Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sleeping Beauty to Reawaken!

July 17, 2008 - Anaheim, CA - The interior of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland will open in time for the December holiday season, offering guests a “reawakened” version of its classic walkthrough presentation kissed with vibrant scenes of Aurora, her charming prince, the evil Maleficent and other characters from the beloved fairy tale film.

“It is fitting that we are announcing the return of a classic on the 53rd anniversary of Disneyland,” said Tony Baxter, Senior Vice President of Creative Development for Walt Disney Imagineering, who unveiled a model of the castle on July 17, the birthday of Disneyland park.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” and the excitement generated by the anniversary of the motion picture spurred interest in the return of the Disneyland attraction.

Also celebrating the milestone 50th Anniversary of “Sleeping Beauty” is Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, which will release a two-disc Platinum Blu-ray™ Hi-Def disc, making “Sleeping Beauty” the first Walt Disney animated classic title to be released in high definition, as well as on two-disc Platinum DVD. A bonus feature on the new release will be “The Original Sleeping Beauty Walk-Through Attraction With Walt Disney Imagineering,” an immersive experience recreating the original castle walkthrough.

On April 29, 1957, nearly two years before the premiere of Walt Disney’s animated feature “Sleeping Beauty,” the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough opened with an in-park ceremony featuring Walt Disney and actress Shirley Temple who, some 20 years earlier, had presented Disney with his special Academy Award – one Oscar and seven little ones – for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

The crafting of the 1957 walkthrough show fell to Walt Disney Imagineer Ken Anderson and animation art director and color stylist Eyvind Earle, credited with giving the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty” the distinctive and colorful look of storybook illustrations in medieval style. An entirely new look appeared in 1977 when the attraction’s redesign featured miniature dioramas, including moving figurines similar to the window displays in the shops on Main Street, U.S.A.

When the attraction is unveiled later this year, the “show” will differ from the dioramas of the 1980s and ‘90s, returning to the unique style of the original 1957 show and motion picture. Enhanced with new scenes and special effects magic, the re-Imagineered attraction will employ technology not available in the 1950s to represent scenes from the story of "Sleeping Beauty," including the magic of good fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, and the more sinister spells of the evil Maleficent.

For the first time, guests who are unable to climb stairs or navigate the passageways of the Castle will be able to experience the walkthrough “virtually” in a special room on the ground floor of the Castle.

Source: Disneyland Press Release

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A "Bold, New" World

"Our guests tell us they want additional shopping and dining experiences at Downtown Disney."

Kevin Lansberry
Vice president - Downtown Disney Florida

Souvenir stands, carnival thrills, and T-shirt shops. U.S. 192 in Kissimmee? Not if some at the Walt Disney Company have their way, as they prepare to execute what they call a "bold new vision" for Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World in Florida.

In a news release quietly disseminated late last Friday, the Walt Disney Company announced its new plan for the Downtown Disney area. Buried within the news release, this sentence: "To make way for the new offerings, all of the clubs currently on Pleasure Island will close on September 27."

At first glance, this might not seem like that big a deal for the Imagineering enthusiast. But slated for demolition, along with the more traditional clubs of Pleasure Island, is one of Imagineering's true crown jewels: The Adventurers Club.

If you're a Disneyland enthusiast who lives in California, you might not know much-- or anything-- about this hidden Imagineering gem. It's one of the truly superior attractions we Floridians can proudly claim as our own.

Some guests who enter this 1930's gentleman's club wander around the mezzanine, and depart without discovering the true genius this venue has to offer. Guests who descend the staircase and sit down for a drink or two are in for the time of their lives.

Throughout the evening, several amazing performers make their way through the Adventurers Club, welcoming everyone to a 1937 New Years Eve open house. The club president and other permanent members continually converse with the guests. An animatronic colonel (okay, he's really a puppet) leads patrons in the singing of the club's all-purpose theme song. Musical performances here can be of Broadway caliber, and few who stay long enough to learn the club salute are immune from the club's addictive charm.

While the sublime execution of the club's detailed back story and character development are a testament to the truly talented men and women who perform their hearts out each and every evening, just as incredible-- and important-- is the rich intricacy and superb thematic execution of the venue itself.

The walls and antechambers of the Adventurers Club are adorned with an almost infinite number of period photographs, artifacts and mementos from fellow adventurers around the world. This amazing attention to (and investment in) the details sets the Adventurers Club apart as one of the finest themed environments ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering. Consider experiencing Pirates of the Caribbean as a walk-through attraction. Would the details withstand the scrutiny? They do at the Adventurers Club. Remember, this isn't a roller coaster or even a slow-moving boat ride. It's a fully realized environment that has to endure intimate and repeat inspection from guests who spend several hours poring over its walls. Remarkably, the club's interior not only endures, it envelopes, as only a classic Disney attraction can.

Today, the Adventurers Club still thrives in the midst of a diminished Pleasure Island. After two decades of financial and creative success, many here in Florida considered it sacred ground.

Or for the time being, at least safe.

So it should come as no surprise that the Adventurers Club is currently slated for demolition, along with the rest of Pleasure Island's clubs, in favor of a "bold new vision." A vision that includes (brace yourselves)...

...a t-shirt shop and a hot air balloon.

From the news release:

"Over the next year, the 120-acre entertainment-shopping-dining complex will add a number of one-of-a-kind, immersive experiences for guests. Downtown Disney will even get its own iconic attraction, in the form of a giant, tethered balloon that will take guests 300 feet into the air to view the amazing vistas of Walt Disney World Resort. Other new experiences include... a design your own t-shirt store from Hanes [that] will add to the growing collection of merchandise guests can personalize at Downtown Disney."

To be fair, there is legitimate logic behind some of the changes. Until as recently as 2004, Pleasure Island's gated turnstiles impeded pedestrian traffic between the Marketplace and West Side, two wildly profitable retail areas. Removing the turnstiles improved the awkward and sometimes dangerous traffic flow, but invited non-paying guests onto the Island. Loitering teenagers are now tarnishing Downtown Disney's desired reputation as a family-friendly destination. Add to the equation property that's far too valuable for aging dance clubs, and its obvious that changes must and will be made.

Let's be clear about this. No one is saying Pleasure Island shouldn't change. But there are at least two things about this "bold, new vision" that should be especially troubling to anyone who cares about the Walt Disney company, financially or creatively.

One: That Disney's idea of "bold" and "new" calls for replacing unique Disney experiences with even more third-party dining and shopping venues, a t-shirt shop, and a hot air balloon.

Two: That caught in the path of the wrecking ball is one of the finest themed environments ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering.

Unless someone with power and vision intervenes, the Adventurers Club will welcome its final guests this fall.

And that, on so many levels, is very, very sad. The sense of loss this time will come with added profundity and poignancy, because what's being destroyed is so unique, and works so very, very well.

Perhaps the club will find a new home inside Animal Kingdom or elsewhere. We're not holding out much hope. But we are losing sleep. We just can't imagine a Walt Disney World without the Adventurers Club, and, judging from the more than five thousand on-line petition signatures compiled so far, a lot of other people feel the same way.

The capable folks at the Walt Disney Company should go back to the drawing board on this one, and challenge themselves to re-imagine a truly "bold, new" Downtown Disney, one that keeps the Adventurers Club in its mix. The current plan is only "bold" for its audacity, and destroying works of creative genius to pursue short-term profits is sadly nothing "new."