Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘Fantasyland’

I See Disney. . . Everywhere.

Disney on the brainIt’s been a few weeks since my last post. I hit a bit of a speed bump on the road of life. I Frequent readers of The Disney Connection will not be surprised if I say Disney can creep into my thoughts, even at times and in places where even I would think it couldn’t possibly find a way in.

On one of our frequent trips into Manhattan, my wife and I had finished our lunch on a bench outside Mamoun’s Falafel (opened in 1971, they lay claim to being one of the first Falafel restaurants in the country and first in NYC).  We wandered the quirky streets of mamouns felafel2the West Village, famous in story, song, TV and movies. If you haven’t visited “The Village”, then perhaps you’ve seen When Harry Met Sally, the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Barefoot in the Park, Glee and so many others where the Village is featured prominently. No, I did not see a Disney item in the window of a second hand store to add to my collection. And it wasn’t a child in a stroller wearing a Disney t-shirt. Before I get to the answer, I need to go back in time a bit. Hang in there.

NYU is one, if not, the largest tenant of the Village. My son is a recent graduate of Tisch School of the Arts and my wife earned one of her two graduate degrees from NYU’S Gallatin School of individualized Study. In our previous lives as actors, my wife and I spent long hours in this artsy part of NYC.

The community center of this world is Washington Square Park.  The park’s dominating features are the Washington Square Arch at the northern gateway to the park and the fountain which sits to its South.

WSP Fountain

washingtonsqpark at night

The Park has a tradition of celebrating nonconformity and the buildings surrounding the park have, at one time, probably served as homes and studios for artists and other artistic rabble rousers.

Today they are primarily NYU owned buildings. On a beautiful weekend like the day we were there, there’s all kinds of people and activities going on. So, what about that Disney thing I started this with? Ok, here it comes.

So, my wife and I are strolling through the park, enjoying the day along with hundreds of others. At one point I had my back to the fountain and I’ looking towards the Arch, and what is it that strikes me? Take a look at this picture.

Washington Square Park ArchLook familiar? No, not the Empire State Building. Maybe it’s the angle. How about now?

It’s easy to see how the hub and spoke design in WSP made me think of Disney theme parks. If you enter through the Arch the fountain is a Weenie, drawing visitors inside the park.

WashingtonSquarePark fountain from arch

Just like the Disney Castles or Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. For those of who aren’t familiar with the term Weenie, here’s how Diane Disney Miller explained it to Jim Korkis:

Dad would park his car in the garage and come in to the house through the kitchen. He would go to the refrigerator and pull out two uncooked hot dogs, one for himself and one for the dog. He would play with her, wiggling the hot dog around and she would go wherever he moved around and was so happy when she finally got her treat. It was part of an evening ritual and both of them loved it and looked forward to it.”

Walt saw that he could control where he wanted her to go by waving this treat around and the joy she had when she finally got her reward. So, Walt used the word “wienie” to explain to the WED designers of Disneyland of how he wanted to get guests to move to a certain area.

From the hub you choose a path to other parts of the Park. Looks very much the same in WSP.

wsp map

The parallels don’t end with the Park layout.

Maybe you want a Fantasyland experience. Well to the West there’s a children’s playground, covered in turf.

Want an experience in Adventureland? Take on the many chess hustlers who take up residence every day. Why is it an adventure? Well, most of them want to play what’s known as speed chess. The entire match might be over in less than 10 minutes. And, your wallet will be lighter as well.

Chess_in_Washington_Square_Park.jpgOr, you can watch the skateboarders put their limbs on the line wherever there’s an open or mostly open piece of concrete and steps. or you can be a true adventurer and try it out for yourself. Skateboard and insurance not included in your admission price.

There’s even a nod to Frontierland if you take a look at this statue of Garbaldi.

He’d be right at home alongside the Country Bears, right?

As for the World of Tomorrow? Well, all around you, is the urban sprawl of the NYU campus, educating future leaders, artists, lawyers  and scientists in Tomorrowland.

nyu flagsAnd, doesn’t this building remind you of a certain futuristic, A-frame building that overlooks the Magic Kingdom in Florida?

You can almost see the monorail blazing a path against the sky. What about the monorail, you say? Okay, the NYC subway is hardly the futuristic transportation of tomorrow Walt envisioned. But there are plenty of busses and even ferries that touch all points of Manhattan island.

No fast passes are required to partake of the parks activities. Read a book, have a picnic or take in some sun in the warm weather. There’s even streetmosphere and entertainment, like this wonderful singer of French songs and her accompanist we sat to listen to that day.

WSP Singers

wsp piano player

You might get to hear other kinds of music as well as see jugglers, comedians and performance artists, just like the Boardwalk. I’ll bet the keyboard player at Casey’s on Main St. at the Magic Kingdom would love to play a piano like this.

 

Disney Parks have parades, you say. Yes, WSP has them too. Granted the parades are not often for entertainment, but might be organized protest marches. The park has a long history of social activism. The first labor march occurred there in 1834 to protest the use of prisoners to clean building stones. And, 20,000 marched in 1912 to remember the lives lost in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in a surrounding building.

WSP Triangle Factory protest

WSP protest paradeEven so, the WSP are still colorful and entertaining. This one, on the day we were there, even had a red umbrella theme. Most of the marches end up in the shadow of the Arch, where there is usually staged a kind of Castle forecourt event, with speakers and other activities that usually elicit cries and applause from the gathered crowds.

Scene from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel recreating the Jane Jacobs WSP protest

In some cases you will need your park pass or don’t expect admittance. In the spring of 1961, the NYC parks commissioner refused a permit to the folksingers for their Sunday afternoon gatherings, because “the folksingers have been bringing too many undesirable beatnik elements into the park.”That April, folk music pioneer Izzy Young, who had been trying to get permits for the folksingers, along with about 500 musicians and supporters gathered in the park and sang songs without a permit, then held a procession from the park through the arch at Fifth Avenue, and marched to the Judson Memorial Church on the other side of the park. At about the time the musicians and friends reached the church, the New York City Police Department Riot Squad was sent into the park, attacked civilians with billy clubs, and arrested 10 people. The incident made the front pages of newspapers as far away as Washington, DC. Security in the Big Apple is not always as understanding as those in the happiest place on Earth.

Beatniks-washington-square-park protest

Any visitor to a Disney Park is expecting to eat something. Not only does WSP have food choices inside, but around the park are more options than you can find in the EPCOT World showcase. Standing on Bleeker street near the park, you can see, an Irish pub, Felafel, Belgian fries, Sushi and other international choices. I’m not even counting the chains like Starbucks. Alas, no food plans are offered, unless you’re an NYU student, and your parents took out a second mortgage to pay the tuition.

There are often vendors in place of the expected gift shops. And you don’t have to go through one to exit WSP. This one looks an awful lot like a pin station. Not sure your going to find plush toys. But mid town at the Disney Store you’ll find Disney priducts with NYC themes.

button vendor WSP.jpg

I think its important in our fast paced lives to, occasionally, stop, look around, notice whats right in front of you. After all, life is what happens when you’re doing other things. Drag your eyes away from your particular device obsession and be in the moment. You’d be surprised what you might find and where it will lead you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this flight of fancy as I’ve taken you for the nickel tour of the inside of my Disney imagination. See ya real soon!

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Flipping Disney’s Lands

With all the changes happening in Disney theme parks I’ve been thinking about the lack of change in Frontierland and Tomorrowland.

I think Walt would have seen the cultural and scientific changes that continue to happen and he might have though about thematically and artistically swapped them around.

Yes, that’s easier said than done. And if there was someone around who had just a bit of Walt’s forward thinking creativity, perhaps they would have made some changes already.  Yes, I know that everything is comparatively more expensive and complicated than it was 60 years ago. But, I will get back to that challenge later.

Walt made Disneyland more than just an amusement park by offering guests the chance to make some of our fantasies come true. He couldn’t really send us to Mars or have us ride a flying elephant. But, with a little thought, some story telling and a bit of cleverness, he made us feel as if we had. Walt also knew time wouldn’t stand still while he thought up new attractions. But, he was ok with that. He always said that Disneyland would never be finished as long as there was imagination to fuel ideas.

Walt in front of castle color

There have been many changes to Disneyland and Disney World since they were opened. All of the changes to the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland have been within the existing footprint of Walt’s original 1955 Lands. And that was just fine for a while. But, maybe not any longer.

DISNEYLAND-OPENING-DAY map

In retrospect, the mid to late 1950s was one of those historical eras on the cusp of major cultural, social, political and technological change. TV was in it’s infancy, the civil rights movement was about to become front page news, the youngest president in our short history would be elected and by the end of the decade, the space race would be in high gear.

Walt’s generation grew up with Western movies and stories. Wars with Native Americans went on until the early 1920s. Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912 and much of the land east of the Mississippi was still largely uninhabited and wild. Brave cowboys, wooden forts, stagecoaches and looking for gold were not the stuff of ancient history and were still being used by Hollywood producers well into the 1960s. Taking a steam locomotive through that kind of countryside or riding in a mule train would have been a dream of many.

Many of the most popular TV programs kids would have been watching were westerns, including Roy Rogers, The Cisco Kid, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Gene Autry and yes, Zorro and Davey Crocket. It must have been a tremendous thrill to shoot a rifle, ride riverboat or paddle a conoe.  Walt and the Imagineers would continue to add more to Frontierland, including a Fort, mine train, and a Native American village. Much of the west around California was still the frontier and those who lived in big cities still yearned to feel what pioneering was like.

The other hot topic of the day was the Space Race and the technology strides that were taking place to make putting men in space a reality.

sputnik

disney mechanical birdWalt was fascinated with technology, gadgets and the future, both to entertain as well as to improve people’s lives. The Enchanted Tiki Room started with Walt finding a small mechanical bird on a vacation trip. The Monorail and the Peoplemover were Walt’s attempts to prove there were better ways to provide public transportation. Since the end of World War II, the country had seen tremendous advances in computers, home appliances and, medicine.

Walt was mining his childhood for entertainment ideas to which Americans in the 50s responded. Both of the Lands in Disneyland were, of course, huge successes. As were Fantasyland and Adventureland, but I’ll get to why I think these other two lands have managed to stand the test of time in a minute. (I’m not including Main St. USA, Critter Country or New Orleans Square)

So, what do I have in mind for Frontierland and Adventurland? You know those horror movies where the brain of some creature gets swapped with a man’s? In the case of the two Lands, I want to swap the artistic approaches and back stories so both could be more in line with 21st century entertainment.

young frankenstein

TomorrowLand

tomorrowlandFrom the day Walt opened Tomorrowland, I’m sure he realized that it was quickly going to become outdated. He would have been right. Rocket to the Moon attraction became a reality in 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the lunar surface. Later, Mission to Mars would become outdated as powerful telescopes and unmanned landers gave us a view of the real red planet. The Monsanto House of the Future, which showed what people could expect in a home in 1986, obviously had a built in end date. Walt didn’t live long enough to realize just how fast the future would come and keep coming.

Frontierland

frontier land gifThe wild west, on the other hand, became very un-wild. The mystique of the pioneer hero and the cowboy roaming the range were displaced by astronauts, TV urban police detectives and situation comedies. If Tomorrowland has become Yesterdayland, then Frontierland has become a quaint remembrance of a time we remember with fondness, but no longer has appeal for today’s generations.

Timeless Lands

fantasylandTo get back to my earlier point, the reason I think Adventureland and Fantasyland are still as vibrant as they were when Disneyland opened is because they are timeless. Fantasyland was already a place where elephants fly, animals are our friends and animated films come alive.  It’s the Land that comes closest to a traditional amusement park. The nostalgic feel of the Carousel and it’s music and the bright colors help to put us in a fantasy mood.

adventurelandAdventureland was always played as much for laughs as it was about helping us connect to the natural world and its animal inhabitants, which are still as exciting as ever. The Swiss Family or even the Tarzan tree house are flights of pure fantasy which, even when they were introduced, were seen just that way. There are still parts of the world that haven’t been explored, and men and women who take their chances learning about them. But, the rapid shrinking of untouched areas makes us yearn for them even more. So no matter what new attractions are added or removed, they seem to fit in to either the comic world of Fantasyland or the lush green of Adventureland.

Land Transplants

What I propose, then, is to swap the stories of these two Lands. Since tomorrow will always be coming, why not approach Tomorrowland the way it was done at Disneyland Paris. Make it a throwback to an era where science was just beginning to try and crack the mysterious codes. When Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were fantasizing about things that would one day be real.

I could go either way with the steampunk approach they took with Disneyland Paris. But, I think just the idea of designing around that 19th feel would be just as cool. New attractions could follow the pattern and older ones like Buzz Lightyear in Disney World could easily be retrofitted. Buzz Lightyear, is already throwback toy to an earlier time. Even Monster’s Laugh Floor, which is a pure fantasy world, could be modified inside and out. Rocket Jets and Astro Orbiter would be easy fits. And the car attractions could have their surrounding scenery adjusted without changing the basic ride functions.

I’ll admit, the new personality of Frontierland will be tougher. It might be possible to treat Frontierland like the new frontier that the Tomorrowland presented. Exploration of some of the more extreme parts of the planet, popular on many cable channels is very popular. Existing attractions like Mine Train and Splash Mountain wouldn’t require much or any alteration. Disney has already taken steps in this direction. In Disneyland, to make room for the new Star Wars “frontier”, they have already mothballed some of the Western style areas.

star wars galaxies edge model

Think of the possibilities of the dusty Red Planet as part of an attraction, or even other types of planets with unusual geography. Instead of just exploring the future, Imagineers could look at some of the more forbidding parts of the earth, like deserts, mountains and oceans as new frontiers to be explored.

I’m not an artist, so I can’t offer samples of what these new Lands would look like. I’m hoping that you can use your Disney imaginations to imagine what this would all look like.

Getting back to the challenges I alluded to earlier. Yes, there will be a cost. Yes, it will take time, considerable planning, and smart choices. Yes, there will be complaints from those who want everything to stay the same. But, I don’t necessarily hear people complaining a lot about Toy Story Midway Mania, or the planned Tron Coaster. That coaster would have fit nicely into the redesigned “New” Frontierland as an exploration of the insides of computers. I believe a well designed and executed attraction eventually trumps all desires to dip the Disney theme parks in bronze.

The same kind of effort and expenditure is going into Star Wars:Galaxy’s Edge. Even though it takes place “A long time ago. . .” many Star Wars scenes takes place in locations that could be in the style of the current Frontierland. Star Wars also includes technology that we can only dream might someday become real.

I’ve had fun taking a hypothetical journey to new Lands. I don’t hold out too much hope that my vision would ever be considered. On the other hand, not too many people, myself included, saw Toy Story Land or Star Wars:Galaxy’s Edge coming. Or, for that matter, all the changes planned for EPCOT. As I said in Should Disney Have Opened Pandora’s Box? or rethinking the entire Disney Studios story.Disney is not above radical and unexpected creative surprises.

And, I try to always follow Walt’s lead and continue to imagine and dream. Because that’s where the future lies. Not necessarily in what we have already done, but what we will do.

walt with carousel aa

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