Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

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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.

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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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Multplane Camera

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

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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.

Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Disney Muse Gone?

shutterstock_194759198Frequent visitors to The Disney Connection may have noticed I missed my usual Sunday night post last week. Setting aside some personal and professional craziness that has caused disruptions in the Land of Brad, I’ve had a hard time finishing a post over the last couple of weeks. I can tell you I made several starts which all seemed very promising, including one about the passing of Marty Sklar, improvements needed for the next D23 Expo, my thoughts on The Great Movie Ride and something about Imagineering. I would be kidding myself and all of you if I “wrote” off my creative block as a failure to find anything that clicked and would meet my own personal standards of quality and applicability to the Disney Connection’s mission. The truth is, I couldn’t get my creativity on track. I was blocked, even though I set out to write about something I love.

shutterstock_325327667One part of me wanted to post something. The other part of me was unable to come up with something I felt I could be satisfied to share with you. I’ve published 30 posts on this blog, at a pace of nearly one per week since January of this year. I’d like to thank the hundreds of visitors who regularly read my thoughts, opinions and ramblings about how Walt Disney, who has been gone 51 years this December, still impacts the Disney Company, people like me and maybe you. Many weeks I’ve been completely stunned by the traffic, many likes, comments and number of people who are now following the Disney Connection blog. Thank you all for supporting my work and giving me the satisfaction of knowing that I’m not talking only to myself. So, since I consider you all fellow Disney lovers, I hope you’ll keep reading if I take a tangential trip into CreativityLand, slightly afield from my usual posts.

Over the years, I have tried my hand at various writing projects. I participated in NANOWRIMO , National Novel Writing Month, (an amazing not-for-profit thatnano_12_winner_detail encourages people of all ages to write, including kids) and completed 50,000 word drafts of three novels. I’ve written several full length plays and dozens of shorter theater pieces and had privilege of hearing my work performed by professional actors at public staged readings here in NYC. I’ve written technical white papers and many reports for the customers who I have worked with in my day job over the last 20 years. Those of you who write regularly, particularly for work as I do, may have found that it’s often easier to write when someone else is setting the deadline and determining the topics.

I have always enjoyed writing. But for some time, I had only written professionally. So, I started writing this Blog as a kind of test to see if writing was going to continue to be part of my life. I’m happy to say that writing for the Disney Connection has offered an opportunity for me to rediscover the joy of writing. I take pride in publishing posts that I believe are interesting, amusing, timely and, perhaps, thought provoking. I have no advertisers who are expecting eyeballs on pages, so the only motivation to put hands on the keyboard is that I have a topic which appeals me. I write this Blog because I want to, not because I must.

Anyone who has put pen or brush to paper, hands to clay, a hammer to stone or raised their voice in song can attest that the creative spark is a harsh mistress who can both satisfy and punish any artist. I was just at the D23 Expo and sat very close to Imagineers like the late Marty Sklar, Tony Baxter, Rolly Crump, and musicians Richard Sherman and Alan Menken and others who have somehow managed to be consistently successful in using their skills, imagination and vision to not just be creative, but prolifically creative under financial, deadline, and global fan pressures. They have carried on the work of a man who German philosopher Schopenhauer would have described as both an artist, someone who can hit a target no one else can hit, and a genius as someone who can hit a target no one else can see.

I try to keep my goals for the Disney Connection modest. I do think I occasionally reach some level of artistry in my work on this Blog. Inspiration can be found everywhere. So, it is frustrating to wake up and find one’s muse has taken an unexpected leave of absence. Walt Disney is one of those rare people who was an artist and a genius in everything from animated and live action films to theme parks and education. I remain in awe of his accomplishments and will continue to be inspired by him as an example of what can be achieved. Everyone’s time is valuable and there are plenty of places on the internet, TV, movies and the world that you can all spend it. The more I’ve worked on the Disney Connection the more I have felt a commitment to those of you who have carved out enough time in your busy lives to read my writing. I want all my readers to finish a post feeling that their time has been well spent. If I keep up my end of the bargain, I hope you will too. Thanks for your support.

In the meantime, I’ve put up up a page of pictures from my time at D23 Expo 2017.

The Unfulfilled Promise of E.P.C.O.T.

Walt Disney is appropriately hailed as a genius for his work in animation, film, television and theme park design. In an earlier post, Ahead of His Time . . .Again , I touched on some of the some of the qualities that encouraged many to call Walt a genius (including his own wife Lillian in a 1953 McCall’s article). However, his untimely death may have robbed him of the opportunity to excel in an area for which I don’t think he has been given much praise, but might have been his most important contribution to the world – innovation in the field of urban planning and design. Since when, you might ask, did Disney become an expert in cities? He wasn’t. But he was keenly observant and talked about the problems he saw in the way people lived and worked in 20th century cities. Walt’s genius was not being the best artist or director or architect. The skills that made him successful, among others, were, an uncanny ability as a motivational leader and a savant-like sense of what people wanted and needed. It’s those qualities that may have allowed him to succeed at rethinking the American city where others have failed.

Walt Disney purchased 43 square miles of mostly swamp land, roughly twice the size of Manhattan, in the middle of Florida in the early 1960s. The results of his visionary foresight and the hard work of his surviving brother Roy, is a resort complex that includes 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, more than 25 hotels, shopping plazas, golf courses and the infrastructure necessary to support a city about the size of Pittsburgh or Cincinnati .

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Current Walt Disney World Resort Map Link to map .PDF

Walt Disney World is an amazing accomplishment by any measure. But Walt’s aim was not just to build Disneyland East. In fact what we now know as the Magic Kingdom and its original 2 hotels was intended to be just a fraction of what he wanted to do with all that space. Phase one of the “Florida Project”, the theme park, was going to fund his grander plan — E.P.C.O.T., Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. In his own words:

“EPCOT will be an experimental prototype community of tomorrow that will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.”

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Master Plan drawn by Walt Disney, 1965-66       (c) The Walt Disney Company/The Walt Disney Foundation

Disney, lands of fantasy creator, wanted to take on the complex, often thankless, ever evolving job of solving the problems, many of which persist, inherent in modern cities AND make life better for everyone. In typical Disney fashion, he didn’t want to fix what he thought was already broken in an existing city. He was going to start from scratch. As you can see in the above image, don’t confuse the EPCOT of today or even what it was when it opened in 1982 with what Walt had in mind. In fact, what we now call Walt Disney World was only intended to be one tiny part of the final plan. You can see WDW in the upper left hand corner of the composite image below.

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Map Courtesy of Walt Disney’s Original E.P.C.O.T website,  Disney Master Plan applied to current satellite view of WDW, map by Jack Barnes. Edited by NhojSenrab (c) Google Earth

In my job, over the past eight years, I’ve worked with and around state and local governments across the country. I can tell you from experience, local government is most interested in finding an equilibrium between groups competing for services and attention. Thus, there is little time or money left over for innovation or experimentation. Even if there are resources to try new things which might improve citizens’ lives, the decision making process to prioritize and take all interest groups’ needs, wants and demands into account, typically slows things to a snail’s pace. The result is often a watered down product or service with which no one is happy. How was Walt’s approach going to be different? While there is quite a lot of documentation, including plans, models, a promotional film and Walt’s own words, his death put an end to any chance that his dream might be realized. So, what follows is supposition on my part.

To remove the hectic, disorganized state of cities at that time, Walt was going to put innovation at the forefront of his City experiment. Walt was a true believer that anything could be accomplished, any problem could be solved, if the right amount of focus, imagination and resources were brought to bear. That might sound ridiculously optimistic. But remember, this is the same man who succeeded almost every time the rest of the world had already counted him out. And, in typical Disney style, he wasn’t going to trot out the same old methods, which he knew to have already failed. That’s why I believe he stood a very good chance of being successful at this undertaking. Here’s why.

092712_FS_FromTheArchives_EpcotOrigins_WaltsEpcot_3.1tagFirst, Disney negotiated an agreement with the state of Florida, whereby there would be no permanent residents (voters), just renters in E.P.C.O.T. and the Corporation would function as the governing body. The City would be run by Disney company and could make decisions unilaterally. What, no input from the constituents? Remember, this wasn’t an experiment in improving democracy. It was going to be a living laboratory whose purpose was to find new ways to improve city living. Yes, living in E.P.C.O.T. might was not be for everyone. A requirement for living in E.P.C.O.T. was that all inhabitants had to be employed and responsible to maintain the living blueprint.

Theoretically, only those who saw residency as an opportunity or an adventure would apply. It’s possible that the offers of reduced crime and poverty in this controlled city would be a draw to the right people willing to give up control for guaranteed employment and a chance to work in a very vibrant environment.

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Concept Art for Residential Housing

Second, Disney wanted to spur innovation and advancement through partnership with private industry. In the 1960’s the high cachet, respect and trust for the Disney name would have made it easy to bring in big, corporate sponsors/investors who would have welcomed the association with the Disney name. One of premises of E.P.C.O.T. was to give American industry a free hand to try new things and then have a captive audience on which to test them. Imagine what might have developed in a haven where more Bell Labs, Westinghouses, GEs and idea factories like IBM would have thrived. I think corporate America would have wanted in. The corporate idea factories would undoubtedly have a large pool of highly skilled people from a variety of fields drawn to the dynamic work being done.

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Concept Art for Typical Industrial Park

Third, a successful experiment would have drawn worldwide attention, which would have encouraged the kind of public/private partnerships that are so vital to the development of innovative ideas in urban planning and design. Today the partnerships are often difficult to achieve and so rarely show measurable success. Most involve primarily monetary support from private industry, with much of the planning and execution left to less capable government management. Having a good idea is one thing. Seeing it through requires deep pockets and the option of abandoning an idea that shows no merit. Government, sadly, has neither the money, the political will, or the legal ability to kill a project after it has already been funded.

walt film for epcotFinally, given Walt’s penchant to change the rules of the game as he went along, it is highly likely that E.P.C.O.T. would have gone through many changes, just like Disneyland. However, his firmly held beliefs that the power and skill of American industry could be harnessed to improve people’s lives would have remained a driving force behind whatever would have emerged. In the decades since his death, we have all been touched by achievements in public/private partnerships. Some of them have come from military necessity like GPS and others in the realm of health have materialized through Federal encouragement like improvements in artificial limbs. It’s no secret that private industry will be drawn to projects that have money making potential.

It is not far-fetched to think that the same innovative drive that produced solutions for male impotence or invisible gold fish could have worked as Disney envisioned. E.P.C.O.T. had the potential to positively affect people’s lives in ways we can only now speculate. Certainly, Walt’s track record gives us ample evidence that, as impossible as the task may have seemed, through his visionary leadership and skills as a seller of ideas, it would have succeeded. And since he never promised that the plan would be etched in stone, he would have continued to tinker and improve his plan as it was being created. Here is a link to the 25 minute promotional piece Walt filmed weeks before his death.

Next week, I will continue this exploration of Walt’s E.P.C.O.T ideas and look at, what, if any, ideas have found their way into the Walt Disney World resort and other unexpected places. There is some very good material available to anyone who is interested in exploring this topic in more detail. Here are some links to look into:

The Original Epcot

Esquire Magazine – Inside Walt Disney’s Ambitious, Failed Plan to Build the City of Tomorrow

Business Insider – Walt Disney’s original plan for the place George Clooney’s “Tomorrowland” is based on was a creepy futuristic dystopia

A WORLD OF TOMORROW: INSIDE WALT’S LAST DREAM (D23 membership required)

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes

us-flagToday, our country will go through an orderly transfer of power from outgoing President Obama to incoming President Trump. Whether you are looking forward to or dreading this day, many of us find the act and process of change to be, at a minimum, disruptive and at the far end of the scale, frightening. Walt Disney World and Disneyland are going through the largest changes since the Eisner years, back in the 1990’s. And across websites, social media and face to face discussions, both reactions are equally displayed and justified. Any change is hard. By its very definition, Change (a: to make different in some particular, b: to make radically different, c: to give a different position, course, or direction to) conjures up all manner of disruption, discomfort and inconvenience and also opportunity.

There are Disney fans out there who mourn the loss of every attraction that is replaced or remade. Part of the reason many of us make the pilgrimage over and over to tmickey-ice-cream-barhe Parks, is familiarity. Many people refer to Disney World and Disneyland as Home. To those who are happier at a Disney theme park instead of the place their mail gets delivered, the Parks represent comfort and a reliable experience. They know where the pictures are taken on Splash Mountain and Tower of Terror and they never take off Mickey’s ears as the first bite of the ice cream. There’s a lot to be said for consistency. Smooth sailing and calm waters, no unexpected, unwelcome surprises.

There are others who look forward to new experiences in the form of new attractions, parades, restaurants, shows and experiences. The other side of the conversation probably consists of complaints about how Disney is falling behind in the theme park business. Universal and others are challenging Disney’s supremacy with things like the World of Harry Potter and faster and more exciting roller coasters. They want the Parks to remain the best and most magical places to visit. There’s excitement surrounding Avatar Land, Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land, to name a few. For a Disney theme park fan who wants to see the Imagineers push the limits of creativity, design, engineering, technology and entertainment, the next couple of years are going to be non-stop fun.

new-wdw-lands
I find change-intersectionmyself on both sides of the conversation on Disney theme park change. I find it very exciting to experience attractions that have Walt’s fingerprints all over. I love his whimsy and musicality in the Enchanted Tiki Birds, his appreciation of the past and excitement about the future in Carousel of Progress, and his love of country in Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Walt was a complex man and since he died when I was very young, attractions like these are as close as I will ever come to having a conversation with him. So, I do want to hold on to some of the past. In gives me an appreciation of where Disney’s theme parks have come and an anchor as others things inevitably change.

But I do want some change. I want new attractions to experience and places to explore. I want to feel the need to return, not just to do it out of habit. I want to be surprised and amazed by things that seemed impossible only a short time ago.  Even though the Theme Parks are not a hotbed of culinary excellence, the theming and attention to detail in most of the Disney restaurants, turn meals into experiences. So having some new places to eat is an important part of my vacation planning.

Finally, everyone, even the great Walt Disney made mistakes. The Phantom Boats only lasted for a year after Disneyland’s opening day (too difficult and costly to maintain). The Rainbow Mountain Stagecoach ride only had a 3 year run (the coaches tended to tip over). Both of these were closed on Walt’s watch. It doesn’t make sense to keep things around just for the sake of continuity. How many of  us would have wanted to be riding Mission to the Moon today? Is there a parent out there that wouldn’t have killed for the shorter wait times and covered play area for Dumbo, rather than baking in the sun for an attraction their kids had to ride? And let’s not forget that Walt said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Nobody tells the boss what to do.

So, bring on the changes. Unleash the Imagineers. Let’s see what they can do. Don’t wipe all of the past away. It keeps us grounded. But keep the theme parks vibrant, alive and relevant to the times we live in. Walt was not only a creative genius, but an innovator. I think we honor his contributions by remembering what he accomplished and pushing the envelope to see where the magic can take us, just as he did.

A Mother’s Gift

This is my first Mother’s day without my mother and I was thinking about how much she influenced my respect for Walt Disney and love for his work. The first movie she took me to see was “The Sword in the Stone”. Other movies followed: “Mary Poppins”; “That Darn Cat”; “The Ugly Dachsund”; and “The Gnome-MobJungle Book DVDile”. The one that sticks with me most from my early childhood is “The Jungle Book”. My Grandfather was a songwriter in the 50’s and 60’s so hearing legendary singers like Phil Harris and Louis Prima in a movie made for kids mad a strong impression on me.

My mother made it easy to be open to many experiences and interests including theater, books, art and sports. But always in there somewhere was the influence of Walt Disney. It might be plates or napkins at a birthday party, a greeting card featuring Mickey or an image on some clothing. My mother was also a collector. She collected newspapers she never read, recordings of TV programs she never watched again, antiquarian books, which she built into a business and Disneyana. At some point, an entire room in our house was filled, floors, walls and ceiling with pre-1960s Disney collectibles. She and I would sit and look at things, discuss the artistic or historical value of one piece or another. We didn’t always agree and I didn’t always find the time or have the patience to talk as long as she would have liked, but we both enjoyed ourselves.

After I had moved out and started a family of my own, without saying anything, she began to sell off most of the collection, until all that is left isdisneyana book a couple of dozen pieces, autographs and photographs. It’s not clear whether the decision to sell was financial or that my brother, father and I didn’t show enough interest to convince her that it was worth keeping. It saddens me that something that became so integral to her life did not seem to be important to her in the last years of her life. As I looked though the pieces that were left, I couldn’t help remember many of the other collectibles that I had spent so much time looking at. I’m sad, not because there was value in the collectibles, but because it was a connection with me that no one else in our family shared with her.

I think my mother visited Disneyland once as a child, but she never went back and she never took my brother or I to any of the Disney Theme Parks. As I began to take my wife and family to Walt Disney World, I would ask if she would like to go with us. She would comment that it was just too commercial and about selling things. I didn’t understand it then, but I believe I have come to understand that for my Mother, it wasn’t about theme parks or animated movies. She, like me now as an adult, recognized the artistic genius of Walt Disney and the impact he has had, not just on animated movies, for which his legacy is firmly cemented, but for all the other ways he has changed the world. I’m not sure she realized what a special seed she planted. It’s a seed that has blossomed and thrived into my adulthood.  It’s a gift I treasure and don’t mind carrying with me.Mom

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