Friday, February 29, 2008

Geek-End Update March 1, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Daily Figment 175: Books, Books and More Books!

There are 147 books in my Disney collection. (Even I can't believe I have that many.) When Andy and I started Imaginerding, I only had one shelf of Disney books on the bookcase.

One of the first books that I purchased about Disney is probably the annual souvenir guide from 1993-1994 and I purchased it on my first trip to Walt Disney World. After that, I slowly built my collection; souvenir guides, park guides and a few Disneyland titles made up the bulk of my early books. Now, I collect the biographies, animation titles, company histories, academic treatises, coffee-table books and anything else that catches my fancy--like the official and unofficial guidebooks (which are great for researching old attractions). Of course, I have my share of trivia books, as well. I do have to thank my wife for hunting down most of these books. I make the list and she scours the net. I think she enjoys the hunt as much as I enjoy reading them.

You can see all of my titles by visiting my LibraryThing catalog.

Book Update

I've had a lot more books come in over the past few weeks. I decided to wait till I had a few to do a post.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Daily Figment 174: Wilderness Nature Trail

If you have ever been fortunate enough to stay at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, you have experienced one of Walt Disney World's best themed hotels.

Jeff Pepper from 2719 Hyperion has professed his love of the Wilderness Lodge in a series of posts over the past year. He provides a lot of detailed and historical information about Silver Springs, Artist's Point and Humphrey the Bear (bump, bump). Make sure to check out Jeff's posts and leave him some Disney Geek Love. Jeff joined Lou on the WDW Radio show for a DSI (Disney Scene Investigation) about the Wilderness Lodge back in September 2007.

In 2001, we took a family vacation (8 of us in total) and stayed at the Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge. During the end of the trip, everyone decided that we needed to go our seperate ways for some much needed downtime. One of the things we had enjoyed doing on our 1997 trip was riding the surrey bike at the Boardwalk. So, we decided to head down to Teton Boat and Bike Rentals to rent a surrey and experience the Wilderness Lodge Nature Trail to Ft. Wilderness.

Yes, that was a real deer that we saw on the trail. The whole trail is 2.3 miles and is intended as a jogging/bike path between the two resorts. We didn't do the whole trail--we got about halfway when our passenger in the front wanted to go back to the pool. It is very quiet and serene on the trail; you don't feel like you are in Florida at all. We only ran into one other family and they were heading back to the Lodge. We were hoping to make it all the way to Ft. Wilderness to see the petting zoo.

In the satellite view above, I have outlined the trail in red from the Lodge to Ft. Wilderness. The trail does take you to Pioneer Hall, the petting zoo and the Settlement Trading Post (in case you need to refill before heading back). It's just another one of those great details at Disney. I'v always thought that it is a hidden treasure, though.

Don't forget to keep your ears out for other fun excursions.

biblioadonis' Disney 2001 photosetbiblioadonis' Disney 2001 photoset

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Book Review: The Animated Man

I just finished reading Michael Barrier's biography The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. In my opinion, this is one of the more important biographical treatises on Walt's life.

Before we get into the review, I want to share a little about the author, Michael Barrier. Barrier has written several animation- and comic book-related titles. The most well-known are: Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book and A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics. He also published Funnyworld, a magazine devoted to animation and comics. Funnyworld lived in the early 1970's and you can find reprints of it on his website.

Barrier takes a different approach to looking at the life of Walt Disney. Instead of just focusing on the more mundane facts and figures, Barrier shows us the man through Disney's work, artistry and relationships. Barrier does impart the sense that after creating Snow White, Disney was never quite happy with the films and was striving for another challenge. Even Disneyland, with the audio-animatronics, never quite compared to the challenges of Snow White.

The Animated Man is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I never felt like Barrier was reciting a litany of facts, but instead, he was telling the story of Walt Disney. Barrier is renowned for his research, but I never felt burdened by the text. In other words: I had trouble putting this book down. It is quite obvious that Barrier is an animation fan and has tremendous respect for Disney and the art that was created.

One of my favorite passages from the book concerns the Kansas City Public Library:
Disney was intrigued by animation's possibilities and by what he called "the mechanics of the whole thing." He was essentially self-taught as an animator; he wrote to an admirer many years later, "I gained my first information on animation from a book ... which I procured from the Kansas City Public Library." That book was Animated Cartoons: How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development by Edwin G. Lutz. According to its copyright page, Lutz's book was published in New York in February 1920, the same month Disney joined Kansas City Film Ad, so he must have read it very soon after it was added to the library's collection. He said of the book in 1956: "Now, it was not very profound; it was just something the guy had put together to make a buck. But, still, there are ideas in there."
--p. 26, The Animated Man.

Knowing that Disney utilized a public library to help jump start his career would make any of us public librarians proud.

If you've spent any time checking out Disney-related books, then you may have heard about the scuffle between Barrier's work and Neal Gabler's Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. See, at the beginning of Gabler's research (1995 or so), he started out to write a simpler biography of Disney after receiving a Guggenheim fellowship. At some point, Gabler was given unprecedented access to the Walt Disney Archives and corporate authorization to write a definitive biography; Barrier was denied access while writing The Animated Man. The press has been enamored with the fact that Gabler was given full access to the Archives and they have heaped accolades on him. Barrier's more authoritative research stems from the amount of work he had done while writing Hollywood Cartoons and Funnyworld and through the interviews with animation legends. Barrier knows his stuff. He does rely on a large amount of primary sources and his endnotes are well-documented and as intriguing as the rest of the text. I found myself taking much longer to read The Animated Man because I spent so much time flipping back to the notes to get more information. Since both were published within a year of each other, it is inevitable that comparisons will and have been drawn. I would have liked more comparisons between the works--from the critics--as Barrier's book is more definitive while Gabler's book comes off as a little snobbish and presents a seemingly misunderstood view of Disney.

I read Gabler's book first and found it hard to continue at points. It read as tenuously as it was long. From the beginning, Barrier captured my attention and interest and framed a picture of Disney through the art produced and the company he founded and ran. Thematically, if you look at how the authors present their vision of Disney, they take decidedly different routes. Gabler paints a man obsessed with control who is never happy because of the lack of control and his attempts at escaping his father's shadow. Gabler presumes to psychoanalyze Disney through memos, letters and notes--ultimately presenting a self-centered and egotistical slave-driver. Barrier takes us on a journey through the work of Disney to present a man who is less a control freak and more of an entrepreneur. Barrier wastes none of our time looking into Disney's psyche and instead focuses on what is tangible with Disney in order to provide a glimpse into his life.

Bottom Line: This is the best biography of Walt Disney that I have had the pleasure of reading. Barrier does focus predominately on Disney's opus of work--personal and corporate--but doesn't that define Disney as we know him and why Disney is significant to us?

I've added links to the hardcover (left) and the paperback (right).
The paperback is not scheduled to be published until late March.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Daily Figment 172: Iger's New Deal

At the beginning of February, shortly after Disney announced less than stellar earnings for the fourth quarter, they announced a new five year deal for CEO Bob Iger. The deal guarantees Iger a cool two million a year with performance-based incentives that could carry the chief over the 20 mill a year mark. After years of excessive packages granted to Eisner, the board gave Iger a smaller guaranteed package and tied the majority of his compensation to company performance. Is it justified? Initially the 20 million a year figure puts lumps in my throat, but dig a little deeper into Iger's short tenure as Chief Rat and it is clear he has changed the disastrous layout of the company Eisner left in disarray.
A day after Iger was named CEO in March of 2005, uncertainty swirled around the damaged relationship between Disney and Pixar. CNN/Money ran an article about Iger on March 14th saying this about the very public cold war:

It's not known whether Iger, a veteran of Disney's ABC television unit, and Jobs have discussed any deal -- or whether they even like each other. Both companies have moved forward with post-separation plans.
As it turns out, it was Steve Jobs who championed Iger to a beleaguered Lasseter. Lasseter was worried that Disney would turn Pixar into a straight to video franchise. He openly told Jobs he feared another Cinderella II situation with the characters they had created. A year later, Lasseter gave insight in an interview with Forbes Magazine (May 16, 2007) to the previous years talks with Iger and how Jobs had opened his mind to discussing the merger with Iger:
We wondered if a deal like this would ruin it all. But Steve said to Ed [Catmull, Pixar's founder and president] and me, "Get to know Bob Iger. That's all I can say. He's a good man."
On his first day as CEO of Disney, Iger called John Lasseter and began healing the open wounds that had festered due to Disney's refusal to work with Pixar under Eisner. Soon after, he went to John's house to have dinner with the Lasseter family. It was at that dinner that Lasseter began to see where Iger differed from the previous czar. Iger passionately imparted that animation was Disney's engine and that the engine was broken. He knew Lasseter could fix it. In an interview with Fortune Magazine in May of 2006, Lasseter recalls how Iger shared his moment of clarity about merging Pixar into Disney:

He told me his epiphany happened when Hong Kong Disneyland opened last fall, and he was there with his young kids watching the opening-day parade. He was watching all the classic Disney characters go by, and it hit him that there was not one character that Disney had created in the past ten years. Not one.
All the new characters were invented by Pixar. That's when he made the decision.

I was still nervous about how Pixar was going to change if it became a part of Disney. And Bob simply said, "This is going to be very expensive, so it's in my best interest to do everything I can to keep it the same." He was so calm and logical. No politics, no hidden meaning.

Before meeting with Lasseter, Iger had already realized Disney's reputation was suffering due to the rash of sequels that populated discount bins. The quantity over quality mentality of the straight to video market had diluted the brand name by flooding the market with B quality product. After mending fences with Pixar, Iger promised to review the home video division of the studio. It was a quick decision to cut the division, even though it was profitable. The decision to eat short term profits for the sake of the long term value of the brand seemed to many the coronation of Iger as rightful steward of the Disney Company.

With Lasseter now reporting directly to Iger, a bizzaro Eisner/Wells team emerged. Iger was the Wells-like leader who corralled Eisner when necessary and Lasseter was the hyper-creative visionary that balanced Iger, just as Eisner had balanced Wells. How have the super duo done? Cars, Meet the Robinsons, Ratatouille, and the forthcoming WALL-E seem to show the Disney animation engine is purring again.

Two Great Disney Books Cheap!

Michael Barrier, author and animation historian, has just posted on his site that his book, Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age is on sale at Amazon for $5.59--an 80% discount. It is normally $27.95. We're not sure how long this amazing deal will last!

After doing some more sniffing around Amazon, I found that Disney War by James Stewart is on Bargain Price. This is one of Andy's favorite books. And you can't beat $4.99.

Quantities of both titles are limited, but they are great additions to your Disney Geek library! If I had to choose just one, I would get the Michael Barrier book.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Daily Figment 171: Where all the Villains Shop!

Our adopted Taylor/Nerdy Boys sister, Jessica from If We Can Dream It, sent us this post about the villains from the World of Disney Store at Downtown Disney. Jessica gets to spend a lot of time wandering (and wondering) the parks and her site is full of great details and hidden treasures. She is also the founding member of the WDW Crate Appreciation Society. (I am still waiting on my application!) Take it away, Jessica!

The World of Disney is filled to the brim with characters interacting with each other, but the Villains, true to fashion, have kept to themselves in the Jewelry room. Various icons, including Jafar's snake staff, serve as medallions on ends of the fixtures.

Large statues of Tic Toc (some with clocks in their mouths) stand in the center of the room and hold, what else, watches and clocks.

Ursula stands watch over the jewelry cases, with her tentacles actually going through the glass to surround the merchandise.

Flotsam and Jetsam also make appearances, as well as some of Ursula's "poor unfortunate souls".

Behind the jewelry case hangs the Snow Queen's Magic Mirror, which, if one looks carefully, changes an image of the Snow Queen into the Old Hag.

Even the small mirrors on the counter take on an enchanted appearance with tendrils seemingly winding their way around the heart shaped frame.

Two lenticular portraits hang on the walls, one changing between Cruella and Maleficent, the other between Captain Hook and Jafar.

To finish off the room, four villains have their arms displayed like trophies, displaying their trademarks.Jessica, thanks for such a great post about the villains at Downtown Disney!

Don't forget to stop by her site on a daily basis and leave her some Disney Geek love.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Geek-End Update February 23, 2007

  • FoxxFur from Passport To Dreams Old & New has another stellar post about...false portals! Put on your thinking cap, you're gonna need it!
Make sure to leave all of these wonderful bloggers some Disney Geek love (comments!).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Daily Figment 170

Since Dave has repeatedly asked for something with the Evil Queen (the squeaky wheel gets the grease), we have decided to grant his wish...

Lucille LaVerne, who furnished the voice of both the queen and the witch, had been a fine stage actress and also played in early movies where the actions had to be broad and overstated. Since those films were silent, there would seem to be little connection between the voice and the gestures, but Ms. LaVerne played both roles with expansive character and sweeping theatrics. As the queen, she was cold, calculating and commanding; as the witch, she changed her regal voice to that of an old crone, conniving and treacherous.

Director Bill Cottrell and storyman-designer Joe Grant were in charge of the recording session for the voice of the witch, and while Ms. LaVerne sounded aged and crafty with the right timbre to her voice, somehow it was too perfect, too smooth - the sound was not "rough" enough. She overheard them discussing this problem and excused herself for a moment. When she returned, she read the lines once more and the result was just what they wanted. Joe recalled, "We both looked at each other. "What happened here?" And then she told us, "Well, I just took my teeth out."
--p. 56, The Disney Villain

One of my favorite moments with the Evil Queen is during the Fantasmic! show. Good friend Ray, at Grumpy's Hollow, snapped some really great pictures of Fantasmic! at Disneyland.

I know the following is the dragon from of Maleficent, but I think it is a great moment of the show!

So, if anyone else out there has a request, just drop us a line or leave us some Disney Geek Love!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Daily Figment 169: Hooked on Poll Results

Continuing with the Disney Villains theme from yesterday's post, let's take a look at the results from our most recent poll. It was a squeaker! Captain Hook edged out Malificent for favorite Disney Villain. The poll sparked some great debate, as we were only able to include a limited amount of villains from the entire catalogue. Keep an eye out for some NCAA style brackets on Imaginerding for an all out war between the villains in March. We'll let you decide who would win in a villain on villain tounament. In honor of the nefarious list of happiness predators, let's take a look at some fun facts about Disney's, worst.

Captain Hook's lost appendage was originally his right hand. Disney's animators moved the hook to the left hand because they felt it would be easier and more natural to animate. Peter Pan was the last film that all nine members of Walt's Nine Old Men directed together. The voice of Captain Hook is Hans Conried, who also voiced Mr. Darling in the film. It is a long standing tradition in the stage play that the same actor perform both roles as well.

Ursula's lair is actually a leviathan, a skeleton of a large whale or biblical sea monster. The lair makes an appearance in the Disney themed video game Kingdom Hearts, where the player battles Ursula in a level appropriately titled The Leviathan. The back story of how Ursula came to live in the skeleton was laid out in an early The Little Mermaid comic book from Disney. The sea monster escaped from a cave where the eel-men trained by fighting it. The eel-men killed it after its escape and Ursula traded with the eel-men for it.

Monster movie great Bela Lugosi was filmed as a live action reference for Fantasia's Chernabog. The lead animator felt the performance was not dark enough and he performed many of the reference scenes himself.

The role of Gaston was not in the original French fairy tale version of Beauty and the Beast. The villain suitor was first added to the story in a 1946 film, La Belle et la Bette, as Avenant. Apparently Disney felt Gaston was a better nom de plume.

Some of Disney's most famous villains were created and animated by some of Walt's aformentioned Nine Old Men. Marc Davis (the character designer for the Pirates and Haunted Mansion attractions) was responsible for Cruella de Vil and Malificent. Frank Thomas, hired in 1934, directed the animation of Captain Hook, Lady Tremaine, and the Queen of Hearts. All nine were named Disney Legends in 1989.

The role of villain and anti-hero is deeply embedded in Disney storytelling. They have created villains in stories where none existed before, often deepening the viewers emotional involvement in the work. Capsulizing the villains in a post this size cannot do them justice, but we will continue to examine them from different perspectives during the coming weeks. Leave a comment and let us know if there is something, or someone, you are interesting in dissecting with us!

Lou's In the News!

For those keeping up with all that Lou Mongello does...

He was quoted in a Tuesday, February 19 Orlando Sentinel article by Scott Powers about the Treehouse Villas.
They're the kind of place, said independent Disney World author and podcaster Lou Mongello, that only "Disney geeks like us" talk about. Mongello, who lives in New Jersey has even stayed in them a couple of times, though he did so decades ago.

"The thing I remember about the villas, I liked so much, is you didn't feel like you were in Florida. You didn't feel like you were in Walt Disney World. It felt like you were remote and distant from Orlando and the theme parks and the hustle and bustle," said Mongello, author of the two-volume The Walt Disney World Trivia Book. "It was lush and so green. Very lush."
You can see the whole article here.

Don't forget the article that we wrote about the Lake Buena Vista area.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Daily Figment 168: Chernabog

Our good friend, Glenn from Passamaquoddy, sent us a missive about his favorite villain.

The Ultimate Evil gets a bum wrap.

Just ask anyone who has ever listened to a politician or voted for the best singer on American Idol… The talented ones get the short end of the stick. And so, after reading the results of a poll on Imaginerding, I found myself abducted by the ultimate evil… His only request, that I set the record straight by convincing everyone else of his dirty doings. He also demanded I dress up like Buzz Lightyear but that doesn’t play into this report. Of course, when I’m talking about THE ULTIMATE EVIL, I’m talking CHERNOBOG!

It’s obvious from the names listed on the Imaginerding poll that its creators... had never been abducted by one of them. Let us scrutinize the evil poll before I have to do another “To Infinity and Beyond”.

Pistol Pete. Sure, he’s big, and grumpy, and if the films were in smell-o-vision, he’s probably stanky. But other than Mickey and Minnie, Pistol Pete seems to be habitually evil and only interested in them…

Malificent. She’s got a cool hat and staff. And she’s able to turn herself into a pretty unruly dragon, but in the end her goals are very earthbound.

Ursula. This sea witch is purple. Barney the dinosaur is purple. NEXT!

Cruella de Ville. She’s so thin, she only has one side. Not only that, her evil goal in the end is… getting a nice wardrobe.

Captain Hook. Befuddled and Bungled by ticking clocks and a kid who poses for Peanut Butter jars.

Queen of Hearts. She’s pretty aggressive but in the end, she gets shuffled into a deck.

SPOILER MASSIVE FEAR ALERT – In this next section I will be discussing the ultimate evil – Chernobog! If you are of weak heart or find any of the above frightening, stop reading now…

While those other villains got their rotten on, let’s take a look at the big daddy…

First of all, his size - He is a big mountain of a guy – ALWAYS. Some of those others become big near the end of their lives but live most of their existence at piddly human size. With the exception of Pistol Pete, they all have minions to run their errands: one or two idiotic sidekicks that at some point cause their patron some trouble. Chernobog’s minions number in the thousands and they are evil screaming skeletons and ghosts. Both Chernobog and his minions have a sense of rhythm, knowing exactly when to shoot a fireball or charge the screen. While the others may warrant a musical motif or so, Chernobog’s got a popular classical song associated with his appearance. He’s got the coolest hiding place! He’s got wings! The Disney artists did an amazing job of crafting his image. Nobody would ever ‘trust’ him they way they do those other folk at one time or another. The evil poll shows a list of characters with regular earthbound goals from revenge to obtaining a new outfit. Chernobog doesn’t get bothered with that petty stuff… His goal is destruction and mayhem… always!

In summary, those other characters may indeed be considered to be minions of Chernobog, but he as the active puppet master has it all over them.

I mean, just look at how they are plucked from their specific stories… The police take them away, or a sword in the chest, or a boat driven into the gut or chased away by a ticking alligator. Chernobog gets scared away by… a slow moving choir on their way to chapel. It’s almost like he’s… scared of... the Christmas... Candlelight Processional.

Maybe he’s not so evil after all. Forget I said anything. My vote's for Pistol Pete.