Thursday, April 24, 2008

Disney World - part 4

Most of my week at Disney World was spent in the Magic Kingdom. We made a couple of short trips to Disney Studios, a brief, voyage to Epcot that was aborted by two kids who were overtired, and never made it to Animal Kingdom at all.

I took few pictures in Epcot, and much fewer at Disney Studios. Having lived in Los Angeles for a few years with quite a bit of time spent on studio lots, Disney Studios wasn't much of a thrill for me. Both my wife and I were a bit unnerved by how accurately the theme park replicated actual Los Angeles. It was easy to recognize the appropraited architecture from the real buildings they were modeled on, but the whole thing had a somewhat false, sterile feel like one of those Twilight Zone episodes where the astronauts land in their hometown on earth, only to sense something isn't quite right about it.

Having said that, my favorite restaurant was located at Disney Studios, just around the corner from "Star Tours." This was the Sci-Fi Dine In Theater. Set inside a large building, lighted and dressed to give the impression of nighttime, (which to me is one of Disney's most succesful attraction endeavors best experienced in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and in the Mexico part of Epcot's international pavilion) the restaurant is set up to create the illusion that you are at a drive-in movie theater. A large screen along the back wall shows trailers to 50s science fiction movies, drive-in concession stand and intermission clips, and appropraite cartoons. The tables are installed infront of the seats in reduced scale replicas of 1950s convertible automobiles equipped with drive-in speakers. There are even candy apple painted "flying saucer" picnic tables at the rear of the restaurant. It was a great experience. It even had great, high quality napkins as seen here.

if I ever get the urge to open a restaurant, I'm going to completely rip this place off.

Now for the final pictures in this series, though some others will be posted for this year's 30 Days of Halloween in October.

From top to bottom:

Two views of the Sci-Fi Dine In Theater as well as one of its napkins.

My favorite place in the Magic Kingdom, the Haunted Mansion, as seen from Tom Sawyer Island.

Mickey Mouse, as he appears in the nightly parade.

One of the monorails about to pull into the Contemporary Hotel.

An iconic scene from the Jungle Cruise.

The Pinocchio statue by the "Partners" statue of Walt and Mickey.

A steer skeleton surrounded by rattlesnakes as seen from the "Roy O. Disney" train as it passed through Frontierland.

A framed map seen in the railroad themed lounge of the Wilderness Lodge Villa.

A Pirates of the Caribbean statue at Downtown Disney.

Another iconic scene from the Jungle Cruise.

Rear view of the Wilderness Lodge. The amazing thing about the hotels is that in spite of the fact that thousands of people were staying there at once, you rarely saw more than a few people at a time. i rarely encountered anyone while waiting for the elevator, walking the hallways, or the walkway linking the Villa to the main Lodge. It was also very quiet. It made for a much more relaxing vacation.

The Dapper Dans crooning.

One of the enormous murals inside the Contemporary Hotel.

A scene from It's a Small World.

The framed art hanging up on the wall of my hotel room bathroom.

An actual heron, not an animatronic one. Accustomed to the sparrows and occassional sea gulls which inhabit the parking lots of fast food places, it was a bit jarring to discover that along with the occassional sparrow, Disney World's avian beggars included grackles, mallard ducks, and the more exotic herons, and ibises.

The mallards were a big hit with children. I was constantly overhearing parents lamenting that after all of the expense and trouble of bringing their kids to Disney World that their kids' favorite thing was the ducks.

An artificial owl inside Harper's Mill. The inside of the mill was in part decorated to resemble "The Old Mill" Silly Symphony cartoon, including a nesting blue bird in the rotating gears of the mill.

A scene from the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster ride photographed from the "Roy O. Disney" train as it passed by.

Chernobog, the devil from "Fantasia" as he appears in the nightly parade.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Disney World - part 3

I've long held a love/hate relationship with the Disney Corporation. On the negative end of things the declaration of their every product as being a "classic" including churned out direct to dvd sequels as well as the difficult to get around mass of advertisements for their other products on the dvds churns my stomach with its blatent desire for the consumer's money. I know that it's a business, and that's what businesses do, and I suppose I can admire the way they've made every product an ad for every other product from movies to theme parks, but they just seem so in your face about it that it bothers me. I have other problems with them, but that's the gripe that typically comes to mind the most.

On the other hand, I've met many people who work for Disney and they've all been super nice people. I even did a bit of work for them myself which didn't lead anywhere. Also, when it comes to their product, I'm generally a big fan. I love the artistry more than anything whether its the animation, the theme park attractions, the live action films, the old Sunday night tv show which was essentially a weekly infomercial for Disney's movies and Disneyland.

So, when I made my first jaunt to Disney World since I was a kid, back before Epcot existed (I've been to Disneyland as an adult) with my own family in tow, I had mixed expectations. I knew I'd appreciate all of the detail that went into the attractions and the parks both singly and the entire Walt Disney World as its own entity. At the same time I was expecting to feel the Disney vacuum tucked into my wallet the entire time.

I'm happy to say that all of the positive feelings I expected to have were present, and the obvious grab for my money was much less present than I expected. Yes, a trip to Disney World is expensive, but your money is well spent. The accomodations are impressive, the staff extremely courteous and helpful, the transportation, barring one exception, was a reliable well oiled machine, the meals were generous and tasted much better than you'd expect. Overall, Disney really takes care of every detail for its guests.

I was stunned by the non-overwhelming amount of merchandise being sold in the parks. Sure, there is a ton of it, but the variety is less than you'd expect. In a way this was dissapointing as I went in hoping to bring home some great stuff pertaining to the Haunted Mansion and other favorites, only to come home pretty much empty handed. I had expected every attraction and character to be exploited in merchandise as far as it could go, but there was very little ride specific merchandise to be found. There were only about a half dozen different postcards to be found, almost all of which featured Cinderella's castle, most of the souvenirs for the rides were more about their movie tie-ins such as was the case with Pirates of the Caribbean. In a way it was disappointing. If you were into the pins though, you would be overwhelmed. There also seems to be a trend at the park of converting characters into die cast race cars. I admit some of them looked pretty cool, but like the pins, not really my thing.

Here are some more images from Disney World. From top to bottom:

Three animatronic taxidermied heads from the Country Bears Jamboree, including a severed deer head named "Max," though this one didn't seem to be inebriated like his human counterpart.

One of the horse drawn trolleys carrying the Dapper Dans. My daughter was excited to be riding behind one of the horses. I was excited to be sharing a ride with the Dapper Dans.

The shooting gallery in Frontierland. You can see that the sign has been changed from the OK Corral to Boot Hill. I don't know if it was always this way, or when the change may have taken place. I was stunned to see how vividly this attraction came back to me from my visit as a kid.

The fantastic carpet and one of the tables in the Contemporary Hotel.

The newly enhanced Bride within the Haunted Mansion.

The home of Minnie Mouse in Mickey's Toontown.

The French Can-Can girls as they appear in the "It's a Small World" finale.

The Cinderella fountain inside Fantasyland.

A lighted up sea serpent seen from the dock in front of the Magic Kingdom.

Another, impressive, and enormous, sea serpent, this time made out of lego at Downtown Disney.

The not quite life-size AT-AT "Walker" from "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" outside the Star Tours ride at Disney Studios.

Some of the birds from The Enchanted Tiki Room. I'm a big fan of the original, and was not too impressed by the new version incorporating the movie characters of Iago and Zazu as well as a Tiki goddess who sounded and looked more Caribbean than
Polynesian. The incorporation of more recent songs along the lines of "Hot, Hot, Hot" was not a welcome addition either.

A maquette of Wall-E for the forthcoming movie as seen at Disney Studios.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as seen from Tom Sawyer Island.

Fantasia's Diana done beautifully in electric lights for the nightly parade.

Space Mountain as seen from one of Disney World's ferry boats.

Mickey Mouse (tiny on the lower right) battles Malificent in Dragon form near a lake of fire at the climax of the really well done nightly "Fantasmic!" show at Disney Studios.

In Stores Today

According to the DC Comics website, SCOOBY-DOO #131, which appears in comic book stores today, has a story in it that I wrote. Since I haven't received my copies yet, I cannot confirm this, though it is more than likely one of the segments I did of my ongoing series of "Velma's Monsters of the World." I'm guessing it might be about the Acheri.

Disney World - part 2

The aspect of Disney World, and the Magic Kingdom in particular, that really resonates with me is the attention to detail from the authentic props that decorate the attractions themselves (and even the giftshops), to architectural detail, and especially the signage. The faux businesses that make up the second stories of the stores lining Main Street are fun tributes to key Disney personel of the past. Unfortunately I never found the opportunity to photograph these as I always managed to hit Main Street at its most crowded, either at the park's opening, closing, or during one of the numerous parades throughout the day.

I did manage to take pictures of numerous other signs and details. many of my favorites are shown here, in particular these first two posters from Tomorrowland. If only they offered prints of these for sale.

From top to bottom:

Posters for the Antique Rockets Show and the Space Collectibles Convention from Tomorrowland

The sign showing the way to the least travelled path in the Magic Kingdom, the back route leading from Mickey's Toontown to Tomorrowland.

The restroom signs from Tomorrowland.

The plaque on the side of the trashcan outside the Diamond Horseshoe on the border between Frontierland and Liberty Square.

One of the trashcans at the Polynesian resort.

Sign outside Old Scratch's Mystery Mine on Tom Sawyer Island

Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio demonstrate fire safety on the back of the hotel room doors at the Wilderness Lodge resort.

Mickey demonstrates how to use a life jacket on one of the boats ferrying guests between the Wilderness Lodge and the Magic Kingdom.

A survey marker in the pavement just before the entrance to the Disney Studios theme park.

Signage to Sir Mickey's, a store in Fantasyland decorated after "The Brave Little Tailor," the cartoon in which Mickey defeats the giant and wins the hand of Princess Minnie. The magic beanstalk "grows" throughout the shop and out through other windows and doors.

One of the things my kids enjoyed doing while they were in Disney World (though once caught up in the excitement, they'd generally forget all about it) was searching for hidden Mickeys. These generally were the famous three-circle logo, or cartoon Mickey in profile hidden among decorative elements in the parks, lodges and transportation. There were also hidden Donalds such as the stylized Donald Duck face on the chair by the moving suit of armor in the Haunted Mansion, or on one of the canoes in the Jungle Cruise.

Above are 4 of the hidden Mickeys we uncovered in The Wilderness Lodge and Villa.

If you look at the arrangement of the plates on the lower left side of the banquet table in the Haunted Mansion you can find another. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of them dispersed throughout Disney World. We spotted a couple dozen.