August 17, 2017

Some Kind of Lonely Clown

Another great birthday gift from my wife was this very sweet and piercing book by author Joel Samberg on the life of Karen Carpenter. Not only will I avoid comparing it to other books on her life, I will also not say much about it. You've actually got to read it for yourself to take a fresh look at Karen, her relationship with family and friends and the music industry. It's well worth your time.

August 16, 2017

Second Day of Firsts- My Miracle Boy Enters Kindergarten

Even though it came a day late, here is another sweet young boy and his first day at school. You might remember an earlier post, years ago actually, when I shared my daughter was pregnant. The doctors knew something wasn't right and did a scan. The child was suffering from Dandy Walker Syndrome and as a result of many complications and factors would be born with at least a quarter of his brain missing. Naturally, they suggested abortion.

My daughter and her husband refused, and instead the entire family began praying. Months later, with just a week or so before delivery, they scanned him again. No change. We all prepared for the baby to be born with special needs, accepting what God had chosen to allow.

Surprise! The day of delivery, our little guy was born 100% normal and healthy! The doctors did more tests and more scans. They confirmed that he was normal in every way. (And of course, he's adorable!) Some on the medical staff rightly and honestly attributed it to God's intervention. Others, of course, decided they must have misdiagnosed. What some people will go through to deny the existence of God! Incredible.

But here he is, 5 years later now in kindergarten. I call him my "Miracle Boy". So proud of him- and so thankful to God!

August 15, 2017

Welcome to Disney's New Half Day Park and Mouse vs. Rat

Why haven't I posted an article about my response to D23 2017? Truly, it's pretty easy to answer- it's a combination of time and not really having much to say until I gave it some further thought. 

In the midst of white supremacy, the ongoing threats by North Korea, microchipping people, additional attacks by ISIS and Radical Islam (which doesn't seem to get called out by anyone's media), what is going on with the Walt Disney Company is, frankly, no where near as important. But it is what you come to this blog for, so here we go.

Am I happy about Shanghai Disneyland's Tron Lightcycles coming to the Magic Kingdom in Florida? Absolutely- even though the concept art looks quickly and poorly done. Should Disney really want to sell it as a first class upgrade to the park, they need to first treat it as such, and great concept art always suggests the value of the project. Cheap looking art also tells a story. See renderings for DCA's Tower of TerrorBugsland, and Animal Kingdom's awful Dinorama for proof. Want further proof? Just look at anything designed for Toy Story Land/Play Land etc. 

Concept art on the quick and on the cheap.

Back to Tron. This is a win, but it better fit into the area pretty well. The Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland might be much more cohesive than that of Disneyland's, but it is still sorely lacking in sparkle and appeal. In fact, I'd say that park as a whole is missing that special something that makes it have the incredible fan base of the Anaheim original. For that matter - as much as I am looking forward to going there next year - the whole of Walt Disney World at large is lacking as well. D23 only highlights that fact by the content of what was shared. Maybe the oft- rumored 50 "enhancements" for the 50th anniversary of the resort will turn into something more.

Now about the Studios. The all new Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway sounds terrific, even if it's screen based and short, but it certainly should not be replacing The Great Movie Ride. It should anchor the Animation section of the park. Or are they letting that piece of the park die as well? 

Let me say that they suits could have let the Great Movie Ride rest for a few days before placing advertisements for the new attraction on the sides of the theater the day after closing the iconic opening day attraction. Talk about disrespect! I guess this is the new method of doing business. And welcome to Disney's New Half Day Park. What is it now, four rides and a handful of long past their prime shows? Even California Adventure had more to offer while that park was being transformed! You can cram all the Star Wars related things in there that you want, but this is just poor planning and at worst more disrespect for their paying customers.

Beautiful art of what I hope enhances 
my favorite World Showcase pavilion.

Epcot. Let's be honest: The writing was on the wall years ago. Did anyone who was even somewhat paying attention think that the character invasion would not be coming to this once great and unique park? Yes, Remy's Ratatouille adventure should be quite fun. But this is interesting: It's Mouse vs. Rat. Both attractions will share the same ride system albeit in two different parks. The suits will make sure both are successful. They have to be as they are the first real additions in years. It's still shocking to me how the suits have let these parks deteriorate by intentional neglect. Coco in Mexico, and Frozen in Norway. But what pray tell is coming to the U.K.?  You can be sure it is not an attraction without a movie tie-in. That just isn't done anymore unless it is in an overseas park. Gotta give them a bit thanks for not killing off Impressions de France, though. At least for now, it's safe.

Star Wars Hotel and Disney Skyliner? Mixed bag at best.

When you blow this up, the size of the art
is great- the concept is not.

On the other side of the U.S., we hard core fans get to look forward to the revamping of Paradise Pier into Pixar land. This is the third incarnation of a bad idea made worse. But I say stick all the Pixar characters into this area, and leave the rest of California Adventure alone unless it is done as excellently as Cars Land. The Runaway Railway could fit in very well at the Pier if they don't transform it all into Pixar. A new spinner is ok if it means Screamin' gets some needed paint and refurbishment and if the ugly 1.0 facades get a reworking. And Disney, (i.e. Chapel), please leave the Fun Wheel alone. If you've got to shove a character on it, I'd rather have Mickey's face than anyone else.  A concession to a poor design and even poorer plans. This park was getting so much better, but I fear new leadership doesn't really get the idea of theme. We all know Marvel is coming. Let's hope it is accomplished with much love and class as Buena Vista Street and not in the style of the original Backlot. 

There you have it, D23 from my view. Comments?

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 14, 2017

A Day of Firsts

Even when growing up in this crazy, mixed up world, some things never change. Like first days of First Grade...

... or first days of Kindergarten. I couldn't love these kids any more than I do!

August 13, 2017

Goodbye to An EPCOT Center Original

Goodbye to EPCOT Center's original Dinosaur attraction. In this writer's humble opinion, the Universe of Energy in Future World had it all: a compelling story told in a unique way with an even more interesting ride vehicle. 

Guardians of the Galaxy is on it's way, and nothing short of a miracle could stop this Marvel attraction from being built. When the suits want it, it will arrive. And probably true to form, fans will find a way to love it and try to convince each other that it fits into the original theme of the park. But it does not. 

It does, however, fit into the new theme for the park: a gathering place of all Disney owned characters making a home wherever they see fit. I am not a fan of this change in approach.  Epcot needs help. There's no argument there. But this is not the way.

Ellen's Energy Adventure is gone. She could return once she makes a hit superhero film, but short of that, I wouldn't bank on it. May Epcot rest in peace. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

WDWMagic Presents The Last Great Movie Ride

Thanks to the wonderful folks at WDWMagic, we have the last Great Movie Ride video presented in a stunning presentation. Wow, just wow. Disney Imagineering doesn't really build old school attractions of this caliber anymore. At least nothing with the amazing number of Audio-Animatronics like this! 

This opening day attraction at the Disney-MGM Studios was an instant classic. As much as I'm excited to see an attraction themed to Mickey Mouse- and it should be great- there's something not right about removing this piece of Imagineering art. The park's centerpiece attraction is akin to Epcot's iconic Spaceship Earth

Enjoy the video, but we aware, nothing is sacred anymore within the corporate halls of The Walt Disney Company when it comes to the parks. Now, sadly, it's all about pushing the latest or biggest moneymaking film that the Studios has to offer. You might scoff, but your favorite attraction- even if it is a classic- could be next.

Thanks WDWMagic for capturing, well, the magic!

August 12, 2017

Aix Marks the Spot

The beautiful French city of Aix is definitely a destination that should be on your bucket list. These photos were taken during our trip to Switzerland and France a few years ago. 

The center of the town holds this beautiful fountain. Certainly a match for anything built in Paris!

Just a short walk past this covered arch, and visitors find themselves in the lovely old market square. The town is worthy of a few hours of exploration.

This certainly isn't a full blown trip report but just a snapshot of a delightful slice of Europe.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

August 11, 2017

Design Detail: Toad Hall

In some ways, Imagineer Tom Morris was in a bind. He was given the difficult task by Lead Imagineer Tony Baxter to design a brand new Fantasyland for EuroDisneyland aka Disneyland Paris. How should he go about it? Design a brand new area with a totally new look? Or should he rely on the past? How could he effectively share stories with guest who spoke multiple languages and came from several different countries? This was a much more challenging job than doing the cut and paste Fantasyland that initially opened at Tokyo Disneyland.

Bringing about a shimmering new area for a park built in a city already beautiful beyond belief was tough. Adding to the difficulty was tackling the most iconic of Disney lands. Presented with a challenge none would envy (but most armchair Imagineers would die for), I believe Tom succeeded quite well!

When it came to the adventures of Mr. Toad, Tom chose to turn this classic attraction into a charming restaurant. The exterior may mirror the building found in Anaheim, but the interior is a totally original creation. And the above piece of concept art is pretty nice, wouldn't you say? 

Sprinkled throughout the majestic dining hall are portraits of the owner himself in various sporting gear. This is in addition to one particular piece of art where J. Thaddeus Toad is captured by some very famous artists. (You've got to check out this link to see his amazing changing portrait.) It's quite the place to eat those fish and chips!

But it's more much than what I can show you. If you've ever had a desire to see one overseas Magic Kingdom, I'd bypass all the others and head over to Paris. After finally completing a few years of very extsensive refurbishment, the French park easily outshines those found in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and yes, Shanghai. 

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

August 9, 2017

USA Today: "You will get chipped -- eventually"

USA Today is pretty bold and sometimes pretty accurate as well in reporting or foretelling the future when it comes to technology. Now it's reporting everyone will be chipped within 50 years. Don't believe me? Read it here.

Count me in as one of those "religious advocates" that object to humans receiving a computer chip in their body. Planting microchips under the skin of people screams fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Is this the start of the infamous "Mark of the Beast"written by the Apostle John in Revelation 13: 11-18? I believe so- and so should you.

"The Beast out of the Earth
11 Then I saw a second beast, coming out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. 14 Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 

16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666."

Skip ahead to Revelation 14 to see why this is the wrong choice:

"9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus."

Of course, this type of technology would first be marketed as good. But then, things change, even the best intentioned technology can also be used for evil. Think about it for yourselves...

Now, think about this, the Bible says that in the last days, evil will be called good, and good will be called evil.

If you think that I am full of it or that the Bible is just a dusty old book, that's fine. It's your choice. But it is an eternal wager you are making. I hope you'll choose wisely by choosing Jesus.

When Reality Is Better Than Imagineering Art: Tokyo Disney Sea's Lost River Delta

The Lost River Delta, home to the Indiana Jones Adventure at the incomparable Tokyo Disney Sea. Very striking and worthy of a trip across the park to experience one of the greatest Disney attractions ever built... and unlike the original in California, it is one with all of its opening day effects still working.

Up until the newly iconic Pirates of the Caribbean at Shanghai Disneyland, I cannot imagine there being a prouder group of Imagineers in that decade than the ones that worked on the second Tokyo Disney park. The concept art for this land brings an atmosphere of mystery and suspense. But it pales in comparison to the reality.

 The Crystal Skull before the movie gave it a bad name.

As my good friend and fellow blog author Len Yokoyama will soon discover once again, The Tokyo Disneyland Resort is teeming with one of a kind experiences sets in an environment that plays second fiddle to none. The Insights blog will be the place to go for Len's great photos and a very detailed trip report upon his return. You won't want to miss it.

For Lost River Delta, that also means guests can take a ride on the transit steamers around the park or risk some angry responses from Raging Spirits on that roller coaster. It's admittedly an enhanced and better decorated coaster from Disneyland Paris, but it is still quite eye catching. Even when the Tokyo Parks clone, they create the best versions of the former attraction. As was once said about the Land of the Rising Sun: "Japan takes the best the world has to offer and makes it her own."

Let's hope the new Beauty and the Beast area and attractions are also better than the pretty sweet concept art! That should make me finally book my trip!

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 8, 2017

Tony Baxter, Tim O'Brien, and a Birthday Surprise

It's often difficult if not impossible to keep up with all the websites, blogs, articles, and books that focus on the Walt Disney Company, it's theme parks, and in particular, Imagineering

While I appreciate all of the Imagineers and their work in the parks, it's no surprise to longtime readers of the Insights blog that I find the work of Tony Baxter to be one of Imagineering's best artists. Be it Journey into Imagination, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure or the whole of the most beautiful Magic Kingdoms, Disneyland Paris, his work and the work of the teams he assembled is practically unparalleled in Disney park history.

Tony and his adorable friend Figment.

Theme park historian and write Tim O'Brien has written one of the most comprehensive looks at Tony's life, work, and impact on the Disney world. "First of the Second Generation of Walt Disney Imagineers" is filled with stories and rare photos. A great read you just can't put down. In fact, I read the entire tome in one sitting, receiving it just days ago as a birthday present from my very thoughtful wife.

Imagine my surprise at turning the pages and seeing Mr. O'Brien quote my blog, referencing a pair of articles, The Great Tony Baxter Debate! (Part One and Part Two) Wow. It's as close to fame as I may ever get- aside from meeting a handful of famous singers and having my kids grow up next to a now known Hollywood actress. 

Thank you, Tim, for a birthday gift I'll never forget.

August 7, 2017

Beware Netflix Users

Take a word of hard earned advice from someone who didn't know better: Netflix mixes porn of all sorts in with their "Romantic Comedy" offerings. My wife and I had viewed a fluff-filled and harmless Hallmark romantic comedy. Looking for another one, we found one that looked interesting and pressed play. 

What immediately came on our screen was hardcore gay porn. I was not amused. Off it went immediately. I don't do porn. If you do or not, it's your choice, but I will tell you it has ruined many lives- and I know that from first hand tales told to me by broken husbands and distraught wives. 

But that's not the point. Just be aware of how Netflix sorts their films. 

Siren's Revenge at Shanghai Disneyland

Shanghai Disneyland may not have the stellar line up of attractions we saw at the opening of Tokyo Disney Sea, but it has atmosphere and lots of it.

This slice on Imagineering concept art highlights Siren's Revenge, the now almost requisite children's playground that Disney suits deem necessary to add to any park. It's a low tech pirate ship full of hands activities sure to keep kids happy in between the long lines for attractions.

Honestly, like all of Treasure Cove, the realized art is actually quite pretty. It's a testament to the skill of the Imagineering team who can take the thinnest of ideas and turn them into something of worth. Hope they can pull the same thing off with the quick expansion of the park using the Toy Story characters!

(Images copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

August 5, 2017

Live from Universal Orlando Resort- Day Five: Power Outage at Islands and Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

Last day surprises! After a morning covering both the parks one last time, my son and his friend decided to celebrate his birthday at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium- but surprise! The power went out at the restaurant and apparently at the whole of Islands of Adventure. Now a tow hour wait for the Emporium. They ended up at Vivo, the Italian eatery. 

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

August 4, 2017

Live from Universal Orlando Resort- Day Four: Details Abound at the Studios

The last two days of a pretty incredible trip to Universal Orlando begins today. The guys are loving it all with Volcano Bay being a blast and the two main theme parks a great place to hang out. 

No disappointments when it comes to the two Harry Potter themed lands and their stellar line up of attractions, shops and restaurants- straight out of the books and movies.

"Dad, pumpkin juice tastes like apple cider."

Time for more adventures in Diagon Alley

The details are everywhere. Look up! (see below.)

Looks as if the land of Homer is pretty rich in detail as well. Certainly a place for fans of the Simpsons to enjoy some fun! I love how Universal has not been afraid to reach out to the cynical but fun loving generation of the 90s. They need to be kids again!

More to come as things get wrapped up!

 Clearly, it's time for a beer...

 Don't lose your head. Previous customers couldn't help it.

 A look at the future?

Time for ice cream... and some exploration with that magic wand.

 Just waiting for the snot flavored jelly beans next...

 The dragon looks fantastic!

 It would probably help tremendously if I knew the books and movies. But I'm a muggle of the first degree.

I'mm guessing these last two are from inside the ice cream ship.


(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)