June 28, 2017

Dan Steven's Ticket

Is he a Beast or is he a Beauty? In The Ticket, this little known film by Ido Fluk, a incredible performance is waiting to be discovered. Dan Stevens just kills it. Apparently Downton Abbey only scratched the surface of what this man can do. 

Dan Steven's in The Ticket. 

A bit of storyline: Unexpectedly, our main hero James regains his sight. Discovering the world through new eyes (sorry, I couldn't resist), this causes him to reconsider the way he's lived his life. Good choices or bad choices, which will it be?

This is not a one man show, however. 

Malin Ackerman's nuanced performance as his wife may be just as powerful and in a sense, just as disturbing, as that of Dan's portrayal. Oliver Platt rounds out the cast as the best friend.

Although the viewer thinks they can see it coming, the film delivers suspense and surprises one after another all the way to the end. It's next to impossible to take your eyes off Stevens and his every move. The last twenty minutes delivers one of the most gripping, unnerving, scenes in modern cinema. 

I'm starting to think this man can do anything. Watch this film.

June 27, 2017

A Bit of EuroDisney in Denver

Every visit to Southern California, we attempt to go to Roger's Gardens in Newport Beach. Not only is the place stunning, it also houses a slice of Disneyland history. The famous Disneyland Bandstand now resides within the confines of the nursery. (See can see my post about it here.) Little did I know that a bit of glamorous EuroDisney finds its home in my city of Denver, Colorado.

I have visited the beautiful Denver Botanic Gardens so many times that I can't count them. But today, for the first time ever, I noticed something I never saw before. See below.

The gorgeous solarium was ordered by the Walt Disney Company and planned to be installed in their first French parc. As you can tell if you enlarge the above photo, it never made it.

Seven of these lovely structures were ordered and never installed, but this one in Denver is the only one available for public display. My cel phone photographs do not do justice to the detail.

Where were these to go? Certainly the green painted metalwork is striking in its similarity to what is found on Main Street U.S.A. Were they to be used in the gardens found right in front of the theme park? Were they not so simple bus stop structures designed to welcome guests in case of inclement weather? I have no idea. Yet they are beautiful, no doubt.

Interestingly, we had walked right by the structure one evening at Christmas while we were enjoying the annual Blossoms of Light decor.  I never noticed the little metal sign I photographed today. Maybe its because it wasn't lit, or perhaps I was too busy enjoying the lighting on the solarium and the contents within. 

Seeing this today was like a "kiss" from God. It brought an instant smile to my face- and a discussion of just how we might have to return to that beautiful French Disney park.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

June 22, 2017

A Brand New Fallen Kingdom

Can't wait to see the next installment of the new Jurassic World series! Chris Pratt is absolutely a blast here, playing our Indiana Jones type hero. This poster for Fallen Kingdom sticks with the classic look and focus of those that came before it. Why change what works? Should Universal Orlando Resort bring us a new somewhat twisted adventure to match the film? Sure! Imagine the rush of what can happen when we encounter a world where men think they are God, and it all falls apart.

June 21, 2017

Brazil Comes to Epcot's World Showcase

All I can say about this is "It's about time a new country was added to the line-up of World Showcase!" The country of Brazil is about to be added to Epcot. With D23 just around the corner and the Walt Disney World Resort soon to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, the time is now for something new to be added to "Disney's Food, Wine, Flower, and Anything Else That Will Fit" theme park.

Concept art looks promising. Doesn't it always?

Just when was this announcement made, you might ask. Well, the great folks at WDWMagic - who by the way tend to break the news on just about every Florida park news- subtly dropped the info in the last few days. I won't share what thread, as you'll have to discover it yourself. Others may claim to have the scoop, but trust me, the insiders on their boards really do get the news before others. Make sure you look to the rumor threads if you want to get the latest and most likely to happen news.

Imagineering concept art even looks good in black and white.

Of course, things are always subject to change. But don't dismiss the ridiculous. Guardians of the Galaxy did actually come to California Adventure's Tower of Terror. So expect the unexpected. 

The very top rendering isn't Disney, by the way. It's from an artist known as Jader, and it's up for sale as a benefit to UNICEF. Look here

(Art copyright Jader and The Walt Disney Company.)

June 18, 2017

Hokule'a Returns Home (or Disney's Moana Got It Right)!

Mark asked me a while back to do a review of Disney's Moana since I'm a kama'aina (local resident) born and raised in Hawaii. I wanted to re-watch the movie on blu-ray before writing down my thoughts, but haven't had a chance. But I found a perfect way to tie Moana into an event that occurred this past Saturday, June 17 at approximately 9:45 (Hawaii time).

This milestone was the end of the Hokule'a's voyage around the world. A journey that would last three years and traverse 47,000 nautical miles, reaching 85 ports and 26 nations. Began in May 2014, the homecoming was an emotional and proud moment for the Hawaiian people and its culture.  Hokule'a (Star of Gladness) first set sail in 1976 to the island of Tahiti. At the time, its accomplishment was nothing short of miraculous. The skills and knowledge that enabled the Polynesians to sail to Hawaii had been lost for over 600 years. Herb Kane, a renowned Hawaiian painter, had a dream to rebuild the double-hulled sailing canoe of his ancestors, and this vision began the rediscovery of a lost art.

In 1978, Hokule'a set out on a second voyage to Tahiti, but this journey ended in tragedy. Capsized and in mortal danger, legendary surfer Eddie Aikau decided to paddle out for help in the hopes of rescuing the stranded crew. He never made it back although the crew was eventually rescued. The phrase "Eddie Would Go" became a mantra among the locals, echoing Eddie's sacrifice and willingness to take on the impossible.

In Moana, navigation by the stars is a key component and I love the way Disney incorporated it into the heart of the story. They clearly did their homework and understood the importance of this skill in relation to the Hawaiians. For all the criticism Disney gets when adapting stories from different cultures and races, I never felt they disrespected or tried to "whitewash" Moana to fit western view or perspective. And while it does feel that the local village comes off as a little too perfect at times, the feeling of family, love, and respect are strong aspects of its people. I thought "Lilo and Stitch" did a good job of representing aspects of Hawaii in a genuine manner, but Moana is on a whole different level.

With an arrival time of 10:00 am, my friend and I decided to head out early to the rock wall adjacent to Magic Island in order to get a good vantage point of the canoe's arrival. We got to Waikiki at 4:30 and crossed a long stretch of rocks in the dark, hoping not too fall and hurt ourselves. We arrived to the end to the jetty by 5:30 and hunkered down for the long wait. While testing certain areas of the rocks for the best photo ops, I lost my footing and nearly fell into the ocean. Twice I fell and stopped my fall with the palm of my hand, giving me some nice gashes and cuts. Blood flowed freely from my right knee too. 

When Hokule'a finally docked, most of the discomfort and tiredness disappeared. To see the canoe and its crew come home was more magical than any Disney movie could ever be...

     (All photographs Copyright 2017 by Len Yokoyama)

June 16, 2017

Shanghai Disneyland One Year Later

Can it really be one year? Yes- one year ago today, the first Disney park on the Chinese Mainland sprung up in Shanghai. Among much success (the park itself, and particularly the brand new shiny version of Pirates of the Caribbean), some big failures (crowds are clearly missing from Disneytown and the Lion King Theater), and what's to be seen (Toy Story Land), the resort as a whole looks to have succeeded in mostly being what the Walt Disney Company suits were planning.

The castle and its display of China's strength and power.

Shanghai Disneyland boasts a unique kingdom with its own roster of attractions never before seen- and never to be seen. Truly. Can you imagine the corporate lawyers allowing an attraction such as the ropes courses of Camp Discovery (seen above) to ever find the light of day in the States? Me, neither. Unfortunately. 

The Pirates' Battle for the Sunken Treasure and Tron Light Cycles Power Run are the clear home runs, favorites with locals and many international visitors alike.  Yet there's also the very strange Voyage to the Crystal Grotto. A Fantasyland newbie with its statuary based gardens and a less than stellar final scene, the attraction is unique to the kingdom, but it certainly won't be duplicated. 

Tim Burton- your queen is calling.

Neither will the Tim Burton inspired Alice in Wonderland maze be placed in another kingdom park. That ship has sailed. Thankfully. It may be trendy and edgy, but it wasn't a smart move as the animated  film is still the classic for generations to come. This misstep is  balanced out by Tangled restaurant (but no attraction- yet) and a pretty cool looking enhanced Peter Pan's Flight.  For all the other changes that were made to the design of this park, Fantasyland is still the place where the animated films are celebrated / exploited.

Speaking of films, Mickey's Film Festival has quietly opened around the corner from the end of Mickey Avenue, a pleasant diversion to soak up a small slice of the crowd. Kudos to the Imagineers for providing smaller, charming attractions among the blockbusters. I hope that trend continues as the big ticket items are added. It's attractions such as this that give the original Disneyland and Disneyland Paris much charm. 

Did you really think the Mainland would let Hong Kong
have the best Marvel themed area?

What does the future hold beyond Toy Story and it's quick and easy installation? Not to be outdone by the growing and beautiful little park that could, Hong Kong Disneyland, Marvel is certainly on the way. What that looks like, only few people know, and I'm not privy to that. But it's a sure thing.

One thing the park definitely needs on the Tomorrowland side of the park is a very big reliable-to-operate people eater. Soaring Over the Horizon and Roaring Rapids might be popular, but Rapids breaks down regularly and Soaring has impossibly long lines all day long. Will the park get another new and unique attraction or will the suits and very involved Chinese government opt for a cheaper to build slightly redesigned clone from one of the other parks? Will they cannibalize from Hong Kong or even Japan? It's yet to be seen. 

Regardless of its current success or the choices that are coming, Shanghai Disneyland is a great case study on corporate vision and board room ego, government domination, and sheer Imagineering brilliance under very strange circumstances. Stay tuned.

(Photographs copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 15, 2017

Disneyland Time Machine: Music to My Ears

America the Beautiful. Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland. Adventure Thru Inner Space, America Sings, and more. Much more. What a way to visit vintage Disneyland in your mind! It's one thing to daydream about a visit to the park, but it's another thing entirely if you're adequately prepared. 

And I am. Listening now to the excellent Musical History of Disneyland, the perfect 50th anniversary gift for Disney park fans. Starting with Walt Disney's dedication, the collection takes you through each land of the park, bringing atmospheric music, deluxe attraction soundtracks, and evening and holiday performances and parades. It's a time machine journey that never gets old.

June 14, 2017

New Disneyland Map with Star Wars Land

Here's something we've all been waiting for the Disney Imagineers to give us: a new park map of Disneyland with Star Wars Land included. Well, they haven't done that yet, but here's the next best thing: a fan made made that's pretty darn good. All designed from AbleToArt. If you want to watch it being drawn- and I did- give it a watch here.

June 13, 2017

What's Next for Disneyland Paris

Now that the Walt Disney Company has completed its purchase of Disneyland Paris, it's time to look at what is next for the beautiful but struggling resort. First, let's begin what is not next...

New hotels are not on the way. Not only are the existing properties in various stages of being refurbished, the current visitor trends do not point to a need for any additional rooms. The overbuilding of resorts became the primary reason that the EuroDisney resort struggled in its earliest years. Empty but overpriced rooms were the norm - and still are to some degree. While you will see ongoing improvements to the properties, do not expect any new additions.

The Walt Disney Studios Paris still needs help to bring it increased attendance. Even with the fairly new Ratatouille attraction, the second park on the property remains a blight on the landscape. In place of a full remodel similar to what was accomplished (and sorely needed) at California Adventure, the suits will instead infuse Marvel attractions into the park. The rabid success of Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout in the US park almost entirely assures the same transformation will occur in France. The Twilight Zone will be on its way out. Yes, Rock N Rollercoaster will be rethemed (an easy remodel to be sure), and the minimally landscaped and decorated area will become home to more superheroes. There's no restrictions for the Walt Disney Company is using Marvel in France, so it will come full bore. That has already been announced. This includes Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America and company. 

Disney Village will see upgrades to keep it fresh, but the general structures and layout will remain. It is clearly not a highlight for visitors, and the place continues to clear out not too much after the parks close. It's difficult to choose night life here when the city of Paris is minutes away!

This leaves the biggest investment and improvements for the most beautiful of all Magic Kingdoms. The question remains, "What will be added?"  More Star Wars in various forms. Perhaps not the large attractions from the US parks (at least not yet), but there will be additional enhancements to play off the popularity of the film series. 

Now that the parc looks better than it has in years, crowds need to be spread out. This means the most likely place for a big expansion is in that huge old empty piece of next adjacent to the great Cowboy Cookout Barbecue in Frontierland. There are well known plans for a version of Splash Mountain, but certainly die hard Disney fans would kill for a brand new version of Imagineer Marc Davis' Western River Expedition. Imagine using some of the amazing technology from Shanghai's Pirates of the Caribbean in another form and theme! Instant home run- and an instant way to keep new folks coming back to a parc that hasn't seen a major expansion since Space Mountain

The other option looks to be in Fantasyland in space originally reserved for Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast expansions. With the international success of the live action film, my money is on Beast. Done right, meaning better than in Florida and with a real "E Ticket" attraction, this is another way to make the French kingdom a fresh must-see. Does this mean it has to be the same as the Tokyo Disneyland attraction? No, it can be different- and just as good.  Frozen is another option that would bring success, but Beast is just so French, that is absolutely belongs here. 

Last thought- don't be misled into thinking or believing the suits and the Imagineers need time to figure out what to do. They have been planning this move for quite awhile. The braintrust behind the Walt Disney Company is determined to turn Paris into a hugely successful moneymaker. Something they should have done with integrity long ago. 

(Photograph copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

June 12, 2017

Notable and Quotable: Levi Lusko

"On the night she went to heaven, I did for Lenya what a daddy should never have to do.   I reached out and closed my little girl's eyes. What I never expected was that God would use her to open mine."
                                                    Levi Lusko

Have you ever suffered a loss so deep you thought you would never recover? That's the story of Levi Lusko and his wife and family. He watched helplessly as his young daughter died unexpectedly in his arms. How can any of us survive death, betrayal, loss, illness, and more?

Check out his book Through the Eyes of a Lion and watch how one man came to life through death. I'll warn you ahead of time, the quote above is the last line of the book, and it will make you cry.

June 11, 2017


Before you get a chance to see the new post by Len- and it's a great one- take a look at this vintage United Airlines travel poster for Hawaii. It's from the 1940's. It was just so cool I had to share it. Makes me want to take off for the islands. But if I were a betting man, I'd say that's going to be misplaced by a few more business trips. Have a great Sunday!

June 10, 2017

From the Plaza Inn to the Crystal Palace

The Plaza Inn. What an absolutely wonderful place to eat when you want a break from the crowds at Disneyland! The exterior perfectly fits Main Street U.S.A. inside and out, and once inside, it feels far removed from a theme park as can be.

Walt Disney and the early Imagineers knew their audience, always striving to give them the best experience possible. Good enough was not the mantra of the time. Case in point: In 1965, Disneyland was in the middle of an iconic expansion still talked about among fans to this day.  Pirates of the Caribbean was was soon to debut. The Haunted Mansion was not far behind and neither was the great big beautiful New Tomorrowland

Guests visiting Walt's park had an opportunity to purchase a nice little souvenir book filled with concept art of upcoming attractions. The particular book this piece comes from had some rare art as well.  The Plaza Inn was given the Imagineering treatment from the beginning, starting with a rendering to highlight the feel of the place. 

You can almost see the inspiration for Walt Disney World's lovely Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom here. As with many things, Disneyland was the proving ground for what would come in the future. 

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

New Music from The Voice's Christina Grimmie

Her music lives on! And how! Check out Christina Grimmie's new album "All is Vanity". There's a powerful message there... and some really good music! 

One of the finalist's on The Voice, she had it all. Even holding her own with coach Adam Levine on "Somebody That I Used To Know". But there's more to her than her voice

Check out her youtube page full of videos and music here.

June 9, 2017

Don't Count Olivia Out Yet

Even though we cannot rightly claim her as our own, Olivia Newton-John definitely falls into the All American Girl category! The recent news of the return of her cancer brings her fans news we never wanted to hear. However, as with many others who have endured this battle, don't count her out yet! I believe she still has many more years of music in her! Just pray, ask and watch. Suffering exists in the world ever since the fall of man back at creation. God doesn't always answer prayer in the way we would like, but He is always Good and always Kind. Hang in there, Olivia! We're praying for you.

June 7, 2017

Do We Hate the Sin That Destroys Us?

This is the question I am wrestling with today. Tonight actually, as I've been up for a couple of hours. 

The very things I am tempted by have the power to bring me to the destruction of myself. It's the same for you as well, isn't it? Don't agree? Just give it some thought, and you will see this is truth. If you cannot see this in yourself yet, then look deeply into the lives of people you know. Then look at yourself once more.

Pride, hate, lust, the need to control, all of it. Anything evil has the power to take us down paths we never wanted to travel- and we risk losing all the good gifts if we go there. That is why God hates sin. It's because of His great love for us that He warns us to stay clear of it. 

But do I hate sin in my life? Or do I just play with it, dabbling in it, thinking it will never conquer me. But then I indulge. It always looks like its worth it until I have to live with the results of my choices. If nothing else, I have to live with the truth that I've blown it. Foolish man that I am. 

Makes me think of Paul's famous discourse in the book of Romans, chapter 7. More thoughts later...

May 31, 2017

Lanterns of Love...Memorial Day 2017

On Memorial Day in 1999, a tradition was started on Oahu of floating lighted lanterns out to sea in memory of those who gave their lives in defense and protection of our country. The lantern ceremony itself has strong ties to Japanese culture, so tying it into Memorial Day has especially deep significance to the islands. Never forgetting the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, this ceremony also represents cultural harmony and understanding between nations that were once at war. 

Held all day at Ala Moana Beach, the event attracts an estimated 50,000 people in attendance at various times during the day. At the setting of the sun (approximately 7:00 pm),  the ceremony climaxes with the release of thousands of lanterns. Although they look alike in the photos, each lantern holds a special meaning...honoring and remembering a specific person that died while in service. The "skin" or paper covering of the lanterns are individually personalized and decorated by the sender. At the end of the night, the lanterns are gathered up to be reused for next year.

The differences in race, age, and gender melt into oblivion as an unmistakable feel of unity and compassion encompass all those participating in this memorial service. While there are warm smiles, genuine laughter and camaraderie, there is also the sad look of loss and pain on the faces of those launching these lights of remembrance.

The weather had been iffy throughout the day, but at launch time, God provided the gathering with beautiful weather and just about the calmest waters one could hope for. To get a good shooting vantage, I waded into the water waist deep, camera held carefully above my neck, conscious of my footing so as not to slip and fall. Splashing water, especially salt water, is always a major concern for photographers, but the water was so glass smooth that not one drop of moisture touched my equipment.

As the sun began to set and the lanterns slowly drift to the horizon, the feeling in the air was one of  reflection, grief, and love. As a christian, I know the death of a loved one is but temporary and that I'll be one day reunited with my family and friends. But while still on earth, a ceremony like this is very cathartic and healing, helping each person to realize they are not alone. While God is watching over us from above, a hug or handshake from a stranger or friend at reminds us that others are watching over us down here too.

   (Photographs Copyright 2017 by Len Yokoyama)

Another Goodbye

No photo today as it can't describe how I'm feeling. It's time for a goodbye after three short years. Three years that went by much too fast. Thankfully, even though visits are difficult, they are not impossible- and there is always Skype or FaceTime. But it's just not the same as sitting across each other at the local coffee shop. That said, thank you, Lord Jesus, for allowing three years of in state friendship when it never seemed possible. And an eternity of friendship as well.

May 30, 2017

Griffin Goes Too Far

Kathy Griffin had better be thankful she lives in the United States. In another country, in a different world, her actions would have her immediately in prison or she would silently disappear never to be seen again.

This image from TMZ shows Griffin holding the head of a dummy of President Trump just after beheading. Is she making an example of what ISIS would do to those who go against their beliefs? Is she stating what she would like to do to the President? Or is she just  bigoted? Is this a publicity demanding celebrity expressing hatred in a way that will get her noticed? 

When even the liberal left takes a stand against her actions, you have to know it's pretty bad. I hope this image never disappears from the web. It's proof positive that hatred comes from all sides of the political spectrum.

(Image copyright TMZ.)

May 29, 2017

More Marvel for DCA, Prime Pandora, Promising Pirates

Now that Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout is a bonafide hit, its a safe bet that the already leaked plans for a Marvel themed expansion happen sooner than later. California Adventure will finally begin expansion in earnest after a long wait from the opening of the 2.0 remake which brought us Cars Land and Buena Vista Street. It's about time. 

The photo above is making rounds on the web, photographer unknown. Found text to the Tower - I mean power plant fortress- is a small piece of eye candy promising future Avengers attractions. Anyone who has read the articles and blogs and discussion boards knows Disney cannot use Marvel's key characters in Florida. California wins again, showing another reason why the Disneyland Resort will be the place for theme park fans to vacation for decades to come. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it all and the placement of these particular film properties in Disney parks there, but I have no doubt, it will be successful. With Star Wars Land at Disneyland, Marvel in California Adventure and a resort expansion coming, the suits will find the original Kingdom to be a long term money-maker, never again to be left to rot as under the days of Paul Pressler. 

Across the States over at Animal Kingdom, Pandora's another breakout smash. The Imagineers, the suits, and Joe Rohde are enjoying a very successful opening and positive word of mouth on a project many thought to be out of place, me included. From what I can see, there's not many animals in this kingdom, but the lush flora and fauna do seem to bring a beautiful fantasy element to a gorgeous park. As the quality of attractions in the park seems to go up and up, it's time for Expedition:Everest to see a repaired yeti and time to finally say goodbye to Chester and Hester. Neither can happen too soon.

The above nighttime photo is from Blog Mickey. It's an absolute stunning photo as is but even more spectacular when you click on it to see it full size. The photo report is one of the best on the web. 

Bit the bullet and saw Pirates 5 last night. In IMAX, not worth the extra expense. Promising beginning with some old school Jack Sparrow swagger (humor and action) and an eerily effective villain. The storyline remains fairly clear, but I had to wonder when the writers will run out of legends and myths of the sea to exploit. Seeing it, I was reminded a bit of Indy 4. With much promise came a healthy dose of weak closure to it all as the emphasis shifted away from the beloved Captain to other characters. Whether or not attendance and financial returns mandate another chapter in the series, fans need something better than this to close out the saga. I hope it happens. As with many, the original remains the best.

There's much more to say on the Disney front, especially after D23.  In the meantime, enjoy your Memorial Day and thank God for the brave men and women who gave their lives to keep us free.