Walt Disney: Junior Time Traveller

Disney California Adventure is sort of like an alcoholic that has managed to stay sober for over a year now. We’re all very proud. Doesn’t mean we trust it to drive the kids home from the New Year’s party, but we’re glad it has turned its life around.

A lot of this progress is due to a clever approach in show development, and this approach is called: Don’t be a mall. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best, and DCA is stealing everything it can from its sister park next door: nighttime spectaculars, Fantasyland dark rides, ¬†exclusive membership clubs, themed main streets. Don’t be surprised if Disney soon announces the opening of Walt’s private apartment, where he used to stay when dreaming up his ideal ferris wheels and rotating swing rides.

Also, there’s this new statue being planned for DCA’s Buena Vista Street. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Disney has put forth several official statements about this statue, how it is supposed to represent Walt as he just stepped off the train from Kansas City, ready to embark on his own California Adventure. It’s a bookend to the story that concludes with the Partners statue in Disneyland, which shows Walt as king of the Magic Kingdom. This is fresh-faced Walt, before the smoker’s cough, before Mickey, before even Oswald. All he has are his dreams. And his luggage.

This is a “study maquette” displayed at DCA’s Blue Sky gallery. Procrastinating students with no time to study may be interested in the Cliff Notes Maquette. Am I right?

Unlike the Partners statue, there is no pedestal for this version of Walt. The official explanation goes something like “Here he is just a commoner like us, he hasn’t been elevated above us.” It’s a little insulting and reeks of vague cost-saving measures. But I’ll forgive it.

I do tend to go a bit ballistic over all the luggage. What’s he doing with an engraved trunk? Is this canon? I thought the lore was Walt had only a beat up old suitcase when he stepped off the train from Kansas City. Sort of like what Mickey has. What’s Mickey even doing in the statue? He wasn’t created yet. Oh, but he was in Walt’s head and heart, he just wasn’t a star yet. The old Roger Rabbit explanation for anachronisms. Fine, I’ll buy it. Mickey wasn’t a star, he lived in Kansas City, and one day he happened to hook up with commoner Walt Disney as they both stepped off the train on their way to seek their fortunes.

And then I saw this picture.

Do you spot anything here? I’ll give you a hint. Look at the fingers. That’s a wedding ring, if I’m not mistaken. The only problem is that Walt didn’t get married until a couple years after he moved to L.A. Did Lilly know about his first wife? Because Mickey sure did.

Look, I don’t expect Imagineers to be experts on every single tidbit of Walt’s life, but I would expect them to have the basic timeline straight.

Anyway, I suppose I’m being too harsh. These pictures are all from the Blue Sky Cellar, and were probably conceptual anyway. Other versions of the statue do not seem to have the wedding ring. So maybe it’s a detail that was caught and fixed. But it certainly felt good to rant for a bit. Especially following a holiday that is all about being thankful.

Special thanks to Andy Castro, who runs the absolutely phenomenal Dateline Disneyland blog over at miceage. The pics are all his.

The Two Faces of Teddi Berra

You say “Two Faces of Teddi Berra” in public, and the connotation is you’ve got a bear with some serious mental problems. Like maybe one day she’s the quiet neighbor upstairs. The next day she’s on trial for beheading a deer, a moose, and a buffalo. Like a twist ending to the Goldilocks story, where we find out all three bears were really just one. The kind of bear who needs a tacked on Alfred Hitchcock ending to explain just what caused her to go a little mad.

Do you still hear the swings creaking, Clarice?

But Teddi really is a nice gal. She just happens to be one of the few Country Bears that owes an awful lot of herself to some real life influences. Like her song, for instance. Her show-stopping number, Heart We Did All That We Could isn’t a CBJ original. In fact, most of the songs in the show are legit little ditties from the hillbilly dance circuit.

I’m one of those fans that has complained in the past about Disney taking the lazy way out when it comes to music, specifically Food Rocks and the Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management. It always felt cheap to take some 80s pop songs and hand them over to a cast of robotic parrots. I mean, what is this, Chuck E. Cheese? The Sherman Brothers were too busy counting their money to take a crack at it?

Yet I would give a pass to Country Bear Jamboree, mainly because I’ve never heard these songs before, outside of the Magic Kingdom. All this really proves is that I have limited knowledge of music. It’s kind of a catch-22. When your favorite genre in iTunes is Theme Park Music, it can sometimes come as a shock when you find out Hoop De Doo was not actually written for the classic dinner show of the same name.

Also, American Adventure’s Two Brothers was written in the 1950s by some guy named Irving Gordon, and a major theme from the Magic Kingdom fireworks show was apparently taken directly from an old animated movie about a wooden puppet.

At least that Fort Wilderness show had the good sense to steal its chorus from an older tune. Teddi Berra’s song is surprisingly current — or would have been in 1971. Heart We Did All That We Could was actually a Billboard Country Top 20 hit in 1967, just four years before Country Bear Jamboree opened. It was performed by Jean Shepard, a lifelong member of the Grand Ole Opry and just this year was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (and whose official website looks like it was created about the same time she was topping the charts).

Which means that if you get her to autograph a picture of Teddi Berra, the “HOF” tag will raise its eBay value considerably.

But Jean Shepard isn’t Teddi’s only influence. Her mannerisms and costumes are ripped off straight from one of vaudeville’s (and Hollywood’s) biggest stars. Mae West was a saucy, sultry performer, and blessed with two of the most desirable assets in show business: Double entendres.

She even had a famous line: “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” from the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong. The line is usually misquoted as “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?” which not so coincidentally is Teddi Berra’s last line in the show (Henry follows it with “Soon as I find a ladder I’ll be right up.”)

But it’s not just the line. It’s the entire get-up. Still don’t think Teddi Berra owes a lot to Mae West?

One of these women sprang from the fertile imagination of Marc Davis. The other is a robotic bear.

The Walt Disney Company apparently had a major obsession with Mae West. Mae appeared as herself in the 1933 short Mickey’s Gala Premier, and was said to bear more than a passing resemblance with Clara Cluck:

… as well as Pinocchio’s pet fish Cleo:

Perhaps the most fun is a dead-on caricature of West as the femme fatale Jenny Wren in Who Killed Cock Robin?

With all these bird versions of Mae, it’s a wonder she didn’t show up in the Enchanted Tiki Room. But I guess we can consider ourselves lucky to have the teddy bear version.

Teddi Berra photo by Loren Javier

Spiderman’s Boardwalk Crawl

I believe I have good news for all you Marvel fans. While running out at the Boardwalk, I noticed what I believe to be the first major construction work being done on the new Spiderman’s Boardwalk Crawl Next-Gen game that should be coming to this resort area in the very near future.

Spidey is a regular at Beaches ‘n Cream

Based on what we can piece together, this game will allow youngsters to traverse a webbed wall all along the entire Boardwalk/Yacht/Beach complex, collecting SpiderStamps and solving tricky maneuvering puzzles. No word yet on whether or not there will be a corresponding mobile application for this thrilling new addition.

They have not yet finished installing it, though it has been going up piecemeal for at least a week now. The first step was to install tacky 2-inch wooden barricades along the edge of the entire boardwalk area out at the Beach Club, which was done last week. This week has seen installation of the special Spidey webbing to be used in the game. Several panels are already complete, on the section of Boardwalk nearest the Dolphin hotel.

You can see the new wall being installed on the right, with the original boardwalk railing treatment on the left.

To say that we are looking forward to this new Next-Gen experience is quite an understatement. To our knowledge, this is the first time Next-Gen has appeared in the resorts, and also the first time Marvel characters have been incorporated. Disney continues to impress with their ability to keep this project under wraps, much like the Avatar-themed lands that dropped a bombshell on the superfans a few months back.

Note that no official announcement has yet been made, and we’re going to be pretty upset if we’ve completely misread this. I guess there’s an outside shot that this is nothing more than typical lawyerly lawsuit-proofing. But until we confirm that, we’ll be practicing our web slinging abilities and honing our SpiderSense.

Surely there’s a good reason for this, right? Right??