Friday News Chum Miscellany: Disneyland – Capt Eo/Haunted Mansion, White Roofs, and Traffic Jerks

Here’s some lunchtime news chum, gathered over the week, that didn’t fit anywhere else:


Signs of the Times

A late lunch today–I’ve been busy. A few quickies (no pun intended) that, in my opinion, reflect the times very well:


News Chum

I’ve finally gotten around to reading the news, so here are some tidbits for you…

  • From the Let’s Find a New Market Department: The LA Times reported yesterday that Disney is planning their first hand-animated movie since 2004’s Home on the Range (it seems so long ago). This new movie, to be released in 2009, is titled “The Frog Princess”. It is set in New Orleans with songs composed by Randy Newman. The central figure, Maddy, will become the first African American “Disney” Princess. The movie will be written and directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, who co-directed “The Little Mermaid”. This bodes well.

    Those less cynical out there will applaud Disney’s return to classic animation, and the recognition that girls come in all colors (they haven’t quite figured out the shapes yet, other than Lilo, who isn’t considered a princess, or religions (have you seen a Disney Jewish Princess — oh, right — scratch that, it’s stereotypical)). The more cynical among us see it as recognition of a new market: now Disney can sell black princess dolls. Of course, I’m sure Maddie will be promoted as much as the other heavily promoted ethnic princesses: Pocahontas (Native American), Jasmine (middle-eastern), Mulan (Asian), Esmeralda (Gypsy), and Conchita (Hispanic) [OK, I made up that last one].
    [Thanks for kuni_izumi for reminding me to write about this.]

  • From the “I Dare You” Department: The Los Angeles Times has also reported on Hualapai Indian tribe completed installation of a massive glass-bottomed walkway to a “Grand Canyon Skywalk” that extends about 70 feet over the rim and about 4,000 feet over the canyon floor. How it was installed was fascinating: Underneath, hydraulic “shoes” lifted the Skywalk above a cement track, rolled it across a bed of metal rods, and set it onto four steel anchors that were drilled deep into the canyon rock. Workers then welded the walkway to the anchors. While it was pushed out, the walkway was not anchored to the canyon wall. To keep it from tipping over the side, engineers loaded the back end with a half-million pounds of steel cubes as counterweight. The bridge’s deck is tempered glass several inches thick and features five-foot glass railings on each side. The floor of the structure is comprised of 41 pieces of layered curved glass, with its top layer replaceable in case of scratches that affect visibility. Each piece of glass is be held together by glass connectors specifically designed by Saint Gobain for the bridge. Grand Canyon West plans to issue shoe covers to each guest — in order to avoid scratches and slipping — which will be numbered and given to the visitors who have walked the bridge.

    This skywalks opens in a few months, and will supposedly cost $25 a visit. The tribe sees this as a way to generate income. But would you go on it? I don’t think I would; my mind would just rebel.

  • From “The March of Time” Department: As we all know, tomorrow the world comes to an end. No, actually Daylight Saving (no “s”) Time starts 3 weeks earlier. Many of our devices have been patched, and many don’t care, but many will still break. NPR had a wonderful piece on DST that illustrated the real force behind DST. No, it isn’t to save daylight: we have exactly the same number of hours of daylight we had under standard time. No, it really isn’t to save energy: although there is some savings in power, it is offset by more folks driving in the daylight afternoon hours. Ask yourself where they are going, and you have the real answer. Yup, to buy Black Disney Princesses. No, seriously, to buy. There are estimates of millions of dollars of additional sales of items such as golf equipment and BBQs briquets from later evening daylight hours. Hence, one of the key proponents is: Chambers of Commerce.

Perhaps Stan Freberg had it right: it’s all about the marketing…


Oh, the House of Mouse, / She ain’t what she used to be, / Many long years ago

Yesterday, we went to the Disneyland Resort (and, yes, I am specifically using that term now). Now, my last time to Disneyland Park was around 1999, when nsshere was around 3, so it has been a while. Of course, I must share with you my observations and what we did.

The park has changed a lot since I was last there. In 1999, there was still a gigantic surface street parking lot that you entered off of Harbor (or was it Ball) road, with the long-standing Disneyland sign (which was actually auctioned on eBay). That’s all gone now. The parking lot has been replaced by California Adventure, the Grand Californian Hotel, and Downtown Disney… and the lot is now a gigantic parking structure. I don’t think this is bad per se — Walt never intended the parks to be static — but it does bring in more people and more crowds. I do believe the crowds are a problem, and I think that Disney is losing its magic at crowd control.

When we entered the park, the first thing I noticed was how small everything was now. As a kid, and in my memory, things seemed so big. The castle was gigantic. The Matterhorn was (deep reverberating voice) a mountain. The storefronts on Main Street were large. Now, through my almost-47 year old eyes, these things seem small. Perhaps it is my height, perhaps it is my knowledge of the history behind the magic, perhaps it is the difference between being a kid and being an adult. Whatever it is, things seemed smaller.

Our first stop was the Haunted Mansion, which was decked out for Christmas. Note that I don’t say “the holidays”, for as inclusive as Disney is in their ads, the only “holiday” you saw at the entire resort was Christmas. Not being familiar with “Nightmare Before Christmas“, I wasn’t too impressed with it (although I was impressed on how they changed things around). I missed the “Grinning Ghosts“. But the rest of our group enjoyed, and the attention to detail was there. After the Mansion, we went over to Plaza Inn for a character breakfast.

It was at the Plaza Inn I noticed that the old Disney was gone. There were lightbulbs out. There were cobwebs and broken crystal strands in the chandeliers. This is something that, in Walt’s day, would not be. The park was spotless — that’s one of the things that differentiated it from the Molehill or Knotts. The illusion was perfect — you couldn’t see the wear and the grime. Not so anymore: you could see that the “wood” poles were really metal due to worn paint on Tom Sawyer Island; there was trash in the bushes. Lines for attractions were backing up into thoroughfares and making walking difficult. I think this is evidence that the park is not keeping up well with the crowds.

As the crowd at Disnelyland Park was growing, we went over to California Adventure (where the lines are shorter). This was quite nice, although I’m not sure it is 100% what Walt would have wanted. After we picked up our Fastpass for S0arin’ Over California, we walked around CA. Much of it was quite well done: I like Grizzly Mountain, and how they captured the different areas. The amusement pier bothered me. Those familiar with DL history know that one reason the park was created was to create an atmosphere different from the amusement parks of the day, where the parents would sit back and let the kids play, where things weren’t always clean. Seeing the recreation of the Pike, with its carnival barkers, ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl made me question whether that was what should be at a Disney park. It doesn’t have the magic; it didn’t seem right.

While in CA, we did get a chance to see both the Bugs Life show and MuppetVision 3D, both of which were quite good. We then went on Soarin’, which was a very impressive ride. One day in the future, I’d like to try more of the rides in CA.

We then wandered back to DL to see if we could get a Fastpass to Indiana Jones. But the time for the pass was already at 9pm in the evening, so we got Big Thunder Mountain instead. We then tried to find lunch, but the lines everywhere were too long… so we hopped the Monorail to Downtown Disney. As we walked through Tomorrowland, I kept seeing in my mind’s eye the park that was: the gondola cars, the people mover, Monsanto, the Circarama theatre, Carousel of Progress, Rocket to Mars. I think Tomorrowland is one of the sadest lands, for it has always been the forgotten stepchild of the park: updated periodically, but never done right or with the right sense of imagination. It is still a mix of “1950 bug-eyed monster”, “1950’s looking ahead”, and “2000-Sci-Fi”. How old is Star Tours now? How long has “Honey” been running (replacing “Captain Eo“)?

It took awhile to find lunch: crowds everywhere, combined with a tired and cranky party. But we did find something, and then walked back to the park. At this point, we split up: gf_guruilla and our friends went off shopping, and I took nsshere to Tom Sawyer Island. That hasn’t changed much, although the Fort was closed. We both agreed that a pirate retheming of the island wouldn’t be that sacreligious: it might draw more folks to the island and permit it to be rediscovered. After the island, we met back up with folks and rode Big Thunder Mountain.

After Big Thunder, it was back to New Orleans Square to queue up and ride the revamped Pirates. Here, more comments are in order. The retheming of Pirates to include Johnny Depp didn’t bother me, but didn’t add much to the ride either. It was just another example of merchandising, which has become more blatent in the park. The problem with the merchandising is the unevenness of it all: some are heavily promoted (“Tink“, the princesses, the cute animals), and some conspicuously are not (Mulan, Pocahontas (although once upon a time they did have a stage show), Uncle Remus [and to my recollection, that’s about the only black character Disney has to promote], Esmerelda… and you never see Treasure Planet mentioned, probably for good reason :-)). The image of 1910 White Bread America nostalgized by Main Street is carried throughout the park, and I’m not sure this is good. Disney needs to present positive role models (“Tink” or “Grumpy” certainly aren’t) of all colors and creeds.

One other thing on Pirates bothered me: The stupid guests. We had folks shining flashlights around the ride. Continually using flash photography. I saw this on the train as well: flash photography of the dioramas behind glass. They do say “don’t use flash”, but folks don’t listen. There really needs to be some education of this at the resort: it does destroy the magic. At least cell phones and crackberries weren’t going off — but I’m sure that’s next.

After Pirates, my wife’s knee gave out (the soaking from being in the front of the boat didn’t help). We called First Aid, and she went to go rest a bit. We walked to Toontown, found long waits, took the train back to Main Street, did some shopping, picked up my wife, and left the park. We had dinner in Downtown Disney (Tortilla Jo’s, quite good), and came home.

It was a long day. My blisters have blisters, and my legs are sore. Everyone else is still sleeping in (as I write this), exhausted. It was a fun day.

I think there is a big difference between those who go to the DL-Resort on a regular basis, and those of us who visit it only periodically. The regular visitors are like the frog in the pot of hot water: the change is so gradual, you don’t necessarily see the contrast. Those of us who visit less often see the contrast. Maintenance at the park needs to be improved. There needs to be a little less merchandising (what happened to the purely fun shops on Main Street?). There needs to be better crowd management (which was the real point of the ticket books, but we’ve forgotten that). There needs to be the ability to do Fastpasses on more rides, and for people to be able to get more than one Fastpass at a time. The visitor experience needs to be enhanced, and this is often bricks and mortar logistical issues and staff training (I had one shopkeeper who didn’t know how to call First Aid) than more rides and more goodies. But just as with security software, what brings folks in and makes the money isn’t better quality, it is feeping creaturism. But we need the quality back in the park; it has begun to slip.

But did I have fun… yes. It was fun spending the day with the family. Do I want to go again in the next month? Nah. But they’re going again a week from today.


Yarrrr. Me and Me Matey Huck Need Help Whitewashing A Fence.

According to the Los Angeles Times (although I saw it yesterday on LA Observed, la_observed), rumors are flying about potential changes to Disneyland. In particular, Al Lutz of is reporting that Disney-internal sources are saying that the company might spend more than $28 million to make over Tom Sawyer Island in time for next year’s premiere of the third installment of the lucrative “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie trilogy. Disney isn’t confirming anything.

According to Lutz, the current proposal calls for over 28 million to be spent this winter rebuilding and rebranding the Tom Sawyer themed attraction. Gone would be the treehouses, trails and caves referenced in the literary works of Mark Twain and originally designed for the simpler audiences of the 1950’s. In their place would be snazzier pirate themed activities. The current lush wooded landscaping would also presumably be substantially altered, as tropical islands don’t quite match the southern American landscape. Part of the plan calls for the old Fort Wilderness facility to be razed, and the space used as an interactive pirate museum using exhibits and interactive play spaces such as those used in the Sorcerer’s Workshop in DCA’s Animation pavilion, or the nifty Fortress Explorations attraction at Tokyo DisneySea.

Tom Sawyer Island is one of the few attractions left that is 100% Walt. The island, surrounded by the Rivers of America, permits visitors to explore caves, cross a suspension bridge and encounter characters from Mark Twain’s classic American tale. Disney was apparently so dissatisfied with the original designers’ plans that he scrawled his own vision, which was largely adopted. As parents well know, it is a wonderful place just to sit and let the children burn off energy.

The LA Times article notes some of the changes that have occured in the island. In 2001, a girl lost part of her finger when she caught it in a rifle trigger; after that, the gun turrets at Ft. Wilderness were removed. Originally, there was scene of a dummy settler hit by an Indian arrow lay sprawled in front of a burning cabin. In the 1970s, the flame was turned off; in 1984, fake flames replaced the real ones, and the settler was replaced with a drunk moonshiner. The drunkard was later replaced with wildlife, a more family-friendly storyline. Of course, across from the island, we’ve seen the loss of the Indian Village, mule-rides, and all the other things that gave Frontier-land its flavor. Of course, no one today remembers the Davy Crockett hysteria.

Of course, another reason for getting rid of the island is political correctness. Schools no longer teach Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (especially the latter). Kids playing on the island no longer recognize the Tom and Huck characters. But the kids know pirates from the movies.

So, should Disneyland replace Tom Sawyer Island with a Pirate Island? I don’t think so, but then again, I wallow in rose-tinted nostalgia.


Disneyland: They’ve Got It All Wrong

CNN is reporting (via AP) about Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary. Sadly, they are in need of some fact checking:

  • Disneyland was wildly innovative when it opened on July 17, 1955. It used robotic figures, holographs and panoramic movies in circular theaters to spin stories for children. With virtually no competition, the park had little trouble capturing the imagination of the world.

    When Disneyland opened, there were no holographs. The Panoramic Theatre with “America The Beautiful” also came in the early 1960s. The only robots would have been in the Tiki Room, and I think those came after the opening, unless they are thinking the Jungle Cruise. The first full “audio animatronics” was Mr. Lincoln, again from the Worlds Fair.

  • But Disneyland’s opening day is now remembered as “Black Sunday.” The $17 million, 160-acre park initially had prepared for about 15,000 people. Instead, fans burst through the perimeter fence or found other ways inside, swelling the crowd by nearly double.

    It was called Black Sunday because (a) the water fountains didn’t work, (b) the asphalt was still soft and shoes were sinking into it, and (c) most rides weren’t working that day.

  • Ticket prices also have changed. An entry ticket into the theme park on its opening day was $1, but people had to purchase individual tickets to go on rides. By 1959, Disney introduced the “E” ticket, which allowed multiple rides. It was 85 cents. Today, an all-inclusive entry ticket for ages 10 and up is $56.

    The E ticket didn’t allow multiple rides; that was the “Daily Pass”. The “E” ticket was for the more expensive rides: Matterhorn, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, and one (I forget which one) in Tomorrowland.

However, I did like Art Linkletter’s line. Remember, he was the original host opening day, and is now 93 and going strong. He said, “”I’m not only happy to be here, I’m happy to be anywhere.”

(Yes, I’m into Disney history. There is a highway connection. Did you know that Disneyland was originally planned to be across from the Disney studios, but construction of the Route 134 freeway scuttled that idea. They moved to Orange County, where they would have good access off the a-building I-5 freeway.)