March 21, 2018

Tropical Serenade Attraction Poster

Before Moana moves into the Tropical Serenade at Walt Disney World, I thought it'd be good to post a high quality copy of the attraction poster.  An Adventureland original!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 20, 2018

Working the Bugs Out of Marvel at Disneyland

It's about time! Look, California Adventure has always been a very mixed bag of themes and attractions. In 2001 at grand opening, the Golden State theme was there but poorly executed. Perhaps the most consistent theme and feel came after the 2012 mega expensive, major Re-Imagineering of the park.  Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, and the refreshing of Paradise Pier, made the park very good, much closer to Disney quality than Six Flags. It was a great beginning.

The park has always evolved more than any other Disney park on the continent. Opened quickly after the Disney suits realized they'd built a flop, A Bugs Land was very well themed and charming but full of cheap carnival rides. Just a quick fix to give kids something to do and also keep parents in the park. With the copy of Animal Kingdom's film It's Tough To Be A Bug as part of it, the whole thing just felt forced. (Check out my series on Bargain Basement Imagineering to see how bad it was! (Part One, Part Two, More, finally Reimagining a New Dream, and some Rare DCA concept art.)

Now, the Avengers are coming! Just announced, it's finally time for goodbye to Bugs, and time to say hello to Marvel and the Super Hero Universe. Send those kids to Pixar Pier.

As bad as the California Adventure park was at opening in 2001, the worst themed land there (and maybe in Disney park history) has always been the Hollywood Pictures Backlot aka Hollywoodland. Currently, it's only worse now with the Guardians of the Galaxy layover attraction sitting in the middle of it all. My bet is the Hollywood themed area will eventually be incorporated into the new space.

Perhaps the new Marvel themed Super Hero Universe will tie all the elements together. Here's hoping. A great coaster with a story would be a plus, but the land needs a family friendly dark ride as well. If the Bugs theater gets reused for a film attraction, it's a missed opportunity. Will the suits allow the Imagineers to do something as focused and substantial as Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge? That is the bigger question. Whatever it is, Disney says the new land debuts in 2020. Better get going.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 19, 2018

First Visit to EPCOT Center

There's an old saying that there's nothing like your first time. It happens to be true when I speak about our first visit to EPCOT Center. In an unexpected twist, it almost instantly became our favorite Disney park. This was the park as originally envisioned, not the one chock full of intellectual properties and animated characters. No Frozen, no Guardians of the Galaxy, no Nemo, no Ratatouille.

Back then, World Showcase opened the same time as Future World, so we entered the park and almost walked right past Spaceship Earth and directly to the Mexico Showcase. Almost. Of course, we were not immune to the charms of the future world as portrayed by Disney. In fact, I remember clearly just staring at the huge silver sphere. Couldn't take my eyes off it, but we had to stop and get to the World Key Information Stations inside Earth Station to book meal reservations. Super easy, super fun and reasonably priced. 

We only had to wait a few minutes, but we stayed busy by watching a terrific kaleidoscope of images previewing the wonders we'd soon encounter.  Just the presentation and the surrounding area felt fresh, optimistic, and inspiring. The future wasn't scary. It was approachable. We made our way to the front of the line and to the screen. 

This truly was a touch of something new. In fact, in 1982 touch sensitive computer screens were something of a rarity. The Bell System (at divestiture the attraction would then be officially sponsored by AT&T, the company I worked for at the time) and its branch Bell Laboratories really were bringing us the future of communication. Moments after a young woman came too the screen to help us with our meals choices, we were on our way. 

Deciding to bypass Future World for the time being, we strolled into Mexico.  It and China next door just seemed to beckon us compared to Canada and the United Kingdom. The lone Mayan pyramid and the small cantina on the glistening lagoon gave us no hint to what we were about to experience.

Until the changeover from El Rio del Tiempo to the Gran Fiesta and perhaps one day Coco, the sights, sounds, and feel of Mexico made it our favorite place in all of World Showcase. I won't bore you with the details of El Rio del Tiempo, but I will tell you, we were enchanted by it and wished it had lasted even longer than it did. It was planned to be much, much longer but budgets were blown past, and time was running short. (If you want to see lots of art and images plus links to video etc, just search on the site for "Cinco de Mayo" or go here for one of many posts.) 

Having visited Baja California, Mazatlan, and Acapulco, I have aways had a soft spot for the country. The gentle boat ride by an active volcano gave the pavilion a touch of glamour and mystery. Something the new version of the ride replaces with cheap marketing. It's too bad, but it was foreshadowing of what was to come. We wandered around the pyramid under the moonlight, so glad we were returning for lunch later in the day.

Naturally, we followed along the promenade and continued on to China. For younger readers, it's important to remember that at the time, few people were given the ability to travel to this country, thereby making a visit to a fairly accurate representation of the landmarks of the country all the more alluring. Meeting the nationals who were privileged to work there was a plus. 

There were no Disney themed items to be found in the shops of World Showcase, only authentic goods right from the countries represented. It was as close as an authentic experience a traveler could get without hopping on an airplane. Needless to say, we were again stunned by the beauty of the landscaping and architecture, thrilled by the 360 movie, Wonders of China. Dreams of traveling there were lit inside.

Making our way around the lagoon, we stopped at Germany and Italy, winding up at the American Adventure. We very impressed by the show, (Disney always makes you proud to be an American) but disappointed there was nothing else to represent our country. Fast food? That's it? Disappointing to say the least, but there was still much to explore. The view back to Future World and Spaceship Earth- wow, this park was huge.

We chose to head back toward Mexico for lunch as we had waterside dining reservations at the San Angel Restaurante.  It was dark, cozy, romantic- and we so enjoyed the margarita, queso fundido, and our main course. It was my first taste of Mole Poblano and not my last, becoming a New Mexican favorite. We ended our lunch with another cruise on the river, heading back into Future World from there.  

The afternoon crowds were heavy back in the other end of the park, and it was fairly easy to get to the big ticket attractions of Future World. First stop, Journey Into Imagination. My father-in-law worked for Kodak at the time and for his entire career, so we had heard great things about what Disney came up with. In a word, magical! Figment and Dreamfinder were delightful and will always be the "hosts" of the park.  (I cannot tell you what a bastardization of the original attraction this new version is. You'd have to experience it to know.) Before I became a collector of sorts of Disney park memorabilia, I purchased a Figment of my own. I have him to this day. Magic Journeys in 3D (a new thing!) was a great second attraction to the pavilion, and the Image Works was just plain fun. We stayed almost two hours- something you could not pay me to do now.

Sing along now: "Just make believe you're a tiny little seed..." The Land is our favorite of the original Future World attractions that are still in the park. Up until the point Horizons debuted a few years later, this is where the future was in Future World. The Listen to the Land boat tour was the perfect way to share the latest in farming technologies to the public. This was a case of "Edutainment" at its best. 

The film Symbiosis was preachy at times, but the cruise through the greenhouses made learning fun. Kitchen Cabaret brought it home for the kids. The silly presentation about nutrition, while enjoyable, was not on par with the much better Audio-Animatronic musicals found in the Magic Kingdom. However, it wasn't meant to be a headline attraction either. (The replacement, Food Rocks, was even less effective.)

Starting with the following morning when we would return for a second full day at EPCOT Center, breakfast at The Good Turn would become a tradition until it became too expensive or too difficult to book. We always enjoyed the warm Florida sun streaming through the greenhouse dome, and intentionally stretched our meal time long enough to rotate into the darker showroom of the boat cruise. It's in the hidden places such as this that Future World has its own unique charms. The future should be warm and hopeful, and it always was in the way Disney chose to present it back then. Now, it's just cartoon filled and silly.

The Living Seas wouldn't come until later, so we wandered through Communicore (now Innoventions). We passed through both East and West, and we decided to make that area part of the next day. Back then, EPCOT Center was a two full day park. Now we still go for two days because its our favorite, but it doesn't hold as much substance. Anyway, we were among the first to vote for The Person of the Century poll. Kind of a fun thing to throw in there. My bet was Disney didn't like the results, and the show- and announcement of the winner- soon disappeared.

A journey deep into Spaceship Earth was a perfect way to continue our trip. It was very impressive, and I was pleased to see my employer was represented by such a fine attraction. The changes over the years have not always taken away from the grandeur- until a new ending filled with monitors on the ride vehicle.  Such a pity.

Across the way, we went into the Universe of Energy. It's inherent surprises did the trick they were designed to do, (who doesn't love dinosaurs?), but it was next door's World of Motion that we really loved. Everything about it was Disney Imagineering at its best.

Let me be clear- I love old school Audio-Animatronic adventures like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. They rely on story to bring the thrills and surprises. World of Motion easily held its own with these classics. From the train being held up (in a nod to the never built Western River Expedition) to the policeman on motorcycle behind the billboard, the attraction built to a grand finale- a ride through the city of the future. Humorous, informative and very repeatable. (Gary Owen's narration was incredible in his signature style.) Motion became a three ride a day attraction for us, and we did it again several hours later after nightfall.  

Upon exiting and by then knowing the song "It's Fun to Be Free" by heart, we stepped into the Transcenter for the Bird and Robot / The Water Engine show followed by the automotive displays, a nice nod to the sponsor. 

I'm all for thrill rides-  and I love Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad- but there is something about these older lengthy and leisurely attractions like those mentioned above that really take you out of present day reality and into another realm. This is something Disney does better than just about anyone, but this fact about immersion is almost lost on the current batch of Imagineers... and park guests trained to run from ride to ride! Without the balance of all kinds of attractions, the audience is limited. This is why parks like California Adventure 1.0 and Animal Kingdom are not as popular as they could have been. 

Evening meant a return to World Showcase starting with Canada. The signature attraction, "Oh, Canada!" had nothing on its Chinese counterpart. This was not the case when we viewed "Impressions of France".  Superlatives are not enough, so Imagineers and Budgeteers, after all these years, isn't it time to update the film and give it a technology upgrade as well? It's a masterpiece. So is the pavilion it is built around. A late night stroll through "France" and then around the promenade basking in the glory of a beautiful Florida evening was the perfect way to end our first visit to EPCOT Center. Thank God Ratatouille is an add and not an "instead of"!

We'd do it again the next day, this time starting in Future World and then working our way through World Showcase, beginningt with Canada. The changes over the years would not always please us, but this one single theme park is still the reason I return to Walt Disney World. There's nothing like it.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company. Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

March 16, 2018

What Were They Thinking?

Sometimes I just have to wonder about the Walt Disney Company. It was bad enough that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was remade into Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout and plopped down into California Adventure. The Imagineers had made such progress on a big chunk of the park, bringing together the diverse themes into something that at least felt a bit coherent. About 5 years later, they screw it up with this change and that of Pixar Pier, the brainfest of no doubt of Bob Chapek and Robert Iger. Fans who care about theme were rightly upset.

Now, the official Disney Parks Blog seems to show off just how badly parts of the misguided transformation do exactly what die hard fans thought: They clash in a big, very ugly, way. Don't you agree?

(Photograph copyright Disney Parks Blog.)

March 11, 2018

It's Time(less)

The countdown is almost over! Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus return to save the world from Garcia Flynn or will they work together to defeat Rittenhouse? Tonight Timeless Season Two begins. It's about time.

March 7, 2018

Ten Years of Insights and Sounds

Today actually marks the 10 Year anniversary of the Insights and Sounds blog! Two thoughts run through my mind as I think about this: "Where did the time go?" and "What was I thinking?" 

Still wondering these same things from time to time as I reflect. I've changed, and I've grown- and so have you if you've been a reader this whole time. The blog's changed too, with a growing focus on serving others who inhabit our planet. One of the best decisions I made was bringing on friend Len Yokoyama at the start of 2017. His fresh perspective, his insights, and his wonderful photography have been welcome additions. The surprises he brings delight me and many of you as he lives in an amazing land and travels to far off places. Thanks, Len.

Over time, I've shared so much more of my heart than I ever intended. In some ways, the blog has also become a journal of sorts, a diary, a travelogue, and even a commentary on difficult times. What have I written? About my love for Jesus, my love for my growing family, and my ongoing appreciation for the timeless music of Karen and Richard Carpenter- in addition to all those posts with great pieces of Disney concept art old and new. 

I can't say what's next, but then, can any of us? This blog may end tomorrow (I've been SO close to ending it at different times) or it could continue another decade or so. Not sure what will happen. At least for me, my life has been one of unexpected changes and blessings, taking me places both figurative and literal that I never expected. Thank you to my wife above all, for making the most of the ride and often leading the way when times got tough.

Closing out my very first post was this simple paragraph, and I repeat it in closing today:

"Why "Insights and Sounds"? A play on words. Kinda thought it would be fun sharing reflections and revelations, music and movie perspectives, travel experiences and photos, and thoughts on faith. Regarding that last piece, a verse out of a letter called First Corinthians happens to be my favorite : "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." If you check in here often, you'll discover that I'm really a geek at heart, pretty sentimental, not sophisticated, and for the most part, that I really like people. Hope that works for you!"

Thank you for reading along!

"Think beyond your lifetime if you want to accomplish something truly worthwhile.” 

Walt Disney

March 5, 2018

The Disneyland Attraction Poster Collection

The magnificent attraction posters of Disneyland have been a fan favorite for six decades, and it doesn't seem like there's a chance that passion will fade away! Fans create their own as well as loving the ones that are officially designed by the geniuses at Disney Imagineering

I've amassed quite a collection of them! There's a couple hanging on my wall (Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds and Disneyland Paris' Pirates of the Caribbean). They are among my most treasured pieces in my extensive collection of Disney park artifacts, along with my piece of original artwork for the Indiana Jones Adventure that I acquired at the attraction's opening.

The re-Imagining of California Adventure and the addition of Buena Vista Street brought an entirely new group of posters for fans to admire. 

Here now for the first time are links to the posts where I share attraction posters land by land.  One day, I'll get around to doing the same for the other Disney resorts, (there are odds and ends and favorites from each of the parks on the blog), but for now, please enjoy the ones made for the original Magic Kingdom.

Disneyland Collection
Main Street USA
New Orleans Square
Critter Country

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 4, 2018

Travel Wishes

One day we will make it to visit our friends in Scotland. After having visited them when they lived in Wales, we were mesmerized by the stunning landscapes, gorgeous architecture and simply lovely people. When this will happen, I can't say. But we do have a couple of free airlines tickets left over from all by business travels. I'm sure it will include another visit to Paris and London, however!

March 3, 2018

What's Next for Disneyland Paris

Thoughts about the future of Disneyland Paris and a little retro Disneyland today. Let's start in California. 

This is a sweet piece of great Imagineering concept art for Walt Disney's original Magic Kingdom area, the very popular Frontierland. Not entirely politically correct. Perhaps having the Native American Indian encampment outside the fort's gates dates the timing of it, but from the perspective of just being artwork, it stands up quite well.

From what I can uncover from all my reading, this never made it past the design stage. Once the park made its debut in 1955, the tepees were positioned on the far side of the park. 

In what eventually became Bear Country then Critter Country, the village was found on the outskirts, but it was so worth discovering! There were Native American dancers and arts and crafts to be found. It created a slice of history in the middle of a theme park. A bit of Disney's America long before a park like that was even considered. 

Walt was not only showcasing Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and other heroes of the Wild West in Frontierland. He was also giving due respect to the people who lived there long before them. The sense of place brought new depth to the theme park experience. As Robert Iger and company continue to force film characters into places and parks they don't belong, I'm very thankful for Walt's original vision... and it continues on in Disneyland Paris' Frontierland.

Perfection reborn in Paris.

At opening, Disneyland Paris parc was not a place where shoving in characters or being politically correct took hold. The piece of concept art above is very similar to what was actually built. It's just the beginning of a land that is my favorite of all when I visit there. 

From the hub to the fort, walking up inside the stockades is thrill!  The views are incredible, including Big Thunder Mountain on the island and Phantom Manor off to the side. Frontierland is one of the places where Disneyland Paris' version fully outshines similar areas in Florida and California, even with its recent changes that make room for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. The sense of being totally immersed in one land at a time is in itself a testament to the detail in the park and the vision of Tony Baxter and his whole crew, including Frontierland project lead Jeff Burke. (Read my detailed article here.)

The town of Thunder Mesa holds its own stories, some obvious and some hidden. The legends tell of a search for gold (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) and a wealthy family torn apart by a forbidden love (Phantom Manor). There's clues all around. In fact, you can spend a whole day in just this area of the park and at all not feel shortchanged. It's a brilliant piece of theme park eye candy!

With Walt Disney Studios Paris getting a two billion plus (much needed) overhaul, it's time to look once more at what is needed in the first French Kingdom. The suits need to bring more bodies to that side of the park. Indiana Jones' cheapened roller coaster romp is just not doing it. If it's not Adventureland, then Frontierland is the place for expansion. If it's done well and in the spirit of the original park design.

There's room for many more stories to be told and much more land here to be used to tell them. Bring on a new version of Marc Davis' unbuilt Western River Expedition instead of Splash Mountain. Think it through. Expand the story from mining to logging, but let the land's integrity remain. I say no more characters on this side of the park unless they strengthen the already amazing story.

(Artwork copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

March 2, 2018

Still A Mystery

Would you help me out today? Very good friends of ours own this mystery book from Hanna-Barbera, and even after all these years, they still haven't found answers they are looking for. 

Her father was in accounting with HB in the 60s, and this book was given to her as a gift several years before he eventually passed away. The cover is shown above, the introduction page is inside. No table of contents. It has no year or publishing information.

The text and gazillions of character images cover television productions into the early 1970's. Our guess is it was an employee only issue, a thank you celebrating a major anniversary of the studio. Anyone have any ideas? If you do, you can be a hero... Thanks!

March 1, 2018

Sink or Swim a Winner

Who can forget the Hudson River miracle landing? Not survivor Karin Rooney, who shares her compelling story with writer Jessie Santala. Captain Sully is a hero no doubt, but the big surprise is how Karin grew stronger and more focused as a person from this tragedy.  She had a choice, one or the other. Pick up this book, and discover how she became a whole new fighter.

February 27, 2018

Star Wars, Frozen and More Come to Walt Disney Studios Paris!

Running out the door, but this is absolutely wonderful news! Walt Disney Studios Paris is the most miserable of parks with the poorest theming in all the kingdoms. But that's about to change!  Catch all the details at Disney and More
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

February 26, 2018

The Be Our Guest Conundrum

Decisions, decisions, and more decisions. It's no longer an easy and spontaneous thing to plan a Walt Disney World vacation! And it's really too bad. As I mentioned in an earlier post, My Booking Nightmare, it's often a mess and not as much fun as the whole part of trip preparation should be. 

Imagineering Concept art of the Beauty and the Beast mini-land.

Our trip is prior to the big July change, when the restaurant changes to a prix fixe three-course dinner. Happy about that! I really don't want to pay those new prices for a theme park dinner quality food regardless of what should be stunning atmosphere. 

As many others have said, including my good friend and co-blogger Len Yokoyama in his Magic Kingdom trip report, Be Our Guest tends to serve mediocre food at best. Unfortunately, this creates a "one and done" end result, even for a fan like me who counts Beauty and the Beast as his favorite Disney animated film ever.

Taking an objective look at it all, I see three options:

Breakfast- The highlight here seems to be the fact that if you book first thing in the morning, you get to walk down Main Street through an empty Magic Kingdom. Going through the castle into the New Fantasyland and out to the bridge to the restaurant with no one around sounds pretty cool. Is it worth $25 a head for breakfast pastries, pancakes, and other cheap to make items? Tough call. 

Lunch- Cheaper (for now) than breakfast or dinner and a chance to get out of the Florida heat in the middle of the day. Two strong plusses, I'd say. I just love the moonlight at midday atmosphere of places like Disneyland's landmark Blue Bayou and Epcot's San Angel Restaurant at World Showcase's Mexico pavilion. It's a special kind of Disney magic few places can match.

Dinner- Would you want to spend your hard earned money eating dinner here? It's the only meal of the day that Beast comes out, making it a character meal of sorts. (And it also eliminates having to do another one.) It sure would be fun to be in New Fantasyland at night upon leaving. But, oh the prices for theme park food!

What choice would you make and why?

(Top photo copyright Len Yokoyama. Art copyright The Walt Disney Company)

February 24, 2018

Little Bakers

This is a pretty fun way to spend a very cold afternoon together, wouldn't you say?

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

February 23, 2018

Sparkling Tomorrowland

Long before the overhaul of Tomorrowland in 1967, the Land of the Future in Walt Disney's original Magic Kingdom was still pretty spectacular. Even without Star Wars characters!

Working with designers he later dubbed Imagineers, (engineers and artists working together to dream and design), Walt knew definitely he wanted a future that was both foretelling and friendly. It had to be welcoming as well as awe inspiring. Where would he go for great ideas? The amazing John Hench, of course. Working with Colin Campbell, the perfect piece was crafted as a starting place to bring it all to life.

Look at the brilliant colors and artistic touches on this piece! Water's flowing, palm trees are swaying, and a fully enclosed track of the future Peoplemover punctuates the skyline. It truly was a great big beautiful tomorrow- and only at Disneyland!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)