October 18, 2017

Notable and Quotable: W. Phillip Keller

"This is a titanic transaction of eternal dimensions. God, very God, in Christ, takes my sins and gives me His goodness...Hid own righteousness. Nothing else can satisfy my searching spirit. I look away from myself to see the splendor of His supreme self-sacrifice for my salvation. I see that He has made me whole...My spirit leaps for joy, where before it was sunk with sin and despair."
                            
                              Author W. Phillip Keller

October 17, 2017

Carpenters Boxed Vinyl

Karen and Richard Carpenter created some of the world's most beautiful and lasting music. And now this November, Universal Music (who purchased A&M Records years ago) is releasing The Vinyl Collection, a gathering of 12 of the duos beloved albums in one box. 

It's a very pricy set, but you just know it is going to be gorgeously reproduced. Once the duo hit the big time in 1970 with the release of Close to You, each of the original album releases had nice artistic touches that set it apart from their contemporaries. While A&M Records marketing department didn't really know what to do with the brother sister act until the incredible Horizon album in 1975, the art design and packaging off their discs was always top notch. An absolutely perfect match to the timeless music inside. 

I have to pass on this collection due to the price. Perhaps Mr. Carpenter would gift this life-long fan with a set. (Smile). If not, I think I'm waiting until 2019 for a 50th Anniversary package of some sort, celebrating their signing to the label. I'm sure that will be something worth saving for as I can't pass it up regardless of the price.

(Artwork copyright Universal / A&M.)

October 16, 2017

Moments in Time

The recent crash of my Mac due to an installation of High Sierra, got me thinking about photos and files. As I was going through some of my files, I came across several shots of various times and places.

Some so long ago now it seems...

Others much more recent...

All capturing moments in time.

Others that seem like only yesterday but really were long ago.

I know one day, my family will enjoy running across these as much as I did! Happy Monday to you all!

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

October 14, 2017

Saturday Night Special: World's Fair Dinosaurs

You've got to click on this one! Incredible in the largest format! This beautiful piece of concept art by the multi-talented Disney Imagineers was created for the 1964 World's Fair. Specifically built  for the Ford exhibition, Magic Skyway, the attraction was a huge hit with the fair's audiences. Guests boarded the newest model convertibles for a splendid, innovative, eye-popping journey back to the beginning of time and continued all the way to the Disney imagined future. The striking colors and retro feel make this one of my favorite pieces of art. One of several pieces I snagged it on line before the Disney Parks Blog changed its design. Enjoy!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 13, 2017

A Donna Summer Story

Coming from the major hit that was Michael Jackson's epic disc Off the Wall, (as I've long said, it's one of my favorite albums of all time by any artist), I was very excited to learn Quincy Jones would produce Donna Summer next. When her MacArthur Park single caught my ear on late night radio, it made me think twice about the Disco Diva. There was no question this woman could sing. Everything combined, I purchased her self titled album about a year after we were married. Needless to say, that was years ago.

Being in a bit of a retro mood lately, I decided to pop in this disc. Did her highly publicized and much anticipated album by the producer hold up decades later?  

Donna and Quincy in happier times.

Let's turn back time and backtrack a bit. Donna's 1980 album The Wanderer was not the mega hit the new label wanted and needed. It was too rock, too new wave, too different, too much of a stretch in style. It wasn't in the vein of dance floor hits like On the Radio, Hot Stuff, and Last DanceMuch worse than the stylistic evolution was the fact her warm strong voice was stripped clean of its roots and usually buried in the mix, turning her instrument into another to be used and arranged instead of being up and center where it belonged. In short, aside from the title track and Cold Love, the collection wasn't all that fun or likable.

There were personal issues as well affecting her public image. Donna's surprising decision to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ probably didn't work in her favor at the time. (But for eternity, well, that is another story.)  Her striking gospel flavored I Believe in Jesus from The Wanderer did win her another Grammy. Clearly, Donna was growing as an artist and as a human, but her fans didn't seem to follow her. Nor did the radio. 

The next planned disc was not even released- quite a slap in the face for the star- and her new label head David Geffen brought in "Q" to give her something fresh, hoping to bring in a hit and recapture the attention of the public. On the surface, it appeared the perfect match of superstar artist with superstar producer.

Whose album is this anyway?

There was no doubt Quincy Jones was trying to create an "event", and as leader of the project, he needed a very strong direction. "Superstar" was name of the path he chose. 

Bringing in "A List" artists such as Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, and then red hot Christopher Cross to sing background on State of Independence was just the start. Getting Bruce Springsteen to contribute a track? Check. Duet with James Ingram? Done. All star studio musicians and song writing teams? Of course. Nothing was held back in pursuit of a hit. The promo machine was ready to go. 

Shockingly, the final result of it all was an album with even fewer hits and lower chart ratings than the previous one. Three and a half decades later, when you think about why it misfired, a fresh listen to Donna Summer reveals what went wrong. 

The "Q" version of Donna did do a few things right. Her voice is more prominent and much more natural in presentation. Without gimmick in approach or execution, it's straightforward, and it works. With solid and at times stellar vocals, this is just what you'd expect from Donna. And it's what you'd expect from any producer hired to showcase an artist. Vocally, the problem is Donna just isn't on the disc enough. 

Which leads to the main issue I have with the album years later. The star is not Donna, it's the arrangements and production. The lead track Love is in Control (Finger on the Trigger) uncovers it all. There's some promise with Donna playfully going up and down the scales and (incredibly) dropping to the basement before the chorus. Then a plethora of clever studio tricks, background vocalists, and a very complicated instrumental break take over. Where Donna as the primary artist should be clearly spotlighted among all the vocals, she's secondary at best and not at all recognizable at worst. Shades of the producer hiding the singer, like once Whitney Houston lost the great range and beauty of her voice. The obvious difference here is that Donna was in her prime. Was Quincy shooting for another Don't Stop Til You Get Enough with this opening song? His approach for the collection seems very similar to what he would finally perfect with Michael Jackson's groundbreaking Thriller later in the year.

Things improve significantly with the following two tracks. In fact, for this listener, they form the center, the very heart and soul of the album. Although two very different styles, Mystery of Love and The Woman in Me show Donna at her best. The first contains a near duet with James Ingram (legal matters stopped him from being more prominent, so he sits noticeably but comfortably behind her in the background). Beyond the classically inspired opening, Donna's voice soars above it all. She sounds terrific! The arrangement complements but doesn't compete. It is my go-to track when I want to hear something from this album.

How do you follow up such a terrific track? With a sultry ballad by John Bettis, one half of the songwriting team made famous by Richard and Karen Carpenter

The spoken intro only adds to Donna's rich, understated, and therefore very effective, performance. A less accomplished singer would try to overpower the song instead of allowing the romantic mood to remain. The song is one of the most convincing on the disc. The production on this cut was so good that the rock group Heart released its own near replica a decade later. 

From here, things change, and not for the better. 

In quick succession one after another, State of Independence and Living in America, both suffer from one common feature: Leaving the singer behind in an attempt to create the album defining mega-hit. It's almost as if Quincy forgot who the singer was while he was busy crafting the record. The production is overblown on State of Independence. The All-Star chorus wastes the talents of so many distinguished artists as all their voices blend into one, and it becoming something very ordinary. In 1985, Quincy fixed this problem with We Are The World, giving individual vocalists a chance to shine- and a reason for fans of each artist to buy the charity song even if it only included a line or two of their vocals. (It is of notice that Donna was missing from that recording.) Living in America is not much better. The recording tries too hard to be political and trendy, instead ending up trite and throwaway.

Bruce Springsteen's Protection is the hard rocking centerpiece of "Side Two" and truly the whole disc. He slams down a searing guitar at the end and even slides in some background vocals. With Donna rocking as hard as he does, it's a pretty compelling argument that she could sing just about any genre. It would have been a great duet between the two, supposedly recorded and in the vault.

If It Hurts Just a Little is next, a fun, soulful, and funky romp into Chaka Khan territory. The swing of the tune gives this album a lift at just the right time. Donna sounds relaxed and if she's having a good time. The next tune, Love is Just a Breath Away, is written by Donna herself. It is a bit of a throwback to earlier days, but even with the synthesizer driving the song, it's not all that special. 

The old standard Lush Life ends the disc. Donna plays with the tune (and the audience) as its old lyrics take on the clearly intended double entendre meaning. It's befitting that Quincy finally lets Donna stretch vocally and in spite of the extended saxophone solo, become the masterful songstress interpreter of the song. The majesty of the recording serves to remind the listener what could and should have been. Pity.

The photo used on the back side of the LP.

(One additional note- The art direction and photography for this album was challenging. What was going on with that cover? In contrast to the brilliant art design and portrait for The Wanderer, the lead photo for this one puzzled me. Not a fan.) 

A much better version of what Donna could do finally came next on She Works Hard for the Money. Producer Michael Omartian was able to accomplish what her last two producers tried but couldn't. Teaming together, he and Donna created her best album in years. This was a career evolving, satisfying, richly textured collection that showcased the singer instead of the production. The disc was a fun listen without being lightweight, and as a result, it was also a sizable hit. Producer, label, artist, and thankfully, fans were all very happy.

With fours successes and four misses on the disc, why is the Donna Summer album and the artist's collaboration with Quincy Jones so interesting decades later? 

Think about it. Quincy is 84, and his time on earth will soon come to an end. He's an accomplished artist in his own right. He's also discovered and introduced us to some amazing artists.  Modern masterpieces bear his stamp. Iconic records still in play decades after they were first created. This disc isn't among them, but it still has moments of inspired greatness.

Donna Summer is gone from us on earth, now celebrating God's goodness with the angels. Her legacy, her music, her life, is a testament to how people and their artistry can grow and evolve over time. It's also a reminder that what Hollywood markets to us is not usually substance but instead shallow flash to make a quick buck, much to our loss. 

Donna the artist, Donna the human, was smarter than that and wiser than many. She looked beyond today and into eternity, choosing to live with a purpose, impact a generation, and call people to her King. Her music and her life lives on. May ours be lived as powerfully.

(Photographs copyright Donna Summer and Geffen Records.)

October 12, 2017

Mission: Possible

As followers of Jesus, we desire to bring glory to God in all we do by loving those around us and by sharing the Good News of His Life and Sacrifice on our behalf. Great Commandment and Great Commission stuff. Our busy lives call to us with an abundance of opportunities and activities to choose. How do we decide what to do and say, and how does godly humility fit into all of this?

How can the same humble Jesus who chose when to end his life be the same one who directly challenged one of his abusers? (See John 18:22-24) How can the gentle Jesus who was approachable in the eyes of children be the same God made Man who turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple? Our beloved Savior often spoke in parables, but He began his public ministry sounding more like John the Baptist, bluntly proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4). Contradictions in His character seemingly abound. Yet, it is in examining the fullness of his actions and words that we discover what it means to be truly humble.

The answer lies in what Jesus says often throughout the book of John. He only did what he saw the Father doing; only spoke the words the Father gave Him. The fullness of humility is in doing the same in obedience to the One we love “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). Just how do we discover what the Father is saying to us? How do we discern what is from God for us to say and do and what is not?

That answer is also revealed in the life model of our Lord. Jesus made it a habit to get away from the people and the busyness of ministry to be alone and pray. Imagine if your mission was to turn the world upside down in three short years? Jesus had to rely on the leading of the Father and be one in Him to accomplish His life’s work. Be it under great ministry success or personal sorrow, this was Priority Number One- and out of that intimate relationship, Jesus ministered in full humility and obedience regardless of the task at hand.

May it be the same with us as we continue to walk out the individual mission God Himself has given each of us!

October 10, 2017

Three Vintage Posters for the Magic Kingdom

Got to love these retro / vintage Florida travel posters! Especially when they are of places you like to go. Like Walt Disney World

The now defunct National Airlines released this posted before the grand opening of the Magic Kingdom in 1971. They clearly were not given an advance look at the art for Cinderella Castle. What you see is an idea of it looking a bit too much like its California cousin over at Disneyland.  Balloons cover a multitude of artistic sins.

Delta Airlines had a better deal- be it before or after opening, at least their version of the castle was accurate. The Tropical Serenade building got a bit of promotion as well. More balloons. 

In my opinion, the best, the most colorful, and the most inviting poster had to be Eastern Airlines' wonderful look at the whole Vacation Kingdom. The birds of the Serenade still had prominence, but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine voyage and the Haunted Mansion show up as well. "The Wings of Man" airline poster did not feature its sponsored attraction, If You Had Wings, but the beloved blast from the past wouldn't open until later.


(Art copyright the Walt Disney Company and National,Delta, and Eastern airlines.)

October 9, 2017

Bi-Polar

First snowstorm of the winter. And it's very, very early this year. Last year, we made it through October and more than half of November before the snow came. Fall was lengthy and lovely, the colors so bright and strong. Since it lasted so long, I saw some of my plants change color that I didn't even realize they did so.

This year, it's a different story. And although it will be relatively warm tomorrow, the color will be gone. Such is October in Colorado.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

October 6, 2017

Port Disney from the Sky

You're seen the view from the sky. Now, take a look at the incredible concept art for a project that inspired Tokyo Disney Sea. The name was to be Port Disney, and it was intended for Long Beach, California - or it was only intended to be a concept to make the city of Anaheim pony up loads of cash and tax benefits to build the infrastructure around Disneyland.  This was necessary in order to make expansion of the resort feasible. Depends on who you ask, actually. Could be what's happening with that parking garage fiasco that never should have happened.

The bait and switch- which I personally believe as I don't trust much press from the Company I love these days - ended up with Disney getting what they wanted in Orange County. But, lo and behold! Promise Anaheim Westcot and end up building the tepid  Disney's California Adventure 1.0, the most off-the-shelf cheap and edgy park ever built up until that time. Soarin' Over California aside, it was a muddled mess! Made up of clones of Walt Disney World attractions, common carny rides, and a whole lot of film among highly decorated shops and expensive restaurants, it was a poor excuse for anything with the Disney name on it. Particularly right next door to the original. When the new younger sister finally opened, she was not a beauty.  

Things became worse when it was compared directly to the lovely, inspiring, expensive but thoroughly groundbreaking Tokyo Disney Sea which opened shortly after, and it was a clear misstep and an embarrassment.  

Thought they'd fool the guests, but the guests were too smart to be taken for a ride. Pun intended. Years later, after a Billion plus dollars in investment, the park finally feels like a Disney theme park and not Six Flags. Will they ruin it with Marvel? Perhaps. But it will most certainly be better in every way than it was in 2001. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 4, 2017

アメリカ人は日本のディズニーパークファンの嫉妬深い

"Amerikahito wa Nihon no dizunīpākufan no shittobukai." Yes, that is what the title of this post is. OK, it's a Japanese phrase that actually - and accurately- means the following:  "We Americans are jealous of Disney Park fans in Japan." 

This incredible photo from the sky shows Mount Prometheus at the still amazing Tokyo Disney Sea. The other Asia parks, even Shanghai Disneyland, cannot compare with the place. Hong Kong Disneyland may have Mystic Manor and Shanghai the stunning, shiny, version of Pirates of the Caribbean, but overall, nothing compares to the majesty of Tokyo's second park. And just wait until Tokyo Disneyland premiers its new Beauty and the Beast Super "E Ticket" attraction through Beast's castle. It'll be the envy of park fans everywhere.

(Image copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 3, 2017

The Darkness

It's the title of the latest horror movie that you can't avoid. It is what is happening in our country. Is there any movie worse than the latest massacre in Las Vegas? But one more thing: The Darkness is also what is in the heart of every man, woman, and child- and the only way, the only hope, is a life of full submission to the authority of Jesus Christ. There is no other way. Evil will rule in our hearts without Him! You don't believe me? Spend a few minutes thinking about your life and how you live, what you say, and what you think. Every inclination of my heart is evil unless I am submitted to Him. Yours too.

October 2, 2017

Tomorrow is Dead at the Disney Parks

Adventures in Science for Disneyland by Imagineer Herb Ryman. I know, if you're like me, you thought the only Science and Technology attraction Disney ever considered was for EPCOT Center in the 80s. And we'd be wrong. 

This little seen piece of concept art shows the Rocket to the Moon long before it was a set piece in Tomorrowland. (Here's another.) This is all back when it wasn't redo or vintage but a real estimation in art form of what the future should hold.  I miss that part of the Disney theme parks! I loved the forward looking, thinking man's approach to Future World and Tomorrowland

For decades now, these theme park lands have been toon infested in one way or the other. The upcoming announcements will only make it official- "Tomorrow is dead at the Disney Parks".

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 1, 2017

Rare Imagineering Art for Epcot at 35

EPCOT Center was dedicated today 35 years ago. In honor of that, I present to you this beautiful piece of fairly rare concept art by Imagineer Nina Rae Vaughn. Italy never looked so gorgeous!

Unashamedly, I tell you that Epcot is my favorite park in all of Walt Disney World. It is certainly not what it was at opening- not even close in grandeur, scope, scale, and vision, but it is still a pretty amazing way to spend a day. (It used to talk two full days to explore all its wonders!)

There are over 350 articles on this blog alone about this incredible place. Hopefully, the recent and future decisions regarding expansion and changes will make it worthy of another 350.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 30, 2017

Ruining The Voice

Before tomorrow's post honoring the 35th Anniversary of EPCOT Center / Epcot / "IPcot"(to be coming our way sooner than I'd like), I just have to address something on my mind regarding "The Voice". Yes, it's one of my favorite television shows. The live music aspect is fun and the hook of judges initially not seeing the contestants brings some great surprises. However, this season is lacking in a few ways. Or perhaps there's just excess. Excess Miley Cyrus, admittedly slightly more subdued than the past; and excessive anger or something going on with Jennifer Hudson. Does the woman ever really relax or smile? The intensity level just slices off any sense of fun when she's on the screen. And shouldn't a show like this be fun for both judges and contestants? Thank God for staples Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. Otherwise, I'd be gone. Bring back Gwen, or Pharrell, or anyone for that matter- except CeeLo. He's just creepy.

September 28, 2017

Heaven on Earth- A Paradise in Green

Heading up the river to see the famous Fern Grotto in Kaui'i. Another untouched (and probably the last) photograph of our vacation. If Hawaii is this beautiful, I can only imagine what Heaven will be like.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 27, 2017

Paradise in Blue

Unretouched, unfiltered, unimaginably gorgeous.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 25, 2017

Return from Paradise

How can it be that my heart grieves and rejoices at the same time? Easy. Just now returning from a long needed trip to Kaui'i with my wonderful wife. It was beyond wonderful! The beauty of the island and the time alone with my wife was just what The Doctor ordered. Using many miles from all my business travels, we were able to go for $11 a person. Hard to pass that up!

Days at the beach swimming and snorkeling, seeing the sights, and waking up to the sound of the ocean was the perfect complement to spending time alone with my lovely bride.

Granted, this isn't a great photo from my friend and excellent photographer Len Yokoyama, but it's the best I can do in capturing the beauty of God's creation. (Yes, fellow Disney fans, I really did go all the way to Hawaii and skipped seeing the Aulani Resort.) I'm positive that God created Kaui'i and then stopped, saying to Himself- "THIS is perfection!"

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

September 22, 2017

Rare Walt Disney World Venetian Resort Art

Feast your eyes on they beautiful piece of concept art. Walt Disney World's Venetian Resort for set to grace the lake right alongside the Contemporary and Polynesian. Would have been a lovely sight to behold! And a great way to take a gondola around from different parts of the resort. 

Naturally, a Venetian theme played into parts of Italy's World Showcase space at EPCOT Center. But unlike Tokyo Disney Sea, it was minimized to just a couple of bridges and a few gondolas as props. 

Still, this piece of Imagineering art still gives us fodder for dreams of coffee table books. So instead of waiting, go to the real Venice. It is one amazing place! (Check out the blog for my photos!)

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 21, 2017

Tahitian Getaway

Getting ready for cooler days, colorful leaves, and evening fires. But not yet! This beautiful image reminds me of what paradise looks like in my mind. No, it's not Walt Disney World's Polynesian bungalows- it's the real thing!

(Photograph copyright Greg Vaughn.)

September 18, 2017

Mysterious EPCOT Center Concept Art

At its opening and for its first 10 years or so, EPCOT Center was a masterpiece of thoughtful design and engineering- and the multiple pieces of concept art for the park were usually as stunning as the end result. 

When I think of the art associated with this park, my mind instantly goes to Herb Ryman. Certainly, he is one of the most gifted painters to ever grace Imagineering. But he wasn't the only one. From what I've been told, the above image is from the gifted but unknown Tom Simpson. In my mind, however, the art does look some something Ryman would do: striking colors, dramatic lighting, and people presented with very vivid personalities.

The truth of the matter is, however you present it, Spaceship Earth commands this type of attention and always draws the eye. Ah, Future World and World Showcase- what fantastic areas in what was once a most unique and ambitious theme park!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 14, 2017

A Parade Worth Waiting For

I was a big fan of the original Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland, but no other parade has been worth the wait in my eyes. Until now. 



Check out the video below.

September 13, 2017

An English Garden, You Say?

Funny, how a small comment can make you think some things and make you look at your blessings a bit differently.

We recently had some new friends over, and his comment coming into our home was "Walking towards your front door, I felt as if I was in an English garden." 

It wasn't until the next day when I was taking a break from reading my Bible and looking out the front window that I thought of his words. I started to look around. It really was a pretty if small area. 

Framed by an arbor with a beautiful blooming vine and a small garden of purple, pink and white flowers are set against the green exterior of the house with its white windows, I could see where my friend might think this while on the front walkway.

Made me stop and thank God for living in such a nice place! We're certainly not in the best neighborhood or the worst. We're pretty middle class by any way you look at it. It's definitely not a show home from HGTV, but God has been wonderful to us. 

I guess that was the whole point!

(Not my house and not my photo. Photographer unknown.)

September 12, 2017

Little Bereans

Got spare time? These guys did here, so what did they do? Open up Mommy and Daddy's Bible to read it. Of course, my granddaughter cannot read yet, but her brother certainly can- and already at a third grade level we're told. These "Little Bereans" (referenced in the Book of Acts, Chapter 17 in the Bible) must certainly have touched God's heart as they did this. I know they touched mine!

September 11, 2017

Heroes Not Cowards


Remember this day. Even as we find ourselves on the brink of getting involved more than some of us ever thought. And definitely more than any of us would like.

It was a day of tragedy, but also a day for heroes- not cowards! Radical Islam extremists decided to attack us, the United States of America on September 11, 2001, not the other way around.  We as a people rallied together. People of all faiths and backgrounds. We came together to grieve together and pray together.

Let us remember. Pray for our nation, remembering the sacrifices of those serving,  the loss of family and friends. Let us preserve our freedoms- but do it with wisdom. Let us honor those who gave their lives instead of honoring and defending those who killed others. 

Christians overseas are being slaughtered. Children, infants, women and men alike. And we stand by or so it seems. Did we not learn anything from Hitler and World War II?

What other country in the world would care about the rights of terrorists when fighting a war? We have a right to defend our people, our land, and to come together with those of other nations experiencing the violent and deadly attacks that come against them.

September 10, 2017

National Suicide Prevention Day

Each year about 44,000 Americans die by suicide. Think about that number- 44,000. Wow. That also leaves hundreds of thousands of grieving families and friends when their loved one makes the choice hopelessly opt of life- choosing to believe the future will not change. 

Christians are not immune. Even pastors. This story of one such pastor is at once totally heartbreaking and also totally hopeful. But as you will see, God is always good and always available to those who cry out to Him. Check it out here.

September 9, 2017

Discovery Bay Art and the Ultimate Journey into Imagination

Disney geeks like me know that Imagineering's fan hero Tony Baxter had offered up the great Discovery Bay themed area as an expansion to Disneyland- and that the suits at the time gave it the heave ho when Island at the Top of the World flopped in theaters. 

But did you know parts of it made its way to EPCOT Center and later to Disneyland Paris? As part of the proposed Disneyland expansion, a charming traveling theater show was to be part of the new land (see concept art above) hosted by Professor Marvel and his dragon. Fast forward to EPCOT Center, and we see once again how old ideas never die as the Professor became Dreamfinder and the dragon Figment as stars of Journey into Imagination

What happened is a fascinating story. And Martin Smith, creator of amazing EPCOT Center history videos has released a new video on the Future World pavilion devoted to the duo. Find Part One here. Trust me, you will love it.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 8, 2017

Wonders of China

Now that Shanghai Disneyland is up and running, the suits must be relieved as they have been courting China for a park for at least a decade- if not longer - when you look at what it took to get the Chinese government to work with them for EPCOT Center. 

This attraction poster for Wonders of China captures a bit of the magic the filmed adventure brings to World Showcase. If you look closely,  it is actually a poster for Disneyland. Looking for something to replace the American Journeys Circle-Vision 360 film (itself coming from Florida), the suits plucked Wonders of China.  


A more recent revision caused the film to be renamed Reflections of China. Still a beautiful if shortened presentation in the Temple of Heaven recreation. There's much more to be discovered in this beautiful corner of World Showcase. A decent restaurant, a pretty good fast service cafe, acrobatic performances, and a plethora of shopping.

China makes her place known in Future World as well. Soarin' Around the World takes guests over the Great Wall. It's not Ride the Dragon, the proposed coaster for the once proposed Westcot, but its a much more authentic slice of the country.

(Art and images copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 6, 2017

The Bigger Picture

The forest for the trees. How about "the sunflowers for the field"? We were out and about during the long weekend, visiting a park we had never been to before, and I saw these beautiful flowers in the distance. I couldn't help but get closer to them and take a few photographs.

The bunches of them were everywhere! I wish I had my camera and not just my cel phone to grab these shots. Off I went trying to get the best ones possible by moving every which way I could.

It hit me looking at the photographs. When I was up close looking only at the flowers, I could only see what was right in front of me. As I moved further and further back for additional photos, I saw the bigger picture. News flash. It's just like this in my relationship with God. I can fixate on the heartache of a situation and lose the beauty to be found around it. Or, on those rare occasions when my faith in the Lord really comes together, I can be patient and wait to see what God brings out of any circumstance. 

I know He will eventually- it may even be eternity until I see it- but God is faithful, and His word is true. All things do work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (From the Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Rome, chapter 8, verse 28.)

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

September 4, 2017

Looking at the Past and the Future of Disneyland's Fantasyland

The very heart of Disneyland rests right behind the castle at the endow Main Street U.S.A. One of the original areas at opening, Fantasyland draws in the young and young at heart since the beginning. Certainly, we think this area of the park is timeless. There's a warmth and charm that feels quaint, authentic, and there through the ages. That said, this section of the park has seen many changes. This 1957 park map shows what it looked like in its earliest incarnation. Definitely from another era, another budget, and another design process.

Peter Pan and his flight to Neverland was the instant breakout attraction in Fantasyland from the beginning. Snow White and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride were also enduring hits, but 60 years later, Pan continues to be the one must-see attraction in the castle courtyard.

When Imagineer Tony Baxter was given the green light to create the Fantasyland Walt Disney always wanted but couldn't afford, he and very talented team did an amazing job of redesigning the area to feel fresh but also timeless. The colorful tournament tent-like facades gave way to stylized versions of European villages. The Imagineers also debuted a new attraction for the California park, bringing a sparkling new Pinocchio dark ride to the line up of rides. 

Attractions were moved, enhanced, added or even deleted. The Fantasyland Theater was gone, the Mad Tea Party was moved to a much better location, and Skull Rock was gone forever- except at Disneyland Paris. The beautiful kid-friendly Storybookland Canal Boats survived the changes as did Casey Jr.'s Circus Train, but eventually the skyway was closed. 


So successful was the revitalization of the land under Baxter, that his Fantasyland became the model for those Magic Kingdom styled parks that followed. Florida's New Fantasyland may make the rethinking of the concept however, as the suits seem intent on cramming in Harry Potter styled lands into the parks, making Fantasyland a prime place to hold several different mini-lands vs. a mix of stories sitting side by side.

Changes are the way of the park. Prior to the transition of the 80's, the Matterhorn Bobsleds and It's a Small World earned their place on the list of beloved attractions. Coming soon in the next decade, a Frozen themed land and rumors (wishful thinking?) of something Beauty and the Beast related coming to a slice of Fantasyland and a bigger slice taken from Mickey's Toontown

Imagineers and suits come and go. Though I doubt we will ever see the free reign given to the creatives as was given to the first and second generation of Imagineers, there are signs the suits can give them room to stretch to stunning results. Time will tell.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

September 1, 2017

Friday at Disneyland 1955

Time for another visit to Disneyland. This time its 1955, and Walt's magical kingdom has recently opened. Let's take a look around the park that became an American institution and a franchise to be exploited by later leadership.

Main Street U.S.A. was charming back then! It was full of life as guests journeyed under the train station to find a fully recreated piece of life at the turn of the century. The Main Street Cinema showed the latest in film, including the lovable Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie. Varieties of vehicles were found everywhere from horse drawn street cars to the omnibus to the local fire engine. No need to walk if you didn't want to. But why wouldn't you want to explore all the shops along the way including the old fashioned Market House with its party line telephone.

What was that at the end of the street? A Bavarian castle! The gateway to Fantasyland actually. A place for the young and young at heart. Fly off to Neverland with Peter Pan, ride the carousel, the Mad Tea Party spinning cups, or explore the mysterious Skull Rock. There was no Matterhorn Bobsleds or It's a Small World, but you still couldn't keep families away. There was nothing like this park to be found anywhere in the US.

An opening day crowd pleaser was the Jungle River Cruise. Found in Adventureland, long before the Enchanted Tiki Room, Swiss Family Treehouse, or Indiana Jones Adventure, the area wasn't as lush as it is 60 years later, but it was still beautiful and full of animals. As the premier attraction in the land, guests couldn't wait to board these beautiful little vessels to head off to the remotest parts of Africa and Asia. They still can't.

The American West and its tales of Davy Crockett and other heroes inspired the park's Frontierland. Back in the day, Americans were rightly proud of our heritage. Walt Disney himself loved this parcel of land and its Mark Twain Steamboat and the wonderful Golden Horseshoe Revue. In this man's opinion, the original show in the old saloon is still the best. 

Walt never just looked backward. He was always looking forward as well. Tomorrowland was mostly incomplete at opening, decorated with flags and banners to mask the fact the budget had been busted. Space Mountain and a grand adventure aboard submarines would have to wait for later. I can forgive the suits back then or this misstep as this was a brand new venture, but now there's no excuse now for opening a shoddy half-day park. The money's there as well as the expertise. 

It was a great and memorable year to visit Disneyland- and it was only beginning.

(Map from Blackenedroots.com)

August 31, 2017

Richard Carpenter at Epcot

The year was 1985, just two years after the death of sister Karen Carpenter and two years before the release of his solo album Time. Here was the talented and gifted Richard Carpenter trying to rebuild his career after the most tragic of circumstances. In potentially the best match possible, Richard chose to perform at Epcot's American Gardens Theater. A classy man playing elegant music in a very nice establishment to probably an adoring crowd.

I was not able to get to the park to see him, but I'm positive his show was worth seeing. I had seen him since Karen's passing. His show was sharp, well designed, and enjoyable. Of course, it only highlighted the fact Karen was gone. 

A&M Records was smart enough to give this man a chance to make a couple of solo albums and let him produce several other artists for the label and its associates. All to good result. I wish he'd do more. Maybe something for the Carpenters 50th Anniversary in 2019.

(Thanks to James and Murray at the wonderful A&M Corner for this photo and for cleaning it up! I'd looked for years for this!)

August 30, 2017

Everyone, Everywhere

That is the Good News message that Jesus Christ came to deliver. He and he alone is the perfect payment for the penalty of death for the sins of us all against a holy and righteous God. No other God and no other religion delivers the goods.

Dr. Erick Schenkel's short but powerful book reminds readers the truth of the original message often lost among contemporary Christianity. And its just not pie in the sky theology- the author and his family lived for many years in Central Asia, enduring real life persecution, almost losing their lives due to an unwarranted attack because they were Christians in a Muslim country. Yes, this actually took place in the 21st Century and not hundreds of years ago. Believers still endure for the sake of the God they love and who loves them (and the peoples that persecute them!)

Pick up the book, and prepare to be moved.

August 28, 2017

Taylor Swift's Sweet Revenge

Look, I've got nothing to prove in this at all. Taylor Swift is back in a big - even if its Nasty (apologies to Janet Jackson)- sort of way. Is her new song, Look What You Made Me Do about Katy Perry? Hard to say. Or is it about her fans who have created this personae? 


Either way, Revenge is not a good thing. As we focus on it, it creates an ongoing bitterness and hatred that ends up defining our character. Oh, the song. It's catchy but certainly not among her best. And I'm not even a fan. What happened to that great songwriter and girl next door? As Taylor herself says, "She's dead." Too bad. " Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord." Romans 12:9. It would certainly do her well to follow this advice. Us, too, for that matter.

August 25, 2017

Five Great Disney Park Articles Plus One

Looking for articles full of deep Disney theme park history, lots on concept art, one part travelogue and one part trip report?  Look no further than the articles below to find some of my favorites from this blog:

Animal Kingdom's True Life Adventure, an eight part series that grows as the park does. Begin here. Travelogue, artwork, and a look at the philosophy that drives its design. Not to be missed.

The history of Disney's Hollywood Studios. 25 years worth of visiting the park has given me some unique perspective. I was there just a week or so after opening day in 1989. There's more to this park than Star Wars, Toy Story Land and any other intellectual property the Disney suits want to shove in it. What they did right, what they did wrong, and a fan's appreciation.  

The Universal Thrills of Space Mountain. Irresistible! Almost every Magic Kingdom styled park has one- and you can bet there's folks at Shanghai Disneyland who wish they did. This is why.

Peter Pan's Flight. Fly away with him here. A beloved attraction for a reason.

Wish Disneyland would never change. The Disneyland Historical Preservation Society may have a place for you on its membership rolls. Is it a museum? Is it a living breathing thing? Something in between? 

(OK, one more. I missed the 50th anniversary but here's a look at Pirates of the Caribbean at 45. )