23 August 2018

The Place was Built With a Magical Plan

I should admit that this year the Gazette’s anniversary snuck up on me. The result, I suspect, of life getting in the way of plans, of which I actually had some of this year, and time speeding up on me the older I get. So, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane to see where we’ve been and everything that the Gazette has given to me, in order to provide me with a little insight.

From our earliest days, we have been about providing information that enrichens the Walt Disney World experience. The reviews of attractions, shows, tours, meals, restaurants, or how the parks are put together have been meant to help you plan and have the most fun you can have in the parks and resorts. The little details that further a story, give us a sense of time and place, or are just fun nods have always been explored in order to provide you with ways to enhance your trips or be a show off for friends and family. Photo safaris have always been a way to showcase something you should be taking note of, but doesn’t necessarily need a long-winded, wordy explanation from me. The historical elements are for those who, like myself, want to know as much as they can even if they cannot experience what once was around the Vacation Kingdom.

If you’ve caught on to a theme here, it is that the Main Street Gazette has always been here for, and because of, you. You are the reason I wake up and scouring through books or photographs, looking for that one story that will resonate, that will mean something to at least one of you out there.

The Gazette has been home to other writers over the years, and I loved getting their perspective on how they view Walt Disney World. Not because it lessened my burden, believe me it did not, but because I hoped it would be helpful to someone who didn’t always see things the way I do and, perhaps, another writer shared their perspective.

Of course, we’ve had our bumps over the years. If I’m being honest, some of the fictitious short, short stories I wrote in those early years were in the hopes that someone at Disney would take notice and ask me to pick up a pen for their blog, children’s books, publications, or some other endeavor. As much as I loved those stories, they were there for me and quickly fell by the wayside because I had lost track of what really mattered to me and what was at the heart of the Gazette’s mission: you all and your experiences.

I cannot imagine where I would be personally without all of you. The Gazette’s never been the place where everyone comes to gather, comment, and discuss, but it has brought me so many friends that I am so incredibly thankful for. You have sent me emails and messages letting me know what matters to you and thanking me for all that I do, but it really truly should be me thanking you. Sometimes I get on a soapbox, with and without reason, sometimes I’m away dealing with illness, and sometimes I get lost in the weeds of blather around a microscopic blip in Disney history, but you always come back and are always encouraging. Without each of you, there is no Main Street Gazette. So, with all sincerity, thank you for coming back again and again, and never stop letting me know how I can create a better experience for you!

21 August 2018

The Theater is Born

The construction of pavilions, the programming of Audio-Animatronics figures, and the development of story throughout Walt Disney World, and the larger global network of resorts and parks, has always fascinated me. This could explain why I jumped at the chance to acquire a cache of construction photos from inside of Spaceship Earth recently. From the collection there were several photos that stood out to me, including this one of the Greek play being assembled.

What I love is how some of the figures are set, maybe they’re stage ready and maybe they’re not, but they look good, meanwhile the set itself and a third figure are definitely not ready for their close-up. Once completed, this scene would depict one of the earliest forms of the theater. I’ve never found a better description of this scene than that from Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center by Richard R. Beard:
“The Greeks with their vowels were able to enunciate their written word; they also elevated what has become the fine art of communication into the rarefied stratum of speculative thought, philosophy, with all of its passion for logic and symmetry. Indeed, so smitten were they with the word that they gave birth to a dramatic form of communication that endures to this day; thus, the Greek tableau spotlights a small theater where a trio of Hellenic actors perform a scene from Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, a popular play of their time – and of ours. But here, in ancient Greece, the powerful words are declaimed in the very language of Sophocles and in the style of his day.”

16 August 2018

We of Mighty Medfield

Medfield College has a storied place in the history of Disney feature films. It was the setting for the original Flubber duology, 1961’s The Absent-Minded Professor and 1963’s Son of Flubber, as well as the 1997 remake, Flubber, of the original film in the Flubber cannon. It was also home to a series of films feature Kurt Russell as Dexter Riley. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes from 1969, No You See Him, Now You Don’t from 1972, and The Strongest Man in the World from 1975, like the Flubber movies before them, focused on the scientific achievements and engineering marvels. It makes sense, then, that glass pyramids of Future World’s Imagination pavilion would be where guests could find nods to this collection of films.

Starting off in the entry way of Journey Into Your Imagination with Figment, guests can see Weebo. Weebo was Professor Brainard’s robotic assistant in 1997’s Flubber. Weebo was voiced by Jodi Benson, most well-known for her vocal performance as Ariel in The Little Mermaid and following releases and media.

Weebo isn’t the last time we’re going to see a reference to Professor Brainard. Further on in the queue are both his picture on the wall, honoring him as one of the Imagination Institute’s Inventors of the Year, and his office door, complete with frosted glass that only slightly hides the dancing Flubber behind it. It is worth noting that Professor Brainard is featured in all of the Flubber films. In the original duology he is portrayed by Disney Legend, Fred MacMurray. In fact, MacMurrary was the first person honored as a Disney Legend. In the updated Flubber, which is the basis for all the film nods inside the Imagination Institute, Professor Brainard is depicted by Robin Williams.

As we leave the world of Professor Brainard behind and move into the films of Dexter Riley, the office hallway in the queue also feature another office door for a member of the Medfield College faculty, Dean Higgins. Dean Higgins figures prominently in the Dexter Riley films as the college’s dean who is, more often than not, plays the straight man to the antics of Dexter and his friends. It is a frazzled, put-upon role that Joe Flynn plays with ease in all three pictures.

Nods to Dexter himself come from our tour of the Imagination Institute through the attraction portion of Journey Into Imagination with Figment. A set of computer banks are visible during a turn between the Sound and Sight Labs, behind glass doors and large glass windows. In the window is a letterman’s jacket from Medfield and a sign that reads “No Tennis Shoes Allowed.” An obvious nod to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, where Kurt Russell’s Dexter receives a shock during the installation of a new computer at the school, happening during a thunderstorm of course, and becomes a human computer. Dexter eventually returns to normal, just as he would in later films when he becomes invisible and gains super strength.

Whether you are a fan of Brainard, Riley, Higgins and the rest of Medfield’s best and brightest, there is no denying that they deserve acknowledgement for the wealth of entertainment that they have provided us with over the years. While the real Medfield College is comprised of soundstages, various college campuses, and even a high school, we shout your praises to the sky, rah, rah, for proud are we of mighty Medfield!

13 August 2018

Before the Parade Passes By

Music is one of the core ingredients to creating a successful environment in the world of Disney theme parks. Most of the time, guests stroll through a given land or attraction space and don’t even take note of the soundtrack underscoring their adventure. On rare occasions they may hum along to a well-known song or theme, but stopping to take note of the music is not a beloved pastime when it comes to theme park touring. What I have found, however, is that the more my musical and cinematic IQ grows, the more I appreciate certain areas of the parks, and in no land do I take more notice of the background loop than when I am on Main Street, U.S.A.

The selections here actually consist of a large swathe of music, from songs that were popular at the turn of the century, to music from musical and theatrical productions that are set around the turn of the last century. Among these songs you may find Old Timers’ Waltz Medley, Dearie, Junk Man Rag, Before the Parade Passes By, Mary is a Grand Ol’ Name, Many a New Day, and Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby, just to name a few. This selection of songs comprises approximately half of the arrangements present on Main Street.

However, as I said in the opening, Main Street really takes on a life of its own for me when the song is from a play or film that I recognize. Thinking about productions that highlight turn of the century main streets from towns big and small, it should come as no surprise to find songs from musicals like Oklahoma, The Music Man, and Yankee Doodle Dandy. These musicals are filled with pure Americana, just the same way that Main Street is itself. Neither may be an authentic representation of what life was like during these times, but it is the image that we have created and kept for ourselves over the years.

A pair of Disney feature film musicals also have a series of selections highlighted on Main Street. Like the musicals above, they too are set in and around the early part of the last century, but aren’t as commonly known as some of Disney’s musicals like Mary Poppins. That said The Happiest Millionaire and Summer Magic fit the formula perfectly. The Happiest Millionaire, focuses on the lives of a well to do family, their fascination with alligators and Detroit, and a story of young love. Main Street features Fortuosity and Let’s Have a Drink On It from this film, and is partially responsible for my continued singing of Fortuosity around my house. Summer Magic, on the other hand, also features stories of young romance, but they are wrapped up in a tale of a down on their luck family being rescued from their fate by their saving grace, and town meddler, Burl Ives. It also features some of the most iconic, if under recognized, music of Main Street in the form of Flitterin’, Summer Magic, and Beautiful Beulah.

There is another song that blends the recipe for inclusion in the above categories. The song comes from a musical, but also turns up in a non-musical Disney film. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the majority of guests who recognize Hello, Dolly’s Put On Your Sunday Clothes associate the song most closely with WALL-E. As this isn't the only song from Hello, Dolly present on Main Street, but is certainly the one that gets guests singing only strengthens my case.

Popular musicals are, on the whole, filled with memories and always waiting for someone to come along and revive them for the next generation. On occasion there is a definitive version of a production that gives it an iconic status and forever brands it into the popular lexicon. Folks like the aforementioned Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Music Man, and Oklahoma fit just such a mold. The gift that the music of Main Street has given me, however, is the ability to rummage through the Disney catalog and find wonderful movie moments that I hadn’t discovered before. The Happiest Millionaire and Summer Magic may not be classics by standard definitions, but they have given me a lot of joy and, in return, they add to my experience when I hear pieces of their soundtracks on Main Street.

Music and Main Street go hand in hand. Even if you aren’t paying attention to the soundtrack that leads you down the street, there’s a window to find where singing lessons occur. We would be remiss if we didn’t, at the very least, mention The Trolley Song from Meet Me in St. Louis that is performed a handful of times throughout the day on Main Street or the live on the spot recitals from the Dapper Dans.

The practices of creating a place in any theme park or resort rely heavily upon the skills and disciplines of filmmaking. Set design and storytelling are part of the formula, but the score is just as important to setting an appropriate scene. Main Street, U.S.A. has brought to life many songs and musicals for sharp eared guests, while conversely allowing guests to also appreciate musicals a bit more in their home movie viewing life. The effect can be summed up in a single word, Fortuosity. If you don’t happen to recognize this byword, may I suggest thinking of it in the same vein as Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and then seek it out. It’ll enhance both your life away from the parks and your Main Street experience.

10 August 2018

Du Pain Frais

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day and French cuisine is one of the most important culinary traditions in the world, then, by simple reasoning, breakfast in France should be one of the most important meals ever. I’m not sure about all of that, though given their penchant for cafes, coffee, and pastries, I wouldn’t bet against it. What I do know for certain is that Epcot’s France pavilion is open for breakfast and not nearly enough people are taking advantage of this wonderful hideaway.

Just about everything on the menu or in the display case at Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie can also be had for lunch and dinner. This means that, if you were so inclined you could have a cheese plate, macaron, or Napoleon for breakfast. It may give you a sugar rush to make it all the way up to Test Track in record time, but you will eventually come crashing back down to earth, probably before you make it over to Mission: SPACE.

For our breakfast rendezvous, we opted for a pair of more traditional breakfast items, the Croissant Jambon Fromage and the Roulé Lard and Fromage. Before we go any further, let’s simplify the names for everyone, the Croissant Jambon Fromage is a ham, cheese, and béchamel sandwich in a croissant. Similarly, the Roulé Lard and Fromage is a bacon and cheese roll.

For having to be cut and stuffed, the croissant is still as airy and flaky as you would expect a croissant to be. Some of the cheese, a variety of Swiss based on the flavors, and the béchamel have escaped around the edges of the croissant and have bubbled and blistered up to form a great little crust of cheese. Inside the croissant, the cheese and ham have been thinly sliced and layered upon a just as thin coating of the béchamel sauce. This sandwich has flavors that are mild enough not to shock the palate first thing in the morning, but hearty enough to keep you going until lunch, or that mid-morning snack you know you’re going to want.

The bacon and cheese roll on the other hand has a much more pronounced cheese flavor and the bacon is hard to miss. The bread component of the dish is dense and hearty, think of it as a savory cinnamon roll. The cheese smothers the top of the roll and is a notch stronger on the cheese scale than the croissant’s cheese, but not so much that it would deter almost anyone wishing to consume this pastry. The bacon is crumbled and scattered on top of the roll, held in place by the cheese. It has a nice flavor, but I would have expected a thicker cut or something more than Disney breakfast bacon for this one.

Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie is a treasure trove of pastry goodness no matter what time of day you visit. The fact that this bakery is open for breakfast still seems to be a fairly well kept secret as crowds are often minimal here in the early hours of the day. I highly recommend that you do yourself this favor: grab a cup of coffee or a latte, your favorite breakfast pastry, find a table out on La Petite Rue, listen to the French music, and enjoy the classic French activity of people watching.

08 August 2018

Fine Little Lion Cub

The Lion King has been a popular property around Walt Disney World going back to the film’s earliest days. In fact, Disney was so certain that The Lion King was going to be incredibly popular with guests that they began constructing an attraction even before the film was released. No, I’m not talking about Festival of the Lion King. There was another stage show that featured Simba and his friends, and enemies, in a retelling of the Simba’s story that lived in the Magic Kingdom, and the whole occasion was overseen by Rafiki.

The Legend of the Lion King resided in the heart of Fantasyland, in the storied space that had been previously occupied by Magic Journeys and the Mickey Mouse Revue, and which is the current home to Mickey’s PhilharMagic. The show’s run began in July of 1998, just two weeks after The Lion King’s theatrical release. The stage was a whopping 125 feet across, with enough square footage to cover the entire seating area, which had 500 individual seats, and still have stage space left over. The stage was home to massive sets, including an 18-foot Pride Rock that would rise out of the stage and had a 7-foot long, 6-foot tall Mufasa positioned on top of it.

The show featured both young and adult Simbas, Rafiki, Timon, Pumbaa, Scar, Nala, Zazu, Mufasa, the Hyenas, and other animal figures that were named Humanimals. Humanimals, a Disney coined phrase, was larger-than-life figures that required between 2 to eight individuals to operate. These puppets were designed by Chuck Faucett, who was also responsible for the puppets featured in Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The show wasn’t all Humanimals, however, the scenes performed onstage were intercut with scenes from the recently released film.

The Legend of the Lion King abbreviated the film version down, but kept many of the story and song elements intact. A second iteration of the show would debut in Disneyland Paris in June of 2004, but it was based more upon the Broadway production, with actors sharing the stage with elaborate costumes and puppetry. The original Fantasyland show would end its run in 2002 to make way for Mickey to return to the musical stage in PhilharMagic, leaving Festival of the Lion King as the sole show providing multiple songs and amusing antics from The Lion King in Walt Disney World. But, as they say, Hakuna Matata!

07 August 2018


Hollywood & Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, isn’t where the stars go to dine and rub elbows, unless you are looking for the characters taking part in Minnie’s Seasonal Dinner Dine (more on that in the future). Its garish neon sign pushes back all the signs of this being an old diner, complete with plate windows and metal framing on the outside. Once inside the restaurant, this buffet is bookended with decorations meant to solidify itself as a hub of Hollywood tourism. Oversized postcards depicting famous landmarks cover one wall while maps denoting famous locations around town adorn the opposite wall. It’s this map work that concerns us today.

Here, just near one of the Cast Members service stands, is a section of map depicting the Burbank area. Tucked away between San Fernando, Riverside Drive, Alameda, and Buena Vista sits a drawing of a few small buildings, tree-lined avenues, a water tower, and a soundstage all overseen by a sun-soaked cloud. The arrow pointing to this scene is scrawled in someone’s best attempt to copy Walt’s signature, not to mention their sketches of Mickey Mouse and an animator at work, but states this is the Walt Disney Studios. This map clearly comes from sometime after Walt and Roy moved the studio and their workforce to the Burbank location in 1940.

Prior to this move, the Disneys had worked out of several spaces on Kingswell Avenue in Los Feliz and later on Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake. Hyperion was where Disney developed some of their most groundbreaking work, including the multiplane camera, the first feature length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and, most importantly, the development of Mickey Mouse. Just about everything else we know and love Disney for, however, came out of the Burbank location. That doesn’t mean that the studio forgot about its roots, as a bungalow from the Hyperion site was moved to the Burbank lot during the construction of the new studio.

Built in large part because of Snow White’s success at the box office, the Burbank facility was specifically designed around the needs of animators and for the animation process. As years went by and live action became more of a focus, soundstages and exterior facades would pop up around the lot. While there were changes to the studio over the years, the most massive of which came in 1992 with an expansion that included additional facilities for ABC. Zorro, Mouseketeers, Fantasia, Mary Poppins, and more animated features than you can name came from this hallowed ground. Seems fitting then to give the Burbank lot a place on a map, inside of a restaurant, that’s part of a park which celebrates all things Hollywood, doesn’t it?

01 August 2018

The Choice Between Walt Disney World and Fried Bugs

The Muppets have a storied history with Walt Disney World. From the early Disney-MGM Studios’ attractions of Here Come the Muppets and Muppets on Location: Days of Swine and Roses, to their long-running 3D spectacular, Muppet Vision 3D, the ragtag group of entertainers have had a place in the parks for almost 30 years. Of course, it helps when you film a television special in the parks too.

The Muppets at Walt Disney World aired on The Magical World of Disney on May 6, 1990. The show’s premise was that Kermit was going home to the swamp for his family reunion, but once everyone found out that the swamp was right next door to Walt Disney World they proceeded to sneak in to experience the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, and the recently opened Disney-MGM Studios. Of course, they were pursued by Disney security in the form of Quentin Fitzwaller, also known as Charles Grodin. A young Raven-Symone also played a crucial role as a young girl who cheers up Kermit by singing Rainbow Connection.

One the Muppet side of things, all of your favorites are present and accounted for: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, the Electric Mayhem, and the list goes on. The special, which was only one hour long, also featured some deeper cuts like Beauregard, Kermit’s nephew, Robin, and Fozzie Bear’s mom, Emily Bear. The collection gets into all sorts of antics and experience a ton of attractions, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, trash cans (a paper and straw exhibit according to Gonzo), and Miss Piggy even manages to get herself stuck in cement outside of the Great Movie Ride.

The Muppets at Walt Disney World also has a bittersweet place in Muppets history, as it is the last time Jim Henson would perform as Kermit, along with other characters in his repertoire. In fact, Henson would pass away only ten days after the special aired.

Below are a selection of photos from the special, posed publicity shots, and even a behind the scenes look that includes Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson portraying Kermit and Robin respectively.