Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

D23-Expo-Balloons-1I’ve spent the last week trying to absorb my D23 Expo experience and write a narrative for the three days I attended. There’s quite a lot to cover. And, it’s possible, that by now, you’ve started to hear many positive and negative reviews of the Expo. I’ll continue to work  on a blow by blow account, which may be useful for future Expo goers. But, when I’ve sat and thought about the Event, what comes to mind, more than anything else is the people I encountered. So, for now, I’d like to focus on some positives related to guests, cast members and presenters, who I think made my time at the Expo gratifying and pleasurable.

d23 2017 crowd

In my last post, D23 Expo 2017 Pre-Event Excitement, I talked about the Expo as an opportunity to be amongst all kinds of Disney fans. Some are there to buy limited edition or just released items. Some want to get autographs, selfies or see famous people. Others want to be “first” to know about movie, TV or theme park news. Unfortunately, many things I’ve read about the Expo, pre or post events, often start with the lines. I would say, if there’s one thing we Disney people know how to do, it’s wait on lines and follow instructions. On a Park queue, everyone is focused on their group – where they’ve been and where they are going. They have little interest in their line buddies. At the Expo, I usually waited 3+ hours seated or standing the whole time with the same people, waiting for morning entry into the Convention Center. The difference is, we all knew why we’re there, so the ice was already broken.  It was easy to strike up a conversation, usually started with “Where are you from?” or “Is this your first Expo?”. From there things either went to “What panels are you trying to see?” or “What are you here to buy that you can’t get anywhere else?” or “Whose autograph/picture are you hoping to score?” From all around, people would just jump into the conversation with their thoughts or questions. Even though we are all uncomfortable sitting on the hot concrete or rubbery legged from standing, everyone was upbeat, excited and just plain thrilled to be so close to getting inside (There are others who are much further back in an endless, snaking line. But I’m focused on the group that was unbothered to wake up around 5am to even get close to the front of the line). Then, even after waiting that long, the Disney crowd was still able to follow instructions that allowed us to all get inside, efficiently and without pushing, shoving or other chaos. Each time a group moved forward toward the Center doors a cheer would go up, followed by a groan as we were held at the next line checkpoint. It was truly a group happening, like a concert in Central Park.

Disney has gotten very good at Park crowd control. And the queues for panels or store entry were handled in the same organized manner. But the Expo morning entry is a different kind of animal. So, I’d like to say Thank You to the brave, hard working Cast Members who, not only,  maintained a cheery disposition in the face of repetitive questions (Is this the line to get in? Is there a VIP line just for me? What if I don’t have a ticket already? Is the (fill in the blank) panel already filled? Where’s the end of the line?, etc.) They repeated their pleas to “stay in line”, “have your bag open for inspection”, “keep the line moving” (when it did) “please don’t cut the line corners as you snake around” and “You’re almost there”. No one should underestimate the effect that positive energy can have on a large, tired, uncomfortable crowd of people to keep things from getting out of hand. Then, once things got moving, instructions were simple and consequences for rule breaking were made clear. It may just be me, but all these intangibles make me feel good about doing my part to make things run smoothly and efficiently so I can get to the fun.

end of queue sign blowup

Signs like this could be seen everywhere

On the whole, I found all Cast Members to be polite, upbeat and helpful. No, they didn’t always have the best or most accurate information. Yes, I did, get different answers from different Cast Members a few times. But, I don’t think that the individuals were always to blame. It’s not as if they were all wearing walkie talkies getting the most up to date news flashes. During my time waiting on various lines, I took an informal poll of the line monitors, whose job it was to hold up signs reading “Start of Queue”, “End of Queue” and “Queue Break”. Since I was sure that the postings were not full time jobs, I started asking what they usually do for the Disney Company. Most worked at Disneyland. I met tram drivers, tram announcers, gate ticket takers and even food preparers. So, in defense of the Cast Members, it’s not as if they are used to doing that job, or for that matter, any of the jobs at the Expo all the time. The Expo is only held every two years. So, it’s possible that training is not as thorough as it might be ordinarily. And, there appeared to be changes happening all the time. Most of the time, if someone didn’t have an answer, they were honest and said so. Most of the Cast Members I spoke to admitted that they would have been happier doing their regular job, instead of holding a sign for hours at a time. I watched another queue monitor very actively and enthusiastically, protect a line from potential queue jumpers. Even the daily, small parade the snaked through the show floor was full of the same Cast enthusiasm and professionalism as any I’ve seen in the Parks.

 

 

I was not successful in getting into any of the big announcement sessions like Movies and Theme Parks. But, I was prepared for that possibility and still managed to attend 8 panel discussions over the 3 days of the Expo. Without exception, all the speakers and panel members, not all of whom are professional presenters, were entertaining and engaging. Many that stood out for me were presented by the Disney Archives group, including:

d23 expo archives logo

Bill Cotter, TV Historian and author, gave us a behind the scenes look at the Zorro TV series, including behind the scenes pictures, casting accounts, and stories about the program’s promotions in Disneyland. He also emphasized, that unlike other TV shows of the day, Walt insisted on spending extra money and effort, to insure that the stories, sets and costumes were historically accurate. After Bill’s presentation, I now think the series doesn’t get its due as part of the Disney cannon.

Steve Merritt and Legendary Imagineeer Tony Baxter took us through history of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough from its Walt inspired idea to promote the soon to be released movie, all the way to the current re-incarnation of the original attraction. There were with blueprints, photographs and amazing stories of the design, engineering, execution, abandonment and recreation of the attraction.

Hans Perk, Animation Historian, took us for a virtual tour of the Disney Hyperion studios, allowing us to see where many iconic photos of Walt and Co. were taken during some of the studio’s most important and creative period from 1926 to 1940. I’ve read a lot about the studio. “Seeing” it as the odd configuration of buildings, put together to meet the growing demands of Walt’s imagination, allowed me to get a sense of the tremendous that he fueled with his energy and enthusiasm.

Fun, laughter and excitement was all around the Expo panel rooms and show floor. I saw people showing off their newly acquired treasures, sharing stories of surprises, even some disappointments. I and others shared our food with those who didn’t plan as well, graciously saved spaces in line for bathroom runs and even offered to sell. without markup, an extra limited edition item to someone who was less fortunate.

Some Expo surprises:

A daily parade on the show floor, complete with celebrities like Mark Hamil and Stan Lee.

Free cold brewed ice coffee with nifty Disney designs

A picture in the D23 lounge area which included my wife and I, taken during the NYC ,Gold Member, Behind the Scenes Event. We’re in the middle of the back row.

A free Gold Member gift

gold member gift

The Lion King 360° VR Experience let me virtually experience the Broadway musical from onstage. I could all around, in the wings, out in to the audience and into the flies as the opening scene at Pride Rock unfolded.

And, finally, admidst the thousands of people on the show floor, I ran into two people that I know from my NYC Disney fan group. And I got the chance to meet some Facebook friends for the first time.

There’s so much more to tell about my Expo experience. After something like the Expo, I usually find that I’ve taken photos of all the wrong things and missed other opportunities to capture the moments. I’ll post some of my photos here, anyway. Yes, there are things that I thought could have been done that might have made the Expo even better. But for now, I think I’m satisfied to share the things that made the Event so much fun for me. I’m sure I’ll be able to feed off the memories for some time. Hopefully the magical glow will last until the next time.

me at expo

 

expo_Banner_2017According to the LA Times, there will be about 60,000 people attending the D23 Expo this year. It’s anybody’s guess how many tickets were sold for this years event at the Anaheim Convention Center. I’m happy to say, for the second time, I will be one of the thousands. You may have heard or read about waiting on lines, the crowds and that it’s impossible to get all the sessions you’d like to attend. I can’t speak for the other 59,999 Disney addicted souls, but I would rather accentuate the positive.

For me, the Expo represents an amazing gathering of people who can’t get enough Disney. Strange as it may seem, with all of the thousands of Disney fans who might live in or around where I live, I have found it difficult to connect with fellow Disneyites. I recently found a group of people who love all things Disney as much as I do. But for years, the only time I could surround myself with Disney fans, without making a spectacle of myself, was to go to a Disney movie. (See my post What’s with you and the Disney Thing? for some thoughts on my connection to Disney) The D23 Expo offers people like me an amazing opportunity to let the Disney Company do something for me as a fan, make me feel important and be surrounded by like minded people.

disney-twenty-three_SP09_Cover

2009 Premiere Magazine Issue

Over the years, Disney has done small things to acknowledge their fans, who, by the way, give them the funds to keep creating. Magazines, the old Magic Kingdom Club and probably some other things I’ve forgotten or didn’t know about. I don’t live near either of the 2 U.S. theme parks or the Disney Studios, so attending special events like premiere’s, screenings or tours is very difficult. I was always looking for something more. Maybe even a thank you for the money I have spent and the time I have loyally and happily invested in Disney related movies, trips and merchandise over the years. So, when Bob Iger announced the D23 fan club in 2009 I signed up. If nothing else, at least I’d get a magazine for my membership money. As I expected, early on, the events were mostly in and around Anaheim. But, the quarterly magazine has consistently exceeded my expectations. The articles are interesting and varied, the pictures are excellent the overall feel of the publication is very classy. And they always include a little keepsake surprise with the issues. So, I kept renewing. I’m glad I did.

Fast forward to 2012 when the Disney Archives announced the “FANniversary”  celebration, with NYC as one of the cities they would visit. I grabbed my tickets, hoped for something more than marketing for the fanniversary 2012latest Disney films and tried to manage my expectations. The event exceeded those expectations. Not only was the event well organized, but there were keepsakes for everyone and the presentations by the Disney Archivists were interesting, full of surprises and included pictures and video that I had not seen before, covering movies, television, theme parks and more, all related to Disney Celebrations. I left the theater feeling more than satisfied with my annual membership.

The FANniversary was followed by an anniversary screening of Peter Pan on the big screen in NYC. Then in 2014 there was a second FANniversary tour. This time it celebrated many Disney anniversaries, including:

  • The 1964-65 Worlds Fair – 50 years
  • Donald Duck – 80 years
  • Disney’s MGM Studios (yes they referred to it that way for the celebration!) – 25 years
  • Mary Poppins – 50 years
  • The Muppet Movie, Muppets Take Manhattan, and Muppet Babies – 35, 30 and 30 years
  • Marvel – 75 years
  • Sleeping Beauty – 55 years
  • The Little Mermaid – 25 years
  • The Incredibles – 10 years
  • Toy Story 2 – 15 years
  • The Lion King – 20 years
  • The “E” Ticket – 55 years
  • The Haunted Mansion – 45 years
  • The Tower of Terror – 20 years
  • The Adventurer’s Club – 25 years
  • Splash Mountain – 25 years
  • Big Thunder Mountain – 35 years

This time the event was held in a much larger theater, which speaks to the popularity of the event, and included a photo opportunity to see and stand near two pieces of Disney History. I can’t find my photos, but they were Mary Poppins’ hat and a Duckster statuette.

Once again, a lot of care was taken in organizing the afternoon and a good time was had by all who attended.  Now we’ve moved onto 2015 and I’m really starting to feel the love from Disney. So, I put some nickels, dimes and hundred dollar bills together (remember I live near NYC) and bought a ticket to my first D23 Expo.  As I get on the plane to LAX, I’m alternately excited and terrified. I had been reading some stories about camping out, long lines, and some attendees turned away from sessions that had filled up. This was a picture of the convention center the day before the Expo began.

d12 convention center 2015

The size of the signs correctly foreshadowed the size and scope of the convention. But, that day it looked peaceful.

I’m having difficulty remembering, but I think I arrived at the convention center the next morning at around 7am. My first impression was that things were a little disorganized as far as where to go, and the lines to check in were ridiculously long. After several hours in the heat, I was inside and found my way to another line to wait for the Legends presentation.

expo 2015 pano

This isn’t going to be a review of the 2015 Expo, so, I’d like to say that overall, I left after the 3 days, feeling:

  • That I had more than gotten my money’s worth . Between the sessions and the show floor, it was a first class event. So much to see and so many things to do.
  • Like an insider. Many of the sessions included new announcements for movies, theme parks and more. Sessions for movies and parks required everyone to seal their phones in a bag while monitors watched the crowd. Very secret.

coming soon expo 2015

  • Totally appreciated by the Disney Company. They pulled out all the stops. There were so many surprises, including top movie and theme park “Stars”, including Harrison Ford, Sir Ben Kingsley, Johnny Depp (once as Captain Jack Sparrow), Chris Evans, Richard Sherman, Marty Sklar and Rolly Crump, to name just a few. And the three days included many unique experiences, including: Showings of the Silly Symphonies with live orchestral  accompaniment and commentary by Leonard Maltin. A live concert of Disney Broadway songs featuring James Monroe Iglehart (original Broadway Genie).  Imagineering trivia and secrets.And  I took advantage of the Charter Members lounge, which was like a quiet oasis amidst the general noise of the conventions.

Silly symph concert

  • Overwhelmed by the exhibits on the show floor, including the Pandora sneak peak, Disney Archives display of original Disneyland artifacts, Star Wars costumes, Shanghai Disney preview and even John Lasseters Hawaiian shirts, plus vendors and shopping.

lasseter hawaiin

  • Thoroughly exhausted, since I spent all day at the Expo and then went to Disneyland for a few hours each night. Whew. And I was looking forward to the next Expo.

Yes, I waited on some lines, but I never felt like it wasn’t worth it in the end. No, I did not get to every session I wanted to, but I’ve never been to any conference or convention, for business or pleasure, where I was able to accomplish that. Yes, there was a lot of walking, but that made up for not getting in my usual exercise time. No. I didn’t get very much of the special Expo merchandise, but I that wasn’t why I attended. Yes, I was tired, but I will still take advantage of the discounted Disneyland tickets again this year.

Last year, I was able to attend the 25th anniversary showing of Beauty and the Beast at  Lincoln Center. Not only did we get to see the movie on a big screen, but there was a panel discussion with Angela Lansbury, Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White and producer Don Hahn. We were treated to a mini concert by Alan Menken and then cane a complete surprised. Ms. Lansbury came out and sang Beauty and the Beast accompanied by Mr. Menken.

This year I had the unique opportunity to attend a D23 Gold member event in NYC, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Disney re-opening the historic Amsterdam Theater in NYC. You can read the full account of this amazing day in my post Report on D23’s “Behind the Scenes” NYC Event.

So, here we are, less than a week away from Expo 2017. Certainly, knowledge is power, I’m less nervous about what to expect. But, since it seems that Disney is always tinkering with things, I expect that there will be differences in how things work this year. Again, I’m managing my expectations for what sessions I would like to attend. Now that the full schedule is out, there are many things I’d like to see and experience. Many of them overlap or happen at the same time.

I hope that my second Expo is as fun and fulfilling as the first. I will try to attend some of the large sessions for Parks and movies and some of the reunion/celebration sessions for Lion King, Zorro and Hercules. I also would like to get to the sessions celebrating some of the Disney magic makers from the past like the Ink and Paint women, Disney product legacy, and the virtual visit to Hyperion Studio.

I hope all of you that have taken advantage of D23 are enjoying your membership as much as I am. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that it would be nice if the profitable Disney organization would not charge extra for tickets to all these events. But, I do understand that everything costs money. And I wouldn’t want them to skimp on the quality of the events. Even though many activities take place in Anaheim, the Disney Company is making a real effort to reach out to fans in many ways. Certainly, mounting an event as ambitious as the Expo every two years involves hundreds of people and very complicated logistics. If they were to ask me, I would encourage them to do more in the future and keep me and the rest of my Disney fan community feeling appreciated.

 

 

walt carousel benchWalt always said that he built Disneyland so an average family could all have fun together, instead of the parents watching from a nearby bench, as he had done with his daughters. The attractions Walt created in the first decade of the park from the Main St. USA entrance, to Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland and, of course, Fantasyland were designed, primarily, with the idea of imaginative play. Have the changes to the parks that have occurred over the decades stayed true to his original vision? Or has time made it necessary for the Disney company to alter course to meet the demands of modern visitors?

Contrary to urban legend, on opening day Disneyland’s attraction list was modest, consisting of about 12 attractions, the Disneyland band, a movie theater, shooting gallery, a horse car, musical revue and the Castle. But for a 1950s audience, the park was like opening a play chest full of costumes, props and toys. What kid in that era didn’t want to pretend to be a heroic Davy Crockett fighting Indians or an adventurous explorer discovering the unknowns of the deep jungle, fly like Peter Pan or Dumbo or drive a car. Adults could happily ride with their kids and then the kids could join their parents in experiencing idealized versions of the past by riding a steam powered train, gliding on a Mississippi riverboat, relive your childhood on a magnificently restored 19th century carousel where every horse was a jumper or shoot like a western marksman.

With the introduction of the Matterhorn in 1959 Disney introduced the first themed, steel roller coaster to the theme park world. But Walt, who had wanted a Disneyland coaster matterhorn 1959from the start, still managed to have his cake and ate it too. The Matterhorn’s tubuler track and nylon wheels combined with reaching a height of only 80 feet (modern coasters go well over 255 feet) made for the kind of family friendly attraction that fit, what he believed, (and magically seemed to know) his guests wanted. While the theming and zooming in and out of the mountain make for a highly stylized view of the Iconic European Alps, it was a departure from what most 50s Americans would have imagined they might ever do.

Alice8-58The family friendly, imaginative play theme continued through Walt’s lifetime with the additions of Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, Alice in Wonderland and the Sailing Ship Columbia, peaking perhaps, in the early 60s. Walt began to take advantage of technological advancements accelerated by WED’s work for the 1964 NY World’s Fair. (See my posts Walt Disney Goes to the Fair and Report on D23’s “Behind the Scenes” NYC Event for more Disney Fair info) And we can see Walt’s attention turning more toward the future as guests were treated to a new form of transportation when the Disneyland Monorail took off in 1959. Even today, many visitors (and the Disney Company) consider the Monorail an attraction.

monorail opening

VP Nixon & family help Walt Disney dedicate the Monorail at Disneyland June 1959.

Aside from the Monorail, the rest of attractions which Disney had direct input into: Enchanted Tiki Room; The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln; It’s a Small World; and finally Pirates of the Caribbean, all could and still are enjoyed by all guests, from the oldest to the youngest. Pacific island theming was very hot in the 60s, with tiki bars serving Mai Tais everywhere and Hawaiian shirts in every man’s closet. Perhaps more than previous attractions, music now played an important part in the overall design as Walt continued to create a movie-like experience for guests.

062613_tiki-room-50th-anniversary-archives-15

In the decades after Walt’s death Walt Disney World opened and the attractions at the two U.S. parks haven’t always matched. But, in general, attractions like Space Mountain, Star Tours, Indiana Jones Adventure/Dinosaur, Splash Mountain, as well as the newer Soarin’ versions, in my opinion, demonstrate an approach which is still steeped in Imagineering theming and storytelling. But the emphasis is on thrills and a more immersive feel with little room for individual imagination. We experience the attractions without necessarily having to use our own imaginations to be entertained. In some cases it’s all about the thrills, in attractions like Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest and California Screamin’. Theme parks and amusement parks continue to up the ante on thrill rides, so, it follows, that in order to keep customers who want to feel an adrenaline rush, Disney had to offer those options to their guests.

Family style entertainment still has a place in the U.S. theme parks, plussed (Disney style enhancement) by 3D projections in attractions like Muppetvision and Toy Story Midway Mania. Sometimes 3D is combined with other sensory surprises found in Mickey’s Philharmagic and It’s Tough to be a Bug. Animatonics have seen their share of added pizazz  through computer animation seen in Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Radiator Springs Racers.

avatar bustFinally, with the opening of Pandora and the imminent unveiling of Star Wars Land, Disney is taking theming to new levels of immersiveness. Not only are there new attractions in these mini-parks, but, instead of just entering into the story of the attraction starting at the queue, we are plunged into that story from the moment we enter the Land. The theming encompasses everything around the visitor, food, costuming, and, in the case of Pandora, flora. During the Star Wars Land announcement at the 2015 D23 Expo, Bob Iger joked that they were looking for future park employees who could speak a variety of alien languages. I’ll bet that if it were possible, Disney would be all in.

It’s my opinion that Disney keeps an ear to the ground, listening for changes in theme park entertainment to compete with other park operators.  But, they also have an eye on a public that demands more thrills and expects technology to play more than a supporting role in attractions. With the commercial availability of virtual reality gear, it may only be a matter of time before we’re all strapping on goggles and headsets for future attractions.

As the U.S. Disney parks continue to grow and change, we still see the spirit of Walt’s family oriented approach in rides like Toy Story Midway Mania, the upcoming Toy Story Land, Voyage of the Little Mermaid and the continued popularity of attractions like Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight. Not everyone can take advantage of every attraction anymore. But that doesn’t mean adults or children have to sit on a bench and watch. There’s more than enough to keep everyone happy and entertained during a vacation stay.

I don’t like to refer to audience sophistication, because, in the end we all want to be entertained, whether through thrills, scares, laughs or surprises. But because we have so much entertainment, literally, at our fingertips, Disney has had to meet our expanded expectations. And we always want more. How many of you don’t think twice about seeing a movie in 3D? How many of you have young children who turn up their noses at the carousel or Dumbo?

My children loved to play pretend, using their imaginations to turn their bedroom into a Buzz Lightyear rocket ship or do the twilight bark with their stuffed animals. And Walt certainly gave those early Disneyland visitors the same opportunity, albeit, with a little more pizazz. I think flexing our imaginations and dreaming helped create generations of inventors, strivers and dreamers that built companies like IBM, Ford, Apple and Google and made our country the envy of the world. I hope that having our entertainment fed to us rather than having to work for it a little will not lead us to be a country that sits and waits for things to happen instead of making magic.

dreamfinder

el groupo flight

From left: Hazel Cottrell, Bill Cottrell, Ted Sears, Lillian Disney, Walt Disney, Norm Ferguson and Frank Thomas.

In the summer of 1941, at the request of the US government, Walt and a group of animators and story people took off on a good will tour of South America. The trip took them through the heart of the Inca empire, including Peru, where my wife and I recently visited. The group collected stories literature, music and customs and sketched people, clothing, buildings, animal scenes and landscapes, in addition to learning about folklore and music. Back then,Inca map the trip yielded two shorts, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Almost 60 years later, the Studio’s 40th animated feature would dig more deeply into the ancient world of the Inca in The Emperor’s New Groove. My wife and I explored parts of Peru, which was the center of the great Inca Empire, which spread across all the places “El Groupo” visited. Based on my ten day visit the Disney artists and director Mark Dindal nailed, not only the look of Groove, but captured the essence of the Inca world and its culture.

kuzco loungingThe beginning of the film, where Kuzco impresses on us that the story is about him, is not so far from the truth. The Sapa Inca, official title of the Incan Emperor, was considered a god whose power derived, not only, from his parentage, but from his religious status as son of the powerful “Inti”, the Sun god. So Kuzco’s attitudes are not far from the bizarre, royal world inhabited by the Inca emperors where everything they touched, wore or didn’t eat was ritualistically burned each year.

mummy on litter

Royal “mummy” carried in the Inti Ryami festival in Cusco

The Emperor would have been carried everywhere by bearers, even after death. His mummified remains would have continued to be carried during annual festivals like the Inti Raymi or Sun festival we saw in the city of Cusco. Kronk carries Yzma, the “new Emperor”, everywhere in a litter emblazoned with a snake, which eventually takes flight like a condor. The Snake and Condor both, we’ll see in a minute, are tied to Inca social and religious beliefs. And the chair inside the litter sports a diamond design that is still found on fabrics hand made by Inca descendants.

Pacha’s willingness to drop everything, trek to the palace, then, without question, hand over his family land to Kuzco is perfectly in line with the Inca culture. He doesn’t go just because the Emperor calls, but he demonstrates an example of the Inca practice of mit’a. Instead of giving money for taxes (the Inca functioned on the bartering system, no money) each Inca man and woman was obligated to give time each year to the state by doing things like farming, weaving, building or fighting in the army. It’s been described as one day for me and one day for the State or my neighbor. In return, the State would make sure everyone was clothed, fed and protected and your neighbor would help you when you were in need. Someone like Pacha would regularly leave his family farm to work communal farms needed to feed the royals and their relations, or perhaps build new cities.

winyawina

Tiered farming sites like Winyawina might have been farmed by many Pachas to feed others

Kuzco, however, embraces the opposite of the Inca’s Golden Rule, which is still widely repeated in the Andes: ana sua, ana llula, ama cheklla. It translates to “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy”. Pacha’s attitudes toward Kuzco over the course of their adventures, even though the Emperor demonstrates neither honesty nor gratitude, on the other hand, make perfect sense in the context of that Golden Rule.

Visually, the film is full of Inca symbolism, architecture and references to daily life. The first thing I can tell you about the world of the Incas, is STEPS. We hiked part of the “Inca Trail”, visited many historically significant sights including Machu Picchu. Everywhere we went required climbing stairs. And these stairs aren’t the nice even, regular rises we are used to. Instead clearing areas to make steps, the way we would today, the Incas, to their credit, simply adapted existing landscapes. This often means steps like this:

steps

followed by a distance that could be flat, but might rise or fall steeply, followed by more steps and then more steps. We see the ubiquitous steps around Kuzco’s throne, as Pacha climbs up to the palace entrance and when Kronk carries Kuzco, as a llama in the sack.

Incas did indeed build some of their most amazing cities, like Machu Picchu in the craziest places – often at the top or on a mountainside. Pacha’s village sits on a mountain top.

pacha crossAs Pacha enters the palace we see the Andean cross which has many parallel meanings and exhibits the way Incas used the power of three or “threeology” in their thinking, buildings and religion. Toward the end of the film, when Yzma holds “the” vial, you can see three steps behind her. Inca historical sites are full of the “threes” as in the Andean Cross.

andean cross

The gold that adorned Inca palaces and sacred sites like Kuzco’s palace was confirmed by accounts written by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. In fact, the Incas didn’t value gold or silver as a source of wealth, but as decoration for buildings, clothing and other items.

kuzcos gold palace.png

Doors and windows, especially in highly sacred or royal architectures have a distinct trapezoidal shape as we can see in the movie buildings as well.

There’s not a lot of actual eating in the movie, other than spinach puffs discussions, and it’s unclear how much llama meat was eaten by the Incas. So Kuzco in llama form might not have been on the menu. But, his wool would have been used for clothing, hides for shoes, and he would have hauled goods. And, oh, he might have been used for ritual sacrifice. Today, there are 16 protected llamas that roam the grounds of Machu Picchu. Unlike Kuzco, they are friendly and seem to mostly ignore photo hungry tourists.

In addition to being able to build fantastic cities in the most remote and inaccessible places, the Inca were masters of urban design. The Inca cities not only supported thousands of people, but included plumbing in the form of aqueducts. All of the aqueducts and flowing water we see in the movie are still evident and working at many Inca sites today, hundreds of years after they were designed and built. Some were used to provide drinking water.

Some were used to drain off potential flooding rains like the one Kronk throws Kuzco into and others were used to move irrigation water.

Based on what our Peruvian guides told us, there are, however, some misfires in The Groove. No women, other than perhaps the queen (Inca rulers had many wives. Some of the rulers had as many as 100 children) would have had positions of power or decision making. Sorry Yzma. But she wouldn’t have come anywhere near the throne.

no throne

Next is Pacha’s cart. No one has been able to definitively prove how the Inca managed to move the enormous stones that make up sites like the ceremonial sites of Sacsayhuaman or Ollantytambo and piece them together perfectly  with no mortar.

big stone

Some stones are over 300 tons

Some say they simply used manpower and logs to roll the stones quarried from many miles away. Others look to the stars and believe ancient aliens assisted. Either way, the Inca did not have access to the wheel so there wouldn’t have been a cart. Pacha would have just tied the sack holding Kuzco to his llama.

no wheel

I find myself laughing throughout the Emperor’s New Groove. It’s a classic buddy movie filled with snappy dialogue, crazy situations and unique characters. No one gets hurt, there’s a happy ending and the movie is filled with subtle, but, accurate representations of the Inca people and their world.

The time I spent in Peru allowed me to see and learn about a culture that encompassed a vast , well organized, culturally rich empire, populated by people skilled in astronomy, architecture, agriculture and economics. I also found their descendants to be warm, welcoming and proud to help me learn about their history.

My wife and I are on vacation in Peru, so this will be a real short post. We’ve come from Lima, the capital and arrived in Cusco, which is the city our favorite Incan ruler, Kuzco is named after. Then we’re headed for the Inca Trail and Macchu Picchu.

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Boom Baby, See ya’ll next week!

Keeping Disney Time

I’ve written in the past about collecting Disneyana (See Hooked on Collecting). One of the items, I have gravitated to are timepieces. In the book “The Mickey Mouse Watch, From the Beginning of Time” by Robert Heide & John Gilmen, they relate that Tim Luke, who was working then as the head of collectibles at Christie’s, called the Mickey Mouse timepieces pivotal and central to the theme of Disneyana collecting.

I don’t wear any jewelry regularly, other than my wedding band. But, wearing a Disney watch seems like a way to make a statement without being flashy and it can be a great conversation starter. I have some very nice non-Disney watches that I wear regularly. But I also have some Disney watches that I find myself wearing often. All the items in the post are from my collection.

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LtoR: SII Marketing; WDW original artwork (they used to sell these at Uptown Jewelers on Main St); Seiko; early D23 gift; Kodak, WDW 25th Anniversary; WDW SE Collector’s Series

I also have collected some very early Disney watches which I don’t wear. Watches were not the first item Disney granted merchandising rights for. That goes to a simple pad of paper in 1929, shortly after the release of Steamboat Willie. Watches didn’t appear until 1933 and were first produced by the Waterbury Clock Company under the Ingersoll label . The first Mickey wristwatches were sold for $3.75.

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Because the watches proved to be so popular, (Macy’s in NYC sold 11,000 of them in one day and they outsold the World’s Fair commemorative 3-1 in 1939). Ingersoll sold more than 2.5 million watches between 1933 and 1935. A Mickey watch was sealed in the NY World’s Fair time capsule in 1939. The watch I own is from 1934, identifiabke by the addition of “Made in the USA”, added to discourage counterfeiters.

Ingersoll also produced a pocket watch version in 1933. The original box was red like the wristwatch. The box I have is from a later model.

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Once the watches popularity was established, Ingersoll added a deluxe version manufactured from 1937-1942. I haven’t been able to determine the exact year my watch is from.

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In 1933 Disney released the Silly Symphony cartoon Three Little Pigs, which became an enormous success. Not only was the short Popular, with audiences coming to the theaters to see the Pigs, not necessarily the main features. The song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” sold records, sheet music and was easily on everyone’s lips. The watches sold by the thousands. The wolf’s eyes shift back and forth on the pocket watch version. A larger table alarm clock was produced in 1934 and sold for $1.39.

My collection moves ahead to the  what I believe is the 1950s with these two very different alarm clock styles from Bradley. One is a simple windup alarm clock. The other is more in the old whimsical Disney style with 2 bells.


This “Official Mouseketeer” watch is probably from the 1970s revival of the “New Mickey Mouse Club”.

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These two mantel clocks from the 1980s. One is a Mickey Mouse 60th Anniversary. The other plays 6 melodies. both are by Seiko.

These are some more recent pieces I bought, because I liked the way they looked and they were limited editions.

Finally, here’s a pendulum style clock that I’ve been unable to track down any information about. Could be someone’s hand made piece. There’s no markings on it and the character image is very well done.

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Starting with the Ingersoll watches, Disney timepieces were part of the overall merchandising genius of Herman “Kay” Kamen, the man Walt hired to manage character licensing. Ever watchful of the Disney brand, every licensed item had to be approved for quality by the Disney Company. By the time Snow White opened a complete merchandising campaign was ready to go on day one. It’s no secret that the licensing fees have always been a significant part of Disney company revenues. Thousands of watches and clocks have been produced over the years. So, a collector should be able to find something of interest with a price tag to match the budget.

Because there were and continue to be many different Disney character timepieces produced, it’s often hard to track down specific information, particularly on some of the older pieces. Part of the fun, is the detective work that’s required to specifically identify dates and manufacturers for any Disneyana item. If anyone has reliable information about the pieces I’ve included here, please let me know through a comment or email. Those of you who are hooked on collecting, like I am, happy hunting!

 

mrtoad_detailI was in a restaurant the other day for the first time and on the inside cover of their wine list was an explanation for their approach to wine offerings. It begins with the following: “Ever been to Disneyland? Welcome to our version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (or splash and swirl mountain, if you prefer)”. A little further along, they talk about changing the way traditional wine lists are formatted. Toward the end of the page, they finish with “Remember, it’s just like Disneyland (without the long lines)”. On the one hand, the restaurant clearly wants its wine list seen as singularly inventive, ground breaking, fun and memorable, the waywalt watching painter many people viewed Disneyland. Whoever wrote this was a Mr. Toad fan, so probably someone who likes Disney theme parks enough to pick an attraction that had a large fan base. But, then after some explanation about how make the best use of the list, including some tips (take a look at it before coming in, ask the server for recommendations, let the server choose for you, or forget the wine and order scotch), the writer felt it necessary to cover the other half of the world’s view of the Happiest place on Earth, by making references to attraction lines. If you read my post What’s with you and the Disney Thing?, I’d say the writer has not come to terms with his or her inner Disney fan.

castle costWhen I hear other people talk about their Disney theme park vacations, some of the first comments they often make are related to three different complaints. First up is “It’s so expensive” (often followed by a “you know what I mean” look or a sigh). I’ll admit, a Disney theme park vacation is not going to be cheap. I do, however, believe one should think in terms of what value for your money. Even If you don’t stay at a hotel on the Disney property, you are getting an extremely immersive experience chock full of just about every vacation option you can think of, (with the exception of the actual ocean), all as close a short car or bus ride.  Here in NY a movie ticket will cost me $13 for about 2 hours of entertainment, including endless previews, commercials, not including snacks, A ticket to the Bronx Zoo is $37 and is limited to walking and watching the animals. I’ll let you do the math. And that doesn’t include all of the free activities that you can take advantage of once you are inside the park.

Wherever you roam within a Disney theme park, you can be assured of a consistently high quality of customer experience. There’s no surprise when playing round of miniature golf that the course will be clean, well managed and, of course, perfectly themed. Every interaction whether it’s an attraction that starts with a themed, often, covered queue or a restaurant, perhaps with characters, or character meet and greets, is handled with the highest quality and attention to detail. As the inventor of the modern7-guest-service-guidelines theme park, Walt always insisted on the highest levels of customer service at Disneyland. It all started with calling the employees Cast Members. Walt believed that a theme park visit should feel like going to a show or a movie. Once a Cast Member is “on stage” each guest interaction is handled with a smile and an honest desire to add to the your vacation’s enjoyment. That tradition continues today. Every time you interact with a cast member, you’re not only treated like a valued customer, but made to feel you are somehow special. Many of us have experienced an unexpected magical moment, like a fastpass, a free pin or help finding a lost item.

06_ParksBlog_BigTop_MerchDisplaySecond complaint is that Disney is too commercial and geared towards kids. Let’s put that first part into context. Every vacation spot in the world is a commercial undertaking. If, by commercial, those people mean that it’s all about Disney. Well, yes, it is. That’s why people would go to Disney parks, instead of some other vacation option. And, having souvenirs with those much loved characters is no different than being upsold a scuba excursion or Hawaiian Luau. And unless you’ve been kidnapped, blindfolded and released without your consent into Disneyland, I don’t think I’ve seen too many unhappy adults at Disney parks. (Unless they are they proud parents of an over tired, over stimulated child who should have been given a rest earlier in the day). Even if you’ve never seen a Disney movie, there’s plenty to enjoy that’s geared aswalt watching painter much for adults as it is for kids. You can play golf, laze about in a water park, be pampered at a Disney hotel or enjoy a world class meal. In addition, there is a growing number of rides that have height restrictions and are not designed for the youngest amongst us.

The restaurant’s wine list comment about the lines is the third most related complaint in my unofficial survey. I sympathize with those who spend the bettecastle fireworksr part of their Disney theme park vacation on line. However, I believe some flexibility and planning can do a lot to reduce the waits while improving the overall quality of one’s Disney vacation experience. Anyone who books a Disney vacation during a peak attendance period, should be resigned to some lines. If you can avoid those times (there is plenty of advice and statistical analysis on expected crowds across the many Disney fan sites), then, by all means, pick a less obviously busy day or days. Expecting an empty park during school Easter break or between Christmas and New Year’s is like expecting a private showing of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center any day in December.

Even if you can’t or can go any other time, I find it rather amazing that many of the same people who complain about costs for Disney vacations, do little or no planning. People will scour the internet for the cheapest airfares, hotels and rental cars. But not doing any planning at all for your time in Parks is just asking for lots of waiting, extra walking, planning-ecardmissed experiences and an overall cranky group of people. If you don’t want to do the planning, there are websites that will help you do it. Some will even ask the age range of the people in your group, whether you want to minimize walking or waiting, hours you want to spend in the park and will consider historical crowd levels to give you a good chance of having an extremely enjoyable time. You can even build in breaks, meals and other special Disney park experiences like parades and fireworks. And there are many well reviewed travel agencies that specialize in planning and arranging Disney vacations from the parks to cruises to Disney adventures. So, don’t stop your planning at plane fare and insure that your hard-earned dollars translate in a vacation that you don’t regret taking.

A Disney vacation is not everyone’s cup of un-birthday tea. Just as climbing Everest or a week of some city’s oldest churches is not going to be at the top of everyone’s list for leisure activity.  Sure, there might be situations where you might not get the best spot for watching a parade, the highly prized meal at Be Our Guest might elude you or keeping everyone in your group happy means that you don’t get a second ride on Splash Mountain. And there are some extras that are beyond many people’s budgets, like the Chef’s Table at the Napa Rose. But, there are so many other options, I defy anyone to say that there aren’t enough options to make your vacation fun and leave you feeling you’ve gotten good value for your money. With some planning, some thought about what’s most important to you and a little flexibility you’ll not only have a great time, but also experience the unexpected magical pixie dust that makes you feel like you too can fly.

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