Sunday, September 30, 2007

Daily Figment 73 - Happy Birthday Epcot Center

Today, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Epcot Center.

Where were you 25 years ago?

I was a geeky twelve year-old living in Cincinnati. Andrew was eight (and also in Cincinnati).

At that time, visiting Disney World was nothing more than a dream. Andrew will often cite the Epcot Center opening broadcast with Danny Kaye as his first introduction to Disney and the concept of a theme park. For him, the iconic vision of Disney is Spaceship Earth.

The 21st Century's Here...

The following is a 7:38 clip celebrating Epcot's 25th birthday. It is a great pictorial remembrance.

Happy Birthday, Epcot Center!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Book Update!

How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life by Pat Williams came in last week.

More than a just a straight forward biography, it includes 15 Lessons so you can live life more like Walt Disney.

I'll post a review as soon as I get through the ten other books that I have waiting on my shelf!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Daily Figment 72 - Epcot Center History France

During World War I, patriotism was the word of the day.

Born in 1901, Walt Disney was too young to enlist in the war effort. He watched Roy leave to join the fight and dreamed of nothing else but being a part of it. Walt heard from a friend that the Red Cross was accepting drivers and that you only needed to be 17 (Armed Forces enlistment was 18). Apparently, Walt coerced his mother, Flora, into signing the document and forging her husband's signature. She notarized the certificate and then Walt changed the 1 to a 0 in his birth year. He enlisted on September 16th.

After four weeks of training in Chicago, Walt caught influenza and was sent home to recuperate. This was the great influenza epidemic that swept the United States and killed over 20 million people. He was sent to Connecticut for more training in November. During that period, an armistice was reached; Walt felt remorseful that he wouldn't be able to take part in the war. Shortly after that, 50 members of his platoon were shipped to France.

He spent the next ten months running errands, chauffeuring officials and sketching. He drew advertising posters for the canteen, caricatures of enlisted men and designs on the canvas of the ambulances. He even mailed editorial cartoons back to his high school and to friends. He looked back fondly at that time in his life. One of his favorite moments consisted of an afternoon spent with General Pershing's ten-year-old son, eating fried chicken, outside the birthplace of Joan of Arc, in Domremy. Walt spent most of his time stationed outside of Paris.

Later, in 1949, Walt spent time in England filming Treasure Island. During the five weeks he was there with his family, they visited France and Walt took them on a tour of many of the places he had served while in the Red Cross. He would later recall that the time spent in France was one of joy and sorrow.

They also crossed the border and spent some time in Switzerland. Of course, this trip predates Third Man on the Mountain, which deserves its own post entirely.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Daily Figment 71 - Epcot Center History Norway

Norway joined the World Showcase Pavilions in 1988. Each year, more people visit the Pavilion than actually live in Norway.

Sounds pretty good, right?


We interrupt our normal Pollyanna post to talk a little about politics.

The Pavilion was opened with great fanfare in 1988. Private groups paid 30 million dollars in development costs to open the area, which was actually about two-thirds of the total cost. In 1992, the investors were disappointed with the lack of sales and the fact that it was not apparent that the Pavilion was spurring travel to Norway. They sold their share of the attraction back to Disney. The Norwegian government stepped in and decided to spend $200,000 a year until the five year contract was up, to help keep the Pavilion going. they renewed the contract in 1997, but not in 2002.

As recently as 2003, a company located in Bergen, Norway has approached Disney to create a new film for Norway. They have the backing of the Norwegian Minister of Culture, but they still need to acquire some independent funding. This would also be the first time that an outside company would get to produce a film for the company.

One interesting note: the Pavilion receives about 4.5 million visitors a year, which is equal to the population of Norway.

And now, we return you to our regularly scheduled post.

On a recent trip to Epcot, Disney Geek Andrew had a chance to eat lunch at Akershus Royal Dining Hall. Overall, our party agreed that this particular dining experience was the best of our many sit down meals. The appetizers at many of the sit down restaurants were above par, however at Akershus it was off the map! The appetizer consisted of a self serve buffet of fresh fish as well as meats and fruits. The main course was enjoyable, and this Geek raves about the Traditional Kjottkaker.

The Princess storybook dining was fabulous and each Princess made their way to our table and talked to each kid present. For example, Ariel asked one of the boys in our party (dressed as a handsome Captain Hook) if he had seen Prince Eric while he was out sailing today. It was personal and interactive, but not in a Nintendo Wii sort of way. To wrap things up, we had a dessert sampler that had several options and every guest had a full tummy as we waddled off to the playground next to Germany for an adult beverage and a soft reset on the playground. We highly recommend you book WELL in advance for a sit down at Akershus.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Daily Figment 70 - Finish The Fight!

Too busy saving Humanity from the Prophet of Truth, er, the Flood.
This is how the world ends.
Finish the Fight!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Daily Figment 69 - Epcot Center History Morocco

Morocco is the most unique of the Epcot Center pavilions in several ways:
  • It is the sole pavilion that does not have a corporate sponsorship,

  • It has always carried sole sponsorship from the Moroccan government, and

  • The King of Morocco sent his personal craftsmen to Epcot to do the tile work before the pavilion was opened in 1984.
The artisans followed strict religious tenets while working on the Pavilion. They ensured that every mosaic created had at least one cracked or damaged tile included, due to the belief that only Allah could create something perfect. Depictions of living creatures were also excluded due to Allah's sole responsibility for creating life. The royal craftsmen are are also responsible for the paintings and carvings guests see throughout the pavilion.

Another distinguishing factor is Morocco's exclusion from the Illuminations celebration. Because of the religious significance of the two prayer towers, the Chellah and the Koutoubia, which are replicas of the ones in the towns of Marrakech and Rabat, Illuminations does not spotlight the pavilion, nor does the barge in the lagoon spell out the name.

It is also one of the few places in Walt Disney World where you can catch Aladdin, Jasmine, Jafar and the Genie.

The images on this post are from pp. 156-157 of the Gardens of the Walt Disney World Resort: A photographic tour of the themed gardens of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center and other resort areas. Copyright 1988 by the Walt Disney Company.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Daily Figment 68 - EPCOT Center History Mexico

The recent upgrade to the water attraction inside the Mexico Pavilion has prompted today's history lesson. The former attraction inside the Mesoamerican style pyramid was the boat ride El Rio de Tempo (1982 - 2007). The new boat ride is named The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros.

Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros hold an interesting place in the Walt Disney Studio history. Way back in the late 1930's / early 1940's, several union organizers tried to unionize the Disney Studios. Walt was against this, for many reasons, and saw this as the ultimate betrayal by many of his top artists. In his mind, it destroyed the idyllic studio that he had created. According to many of the artists, it never was the same.

During this same time, oil heir and magnate, Nelson Rockefeller helped to create the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. Basically, the Office served two purposes: goodwill trips and ambassadors were sent to South America for cultural study and exchange; and also so Rockefeller could keep an eye on foreign investments (oil and hotels), so to speak. Rockefeller had sent a lot of A-List stars and approached Walt Disney about a goodwill / research trip. Walt saw this as an ideal way to get away from the studios and union; and to gather material for more animated features. In addition, Walt saw this as an opportunity to expand into newer markets as many of the traditional distribution channels in Europe and Asia were disrupted by World War II.

Walt was given a $70,000 grant by the government for the goodwill tour, but he knew there would be long term fiscal rewards for befriending more children in South America. It was also a tactical ploy by FDR to try to remove Walt from the situation to lessen the stress of the animators' strike. While Walt, his wife and 16 key Disney animators were on the goodwill tour, Walt's wife, Lillian remarked that Walt was treated more like royalty than anything else. Children and grown-ups alike heralded the creator of Mickey Mouse (El Ratón Mickey). During the South American tour, the US Labor Department Conciliation Service was able to settle the strike, however several of the employees that were considered leaders of the strike were fired on Walt's return.

This was a tenuous time in American history as the Joint Fact Finding Commission on Un-American activities searched for suspected communists. Walt later suggested to the committee that some of the leaders of the strike be investigated. By the end of 1941, Walt was in full cooperation with the war effort and contracted to make 20 military-centric films for the US Navy. By the end of 1942, he had produced a huge volume of training and informational films for the Army, Navy, and other government agencies. Disney continued to produce 20+ military films a year through the end of WWII and was repeatedly recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures for his work.

From December 1941, until August of 1942, the US Army commandeered Walt's primary studio for the repair and construction of military vehicles. Shortly after the studio was released back to Walt, he released Saludos Amigos, the predecessor to The Three Caballeros. Although this is opinion, most believe the the latter work was better representative of the cultures the goodwill tour meant to include.

Walt Disney's Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow

Be Poll-ite!

Please help us out with one of the first expansions (albeit very small) to our and take a shot at the poll question on the right hand side of the page. We will periodically change poll topics and will post the results in a Daily Figment before we move on to a new poll. Our first poll is designed to spur some thoughts on the untapped movie properties that are certainly encumbering the minds of the Imagineers. Give it a shot and check back for results.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Book Update!

We've had another delivery to the house!

This has been one that I have been waiting for since 1995. I didn't buy it back then and the price has skyrocketed. I have seen new First Editions going for $500.00 on Ebay over the past few months.


So, I was thrilled when my wife was able to score a Second Edition (2000) of Disneyland the Nickel Tour: A Postcard Journey Through a Half Century of the Happiest Place on Earth.
This is the crowning jewel of my far! It is one of the rarest of Disney books--the second editions collect a pretty penny at the marketplace with some serious bidding wars.

I may have to have Andrew write a few more posts this week. I have some serious reading to do!

I know, it is a hard job, but someone has to do it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Daily Figment 67 - The Guest is Always Right!

When Disneyland first opened, we embarked on an ongoing learning process about our guests and how they respond to a story environment. For example, just after the park opened for business, we discovered that some guests had made a pathway through a flower bed. We were walking through the park one morning before opening when the gardeners came up to Walt and said, "We need a fence to keep the guests out of the flower bed." Walt told them, "No, we must pave this pathway. When guests make their own path, they probably have a damn good reason for doing it." From experiences such as these, we learned that our guests make the park's story environment their own.

-John Hench in Designing Disney, by John Hench with Peggy Van Pelt, page 30

It always seems that quotes from those who knew and worked with Walt treated the parks as Walt treated them. It is as if they were infected by his passion and enthusiasm. Walt has been gone over four decades and many of those who worked directly with him have moved on from their faithful stewardship or passed on to other worlds. I only hope that the magic traces Walt left on everything he touched resonate loudly enough for current stewards to become infected, as Hench clearly was in the quote.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Daily Figment 66 - What's That Buzz?

Pop quiz, everybody!What do these two items have in common?
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

  • Celebration 25
Give up? Two words: the Internet.

What we would like to offer for discourse is the idea of living in a glass house--a corporate bubble, so to speak. You see, most companies are living in this bubble today. A bubble of transparency, where every move is under direct scrutiny.

Let's borrow Lou's wayback machine and go back to 1997. An article appeared in the Orlando Sentinel describing the shuttering of Mr. Toad to make way for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Shortly after that, Save Mr. Toad's Wild Ride appeared. Although the movement garnered a lot of grassroots support, it wasn't enough to stop corporate machinations.

We need to take a look at the state of the Internet way back in the mid-1990's. It existed as Web 1.0, which can be explained as a static information source with very little interaction. As you can see from the Save Mr. Toad page, there are links to physical addresses of Disney Corporate, but there wasn't a feedback form, comment spot or forum.

In 2004, the term Web 2.0 was coined. Basically, the 2.0 refers to blogs, wikis and forums. The ability to leave comments and create community is the basis for 2.0. Flickr, MySpace and this blog are examples, as well. As the internet was reborn as an interactive community, the feedback companies like Disney had access to became substantially more sophisticated. It also became more voluminous, as people discovered that the interactive connection to this community was effectively reaching Mouse Ears in the previously impenetrable board rooms of corporate America.

So, fast forward to 2004 and you start to see the development of web forums and blogs dedicated to the study and discussion of Disney minutiae, travel, politics and business practices. Endless discussions, that deeply proselytize the Magic as we know and love it, evolved into loving, open-source suggestions. The Disney execs took notice.

See, this is where the difference begins.

It was published a while back (sometime this year, I believe) that Disney announced that they were actively scouring forums and blogs. Not that they had a person reading all of them, but they hired a company that would scan all of the Disney related forums and aggregate the data. They could then give Disney a detailed report of what people are talking about. There have been reports going way back of Disney chefs reading negative trip reports and contacting the author to rectify the situation.

As recently as the year 2007, the online Disney community began a collective huffing and puffing over the lack of interest the suits had shown in recognizing the 25th anniversary of Epcot. Many bloggers chastised the company for underplaying what many of us considered a hallmark event. As the huffing mutated into a discernible roar, a fury of changes and acknowledgments gushed from the beloved park. Redesigned rides, new old logos, the wand coming down and the rechristening as Epcot Center truly has revitalized and, in some ways satiated, the fervent community. Or so we think.... and wish.....or are we just experiencing wishful thinking?

So, does the online Disney community have a voice? Can the collective sigh of a bored constituency wake the sleeping WED Enterprises? Has the creative side of Disney's corporate brain existed in a vacuum for too long?

What do you think?

Daily Figment 65 -- Epcot Future World

While entertainment will continue to be a highly visible attraction of Epcot Center, it is the underlying educational value of Future World that is its most important contribution. Exciting, amusing, and fascinating as each pavilion is in itself, it is but an element of a project that may well be viewed as a springboard to our discovery of new worlds.

--p. 39 Walt Disney's Epcot Center,1982.
We've used this quote before, but with EPCOT's 25th Anniversary rapidly approaching, we wanted to bring it up again. Also, it also has a really cool picture on the fold.

The Mexico pavilion begins to take shape. At its entrance will be a waterfront restaurant and an imposing pyramid temple, which leads to the rest of the enclosed pavilion. The workmen here are watering the newly planted shrubbery. Across the lagoon, construction workers on the summit of Spaceship Earth prepare the framework to receive the final covering of aluminum "skin." --p. 38

New Book!

The book fairy delivered another book: A Brush with Disney : An Artist's Journey, Told through the words and works of Herbert Dickens Ryman

This is a beautiful, large-scale book (not quite coffee table size) that takes a look at Herb Ryman's life through his paintings, drawings and quotes. It is utterly magnificent and the concept art, alone, is worth the price of admission!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Daily Figment 64 - Roller Coaster as Storytelling

The idea that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad would be a story that happened to be told via a roller coaster was quantum leap forward in the art of Imagineering and theme park storytelling. Big Thunder built on what Matterhorn Bobsleds and Space Mountain had accomplished before it, and set the stage for even more story-driven thrill rides in the years to come, including Splash Mountain and Expedition Everest, making the attraction something of the proverbial "missing link" between past and future Disney mountains.

p. 64, Disney Mountains by Jason Surrell

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the first Disney Mountain that didn't need a story crafted around it; mainly it was created as the story of a runaway mine train through a deserted and haunted mining town. It took its cues and some of its scenery from a previous attraction: the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. What is revolutionary about the story telling is that you didn't need a set-up. The Imagineers struggled with a reason to have the Matterhorn at Disneyland and they grappled with a reasonable story for Space Mountain. Big Thunder is pretty straight forward--you are riding on an out of control mine train through a deserted mining town. Past flooded-out buildings, animals perched precariously on boulders and falling rocks and cave-ins. It is a simple story, but it works.

Coming from the vantage point of today's park guest, Big Thunder might seem a little plain and stunted after witnessing Splash Mountain and Expedition Everest. After seeing the stories told by Splash and Everest, you might miss the simpler story in Big Thunder. Splash and Everest are two rides that are unparalleled in their storytelling. For Splash, the story set-up begins once you start in your log and doesn't stop until you exit the log. For Everest, it starts in the queue--the Imagineers finally made the leap of creating a seamless queue/ride experience with the amazing Everest queue (although I would argue that the Indiana Jones Adventure has the best queue of all). You can argue that you do get some of the story in the Splash queue, with the attraction posters, but it isn't as in your face as Everest.

For the trivia buffs out there: The Disneyland version was modeled after Bryce Canyon, Utah and the Walt Disney World ride was inspired by Monument Valley on the border of Utah and Arizona.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Daily Figment: 63 - It's All Done for Them

Walt had the idea that guests could feel perfection. I once complained to him about the construction of some new stagecoaches. Walt had asked that the cab be suspended by leather straps as early western stagecoaches had been. I thought that this was too much and told Walt, "People aren't going to get this, it is too much perfection." "Yes, they will," he responded. "They will feel good about it. And they will understand that it's all done for them."

-John Hench reflecting on the attention to detail that submerges visitors into Walt's world of fantasy. From Designing Disney, John Hench with Peggy Van Pelt, page 22.

A recurring theme with the Disney Geeks is to stop and notice the magic that is happening all around you in the parks. What a great quote to support this concept! The tiniest details that go unnoticed by so many are still subconsciously working at creating an appreciation for the Disney parks that no other competitor has ever been able to match. A lot of the details put into the parks by Imagineers are there just for us. Something to make our vacation that much more magical.

The picture above is Walt Disney riding a stagecoach at the Disney Studios. It is from the book Window On Main Street (p. 10)

ADDENDUM: Major Pepperidge, over at Gorilla's Don't Blog, put up a great post about the Frontierland Stagecoaches at Disneyland in 1955. Major has some terrific shots that he spotlights from Disneyland's early years.

Check him out and share some Disney Geek love with him!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Shirt Update!


My New EPCOT Center T-shirt--fresh from Walt Disney World!

Disney Geeks friend Matt, spent a week at Saratoga Springs with his family after Labor Day. He brought me back this really cool EPCOT Center T.

Check out the awesome new logo!

Matt is an avid (read: rabid) collector of Disneyana and has just started down the Geek path of tracking down rare Disney books. Unfortunately, Matt doesn't have an online persona, yet, so I can't give him a proper shout-out. But a lot of you will get to meet him when we have our first Carolina Disney Meet in October. Stay tuned for more details!

Charles Ridgway at Barnes & Noble, Winston-Salem, NC 6/5/2007

Matt and Charles Ridgway at Barnes & Noble on June 5, 2007

Thanks, Matt!

Friday, September 14, 2007

DF 62 Addendum

Be sure to check out Davelandblog's post about the Matterhorn. Fits in real nice with the Daily Figment 62.

There are always great retro pictures of Disneyland from the late '50's to the mid '70's.

Make sure you leave some Disney Geek love when you visit his site (i.e. leave some comments--us bloggers absolutely LOVE comments, seriously).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Daily Figment 62: Book Review: The Disney Mountains

daily_figment_02I just finished The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak by Jason Surrell.

What a great read. No, strike that. What an amazing read!

Concept art, stories, ride photographs and some great insider (re: Imagineer) information. You will read how the Imagineers started the Mountain concept and how the art of storytelling through the actual rides became what it is today.

DM_MatterWe start the journey with Walt's need to fill an empty spot at Disneyland that was created by removing dirt from the moat around the castle. Originally named Holiday Hill and then Lookout Mountain, not only was it an eyesore, but the Park Operations staff continually had to keep a look out for some of the park's more brazen guests. Unofficially, the area became known as lover's lane. After a trip to Switzerland to oversee the filming of Third Man on the Mountain, Walt fell in love with the Matterhorn. Thus began Walt's quest to build a mountain at Disneyland

The book focuses on every Disney Mountain ever created, but most of the book is spent on the big five: Matterhorn, Space, Big Thunder, Splash and Everest. Sandwiched between Matterhorn and Expedition Everest are sixteen other mountains (counting each one at all of the parks); including Candy Mountain--the Mountain that never was.

DM_SpaceThe concept art is simply amazing. Works by John Hench, Herb Ryman, Mary Blair, Tony Baxter, Clem Hall and Dan Goozee are scattered throughout the book. The original concept art for Space Mountain called for parts of the track to circle outside the lower part of the building and near the spires. Mainly to entice people to ride it. The Imagineers feared that people would shy away from the ride if they didn't know what to expect. The ride tracks at the top would have simply been a smaller version of the ride tracks and vehicles with small dummies in them. Weather, costs and engineering kept the original idea from fruition.

DM_RiverIn addition to discussing Candy Mountain, a good section of the book is devoted to Imagineer Marc Davis' swan song concept for the Western River Expedition. Marc, much like Walt, never wanted to repeat himself. He agreed that Walt Disney World should not have a Pirates attraction and he began to devote a lot of his time to the creation of the Western River Expedition.

...An audio-animatronics extravaganza that would outdazzle Pirates in every respect. The water ride was to be the centerpiece of Thunder Mesa, an expansive show complex that would also be home to hiking trails and pack-mule rides along its slopes and ridges, and a runway mine train ride down its hills and through its valleys.

Western River Expedition would be a wild and woolly musical adventure starring cowboys and Indians, masked banditos, and high-kicking cancan dancers, culminating with a raging forest fire and a final, dizzying plunge down a waterfall to the shores of the Rivers of America.

p. 61.The Disney Mountains: Imagineering At Its Peak

Of course, you will need to read the book to see what eventually happened with Thunder Mesa.

DM_SplashI would be remiss if I didn't talk about the Splash Mountain section. Being the Disney Geeks very favorite ride at Walt Disney World, I was happy to see fifteen pages dedicated to the most awesome and incredible ride ever. Even though the concept is from 1983 (yay, Tony Baxter), the ride has its roots much earlier. Marc Davis created the 103 animatronics in Splash for the America Sings attraction in 1976. X Atencio also had a hand in designing one of the characters.

Beautiful paintings, at times, cover the entire fold. There are pictures of the Imagineers working on scale models, standing in front of humongous concept art and working on the Mountains. Jason Surrell relates wonderful stories from Imagineers spanning almost 50 years of designing and building the Disney Mountains.

You need this book!