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While SeaWorld's new coaster Manta grabbed headlines (and my attention) last week, Disney World was opening its own new attraction just in time for the summer crowds. Sadly, the Disney entry won't have nearly the same marketing cachet as the SeaWorld coaster. Stitch's Supersonic Celebration is a simple stage show, not even a ride.

Making use of the proven (and now familiar) technology to animate characters on screen "in real time", Stitch's SuperSonic Celebration (SSC) has been regularly pilloried by online reviews, some of which savaged the show as pointless and a missed opportunity (if not downright insipid).

This may surprise many readers, but I'm going to defend the show ever so slightly. It's true that the show is silly, unnecessary, and out of theme for this part of the Magic Kingdom, but at the same time, it's got catchy music, good energy, and it's "mostly harmless" as far as entertainment goes.

Silly but mostly harmless.

The stage--a new permanent fixture in the dead space between Carousel of Progress and Space Mountain--has a thick and tall backdrop behind the stage itself, and a control booth set back several yards behind the nominal viewing area. The 25-minute show was scheduled for six performances on the Saturday when we visited: 10am, 11:10, 12:20pm, 2:15, 3:30, and 4:45. There are no evening performances (I wonder if they even installed stage lighting?)

Between shows, the screen runs through a canned series of commercials for the fictional Tomorrowland News Network (TNN… get it?) and you'll find some Easter Eggs here, like Stitch's space vehicle or two Astro-Orbiter cars involved in a stellar traffic accident. We glimpsed a cartoon version of the diminutive Tom Morrow robot from Innoventions (now removed) here in Orlando. You'll also see ads for real Tomorrowland shops, like the Merchant of Venus. The ads maintain the illusion that TL is supposed to be an intergalactic space port, with aliens of all stripes wandering through the stores.

Every few minutes, the screen will flash with a wish for "Happy Galaxy Day." I'm old (and geeky) enough to make a vague mental connection to the awful Star Wars Holiday Special, which showed us all the characters from the 1977 Star Wars wishing each other "Happy Life Day." It seemed somehow familiar. Could it even be an homage?

The host makes an entrance.

Galaxy Day forms the basis of the show's reason for being. Our host Tip Trendo pops out, accompanied by several fembot-looking dancers called Galactic Girls. It's meant to be cheesy, retro, and fun. They sing a hugely upbeat (for me, even "uplifting") song called "The Future Has Arrived." It's full of bouncy 80s rhythms and by golly is it catching. I was instantly enamored (it's from Meet the Robinsons, and wasn't original to this show). The host has a live microphone, but the dancers are lip-syncing.

After a quick pyro launch (nothing whatsoever to write home about), our host tells us that on the big screen we'll check in with a reporter on the scene of Galaxy Day festivities, but it turns out that Stitch has "borrowed" the spacecraft and is answering the video phone call. Stitch heckles the host for a bit and interacts with the audience. Clearly, these are not scripted moments, but times when a live performer makes Stitch say things back to the Guests, and the animation is pretty smooth. Stitch himself is just a touch hard to see (let alone photograph) because illuminated signs like this work best at night. Possibly because it's a children's show, though, there are no nighttime performances.

It's a daytime show, and thus hard to see sometimes.

Stitch points out one person in the audience who he knows from his time in prison, and flashes on screen a quickly-assembled "wanted" poster of this visitor. There are cameras embedded in the stage off to the sides, you see, and the image is easily melded onto a template. Stitch, wanting to do something nice for us, sends us "presents" in the form of robots purchased online from RoboMart. These fellows "do the robot" dance to "Mr. Roboto" and otherwise inject dynamism into the show, including some impressive breakdancing.

Domo Arigato… until the reboot!

When creating the robots, Stitch selects from a menu of choices for the head. Look quickly, and you'll see the Tom Morrow robot from Disneyland's Innoventions, as well as SIR from Alien Encounter (which makes sense, because RoboMart is listed onscreen as a subsidiary of XS-Tech). The Galactic Girls, not to be outdone, bust out dance routines set to "These Boots Are Made For Walking," and like the robots, they are lip-syncing rather than singing for real.

Yes, these boots right here!

After a few more jokes, most of which admittedly fall flat, the Galactic Girls try to recruit kids from the front row to dance, but this proved relatively unsuccessful on my visits. Perhaps they still need to tweak the show. Finally, Stitch teleports himself to our stage, and appears as a "rubberneck" character dressed up as Elvis Stitch. A few more dance moves and it's all over.

ABOVE: Would you like to dance? BELOW: I don't like Elvis Stitch as much as Regular Stitch.

So what was my first impression? Frankly, I could care less about the show my first time around. What I noticed instead was no shade! The venue is open-air and uncovered, and the merciless Florida sun quickly beats anyone into submission. The crowd filled up the space slowly for the early afternoon show we witnessed, but the crowd never materialized for the mid-afternoon show later on. A few folks huddled in the shade of the TTA track several yards back, belying what should have been obvious to the executives in the first place: people like shows, but they want shade! One assumes they didn't build a roof to allow visitors on the TTA to see into the venue, but that was just plain misguided thinking.

TOP: One show had a decent number of viewers… BOTTOM: ...the other did not.

Most visitors failed to get deeply into the show. We saw the character hosts ("zoo crew") folks not only preventing folks from climbing the stage stairs, but also dancing along when no one else would. This looked like an effort to get folks to care, which is usually a sign of creative bankruptcy.

I never saw it, but the stage show at Disneyland's Coke Terrace, "Calling All Space Scouts: A Buzz Lightyear Adventure" was probably much the same thing. It had a catchy theme song (sample: "because a space scout is a winner / who is never late for dinner"), the plot was improbable and cheesy, and I simply can't stop listening to the music. We all have guilty pleasures, and extraordinarily lame (but catchy!) Disney theme park songs seems to be my vice. Typically, I start off hating songs and shows like that, but as I see them over and over, they not only grow on me, they become necessary fixtures to my theme park experience. The Hyperspace Hoopla at Star Wars Weekends is another example.

I'm sure I'm in the minority on this one, but I actually enjoy Stitch's Supersonic Celebration more than the current castle stage show, Dream Along With Mickey, which just comes across as too-scripted, too-predictable, and too-bland. And I liked that they resisted the natural urge to make this just another "Turtle Talk With Crush" type of show that is nothing but Living Character interaction. That was what I expected when I sauntered up on Saturday, but what we got was much more minimal in the usage of Stitch. He was around, but the action revolved much more around the live performers.

Shade would be nice!

That said, there are some serious problems with this show, especially where it is located. Tomorrowland, once a bastion for optimistic visions of the future, increasingly looks like cartoon-land. Alien Encounter gave way to Stitch's Great Escape, and DreamFlight is now Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. Do we really need more cartoon characters in Tomorrowland, especially with the real Stitch attraction only steps away?

Worse, this show continues the trend of only adding new things to the Magic Kingdom when Disney film characters are involved. Has Disney management simply given up and decided that the only "serious" theming will go to Animal Kingdom? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to chart the recent additions to the Magic Kingdom and realize they all revolve around characters. The past decade has seen Pixie Hollow, two new parades filled with characters, a few character-based castle shows, the Pooh Playground, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Stitch's Great Escape, and Mickey's Philharmagic. Have they added ANYTHING that is not character-based lately?

One assumes that they aren't making decisions in a vacuum, and they must have reason to think that characters "sell." Indeed, look at how hard it is to secure a reservation for the Crystal Palace character meal! Maybe this is what the crowds want after all. But I wish they would see beyond the (short-term-oriented) spreadsheet. Walt did not build his original Disneyland to house the characters. The movie characters lived in Fantasyland alone, and the other lands were for imagining different kinds of worlds. Quite a lot of that has been lost in the meantime.

Stitch sells. I think. That's probably why they keep foisting him on us!

Bottom line: the new Stitch show would never lure me over just to see it, but I would certainly dawdle and watch one if it was ongoing or about to start. That's doubly true if they were to build a roof to provide some shade! Retooling the show would probably help, too, but I'm (perversely) a fan of the cheesy factor, and part of me likes it just the way it is. In no way, shape, or form is this anything close to an answer to SeaWorld's Manta. But that's OK. Not every Disney experience has to be an out-of-the-ballpark homerun.

Fairy Tale U: What the Disney Movies REALLY Mean

Let me admit right up front to a financial stake in this next section. Should you find this interesting and sign up, I would benefit monetarily. But I honestly think the interests of many of you readers will be piqued by this opportunity. Picture a lower-division college course, open to the whole world, that teaches you about the history and origins of the most popular fairy tales. It's an online-only class, so it doesn't matter where in the United States you live. In fact, it's delivered through Second Life, a free virtual world where everyone gets an avatar for roaming around, discovering things, building things, and communicating with others.

Time to back up a bit, and explain why it's me bringing this to your attention. It feels strange to be introducing myself after more than ten years of writing columns like these, but the reality is that I've only let slip my day job once or twice in all those years: I'm a college professor (here's my curriculum vita). I've taught at UC Irvine, Pomona College, University of Iowa, Duke University, and now I'm at the University of Central Florida. My Ph.D. was in German Literature, where I specialized in 19th-century (Romantic-era) authors in general and fairy tales in particular.

These days, I work as a faculty developer, helping other college instructors with teaching ideas, staying current in teaching and learning theories and practice, and providing orientation to new faculty, teaching assistants, and adjuncts. UCF is the closest major university to Walt Disney World, which is why I chose that school when I moved to Florida.

Fairy Tale princesses are big business for Disney, seen even in their marathon events.

I continue to teach about fairy tales, most recently at UCF in the honors college. You can read a profile of the course on this UCF marketing page. At its heart, the class functions as an examination of the Disney movies. We look at the Disney plots, symbols, and characters to suss out deeper meanings. That can only be accomplished by reading the source material at the same time. Disney's Cinderella, for instance, almost comes directly from the Charles Perrault version, but the Grimms' version of the story is relevant to examine also.

The Disney movies make more sense when we look at the messages and morals of the original tales. Almost always, those messages change in the Disney version, so it's instructive to get specific about HOW the change occurs and WHY. The net result of this level of investigation is a much richer, more nuanced understanding of the Disney movies. I wouldn't say that the class "ruins" your appreciation of the movies and fairy tales. If anything, your appreciation will deepen because you understand the layers of meaning much better.

Naturally, the logical next step is to explore how the story evolves still further when brought into physical reality at the theme parks. The Snow White story meant one thing in the original Grimms (and it's not what you're expecting, to say the least), it meant something different in the Disney movie, and it means yet a third thing at Disneyland/Walt Disney World. We dive into all that in my class.

A colleague at the University of the Pacific (in Stockton, CA) came up with an idea to bring my fairy tales class to a wider audience: why not make it an online-only course? And to make it as interactive as possible, why not do it in the persistent online environment of Second Life? That way, we could still have class meetings (albeit virtual ones, with our avatars standing about). This raises an important point: the class is not your typical "do it whenever you want" online class, with students free to perform the work asynchronously. Instead, we will have defined meeting times, just like a face-to-face class. In this case, Tuesday and Thursday nights, 6pm-9pm Pacific time (aka, 9pm-midnight, Eastern time). The class will run from June 22 through July 24.

Second Life is fun and interesting all by itself!

Because we'll be in Second Life, which is like a computer game but without specific rules, levels, or objectives to accomplish, we will leverage the abilities of that environment: flying, building objects, teleporting to external locations to see what other people have built, changing our avatar identity/appearance, and communicating with people, even strangers.

The course content is being adjusted from an honors-level class to a general-interest audience of differing academic skill levels, meaning that we're aiming for maximum fun and interest rather than rigid expectations of academic rigor. It's still a lower-division college class, with one essay and a final exam (and some quizzes sprinkled in), but if you graduated from high school, you should be able to handle both the workload and the academic expectations.

Stories discussed in the class include:

Cinderella Little Mermaid Hansel and Gretel
Snow White Beauty and the Beast Red Riding Hood
Sleeping Beauty Rapunzel Rumplestiltskin

Let me stress that these stories did not, originally, mean what you think. So if you're ready to find out how rape, incest, mistrust of the peasantry, starvation, sexual conquest, deviant sexuality, and power politics play into the Disney and other common fairy tales, then sign up. It's open to all high school graduates, located in the United States and overseas alike.

To register, click on this PDF link. Print it out, fill in the required fields (the course fee is $395), and mail or fax it in. Second Life is free, but there's a class textbook/reader to purchase for about $19. You can call 209-964-2424 with any questions, or visit www.pacific.edu/cpce for more contact information. You do not have to be a student at Pacific (or a college student of any kind, for that matter), to participate.

I hope to see you online!

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

© 2009 Kevin Yee

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Kevin's Disney Books

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

  • 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 books, along with ordering options are at this link. Kevin is currently working on other theme park related books, and expects the next one to be published soon.

A Different look at Disney...
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