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Armchair Imagineer Blog

Lance’s Armchair Imagineer #4

#4 Where Dreams Come True 05/01/13

Yours Truly (3rd from left) sometime in the early 50′s (Me, not the park!)

Hello and Welcome Back to Lance’s Armchair Imagineer!

The Subject of this entry is somewhat daunting. So far, I’ve managed to keep these Blogs to around 5-6 pages. Fantasyland, (which includes Toontown) has as many attractions as the rest of Disneyland put together, so we’ll have to split this one in two parts.

I suppose if any Land can be considered the Heart of the Park and the embodiment of Disney Magic, you get there by crossing the drawbridge and passing through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle! With a little help from Tinkerbell, we’ll get to it.

SLEEPING BEAUTY’S CASTLE:  You know this is an Actual Attraction, right? Once you enter the Castle Courtyard, you’ll notice a doorway to your Left. That leads to a beautiful exhibit of animated and dimensional scenes recounting the story of Sleeping Beauty. Best of all, these vignettes are styled after the artwork of my favorite ‘Fine Artist’ and one time Disney Genius Eyvind Earle (Earle art-directed the Sleeping Beauty, feature which I still think is Disney’s best looking film thanks largely to him). Anyway, treat yourself to a walkthrough of the castle. it’s very charming. Here’s Earle at work on the Feature.

And a few select scenes courtesy of Daveland. These are beautiful, multi-layered, dimensional paintings with many animating elements.

This is also one of the attractions that has a nearby film version for wheelchair-bound guests. (as does the Nemo Sub ride). That film is also on the Sleeping Beauty Blu Ray.

The Castle area also under-represents the Disney’s Medieval-Themed films: Robin Hood, Sword In The Stone and even The Black Cauldron. I’m not entirely sure what you’d do with those (there’s a little Sword in the Stone thing next to the carousel) but, the area theming invites some sort of minor features.

Also of note in the Castle is set in the ground just as you pass the drawbridge into the courtyard (in front of King Arthur’s Carousel). You’ll see a golden spike. Some say this denotes the geographic center of Disneyland (when the park was first built. Toontown and Critter Country throw that off now). Some (including Chief Imagineer Tony Baxter) say that’s hogwash. True or not, I still like to think of it as “The Nail That Holds Disneyland Together”

FANTASYLAND’S SUITE OF ‘DARK RIDES’:  SNOW WHITE’S SCARY ADVENTURE, PINOCCHIO’S DARING JOURNEY, PETER PAN, MISTER TOAD’S WILD RIDE, AND ALICE IN WONDERLAND: Considered Kiddie rides by some, I love these attractions. They are head and shoulders above anyone else working in the ‘dark ride’ medium. All of these Attractions are dense with detail, exciting, fast, and fun (I actually prefer the Mr. Toad ride to the short film on which it is based!).

MY Armchair Imagineer would like Toad, Alice and Peter Pan to be given a serious upgrade, to bring them to the level of Snow White and Pinocchio. Toad is especially primitive in comparison. Dimensional sculpts rather than flat art. Better AA figures, etc.

Due to a technical problem, I once rode through Peter Pan with the work lights on. It was amazingly simple and somewhat crude, but under normal operational lighting conditions, it looks magical! Peter Pan (an opening Day Attraction) is especially innovative with its overhead ride system (Inspired by a cow carcass conveyer!).

Alice provides a lot of surreal thrills which is only blunted by the hideous, fun-ruining new safety ramp. They need to redesign that part.

The newer pair, Snow White and Pinocchio are especially well-crafted throughout. Oh, don’t miss the Evil Queen peeking through the curtains from the top of the Snow White building and don’t forget to touch the Metal Apple when you go in.

I wish there were a way to have Dark Rides of many more of the Disney Animated Features (without giving up any of the ones we have, natch’): Fantasia 1 and 2, Lilo & Stitch, Aladdin, Hercules, 101 Dalmatians, Dumbo, Cinderella, Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, etc.  But there just isn’t room! Maybe there’s real estate to be had back there next to Toontown? Maybe it’s time to stack them! How’s this?

Big Crazy Idea: Massive Fantasyland Expansion.

Part 1: Temporarily close Snow White and Pinocchio. Create a 3-story structure in it’s place with one story underground. That would be a relocated (and tweaked) Little Mermaid…(brought over from DCA). Since you enter on the ground floor, the trip ‘Under the Sea” would be a true descent of about 10 feet. Ground level, the reinstatement of Snow White and Pinocchio as they are. (those are great as is). New Top Floor (accessible by a ramp on the back or right side near the restaurant). The front is set back a little to allow the ground floor attractions to breathe. On the top floor, two brand new Dark Rides. One large-scale ride will cover both Fantasia films (one room per sequence), the other, Wreck-It-Ralph (with Sugar Rush-type cars).

Of course, the flying Tinkerbell, can be worked out with ease. Her end point would shift to the old fantasy Skyway station.

Part 2. Similarly, create a 3-story building across the court. Add one more Dark Ride atop Peter Pan and Mr. Toad and another underneath it. This is also an opportunity to sharpen up those existing attractions and fix the ramp outside of Alice in Wonderland. The new Dark Ride attractions? I suggest Hercules above and Aladdin below. These would ramp and queue on the Small World side. The inside face would be painted like unobtrusive blue sky with clouds.

Part 3? I’ll save that big crazy idea for a little bit later in this blog. Let’s enjoy some great attractions first…

THE STALWARTS: DUMBO, THE MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY, AND KING ARTHUR’S CAROUSEL: All three of these Attractions are beautifully crafted Classics and no one needs to change a thing. It may not surprise you to know that Disneyland Cast Members have innocuous-sounding Code Phrases for various messes that need to be cleaned up regularly on the more spinning rides. “Send Custodial to the Teacups. We have a Code V!”.


STORYBOOK LAND: BOAT RIDE, CASEY JR. TRAIN: It’s easy to pair these two since they are basically different ways of exploring the same area. Like everything else so far, these are child-pleasing Fantasyland essentials. The details of this area are dense and fascinating. The flowers and grounds are amazing (as they are throughout Fantasyland). These are more kiddie rides, but I try to enjoy them about once a year to take in the view. Miniatures of Aladdin’s City, Agrabar, The Cave of Wonders, and Ariel’s Castle have been added in recent years. They should probably get Rapunzel’s Tower in there at some point. A section of Sugar Rush from Wreck-It-Ralph could be a lot of fun too. I’d also love to see a more movie-accurate Sleeping Beauty Castle with thorns and a Maleficent Dragon! (or is that too mean-spirited for this gentle attraction? You tell me.)

THE MATTERHORN BOBSLEDS: A classic attraction and one of historical importance because it was the first Tube Track coaster….now, the only way coasters are made. It’s still a great ride. There was a recent refurbishment to repaint the exterior (very nice) and replace the cars (they look nice, but there’s no legroom and they’re difficult to get in and out of.) It is interesting to note that, while most Attractions are duplicated in the other Disney Theme Parks (I think they all have a Splash Mountain, for example). The Matterhorn is unique to The Original Southern California Disney Park. I still can’t determine if it is considered part of Fantasyland or Tomorrowland. It seems to work for both and neither at the same time!

In the Tomorrowland Blog I’ve already griped about the unfortunate for everyone removal of the Skyway and I think it’s absence lessens the Matterhorn as well as the skies over Fantasyland. It would make me very happy if they were brought back. I also like the idea of climbing exhibitions on the mountain like they once did. That would be fun to see once in a while. See Blog #2 for my plan to reinstate this classic and fun part of the Park.

My only ‘notes’ here: Leggier bobsleds and better, more realistic, scarier Yetis!

Okay, the moment you’ve been waiting for…hopefully. Okay, remember in Blog #1 when I told you I did not promise my ideas would be practical?  Well, read on…

Part 3.

I’m saving the Big Note for last: Since most iconic Disney movies are fantasy and fit into this area, they have done a great job in making this the most attraction-packed, dense area of the park. Of course, Florida’s Fantasyland has recently been expanded to a huge degree. May I suggest we do the same?  Not only by ‘stacking’ a few attractions, but blowing out the area behind Toontown a few acres, thereby opening up some space. We can get Captain Hook’s, Skull Island etc, back. We can add another half-dozen (or more if stacked) dark rides. We can get a copy of that new 7 Dwarfs Mine Coaster from Florida…as well as some of their Princess castle attractions. There’s also the need for another upscale restaurant, on the order of a King Stephan’s. Is it right that Disneyland doesn’t have the best Fantasyland? The space as it is, is a series of essential Support buildings, offices and the like. They can be relocated and/or combined in taller multi-story (above and below) buildings to require less real estate.

Here’s the back side of Disneyland as it is now (more or less).

Here is my suggested redistribution of that space to add more show to Fantasyland. A way to make it the envy of all other Disney parks…even the newest Fantasyland in Florida.

In this way, we can get back Captain Hook’s and the only Tuna Fish sandwich (in fact, the only seafood of any kind) I could ever eat….and isn’t that what we all want?

It seems crazy, no?  Well, it’s been done before.  Toontown, Critter Country, and Cars Land have displaced Facilities buildings…but the biggest example is DCA. They took a huge, flat parking lot and moved it to a dense, multi-story, and very efficient parking structure (one of the world’s largest) and were able to build an entire Theme Park in the vacated space. At the same time, they built a huge hotel and the Downtown Disney mall between the Park and the Disneyland Hotel. My suggestions no more ambitious than that.

…I just want that sandwich!

Here’s a breakdown which I wrote in response to a comment, probably questioning my sanity. I felt it needed to be moved to the Blog itself…

You do the construction in stages.

Phase 1: Rework the facilities buildings to be more space-efficient. No impact on the Park Guest at all. This will be the most challenging and time-consuming part since they need those services to keep things moving…but show always comes first.

Phase 2: Construct the Fantasyland extension in the freed space beyond the Berm. Again, no impact. We just have to figure out where to launch the fireworks from!

2A: Have a Grand Opening of the expansion. This will add about 6-8 brand, spankin’ NEW attractions to the Park. This will probably add as many Park-Goers as it will absorb, so no gain or loss there…ah. But there is. More park capacity in-general. More profit for Disneyland, meaning even more stuff.

Phase 3: THEN, reconstruct Alice, Peter Pan (with a better queue!), and Mr. Toad. Upgrade them to the standard of Snow White and Pinocchio. Add Hercules above and Aladdin below.

3A: Second Grand Opening of that side of the street, featuring three upgraded rides and two new ones.

Phase 4: THEN close down the other side of the street. Adding a moved Little Mermaid below with Fantasia and Wreck-It Ralph above.

Phase 1. would probably take a year or more. the rest? I dunno…6-10 months?…but, importantly, not at the same time.

This still MUCH less Park Guest impact than the Florida Fantasyland rebuild, which shut down the whole area for over a year.

You also get THREE special Grand Openings over the course of a year or two. Increase the Park’s capacity, ect.

The very back wall, a towering Castle wall (matching the style of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle). A few turrets, etc. This will set a sense of place, but also block sound and lights to and from the outside world…not unlike the Cadillac Range at Cars Land. Here’s where you’d includeMedieval properties like Robin Hood, Black Cauldron and Sword In The Stone in some way.

Does that sound a LITTLE less crazy? and wouldn’t you like to see a dozen new attractions? Ideally (we are ‘Blue-Skying after all), I’d like to extend the railroad track and move Toontown to the very back.

We still have a lot to explore here, in the Spiritual Heart of the Park. Toontown, It’s a Small World, Mickey and the Magical Map and the new Fantasy Faire Princess area. We’ll get to that fun in a few Blogs from now. because I still need to see the new Fantasyland features.

Please share your thoughts. I’m always eager to hear them! Thanks for Reading and Imagining!

Lance

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Lance’s Armchair Imagineer #3

#3 The Gem of the Park 04/01/13

Yours Truly at Club 33

Hello again and Welcome to the Third Installment of Lance’s Armchair Imagineer! If you’re up on your Schoolhouse Rock, you already know that ‘Three is a Magic Number’ and the subject of this Blog probably has more Disney Magic packed into one smallish space than anywhere else in the Land:

New Orleans Square.

Last time, I trashed Tomorrowland’s current state, but this area has it right.

There aren’t many attractions in this area: Three if you count the Train Station (and I do). But what attractions! Namely, Pirates Of The Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. These rides (though that word is hardly adequate) represent the height of the Imagineering/Theme Park Art Form. They are Stunners. If you’ve experienced them, I don’t need to tell you…if you haven’t, who has the words to do them justice?

It is even more incredible when you consider that these masterpiece attractions were designed and engineered back in the 1960’s. There have been some technical updates since then, but the ride experience is very similar to what it always has been.

Of course, New Orleans Square has other charms besides the Attractions. it is a beautiful and intimate area of streets, shops, and sidewalk vendors. The Food is tasty and unique. Unsurprisingly, New Orleans Square also features the best restaurant in the Park: The Blue Bayou and The Two Most Exclusive Places in the Disneyland Resort, The Dream Suite and Club 33. (Haven’t seen the first, but I’ve had lunch at the latter three times thanks to some dear friends).

Club 33′s Signature Cocktail: The Chocolate Martini. Yummy

My three lunches there were all at that same table in the corner. I hope to try the dinner menu some day…and another table. Wish me luck!

The Square also has a very picturesque view of The Rivers of America and her two ships, The Mark Twain and The Columbia. It’s a wonderful place to relax with a Mint Julep and listen to live Dixieland, explore the charming shops, and watch the street artists do their thing.

Yes, it is a very special corner of the Park. An Oasis, if you will. Plus, you don’t have to earn your beads the hard way!

Now, if you’ll indulge my Critical Eye, let’s take a closer look at the two Major Attractions:

THE HAUNTED MANSION:

Talk about using every trick in the book. This attraction is loaded with brilliant effects, a mood that balances well between spooky and silly, sublime narration from the matchless Paul Frees, art direction from my personal favorite Imagineer (and my favorite of Disney’s famous ‘Nine Old Men’) Marc Davis.

Florida’s attraction is a little different. There are more of those ‘negative’ faces that seem to follow you right before you board your Doom Buggy and there’s an interesting MC Escher staircase effect near the beginning of the ride proper right after your safety bar is lowered. I like those features and wouldn’t mind seeing them echoed here in California, but that’s more of a musing than a ‘Note’.

Florida has recently installed an elaborately designed, interactive queue. I’m anxious to see it, but since I haven’t, I can’t really say anything about it. As a rule, I’m all for making the lines more interesting, but the Mansion line always moves pretty fast.

Thankfully, the attraction is basically the same as it always has been. I like the ‘ new’ floating Madame Leota Crystal Ball. That’s quite a trick.

I really have only one ‘note’ about the attraction overall:  The New Attic Space.

The idea is interesting. We see a series of wedding portraits of wealthy-looking men and the same beautiful young woman. As you pass the portraits, the man vanishes because the beautiful bride, Constance is a ‘Black Widow’ and murders each husband. The finale to this setting is an audioanimatronic figure of the bride herself as she transforms ‘from Bridal to Homicidal’. (I should probably copy-write that!) She flashes an evil grin and an axe appears in her hands as the Doom Buggy carries you out of the scene.

The attic area has always been a puzzle to the Imagineers since the earliest days and the failed ‘Hatbox Ghost’ figure. I understand the impulse to add a little story to this room. I am intrigued by the idea, but the ‘execution’ (if you’ll pardon the expression) is not up to snuff for a few reasons. There are many examples of very effective projection in the Attraction (Leota and the singing headstones to name two). They work because the projection surfaces are dimensionally sculpted to accommodate the images projected over them. The Bride figure is not sculpted. Her flat face looks awful and fake unless you’re looking directly at her from the front. The Axe too looks like what it is: A projection. The trick just doesn’t suspend your disbelief.

My other note may be considered fussy, but bear with me.  All the other characters in the Attraction (from the stretching portraits to the ghosts in the graveyard) were designed by Marc Davis In a Specific Style. It deliberate mitigates the overall scariness of the attraction by introducing a fun and somewhat silly look. The projected figure needs to be a real person (ALA Leota and the Singing Headstones), but the real photos of the wedding portraits hardly match any other portrait art or character sculpture in the entire attraction. It’s a distracting and annoying discontinuity of style. Sadly, Marc is no longer with us, but someone could homage his style to somewhat match the bride figure while still keeping to a stylistic harmony with the balance of the attraction. They should be paintings rather than photos, just like every other instance of art in the Mansion.

Stylistic Integrity / Consistency will be a reoccurring comment of mine from this blog and beyond. I think it’s a virtue that should always be very important from an Imagineering standpoint.

As you know, The Haunted Mansion has A Nightmare Before Christmas Holiday Overlay…but we’ll save the overlays for another time.

OK, on to what I think is the greatest Imagineering Achievement of all time:

THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: This one has it all. Thrills, laughs, surprises, and an epic scale unmatched by anything else in The Disneyland Resort. Also, like the Mansion, it’s a very efficient loader, so even the longest lines move at a decent clip.

This Attraction has been the ‘victim’ of more alterations than the Mansion. The Pirates once chased Wenches, now they chase food held by those wenches. I prefer the original and roll my eyes somewhat at I think was a knee-jerk PC change. I don’t think it fundamentally lessens the experience. We sigh a collective sigh and move on.

A Marc Davis development drawing and the scene built from it. He did this for every figure in Pirates, Mansion, Country Bears, much of Jungle Cruise, etc. A bleeping genius and the Imagineer who brought humor to Disneyland.

Here’s Marc with Walt and one of the Spanish Prisoner Figures…a caricature of Walt in the ride.

The biggest change to the attraction comes courtesy of the success of Disney’s Pirates movie franchise. This has manifested in four ways that I can see.

First, Captain’s Sparrow and Barbosa are represented in portrait form on the walls as you go in (joining extant portraits of other famous pirates). I don’t have a problem with this except I wish they matched the style of the older portraits more harmoniously. Movie 3 had a lot of very visually interesting Pirate Kings that would fit well too.

Secondly, There is a very well done mist projection effect as you transition from the caverns to the ship battle. I like the idea and love the technology. It’s very effective. As it stands now, the images alternate between the film versions of Blackbeard and Davy Jones. Now, Blackbeard is Generic Pirate enough to work well. His presence acknowledges the films without leaning on them. Davy is another matter. His Half-Squid appearance makes no sense to anyone who hasn’t seen those movies. I think it is a clear violation of the tenet of a park attraction that you must see the film to understand the attraction. Bottom line:  Keep Blackbeard, lose Jones. You know, the ride is a bit Jack Sparrow-crazed right now…but this wouldn’t be a bad place for him. You know, that’s a long dark corridor. How about those Pirate Kings?

Now we move from the caverns into the ship battle. I love this scene, especially when it’s really fogged up. I applaud all the fine-tunings to this area. The Spanish Soldiers, the sword-fighting silhouettes above and to the left as you round the bend into the Spanish town.

On the ship (still The Wicked Wench and not redressed to be The Black Pearl, thankfully) we find our third movie nod. The original ship’s Captain has been replaced with Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbosa. Like Blackbeard, Barbosa is pure Pirate Captain cliche’, so he fits in just fine. I still don’t see much resemblance to Rush on the figure, but his features fit in with the style of the ride.

As we enter the Spanish town, we begin a trio of appearances by Johnny Depp’s very popular Captain Jack Sparrow. I think he has been integrated into the attraction’s narrative pretty well and his final bow is amusing. You don’t even really need to see the movie to enjoy his little story throughout the ride. it’s pretty straightforward. The Audioanimatronic figure looks amazingly like Depp. I applaud the craft of this.

But, here’s the thing. All the other figures in the attraction were designed by that genius Marc Davis. They have thick, caricatured features. They are ‘cartoony’. The photo-real Jack Sparrow looks slight (even feminine) next to these stylized figures. Like my Mansion comments above, it is a style discontinuity. You may not have noticed it before, but you will now. I would suggest (in an ideal world, for the Depp ship has already sailed) that the Captain Jack figures should have been slightly caricatured to better match the other denizens of the attraction.

My last little ride note is one I’ve had since childhood. The gun effects in the last scene. There’s no bang, just a hydraulic hiss. It always brought me out of the moment of the climatic scene. I don’t expect loud, frightening gun blasts, but a little boom from those muskets would be nice!

The Florida version of the attraction has a very nice queue which winds through a Spanish fortress. Very pretty. But the ride itself is seriously abbreviated! No Blue Bayou! The Skeleton caves are so truncated, you wonder why they were included at all! I can’t fathom why they would cheat the East Coast park out of maybe 40% of the full experience. Lucky us in California! Florida extracted a revenge of sorts with California’s half-assed version of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror…by editing out the Twilight Zone from the ride….but I’ll complain at length about this when we get over to DCA.

Oh, one last little nit: I used to love the Stamp Your Own Doubloon Machine in the Pirate-Themed store, Pieces of Eight. The machine broke down a lot, causing it’s removal. Is there any way to bring this back with a more foolproof mechanism? A digital input and the machine stamps the coin for you, eliminating user error, and speeding things up for the Guests. The custom doubloons were a wonderful and unique souviner and I still have one on my keyring since my phone number hasn’t changed in decades.

My last comment this time is a challenge to the Imagineers.

If you think about it, The Haunted Mansion is an extreme version of a Dark Ride. Pirates of the Caribbean is the Disney Imagineered plussing of the old carnival standby, The Tunnel of Love.

While there have been countless, amazing attractions over the decades, none of them have all the virtues of Mansion and Pirates. Nearly a half-century later, they still represent the apex of the art form. I think this is a shame. Keeping my examples to Disneyland: Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Big Thunder Mountain, It’s a Small World, and Splash Mountain, as great as they are, still do not compare to the sheer scale, immersion, variety, detail, and sophistication of “The Big Two”. Wouldn’t it be something if there were more Attractions on the scale of Pirates for Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Adventureland? Attractions loaded with the newest in Audioamimatronic casts and modern ride technology.

I wish!

The good news is that Radiator Springs Racers is pretty darn close. That attraction is a revelation inside and out. It certainly has scope and sophistication. In fact, no other attraction has enjoyed such an impressive and immersive exterior look, ever.

OK, I think that’s it for New Orleans Square. In writing about it, I rediscovered my appreciation and respect for this Special Gem of Disneyland.

Love to hear from you, so please give me your Two Doubloons’ worth! Arrrrr…

and beware of Hitch-Hiking Ghosts!

Thanks for Reading and Imagining.

Lance

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Lance’s Armchair Imagineer #2

#2 Oh, Tomorrowland 03/03/13

Mom and I in the Best Tomorrowland. August 1969. Right after Neil and Buzz walked on the moon. My head was full of wonder here in Tomorrowland as you can imagine.

Welcome back for a Second Helping of Lance’s Armchair Imagineer. Please refresh yourself with my disclaimers topping the inaugural installment! They will never be truer than they will for this Blog Entry. Since Major innovations have been happening at DCA for the past few years…and my previous Blog suggested more extensive changes, I’ll keep this conversation to Disneyland Proper for the next few postings. Big Crazy Idea: Remake Tomorrowland, Top-To-Bottom!

OK, let’s light this candle!

Once my favorite land is now a mess and there’s very little of the current Tomorrowland I wouldn’t bulldoze and replace. As much as I love all (well, most) things Disneyland, Tomorrowland has lost her way.  Attempts to correct this over the last few decades have only made things worse. I’m still stinging from the Rocket Rods debacle of 1998, which replaced three wonderful attractions with a mediocre one that broke down so frequently it didn’t last very long and an ugly Kinetic sculpture that doesn’t ‘kinet’. Now, with your Indulgence, my detailed ideas for a Tomorrowland makeover… Overall Note: My default Tomorrowland standard was the land as I experienced it as a child in the 60’s and early 70’s (Notably, after the 1967 remodel).There was a cohesive look, theme, and feel to the place. It was an exciting and positive look towards tomorrow. That’s a key point. If anything in Tomorrowland doesn’t fit that idea, it doesn’t fit, period. Now, it’s part smooth white, part rusty steampunk, part, I don’t know what. It’s a mess. Yep, the rides needed to be updated from that earlier time, but the overall Purity of Theme was just fine and it has been lost along the way. I just don’t see ‘The World of Tomorrow’ all Rusty and Weathered.

Now, let’s go by attraction in no particular order:

CAPTAIN EO: A TRIBUTE: I can’t argue it still packs in the audience, but, personally I find the show laughably outdated and more than a little childishly annoying. It’s like being hit repeatedly in the head with an 80’s stick. The Effects work creak with age and the 3-D is fuzzy. Let’s retire it. Any well done new attraction will be even more popular. Perhaps Eo can return as a Rare Special Event. An annual two-week engagement around MJ’s Birthday. That will pack folks in and sate the hardcore Michael fans. Make an event out of it. with a live show, lookalike contest, etc. One thing that I realized from Star Tours: The Adventure Continues is the power of multiple experiences using the same location. (this will be a perhaps tiring reoccurring note of mine) I would suggest at least three new state-of-the-art 3-D, SF films shot with the new high-speed, hi-def, 3-D cameras being used by James Cameron and Peter Jackson (and, let’s face it, those guys have replaced Lucas in many ways) These multiple shows would run on a rotating basis. The theater effects can be reprogrammed to sync with each show. Keep the story lines upbeat and positive, showing the possibilities of Tomorrow. Maybe flyovers of Imaginary landscapes: Oz, Barsoom, Neverland, a future city, etc. A ‘Soarin’ over Imagination’ type idea.

BUZZ LIGHTYEAR ASTRO BLASTERS (AND STORE COMMAND): See the Last Blog for my reasons for retiring this attraction. I suggest replacing it with the charming Stitch’s Great Escape from the Florida Tomorrowland. Few Disney Features explore Science Fiction, so it’s even more important that they use the few they have when they can so Disney Properties have a presence in the Land.

This will open up the old Circlevision Theater area. (Stitch doesn’t require the same amount of Real Estate as Buzz). In days of yore, the Circlevision Theater hosted many wonderful films.

Strangely, none of them were themed for Tomorrowland, which was always curious to me. (I also enjoyed the America Sings attraction but was puzzled by its presence in Tomorrowland. It seemed more Frontierland or Bear/Critter Country). What if a Hi-Tech Sci-Fi attraction were plunked in the middle of Adventureland?

A few years back in Florida, the Circlevision Theater was used for a very Tomorrowland-Themed presentation called The Timekeeper. It was a wonderful blend of Audioanimatronic characters, Imagination, and SF storytelling. The story (Told in 360o around you) allowed the audience to travel from the turn of the last Century where we meet HG Wells and Jules Verne.  A few hops later, we witness a gorgeous vision of Paris in the Future celebrating the Tricentennial of The Eiffel Tower. Futuristic fireworks surrounded the Guests. If this particular show (created for Disneyland Paris) is considered too Eurocentric, it would be simply a matter of reworking the material to show a future America. As with many attractions, I will advocate multiple shows sharing theater spaces, as long as everything is On Theme for the Land in question. The Timekeeper and his camera sidekick, Nine Eyes (Robin Williams and Rhea Perlman respectively) could treat Park Guests to many wondrous adventures through time. Nine-Eyes was a great idea. She was a Time-Traveling hovering, camera robot. Her ‘head’ was a circular array of cameras. As she would travel through time (courtesy of the Timekeeper) her Nine Eyes POV images would project around the audience. Brilliant.

SPACE MOUNTAIN: Nothing wrong with Space Mountain! Perfectly conceived, designed, and executed. The exterior look is exactly right for the idea of the land. Thankfully, they ditched the ugly, rusted look. The ride itself delivers one of the finest and most unique thrills in the park. I woudn’t mind more sophisticated Syd Mead style design tweaks to the queue, but that’s a minor point. I’d like to talk about a major upgrade to the Ghost Galaxy Halloween Overlay, but that’s down the road a few blogs. INNOVENTIONS: The worst thing in either park. I’d rather ride Superstar Limo. I just don’t have anything nice to say about it. Every few years, I go in and think “Oh, right. That’s why I always skip this”. It fits well enough in Florida’s EPCOT, (though I skipped it on my second visit there too) but is a total waste of real estate in Disneyland. I’m even surprised about the partnership with Windows and not Apple about “The Home of the Future”. That’s somewhat laughable in itself  (and puzzling if you consider Pixar’s partnership with Apple).

Ironically, it actually works within the theme of Tomorrowland more than most things…but, that doesn’t matter if the experience isn’t up to snuff. This space has an obvious use. Bring back a vastly improved, updated, and de-commercialized Carousel of Progress (dropping all the General Electric advertisements). It fits solidly into Tomorrowland’s Theme of A Better Tomorrow. There’s even a wonderful Sherman Bros. song which says just that. This would also be an opportunity to challenge the Imagineers to create the most lifelike Audioanimatronic figures ever. The last scene portraying the near future could (and should) be frequently updated to reflect the most innovative technological concepts. I’m sure there’s a great Rex Allen soundalike out there somewhere to revoice the Dad.

Note Added 02/04/13: I checked out the Iron Man/Stark exhibit yesterday and enjoyed the modest exhibit. There were 8 suits of armor on display which span the three Iron Man Films. Not everything, but a good representation of the main ones. There was also an interactive demo where you get virtually armored up for a little shooting and hovering practice. There’s always a wait for this and I’d say don’t invest more than a half hour in that line. Just watch others do it and you’ll get the idea. Anyway, it’s a nice, small exhibit. The Stark exhibit itself may be temporary to help promote the movie (which I really enjoyed on the same day). Also of note was that the lower floor was not slowly revolving. I don’t know if this was temporary or permanent….but the last thing you should do is make Innoventions less interesting! It’s already the worst thing in the park!

A reboot of Carousel of Progress brought to you by Stark Enterprises….Hmmmmmm….RDJ as Stark in Anamatronic form (with Pepper, Happy, and Rhodey in supporting parts through the eras). Tony can pimp his multi-generational families’ technological innovations (replacing the self-serving General Electric) with an ‘unintentionally’ humorous fictional version. The final ‘future’ scene is way over the top. Hmmmm….


FINDING NEMO SUBMARINE ADVENTURE: See my previous blog. STAR TOURS: THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES / JEDI ACADEMY: This ride is one of my favorites in the Park. The new queue has a lot of great details, the idea of multiple experiences is genius (and I think that’s an idea we need to see on many attractions) and the updated films are amazing. It took me about 10 times to see everything. It’s on my ‘must do’ list. It also illustrates my point that you don’t need a great movie to get great Theme Park Attractions. The Episode 1 Naboo sequence rocks!

That being said, This ride belongs over in the Hollywood area of DCA (In Florida, Star Tours is in the movie park, not The Magic Kingdom). It can have an expanded queue to the right of the Monsters Inc. attraction. You can even feature a scale Scout Walker or whatever will fit in the area to ‘Star Wars it up’. A special, permanent stage would accommodate the relocated and thematically-linked Jedi Academy and any other Star Wars-Themed Stage Entertainment. There could be numerous Star Wars stage presentations on a rotating basis.

I am not suggesting a physical move, but rather a new construction in DCA and a re-theming of the current Star Tours building to accommodate a different attraction on the same footprint.  Like I suggested for a seriously updated Carousel of Progress, here I propose a seriously updated motion simulator attraction inspired by the retired Adventure Through Inner Space. I know this ride (a favorite as a kid) would look dated today, but I am suggesting using the potent concept of a Miniaturized Adventure using more modern Simulator technology.  Also, as brilliantly pioneered by Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, Multiple Adventures in the sub-atomic realm. This would also pay into my core argument of Walt’s Tomorrowland theming….much more than Star Wars does.

THE MONORAIL: Love me some Monorail. I guess I miss the little bubble canopy they used to have. I guess I wish it also stopped in DCA, but love the Monorail. Too bad it didn’t catch on in the private sector as actual mass transportation. PIZZA PORT: Just fine. Love the use of vintage Tomorrowland Attraction Posters!

AUTOPIA: Of course, the main pleasure of this ride is for little ones to get to drive. There are always fine-tunings one could do to the queue and theming, but the intended audience likes it just fine, so who am I to say? Secret Disneyland Fantasy? Pop one of the cars off the rails and disable the speed governor so I can zip around both parks before (or after) operational hours. Wouldn’t that be a blast? I hear this happens sometimes.

THE SKYWAY TO FANTASYLAND: Bring it back! this was an unmatchable experience and and essential part of the Tomorrowland/Fantasyland skyline. My understanding was this ride was removed not because someone fell from it, not because teens were spitting from it (two persistent rumors), but because it didn’t allow wheelchair access, so the ADA was threatening to sue the park, claiming discrimination against the handicapped. Don’t get me started on this idiotic argument. It’s pretty much the same thing as prohibiting music because some people are deaf. It is this kind of litigious BS thinking that has doomed the Peoplemover and added that hideous, joy-killing ramp to the exterior of Alice in Wonderland. A few years ago, Disneyland came up with a very elegant solution for two of their non-wheelchair accessible experiences (The Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough and Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure). Adjacent to both these attractions are comfortable viewing rooms where disabled park guests can watch well-produced, filmed versions of the experiences. Boom. Problem solved. Just do the same for the Skyway, Peoplemover, Tarzan’s Treehouse and any other attraction without possible wheelchair access. In fact, not only bring it back, but construct another line between Critter Country and Aladdin’s Oasis with more rustic theming.

THE OBSERVATRON: The ugly collection of junk where the Rocket jets used to spin is a ‘Kinetic Sculpture”. It hasn’t moved or lit up in years. I can’t decide if it’s function is to remind us of what we’ve lost or just a cautionary eyesore for sub-par re-theming. Wrecking Ball that thing and you’d get cheers. Return the Rocket Jets and get a standing ovation. THE PEOPLEMOVER: Much of the same notes as the Skyway. I hate seeing that barren track up there collecting dust and rodent droppings. It was once an essential, kinetic, and beautiful feature of Tomorrowland’s “City on the Move”. A still forward-thinking mode of transport, it also provided the park guest with a wonderful, bird’s eye tour of Tomorrowland and gave a number of really fun sneak peeks into the Land’s attractions. If you’re too young to remember this, you know how the Disneyland Train gives you a sneak peek at Splash Mountain’s riverboat climax?  The Peoplemover did that several times through Tomorrowland. And, you know what?  If it really is impossible for Disneyland to use those tracks for anything, tear them out. As it is now, just a sad, ghostly reminder of the fun we used to have. STARCADE: it always struck me stupid to have the common, mundane experience of a game arcade within the experience of Disneyland, where you are paying premium admission prices for unique, Imagineered experiences. There must be something better you can do in that space. Gotta be. It never seems that busy to me anyway. I can’t believe it’s worth the valuable real estate.

THE ASTRO ORBITER: Anyone else find this an eyesore? This ride ‘replaced’ the Jet Rockets which used to be way up high above the Peoplemover loading area about 80 feet in the air. (where that ugly, useless ‘kinetic’ Observatron sculpture now resides).  This needs to be put back the way it was for a number of reasons. The original entranceway design of Tomorrowland was a beautiful runway ending in a towering rocket (the ‘weenie’ as Walt put it) showcasing a towering happy future. It had a flow to it.

Here’s a before and after: You tell me.

Now a large, ugly blood clot jams up the entranceway of the Land. It is something that needs to be negotiated around. It blocks your view. The Steampunk look here is just ugly (and passe’). I don’t see the ‘World of Tomorrow’ all rusted and antiquated. What was once open and inviting, Tomorrowland has an unappealing and awkward entrance. This gets my Honorary, “What the hell were they thinking?!” Award.  Historically, the original Disneyland planned a bandstad gazebo in Town Square. (where the flag pole now towers). During construction, Walt realized that the Gazebo would block the view of the castle from the train station, so it was moved near the hub. For this exact same reason, the Orbiter needs to go.

The Orbiter ride experience starts on ground level, therefore, not even half as thrilling as the original elevated attraction. The original soaring, picturesque experience has been reduced to another Dumbo. A kiddie ride. The styling of the original rocket was much more Appealing and Futuristic. It portrays a world I want to live to see. The Orbiter makes me want to wash my hands repeatedly and look out for rusty nails. So, there’s my hard look at Tomorrowland.  It was great once, and so it can be again.  I sure hope the Disney wizards are aware that This Land is on Life Support and she needs desperate help. Rumor has it, this will be the nexy big Imagineering project now that DCA has had it’s upgrade. One can only  hope.

Next time, things will be more positive, but I wanted to get this one off my chest. I would love to hear your thoughts! Thanks for Reading and Imagining!

Lance

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Lance’s Armchair Imagineer #1

#1 The ol’ Switcheroo 01/06/13

Yours with an old friend: 1965 (Disneyland’s 10′th Birthday year.)

Hello and Welcome to my Personal Disneyland Resort Blog.

Let’s get a few qualifiers out of the way!

1. I have been in love with the Disney Theme Parks since very early childhood. They are a Wonder, never failing to delight and inspire me. The technology, organization, and artistry are unmatched. Walt Disney introduced the world to the First True Theme Park back in 1955 and his work still remains light-years ahead of the competition. Even at the ripe age of 51 (as I write this) I can’t get enough of The Happiest Place on Earth and I visit frequently.

So, when you read my critical comments, please understand that these are musings about something I think is Practically Perfect in Every Way (Well, maybe not the current incarnation of Tomorrowland!). The list of what they do right is many hundreds of times larger than my little notes.  We all know what they do well.

2. The Term ‘Armchair Imagineer’ is hardly original. It is in wide use by fans with Disney Park Ideas.  So, this Blog is named ‘Lance’s Armchair Imagineer’. If you like this topic, do a search for the term and you’ll discover more than you want to read on the subject. For what it’s worth, I found this out after I wrote the first 10 Blogs (I work way ahead), so any duplication is coincidental (and some of my ideas are pretty obvious. Doubtless common among fans).

3. As a Southern California Resident and Disneyland Resort regular, I have to keep my comments mostly to the California Parks. I have enjoyed the Florida Theme Parks twice (and I’m planning a third trip soon), so it will crop up in conversation. To date, I haven’t had the opportunity to visit DL Paris, Tokyo, or Hong Kong, The Disney Cruise Line, and so on….though I’d love to some day. It’s getting together that very rare confluence of Time/Money/That Special Someone to share the experience. I can usually get two of those together, but all three remain frustratingly elusive.

4. I am an outsider without any special knowledge. Many of my comments and suggestions are doubtless impractical or impossible (Perhaps they’ve been addressed for the future or dismissed already!). I just don’t know any better. I’m sharing a mostly uninformed opinion here. Let’s assume a blanket disclaimer that I am not as knowledgable about the technology, budgetary restrictions, existing plans, and basic logistics as I would like. In fact, I know some of my ideas are crazy and out of scale with reality. This is all for fun.

5. I have a certain amount of script-writing under my belt (most of it actually produced), but my prose-writing isn’t as practiced. You have been warned.

6. I don’t only want to hear the sound of my own voice. I want your ideas, thoughts, counter-proposals, criticisms. I love the idea of a dialogue….especially from more informed persons than myself!

OK….up-front apologies out of the way, let’s get to the very first session of Lance’s Armchair Imagineer.

Big Crazy Idea:

Move all Classic Disney Feature-based Attractions out of Disney California Adventure and all Pixar-based Attractions out of Disneyland.

DCA has been labeled derisively by some as “Pixar Park”. The other comment about both Parks is that they’ve “Pixared it up”. I understand the criticism. Most of the Major Park Attractions for the last decade have been based on Pixar movies. Two DCA ‘Lands’ are entirely Pixar themed.

Don’t blame the parks, folks. Pixar has been better at animated feature films than Disney for a while now. For now, Pixar, makes better, more popular, and exploitable films (“Ride-etic’ if you will). Simply Put: They make better theme park fodder.

I think we’d all rather see something based on A Bug’s Life than Home on the Range. Of course, A Bug’s Life gets an Entire Land in DCA and Roseanne Barr’s abrasive voice is thankfully silent within the Resort.

So, back to my point. I’d say rather than avoid the “Pixar Park” issue, DCA should embrace it as a Mission Statement. Pixar is worthy of an official place to call it’s own. Not just the Features, but their wonderful short films as well. This will also help differenciate DCA and go even further to give it an identity separate from Disneyland.

So, that being said, here’s my really impractical idea. Ready?

All Pixar-based attractions should be relocated out of Disneyland. Keep Disneyland ‘pure’ based on basic ‘generic’ ideas. Frontier, Tomorrow, Adventure, etc. and ‘Classic’ Disney features, live and animated.

DCA should be about Pixar and the new theming of Vintage Hollywood and Classic Disney shorts of the 30′s and 40′s. Mickey and the gang belong everywhere for the brand, but you can differentiate them by going Old School with them in DCA.

Thanks to the Hollywood area, it can also be a catch-all for properties like Twilight Zone and Star Wars (more on that next time). Frankly DCA can be a bit of a dumping ground for things that don’t work in Disneyland.

Let’s start in The Magic Kingdom

The main Pixar-Based Attractions are Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage.

BUZZ LIGHTYEAR ASTRO BLASTERS: It’s a cute Dark Ride / Arcade Game, but, it was made redundant and outdated by the vastly superior Toy Story Midway Mania across in DCA. Next Time, we’ll talk about Tomorrowland (since it’s the area that needs the most help in either park), but I think Buzz’s Astro Blasters can go the way of Rocket Rods. Same obviously for the Toy Story-Themed exit retail place Store Command.

FINDING NEMO UNDERSEA VOYAGE

This is trickier, because here is a wonderful attraction. It’s also very welcome to have the Sub Ride back in some form with an overlay of new and very effective Imagineering technology. While Buzz is hardly a unique attraction, the subs are. So, we move it to DCA. A serious modification of the waterfront area with World of Color still occupying it’s place in the center of the water.  But with a much deeper lagoon, you could mount the WoC mechanics on a riser so they are underwater when not in use.

The DCA lagoon is actually larger than the one in Tomorrowland, so vertical space isn’t a problem, but you would have to deepen that lagoon quite a bit. You’d also have to route the subs out of the area into a show building. (as is the case with Pirates, Mansion and the extant subs). Your Loading area can be across from Toy Story Midway Mania. The subs make a turn in the lagoon and under a waterfall adjacent to the Tortilla Factory. The Sub Show Building is under Cars Land. Yes, this is probably quite an engineering challenge to do after the fact….but I never promised practicality in this Blog!

To gather like-themes together and punch up the experience, Turtle Talk with Crush should be moved from the animation exhibit and become part of the queue! Crush would be more free-form and less formulaic, chatting up the kids in line to their delight. Two Nemo attractions in one.

Ah, but what goes in place of the subs in Disneyland?

A seriously re-themed, expanded version of the attraction to Atlantis or something more generic like the original (using updated technology). I’d love to see the Nautilus-style subs like they once had in Florida!  Perhaps we could see a variety of sub designs, (one of which can accommodate efficient wheelchair loading). Maybe it could be a 20’000 Leagues/Steampunk thing. A bridge between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Especially because a ‘Leagues remake is underway as I write this.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire isn’t the best Disney Feature, but it certainly could be great fodder for a sub ride. If you’ll forgive my snarkiness, Cars and Cars 2 are my least favorite Pixar films, but Cars Land is hugely exciting and a wonderful repurposing of that film universe. It very smartly adapts into park attractions.

A friend of mine (a far better Armchair Imagineer than Myself) had the suggestion at one point along the submarine route, there is a destination where you can disembark! Some sort of enclosed Atlantis area perhaps. Maybe an Undersea grotto dining experience. This is Brilliant. This will also make the experience different from the relocated Nemo subs, now over in DCA.  Also, in a nice case of symmetry, the subs load under the Monorail. Well, the Monorail too is a transportation experience with one other destination. This enhances Tomorrowland as a ‘City on the Move’ and a gateway to other experiences.

Big, and maybe crazy? You tell me.

Time to cross the Esplanade into the new Disney California Adventure. Let me say that I wasn’t impressed with the questionalbly California-Themed park when it first opened. Many others have outlined why it wasn’t up to the Disney Park standard. Lucky for us, The company came to realize this and has invested over a Billion Dollars into DCA over the last several years. With each new attraction (and, sometimes the removal of a lesser one), the DCA experience and value has improved. Doubtless, further DCA improvements are on the drawing boards at WDI. In my opinion, Cars Land was the final piece to raise the DCA experience to an independently worthwhile Vacation Destination.

There are a few non-Pixar attractions in DCA that fall under the scrutiny of my re-theming: The Aladdin Musical at The Hyperion, The Adventures of the Little Mermaid, The Dumbo Midway Game.

THE HYPERION THEATER: Aladdin: The Musical is fun, but it has overstayed it’s time and with the flying carpet gag removed for safety reasons, it’s time to pack it in. (I’ll miss you, Genie!) You can do this show on a ground-level venue elsewhere in Disneyland.

What do we do instead?

There are already crowd-pleasing stage shows of Toy Story (on the Cruise Line) and Little Nemo (in Florida). Any of the other Pixar films could also yield some fun stage shows. Get them in to the Hyperion on a rotating schedule. Either seasonal runs for each or if flexible enough, change the shows out mid-day.

ADVENTURES OF THE LITTLE MERMAID: I really like this attraction, but I say move it over to Disneyland to be with it’s sister Animated Feature ‘Dark Rides’. Mermaid clearly belongs in Fantasyland. Probably somewhere between Fantasyland proper and Small World). Maybe in the Pixie Hollow area. Some spaces will have to be rethought for it to fit. Replace it in DCA with a Pixar-Dark Ride, using the bones (the way Monsters, Inc. was placed over that dreadful Superstar Limo). The Incredibles or Wall-E would work.

BOARDWALK MIDWAY GAME: The easiest change is to swap out the Dumbo Midway Game on the boardwalk with a Pixar equivalent. How about a game where you roll that yellow Pixar ball until a Luxo Jr. lamp lights up indicating the winner?

Another note about this switch-thing. Obviously Toontown fits more in with my thoughts about Disney shorts in DCA. Well, Mickey and his pals belong everywhere. (I’m not a Theme Nazi). Toontown is also a great adjunct to Fantasyland. Fine where it is. I would humbly suggest that the Mickey, Minnie, etc. presence in DCA is old school. B&W, pie plate eyes, etc.  Hollywood: 1923. Toontown features the more contemporary versions. That’s a good way to differentiate them.

Alrighty Then, I hope you enjoyed my Inaugural Edition of Lance’s Armchair Imagineer.  More when I can. In the meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for Reading and Imagining!

Lance

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