The Secrets, Stories and Magic Behind the Scenes of Disney Parks

As we all know, Disney theme parks have a fairly large presence on The Travel Channel, where they are frequently featured in specials highlighting different facets of the theme parks, from behind-the-scenes looks to episodes highlighting Disney's best thrill rides. Unless you're still living in the dark ages of VHS, most Disney fans have clogged up their digital recorders with these episodes. However, if you're like me and ended up changing cable providers, you lost your DVR library and had to start from scratch. Lightship Entertainment's Disney Parks DVD series goes a long way towards finally clearing up some DVR space and putting these episodes in proper perspective.

Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories and Magic Behind the Scenes comes in three different configurations: a one-disc DVD featuring two Behind the Scenes episodes, a two-disc Blu Ray/DVD combo featuring three episodes, and a six-disc DVD set featuring all six episodes available. It is pointless to even consider the one-disc set as you can get the six-pack on Amazon for only $7 more. However, Blu Ray viewers will have to double-dip if they want the full set. Only three of the episodes were filmed in high definition. The only way to get the other three standard definition episodes is to buy the complete set. So you'll end up with three extraneous episodes in standard definition. Thankfully the prices on both sets were low enough to justify the double dip but it's still a bit wasteful.

Over time, the Disney Travel Channel specials can get a bit corny and repetitive. And for hard core fans, they're often preaching to a different choir (i.e. those with less knowledge of the parks). But let's face it, the channel is a cog in the tourism machine and as such does its job as travel propaganda. Disney fans have typically come to grips with this and view these specials for what they are: the rare glimpse of Disney theme parks on our television screens!

Please note that the first three discs here are available in both Blu Ray and standard definition DVDs; the last three are only available in standard definition. I have reviewed the best presentation available for each special.

Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes

The best of the Blu Ray episodes, this Behind the Scenes special is breathtaking in high definition. The episode gives a brief overview of Disneyland's history before embarking on the here and now, with in-depth looks at the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Soarin' and other rides. Also included are looks at the technology behind improving the submarines, the ride technology of the Indiana Jones Adventure, the 4D technology of Toy Story Midway Mania, and the currently ongoing DCA expansion. The episode features interview segments with Imagineers, including Tony Baxter, Marty Sklar and John Lasseter.

Bonus: Extra segments for this feature include a brief look at Walt Disney's apartment above the Disneyland Fire Dept. on Main Street and a look at the King Arthur Carousel. Each of the extras only lasts a little over one minute long.

Undiscovered Disney Parks

Undiscovered Disney Parks actually takes a look at some of the lesser known experiences to be found at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. These include DisneyQuest, parasailing, Richard Petty Driving Experience, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, and VIP tours. The disc also takes a look inside Club 33, and the Dream Suites in Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. For many, a lot of this information might not seem all that undiscovered. (Nothing discussed here was unheard of to me.) But it is a good sampling of some of the fringe attractions to be found on either coast and would be a helpful tool to the uninitiated and those looking for someone beyond the usual experiences. (Though qualifying the water parks as "undiscovered" is quite debatable.) Not my favorite of the set since I'm not a fan of race cars or DisneyQuest, but a lot of the scenery footage and the clips from inside the Dream Suites and Club 33 are exquisitely filmed. And as I mentioned earlier, the disc gives a great sampling of activities that the casual or uninitiated guest may not have ever heard of.

Bonus: The Undiscovered extras don't focus on a specific activity like the other discs, but instead take a look at overall topics. The first is What's New at the Walt Disney's Resort Hotels. This segment includes some quick glimpses inside some of the resorts, along with some of those hotels' top amenities. There is also a brief segment offering Tips for Travelers such as Extra Magic Hours and Disney's Magical Express.

Ultimate Walt Disney World

As the title suggest, this episode details the ultimate thrills to be found at Walt Disney World, including Mission: SPACE, Expedition Everest, Test Track, Splash Mountain, Summit Plummet, and many obvious others. As such, we get a lot of high definition footage of some of WDW's best rides. Unfortunately, a lot of those rides are in the dark so if you're watching on Blu Ray, wait for the Space Mountain segment to see how well your HDTV displays black! Having seen the episode on the Travel Channel already, I paid particular attention to seeing the theme parks in high definition and the episode nicely gives you a fair share of wide shots of many park icons. The episode also does a nice job delivery clips along with a good dose of behind the scenes information, interspersing reactions from guests with interviews of Disney Imagineers, executives, and travel writers.

Bonus: The disc offers two extras not originally aired with the episode. This includes segments for Goofy's Barnstormer and Catastrophe Canyon. Not really the "ultimate" thrills I think of when visiting WDW.

Walt Disney World: Behind the Scenes

Much like Disneyland: Behind the Scenes, this special looks at how the magic happens. It includes a lot of footage of Walt's discussions about the project and well-known "secrets" like the utilidors, forced-perspective, and ride technologies. Much of this is repetitive of the other specials. I also found the presentation to be a little more candy-coated and hyperbolic than usual. In one segment, the narration outwardly suggest that Epcot's popularity was down until Test Track came along, an obvious skewing of that theme park's history. Additionally, despite the Blu Ray player's upscaling of the standard definition disc, the quality of the film was still subpar enough (and not in widescreen format) to detract greatly, especially in comparison with the high definition specials.

Bonus: The bonus features take a look at more recent developments in Walt Disney World: Stitch's Great Escape and improvements to the Haunted Mansion.

Disney Cruise Line

The only special on the set focusing outside the Disney theme parks is Disney Cruise Line. This episode compiles construction footage of Disney cruise ships along with full boat tours of the Disney Wonder and the Disney Magic and interview footage with Disney cruise specialists. The footage of the boat construction is pretty remarkable, especially given the complex nature of their completion. However, if you're like me and not very interested in a Disney cruise, you may find this episode stale. That said, I did find some of the glimpses of the latest ship, the Disney Dream, to be pretty alluring. (Featured in the Bonus section.)

Disney's Animal Kingdom

The only episode on the set to focus on one specific theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom is one of the best Travel Channel episodes to ever air. That specific focus helps allow for a more in-depth look at the theme park, instead of the usual quick and trivial info. Also, this theme park is unique enough that a lot of the behind the scenes information is more compelling than seeing the 100th explanation of audio-animatronics. It also helps that you get footage of animals that you sometimes miss at the park. Of course, Joe Rohde, the lead designer of Animal Kingdom, is a very prominent interview subject. Rohde has always made an intriguing interview given his unique and upbeat personality. He is joined by other Disney specialists in interview segments that go behind AK attractions like the Kilimanjaro Safari, Expedition Everest and the Tree of Life.

Overall the sets nicely balance well-known information with less obvious segments, all featuring great film footage. The narration has a very Disneyesque pleasant presentation, thankfully never navigating towards some of the annoying extremes that some Disney planning videos have gone to. A nice product for the Disney completist, even if it sometimes dips in quality, and a better product for the casual fan and for families looking for a fun primer before their vacation (or even to help them plan).

Hopefully this series does well enough to justify the release of other specials, specifically the Great Hotels series and many of the specials hosted by the always affable Samantha Brown. Additionally, it was great seeing Disney theme parks in high definition and I hope that Disney recognizes the market for doing something like this either on their own, or in conjunction with companies like Lightship Entertainment.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reviews. I was curious as to whether the BluRay discs have any content that the DVD 6 pack doesn't. You may have mentioned it in your article but if so I missed it. Also, is there anything on these discs that would make me sorry I didn't get to see it in the higher picture quality of the BluRay?

Scott said...

Is there any content on the BluRays that isn't also in the DVD 6 pack? Is there anything at all on any of the DVD's that "needs" the higher picture quality of BluRay? (I'm not a huge videophile in the sense that I "need" to see things in BluRay quality, except in the CGI stuff and in some special effects laden movies...)

Jason G. said...

Nothing on the Blu Ray is exclusive that you can't find on the six disc set. All of the features are on both.

However, the Blu Ray does air those three episodes in widescreen format whereas the regular DVD is the usual standard format.

As far what you'd want to see in high definition. It's more of a matter of maximizing a high definition television. I've seen these specials on my old standard def TV and while it was fun, i needed something more. To see a lot of these great Disney locations and attractions in incredibly sharp definition is a major plus for me. Seeing those same views on the regular DVDs just felt dull after that.

Scott said...

Thanks for the advice.