Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lost Parents

One of the most charming, and seemingly out of character, signs within Disneyland is located in front of City Hall. The 'Lost Parent' sign, which puts a positive spin on what can be a scary situation, is a bit unusual as it's one of the few signs in the park featuring characters that aren't readily associated with a movie or other Disney property using a tongue in cheek reference to George and Mary Darling from Peter Pan. (A big thank-you to the illustrious Kevin Kidney!)

Reminiscent of the pictures in the 1960's and 70's starting with '101 Dalmatians' and ending with 'Robin Hood' the sign reminds the PFTP staff of someone you'd find in Mr. Banks' bank but, instead, is a glimpse of the concern the Darling parents might have felt had they known Wendy, John, and Micheal had gone missing.

This photograph was taken by the author in February 2009.

Friday, June 25, 2010

American Gothic Revisited, Again

As the Main St. Gazette noted earlier today, the Imagineers at the Walt Disney World Resort really enjoy mimicking Grant Wood's iconic 1930 painting, 'American Gothic'. Ryan's post deals with the back story of Chester and Hester within the Animal Kingdom's Dinoland USA and, in particular, an image depicting Chester and Hester. What's interesting is the Imagineers' decision to make the association to American Gothic as the photo switches the original male/female positions and is also a picture of husband and wife, whereas 'American Gothic is now largely considered to be a husband/daughter association. Regardless of Wood's intent (and the incredibly amount of ambiguity contained within a 2ft. x 2ft. painting) this image is truly iconic and no surprise to see the Imagineers' interpretations throughout the parks.

As part of the 2010 Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival, the horticultural displays included an 'American Gothic' topiary featuring Disney's own iconic mice, Mickey and Minnie.

Located smack dab in the middle of a flower and vegetable garden in Showcase Plaza, Mickey and Minnie celebrate the efforts of growing your own delectable tomatoes, beans, corn, and more (note these are American crops).

The official Disney press release indicates this is the first time the Flower and Garden Festival depicted Wood's masterpiece and we're wondering if anyone else has noticed a representation of any other Wood paintings in the past.

Knowing the tongue in cheek nature of the Imagineering team, I'm surprised this image has never been recreated in topiary or another form in the parks. After all, it seems 'ripe' for the picking.

These photographs were taken by the author in May, 2010.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure

One of the more immersive experiences within Epcot's World Showcase for children ages 7-14 is the new Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure.

Capitalizing on the relative popularity of the Disney Channel show and the  need to provide outlets for kids within this area of the park, the Imagineers introduced on a full-time basis the 'scavenger hunt' experience in early 2009 where it met with instant and continuing success with children and adults alike.

Participants need to stop by Innoventions West or the central bridge from Future World into World Showcase to obtain a fast-pass like ticket with a specific time frame and pavilion listed. Once your time arrives, head to the clearly marked Kim Possible kiosk where a cast member will provide you with a Kimmunicator and a short overview of the task at hand. The PFTP team was fortunate to have one of our own (the intrepid 8 year-old staff member) pick up a Kimmunicator outside of the American Experience and accept a mission in the Japan pavilion: this 20 minute expedition parlayed itself into more than 3 hours of fun with missions undertaken and completed in the France, United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, and China pavilions with the sole exception of the Mexico pavilion due to time and the construction underway there.

The concept is easily enough understood and the cell phone based Kimmunicators dispatch commands and clues that our staff member found both entertaining and enjoyable. Participants follow the lead of Wade, Kim's sidekick and techno-guy, to defeat villains unique to each pavilion and interact with seemingly innocuous items scattered throughout including wind chimes, lanterns, glockenspiels, phone booths, and window displays, just to name a few.

During our three hour tour we found the target audience and adults alike entertained by the expeditions with lots of laughs, teamwork, and competitiveness about. While the moniker 'Kim Possible' may turn off some boys at first, the coolness factor of making a bell ring, a lantern fire up, and a television go off and on automatically was more than enough to offset the fact it was 'Kim Possible'. (Note to Imagineering: we realize the goal was to take an existing Disney property and give kids something to do in World Showcase while their parents mill about but what did your early focus groups have to say about this?)

As PFTP tell anyone who will listen, WDW is an incredibly safe place for children to explore and this new fan favorite only goes to prove the point. And, from a parental point of view, there's nothing quite like watching the glockenspiel in the Germany pavilion take a turn knowing it was your child's ability to decipher clues and follow the trail to made that glockenspiel move into action. Furthermore, the Imagineers found a unique way to encourage children to interact with one another; it was very common to see the same group of participants working on clues as we moved from pavilion to pavilion.

A few questions posed to cast members indicated the permutations, while not infinite, are wide enough for people to visit the same pavilion on the same day multiple times and receive a 'new' mission each time.

All in all, the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure is a fabulous addition to the parks and really addresses a specific need in World Showcase as it provides entertainment for children in what is truly an adult oriented part of Epcot.

These photographs were taken by the PFTP staff in May, 2010.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sir Mickey's

One of the more imaginative merchandise locations in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Sir Mickey's is located directly in the bailey, or ward, area in back of Cinderella's Castle in Fantasyland.

Sir Mickey's is a mashup of sorts, taking cues from the 'Mickey and the Beanstalk' portion of 1947's 'Fun and Fancy Free' animated feature and 1938's animated short 'Brave Little Tailor'. The store logo, below, shows Mickey from the 'Brave Little Tailor' -- notice the scissors -- and is noticeable for how his eyes appear. This look was replaced by the modern Mickey we see elsewhere throughout the park.

The shop offers lots of visual treats both inside and out. The building's exterior showcases the beanstalk portion of the storyline with vines rising in and around the facade; the picture window showcases Donald and his nephews readying themselves for battle against Willie the Giant. Inside, guests are treated to Willie himself as he attempts to lift the lid off the entire building.

The shop itself is fairly large as it twists throughout the eastern area in back of the castle and is a great place to purchase MouseEars, watches, and finer clothing items. In addition to seeing Mickey himself perched on a beanstalk towards the back of the store you'll see Minne and Daisy in medieval guise.

These photographs were taken by the author in November 2008 and May 2010.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name

. . . would smell as sweet. That's the quote but today's post focuses on the more than estimated 13,000 rose bushes located within Epcot and, specifically, the walkway that joins Future World West with World Showcase.

Stretching all the way from the back side of Innoventions West to the Refreshment Port is a pathway that connects these two areas and on each side of the path a multitude of rose bushes bloom throughout the year to the delight of guests.

Many of the roses are hybrid teas with quite a few appearing to be of the double delight and/or knock out type with many more varietals throughout the park. During the annual Flower and Garden Festival visitors can purchase a landscaping tour where lots of information regarding the roses throughout World Showcase are discussed. While not featured in today's post, both Germany and the United Kingdom, in World Showcase, have featured rose gardens and worth a look next time you find yourself in the parks.

While the staff at PFTP have not taken this particular tour, we have enjoyed others. Unfortunately, the older version of the tour, which was offered all throughout the year, has been retired and now only takes place during the wonderful months of March to May in the park. Nonetheless, enterprising guests can take a self-guided tour of the walkway and rely on the normally excellent signage which provides more than enough information for those who'd like to recreate these gardens in their own backyard. (While we purchase the vast majority of our own roses from J&P I don't think these Princess Roses will be added to our garden, unless J&P and/or Disney were to make us an offer we can't refuse!)

These photographs were taken by the author in May, 2010.

Merchant of Venus Double Vision

There are many storefronts and signs in the parks worthy of a snapshot and Merchant of Venus, located in Tomorrowland within WDW's Magic Kingdom, offers a great combination of signs and open space to take what appears to be a double vision image. 

We offered up our thoughts on this store and its companion, Mickey's Star Traders, some time ago and we love this dynamic duo due to the great signage and the typography. We hope you enjoy this shot and encourage you to find other examples of 'double vision' in the parks during your next visit.

This photograph was taken by the author in May, 2010.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Spitting Totems and Ruminants

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. One of our favorite 'plusses' located in Adventureland in WDW's Magic Kingdom are the Spitting Tikis.

Triangulated between the Jungle Cruise and the properly maligned Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin attractions, the tikis appear innocuous at first but then surprise guests as they, well, spit on you.

Designed, we presume, as an excellent way for little ones to cool down during the sweltering summer months, we talked about the history behind this refurbishment in Adventureland back in 2008.

These Marc Davis beauties, like other items in the parks designed to surprise and get you wet not only are popular but accepted as a classic Adventureland feature.

By comparison, the other spitting element of Adventureland, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin camels, located not more than 50 feet away are, well, gross. When it comes to basic mechanics, the tikis and the golden ruminants are identical but, once you think about it, who wants to be spit on at random by a camel? Adding to this odd choice is the fact that camels are ruminants and spit cud when agitated. The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, an odd juxtaposition of storytelling and theming shoehorned into an idyllic South Seas setting, is a Dumbo clone with two golden camels standing guard at the northern and eastern edges of the attraction. These camels, former members of the Aladdin's Royal Caravan parade at DHS and guardians of the defunct Soundstage Restaurant, blend into the foliage but randomly spit on passers by with no warning whatsoever.

How is it then, that the Imagineers hit a ball out of the park on one hand and completely struck out on the other? After all, this is the same basic idea and that's the first thing they did wrong. At one point the parks were full of excellent, non attraction plusses but the constant need to refresh, reinvigorate, and reinvent the parks means that some elements work while other's don't. Perhaps the first, and greatest, mistake was the decision that an animal spitting semi-digested plants (okay, it's water) on guests would be a good thing. I'm all for putting the question 'What Would Walt Do' into proper context but let's consider that. Don't you think Walt would've sat down prior to the final decision and said, 'You want people to be spit on by camels?' I'm no Lévi-Strauss but I'm pretty sure there's a strong, negative cultural connotation associated with being spit on by an animal. Walt certainly wasn't a cultural anthropologist either but he would've killed the idea. The greater mistake, from a flow and storytelling perspective was the financially driven decision to break the South Seas story extending from the Adventureland hub entrance all the way to Pirates of the Caribbean back in 1998 with the opening of The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management and the introduction of Aladdin characters.

The subsequent erosion of the overall theme (one only needs to look at WDW's dedicated website to the attraction to see the odd contrasts) created 'A Whole New World' with the Agrabah Bazzar completing the trifecta. (Okay, we do admit there was a Magic Carpet store in the old bazaar but it was evened out by Traders of Timbuktu and the Tiki Tropic Shop.) This capitalization on the highly successful Aladdin movie was easily foretold by Nostradamus in the guise of Nostra-Eisner and management but it utterly destroyed the sight lines in this amazing part of the park and, appropriately, causes at least one member of the PFTP staff to throw up a little bit in his mouth every time he sees it, just like the golden ruminants do to unsuspecting guests each and every day.

Alright, the soap box is put away and the diatribe is over but you've got to admit this isn't a shining moment in the history of the parks. More than anyone else, we'd like to see the genie put back in the bottle and have Adventureland returned to its former state with another, more appropriate, attraction occupying the spinner's footprint. Any ideas on what would work as a replacement? Who's the booking agent for J. P. and the Silver Stars? Let's at least agree it shouldn't be be something from a Jungle Cruise movie.

These photographs were taken by the author in November 2007 and May 2010.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Star Tours: Slide into the Sunset

Star Tours, the very popular Disney's Hollywood Studios attraction located at the far southern edge of Echo Lake, is about to undergo a reboot with the attraction scheduled to go dark in September this year with a reopening some time in 2011.

Although the existing attraction is a bit long in the tooth (and Rex is completely annoying) it's still a hit and the introduction of the Jedi Training Academy a few years back remains exceptionally popular with kids and parents alike.

There's not too much to say about the ride itself: it's a basic motion simulator and everyone familiar with the Star Wars franchise will have experienced everything but the motion (and the annoying Rex).

There are, of course, some wonderful audio-animatronics on display including a 3PO and lots of basic R2 and R5 astromechs (yes, it helps if you're a Star Wars geek) in the queue and the ever intriguing G2-9T and G2-4T droids, who were reincarnated from a previous life as geese in Disneyland's America Sings attraction.

There are lots of great signage both at the end of the queue and post-ride, as evidenced by the images below. Of particular interest are the travel posters highlighting Endor, Hoth, and Bespin although, really, who travels to the Outer Rim Territories anymore? That's so '80s.

Someone call the Star Tours font police as the Gate sign needs some help. In fact, if you're a fan of typography, it's best to look away right now lest you throw up a little in your mouth.

The obligatory merch is located in Tatooine Traders and while it does contain some great items it's good to know you can find all of these elsewhere in the WDW Resort, with Downtown Disney as the best choice for last minute shopping. Of interest to us are the set markings which are prevalent throughout DHS and the interesting assortment of ephemera located here, including the sketches in the image below.

What really sets this attraction apart, though, is the fantastic, over the top outdoor themeing as evidenced by today's first and last images. The AT-AT alone is awesome but the addition of the Endor huts makes it easy to miss what is otherwise a huge attraction show building.

Just about everyone is excited about the upcoming attraction changes and the updated technology that will come with it, including 3-D and a bunch of other items made public at last year's D23 Expo. And, lastly, while we won't have Rex to kick around any more, I expect most of us will complain about the pod racing portion of the simulator.

These photographs were taken by the author in May, 2010.