27 May 2015

Colorful Aquatic World

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of joining Lou Mongello on the WDW Radio to kick off summer with a look at Typhoon Lagoon with our own special brand of history, food, attractions, and storytelling! We briefly touched upon all the experiences offered to Typhoon Lagoon’s guests via the Shark Reef, which sparked me to pull this gem out to share.

This is an early piece of concept art for the Shark Reef. In this cutaway view you can see all the various ways a guest could enjoy the tropical marine life of the reef; from walking along the bridge, to stepping below in order to peer into the clear blue waters from behind glass, or even don snorkeling gear and get up close and personal with the fish, sharks, and other marine life in the tank. The design may have changed a little, this looks a little more swamp than grotto and the underwater pathway would end up in an overturned ship and not the bridge, but the spirit remained the same right on through to opening day.

What I love most about this concept piece is that it shows the entire range of experiences in a single frame by just using a cross-section. Typically with concept art you get a single scene or activity, perhaps there is a description of more to do, or other images to explain further, but I love that we can see it all in one brief moment here.

Have you ever swam with the fishes of Shark Reef? Perhaps the better, non-gangster-like, question would be, what is your favorite way to experience Shark Reef?

26 May 2015

What if everything is there?

If you’ve followed the Gazette for any length of time, you know that I typically stick to discussions around the theme parks, with a particular slant towards Walt Disney World. In short, that basically means I stay away from movie or television news and reviews. You can imagine my surprise then when I was sitting through a Saturday matinee of Tomorrowland formulating thoughts akin to a review. This won’t be that review, but perhaps it will be something more as I explore my connection with Tomorrowland and what how the film called me back to that bond.

As an adult, whenever asked what my favorite corner of the Magic Kingdom is, I’ve always identified as a child of Frontierland. Perhaps that comes from my eternal fondness for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, steam trains like the Walt Disney World Railroad, or maybe from the fact that my second home growing up was Fort Wilderness. Heck, it may even have come from my father’s fascination with all things pirates and Jimmy Buffet that led me to find my own scoundrel in the cowboys of the west. I don’t really know where the attachment comes from, but it’s never been an entirely honest answer. If I am forced to be honest with myself, and with everyone here by proxy, growing up I always found myself with one foot in the past and one foot in the future.

The Tomorrowland of my youth was an amalgamation of Walt’s Progress City and the hard sciences that dictated the discoveries of the day. It was filled with gleaming spires, soft angles, and the latest and greatest of everything that would commonplace in just a few short years, but most of all it was optimistic and filled with hope. As the years went by and the attractions of Tomorrowland were less about tomorrow and more about storytelling, my attentions on tomorrow drifted over to the hope I still found in EPCOT Center’s Future World. For the Magic Kingdom, that meant that Frontierland became the place to hang my hat.

I’ve always been an optimist and a dreamer. If you don’t believe me, just ask the missus, it’s one of those things that she loves about it almost as much as she hates. As I grew up, however, some of that pure, unadulterated hope for a shining tomorrow began to dull as I began taking on real world challenges and daily grinds. I looked back at the future of yesterday and saw an unbridled enthusiasm that isn’t pervasive in today’s world and that is the future I chose to hold in my heart, rather than dedicate myself to finding that hope once again.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what any of this might have to do with the Memorial Day release, Tomorrowland? Early on in the movie we see a preschool Casey Newton being asked about her fascination with the stars which inevitably leads to the space travel question, “What if nothing is there?” Young Casey’s response, “What if everything is there?”

If you read reviews of the film, you’re going to see that there are problems within the story and that the message can be heavy-handed. Perhaps Tomorrowland isn’t for everyone, it won’t garner any awards, and it may get cast aside in the annals of film history, but maybe that’s not what it’s there for. Walt Disney was never shy about getting his message out, and typically his vehicles showcasing possible tomorrows featured a shining version of the future, but they were bright and in your face just the same. A future where anything is possible? That’s the future Casey believes in throughout Tomorrowland and that is the same belief we all had at some point in our lives, we’ve just forgotten how it felt.

Do I wish Tomorrowland the film would do astronomical numbers, nudging the powers that be to pay attention to all that Future World and Tomorrowland could be? Sure, but maybe that’s not the point. Not everyone gets a pin to visit Tomorrowland, but it is the responsibility of those who see and believe to pass that message along. If you have seen, or head to see, Tomorrowland and it touches you deep down in that corner of your heart where the future means something to you and is filled with unlimited possibilities, then it has done its job. It has passed along the message of hope and it’s up to us to spread the word, from our hideouts in Frontierland to the farthest corners of a galaxy far, far away.

13 May 2015

A Growing Experience

Sometimes the blurbs attached to Walt Disney World press photos hit the significance of a moment square on the nose. In other circumstances, time has given a photograph new meaning or importance. Such is the case with this 1982 photo from The Land pavilion in EPCOT Center.

Pictured is one of Listen to the Land’s two cabin boats that carry passengers through the scenes filled with Audio Animatronics, film scenes, and various greenhouses. The description reads as follows:

A GROWING EXPERIENCE -- Innovative ways of producing crops will be presented in the “biomes,” and experimental growing area that culminates the “Listen to the Land” ride-thru at Future World’s The Land pavilion.

Gives you a great idea of what to expect from the second half of the Listen to the Land tour, right? The most crucial element, that wasn’t even known at the time, was that this photograph would capture the original experience of the live narration provided by a Cast Member. From 1982 through August of 2006, each set of boats to travel through the canals of Listen to the Land, renamed Living with the Land in December of 1993, came equipped with a Cast Member who had a narration spiel. The wonderful part of having a Cast Member present within the ride vehicle was that you could ask them questions and get answers in between the predetermined script pieces.

There were a couple of obvious problems with this structure. For starters, if there were not enough Cast Members scheduled at a given time, guests would watch as empty boats came and went while they waited to board the next Cast Member accompanied watercraft. Not only could this add to longer lines, it could increase guests’ frustration. Secondly were the Cast Members themselves. If a particular Cast Member just wasn’t feeling it on a given day, or might have been at the end of a long shift, they could provide guests with a lackluster narration that did not to enhance the inspiration provided by the greenhouses. It’s for these reasons that it makes complete sense to remove the human element and add in the constant, engaging narrative provided by Mike Brassell.

It makes complete sense, but I can’t help but miss that human element. As a guest who may only be visiting once every several years, or perhaps even once in a lifetime, it makes sense for Epcot to want to provide a consistent show. For my part, having the chance to engage with a living and breathing Cast Member who has other knowledge they could provide outweighs the fear that I may get only a mediocre performance. Thankfully, we have our memories, and photos such as this one, to remind us of how we used to listen to The Land.

12 May 2015

What Wonderful Magic

Names in and around Walt Disney World almost always serve a purpose. They recognize achievement, such as in the case of the Inventor’s Circle found in Epcot’s Future World West. They inspire and grant guests the ability to recognize the space they are in, seen in any land (Serka Zong), any pavilion (Superstar Television Theater), and any attraction (Irrawaddy Irma). Real or fictitious names are used throughout the parks and resorts to further a story, just like the window we’re looking at today.

Painted in gold letters along the bottom window ledge, just to the side of the main entrance to the Emporium, is the name and title “Osh” Popham, Proprietor. Sounds like a made up name, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but it was created for the Magic Kingdom. Osh happens to be a character from the 1911 novel, Mother Carey’s Chickens, by Kate Douglas Wiggin. The book was adapted into a live action musical by Disney and given the new title of Summer Magic in 1963.

Legendary performer Burl Ives played the role of Osh in Summer Magic. Summer Magic takes place in the town of Beulah, Maine and Osh is the caretaker of the home that the widow Margaret Carey and her children, including a teenage Haley Mills in the role of Nancy, move into. Osh’s maneuverings keep the family in the house and weaves them into the fabric of the town. Oh, and he has a couple of words of wisdom to pass along to the family, including one in song with Ugly Bug Ball.

While Ives is deserving of any accolade or nod, fictitious or not, I’m sure you’re wondering what the tie to Main Street U.S.A.’s Emporium is. Certainly the era of Main Street and Summer Magic line up, but we have to have more than that, right? As it turns out, Osh Popham isn’t just the house’s caretaker, he also happens to have a shop in Beulah. It may not carry as many items as the Magic Kingdom’s main shop, but Osh’s hardware store is critical to the refreshing of the rundown home in the film, as would any hardware store in a turn of the century small town.

04 May 2015

The Sweetest Girl by Far

Once upon a time the Emporium on Main Street, U.S.A. didn’t run from town square all the way down to the backside of Casey’s Corner. While the facades have lasted through the decades, there used to be a host of small shops, just like the storefronts that could have been found on any Main Street at the turn of the last century. Perhaps the greatest loss during the 2001 reshaping of the Magic Kingdom’s main thoroughfare, however, was West Center Street.

Situated about halfway down Main Street, is the intersection of Center Street. Clever, huh? At Main Street, Center Street divided into its West and East sections. While East Center Street still remains, West Center Street was filled in to expand the Emporium in 2001. West Center Street was home to the edifices of the livery stables, Champion Cyclery, and the Chinese Hand Laundry, not to mention the real world home to the Harmony Barber Shop and Hallmark’s Card Shop. Some of these businesses would find new homes, real or imagined, and some would never return.

The Harmony Barber Shop has gained some renown over the past decade or so, but was always a hidden gem when it was housed on West Center Street. The one thing that couldn’t hide on the lane, however, was the Greenhouse Flower Shop. Less a shop and more a pageantry of flowers spilling out from buckets and over the sides of the carts that carried them, the brightly colored blooms filled every corner of West Center Street. The flowers were, naturally, silk in order to ensure that there wasn’t a single blossom that wilted beneath the brutal Florida sun.

Between the ever blooming bouquets and fashionably attired merchants, the opportunities for photographs were abundant on West Center Street, just ask this little one!