Monday, January 16, 2017

Armchair Imagineering: Plussing the Show

Always plus the show,” Walt Disney was known to say. I have no idea if he innovated the practice of using “plus” as a transitive verb, but fans have picked it up right alongside other Disneyland insider jargon, including “weenie”* and “protein spill.”** To Walt, “plussing” meant any sort of improvement on what was already there, but as language does, the term seems to have evolved. When most people talk about “plussing,” they are definitely not referring to new attractions or even wholesale renovations of existing ones. Nor is the term used in connection with essential maintenance—fixing a broken animatronic is not plussing…more like “un-minusing.”*** Plussing, rather, is making a small improvement to the park—a new garden planter here, an array of verisimilitude-enhancing props there, an Easter egg added to a show scene to reward the sharp-eyed and/or well-read.
There is no hard bright line separating the mere plusses from more significant alterations, but we know the difference when we see it. The 2015 changes to the Matterhorn are too extensive to be considered plusses, but the revamp of Big Thunder Mountain’s climactic scene might count. The addition of a cross-country skiing troupe to A Christmas Fantasy Parade definitely counts. Here’s another great example, spotted (by yours truly) just over a week ago in the Enchanted Chamber:

Pictured: The funniest scene in any Disney movie ever. Period.

There is an infinite “possibility space” of plusses that could be made to Disneyland. Here are some I would like to see.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Armchair Imagineering: Saving the Heraldry Shoppe

So they’ve gone and decided to close the Castle Heraldry Shoppe, reportedly to extend the queue area for Peter Pan’s Flight. While I am sympathetic to this purpose—the spillover for Fantasyland’s most popular dark ride really was getting out of hand—it’s still disappointing to lose yet another unique and classy feature of the park. It’s nowhere near the travesty committed by walling off the Court of Angels to the general public, but dangit, I like the Heraldry Shoppe, and not just because I have an interest in heraldry itself. It's one of the few places in Fantasyland to have something going for it with more substance than just animated characters presented without comment.
And the thing is...we didn't have to lose it, per se. Shops come and go all the time—the Heraldry Shoppe itself only goes back to 2004—and sometimes they simply move. There’s no particular reason some other location couldn’t take up the mantle of Disneyland’s purveyor of fine coats of arms and bladed weapons. This is definitely true of Fantasyland, whose retail spaces tend to be underused or redundant to begin with.
So here are my picks, in descending order of preference, for where the Heraldry Shoppe should be moved. Even though it won't be.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Kidnap the Magic: The Art of the Disneyland Font (Part 2)

So I called a general meeting of the blog staff, which was pretty easy since this is a one-woman show. We—that is, I—came to the conclusion that we should move the weekly post from Sundays to Mondays. The benefit to us—me—is that if I'm running a little low on inspiration, I have the whole weekend to cram instead of just Saturday. The benefit to you is that this post is up now, instead of six days from now.
I am assuming, of course, that anyone is still here. So...is anyone still here? Sorry to leave you all hanging like that, but you know how the holidays can be. What was I talking about again? Oh, right—fonts you can use for Disneyland-related printed projects!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Kidnap the Magic: The Art of the Disneyland Font (Part 1)

I've been wanting to do a post about fonts for quite a while. They're such amazing bits of software—negligible in size, easy and quick to install, and then you can open any word-processing program on your computer and type fancy letters! Or even pictures! Just type them!
Why now? Firstly, why not now? Secondly, the holiday season typically involves greeting cards and party invitations, and the creative among us might like to design our own instead of buying pre-made ones. And supposing your party and/or greetings are Disneyland themed? Hopefully, you will find this brief guide enlightening.
There are thousands upon thousands of individual fonts available for completely free download online. The really high-quality ones cost money, but unless you're looking to do professional-grade work, freeware usually suffices. A simple Google search for “Disney fonts” yields good results if your primary interest is films and characters—and there's certainly enough of that to go around in the theme parks—but “Disneyland fonts” is a less fruitful endeavor.* A few specialist websites such as The Disney Experience and Mickey Avenue are invaluable, but the fact remains that you're almost more likely to stumble across an incredible gem while browsing through a massive general archive, than searching for one specifically.
The long and the short of it is that only a handful of lettering styles specific to Disneyland attractions (or best known in that context) have been created as fonts for general use by the public. But most of the park signage actually uses pre-existing typefaces, many of which have been adapted into freeware versions.** This is where the aforementioned Mickey Avenue really shines. And when it comes to bringing across the atmosphere of a given land or attraction, it’s more about the type of lettering you use.
Thousands upon thousands. This is going to be fun.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Imagineering Theory: The Third Gate Solution

As construction on Star Wars Land continues, shutting down much of Frontierland (and leaving us long-time fans with a nagging sense of dread over whether it will be satisfying when it re-opens), I've been thinking about the commonly proposed “third gate” solution to all this Star Wars and Marvel and Pixar nonsense. Most of us agree that these IPs don't sit well alongside most of the existing themes in Disneyland and California Adventure, but their profitability is too great for Management to resist. A third park, designed from the get-go to include them, seems like the perfect compromise—fans of these franchises get to play with them and the company gets the money, while the rest of us don't have to cringe at the awkward mismatches with the rest of the parks.
Here's the main problem with that idea, though:
What would be the theme of this third theme park?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Armchair Imagineering: Holiday Fantasmic!

The Disneyland Resort sure loves to celebrate Christmas. Not only do thematically specific decorations go up in most areas of both parks, but a handful of attractions get made over into holiday-specific versions of themselves.* The most notable might be the shows and live entertainment offerings, nearly all of which, from the humble and homey Dapper Dans to the extravagant fireworks display, are in holiday mode at this time of year. Disneyland has hosted any number of Christmas parades over the years. Across the Esplanade, World of Color is on its second holiday version. But there’s one live show that has so far bucked the trend: Fantasmic!
It’s not hard to see why—Fantasmic! is possibly the most complex and intricate performance in theme park history. Not only does it involve multiple types of live performers and special effects, but it was designed from start to finish to be a satisfying whole. It tells a complete story with a three-act structure (something almost never done in theme park entertainment), and the musical score is as much a symphony as a medley. It's amazing that something like this was achieved once; doing it all over again with a more specific theme would be almost unfathomably difficult.
But what is Armchair Imagineering for, if not indulging in these wild Blue-Sky ideas? Come brainstorm with me...
(Well, okay, technically for now you're going to read while I brainstorm, but I welcome any and all contributions in the comments.)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Imagineering Theory: The Frontierland Problem

BREAKING NEWS: Moana is fantastic. Go see it.

We Disneyland fans often enjoy discussing the Tomorrowland Problem—i.e., how do you go about portraying “the future” in an age when technology progresses as quickly as it does in this day and age? What you don't hear about much is the Frontierland Problem, which I will identify in a moment. To the best of my knowledge, this phrase doesn't even exist as a widely recognized term for a phenomenon that most guests may not think about, or want to.
The Frontierland Problem, in brief, is this: How do you depict a superficially exciting but very ugly phase in American history in a theme park setting, without either whitewashing the nasty parts or bumming out your guests? It's a problem that might not have arisen had Disneyland been built in any decade other than the 1950s, when white American machismo (of a clean-cut variety that seems paradoxical to modern eyes) was perhaps the dominant value in American pop culture. Nowhere was this better exemplified than in the Western genre of film and television, which had its absolute heyday in the Fifties. In any other decade, Walt Disney—or at least his advisors—might have deemed the Frontierland concept not nearly marketable enough for mainstream audiences, and chosen a different theme for this largest of the themed lands, or at least diminished the “American history” presence in favor of nature or modern-day America* or something else related.
Might have. It is by no means certain. But it is well worth looking at all the small ways in which the sights to see in Frontierland have been tweaked over the years, as the guest base has grown more diverse and less forgiving of the whitewashed, white-centric Old West narrative. The Indian attack was removed from the backstory of the Burning Cabin and the Indian War Canoes were retooled into the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes,** leaving only allied tribes among Frontierland's Native population. The Golden Horseshoe's long-running show, featuring mild burlesque elements, came to an end. Gunplay was progressively downplayed. It's safe to say that mainstream America no longer considers Westward Expansion a period of unalloyed heroism on the part of white settlers and the U.S. Cavalry.
And that leaves both Management and Imagineering in a bit of a fix. What do you do when the entire theme of an important land has gone out of fashion? For the time being, the answer seems to be “Put it off for another day.” Tomorrowland is suffering from a lack of solid direction, but Frontierland is suffering from neglect, to the extent that large chunks of its real estate were deemed expendable in order to make way for Star Wars. The closest thing to a new permanent attraction it has received in over twenty years is the out-of-place Pirates' Lair overlay of Tom Sawyer Island. Granted, adding attractions to a land whose atmosphere relies on a sense of wide openness is automatically tricky business, but it's no wonder Frontierland's overall popularity has been declining when it never has anything new to say, when its former messages have become unpalatable but it has nothing meaningful to replace them with.
So what can they do? Well, in some respects the experiments are already being performed.