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Entries in California Adventure (5)

Tuesday
Nov012011

Trip Report- Disneyland/Disney Cruise 10-2011

We’ve never done a trip report before. But recently all of us have visited multiple properties and thought it would be fun to share a few things.

My wife and I enjoyed the Disney Cruise with another couple. Before boarding The Wonder out of Los Angeles we hung out at Disneyland for a couple days. My wife had just finished working and playing for a week at Walt Disney World. I was so proud of her ability to compare all six domestic parks so well. How attractive is that.

California Adventure was all-walls, as I mentioned in the previous post. Ok not all walls but there were plenty of walls, each adorned with those great attraction posters. What better way to enjoy a plywood maze than with great stylized artwork. Really, these posters are fantastic.

Both ladies in the group were/are pregnant (that’s right, my wife and I are expecting our first). The other guy and myself are artists/designers so the geeky art talk was great.

The Little Mermaid ride was a deeeelight. Really. We all agreed it was the highlight of the day. And the highlight of the ride for me was those dang cute animatronics. Especially the two Scuttle figures. I love the classic nature of the ride and feel it’s a win for everyone– perhaps especially for us fans of traditional disney rides. Later in the week I had a great conversation with a famous Little Mermaid animator who had some great comments about the ride. Look for that conversation in the next post.

Grizzly River Run. I realized how much I love the Grizzly River Run which I had not been on for over ten years. I do wish there were some fun animal animatronics though. Hint hint to Disney. Maybe some fun Nature’s Wonderland gags goin’ on around the rapids?

Cars Land. Of all park real estate this could have been built on, they chose the least offensive. They didn’t violate sacred ground. In other words, it didn’t go in Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, or Epcot. Although I’m sure management can picture its duplicate right on top of the Tomorrowland Grand Prix, Magic Kingdom. Quick grumble: Just because something is well crafted... doesn’t mean it is well designed. The rock work and other construction is very well crafted. But it seems they are not getting far enough away from that carnival-ish ride style that already plagues DCA...? We’ll see.

Buena Vista Street. I am digging this. See the previous post. ‘Twill be a wonderful little place. Just the charm this park entrance needs. Sorry to all those lovers of the “oversized postcard” look. That is long gone already. Side note: Complaints are floating around that the Monorail doesn’t fit the 1920s setting. True. But somehow I think it will all work out nicely. Remember, the track was there long before BVS. And remember, the futuristic Monorail has been passing by the turn-of-the-century main entrance of Disneyland for decades. Good enough reason? Anyway, just keep thinking of the charm of the Red Car Trolley.


Disneyland.
Hooray for the usuals. Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room, Matterhorn, Splash Mountain, Storybook, etc. Pirates was closed and Mansion was holiday-ized. I do like that Jack Skellington animatronic, I must say.

The Colors of Mary Blair. I’m lovin’ the Mary Blair exhibit at the old Bank on Main Street. What a charming charming collection that is. No wonder Walt’s favorite artist was Mary Blair. Also, I’ve found in recent times that the Cast Members there and at the Opera House next door are quite helpful and knowledgeable. Hooray for that.


A bit of Epcot at Disneyland! This is a treat for anyone waiting to see Mr. Lincoln (who is also a treat). You might recognize these if you've visited The American Adventure at Epcot's World Showcase. These are miniature versions of the life-size statues on the East coast.

The moral of this part of the post: There are great things for us lovers of the old-school to enjoy and  to look forward to. Alllllthough at the same time we must continue to ignore some of the cluttery crap that has found a home in our beloved park.

Star Tours (not the cluttery crap I was referring to). Ok this enhancement is better than many fanboys might give it credit. According to this fanboy at least. Do I love the loose timelines and Jar Jars? No. But the place looks great. And how can a screen look so bright and crisp? I'm super happy that the ride pilot is a great C-3PO animtronic and not "ACE". And really, Star Tours 2.0 is the least of Tomorrowland’s problems. I didn’t see a single Rocket Rod go by the whole time I was there. Hee hee.

West Side. This is where the group decides to leave me for a couple hours. And why they don't want to watch me photograph the architectural remains of things that have been gone for forty years... your guess is as good as mine.

Spoiler alert for upcoming posts: I did some mystery solvin' for things like Frito Kid, the various extinct shooting arcades, and other former attractions and areas. Ahh the joys of finding things I have never before been able to find. Not to mention the joys of people cleaning tables telling me I'm wrong about the building I'm looking at. For the record... I was right about those buildings.

 

For fun. Walt in the driver seat of the old milk truck with some Boy Scouts and some girls.

More walls. Club 33 was not blocked but the exit of Pirates was. I found it interesting to see a temporary Club 33 sign on the temporary wall. For the record... Walls are not always a bad thing.

Spotted. Reese Witherspoon, her ex-husband Ryan Phillippe, their daughter, and another girl were climbing out of a Splash Mountain log as we were climbing in the same log. Shortly after we saw them buying their ride photo. Then we saw them buying bottled water. Oh those fancy Hollywood celebrities.

Trip Report Part 2 (Disney Cruise) coming next. 

 

Related posts:

The Era of Big and Tacky
Buena Vista Street Model
Disneyland Meets EPCOT Center
America Sings

 

Sunday
Oct232011

Buena Vista Street Model

This week, while visiting the walled city of California Adventure, I took the chance to study the Buena Vista Street model. The model shows us what we can expect from DCA's upcoming new "Main Street". It looks fantastic. And compared to what was there before, it looks like the greatest park improvement in Disney history.

This is a rare occurrence. Disney takes something they originally considered to be "hip" and "attractive to the young crowd" and they spend millions to convert it to be something far more "traditional Disney". And we traditional fans should rejoice.

The "Storytellers" statue maquette on display was also a sight to behold. This will be the counterpart to the "Partners" statue at Disneyland. You'll notice in the fourth photo a small Walt and Mickey statue close to the front of the park. The most recent Imagineering presentations confirm that the Storytellers will be located in the mini plaza in photo 13 of this post.

 

Hooray California Adventure for doin' these things. I tell you, that Little Mermaid ride is also something wonderful. I loved it to death. Here's to fixing life's little mistakes.

 

Related posts:

Swiss Family Treehouse Model
The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 2 ]
Disneyland 1955 Model Close-ups
A Look at the Progress City Model- Then and Now
2 Fantastic Disneyland Scale Models
LEGO Disneyland

 

Monday
Jul122010

Out With The Walt, In With The New

A reader of the blog, Michael Linton, sent us this article he wrote in late 2001 for The Weekly Standard.  He has seen first-hand the changes Disneyland has experienced ever since he visited Disneyland the first month it opened, 55 years ago.

Keep in mind, this article was written the year California Adventure opened.  Remember when everyone was excited for a second park then we all said, "Seriously?  Umm, I think I'll stick with the best theme park ever made right over there."?  Well it was not too long before this when people started to notice a decline in cleanliness, maintenance, innovation, etc. at all Disney parks.  Not many years before this people were fond of Eisner and the work he was doing.  What happened?  After reading the following article we invite you to revisit an article by Lilly, Why the Decline in Park Maintenance? for more thoughts on the subject.


 

The Decline and Fall of Disneyland
From Walt Disney's America to Michael Eisner's.

by Michael Linton

 

AT THE BASE of the flagpole that marks the beginning of Disneyland's Main Street in Anaheim, California, rests an unobtrusive plaque. It reads: 

"Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals and the dreams and the hard facts that have created America with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. July 17, 1955."

These are the words with which Walt Disney opened his remarkable experiment in entertainment almost half a century ago. Today it's more than a bit dizzying to turn around and trudge back across the ticket plaza to the new resort Michael Eisner has built in what was the old Disneyland's parking lot. Walt's Magic Kingdom now shares the block with Eisner's California Adventure, and the distance between the two is much further than the seventy yards between them would suggest.

Like Disneyland, Eisner's park is divided into theme areas. Furthest from the entrance, and dominating the park's skyline, is "Paradise Pier." There's a roller coaster called "California Screamin'," a Ferris wheel, a boardwalk, and some carnival thrill rides. A raft ride, marking the middle of the "Golden State" section, gets you wet cascading down the slopes of a Sierra Nevada peak reminiscent of the grizzly bear on the California state flag. There's a mini-section with a big-screen flight simulator that wings you over bits of California scenery (the innovation here is aromatic: Over forests and orchards we get bits of appropriate orange or pine scent). "Pacific Wharf" is a food court complete with a microbrewery and patio for wine tasting. The "Hollywood Pictures Backlot" is a street of 1930s-style false fronts with theaters for stage shows and films and more places to get hot dogs. Abutting the park on the west is the new Grand Californian Hotel and a half-mile shopping mall called "Downtown Disney."

The expanded Disney empire in Anaheim has been long in coming. Ever since the opening of Disneyland in the 1950s, Walt and Roy Disney resented the dozens of hotels--of various grades of cheesiness--that grew on the park's perimeter, and they resolved not to repeat their mistake of buying too little land when Disney World was planned in Orlando. Meanwhile, back in California, the Disney brothers negotiated with the city of Long Beach for an Epcot-like park on the city's waterfront (where they already owned the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose), but nothing materialized.

Now, under Eisner, the company has joined with the city of Anaheim to develop 1,100 acres around Disneyland. Disney bought out the businesses that bordered the park to the west, expanded its hotels, built the "California Adventure," and put up huge parking garages--all at a price tag of $1.4 billion. And the expansion isn't over: The Anaheim city council approved in concept a third theme park for Disney last July. It's not just Disneyland anymore. It's now the "Disneyland Resort."

FUNNY. As kids growing up in southern California we never thought of Disneyland as a resort. Baden-Baden and Palm Springs were resorts. But Disneyland was a kingdom. It was, in fact, a kingdom celebrating American optimism. It's easy to read those words Walt Disney spoke at the park's dedication as so much blather. Disneyland was and always has been a business. Walt--and especially his older brother Roy--were wizards at marketing. And when looking at Dumbo it's hard to know just what Disney meant by "hard facts."

But Disneyland became such a part of American culture because it celebrated--more eloquently than any other institution of the postwar period--the notion of the American Dream. It wasn't as much an amusement park as a morality tale. Remarkably, when it opened there were no thrill rides at all (the Matterhorn bobsleds weren't added until the 1960s).

Instead there were attractions about Snow White and Mr. Toad and Peter Pan, in each of which the visitor experienced the story through narrative, architecture, music, and technology. The stories always taught something--like the lesson that outward beauty or ugliness could be deceiving (as with the stepmother and the dwarves in "Snow White"). And good always triumphed.

The morality tale extended to American history. On the paddle wheeler Mark Twain the visitor was floated past frontier woodlands. A mine train took visitors through the arid southwest. Main Street was an idealization of Teddy Roosevelt's America, a thoroughly midwestern nation that had plowed the prairies and defeated slavery and was now busy preaching its gospel of can-do optimism from Puerto Rico to the Philippines. In Tomorrowland that gospel reached its millennium. There was the "house of the future" (made almost entirely of plastic), and freeways where kids could drive without traffic jams, and rockets to fly to the moon. The past was something Americans could be proud of--and the future was bound to be even better.

Disney basically continued his original vision with the park's additions. The Matterhorn, inspired by the company's movie on the heroic mountaineers who first climbed the Swiss peak, housed the park's first roller coaster. Tomorrowland was updated along polished steel lines, to include a futuristic monorail and "people mover," both seen as models for urban development. But the most important additions--the capstones to Walt's Anaheim venture--were exhibits originally shown at the New York World's Fair: "Primeval World," "It's a Small World," the "General Electric Carousel of Progress," and "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln."

All of these attractions made spectacular use of Disney's innovative "animatronics," paving the way for what was to be the park's most popular attraction: "Pirates of the Caribbean," which opened only months after Walt's death in December 1966. Abutted to the original park's Grand Canyon diorama, "Primal World" presented a land of dinosaurs based upon episodes of "Fantasia." The "Carousel of Progress" told the story of the growth of American prosperity in four vignettes. "It's a Small World" celebrated how nice kids were (and featured the catchiest and most annoying tune Disney ever produced). Finally there was Mr. Lincoln holding forth from the Main Street Opera House.

And Disneyland was beautiful. The paint was always fresh, the walks and streets spotless. Disney banned alcohol, in part because it contributed to public disorder but also because he thought it symbolically served to divide parents from their children, and Disneyland was about the unity between generations. Families with children, grandparents, teens out on dates, and even newlyweds all felt at home in Disneyland. And despite the cost (Disneyland was always pricy), I don't think that I ever remember anyone really resenting the expense.

OF COURSE it was corny. And much of it untrue. The idyllic main streets that sponsored fraternal orders like the Knights of Pythias also hosted the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the tune, it's not a small world but one characterized by cultures deeply antagonistic to each other. The fairy tales Disney popularized were much grittier and more ambiguous than their Disney versions. Floating through Disneyland's jungle ride in 1969 it was impossible not to think of booby-traps and Viet Cong. And Walt was himself not the harmless uncle his Burbank PR staff portrayed him as, but a visionary autocrat who was known to drive his staff as hard as himself.

Nonetheless, much of what Disneyland stood for was true. Life really is a struggle between good and evil. There are people who actually are heroes. There is no danger to the nation more to be feared than that brought upon it by the corruption of its own people. And this is a deeply beautiful land in which life could be rewarding and fun, and for which we should be thankful.

Eisner's California Adventure shares none of these qualities. Most of the attractions are amusing but pointless ("Soaring over California" presents a few minutes of splendid views, but without any narrative, the film might as well have been shot over Morocco). The thrill rides are no better than what's found at two dozen other amusement parks across the country, lacking innovation and imagination. And the park isn't even pretty. The replica of the Golden Gate Bridge that marks the new park's entrance is cramped. The food court is housed in a complex that looks like a decrepit Cannery Row. Disney even seems to have lost its way with lights. At night the illuminated Paradise Pier isn't as pretty as Long Beach's now demolished Pike was forty years ago. It's even dirty. Trash floats in the lagoons. Litter lies uncollected on the walkways. And it's overpriced. At an adult admission fee of $43--the same as for admission to Disneyland--we feel less like guests than rubes.

Or like members of a market niche. It's not quite true that California Adventure tells nobody's story. It--together with the entertainment-merchandising-information behemoth Disney has become--tells the story of a culture obsessed with getting richer through ever-greater market-share and niche exploitation. By far the most physically attractive part of Eisner's addition is "Downtown Disney," a pedestrian street offering tens of thousands of square feet for hawking Donald Duck key chains, Snow White costumes, and Mickey Mouse T-shirts. Eisner hasn't put a plaque here yet, but I know what it will read: "It's the economy, stupid."

December 5, 2001, would be Walt Disney's one-hundredth birthday, and the company he founded has marked the centenary by spectacularly repudiating one of his greatest gifts to the country. It's enough to make Mickey weep.