A Day Long Remembered

There’s a part of me that is afraid to write about Lucasfilm and Disney. If there are two obsessions I have shared since childhood, it is theme parks and Star Wars. And not always in that order. There’s a good reason why I created parkeology.com and not bloggathehutt.com. For one thing — in spite of making up that name on the spot, off the cuff, just now — I did a google for that title and found out there is already somebody writing as Blogga the Hutt. Also, I’m trying to coin a new phrase, “did a google.” T-shirts coming soon. But probably the main reason I don’t write a Star Wars blog is that I live in Orlando, FL and not Marin County, CA. I love both topics so much, I basically turned the whole decision over to geography.

The most appropriate Halloween image I could come up with.

Growing up, I would go to Disney once a year if I was lucky. But we had Star Wars on VHS all year long. If someone put a gun to my head and said “Pick between Disney theme parks or Star Wars movies,” my first reaction would be “That is a really weird thing for you to be basing your homicidal tendencies on,” but my second reaction would be “If I choose the parks, do I get to keep Star Tours?”

So yeah, I’m afraid to write about this, because I have a sneaking suspicion everyone will be writing about it. It’s all we’ll talk about for the next 5 years or however long it takes for them to finally decide which piece of Hollywood Studios they’re going to rip out to put in that Cantina restaurant, which everybody and their cousin knows has to be coming, because it has popped up at least 16 times in my Facebook feed.

And I’m not sure I want to hear everybody talking about it, you know? Because I feel like it’s sorta my thing. Like I’m the only one in the world who truly understands just how awesome this is. How could anyone out there truly have the same grasp and appreciation for both of these subjects that I have? They don’t deserve to get to talk about Star Wars and Disney together! I’m the one who built a scale model of Epcot in the same room where I filmed my shot-for-shot remake of Empire. I’m the one who took all my Star Wars action figures on Disney vacations with me. I’m the one who first drew up some Cantina restaurant concept art, lightyears before anybody thought of that idea. And I’m the one who suffered the shame when my mom said “You are a college graduate! Stop bringing your action figures into the parks.” In so many ways, this is culmination of a lifelong childhood dream. I’m the only one whose opinion matters!

This is absolutely wrong, of course. When you think of crazy fan bases, it’s hard to find two more rabid than Disney and Star Wars. You can’t walk 10 feet in Orlando without tripping over a Disney fan. And I really wish the city would do something about that, because I’m sick of all these passed out people cluttering our walkways. And you can’t go anywhere in America without bumping into a Star Wars geek. We’re everywhere. Young, old, black, white, male, female, it doesn’t matter. Disney and Star Wars are all-consuming, and the overlap is inevitable.

I suppose it comes down to jealousy on my part. It’s like it’s my wedding day, and all my friends suddenly are getting married too. This is supposed to be my special day! And now I have to share it with every Disney fan on the internet.

It would be silly to for me to try to communicate what this means. Every fan knows what this means. Harry Potter? Ha! It was cute while it lasted, Universal. Hollywood Studios resurrected from the dead. A 1-2-3 knockout punch at the box office (Pixar-Marvel-Star Wars). And I am desperately fighting the urge to tell you all my ideas for Star Wars rides. Oh, I’ve got them. Have no doubt about that. So do you. So does everyone.

So what can I contribute to the discussion? Is it possible for a little blog like this one to add anything to the crush of expert analysis that has already hit the interwebs? I think the one perspective I can offer is that I have no perspective. When it comes to this deal, I am all-in. Blindly faithful. No downside to be found. To me, this is Christmas Day, and I’m the Nintendo 64 Kid (just do a google). My thoughts did not immediately jump to whether this is a Potter killer, or what will happen to Avatarland, or jokes about Jar Jar (okay, maybe one joke), or that motherlovin’ Cantina Restaurant. That will probably all come later. Today, I’m just going to enjoy it.

Disney now owns Star Wars. How cool is that?

The bad Photoshop image I have been waiting a lifetime to create.


Gaston Has a Zit and Other News

Not to make the poor guy feel bad. But he really did. It was quite prominent on the side of his nose, and no amount of stage make-up was going to cover it up in the harsh Florida  sun. Somehow I don’t remember this feature being touted in the rousing drinking song.

No one’s red like Gaston! Acne that spreads like Gaston! Plans to pop all these pus-filled whiteheads like Gaston!

Gaston was out greeting guests during previews this week, which I was lucky enough to attend. And though his facial blemish was perhaps the most interesting item of the night, there were a few other things I wanted to call your attention to. We come to that part of the week where I basically brain dump all the miniscule little changes that have taken place on property. I think of this as a valuable community service. The fan sites already have wall-to-wall coverage of all the significant stuff, but who is looking out for the irrelevant? Parkeology, that’s who.

We begin with the attraction that’s on nobody’s radar: The Jack Sparrow Experience. As best as we can tell from the new exterior, this attraction is a one-of-a-kind experience that promises to fulfill something. And that something is, Jack Sparrow! Guests will step inside the confines of a Jack-Sparrow-infused building, where they will come face to face with an incredible array of Jack Sparrow-ish things. Disney is truly raising the bar by featuring Jack Sparrow as you’ve never seen him before. This dazzling assault on the senses promises to leave you wanting more Jack Sparrow! You will hear him. See him. And possibly even buy merchandise related to him! One thing’s for sure, you will have no idea what this is, because Disney has not said diddly squat about it. Unless they’ve somehow uncovered the actual Fountain of Youth under the leftover Narnia props, it’s a good bet this turns out to be nothing but another extended commercial.

If there is a Fountain of Youth in there, how many Disney Dining snack credits does it cost?

Continuing through Hollywood Studios, we see that the Electric Mayhem has appeared in full concert inside the Muppet Studio Store. I’m not sure when these were added. It could have been months ago, but I just noticed them. I dig it very much. These guys are just cool, right?

Nothing says “Mayhem” like a static puppet display.

And what have we here? The Droid Factory is going strong once again in Tatooine Traders, after running out of parts earlier in the summer and angering action figure collectors everywhere.

No word yet on when the Mr. Potato Hutt kiosk will open.

Tons of Haunted Mansion merchandise on sale, probably because of the occult holiday. Madame Leota snowglobes! I’m shocked this wasn’t invented earlier. Remember that dreadful Magic Kingdom snowglobe parade?

Have a holly jolly seance

Turning our attention to Epcot, where the Food and Wine Festival is in full swing… Germany apparently has a miniaturized version of the festival in its model train area. All that’s missing are the roaming packs of middle-aged women, dressed in identical drinking-themed t-shirts and getting blasted at the happiest place on earth (seriously, I counted 5 separate groups on Saturday, and they turned out to be far more annoying than Brazilian tour groups).

They even have a miniature cranberry bog, with miniature Food and Wine pricing. Only $8 per cranberry!

For Disney Visa card holders, Chase is operating a refreshment lounge in the old Wonders of Life pavilion. Behold, the majesty of the corporate refreshment lounge!

This place reminds me of every bad business conference I’ve ever been to. It could really use some sleazy corporate pitchmen passing out business cards and product literature.

Epcot has been just packed to the gills the last few weekends. Disney has really learned how to sell this event to the locals.

Of all the countries represented, the Nation of Cheese is by far my favorite.

A quick trip into the Magic Kingdom parking lot reveals some enhancements to the trams. Each car now sports side-facing speakers, presumably to tell those people waiting to board to please stand behind the yellow line.

And such a sporty design too!

We leave you with this stunning image of the Earful Tower, captured at night on an iphone while zooming along World Drive. They’ve added or enhanced the lighting. The ears and rim of the tower are now outlined with what looks like LED rope lighting. Looks very pretty in the evening sky! Too bad you can’t tell.

Through trees, even. Eat your heart out, Tom Bricker.

Circus Bear Mix-Up

I have no wish to rant about Storybook Circus, but there’s Another Part of Me that wants to. Circuses may have been magical in the first half of the 20th century, but today they conjure up negative associations with animal cruelty, carnival freaks, and child endangerment. Which come to think of it are pretty much the three defining characteristics of both Dumbo and Captain EO.

Certainly the fan community is impressed. All it takes is one Carolwood Pacific reference and Disney will have us all eating out of their hands. And that carpet in the gift shop! Such beauty we have never seen before! Judging by my blog reading list, there have been reams of paper spent on the Big Top Souvenirs carpet (because who doesn’t print out their blog reading list?) But I’m a jaded old cat, so I say talk to me again in six months and let’s see how that carpet is holding up.

I tend to lump Disney geeks into three categories. At the top you have the really passionate fans who know everything about everything. They write blogs and stuff. They’re well aware that there used to be a Mickey Mouse Club Circus at Disneyland (it sank into the swamp), a Circus Fantasy parade/show (it also sank into the swamp), and an EPCOT Daredevil Circus (it burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp). But Storybook Circus stayed. These people would have spotted the Carolwood reference a mile away, without any self-congratulatory help from the official Disney Parks Blog. These people know that the original idea for Storybook Circus came from a 1972 model for Dumbo’s Circusland, and if you check out the pictures, you can see just how similar the idea is. It’s easy to see why the 1972 version was never built: It lacked a 60-second, barn-themed kiddie ride.

Flight of the Hippogriff

Practically de rigueur after this stunning masterpiece of theming!

In the middle are the normal fans. These folks may not know everything, but then again, they also have lives. They can name most of the major Imagineers (especially those with outrageous names like Xavier, Yale, Rolly, and Jim). They have some appreciation of history. They can quote Haunted Mansion word for word. They’re either transitioning into obsession, or are self-aware enough to recognize that a career in circus rants isn’t as exciting as it sounds.

At the beginner level are the Hidden Mickey guys. These are the people who just love everything Disney, including its lesser films like Anastasia. They know about all the secret things in Florida — the hidden tunnels and the collapsible castle and so forth. They also know that discovering three random, vaguely conjoined circles is either a super-secret hobo language invented by Leonardo DaVinci himself, or a possible indication that you live in an Olympics host city.

The Last Supper

Do you see it??

I don’t despise the Hidden Mickey fans. We were all there once, right? But the main point of the Internet is to find some other group to feel superior to, and the hidden mickey crowd just happens to be the Rebecca Black to our Justin Bieber. Also I find it terribly amusing when they stumble off the bunny slope onto the Black Diamond trails.

True story. This happened at Storybook Circus a few weeks back. There I am, minding my own business, when suddenly I recognize two of the most famous faces in all of the Disney podcastosphere (not exactly the population of China, but still!). George and Jeff from Communicore Weekly are in line behind me at Dumbo. I’m friends with these guys online, but had never met them in person. It helped that they were both wearing these:

Oswald EarsSo we’re spending a few minutes catching up, introducing the families, etc. And some more people rush up, who shockingly recognize none of us. They just want to know where Jeff and George got those awesome ear hats. The guys politely explain that they got them at the Emporium on Main Street. The lady is thrilled. She is a huge Disney fan and recognizes how unique these items are. She wants to know what that picture is on the little badge. “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” Jeff replies. He points to her companion’s Oswald t-shirt. “Just like you have there.” This woman is talking to two mega-fans who hosted their own live sold-out fan-event at Epcot, and one Parkeologist who makes up fake interviews with the sheep in Impressions de France. If there’s another level of Disney nerd above us, it’s reserved for people whose last name ends in “Lutz.” “Oh no,” she says. “That’s not Oswald. That’s Mortimer, before Walt changed him to Mickey.”

Like I said. Bunny slope.

Anyway, I have gotten so far off topic by now with my celebrity name-dropping, that I’m not even sure what my point was. Oh yes, Disney geeks and Storybook Circus.

My theory is that Imagineering often aims for the mid-level of geekiness because most Imagineers are themselves in this level. They work for the company, so they have a decent amount of knowledge. And they were probably fans growing up, because it’s a weird career choice otherwise. But it’s also their job. We all like to say we’re passionate about our jobs, but I’m guessing most of us aren’t obsessing about the rich history of Accounting or collecting Teacher trading cards. Imagineering has its share of obsessive geeks of course, and probably its share of hidden mickey lovers too, such as whoever dreamed up Paradise Pier (that’s actually insulting even to hidden mickey lovers). But most Imagineers probably don’t come home from work, trim their mustache, change into vintage Smoke Tree Ranch pajamas, and dine on chili and beans (I’m not the only one that does this, right?)

I don’t really fault them for this. In the end, it’s not how much Disney history you know. It’s whether you can built a great Disney attraction. Yet it still bothers me when they miss an obvious reference to Disney lore and culture. Take this, for instance.

Humphrey the Bear

One of the posters outside the gift shop.

Now the funny thing is, in many circles, this is actually considered a successful example of Imagineering geekiness. Humphrey is practically unknown to the vast majority of the people visiting Storybook Circus. I’d wager that 99% of the people there think this is just a random bit of artwork made up specifically for the circus poster, and that Humphrey has no history outside of this one-time use. Of course, Disney geeks know Humphrey starred in a few National Park inspired shorts several decades ago, and he has actually been making a bit of a theme park comeback (Humphrey merchandise was on sale in Frontierland not too long ago).

Lambert the Sheepish Lion

Hard to call someone who thinks he’s a sheep a “Man Eater”

Humphrey isn’t the only obscure character referenced in Storybook Circus posters. Lambert the Sheepish Lion, from a 1952 short film, gets his own poster, as does Salty the Seal, who originally starred in Mickey’s Circus all the way back in the 30’s. There’s even some character referred to as “Goofy” whose origins remain unknown.

But Humphrey bothers me. Not because I dislike Humphrey (I love Humphrey! Humphrey’s the best!), but because they have a whole 30 minute featurette sitting in their library, whose entire plot revolves around a circus bear. Bongo the Circus Bear is not just a major theatrical effort for the company. It’s also SEO friendly.

Bongo the Circus Bear

His whole shtick is that he’s good on a Unicycle! It’s like Humphrey is pulling some Single White Female switch on him!

You’ve heard of Mickey and the Beanstalk, of course. The Sir Mickey’s shop in Fantasyland already references this film. What you may not know is that it was only one half of a feature length movie from 1947 entitled Fun and Fancy Free. It was released during Disney’s anthology period, when money was scarce because of some war or something. It had two segments, stitched together with some Jiminy Cricket transitions. The Beanstalk made it into the parks. Jiminy made it into the parks. But Bongo has disappeared completely.

It’s strange to me that Imagineering built an entire Circusland in the parks, and had an obvious need for some kind of circus animal to not only add some background, but to also be the main face of their candy apple counter inside Big Top Souvenirs (Humphrey appears on the signage there too). They wanted a bear, and instead of tapping the only circus bear in all of Disney theatrical history, they opted for the comic foil of a stuffy park ranger.

John Muir

The Chuck Norris of Park Rangers.

Bongo, I feel like Imagineering owes you an apology. Either nobody over there has ever bothered to watch all 51 canonical Disney animated features (I’m not the only one that has done this, right?), or they’re all a bunch of Humphrey groupies.

I suppose I will just have to forgive this oversight, and accept that Bongo is never going to be the kind of breakout star we all hoped for, even though they did see fit to give him a Vinylmation. It’s like Bill and Ted, or Bosom Buddies. One guy goes on to get all the glory, the other guy is stuck waiting for the reunion show. And anyway, at least Humphrey is still a genuine obscure Disney reference, so it’s not a total failure.

Unlike that Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. Disney, have you fixed this blatant Dalmation error yet???