The Last Scary Adventure

I was reminded this week of a long-standing mystery. One of those obscure things that is always nagging at the back of my brain. And I realized that the time was fast approaching when I might never get an answer. More about the mystery later, but you see, we’re about to lose another one, and the internet doesn’t really care this time around.

Congratulations, Snow White. You held on longer than most.

There wasn’t much hoopla when the Mickey Mouse Revue left. Things were still too new in 1980 to consider the show a classic. Think of it this way: Stitch’s Great Escape — that universally reviled blemish on the face of the Magic Kingdom — has made it 8 years already, just one year shy of the Revue’s tenure.

It took until 1994, when Disney completely botched the closing of the 20K Lagoon before fans started to take notice. The Subs were announced as being “temporarily closed.” But then “temporary” dragged into a matter of years, and finally 20K was wiped off the park map completely (speaking of which, welcome to that rare club, Drew Carrey. Say hello to Wonders of Life for me).

Wishing Wells are being put on the endangered species list. At least we still have a full-size version over by Cinderella Castle.

Things exploded in 1998 when Disney decided to be upfront about their next Fantasyland execution and announced that Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride would be replaced with Winnie the Pooh. Proclaiming that Disney had finally become just another corporate leech, feeding on the popular character of the day (apt criticism at the time), and with a burgeoning online community ready to unleash their pent-up feelings of abandonment, “SAVE TOAD” became a rallying cry for fans everywhere. I’m surprised there weren’t fans chaining themselves in front of the bulldozers, for all the furor Toad brought. I can only think of a few other times that fans were so up in arms about a Disney announcement. The closing of Horizons was one, and just as warranted. The other time was when Disney announced they were bringing McDonald’s into the parks, proving that sometimes, fans can be ridiculous.

Not counting the blue tights, there are at least two deadly weapons featured in this section of mural. Can you find them?

It didn’t seem to matter that the Pooh ride turned out to be a quality replacement. The Skyway closed a year later, and there was another uproar, though not as major. The Skyway never featured any of the  storytelling or details as the other closures. Plus, it was a slow-loading linear ride that had already been copied in dozens of Six Flags around the country. It was not perceived as a major loss.

We’ve now gone 13 years since losing an original Fantasyland attraction, but this week, on June 1, Snow White’s Scary Adventures closes for good.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina.

At some point a couple years from now, she’ll make a return. Or at least the Seven Dwarfs will, in the form of a “family” coaster that looks suspiciously brief and designed to make people sick. I’m not entirely sold on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The mountain and surrounding area will definitely be an upgrade to Scary Adventure’s Renaissance Fair architecture. But I have concerns about the ride itself. Barnstormer clocks at exactly 1 minute (including 30 seconds on the initial lift hill), and this looks to have about the same footprint. I’m hoping Disney surprises me.

Wait time until next Snow White ride, 2.4 years.

When all is said and done, we’ll still have a Snow White ride in some form, and it should be pretty enough, if that Fantasyland model currently exhibited inside One Man’s Dream is any indication. But I’ll always lament the loss of the traditional dark ride. As a kid who grew up going to Disney, the dark rides are the reason I fell in love with the place. Sure, some were better than others. Mansion and Pirates and Pan will always be cream of the crop, and even though Snow White may be one of the Magic Kingdom’s weaker dark rides, it’s still infinitely preferable to me than something like Laugh Floor, Stitch, or the glorified carnival rides (Teacups, Dumbo, Carousel).

Because I don’t anticipate being able to make it to Magic Kingdom later in the week, I took my last ride on Saturday. Yes, it made me sad. All those little details that I’m never going to get to see again:

Such as the signs of the zodiac that surround this Magic Mirror at the start of the ride (too dark to show in this picture)

  • The spell components on the witch’s book near the cauldron.
  • The gold tooth in the skull.
  • The special pie for “Grumpy” on the table.
  • The way the candles are just half-dimensional props glued to the wall, with blacklight paint to give the illusion of luminance.
  • That lightning crack illuminating Snow White held by the scary trees (a simple effect that still fascinates me.
  • That mirror effect with the Queen/Witch spinning around, with the Witch’s hands in the air like she’s at a Metallica concert.
  • That happy little dancing frog.

And the way that candlestick in Dopey’s hand is always vibrating. Is there a spring in it or what? Why are the dwarfs stationary, but the candlestick is bouncing?

And what about those details that are no longer there, victims of the many refurbishments that have come and gone?

With all those pigeons she kept attracting, no wonder she had to clean the steps so often. Fair is fair.

A few of my favorites:

  • See the Queen hovering over Snow White from window in the above picture? She used to hover over you as you enter the castle, opening and shutting the curtains. It was part of the earlier incarnation of the ride, when the guest played the role of Snow White, and the little princess never appeared herself.
  • Those warning signs about how “The Witch Appears In This Attraction” (you think it’s scary now…)
  • That fantastic room of strobe light explosions that you travelled through simulating the witch’s death-by-diamond-boulder (followed by a prompt and immediate exit of the ride).

A Fantasyland tradition: Entering/exiting under a bridge (see Mr. Toad, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey).

At least the mine car vehicles haven’t changed, each one still faithfully named after one of the Dwarfs. This was another Fantasyland dark ride tradition, though I suspect more people are familiar with Doc, Dopey, and Grumpy than Mole, Ratty, and Badger. I expect when we get the new Mine Train coaster, this is one tradition that will continue. If not, shame on them.

My last ride was on the Bashful car. He has to be one of the top six or seven dwarfs of all time.

Now about that mystery I mentioned earlier… The mural at the loading zone is a nice piece of work. Fantasyland murals are another lost art, though we should see a return to form when the Little Mermaid opens this year. Snow White has multiple murals, many of which are pictured throughout this article. Awhile back I noticed something that appears in the mural directly before you enter the building, officially leaving behind the part of the ride that is exposed to the outdoors.

This crest hangs over the doorway, and it is a flat painting, not a dimensional object. See that snake in the lower left corner? There are initials there: WCS.

What could they mean? Did the muralist sign his/her work? I’ve searched all over, but I can’t find the name of the painter(s). I posed the question to the fantastic Filmic Light: A Snow White Sanctum site (seriously, you should check it out, it’s brilliant), and they couldn’t find the answer either. I’m hoping by posting it now, with so much attention surrounding the end of the ride, that maybe somebody out there knows what those letters mean.

Also, who is that freakishly tall white woman with all those bearded guys?

Until then, I guess it’s time to let Snow White, fresh from the ranks of the dead, ride off into her glowing castle with the guy in blue tights. Maybe we can build a glass coffin over the site until the Mine Train coaster opens in a couple years. I won’t mind giving the ride a kiss later, to see if it will wake up.

A shame that after all that, only two dwarfs came to say goodbye.

Here There Be Monsters – Animal Kingdom

[Cue the dramatic music]

In a world of theme parks, one man must complete a journey. He must leave no stone unturned, no alley unexplored, no fly unzipped. In this breathtaking conclusion to the epic series to seek out new lands and new civilizations, Parkeology travels deep into the jungles of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in search of a lost world.

No, it is not that door under the Everest bridge. Deal with it.
The final page will turn. The book will close. And the scales will tip in favor of the winner. A quest that began weeks ago comes to a thrilling climax, with our hero in some kind of manufactured dramatic peril. Three parks have already sealed their fate, and the last horcrux unexplored locale (possibly a picnic area or side-trail smoking area) will be unveiled.
Here, as the old charts say, there be monsters. A land never seen by mortal eyes. One man’s adventure must end and the chips may fall, to be swept up by a random Disney sweeper crew, who really don’t like chips polluting the themed environments.
The rules are simple. It must be a definite location, with a palpable sense of place. It must be accessible to all guests, and not just employees of Kodak Corporation, Disney Visa card holders, and AAA Diamond parking hall-pass monitors. Finally, it must have never before experienced the awe-inspiring wonder of my physical presence — proving itself a truly new place for a theme park veteran.
First, there was the Speedway Grandstand in the Magic Kingdom.
Then, the Tower of Terror Breezeway at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Followed by a visit with the Epcot’s lovable yet oddly unsettling Hat Lady.
And now… Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
In many ways, this was the most rewarding find of all. There is a difference between unknown and unvisited. I had always known about the Speedway Grandstand and the Rose & Crown, but had never visited before, so I can’t say those were special finds.
There is also a difference between a worthwhile place and a stupid place. While Rose & Crown definitely qualifies as worthwhile, I would never recommend seeking out the Grandstand and the Tower of Terror Breezeway, as they are simply boring, downright useless locations. But not until Animal Kingdom did I find something simultaneously unknown and worthwhile.
Rubber mulch nuggets. Also my new favorite swear word, as in “Rubber mulch nuggets! Nobody steps on a church in my town!”
For the record, I’m not talking about the petting zoo (though they did have cute new pigs for petting). The Affection Section has been part of the park since Day One, accessible via train to Conservation Station. I’ve visited the petting zoo numerous times, even going so far as to write an entire post about the old hand washers, because Parkeology is nothing if not obsessively focused on the sublimely obscure.
Yet somehow, I’ve never really noticed that there is an entire stage off to the side. I had never seen it in use before. There are always animal encounters happening at Conservation Station, but I always see them inside the building, not out on a stage, surrounded by bleachers. Possibly they only use the stage during peak periods.
Look how enthralled everyone is with an animal they would go out of their way to avoid in their own backyard.
Pure luck of timing had me searching out the new pigs while a scheduled skunk encounter was going on, and I finally became aware that there was a large theatrical area nearby that had somehow eluded me since 1998. I quickly exited the pig pen (Cast Members can get really annoyed when you climb back there with them), and hustled around to snap shots of two hosts with microphones (yes, microphones!) showing off a rare species of roadkill.
Later they brought out a porcupine, and while the staged animal encounter was great fun in and of itself, I was flabbergasted to find that there are actually two more permanent animal exhibits back her, similar to the exhibits inside Conservation Station. There are glass enclosures showing off a Gopher Tortoise and a water Monitor Lizard, both of whom I had never seen before.
After all, he’sssss not in the book! (just some obscure Disney humor for you)
The exhibits are right near the stage, set into the exterior wall of the Station. For the record, this is to the immediate right after exiting the building. I guess I must have always gone left, through the merchandise area full of stuffed lions and hippos, or straight into the Affection Section.
I can without reservation recommend that you try to track down the tortoise and the lizard and give them some face-pressing love against their glass. I’m sure they feel ignored. I think there’s also a snake or two in there as well, though we parkeologists have a deathly fear of snakes due to a childhood adventure on a circus train.
The Lizarding World of Larry Potter, which is my new name for this lizard, because I am horrible at thinking up good names for pets. Not that he’s a pet. Yet.
Now I consider my task complete, and only a month or two overdue. But I did beat analyst expectations, which is more than I can say for the Facebook IPO. For my next act, I think I will try something harder, like trying to eat three square meals in a single park, for less than my mortgage payment.

Look but don’t touch

(As always click on the photos to enlarge and see the details… it’s worth it!)

We recently got back from a trip to Tokyo and the Tokyo Disney Resort. Of course by “We” I mean the royal “we” because Shane is afraid to leave his bedroom. I often have to coax his out with toaster pastries, Mountain Dew and the promise of a new Vinylmation figure he has never seen.

Come on Shane, what do I need to do to get you to go?

Speaking of Shane, his last post was a hard hitting exposé of the Time Rovers in Dinosaur. In that same vein visiting Disney in Tokyo is similar to time traveling. I’ve discussed this before but the way the parks are run there (remember, Disney does not own or operate the parks in Japan) reminds me a great deal of how the parks used to be run in the states, say maybe 25 or 30 years ago. Things are clean, I mean REALLY clean. I mean shockingly, you can’t believe the place is almost 30 years old clean. Everything is just flat new looking. Even the old stuff looks new.

Yea, no reason to come here.

For all the talk about how great the Tokyo Disney Resort is (and it truly is) and how they get better versions of all our attractions (they do) and attractions we can only dream of (yup, we just don’t have stuff that can compare) they also rarely upgrade or change existing attractions or areas. So Tomorrowland for example is the 1971 version of Tomorrowland. I mean it must of looked old in 1983 when it opened and yet it is so well kept, no sparkling new in its appearance that again it feels as though we traveled back in time to opening day.

Go on grab it kid, it’s a rifle a freaking RIFLE my man!
Wouldn’t one of those plaques look cool in your room… COME ON!

But why is this? Do they spend more money on upkeep than the U.S. parks (or Disneyland Paris for that matter, but Disneyland Paris spends about $80 a year on upkeep so it doesn’t really count)? I’m sure they do. Is it because the Japanese somehow have a stronger work ethic and just plain out work us in terms of how they do their jobs? Again… probably… these are some virtually psychotically dedicated cast members. But I think it is something else.

Yea, it really is just sitting out in the open like this, part of the Pooh’s Hunny Hunt line.
a box full of sharp, rusty (faux) tools yet no law suits, none stolen and not even
a crumpled Coke cup jammed in there.

I think that the very core of Japanese culture is very different than our own. Japan is steeped in ritual and customs. There is a proper and correct way to do things and an improper and unacceptable way to do things. I mean EVERYTHING. There is a “correct” way to handle money and pay for something. I mean physically a proper way to hold the money and hand it to a cashier (or in this case NOT hand it to them, money is placed in a tray on the counter and when change it handed back it is always with two hands as that shows respect). There is a proper way to blow your nose in public (you don’t, period). There is a proper way to hand someone a business card or accept one. There is a proper way to use an escalator (You ALWAYS stand to the left leaving the right half open for people to walk up). There is a proper way to eat various foods (for example you generally do not walk around and eat things like ice cream, you sit down and eat them where you bought them) or pour drinks (your dining partner pours yours and you pour theirs, don’t be an idiot and pour your own you rude slob!) Don’t even attempt to understand the dense myriad of rules about bowing, how deep to bow, to whom to bow, when to bow. Just accept that you are a foreign idiot incapable of understanding and move on.

Yea, it’s not a joke and yes it seems insane.  But guess what?
The bathrooms, even in public, are spotless and isn’t that
maybe worth a few silly signs?

Through all of this one thing that is VERY proper to do is FOLLOW THE RULES.

A rule is in place for a reason, do not question it, do not break it; observe it and you will be fine. The Japanese tend to not question rules too much and they certainly do dot scheme ways of circumnavigating them. This makes street crime virtually unheard of even in the densest parts of Tokyo… there is for all intent and purpose (or intensive purposes if you really are an idiot) no shoplifting or pick pocketing or mugging or petty theft or any of the stuff that makes living in our society a pain sometimes, because there is a rule against that.

All this stuff is just sitting out in the open in a fast service dining location at
Tokyo Disney Sea (NY Deli). I almost grabed the top hat but thought
better of it.

One of the rules of society is that you simply do not touch stuff. I’m not sure why this came about but us Touchy McGrabersons over here must just freak them out. I guess it is our rough and tumble cowboy, pioneer spirit or something but while we feel the need to touch, grab, manhandle and mangle everything we see (just ask your Native American friends) the Japanese are more than happy to quietly observe the situation before moving on, no touching and no taking of photos either if the rules ask that you not (taking photos inside of the Tokyo Disney attractions is similar to a mission 007 would be called upon to complete).

That’s a LOT of stuff right there!

Of course if you happen to be a guy designing a super detailed theme park in Japan your life just got a whole lot easier and the park just got a whole lot better. It is amazing how much stuff the Japanese parks have pretty much laying around. I mean small thematic details in queues, restaurants or sprinkled throughout the parks. Things that simply would be broken off, stolen and sold on eBay within moments of being put out should they dare do so in the U.S. parks.

Tower of Terror also has stuff, it used to have more but some non Japanese visit the park
so well, you know.

Aside from the idea of these props not lasting long on U.S. soil is another issue: liability. Litigation is another U.S.-centric idea. The idea of suing the pants off of a company to get rich is not something that is ubiquitous in Japan… and so you will see things throughout Japan and in the parks that would not be possible in the U.S. of A. Look at the queue for the Pooh attraction, parts are like a garden shed full off tools and equipment. Take for example the sharp spiked rake hanging pretty much at eye level in the post show. No one steals it but likewise no one impales himself on it. They observe it, appreciate it, and then move on (unless they lose face to the rake, then they perform ritual Seppuku, those crazy Japanese).

How nice, they provide a becnh to stand on in case the youngsters can’t reach the sharper
more deadly items.

Now don’t get me wrong. Not all Japanese are without a rebellious streak and so sometimes these items are glued or nailed down, but not always. And even if they are they are still within easy reach or simply wide open to be molested, and yet for the most part they are left alone. The net result is that things stay looking newer and fresher far longer then in the other Disney parks. Even attractions with no specific props set out still benefit. Buzz Lightyear for example. That queue is notorious for being a filthy mess in the stateside parks. Years of dirty hands rubbing and touching all the brightly colored flat walls leave them in a grubby, grungy state. In Tokyo you again feel the time travel effect as the walls shine brightly as if painted yesterday. Of course they do have increased maintenance budgets so maybe they WERE painted yesterday… but regardless they feel new.

The Indy ride has lots of stuff to touch and grab and pry off as well, but you won’t
because you are civilized, follow rules and respect things (if you are Japanese at least).

No line cutting (rules, remember), no broken props or dirty walls, loads more detail and fun items layered into pretty much everything, spectacularly clean and a ridiculous number of well trained and dedicated employees; it really does remind me of the Disney parks from decades ago and it is a perfect storm to create the perfect park.

Want soem nice fake fish?  They are hanging there for the taking
at the Country Bear Jamboree.

So lets recap:

• We are slobs
• Japanese follow rules
• If you want really nice free authentic park souvenirs head over to Tokyo Disney with a big backpack and maybe a screwdriver

Yup, more stuff to steal, I mean observe.

Feel free to take these down, try them on, bring them home… or NOT you foreign slob!

OK, most of this Tower of Terror stuff is behind a low rope but all of it is within easy
arms reach and there is much, much more that I was not stealthy enough
to get shots of before I was scolded for not following the no photo rule… how dare I?
Yea, Pooh seems to be the king of the stuff in line.  This is all just sitting there
out in the open, no fence, no ropes, no barriers… only manners keeping them
in tact.