Sunday, October 23, 2016

After-Action Report: Radiator Springs Racers

I have a love-hate relationship with Cars Land. The Cars franchise may well be Pixar's weakest concept,* and it really has nothing to offer me in particular. There are several reasons, but for our purposes here, the main one is that I'm not interested in cars. Never have been. And especially in the context of a theme park, where I prefer to be surrounded by things I don't see and hear every hour of every day. If it had been my decision to make, I never would have put Cars in a Disney theme park, especially not to the extent of building an entire huge themed land.
And yet...
And yet...
I cannot deny that Cars Land, apart from the dumb name, is really, really well done. I mean, look at this:

And that's not even the town part. This is the town part:

This is Imagineering at its placemaking best. The attention paid to detail here is phenomenal. You walk into Cars Land, and you're there, in a tiny town in the American Southwest, with jagged cliffs of red sandstone in the distance. I'm sure it helped that they had the setting pre-rendered in three digital dimensions for their convenience, but they still had to figure out how to create it in three actual dimensions, and it's stunning work.
A lot of cleverness went into the execution. The businesses of Radiator Springs have been translated into typical theme park fixtures. The hippie VW bus's “organic fuel” station is a beverage stand, the paint shop is a clothing store, the souvenir shop is...a souvenir shop. Businesses with no ready counterpart have either been adjusted or made the sites of rides. But the area's tentpole attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, isn't located in the town at all—it takes place on the outskirts, amid those magnificent buttes seen in the top photo.
I actually haven't been on it many times—three or four, total, since it opened. This is because a) it's in the park I don't favor, b) it's Cars, and c) the wait time frequently tops two hours. But I never regret riding it. It's too dang good...maybe the best execution of a ride concept in years.
Actually, calling Radiator Springs Racers a ride is underselling it. It's three rides in one, plus a fantastically immersive queue that expands on the source material in a charming way. I'll start with the queue since—as mentioned above—we're going to be standing in it for a while.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Notes on the Fandom: Clichés and Axioms

I adore Disneyland like little else in my life, but I have to admit that the fandom can be...difficult. For me, at least. It's a thing apart from every other fandom I have ever gotten involved with, probably because it's based on a fixed location rather than a piece of easily reproducible media, but my area of concern today is the way the discussions tend to go.
I'm only “active” on one Disneyland discussion forum, that being the one on Micechat, and the scare quotes are because I rarely find it in me to join the conversations there. They're Trip reports (not much to add there), news items, requests for advice from people about to make their first visit (others have usually gotten there long before I see the thread), and the ever-popular debates about the sorts of attractions Disney should add to their parks vs. the sorts they do add.
That last category of conversations are the really frustrating ones, because they have possibly the highest potential for fruitful discussion, but the lowest actualization of that potential. Most of what I see is factions of people arguing past each other. As is usually the case when people are more interested in waving their opinions about like magic talismans than actually communicating with each other, there are certain stock phrases that appear over and over. Today I've chosen to highlight four that I think are especially poisonous and would be discarded by a wiser fandom. I've been guilty of using some of them myself.
Some of these clichés and axioms, I would like to banish from the overall conversation because I disagree with them, others because I feel they convey my own positions badly. But we would be better off without all of them, as a general rule, because they are less thoughts than substitutes for thought.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Source Materials: Ghoul Love

As part of last week's criticism of Haunted Mansion Holiday, I mentioned the Séance Circle's weird grab bag of themes and imagery, to wit: Madam Leota recites an occult-themed, thirteen-verse spinoff of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” wherein divinatory tools have romantic functions, while giant Tarot-esque cards featuring characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas swirl around the room. It's three or four completely disparate things just mashed together because they needed to give Leota something Christmas-y to do and include more of of the Burton characters. The scene is appropos of nothing.
Or is it?
Readers, I have a confession to make. I may have—may have—misrepresented that scene. It may actually make more sense than I originally gave it credit for. See, I was thinking of it as a Christmas-related scene, but if we consider that the invading characters see everything through the lens of Halloween, it's possible that the Imagineers who designed it were alluding to some genuine, if nearly forgotten, old traditions.
Possible, not definite. It could be a coincidence. Then again, even Disneyland's coincidental design choices sometimes end up being profound.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

After-Action Report: Haunted Mansion Holiday

We must face it: Haunted Mansion Holiday is something we, as Disneyland fans, need to reckon with.* Yet in the 21 months this blog has been active, the only thoughts I have shared on the matter are that a) I wish it didn't go up so early in the year, and b) I adore the thing it temporarily replaces. I haven't ever given my actual opinion on the thing itself, as a holiday overlay. So here it is:
Eh, it's okay.
As a rule, I am far more forgiving of temporary ride alterations than permanent ones. The latter have to constitute a definite improvement on the original for me to approve of them, while the former just have to be moderately entertaining since, after all, I'll have the original back soon enough. Even if I can't stand a temporary change, all I have to do is wait it out.
I'm happy enough to put Haunted Mansion Holiday in the “moderately entertaining” pile. I like some of the music, the visuals in the stretching room are pretty sweet, and I like seeing the new gingerbread house each year. (Though this year's is a little...uh...) I even think the often criticized mismatch between the existing Haunted Mansion imagery and the Tim Burton additions kind of works with the concept—the Halloweentown characters are imposing their style on the Mansion, are they not?
Of course, I am well aware that this is the kind of cheap post-hoc rationalization for lazy attraction design that Disney's own Marketing Department apologists like to use: “Of course it sucks. We were going for suck.” So I don't give it too much weight. And there's plenty else to criticize about the endeavor.
I just don't find myself criticizing it on the level of “This is a travesty against everything Disneyland outght to stand for” like many commenters do. It's more along the lines of “This could have and should have been done better.” So what I'll do here is, I'll go over various aspects of the ride, explain what I do and don't like about them, and then—as a bonus bit of Armchair Imagineering—sketch out an alternate way of adding The Nightmare Before Christmas to the Haunted Mansion for the holiday season that hopefully makes more sense and is more engaging.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Unauthorized Fun: Hidden Mickeys

You don't hear as much about Hidden Mickeys as you used to. Hunting down these subtle images of or references to Mickey Mouse placed around Disney theme parks used to be a major pastime of Annual Passholders and other major fans, but the furor seems to have died down. In all probability, the phenomenon was a victim of its own success—it caught on to the extent that several guidebooks were published, taking away much of the joy of discovery. It's hard to get excited about a “secret” that a million people are privy to by virtue of having spent twelve dollars on a book. Not to mention, having access to such resources sped up the process immensely. Many people probably feel there's no point in continuing to look once you've gone through the entire list.
I still find some entertainment value in seeking them out, possibly because I eschew those same guidebooks. For one thing, it's impossible for them to stay up-to-date—a waggish Cast Member can create a new, semi-permanent Hidden Mickey in a matter of minutes, while a minor renovation can obliterate a long-standing one in a day. No book can come out with new editions that fast. For another thing...even to the extent that they are current, I find such books a little untrustworthy—there is too much of a tendency to take fan consensus for granted instead of “vetting” individual Hidden Mickeys for plausibility.

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' 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.*