17 January 2019

Loads of Fossils


There are a lot of artifacts scattered around Chester & Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures that are vying for guests’ attention. Not the least of which is the copious amounts of souvenirs that the shop is selling. However, scattered amongst the dinosaur bones, plastic dinosaurs, and Coca-Cola memorabilia are a ton of comics mounted adorning the walls. Some, like Batman or The Amazing Spider-Man, are well known to all who pass by, but there are many others that are straight out of quarter bin. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a worthwhile story to tell. Let’s examine three titles that do our dinosaurs proud.

First up is Tyrant. This is the shortest lived comic on our list, but the four issue series’ real teeth lie in the story it tells about the life and times of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The biography of a dinosaur comic ran for four issues between 1994 and 1996 and was an obvious passion project for its creator, Stephen R. Bissette. While he didn’t get to tell the entire tale from hatching up through the Tyrannosaurus rex’s death, his artwork on the book is incredibly detailed, which one would expect from the artist behind the Saga of Swamp Thing. Bissette would leave comic creation behind shortly after Tyrant’s run concluded and now teaches Comic Art History, Drawing, and Film at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

The next of our off the wall picks is Star Spangled War Stories, and it is about as off the wall as it gets. This series was a long running comic from DC Comics that ran from 1952 until 1977 with more than 200 issues under its belt. While a majority of the stories focused on a fictional World War II resistance fighter, there was a period where the stories took a distinctive prehistoric slant, specifically when Dinosaur Island entered the fray with issue 90. These stories by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru became a part of the comic book’s rotational stories and were eventually assembled in the collected edition known as The War the Time Forgot.

Lastly, but certainly not least, let’s meet Gorgo. If Gorgo sounds like some 1960’s b-movie that you have some foggy recollection of viewing as a child on a Saturday afternoon, then well done to you, because your memory is spot on and that’s precisely where this story starts. The film was a 1961 British-American science fiction film feature a young sea creature, named Gorgo by an entrepreneurial circus owner, whose mother, Orga, ravages London to find her son. This sounds like a tried and true monster trope if I’ve ever heard one.

The comic series began in 1961, with the first issue recapping the movie before moving on to a 23 issue run that would end in 1965. The Charlton Comics book introduced a wealth of other sea monsters, dinosaurs, and other mythical creatures in its short lifespan as Gorgo found other adventures, usually with his mother not far behind. Created by Joe Gill, Gorgo featured a number of artists including the legendary Steve Ditko.

If Chester & Hester’s teaches us anything, it’s never to judge a book by cover, and this is especially true of the dinosaur clad comic books that cover the walls. Sure, they cover images depict gigantic beasts storming through cities, destroying military equipment with ease, or even terrifying one another, but there is much more to be found in these, and other stories, throughout Chester & Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures, where the dinosaur knick knacks are the true treasure waiting to be discovered.

15 January 2019

To a Thirties Theme


The Jungle Cruise, regardless of which coast your jungle perch calls home, has a long and storied history, and this is even before we get into the backstory! However, one of the most dramatic changes to the voyage down mysterious rivers came in the 1990s when Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise needed to make some substantial changes in order to accommodate the arrival of a certain doctor of archaeology. My first thought was to regale you with the tale myself, but once you read how Disneyland themselves described the reworking of the classic attraction, simply nothing else will do! So, without my muddying the waters too much, here is the tale of the Jungle Cruise’s refurbishment from the July 22, 1994 Disneyland Line (Vol. 26, No. 28).
To a Thirties Theme
“For almost 40 years the murky waters of the Jungle Cruise have borne adventurous travelers down the most exotic rivers of the world. Now, after a six-month refurb during which the course of the river was changed and an entirely new boathouse was built – among other modifications – the venerable Cruise has emerged with a new theme and an enhanced story to lure ever more travelers into its mysterious realm.
“The changes in the Jungle Cruise are the result of the convergence of several factors, beginning with the need to widen Adventureland in order to provide more Guest capacity when the Indiana Jones Adventure opens next year, as well as to accommodate Guests departing Fantasmic! performances.
“In order to widen the Adventureland corridor and be able, in the future, to accommodate both Indiana Jones and Jungle Cruise queues, the Jungle Cruise dock was pushed into the jungle 15 feet and a two-story Boathouse was constructed. The new Boathouse adds much-needed queue space and provides a pre-show story to entertain our Guests and prime them for their journey – back to 1935.
“Yes, the Jungle Cruise has segued into an adventure from the era of Indiana Jones, when the enterprising crew of a down-on-its luck transport and trading company has found a lucrative new line of business – tourism – just in time to head off a bleak and final decline.
“The Jungle Cruise Trading Co., purveyors of the tours, have set up their business in a Victorian house built in 1911, one of the last outposts of civilization. Originally a colonial outpost which offered rest and supplies to missionaries, scientists, and European travelers, the old house had fallen into decay after the foreign office pulled out in 1928. Now, the new owners and their rag-tag band of hardy guides offer one-of-a-kind tours to the rich, the famous… or those drawn only to the danger lurking in the jungle depths.
“The Boathouse itself, with its seven ‘rooms’ recreating in precise details the furniture, supplies, and accouterments of a jungle outpost – well, a very entertaining jungle outpost – of the ‘30s. This is a setting devoid of plastic; the warm, rich tones of wood, brass, and leather are everywhere. There’s a skippers’ lounge with its African war masks and other anthropological finds casually strewn about, the infirmary with its mosquito-netted cot, and the radio dispatch room, where an endless stream of messages pours in from stranded tour parties, crews of disabled boats, or skippers who’ve blundered slight off-course.
“Meanwhile, as Guests wind their way through the faded Victorian elegance of the house, the throaty tones of a sultry chanteuse caressing a romantic ‘30s ballad flow out of an old radio in the tour ‘ticket booth,’ enhancing the atmosphere of the bygone era.Out on the river itself, less dramatic but no less significant changes were also made. The jungle’s channel was rerouted to pass by the Indiana Jones Adventure queue, providing more Show for the eventual Indy Guests and unifying the area thematically. The created a slight predicament with some of the jungle animation, which looked convincingly lifelike when viewed from constantly passing boats, but which would look oddly repetitive when watched from the Indy queue.
“The Bengal tiger in the Cambodian Ruins, for instance, was relocated to face the Elephant Pool, a later scene not visible from Indiana Jones, and he now menaces the bathing elephants. The crocodiles, whose whole area was eliminated, have been moved to the Sunken City, where they lurk in the ruins under massive, gnarly branches – actually salvaged orange trees which have been turned upside down in the river so that the roots appear to be dead, twisted branches rising ominously from the ruins.
“Landscaping made several modifications as well during the rehab, principally extensive trimming which opened up the canopy of the jungle, letting broad shafts of sunlight filter through in areas which had become too dense and dark. New species of plants were introduced, especially varieties which added much more color. While keeping the naturalism of the native jungle, with fallen leaves and some plant debris, much clearing and replanting was done to keep the various geographical regions represented – Africa, Asia, and South America – distinct.
“Operational and maintenance improvements were also made, with restructuring of the flume to prevent boat derailments, the addition of pneumatic switches (replacing the old mechanical switches), and the development of a new electronic monitoring system which tracks boats throughout the jungle.
“While the rehab was underway, three teams of Cast Members from Adventureland Attractions were at work brainstorming new spiel elements, creating a retraining program, and helping design the configuration of the new Boathouse queue area. As Attractions Department Manager Larry Lenihan explains, ‘The teaming was a Performance Excellence initiative that really paid off. We put ideas together collectively, with input from everybody up front – and everybody walked away happy. We have a better spiel, a better operation, better incorporation of the training requirements.’
With its enhance theming and new Show elements, the ‘new’ Jungle Cruise – still one of the Park’s most popular attractions almost 40 years after Opening Day – fulfills even more vibrantly Walt’s long-ago prescription for one of his favorite areas: ‘Here is adventure. Here is romance. Here is mystery. Tropical rivers – silently flowing into the unknown. The unbelievable splendor of exotic flowers… the eerie sound of the jungle… with eyes that are always watching. This is Adventureland.”

14 January 2019

Shaman of Songs


A little more than a week ago Walt Disney World released an album, Pandora: The World of Avatar, onto iTunes. It couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes after I woke up that I ran across the album, downloaded it without even viewing the track listing, and pushed knowledge of the album out to various friends and Facebook groups that I knew were as insatiable for the album as I was. If I am being honest, the entire album could have simply included a single track of the Shaman of Songs and I would have been completely thrilled. The album has been almost two years in the begging from fans and the results are spectacular.

The album opens with a trio of songs dedicated to ride and walk through experiences starting with Flight of Passage, moving on to the Na’vi River Journey (and the aforementioned Shaman of Songs), and then the surprising walk through Pandora. This last entry is the most surprising in that it harnesses some, though not all by a fair stretch, of the ambient audio in the Valley of Mo’ara. The area, which has done away with typical background musical loops in favor of a soundscape that harnesses the natural world, utilizes the creatures that inhabit Pandora and their calls to one another to create an environment of sound.

The soundtrack is attributed to Avatar’s original composer, James Horner, along with Simon Franglen. Even though Horner passed away in 2015, his mastery for world building through music does not go unnoticed or underappreciated on this album. Of particular note are the pieces Magic of the Land and Spirits of Mo’ara, which capture a sense of wonder, whimsy, and their relationship with the natural world that depict a singularly individual story for each guest experiencing them, but still find a way to harness the epic personality that the land of Pandora offers. Franglen does a nice job of interspersing his touches into the remainder of the album overall. However, the retooling of Surf’s Up in track 11 is an example of 1990’s misguided musical mash-ups while the album’s closing piece, Wave, and the equally out of place Bossa, feel as if guests were trapped in an extended elevator scene in a 1970’s made for television movie.

The album is a must have for fans of Pandora, even if, like myself, you find yourself drawn far more often to the land and adventures you can meander through on your own than the film that they are inspired by. From the drum beats on the back of a banshee, to quiet moments with the woodsprites, and further still to your own personal connection to the lumbering sounds of the sturmbeest, there is something here that will stir up your emotions if you have any connection to Mo’ara.

The album itself brought up an interesting idea for me, especially considering the last several releases from Walt Disney World. Prior to Pandora: The World of Avatar, the last album to be released was The Music from Rivers of Light & Tree of Life Awakenings Shows at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, a name that just rolls off of the tongue. We are in a period where Disney, Walt Disney World in particular, is no longer rolling out just an all-inclusive double resort album with fair amount of soundtracks and songs available on a number of albums and a handful of highly sought after, but scarcely seen, tracks. Instead, the releases are targeted to a specific show or shows or towards the experience a single land offers.

I suspect that Black Spire Outpost and the entirety of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be next. We’ve already been let in on the secret that John Williams is returning to score the land, and the scraps we’ve been able to hear have been incredible. I have no doubt that ride through soundtracks for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance could easily be paired alongside tracks spun by DJ Rex on a new album. Throw in ambient score selections from the marketplaces and alleyways and a grand overture and you have the next release from Walt Disney World. But why stop there?

I feel there is an opportunity to explore the richness and legacy of Disney theme park music across the entire resort. Sure, an album with musical offerings from Fort Wilderness, Contemporary, and Port Orleans may sounds great in theory, but how many of us would honestly pony up the cash once these were released? I mean, I would, but I know that I am a scarcity. However, an album dedicated to Frontierland, complete with the well-beloved attraction soundtracks to Splash Mountain and Country Bear Jamboree along with songs cut from the land’s background loop, queue music , and, obviously, The Ballad of Big Thunder Mountain. Heck, you could even through in a couple of minutes with the weird ambient noise from Old Scratch’s Mystery Mine just to have that one incredibly odd track choice.

The same could be said for quadrants of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as well as the lands of both Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the remainder of the Magic Kingdom. Most park areas have an extensive back catalogue from which selections could also be made, bridging the then and now across the musical spectrum. Now that is something I could see masses purchasing, particularly if they were spread out enough not to saturate the market. Do I have high hopes of ever seeing my fantasy Fantasyland album come to light? Not likely, but a boy can dream.

Regardless of what dreams we have of being able to sift through the incredible amount of music that lives within the theme parks and resorts of Walt Disney World, they have shown that that area, show, and/or attraction specific albums are the way in which they are going to release their albums for the foreseeable future. While we await to see if Toy Story Land gets a release before Galaxy’s Edge, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Pandora: The World of Avatar, it will reminded you of your own adventures in the Valley of Mo’ara and help pass the time between visits to Pandora.

03 January 2019

The Wandering Reindeer


Frozen’s land of Arendelle is not specifically within any of the borders of Norway, now or in ages past, but it does owe much of its aesthetic to inspirations from Norway. Culture, food, patterns, architecture, textiles, landscapes, and even mythology are all present in the sisters’ story. When it came to finding a home for Anna, Elsa, and all of their friends, Norway in Epcot’s World Showcase seemed like as good a place as any to bring the fictional land to life. With the inclusion of Frozen came an attraction, as well as a new home for a character meet and greet and a new shop, The Wandering Reindeer.

While the season of celebrating reindeer may have just ended, they’re celebrated year round in the Norway pavilion. If you’ve ever made your way into the shop filled to the brim with Frozen merchandise, you’ve probably wondered what the scrolling text above the shelf displays means. Well, you’ve wondered that if you’re like me. If you’re like most people you’re trying to get out of the store spending as little as possible on Frozen merchandise for your child. Since I’m not fluent in Norwegian, or in the language of Arendelle, which I assume is Norwegian, I used the best, if fallible, tool available to me, Google Translate.

Even before that, however, there are some context clues that we can observe. For one, the shop’s name, The Wandering Reindeer, and the fact that there is a reindeer present in the artwork on the shelf just before the text gives us some indication that the brief passage has something to do with reindeer. This line of logic is absolutely true and leads us straight into the message, “Overgangsriten for alle unge reinsdyr var ‘Vårflyttingen,’ en lang vandring til utkanten av kongeriket for å skue nordlysef og vise respekt for de nordlige skytsånde.

Here’s where translating through Google Translate, and a handful of other translation tools for verification, comes in handy. The passage we are given is, “The rite of passage for all young reindeer was ‘Vårflyttingen,’ a long walk to the outskirts of the kingdom to view the northern lights and show respect for the northern sky.” “Vårflyttingen” feels like a proper name, and as such, doesn’t want to translate very well. The best term I could come up with for it was “Spring Movement,” which is fine, but Vårflyttingen just sounds better if you ask me.

As for the rest of the message, it all makes perfect sense given the reverence the people of Arendelle have for the sky and nature as a whole. Since reindeer are known to roam freely in herds, and the store appears to be the story of one reindeer, it would be logical to assume that the story of The Wandering Reindeer is, in fact, the tale of a young reindeer who ventures off on his own rite of passage to view and pay respects to the lights and sky. In fact, even the imagery present in the center of the shop’s sign outside seems to illustrate this precise action.

Regardless of your interest in Frozen or reindeer or northern lights, it’s nice to see a blending of folktales and real world phenomenon meshing with the world of Arendelle. Even if it takes a translator to get the whole picture.