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Man, is it ever busy around here. It would be hard to imagine moving back to Southern California – the pace of life would be just too slow! We’ve got a lot of ground to cover: the new DHS parade, the MK Fantasyland expansion news, and the Magic, Memories and You castle projection show. (We'll also be back Thursday with another review of a new WDW offering.) The news is mixed, but mostly positive this time around—a pleasant change!

Countdown to Zero

We’ll begin with the downer: the Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade. This replaces the Block Party Bash at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS), which was a high-energy presentation featuring things like trampolines and stilt walkers, along with the green army men barking orders at you. It had show stops, during which time things would really heat up with rollerblades and other high-kinetic activity. The new effort attempts to improve on the formula by not stopping—it’s a true parade. It also does away with trampolines, stilt walkers, roller-blades, and most of the kinetics.

The result is a disaster. If ever there was a generically bland advertisement for Disney characters and stories, without much regard for what the audience might care about, this is it. There’s nothing outright offensive about the new parade, but neither is there anything innovative, memorable, or catchy in it either. Here’s one capture of the parade on tape.

After watching it, I just want to “bang on my head all day” (to steal from the chorus of the only song used at this parade). The performers work hard, and I don’t fault them. And I appreciated the inside jokes, like Steve Davison’s last name being referenced on the back of one float. That is the stuff of Disney Geeks everywhere! But the whole thing is a fairly big yawner. Not offensive, not exciting, not long, not memorable… not much of anything. I may glance at it as it passes by, but never - ever - again will I wait for this parade.

Magic, Memories and You

The same could not be said for the brand-new “Magic, the Memories, and You” show, which boils down to a projection show on the castle in the Magic Kingdom (MK). This one I will wait for again. You might think that a typical light show would underwhelm, but you’d be wrong. If you saw a video of the presentation (here’s one example) then it’s likely you also felt that tingle of excitement us aficionados feel when the Mouse gets it right.

The Disney company may have started out tickling funny bones, but these days, it’s returning to the tradition of pushing technological boundaries and heartfelt storytelling which keeps up coming back to Disney. And this show delivers. You get the new tech (I literally asked out loud “how do they do that!?” when watching fireworks projections turn into real fireworks), and it reinforces those heartstring tugs and activates your nostalgia center.

At its core, the show is 16 projectors aimed at the castle. Only 12 of them are truly needed (there is some redundancy built in), but these are not run of the mill projections. If you’ve seen the “kiss goodnight” floodlights on the castle, you’ve got the wrong idea. The new show has high-definition, high luminosity projections on the castle itself.

They did this by laser-mapping the surface of the castle over 30 months—an amazing accomplishment, with testing done very late at night so as not to tip off those staying at places like Bay Lake Tower—and constructing a highly-computerized show that makes use of every overhang and turret. At one point, an “escaped” Mickey-shaped balloon careens upward, and it “bounces” off the overhang turret. That’s the kind of realism I can get behind, even though it’s all a projection on the actual castle.

The show was better than I expected. Many readers know Disney intended to put regular Guests into the show, courtesy of PhotoPass pictures snapped earlier that day, and the idea grated with me. But the reality was both more subtle—it’s not glaring and irritating—and more nuanced. I might go so far as to say that the photos, which are pretty minimal, are integral to the show about “memories”—it’s done in a way that doesn’t invade the presentation with fake memories. That’s not to say the show is perfect. There was just a little of that overly saccharine Disney “touch” which seemingly COMMANDS you to please feel the magic now, all together. It’s a bit forced at moments. But nothing that can’t be dismissed, if you even feel the jadedness. Some visitors may never notice, in fact.

They’ll be too focused on the technology. It’s a “wow” factor that still pictures can’t fully capture. These are not “lights” projected on the castle… it’s a movie. And the movie…well, “moves” so much that you’ll be taken aback. They launch a rocket from one turret; they blow up blocks as if things burst from inside the castle, they shimmy the lights to imply something moving across the surface.

One of my favorite effects came at the end, when filmic fireworks arced across the castle, and then, seamlessly, real ones picked up at the edge of the structure and actually took off. It was timed so perfectly I honestly rubbed my eyes (this was that moment where I asked how they did that). It was a perfect melding of imaginary and real, the boundary where Disney always plays so effectively with our senses, our perceptions, and ultimately our emotions (which are, let’s face it, as manipulated as the pixels in the projectors and the sulfur in the fireworks). Well done.

Is it live or is it Memorex?

I’m even more excited now about the hologram testing they’ve been conducting. They were trying to make it work for the recent Disney Dream DCL press event, to have the Dream “cruise” down Main Street in a 3-D hologram. Excruciatingly tough technology to make it work (let alone from every angle), and they haven’t cracked this tough nut yet. But they will. We’ll see it someday, guaranteed. This is one of the areas where Disney continues to lead the competition by leaps and bounds.

What remains to be seen is how well the operations folks can handle a Hub-centric show in the Magic Kingdom. Disneyland years ago began presenting spectaculars that forced the crowds into small venues: NOS for Fantasmic, or the castle forecourt for Believe and all subsequent fireworks shows. Prior to that, the shows were always “high in the sky” (a phrase they used verbatim) so they could be seen from anywhere. With Magic, Memories, and You, they have turned a corner here in Orlando and are going to encourage the visitors to congregate in one spot—at least those with advance knowledge (which is, admittedly, a smaller slice of the daily population than is true in Anaheim).

We grabbed a spot between the Partners statue and the castle about 20 minutes before the Electrical Parade and did not move through that, the castle show, and the Wishes fireworks, which all came in a row (with 7 or 10 minutes between each). There wasn’t time to move, and it was too crowded to go anywhere with our stroller anyway. So it’s entirely possible there will be a crowd control challenge coming to the MK in the summer months. Maybe they can break the logjam by wedging an entire hour between the parade and the fireworks? (as experienced when sitting in front of the castle, I mean).

Fantasyland Expansion

Even though parts of the Fantasyland Expansion will be opening later (2013 for Little Mermaid, reportedly, and 2014 for the coaster you’ll see below), they are calling this a renovation opening in 2012 in recent press releases. Disney finally announced changes to the New Fantasyland redo, and the news boils down to a few salient features:

Current concept art (above), and from when it was first announced (below).

Canceling Pixie Hollow and the Castles (Meet and Greets) for Aurora and Cinderella

While the ‘back’ parts of the land were to be for Beauty and the Beast (dinner-show, shop, and fast food) and Little Mermaid (E-Ticket Omnimover attraction, possibly on the level of Haunted Mansion), the ‘front’ parts of the land were originally for pixies, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. These front zones have been replaced. By what? Read on.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride

This is a children’s roller coaster with heavier-than-normal theming and a brand new car system: mine cars that attach at both ends but sway as the train goes around curves. It should capture some of the sensation you get from suspended coasters like Ninja at Magic Mountain: any curve will send you swinging upward.

A new mural has gone up on the construction walls.

Fan reaction on the Internet has been optimistic—too optimistic about the Mine Ride, if you ask me. This will NOT be on the scale of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The footprint for the ride is simply too small (find an aerial photo if you can), and the concept art hammers home that the ride will not be particularly tall, either. This ride is probably going to be about twice the size of Barnstormer, with a bit of theming thrown in here and there. What level of theming remains to be seen, but I’m expecting more like Epcot’s Nemo Omnimover than Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

A closeup of the new construction wall mural.

To be honest, I think overall it might be fun and interesting, but not “I can’t believe I’m still in a theme park” kind of immersion. Will there be a height requirement? No word yet, but I’m guessing 35 inches. Certainly this ride is no “Potter killer” (or Potter Swatter, as I amusingly heard the concept called recently). It’s a step in the right direction; the former plans were too heavy on princesses. But it’s an evolution, not a revolution, and I’m tempering my enthusiasm for the moment.

The Dueling Dumbos will go where the face painting is now, and the former
skyway hill will become the tent holding the joint queue.

The rest of the news was mostly expected: Barnstormer will stay, rethemed to “The Great Goofini” at a circus, and the entire Toontown area would become Dumbo’s circus. The Dueling Dumbos moved across the way to be next to the Great Goofini, and circus tents (possibly brand new ones) would take up the other space, as well as a Casey Jr. train there to provide a water playground.

Because the princesses would be robbed of castles for meet-and-greet, they needed a new place for them. Enter the destruction of the existing Snow White ride. This attraction will go dark sometime this year (no word on when) and it will presumably be gutted, to be replaced by “temporary” walls and a new name—Princess Fairytale Hall. My guess is that this will be more than merely temporary.

40x40 Fan Celebration – Revised Dates

My weekly celebration of the 40th anniversary continues. Some weeks we have several visitors (we were 16-strong on last weekend), and some weeks it’s only a few, but I’m determined to keep chugging along. There are 40 rides (more or less) in the MK, and I’m visiting one each week during the 40th anniversary.

I probably mentioned this before, but Snow White’s Scary Adventures had to be moved up the list, since it’s closing soon (one assumes). What I haven’t said previously was that I had to move the Tiki Room, which was damaged by fire recently. No one knows the re-opening date, but I’m moving this one ‘down’ the list and later in the year just in case. You can see the current list here on MiceChat, which I update when necessary: http://micechat.com/forums/contests-meets-events/147839-40x40-fan-celebration-mk-2011-updated-meet-schedule.html

Please come join me when you can! We meet Saturdays at 2pm in the Enchanted Grove tables (on the Fantasyland side of Cosmic Ray’s).

From Screen to Theme

Finally, I had a chance recently to catch up with Brent Dodge, author of a history-minded book called “From Screen to Theme”: http://www.fromscreentotheme.com/store.aspx. The basic idea is to chart where and how things from Disney movies made their way into the theme parks. I lobbed some questions at him to help him explain his new book, and thought I’d share the interview with you verbatim.

Tell me what motivated your book.

When I was on the Walt Disney World College Program in 2004 I talked to a guest about where he could find all the references to Peter Pan throughout all of Disney. After explaining every single reference he pointed out there really should be a book about where you can find Disney movie references in the parks. I didn't think much of it until a few years later when I was student teaching. During the Kindergartner's "nap time" they were watching Robin Hood which got me to thinking about what the Peter Pan man said. "There really should be a book about the Disney film references in the parks." Two years later, From Screen to Theme was completed and being sold!

Do you have a favorite "translation" from screen to theme?

There are so many that it's hard to choose. A few of my favorites would be the hidden Baloo in Africa, the Dalmatians at All-Star Movies, or the Pablo the Penguin reference in World of Disney. Where are they exactly? I guess you'll have to check out From Screen to Theme to find out. As for live action references (this is covered in book 2, which is in the process of being edited), there is a very cool reference to Blackbeard's Ghost somewhere in Liberty Square!

What one translation do people miss but you wish they'd notice?

All of the references that can be found in World of Disney. That store is just full of film references that people walk past every day without even noticing. There are some obvious ones (like Stitch spitting at guests outside the store) and some very hidden ones (like Pedro the airplane)!

Isolate one thing you'd love to see Disney move "from screen to theme" -- what's missing so far in the parks?

I wish Disney would pay tribute to some of the forgotten films like The Black Cauldron or Oliver & Company. While those films may not have been popular, I don't think they should completely forget their history with these films. When The Black Cauldron opened in the mid-1980s there was a spot in Fantasyland where you could buy snacks from a shop called Gurgi's Munchies and Crunchies. However, that disappeared a few years later when Beauty and the Beast arrived in theatres and Mrs. Potts took the place of Gurgi in the form of Mrs. Potts Cupboard.

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally. FTC-Mandated Disclosure: As of December 2009, bloggers are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose payments and freebies. Kevin Yee pays for his own admission to theme parks and their associated events, unless otherwise explicitly noted.

2011 Kevin Yee

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Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including his latest:

Walt Disney World Hidden History: Remnants of Former Attractions and Other Tributes:

As the title implies, this is all about those little things in the parks that have significance to insiders and long-timers, but are never explained or highlighted. When a ride closes, sometimes pieces or props from that ride are folded into the replacement attraction (think of the World of Motion car seen in the queue of Test Track). Other times, designers intentionally craft a tribute to the previous ride—an example of that might be the carving of a submarine in the cement tree created for Pooh’s Playful Spot where the 20,000 Leagues subs used to be.

The other kind of homage in the parks concerns not rides, but individuals. The designers, artists, engineers, executives, and people important to Disney’s history often provide the inspiration for names and titles used at the attractions. Sadly, these are almost always unheralded. All of these remnants and tributes are normally left for the truly obsessed to spot piecemeal. They are usually not even discussed in the official Disney books and tours. This book sets out to change that, and catalog all such remnants and tributes in one spot.

The final result is 225 pages of hyper-detailed historical factoids. Broadly speaking this is a “trivia” book, but remember that it’s a particular kind of trivia. You’ve known before that the Walt Disney World theme parks wove a thick tapestry of details and backstory into a seamless (and peerless) experience. But armed with the specifics of homages and tributes, you’ll become aware that the parks are even more alive, and layered with meaning, that you could have ever imagined.

Might this be an ideal Christmas present or stocking stuffer for the Disney fan on your shopping list? If so, please have a look.

Also written by Kevin...

  • Your Day at the Magic Kingdom is a full-color, hardcover interactive children's book, where readers decide which attraction to ride next (and thus which page to turn to) - but watch out for some unexpected surprises!
  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link.