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Lance’s Armchair Imagineer #6 ‘Fantasyland 2′

#6 Where Dreams Come True Too 07/01/13

Yours Truly and an Old Pal.

Welcome back for the rest of Fantasyland! I really tried to get this all to fit in one blog, but the addition of Fantasy Faire just made that Land burst at the seams! It is the most dense land of the park…not that it’ll stop me from wanting a lot more attractions…as many as will fit…and then expand the area to cram in even more fun! Why? Because the majority of Disney’s animated features are great ride fodder and mostly suited to this land. To be fair, a Disneyland Castmember friend accused me of being ‘A Completest’. (Not the first time I have been labled as such). Can’t say I disagree….except, I really don’t need to see a Fox and the Hound dark ride…ok?

Let’s kick this off with a good look at an attraction people feel very strongly about one way or the other. Perhaps Disneyland’s most controversial.

IT’S A SMALL WORLD: This ride sure has it’s detractors. They complain about the cutesiness of it all, the endlessness of it, but mostly the song. I am a staunch defender of this Attraction. In fact, I rank it fourth after Pirates, Mansion, and Radiator Springs Racers on a number of points. It is Immersive, it is highly detailed, it reflects a singular and unique artistic style, and it has scope. Also, how many other 15-Minute Attractions are there? Also, I should mention, not everything is for everyone. This one aims a little young. I can’t think of any ‘kid ride’ with so much scope and craft.

The design of this attraction (inside and out) is courtesy of one of the most talented stylists to work for Walt. Mary Blair. Mary’s sense of color and design made her a well-regarded commercial Illustrator before Walt recruited her for the company, where she eventually art-directed the color for a trio of feature films: Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and Peter Pan as Walt’s favorite color stylist. Walt then drafted Mary into the Theme Park side of things with the assignment to design this attraction in record time for the New York World’s Fair. (Later, relocated and expanded for Disneyland). Mary has also designed some outstanding Murals for the Disney Parks.

When you ride Small World, look at all the charming, stylized settings, be aware of the perfect, harmonious colors chosen for everything. Revel in the sheer size of the attraction and how much work it must have taken to populate enormous room after room with detail. Just look at it. It is amazing.

Mary didn’t work alone. Her main collaborator in the endeavor was Alice Davis (Marc’s talented wife) who designed and supervised all the gorgeous doll costumes throughout. They number in the hundreds. Both women worked closely together to insure a harmony between character and setting. They became life-long best friends from this assignment.

Here are Alice and Mary creating some magic for us all.

Mary is gone, but Alice is still with us, bless her. She was recently honored with a Disney Legend ‘credit’ window on Main Street next to her husband. A well-deserved and overdue acknowledgement of her contributions to the park. (I believe Alice also costumed Mansion, Pirates, Lincoln, and Carousel of Progress, Etc.). Next time you ride any of those attractions, take note of those costumes. They are amazing and packed with detail. Mary’s husband Marc was the creative lead on the project and designed most of the gags. Imagineer Rollie Crump designed the ride’s layout as well as the exterior clock mechanism. Legends all.

Which brings us to the dreaded Song. Well, folks, it’s a happy song sung by children. How else should it go? It was written by The Sherman Bros. Disney’s greatest song writers (Mary Poppins, Jungle Book, etc. etc). It’s what it needs to be. Here’s the unfortunate problem. The ride is so vast, so thorough that you are forced to hear the same song for about 15 minutes. No song can withstand that kind of repetition!

…especially if it’s sung loudly by enthuseastic children! I guess it’s a necessary evil. While I like the craft of the song, I do understand how it’s hard to take after a few cycles.

My good friend Mark is a bit of a musicologist. We were talking about this very thing and I think we came up with The Solution: Commission a modern composer (a John Williams or Michael Giaccino) to work with Richard Sherman. Rescoring and rearranging the entire attraction. Of course, you use the song as a base, but you vary it with clever arrangement. Pump up the cultural instrumentation. With some sophisticated sound engineering and keeping the tempo the same, it should transition smoothly room-to-room. Play with many ways to vary the sound of that song and it won’t be so repetitve. The last room could be acapella and sung in multi-part harmony for a large, rich finale!

In Florida, the Attraction is basically the same, but the exterior entrance is a mere tent! No Stylized Skyline, or Topiary Garden (You should take the time to explore the one in California!), no Giant Clock (Man, I wish I could buy a working miniature of this clock!).  I assume that Walt Disney World just can’t have something so delicate in a State where the occasional hurricane would tear it to shreds!

Here’s a tip: At night, there is a light show projected on the exterior of the attraction. Don’t dismiss it. This is an amazingly beautiful ‘Bonus Attraction’ of Small World.

A last point about It’s A Small World.  A few years ago, there was a contoversial addition throughout the ride of about a dozen Disney characters. Lilo & Stitch in Hawaii, Peter Pan and Tink flying above London, etc. I personally don’t have a problem with this because these characters were re-designed to fit in with the ‘dolls and toys’ aesthetic of the existing ride (see my last blog for comments about The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean). and I don’t mind a little Disneyfication here and there. If we go back to my First Blog, you’d think I want to ditch the few Pixar characters, but not really. Here they’re only represented as dolls. Some examples from Davelandweb.com (who has also been the source for my better Attraction Poster Graphics). Dave has a mind-blowingly comprehensive Disneyland Photo archive. Check it out.

PRINCESS FANTASY FAIRE: A newer addition to Fantasyland on the outside of the castle (where the bandstand used to be on the Hub). Clearly an answer to the demand for more Princess stuff, this is a quaint, little area with a surprising amount of things packed into a small area. It’s well-themed and the thoughtful greenery placement blocks it from visually intruding on the hub.

There’s a smallish tented theater where simplified and charming ‘Princess Stories’ are acted out for the kids. I saw Tangled and Beauty & the Beast. Both were cute and it was easy to get a seat. You know I love multiple shows in the same location. Changing them out in the same day is the way to go when possible.

There’s a dedicated Princess signing area built on the same idea as Meet Mickey. They serve up multiple Princesses and a themed backdrop for your picture. Good idea.

There are a few other themed features of this small area that are fun to explore.

I have my weirdest note ever here: The Hunchback-themed Music Box needs the handle of the hand crank to rotate. It’s VERY difficult to get it to proper speed as it is constructed without another point of articulation. (hard to explain here, I know).  Let’s do it with a picture:

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MICKEY AND THE MAGICAL MAP is the newest Fantasyland addition and I made a special trip to the park just to see it for this blog! (A great sacrifice as you can imagine). It’s a multi-media stage show where Mickey Mouse reprises his role as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice though a series of adventures, frames a number of well-performed Disney songs. It’s no fun if I give away who shows up. The show is worth catching. One character is conspicuously missing from his musical number…which I understand is a temporary technical issue with the articulated mouth on the character costume. I look forward to seeing him in the show.

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No notes here other than my ‘usual’. They can rotate musical numbers once in a while after they get a little stale.

I was thinking about this notion I seem to have about multiple attractions and you all should take it with a grain of salt. Most Park Guests are infrequent travelers from afar or locals who can go maybe once per year. Everything is new to them. Annual Pass-holders such as myself can be a little spoiled, over-critical and we go so often, we like to see new stuff whenever possible (I’ve heard the term “Passhole”). I know before I moved to drivable distance to the Park, we’d go once or twice a year and I didn’t mind revisiting the entire experience. Hey. Disney started it with the Holiday Overlays, Star Tours, and,of course, Country Bear Jamboree! Even World Of Color has variable elements to promote their new films.

This doesn’t mean I won’t ‘Blue Sky’ alternate show ideas for existing venues…especially when they are stale (like Captain Eo or Muppet-Vision 3-D)

So, take away from my opinion what you will…as always.

Which leaves MICKEY’S TOONTOWN.

Overall, I applaud the artistic quality of this Land-within-a land. The fact every single surface is curved and sculpted is pretty cool (Kudos to my dear friend Alison who did much of the prototype sculpting). It was doubtless a lot of work to plan and execute (The Mountain backdrop is a great touch).

I have an overall concern (‘complaint’ is too strong a word). This is definitely a ‘kiddie’ area. Most of the things here are designed with the Littlest Park Guests in mind. One of the founding tenants of the park was that Walt wanted a place where parents and children could enjoy things together. That being said, I’m sure those stroller moms don’t mind being able to enjoy some down time as their little kids run around like maniacs in Goofy’s Playhouse or Donald’s Boat or the Chip ‘n Dale Treehouse or Minnie’s House. So, I understand the impulse to do this (A Bug’s Land in DCA is pretty much Kiddie Ride Central), but they shouldn’t overdo this sort of thing.

These are all attractive, fun children’s play areas and they are all worth a look to explore the Theming and Detail. The ‘real world’ could benefit from playgrounds of this calibre. Same goes for all the Roger Rabbit inspired interactive Cartoon Gag Area (to the Left of Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin). It’s a fun area to play out all the gags and explore around. I don’t do this every time I visit the park, but it’s fun to visit once or twice a year.

GADGET’S GO-COASTER: This is a good ‘training coaster’ for the younger park goers. In fact, on a memorable trip, I took a friend’s young daughter for our shared Birthday (it was the year you got a free Birthday admission). She was definitely coaster-skittish at first, but she was game to try Gadget’s.  She loved it.

It was a simple matter to progress from that to Big Thunder, Matterhorn, and ultimately Space Mountain in the same day! By day’s end, she was a coaster freak. Now, a few years later she sports a well-worn 6-Flags pass. My point is, Gadget’s is a good place to start. It’s a little kiddie for me, but I enjoy the theming a lot and I’ll give it a spin if there isn’t much of a wait.

MEET MICKEY: This is a pretty great idea. Every youngster needs to get that perfect picture with Mickey Mouse. This attraction guarantees just that. No longer do you have to rely on dumb luck hoping to encounter the beloved mascot as you enjoy the Park. As a matter of fact, I think it is a magnificent idea to have permanent, dedicated character areas with attractive settings and assigned professional photographers (but you have the freedom to use your own camera if you wish). Sometimes, those kids really want to be in a picture with a character. Also, as souvenirs go, it’s one of the best.

In case you didn’t know it, there can be as many as four different Mickey’s working back there. They have different costumes and sculpted matching backdrops. If you ask, a Cast Member will steer you towards the one you want (assuming availability). Your choices are: Steamboat Mickey, Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey, Band Concert Mickey, and Through The Mirror Mickey (His Basic look). I do have a note here. I wish Steamboat Mickey were Black and White with those old school cartoon eyes. There’s a great looking version on the Mark Twain during Fantasmic. They should use that. The Queue itself is a gorgeously-themed toon version of Mickey’s dwelling which transitions into a cartoon movie studio. Very clever and well done.

TOONTOWN TROLLEY: This hasn’t moved in some time. Probably a good idea with all the toddlers stumbling about. Now, it’s just a cute part of the ambiance. Of course, this is a parody of the Los Angeles Red Car which is re-created over in DCA.

ROGER RABBIT’S CAR TOON SPIN: Saving the best for last is this decidedly non-’kiddie-ride’. This is arguably Disney’s best Dark Ride ever. The Queue (starting at the hilarious stone fountain) is gorgeous and detailed.  I heard a cast Member refer to it affectionally as “Our Million-Dollar Queue” Almost an attraction in itself, the queue is loaded with gags, references, animation, and ambiance. Arguably, this line rivals Star Tours and Indy as the most interesting and entertaining line wait in the Park. It is a bit tight, claustrophobic, and loud so my heart goes out to you if you’re near a shreiking toddler in there! That got me running out once.

The Attraction itself is a thrilling, dense, clever, kinetic, funny celebration of animated lunacy. Clearly, there was a very strong artistic vision when this attraction was on the drawing boards. Where were these designers when the relatively mediocre Winnie the Pooh and abominably awful Superstar Limo were being Imagineered? (But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin is one of those Disneyland ‘Must Do’s’, even if you skip the rest of Mickey’s Toontown. You can spin the ride vehicles 360 as you whip along the track via a center wheel ala the Mad Tea Party.  Great idea.

In addition to the Princess Fantasy Faire, there are also many dedicated Character Signing areas in Fantasyland, which are probably subject to change. Currently, there’s a Villain area, one for Brave, another for Tangled, and the ever-popular Pixie Hollow where the little Princess in your group can meet Tinkerbell and her friends. (Formerly a Meet Ariel area). It’s nice that this Tink doesn’t try to kill any potential rivals as she did in the film! Though not the target audience, I appreciate Disneyland‘s effort to satisfy this need for little ones to meet and greet with their favorite characters. I wish they did this when I was little.

Well, that’s Fantasyland. Definitely a dense, immersive experience and most of it works wonderfully just as it is. Please share your thoughts. I’m always eager to hear them! Thanks for Reading and Imagining!  and always remember…

Dignity is the Key.

Lance

(Click the READ MORE button to see Reader Comments and, better still, to add your own!)

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15 Responses to “Lance’s Armchair Imagineer #6 ‘Fantasyland 2′”

  • Kirk McDonald says:

    I respectfully have to disagree with you on your assessment of the small world song. One of the reasons I ride small world almost every time I come to the park is to enjoy that wonderful song for 15 minutes straight. As an ex-girlfriend of mine so elegantly put it, “small world cheers you the fuck up.” Honestly, I could listen to it for 30 minutes straight and not get sick of it. Heck, I listen to the full track on my iPod while I’m driving. I realize that I may be in the minority here, but I just can’t get enough of ‘it’s a small world’, ever.

  • As usual, cogent and thought-provoking comments, my friend! I need to go sit through some shows, I think! (More than the Tiki Room!) I don’t usually do that, and I certainly have the time and the pass to try them out!

  • lance says:

    Kirk…it’s about bloody time you showed up! You are half of my favorite Disneyland team! I’m with you on Small World. It’s a masterpiece attraction. I’m sure the greatest ‘Kid Ride” ever conceived and constructed. I took a friend and her 2-year-old some years back and that kid was stunned into jaw-dropping euphoria the whole time….practically trembling with joy afterwards. That’s who it’s for.

    And I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad Sherman Brothers tune. Those guys were geniuses. (and I assume Richard still is). Come back soon, brother….and, feel free to bring the lovely wife.

    Karen! Welcome back! Yeah. They do a great job with those shows, even the little ones like Minnie’s Fly Girls. All, tight, professional, enthusiastic productions. The Show Department has the same high standards s anything else at the Resort. Besides Fantasmic! and World Of Color, make sure to catch Magical Map. It’s really great. I already miss The Voices Of Liberty who ended their run at The Opera House before Great Moments With Mister Lincoln…but I managed to see them a half-dozen times or so. Also, make sure to see Billy Hill and the Hillbillies at The Golden Horseshoe.

    Hope to hear from you again soon!

    Lance

  • Daria says:

    Thanks for yet another enjoyable outing through the Mouse House, Lance. I have to say that I’ve never once heard anyone complain about the tune “It’s A Small World.” When I first saw it as a kid, that lilting song seemed to put even the crankiest babies in a state of euphoria, and young and old alike were enthralled by that joyful, harmonious song. Its charm lies in the very fact that it recognizes our differences while the song (and ride) binds us together in our sameness. If you really listen to the melody as you sail from continent to continent, ethnic instruments and native voices (or Western approximations of them) effectively tell you where you are. (You can actually shut your eyes throughout the ride and the sound queues will guide you). Can’t get better than that.

    I truly detest most of the changes inside the ride and have only tried it twice since the update happened. It used to be a comfortable, 15 minute respite of calm in a park loaded with Disney-style commercialism, and now it is just another series of Disney ads (and ‘surprise’–they’ve always made sure to have a toy shop right outside). Also, the new representation of America is something out of the 1920s and not in the least indicative of the multi-culltural “melting pot” that we are meant to be. At least before this, we had the baby Native American chief to match the cowboy–which worked for the tourists, given that so much of the rest of the world thinks that the US is made up of Hollywood to the West, New York City to the East and “Cowboys and Indians” in the middle. It’s unfortunate that Disney’s modern era Imagineers could not manage to look out of the window to note that the US is no longer just one big hay and feed lot.

    The photos used for your ToonTown section actually make it look far more interesting than I recall it, though I’ve long been a fan of “Gadget’s Go-Coaster.” (Do kids these days ask who Gadget is)? It is indeed a dedicated “kiddie” area born of the obviously not kid-friendly “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” film and tends to fill up quickly with strollers and the contents thereof. Bless ‘em, I wish that all the mommies and daddies who like playing “Death Race 2000″ with those tons of metal and wheels (often filled with sleeping toddlers) would spend their entire day over there. What–you say they won’t get to enjoy the splendor of the rest of this well-crafted tourist attraction? Oh well…maybe they will think twice the next time they cheer on a member of Congress who votes against a woman’s reproductive rights. After all, it IS getting more and more expensive to bring a howling, fussy little kid (who won’t remember a thing!!!) to the Disney Parks…

  • lance says:

    Hey Daria,

    Great to have you chime in as always.

    You’d be amazed at all the gripes about Small World (song and ride). It’s just ‘cool’ to hate it I guess.

    Of course, I know they vary the instrumentation from scene to scene…but I’m suggesting something more blatant. The tempo has to hold to transition from scene to scene, but otherwise, as different and ethnic as you can get the same song would probably help.

    You’re right about the ‘host country’ being very out of date. I’m not sure if the attraction should be timeless like that since I doubt the other represented countries are handled any less cliche and old fashioned. I’ll keep in mind the ‘Toys and Dolls” aspect to the whole thing. Makes it easier to accept. It’s not meant to be a modern representation, but a child’s fantasy.

    Toon Town is what it is….and really well done for that. If Roger Rabbit weren’t there, I’d probably visit every few years….but it’s really an area for the very little ones.

    Your last paragraph? Pretty darn hilarious! Thanks for the chuckle….and for visiting again!

  • Janice Christensen says:

    Well, you have once again made me wish that I could run over to The Land and check out some of the details/attractions that you have mentioned. Alas, that is not an option for me.
    My thoughts: I LOVED Small World as a child. I loved everything about it, the costumes kept me longing for a glitch in the ride to stop for a bit so I could take in all of that glorious detail. The song did not annoy me and I even learned it on the piano to take some of that Disney magic home with me. It’s still a must see for me, if only for the relief from the hustle and bustly. Toon Town: I love the over-all look to the area, however it is so frenetic and disorienting in there that I rarely can stay long enough to take in everything. As a former stroller-mom I can tell you that I always felt anxious about losing sight of my kids amongst all of the activity. And I have to agree that high-lighting non-iconic characters (such as Gadget) is a mistake.
    Thanks again, Lance, for the mind trip to Disneyland.

  • lance says:

    Hey Janice. Great to have you back.

    I love spreading the Disneyland fever. It’s always nice to inspire people to do a fun thing!

    Full Disclosure: My mom took me in a stroller to the park when I was very small. She had a photo of me standing in the stroller, reaching for Mickey….she says it’s the first time I ever stood….which is specifically why they took the picture. Sadly, I could not find that photo when I went through her stuff a few years back. That would have been something to share….the park was maybe 6 years old when that was taken since I wasn’t even a year old.

    I’ve mentioned before that I have zero ‘kid radar’. Don’t ask me if it’s worth the hassle to bring an infant to the park. Many do. In my imagination, I think I wouldn’t bother until the kid was 2 or 3, so, theoretical spawn (TM) could get something out of it possibly remembered. I once went with Aria and her kids. Little Lara was 2 and Small World absolutely rocked her world. it was a real thing of beauty to see her face light up for the entirety of the experience. She was pretty excited after.

    But remember, I’m an aggressive Theme Park-goer. Generally speaking, groups more than 3 other motivated and coordinated adults try my patience! It becomes the ‘herding cats’ issue with a lot of valuable and highly paid-for time wasted. Sometime, I just have to let it go and write off the day at someone else’s pace.

    Thanks for writing…and spreading the word.

    Hugs from your old pal.

  • Great Blog-Thanks

  • lance says:

    You’re welcome. Spread the word to anyone who may be interested….that’s all the thanks I need!

  • Warren Cancilla says:

    Lance… Beautiful analysis of It’s a small world. The people who hate it, should be glad about the Disney character additions, because it livens up the ride to search them out (that’s what we do). I was especially impressed by your idea to vary the arrangements. Ingenious. I also add the following positive note about the ride: Disney has several dark rides and attractions that afford air conditioning during the summer months. This is something you don’t find at thrill parks. When you intersperse these rides between the outdoor rides, it really increases your stamina and enjoyment.

  • lance says:

    Hey Warren. Thanks for chiming in. Also to have another Small World defender.

    To give credit where it’s due. My pal, Mark came up with that Small World music strategy. Of course, I got it at once…..and I’m the one with the Disneyland blog to share that fine thought.

    Your point about A/C is well taken! (especially as your post and this answer comes during a hot, muggy, July in LA). I don’t know if I could cool off in Innoventions, (yawn) but Pirates, Mansion, Lincoln, Golden Horseshoe, and all the dark rides, etc. have good A/C….and quiet too. Some great engineering there.

    My personal cool off strategy is a Dole Whip Float, then the Tiki Room.

    Thanks for writing, Warren

    Be sure to check out the other Blogs and the ‘read more’ button at the bottom of each will bring you to the equally valuable follow-up comments.

    L.

  • Lisa says:

    I am a Small World fan. And though I’d be ok if it didn’t change, I still think change can be good. And though I love the soundtrack for the show as is, it would be fun to hear a new one. After listening to your collection of classic Disney music which was rearranged, revoiced, rerecorded with new beats for new purposes, it would be fun to hear Small World sound fresh too.

  • lance says:

    Hey Lisa.

    Glad you enjoyed the Disney Tunes. FYI, there’s a site called Mousevinyl which streams pretty much every Disney album ever made. You can’t download from it (drat!) but you can listen to the library anytime you’re at a computer.

    A general note. It heartens me that there are so many Small World boosters here. You folks get it.

    In the real world, it’s often joked about as a torturous experience…but I never found that to be the case.

  • Mark Lewis says:

    Lance,
    Very nice job, especially with Small World. You’ve “unpacked” a ride that many might be inclined to dismiss or take for granted, getting into the minutiae of what makes it a worthy attraction, even as it currently stands.
    As far as the musical change goes, my thought was sort of along the lines of how in a film, a composer will often create a specific theme for each character. That theme will be used throughout the film, but it never feels repetitive because the composer finds ways to vary it in each insistence to keep it fresh. It just seemed like that same kind of thinking could be applied here, using the music and musical instruments of each culture to give more variety, but yet hang onto the overall theme. Anyhow, I was glad you liked that thought.

  • lance says:

    Hey Mark. Welcome aboard.

    Of course, as soon as you said it, I knew you had the solution. Of course, there are extant variations of the song throughout the ride, but they are too subtle to break the monotony of it.

    We’re both talking about a more radical gear shift from area to area. It would be a challenge to sound engineer so the variations wouldn’t step on one another..but if anyone can do it…..

    Thanks again!

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