Sunday, December 12, 2010

Even Greater Moments


It seems odd to fixate on a fireplace mantel when discussing the return of “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” at Disneyland nearly a year ago. Yet fixate we must, as in that presumably simple pre-show set piece is a sure sign that wisdom and clarity are returning to the halls of Imagineering.

It wasn’t too long ago that executives would have been hard pressed to have Lincoln return to Disneyland at all. Not relevant, not cost effective, not inclusive to a synergistic game plan.

Yet a budget was drawn up not only for the return of this attraction but for, among other things, the creation of a fireplace mantle for the pre-show lobby that provides an elegant footing for the new film that introduces the show. Of course it’s not just any mantle as it takes its cue from the one seen in John DeCuir’s masterwork “The Burden of War”, a painting used first for Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents and now appearing in this freshened up version of Great Moments. It’s a clever touch, a classy prop, a nice bit of theming.

But it’s important to recall that the number crunchers of days gone by would have argued vehemently against such a costly and superfluous extravagance. Something as simple as a pre-show mantel wouldn’t have gotten past the first brainstorming session.

But here we are and there it is; a touch of genuine elegance at Disneyland that in the broader sense spells out why no other theme park in America comes close when it comes to quality showmanship.

Thankfully it doesn't end there. While strolling through the pre-show gallery check out the wall coverings, the carpet, the crown molding, the light fixtures, the placard spotlighting, the cabinetry. It’s all top-drawer extravagance that would give an Eisner era bean-counter an aneurysm, all the while screaming, “This is an amusement park, dammit, not the Hermitage!”

And we haven’t even entered the auditorium.

Kudos goes to the entire Lincoln team for placating the purists while bringing a fresh new sheen to this Walt Era masterpiece. You’d think a mash-up of The Hall of Presidents, The American Adventure and previous Great Moments incarnations would create a messy dissonant presentation but good taste prevails, with the creative team pulling the best parts of these shows together into a cohesive, heart-tugging whole.

Luckily, anything resembling the egregious and disturbing ‘Civil War’ version of Great Moments from 2001 is nowhere to be found, along with the gimmicky headsets, the graveyard consecration and the uncomfortable moist lapping at the ear.

Back is the classic red-velvet curtain and white Ionic column version from the ’64 World’s Fair.

Back is the now digitized Sam McKim slideshow introduction, this time making room for many additional paintings in service of a gorgeous rendition of ‘America the Beautiful’. Irving Gordon’s ‘Two Brothers’ from American Adventure returns from the 1984 version to help illustrate the Civil War.

Back is the original music, chorus, Royal Dano and Paul Frees.

And back is a refreshed Lincoln along with the bulk of his original and always relevant speech. (Purists can forgive the exclusion of his ‘grave and the gay of all sexes’ comment, a move that insures guest relations will have a slightly shorter line to tend to.)

It’s certainly a thrill to see Lincoln’s technologically enhanced facial features but far more thrilling to finally witness, after decades of missteps, his most stately performance since 1984 when a breakthrough in animatronics made him both more ‘compliant’ and more hyper. Hats off to the current team of imagineers who understand that, despite advancements in audio-animatronics, just because a figure can flap his arms like an orangutan doesn’t mean it should. By toning down the trickery Lincoln has not only become more uncannily life-like but far more dignified.

If criticism be leveled at all, it falls not on the show but on the exit corridor. Portraits of America’s innovators, sports legends, entertainers, creators and philanthropists flank the walls; most of them time-honored revolutionaries. But in company with Martin Luther King, Amelia Earhart, Bob Hope and Elvis is the alarming inclusion of Miley Cyrus. If you’ve ever whacked your head against a stone doorway as you exit the Sistine Chapel then you can imagine the feeling of bumping into her here.

Regardless, the overall whole is a tour-de-force of Imagineering know-how and intelligence all at the task of resuscitating a true Disneyland gem. Kudos to Tony Baxter (Senior Vice President, Creative Development), Josh Shipley (Creative Show Director), Kim Irvine (Pre-Show Design), Ethan Reed (Animator), Brian Scholz, (Show Producer), Chris Tietz (Art Director) and the entire team that pulled this one off.

And finally, kudos to the executives. Disney brass certainly had plenty of arguments against bankrolling the endeavor, including that pesky superfluous John DeCuir mantle homage.

But they did.

And the Happiest Place on Earth just got a lot happier.

Thank you.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's the mantle from the painting you showed? It doesn't look anything like it, other than that they are both mantle shaped. I don't disagree with your praise of the new show but those mantles don't look anything alike to me.

Couldn't agree more about the inclusion of Miley in the exit corridor. I'd also axe Michael Jackson and Jim Henson. While both innovative, Jacksons questionable lifestyle tarnishes his reputation, and it would seem he was only included because of the Captain EO connection and the revamp of the show came so soon after his death. And while I'm a huge Henson fan, the man didn't change the world the way others on that portrait wall did. I love his stuff, but he made films for a limited audience. Again I feel the Disney connection is only being exploited with his inclusion.

And what do you think of the flying eagle projection at the end? "Keep Dreaming America". Too hokey for my taste. The rest of the show is ultra classy but having that message and the eagle at the end step over the line. It's ok to let a show end, and it seems they just had to keep adding and adding everything they could think of. Best to have Lincoln be the image you were left with. Oh well.

Bruce said...

Great article and great to see the blog active again!

I completely agree that Lincoln was finally done right. Now if only I could convince my friends to experience it with me.

Dr Bitz said...

The point is well made that the details are there, and the show was done with love, care, and money, three elements seldom found in one place!

Having De Cuir's painting on display, even if it's a reproduction made the whole show for me. Here's the guy who designed "Cleopatra" and "gets" widescreen as a dramatic tool. Great composition. He gave that drama to Lincoln. All the trappings of that room seem to loom over him and it's all a fantasy. A truly powerful piece.

Selling Lincoln back into the park must have been tough and getting the budget to do it up as nice as they did is no doubt tougher. I took a friend in there last week to illustrate that not every Disney ride is tied into a character or a movie. This show is the closest take on the original version which was dignified and very tastefully executed. You can knit pick it, but in the end, it's a shock that it's there at all! In the overall palette of Disneyland, some shows should be more passive and richer in content. Main Street needed a show and it has one. My audience applauded at the end.

pariartspaul said...

I'm very glad to hear about this. If this type of thing continues I just might think about taking a trip down there one of these days.

Imagineering Disney said...

Great article. Made my day.

"...just because a figure can flap his arms like an orangutan doesn’t mean it should."

Well said. I think this mentality should apply to so many more things in the parks. I never did love the mentality of "let's create an attraction around this new technology." It always seems that when they do this, the attraction itself is second-rate yet it surrounds first-rate technology. Walt seemed to take a great new technology and create a show around it that was equally impressive (Tiki Room, the original Lincoln, Matterhorn, etc.)

Mooch said...

Yay for updates! Good article. Great to see a worthwhile change at Disneyland.

And, like Anonymous, I would also have to say the mantle in the photo looks nothing like the mantle in the painting. Are you sure it was based on it?

Michael said...

Huzzah - a new post!

And well said. I was extremely impressed with the treatment of the material in the new show - the first version of Mr. Lincoln that I've been able to see in person. The preshow area is very classy and well done, and the theater itself is also well-appointed. The show, as stated, is a very tasteful "mash-up" of Disney Americana.

The only nit-picks I would have are the previously mentioned and grotesquely out-of-place Miley picture in the exit hallway (the entire exit could use some TLC) and the aforementioned "Keep Dreaming America" tag at the end of the show. That seemed kind of airbrushed-license-plate-from-the-state-fair to me.

But these are indeed only nit-picks. WDI did a great job on the refurb and it's things like these (and the equally classy new Hall of Presidents show at WDW) that give me hope. Well done, everyone.

It's so bizarre to conceive that the "haircut" show was actually ever a thing.

Of course, we *could* have MuppetVision in there.... (oy!)

Digital Jedi said...

Anonymous said:
>>>...Jacksons questionable lifestyle tarnishes his reputation...<<<

Micheal Jackson changed the face of music and influenced generations of performers after him. The only questions raised about his lifestyle were raised by people who wanted a piece of the action. After all, thats all the hall appears to be for. To display innovators. We rule out everyone who had odd behavior or died tragic, questionable deaths, we might as well skip the pictures altogether.

>>>And while I'm a huge Henson fan, the man didn't change the world the way others on that portrait wall did.<<<

You. Have. Got. To. Be. Joking.

Several generations of children learned to read because of Jim Henson. Farscape wouldn't have existed and wouldn't have revolutionized Sci Fi storytelling. Yoda. Freaking Yoda...! Do I really need to say more?

Digital Jedi said...

I'm glad to see things are changing for the better. Some folks seemed to think that any good change at Disney was supposed to happen all at once. But common sense should tell you that if Imagineering were going to go back to the quality storytelling that made them famous, that it would be incremental. After all, look how long it took to habitually keep screwing things up. It's going to take time to find that magic again in a whole different world from whence it came.

But from what I've been hearing, you're on the right track. I lament that I can't see some of this for myself.

Brian said...

Nice to have Imagineering back in the saddle. And GREAT to have an update on Re-Imagineering! Welcome back and thanks.

42 said...

This is a fantastic article! I'd love to see more articles like this about how Disney is turning themselves around.

Anonymous said...

This post tears me in half. On the one hand I am very happy to see the Lincoln attraction back and in a form that brings back the dignity it once had.
On the other hand, why couldn't WDI come up with something with Lincoln and something more to bring in a bigger audience?
I've been in the attraction a few times since it reopened and some observations.
1. Why is there a museum about Disneyland in the preshow area at Disneyland? Seems a little weird to me.
2. What is with that walkway out? Were the Imagineers on crack when they came up with some of the people posted on the walls?
3. Like it or not, the theater rarely even gets 1/4 full. Since they spent something on the order of more than $20 million, it seems like the attendance in the attraction is going to make executives question future attractions like this.
In summation, I would like to see a patriotic show at Disneyland, but not one that is essentially a throwback to past shows. Let's see something new and innovative with maybe a few other American heroes in it.

Anonymous said...

Digital Jedi,

Revolutionary dancer or not, Jackson had some very sick habits. I don't care how he died, I was referring to how he lived. I don't buy for a second that every accusation against him was brought by someone looking for money. Regardless, the bigger point should be made that the people on that wall really shouldn't be recent celebrities. And while in the overall scheme Jackson obviously proved himself to be influential, his more recent controversy polarizes the audience too much. For that reason alone he should have been left off.

As for Henson, good point about teaching millions of kids to read. Though Sesame Street was not his brainchild, he was merely hired for it and then heavily involved. But I don't think I ever read that he felt it was a great calling or anything, in fact he resented that it typecast his characters as "for kids". As for Yoda- what was Henson's involvement there? Didn't industrial Light and Magic create Yoda, with Frank Oz puppeteering? Like I said, I'm a huge Henson fan, but there's no doubt that he wouldn't have been put on that wall if Disney wasn't actively trying to relaunch the Muppets.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot to be applauded in the new show, first of which is a commitment to advancing the art form of audio animatronics. Having said that, the new head was placed on a very crude body, and animated by somebody who could use some acting lessons.

Watch video of the Lincoln at the Hall of Presidents, or Barack Obama if you want to see lifelike animation. I visited Disneyland all the way from Texas, and this was my first stop. When I saw the show, I sat in the front row, expecting to be amazed. His face looked really lifelike untill it moved and then I couldn't tell if lincoln was happy, sad, pissed or had an upset stomach. His face was all over the place.

The digital painted Life of Lincoln artwork was a sad substitute for real oil paintings and the eagle projection looked like it was from the Colbert Report. Tacky, not inspirational.

Still, nothing set me up for the Miley photo. That was the final blow.

I will always applaude Disney for Animatronic shows, but call the guys who did the American Adventure or the Hall of Presidents...

If these are those same guys, than maybe I'm nuts.

Anonymous said...

With great respect to Henson, Stuart Freeborn made Yoda, not ILM.

Rich said...

I saw this show about a year ago and thought it was the best "new" addition to the park in a long time and certainly Disneyland's most moving experience. I was teary-eyed as I left the auditorium...

Then I turned the corner and saw Miley's mug planted on the wall and became infuriated - infuriated that she was included in this gallery to begin with, infuriated that her image is plastered all over the Disney resort, infuriated over the shameless shilling of all things Disney channel - of all things blase and corporate - all over the Disney experience these days.

So I dashed off a letter to Disney Imagineering about this. It was a well-reasoned, thoughtful piece about why Miley is an unwarranted intrusion to this experience, and wouldn't you know it... I received a two-page reply from Mr. Tony Baxter himself.

His letter was also thoughtful, but his attempt to justify Miley's inclusion based on the need for Disney to remain "relevant" to younger guests fell flat for me.

Still, he assured me that Miley's inclusion was not forced on WDI by marketing... yet I can't help but feel that this not not entirely the case.

I guess I can "get over" Miley's inclusion in Great Moments, but after awhile, all the little things like this scattered around the parks begins to rob the place of charm and makes me sad at what could, but is not. There is just no need to slather so much marketing-driven imagery around the resort. I really doubt it adds any $$ to Disney's coffers. All it really serves is to further disillusion fans of Walt's creations.

Rich

Pelter Unbleat said...

Would Walt have included Annette in a "Wall of Great American's" if the '65 Lincoln show had had one? Absolutely not, and she was certainly the Miley of her day, if not bigger. No offense to Miley, she's just not relevant here.

Anonymous said...

I'm also happy to see this blog posting again!

Great comments by Dr. Bitz, great to see my old boss on here ;)

RH

Lore said...

While I always enjoyed the various incarnations of the Lincoln show, and I'm an avid collector of lincoln material, I find the current show a tad long and boring. He'd be more entertaining debating Douglas over in Frontierland.

Spokker said...

"His letter was also thoughtful, but his attempt to justify Miley's inclusion based on the need for Disney to remain "relevant" to younger guests fell flat for me."

Ironically, her act is not very appropriate for younger guests anymore.

Her gyrations are actually more in tune with my age group.

Digital Jedi said...

Anonymous said:
>>>I don't buy for a second that every accusation against him was brought by someone looking for money.<<<

The courts bought it, as did a lot of people. Whether you believe them or not, you're basically saying he shouldn't have been included because you didn't like him.

>>>Regardless, the bigger point should be made that the people on that wall really shouldn't be recent celebrities.<<<

Er, okay. Any reason for that? Do you need to be dead for a certain amount of time to be an innovator?

>>>And while in the overall scheme Jackson obviously proved himself to be influential, his more recent controversy polarizes the audience too much. For that reason alone he should have been left off. <<<

I though you said the dying thing didn't count.

>>>But I don't think I ever read that he felt it was a great calling or anything, in fact he resented that it typecast his characters as "for kids".<<<

And that excludes him from being an innovator, how?


>>>Like I said, I'm a huge Henson fan, but there's no doubt that he wouldn't have been put on that wall if Disney wasn't actively trying to relaunch the Muppets.<<<

So the Muppets weren't popular or innovative before Disney took hold of them? How do you even rationalize that? No point for revolutionizing puppetry?

Anonymous said...

Glad the show is back.

I believe that the lobby is split in two and the 50th movie is still there because contractually it has to play for a certain period of time.

I thought the Golden Dreams video tag was lame. The show didn't need 2 endings. Feels like there were arguments over how to end the show, and a compromise was reached.

And, while the new head is great (though sometimes Lincoln looks drunk), they really needed a new hand as well. (Actually, two hands. the holding the notes thing to cut costs is a little old.)

Anonymous said...

In response to Digital Jedi's questions to me:

-The courts bought it, as did a lot of people. Whether you believe them or not, you're basically saying he shouldn't have been included because you didn't like him.-

No, I'm saying that Disney should avoid offending it's guests, and many people find the idolization of Michael Jackson extremely offensive, given the allegations. I'm not saying we need to somehow punish him (irrelevant since he's dead) but to somehow link him with one of the greatest presidents in history, in an otherwise solemn attraction, when many people are going to object to it, is a poor decision. Had he not been included, nobody would notice, or if they did notice, they wouldn't have made a big deal- it would seem like an oversight, and oversights don't offend anyone. Lapses in good judgement do. Maybe he was innocent, maybe he wasn't. But because there were so many questions unanswered, how many people are having this same debate as they leave Lincoln, instead of focusing on what they saw and could have learned in the Main Show?

-Er, okay. Any reason for that? Do you need to be dead for a certain amount of time to be an innovator?-

No, but it takes a bit of perspective to view these people fairly. Who knows if Miley will be any more than a flash in the pan celebrity. She may pull some Lindsay Lohan type stunt tomorrow and Disney will need to yank her picture off the wall. If a celebrity has had a long distinguished career, devoid of controversy, they should be honored on that wall. They don't have to be dead. But even Michael Jackson will be a lot more palateable to see 40 years down the line, when he will most likely be remembered just for his music. WDI themselves have said that in projects like the American Adventure, they couldn't really depict events past WWII because there wasn't enough historical perspective to avoid polarizing the audience- you'd have people in the audience who had too strong a feeling about Vietnam, or Korea, or whatever, and they wouldn't be receptive your message. Or conversely, the show writers would be too biased to present it properly. It was a mistake to have George W Bush speak in he Hall of Presidents because he polarized the audience. WDI said so shortly after they realized it. But they did the same thing once Obama was sworn in. His popularity at election time was unbelievable and they thought it would be fine. I'm sure now they think differently.

-I though you said the dying thing didn't count.-

Wasn't referring to him dying, more to all the allegations of child molestation.

-And that excludes him from being an innovator, how?-

I can think of plenty of innovative musicians who didn't spend their final years embroiled in scandal and they're not up on the wall. 'Course they didn't have an attraction in Tomorrowland.

-So the Muppets weren't popular or innovative before Disney took hold of them? How do you even rationalize that? No point for revolutionizing puppetry?-

Yes, they were popular before Disney took hold of them. Long long before. They haven't been for many years. Hey Henson is the least of my objections on the wall, but he does support my point that the wall was more about synergy than it was about truly honoring the honorable.

Digital Jedi said...

@Anonymous

Well, I have to say you have many obscure ideas of what qualifies someone for a wall in Disney attraction. Solemn? I don't think that's the Imagineers were going for.

Innovators are people who change the face of their industry. I'm sure Miley was a concession the Imagineers had to make to someone higher up, as I doubt anyone thinks she's revolutionized anything. Her aside, the wall is nothing more than a tribute to Americans who've made an irrevocable impression on their craft or field of study. That includes entertainers, scientists, athletes and entrepreneurs. Because you, and a few others can't let go of an accusation that offends you, will exclude possibly half the people you can put on that wall. Lots of stuff offends lots of people. You're only offended in this case, if you refuse to believe the evidence. We can't, and shouldn't, cater to the "just in case" crowd.

Anonymous said...

>>Digital Jedi said: Solemn? I don't think that's the Imagineers were going for.<<

You don't? I do. Also respectful and timeless. Mission accomplished except for including Jackson and Miley. If you were an imagineer, what adjective would you portray if you were doing Lincoln?

>>Because you, and a few others can't let go of an accusation that offends you, will exclude possibly half the people you can put on that wall. Lots of stuff offends lots of people. You're only offended in this case, if you refuse to believe the evidence. <<

Actually it's the evidence that I base my opinion on. He wasn't found not guilty- they settled out of court. Meaning he paid his way out.

You bring up an excellent point which should probably start off any criticism of an organization like WDI. Any project no matter how small is a huge endeavor by several people. Many many talented people worked on the Lincoln redo, creative people and non, and no one person had sole decision making power. Suffice to say Jackson's inclusion doesn't diminish my love of the attraction, it's just a bit jarring during the exit.

Tom Slick said...

Dear Mr. Banks,
It has been a long quiet ride since this last post, and partly due because a) Disney had not fouled any steps in quite sometime, and b) Because I'm sure the contributors and owners alike on this blog are busy within their own lives, as well.

But, there are grey clouds over Disneyland and bad news to be discussed in my humble opinion...

See, Disney Execs are back at it again, making some very terrible decisions and eliminating one attraction to make room for another less improved attraction.

What I am referring to here, is the Carnation Plaza Gardens stage and dance pavillion. You see, this special place had been operating, and hosting bands, big and small alike, known and unknown since 1956. It had seen the likes of Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Cab Calloway, Bob Crosby, Les Brown, and of course we cannot forget the in house band for years, the Elliot Brothers. This small corneresque area venue off Main Street had hosted the BIGGEST names in Swing and Jazz music than almost any other stage in the World. And almost overnight it is gone and forgotten. Just. like. that.

And what grand attraction could be so worthy of filling this legendary spot off of the hub, you may ask? How about something called "Fantasy Faire", where little girls can meet princesses and fairies, and....WAIT A MINUTE.

Wasn't "Fanstasyland" designed by Walt himself to stay within the castle walls?
And isn't there already a Tinkerbell Garden meet and greet, as well as another princess meet and greet over at the Fantasyland Theater?
Well it seems that no matter how small, yet significant something can be in Disneyland, it can always be brushed and hushed under the Magic Kingdom's carpet. The sad part is, inside Disneyland is really starting to seem more like outside-the-berm reality, with the expanding beyond barriers, and where it can be possible that Princesses can join in on a barbershop quartet song, and nobody will flinch. Afterall, It's Disneyland right? The place where anything magical can happen!

Yeah, enough of the sarcasm. I'm not OK with this completely unnecessary addition. If you want your daughters to see princesses and fairies, take them to Fantasyland Theater, or Tinks Hollow, or better yet shell out some money for Goofys Kitchen, get the family something to eat, and enjoy most ALL the characters at the meet and greet breakfasts they do daily.

Another one of Walt's personally approved thematic areas vandalized by Executive tycoons.

(by the way, I miss this blog, and the mostly great challenges that were addressed here!)

Anonymous said...

I too am sick over the idea of Carnation Plaza Gardens being ruined and taken over by Princess houses and a maypole, how mundane. I go on Saturday nights to watch the nice folks dance and to listen to some truly great music, and I will never think of it the same with what they are talking of putting in that area. Maybe we should rally and get it zoned as a California Landmark.

Couldn't they instead rebuild the area up where the old Fantasyland Skyway building is still standing? It would even be more like a fairytale all nestled in the trees...

DisneyApprentice said...

I would like to write for re-imagineering. You can check out my writing at
disneydose.com

I would love to become a regular writer, but I am wondering if there is enough material to cover now that California Adventure is being turned around, the wand is off the globe at Epcot, and Rocket Rods are out of the parks. I would love to change the purpose of the website from being a cynic of Imagineering, to being an observer of it.

DisneyApprentice,
gavin@disneydose.com

Spokker said...

Does Disneyland suck again? Maybe this blog can start back up again.