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Posts tagged ‘Imagineering’

Pirates Change with the Times

Last week we celebrated the anniversary of the opening of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. In my post, The Pirates Paradox, I offered my opinion on the enduring popularity of an attraction that, technically, pales in comparison to some of the more recent Imagineering efforts like Mission Space or Soarin’. And certainly, doesn’t offer the thrills of attractions like Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Space Mountain or Expedition Everest.

There have been many changes to the U.S. Disney theme parks over the years. Many of my posts have discussed change.  I’ll have more to say about that later.

Spoiler alert. For those who want to be surprised by the changes to the Pirates attraction, please Page down at least two times.

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For those who have not heard or seen, the change to the Pirates attraction involves the scene where the pirates are bidding on captured women. They shout, “We wants the redhead.” For reasons which, as usual, Disney will not comment, they’ve have modified the auction scene so instead of women being auctioned, our old friend, the redhead who’s encouraging her fellow pirates to buy chickens, rum, paintings, etc. It’s not the first time that the Imagineers have tinkered with Pirates. Earlier they turned the chase vignette around by having a woman with a broom chasing a pirate around, instead of him chasing her.  Then we had the more recent “plussing” with the additions of the Pirates movie characters. I don’t recall to many reactions to the first change and there was definitely some to the second.

 

If you skipped down, thanks for sticking around. Now where was I? Oh, yes, change.

There’s seems to be a very mixed reaction to changes to the Auction scene of Pirates of the Caribbean at the two U.S. theme parks.

Potc Auction Scene GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

As a technologist, I have worked on projects or helped others plan for and realize change-717488_1280changes in their critical business systems and applications. Most of us have gone through changes in our lives, jobs, neighborhoods, even the stores where we shop. I think it would be fair to say that no change is easy. It often involves planning, hard choices, compromise, sometimes, and significant extra work. In some cases, it’s my experience, that last one that often sinks the effort.

For the most part, I think the Disney Company and the Imagineers have been capable and talented stewards of Walt’s theme park legacy. They have tried, and I think, succeeded, in maintaining the primary reason Walt had for building Disneyland – Create a clean environment where children and their parents could enjoy themselves, together. We’ve seen the addition of thrill rides like Tower of Terror for older “kids” at the same time Disney has expanded and enhanced Fantasylands for the younger set. Imagineers have also continued to offer seated or theatrical options like the Legend of the Lion King, Fantasmic and Finding Nemo the Musical for guests who need a rest or change of pace. At each of the Parks, there’s something for everyone. Even if all you want to do is sit on bench and enjoy people watching. The change to Pirates highlights three different points of view when Disney changes a popular theme park attraction.

pongo boredThe first group probably includes visitors who have tired of an attraction and are ready for a change. Perhaps they never liked the attraction in the first place or they feel they’ve outgrown it or their just ready for something new. It may be that they have so many favorites that they don’t miss one missing or having been changed. As someone who doesn’t like change, but eventually embraces it, I think this group gets a bad rap. They are often portrayed as being disloyal or not really loving Disney, because they are looking for something new.

The second group doesn’t want see a hair changed on the head of a single doll in SmallTui World. They want to come and enjoy the same attractions and shows time and time again. They like things just the way they are. These are the people who might be perfectly happy with the Matterhorn as the only thrill ride in Disneyland or Mr. Toad instead of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Or maybe they would like to sit through Mission to Mars or have parents and kids wait in the blazing Florida sun for a few spots on Dumbo.

Kronk-listening-to-his-shoulder-devilThe third group, probably overlaps the first two groups. This includes people who want their friends, children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews to experience the same things they enjoyed. I would have been disappointed not to see my kids eyes and smiles if they never had a chance to ride Small World or Alice in Wonderland. This group doesn’t mind change. So long as it doesn’t involve their favorite attractions. Do away with A Bug’s Land, just don’t touch Stitch’s Great Escape. Of course, it means that any change Disney makes is going to distress of anger a significant portion of their customers.

I think I fall into all three groups. I definitely don’t want to see the parks become irrelevant museums. Look, but don’t touch.

don't touchHowever,. . .

There’s nothing wrong with keeping some of the past. I would be very unhappy if they had just done away with Pirates or changed Small World into a 3D experience. But, can you blame Disney’s Imagineers? It would be like telling a Boeing engineer he couldn’t use the latest lightweight metals in the new design. In the face of the significant competition in theme park industry, I think the Imagineers have shown great restraint. But, audience tastes in entertainment change. And technology offers options that were not available ten years ago or in some cases yesterday.

I’m sure many of you, myself included, would love to have taken a ride on The Stagecoach that took guests along the shores of Disneyland’s River of America fromStagecoach opening day until 1959. But, how many of you would be willing to wait for hours in the sun to get on a ride that could only accommodate a small number of guests, took a long time to load and broke down (yes, believe it or not, the horses did not always cooperate). I hear people complaining about waiting in air conditioned comfort twenty minutes get on an attraction.

I am not an advocate of change for the sake of change. It’s usually expensive and the danger of not pleasing everyone can make the risks high, particularly for Disney who wants to maintain their preeminence in the theme park industry. My earlier comment about work often being the roadblock, has not seemed to have deterred Disney from doing big things like redoing Fantasyland or building Galaxy’s Edge or Toy Story Land. Nor have they shied away from changes that are consequential among their fan base. (See Journey into Imagination, again).I’m sure there’s some in Group two who would still trade to have Mr. Toad back in exchange for some of the new goodies that Disney has given us.

I would admit that not all the changes have been to my liking (See redo of Journey into Imagination, The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter and Stitch’s Great Escape). And, I CoP scenewould be very unhappy if I couldn’t enjoy The Carousel of Progress or watch people laughing on the Tea Cups (not one of my favorites). Along with my long time and sentimental favorites, it’s wonderful to have something new to be excited about trying for the first time. If Disney doesn’t come up with new things for people to come to the theme parks for the first time or come back for again, then they will surely go to other parks.

As I’ve said in earlier posts, Walt was constantly tinkering with Disneyland. When he passed away, he still had a lot more plans in Anaheim and an unlimited amount for PoTC pigsFlorida. If he hadn’t been driven to change things for the better, then there wouldn’t have been the Lincoln Audioanimatronic and Pirates would have been a walk through wax museum. I haven’t seen the new Pirates scene, so I hesitate to offer my opinion. On the one hand, some would say that Disney has continued to sanitize the attraction of anything that might offend anybody. On the other hand, with the events of the last year, the #MeeToo movement and the on-going struggle for women to be seen as equals in all aspects of life, it might be that the Imagineers recognized the need to let ’em run things.

I understand the deep regard that fans of Pirates have for the way the attraction was. Most change is messy and hard. Instead of being able to sit back and watch the scenery, when Imagineers change Disney park attractions, they make us look closer, explore our emotions and, in many cases, rediscover and enjoy attractions all over again. I think Walt would be pleased. Although, I’m sure he would have had some ideas of his own.

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February 3, 1966: Walt Disney with some of the plastic heads for the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride opening at Disneyland. In 1966, four new additions were added to Disneyland costing $20 million dollars – three million more than the cost of the original park. The four new sections are: Its a Small World, The Primeval World, New Orleans Square and The Pirates of the Caribbean. Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. Copyright Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library. Photographer unknown. FOR FROM THE ARCHIVES BLOG.

 

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Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse – Inseparable

walt and mickeyWe recognized some major calendar milestones in the months of November and December. The birth of Mickey Mouse in November as well as the birthday and anniversary of the passing of his creator Walt Disney. Walt was, without a doubt, always the creative driving force behind all the Disney successes and failures during his lifetime. But, the idea of Mickey and the amazing animators and artists who gave him life were not responsible for his meteoric and continued success. For that, Walt left nothing to chance and imprinted himself on the character.

Mickey and Walt are forever linked. Mickey was created out of an act of business

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Earliest known drawing of Mickey Mouse

survival. Losing Oswald the Rabbit to a sneaky film promoter, which, while it might have led to the end of Disney brother’s company, lit the fires of Walt’s imagination, leading to the creation of the mouse that still roars. It’s likely that the spark of creation that was Mickey Mouse would keep the character close to his heart for many years. It’s not surprising that Walt couldn’t find a suitable voice for the character. And, he didn’t relinquish the role until 1946. Even though, by then he was incredibly busy overseeing many films in development and production, he knew he was the only one who could give voice to a character that was really an extension of himself – an alter ego, perhaps.

Early Mickey Mouse

It isn’t surprising, then, that the many of the early shorts are full of many settings and situations that show Walt’s fingerprints. Farms and farm animals are well represented in shorts like The Barn Dance, The Plowboy and Musical Farmer.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that trains, something close to Walt’s heart, figured prominently in Mickey’s Choo Choo.

And, while Walt never showed any particular musical abilities, the films make judicious use of music, to drive the action and the gags. Anything became an instrument from animal teeth, spaghetti, train tracks, boat and train whistles, even ducks, chickens, animals and more traditional instruments. Walt clearly understood the importance of music and he continued to use to maximum effect in all of his films.

We can be assume that since Walt probably approved every script and frame of the early shorts, it’s interesting how the early Mickey had many of Walt’s personality characteristics. Like Walt, Mickey is forever optimistic, whether he’s trying to build and fly do-it-yourself airplanes, courting Minnie, or cheering her up after rescuing her from the ocean. Mickey’s also a problem solver. Many of the problems he encounters are of his own making, but he always finds a way to get things done. Walt was always creating problems for himself and his staff, creatively and technologically. Many of the difficult situations arose because Walt was always pushing the limits of what could be accomplished in the mediums of animation, film and theme parks. But, he always managed to match the right person to the difficult tasks whether it was making X Atencio a songwriter or recognizing Bob Gurr’s wizardry with wheeled machines.

Walt also instilled Mickey with his own brand of small town, childish humor. Many of the shorts include situations that involve cow’s udders, Minnie’s bloomers, and the use of outhouses. I’ve read that, even though he gave a kind of buttoned up image, Walt was very fond of what we would call today, bathroom humor. Other accounts told of him adding many of those kinds of gags to early animated shorts, much to the chagrin of some of the other creatives on the staff.

In his own way, this early Mickey is a take charge guy who doesn’t hesitate to ask Minnie to get on stage and play an instrument, or want to drive the steamboat. All accounts describe Walt as someone who wanted things his way or not at all. Even though the company started out in 1923 as Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, in 1925 Walt informed his partner and brother that the studio would henceforth be called Walt Disney Studio. He said that it was his name that they were building the company around. I don’t think he wanted any audience doubt about who was in charge. The lack of credit accorded to the people doing the heavy lifting part of the work was the reason why his long time friend and collaborator Ub Iwerks left him to work elsewhere. Given how important Iwerks was to the fledgling Studio’s success, many in Walt’s shoes would have done anything to keep such a valuable asset. But, Walt hardly missed a beat.

As Walt got further away from hands on work with Mickey, you can see changes in the character that practically built the Studio. The changes may have been due to others taking over primary responsibility for story and character. Not only did Mickey’s look change, certainly approved by Walt, but he began to mirror more of contemporary society.

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No longer the chaos creating scamp of the early shorts. Mickey settled in as a more dapper and conventional man of the 40s and 50s. Pluto is the ever present man’s best friend and we often see Mickey in more indoor settings. Instead of stealing kisses from Minnie by scaring her with loop the loops in a plane, he courts her with flowers and gallantry. It’s possible Walt thought that the symbol of his company should be more accessible and politically correct. But, it’s also possible that Mickey had a personality transplant.

The image of Mickey today is that of a corporate ambassador. He’s someone you want to hug or expect to obediently ride atop a parade float rather than execute a practical joke with him. With the occasional excursion into something more like the old days as we recently saw in Pixar’s Get a Horse.

Mickey is a model citizen showing off a very large wardrobe at the Parks and other public appearances. There’s nothing wrong with the Mickey that recent generations have come to know and love. We may not want to admit it. But we all age and slow down.

In the wake of the spectacular success of the animated features, by the 1040s Mickey was no longer starring in his own shorts. Fantasia had originally been considered as a feature that would star Mickey. Walt changed direction and created a ground breaking art piece. But, Walt kept Mickey in there. And, as his last contribution to the legend of Mickey Mouse, he left us with what may be one Mickey’s most iconic images – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with his oversized robe and the wizard’s hat. That Mickey lives on in many forms including being adopted as the mascot of Disney Imagineering.

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It’s only natural that future generations may gravitate or identify more with characters in the Marvel and now 21st Century worlds. I think everyone will still have a soft spot for the Mouse that started it all, even if they don’t understand the important role that Mickey played in making everything we associate with Disney in the 21st century possible. I do hope that as long as Mickey is the symbol of the Disney Company, we will continue to be reminded of Walt Disney himself.

 

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.

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge — We’re not in Kansas Anymore

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1977 – No on-line ticketing or midnight openings LACY ATKINS/AP

As a someone who loves science fiction in all its permutations, Star Wars: A New Hope, (or just plain old Star Wars as I knew it as a kid), was a perfect movie. It had a little of everything I went to the movies for: Adventure, action, sword fights, humor, plausible science, space travel, easy to identify good guys and bad guys (although, George, why are Storm Troopers dressed in white?), a damsel in distress, an unlikely, underdog hero, a wise cracking leading man, a sweeping and pulse quickening score, and spoiler alert (I do know someone on this planet that has not seen a single Star Wars movie) an explosive, exciting, happy ending.

So, I am thrilled to think of walking into that movie world when Star Wars Land opens in 2019 at Disney Studios. I was sitting in the packed auditorium at the D23 Expo in 2015, when Bob Iger announced the plans for the park additions. The place went crazy and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. As the plans have gone from concept paintings to more detailed information, my excitement has not waned.

Our appetites have now been further whetted by the amazing model displayed at this year’s D23 Expo. (See my post D23 Expo 2017 Magical Afterglow for more on the Expo). The Theme Park’s pavilion rolled out the new land name, “Star Wars, Galaxy’s Edge”. The model reveals, not only, the scope and scale of Disney’s largest theme park addition ever. (I confirmed that both US theme parks will get exactly the same addition) But, gives us a view of the park most of us will never get once we’ve entered. Galaxy’s Edge continues Disney’s continued emphasis, started with Pandora, of providing a totally immersive experience.

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Reports describe much more than the current Studios Streetmosphere to add to the theming and mood.  We will find First Order troops and Rebels roaming the streets. Success or failure on the Millennium Falcon attraction may have an effect on Park’s inhabitants responses to you later in the day. The model also showed the location of the other headliner attraction, a battle inside a Star Destroyer. This might include a new kind of light saber.

This is all very exciting. But, it leads me to a sobering, but inevitable, thought. I will miss the old Disney/MGM Studios and all it represented. Before you start yelling at the screen, I am not one of those, “Don’t ever change my Disney theme park” people. Walt knew technology, and our ideas about entertainment would change or, as he often did, he could change them. The Parks, unlike Disney movies, were built so he could continue to tinker. I believe Walt always thought that while he did the best he could creating his films, he always believed, he could’ve done better if he had: (pick one or more: more time; more money; better technology). Other director’s from George Lucas to Ridley Scott have voiced similar regrets. Once a film is produced, it’s frozen in time. Yes, I know there are director’s cuts of films like Blade Runner. And if you’re George Lucas, you change them and make us all buy new versions. But, the Parks were a chance for Walt to always make things better. He’s famously quoted as saying, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Walt’s approach to theme parks wasn’t that different from films. He used storytelling to enhance the attraction experiences. The theme park was a way for Walt to always try to “get it right”  – even if it took him more than one try to do it.

Let’s remember what Michael Eisner was after when he built, what is now called, Disney Hollywood Studios. It was a working film and television studio that would, not only, give us a chance to see “how it’s done” in television, film and animation, but would take us back to the golden age of Hollywood. A time when the studios controlled everything that had to do with making a film and the movie theaters were palaces with uniformed ushers. (See Grauman’s Chinese or Radio City Music Hall). Hollywood was truly tinsel town. MGM boasted it had “More Stars than there are in the Sky”. I love movies that take place at that time in and around L.A. during that period, like Singin’ in the Rain, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential and Barton Fink. Walking through the Park, always felt like being on a movie set in that period. The atmosphere was reinforced with: The Streets of America recreating a studio backlot; iconic buildings like Grauman’s Chinese; and the store fronts and building architecture (yesterland.com has a great overview of architectural inspirations for the Park). And to top it off, there was actual hand drawn animation going on within the nondescript walls of the working studio itself, including work on Brother Bear and Lilo and Stitch (See my post The Art of Animation for my thoughts on animation).

I still get a special feeling when I enter the Park and become enveloped in the eclectic architectural styles reminiscent of Hollywood and the surrounding areas from the 20s-50s. More than Epcot or Animal Kingdom, I think, Studios comes closest to Walt’s use of Main St. USA as a way to calm and prepare us to enter a world of fantasy, as well as begin to tell the story of the Park itself. We walk down a Main St USA that’s from a different time. Did you ever notice that the pathway under the Railroads in Disneyland and Disney World are red? You’re walking the red carpet into a theater! Ever notice how directors often fill the opening moments of a movie with sights and sounds to set the time and place the film. Car styles, store fronts, license plates, welcome signs, music serve the same purpose on Main St. USA and Hollywood Boulevard. Upon entering the Studios we see a period style gas station, lots of LA style architecture and Sid Cahuenga’s. We now know when and where we are. Then the entrance music, filled with great and recognizable movie themes like Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia and Ben Hur, tell us that this is a place for and about the movies.

So, I will miss old Hollywood as Galaxy’s Edge takes storytelling to new levels. I’m hoping it does feel like we’ve entered into the movie throughout the Land, instead of limiting theming to an attraction as has been the historical Imagineering approach. The Studio’s park is in transition from giving us a chance to see how movies were and are made to putting us on the set. I think the original concept was great and I will miss that peek behind the cameras. But, I believe that the direction that Pandora and now Galaxy’s Edge takes is completely in line with the kind of “plussing” that Walt would surely have taken advantage of, had he been able. Hang on. We’re making the jump to light speed!

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