Mickey Mouse Saw Our Son

Sometimes a Disney story isn’t really about Disney. This is one of those stories.

My wife and I go to Disney parks more than most. Obviously we don’t go nearly as often as our love of the parks would suggest, especially compared to other fans with a similar level of devotion, but we go far more than the average married couple in their 30’s who don’t live near the parks. So inevitably when I announce that we’re taking another trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World I’m always met with the question of “Why?” People are frequently confused as to why we’d choose to fly or drive across the country to visit a crowded, hot, expensive tourist destination we’ve visited many times before. I’ve grown increasingly tired of this question, mostly because people use it to launch into a diatribe against everything Disney, but also because I’ve never felt like I have an answer that satisfactorily explains the depth of feeling I have towards the Disney parks. The cliché of “they make me feel like a kid again” doesn’t hold true for me at all, because the parks and Disney in general mean far more to me as an adult than it ever did as a child (despite loving it all my life). I try to talk up the concept of Disney’s idealism and optimism, but people tend to just dismiss that sort of thing. I try to tell them all of the reasons I want to work for Disney. I point out that the Disney parks offer an experience that is completely unlike anything anywhere else on the planet, the quality of the theming, the high caliber of Disney’s cast members, the level of care that goes into every detail, but most people are only interested in how fast the roller coasters are or whether they serve beer. But after this most recent trip to Disneyland a few weeks ago, I finally find myself with a story that does justice to my lifelong devotion to Disney.

As many readers may know, our son Luke was stillborn back in March. Continue reading

2015 D23 Expo: Day 3 Recap

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Well, the D23 Expo is over, and what a ride it was! With all of the big movie-related news out of the way with Animation on Day 1 and Live Action on Day 2, today for me was more about getting the full pavilion experience, particularly Walt Disney Archives Presents – Disneyland: The Exhibit, surely one of the ultimate highlights of the Expo. But I also managed to do a (very) little bit of shopping, as well as sitting in on the Disney Interactive presentation featuring news on popular upcoming videogames like Kingdom Hearts 3, Star Wars: Battlefront, and Disney Infinity.

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D23 Expo 2015

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This weekend is the fourth ever D23 Expo, the Disney Convention in Anaheim held every two years, and for the first time I’m going! I’ve been a charter member of D23 (the official Disney fan club) since it started, but I’ve never been able to make it to the Expo until now! I’m incredibly excited, and a little nervous, about all there is to see and do, and my goal is to share it all with you. I plan on tweeting as much as I can, so follow me @lovepirate77, and I may be cross-posting some of that to Tumblr so check me out there as well. I’ll also post nightly recaps of each day’s announcements and activities, with my reactions to any news, sightings, and the experience in general.

This year’s D23 Expo is shaping up to be the biggest yet, with some huge announcements and first looks in store. Continue reading

Analysis: Saving Mr. Banks and Disney Ideology

Saving Mr. Banks is an interesting film, and one that’s deeper than it may appear at first glance.  The story of P. L. Travers and Walt Disney and the making of the 1964 film Mary Poppins is used as a way to examine how we deal with the harsh realities of the world in which we live and also what responsibilities we have towards preparing children for those realities.  It examines how the events of our youth shape our lives as adults and presents some of the choices we can make about how to live our lives.  It offers a critique of the pre-judgments that people have a tendency to make, particularly as it pertains to Disney as a man, a company, a brand and an ideology.  It defends that ideology specifically, without invalidating other methods of thought.  And it has done all of this while facing some surprisingly harsh criticism and claims that the film is nothing but propaganda.  I feel like that makes it ripe for some analysis.  (Spoilers Below!)

*Disclaimer:  For those who regularly read this blog, it’s fairly obvious that I’m a Disney fanatic.  I’m a stock-owning, fanclub-card-carrying, happy-to-take-every-vacation-to-the-parks obsessive.  I seek out every Disney experience I can find, but more than that I buy into the ideology.  Whether that makes me a mindless drone or a corporate stooge (I promise I’m not getting paid by Disney, though I’d love to be) is for someone else to decide.  The short of it is that I am in no way unbiased when it comes to Disney, and I’ve defended the company before.  And while it hurts whenever something we love is criticized, my goal here is not for this to simply be one more “Disney is awesome and how dare you say otherwise!” post, but instead an examination of the film and what it has to say about varying worldviews and the Disney ideology in particular.  Take from it what you will.  You can read my review of the film here.

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What is Tomorrowland?

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At the end of my D23 movie news roundup from yesterday I mentioned Tomorrowland.  I didn’t want to go into the film there because I feel like it needs a bit more explanation, especially considering how little we still know of the film.  You have to go back to last year for the earliest reports of the film.  Brad Bird, who wrote and directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille for Disney/Pixar was announced as the director for a new film for Disney, bumping his rumored project with Pixar about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  People immediately began speculating that Bird was returning to Disney for a sequel to The Incredibles (something, incidentally, that needs to happen).

That wasn’t the case, however, as the title for his new film was revealed to be 1952.   Continue reading

Trailer Tuesday: Saving Mr. Banks

Welcome to “Trailer Tuesday” where I talk about trailers for upcoming movies, since I’ve always found them to be endlessly fascinating.

It’s been torture, having to wait until today to share this trailer with you.  I’ll save my thoughts for after, so go ahead and watch:

My obsession with all things Disney should be well know by this point to anyone who regularly reads this blog. Continue reading

Disney’s California Adventure Attractions

Disney’s California Adventure is the other park at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA. It opened in 2001 and attracted few visitors. Many criticized its “dull” theme and its focus on shops and restaurants as opposed to rides. My parents and I loved the park, however, finding it relaxing and interesting, and we enjoyed the high quality of the attractions.

Golden Zephyr
The first ride we rode was the Golden Zephyr. A calm, slow, swing-type ride, riders board small rockets, holding 12 people each, instead of individual state fair style swings. As with many of the rides at California Adventure, there was no line at all. This ride was not particularly exciting or interesting, though it was a nice moment to sit down, and offered a good view of the Paradise Pier section of the park.

Orange Stinger
The Orange Stinger is a classic state fair swing ride set inside a giant orange. It is modeled after the theme of bees flying around inside an orange (how do bees fly inside an orange?) and the sound of buzzing bees accompanies the ride (which is the only downside, apart from the annoying ride attendant encouraging everyone to scream). I’ve always been a big fan of swing rides, and my father and I rode this twice. As with many rides in the Paradise Pier section of the park, it offers a good view (out the openings in the orange) of both the entire area and of the nearby roller coaster. One word of caution: if you ever find yourself riding this ride when it is not full (as we did), be sure to guard yourself from having your knee demolished by an empty swing at the end of the ride.

Mulholland Madness
I had never ridden a Wild Mouse roller coaster before this trip, though I had often wanted to at fairs and other such places. Mulholland Madness (named after a famous street in LA) is an off-the-shelf Wild Mouse coaster, but I still found it very enjoyable. As with the above rides, there was nothing especially unique or Disney-esque about it, but it was fun.

Sun Wheel
We had to wait until day 2 to ride the Sun Wheel, an enormous Ferris wheel, because the line was too long on day 1. This was one of the more unique (and frightening) rides we encountered at California Adventure. Instead of each car swinging on a fixed pivot, like a normal Ferris wheel, each car was allowed to glide along a track fixed to the wheel. This track was oval shaped and allowed a fast (and sometimes rather rough) swinging motion during the ride. While fun and interesting, the ride was rather frightening due to its abrupt swings and its lack of seat restraints, forcing us to hold on so as to not fall out of our seats (each car was completely enclosed, to keep people from falling out of the ride). I am not sure I would ride this again, but I’m glad we rode it once, and it was by far the most exciting Ferris wheel I’ve ever ridden.

Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue!
This “dark ride” replaced the most unsuccessful ride in Disney history, Superstar Limo, which was open for less than a year after the park first opened. The Monsters, Inc. ride was designed to use the same track and space as Superstar Limo, and basically takes the rider through various scenes from the movie. The animatronics are very realistic (due to the fact that this is one of the newest “dark rides” at any Disney park) and the scene with all the moving doors from the movie is especially creative. This ride is found in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot area of the park, and is tucked in a corner where it is difficult to find. It was enjoyable but lacked the magic of the classic Disney “dark rides”.

Soarin’ Over California
Soarin’ Over California is probably the most successful rides at California Adventure, and as a result had the longest line. Soarin’ (which was recently copied at Epcot in Orlando, FL for Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth) is a simulator where riders hang from a vehicle resembling a giant hang-glider, which is in front of an OMNIMAX dome which shows aerial footage of various locations in California. The visuals, and the music by Jerry Goldsmith, are stunning, and the ride truly gives the sensation of flying. In addition to sight and sound, touch and smell are also incorporated into this ride, with gusts of wind timed to the video and scents matched to the locations. I wish the ride could move people through faster, so as to make the line shorter, but it is still worth the wait.
(Note: Among the locations the riders are flown over is the Anza-Borrego State Park, which is where my quarry is located.)

Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular
I’ve always been a bit wary of the short, live, musical versions of Disney animated movies found at every Disney park. I was somewhat surprised when my dad suggested that we step into this show, as it was about to start when we walked by. It was performed in a remarkably constructed theater which was very classy and elegant. The show told the entire story of the movie Aladdin, performing every song and a few new ones. The performer who played the Genie was one of the highlights, improvising and joking his way through the show. (A baby started crying at one point, while the Genie was talking to Jafar, and the Genie said, “You know, that baby’s crying because of you,” getting a huge laugh from the audience.) It is a testament to the power of the movie, when the “A Whole New World” scene, complete with an awesome flying carpet, got me as choked up as the scene in the movie does. Perhaps I should give some of the other “Musical Spectaculars” at other Disney parks a chance.

Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3D
This classic 3D movie, copied from Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, is one of my favorite all-time attractions. I have seen it more times than I can remember, I know all the dialogue of both the actual show and the pre-show entertainment, and it can still make me laugh every time. Boasting a wonderful script, great performances, and innovative special effects, this is one of the best 3D attractions out there. Of particular note, Beaker and the Swedish Chef are hilarious as always, Bean Bunny is SO adorable, and Gonzo is classic (Sam the Eagle: “Will you stop this foolishness!”, Gonzo: “What foolishness would you like to see?”). I will always make a point of seeing this show whenever I have the chance. It should also be noted that this was the last time Jim Henson ever voiced Kermit the Frog (or the Swedish Chef or Waldorf) before he died.

California Screamin’
Of all the attractions at Disney’s California Adventure, California Screamin’ (a parody of the classic song “California Dreamin’”) was the most exciting and fun. California Screamin’ is a modern, steel roller coaster modeled after the classic style wooden roller coaster. The riders board the coaster, which proceeds down from the loading area to the lakefront (literally about 2 feet off the water) next to the pier where it stops. There is a countdown and then linear induction motors (think magnets) are used to rapidly accelerate the coaster (0-55 mph in 4.5 seconds) up the first hill and into the ride. The coaster reaches a maximum speed of 61 mph, and travels a path reminiscent of a classic wooden coaster. The highlight of the ride is the single loop, which takes place right in front of a giant stylized Mickey ears designed into the coaster structure (you should see the picture my mom got of my father and I upside down, it is incredible, and if someone could help me figure out how to post a picture on to LJ, I’ll show it to everyone). This is a good coaster for anyone who might want to try a modern, fast coaster, but is afraid of loops and twists, since this only has one simple loop. This is by far on of the best coasters I have ever ridden, if not the best (Incredible Hulk at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando might be the best, it’s a tough call).

Disneyland’s Dark Rides

I’m going to begin my Disneyland attraction reviews with some of the classic Disney rides, found at many Disney parks around the land.

“it’s a small world”
Perhaps the most well known of all Disney rides, “it’s a small world” was originally designed by Walt Disney as a ride at the New York World’s Fair. Often dismissed by many as being silly, boring (or even creepy), this rides is a classic “dark ride”. I have always found the message behind the ride positive and uplifting (if you get past the stereotypes), and it is the ride I remember most from when I was a young child. The simple ride mechanics (moving water propelling the boats) have been used for decades, and the colors and simplicity of the animatronics hold up well, despite the corniness. It is interesting to note that the Disneyland version of the ride starts outdoors, with the riders boarding amid animal-shaped bushes, before proceeding indoors, which is different than the other versions of the ride around the world. On the past 5 or so trips to Disney parks, my parents and I have said that we do not need to ride it, but in the end we always do. Maybe that alone shows its quality.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
My dad and I were thrilled to discover that Disneyland has a version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (which was closed at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World to make room for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). Based on characters from the classic Disney film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, this ride takes you on an out of control journey through London to “nowhere in particular”, ending up in Hell oddly enough. Known for its sudden turns and wild nature, it was nostalgic for my dad and I to ride this classic once more.

Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
The film Pinocchio always scared me when I was little, and so I avoided watching it. So the ride, for me, was like a refresher on the story. We rode it simply because we could not remember it very well, and the line was ridiculously short. One of the original “dark rides” like the other two I have reviewed so far, it basically follows the story of Pinocchio exactly.

Peter Pan’s Flight
My personal favorite of the “dark rides” is Peter Pan’s Flight, due to my personal connections with the Peter Pan stories. You board a miniature pirate ship (yeah, maybe I like it because of that too) and you fly through the famous scenes from the atrocious Disney movie version (don’t get me started). Thankfully, the ride is such that you can imagine the real story fitting into the scenes you see, without having to relive the Disney movie. The sets in the ride are wonderful, especially when flying over London and Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger. I will ride this every time I get a chance.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
For those of you who don’t know, I absolutely adore Winnie the Pooh and all the characters in the stories (especially Eeyore). The ride is a new addition to the collection of Disney rides, built in the classic “dark ride” style, but with more modern sets and effects. You board a giant honey pot and embark through the three stories that make up The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh movie. One of the neatest effects is the simulation of raindrops during the flood sequence, using fiber optics. The highlight, though, is going through the Heffalumps and Woozles dream sequence, one of the most creative moments in all of Disney animation. The odd thing about the Disneyland version is that it is tucked back behind Splash Mountain in the “Critter Country” land, instead of in “Fantasyland” where it belongs.

Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
I’m a huge fan of the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and I was very excited to go on this ride. We actually had to get a fastpass for it, and return after riding “it’s a small world”. The ride did a great job of combining a typical “dark ride” with the ability to spin your cars like in the famous “Tea Cups” style ride. The story for this ride was rather nonexistent, unfortunately, and failed to use any of the humor of the movie. There were only really a couple of scenes shown in the ride (none of which came from the movie, I believe) and the focus seemed to be more on spinning your cars (which, admittedly, was very fun). I was disappointed in the ride however, the only highlights being the quality of the animatronics (especially Jessica Rabbit) and the design of the ride cars (taxi cabs with light up headlights). A few moments were reminiscent of the movie, usually involving single shots or bits of music, but overall I would have preferred something more interesting and creative.

Well, if you actually read all that and got to this point, you can look forward to more of my ride reviews soon. And if you didn’t read it all, and just skipped to the end, I don’t blame you, because that probably wasn’t very interesting to anyone other than myself. Sorry.

Disneyland Trip Overview

My parents and I experienced 24 different rides or shows in our two days at Disneyland. We rode 5 rides twice and one ride three times, bringing the total to 31 attractions. The longest wait time was between an hour and a half and an hour and forty-five minutes, which was for Space Mountain. We only used Fast-Pass once, for Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, and we had several rides where there was no line at all. We saw two shows, Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular and Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3D, the first being a live stage show and the other a 3D movie. I rode two rides by myself, Dad rode one by himself, only two of us rode 11 rides, and all of us experienced the remaining 17 attractions. The full list of attractions, in the order we experienced them, is below. We also ate at 3 restaurants; the Village Haus Restaurant in Disneyland and the Taste Pilots’ Grill and Pizza Oom Mow Mow in Disney’s California Adventure.

Day 1
Disneyland
Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Haunted Mansion
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – J & B
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – J & B
“it’s a small world”
Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
Star Tours
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Peter Pan’s Flight – J & N
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
Disney’s California Adventure
Golden Zephyr
Mulholland Madness – J & B
Orange Stinger – J & B
California Screamin’ – J & B
Soarin’ Over California
Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
Disneyland
Space Mountain
Star Tours – J

Day 2
Disney’s California Adventure
Sun Wheel
California Screamin’ – J & B
Maliboomer – B & N
Orange Stinger – J & B
Mulholland Madness – J & B
Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – B
Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3D
Disneyland
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Star Tours – J
Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye – J & B

Overall, I was very impressed with Disneyland and I was surprised by Disney’s California Adventure (which are the two different parks at Disneyland Resort). Disneyland opened in 1955 and Disney’s California Adventure opened in 2001, and they are vastly different. Disneyland was originally known as the Magic Kingdom, until that name was adopted by the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Disneyland has most of the same rides of the Magic Kingdom, with a few notable additions like Star Tours and Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye (also the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which were unfortunately closed while we were there). It is more compact than the Magic Kingdom, due to Disneyland Resort’s lack of land, and has a slightly older feel, but is still just as magical. Disney’s California Adventure is very unique. Like many Disney parks it is divided into different areas or lands. The Hollywood Pictures Backlot area contains rides based on movies and TV shows, and is very reminiscent of Disney-MGM Studios. There is “a bug’s land” based on the Disney/Pixar film A Bug’s Life, which is oriented towards children. There is also an area based around an enormous water ride. The most interesting area, however, is the Paradise Pier half of the park. This area is designed to reflect fairgrounds and Coney Island style amusement parks. It has a wonderful roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, swings and carnival games. It has a great feel to it. Disney’s California Adventure is known for being something of a failure, due to its low ticket sales. I think this is because the park is too “real”. While the park is relaxing and fun (and the lines are short), it does not allow people an escape from reality, which is the main reason people go to Disney parks. However, I loved both parks, and I look forward to going back as soon as possible.