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An awful lot goes right at the Disney resorts. Rehab walls dot the walkways in the parks, as locations as diverse as the Adventureland Bridge to the Fountain of Nations get renovated.

One pylon has been painted white; the other still has the fake 3D paint (so far).

You only have to look at the wonderful new castle projections (which I saw again this weekend) to see that the Mousetro can still cook up quality, cutting-edge entertainment. But it’s disheartening that such innovation exists side-by-side with sub-par upkeep.

Blue dots… is this like the blue screen of death?

If you’ll pardon the expression, I’m heartbroken about the broken special effects around Walt Disney World that should be fixed. I recently highlighted one of them and will repeat it here: the earthquake scene in Big Thunder Mountain, complete with a sheet substituting for a rock that is supposed to move (photo below). It’s egregious and actually offensive to the audience, if you think about it, almost as if the executives don’t value the visitors (or think the visitors are too stupid to notice, perhaps). Either way, it’s insulting and far beneath Disney’s usual standards.

Thunder… sigh.

Disney’s been doing “rolling rehabs” in a few places for a while now. For instance, Mouse Gear never really closed down as the cashier stations were moved, conglomerated, and rebuilt (it’s much better now, by the way, as is the Emporium on Main Street). Instead of closing the store, they sealed off sections with construction walls, and otherwise kept open. This might make sense in a shop—gotta earn that money—but for a ride it’s misguided.

I get that you’d rather not close and disappoint those once-a-year (or once in a lifetime) visitors, but you’d think there have to be some boundaries here. If keeping the ride open gives them an excuse to just never fix a major element, then my vote would be for a quick but complete makeover using a regular maintenance closing. If the show is seriously compromised enough, how could you do otherwise? The trick, of course, is getting everyone to agree on what “enough” means in this context. It appears the execs think it’s not broken “enough”, or else they’d close the ride.

Some of these upkeep issues are almost comical. The rocking boats in the Phoenician merchant scene of Spaceship Earth (below) didn’t move for the longest time, but they were moving again right after the last rehab. Hooray! Alas, it didn't last. They’ve been still again now for several weeks running. Perhaps no one notices? Is this an effect they can only fix once per year, during ride rehabs?

That’s its own important question, actually. Should we, the public, expect them to fix rides between rehabs? Or should everything get fixed only once a year when the budget can be written out in advance and well-understood? You can guess my answer (and I flatter myself to think it would have been Walt’s answer too, if the stories if his reaction to Show violations in his day were at all true).

I can proudly say that I no longer take flash photos on rides (and can’t
remember why I used flash on this one, some years ago).

Then there are the broken elements that don’t get fixed for years. Regular readers of this column may remember the snapped windmill blade on Tom Sawyer Island that took years to fix after Hurricane Charley—surely it need not have taken so long.

Something similar can be seen at Ellen’s Energy Adventure. The second theater room is a half-CircleVision presentation: three big screens (shown below). What’s supposed to happen is that curtains cover all three when we enter this darkened area in our traveling theater vehicles, and the curtain rises on the center screen as the movie starts up. Later, Ellen “widens” the dream to use an extra screen on each side, and those curtains used to withdraw at the same pace as the film expanded outward. It was a neat effect. Too bad it’s been years since the side screens had curtains on them. I don’t know if the curtains are broken or missing, but their absence is keenly felt. When you enter the room now, you can see two side screens uncovered, so it’s obvious this is to be a widescreen movie. The “reveal” thus has no emotional or visual punch, the way the ride is designed. It’s a small thing, but hey, Disney is *famous* because it has the small things. Otherwise this would be a website about Paramount Parks or Six Flags. So I don’t want to apologize too much about harping on the small stuff. It adds up.

Wider! And no, you don’t sound like a dentist.

The granddaddy of broken effects, of course, is the Disco Yeti. He’s still broken, too. He had such a range of motion (five feet horizontal, two feet vertical for the whole device, plus several feet for his swooping arm) that powerful forces are generated. His foundation can’t take it, and it’s a vexing engineering problem to fix him. Among other problems: he was built before the mountain, so to simply “swap him out” is not a likely option. They have to remove major parts of the mountain to do that. For the moment, they makeshift solution was to flash a strobe light at the unmoving figure (hence “disco yeti”) to impart some kinetics. But it’s a lower quality solution, and no one (on the management side, either) is happy about it.

The yeti, as seen BEFORE he became a swinging disco dude.

I heard a plan recently to re-introduce movement. I didn’t hear about a timeline, though, so let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. This new plan recognizes that using the yeti’s internal guts to move the figure isn’t realistic—that’s what got it into trouble. So the answer seems to be to affix the yeti’s dead arm to a pole (more or less) and have the pole move, courtesy of machinery in the walls. So you’d get something back, though not the original “A”-mode swiping attack. No one has seen this yet, obviously, so it’s hard to judge ahead of time. But I’m already privately thinking of this as Marionette Yeti. Better than Disco Yeti, to be sure, but still something much removed from the original robotics.

Photo Essay: Expedition Everest, Part One

I did promise to find the positive more often in 2011, so let’s counterbalance the above with some archival photos of Everest. I find this attraction to be highly photogenic (don’t you agree?) so I'm almost always ready with the camera out and my finger on the shutter release. Enjoy! 

Under construction in March, 2004

September, 2005

The finished mountain, seen from Flame Tree BBQ.

The view of the mountain from Western Way, near the Tree Farm.

The mountain as seen from a high point at Blizzard Beach.

To be continued...

40x40 Fan Celebration: Mad Tea Party

We had 18 folks show up for the Snow White meet last week—it’s been just fantastic to meet people at these Saturday events, and I really appreciate it when they take time out from their vacations to drop by. It shows how dedicated these Disney fans are—we want to commemorate the park’s big birthday!

Join us this Saturday at 2pm, if you can, for the Mad Tea Party (teacups). Those who wish to skip the ride itself can still stop by the meet and say hi, at least! We’re always at 2pm at Enchanted Grove.

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.