Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Way Back Japan

Take a break and enjoy the dance performance from the Japan Pavilion in this shot from our 1985 Way Back series.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book Review: The Disney War by James B. Stewart

Disney War by James B. Stewart. 580 pp, 2005 (Afterword 2006).

Andy published this review on August 7, 2007. I recently finished the book and realized that I could not say it any better than Andy did over a year ago. My contribution is the Bottom Line.

There has been so much talk lately about the rekindled flame between Disney and Pixar with some even referring to Lasseter as 'Uncle Lasseter'. I am a true Lasseter believer but have so much caution for coronating him after reading Disney War, by James B Stewart. The references to Eisner being the second coming of Walt early in his tenure at Disney are prevalent in the media at the time. Certainly the buzz on the internet recently has often fallen in the vein ofJohn the Saviour. This book serves as the grandest of cautionary tales, carefully laying out the history of failure at its most visible levels.

Those who know me well know I have been obsessed with this book recently. At over 590 pages, it felt like a relationship. Admittedly, one of my longer relationships.

In the past few months I have read five or six books about Disney, ranging from biographies to field guides, and none of them has captivated me like this book. James Stewart displays an amazing ability to make the non-fiction seems like fiction. Chapters flushed with facts and details are steadily crafted in a digestible and organized manner, sometimes a problem for non-fiction works. Most of all though, the sheer volume of insider information that you feel privileged to read is overwhelming. In the end, the book serves as a scathing indictment of Michael Eisner. Stewart completely reveals the arc of Eisner, painting him early as the genius that saved Disney, and then as any tragic Shakespearean character, as one who lets power intoxicate judgment. The following passage illustrates some of how deep this feeling of coronation ran in Eisner as Stewart recalls a conversation he had with him in his final years as CEO and Chairman:

After some more conversation, and just before we leave for dinner, Eisner gets a pen and a piece of paper. "Disney is a French name, not Irish," he reminds me. "Now look at this." He writes "D'Isner," "Deez-nay," as the French would pronounce it, "is Eisner without the D."

Uh, Mr Eisner, Walt is tired of turning over in his grave. Would you please refill your prescription for crazy pills and stop playing Boggle with the alphabet to tie yourself to the Disney family? Thank you....Oh yeah, back to the book.

The book is divided into three sections: The Wonderful World of Disney, The Disenchanted Kingdom, and Disney War. No explanation needed to reveal the general tone of each section. This is the simplest way to describe the arc of Eisner's career. As a testament to Stewart, I felt each section was more addictive than the previous. The deep, detailed accounts of his relationships with Katzenberg and Ovitz dominate the landscape and present him as neurotic and uncontrollable.

What made the deepest impact was the pointed way in which Stewart revealed the flaws of Eisner as he became more entrenched in defending himself. Earlier Daily Figments have pointed to some of the brilliant things he did, such as saving the Imagineers from the chopping block. (Ed. note- Splash Mountain is the Thriller of attractions) The following passage does the opposite, truly showing how Eisner failed to consider any threat to his throne:

In the course of renegotiating the Disney relationship with Pixar, Roth presented Eisner with a proposal that would both solve the issue of succession (Ed note- Eisner would not name a President to succeed Wells and therefore, no successor to himself.) and address the faltering performance of the animation division. It was admittedly bold: Disney should buy Pixar (as it could have done years earlier) and merge its own animation division into it. "Make it all digital," Roth urged. "That's the future." As part of the deal, Eisner should make Steve Jobs, Pixar's chairman, president of Disney. "Jobs is a darling of Wall Street," Roth argued, "And you'd get John Lasseter, the greatest creative mind to ever come out of Disney."

The idea went nowhere.

At any time in the buildup to Eisner's ousting, any person could see the merit in this idea. Eisner could have written himself another ten year contract based on this move alone. But as all tragic characters falter, so goes the phrase, "L'etat, c'est moi".

I have heard other Geeks say they have hesitated on reading this as they are uncomfortable with the Disney dirt. Please, read away as this book only made me understand the depths of stewardship we have in protecting Disney. As brother Roy campaigned for "Save Disney" to out Eisner, he was exercising his ability to shepherd Disney back into the greener pastures of creative content that had become barren under Eisner in his later years. I know you will enjoy this read, although you may be sad when it ends its relationship with you. After 590 pages, this is how you treat me???? Another relationship ended.

Bottom Line: This book should be required reading for anyone interested in deciphering the Eisner years at the Walt Disney Company. I never had the feeling that Stewart had an agenda, per se, but that he was amazed at what happened within the board room at Disney. It does read like a corporate thriller with very familiar characters throughout. Some of the decisions that Stewart discusses boggle the mind--you wonder what was Eisner thinking? This is a title that most public libraries will have on their shelves.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Geek-End Update, Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ray at Grumpy's Hollow has posted his extensive trip report from Mousefest. He has some great pictures, too. Ryan at the Main St. Gazette reminisces about his MouseFest experience. Doc at the Disney Obsession posts his thoughts on MouseFest.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Book Update and a reminder...

While so many people are enjoying time at home, I wanted to remind everyone about Fromage Homage. I talked about the site here. It is a great wiki site where you can document the little tributes, crates, windows, gags and other ephemera in the parks. Make sure you sign up and contribute today! Foxxfur has been adding a lot of content for the Liberty Square area of the Magic Kingdom.

Three titles arrived this morning fresh from Santa's sleigh!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Way Back Big Thunder

This 1985 photo is remarkable for two reasons: a great view of an awesome attraction and a view of the crate at the bottom.
You can see that Imagineering and/or Park Operations can and will change things!

Now, who is Rolan A. Long, Operating Lineman, anyway?

Check out the other Way Back posts here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book Review: The Magic of Disneyland and Walt Disney World

The Magic of Disneyland and Walt Disney World by Valerie Childs. 1979, 96 pages.

Valerie Childs wrote this picture-laden look at Disneyland and Walt Disney World in 1979. Although it was not an official publication, it was endorsed by Walt Disney Productions and WED Enterprises. She wrote another edition in 1982 (but dropped the Walt from Walt Disney World).

The real strength of this book is the photographs that appear on every page (except the introduction). The book is presented much like the souvenir guides to the theme parks; lots and lots of pictures. The first seven pages present a very generic version of the company history outlining the major events that led to the creation of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The rest of the book is comprised of photographs that alternate between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. If nothing else, it will test your historical knowledge of the parks.

I liken the photographs to a time capsule from the late 1970s; not to mention the fashions, but the fact that many of the attractions and features have changed over the past 30 years. A few of the photographs would seem to be stock photos, but many are taken from such unique vantage points, that you might wonder where the photographer was standing. The photographs are dated and the work does have the look of a book from the 1970s. Many of the pictures are clear, but some have that grainy, yellow look to them. I think the images speak for themselves.

Tom Sawyer Island (Disneyland)

The Olde Worlde Antique Shop (Magic Kingdom)

The Walt Disney World Railroad

A majority of the pictures feature guests and characters, almost like your own vacation scrapbook. You do get some interesting glimpses of carpets, finishes and areas with much less vegetation than today. It also seems that Disney was not as scrupulous in the images that were allowed to be presented. This book is a great resource for us park detectives that spend time analyzing each photo for various details. 

Tomorrowland (Disneyland)

The Admiral Joe Fowler (Magic Kingdom)

Bottom Line: There is nothing revolutionary about this title but it is a fun trip down memory lane. If you were never able to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World in the 1970s, then you will love the visions of the parks from that time period. I would recommend this book if you can find a copy for a relatively cheap price or in the bargain bin. It is a must-have for the enthusiasts interested in what the parks looked like in the 1970s.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Geek-End Update, Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getchor Bearings

Inside one of the battlements of Fort Langhorn on Tom Saywer Island is a barrel from the Getchor Bearing Co.

Do you get it, or are you lost?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Way Back 20K

Another shot from 1985. This time, we are aboard the Skyway headed over the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea lagoon. 20K ran from October 14, 1971 to September 5, 1994. Currently, Pooh's Playful Spot and a large grassy area reside on the lagoon area.

You can see from the two shots above, that a lot of land was cleared after 20K was removed. The top photo is a recent satellite image and the shot on the bottom is a circa 1999 aerial photo from:

For more information, visit the 20K site at Widen Your World and Walt Dated World.

You can see all of the Way Back posts here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The E-Ticket Update

The E-Ticket began publication in 1986 by Disneyland fans and brothers, Leon and Jack Janzen. Leon passed away in September 2003 and issue #40 was their last one together. Jack has produced 5 issues since then, with the final one on the way.

The E-Ticket is one of my favorite publications. The Brothers Janzen were obsessed with Disneyland--in a good way, of course--and their proximity to Disneyland allowed them to reach many Imagineers throughout the years. The magazine is filled with interviews, ride histories (and layouts), collectibles and wonderful photographs. One of my favorite recurring segments is Wings-Over-Disneyland where they feature an aerial shot of the park.

The articles are a step above most books and blogs due solely to the level of research. Besides a handful of bloggers, no one has written anything that comes close to the level of the Janzens for their research and academic style. The E-Ticket is a treasure to the hardcore Disney Geek. It is truly a one-of-a-kind resource.

Over the years, the early issues have become very scarce and very expensive. The Janzens have released two CDs that cover the first 16 issues and they are still available through their website. Various issues are still available in print (starting with issue #25) and well worth the cost. I am very excited to get my hands on volume one of the CD and five additional back issues. I own volume two, as well, and it is a treasure.

Visit The E-Ticket web site to order available back issues and the two CD-Roms.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Geek-End Update, Saturday, December 12, 2008

Live from Walt Disney World:
Ray from Grumpy's Hollow and Ryan from the Main Street Gazette are live blogging at this weekend's MouseFest celebration. Check out their posts and see if you recognize anybody.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Discovery Island and Miscellanea

Gator Chris at Yet Another Disney Blog has posted an article with scans of a 1979 Discovery Island Map.

Check it out and leave him some Disney Geek love.

I had a request from a reader for information about the upcoming The Art of Walt Disney World book by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon.

Anyway, I'm wondering if you'd happen to have any info on that "Art of Walt
Disney World" book that was supposed to come out a while ago. I haven't been
able to find any info on it anywhere. I know it's supposed to be exclusively
sold in the parks, but I've yet to see it anywhere. Any idea what the status is?

I contacted Jeff Kurtti about the book and he responded that the book was waiting to go to the printers and should be available soon. As amazing as The Art of Disneyland is, this book should be amazing. The only drawback is that it will be a theme park exclusive, like Walt Disney World Then, Now and Forever.

Author Adam Goodger sent me a note about his new book called Imagineering The Way: The Unofficial History Of The Magic Kingdom.

This is not a guide book, although it would be a great resources to take to
the parks. It is designed to be an accessible look at the history of the Magic
Kingdom. The book begins with the creation of Walt Disney World. How it came
about, how Walt bought the land and why the idea for Walt Disney World came
about in the first place. We visit Disney World's first press conference, the
preview centre and the park opening days. As well as the history of how the park
came about it also looks back at admission and how that has changed, from the
original admission price, the ticket books all the way to the multi-day tickets.

As well as the history of Phase 1 the book takes an in-depth look at
each land, ride, show and attraction including a specific chapter on
Cinderella's Castle. Each chapter focuses on a specific land with each of its
rides, shows and attraction, both past and present, given a detailed overview.

Each ride, show or attraction that warrants a ride-through or show
transcript is given one (including Big Thunder Mountain). These include both
past and present attraction at the Magic Kingdom.

The book is available in electronic download or as print-on-demand.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Way Back China Construction

In this shot from 1985, it is obvious that we are inside the China Pavilion. Check out the construction on the Nine Dragons restaurant that opened on October 23, 1985. The workers on top have an interesting view of World Showcase.

So, the China Pavilion opened without a major restaurant?

Dave Smith writes:

It seemed a little odd that World Showcase opened with China but no Chinese Restaurant, because of the popularity of Chinese cuisine. The omission was remedied three years later, and the resulting restaurant has been honored with awards for its blend of Chinese cuisine from many of the provinces.
--Disney A to Z, the Official Encyclopedia. p 359.
The Lotus Blossom Cafe opened in September of 1985.

You can see the other Way Back posts here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe on the WDW Radio Show

This week on the WDW Radio Show, I join Lou Mongello for an in-depth look at the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square. We also discuss some other Christmas locations, past and present, and share some Christmas suggestions for Disney Geeks everywhere.

Image Courtesy Brian Fee

In researching the segment, I used several resources:

Thanks, as well, go to Foxxfur at Passport2Dreams for some much needed inspiration and background info.

Don't forget to check out my other appearances on the WDW Radio Show.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fountain at the Imagination Pavilion

Another shot from the Flickr collection of Jeff B. This one features the fountain from the Imagination Pavilion in EPCOT Center in 1983.

Don't forget to click through and leave Jeff a comment.

Catch his other photos that I have featured here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Way Back Return to Oz

In 1985, Disney Pictures released the film, Return to Oz--a sequel to the Wizard of Oz that is based on Frank L. Baum's Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz. The photo above is the Oz float from the Main Street Electrical Parade from the summer of 1985 (MSEP ran from 1971-1991). The parade float did not last too long, as the movie was not a financial success.
The picture below is the Emerald City from the Storybook Land Canal Boatride in Disneyland Paris. It is the only tribute to the 1985 film that exists. Although, there is rumor that a key to Tik-Tok is hidden in Splash Mountain.
You can see the entire Way Back series here.