Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Water Artist

During our last trip to WDW this December, we stumbled into something we've never seen before during a Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. People familiar with the Magic Kingdom would know the walkway connecting Frontierland to Adventureland, primarily because this walkway also has the washrooms. Well, we were walking through that area and stopping at the washrooms when we encountered this cast member doing something quite extraordinary with nothing more than a brush/broom and water! Yup, using just those, he was drawing Disney characters on the walkway pavement itself!

Yup. It was done with only water. It was amazing to see, and we stood around several minutes admiring his work.

I don't know if he is a Disney artist, or if he really was one of the custodial crew who happened to have this talent and doing this on his own. Whatever it was, it was one of those small things that added a bit of "magic" to the visit. If he really was the custodial crew, I hope my taking this picture of him doing this doesn't get him into trouble, especially if he was supposed to be doing something else. But I thought this was just one of those amazing "street-mosphere" stuff that makes a Disney theme park unique.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Epcot’s “Illuminations” Fireworks Carries a Loud Wish for Peace

I had quite a chuckle reading this article. It is about the holiday tag for Illuminations at Epcot.

I love the irony that the “Let There Be Peace on Earth” holiday finale to Epcot’s “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” has the loudest finale at Disney World.

Seriously, you have to see the grand finale to believe it. The entire lagoon and skies above are filled — filled — with overlapping fireworks. I have never heard the end of the music because the booming overpowers it. Or maybe I’m just enthralled by the visual display.

It is very true. The ending of the holiday tag for Illuminations is one of the LOUDEST fireworks display at WDW, and rather ironic considering that it is wishing for peace on earth, and that it started off in a rather quiet fashion.

I've already posted a series of pictures that I took during Illuminations, so I won't repeat those here. I will however, post pictures of the holiday tag that was added after Illuminations during the holiday season. So here they are:

This is the climax of the holiday tag, where it really starts to get quite loud when all of the fireworks start going off.

As loud as it was, it was an overwhelming and wonderful, wonderful show. Illuminations is still my #1 most favorite evening shows in all of WDW, and the holiday tag makes it even better.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Donald's Great Adventure - Kilimanjaro Safari

I went on the Kilimanjaro Safari at the Animal Kingdom recently. It was good to get to go into the wild and see how my fellow animals live away from the glamorous life of celebrity. I was just a bit surprised that, for going off on a 2-week safari, ZapperZ didn't pack anything other than the backpack he had on his back. He certainly didn't bring any of my outfits and all my grooming kit that I need to stay in this presentable condition for my fans. Oh brother!

Anyway, here's me starting off on the safari. Oh boy, was it a very bumpy ride! If I didn't have a hand keeping me steady, I would have bounced out of the vehicle!

Here was where all the hippos lived. I think they were shy, because everyone of them were under water when we were there.

Oooo... er.. hello Mr. crocodile! I hope you've had your meal. You wouldn't want me. I'm all feathers and not much meat.

We are now at the African savanna.

... still at the African savanna. It went on and on....

Termite mound? Ant mound? Or elephant scratching post?

Ah, I see my friends the giraffes.

Well hello there! Such nice horns you have!

Awww... the giraffe must be tired!

Here are a few of my very distance cousins. We seldom get together for a family reunion because, frankly, they tend to eat all the fish.

Ah, here are the elephants! "Excuse me! Hello? Do you know where my friend Dumbo lives?"

Oh, er... it's a rhino! Quick, take away his credit card. He's about to charge!

Oh dear. Pardon me, ma'am. I'm sure you're in the middle of doing something private. I'm so sorry to have intruded on you like this. We will be out of here in no time. Have a good day.

Unfortunately, due to some poachers in the area, our 2-week safari was cut short, by about 2 weeks! It was lucky for us because we didn't bring any change of clothes.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Disney's Christmas Day Parade - NOT!

After watching it the last few years, I've decided that I will no longer watch the annual Disney's Christmas Day parade on ABC. Why? Because there's hardly any parade shown!

Look, I'm not naive here. I know that Disney is taking the opportunity to advertise not only the parks, but its movies and other products. Fine, I understand that. But couldn't you AT LEAST show A LOT of the parade? I am willing to sit through the show hose and pony show if the parade is a substantial part of it, and not simply something "incidental" to carry the current Disney stars. After all, the word "Parade" is in the title of the show!

So, this year's show was the last time I watched this "parade" on TV.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Reunited Son and Dad To Spend Holidays at WDW

The reunited son and father who just got back from Brazil plan to spend their first holidays at Walt Disney World.

A father and son reunited after an international custody battle planned to spend their first holiday season together in five years at Disney World in Florida, a family friend said.

David Goldman and his 9-year-old son, Sean, arrived at Orlando International Airport just after 6 p.m. Thursday after meeting earlier at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The son should feel at home at WDW, since a lot of Brazilians, especially tweens and teenagers, go to WDW as well!



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nordic Quack

This hilarious article looks at Sweden's tradition of watching Disney's Christmas special on Christmas eve.

Three years ago, I went to Sweden with my then-girlfriend (now-wife), to meet her family and celebrate my first Christmas. As an only partially lapsed Jew, I was not well-versed in Christmas traditions, and I was completely ignorant of Swedish customs and culture. So I was prepared for surprises. I was not prepared for this: Every year on Dec. 24 at 3 p.m., half of Sweden sits down in front of the television for a family viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, "From All of Us to All of You." Or as it is known in Sverige, Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul: "Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas."

Of course, anyone reading this blog for a while would not be surprised by this because I've mentioned this "tradition" already in a post back in 2006.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at Disneyland

This beloved attraction reopens at Disneyland.

Of course, there are still "historians" (who has never heard Lincoln's voice) who criticize the voice being used for the Lincoln animatronics.

While Although Disney imagineers spent the last year sweating such technological details as how to coax Lincoln's synthetic lips to purse as if he were saying "oooh," they nonetheless left the audio pastiche of Lincoln quotes that the figure speaks unchanged.

Instead, Disney dusted off and remastered the original 40-plus-year audio recordings made by character actor Royal Dano. And Dano's rendition, despite being identified in the public's mind as the voice of Lincoln, didn't sound much like that of the 16th president of the United States, prominent Lincoln historians say.

"I'm listening to Royal Dano again," said Lincoln expert Harold Holzer, who has written 35 books about the Civil War-era president. "You know, I am an absolutely committed Sam Waterston man. ... I will take his readings of Lincoln over anyone's on Earth."

Really, this is truly a waste of time, and I wish these people would find another hobby.

Tony Baxter, senior vice president for creative development for Walt Disney Imagineering, said criticisms about the authenticity of Dano's performance are all based on third-person accounts of Lincoln's voice -- no one knows for sure. And while although Baxter acknowledges that Dano tends not to be as soft-spoken as the president is described, the late actor nonetheless evoked a Lincoln that is "emotionally right."

Moreover, past attempts to change the beloved attraction met with fierce backlash. "Weighing it all, it felt like more of a humbling voice that we felt was more appropriate with what we were trying to do," Baxter said. "We changed the voice in the previous show and we got tremendous negativity, so we brought back this voice, which has kind of been the voice of Abraham Lincoln for 45 years."

It's one of those things where Disney fans simply don't want the thing they grew up with, or familiar with, to be changed.


"Captain EO" Returning To Disneyland

It was inevitable, one would say. Disney is dusting off "Captain EO" and running it under a "limited engagement" at Disneyland.

The 17-minute “Captain EO” cost an estimated $30 million and featured a star-studded list of credits, including executive producer George Lucas, director Francis Ford Coppola and Anjelica Huston as the evil Supreme Leader.

The 3-D movie — featuring lasers, smoke and stars that extend into the audience — tells the story of Captain EO on a mission to deliver a musical gift to a wicked alien queen on a dystopian planet. EO’s rag-tag crew included his sidekick Fuzzbucket, security officer Major Domo and blundering shipmate Hooter.

I have never seen it, so I can't tell if it is any good. But I suppose if I happen to stumble over it, I might go see it just for the curiosity factor.

If it becomes a "hit" at Disneyland, will Disney consider running it at the other parks that it played in as well?


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disney, Reedy Creek Examining Slow Monorail Evacuation

This Orlando Sentinel article examines why it took so long to evacuate those who got trapped on a monorail car in last week's incident when the monorail system lost power.

Several factors may have contributed to the delay. Disney, for instance, did not call for assistance evacuating passengers until 35 to 40 minutes after the system lost power, according to the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the semi-autonomous government that handles fire-rescue at Disney World.

Further, a $250,000 scissor-lift vehicle that Reedy Creek purchased earlier this year to help with large-scale monorail evacuations was too short to reach the point along the monorail beam where the train was stuck.

I've been on the WDW monorail countless times. I loved it so much, I've even made a video out of it. Still, this is one of the most inefficient and frustrating piece of transportation that Disney has. You'd think that if you take the express monorail from the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) to go to the Magic Kingdom, it shouldn't take THAT long, considering that there are no other stops in between. But noooooo... often that is not the case.

First, let's examine how slow it is for the monorail to open its doors when it pulls into the station. It stops, and often, it backs up or move forward a bit, just to get it in the right position. It sometime can take a minute after it pulls in for the doors to finally open to let passengers out. And then a few more seconds for either the other doors to open, or for the incoming passengers to be let in. And then, to add to the delay, the doors tend to stay open for quite a while. Now, to be fair, this may not always be the monorail's fault, since it can take a bit of time for passengers to find an empty car if it is busy, and the loading of passengers in wheelchairs or when assistance is needed can delay this a bit. Still, all in all, it takes a long time for the whole loading/unloading of passengers to occur. In other words, this is not run the way a rapid transit system in your friendly city is run. This is why another monorail behind this train often has to slow down or even stop on the tracks - a monorail in front of it takes just way too long to finish loading. Next time you go on the monorail, try to time how long it is in the station, and compare that to a typical rapid transit train.

Of course, when it is busy, the train just simply do not zip through from one station to another. Inevitably, it will be slowed down, or even stopped along the way to get clearance, etc. (see above for a possible reason). In fact, when you ride the tram from your car to the TTC station, often, the tram conductor will mention that taking the monorail or the boat to the Magic Kingdom will roughly take the same amount of time (!!!). You'd think that a slow boat cannot compare with the monorail, but that claim of them taking almost the same amount of time isn't an exaggeration at all. The monorail CAN be THAT slow!

The frustrating thing is that when it is needed the most, i.e. during the busy hours when MK closes, that is when the monorail is the slowest. I don't know whether the whole system needs to be overhaul, but this is one aspect of WDW that Disney doesn't do it better than the rest of the "real" world.


Disney to Build Park on Cemetery

I'm reading this news article that says that an existing cemetery will have to be moved to make way for the new Shanghai Disneyland.

Chinese authorities are trying to move 1,200 tombs from the future site of the planned Disney theme park in Shanghai before construction begins, state media said on Thursday.

The municipal government has offered compensation to the families of the deceased to help them bury their ancestors elsewhere, the Shanghai Daily reported, citing cemetery officials. Villagers in Chuansha county on the city's eastern outskirts will receive 300 yuan (S$60) for each relative moved to a new burial ground, the newspaper reported.

'More than 400 tombs have been moved so far,' said Ding Guojun, the general manager of Huilong Cemetery, which is involved in the grave relocation programme.

Of course, the Disney fan in me suddenly would say "Hold on! You have built in props to build the Haunted Mansion attraction around! Wouldn't it be a major coup to actually have the Haunted Mansion being truly haunted! Of course, I'm not sure if the ghosts would work under Disney's union scale, or if they'll go along with the placement of all those hidden Mickey's, but that's a different story....


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Roy E. Disney 1930-2009

It is a sad day in the Disney family to which we all belong to. Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt, passed away today.

Most of us view him as the person holding onto the standards set by Walt, especially since he represented the Disney family within the company for so many years. Of course, his battles with Michael Eisner were legendary, and his efforts contributed to the downfall of the Eisner regime.

Thank you, Roy.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Disney Parks Holiday

They did a pan&tilt video again, but this time on the filming of the holiday parade and special performance at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom.


Disney Was and Remains a Leader in Multiculturalism

This is an amazing article that examines how Disney movies and TV shows had always been at the forefront in multicultural and multi-ethnic acceptance. It examines, in particular, Disney's hesitance to rerelease "Song of the South".

Hattie McDaniel plays a "Mammy" in each picture if for no other reason than that such roles for people did once exist. In "Gone With the Wind," she embodies grotesque mannerisms that imply an acceptance of her inferior social status to the Anglo characters.

But in "Song of the South," McDaniel breaks free of any stereotypes to create a unique human being. More important, she carries the film's narrative, along with James Baskett as Remus - he a symbol of goodness and, in truth, Walt Disney's own alter ego. How ironic, then, that Hattie McDaniel won a best supporting Oscar for the former, not the latter.

The Disney brand has been unfairly savaged by critics ever since Richard Schickel penned "The Disney Version" back in the mid-1960s. This anti-Disney diatribe became not merely an interpretation but set-in-cement truth in many academic circles. The Schickel view set the pace for an intellectual rejection of anything Disney as automatically insensitive to minorities.

Yet a close examination of Disney's work proves otherwise. Back in the late-1950s, when the Western dominated dramatic TV, you could have hardly guessed that one of every six cowboys in the historical West had been black. None of the dozens of "oaters" contained a black character - with one notable exception. James Edwards played "Batt," a real-life black cowboy, in Disney's "Texas John Slaughter" series. Batt emerged as an all-around cowhand superior in skills even to the white hero, played by Tom Tryon.

Such anti-racism in our modern media and its positive influence on audiences began with Walt Disney. Thanks to his influence, racially enlightened thinking spread.

This, of course, brings us to all the criticism of "Princess and the Frog" by so-called critics who spew their opinions even BEFORE seeing the movie, including the woman who I encountered at the DMV. One often wonders if these people had the insight to actually realized the facts that were written in this article.


John Lasseter Champions Better-Quality Film Merchandise

As if he doesn't have enough to do, John Lasseter also does quality control on the merchandise for Disney films.

No detail seems to be too mundane for Lasseter, who after years focusing on Pixar is extending his reach to Walt Disney Co.'s merchandise juggernaut. Immersing himself in the toy-making process, he has visited a plant in Hong Kong to observe how workers applied paint to "Toy Story" Buzz Lightyear figures. The father of five boys has also spent hours in Mattel's showrooms, studying the Disney Princess line, to better understand what little girls want.

The filmmaker is bringing his taskmaster persistence to Disney consumer products, pressing for better-quality toys in a business associated with sometimes shoddy and opportunistic merchandise.

I often wonder if someone is actually doing some kind of quality control on the various Disney merchandise being sold, both at the theme parks, online, at Disney Stores, and those licensed stuff we see at Walgreens, Target, Menards, etc. Some of the stuff with a Disney label on them look rather shoddy and cheap. They certainly need a John Lasseter to halt some of the poor-quality stuff that get hawked under the Disney label.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Pixar Software Could Help Simulate Molecular Interactions

An animation tool used by Pixar and other Hollywood studios could prove to be highly beneficial to biologist in simulating molecular interactions and dynamics (link open for free only for a limited time).

Many scientists already use an array of software to visualize proteins in three dimensions, but these programs do not show how proteins behave in their cellular context. For that, scientific animators turn to Maya — the same program Pixar and other Hollywood firms rely on. But getting the scientific data into the platform is a major roadblock, says Gaël McGill, chief executive of Digizyme, who teaches molecular visualization at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "It's the most common question we have: Can we embellish Maya so that it's easier for scientists to bring the data in?"

I'd say that this is another possibility for inclusion in Innoventions at Epcot. There's an attraction here waiting to happen.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Donald's Great Adventure - Wishes Dessert Party

The last time ZapperZ was here, he went to the Wishes Dessert Party and posted pictures of them. This time, I get to go with him and see what the brouhaha was all about. Boy oh boy, it was a pig out, even though I'm of a different specie.

The Wishes Dessert party was on the night that coincide with one of the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. So the fireworks later that evening was not Wishes, but Holiday Wishes. Anyway, here are the pictures from this dessert party.

Did I get to nosh on any of the dessert? I certainly did! I gobbled as much as anyone else, which is to say, plenty! I especially liked the chocolate-covered strawberries. Yummy! I was a very full duck by the end of the evening.

Of course, wherever I went, my fans always want pictures with me. This time, the cast members working at the dessert party insisted on having their pictures taken with me. I gladly obliged.

It was a fun party, but of course, I had to leave early to be ready for the parade.