Forget Star Wars Land. Give Me Guardians of the Galaxy.

Okay, not really. Give me both. We are only a few weeks away from the opening of the next Marvel Studios movie–a strange, weird, wonderful departure that has me remembering the giddy days of anticipating the next Star Wars or Lord of the Rings episode. Guardians sounds like a bizarre left hand turn from the tried and true super hero model that Marvel has perfected over the last decade. But already I’ve fallen in love with it.

Disney has been doing an interesting thing this summer. They’ve repurposed the Sounds Dangerous theater for 3-D previews of their summer tentpoles. First Maleficent, now Guardians of the Galaxy. On the one hand, this is a cheap, easy way to add an attraction, which looks even cheaper compared to what Universal is doing down the road. But on the other hand, each of the previews has been a generous length (10-15) minutes, the 3-D is sharp and clear, the theater is air conditioned, and there’s never a wait. At 10 minutes, Maleficent doesn’t look too bad. At 10 minutes, Guardians of the Galaxy looks like the best film of the year.

Obviously I’m speaking a little bit in hyperbole. The crazy fanboy side of me wants this to be amazing, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. As utterly ridiculous as this is, I could actually see myself going back and watching the 10 minute preview at the Studios multiple times. Let’s face it, I’ve got Muppet Vision memorized. I need new stuff. The movie is just so darn fun. It’s hard to find sci-fi that tries to be this funny, without veering into total camp. What was the last film to successfully do it? Firefly, maybe?

I do wonder if mainstream audiences will turn up. I’m fully aware that a talking tree and a homicidal raccoon seem like a weird pitch. But I hope people give it a shot I think it could really turn out to be something special. And then we’ll get that massive Guardians of the Galaxy dark ride that I’ve always wanted — at least for the last 6 months.

Starring Drew Carey

Starring Drew Carey

 

Bold New Worlds – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Yesterday I posted about how strange it is for frequent guests to suddenly have new experiences to enjoy. The Seven Dwarfs mountain has been isolated in the middle of New Fantasyland for what feels like a decade. We all remember when it was just a wee bump of steel in the middle of a dirt pit. And now suddenly here it is with a date to the prom and a tennis scholarship to State U.

Like the rest of New Fantasyland (except Storybook Circus), it is exceedingly pretty. And while I found the coaster to be rather disjointed, the ride is not without its moments.

The dark ride section is pretty great. It has one of those quintessential Disney moments, when Doc starts to call Heigh-Ho and the train creeps ever-so-off-kilter up the lift hill, with the music swelling, and Dwarf shadows marching beside you. That’s the kind of thing that Disney does best. It can give you goosebumps when done properly, and this moment is a bonafide goosebump moment. What Disney Magic used to mean, before the term became so watered down.

The ride is not meant to be a major E-ticket attraction, and in fact it is a little jarring to go from nicely themed kiddie-coaster to amazing dark ride to nicely themed kiddie coaster again. The lines should settle down after the initial newness wears off. In spite of some initial trepidation about the project (back when it was mostly Dumbo and princess greets), I’m a fan of New Fantasyland. I think both Seven Dwarfs and Little Mermaid are worthy additions to the Magic Kingdom. The restaurant is a much needed improvement, and though I don’t care for Story Hour with Princesses, the cottage is at least pretty and well rendered. Storybook Circus is not cream of the crop, but at least it’s an upgrade over Toontown. On the whole, this new area significantly improves the ambience of the Magic Kingdom — especially compared to the medieval tournament tents of original Fantasyland. I’m anxious to see where the Magic Kingdom goes from here.

I had the benefit of exploring these Bold New Worlds almost back to back. As strange as it sounds, I probably enjoyed the initial Harambe Theater District experience more. Harambe offered not just a surprising new set of buildings and landscaping to explore, but it gave me a different view of the old stuff — the view back towards Africa, the return of the geyser rocks, that white access bridge beyond which lies Pandora. But this new, fresh glimpse of Disney World from a different angle will soon fade, and I suspect the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will have the staying power.

As a parkeologist, I was delighted to discover something in the Mine Train queue which I’m sure went unnoticed by practically everyone else standing in the Florida heat with me. Back in the 90s, I bought a collectible CD of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Soundtrack. It contained two songs on it–scratch tracks of deleted songs from the movie. While listening to the instrumental background music in the queue, I was startled to hear renditions of both “Music in Your Soup” and “You’re Never Too Old To Be Young” mixed in with “I’m Wishing” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” It shows a welcome attention to the history of the landmark film that inspired the ride.

The Cottage of the Seven Dwarfs

 

 

 

Bold New Worlds – Harambe Theater District

In 1998, I flew down for a long week at Walt Disney World. My third such long week trip in as many years. Only this time was different. This time, there was a whole new theme park waiting for me.

People say Animal Kingdom is a half day park. That trip, I spent half the week there. That sounds nuts to the average tourist, but I got lost in the details. We spent days just diving into everything. I rode Countdown to Extinction seven times on that trip. I can’t remember how many Safaris. For a Disney fan accustomed to soaking in the atmosphere, it was exhilarating to have that much new territory to explore. It didn’t matter that there were only three rides.

When Everest was being built, I haunted the construction site, celebrating each new bathroom as it opened, each cleared path, each planted rice field. It was an ancient kingdom being unveiled before my eyes. It’s a different sensation than when they simply refurbish an existing area. It’s a movement into the frontier, into virgin Walt Disney World territory, never before developed. When you practically live in the parks, it’s hard to describe how strange it feels to suddenly have a new place to go.

The Harambe Theater District (aka the new home of the Festival of the Lion King) opened a few weeks ago. I was there the day after the walls came down, and I am happy to say, it is a perfect, seamless addition to the original Harambe village. It feels like a part of Opening Day 1998–as rustic and timeworn and meticulously detailed a section as you will find.

Harambe Theater District

Favorite details include:

  • An operating license for the theater, issued by the fictional Harambe government and displayed on the wall near the Stand By queue for Lion King.
  • In the new gift shop, there’s an old tape deck on a top shelf, loaded with a cassette of the Lion King.
Were they even still making tapes in 1994?

Were they even still making tapes in 1994?

  • On the balcony overlooking a theater sits a large boombox, whose owner must have wandered away. And if you stop and listen, you realize that’s where the area music is coming from.
Apparently Harambe is able to get more radio stations than the Safari trucks

Apparently Harambe is able to get more radio stations than the Safari trucks

  • Then there’s this view of the old geyser field, not visible since the Discovery Riverboats made their final journey around Safari Village more than a decade ago. You can see the geysers here at about the 6:30 mark.
No longer spouting fire

No longer spouting geysers

  • And finally there’s this path, still off limits to the public, wrapping around behind the exquisitely themed restrooms.
Like the tunnel to Toontown, a world of blue cartoon figures awaits just beyond.

Like the tunnel to Toontown, a world of blue cartoon figures awaits just beyond.

You know where this path goes. To the next bold new world. Pandora in 2017.