probably get it for cheaper than other, lengthier books and pictorials.) It’s a fun collector’s item but at 24 pages, quite a light read that won’t beg for much repeated viewing. 


Pixel Hollow: A long time ago...

In 1991, my family and I visited Disney-MGM Studios for the first time and you couldn’t get me to Star Tours any faster. This was right before the Internet boom so photographs or video were not easily accessible. It truly was a surprise when we got to the pavilion. To a major Star Wars fan, you could not describe the awe of turning that corner to see an AT-AT walker aiming down at you as it seeming strode past an Ewok village. For years, we attempted to recreate these movies in our backyards, on jungle-gyms and on snow piles. Now I was standing under a full scale Imperial walker. 

The ride was a revelation but a story left for another time. It had been eight years since the last Star Wars film and as a teenager about to enter his high school Senior year, I was caught up in sports, the proverbial “hanging out,” and the elusive quest for a girl’s kiss. For a moment though, I was okay with epitomizing the very uncoolness that would prevent me from fulfilling that elusive quest. 

Since this first visit in 1991, I have always had the same feeling when I return to the Studios and round that corner in Echo Lake, heading towards Star Tours. And every time I arrive, I take the same photograph!

Pixel Hollow will feature real photographs from the past or present with a brief story behind the photograph. I’d like to keep this feature open to my readers. Feel free to submit a photo and story and I will try to work you into the next Pixel Hollow! 


Tales of Folly (June 8, 2009)

After initial reports that it had once again topped the box office charts, updated reports now indicated that Up finished in second place, less than a million dollars behind The Hangover. (Land of the Lost was a major failure finishing in distant third, likely because it forgot to be funny.) More importantly, Up’s 35% drop off from its opening week earnings were very optimistic compared to the rest of this year’s summer movie crop, which all had huge drop-offs indicating very little word of mouth buzz. Pixar’s Folly: "They will never bring families in to see a movie about an old man flying his house with balloons!" 

. . . . . 

Depending on the level of misquoting that you read, a sequel to Monsters, Inc. is either being considered or is definitely happening. With Randall-like cloaking, the mystery emerged from the Licensing International Expo, which is not a thinly veiled bacronym. Director Pete Docter has always said they’d revisit that world should the right story emerge and he is currently sans project at Pixar, which has films lined up through 2012. While Pixar has sequels (Toy Story 3 and Cars 2) lined up for the next two years, original stories are lined up for 2011 and 2012, so it is not outside the realm of reason to envision a sequel happening in 2013 or 2014. 

. . . . . 

Speaking of Pixar, the company's icon and star of its first short film, Luxo, Jr. will take up residence at Pixar Place in Disney's Hollywood Studios. The familiar icon (you see it hopping on top of the i in Pixar before all of their super-genius films) is part of Disney's Living Character Initiative which sends audio-animatronic characters outside of the rides and roaming the parks. The woefully underused initiative, which has also featured Lucky the Dinosaur and Dr. Bunsen and Beaker, has been a big hit amongst Disney fans. Now if they can get to work on Kevin and Dug from Up

Disney unveiled special T-shirts for the NBA Finals depicting some familiar Disney characters in basketball gear. The shirts, to commemorate the NBA championship series between the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers, are available online, at the teams’ home arenas, and in both theme parks. The company is celebrating the fact that the teams “share their hometowns with Disney’s two U.S. theme parks, Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort.” In other news, Anaheim has apparently shifted 30 miles Northwest, landing inside of Los Angeles.

. . . . . 

And finally, the final schedule for the Eat to the Beat concert series at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival has been released and it's a veritable who's who of bands who would also feel at home at our sister site, Eightiesology.com. Among the highlights this year are Starship, Richard Marx, Billy Ocean, John Waite and Night Ranger. All are subject to change should these artists be asked to appear in a bad reality show. I say with all seriousness that if i could be with my wife in Epcot eating my way around the world with Night Ranger playing, I would have no need to live my life further as it would never match that happiness.


Things Are Looking Up!

After The Incredibles, I started doubting the promise of Pixar's next few features based on the trailers for their next movies. It wasn't that I was gleefully anticipating their inevitable fall from grace. On the contrary, I wanted Pixar to continue making great pictures. But after six phenomenal movies, I just expected we'd eventually see a dud. However, with each film, they kept their streak of quality alive. 

So by the time that the prospect of a Pixar movie about an old man setting off on an adventure on a balloon-driven house, I took it in stride and had every confidence that this would be another remarkable piece of art from the folks in Emeryville. 

Because as everyone is starting to learn, these movies are not about the basic premise or plot, but about the story and characterization. The water colors of animation are now polluted with countless Pixar knock-offs attempting every sellable movie concept that it's impossible to base one's anticipation on premise alone. It's all about the execution. And this is the only studio I have complete faith in to build a fantastic story around any kind of premise and make it work.

And that brings us to their 10th feature, the aforementioned tale of an old man's desire to reach a far-flung destination he and his wife dreamed of their whole lives. Up we go!

For the second summer in a row, and depending on your angle, perhaps the second YEAR in a row, Pixar has created a more emotionally resonant movie than anything else out there, INCLUDING live-action cinema. The summer movie season is almost entirely filled out with popcorn flicks, whether they star superheroes, robots or pratfallen men. And many of these attempt emotional drama so badly that it undercuts the ultimate goal of these movies: to entertain. Critics and fans now cherish a movie that doesn't even bother and just delivers on either laughs or explosions. It's less insulting than trying to buy into Wolverine's angst over a lost lover or John Connor's desperate existence, delivered in loosely-constructed, let's-just-get-this-over-with-and-blow-something-up fashion. But as exciting as these movies are, they often just feel like empty calories.   

Up, much like Finding Nemo and WALL-E, tells a story that is entirely driven by a character's heart, which allows the action to flow naturally as an extension of the determination of its protagonist. Carl Fredricksen chooses his journey as one last mark of a desperate and lonely old man, widowed from the love of his life and pushed to the edge by the gentrification that surrounds his quaint home. So he does what anyone would do and floats his house to South America with thousands of balloons! 

Fredricksen is attempting to fulfill the vow he and Ellie, his life-long sweetheart, promised from the day they met as children. Carl and Ellie married and lived a wonderfully happy life together. But real-life problems made them consistently turn to the bank they created to one day pursue Paradise Falls, a realistic destination that is painted as almost mythical to their wide-eyed youthful selves. This is the hook for the countless adults viewing this movie with their own stored dreams, shelved as they pour money into fixing leaky faucets, flat tires and root canals. 

However, Carl and Ellie lead a wonderful life because their ultimate joy is each other. Even their inability to have a child does not break them apart, it only reinforces Carl desire to do anything for his wife. In their twilight, he purchases two tickets to South America so they could finally fulfill their dream, but Ellie falls ill before they can go and eventually passes on. 

This entire life together is shown as a silent montage at the beginning of the film, creating that rare moment in animation cinema where you're crying your eyes out 10 minutes in. (I desperately tried to hold it in while a child a few rows back asked their parent "What happened to Grandma?") And no matter how grumpy and crotchety the movie will go on to paint Carl, you root for him because of how much emotional subtext the filmmakers have given this character from the start. It's a rare movie where we don't have to wait until the end to discover if a character can be redeemed. We know Carl will...we're just waiting for him to get there.

He's joined on his journey by Russell, an adolescent wilderness explorer. The movie thankfully stays clear of painting him as the stereotypical do-gooder who saves Carl. He's pesky and clumsy, but he's driven and a mirror image of Carl before he lost everything. Carl learns to care for the boy and seek his assistance, even as they keep gathering more passengers on their journey, including Dug, a "talking" dog, and Kevin, a rare bird that is the elusive target of Charles Muntz. (Muntz is a wolf in sheep's clothing who betrays Carl's lifelong idolatry when he's exposed as a selfish gamesman hellbent on the redemption of his own ego and fame.) See, Russell is still just a boy, he doesn't know how to change Carl. Carl has to figure that out on his own, which he does in the movie's most poignant moment, a scene which illuminates the essential message of the movie and reinstates Carl's spirit of adventure. (Best kept unspoiled for those who have not seen the film.)  

Make no mistake, above all of the emotional subtext is an incredibly exciting and humorous movie, that often dances between dry wit and exuberant zaniness. Dug, as well as Muntz' servant dogs are aided by collars that vocalize their thoughts. This has been one of the more popular elements of the movie since its release and is played nicely and not TOO cleverly. Carl's grumpiness (expertly voiced by Ed Asner) is the Pixar-perfected comedic element that audiences of all ages can relate to. Pixar's animators and artists have once again created a beautiful world for their characters to engage their adventures in. (This time around, they invoke colorful and abstract visuals reminiscent of The Incredibles over WALL-E's almost photographic realism.)   

Up is the quintessential story of life being a journey not a destination. Carl realizes that his house is NOT all that he has left of Ellie, that their life together was the adventure they both had dreamed of and that still had some living to do himself. Paradise Falls was just an elusive fantasy, maintained to keep them youthful and adventurous. You shouldn't spend your life building up a dream so much that you forget how rewarding real life can be pursuing your dreams. (There's also an obvious subtext that the house represents Ellie's spirit, which hangs over Carl's head as both his driving spiritual force but an emotional weight that he must eventually let go of.) The filmmakers never bang you over the head with these messages, but let the maturer viewers leave the film finding it in themselves. And inevitably to impart in their own wide-eyed children who envision their own magical journeys.  

At this point, I'd have to say that Pixar's core creative team (John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Brad Bird, Lee Unkrich) have become so legendarily good, that they transcend the genre of animation and could be considered the architects of some of cinema's best stories in the modern era. When you add in the artistry and technological development, you've easily got the most influential and successful film studio operating these days. With no place to go but...Up!