Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Archive for September, 2017

Keep your own “Best Of” List

beast confusionThere are days when I feel as if there are forces trying to control how I think. No, I’m not going around wearing a tinfoil hat. And, I’m the last person to spread rumors or subscribe to websites claiming the government is using mind control methods on us like fluoridating the water (See Kubrick’s brilliant movie Dr. Strangelove for more on that cold war plot). But, because I subscribe to a number of Disney and non-Disney sites, I have noticed an increase in the number of emails that feature a “Best of” or “Worst of” or top ten, or top whatever list. Just like the 24 hour news channels are forced to fill the space with talk to keep us watching, it seems like everyone believes that we incapable of making up our own minds about things. So, in order to drive people to their sites, they have to tell us what to think.

listerineIn the past, product and service companies were the ones telling us that our breath was bad, we needed a better car or reminding us what cool people were wearing this year. I can understand a component of selling that needs to convince us to buy their product. This same approach has now become a staple of many Disney related and other websites. The Internet explosion has made us all information junkies. How many of you Disney fans have clicked on a list link thinking that someone knows something about Disney that you don’t, only to be terribly disappointed by the rudimentary nature of the list? In some cases they don’t even seem to care that much about what they’re espousing as the “best”. Where’s the inside info? I thought it was going to totally change my Disney plans or what restaurant I would eat at California Adventure or my outlook on life.

Critics have been at this for more than a century. Certainly, movie box office receipts are affected by reviews. And there’s no doubt that Broadway shows have seen their lives cut Anton-Ego-reviewershort by sharp tongued newspaper critics. Because the price of some of these tickets has become prohibitively expensive, I, for one, don’t want to regret spending my hard earned nickels and dimes, or in the case of a Broadway show, this week’s paycheck, on a bad production. On the other hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed some things that the “knowledgeable” reviewers thought were terrible. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. My choice to not see “Home on the Range” or pass on “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” wasn’t based on other people’s opinions, but my sense that they were not going to entertain me based on the description.

I’m not the ultimate expert on everything Disney. I’m interested in what others think or learning something new. Some people look forward to Stitch’s Great Escape the way I can’t wait to get back on The Carousel of Progress. No amount of lists are going to convince me the CoP is an anachronistic boor and a waste of my precious time at WDW. I recently received an email from a reputable travel source touting that they had ranked every single ride at Walt Disney World. The article starts with, “This [meticulous] ranking of every [stellar must-see] 3D attraction, [perfectly] themed roller coaster, and out-of-this-world flyer will help you plan the [perfect] trip for speed demons and boat ride obsessives alike. (highlights are mine) Keep in mind that there are no real criteria for the ranking, except for the writer’s opinion. I will bet the money in my back account that my agenda for my last Disneyland vacation is very different from yours. Comparing the Prince Regal Carrousel with Space Mountain is like saying steak is better than chicken.

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Can you take a vacation to a Disney theme park without consulting someone else’s list for what you should experience? I say yes, you can. There are plenty of websites that provide more than enough information about attractions, shows and restaurants for almost anyone to decide. (Here’s a list of the one’s that I look at regularly) Is there a possibility that you’ll be disappointed? Sure. But, whoever told you that life was always guaranteed to deliver on all our expectations? It doesn’t mean that your whole vacation will be ruined by finding that It’s a Small World was not for you. Doing even the smallest amount of research would have easily told you that it wasn’t going to be a thrill ride. Doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself. At a recent trip to Disneyland I rode Alice in Wonderland for the first time. As a great admirer of Mr. Disney, shame on me for not riding one of the attractions that was designed during his lifetime. I enjoyed the attraction, but probably would not go out of my way to ride again. But, I wasn’t kicking myself for taking the time to give it a try.  Just as I’ve tried Stitch’s Great Escape but will definitely, not go on it again. The point is, neither ride is likely to be on anyone’s top ten. But, I made up my own mind. I didn’t have someone make it for me.

As much s I enjoy a Disney theme park trip, It think approaching every trip just like the last one is a sure fire way to make the the parks seem boring. Adding some new things and leaving time for the unexpected is just the ticket to making each trip more fun and memorable. It’s more than likely that my “Best of” list, including which parks to visit, where to eat and what attractions to ride are going will include some favorites and a rotating list of other things to do. Not only are there new attractions and shows to check out, but there is probably a different mix of people going. I’m getting to the age where the addition of younger children will make it necessary to start adding rides like Dumbo back into our itinerary. And, one never know what kind of surprise you  might stumble upon. Character interactions, street performers, maybe even some Disney magic provided by a cast member.

Even though life might be a crap shoot sometimes, you shouldn’t take someone else’s word for what might entertain or enlighten. Going on a Disney theme park vacation or seeing a Disney movie is a choice in the first place. I’m guessing if you want the thrill and adventure or white water rafting on the Colorado, you wouldn’t have picked a Disney vacation in the first place. Over the years our Disney theme park vacations and moviemice dice choices have changed as our kid’s ages and our tastes have changed. Walt’s original premise for Disneyland was for it to be a place the whole family could enjoy together. You don’t have to choose to spend the day watching your kids on the Carousel. They get to ride Dumbo and others get Space Mountain. Everyone ends the day having enjoyed themselves. Perhaps you ended up liking the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular more than you thought you would.  Part of the enjoyment of a Disney theme park vacation is making it your vacation. Not someone else’s idea of what the vacation should be.

yodaYes, we are an information addicted society today. With all of that great information, literally, at your fingertips, wisely you should use it my young padawans. Don’t think for one moment that someone else’s idea for a fun Disney theme park vacation will match your idea of a good time. Do some research and make your own choices. Only that way can we keep the mind controllers from making everyone’s theme park experience the same. Besides, part of my strategy for my trips to Disney involved waiting the least amount of time on line as possible. If everyone goes only to the same attractions and shows that are deemed “the best”, we’ll all be standing in line forever.

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Can Artists be Champions?

usopen logoI spent the last couple of weeks watching the great tennis being played at the US Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows (Also the site of the 1964 World’s Fair that Disney headlined). I love sports in general. But there’s something about the competitions that are head to head. There’s no one out there to count on but yourself. Tennis doubles down on the mano a mano-contest by forbidding coaching during the matches other than supportive yelling and clapping. If one of the players finds him or herself on the short end of the score, it’s up to him or her to come up with a new game plan or get themselves out of a negative mental funk. The champions, like Nadal, Federer, both Williams and a select handful of others can  do both, which is just one of the qualities that separates them from the pack.

goofy tennis

Certainly, practicing plays a part in a person’s success at any endeavor. But, success, is different from being recognized as the “best” at something. In sports, being the best is measured by wins and or statistics – most home runs, lowest E.R.A., most touchdowns thrown, etc. Being the best is more complicated to qualify in the arts. Beauty, as well as entertainment value, humor, scariness, dramatic quality, are found in the senses of the beholder. One person’s favorite painting is at the bottom of someone else’s list. I’ve heard people refer to Walt Disney as the best producer of animated features or the best theme park designer. There can be no argument that Walt was successful beyond the expectations of most people. But, was he the best?

ub iwerksWalt was quite comfortable admitting that he was never the best at drawing or animating. In fact, by the time he had come up with idea for Mickey Mouse and instilled him with the characteristics that would make a drawing one of the most recognizable icons in the world, it was Ub Iwerks and others who ultimately brought him to life. I’ve not heard any recollections of him doing any drawing that ended up on the screen once he had hired others to do the work. And, yet, it is his animated products for which he is most remembered.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if I can we draw any parallels between the qualities that help athletes succeed on the tennis courts and the kind of success Walt achieved.

330px-Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_AdamCreativity – Tennis players are more like improvisational actors, creating as they go and responding to their opponent’s work. Great tennis players use creativity to surprise the other player. Since creativity is the essence of any artist’s work. In many cases, art is creating something out of nothing. It might be carving David out of a block of stone, mixing pigment with oil to create the Sistine Chapel, sitting at a lifeless piano and writing “Feed the Birds” or using language to write “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Walt’s creative fortes were developing ideas, sometimes through improvisational thinking in response to work by others in his creative field. From his earliest successes like the Alice Comedies to Disneyland, Disney found ways to improve

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on the success of others. The multi-plane camera brought depth to his animated work. Snow White pushed the limits of an audience’s attention span for animated shorts. And, of course, Disneyland went well beyond the amusement parks that had been around for more than a century and improved on even the most successful ones of their time like Luna Park in Coney Island.

Adaptability – Tennis players, like most athletes, never know just which of their skills and abilities will respond on any given day. So, not only do they need to adapt their game plan to take advantage of a good backhand one day while the forehand can’t find the inside of the court. But, at the same time, great tennis players quickly adjust their game to the strengths or weaknesses of their opponent. Players who can’t adapt have little chance of winning if their serve isn’t working and they have no other options. Walt’s success was dependent upon his ability to adapt to changing audience’s tastes and interests for entertainment. We all like to talk about the times when he was right. There were, however, times when he missed the mark, like the much criticized film Victory Through Air Power and the Pack Mules at Disneyland. But, he was right about feature length animated films, family focused, live action features, audioanimatronics, and theme parks.

1180w-600h_020116_oswald-hungry-hobos-short-q-and-aMental toughness – The difference between winning a losing for tennis players of roughly equal skill is whether they can capitalize on any advantage their opponent presents or whether, when presented with a losing situation, they can continue to fight rather than giving up. Walt demonstrated this ability many times during his life and his career. Early on he had several failed attempts at starting his own business. Once he managed to succeed and build his studio, he had to maintain his positive mindset when confronted many times with money problems, intellectual property control problems with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an animators strike, and having his studio commandeered by the US military during WWII.

Striving for excellence – The same mental toughness pushes professional tennis players Walt Disney, Filmproduzent, USAto improve their game. During daily, focused practice sessions the best players maintain the better parts of their games and try to improve upon their weaknesses. That kind of dedication is only possible if the player wants nothing more than to be the best he or she can. It also means giving up some parts of what many of us would consider a normal life. It might mean doing without personal relationships, education, strict diets, and other things most of us consider fun or important. Walt never seemed to want anything other than producing the best products he could. The only way he could know if he was achieving excellence was his own judgement, until someone would pay him for the work and/or an audience would respond positively. As a result, it seems that he developed a very for excellence. The more he succeeded, the higher his standards became. This was evident in how hard he pushed the people who worked for him and, perhaps, how stingy he was with compliments. He also spent many nights and weekends sleeping in his office and giving up time with his family.

Practice – Tennis players spent countless hours every day on the court and working on their fitness. The difference between winning and losing can be stamina and the ability to execute simple and difficult shots when arms and legs are weary. Practice also instills muscle memory, so the player to be confident executing shots and allowing him or her to focus on mental toughness rather than the physical act of hitting the ball. Disney used the Silly Symphonies shorts to help his animators and others to learn and practice the skills that he knew would be needed to finish Snow White. During Disney’s lifetime, would-be animators worked under through an apprenticeship doing clean-up cleanupwork (cleaning up the extraneous lines animators left behind), then moving on to in-betweening (animators did the key poses then the in-betweeners would fill in the drawings needed to smooth out the movements), then they might get an opportunity to draw lesser characters before moving on to lead animator. All of this work was not only necessary to complete the thousands of drawings needed to complete an animated feature, but provided practice needed to insure they had the skills to move on to more complex work.

It might be possible to compare artists to tennis players in this way. And, in a way, the comparison shows that Walt was a champion. But, Walt’s most important qualities lay in his ability: to dream big like he did with Snow White and finally Disneyland; choose the right people for the right jobs, even if they may not have exhibited all the skills required to complete the job, like he did with X Atencio when he asked him to write the lyrics for “Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life”. But, I believe the most important part he played in his own and other’s success was his ability to inspire and lead people. He had an uncanny ability to get others to see and believe in his dreams. As a result, they probably excelled more than if someone else had asked.

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Parades do More than Just Block the Path to Splash Mountain

When you search your memory banks, there are events that immediately come to mind. Certain birthdays, weddings, special anniversaries, even deaths are big markers on the Macys-Paradetimeline of our lives. They all involve a change in life – a year older, permanently adding or losing someone in your life. There are other lesser life changing events that happen many times throughout our lives that don’t register as quickly or at all. Until now, it hadn’t registered to me, that parades have been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. You may ask (and you’d be justified) “With all of the important things going on in your life, hurricanes, nuclear threats, daily breaking political news, and missed dentist appointments, why have you fixed your keen eye on parades?”

elephants in nycMaybe, like Walt, I yearn for simpler times. I’ve watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade either on TV or in person for so long, that it could almost be a guest at the holiday table. The Rose Parade has been the kickoff to many a New Year’s day of college football. The town I live in has parades for everything from St. Patrick’s Day to Gary Pride Day and almost every other holiday of the year. My kids marched in those parades as part of school bands. I watched them march in those same bands for the NYC Columbus Day parade. I’ve been fortunate enough to actually watch the now defunct Ringling Brothers circus parade into NYC, complete with elephants.

st ferminI recently was on hand for the annual Festival of St. Fermin parade in Pamplona, Spain the week before the running of the bulls. There have been Halloween parades, Christmas parades, Mermaid parades (an annual Coney Island event), Easter parades and even Renaissance Faire parades. I’m fairly certain, with the possible exception of the Mermaids, that most of you could come up with a similar list. Yours might even be longer.

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Broadway and Films have featured parades as part of their overall message of happiness, rebirth and possibilities:

Barnum’s “Come Follow the Band

Hello Dolly’s “Before the Parade Passes By

The Music Man’s “Seventy-Six Trombones

Easter Parade” in the film of the same name

Disney’s Aladdin’s “Prince Ali

And nothing makes you want to march more than a Sousa military march

the-american-circus-parade_oxq6paWalt grew up in an era where travelling circuses where a common form of entertainment. He would have seen and possibly followed the circus parade into town designed to drum up interest before setting up tents just outside of town. And in keeping with his “let’s go back to a happier time” theme and knowing everyone loves a parade, Walt had a parade on opening day at Disneyland in 1955.

The parade was replete with several military marching bands, antique cars, knights, frontier and Native American horsemen, costumed and face characters, children, horse drawn carriages, covered wagons and streetcars, Autopia cars, and floats. Just like the circuses of old who used the parade to highlight what visitors would see, much of the Disneyland opening day parade was designed as a preview to highlight the four lands that guests would see during their Disneyland visit.

Most of us like surprises, even during out Disney Theme Park visit. But our days usually include a struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy or equilibrium. Our lives are often full of chaos these days. So, there’s something comforting about knowing that every day at 3 and then later that evening there is a Disney theme park parade. The parades entice us to slow down, grab an ice cream cone, cotton candy or a hot dog, listen for the announcements and wait for the music to start or the lights to dim along the parade route. I find that even if the parade temporarily blocks my path to get somewhere in the park, once the music, floats and characters is passing, I’m not that unhappy or frustrated. I settle in and enjoy the show. I have enjoyed some Disney parades more than others. But they all include a catchy tune, like

Remember the Magic

Spectromagic

Paint the Night

The Main St. Electrical Parade

Festival of Fantasy

Aside from the inevitable march of the parade forward, the floats, characters, dancers all create vignettes that tell a story in the minute or so it takes for them to pass by us and our attention is drawn to the next. It feels a little like the picture books I read to my kids. The page turns and we take in the new picture and get ready for the next part of the story. You can feel the legacy of Walt as he reminded his directors and Imagineers that without a good story, a parade is nothing more than moving noise.

It’s nice to know that when we escape to a Disney Theme park here in the U.S. we can count on a parade, twice a day, like clockwork. The floats are magical, the dancers create beautiful pictures and our we get to see some of our favorite Disney characters in a new or familiar setting. And unlike the parades in your hometown, you don’t need to get up early then spend the better part of the morning waiting. And you don’t have to worry about traffic being snarled for the who day while you try to get home. The Disney people have the parade thing down to a science. The parade ropes go up and come down almost by magic.

I’m not sure there’s any other show, with the exception of evening fireworks (which by the way are sandwiched between the two even parade showings. Coincidence? I think not) which draws as many people to watch There are some people who will forgo attractions and other events in the day, just to get a good spot on Main St. Live shows have come and gone, but the parades march on.

With all the chaos and tension in our world’s today, I have a suggestion. Go find a parade. Follow it or be in it. If you can’t find one, start one of your own. I’m certain you’ll get people to join in. Either way I think it will, at least, temporarily, transport you to a time when the only concern you had on your mind was whether the next pack of baseball cards would get you the last player on your favorite team or maybe what color t-shirt you should wear with your favorite jeans. It is possible, that without any of us being aware of it, Disney parades, or maybe any parades keep our world in balance.

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