19 June 2017

Bigelow’s Air Circus

There are a few movies that I have an unabashed, yet puzzling, fascination with. Some of them may have to do with films I grew up with, some with genres that I think are underrepresented, and some of them I have no particularly logical rationale for why I love them, I just do. One such film is 1991’s The Rocketeer. Maybe it was the fact that he used to fly above Disney-MGM Studios during Sorcery in the Sky, maybe it was the fact that the Bulldog Cafe could be found on the backlot of the park for a while, or maybe there’s always been some part of Cliff Secord that I saw in myself. Regardless, that distinctive silhouette has been a part of my life for some 26 years now.

A while back we detailed all the places you could find a nod to the Rocketeer in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Many of these details have now vanished like the Rocketeer’s vapor trail, it appears as if the Rocketeer has been making the rounds all throughout Walt Disney World. Even over at the Studios, where you can now see the Rocketeer soaring by as part of the recently added Disney Movie Magic projection show. Today, let’s tour a few of the other places around the Vacation Kingdom where you can find nods to The Rocketeer.

The logical place to start is, of course, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs. It appears, just by touring through Jock’s converted hangar and taking note of the various trophies and artifacts he’s collected over the years that he and Cliff are cut from the same cloth. Take, for instance, this banner hanging from the Hangar Bar’s rafters. If it’s a little dark or hard to make out it reads, “Air Pirate Circus, Bigelow’s Air Circus 1938, Chaplin Airfield, Los Angeles, California.” This happens to be the very same air circus at Chaplin Airfield where Cliff takes to the skies in view of the public for the very first time. He does so only out of necessity as his friend Malcolm, who is intoxicated, had taken off in Cliff’s biplane in order to keep Cliff from being fired and has an emergency midflight. It’s not hard to believe that it was during this trip out to California that Cliff and Jock would have crossed paths. It may also explain why the South Seas Club was one of Jock’s favorite establishments, as noted by its coaster being included in those at the Hangar Bar.

Speaking of the South Seas Club, an additional tribute to The Rocketeer can be found over at another south seas watering hole, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in Disney’s Polynesian Village. Mounted on the wall, just beneath a painting of the Nautilus (from another film near and dear to my heart, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), is a menu from the South Seas Club. This is the club where Neville Sincliar, aka a Nazi agent, takes Jenny Blake to woo her in the hopes of getting close to Cliff and stealing the Rocketeer’s jetpack. In the film this is when all of the action really starts to pick up with and leads to kidnappings, shootouts, gangsters, FBI agents, and, of course, a zeppelin that inevitably catches fire. Oh, and did I mention that Howard Hughes is also in the film? Let’s just say, that there is a lot on the menu when you start a night at the South Seas Club.

Our final stop takes us over to Epcot’s Innovation Fountain. While it has been a part of Epcot since the park opened, it received a substantial facelift during a 1993 refurbishment that added nozzles, a water cannon, and lighting effects. With this refurbishment, Imagineers also took three months to create dancing water sequences that would present a water ballet to guests every 15 minutes. Many musical cues were selected for these shows, but the selections from James Horner’s score from The Rocketeer are true standouts. It will make you want to strap that jetpack and helmet on and soar through the skies after a single viewing.

I will readily admit that I don’t expect many people to have the same love and fascination with The Rocketeer that I do. It clearly has issues that needed to be addressed, and the Dave Stevens’ creation deserved better than it got. All that said, I do so love this film, it’s often part of a Saturday afternoon double-feature at my house (when my wife isn’t around), paired alongside Dick Tracy, but that’s a story for another day. I’m just glad to see that The Rocketeer, even 26 years after its premiere is still getting love from Walt Disney World.

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