Sunday, September 18, 2016

Armchair Imagineering: Hooray For Halloween Parade

The first Mickey's Halloween Party of the year is this Friday. I got to go to that thing in 2013. It wasn't as mind-blowing as the advertising (and price tag) would have you believe, but it was fun enough. There honestly wasn't that much going on that there wouldn't be on any normal Disneyland evening, it's just that on this occasion, it was Halloween-themed. Speaking as a grown-up, the best part was getting to wander around Disneyland in a costume. (I was the “it's a small world” Clock Tower.) The “candy stations” were nothing to write home about and I don't usually go in for rave dancing.
And then there was the unique live entertainment, which I would describe as a mixed bag. The “Cadaver Dans”—i.e. The Dapper Dans with ghoulish makeup and a spooky song repertoire—were a lot of fun. The “Halloween Screams” fireworks show is fantastic, and I think it's practically criminal that they only show it at the party. The parade, though—”Mickey's Costume Party Cavalcade”—was rather disappointing. It just felt very thrown-together, with cheap floats, uninspired music and dancing, and an overall lack of imagination and effort.
Orlando's Magic Kingdom, by contrast, has a Halloween parade—Mickey's Boo-To-You Halloween Parade—that's pretty dang slick..but rather than simply wish to have theirs imported over here,* I thought I'd Armchair Imagineer a better one from scratch! Inspired by the wonderful A Christmas Fantasy Parade, I would make this parade an elaborate, tightly themed spectacle that really brings across the spirit of the holiday in all its facets (or at least all the facets that are family-friendly enough for Disneyland). Accordingly, rather than spamming the most marketable characters, I would choose characters and IPs that actually reflect aspects of Halloween...while still including plenty of crowd-pleasers so the average guest can still find a favorite!
Disneyland Dilettante readers, I give you...the Hooray For Halloween Parade!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

See Ya Real Soon: The Haunted Mansion

The holidays come earlier every year, don't they? By the time this posts, Disneyland's Halloween Time will have begun, meaning the Haunted Mansion will be occupied by Burtonian forces. We won't be able to enjoy its normal mode until sometime after the New Year.
Even apart from the seasonal wonkiness, it's a real shame that the Haunted Mansion is functionally unavailable for such a large slice of the year, because it's...how to put this?
Really effin' awesome.

 So. Effin'. Awesome.




But I probably don't need to tell you that, if you're the kind of person who reads Disney theme park blogs to begin with. The Haunted Mansion is quite simply the most beloved attraction in the history of Disney parks. Other rides may garner longer queues, claim grander reputations, or boast more fashionable characters, but the Haunted Mansion has the most devoted fans. A subset of Disney park aficionados are interested first and foremost in the Mansion, giving it a status entirely apart from the institution that spawned it. No other feature of the parks has such an extensive line of dedicated merchandise. No other inspires as many blogs. No other has fanfiction written about its mythos.
In a park full of rides, shows, and themed environments that work amazingly well together, the Haunted Mansion is one—maybe the only one—that can stand on its own.*

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Imagineering Theory: The Pixar Problem, Part 2

Last week, I identified the problem: Audiences love Pixar movies and therefore so does Disney's upper management, but the most easily marketable ones don't have a natural place to belong in the Disneyland Resort. There is serious tension between the profit motive and artistic integrity, and in the current business climate of the parks, artistic integrity gets kicked to the curb. Pixar IPs are slung into the Resort willy-nilly, and we're lucky if a flimsy justification is included.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to get the average guest to realize this is a problem. “So what?” they might say. “The kids like it.” An entire generation has come of age in the post-Pressler era, with no memory of what Disneyland was like before the synergitis metastasized. Those who are aware of the mismatch—fans of the art of theme park design—tend to have trouble coming up with a tidy solution.
You see, it's not just that individual Pixar movies don't gel with Disney's traditional theme park areas...the entire studio's storytelling style is a bit askew from its parent company's. This is in no way an indictment of Pixar, whose commitment to quality is so great that we even get excited about their sequels. However, people who think that because their movies are animated and have a castle logo at the beginning, Pixar = Disney...well, let's just say they're obviously not film students.
I am not a film student either, but if today I awoke from a ten-year coma and all I had to watch during my tedious physical therapy was Disney and Pixar's respect animated outputs from that past decade, with the studio bumpers removed, I'm pretty sure I could sort them correctly...not even counting the blatantly obvious ones like Winnie The Pooh and Toy Story 3.* Perhaps because I am not a film student, I have a hard time pinning down the essential Disney-ness and Pixar-ness that make it so easy to tell the two apart, but I know it when I see it, and it might be the key thing keeping Pixar IPs from meshing well with Disney theme parks. Said parks are designed from the ground up to capitalize on and explore Disney-ness, even in the case of non-branded attractions.
Some of the aforementioned theme park fans recognize this—or are at least aware that merely having a Disney label doesn't make something “True Disney”—and try to come up with a solution to the Pixar Problem that involves sequestering the Pixar stuff off in its own little area away from everything else. “What we really need,” they'll say, “is a dedicated land/park for the Pixar stuff,” perhaps followed by some elaboration of the concept.
It's an idea with its heart in the right place, but I'm going to be the jerk here and say that a themed land or a full park just for rides based on Pixar movies—a Pixarland, if you will—would not be...very...good.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Imagineering Theory: The Pixar Problem, Part 1

Remember a while back when I griped about how much Pixar stuff gets crammed into the Disneyland Resort at the expense of Disney's own animated features? I'd like to think I'm more than a complainer. So I decided to take a closer look at the issue, and hopefully devise some hypothetical solutions to what I can only refer to as the Pixar Problem.
I'll start by doing a rundown similar to the recent one examining the Disney Animated Canon, wherein I look at Pixar's cinematic output to date and try to find the “right” place for each franchise within the parks...and then look at how each one has actually been used.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Beyond Blue Sky: Disneyland Alignment Chart

Please bear with me; I've gotten into a weird mood and I'm short on ideas again.
In your online travels, dear reader, you may occasionally come across a peculiar graphic: a three-by-three grid, each square containing a picture of a person or character or something, and each labeled with a two-adjective phrase, the phrases arranged such that each square in a given row or column has one word in common. At least nine times out of ten, the words so mixed and matched will be: Lawful, Chaotic, Good, Evil, and Neutral. The other ten percent of the time, a different pattern will be followed…but Neutral will always be included. Run into enough of these, even if you never see one using characters you recognize and have no idea what is up with this funky Punnett square, and you will likely come to the conclusion that, okay, this is a thing. A meme of some kind. Okay, whatever, the internet is weird.
At the risk of outing myself as an even bigger nerd than you probably already thought I was, I would like to inform you that this is what’s known as an alignment chart, and has its origins in…get ready…

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Beyond Blue Sky: Wicked Kingdoms

One oft-repeated wish in the Disney theme park fandom is for some permanent attraction based on the Disney Villains brand. A Villains ride, or a Villains land (often envisioned as an offshoot of Fantasyland)...sometimes even an entire Villains park, with themed areas based around individual members of the brand.
On the whole, the conceit seems to be the result of Disney's own relentless trend toward character branding running smack into the young adult taste for the dark and edgy. Most Disney animation showcases pretty black-and-white morality, and if the good guys come across as unappealingly twee (as they often do, thanks to child-oriented marketing efforts), there's only one place left to go.
To be honest, I don't think a Villains-themed area, ride, or park would really work. Disney Villains is very much like Disney Princess—a marketing brand that involves characters from several different movies but keeps them rigorously separated instead of allowing true crossover interaction. With Disney's theme parks in thrall to its branded IPs, I can't see the Imagineers being allowed to do anything really satisfying with the concept. Something like Princess Fantasy Faire (based on another faux-crossover brand) squeaks by because its target audience is fairly undiscriminating about these things. I doubt the fans wishing for a Villains attraction would be content with a collection of meet-and-greet spots.
On the other hand, there's all kinds of fun to be had with layering the Villains on top of what's already there. “The Villains take over” is the plot bunny for a hundred and two Disney fanfics (including part of my own Crowns of the Kingdom as well as my flight of fancy about the ultimate Disneyland-based video game), but few people (myself included) really explore the potential. Disney itself rarely goes farther than the odd Halloween event, wherein the takeover seems limited to a particular live entertainment location and is quickly defeated. I'm thinking it could be fun to examine the possibilities if the Villains really did take over Disneyland and parcel it out amongst themselves.
Actually, let's make that both parks, maybe even the entire Disneyland Resort. There are a lot of Villains, after all—even considering only those from the Disney Animated Canon—and one of their qualifying traits is that they don't play well with others. They need a lot of territory to avoid getting up in each other's business and fracturing the whole coalition.
For this bit of spitballing, I'll be deviating from my usual practice of examining the themed lands in map order: Main Street, Adventureland, etc. An awful lot here hinges on what goes on at the epicenter of Villain activity: Fantasyland.
As a final note before we dive in, Disney's last few movies have surprised audiences (or not, depending upon how shrewd they are as viewers...no comment on my end) with the identity of the real Villain. So SPOILER WARNINGS apply to the rest of this post!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Armchair Imagineering: Canine Stunt Spectacular Starring Bolt!

Somewhere along the line, Disney made the mistake of thinking it and Universal were in the same business.
Now you might be thinking: but of course they are, they both produce films and then turn those films into rides in their respective theme parks. That's like saying Coca-Cola and Budweiser are in the same business because they both manufacture carbonated beverages flavored with hops and packaged in aluminum cans. If you paid attention to that previous sentence, at this point you're scratching your head and going “But Coke isn't flavored with hops,” to which my reply is: Exactly.