Stage One Company Store

There’s an old argument among parkeologists about what passes for theming. You can have a themed birthday party, in which kids wear cowboy hats and eat boot-shaped cake and try to lasso the cat. That fits the definition of “theme.” What Disney does is something else, something more story-based (though Imagineering heroes like Marc Davis will tell you it’s not quite a story either).

It’s one of the reasons I’ve never liked the All-Stars Resorts (or Pop Century, or the soon-to-be Art of Animation). These are passed off as themed resorts, and in the most common definition of the word, they are perfectly themed. There can be no doubt that All-Star Sports has a sports theme. Or that All-Star Music has a music theme. Or that All-Stars Stock Traders has a stock trading theme.

But they aren’t the Wilderness Lodge.

Look, just because you have a 30-foot-tall Pongo standing in front of your Motel 6 doesn’t mean I’m spending a week in a movie set. Take Pongo and the film canister bedsheets away, and I’m back on 192, in a decidedly un-Disney experience. But at least I have a pool shaped like a baseball diamond (read: I have a square shaped pool).

Anyway, I’m digressing into a rant about All-Stars, which was not my intent. Rather, I wanted to talk about what happens when you take away a 20-foot-tall Kermit the Frog. You might get this:

A normal building. Also for you sharp-eyed visitors, there’s a flaw in this picture. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, it’s hard to make two clocks chime at the same time.

I stumbled across this image in a book called Designing Disney’s Theme Parks, which is actually somewhat academic, in spite of a plethora of pictures.

Yes, this is the Stage One Company Store, though you probably think of it as The Muppet Store. It’s right at the exit to MuppetVision, and usually has the aforementioned Kermit, a pair of giant googly eyes, and a green globe shaped like Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

I don’t so much mind the store as it is today, as I marvel at how it used to look. I actually cannot recall a time when it didn’t have bright Muppet paint splattered on the side, or children climbing all over Kermit’s enormous webbed feet. Yet surely I must have seen it this way at some point. The Stage One store opened as part of this area, with the coming of MuppetVision. It probably was only a short couple of years before someone transformed it into a Muppet madhouse.

You can just make out a sign for the Studio Pizzeria in front of the store. The font is a very hard to read at this resolution, but I think it’s advertising “Pizza, Subs, Fried Hamsters, and More.” In case you’re wondering where the Studio Pizzeria is, it’s over in what is now called Pizza Planet, which at that time did not have giant Woody and giant Buzz Lightyear staring at a giant rocket next to a giant pizza.

In other words, before it was themed.

Hidden Jafar Lives!

Just checking in from my non-stop tracking of all the incredible news breaking loose at the D23 Expo. Apparently we are getting an entirely new section of Fantasyland! And there will be a Seven Dwarfs Mine Car Coaster! And maybe some meet-n-greets or something!

Okay, I actually feel a little sad, because there are still hopeful Disney fans out there that really do think the Walt Disney Company might be capable of keeping the next major World Showcase pavilion a complete secret until the big reveal. It happens every year, with every media event, convention, or theme park anniversary. Without fail, the fan community gets themselves riled up into thinking that this is the year Disney really did manage to sneak Villain Mountain past all the rumor sites.

So to sum up, no big announcements at D23. But I was reading the blog of one of our readers here and found this:

The Lazy Man’s Disney Tours

Yes! The Hidden Jafar is alive and well, and apparently mentioned in an official Disney tour! Ah, vindication is sweet. It also means that Teevtee has to do all the parkeology laundry for a month, including the smocks from the model painting room (those stains are tough to get out).

Remember, you heard it here first!

(actually, now that I google for it, I can see this Hidden Jafar is not nearly as secret as I thought)

A Crack in the Liberty Belle

It has come to my attention that Disney may have been lying to me. It seems that many of the things at the parks have no basis in reality. I mean, besides the wait times listed on that oh-so-helpful tip board (is a little accuracy too much to ask?). Apparently those rifles in Fort Langhorn don’t really shoot, the Swiss Family Treehouse isn’t a real tree, and nine times out of ten, Mickey Mouse has the same body parts as Minnie.

A long time ago, when I was a very young and naive Disney fan, I worked up the courage to ask the ride operators if I could steer the Liberty Belle. They used to do this, you know. Maybe they still do, I don’t know. You get to go up in the wheelhouse and guide the steamship around in a big circle. It’s a tough gig. Turn left and you’re screwed. And Big Thunder needs a rehab.

Playing for pinks.

I’ve recently learned that even this cherished childhood memory from my mid-twenties may be false. The Liberty Belle apparently has a big old crack running right up the middle of it, and only the murky waters of the Rivers of America are saving us from a massive case of plumber’s cleavage. Running through the cleft, encircling Tom Sawyer’s island, is basically an underwater monorail — hopefully without the high voltage, or I fear for the Magic Kingdom’s duck population.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Of course the giant behemoth runs on a track! This isn’t NASCAR. You don’t want a hundred ton steamship accidentally plowing into the indian village or chopping through the barrel bridge (well, of course YOU do, because you’re a deviant, but Disney’s lawyers don’t). It’s not quite the same with a keelboat or an explorer canoe. Those things hit ground, and the worst that happens is the animatronic moose laugh at you. If the Liberty Belle comes loose, it’s Titanic all over again, with Haunted Mansion as the iceberg.

Never fear: Should you fall over, this life preserver  can be used to help you stand up in the five feet of water.

But knowing that it’s a track can actually be kind of fun. It’s really more Autopia car than monorail. There’s no accordion joints on the Liberty Belle. Just one big solid riverboat. So it’s not riding snug on the rail. There’s a little bit of maneuvering room down there. Which is great, because next time you ride, you’ll actually be able to feel when the Liberty Belle catches against the edge of the track.

You really can detect this, and it’s not that hard when you know when to look (feel) for it. It happens on some of the tighter turns. You’ll feel a gentle stuttering of the ship as it struggles to stay on course, in spite of the fact that it wants to float off in a straight direction. So a little bit of the magic may be spoiled for us, but at least we can act superior to all those idiot tourists. We know how it works. And besides, it’s not like all my childhood memories are ruined. I still got to steer the Skyway that one time.