Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mission Aborted

Yet another tear down to make room for something vastly inferior.

How can you compare Epcot's Horizon's pavilion with the recent replacement? Horizons, though showing a little kitsch around the edges shortly before it was bulldozed, was a return to the golden age of imagineering when it opened in 1983; a full fifteen minute ride thru showcasing how visionaries imagined the future, how current technologies were dreaming about it and what it all was going to look and feel like when it all came true. It was Epcot's theme show, an incredibly entertaining summation of the ideas that inspired Epcot and Future World from the get go. It was also the first ride in theme park history that both dangled you in front of an Imax film frame (years before DCA's Soarin') and let the rider call out their own ending to the attraction. As for everything else, it was all pure class, from set dressing to lighting to show writing to music. Everything worked.

But somehow Disney pencil pushers decided guests were tired of fully immersive theatrical environments and wanted more thrills, ignoring the fact that The Haunted Mansion and Pirates were still raking them in even after 40 years. In it's place, yet another threat to keeping lunch down in a park that was supposed to be about ideas, the one shot wonder 'Mission Space'.

Granted, this was an interesting step towards innovative new theme park technology as this sort of centrifuge simulator had never been seen before. But once guests squeeze into their tiny simulator pods and experience the feeling of an invisible buddha sitting on their face while watching low rez video it's doubtful they'll turn heel and get back in line. Either that same day or years later. And of course who'd want to suffer through Gary Sinise obviously reading from cue cards in the opening pre-show again anyway?

With virtually no re-rideabilty value whatsoever it's little consolation that the onboard motion sickness bags double as free souvenirs. But go ahead and take one anyway.

15 minutes of immersive theatrical bliss replaced by 5 minutes of chest pain and nausea. You do the math.

Synergy, shmymergy!

Something to be aware of: Disneyland is becoming one big Toon Town. The original themed lands were representations of different times and places and the attractions in them were geared more toward the land themes than anything else. Disney characters, aside from an occasional appearance, resided in Fantasyland – and then in Toon Town.

Lately most new attractions across the park are based on whatever latest movie is out. The result is that you have cartoon Tarzan taking over the Swiss Family Treehouse, Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland, soon to be Finding Nemo replacing the sub rides and Pooh over in the far corner of Frontierland.

To further clarify the point; for instance, a Frontierland with permanent features like the Golden Horseshoe, the Mark Twain and western buildings can really take you back in time, as if you were magically transported to that time and place. An occasional appearance by a Disney character that fits in with the theme comes as a pleasant surprise and reminds you of where you really are.

But it is quite a different thing to be in a Frontierland with permanent features maybe more like Woody and Jesse’s Shoot’em Up Saloon, Pluto’s Western Bounce House and Nemo’s Explorer Canoes. You aren’t really being transported back to that place and time anymore – you know you’re in an amusement park, and actually more of a kiddy park.

I don’t think this has come about as the result of conscious overall creative design, but rather the result of a company structure with business managers at the top and creative people under them, scrambling to give the managers what they want – synergy. Synergy is a good thing in small doses, but this strategy will never give us another Pirate ride or Haunted Mansion. The system needs to be reversed, with the creative leaders deciding what attractions would really enhance an area in an amazing way, with the business managers there to support them and turn the projects into reality. Duh.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Lincoln's Second Assassination

Imagineers are certainly allowed to revisit earlier attractions at the parks to reassess their relevance with current audiences but with every additional touch-up of Disneyland's 'Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln' it seems the very heart and soul of this stirring stage presentation gets another bullet to the head.

A more sophisticated Audio Animatronic figure arriving in the 80's was initially a cause for celebration, but when the animators got hold of Lincoln they were more fixated on the technology than the performance, making Abe flap around like Richard Simmons on speed.

And then its latest incarnation, opening several years ago, appeared to be the final death rattle. For some reason the show wasn't about Lincoln's timeless and inspiring words anymore but a showcase for a 3-D sound system that was getting all the Imagineering Audiophiles panties in a bunch, a system by which guests could hear realistic dimensional sound all around them via lightweight headsets.

So now, just before the curtains come up on Abe, you can hear in excruciating detail the imaginary grandfather clock in the far right corner of the room, scissors clip at your hair and, in what might be the most cringe inducing experience in theme park history, the breathy effete voice of Abe Lincoln whispering softly in your ear, each syllable sending a soft burst of air into your skull. In one fleeting instant our great moment with Lincoln has turned into something that feels like a prelude to bad touch; something unwelcome and dirty.

Once the curtains open it's apparent that all hallmarks of quality and class have been stripped from the stage. No more the regal red carpet, the high sheen oak furniture, the ghostly image of the Capital in the background. Now it's all grey, funereal and bone cold. And instead of Lincoln sharing his timeless thoughts on liberty, equality and freedom as he once did (in a speech cleverly cobbled together from several of his writings) this go-round he speaks to gathered dignitaries at the consecration of a cemetary. Yes, it's the Gettysburg Address.

And while the Gettysburg Address is perhaps the finest speech a President ever made, it is utterly and completely inappropriate for this show's grand vision. An audience unaware of the context of the Gettysburg Address will hear nothing but high-minded jabber. The earlier monologue, on the other hand, played as a proud stand-alone discourse on American values and, in our post 9-11 world, is more eerily relevant and potent than it's ever been before.

The Gettysburg Address and its relevance to world events today? Not so much.

Oh, to imagine Lincoln back at Disneyland doing what he did best; inspiring guests to once again feel proud to be part of the American Experience.

Restoring Walt Disney’s Disneyland: The Pirate Ship and Skull Rock

Fantasyland was given a beautiful makeover back in 1984, but one of the central weenies of Walt’s childish fancy was an unfortunate victim of fate: Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship and Skull Rock.

The Jolly Roger, a colorful pirate galleon right out of Neverland, doubled as a snack stand - - home to tuna sandwiches and other seafood treats (your host: Chicken of the Sea). It premiered along with the park itself in 1955. The lush lagoon and fountains of Skull Rock were added as a backdrop a few years later.

Located where Dumbo is now, Hook's ship was a thrilling setpiece. Kids could reenact swordplay and derring-do on its ornate decks, while adults could have a relaxing bite or two in the tropical gardens below.

While cavorting on Hook's ship, a lost boy could feel the happy thoughts carry him away toward that Second Star to the Right. And talk about the perfect meet-and-greet location for Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee... Hook used to chase kids around the rocks, behind the falls and through the small caves of Skull Rock seeking revenge (and a photo op).

Flying directly above the galleon’s billowing sails and decks, the Skyway gave an even closer view of the ship's complex riggings.

The waterfalls of Skull Rock also added immeasurably to the atmosphere of Fantasyland. In fact, waterfalls used to be a far more prominent atmospheric element throughout the park, contributing a serenity that has been missing since Fantasyland's Skull Rock, Frontierland's Cascade Peak and other iconic falling waters of Disneyland ran dry.

Originally slated to be moved around near the StorybookLand entrance during the 1984 redesign of New Fantasyland, the pirate ship proved too delicate and crumbled when the cranes came. This was an unforeseen, unintended disaster. Sadly, no one ever budgeted to rebuild it!

Captain Hook's Pirate Ship and Skull Rock should return to the center of Fantasyland as Walt designed it - - Dumbo could easily make the transition over by Small World or StorybookLand. Or at the very least, the ship should be rebuilt at the new location intended in 1984 (on Small World Way).

The Pirate Ship was a central symbol of Walt’s recurring theme of remembering childhood and the spirit of youth (“I’ve seen that ship before… a long, long time ago when I was very young,” said Mr. Darling at the emotional resolution to “Peter Pan”). It seemed to underscore the point and complete the vision of Fantasyland. It was a fitting centerpiece to Walt's own park.

Disneyland has seemed less timeless; less the Never-Neverland it once was, without this beautiful oasis, one of most photogenic locales in the park.

We can't fly without the pixie-dust, fellas...

Hub Bub?

At one time, the hub at Disneyland was more like a grand finale to Main Street. It had the elegant Plaza Inn and Plaza Gardens restaurants flanking the exit and the Carnation Gardens over on the far left side. When you were in the hub, you had the feeling that you were not only still in the turn of the century small town, but had entered into a little park of the era, with magical paths around the perimeter that showed glimpses of other worlds that gently drew you in. It provided a comfortable transition to the other lands and also had a sense of place.

Over the last ten years or so, the theme has been compromised, and the well planned magical little vistas that used to draw one smoothly into the various lands are slowly degrading. For instance; when the old Carnation Gardens restaurant was torn out a few years back, it was replaced with a practical expanse of walkway and some generic ‘back of western type building’ facades to hide the newly exposed backs of the Frontierland buildings. Now we are presented with a view there of what looks like a functional backstage break area, and the single magical little path that was the main entrance into Frontierland now has a cheaper twin. Cha-ching! Another little piece of the magic is gone. A better solution would have been to put some tall trees there to mask the building backs. Or better still why wasn’t it replaced with an even nicer Victorian Pavilion type eatery or attraction?

When you exited Main Street into the hub over the last few years and turned left, a sign in front of the vacant Plaza Pavilion proclaimed it as the “Annual Passport Processing Pavilion”. So a guest might think, “Oh, I’ve left Main Street now; here is an old building that used to be part of it somehow, but now they’re selling passports there.” So right away the smooth continuity of the theme is broken and it jogs the guest back into the world of today, leaving them impressed with the notion that Disney would rather use a themed building to sell things than to keep it integral to the story they were once telling. Cha-ching! Another piece of the magic is gone. Solution: Sell annual passports out at the front gate. Can’t we find a use for that beautiful old building or replace it with something better that fits the theme?

The placement of the Astro-Orbiter at the edge of the hub has already been written about, but to reiterate, the vista and view into the world of tomorrow that used to draw you in is gone. Instead you have this dark looming hulk of a thing bordering the hub almost repelling you back. Cha-ching! Another little piece of the magic is gone – another smooth transition lost. Solution: Nuke it!

The Partners statue of Walt and Mickey and the surrounding bronzes of other Disney characters at the very center of the hub are also out of place if we want to maintain the theme of the area. Although a wonderful tribute for the 50th anniversary, they pull the observer out of any sense they might have had of being in that small town park, and back into the present day again. Would these statues be better off somewhere else? One could argue that maybe they could fit in as something you might see in a turn of the century park and particularly in a Disney version of one - but maybe not.

These hub area theme issues are a good example of the kind of questions you need to constantly be asking and resolving in every part of every land in the park as you go about Re-Imagineering Disneyland.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Those Were the Good Ol' Days

Main Street U.S.A. used to be a place where you could believe for a moment that Norman Rockwell's America truly did exist, a fanciful evocation, a sense memory if you will, of a kinder gentler turn of the century America.

On the surface it's all still there, but creep inside any of those charming buildings and you might think you've stepped into a Disney Store circa 1985.

It's as if Park Management figured Grandpa was dead and nobody would ever know the difference. Moving as much Pooh Plush as possible? Now that's an idea!

Where's that recreation of an old fashioned Pharmacy? Where's that great wood paneled Bank? Where's the Barber Shop? The Haberdashery? Those intricate elaborate window displays begging for a child's face print on the glass?

Who knew that Great Grandma could pick up a Mickey Tee at the local Nickelodeon?

To think there was a time when you could actually find women's lingerie, fine art and specialty automotive wares on Main Street. Today it's all tee-shirts, keychains and stuffed fuzzies as far as the eye can see. Step inside the Silent Movie Theater in Walt Disney World's Main Street and instead of a Buster Keaton flick you'll find a shelf full-up of Pocahontas swag and yet another cash register.

It's time for Disney guests to rediscover a little more of the theme in theme parks. If they are going to pick up a keepsake while visiting the Magic Kingdom let it not only be something they can't find anywhere else but make sure it's unique to the area they're visiting.

A Disney Princess outfit on sale in Frontierland?

Why not.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Revisiting Inner Space

Monsanto's Adventure Thru Inner Space was a Disney Classic in every sense of the word, an attraction that has never lost its loyal fan base since it closed in 1986, even inspiring one savvy designer to rebuild the entire attraction in 3-D inside his computer in meticulous detail. (themightymicroscope.com)

It can easily be argued that the original attraction in todays world would be severely outdated and kitschy. Yet the concept of riding into the world of the atom still has the power to enthall.

Bringing back a freshly updated version of Adventure thru Inner Space is a win-win for everyone. Imagineers get to re-imagine the concept with current state of the art technology (effects enhancing onboard protective goggles anyone?), fans would have a massive attack of pure bliss, and a whole new generation of guests would finally get to know what the hallucinogenic buzz was all about as they float amongst molecules as big as Volkswagon Bugs.

As earlier mentioned, Disneyland's Tomorrowland certainly has the room for it. By scraping out the guts of 'Honey I Shrunk the Audience', an attraction that has well overstayed its welcome, designers would have more than enough room to re-arrange the Atom for future audiences.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Something About Mary

Yes, we've heard the caveat, "Disneyland is not a museum", but in at least one instance attention to the Art of Disneyland must be paid. Disney artist, designer and color stylist Mary Blair (1911-1978) has so inspired several generations of animation artists with her legendary work in Disney Classic Animation and at the theme parks (Small World being most noteworthy) that to cover over or destroy her work in this day and age would be blasphemous. And yet in 1987 and 1997 Disney Imagineering did just that. Two of her largest and most exemplary tile murals covering the north and south sides of Disneylands classic 60's Tomorrowland were either chipped into oblivion when Star Tours opened or covered over with the opening of the 'New' Tomorrowland. Inarguably both are modernist masterpieces.

Certainly there's a solid argument suggesting the undamaged mural no longer fits with the style of the current area (as if anything tasteful and charming could) but incoming management should do everything they can to preserve and display what's left of Mary's amazing work of art, whether it's moving it to a neutral area in the park where it can be enjoyed on its own terms or finding contemporary artists willing to create companion works that harmonize well with her vision.

Because sometimes Disneyland SHOULD be a Museum.

Country Bears Covered In Pooh

Originally planned for the proposed Mineral King Resort that never made it thru funding, the elaborate, classy and character driven Audio Anima- tronics Extrava- ganza 'Bear Country Jamboree' debuted at Walt Disney World in 1971 where it's still delighting audiences. One year later Disneyland got its version of the show in a wilderness themed land all its own. In 2001 Disneyland's Country Bears were evicted and replaced by a Winnie the Pooh themed ride.

The tradition at Disneyland, inspired directly by Walt Disney, went like this: If you're going to replace an older attraction with a newer one make sure it's more elaborate, more sophisticated, more amazing than the one previous.

But with the new Winnie the Pooh attraction this wasn't going to be the case. As with most corporate culture decisions at Imagineering over the last decade, this addition to Disneyland was inspired by greed and built on the cheap; an attraction with no interest in entertainment and every interest in cashing in on Pooh Mania, the MBA Bean Counters deciding that the Pooh craze was hot-hot-hot and with an attraction like this they could move even MORE Pooh Plush.

The 'Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh' is little more than a cynical ride past several Disney Store shop windows geared entirely at showing the newest line of Pooh Merchandise. Forget sophisticated audio animatronics, forget a fully realized dimensional world, forget clear storytelling. If slogging past wobbly wooden flats while sitting inside a giant carved out turd is your idea of fun then you will be delighted.

It's time to clean the Pooh off the streets of Disneyland and bring the original Country Bears out of retirement. Whether they're back at Disneyland or fill a corner in the appropriate backwoods portion of California Adventure, they're sorely missed; a testament to when Imagineers created intelligent whimsy and didn't scrimp on quality or showmanship.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Carousel of Regression

There was no other theater quite like it when the Carousel Theater opened at the 1964 World's Fair with the GE sponsored show Carousel of Progress. Inside the audience actually revolved around six central stages, each showcasing a newer era in home living, from the turn of the century to modern times. After the fair the show moved to Disneyland, then on to Disney World in 1971 where word has it the show will be shuttered very soon. Back at Disneyland the audio animatronics extravaganza America Sings opened in its stead around 1974 and had a good run before closing down in 1988.

And then the Carousel Theater, one of only three in the world (the third is at Tokyo Disneyland) lay dormant for 10 years.

In 1998 the management geniuses at Imagineering re-opened the theater, only this time it was no longer a high tech stage show replete with great characters and timeless tunes, but a low-tech trade show akin to a noisy stroll through your local Best Buy Superstore. No more charm. No more magic. No more amazing audio animatronic performers. Just carny hucksters trying to sell you the latest Disney Software title. Dante's Inferno at Disneyland. Everything Walt strived to avoid in planning the original park.

It's time to gut the building once more and bring it back to life as as the true revolving theater it once was.

Perhaps Imagineers can put some spit and polish on the original Carousel of Progress show and bring it back to Disneyland as a fresh reminder of one of Walt's personal favorites. Or better yet, maybe they can inject the building with a newer and even more amazing audio animatronics extravaganza. The time has come for this one of a kind theater to enjoy a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.

Restoring Walt Disney's Disneyland: Tomorrowland

We all know Disneyland is not a museum, and yet the original park is very much a living tribute to Walt Disney and his personal creativity. It is a place where, in the future, new generations should be able to get an uncompromised idea of what his original vision, taste and aesthetics (and that of his collaborators) was like, no matter what happens to evolve the empire in other directions. Disneyland is filled with timeless art and ideas. These should not be discarded casually.

So though we all expect and welcome the lavish new E-Ticket attractions we are dreaming for under the new Lasseter-led creative program, many of us are also hoping to see a restoration of key details that once made the Disneyland experience complete.

In the last decade, we have lost some of the flavor and layering that filled Walt's vision for the Magic Kingdom, particularly in Tomorrowland. While many things have been successfully refreshed and restored for the 50th anniversary (The Enchanted Tiki Room, It's a Small World, etc.) and finally paint and maintenence have returned to the park after years of neglect, there is still a ways to go to bring the park back to its historic heights.

Here are some of the treasures I hope to see returned, and perhaps improved upon, as the park enters its second half-century:


The utopian, ultramodern design of 1967's New Tomorrowland, gleaming like a moonscape in stark white, black and cool shades of blue and silver, was unsucessfully updated in 1998 to reflect a bronzed Victorian/Vernian mechanical view of the future. While this was great at Disneyland Paris, where the concept was fully realized, it never gelled here in Anaheim, particularly as a layover to the modernist original.

A far more successful approach would have been to go the way of The Encounter restaurant (aka The Theme Building) at Los Angeles International Airport, which the Imagineers built out as an exaggerated homage to mid-century modernism, embracing its era and design rather than fighting against it. It is the Tomorrowland we should have received and the public would have relished.

In the last year, a cool bluish color scheme has returned to Tomorrowland, and gleaming white spires to Space Mountain (after years of molding in catpoo browns), a definite improvement that still does not go far enough to restore the vivid look of the "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" of Walt's day.

How wonderful it would be to see a return of the Rolly Crump modernist sculptures around Tomorrowland, such as the original Tomorrowland Terrace stage top, Mary Blair's handcrafted tile murals (one of which survives under a facade), blue sidewalks, white walls and colorful tropical vegetation. Those guys and gals had a great eye for color and design - - why waste it? This streamlined ultramodern view is still futuristic to our cluttered world.

More importantly, the weenie in the center of Tomorrowland, as Ken has so accurately described it, is missing-in-action. And the infrastructure of once-thrilling rides were left to rot in full view. The Rocket Jets that spun high above Tomorrowland were revamped into a twirling compromised tshatchke with no purpose or beauty. The PeopleMover (later Rocket Rods) track sits deserted below it, the Skyway above is gone completely, the Motor Boat waterways run empty - - and until recently the Submarine Lagoon of "Liquid Space" sat abandoned too. What had been Walt Disney's "World on the Move," a multi-leveled salute to transportation and kinetic energy was killed by bottom-line accounteneering. The resulting view of the future was neglect, apocalypse, corporate gloom and doom.

Also gone, the amazing Carousel of Progress, the House of the Future, the wonders of CircleVision and the thrilling psychedelic trip into Inner Space - once the "Pirates" adventure of Tomorrowland. While Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear made charming new additions, Innoventions and Honey I Shrunk the Audience fizzled in concept and execution. The one truly compelling and futuristic recent exhibit, Honda's ASIMO protoype robot, is hidden in a slapdash tentshow on the second level of a once fabulous Carousel Theatre.

Walt Disney World still has Walt's original Carousel of Progress show and has been trying to close it for years. Why not return it home to Disneyland, giving the second floor to an improved Innoventions or ASIMO exhibit? Why not gut Honey and Pizza Port to bring back an enhanced Adventure Thru Inner Space?

Tomorrowland's apocalypse is the elephant-in-the-room at Disneyland. It should be fixed immediately - - and before any new expansion or additions. This decay impacts the guest's experience and memory of the park. The imminent return of Submarine Voyage and new Monorail trains will help get the ball rolling. Why not drop the other shoe and revive the entire land at the same time? It would be a marketing coup.

Once the most popular land - Tomorrowland could be once again be a showplace of the park with the return of the following essential elements:

* Rocket Jets - - high on the platform as Tomorrowland's weenie (where Walt Disney himself placed it on a napkin sketch) - clearing the entry of the replacement Astro-Orbitor (which can go into storage for Shanghai Disneyland or something). The infrastructure for the original ride is still extant.

* PeopleMover - - or a suitable replacement on the fabulous track around and through Tomorrowland. Hey, those mod travel pods on the island in The Incredibles would look great on that track - and compliment Tomorrowland's classic design... The Incredi-Pods, perhaps? The infrastructure for this ride also still exists.

* Skyway - - One of the most missed attractions at DL. It was a blast to soar over the park and through the mighty Matterhorn. Easily replaced into the Disneyland skyscape, with the Fantasyland chalet still extant and waiting for gondolas.

* Adventure Thru Inner Space - - This was a truly original, esoteric, psychedelic shrinking experience unlike anything at the park. With new effects technology, and Paul Frees' melodramatic narration, still a great storyline and concept for today.

* Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress - - the thematic center of Walt's view of optimistic corporate futurism. Freshen it up - maybe with an Apple sponsorship?

* Mary Blair's murals - - true art should never be destroyed.

* The silver solar panels at Tomorrowland's entrance (currently a sparkly cream color for some reason)

Other less important things that would be great to see in a revamped Tomorrowland:

* Aquatopia - as a replacement for Motor Boat Cruise?

* A new version of Flying Saucers?

* A new House of the Future?

* A campy new space-age Kids of the Kingdom show at Tomorrowland Terrace?

* Nautilus style submarines, like those formerly at WDW? A tribute to Walt's classic 20,000 Leagues and Harper Goff's fabulous submarine design?

* A Bellagio-style dancing-waters fountain extravangana at the entrance to Tomorrowland (where the Astro-Orbitor is now)?

* Animated murals on Sony Jumbotron screens?

What needs to go:

* Astro-Orbitor - -clogs the entrance to Tomorrowland.

* Observatron - the junk sculpture made from the husk of Rocket Jets.

* The Wet Marble - - leftover from the failed Cosmic Waves fountain.

* Honey, I Shrunk the Audience - bo-ring! And unpopular.

* Innoventions in its current form - ugly and boring (except for the marvelous ASIMO).

* The ugly space murals.

* Any trace of gold, bronze, brown etc. - -TL 1998 remnants, as well as the current warm/cool walkway color scheme.

* Agrifuture - lettuce as decor?... no thanks.

It can still be a Great, Big Beautiful Tomorrow with great new ideas, but before the additions, once must step back to go forward with taste and style! Walt Disney's modernist future is what people want to see at Disneyland.

A very limp weenie...

An entire website could be created dedicated solely to the giant misstep that is Disneyland's 'New' Tomorrowland but for now let's just talk about one of the many elements that make it a mess.

Walt often talked about the 'weenie' at the end of a road to draw you into an environment; the castle at the end of Main Street, the Riverboat in the distance as you enter Frontierland and, until recently, the Rocket Jets swirling high in the air at the far end of Tomorrowland.

Though similar to the Dumbo's Flight attraction in Fantasyland, the Rocket Jets were several stories up in the air and, once onboard, the experience was wonderfully unnerving as you spun high above Tomorrowland.

For no apparent reason the current powers that be lowered the rockets off their perch and slapped the contraption on terra firma right in front of the entrance to Tomorrowland. Gone is the vista. Gone is the clean open space. Gone is the thrill of spiraling over the rooftops of Tomorrowland. Gone is the gleeming white rocket spire far in the distance that drew you into Tomorrowland. Now the ride is the exact same experience as Dumbo's Flight with the added benefit of being in one of the worst places imaginable for a ride of this sort.

As if the line waiting to ride the wimpy new Rocket Jets didn't crimp the flow into Tomorrowland enough, designers also crowded the entrance alongside the ride with several large 'future-rocks' that have the added benefit of blocking whatever remaining vista was left of what was once an awesome peek into a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.

It's time to put the put the Rocket Jets back where they belong.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wanted: Giant Pin

Let's move on over to Disney MGM Studio at Disney World in Florida. While cooler heads would have spent the budget for this park on new E-ticket attractions at the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland, it did have a couple appealing things going for it, one of them being its Hollywood version of Main Street.

In classic Disney fashion there was a nice architectural draw at the end of the street, a faithful full scale re-creation of Grauman's Chinese Theater. Somehow, someway, the management at the parks saw fit to sign off on a huge blue Mickey's Sorcerer Hat at the end of the Blvd., completely blocking the Chinese Theater. Where once stood an intricate and magical architectural icon now sits a giant blue zit of a thing with weird gold swirlies spraying out of it and what appear to be enormous gold cardboard stars superglued on its side. All that's missing is four hundred children bouncing around on plastic pellots inside.

Making it worse is that views from the far end of the street include the turrets of the Chinese Theater right behind the Big Blue Bouncehouse. Imagine placing this 'hat' right in front of the castle at Disneyland or Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and you'll get an idea of why it is so, so, wrong.

Incidentally you can buy Disney pins and merchandise under this giant mess, which makes it all the more carny and evil.

Experimental Prototype Community of Tacky

Once upon a time there was an Epcot Center in Florida that had a sleek untarnished Geodesic Sphere at its entrance. It was a spartan, simple and singularly proud statement.

Once the year 2000 hit a giant Mickey Arm was installed beside it with the year 2000 emblazoned across the top. All signs pointed to only a single years run. But, no, somewhere somehow the bureaucrats in control decided to throw the words Epcot up there and it's been there ever since. It has since come to symbolize everything that's wrong with the Disney Parks. It's cheap, it's tawdry, it's out of place, it's cynical, loud and loathsome.

Chapters could be written on exactly why this is such a catastrophic mess but for now I'll only bring up one idea. Look at the original picture of Spaceship Earth and the palm tree plantings. Immediately viewers register a sense of scale. This deceptively simple structure is huge, towering well past the trees. Throw that Mickey Hand up and all sense of scale is tossed.

For the new forces that will come into being at Imagineering: Please, get rid of this monstrosity. It's an easy first fix and will send the right message. Epcot Center is a showcase for future progress, not a cynical cheap carny funfair interested in merely selling more Mickey Plush. And for the record, Mickey never wielded a wand in the Sorcerer's Apprentice either.

So much more to mention. So much more.