Monday, May 21, 2018

Space Mountain and Mickey Mouse

 First of all, happy Victoria Day to my faithful commenter Cory Gross!

What exactly defines a Disney-quality theme park experience? There seems to be broad agreement that Disney is the gold standard in theme park design, but what exactly does WDI do that gives its output that little extra edge? Does it even do anything all that differently anymore, or is it just coasting on its reputation? Something that troubles me a bit is the tendency for the mainstream public to judge attractions according to just two factors: 1) how kinetically exciting (fast, bumpy, etc.) is it, and 2) does it feature characters I like? Hence a phrase I have coined which also serves as the title of this post: Space Mountain and Mickey Mouse.
It's easy to be dismissive of this mindset, to brush these people off as ignorant, imperceptive, shallow, or whatever buzzword gives you the maximum sense of superiority over them, but I am coming around to the idea that it's largely not their fault. Nor is it entirely WDI's fault. Or even Upper Management's fault, although as the ones with the lion's share of the power to change it, they need to own it.
The “Space Mountain” half of the equation is easy enough to explain: it's part of the overall cultural emphasis on speed and thrills. You could probably get an entire series of essays out of examining the reasons behind this larger trend, but that's not the kind of sociology project I'm suited for. I'd rather tackle the “Mickey Mouse” portion, which seems to me to be less obvious, and therefore more interesting to speculate about.
I'm starting to think it's actually, at least in part, a generational thing.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Sentimental Paleontology: The Other Space

Let's not lose perspective: the Tomorrowland Problem is old. You could make a case for it being as old as Disneyland itself—we all know that Tomorrowland was the one area that was severely skimped on back in 1955 due to time and budget shortfalls, and what was there was so immediately dated that the land received a major upgrade before the park turned five. What we don't acknowledge as often is that said major upgrade already represented a partial departure from the themes of science, technology, and realistic futurism in favor of a dose of pure fantasy. The Submarine Voyage—a celebration of technological achievements allowing humanity to explore parts of the world that were previously completely inaccessible—was also a veritable showcase of popular myths about the ocean, presented as though they were as real as the coral reefs.
And honestly...I have trouble figuring out why. This early in the game, the Imagineers could hardly have been running short of futuristic inspiration. Did they think a realistic undersea voyage was too boring? If so, why create the Submarine Voyage to begin with? If, on the the other hand, the fantasy material was included due to the attraction's location on the boundary between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, why don't we see more crossover content in other boundary attractions that debuted in this era?
Moreover, several years down the line, the “World on the Move” Tomorrowland makeover would have been the perfect opportunity to refine the Submarine Voyage into something more on-point. But instead, the Imagineers doubled down on the fantasy by adding live mermaid performers to the Lagoon. That experiment didn't last, for reasons that vary depending upon who's telling the story,* but the overall point is that this ride has been part of Tomorrowland almost since the beginning, and its most fantastic aspect was immediately established as its most iconic.
They've never really known what to do with Tomorrowland.

The mythical aquatic singing sirens...of the future!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Armchair Imagineering: The Ideal Kingdom

It's inevitable. Dabble in Armchair Imagineering long enough, and sooner or later you'll get the urge to try your hand at designing an entire park. There are two main ways people go with such a project—either they attempt to put together their personal Platonic ideal of a Disneyland-style “Kingdom” park,* or they craft their own answer to Universal Islands of Adventure with a bunch of Disney's purchased IPs.
This is an example of the former.
It's times like this when I really wish I could draw well. I would love to be able to create a tentative map of my vision here, or some concept art for the original attraction ideas. But alas, that gift is not mine, so you and I are stuck with text.**
My goals here are severalfold. I wish to distill my 40 years of Disneyland memories into something that hits all the sweet spots of both my nostalgia and my current tastes, while also having things to offer the younger generation of fans. I want to iron out some of the wrinkles that have resulted from decades of making-it-up-as-they-go-along, while still preserving the charm that this methodology has produced. I want a park that's chock-a-block with things to do, at all levels of intensity, while still having room to grow. I want immersive worlds that are just complete enough to prompt guests to fill in the blanks themselves. I want to get back to the principle that the guest experience is primary.
A great deal of what follows will be intimately familiar. Hopefully, enough of it won't be to constitute a transformative improvement. Or at least to be intriguing.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Unauthorized Fun: Inhale the Pep Catastrophe!

It will surprise approximately none of you to learn that I am a big nerd for all kinds of things, not just Disney theme parks.* One of the things that tickles my fancy from time to time is anagrams: the art of rearranging the letters in a word or phrase to create a different word or phrase, ideally one that relates to the source in some way. Anagrams make great puzzle clues, or even the puzzles themselves.
So what could be better than a list of Disneyland-related anagrams?** I created these with the help of various online resources. Feel free to take them with you on your next trip to the resort to pass the time while waiting in those interminable queues. The solution to each one is the name of an attraction, themed area, or other major feature in the Disneyland Resort. An answer key is available upon request,*** but to make things just a tad easier for the Disneyland anagrammonaut, I've listed them in alphabetical order by solution (so you can rule out certain rearrangements once you get going).
Or you could just cheat by inputting them into an anagram website on your smartphone. Either way, enjoy!





















* And LEGOs. And Disney films.
** Answer: Lots of things.
*** For a nominal fee, I will include my forced, convoluted explanation as to how each anagram relates to the solution.

Monday, April 23, 2018

After-Action Report: Pixar Fest

It's very rare that I manage to see new developments at the Disneyland Resort within the first week or two of launch. The San Fernando Valley isn't quite close enough to Anaheim for a casual hop over, and I don't actually own a car. So my trips need a bit of advance planning, and the timing doesn't often seem to work out for experiencing something while it's brand-new. This was an exception—I had some time off of work, and my sister had a day off, and so we managed to hit the place up on a Wednesday.
The weather was perfect, the crowds were as light as they are ever likely to be anymore, and...Pixar Fest had just started up the previous weekend.

Man, they don't make summer events like they used to, do they?
Like I've said before, I've got nothing against Pixar. They produce quality movies.* Coco was one of the best things I've seen in years. But as I've also said before, Pixar is not a theme. There is not much uniting the Pixar movies apart from them all being made by the same studio; objectively speaking, a summer celebration dedicated to Pixar is no more coherent than if they tossed all of the films in the Disney Animated Canon into a hat and drew fifteen at random.
But it is what it is. So what is it? How is it? Is it tolerable?
Eh, I guess.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tropical Hideaway and Other Adventureland Thoughts

I...actually don't know how to categorize this post.
Slightly old news at this point, I know, but I’ve been thinking lately about the announcement earlier this year concerning a plan to gut Aladdin’s Oasis and replace it with something called the Tropical Hideaway. Details are sketchy so far, but the official announcement describes it as an “exotic traders' market” where Jungle Cruise skippers will hang out, and the accompanying concept art depicts tables and chairs for outdoor dining and what appear to be a few Tiki birds.
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that my default reaction to these sorts of announcements is one of extreme skepticism—i.e. “You’re doing WHAT to MY PARK???”—but in this case, I’m actually all for it. The whole concept of Aladdin’s Oasis in Adventureland has never sat right with me, for a variety of reasons. Here are some of them:

Monday, April 9, 2018

It Came From the Fandom: DisneyBound

Beware, for Disney's legal team is mighty and not to be trifled with.
The above is basically why adults aren't allowed to wear character costumes in the parks. No one is going to mistake the ten-year-old in the Cinderella dress for the actual official Princess offering photo ops and autographs, but an adult might be, and that raises potential liability issues for the company. A blanket ban on costumes for any guest over the age of 14 is the simplest way to avoid such problems altogether.
But in case no one had noticed, the majority of the grown-ups walking through those gates, with or without young'uns in tow, are Millennials now. Millennials grew up during the Disney Renaissance. Their childhoods were defined by a nearly constant stream of quality animated movies, which may be part of why so many of them didn't outgrow Disney when they hit puberty.
My point is, there are a whole lot of adults who wish they could dress as the characters when visiting Disneyland. And that is the reason for the practice known as “DisneyBound,” wherein people visit Disney parks in outfits that are not character costumes, but use color and accessories to be reminiscent of characters' looks.
I've tried it myself. I bet you'll never guess which character. (Sis, I see you preparing to type a blinding-flash-of-the-obvious comment, but you were there. So it wouldn't be a guess, would it?) Turns out, it's a lot of fun. Putting such an outfit together can be a great creative exercise, and it's a good way to snag a little extra Cast Member attention.
And if you need a little boost of inspiration...there's an app for that. Well, sort of. It's actually a Tumblr blog, dedicated solely to posting images of potential DisneyBound outfits. Some of the entries are submissions, but the vast majority are original content, composited from images of garments, accessories, and jewelry found elsewhere online. It's almost exclusively women's fashion (which is—let's face it—more variable), but someone with more masculine style could easily adapt the ideas.
Moreover, it's a really prolific blog, posting multiple outfits every dang day, often according to a daily theme, so a huge variety of concepts get explored. And before you ask...yes, some theme park-exclusive characters have been featured. It's a great blog just to scroll through.
Have fun!