Wednesday, September 19, 2007

OH GOD NO! CANADA!


The term “Spaceship Earth” was first popularized by Buckminster Fuller; essentially it reminds us that the Earth, like a mechanical vehicle, requires care and maintenance and all of us are in it together. Regardless of our cultural differences, or ethnic heritage, or country of origin, we all must work together because we’re all passengers on this great Spaceship Earth.

Oh, I’m sorry, am I boring some of you? Or maybe all of you?

It’s so hard to tell these days. A bunch of guys at Imagineering keep saying that this stuff is boring, that it’s not “relevant.”

So here’s an idea. Maybe to make this blog entry less boring, we could hire a hip Hollywood celebrity to read it to you. Like Ellen DeGeneres or Eric Idle or Colin Mochrie or Martin Short. Is Celine Dion here?

Martin Short after all is now on his fourth Disney Theme Park Film, "O Canada!" right after “The Making of Me,” “Monster Sound Show,” and “CineMagique.” Whoopi’s got nothing on him. The new version of “O Canada!” is the latest in a painfully long line of theme park films starring b-list celebrities making post modern, non-diegetic comments about a subject someone at WDI seems to think is dull.

It’s a weird time for Disney and for Epcot. The first non-Magic Kingdom theme park is about to celebrate its 25th Anniversary. And it’s celebrating by exhibiting a severe case of bipolar disorder. On the one hand it’s getting back to its roots--having just removed the wand-shaped blemish from Spaceship Earth, or as the Canadians call it, “that big silver ball.” On the other hand, Epcot’s most recently updated attraction, "O Canada!" embraces the worst conventions of Eisner-era theme park films.

The new version of “O Canada!” is heavily scripted with sitcom style writing (“Okay, sometimes I do get a little excited about curling, but who doesn ’t?”) and self-referential non-jokes (“Keep your hands and arms inside the country at all times”), which were kind-of funny the first time we heard them 18 years ago (Robin Williams' “Keep your hands and arms inside the theater until it comes to a complete stop” in the original version of the Magic of Disney Animation at Disney-MGM Studios).

The writers at WDI haven’t just fallen into a rut. They’ve embraced a quasi-artistic movement (post modernism) that is the complete antithesis of everything guests found appealing about Disney theme parks in the first place. You know that thing about leaving the world of today and entering the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy? How long will it be before we get the first theme park film that makes reference to the theme park film convention of referencing the theme park experience? And with all the celebrity faces and current references, you can bet this particular theme park film will age as well as a beaver tail with extra maple butter sitting out in the Florida sun.

Oh, wait, am I getting too preachy? Am I losing some of you? Perhaps here we should have Gilbert Gottfried break in and shout:

“B-O-R-I-N-G with a capital “B” and a capital “ORING.” Aren’t you supposed to be in the 'Fun' business. Fun? Remember fun?”

Would that be better? We're told today’s “MTV Generation” can’t pay attention to anything over 30 seconds long despite that very 'generation' now well over 30 with kids of their own; MTV having been on the air for over 25 years. Regardless, some Imagineers still seem to think that kids today need to be assaulted constantly with quick cuts and flashy imagery or they'll immediately force their entire family out of the theater and into the closest Six Flags or Universal park.

Apparently kids today also like to watch actors once popular before they were born interrupt beautiful vistas with derogatory comments about other attractions that they may have visited earlier that day and undoubtedly found boring.

The one redeeming aspect of this do-over is the fact that they did not remove the original theme song. They simply updated it with a more contemporary orchestration. It’s a shame the Future World pavilions did not receive the same treatment. But even the song wasn’t allowed to just happen. Instead, we’re treated to the jarring experience of Ned Nederlander jumping into frame and announcing: “This would be a perfect place for a song. I think so, don’t you?”

CircleVision films are inherently visceral experiences. That’s the whole point. You, the audience, get a 360 degree view of a breathtakingly beautiful place that you’d like to visit. Great CircleVision films like “America the Beautiful” flow like music; they don’t stumble like a bad sitcom pilot.

Well, this would be a perfect place to wrap up my blog post with a statement of my thesis and a summation of my position. I think so, don’t you?

These shows are going to be around for a long time, so timelessness and sincerity are essential. Any attempt at “hip and edgy” always falls flat for Disney and especially at Epcot.

Oh, I almost forgot the obligatory ma’am-you-forgot-your-purse comment. Here it is...

No celebrities were harmed in the making of this blog post. All actors mentioned in this post have turned in brilliant performances during their careers and the contributors to this blog have no wish to disparage them personally.

And Gilbert Gottfried seems like he’d be a really nice guy in person.

Now, how do I get out of here? Because I have a Fast Pass to Soarin'.


Authentic Canadian Cheese

48 comments:

Klark Kent 007 said...

Too Right!

The approach that has worked since the start: Clever, timeless, charming, & magical.

What happened?

Justin said...

The current generation of attraction films really rely upon the same jokes, etc. Philharmagic is most entertaining and an exception to its modern counterparts. If I am not mistaken, the classic attraction films were either produced or directed by the late Randy Bright. Those films are classic and timeless.

Joel said...

I'm just looking forward to the France update where Jules Verne ends up on a tarmac where Gerard Depardieu is working. Oh wait...

Will Robison said...

I love Circlevision films. I go around all day humming the theme to American Journey's. I used to drive my sister nuts by making her watch the circlevision movies two or three times everytime we visited Disneyland. But even I have to admit that the Circlevision Canada movie that was there before was actually quite boring and dated. How can you take a country that culturally and naturally diverse and make a boring movie - Circlevision or otherwise?

I was thrilled to hear that they were redoing it, but I think they let the Canadian Tourist Board (or whatever they're called) have a little too much input in its writing and creation. They see Canada as a tourist destination and write the long circlevision movie like an infomercial. What the Canadian movie needs is someone to write the circlevision movie the way the Imagineers wrote the American Adventure pavilion show. That's the Canada movie I want to see - something that's Canadian Patriotic.

For what it is, I don't have a problem with the Canada movie. Martin Short is a step above what they had before. But this is not the great Circlevision movie that Canada deserves. And as such, it falls... short. (Sorry, couldn't help myself... now, where's the exit? I have paid a great deal for a fastpass on Soarin'.)

Gil said...

I think this is my favorite post of yours yet.

Josh said...

Ugh. I agree with this post in its entirety. I'll be at WDW in a couple of weeks and I'll go give the Canada film a whirl, but I can't imagine that I'm going to enjoy it. Here's hoping for a pleasant surprise.

Sigh.

Paul Williams, PMP said...

You've hit the nail on the head with this one.

Of course, the Canada movie could have been made so much better if "something had gone terribly wrong."

Is there anyone left at WDI that understands why the "original" attractions still draw great crowds?

bob said...

"Hip and Edgy", the catch-phrase that almost doomed one of the largest entertainment empires in the world. Apparently there are still some within the company's bowels that think this is a good idea. Hopefully they will be rooted out and shown the door sooner rather than later.

just another disney fan said...

"Now's a great time for s song." !?!?

Does he really introduce the song like that? That's pathetic. It almost seems disrespectful for such a beautiful song.

Anonymous said...

"Now's a great time for a song." !?!?

Does he really introduce the song like that?? That's pathetic. It almost seems disrespectful for such a beautiful song.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your opinion of the Shorts, Goldbergs and Williamses of the world but their failures have nothing to do with postmodernism. Disneyland itself is impeccably postmodern and has been since 1955. The lame jokes you're talking about are simply lame jokes. No isms involved.

Chris said...

I agree but I also think that celebrities can be utilized much better, and have been, like Robin Williams in the Timekeeper where his voice and acting talents were quite visible but he wasn't the face or the name of the character.

The same with Tim Curry in Alien Encounter

StrangeVoices said...

We have entire stations, no entire networks, dedicated to producing spectacular travel , environment, and nature movies. These products make a fortune selling in stores.

So why are they suddenly so boring that a few has been comedians with warmed over old jokes suddenly seem more interesting? I am missing something here - is the idea to produce a movie about a country, or is the idea to find a reason to put an old comedian in a movie?

Sam said...

Don't forget Carnium Command which brilliantly used B and C actors to create one hell of a good show. Granted the story was well written and the actors were not themselves...

Oh wait a minute, I think I found the key...

mnmears said...

While I, too, have found several of the celebrities you mentioned very entertaining at times, I agree that Disney has relied on them too often. Sometimes the efforts work -- if the script is good -- and sometimes it doesn't.

Cool, hip, edgy and change for the sake of change isn't what's needed. Look at the disaster of Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management. While the classic show at Disneyland has been shortened ... it's still packing them in about 40 years after its opening.

Aren't there wonderful vocal talents out there -- like the late greats Paul Frees and Thurl Ravenscroft -- to record the dialogue?

Is it possible Philarmagic works in part because of the vocal talents of Wayne Allwine, Russi Taylor, Bill Farmer and Tony Anselmo?

I don't mind the celebrity voices, but I don't want them to be what I remember most about the show. It's even more annoying when the celebrity is also inserted into the footage ... ala Whoopi in Golden Dreams.

But this problem goes beyond the pavilion films. I'd argue that the original dialogue/soundtrack of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is so much stronger than the audio headphone sound-effects gimmickry last employed at Disneyland's show. I miss Royal Dano's strong vocal performance as Lincoln -- one that Walt worked hard to get.

I'm not opposed to change, but I'd sure like to see a bit more respect given to classic touchstones.

theatreman said...

Perhaps it's water-over-the-Niagra now, but wouldn't it have been interesting to trust the material and let Canada speak for itself?

Why not video tape 150 short clips of Canadians of all ages and types in their own settings and groups, and then select the best. Let them tell us about their mountains, lakes, likes, dislikes, expectations?

. . . A Mountie talking about challenge, pride, and his mount, as he feeds the noble steed.

. . . A mother telling her newborn what she hopes for him . . .

. . . Students talking honestly about their dreams for Canada?

And don't some Canadians, as well as their children and animals, do and say some things which they and we could laugh at together?

Skiers sommersaulting into a snow drift? Funny get-ups for a costume paty? Dogs and babies? Bears ransacking a backpack? Kids and their sleds?

Canadians making wry comments about their weather, their food, the U.S.?

The Imagineers need to respect and trust their subject, whether it's Canada or science, and not silence genuine voices to make room for lame stand-up comedy.

I, too, fear for the French film. For me, that is a little gem which withstands time, and rewards repeat viewings.

The Chinese, on the other hand, deserves better than the film in their pavilion.

And the wealthy corporations of Japan should ashamed of a pavilion which features occasional drumming and sells dry goods and food, while sponsoring nothing in the way of a major attraction.

Anonymous said...

Randy Bright was the executive producer of many of those EPCOT films like the France film, and many others. O Canada did need updating, but the formula that Tom Fitzgerald embraced at the urging of Sandy Rabins and Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg is a little thin. If they're going to update it with celebrities, how about a young and old one, versus all old? I think Randy had a producer he brought in from the studios, but I think he was pushed out years ago when the Imagineers felt they knew what they were doing.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on, the old Tiki Room show has not packed them in for some time. The new show isn't any better. What is needed is better writing, show direction and performances.
I'm sorry, that would mean we need some people with showmanship, not just designers, and amateur film makers trying to claim they know what they are doing.

theatreman said...

The question of first-rate films in EPCOT could become moot if a proposal made by Lionsgate International LLC as reported by
by Jim Hill Media prevails.

The outside company's stated objective is to build at World Showcase "six pavilions that will expose millions of people to the countries WE [capitals & italics added] have chosen [possibly Australia, Greece, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand and Sweden] offering OUR[capitals & italics added] guests authentic food and beverage and merchandise acquired from companies from each country, thus increasing their economy while we promote their tourism."

There is no mention that these proposed pavilions would include anything more than food, merchandise and travel agents. [The link to Lionsgate for more details is not currently working, so perhaps the project is under fire.]

But surely if some creative attractions were even remotely anticipated they would have been mentioned as bait right up front? Of course there is no certainly that Lionsgate's initiative will be ever be acted upon by Disney, but the vaguest possibility of six more national Pavilions devoid of unique or creative entertainment attractions is depressing.

With Morocco, Italy, Great Britain and Japan already offering little more than shopping and eating (and occasional street entertainers) is more of the same to come?

Could World Showcase be degenerating into World Mall?

Crystal said...

Very true. Although the 'star studded' shows are amusing and diverting, they also immediately YANK us back into reality instead of transporting us into yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. I would rather watch a show with an 'unknown' actor that does not immediately reference pop-culture.

pixiegirltink said...

THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

Cranium Command was a great show that used some good "name" talent in character parts. In other words good casting, versus revolving around the celebrity like the Energy pavilion does with Ellen.
Let's send the Imagineers there to character school so they can write characters, versus writing celebrities.

linklewtt said...

I think you're wrong. True the film could be a lot better ad much more sweeping or moving or something. But it's not a superbad film either. It's an ok thing to see every once and a while. You're just a DF.

theatreman said...

This phrase with regard to high-profile personalities in theme park films caught my attention:

[Celebrities] thrust us back “into reality instead of transporting us into yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.”

Threads are a little crazy, because after 20 posts, topics inevitable drift. My comment here concerns the new Canada Pavilion film but also relates back to the great compilation of Walt Disney’s words of wisdom in a previous thread.

Disney was a thinker, a tinkerer, a brilliant imagineer (before the term was created - by him). He was a motivator, a visionary, etc. He was not a great writer. He didn't repair to a quiet mountaintop to organize his philosophy. he was a doer.

Has anyone in the Disney Company or elsewhere over the years assembled and developed from Walt’s ideas a codification of principles for Disney theme parks? Is their an Imagineers Guidebook? If not, I think Mr. Banks would be the ideal author for the first draft. He could then accept or reject suggested additions or revisions.

Of course it would take volumes to encompass the entirety of what it takes to create a successful park and keep it alive and running. But what are the essentials? What is the philosophy which could guide the myriad decisions?

I would suggest as one principle: “Make the immersive park experience as complete as possible. Insulate the guests for a time from the ordinary everyday hyper-commercialized “outside world.” Use berms and other visual shields. Make the logos and trademarks of sponsoring entities as discrete and attractive as possible. Avoid the use of celebrities like, say, Michael Jackson. Don’t ape the contemporary outside world: make a unique world.

Justin said...

Just a footnote on Imagineer and Disney Legend Randy Bright. He was killed while riding his bicycle in 1990. He never had an opportunity to be pushed out of WDI.

I am including a link to the Disney Legends page for Randy Bright.

http://legends.disney.go.com/legends/detail?key=Randy+Bright

Anonymous said...

How "cheesy"!

Anonymous said...

A complaint about "O!Canada" that has not been really addressed is the fact of how the film was made. With the exception of the opening and closing shots of Nigara Falls, none of the new material seems to have been shot in CircleVision 360 at all. Would it really have been that difficult to shoot a curling rink in the 360 form, to not use that exact same image on all nine screens, like the way the Calgary Stampede was shot in the original film?

/bsdb said...

If Imagineering is still determined to infuse film-based attractions with modern comedy, then why doesn't WDC exploit their own intellectual property in these situations? I would have far preferred the MacKenzie Moose from Brother Bear, Rutt and Tuke, as our Canadian tour guides. One viewing of their MST3K-esque commentary on the BB DVD is proof enough.

Give me the comedic genius of Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis over Martin Short any day of the week.

kcnole said...

I'll take a fair approach to my discussion of this new film and also throw in a quick reference to Mexico's new ride. Both of them were subpar attractions before they were renovated, and after having gone through their renovations they are better attractions than they were before.

Only a few very strange people will tell you that El Rio Del Tiempo was actually a good attraction or that the Canada film as it was was still great and culturally relevant today. Both attractions needed an update, and what they got was an update that is actually fun. I thoroughly enjoy my ride past the birds in Gran Fiesta Tour and I find Martin Short funny.

So what's the problem? The problem is that while these attractions are now fun (and I think Gran Fiesta tour will even age well), they are not what they could be. Are they good enough for EPCOT? Sure, but since when has good enough been good enough for Disney parks.

Both of these attractions could have been reimagined into spectacular attractions. Instead what we got was good enough. I do enjoy both attractions and I think many a visitor to EPCOT will enjoy them for years to come, but none will walk away remembering how great either one is like they could have.

While good enough is far better than most parks do, it's still not great like Disney attractions were once known for. While I'd much rather have good enough than horrible like SGE was, I do dream for the day when greatness again becomes the goal in WDI.

C33 said...

I'm very mixed on the new O Canada.

On the one hand, I'm just glad they updated it period. With most of the CircleVision theaters now gone (almost all of them replaced by the same Buzz Lightyear attraction) it's good to see this art form continue at Disney theme parks. And it's good to see something be updated simply because it needed it, not because there was a new marketing campaign or plug it could be worked into. The fact that a new film was put in wasn't even announced.

I was at Walt Disney World right after the old film closed and the new one opened (and why, prey tell, does it take three weeks to change one film over to another when nothing physical even down to the sinage was changed?). I did however get to see the new film on YouTube.

I found it funny. The bit with Corey Burton and joking about the French pavillion, how it's not always cold and snowey in Canada. The fact that it was hosted by Martin Short didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.

But it lacked the charm and elegance of the old one. In the same way that digital photos can't replicate the look of real film, this attempt to "contemporize", so to speak, just didn't work. I can't imagine needing or wanting to see this film more than once in a trip, unlike the old one. And the jokes and references will soon become outdated; people will stop caring about Martin Short if they even do now. And what about showing all of those photos of celebrities in the middle? BAD idea.

If Disney plans on updating this film again in 5-10 years (or sooner) than all the power to them. But somehow I doubt that.

theatreman said...

c33 provides a sensitive review of the film. I have not seen it, but have now a sense of the flavor.

"Charm and elegance" YES! That's what is needed. Maybe a bit of "Eloquence" as well, without makng the kids too restless.

I will look for it on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what your problem is - those films make for a welcome 15 minute snooze in the AC!!!

StrangeVoices said...

That's the problem, then. Yeah, it's OK. But we are not looking for OK anymore. You can see better footage if you walk into a Best Buy and watch the demos they have on their TVs. You can flip the channel to Discovery or History Explorer and get a better show. It's not that it is terrible, it's that it is such a letdown compared to everything else you wonder if it is worth it.

Anonymous said...

Well did you hear the studio is making a film called "It's A Small World" with Robin, Whoppi and Billy.
It's a world of laughter, it's a world of fear...

Anonymous said...

For the first time ever, I have to disagree. And I must say, Marty Sklar mentioned yesterday that he really liked it. I kind of think Marty knows what he's talking about.

Mr Banks said...

Well, Mr. Short, I suppose if Marty liked it then that's the final word on the subject.

/bsdb said...

For the first time ever, I have to disagree. And I must say, Marty Sklar mentioned yesterday that he really liked it. I kind of think Marty knows what he's talking about.

Horse hockey. I kind of think Marty is heavily biased towards Fitzgerald and anything TPP produces, which includes this crappy film.

Marty went out of his way to praise Fitzgerald in his talk at Circle of Life Theatre on Monday, dispensing one accolade after another as if Tom's contributions to EPCOT Center and Imagineering in general were somehow going unnoticed by the fanboy public.

And where was the recognition of the Imagination pavilion during Marty's talk? That was completely glossed over, as if it didn't even exist. Maybe because Tony Baxter was in charge of that project? I didn't see one photograph of Baxter in the entire 25th exhibit, so I guess it's possible.

In any event, Marty was obviously talking up his boy during his presentation on Monday as if Fitzgerald were running for office. It was the most egregious abuse of the soapbox I've seen in a long time.

As for the new Canada film... it's a gigantic step backwards in quality from the original. If I were Canadian, I'd feel insulted. As an American, I definitely feel embarrassed.

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Anonymous said...

Lord knows I'm no fan of Tony and his huge ego, but nor am I a fan of Tom "mr. political" Fitzgerald. That said let's lay some blame for some of the misfires in the nineties at the parks squarely where they belong...on Marty Sklar's shoulders. After all, he was the one who allowed Tony to run costs up and up on projects in search of...well I don't know. Indiana Jones could have been a much better ride if Tony hadn't spent so much money on the queue line. And remember who headed up the team that came up with the California Adventure concept? It was Marty Sklar. (Look it up, folks.) And lastly it was Marty who put Tom in charge of WDI. Not at the expense of Tony, but at the expense of many people who got fed up and left.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so they re-did the Canada film. How come they haven't re-done the "Golden Dream" portion of American Adventure. I think that was last done in 1993. It's still very powerful, but Magic Johnson and the basketball Olympic team...please. They need to put something up that relates to 9/11. Maybe they should bring back whoever produced that film for TPP. But they probably laid that person off.

Chris said...

Okay, so they re-did the Canada film. How come they haven't re-done the "Golden Dream" portion of American Adventure. I think that was last done in 1993. It's still very powerful, but Magic Johnson and the basketball Olympic team...please. They need to put something up that relates to 9/11. Maybe they should bring back whoever produced that film for TPP. But they probably laid that person off.

I guess you haven't heard, Golden Dream was updated a few short months ago

Kristen said...

Just read that Disney's pouring 1.1 B into re-doing California Adventure... what're the thoughts on that?..

Anonymous said...

I think Michael Moore would have been a better host. He would have gotten all the Canadian guests to go to Burbank with a bullhorn and petition the Team Disney Building as to why their country was turned into a 360 degree farce.

TotalD said...

"So here’s an idea. Maybe to make this blog entry less boring, we could hire a hip Hollywood celebrity to read it to you. Like Ellen DeGeneres or Eric Idle or Colin Mochrie or Martin Short. Is Celine Dion here?"


But, ..... wait, you just described Fantasia 2000 !

Lee said...

"Give me the comedic genius of Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis over Martin Short any day of the week."
Amen to that! The two moose from Brother Bear would have been a great, fun twist on the presentation.

And I do have to disagree with one comment from the blog ... this isn't "Canadian Cheese", this is WDW Cheese. Let's give credit where it is due! :)

Anonymous said...

I saw the film. They are not using Circlevision to it's true medium. Most of this film every screen is different.

meekorouse said...

O Canada! was my favorite Pavilion film before the "update" (which is all it really needed was some filming update, not a total "undo" of its glory and some random "Canada Idol"-ing of a song that was sung well before it was re-recorded by someone no one may care about a few years later. (sorry) or the cheesy jokes and the insulting of other attractions that may or may not be there in another 10 years (who knows?)

Yes I still like the Canadian Pavilion but I won't be seeing the re-vamped O Canada! film again.

When I read this article I want to agree wholeheartedly with it. It seems Disney's idea of 'update' is really just slapping a couple minutes of new footage with something they think people will like and losing all the magic of the original. I'd like my old "O Canada!" back now thanks.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw the new version of "Oh Canada" and I was actually very happy with it. As a Canadian I was truly embarrassed by the old film. Which I didn't see until 2000 for the first time. It was horribly out of date even then and frankly more than boring. The theme song was great, but the rest of the film was a snooze fest. I actually felt patriotic while watching this film instead of apologetic.

I do recognize that the film is not for Canadians so much as its a film about Canada for a US audience. Yes, some of the jokes are a little cheesy but I hope they will wear better than some of the old film's footage will. The Celine Dion joke will definitely feel old in a few years (in fact is already does), but much of the rest should be OK.

I do agree with the comments about the lack of 360 footage and the curling bit was definitely lame. And while Bob and Doug McKenzie where about as Canadian as you could get, Rutt and Tuke aren't necessarily from Canada. The movie seems to take place in Alaska although DCA seems to want to place it in California(!).

I don't think you could do an American Adventure style film for Canada. First off, we don't have a single leader after John A. MacDonald that the country could agree was actually great. King was seance holding nut job, Trudeau was an egomaniac who alienated half the country and most Canadians don't even know who Laurier was other than "that guy on the $10 bill".
We didn't have a revolution, we formed a confederation of British Colonies who were worried about getting invaded by the US (Hmmm... wouldn't that go over great in the film). We never had a civil war although we almost broke up the country in 1980 and 1995. I don't think anyone can remember a particularly stirring speech from any of our politicians.