31 October 2008

Hollywood, 1939

In 1939 the Hollywood Tower Hotel was a star in its own right. Today, it has recaptured some of its stardom, only in a wholly new light. As details go, the story presented in the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’s queue and exit is only comparable to two or three other attractions (MuppetVision, Expedition Everest, and Toy Story Midway Mania all come to mind immediately).

The showbiz elite that had come flocking to the Hollywood Tower Hotel for Halloween in 1939 could have taken in the talents of Anthony Fremont at the Tip Top Club. For the less social socialites, the Sunset Room offered a dining affair that would make even the most hardcore foodie salivate. The menu is presented below.

30 October 2008

The most spirited season

Cameras will be clicking this weekend, forever capturing the moments when their children turn into ninjas, princess, superheroes, fairies, monsters, witches, and a multitude of other personalities. Growing up, my sister and I did not have many store bought costumes. Usually our outfits had been meticulously crafted by our mom and Nanie, and they lasted a lot longer than the store-bought plastic capes.

Halloween, if anything, only proved that Disney’s reach was not limited only to our afternoon cartoon selection, weekend excursions, and stuffed animals. In the fall of 1989 my sister donned her princess persona. She couldn’t pin down one princess in particular, so she simply took on the overall air of royalty, which was not entirely a stretch for her. Standing alongside her, I gleefully pulled on my buckskin buccaneer outfit. The only items that had been purchased for the costumes were my sister’s scepter and crown together with my coonskin cap (a Walt Disney World acquisition, coincidentally).Davy Crockett and a princess, could you find a more Disney set of siblings on Halloween? I think not.

The Davy Crokett outfit not only served its purpose on Halloween, but I can recall it being so comfortable that I wore it as pajamas until I hit my next growth spurt.


29 October 2008

D-I-Y: Walt Disney World Monorail Systen

Sometimes, to me, the best souvenirs from Walt Disney World are those that you happen upon or that are free. When at Walt Disney World, no self-respecting geek should be caught without their Monorail System Co-Pilot License. In the event that you have no co-piloted your own monorail, today’s Disney-It-Yourself will assist you in making one of your very own.

For today’s project you will needs to print out the image above (through trial and error, I suggest printing the image as a 3.5x5 picture), scissors, and a glue stick.

Using the scissors, cut out the co-pilot license.
Fold the license in half, horizontally.
Open the license up and apply adhesive using a glue stick (regular glue will pucker the paper) to one side of the back.
Refold the paper and allow the glue time to dry.
Sign your Walt Disney World Monorail System Co-Pilot License.

28 October 2008

Halloween's Coming Plan A Head

Today we have a special edition of Back Issues. This spirited article from the October 28, 1982 Disneyland Line offers up some terrific ideas for thrilling and chilling viewing during this spooky season, though I wouldn’t use it as a viewing guide as this special aired 26 years ago. Still, all of the features listed are top-notch Halloween spook-taculars. Some of these may be hard to obtain, so, as the article says, plan a head!

The horse’s hooves crunch the dead leaves as they swirl madly around the terrified horse and his rider. The stark branches are flung wildly, directly in their path by the relentless autumnal gusts. Suddenly Ichabod sees what he fears most: a black figure in a crimson cape, mounted on a menacing black stallion. The threatening intruder laughs satanically as he holds a jack-o’-lantern in his hand. Ichabod races toward the wooden bridge, but before he makes it across, the Headless Horseman hurls the jack-o’-lantern directly at Ichabod’s head…

This is perhaps the most chilling scene of the Disney classic, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Scenes from the spooky 1949 release will air Saturday night on “Disney’s Halloween Treat” on CBS. In addition, segments of “Night on Bald Mountain,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “101 Dalmatians,” and other films bring trolls, witches, goblins, Cruella de Ville, and mischievous Siamese cats to the television screen for a special Halloween program.

Although we don’t often associate Disney with suspenseful and spooky stories, there are scary elements in many of our films, and even some entire movies designed to shivers down your spine. “Watcher in the Woods,” an eerie tale of the unknown, screens this week in honor of Halloween, as part of the Family Film Festival.

Any of these chilling stories is sure to help you celebrate Halloween by giving you (as the Haunted Mansion ghost narrator intones), “hot and cold running chills!”

27 October 2008

What makes life divine

Today is my first wedding anniversary! That’s first as in one year, not first as in I plan to have another wedding. So today, like I am prone to doing on occasion, I’m going to talk about a loved one and how they related to my Disney world.

Almost immediately after I met Aileen I began suggesting a summer vacation to Walt Disney World. Part of me needed to know if she could be swept away by the magic, another part of me needed to know how we traveled together, and a big part of me just wanted to go on vacation. She had been to Walt Disney World with band in high school, but she had never really been to Walt Disney World. She wasn’t a huge fan, but she was willing to give it a try. I’d love to tell you that we didn’t fight at all on that first trip and that Aileen discovered that she loved visiting Walt Disney World, I’d love to tell you those things because that’s exactly what happened. As Bogart said, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

However, to say that we never argue would be a bold-faced lie. We have had, and will continue to have, some terrific brawls. On occasion they even revolve around Disney. Most recently my penchant for Disneyana on eBay, but that is beside the point. We fight just as much as the next couple, but when we travel together, that seems to be one of those rare times when we both have the same agenda or work together to find common ground.

Aileen may not totally understand my passion for Disney, but she understands enough and internalizes all the facts, figures, and rollercoaster emotions I emit better than a lot of Disney spouses I’ve seen, heard, or read about. I think that part of her wants to fall head over slippers for the magic, but she also wants us to each have our own passions and hobbies, and the ears have long been claimed in our household.

The Main Street Gazette and all of the side projects I’ve started take up a lot of time. Putting in several hours after a 10, 12, or longer hour workday wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t mean I was losing time with Aileen. There are times that I can get so wrapped up in what I am researching and writing about that I do not leave my office until it is well past time to go to bed. Aileen suffers these evenings with grace, but makes sure that I am aware that we are still newlyweds and that I should be spending just as much time basking in the light of her love as I do creating my own light of love for Disney.

Whenever I get to a breaking point, too much work, too much writing, too much of too much, Aileen is the one to pull me up, slap me around a little, and tell me that I can’t not do it just because I’m rundown. She knows that people count on me, and she makes sure that I know it too. So, all of you out there who enjoy your daily paper delivery have Aileen to thank. She keeps me grounded while still pushing me to reach for the stars.

I could not even consider doing what I do without her. Those of you who have had the chance to meet her know she is one of a kind, and know that she takes every opportunity she is given to bust my chops. She has shared just as much of the blood, sweat, and tears that I have put into all things Disney, and for that I am eternally grateful. She makes me laugh, can make me cry, she reminds me to be proud of myself, and carries me when my steps falter. Aileen is, without a doubt, the single most remarkable woman I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I am thankful every single day that she chooses to spend her days with me.

So, if you feel like wishing us a Happy Anniversary today, you should send your wishes to Aileen, because I already have enough joy in my life!

26 October 2008

"Singing" For the Deaf

The ability to enjoy all that Walt Disney World has to offer should not be limited only to those of us who have the gifts of sight, mobility, and hearing. In fact, I would take that one step further and say that the ability to enjoy the world itself should not be limited either. In 1976 the Kids of the Kingdom had thoughts along the same lines and premiered the “Lady America” show with something extra special, as explained in the Summer 1980 issue of the Disney News.

No matter where you go in the Magic Kingdom, you’ll be entertained by any of a number of talented musical performers adding to the multitude of sights and sounds in each land. Whether it’s capturing the feeling of another place or time or telling a story through lyrics, dance and music, each group communicates a message in its own special way.

The Kids of the Kingdom, a collection of energetic youths performing daily on the Cinderella Castle stage, add an extra dimension to their “Lady America” medley; the Kids’ choreography includes sign language for the deaf.

The show, created for the Walt Disney World bicentennial celebration in 1976 and has continued to be popular with Magic Kingdom guests ever since. “Lady America” follows a patriotic theme and the sign language was added to enhance the idea of neighborly American’s reaching out to each other.

During the 20-minute show, the Kids perform songs such as “Lady America,” “Things Are Looking Up,” “I Like You,” “All Kinds of People,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “Everything is Beautiful” and “Still Be Some Love Left Over” to which they add signing.

The signing fits easily into the choreography since the movements are fluid and are often symbolic of the words they express. Many of the signs can be quickly identified by even those not familiar with sign language. For example, the word “love” is expressed by pressing the hands over the heart.

Audience reaction to the show has been overwhelming. Many groups of deaf visitors have conversed back to the Kids, signing “We like you too!”

The Kids of the Kingdom “Lady America” show unites three basic forms of communication that surpass the spoken word in beauty of expression and universality – music, dance and sign language. What better accompaniment to song which states:
If you add all the love in the world,
Take away all the hate and the pain,
There would still be some love left over.

25 October 2008

Making a list

The holidays are upon us! Halloween is next week, Thanksgiving is less than a month away, Christmas and Hanukkah are only two months away, and my birthday is just a little over six weeks away (and yes, for those of you wondering, when your birthday is that close to Christmas it is tough. Not as tough as the set of twins I knew that were born on Christmas Day, but still…). So here is one geek’s wish list, in no particular order, for this celebration season.

Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park – Jeff Kurtti, Bruce Gordon
The Art and Flair of Mary Blair – John Canemaker
Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture – Beth Dunlop
Walt Disney’s Railroad Story: The Small-Scale Fascination That Led to a Full-Scale Kingdom – Michael Broggie
Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality - Alain Littaye and Didier Ghez
The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland
Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti – Kunzang Choden
Lore and Legend of the Yeti

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Attraction Poster
Walt Disney World Railroad Attraction Poster
Christi Bunn’s France Pavilion (If Disney ever gets back to her...)

EPCOT Center Construction News – Volume 1 Number 4, June 6, 1982
The Dawn of a New Disney Era – A Commemorative Pre-Opening Guide to Epcot Center
Adventurer Almanacs (Thanks for getting me addicted to these Jeff!)
1983 Walt Disney World Bus Transportation Routes
Lou Mongello's Walt Disney World Trivia Calendar 2009
Disney News Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter 1992
Set of 1989 Park Guide Maps
1978 Fort Wilderness Guide Map

Walt Disney Treasures – The Complete Davy Crockett Televised Series

24 October 2008

Wallowing in shoulder-high waste

So, what was the first building completed during the construction of EPCOT Center? If you believe the exhaustive research of the EPCOT Center Construction News, which I tend to, it was this structure right here.
Okay, so it isn’t a modern marvel like Spaceship Earth and it doesn’t have the same awe-inspiring effect that Imagination has, but I am willing to bet it was treasured by the men and woman whose diligence built EPCOT Center.

23 October 2008

How They Travel In The West

Back when I was but a lad, Crockett’s Tavern, found in the Settlement of Fort Wilderness, was not just a bar with a few bites. No sir, Crockett’s Tavern was an honest to goodness restaurant, full of enough home cookin’ to fill up any appetite. And if the guitar player in the corner, strumming along the Ballad of Davy Crockett, wasn’t enough entertainment for you, well, you didn’t have to look far for further entertainment. Crockett’s Tavern’s menu was chockfull of interesting tales and tidbits.
Take, for instance, How They Travel In The West (if some of the words trip your tongue up, trying saying them aloud):
My ol friend Mike Fink don’t mine usin his haid an savin his hide. I was goin out scoutin fer possum round Little Creek, near yellow-leg Swamp last fall, when I seed the waters of the Mississip riled up somethin fierce. I peered over the river bank ta find what was causin all the fuss an there were two great alligators whiskin along side by side like two saplins in a whirlwind. Behind them was Mike in a boat, an goin like all possessed. I grinned til I loosened two front teeth when I reelized he had them beasts tackled up an harnessed ta his boat.

Mike kept them critters fer quite a while, ridin round the river in style an hardly ever doin a lick of real work. But alligators like lots of meat ta eat, an finally got too costly for Mike ta feed. He turned them out ta pasture, figgerin they’d find their own feed an wouldn’t be no charge on him. Those ungrateful ‘gators jest took off down the river, an never did come back ta Mike. One of them had been a mean-tempered beast, an Mike wasn’t too sorry ta see him go, but he felt real bad bout losin the youngest one, cause he’d been planning to train him ta the saddle an ride him ta meetin on Sundays.

Addendum: Now is the time

If all is right and well with the world, then all of the Publications the Main Street Gazette previously followed are back in their rightful place (you can take a deep breath now George!). As well, I add a new view or two. If I did not place you back on the list, then I am terribly sorry! I promise that it was not a slight, I simply missed an entry. Please let me know so that I can take care of it.

In other news, there will be an article running a little later this evening…

22 October 2008

Proudly presents your dinner

The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Animal Kingdom has this to say about Flame Tree Barbecue:

“There is a delicious irony to the array of architectural motifs that adorn the shade structures and other fixtures of this area. Notice that each of the pairs of animals on a given structure (ants and anteaters, snakes and mice, spiders and bugs) represents a predator-and-prey relationship.”

This predator-and-prey theme is subtly worked into the designs of the dining pavilions in a variety of art forms, from wood carvings to kite-like banners, with a prismatic palate. Beyond the pavilions however, the depiction of this motif continues in unlikely, and even more subtle, ways. My favorite item, or should I say items, that display this predatory premise are these cooking utensils found near the counter of Flame Tree Barbeque.
From left to right: a slotted spoon with fish and bird, a fork with a snake and mouse, tongs with a waterfowl and insect, a ladle with what appears to be a feline and insect, and a fire poker with a lobster and worms.

21 October 2008

Now is the time

As an observant reader of the Main Street Gazette, which all of you are, I’m sure you have noticed a few changes. We’ve added some new headlines to the publication, and that is in thanks to, as always, the Gazette’s good friend Eric Hoffman. Eric has helped me out numerous times since I began this little paper and I highly recommend anyone who needs graphic or design assistance stop in to check on his work and see what he can do for you.

A more striking change, and one I have been trying to complete for a while now, is our new domain. Those of you who have been subscribing to us over at mainstreetgazette.blogspot.com now have a lot less typing to do as the Gazette has moved to www.mainstgazette.com. This is just a baby step, but it is a step towards a brighter future for the Main Street Gazette, I hope!

Unfortunately, as with all changes in life, there was a small, well, not really small, unforeseen hiccup during the process. All of my fellow publishers that I rely upon daily to keep me up to date with Disney worldwide were wiped from their section. Fear not, I have not had a falling out with Greg or George or Jeff or Richard or the Princess or John or Ed or any of the other fine writers that consist of the Disney blogging community. In fact, I don’t know what I would do without them! They will be back in their proper place shortly, it may just take me a little while to recompose the list in its entirety, and I don’t want to leave anyone out.

So thanks for sticking with me for so long, and here’s hoping I continue to be worthy of your support!

Pumpkins scream

Yesterday, Andy over at The Backside of Water posted some great Mickey Pumpkins, and quipped about placing Mickey’s face on the pumpkins. While I don’t know about the Mouse’s features, here are a couple of carving stencils to add a little Disney magic to your pumpkins this season, courtesy of Disney’s HalloweenTime.

I suggest, after printing your chosen pumpkin pattern of course, affixing it to your plump pumpkin with clear tape at both the bottom and top of the page before carving.

Oh, and here is a special picture just for Andy. That’s right, it is the backside of water.

20 October 2008

We Care so you can Scare

I am once again showcasing my mediocre photography skills, I promise to get better, to showcase a unique detail. This time we find intrigue at the Monsters, Inc. Meet and Greet. Along the queue are signs and photo ops a plenty, also, we find a bulletin board. Like most workplace boards we find health and safety posters, advertisements, and articles to make co-workers laugh. Someone, somewhere along the way has come up with the top ten ways to get fired. While crossing Roz and/or not filing paperwork seem to be the most common ways to find yourself unemployed, acting like Glenn Kim is right up there.

And just who is Glenn Kim? Turns out he is one of the crafters of cinematic excellence over at Pixar. He has worked on Cars, A Bug’s Life, and The Incredibles, among other films. On Monsters, Inc. specifically he worked as a production artist and CG painter. Glenn also, apparently, knows how to get fired from the Scare/Laugh Floor. You can check out more about Glenn Kim and his artwork on his site: Glenn Kim Art.

19 October 2008

Scare and spook you

My good friend the Princess is currently taking us on a tour of all things Halloween and autumn in the Magic Kingdom. Not only does this tour include spooktacular details from this year, but also features ghosts of Halloweens past. This tour will put shivers up your spine, in a good way!

While on the tour, I spotted these silly scarecrows, and thought I’d add them to the tour. I know they’re only scarecrows, dressed in rags, but their outfits looked so familiar…

The Carl Barks Story

This article, I feel, would only be muddled if I tried to talk up its significance in the world of Disney. So, without further ado, straight from the Winter 83/84 Disney News, written by Leonard Maltin, The Carl Barks Story: The Creator of Scrooge McDucks Moves Into the Limelight.
Who is the most widely read contemporary author in the world? James Michener? Robert Ludlum? Guess again.

Who is the most popular artist in the world? Picasso? LeRoy Neiman? Andy Warhol?

This may come as a surprise, but the most popular and widely read artist-writer in the world – by at least one educated estimate – is a man whom most people have never heard: Carl Barks.

You see, Carl Barks was the author and artist responsible for many of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck comic books for more than 20 years (and the creator of the immortal character Scrooge McDuck). Although he retired ten years ago, reprinted editions of his stories are still read by approximately 22 million people every month, all around the world.

Nobody Knew His Name
Bark’s obscurity is easy to explain: his name never appeared on any of his work – because artist and writers weren’t credited on most comic books. Barks himself was content to work in anonymity for many, many years.

Then, in the 1960s, as comic book “fandom” spread throughout the land, a few knowledgeable buffs learned the identity of the man behind the most fanciful stories – and flavorful drawings – in those Disney conic monthlies. Just as Barks was easing into retirement, he began to receive fan letter and invitations to appear at comic collectors’ conventions.

In 1971, with a much-reduced work schedule, Barks had some free time and agreed to do an oil painting for one fan who longed for an “original” of his favorite Uncle Scrooge comic book cover. Although he’d never painted seriously before in his life, Barks rose to the challenge – with the help of his wife, Gare, herself a talented artist. He copied the original cover, but decided to paint the ducks in a realistic, three-dimensional style; the effect was startling, but the fan who commissioned the painting was delighted and paid Barks the agreed-upon sum of$150 for his work.

Word got around that barks was willing to do these paintings, he began receiving other commissions and soon had more than he could fill. The price began to jump as well. By the time he stopped painting the Ducks in oil, in 1976, Carl had finished 122 separate works – and in the years since then, some of these paintings have been resold for as much as $60,000.

Not bad for a little-known artist who, until his 70th birthday, had never tried an oil painting.

At Long Last, Recognition
The barks saga continues to unfurl: In 1982 he was honored by the publication of not one, but three costly books celebrating his work. Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times, a sumptuous, limited edition (5,000 copies, almost all sold), sells for $159.95 and gathers some of his best comic stories, in oversize, newly colored pages, with notes and comments by Barks himself and a signed lithograph “suitable for framing.”

The Fine Art of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck is an even more limited run (1,875 books, also nearly sold out), priced at $200 with reproductions of all 122 Barks oil paintings, along with a biographical easy and the “lineage” of each portrait. And Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book is a full-fledge book-length study of the Master by a longtime devotee, Michael Barrier.

The Scrooge McDuck book was the first to reach the marketplace and generated an unusual amount of attention in the press, including feature stories in both Time and Newsweek. The amount of coverage was matched only by the enthusiasm expressed by each reporter and reviewer. Obviously most of them grew up on Carl Barks’s comic books in the 1950s and ‘60s, and were happy to revisit those comics and find them still so entertaining. Jay Cocks, writing in Time, declared that the contents of this book made up “strong evidence that Scrooge and his creator Carl Barks belong in the great mainstream of American folklore.”

And one other prominent fan expressed his admiration in a foreword to the book itself. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars and co-creator of Raiders of the Lost Ark, calls Carl’s comics “a priceless park of our literary heritage.”

If this strikes some people as mere hyperbole, all doubt should be erased by an examination of the artist’s vintage work.

The Plot and More
In “Land beneath the Ground,” Uncle Scrooge begins to worry that his money vault – the size of an entire city block – could be threatened by earthquakes. With “five billion quintuplatillion umptuplatillion multuplatillion impossibidillion fantasticaltrillion dollars” at stake, he hires a crew to dig underground in search of fault lines, but those professionals are scared away by the sound of strange voices. Inevitably, Donald Duck and his nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) follow Scrooge into the mine shaft to see what’s up – and discover a strange race living miles underground. These goonlike creatures “roll around like balled-up armadillos and talk like movie cowboys,” and call themselves Terries and Fermies. Their main sport in life is causing earthquakes, which they do in constant competition. Their next target: a pillar that is the main support of Duckburg!

What storyteller of old could improve upon that for sheer imagination? And how many could complement the basic idea with vivid, funny and often extraordinary drawings?

This is what makes Carl Barks so special. He poured his heart and soul into every comic book, and it showed. His work-and-picture canvas was the 28-page comic book story. No one used this format more wonderfully than he.

In a recent talk with the artist and his wife, this longtime fan learned just how much thought – and hard work – went into each of Barks’s comic creations. It all began with the story, written in longhand on pads of legal-size paper.

The Creative Process
“One of the first things was to think of too much material,” he explains, “more than I could cram into the story. Then I had something I could cut down and save the best parts of. Starting with the basic idea, I would try to figure out what my climax would be and then work backwards from there… or get a beginning, then work from the beginning toward the middle, like a weaver working on a piece of cloth, weaving at it from all sides.”

One of his principal influences was Elzie Segar, the fabled creator of Popeye. Barks fondly remembers “his storytelling and those crazy characters he would invent. It made me realize what a limitless field you had for thinking up different places and people that your characters could meet. Now these places where Popeye and Olive Oyl went were not the least bit authentic. They were just places that he would invent, but I took my ducks to authentic places, and that’s where I differed from Segar.”

Barks was a stickler for detail and researched the backgrounds and locations of each story, with the frequent help of National Geographic magazines. The irony is he hardly ever traveled himself. “Lord no,” he muses. “I never had time, and couldn’t afford it.”

Barks is uncharacteristically modest about his drawing ability (“I had so little experience, I was just feeling my way all the time”), but he takes great pride in his ability as a storyteller – and story planner.

“A lot of the guys have noticed that for so many of my pages I had two climaxes, one at the end of the first four panels, and at the bottom of the page.” The reason: “something to cause the person to want to read on further.”

After breaking down his story into panels – and miniclimaxes – Barks would spend a tremendous amount of time sharpening the dialogue that appeard in the comic-strip balloons.

“At times I would count the syllables in the words, to make sure that the dialogue would flow like music from one panel to another. The kids noticed that I was using some strange new words every once in a while; they could guess what the meaning of the word was, because of the position in the sentence, but it was one they’d never seen before. Well, that’s because I was counting syllables, and that particular word happened to have the right number to cover the exact meaning for which I was looking.”

Pretty exacting for a “mere” comic book, but this attention to detail is bark’s trademark. And like any great artist or writer, he kept refining his work up to the very last minute. “Sometimes even after I had the whole thing all drawn and inked I would throw away two or three pages [and start again].”

The Making of a Cartoonist
The one thing about Barks was that he was never pretentious. He’s lived a simple life these 80-odd years – and has just moved back to the state of his birth, Oregon, after many decades in California. He had no particular training for the profession that has brought him latter-day fame. He spent his early years working on farms, ranches, in railroad repair yards, and in a box factory. But something drew him (pun intended) to the field of cartooning, and after a correspondence-school course, he decided to try his luck selling magazine cartoons full-time. In 1935 he went to work for the Walt Disney studio, where he found his niche not as a cartoonist – but as a gag man, specializing in Donald Duck. He was never cut out to be a cog in such a giant wheel, however, and the solitariness of cartooning held appeal for him. So in 1943 he did his first work on a Disney comic book, and before long he was writing and drawing the leading Disney comics – unwittingly influencing a generation of wide-eyed fans.

Though he never minded the anonymity of comic books during his 30-year career in the field, Barks enjoys the adulation that is now coming his way.

“I am pleased that there are so many people who have recognized how much hard work I did to try to make the stories good,” he says, “and they must be just part of a tremendous number of other people. For every one who takes the time and patience to write to me, there must be a hundred others who have liked my stories, too, but are not the kind who write letters. So I know I must have millions of fans out there who like my stuff and probably know my name. And it’s nice to know that.”

18 October 2008

You'll learn things you never knew you never knew

Tucked away, behind the staggering loss of Pleasure Island’s nightclubs, were several other closures within Walt Disney World including Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends. This show was found in Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Camp Minnie-Mickey and included appearances by Pocahontas, Grandmother Willow, and Sprig, a spirited tree sapling. The show opened and closed with Pocahontas belting out “Colors of the Wind” and spotlighted animals such as raccoons, snakes, opossums, and porcupines and their clever skills that help them to survive. The theater itself is small, but, like some of the smallest people I know, it size gave it an advantage by allowing guests, especially children, to be up close and personal to the show.

But this is Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which means that while you are getting all warm and fuzzy with the animals you are also being presented with a message, as Joe Rohde said “…one of the major themes of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is this intrinsic value of nature, this idea that nature itself has a value, which is a greater value than anything else you can put on the other side of the ballast.” This theme was infused throughout the Pocahontas show, starting just as the show opens and we learned that the forest is being destroyed. Here is where are animal friends made their grand appearances, as one of the creatures that inhabits the forest has the skills needed to save the forest. And so, our quest began, with discussions of the merits of each creature as they made their way on to, and off of, the stage. Each forest friend has a remarkable talent or skill, but none of these were enough, on their own, to save the forest. As the story came to a clean and neat finish we learn that we, as people, are the creature that could save the forest from, well, other people.

This message of conservation and protection has occasionally been described as ‘thinly veiled,’ but I think that is a misrepresentation of the theme. Pocahontas’ message was not thinly veiled; it came right out and hit you, repeatedly, in your heart. Why? Because when you are trying to really make a point, as a majority of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is, you must overcome short attention spans, short memories, and the idea that it is someone else’s responsibility. How do you do that? You give a guest a close encounter with what you are trying to protect to allow them the opportunity to feel a connection. You repeat yourself over and over again. You leave a lasting impression. All of which, in a very brief show, Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends did remarkably well.

During its ten year run I don’t believe Pocahontas and her Forest Friends had a profound impact on the adults who invested the time to see the show. After all, as adults, our attention spans and short term memories are pretty well set. No, I think the target audience of this show, the ones who could really be affected by its message and make a difference, were the children who were able to get up close and personal with Pocahontas. The Grandmother Willow Theater was designed so that children, or future environmentalists, could sit right at the front of the stage; the show was designed to engage these smaller guests by the presence of real live animals; and those two elements together make a powerful combination.

Now, I don’t believe every child walked away from this show thinking that they needed to go out and save the raccoons, save the world. But, what if only one child a year became so inclined, or took an inclination they already had and transformed it into a firm belief, because of Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends? Then the environment has gained ten new allies and fighters over the past decade, and it only takes one person to make a difference. My sister grew up with a love of animals that I did not understand at the time (as children technology and the future were my loves, and I didn’t see how they could intertwine, despite the over-powering messages from The Land), and I can only imagine what she would have become if she had seen this show when she was impressionable.

The fact of the matter is, protecting wild lands and wild creatures is important, as demonstrated all throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends was only one example of this message in the park, but it was one of the most powerful and home-hitting experiences the park had. The show was often overlooked by guests, even during its finally week the show I saw was nowhere near full, but it was a unique experience worthy of the cause. I only hope the show or attraction that comes to fill Grandmother Willow’s place brings with it the same message and the same intensity of heart.

One last aside, I have seen a lot of face characters in my time, but both my wife and I believe that the show’s Pocahontas was not only the best Pocahontas we have ever seen, but the most fantastic face character we have ever seen.

17 October 2008

Go where you please

National Car Rental, which had been the official rental car company of Walt Disney World since 1980, handed over its throne to its sibling organization Alamo Rent A Car in 2002 (both are operated by Vanguard Car Rental USA Inc.). Yet, even still, National’s influence can be seen and felt. Take for example this advertisement for “Horseless Carriage for Hire,” as seen on the hindquarters of the Main Street U.S.A. Jitney.

16 October 2008

The Wee Little Chapel in the Coop

A crack of dawn ceremony sounds just about right for a fowl affair, and even the idea of serving eggs at breakfast would be heartless. The wedding itself however, between Prunella Pullet and Hick Rooster, has been a long time coming.

Prunella and Hick were two of three named characters from the short Cock O’ the Walk, which was released in 1935. The third named character was O’ the Walk himself, who is regularly referred to as City Slicker.

The short revolved around the story of City Slicker who returns to his hometown a bona fide hero and world-champion boxer. All the chicks flock to adore him as he swaggers about. Prunella is so taken by City Slicker that she leaps into the ring to start dancing with Slicker. Hick Rooster, Prunella’s boyfriend, is obviously not thrilled by this turn of events and jumps into the ring himself, challenges Slicker to a match, and is subsequently pummeled. During the course of the fight, documents that reveal Slicker is, in fact, married fall into Prunella’s lap. Now a hen scorned, Prunella leaps to Hick’s battered side and tires to revive and cheer him on. Inspired by this turn of events, Hick not only recovers instantly, he also has gathered enough strength to K.O. Slicker.

Since then, Prunella and Hick have, apparently, been two love birds and have decided to wed. Perhaps, after the wedding, Minnie can fill us in on the juicy details. Did Prunella get cold feet and fly the coop? Did Slicker interrupt the wedding for Prunella’s hand or for a rematch with Hick? Or did our feather couple simply fly off into the sunset? I hope we find out soon!

15 October 2008

You make the world go round

In my work as a preschool teacher I have taken string and run it along our playground with my class to show them how long dinosaurs were, I have used balls in a field to create accurate distances in our solar systems, and I have even had parents who are medical professionals x-ray pieces of themselves so that I have real x-rays to show what bones really look like. The moment that they see something bigger than themselves, the ‘WOW’ moment I call it, is one of the reasons I love my job so much. Yet, as a typical adult, I know that I find my own ‘WOW’ moments less and less the older and older I get.During our trip in September I was trying to capture the Universe of Energy’s interior mural, because if you have learned one thing reading the Main Street Gazette it is that I love mosaics and murals, when I was approached by a female Cast Member who asked me since I was taking the photograph if I had time for her to tell me the story about it. It may be the teacher in me, and I cannot imagine how many people turn her down when she tries to show them this, but I always answer questions like this, “Sure.”

She took me back to the sliding doors and the center of the mural, the point from which the circles radiate down both walls. This, she informed me, was representative of the Sun and its flares. As we traveled along the right wall, which now depicted one of the original energy sources to my wife and I, she spoke about the rays and the different intensities the colors made up and then she stopped.

“Do you see that little speck there on the blue tile?” she paused to give us a moment to find it, “That represents the Earth in comparison to the Sun, and its distance from the Sun.”“WOW…”

It doesn’t take much to impress me, but this was still one of those moments when you have to stop and take notice of how grand the things are around you and beyond you. Not only is this a great and very thoughtful detail, but it also provides me with a moment to be a teacher. The next time someone asks you if they can show you something, especially in Walt Disney World, leap at the chance. After all, it isn’t every day you get the chance to learn something new, seeing something in a new light, or wow yourself.

Coincidentally, I don’t believe the Earth is actually that blurry in person.

14 October 2008

We're going to insist that you buckle up your safety belt securely

It’s become a question I hear a lot, and a question that I can never seem to find a satisfactory answer to, “Why did you start the Main Street Gazette?”

My answers can vary from the light-hearted, “because my wife said I had to stop telling her all of this stuff and find a way to tell other people,” to the dissertation length, “One of my earliest memories, the remnants of the Fort Wilderness Railroad tracks, is rarely discussed and there are huge numbers of these types of elements unknown to the regular guest…,” you get the picture. And yet, in almost every single response I give, I also tend to mention my Aunt Keeni, sometimes in passing and occasionally with a more serious tone, but she always finds a way to make an appearance in my answers.

For those of you who haven’t been following the Main Street Gazette for the past year (shame on you, by the way), my Aunt Keeni worked for the Security Division of Walt Disney World for over twenty years before a tragic car accident claimed her life on the way to work on this morning, October 14th, two years ago. She was my inside story, my front-gate pass, and one of the few people I actually listened to when they were busting my chops.

For the rest of my family, she was always whatever they needed her to be, but she was always, always, remembered as being the strongest bond between my family and Walt Disney World. When she passed away there was a tremendous void left in all of our hearts. A part of that void was the knowledge of Walt Disney World and all of the experiences we had shared with her there, in fact I still feel her with me whenever I stand at the entrance to Epcot (where she always used to meet whomever she happened to be shuttling into the parks that day) and in the far corner of Fantasyland near the now retired Skyway pavilion.

As we all tried to find our way back to a sense of normalcy after her passing, I kept trying to find a way to be a sliver of what my Aunt Keeni had been for our family. In hindsight it may seem a little disparaging to tie a person’s whole life to Walt Disney World, but it was what I knew and it was what I could give. And so, the Main Street Gazette was born out of a million reasons, but with the ever-present thought that I was carrying forward a piece of my Aunt Keeni.Last year on this date I asked two things of the Main Street Gazette’s readers, and this year I simply ask you to do the same two things. One, on your next trip to any Disney theme park worldwide tell a single Cast Member who makes your trip a bit more magical in that way that only a Cast Member can, “Thank you.” And two, and most importantly, as they say in Test Track, “Please make sure your safety belts are securely fastened as they always should be in your vehicle.”

13 October 2008

Right now at NASA

On October 1st, while Walt Disney World was turning 37 and Epcot was turning 26, NASA was also celebrating its birthday, its fiftieth to be exact. As a child who grew up in the backyard of not only Walt Disney World but also the space program, my most grand dream was to grow up and soar into outer space. Though my chances of becoming a true astronaut today, with all of my training devoted to what makes the G sound as opposed to pulling Gs, the dream that was instilled in my younger self still endures.

To mark NASA monumental achievements and its anniversary, though a few weeks late, let’s take a stroll around the courtyard of Mission: SPACE. Here, words from some of the world’s bravest heroes, brightest thinkers, and most intrepid are immortalized on a series of inspiring plaques.