3.13.2010

Exploring Disney's Polynesian Resort...at Home

Jeff Lange's first DVD dedicated to a specific Disney resort is the scenic Polynesian Resort hotel. As this was the hotel my family stayed in for most of my visits to Walt Disney World in the 1980s, Jeff Lange Experiences: The Polynesian Resort not only had sentimental value to me but was a much-needed nostalgia trip to a location I've only passed through in my recent visits.

Lange sets his video tour to soothing Polynesian music and aptly starts the DVD with an approach from Bay Lake, canvasing the coastline of the resort before heading into the Great Ceremonial House. There he makes sure to capture images close and wide, from exterior shots of the monorail and pans of the various gift shops and eateries to close-ups of the various Tiki characters inhabiting the house. Seeing the waterfall in the interior rain forest, a scene that seems unchanged from decades ago, was only missing that familiar, welcoming smell.

After leaving the vast confines of the Great Ceremonial House, the film heads to the Nanea Volcano pool and further exterior strolls, including different approaches to the longhouses as well as views from the marina. Once sunset arrives, we witness the torch lighting ceremony which sends the film into a nice montage of the Polynesian at dusk. And eventually at nightfall, with the grand finale view of the wonderful Electrical Water Pageant and lastly, fireworks over Cinderella's Castle from afar.

Lange's films tend to be some of the best of their kind. Though ultimately amateur, there isn't much separating his videos from what you might find on the Travel Channel. Steady shots, sound volumes, sharp editing and great framing of shots all add up to an enjoyable experience, especially in comparison with some lesser quality products on the market. Some may rightfully claim that you can find Disney theme park videos online for free (and may even scoff at someone selling their videos), but in this case I find that Lange is selling high quality product of scenes that are not easy to find. And many people simply don't have the multitude of hours needed to hunt for such videos in the vast, oft-disorganized online realm.

As per the other Jeff Lange DVDs I've seen, this is entirely scenic without any narration or theme. There probably isn't much that could be added that Disney fans wouldn't already know about the resort, but I can't help but wonder how cool these would be with some historical narration. That's not to take away from what they are, but it would be interesting to see Lange's excellent images matched up with some historical info and trivia. Of course, it also lends itself to a dialogue between family or friends while watching. I could imagine my Dad offering up a narration of many of the points of interest. And I think I myself recognized that corner of the Ceremonial House, not far from the monorail platform, where my weary family would stop in after a long day's visit to the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT for a late snack. I can still remember sitting around the hotel room table drinking a Mello Yellow and scarfing down pizza combos. Maybe, just maybe, we are our own best narrators.

Jeff Lange Experiences: The Polynesian Resort DVD weighs in at just over an hour long and is presented in widescreen format. More information can be found here.

3.04.2010

Disney's Folio: Pixarpedia


Pixarpedia, A Complete Guide to the World of Pixar…and Beyond! is a fun, colorful read that delves into the deepest parts of the Disney•Pixar Universe. The book is a collaboration between Disney•Pixar and DK Publishing, the noted publisher of illustrated reference books. But older film-enthusiasts (or general Disneyphiles) should be warned that information from behind the scenes is pretty scant.

Pixarpedia is clearly aimed more at the family market as it focuses mostly on meticulous character and plot detail; more about the history of characters onscreen than the history of their creators off-screen. Behind the scenes information is limited to a few entries, some trivia points and spotlights on unheralded Pixar crewmembers. The information from the movies is exhaustive, covering characters from top billing down to the most minor ant, monster, toy, car and rat. (The list of Cars was shocking, as I just didn’t recall that many personified vehicles in the movie!)

The photo quality in the book is excellent, really capturing the dimension and high resolution of the source material. Given the size of the book, this effectively captures movies which are exceedingly viewed on very large home theatre screens and presents them quite effectively on paper. It seems like the book is most appropriately targeted to family storytelling time or young, reading-savvy Disney•Pixar fans who want to continue the action after the movies end, huddled in their room alone like my generation once did with our theme park maps and The Empire Strikes Back storybooks. In the Pixar lexicon of print products, it’s not nearly as effective as The Pixary Story and To Infinity and Beyond! in telling the stories behind the making of both the company and the movies themselves. Pixarpedia is going for a different target market here, which will likely disappoint anyone looking for more information on the company or what transpired in the colorful and exciting halls of the Emeryville campus. If that’s your angle, best to stick with those other books unless you’re a completist or someone who's equally as invested in on-screen minutiae.

The end of the book dedicates two-page spreads to facts, easter eggs, cast lists and other tidbits for each of the movies covered. This includes cool features like “Spot the Pizza Planet truck” (showing you where in each movie the ubiquitous truck appears) and spotlighting the part played in each movie by Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger. Possibly the most intriguing feature of the book is the spotlight on Pixar employees who don’t generally get as much attention, such as a story artist, lead archivist, and lighting technical director. It's an odd juxtaposition to the rest of the book which focuses on obvious topics for a younger audience, but much welcomed.

All and all, a quick and easy read for adults and likely an even better experience for families and kids who are fans of any of Pixar's masterpieces!