Monday, June 30, 2008

My 10 Favorite WDW Attractions

I love lists! I like making them, and I like reading them. I want to do more lists on this blog and I encourage you to post your own list, either in my comments section or on your own blog. Here's a list I've been wanting to do since my last trip to Walt Disney World. After much soul searching I present my new list of the top attractions at the Walt Disney World resort that I love the most.

#10 - The Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management Yes, I wish the new management would sell it back to the original owners. The WDW refurb of this Disneyland classic is not even half as charming as the original. However, I loved the old show so much that even screaming Iago and his rap music can't make me stop loving this birdbrained show. I love how the show is literally all around you and there is nothing standing between you and putting your fingers in a Tiki guys mouth.

#9 - Splash Mountain - To me, the 52-foot drop isn't the coolest part of the ride. I love the way the boat meanders around the exterior of the mountain, taking it's sweet time before you get inside the mountain. Once inside, the ride still takes it's time floating through scene after scene of audio-animatronics. It really sucks you into the story. And I really like the way the set pieces are bright and colorful and cartoony - such a contrast from some of the other AA based epic attractions in the Magic Kingdom.

#8 - Pirates of the Caribbean - I remember riding this when I was little and just totally feeling like you were in another world. I mean, before you even got to the ride the queue just completely separated you from the theme park outside. And I really thought we were outside once we started sailing in our boat. Nowadays, I appreciate the grandness of the set pieces and how everything is all around you. Unlike Haunted Mansion, where your line of sight is controlled, there's all kinds of stuff to look at all over the place in this masterpiece. I think the new characters added to the ride recently bring a little something extra for younger generations to connect with, without taking away from the ride as a whole. This is one of my sons favorite attractions too and they just love spotting Jack Sparrow along the way.

#7 - Living With the Land - I gotta admit, I never really thought much of this ride until recent years. I'm all about simplicity and this ride couldn't be more simple. Plus, it's one of the last remaining attractions that hasn't changed much at all since Epcot opened 25 years ago. When I was younger, this ride couldn't have been more boring. When I ride it now I'm amazed at how fascinating growing plants can be. You can't go wrong with Mickey shaped pumpkins. Not to mention, you've got the tunnel with the live animals in it at the end to look forward to.

#6 - Space Mountain - Just simply one of the best thrill rides built anywhere!

#5 - Muppet Vision 4-D - I've been a huge Muppets fan all my life. In fact, in my younger days I was probably more into Muppets than Disney! Naturally I was excited when they announced this attraction. Even after all these years, and having seen this film dozens of times, it's still funny! It's very funny!

#4 - Test Track - Here's where I'll geek-out on ya and tell you the reasons I love this ride. I love the pre-show and how they tried to make it look like it's live. I love any ride where the vehicles start and stop or change speeds during the show. I love going up the curvy mountain road in the beginning. I love the way you twist and turn and make your way through that massive building. I love how that truck off to the side gets me every single time!

#3 - Gran Fiesta Tour - This one is a little hard for me because El Rio del Tiempo was my absolute most favorite ride in all of WDW for many, many years. I loved it's simplicity and mild incoherence. It also featured my favorite gag in any Disney ride - the film of the merchants as they followed your boat while you floated by three windows. While Gran Fiesta Tour carries over many similar elements from the previous attraction it just isn't the same for this El Rio fan. I like the addition of the characters and now the ride has a story and it's funny. But I'll always miss the random clips of people cliff diving and having drinks in a hot tub.

#2 - Mickey's PhilharMagic - This is just one of the coolest things in the world! Swimming with Ariel, flying with Peter Pan & Aladdin, and I love the kaleidoscope effect during the Lion King number. The effects are awesome and the whole thing is simply jaw dropping every time! This is now home to my NEW favorite gag in all of WDW. When Donald Duck gets shot out of the movie screen and crashes through the wall in the back of the theatre, his little feet hanging out of the wall brings a huge smile to my face every visit!!

#1 - Tomorrowland Transit Authority - I was disappointed when they replaced the more serious narration with the silly space-themed voice over but this is still a cool ride. I love the way the trains quietly glide alone the track, slowing down and speeding up and zipping through all the different attractions in Tomorrowland. Alot of rides end at a gift shop, but TTA takes you through a gift shop - how cool is that? Plus you've got the EPCOT model and that alien chick getting her hair done...what's not to love!? With the demotion of the Mexico ride, TTA (or WEDway Peoplemover as I still call it) is my new #1 favorite ride in Walt Disney World!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

DVD Spotlight: World's Fair, Toy Trains

The 1964 World's Fair is an hour long documentary produced for Public Television in 1996. Overall the show is a bit disjointed and unfocused but it is filled with loads of glorious footage from the two year event. A combination of promotional footage, newsreel/archive footage, and amateur home movies offer a first hand look at the New York World's Fair. The narration, provided by Judd Hirsch, is more of a trivia track than a narrative history or tour of the fair. The program does start off with the development of the fair but quickly jumps around to covering attractions and buildings as well as memories shared by people who visited the fair. Of course, the 1964 New York World's Fair was to be the stage for one of the last great chapters in Walt Disney's life. This DVD acknowledges Walt's role in the fair but offers little insight beyond what is general knowledge to any Walt Disney historian.

There's footage of the Disney characters dancing and interacting with fair goers throughout the program. And although it is mentioned several times that Walt Disney was one of the major attractions to the fair not much is discussed about the Disney attractions. As you know, Disney had a hand in four shows at the `64 Fair. Two of these shows: Ford Motor Company's Magic Skyway and the State of Illinois' Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln aren't even mentioned in the show. There are some brief glimpses of the exterior of Pepsi Cola's It's a Small World, including the legendary Tower of the Four Winds. There's also a brief shot of the mammoth building that originally housed General Electric's Carousel of Progress. The documentary takes you inside the Carousel via a grainy home movie that shows some of the sets the exact same way they appear today and even a look at how the show's final "futuristic" scene played out in 1964.

The show doesn't ignore Disney's involvement with the fair, but it hardly gives Disney the coverage they deserve. However, what does make this DVD program worth hunting down and watching is the extensive footage of the General Motors pavilion, a massive ride through experience called Futurama II. The GM ride had it's roots in a similar attraction from the 1939 World's Fair called Futurama. Both versions featured a look into the future and the modern conveniences new technology would bring to everyday life. It's been noted several times in the Disney blogosphere that many of the original attractions at Epcot Center were inspired by the Futurama show at the 1939 World's Fair. A good chunk of this DVD is devoted to a professionally produced film of the interior of Futurama II. From a look at the unusual ride vehicles, which were an endless conveyor of three side-by-side chairs, to the miniatures that made up the numerous scenes; the extensive look at Futurama II becomes the real treat of this program for any theme park aficionado.

While not an outstanding program, The 1964 World's Fair is worth a look for those curious about the landmark event but weren't present to experience it. You can find the DVD for sale on the internet (including Amazon) but it's more of a rental title so luckily you can also find it at Netflix.
Speaking of Netflix, I had also rented Great Toy Train Layouts Disc One. I've been on a bit of a toy train kick lately and I enjoy seeing great big layouts that people build in their basements or garages. The first disc of this three disc set features the collections of eight different men. I wasn't expecting this DVD to have anything to do with Disney so you can imagine my surprise when the first of the eight collectors turned out to be veteran Disney animator Ward Kimball. In addition to working on all of the great classic animated films from the golden age of animation, Kimball is also known the world over as a top collector of model trains.

Ward Kimball has two large buildings behind his house where he keeps all his wonderful toy trains. This video will give you a very detailed tour of his collection. If you've never seen one of these Toy Train Videos before, they can get a bit nerdy and technical. It's all about the gauges when it comes to collecting, and Ward spends a bit of time showing off his collection and talking right to the avid train collector. Still, for a Disney fan who's heard of Ward Kimball's love of trains, it's a real treat to see his collection up close.

The segment on Kimball runs about 23 minutes, most of that is devoted to his toy trains. In fact, it's not until about 18 minutes into the show that Kimball's connection with Disney is even mentioned. After a brief biography, the real pay off is a look outside of Ward's collection buildings and a look at his famed Grizzly Flats Railroad. The video wraps up with a look at all of Ward's full scale collection that he had scattered across his backyard. It's wonderful to get to see all this great stuff that is so much a part of the Disney story.

You'd probably have to go to a toy train shop to find Great Toy Train Layouts on a shelf. There's plenty of sites on the web where you can purchase such a DVD, including Amazon. If you're just interested in seeing it you can check out Netflix, which also has the DVD. (Make sure you put Disc One in your queue.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wall-E Wednesday: Coloring!

Wall-E is just 48 hours away! With all the positive reviews coming in, it's sure to be Pixar's ninth smash hit in a row! Here's a fun little coloring page from the latest issue of Disney & Me magazine. Just click on the image below to enlarge it, print it out and then give it to the kids to color. If any one wants to send in a colored picture we'll run it next week!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Disney Adventures Cover Gallery #2

Fun character art and celebrities from various levels of fame make up our second look at the covers from early issues (#5 - #9) of Disney Adventures magazine...

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Shower Scene

Speaking of bathrooms...
The theme of Disney's All Star Movie Resort carries on all the way into the most intimate of locations. The tile work in the showers of the guest rooms is made up to look like a reel of film. The film strip motif can be found throughout the resort, including the chairs in the food court and the railings of the guest buildings.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Black Hole Golden Book

As I've stated before The Black Hole cracks me up. Don't get me wrong, it's a good film and all but it's just such an un-Disney movie from a time when Disney films were very formulaic. Thirty years later the merchandising still makes me smile. Case in point, this Little Golden Book from 1979. First, you've got the title: The Black Hole: A Spaceship Adventure for Robots. That sounds like the literal title translation from an overseas market. Second, you've got a Little Golden Book, famous for cute stories like The Poky Little Puppy and The Saggy Baggy Elephant and this one is about murderous robots about to be sucked into the dark abyss of cold, empty space.

Poor Black Hole, it doesn't even get the fond recognition that other not-so-classic Disney films get, like Pete's Dragon, Bedknobs & Broomsticks and The Aristocats have achieved.

Anywho, here's some of the slightly bizarre uncredited illustrations...

I don't care how big of a Disney fan you are, ya gotta admit V.I.N.C.E.N.T. has always been a poor man's R2-D2.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wall-E Wednesday: Toys!

The Wall-E merchandising invasion has begun. Books of all kinds (story, sticker, coloring, punch-outs, activity) started popping up at book stores a few weeks ago. Now the toys are starting to make their way to the shelves of fine retailers everywhere. I haven't seen anything at Wal-Mart yet, but at Toys R Us at the end of an isle full of Star Wars and Iron Man stuff there was one column jam packed with Wall-E goodies. The "action figures" come in two sizes. The collection you see above are traditional action figure size and most of them have a special feature. The Dance `N Tap Wall-E has a pull string that makes him wiggle and dance all over the place. The U-Repair Wall-E is basically a Wall-E where all the parts are removable (and therefore lose-able too.) We picked up the Cube `N Stack Wall-E where his front panel opens and you can pop out little cubes of trash. It comes with two cubes and you can make more with Play-Doh...a messy feature I'm not telling my kids about!

There's another set of figures that are smaller, about the size of standard PVC figures. They come two to a pack and feature many different scenarios from the upcoming film. They've also got a remote control Wall-E who is considerably larger than the other figures. One of the coolest items was a Wall-E gripper hand where you pull the handle and Wall-E's hand opens and's kind of like those Robot hands you've seen at a toy store where you can pick stuff up with them...but this one is way cooler.

It looks like there will be more toy options with Wall-E than there were with last year's Ratatouille.

Here's the back of the packaging from the Cube `N Stack Wall-E.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Quick Game Before Breakfast?

Croquet balls and mallets become decorative wall fixtures at the Cape May Cafe in Disney's Beach Club Resort.
One of the neat features of this spot's breakfast buffet is their Yogurt Bar, with a few different flavors of yogurt and about a dozen fruity, nutty, and crunchy toppings to mix in to your selection.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Studio Entertainment - 1989

The Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park wasn't even two months old when I was lucky enough to pay my first visit. This Entertainment Program managed to make it through a day at the park and then survive another 19 years. One of the things that I miss most about the original days at the Studios was the cool movie merchandise that you could buy there. On that first visit I got an awesome Touchstone Pictures baseball hat that I wore for years. (I loved that hat!)

It doesn't look like there was a whole lot to do back when the park first opened. But it still took you all day to cover the park. The Backstage Studio Tour was a much more grand affair than it is now. This attraction took at least 2 hours to go all the way through.

One of the original ideas for the Studios Theme Park was to always have a celebrity on hand, no matter when you visited. They would participate in the "Star Conversation" show at the Theatre of the Stars where guests could ask big time Hollywood stars whatever questions they wanted. The stars also rode in parades and sometimes put their hand prints in cement in front of the Chinese Theatre.

In case you're wondering here, Morgan Brittany was on the CBS 80's Prime Time soap opera Dallas and Susan Sullivan was part of the cast of another CBS drama, Falcon Crest.

Friday, June 13, 2008

You're Invited to Another Block Party

Not to be confused with the Block Party Bash going on at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney Music Block Party is a new CD chock full of classic Disney tunes. It's amazing how many times they can put out a CD with the premise of "Classic Disney Songs interpreted by...." but I guess as long we keep buying them, they'll keep putting them out. And that's good because this latest release is a really fun addition to any Disney music collection. Here, we get 13 tracks recorded by artists familiar to the Playhouse Disney crowd. Now if you don't have kiddies in your house, don't let that keep you away from this CD. There are some great new tracks here.

The first thing that I really like about this CD is that of the 13 songs 10 of them are good old school Disney tunes. When doing these modern "cover" albums there tends to be an emphasis on the songs written in the last 20 years but here we get mostly the older stuff. There are songs from The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Toy Story. The remainder of the tracks date back to 1964's Mary Poppins or earlier.

Speaking of Mary Poppins, for my money this CD is worth the price of admission alone for track #7, Mickey Mouse and Goofy singing "Let's Go Fly a Kite". I think it's a great idea to have Mickey and the gang singing classic Disney tunes. I'd love to see a whole "cover" album like this with all the tunes sung by Mickey, Donald and the rest of the gang. It would be nice to have a Mickey Mouse CD that wasn't him singing children's songs or raps about cheese! "Let's Go Fly a Kite" is great selection for Mickey as it doesn't get remade all that often.

Two other dittys from Mary Poppins make it onto this CD as well. "Jolly Holiday" by Dan Zanes and "Chim Chim Cher-ee" by Kay Hanley; both offer moody and sophisticated rerecordings of these Sherman Brothers standards.

The CD kicks off with a rockin' rendition of the Mickey Mouse Club March from Ralph's World...a great song to start off any album, if you ask me. They Might Be Giants offers their own take on a Disney hero with "Ballad of Davy Crockett (In Outer Space). Fun Stuff!

Alot of friends from Playhouse Disney show up to do a song, like the Doodlebops, Johnny and the Sprites, Choo Choo Soul, and even Playhouse hosts Ooh and Aah. There's some names here that I'm not familiar with like Kay Hanley and Gwendolyn and the Goodtime Gang but they're songs are fun so they are a welcome addition.

One odd inclusion in the artist line-up is Wayne Brady who, besides providing a guest voice on Higglytown Heroes, has nothing to do with Playhouse Disney. His cover of The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room is a hip-hop dance track that sounds as if it would be at home on a Rihanna CD. An odd song choice and and even odder celebrity choice, Brady's Tiki Room ends up being one of the highlights of the CD.

Good stuff all around on Disney Music Block Party! This new disc offers some new takes on old classics while introducing your kids to a few of the older songs in the Disney Music library. I discovered this CD at Walt Disney World a few weeks ago, but since have seen it for sale in Wal-Mart as well as on Amazon and Disney It is also available on iTunes.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

West Coast Chest

Last week, Craig over at Earning My Ears featured one of his favorite pieces from his collection of theme park memorabilia - a Secret Panel Chest from the Haunted Mansion. At first, I thought he had beat me to the punch. The Haunted Mansion puzzle box is a prized piece of my Disney Park collection as well and I was planning on doing a post about this classic souvenir in the near future. Then I noticed that his Secret Panel Chest was from Walt Disney World while mine was from Disneyland. Both of the chests feature artwork depicting the exterior of the attraction, and since the East and West coast versions of this ride are so looks like there's room in the blogosphere for a post on both versions of this long gone gift shop item.

My Secret Panel Chest came into my possession through my father, who picked it up on a visit to Disneyland in 1971 (a few years before I was born.) The chest has secret panels on it that when moved in the correct order open up to reveal a secret compartment. It features the original Haunted Mansion located in New Orleans Square in Disneyland. The sign, which reads "The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland c. Walt Disney Productions" is the same as the sign on the WDW version of the box except of course for the park logo and the words "Haunted Mansion" seem to be printed smaller than on the Orlando box.

There doesn't seem to be much history or backstory to these mysterious souvenir chests. The ultra-informative website offers this trivia:

Another popular souvenir was the "Secret Panel Chest," a wooden puzzle box that had a colorful illustration of the Haunted Mansion on the top that could only be opened by using a secret combination of movements. The boxes were constructed by a small company in Hikone, Japan, using many types of wood for each box. They were available in three different sizes. These are desirable collectibles in the Disneyana marketplace, bringing anywhere from $50 for a well-worn piece to over $200 for a box in excellent condition with the instruction sheet

There's a scan of the instructions up at Earning My Ears but I guess all the spooks and spirits left my box sometime over the last 37 years because I can't seem to get mine open. I still have the instructions that came with this Disneyland Chest. They are safely locked away inside the Haunted Mansion Secret Panel Chest.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Models of Toonland

Here's a fun little one page piece about animation models that appeared in issue #4 of Disney Adventures magazine, way back in February 1991. You can click the article to enlarge it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Disney Adventures Magazine

Disney Adventures magazine made it's debut in the Fall of 1990, around the same time the syndicated block of Disney produced television series known as The Disney Afternoon began. The publication was to serve as a companion to the afternoon cartoons, offering more adventures with the Disney Afternoon characters in comic book form. In addition to the comics, each issue featured news and interviews with celebrities popular with kids and real world stories of sports, adventure and travel. Many issues also included behind the scenes pieces on the world of Disney. The digest sized magazine sported colorful covers, usually spotlighting a celebrity appearing with Disney characters. The cover featuring the Ducktales gang running from a rhino was used on a special preview issue of the magazine that was available the summer before regular printing began. It's dated "Fall 1990" and was only available by mail-order from sending in proofs-of-purchase from (Kelloggs?) cereal.

What follows is the first in a series of galleries showcasing the cover art of the first few years of Disney Adventures magazine. Not only do these covers offer some unique Disney artwork, they also illustrate some of the forgotten celebrities of the early `90's.

Hot off his hit Disney film "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids", Rick Moranis graces the first issue available on newsstands.

The Wonder Years star with the Rescue Rangers...pretty cool, eh!? Fred Savage is actually quite busy with Disney work these days. He's directed several episodes of Phil of the Future, Wizards of Waverly Place, and the mega cash cow Hannah Montana.

Alyssa Milano in a cover reminiscent of "Ducktales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp"

Who would have ever guessed that Bob Saget would still be around and Roger Rabbit would be a thing of the past?

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Son, The Padawan

Jumping on the Star Wars Weekends bandwagon, I wanted to share some pictures from my trip to Walt Disney World a couple of weeks ago. My kids are all Star Wars nuts, especially my 4 1/2 year old son Elias. It was, without a doubt, the most magical moment of our trip when Elias got picked to go on stage at the (kind of) new Jedi Training Academy show at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Elias spends most of his time at home playing with his lightsaber, so when he donned the Jedi robe and was handed a lightsaber to train with, he felt right at home. (That's him in the middle, with the hood up and the purple lightsaber.) He was so into it and it actually brought a tear to the eyes of both my wife and I. It's a simple little show that is just done so well and really lets kids live out their fantasies.

Simply awesome!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Meet The Robinsons (in 25 Minutes From This Point)

Adventureland's Swiss Family Treehouse attraction is a sentimental favorite for anyone who enjoys the slow-paced, low-tech side of Walt Disney World. It's a sure fire bet that after finishing off your Dole Whip at the nearby Aloha Isle stand you can hop right inside the entrance of the Treehouse and start exploring the tree's 1,400 branches. But can you imagine ever having to wait in a long line to visit the Swiss Family Robinson's home? As soon as you enter the attraction and begin across the bridge to the treehouse, stop and turn around a look back where you came from.

Just off to the lower right hand side of the entrance you can see a rather large queue area to hold guests waiting to enter the Swiss Family Treehouse...

This queue area sits just out of sight from guests walking in Adventureland. Even though this has got to be one of the least used queues in all of Walt Disney World, it's still themed perfectly to the attraction. The railing around the platform is similar to what you would find around the main deck of an old boat, such as the Robinsons had. This line would have taken you right up to where you enter the attraction now...

But it looks like you would have entered the show from this point, which sits quite a distance west of the current entrance, near the benches close to Aloha Isle. There's actually a hole in the top of the tallest pole from where a sign was. From this entrance, you would have walked down and around to the right and entered the covered queue area.

Here's a closer shot of the Swiss Family queue. It kind of has a ghost town like vibe to it!

This mid-to-late 70's souvenir park map shows the treehouse with it's full entrance structure. The entrance is near the number 43. Note the slanted roof (near 44) which can also been seen over the queue in the first picture above.

Next time you're crossing the bridge to the Swiss Family Treehouse, take a moment and turn around and catch this little lost space in WDW.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wall-E Scholastic Art

It's funny how sometimes the movie studios do everything in their power to keep details about plot and characters in the summer blockbusters hush-hush and then they release books with the whole story inside a month before the movie comes out! Yesterday the mailman dropped off our latest shipment from the Scholastic Disney Wonderful World of Reading club. My kids (and I) were excited to find a copy of Wall-E tucked inside the envelope. I'm going to try and keep the kids from making me read it to them before we go see the movie because last year the Little Golden Book of Ratatouille kind of gave away the ending of the movie before it was in theatres. Anyway, the cool thing about some of the kids books based on the Pixar films is that the illustrations are done in a stylistic fashion that looks different than the actual movie. I don't think there's any spoilers here, but I will say there are some cool looking things in this book. Here's some of the art work from this adaptation of the movie which opens June 27.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Paying The Bills

The Mouse Gear shop in Epcot's Innoventions is always busy with loads of people looking to stock up on WDW goodies to take home with them. It's one of the biggest retail spots in all of Epcot. It takes extra hands to run a store of this size so many of the citizens of Duckburg pull double duty working behind the scenes of this shop. Why ducks? Come on, this ain't no Mickey Mouse operation!

If you look up above the shopping fixtures in many parts of the store, you'll notice the silhouettes of many hard working ducks. In one room, chaos reigns as paper airplanes fly, Donald looses his temper and Huey, Dewey and Louie run wild.

In another area of the store, over by the watches and jewelry you'll find Scrooge McDuck firing off a memo to his secretary, Daisy. Daisy Duck is jotting down the memo while sitting in a very sexist old-fashioned secretary pose. But my favorite employee can be found in the last window of this scene...

... the often overlooked Gyro Gearloose is busy crunching away the numbers on, what appears to be, one of his crazy inventions. My guess is that Gyro invented a machine that could display enough numbers needed to show how much dough Mouse Gears rakes in on any given day!