31 January 2019

Pontchartrain Way

Port Orleans – French Quarter has a ton of clever names scattered about their walkways and well-manicured squares. From Rue D’Baga to Reveler’s Row, there is a great amount of history and a ton of clever wordplay on each corner of the resort. While many of the names are instantly recognizable for their jokey nature or a claim to fame in New Orleans, there is at least one that probably leaves more guests scratching their heads than nodding in understanding. Today we’re trundling down a road that crosses over the more recognizable Ragtime Alley, Carriage Path, and Jazz Alley and spending time digging into the wealth of history brought up by the name Pontchartrain Way.

Pontchartrain refers to Louis Phélypeaux, a French politician who was active in the 1600 and 1700 hundreds and was known under varying titles, including comte de Pontchartrain, the Count of Pontchartrain. He was the owner of chateau de Pontchartrain, which is how he came to the title of Count of Pontchartrain, Phélypeaux had a career that included roles as Navy Secretary, head of the Parlement of Brittany, and Chancellor of France. While we know the namesake now, how does it play into the New Orleans theme of Port Orleans – French Quarter.

Sure, there is Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, with its Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the longest continuous bridge over water since 1969, but that doesn’t totally get to the heart of the matter. There’s also New Orleans first railroad, the Pontchartrain Railroad, which rain between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain between 1831 and 1935. Heck, there’s even Fort Detroit that was originally named for Phélypeaux, but none of these tell the whole story.

Pontchartrain Park is a one square mile neighborhood in the Gentilly District Area of New Orleans. The neighborhood was created after World War II as one of the first middle class African-American neighborhoods during the time of Jim Crow. The New Orleans subdivision was hit hard by flooding from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. While relatively small, no more than 2,000 residents, Pontchartrain Park has also been called home by a number of New Orleans residents. Included among these residents are New Orleans’ first African-American mayor, Dutch Morial, actor Wendell Pierce, and legendary Grammy, Emmy, and Golden Globe winning musician Terence Blanchard.

Sometimes a name is just a name in Walt Disney World, sometimes it has a tie to Disney history, and sometimes there is a real world story to tell. Beneath the magnolia branches that line the byways and around the meticulous squares, complete with fountains, that comprise Port Orleans – French Quarter there is at least one sign that calls to storied neighborhood of New Orleans. Just a little trivia to keep in your pocket the next time you find yourself sauntering down Pontchartrain Way.

29 January 2019

On This Uncharted Shore

It’s early in the morning and the welcoming show has just opened the Magic Kingdom to guests. The drums of Adventureland playfully dance and put a rhythmic bounce into my neck and head. The sun has barely begun to scrape over the top of buildings, blinding guests heading towards Tomorrowland and burn the sleepy remnants from everyone’s eyes. Throngs of guests are rushing as fast as their hurried paces will let them go, while keeping under the chastising warnings to walk from Cast Members that they pass, in order to be some of the first guests of the day to board the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. They rush past me without taking a second glance as I stand there, silently staring up at my first attraction of the morning, the Swiss Family Treehouse.

The Swiss Family Treehouse is not my favorite attraction in the Magic Kingdom, but it is high on my list. I should be racing off to fly with Peter over Never Never Land or to visit Tumbleweed on a runaway mine train, but I’m not. I’m standing here gazing up at a faux tree engineering marvel. No one, and I mean no one, is scurrying to be the first one to climb the treehouse, but still I make my way by the oar and canvas canopies and cannons with neatly stacked cannonballs to the entrance. The Swiss Family Treehouse is comprised of 116 steps, climbing up and descending around the trunk of the tree, in addition to stretches of platforms between its different rooms. I take a deep breath, let it out, and begin my ascent.

A few years ago, in my early-to-mid-30s, I was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis. The disease stems from an overactive immune system, causing it to attack healthy tissue, particularly around the joints of the body. If untreated it can cause massive joint damage, but even at the best of times it causes exhaustion. I like to joke that my immune system, which I had built up to an almost bullet-proof level over more than a decade of work with afterschool and preschool programs, was just like me, an overachiever. The drive to make itself stronger eventually led to it collapsing in on itself. The truth is that the auto-immune disease is hereditary on my mother’s side of the family, the side of the family tree that the doctor’s never want to hear you say RA is prevalent on.

It can be hard going into the rheumatologist’s office as a young man. Early on, before I became recognizable on sight, I would get praise for being a good family member and be asked who I was there to pick up. The light in the receptionist’s face would dim while she tried to hold her smile in place when I would say I was there for me. Sitting in the waiting room, comprised of mostly individuals in their 60s or older, being the one person in what is considered the prime of my life, waiting to see the doctor is humbling, but you find community. Eventually I will get in to see the doctor, he takes as much time as he needs with each patient. He will gentle shake my hand, tell me it’s not okay when I try to laugh off my current state of pain, and proceed to test every joint to see how stiff and swollen each is. It isn’t comfortable, but it is necessary.

There is no way to know how RA is going to make you feel from day to day. It is, as I tell anyone who asks, the worst game of Russian Roulette that you will ever play. Each morning starts with an assessment of how everything feels that day. I’ve had days where I wake up and the pain from the day before is gone or, conversely, wake up in excruciating pain that wasn’t there when I went to bed. When a flare does arrive, it could last hours, days, and forever, there is no way to tell. The next time a flare subsides you could go into remission and never hear from the jerks in your joints again.

One thing you should also know about RA is that is also, for the most part, invisible. Certainly on my worst day you can see me carefully clutching a joint that is inflamed, catch a limp in my step, or see me walking with a cane. However, most days you will hear me, and others with the same auto-immune disease, tell you that we’re fine or that we’re doing okay. It is so tough to explain that outwardly we look fine, but internally there is a fire burning in our fingers, knees, and shoulders and we are exhausted after breakfast. Honestly, there are many days that getting up, showered, and dressed is a righteous accomplishment. I cover the pain with jokes, stiff legs that don’t work as well as a table’s leg, clenched up fingers making me look like a t-rex on the prowl. The humor lifts my spirits and makes everyone more comfortable.

There is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis. There are treatments, but it is worth knowing that even the best treatment plans do not work for 100% of those diagnosed with the disease. So you learn to live through trying a lot of different medications, trying different combinations of medications, messing with dosage levels, and a lot of faith, trust, and pixie dust.  I consider myself lucky. Remember that waiting room I told you about? Being whacked by this vicious disease while I am younger means I have the blessing of time, the hope that a cure does come along in my lifetime. There have been advancements in the past couple of years, nothing that approaches a cure, but enough to keep me moving forward with hope.

In middle school, high school, college, and even a few years after, I was a running fool. I would run for hours just to be alone with my thoughts, and I loved it. The same man who once ran the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on nothing more than muscle memory now gets winded climbing up his hilly driveway and most days I have some sort of cane or walking stick to make sure I don’t lose my balance and end up falling and hurting myself. I walk when and where I can, because some movement is great, but sometimes going too far makes it worse. It’s all in knowing your body and how far you can push it to balance yourself on the edge of the staying healthy knife.

This brings me back to standing at the base of the Swiss Family Treehouse. As a child I would run to the bamboo water carrying system and stretch out as far as my little hands would let me, fingers trembling as I strained them to their limits, just trying to knock over one of the water cups. I don’t believe I was ever successful. I would try not to knock other guests over as I sped my way up to Fritz and Ernst’s room, loving the idea of sleeping in a canvas hammock and wondering if Walt Disney World would ever let me spend a night in the room, and then dance over to the call of Swisskapolka as I pleaded with my father to build me a treehouse just like this one. The Swiss Family Treehouse never replaced Big Thunder Mountain or Peter Pan’s Flight in my heart as my favorite attraction, but it was always something I wanted to do.

With guests hastening off to their first destination, hitting that must-do attraction or sticking to their plan of attack, I start up the first set of stairs. I come to the Swiss Family Treehouse early because it is still mine to do. I won’t bottle up anyone else’s experience as I slowly climb my way through the treehouse, still daydreaming about swinging from the branches into my hammock and enjoying the view as I look out across the entirety of the Magic Kingdom peaking from between the branches. The ability to have my own joy in the experience and to not add stress to anyone else’s amusement of this timeless beauty, that is why I come to the Swiss Family Treehouse first thing in the morning.

There’s one last reason I return to the Robinsons’ tree time and time again these days. A small tingle lingers at the back of my mind, a whisper that I try to ignore. If a cure doesn’t come, if a flare bursts into my joints and never leaves, then I know that there is a day coming when I will only be able to look up longingly at the Swiss Family Treehouse. I won’t be able to climb it limbs and marvel at its artistry up close any longer. The idea sits like a cold, damp rock lodged in the pit of my stomach. I shake it off and climb the next step.

28 January 2019

The Party’s Going Strong

While my first trip to the Vacation Kingdom was well before my memory formed, one of the first events I can remember attending was Walt Disney World’s 15th anniversary. The year-long birthday party was affectionately known as the 15 Years of Magic. It included all sorts of special decorations, like a giant yellow pyramid cake in front of EPCOT Center, and constant giveaways from pins to Cavalier convertibles from Chevrolet. However, the centerpiece of the celebration was the entertainment offerings, particularly the afternoon parade.

The music from the parade was as clever and catchy as anything Disney’s ever produced. The sign of which is that even now, more than 30 years on, I can still sing large sections of the song without assistance. Not that anyone wants, or should ask, that I serenade them with the pure 80’s sound.

The parade featured Mickey and Minnie in the lead off float, dressed as something out of Miami Vice. They were followed by a large, top open present, which was one of several to be featured in the parade, usually in between two larger floats with characters in between. You can see one just behind Mickey and Minnie in the above photo. Other major floats included a band float with Chip, Dale, Pluto, Tigger, Br’er Bear, and the Big Bad Wolf getting funky. Coincidentally, “funky” is the words of a chipmunk, not this fair writer. The Fairy Godmother and Donald have their own respective floats as well, and a number of musical performers and dancers stand atop the glass castle float, a float that has been utilized for a number of parades over the past three decades. Perhaps the most memorable float, however, had to be the baking float. Here Liver Lips McGraw, Wendell, and Shaker of Country Bear Jamboree fame have created a batter tornado while trying to create a cake suitable for Walt Disney World’s 15th birthday.

The inclusion of the Country Bears isn’t necessarily something to scribble out a postcard about, but it leads to another interesting piece of the parade. No, I’m not talking about the sparkly, roller skating performers, I’m thinking about the little known characters to permeate the parade. These days, there are special events to bring back some of the long lost characters, but many we’re present throughout this procession. Included amongst the rare to never seen these days were King Leonidas (Bedknobs & Broomsticks), Lulubelle (Bongo segment of Fun and Fancy Free), Penguins (Mary Poppins), Stromboli (Pinocchio), and even Suzy and Perla (two of Cinderella’s friendly mice).

The 15 Years of Magic parade only had a short run from October of 1986 through to the following September in 1987, but between its music, floats, and abundance of characters, it is easy to see how so many of us who were children (or children at heart) remember it so fondly. What about you, were you able to join in the fun, or which anniversary event is a the party that you have an affection for from your childhood?

25 January 2019

South Bound

The Departures and Arrivals board in the Main Street station of the Walt Disney World Railroad is chock full of little details and nods that both amateur and astute Disney historians will recognize. The brightly lit board is a part of the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and is seen by a multitude of guests every day. There is, however, a lesser seen bulletin board that sits off to the side of the Main Street station that includes a veritable who’s who list of trains divvied up between north and south bound trains. Often overlooked by guests as they take in the splendor of Main Street as it opens up onto Cinderella Castle, the board definitely deserves a few moments of observation and contains some magic of its own.

South Bound Trains include:
  • Carolwood Pacific – Walt Disney own backyard locomotive.
  • Grizzly Flats Express – Animator Ward Kimball’s backyard railroad, the first full-sized railroad to reside in someone’s backyard.
  • C.K. Holiday – A locomotive of the Disneyland Railroad, with two ‘l’s in Holliday, named after the founder of the Santa Fe Railroad (then known as Atchison & Topeka Railroad, Cyrus Kurtz Holliday.
  • E.P. Ripley – A second locomotive of the Disneyland Railroad, this time named for the first president of the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad, Edward Payson Ripley.
  • Fred Gurley – A third locomotive of the Disneyland Railroad, named for Fred Gurley, the president of the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1940s and 1950s.
  • Ernest S. Marsh – Fourth locomotive of the Disneyland Railroad, added in 1959 and named for then president of the Santa Fe Railroad, Ernest S. Marsh.
  • Rainbow Cavern Line – The Rainbow Cavern Mine Train was Disneyland’s first D-Ticket attraction.
  • Rio Grand – The Rio Grande, with an ‘e,’ was the highest mainline railroad in the country.
  • Colorado – The Carson and Colorado Railroad was a western bound railroad, a coach from which would go on to become part of Ward Kimball’s Grizzly Flats. Railroad.
  • W.F. Cody – A locomotive of the Disneyland Paris Railroad, named for Col. William Frederick Cody, aka Buffalo Bill.
  • Eureka – A locomotive of the Disneyland Paris Railroad, named for the yell miners in California would make when discovering gold.
  • Wilderness Line – Named for the short-lived, but often dreamed about, Fort Wilderness Railroad.

North Bound Trains include:
  • D. Crockett – Named after hero, senator, and legendary frontiersman, Davy Crockett. Portrayed in Disney history by Fess Parker, who also stated in The Great Locomotive Chase.
  • S. Washington – This one still has my memory stumped.
  • Mississippi – A locomotive of the Natchez & Hamburg Railroad.
  • Missouri – The childhood home of Walt Disney, Marceline, is in Missouri.
  • Roger Broggie – Roger is considered the first Imagineer and oversaw all things railroad for Walt Disney. The Walt Disney Railroad’s Roger E. Broggie is named for him.
  • Ward Kimball – Mentioned above, Ward was an animator and railroad enthusiast the fed Walt Disney’s fascination with locomotives, he had his own backyard railroad known as Grizzly Flats Railroad.
  • Lilly Belle – Recognition of Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian.
  • Whispering Canyon Line – The fictional railroad line of the Wilderness Lodge.
  • Silver Creek Express – Silver Creek is a waterway at the Wilderness Lodge.
  • Wilderness – A second reference to the former railroad at Fort Wilderness.
  • Eastern Star – The locomotive line at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that ran between Harambe and Rafiki’s Planet Watch under the name Wildlife Express Train.

23 January 2019

Continental Fare - Part II

Last year, after our Halloween on the High Seas cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy, we reported back on all of the food we sampled over the week long journey. Since we've recently completed a second, albeit shorter, journey onboard the Disney Dream for a Merrytime Cruise, we though it best to go back and give another foodie photo safari.

Similar to the Disney Fantasy, the Disney Dream has Animator’s Palate and Enchanted Garden as two of the three main dining rooms for dinner each night. The third restaurant, Royal Palace, carries a similar theme to the Fantasy’s Royal Court and the menus are identical for all intents and purposes.

Lastly, before I send you out into the wilds of a mouth-watering food safari, it is worth noting that we tried to stay away from sampling the same dishes as we did last year. However, even though the standard rotation menus are the same between the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy, often times the preparation was just a tad different. This means that while you may see a familiar name pop up here and there on our culinary tour, it may have a subtly different presentation.

Now, off you go, but please make sure that you are either well fed or have a snack with you before embarking on the culinary tour. I definitely don’t want to receive any hangry comments or emails!

 Black Truffle Pasta Purseittes

 Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup

 Arugula Leaves

 Sesame Halloumi Parcels

 Herb Crusted Pork Chop

 Lemon Icebox Pie

Apple Crumble Rice Pudding

 Ahi Tuna and Avocado Tower

 Cucumber Garden Roll

 Cream of Green Asparagus

 Heirloom Tomato Soup

 Pan Seared Sea Bass

 Seared Pork Tenderloin Medallions

 Southern Style Pecan Tart

Lemon Raspberry Mousse Bombe

 Escargot Gratinee

 Breaded and Deep Fried Brie

 Onion Soup Gratinee

 Farmhouse Salad

 Oven-Baked Salmon Royale

 Chateaubriand-Roasted Filet Steak

 Grand Mariner Souffle

Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee

 Sri Sumbhajee's Vegetable Samosa

 Fennel, Orange, and Quinoa Salad

 Chilled Mango Soup

 Cortes's Cilantro Marinated Caribbean Grouper Filet

 Tia Dalma's Jerk Chicken

 Rum Soaked Chocolate Cake

Pirate's Treasure Sundae

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.