Thursday, November 1, 2012

Disney + Star Wars = Best Day Ever

Apparently it takes a 4 billion dollar deal to get me blogging. That’s okay, though, because if the news of Disney buying Lucasfilms can’t do it, I may as well close up shop.

So yeah…

Disney inked a deal to buy Lucasfilms for 4.5 BILLION dollars. That purchase includes Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound. Lucasfilms, in case you don’t know, is the studio that has the creative rights to Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

As you can imagine, as a Disney fan, I believe this is the awesomest thing in the history of awesome things. Both film franchises feature original trilogies that are easily among the 5 best trilogies in film history. Not only are they awesome, but they’re also insanely profitable. In fact, maybe 4.5 billion dollars isn’t enough money to pay George Lucas.
So yeah, Disney can’t lose.

But what do I say to all of the obsessive Star Wars fans who are afraid that Disney will ruin the legacy of The Force?


First, let me defend my beloved Disney against all of this “Disneyfied” nonsense. I’ve seen around the internet this idea that suddenly Disney is going to somehow over-commercialize or over-cutesy the Star Wars creative property.

Um… Have these people seen the Star Wars legos, and video games, and toys and toys and toys? George Lucas was the all time greatest ever at wringing out every tidbit of cash out of literally ever corner of his kingdom. My long-time buddy, The Scary Pinecone used to collect the Star Wars figures, and there were tons of figures of characters I had no recollection of from movies I’ve seen dozens of times.

George Lucas created Ewoks. George Lucas created Jar Jar Binks (for Pete’s sake!) He forced poor little innocent Jake Lloyd to shriek “Yippee!”. Do they really want to get into this “Disney=Cutified” thing?

Anyway, here are my points in favor of the deal:

1) As many others have pointed out… There’s absolutely no risk from either side of the deal. Disney will make boatloads of cash no matter what, and they’ll also have the extremely valuable studios of ILM and Skywalker Sound. Lucasfilms risks nothing in terms of quality, because let’s face it… The last good movie to come out of Lucasfilms was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989. The last good Star Wars movie was in 1983. I was 3 years old. I will be 33 in February. The recent Star Wars movies have been worse than mediocre, and my preference is to just forget that Indy 4 never happened at all. Disney can’t make it worse. There’s only one direction to go, and that’s up.

2) George Lucas conceptualized Star Wars as a 9 Part Story, and only 6 parts have been created. He’s openly said that he’d never make Episodes 7 to 9, and that’s a shame, because if they use the Timothy Zahn “Heir to the Empire” trilogy as a basis, the fans are truly missing out. Those stories are awesome, and they introduce some spectacular characters, aliens, and worlds. It could be awesome, and Lucas doesn’t have the creative juice to do it. Even if he did, let’s just be honest and admit that the biggest problems with the recent films is that he had too much control. Disney is arguably the only studio to have the bandwidth, talent, and funds to do it right. I’m excited. I say give the reins to J.J. Abrahms or Rian Johnson or Joss Whedon and sit back and enjoy the ride.

3) Disney, with their enormous scope, can offer the Star Wars fans an opportunity to love their stories for years to come in dozens of different medias. I’ve already heard talk of Star Wars themed attractions at the parks. New movies. New cartoons. It’s a way to keep the stories alive and bring them to even more audiences. I mean… who wouldn’t love to go to Disney World at ride the hot new roller coaster “The Millenium Falcon and the Kessel Run”? (That’s my idea, Disney… HIRE ME!)
4) Nobody’s really talking much about the Indy movies, and maybe that’s because Harrison Ford is old, Shia LeBouf is… unsuitable to take over the franchise, and you can’t really do “Indy” without “Indy”. That’s fair, but a buddy of mine asked me about Disney’s track record with Sci-Fi, and I have to admit, it’s not that great. Action/Adventure, however… I’d venture to say that the best Action/Adventure movie of the past 10 years is the first Pirates flick. The Avengers is pretty good too… I’d be interested to see what Disney does with a property like Indiana Jones… Can they go in a different direction without Harrison Ford in the spotlight?

5) Speaking of “The Avengers”, I think that perhaps this is the best example of why a Disneyfied Lucasfilm is going to be awesome…

Disney bought Marvel a couple of years ago, and every comic book fan boy freaked the hell out. “Oh no! The Hulk will have Mickey Ears! They’ll be “baby” versions of Iron Man and Captain America.”

That hasn’t happened. Disney’s done a great job of keeping true to the Marvel stories and characters. I realize that there’s only been a small samples size to this point, but The Avengers was stupendous. They did it right. They hired respected “Geek Insiders” like Joss Whedon to write and direct. They made sure the effects were tight. They treated their stars right, so we know they’ll be back. It was masterfully done, and nobody can complain. Maybe someone doesn’t love the plot, but all-in-all, it was an enormous success. Also they made 1.5 Billion dollars.

Look… There are no guarantees, but Disney is the one company out there that combines the technical prowess, the creative talent, and the ridiculously deep pockets to do it right.

Let me put it this way…

If we knew that Lucas wasn’t going to be available to make another Star Wars movie, but we knew there would still BE a Star Wars movie… what studio do you want taking over?

Disney is it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rumors and Whatnot

Ooof. It’s been a while.
I wanna take a little while to talk about some of the rumors swirling around the development of different stuff at Disney World.

The main new rumor is surrounding the new “Avatar” themed area at Animal Kingdom. The newest information says that the entire project has stalled out, because James Cameron is difficult to work with, and is obsessing over “Avatar 4”. This is especially weird due to the lack of an “Avatar 2” or ‘Avatar 3” yet. Different sources are saying that Cameron’s tendency toward perfectionism is threatening to drive Imagineers to insanity, and at the same time they’re talking about how even if the new land does get off the ground, the cost to achieve Cameron’s vision will simply be too high when the interest level isn’t really even coming close to that of the main competitor for this type of attraction, Universals “Wizarding World of Harry Potter”.

So… the question is… is it worth it to pursue? Initially, I thought the Avatar themed area was a great idea. It provided a sort of built-in full immersion vision straight from a true creative innovator in James Cameron (if not also a total egomaniacal nut). It had the potential, assuming they expanded the “known Avatar universe” to include creatures and beasts from the 2nd and 3rd films, to really be a beautiful, unique addition to Animal Kingdom.

The more I thought about it, though, the less interested I became. Avatar just seems so… fleeting. It seems so much just a thing of the moment, and not an enduring classic in much of any sense. I also started to have real issues with using a largely non-Disney creative property to devote so much time and money. If Disney wanted to add a new area to Animal Kingdom based on a movie, or movies… what about Finding Nemo (even though The Seas in Epcot already sort of does that), or Tarzan, or The Jungle Book. Seems like The Jungle Book would be a fantastic option. It’s iconic and memorable and wholly Disney (at least the animated version. ). I feel like they could even create some really cool attractions around it. I am imagining a wild mouse type roller coaster ride using the King Louie sequence. It just seems really fun in my head.

You know… I just thought of this, but what about a world dedicated to “Brave”? I know it wasn’t AS popular or AS well received as some of the other Pixar movies, but the visuals of it were stunning, and it has a shitload of bears…. Maybe that’s not enough to build a whole “land” around, but whatever. My point is there are options.

Anyway… the other big rumor is sort of connected to the Avatar thing, so I wanted to address this too…

The supposition is that if Avatar isn’t happening, that Disney will have to do some other big thing in order to grab crowds and interest. There’s a lot of talk around the grapevine that Disney will close off “Lights, Motors, Action” in Hollywood Studios and build in a carbon copy of “Cars Land” that they just completed in Disney’s California Adventure.

This… doesn’t interest me.
It’s not that I’m against “Cars” as a movie… Well… I sort of am, but I’m not against the Cars Land in Disneyland. I think it’s one of those things that makes sense financially, because Cars is so damned popular, and Disney is ALWAYS looking for ways to market to pre-adolescent boys.

I just think that porting it, wholly, over to Disney World would be just straight-up lazy. It’s not a thing that’ll garner big interest from anyone really. It was when it opened in Cali, but I believe that aside from Magic Kingdom, Disney should be working hard to make Disney World and Disneyland two divergent experiences. Doesn’t that even make more sense money-wise? If DL and WDW aren’t interchangeable, people will want to experience both places individually, instead of seeing them as an either/or kind of experience.
As of now, there’s no official word from Disney that would lead us to believe anything other than Avatar being on schedule, but keep an eye on Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom. If it doesn’t close in January, that’s a surefire sign that Avatar isn’t happening , at least as planned.

Next time? I talk about Disney and how they can take advantage of the Marvel Universe.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Obviously, I love Disney, and I love Walt Disney World. It’s my favorite place on Earth.

That is well documented.

I may even go so far as to say that 9 of every 10 choices is the right one, and that they are, for the most part, always going to get the benefit of the doubt from me.

That said, I firmly believe that nothing, and nobody is above a critical eye. There’s no such thing as being perfect all the time, and even my favorite places could use some adjustments on occasion.

So… Today, since I’m feeling a little grumpy, I’m gonna talk about the #1 attraction/ride/whatever from each of the 4 main Walt Disney World parks that I believe needs to be either completely re-thought, or junked altogether to make room for something better.

The Magic Kingdom
There was once a time where I would have said The Swiss Family Tree House needs most to go… In fact, I believe I did,once upon a time. My feelings have changed. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten older and wiser, but while I don’t know that I’ll ever like it all that much, I do see why it’s a good thing. It’s one of the few places in the parks where the visitors are asked to use their imaginations some. Also… as a total sucker for nostalgia, how can I possibly criticize an attraction that exists purely due to nostalgia.

No no… the only logical option is Stitch’s Great Escape.

I know I’ve already ripped it up and down, but really it is terrible. It takes up a huge parcel of land in Tomorrowland. It’s not entertaining. People don’t like it. It’s an embarrassingly bad quick-fix for the more interesting ExtraTerrorestrial: Alien Encounter. It’s just… so frustrating. They have this golden location and they have all kinds of great material to source for an attraction in Tomorrowland (What about Wall-E?). I mean, heck… Keep it as a Lilo and Stitch thing, but just make it better for Pete’s sake. Poor Pete.

It’s difficult to really straight-up criticize anything in Epcot. For the most part, I think it’s the most well considered, and strongly imagined park. Some of the most interesting rides are there (Soarin’, Spaceship Earth). Some of the more innovative (Test Track, especially now). Even some of the more nostalgic pieces (Journey into Imagination).

Of course, like I said, there’s always room to get better, and I think there are a couple of candidates that are ripe for an update, revamp, or total replacement.

I could go with Mission: Space. Many people really enjoy this ride. I, personally, don’t get all the fuss. The thing is, though, it’s kind of…sort of… potentially… dangerous. It’s at least a little unpleasant sometimes. Or even most of the time. That ride will straight-up mess you up if you have even the slightest inclination toward motion sickness. Seems so silly to have one of the Weenie rides also be so unsettling.

Still… there’s one culprit bigger than the rest…

Honey I Shrunk the Audience / Captain EO
Shhhhhh. Just hear me out. I like them too, but they’re SO old, and so outdated. Honey I Shrunk the Kids was a great, fun movie for me when I was 10, but the kids nowadays aren’t so up on their Wayne Zalinski references. They just don’t know those movies that well..

Try to explain Captain EO and the totally bizarre thing going on in that movie to a 10 year old who doesn’t know who Michael Jackson is. Go ahead. I’ll give you time...

They just looked at you like you’re insane, right?

I understand that Disney brought it back out of the Vault when MJ died, but it’s time to put it back for good. It’s so freakin’ strange.

And there are just soooooo many movies that could work as inspiration for a new 4D movie. How about one of the Marvel Characters that Disney owns now? I honestly don’t know the kinds of costs we’re talking about to make these movies. Maybe using modern stars in these characters is impossible, because the stars won’t do it. So… maybe do an animated one. I’d love an UP attraction. UP is sort of all about adventure and imagination anyway, so… use it. They have the full physical infrastructure of the building there. They have the mechanics to make the seats do stuff and have water spray and all that. Just give it a new coat of paint already.

Hollywood Studios
Probably of all the parks, this one was the hardest for me, because I honestly feel like I’m killing one of my pets. I better just yank the band-aid and get it over with…

The Great Movie Ride.

Oh man… this is tough.

Alright, so… The Great Movie Ride was at one time my favorite ride. Not just at (MGM) Studios. Not just at Walt Disney World. Anywhere. The actors were good. The scenes were clean. The animatronics were awesome. The movies were… not all that familiar, but I knew about them ENOUGH to pick up the cues and whatnot. That was 19 years ago, and they have barely updated it at all in the entire time since.

I hate to say it, but:
1) MGM’s been out of the picture for several years now, so there’s no reason to be beholden to MGM movies. Not that Singin’ in the Rain isn’t a great flick, in fact.. they all are great (kinda the point), but if you’re not answering to MGM, you have every chance to update the scenes to all kinds of Disney movies too. Think about a scene with Pirates of the Caribbean (from a different perspective than the actual ride). Think Avengers!
2) The Great Movie Ride is in the plumbest, cherriest (why are all the “bests” kinds of fruit?) spot in the whole place. It’s got a huge building. Why even constrain yourselves to updating the pre-existing ride. Maybe make it a ride-through dark ride for Disney Animation History. You could ride through scenes of Snow White, Fantasia (even maybe keep the Fantasia room as it is), Dumbo, Peter Pan… you get the picture. Make it sort of a combo of Great Movie Ride and Spaceship Earth… or maybe more specifically… A Spaceship Earth with Disney Movies as the theme as opposed to “Communication”. Where better to have 20 animatronic Walts doing different things throughout?

Animal Kingdom
The simplest answer would be to trash the entire “Dino-Rama” concept, and start from scratch, but that’s not the game here, and I can’t choose between Primeval Whirl and Triceratop Spin as to which is dumber. So, I’m going off the grid a little, and picking a ride that gets very little attention, which is a shame, because it has so much potential…

Kali River Rapids.

This is literally the only ride that I encourage people to skip when they come to Disney. It’s not that it’s bad. It’s not. It’s… well.. it’s two things.

1) It’s far too short a ride to justify more than a 10 minute wait. It’s barely over a minute if you don’t count the hill. That’s not long enough for a white-water rapids type ride. There’s just not much excitement.

2) On Splash Mountain “getting wet” basically means that you’ll get a little wet, and likely just enough to cool down in the Florida heat. On Kali River Rapids “getting wet” means that you’ll be walking around with wet underpants for the foreseeable future. It means you definitely need to put your wallet in a Ziploc bag. It means that you’ll hear your own feet squishing in your socks for the remainder of the day. You get absolutely, positively drenched.

There’s about a 25% chance you avoid the total drenching, but if I’m being honest, there’s never been a single day in my life I wanted to walk around a theme park with a shirt so wet that I have to wring it out.

It’s just not worth it, in my opinion.

Again.. it’s not a bad ride. It’s just a ride that doesn’t seem like a ride at all. It seems almost entirely like it’s simply dumping 2 buckets of water on you and sending you on your way.

The worst part is that there’s a message on the ride (about deforestation and conservation) that you BARELY get to glimpse as you rush by on your way to the dunk tank. Disney spent a huge amount of time and money planning out this story line and creating a really pretty beautiful looking scene, and the ride almost totally passes it up in about 30 seconds.

I don’t know what you do to fix this ride, but in a park with limited usable space, it just seems like a waste.

So… that’s my list. Like I said… I love this place. I love what it stands for. I love the way it affects people. The only way it can keep it going forever is to Keep Moving Forward.

What stuff would you update? Anyone who LOVES Kali River Rapids?

Next Up – My review of an old Disney animated movie of my choosing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Keep on Pushing

I have a hard time imagining that Disney has any problems getting people to come to their parks. At this point, I doubt there are many people who aren’t totally familiar with what Disney Parks have to offer, and that’s a testament to both their enduring presence over the past (almost) 60 years, and the well… awesomeness.

One of the things I most admire about Disney, though, is that they rarely rest on reputation alone. As the years have gone by, and as the economy has struggled, Disney has focused harder and harder on creating not just the “Destination” vacation, but the “Destination EVENT Vacation”. Because of that, Disney parks are consistently the most well attended theme parks in the world. Year in and year out.

There was a time when the Disney calendar was fairly sparse. You’d have the odd Marathon weekend, or Gay Days, or Star Wars weekend, but for the most part, Disney World was Disney World. Sure, the customer service was totally outstanding, and the parks were so clean you could eat off the trash cans, and the rides were the most technologically advanced and creative out there. For the most part, these are all still totally true.

Nowadays, though, there are competitors for the mighty family vacation dollar. Universal has Harry Potter, who is a damned force to be reckoned with, and Legoland keeps expanding, and never forget the Grand Canyon!!! (Ohhh…hahahaha… I almost made it all the way through…)

If you look at the Disney World calendar these days, and you’ll notice something… Over the next six months, Disney will celebrate:

Night of Joy (no idea what this is)
Mickey’s Not-so-scary Halloween Party
Twilight Zone Towner of Terror 10-Miler Weekend
Epcot International Food and Wine Festival
MouseAdventure World Explorers
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic
Festival of the Masters
Wine and Dine Half Marathon
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
Old Spice Classic
Vacation Club Annual Meeting
Disney’s Princess Half Marathon
Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend
Expedition Everest Challenge

Disney isn’t just waiting for folks to come. In spite of their insane popularity and ticket-sale dominance, Disney is packing their calendar full of events to draw folks to the parks in droves. I didn’t even mention the huge draws like the ESPN Weekend, and the Star Wars event every May and the Flower and Garden Festival in May also. There really are dozens of events. Many of them geared toward folks who wouldn’t automatically go to the parks.

I think this is awesome, and today, I’d like to briefly recommend one of those events. In fact, my favorite of the events. Favorite enough that I go out of my way to visit during this time of year.

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

First off… The time of year. It takes place in October every year, during what is generally one of the slower periods in the parks because it’s October so everyone is in school, and it’s too hot for skiing and too cold for swimming, so people just don’t think “Vacation” during this time. That’s a plus, because even though Florida doesn’t have seasons, really, it’s often just a very lovely, mild temperature to deal with. Even a little cool at times.

Epcot is my favorite park, because they can at times try some different stuff. They’re not bound to the “Character” structure that Magic Kingdom is, or the Hollywood theme that Disney Studios has, or even the lack of space that Animal Kingdom deals with. Epcot is large, spacious, and can do whatever they want. The theme is loose.

The International Food and Wine Festival is basically a huge excuse to take advantage of the World Showcase structure (as well as the physical World Showcase) to bring the food and spirits of dozens of countries NOT represented at The World Showcase to the masses. It’s a perfect venue for extra entertainment. It’s got an ever-changing lineup of countries represented, so it never gets old. Each country serves several dishes from their native land, and there’s a nice mix between tried-and-true (France, for example, has a chocolate type thing) and perhaps more foreign (France also has escargot).

Another great thing about it is that if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, you can use your “Snack” credits for the different dishes. The last time the Tofu Muchacha and I were there on the Dining Plan, we made a conscious effort to save up our snack credits and we used them all in one afternoon. We ended up having a very good, very eclectic meal. The only thing not covered on the Dining Plan is the wine and spirits, of which there are plenty, and of which we sampled a few.

I’m not a wine drinker by any stretch of the word, but I’m told the selection is very interesting and pretty good.

I also like that the event brings a little bit of a livelier crowd to the parks than does the normal day to day. I’m not saying I love rowdy people. In fact, I hate crowds, but I can say that when you’ve spent most of the day or week wading through a sea of strollers and children and whatnot, the slightly more adult crowd is a welcome change. The lesser of evils, if you will.

Anyway, if you get a chance, I highly recommend checking out The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival or really any of the showcase festivals or evens they hold throughout the year. The Star Wars and ESPN Weekends are both hugely popular. The various organized running events grow in popularity each year. The Flower and Garden Festival is one of the most visually striking (especially if you like topiary).
It’s just so nice to see a company like Disney, a company that has it all, aiming even higher on a daily basis. It is, more than anything else, what gives me hope that Disney Parks will endure for another six decades.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Beefy Muchacho, Disney Navigator

I hold myself out to be a pretty experienced visitor to Walt Disney World. There are plenty of folks who’ve gone more times than I have, but from what I’ve come to believe through talking with them is that almost all people have a “route” they’ve been using for years, and they rarely stray. They may incorporate a new ride when one opens, but for the most part it’s “We start with Tomorrowland and…” or “I always go to Splash Mountain after…”

I’ve never really stuck to a single method. I’ve tried a dozen different routes; a dozen different ride itineraries. I’d like to think, even, that I’m a low-grade “expert”.

In conjunction with that, I’ve been working on creating trip itineraries for family and friends for about five years.

It is a dream of mine to monetize this skill to enough of a degree that it can be my job. I’d love to have a name plate that reads “Beefy Muchacho, Disney Trip Planner”.

It started small. My friend Bridget and her then boyfriend (now husband) Phil decided to go to Disney for 2 days in May of 2007. Bridget knew I loved Disney, and she’d either never been or hadn’t been in years (I don’t remember), so I basically drew a map of a couple of the parks on a napkin and drew arrows for my recommended “general” route. I also recommended which parks to hit when, and which rides to target. That was pretty much it.

A few months after that, a co-worker friend of mine planned to go for a couple of days, and he asked me for some tips, after hearing from Bridget that I’d helped her out. Again, my “plan” basically comprised of a map with arrows. This time, I typed up a 1 page kind of summary thing to accompany…

At this point, though, I was starting to want to do more with it. Take more time. Really spend time thinking about it from an academic perspective, rather than just my own experiences.

Over the next year or so, I did three more plans. These were all for first time visitors, and with different criteria. One was an adult couple with no kids, and without much of a budget per se. One for a young family with a 6 year old girl, and on a tight budget. One was for a mom and 10 year old daughter. All were going for full vacations where they’d have a chance to take on each park for at least one day.

My trip plans were getting more and more in depth. I started writing detailed analysis for each park; breaking down the exact route I recommended for maximum riding and minimum waiting. Keeping in mind things like “The 6-year old will probably care far more about Dumbo and meeting Goofy than the adult couple”. I wrote out reviews of restaurants and shows. I editorialized more and more. I had more fun with it. I even included things like “Fun Disney Facts and Trivia” that corresponded with where the people were on the plan.

I never accepted payment for these plans, even though it was always offered. I usually just ask for a pin or two in exchange. Asking for Captain Hook pins or Expedition Everest pins. Nowadays, I’m kind of on an Orange Bird kick.

I got a lot of kind words about these plans, and some people talked about how effective they were, and that was great. I was happy that I could help people find Disney less stressful and more awesome.

I even made sure to make note of certain things on each of my last few visits. Of course, I spent all that time thinking about it, and suddenly the “planning” well ran dry. Many of my friends are Disney veterans who either don’t need advice, or at least think they don’t. I didn’t see many others going for the first time. I didn’t really do a plan for quite a while, though I admit to thinking often about how better to home in on exactly the plan a group needs, and not just the plan I want to provide.

Then recently, I got a random e-mail from a friend who’d spent an evening sitting next to my Dad and Step-mom at a wedding. They mentioned that they were heading to Disney soon, and after some pimping from The Beefy Padre, they sent me an e-mail asking me for some tips.

They presented my biggest challenge yet, because they’re Disney Vets. She estimated they’d gone over five times, and she made a point of saying that they were very familiar with the basics, but wanted to know some more advanced tips to better enjoy their Disney experience.

I was pretty excited about putting this one together, because I could assume they knew the basics. I also had an opportunity to test out some new things I’d been thinking over. I was really able to challenge myself to come up with tips and tricks that would be interesting to a person who’d experienced “It’s Tough to be a Bug” a dozen times already. I got to be a little more esoteric. I got to take a few extra liberties.

My favorite tip? Visit Jungle Cruise after dark. I don’t know why, but it’s a whole different ride experience.

I got a few texts over the course of their trip, saying that they enjoyed their time, and thanking me. I can’t wait to really break it down with them and find out what worked, what didn’t, and what they’d like in a really good Disney plan.

Meanwhile, I seem to be experiencing a sort of Trip Plan Renaissance, too, as I have just recently written a basic plan (as basic as 5000 words can be) for a first time family who will be arriving at Disney on Saturday, and I have an Uncle/Niece tandem heading down in a month, and I’m working on one for them, too.

It’s shaping up to be an exciting Summer for my development as a Disney World expert.

So anyway… All of this is sort of preface to this thought that there’s gotta be a way to do more with it.

So far, the best website I’ve seen that does plans is . They charge about 15 dollars a year to subscribe to their insider information, and they have a computer program that takes a set amount of criteria (primarily historical crowd data and ride wait times.), combines it with your answers to some targeted questions (what is your walking speed? Would you rather wait less or walk less? What rides do you want to ride?) and it spits out an itinerary.

It’s pretty cool, and certainly on the right track, but I can’t help but feel that they’re just skimming the surface.

One of the great things about Disney and Disney World is that they are primarily concerned with customer experience. Customer experience is what sets Disney apart. That warm, fuzzy feeling that not only do they care about making money (as all companies do, and good for them!), but they care about creating fans for life.

The touring plans website is extremely helpful for FACTS. The compilation of historical data to come up with estimated crowd volumes for certain dates. Their itineraries are very interesting, and certainly sound to some degree, but they’re also fairly general.

My dream is to come up with a formula that is 10 times more detailed. I can think of a million questions that would help refine a perfect Disney trip plan… Aside from the basics (Dates, party demographics) other factors could be:

- Are you ride people, show people, or a mix?
- Do you have park hoppers?
- Are you staying on or off property?
- What is your walking speed?
- Would you rather wait less or walk less?
- On a 1-10 scale, how much interest do you have in: Parades? Shows? Meeting Characters? Taking photos?
- Are you on the Disney Dining Plan?
- Is anyone prone to motion sickness?
- Is anyone afraid of a particular type of ride? If so, what kind?
- Does anyone in the party require extra time getting on or off rides?
- How many times has your MOST EXPERIENCED Disney visitor been to Disney?

These are just off the top of my head!!!!

Can you imagine a Disney plan that takes all of these factors into consideration?

So I guess… All of this blogging today is a long way to ask you 2 questions:

Is there a demand for a real, personalized Disney trip planner?

If I make it a business, could I write off my own trips?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Back to Basics

A new era at Disney may have started last Monday, and few people are aware of it. I didn’t even really read much about it until the day before, and knowing how much time I have to read about just about everything, it’s safe to say this was a stealthy shift in power.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Rich Ross was named Chairman of Walt Disney Studios in 2009 and even though he was at the helm for huge hits like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Alice in Wonderland, and Toy Story 3 (3 of the 11 highest grossing movies of all time), he was also largely responsible for the crazy spending (and disappointing returns) on movies like John Carter and Mars Needs Moms, both of which lost over 100 million dollars, and let’s be honest… were hugely damaging to the company’s reputation as a developer of top tier movies.

Primarily due to the failings of these two movies, and his silly attempt to pawn the issues of John Carter off on Pixar, Ross resigned in April.

This is a good thing.

I’m not saying that he did all bad. He was with the company in one way or another for a long time, and he helmed some important projects. It was just time for him to go. John Carter, especially, didn’t have to be the failure that it was, but the over-spending and poor marketing plan were crushing.

Until this past weekend, I’d not heard much in the way of rumors about who would replace Ross.

To be sure, this is a HUGE job. Let’s talk about what all it entails these days…

The Chairman is charged with overseeing:
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Animation Studios
Pixar Animation Studios
DIsneyToon Studios
Touchstone Pictures
Hollywood Pictures
Disney Music Group
Disney Theatrical Group
Disney Distribution
Disney Studio Services (This is a lot of stuff0

This also includes the new Marvel movies.

I mean… this is a ridiculously big job, handling dozens of subsidiaries, and thousands of employees. Rich Ross wasn’t that great at it, it appears.

When I read that Alan Horn was tapped to replace Ross, I got excited. I don’t know a lot about the inner workings of the Hollywood studio system, but I knew of Horn, at least a little.

Alan Horn was one of the founders of Castle Rock Entertainment. He also was most recently President of Warner Brothers. During his tenure there, he oversaw the release of the new Batman films as well as ALL of the Harry Potter franchise movies. It’s hard to argue with that sort of cohesion of process.

This was, at the outset, all I knew about Horn, and I was still pretty happy about it. Then I started to read the press info about the guy…

Some quotes:
“It’s like James Dolan hiring Phil Jackson to coach the Knicks. You feel like Disney is back in the game.” – a veteran Hollywood agent.
“A great choice, he's an executive that ran a big studio for years with a lot of success. He knows movies and he knows the business." – Jerry Bruckheimer

I like these quotes.

I also like that from everything I’ve read, it appears that Disney is refocusing on making movies. This sounds like a weird thing to say about what is a movie studio, but the thing is… in recent years, with Bob Iger running the show, the Disney focus has been on other parts of the brand. The parks. The cruise line. The merchandising. The television divisions (the very successful ABC and ESPN are both Disney properties). I’m not saying that Iger has done a bad job, because I think for the most part he has been successful. It’s just that he’s sort of marginalized the movie part of things, and thus alienated a lot of the front-line movie talent.

Now.. this is all speculation, but let’s take the epic failure that was John Carter. This was a 250 million dollar movie that featured a near-complete unknown in just about every scene. I’m not saying that Taylor Kitsch was bad, because he wasn’t the problem with that movie (or with other, non-Disney, failure Battleship), but tell me… if you’d seen the exact same campaign advertising the film, but instead of a no-name TV actor playing the lead role, you had a proven movie action movie leading man like, I dunno… Chris Pine, or Chris Evans, or Chris Hemsworth, or Christian Bale (literally any Chris, really). Wouldn’t you have thought twice before passing up on seeing it? Who knows.

Anyway, there’s a lot of speculation that Disney’s recent de-emphasis in the movie business has steered top name people away, and thus we have Taylor Kitsch instead of one of the many successful Chris actors I mentioned.

The actual Walt Disney was a man of many interests. He spent time focusing on animation, movies, television, theme parks, and you know… trains. The thing that Walt never forgot, though, was that the movie business can be the bread-winner when done right.

The thing that seems to have been forgotten is that the movies feed every other facet.

Create a new, iconic, animated film and suddenly you have new merchandise. New theme park tie-ins. New everything. A really popular movie is the gift that keeps on giving. Just look at the Harry Potter franchise. Those movies single-handedly saved Universal Studios by giving them That Magical World of Harry Potter, or whatever the hell those people are calling that thing we try not to acknowledge, but is clearly very popular.

Alan Horn brings that clout and respect to Disney, perhaps for the first time since the heyday height of Jeffrey Katzenberg. I can’t help but feel that this is the direction and the momentum that will bring Disney to new heights.

I don’t say this without reservations. Horn is 69 years old, and essentially chose Disney over retirement. It’s hard to imagine he’s got more than a hand full of years that he’ll WANT to give. I would never say a man can’t do something because he’s old, but I can certainly speculate as to the degree to which he’ll want to do it for a long time.

Five years is not a long time in the movie business. Look how long certain movies develop. It’s very possible that Horn won’t be in the working mood long enough to really build much of a pipeline, and with Iger leaving in 2015, it’s possible that five years is optimistic. Whoever replaces Iger will want his own people in places of power.

Alan Horn is beloved and well respected. He’s got a fighter’s chance to really make some hay. Maybe the best thing to realistically hope for is that Horn gets the ball rolling, and Iger sets up his and Horn’s successors to keep on running with it.

I’m not sure what it all means, but it’s worth watching, and I have very high hopes that Disney has made a choice that will ring in another golden age. My fingers are crossed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Snow White's Scary Adventures Says Goodbye

By now any Disney blog / news reader is aware that one of the original Magic Kingdom attractions permanently closed as of last week.

Snow White’s Scary Adventures, one of the oldest “dark rides” in the Disney Universe, closed its mine cars for the last time, and shut down for good, and… you know… there’s a good bit of outrage. I figure I may as well weigh in on my thoughts on the ride that once was, the ride that will eventually replace it, and the nature of closing favorite rides.

Maybe it’s blasphemy, but I was never a particular fan of Snow White’s Scary Adventures. It was a good dark ride, but not in the same league as Pirates, or Haunted Mansion, or Peter Pan. It certainly never had the same sort of niche thing going like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (and his visit to Hell). In fact, I rode it a half-dozen times in my life (not even once per trip), and I have a hard time picturing anything particularly memorable about it.

Sure, when a fellow blogger points out favorite things about it, I remember those things, and sometimes, I even remember them fondly, but still, I would have never ranked it higher than 4th best attraction at Fantasyland at any point during my Disney fandom. (Pan, Philharmagic, Pooh). Really, I only preferred it over It’s a Small World in practice. I’d be a lot more upset if Small World closed, even if I can barely tolerate a single loop around that insane river.

Note: I shudder to think of the outrage that would accompany any closing of It’s a Small World. That would not go well for anyone. Nothing short of needing to clear room to build a big machine that would successfully resurrect Walt himself would soothe the rage of Disneydom.

I certainly understand the nostalgic aspect Snow White held for many people. On a lot of blogs, the comments are dominated by the point that Fantasyland should have a ride representing the movie that got it all started. Of course, I rarely hear anyone clamoring for Mickey’s Steamboat Adventure or something like that, but you know… Fans. Because it was there for so long, people have these lasting, often life-long memories of riding Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and some of them even identify that ride with their entire perspective on the Disney experience. I can understand that. If The Great Movie Ride ever closed (and let’s be honest… it probably should at the very least be updated some day), I’d be extremely sad. It may not be that great a ride at this point, but I think that’s the standout experience of my first trip to Disney.

Also, if I’m being totally fair, the crazies who are upset about Snow White’s closing are not nearly as crazy as the crazies who were upset about Mr. Toad when it closed in 1998 (there were barely ANY t-shirts made this time around), or the folks who were up-in-arms about Disney removing Figment from Journey into Imagination. The protests here are relatively staid, and polite.

The thing is…

It’s not a good enough ride on its own merits for me to be sad it’s going for that reason (Like I would be with something like Pirates). It’s not an iconic enough ride to be upset about it going away (like I would be about Small World). While it does honor one of the single-most important films ever made, and certainly among the two or three most important to Disney’s history… It’s being replaced by another ride based on the same movie. So really, I don’t see the problem.

I’ve heard a lot of folks express concern that the planned “Mine Car Coaster” won’t be a good replacement. That it seems too likely to be a Goofy’s Barnstormer knock-off, or that it will be too short, or that it’ll be like a watered-down Big Thunder Mountain. This whole attitude just strikes me as defeatist. I haven’t been paying attention to this kind of thing for all that long, but I wonder if this kind of negativity is a new feature of Disney fans, or if there’s been an increase in negativity based on a reduction of trust.

People are quick to point out how poor some of the newer attractions have been in the past few years. They don’t like the Laugh Floor, or they hate Primeval Whirl, or you know… It could end up being as bad as Stitch’s Great Escape. These same people seem pretty quick to forget epically boring rides like The Astro Orbiter, that’ve been there forever. Just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s good. On the other hand, I rarely hear a complaint about Soarin’ or Mickey’s Philharmagic or Expedition Everest.

I just wish people would give things a chance. Trust in the company that has given us all so many happy memories for so many years. I’m sure that when the marketing and press for Soarin’ came out, people were skeptical. “Sounds like Star Tours” “I don’t get it.” “What a waste of a huge area.” Turns out that Soarin’ is among the best rides in all of WDW.

I’ve said it many times before, but Walt Disney himself wasn’t a man driven my sentimentality. Sure, he had things that were important to him, and things that were important to honor, but Walt wasn’t just a man who wouldn’t stand in the way of progress. Walt was the man driving the bulldozer.

The Fantasyland expansion is the biggest alteration to The Magic Kingdom since the park opened 41 years ago. There are bound to be some epic failures, but more importantly, there are bound to be some amazing triumphs, and how cool will it be to create new memories?

What if The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (that’s what they’re calling it) is awesome? What if it becomes your kid’s favorite ride, when they may not have given Snow White’s Scary Adventures the time of day? Disney World was created for you and me, but also for every future guest. I’m okay with letting progress give way. (Incidentally, the ride sounds pretty cool to me… There’s something about independently swinging cars that react to every twist and turn of the track.)

I say give it a chance? It’s certainly better than various princess meet-and-greets, which was the original plan for that area.
Of course, I was just thinking about how badly I wanted another Belle autograph.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The First Annual Pixar Showdown

As part of the “Great Movie Tournament” that I’m working on over at The Main Muchacho Blog , I had an exchange with my friend the Brawny Hombre regarding the relative merits of the various Pixar movies. It is his contention that ‘UP’ is an inferior film to Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles (at the very least) and is, aside from the outstanding opening sequence, a weaker entry into the Pixar Pantheon.

This struck me as a patently insane, but I’ll also grant that I’ve never really sat down and thought about them all that much as a group. Individually, sure, but not comparing them to one another.
So… that’s what I’m fixin’ to do.

As with just about all of my lists and rankings and tournaments, my reasoning is my own only and isn’t all that scientific. That’s just how it goes. Feel free to totally disagree with me in the comments. I love that kind of stuff. Oh, and obviously I’ll have to re-evaluate the entire list once Brave comes out in a month.
Starting at the bottom…

Cars 2 I didn’t see it. I had no interest in seeing it. Despite the popularity of the first one, it’s probably my least favorite of the Pixar films I’ve seen, and by all accounts, this sequel is by far the weakest of any Pixar release to date. To provide just a tiny amount of backup for my opinion, Rotten Tomatoes has it rated at 38% Rotten. This means that of ALLLLLL the reviews they consider (198 reviews), only 38% of them could be counted as positive. To be honest, this is kind of embarrassing, but I’ll allow one dud here or there when the AVERAGE rating among all the other Non-Cars Pixar movies was 97% Fresh. That’s 10 movies. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that the poorly reviewed sequel to my previously least favorite Pixar movie is my lowest rated, even without seeing it.

Cars There are a lot of good things about this movie. The legendary Paul Newman gives a fantastic voice performance. The art direction is really fun, and interesting too. I love the world they created where everything is car-related.
It’s really striking. There are a ton of little details like that throughout the movie, and if the plot and other voice actors had matched up to the artistry, I think it could have easily been listed higher. It’s essentially Pixar’s version of a classic sports movie. Or even, maybe more accurately, Pixar’s version of Kickboxer. The cocky prodigy who only cares about himself is embarrassed or exiled and learns to care about other people, and maybe finds love. It’s all very familiar. And mostly kinda boring. Also, and I know this is piling on a bit, Larry the Cable Guy voices the rusty tow truck, and well… it’s about as dumb as you’d expect it to be.

Ratatouille Alright, calm down! After getting the two sub-par Cars flicks out of the way early, I’m faced with the challenge of ranking ten movies that I love. It’s like trying to choose among your kids. Except I sometimes think I’d be the kind of parent to definitely have a favorite kid, so maybe this is even tougher. Ratatouille is a fantastic movie. The animation is incredible. The visuals are excellent. The premise is very clever. The characters are all memorable. If I’m going to nitpick, I’d say that the focus of conflict is just a tad bit too divided between the main characters (Remy the Rat and Linguini). I also think that the villain’s objective (to create microwave dinners…or something) is a little silly, even as far as Disney Villain Objectives go. Aside from that, I love the payoff with the food critic (Voiced by Peter O’Toole) and his love of a simple ratatouille. It’s really a touching, and elegant little movie. It’s just that I love the rest of these movies just a littttttle bit more.
It’s almost like… If I have these ten films on DVD and I had to choose the order in which I’d watch. That’s sort of what this list is… Except in reverse order from least likely to most.

Toy Story 2 It’s a beloved film, and rightly so, but to me, it falls just slightly below its brothers. I love the addition of Kelsey Grammar as “Stinky Pete”, and of course, we get the more permanent additions of Bullseye and Jessie. It’s hard to argue against it, so I won’t try.

My only comment is that as I was going through this list, I could readily tell you the plot of each and every one of the movies, but for whatever reason I had a hard time telling you the exact ins and outs for the plot of Toy Story 2. This has to say something right? I actually had to look on Wikipedia to remind myself of certain details.. Like… it being the owner of Al’s Toy Barn who steals Woody, and how Stinky Pete wants to go to Japan. Those seem like major plot points that I wouldn’t have been able to point out without cheating.

I dunno, but this seems significant to me. Despite the great, deep characters, and despite the amazing animation and dialogue… I can’t remember major plot points. Something about it doesn’t stick with me.

Wall-E Okay… wow. I know for sure that I’m gonna hear about this one, but just remember.. at this point it’s levels of love, not levels of dislike. I’m gonna have to be a little nitpicky.

There are so many great things about Wall-E. The utterly amazingly detailed post-apocalyptic world where we meet Wall-E. The nearly wordless opening 30 minutes where you’re just transfixed. The beautiful, simple (and yet totally compelling) love story between two robots. The great details about the ship, and the less than subtle nods to H.A.L. with OTTO. There are really only two things that deduct points for me…

First… I don’t really like ‘Hello Dolly’, so the “It Only Takes a Moment” repetition is tough to take. Seems like they could have chosen a different movie musical from which to pull the love theme. (I told you I was being nitpicky)

Second… While I totally agree with the message of the film about conservation, and about living an active lifestyle, I do feel like it’s a little tiny bit heavy-handed in execution.

Points are awarded for the phenomenal closing credits sequence where the Earth is re-built and re-planted. Fantastic.

Toy Story It’s the movie that started it all with Pixar, and it’s really a fantastic film. I love Tom Hanks. I love Tim Allen (in this movie at least). The animation is clever. All of the physics-related or toy related details they give the toys, like when Woody is a rag-doll versus when he’s “alive” or how the Green Army Men all have those flat plastic discs where their feet are… those are great little details. Randy Newman gives us one of the great Disney songs ever, in “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.

Maybe, most importantly, Toy Story introduced us to a very specific and very beloved world and paved the way for all of the phenomenal adventures to come.

My only issue with it is that the scale seems fairly small. TS 2 takes you to airports and toy stores and planes and all kinds of places. TS 3 takes you to multiple homes, a day care center, an absolutely TERRIFYING trash dump. The first movie just feels small in comparison. That’s all I have in terms of complaints. Weak argument, right? I mean come on! It’s a fantastic movie. I’m not going to pretend it’s bad just because there are other ones I prefer.

Monsters Inc. I’m not gonna lie. I love this movie. I was reminded of this just the other day when I watched the first half-hour of it kind of randomly at the Tofu Muchacha’s sister’s house.
It’s awesome, and hilarious, and awesome. The door sequence is excellent. The stuff with the abominable snowman is awesome. Randall is a truly evil villain. The Pun-derful texture they give Monsteropolis overall is so fun, and so detailed that it certainly merits enough rich material to bring on the sequel “Monster University” coming in a couple of years. I can’t wait. I predict a film closer in quality to Toy Story 2 than Cars 2. No question.

Billy Crystal and John Goodman are both excellent also, and work so, so well together. Heck… they even managed to find something for the long lost Jennifer Tilly to do. It’s hard to argue against Monster’s Inc…

Here’s my attempt in 2 points.

First… Boo is gone for a really long time, and there’s absolutely no mention of her parents. You have to feel pretty bad for these poor people whose daughter disappears from her bedroom in the middle of the night and is gone for 24 hours or so. I sometimes get distracted by the logistics of what would have happened had Boo been a real person and really went missing. I’m almost certain Nancy Grace would have been involved.

Second… The final solution (no… not that one) is a little twee…” Laughter is 100 times more powerful than screams. “ I get that we’re talking about a children’s movie, so it makes sense in context, but It’s a tad corny for my taste.

Here’s where we get deep into the nitty gritty of Pixar Movie Rankings. My Top 5

5) The Incredibles The Incredibles features my favorite villain (Syndrome). My favorite premise (super heroes coming out of retirement to save the world). My favorite genre (super heroes again), and some of the most unforgettable scenes in all of Disney filmdom, and probably my favorite dialogue:

Example A: Frozone – “Honeeyyyy…. Where’s my super suit?”
Mrs. Frozone
“Why do you NEED to know?”

– “
You tell me where my suit is, woman! We are talking about the greater good!”

Example B:
Edna: It will be bold! Dramatic! Bob: Yeah! Edna: Heroic! Bob: Yeah. Something classic, like, like Dynaguy. Oh, he had a great look! Oh, the cape and the boots...
: No capes! Bob: Isn't that my decision?
: Do you remember Thunderhead? Tall, storm powers? Nice man, good with kids.
: Listen, E... Edna: November 15th of '58! All was well, another day saved, when... his cape snagged on a missile fin!
: Thunderhead was not the brightest bulb...
: Stratogale! April 23rd, '57! Cape caught in a jet turbine! Bob: E, you can't generalize about these things...
: Metaman, express elevator! Dynaguy, snagged on takeoff! Splashdown, sucked into a vortex! No capes!
Yeah… it’s all really good, actually. I thought about just giving you like 500 Incredibles quotes, but I figured that would be dumb. It’s fun, and clever, and maybe best of all… It gave me an idea for a play about super villain henchmen that never really got off the ground, but now that I’m thinking about it, I should re-visit.

Also… Syndrome is a great villain and Jason Lee does a really nice job voicing him.

Good stuff. The only reason it doesn’t rank higher is that it lacks a certain emotional impact that the others seem to do better.

Speaking of…

4) Up You want to talk about emotional impact? The first 10 minutes of this movie arguably comprise the most emotional, gut wrenching, knee-bucklingly emotional opening to a movie… maybe ever.

The Brawny Hombre contends that it’s all downhill from there, but I love super-cranky old codgers, so Carl Fredricksen is especially entertaining for me. I also think that the thing that differentiates this one from say… Toy Story is that while Toy Story remains fairly small scale, this film intentionally creates a broad and varied world spanning thousands of miles and environments. The scenery is so pretty to look at too.

On top of that, you have one of the most hilarious yet dangerous villains in Disney history with Charles Muntz and his hoard of hyper-intelligent dogs (except for Dug, who happens to be fantastic). I tell you… hearing Alpha talking in that crazy high voice throughout a lot of the movie… that makes me laugh every. Single. Time. Priceless.
I mentioned something about how Muntz is both funny and dangerous. In my opinion, it should be the goal of every writer to create villains with the highest combined dynamic of “Funny” and “Dangerous”… at least in the Disney world. The best examples of great Disney villains (Captain Hook, Ursula) are the ones who are fun and funny, and yet you believe the mean to do real damage. Muntz is that kind of menacing.

But you know… ultimately, even though I love the whole movie, and the bit at the end where Carl gives Russell his grape soda badge makes me cry like a tiny baby… The true grace of this movie lies in that opening sequence which is so beautifully written and executed that there’s really nothing bad that can be said. Here are some quotes from notoriously tough movie critics:

David Denby, The New Yorker: “
The marital sequence is one of the most moving animated episodes ever made. It’s like looking through a family photo album and knowing that every picture represents a crucial moment of experience.”

Tom Long, Detroit News: “This graceful, visually eloquent and emotionally rich sequence may be the best few minutes of film you'll ever see.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “Those first scenes function as both a prologue and a life story compacted into 10 breathtakingly beautiful minutes - it's a Pixar short, really, and possibly the best the company has ever done.”

These guys pan pretty much everything they can (as do most movie critics), and each of the three were completely taken aback by this opening sequence. Hard to argue.
I think, though, what I love the most about this movie is the late-life arc of Carl. Seeing him go from emotionally shut-down, to joyfully childlike, to lovingly paternal, to at peace… It’s a lovely journey.

3. A Bug’s Life As opposed to Up, which gets me by being really emotionally impactful, A Bug’s Life gets me for perhaps the opposite reason… It barely takes a single moment really seriously, and it’s so light-hearted and fun.. it’s definitely the first Pixar movie I’d choose if I just need a ton of laughs.

Highlighting the humor are the dozen or so great performances. Dave Foley as Flick, Julia Louis Dreyfuss as Atta, Phyllis Diller as the queen, Richard Kind as Molt, David Hyde Pierce as Slim, Joe Ranft as Hemlich, Dennis Leary… It just keeps going and going and going. The voice talent may be the greatest ever assembled just for sheer comic clout.

I love the fantastic “Bug World” versions of things we have in the real world. Other movies do this, especially in the Pixar universe (Monsters Inc is the biggest example), but none do it better, or more cleverly than A Bug’s Life. (The “Big City” is a heap of trash under a trailer, which if you think about it really would be the big city for a tiny bug from the country. ) I love the riffs on “life as a bug” which… you know… makes sense since the movie is called “A Bug’s Life”. My favorite one is the joke about the bug zapper…
Bug 1: “Harry, No! Don’t look at the light!

Bug 2: “I can’t help it… it’s so beautiful”….ZAP!!!

Oh man… I’m laughing right now.

Maybe the best thing about the movie, though, is Kevin Spacey’s performance as Hopper, the scariest villain in Pixar’s history. He’s so evil and nefarious, he requires a hoard of super dumb, cartoonish henchmen to lessen his “Evil Quotient”. I mean… Hopper is a total monster. And I LOVE it.
Actually, it’s very possible that my love for this movie is enhanced by my love for “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” at Disney’s Animal Kindom, where the moment where Hopper pops up in a burst of smoke and terror, and the children in the crown invariably start crying. Wow do I love that. I know it’s a sick kind of thing to admit, but it’s so counter-Disney in a way… He’s so scary and mean. It’s awesome, and unexpected.

The writing is funny. The visuals are beautiful. The performances are perfect… It’s just a truly wonderful movie, full of fancy and so light-hearted. Yet, paradoxically, it features the scariest villain in the whole discussion, and it all manages to work in concert to create a fantastic movie.

2) Toy Story 3 The Brawny Hombre and I were debating whether Toy Story 3 or Memento should fill the last spot in our Best Movie Tournament. He was leaning toward Memento (ultimately the choice was his, as we alternated picks), and he asked me to make the case for Toy Story 3. Here’s what I said:

Sequels are never “necessary” per se, but in this case, I do feel that it’s the strongest of the 3 Toy Story films, and partly because it found the absolute perfect balance of allowing the audience to bank all of that built up love and nostalgia for the characters while providing them still plausible stakes. The ending provides a payoff that was 3 films in the making, and the fans who grew up with it found more emotional impact in that ending than maybe any movie ever.
Looking back at the relatively short paragraph, I’m pretty surprised at myself for being so brief. It turns out to be a pretty good point, though.

Really… There are basically two ways sequels go.

The majority capitalize on the familiarity the audience has with the characters to make self-referential jokes, rehash old storylines, or maybe just force a bunch of 2nd rate plotting and movie making on an audience who is basically captive by their collective fondness for the original. The Hangover 2 (and the coming 3rd movie… I mean… the luck these guys have) . All of the new Star Wars movies. The last Indiana Jones movie. The 2nd and 3rd Transformers movies. Pirates 2, 3, and 4 to increasing degrees. These are all movies with fantastic first installments, where the movie-makers all took advantage of every inch of good will and nice feelings people had, and kind of trashed them.

The other type of sequel takes the love people have for the original. For the characters and for the world it created, and deepen those connections through good story-telling. It’s possible that Toy Story 3 is the greatest example of this in animation history.

You could almost look at the first 2 fantastic installments as exposition. As glorious, rich background to contribute to the tapestry of the third. I’m sort of having a difficult time totally explaining this…

Basically, all of the things you know about the characters from the first two movies, and all of the love you have for them only accentuates the emotion as it builds throughout Toy Story 3.

When Lotso (a really excellent villain who is at times sympathetic, sad, tragic, evil, sociopathic, and occasionally all of those at once), tells Woody that he was never loved, the audience KNOWS this isn’t true, so it’s more gut wrenching when Woody has the same doubt.

In the end, I believe that Toy Story 3 could arguably be the greatest “Third” installment in any film series, with the possible exception of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, though that’s an interesting debate.

1)Finding Nemo
Perhaps a controversial top pick based on how incredibly popular the likes of Up and Wall-E and The Incredibles all are…

To me, Finding Nemo was the movie that most solidified Pixar’s place in my mind as being truly superior to all other animation production companies. Before that there were some entertaining movies that demonstrated some great story telling and great visuals, but it wasn’t until Finding Nemo that I felt like they were really doing something totally new, totally clever, and insanely watchable. I have 8 reasons it’s my favorite.

1… Finding Nemo is mind-blowingly beautiful. Maybe it’s an easy mark to set a movie with “realistic animation” in the great barrier reef (or you know… whatever similar Australian reef it’s set in). Maybe that’s what we call “Low hanging fruit”, but it’s also perfectly executed. Spectacularly executed. The initial reveal of the coral reef when the colors brighten and the big blue world opens up… It’s one of those “wow” moments.
2… The scope to Pixar movies to that point had been, for the most part, fairly small-scale. The Toy Storys primarily take place in regular sized rooms with tiny toys. A Bugs Life takes place almost entirely on a little tree island in the middle of a field. Monsters Inc was slightly larger, but still dealt with a neighborhood, or a factory, or even the side of a mountain.

And then Finding Nemo comes out and it starts off so small and unassumingly, but suddenly the boat shows up, takes Nemo away, and our characters are faced with the biggest environment possible. The Ocean. I love the possibilities for which this allows.
3… Casting Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres as the two primary voice actors was genius. They’re both so funny, and they play off of each other so well. I could watch Dory and Marlin speak develop their lovely, innocent friendship for like…ever. It’s just a wonderfully written relationship.

4… All of the extra characters and interactions are each spectacularly fun and funny. The three sharks (Bruce, Chum, and Anchor) having their “Meat eaters Meeting”. The school of shiny fish giving Dory directions to Sydney (Swim THROUGH it not OVER it). The awesome encounter with the Angler Fish. The little Boston accented crabs, and how can we forget the hilarious and slightly terrifying Seagulls.

5… The entirety of the dentist office. It’s just a hilarious and heartening “B” location. The wacky initiation rituals, Gill’s parallel disability to Nemo’s, the horrible menace that is DARLA! It’s so awesome.

6… It’s ends up being so emotional and moving, with Marlin finally trusting that Nemo can take care of himself even if just a little, and letting go. This act of faith saves the life of Dory, saves all of the fish in the trawler’s net, and improbably tips over the fishing boat. It sounds kind of silly, but it’s really a nice little climax for a movie without a true villain. It’s an Odyssian journey with episodic stumbling blocks and personal development, rather than a film with a single goal of defeating the bad guy.

7… The jarring beginning of the movie… I’m a total sucker for giving movies that are ostensibly meant for kids having dark or difficult scenes, and the death of Nemo’s mother (Marlin’s wife) at the very start of the film is pretty shocking, and pretty scary. I can imagine taking a 6 year old kid to see that, and watching their face just freeze in shock when that barracuda obliterates the nest. Amazing and gutsy choice.

8… It spawned my favorite Disney live show! At some point I’ll write a whole blog about the awesome “Finding Nemo: The Musical” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s so well done, and so catchy. The Tofu Muchacha have the soundtrack on CD and listen to it in the car regularly. It was written the same folks who created Avenue Q, and that sort of professionalism and polish show throughout the show with how clever, and polished it is.

So anyway… that’s my list. It’s probably not the same as your list, and that’s awesome. The coolest thing about Pixar, is that (with the possible exception of Cars 2), each of the movies could potentially make the argument for being number one. I even acknowledge that many of my reasons are nothing more than my fumbling articulations of a gut reaction when I wrote out the list. I knew only 2 things going in… Cars 2 was my least favorite, and Finding Nemo was my favorite.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stitch's Great Escape

This is far more fun than anyone has ever had on this ride.
I figure since I’m planning on writing about every ride and attraction at Disney that I will occasionally have to discuss something I don’t really like. There aren’t many of them around, but here and there Disney does create a dud.

Stitch’s Great Escape is indeed a dud.

The saddest thing about it, is that once upon a time, the ride was known as “ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter” and it was legitimately one of the scariest, most insane attractions Disney has ever created. The premise was that you were at an intergalactic space convention at the “Convention Center” and while watching a demonstration of some new teleportation technology, something goes horribly wrong and a bad, scary alien is teleported into the demo room. At different points the lights would go out, you’d feel it stalking you, breathing on you and generally menacing you.

It was actually really scary.

As it turns out, it was too scary for most kids, and the parents of these kids, who complained that their kids had nightmares and refused to ride other rides once they departed from Alien Encounter, because they were afraid something like that would happen on Buzz Lightyear or something.

Personally? I loved it. It was creative, and fun, and provided scares of the type I could get behind (the non-roller coaster variety).

Unfortunately, Disney bowed to the pressure and shut down the ride in late 2003, and not having a fully formed alternate plan (the same site had housed some of the classic early Tomorrowland attractions such as “Flight to the Moon” and “Mission to Mars”), so they hastily patched together a new ride.

Now, let me be totally clear. I don’t begrudge Disney closing down a ride that was largely unpopular with their number one fan demographic. As much as I’d like to think I’m a priority, I know that 10 year olds are far more important to keep happy.
Anyway, in 2004, the ride re-opened with the new, and incredibly popular Stitch from Lilo and Stitch as the main character. The general ride mechanics weren’t really adjusted much. The premise is that you were visiting a space prison instead of a convention, and the “teleportation tube” is now a “containment unit”. Instead of a terrifying alien creating breaking out of the teleportation tube, adorable and hilarious Stitch breaks out of the containment unit and wreaks all kinds of havoc. The lights still go out, you still feel him stalking around, and you can even feel his breath (and smell it too, as Disney has developed a truly disgusting scent that represents Stitch’s breath.)

It’s just… It’s not that good. It’s kinda boring, and anyone who liked the original attraction leaves disappointed that it isn’t as scary. The kids are still kind of scared (there was a kid who sat next to me and freaked right out when Stitch tries to lick your neck. As a result, it remains one of the least popular attractions at the park. Theme Park Insider has it rated as a 3 of 10, which is the lowest rated attraction or ride at Walt Disney World.
I wish Disney had taken the time funny conceptualize something else instead of slapping this revision together so hastily. It just reads as being a bit under-developed. The thing is… I believe it has potential.

Stitch is one of the funniest recent characters, and from what I’ve read/am told, he’s the 2nd most popular character at Disney World these days (after Mickey). There’s no reason this couldn’t be a really cool experience.

I’ve read that they’re working on making the ride better, and more Disney-level immersive, by adding some additional animation and voice work. I’m just not sure that it’ll ever really do much good. One of the biggest flaws in the attraction in that of the 8 minutes you spend in the main chamber, a full 3 of them are in complete darkness. You’re deprived of the cool animations and animatronics that Disney could be busting out.

The Stitch figure is really really cool, actually. When you do see him, that is. Too much of it involves Stitch menacing you from above (there’s a point where he presses down on your restraint that feels pretty claustrophobic, and was the point where the kids totally bailed. )

I just think they need to shut it down, think it through a little better, rewrite the script, and work on creating a more visual show. It even feels a bit shabby for Disney, which isn’t what I’d say about almost any other attraction in the whole dang place.

So, while I have nostalgic feelings about a lot of attractions, even the marginally bad ones like “El Rio del Tiempo” (I prefer not to call it The Gran Fiesta), I don’t have any real fond feelings for Stitch’s Great Escape. For me, it’s one of the only examples of Disney making a clear downgrade in quality due to public reaction catching them off-guard.

Coming up later this week, I will be posting my ranking from Worst to Best of all Pixar feature films. I’m looking forward to the outrage from my 3 readers about my number one choice.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Carousel of Progress

Muchacho’s Attraction Reviews is a recurring series for Beefy Disney where I discuss and break down the individual attractions at Walt Disney World. They’re usually an unfocused, rambling collection of impressions and memories.

As I learned more about Walt Disney, I began to realize just how fascinated he was with the future. He created Tomorrowland as an homage to that fascination, and one of the true centerpieces of Tomorrowland is an attraction called The Carousel of Progress.

The Carousel of Progress initially debuted, along with the vexing “It’s a Small World” at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. It was designed by WED Enterprises (now known as Imagineering) to represent the
progress of technology starting at the turn of the 20th Century. The attraction was popular enough that they brought it to Disneyland in 1967, and then moved it from there to Walt Disney World where it opened in 1975. The original song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”, written by the Sherman brothers, was replaced when it moved from DL to WDW, but was reinstated in 1994 in the great “redesign” of Tomorrowland. Initially, as with most attractions at the World’s Fair, the attraction had a sponsor. General Electric sponsored The Carousel of Progress from its inception to 1985 when they let the sponsorship lapse.

The attraction is a giant circular theatre with 6 scenes. Each scene is set on a center hub and the audience rotates around in front of each scene. It’s actually pretty incredible, because if you think about it… when the ride is at capacity, it’s moving about 1400 people at all times. (I’ve never seen it at capacity).

The first and last scene are basically the same, and are more of those "Time Killer" areas that help with loading and unloading. Each of the other scenes represent an era of technology where audio animatronic figures (primarily narrated by a middle aged man and his dog) talk about the amazing technology of the day, and always cap it with their opinion that technology has peaked and can’t get any better. This, of course, is the running joke of the piece, because the entire audience obviously knows that the Ice Box wasn’t the apex of food preservation technology.

I love this attraction.

It’s simple, and kind of silly, and definitely cheesy, but I don’t care. It's a wonderful peek into how, Walt Disney, one of the great visionaries in American history believed the future would be. He made a whole Tomorrowland where his fantasies of the future and the future of technology could come to life. It’s really a wonderful nostalgia piece, and one of my favorite diversions from the heat of Florida as I make my way through The Magic Kingdom.

Each scene focuses on a slice of life in a different era in America.

The first takes place on Valentine’s Day close to the start of the 20th Century (1904 based on references to the St. Louis World’s Fair). The years of each scene are never explicit, but there are always contextual clues. This one focuses on the current state of “modern” conveniences, in this case all pre-electric. This scene ends with “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” (all of them do), and the audience rotates to the next scene.

The second scene takes place around 1927 (Lindbergh’s flight) and the 4th of July. The third is Halloween time, and takes place in the 1940s, and the final scene is Christmas time around the year 2000. Featured in all of the scenes are various members of the man’s family. His wife, who’s usually the unwitting victim of the man’s ineptitude with technology (using an electric mixer to stir wall paper glue, blowing fuses by plugging too many things into one outlet, burning the Christmas turkey by accidentally setting the oven temperature too high). There’s a son who’s always getting into some sort of mischief (The biggest laugh in the show almost always is when you realize the kid is looking at a view finder with nudie pictures in the first scene), the daughter who’s perpetually embarrassed by her father, and Uncle Orville, who gets No Privacy At All.

It’s really a fun show, and lovely little slice into the nostalgia of the 1960s, and it offers such a bright and positive view of the progress of technology.

I love how the scope of it is so small. They really just care about the little home conveniences and technologies that make our daily lives better. ( I think that this was probably the influence of long-time sponsor General Electric.) It does make mention of larger scale achievements like Lindbergh’s flight, but for the most part it keeps the focus small and personal. I like that. It's the view of technology from the point of view of the common man.

Of course, my favorite thing about the show is the legendary song by the Sherman Brothers “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”.

It plays at the start and end of every scene. The lyrics are fairly simple, so it’s almost begging you to sing along by the end. For many years at Walt Disney World, there was another song in its place called “The Best Time of Your Life”. As I mentioned before, this song was in use from the move to WDW in 1975 until the “Redesign” in ’94, and I don’t remember it, but I can’t imagine why they’d ever want to use a song other than “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. It’s so lively, and full of joy.

There's a great big beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of ev'ryday
There's a great big beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow's just a dream away

Man has a dream and that's the start
He follows his dream with mind and heart
And when it becomes a reality
It's a dream come true for you and me

So there's a great big beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of ev'ryday
There's a great big beautiful tomorrow
Just a dream away


How can you not love a song with a sentiment like that? Sure a little cheesy, perhaps, but it fits wonderfully into the context of the show, and the idealism that accompanied it from its start at The World’s Fair, and has stuck with it up until today.
The show isn’t without its’ flaws. They were doing so well at the start by having a scene take place about every 20 years, but now they’ve got a 60 year jump from scene three to four. And of course, scene four, which is held out to be all about the best technology of today and the future, is painfully, horrifyingly outdated. Almost to the point of being laughable. They did change up a few small things (like adding a flat screen TV) a couple of years ago, but I think it’s time to re-imagine the final scene again. I’m kind of shocked that with the connection to Steve Jobs and Apple, there wasn’t a big overhaul of the last scene to feature all kinds of crazy Apple products.

That’s really my only complaint, though…

I highly recommend checking it out on a hot or rainy day, or if you have a day where you’re not clamoring to get onto ever single fancy ride in Fantasyland (The day will come soon where it’s even crazier than ever). You know… you should check it out anyway. It’s one of the last bastions of Walt’s vision of Disney World (along with The Tiki Room and a couple of others.) Just go. It’s fun.

There have been many rumors in recent years that Disney plans to shut down The Carousel of Progress. For a while after 9/11, when crowds were small, they closed it briefly, and then only re-opened it for seasonal service. This, of course, only exacerbated the rumors. I remember going in 2008, convinced it’d be the last time I’d ever get to ride. Of course.. 4 years later, she’s still going strong, and Disney says they have no plans to close her down. I hope they stick to that, because while it’s a little old fashioned, and certainly very corny, it’s a fabulous reminder of Walt Disney’s own imagination and ideals. It's pretty hard not to get behind that.