The Complete Canonical List of the Best Animated Film Tie-Ins Ever – Part 3

Well now. That was an adventure, wasn’t it?

Things couldn’t be better than they are, here in the fabulous 2010s.

Parkeology hit the global media market in a big way. Our faces were on seemingly every TV channel in the country. A guy named John Cameron Swayze gave us all the news. A lot of singing and fluff, but it’s fun.

Major newspapers from London to New York carried articles on us, and the Parkeology exploits traveled from New York to Los Angeles in less than seven days.

And I even hear tell of some brothers from North Carolina who are working on some kind of WDW48-ride-vehicle-contraption. Heh heh. It’ll never work.

Yes, we’ve got all the latest inventions. Twitter accounts, Youtube videos, Facebook pages. And some kind of innate ability for news media to use the worst screen grabs of our faces ever. They are also mildly obsessed with calling us “middle-aged.” That may be true of Ted, but this parkeologist is still just a youngster, don’t you know.

And now I’m mixing up animatronic stage show quotes.

Anyway, thanks to all the new riders who found/followed/subscribed to us on that whirlwind journey that was WDW46, and a warm welcome back to those of you who made it. And a friendly word of warning, one you won’t find in any guidebook:

What we do 99% of the time on parkeology has nothing to do with outrageously stupid theme park quests, and mostly has to do with obsessing over the obscure, incredible, intricate details of the parks. In fact, we were in the middle of a series of articles on the greatest theme park tie-ins to the official canonical list of Disney animated features. We may have been detoured (“Brakes? Brakes! Where are the brakes?”) but it’s time to dive back in. Journey with us now, to the dawn of recorded time. Or at least to the dark ages of animated films.

We welcome you, to the 1980s. We welcome you… to SeaBase Alpha.

#29 – The Rescuers Down Under

Oh good grief. What a way to start. This somewhat forgotten sequel (actually from 1990) to the somewhat forgotten original Rescuers film never really had a chance to blossom in the parks. The pickings are slim, my friends.

Bernard and Bianca appeared as walk-around characters (and still very rarely do, though mostly in Tokyo). But they are usually more evocative of the 1970s original film then of this sequel.

The film is not terrible, and some of the animation montages will include it. Marahute the golden eagle will often get a brief clip during any “You Can Fly” number from the various animation attractions.

However, the best park tie-in to emerge from the Rescuers Down Under is actually at Epcot in Future World.

Sound strange? It is, but that glorious Future World fountain has an entire sequence choreographed to the Rescuers Down Under opening credits music.

That sounds noble. It does. But also, we must remember that the Future World fountain also has an entire sequence choreographed to music from the 1994 dogsledding movie Iron Will. So do with that what you will.

So when do we get some water dancing set to the stirring music of the Journey of Natty Gann?

So when do we get some water dancing set to the stirring music of the Journey of Natty Gann?

Photo by Express Monorail

#28 – The Little Mermaid

The one that started the renaissance. The second golden age really began with the Little Mermaid, which caught audiences by storm in 1989 and ushered in a new dawn of Disney cartoon musicals.

And yet somehow it took them more than decade to build a ride after it.

Little Mermaid got the standard 90s treatment: Stage shows and parade performances. At Walt Disney World, she also managed to carve out part of the defunct sub lagoon for a greeting area called Ariel’s Grotto. Scuttles the seagull also became the proprietor of a snack stand next to Dumbo.

Voyage of the Little Mermaid opened at Disney MGM Studios, a decent black-light puppet and live actor stage show, and of course the music turned up everywhere, from Spectromagic to Fantasmic.

It was not until the opening of Tokyo DisneySea in 2001 when Little Mermaid finally got serious theme park attention. The film is the basis for the entire themed land of Mermaid Lagoon, housed almost entirely indoors. Unfortunately, the attractions in Mermaid Lagoon are of the off-the-shelf type. There’s Flounder’s Flying Fish coaster (kiddie coaster), a Jumpin’ Jellyfish parachute drop, some sort of seashell version of the teacups.

It also had a rather artistic live show, with Ariel on arials — wires that would make the live performer seem to float through the ocean.

Then a decade later, Disney’s California Adventure added the first full-length dark ride based on the movie. It was billed as a major E-ticket, and ended up being a solid D-ticket. Disney World cloned it into New Fantasyland, and added a breathtaking show building on top of it, and that, my friends, is probably the best park tie-in.

Prince Eric’s castle and the surrounding rockwork and grottos are some of the Magic Kingdom’s most beautiful sights, and the ride is easily on par with the classic Fantasyland dark rides (and usually longer).

After losing the 20K Lagoon, it's amazing that we finally get to see something this beautiful again.

After losing the 20K Lagoon, it’s amazing that we finally get to see something this beautiful again.

Photo by Scott Smith

#27 – Oliver and Company

The one that did NOT start the renaissance. I recently re-watched this “classic” and I can safely say that it’s hard to see them making the jump from this to Little Mermaid. Oliver is cringe-inducing and pandering.

It’s easy to see why it never really found a home in the parks. The characters are all dogs and cats, so walk-arounds are difficult. The film got a few token clips in various montages (Dodger in particular shows up in one of the bubbles during the Florida version of Fantasmic).

If I’m going to be forced to pick something, I’m going to go off the reservation and choose a segment from the Grand Opening of the Disney MGM Studios. I had this special on grainy VHS and watched it over and over and over (John Ritter is hilarious). One of the selling points of the new park was that the New Mickey Mouse Club was filmed there, and the Mouseketeers are featured in the Grand Opening at the 17:35 mark, performing “Why Should I Worry?” from Oliver and Company. I’m not sure if Christina, Justin, and Brittany are in this cast, but they might be. It won’t make the number any better.

#26 – The Great Mouse Detective

Uh-oh. I’m, uh, not sure what to do with this one. I actually like the movie much better than Oliver and Company, but this is apparently during Disney’s “classic English literature character done with animals” phase, and references to the Great Mouse Detective are few and far between in the parks.

You would think that Ratigan, one of the most bombastic villains, would have made a great walk around character, and I think maybe he was around briefly (but only very, very briefly).

Okay, I wasn’t going to use this one unless I absolutely have to, because it’s basically just an image of the characters. But as images go, it’s a legendary one.

I’m referring to the Bill Justice character mural that once graced the wall outside the Walt Disney Story at the Magic Kingdom. This one was truly amazing, with lots of obscure characters. This mural for the longest time was actually one of the greatest relics of the modern parkeology era. The Walt Disney Story closed decades ago, but the mural remained, hidden deep inside the old theater, and was often considered a backstage area. Stumbling across it as I did after so many years of forgetting all about it was one of the happier days of my early parkeological career (this was before the blog existed).

Sadly, the mural is no more. But it is of significance to the Great Mouse Detective, because characters from that movie were the last to be added to the mural. None of the other recent characters from Little Mermaid and beyond were ever included.

#25 – The Black Cauldron

I am not going to lie. The Black Cauldron is, to me, the single worst animated film Disney has ever produced. It is an incoherent mess of a story, almost completely without any redeeming factor. I can count on one hand the number of readers who can name 3 characters from it. I’ll even spot you Gurgi and the Horned King.

Personal anecdote: The Black Cauldron was released in 1985. It is to my great shame that my stupid, Disney-can-do-no-wrong self proclaimed it better than the other big movie that came out around the same time, which starred Michael J. Fox and a time-travelling DeLorean. Rating the Black Cauldron higher than that masterpiece is one of my life’s biggest regrets.

Having said that, Black Cauldron actually managed to snag itself a snack stand at Magic Kingdom. Gurgi’s Munchies and Crunchies is still around — well, the venue is, though it has changed names about a hundred times since then. Now it’s called The Friar’s Nook. It’s in Fantasyland. It’s forgettable.

But as is sometimes the case with fate’s weird sense of humor, the worst film on the entire list also gets one of the most delightfully obscure major attraction tie-ins (at least to American audiences).

The Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour at Tokyo Disneyland was an odd walk-through thing that ran from the mid-80s to 2006. It has one of those “Villains Hijack the Proceedings” plots, and culminates in an encounter with the Horned King and the Black Cauldron. Seriously, somebody in Tokyo thought the Black Cauldron deserved a rather elaborate finale in a mid-level attraction.

If I could go back in time and experience any lost Disney attraction on the planet...

If I could go back in time and experience any lost Disney attraction on the planet…

Say what you want about my middle-aged co-parkeologist Ted, but he will always be the only friend I personally know who has been chosen to wield the Sword of Light against the Horned King, and received the awesome medal reward from the cast members. I’m not joking, it’s like a big production or something.

He claims it’s because the Japanese always pick goofy white guys as the “volunteer.” Clearly they have seen our WDW46 screengrabs.

#24 – The Fox and the Hound

Another awful movie from the 80s, which is even more pandering than Oliver and Company, if that is possible.

The main characters are a fox and a hound. Go figure. No character greeting areas then.

I’m going to choose the ultimate cop-out and go with an Emporium window display at Disneyland. The less said about this movie, the better.

Off-Model and shrouded in darkness... sounds about right.

Off-Model and shrouded in darkness… sounds about right.

Photo by Castles, Capes, and Clones

#23 – The Rescuers

Suddenly we’re in the groovy 70s! The year is 1977. Star Wars is still in theaters. Bell bottoms are all the rage. And this pandering (imagine that) story about 2 mice rescuing an orphan explodes onto the world theme park stage.

Okay, no it doesn’t. The Rescuers got the aforementioned walkaround of Bernard and Bianca, and even had Orville the Albatross and Evinrude the dragonfly, as seen in this beautifully vintage picture.

#22 – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Finally. After a lot of dreck, we’ve arrived back at a good movie. This movie was a sort of anthology, combining a few different Winnie the Pooh featurettes as one movie, but it strikes the perfect note and is one of the truly enduring Disney classic movies.

Pooh is one of those few Disney characters that has universal recognition and appeal. Much like Mickey and the gang, he is a pervasive character in the parks, and practically owns the merchandise shelves (though he has given some ground to princesses in recent years).

Pooh’s walk-around character has undergone a few changes over the years (the oddest example was when he had a honey pot on his head). And of course his supporting cast (Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, etc.) are just as popular.

Winnie the Pooh even ran for President in 1972 and 1976. This included daily campaign parades at Disneyland a stage show of sorts. It’s unclear why Disney thought Pooh made the best candidate from their repertoire of characters, but if anyone could be considered incorruptible, it is Pooh Bear.

But in terms of major attractions, it took a long time before Winnie the Pooh finally came into his own. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of beloved Mr. Toad. In the late 90s, Pooh evicted J. Thaddeus Toad for his own ride at the Magic Kingdom, named with the exact same title as his movie. Though Toad proponents rightfully mourn the loss of the Wild Ride, it should be noted that the Pooh ride is very well done, and deserves its place in Fantasyland — especially with its more intricate queue that was added only a few years ago.

Pooh then made his way to Disneyland, where he again managed to stick his foot in the proverbial honey pot by evicting another classic attraction in the Country Bear Jamboree. The Disneyland ride is very similar to Florida’s version, perhaps a tad worse.

But the piece de resistance came when Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was added to Tokyo Disneyland. Here is an absolutely breathtaking E-ticket level ride for families that is a marvel of technological engineering and oozing with charm.

It is clearly the best version of a Pooh ride anywhere, and among the best attractions in the entire world.

#21 – Robin Hood

Here we go again, English lit characters as animals. At least this time, they are anthropomorphic animals, which is actually a pretty unique way to tackle the Robin Hood story.

Though time has illuminated me of its flaws, Robin Hood was for the longest time my favorite animated film, and the fox himself remains my favorite Disney character.

Unfortunately, Robin Hood has never really had much of a presence in the parks, except as a walk-around character. It is to the filmmakers’ credit, however, that the characters are so magnificently rendered. Robin Hood, the Sherriff of Nottingham, and to a lesser extent Friar Tuck and Prince John still frequently make appearances in the parks.

They never got an attraction or even so much as a popsicle stand, but the characters are still there.

The debonair Robin Hood, looking decidedly more double-chinned than I remember.

The debonair Robin Hood, looking decidedly more double-chinned than I remember.

Photo by Jeff Christiansen

#20 – The Aristocats

The last film in today’s segment. As the saying goes, in with a whimper, out with a …whimper. Aristocats is not a terrible film, but it is somewhat weak. There were a few different gift shops called The AristoCats at various Magic Kingdom-style parks at one time or another, but the move never had a major presence.

Until recently.

Somehow modern audiences have rediscovered the character of Marie, the feisty little white kitten who is basically a bit player in the movie. All of the kittens in the film are cute, but Marie has come out of nowhere and now her merchandise is everywhere. I blame the Japanese. You just know this started with them.

A lot of the Aristocats (including all three kittens and some of the weird cats from the Scat Cat band) have appeared at some point as walkaround characters, but Marie is the only one who appears regularly today.

She is often found on Town Square at the Magic Kingdom, and has been seen in France at Epcot as well, and at other parks worldwide.

Cross-eyed French kitten of the 70s!

Cross-eyed French kitten of the 70s!

Photo by Castles, Capes, and Clones

Summary

The 70s and 80s were not exactly Disney’s best time period for animation, though there are a few gems in there (Winnie the Pooh and Little Mermaid). Most of the stories are forgettable at best, and nearly unwatchable at worst. It’s no wonder most of these never panned out with major park tie-ins.

But some great films in the 50s and 60s are just around the corner…

 

Mustard application is now easier than ever at Tokyo Disney Sea!

What does a Rolls Royce Phantom and a Jules Verne inspired ride vehicle in Tokyo have in common? Read on.

At Parkeolgy we are always on the lookout for the little details that Disney pours into the parks and attractions. These generally come in the form of unexpected effects or nods to the past.

One could spend days going over the hidden references the Imagineers tend to hide. These details are often lost on the average guest but those who do pick up on them really appreciate the depth of the experience on offer.

During my recent visit to Tokyo DisneySea I found a new detail but unlike the typical story enhancing efforts this one is purely functional. In fact I have never seen anything quite like this at Disney or any other park I have been to. Moreover it is new… it did not exist on my previous visits.

World_Bazaar

Maybe a little bit of overkill?

As you probably know due to the often-rainy conditions in Tokyo all of Main Street USA (in Tokyo Disneyland) is enclosed and re-named the World Bazaar. One would think that if they went to this level to keep guests dry that many other attractions would offer some sort of rain protection or accommodations and yet by and large there are no other concessions to rainy weather in either of the two Tokyo parks. It’s Tokyo folks not a Columbian rain forest, maybe building a giant glass canopy was a little bit of an over reaction to begin with.

18s3kkxu1loctjpg

The rich have many “unique” problems to deal with.

Nevertheless people don’t like being wet and perhaps especially not the Japanese who often wear nice clothes to visit theme parks (or just generally to live life… I don’t think they know what shorts are over there). That means many guests carry umbrellas with them if there is even a small chance of rain (or direct sun for the matter) and this is where the connection to the elite car collector comes in. Rolls Royce owners need their hands free to handle various tasks such as applying Grey Poupon mustard to gold plated caviar or casually blowing their noses with hundred dollar bills. They certainly do not have time to be fumbling with umbrellas; therefore the Phantom has a convenient compartment to slide an umbrella into upon entering the car (or perhaps more accurately a place for the butler to slide the umbrella).

Rolls

When you think of it why don’t all cars have this? Do you have to be wealthy to not want to be wet?

Well just like the Rolls the ride vehicles for Journey to the Center of the Earth now come equipped with built in umbrella holders!

Umbrella-Holder-Journey-to-the-Center-of-the-Earth

It just drops right in there and stays put for the ride.

I’m not sure exactly when this happened but I do not believe they were in place in 2012 (my last visit) and I know they were not there much before that (I have photos of the ride vehicles sans holders before that).

Journey_Vehicle

Previously the holders were not there.

It’s actually a great idea and one that they should incorporate on more rides (maybe they are?). Rather than trying to hold what could in essence become a spear during a high-speed ride guests now just drop the umbrella into the exterior slot and it goes along for the ride, then they swoop it up upon exiting.

Umbrella-Holder-2-Journey-to-the-Center-of-the-Earth

Could also be used for canes, large loaves of French bread or pet snakes.

I love finding little unique things like this but I also love knowing that it was recently added; that Disney is continuing to find small ways to improve the guest experience. This is one of those things that is likely “only in Japan” as their set of values and needs is quite unique. However I’d love to see it come to rides in the U.S. as well… just imagine the spike in-park high-end mustard sales would have!

Journey_vehicle_2

They were installed right here…

Teevtee’s Top Ten

It always has struck me that the phrase “paying homage” is a bit disingenuous.

It may sound very nice and may imply that the person “paying homage” to someone or something is in fact crediting the source and showing respect, however in truth it’s just a fancy French way of saying “stealing”.

For example Disney’s Catastrophe Canyon is “paying homage” to Universal’s Earthquake attraction.  It does this fine homage by ripping off every element, every effect and every plot point and then claiming it as its own. No two ways around it its just plain theft but it sounds a lot nicer this way.

CC

Paying homage since 1989

Well today I will be paying homage to fellow blogger Tom Bricker who earlier this month posted a list of his “Top 10 Disney Experiences (So Far)”.

Tom and I have a few things in common: Tom is an avid amateur photographer and he spends a ton of time on his various park shots (I presume he is the guy you seeing lugging a tripod all over the parks as you rush by to get on the next ride).  I happen to be a professional photographer working in a very different field (commercial advertising).

Tom has a love of the parks and of course so does Parkeology. Tom has traveled to see the overseas parks, as have I on several occasions (including right now).  So I think we would get along just fine.  None of this changes the fact that I am now stealing  paying homage to his idea but it makes me feel a little less bad about it.

Actually we love Top Ten lists around here and I know Shane is working on one about the Top Ten facial hairstyles of Audio Animatronic figures (I bet Famed Naturalist John Muir wins… but don’t tell him I told you). The idea of this list is also extremely personal… as personal as could be in fact.  It is MY top ten… not yours… though we would love to hear about your favorite park moments as well.

John Muir

Look at that famed beard

So here we go… From the Parkeology home offices my top ten most meaningful or memorable park memories in sort of kind of no particular order (though it is a top ten so I have to number them anyway):

10) New park anticipation

AK

Disneyland was opened long before I was born, and Walt Disney World opened when I was a kid… too young to understand. The opening of EPCOT was special and the opening of Disney-MGM Studios was great fun but perhaps a let down as I was in college at that time, past the perfect age window for such an event.  But when Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 things were different.  The Internet allowed me to follow it with great anticipation every step of the way. I was newly married at this point and visiting the parks had become something my wife and I both relished, here was the opportunity to see it happen from scratch.  I read all about it and looked forward to it and I will always remember the morning that we visited during its grand opening. Arriving at the gate before sunrise and seeing the sunrays pierce through the sky illuminating the dew filled leaves all around us. Hearing the exotic instrumental music waft through the pre-dawn air, I still remember the smell as well, kind of a citrus thing. We had such incredible anticipation and even though the park (which even today is often considered a half day affair) was not fully built out we spent DAYS there. For us the park was the experience… the levels of detail, the textures, the lack of signs (now they are everywhere) and feeling of true exploration… they nailed it.  And then we ran into Joe Rohde, the man chiefly responsible for designing the park.  All together it has created tactile memories that I hope never to forget.

9) Attempted Proposal

I’ve been married for a while now, since 1997.  I had gone on several really great trips to Disney with my now wife and so in the mid 90’s it seemed like a natural to propose to her at Disney.  I’ve never been a particularly lovey dovey kind of guy.  I tend to find most non-park related Disney things to be too saccharine sweet for my taste and certainly a faux romantic castle proposal was not going to happen.  However Disney meant a lot to us and I wanted to incorporate it in a unique and special way.  The Disney Yacht Club hotel allowed you to rent an old-fashioned wooden Chris-Craft speedboat to drive around Crescent Lake and the waterways around the resorts and Epcot.  Moreover you could do this at night during the Illuminations fireworks and laser show.  Well this sounded great to me!  What could be more special than romantically cruising the calm waters of Epcot as the resort lights shimmered off the tranquil planes of Crescent Lake?  As classical music drifted through the still night air I would find the perfect moment to slow the boat to a wake-less crawl and propose as the fireworks erupted in the background… it was going to be PERFECT.

breathlessII

Hold on…. tight

This goes to prove that not every memorable moment has to be a good one.  The reality of what happened was not quite what I had imagined it to be.  First of all I would not be driving the boat, rather, we were informed, we would be passengers in the back seat as a Disney “captain” piloted the craft. Perhaps not the worst thing in the world… surely he would be a well trained and discreet. Then a young “dude” showed up looking like a reject from the X-Games.  His idea of a romantic cruise was a full-tilt high-speed “extreme” tour of the lake making sure that he hit every wake possible in an effort to catch some air.  Speaking of air it was unseasonably cold and the constant spray of ice-cold water pelting us did not exactly create a romantic mood.  As our daredevil captain swerved and swayed we were tossed like rag-dolls.  Frigid, soaked and seasick we were thankful that he slowed down and headed close to Epcot for the start of the show.

This was going to be my time… I may not have had the leisurely paced prelude that I was expecting but now it was going to all fall into place. Our captain brought us under the bridge to the very edges of the lagoon; these were prime seats for the spectacle soon to unfold.  I fumbled in my pocket to make sure I had the ring ready to go, I waited for the music to start and the romance to begin… and then:  BAM!  BOOM! WHOOSH! A deafening cacophony of fire erupted all around us. We were not near the fireworks we were IN the fireworks.  Bombs exploded, the sky turned red and areal reports thumped our chests as heavy smoke soon engulfed the entire area.  We were in the middle of what seemed like a war zone.  I could not hear anything other than ringing in my ears.  Our eyes watered as the smoke overtook us.  Soon we could not see our hands in front of our faces. We were dizzy and dazed while the captain high tailed it back to the resort dock.

breathless

It’s called Breathless for a reason… smoke tends to make you that way

Weeks later I proposed back at home on the couch.  Not what I dreamed of but looking back I would have it no other way.  It was something that could only happen at Disney.

8) Dad time

In the early to mid 80’s… shortly after Epcot opened my father had a series of work related meetings in Orlando… which gave me the opportunity to tag along and spend the days alone as an adolescent in the parks.  We would meet up later in the evening and this led to several of my fondest Disney memories.

BVP

Buena Vista Palace: Home of giant lobsters and phones of the future

There was the time I made him ride Space Mountain over and over until he was gripping his glasses so tightly the lenses popped out mid-ride.  We got off the coaster and he put on his frames sans lenses.  Funny and all, but he had to wear prescription sunglasses indoors and out for the rest of the trip. As an aside Disney found both lenses and mailed them back to us on different days… amazing.

There was the time we tried on Star Wars masks at the then sleepy Disney Village and seeing my Dad in some crazy alien mask was somehow just cool. But I think the one I recall the most is a visit to the Outback Restaurant at the Buena Vista Palace Hotel within the Disney hotel plaza.  These hotels are still there but not advertised nearly as much as they once were.  These were official hotels in as much as they could use Disney transportation but were all owned by lower cost alternatives to the Disney resorts.

Outback

Matches at restaurants, remember that! If not click here

The Outback was not the chain we are familiar with today but rather a more upscale steak and seafood house.  My dad ordered a MASSIVE lobster for himself, like 4 pounds of crustacean that he could not finish and then had to cram into the small refrigerator in the room.  Something about this has always stuck with me.  Later that night we called my mom using a “futuristic” speakerphone telephone booth they had in the lobby.  Some other time on one of these trips we ended up sitting side by side at a booth designed for couples at the top of the hotel in a fancy romantic restaurant.  I was 14 or 15 and only had sneakers and felt way underdressed.  Between sitting next to my Dad and the athletic footwear I was a fish out of water but those situations often lead to the most vivid memories. It was really about spending time with my Dad I guess, little moments and odd things can end up meaning a lot.

7) Secret Club

Club 33

Still the coolest door in all of Disney

I had first read about Club 33 at Disneyland when I was in college.  Back then it really was a very secret private club at Disneyland that not too many people had ever heard of, even die-hard fans.  This was prior to the instant communications of the Internet and for a guy much more familiar with Walt Disney World the concept of this club was incredibly intriguing.  I dreamt of going but it costs tens of thousands of dollars to join and had a ten-year waiting list.  You needed to be a guest of a member to get in.  I would walk past the ornate “33” sign on my visits to Disneyland and feel great jealousy of those privileged few who got to walk through the discreet doors. To cut to the chase just last year I finally had a chance to visit.  The food was typical average country club fair and way overpriced. The room was somewhat cramped and dated and the overly formal service was out of step with the casual setting of a theme park… and I loved it.  I loved everything about it. I loved that it was dated, I loved that the microphones originally installed in lights to interact with guests were still there, I loved that though Walt Disney never lived to see it’s completion I could see a 60’s era Walt hanging out up here with a Scotch on the rocks in hand looking out and surveying what he had created. It was exactly as it should be.  With news that it is all changing with a dramatic remodel and expansion I am forever grateful to have had the chance to see the original version and to walk through that door for myself.

6) Passing it on

WDW40

Come on, is that not the cutest? And the little girl is OK too.

Unlike Shane, I do not live a smoked turkey leg’s throw from the parks.  They are still trips for us.  We adopted our daughter when she was 9 months old but by the time we visited WDW with her for the first time she was a walking and talking, exploring and adventurous two year old.  She ran around the parks with reckless abandon and was totally fearless.  It was wonderful sharing experiences with her that were old hat to us (not the Tea Cups AGAIN) but brand new sensations to her. However the moment that I will always remember was a simple photo-op.  We were in the China pavilion at Epcot and I lifted her up to pose for a snapshot.  She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me tight smashing my cheek up against hers… it was totally unexpected and that photo and memory of pure love will always be meaningful to me.

5) WDW47

Shane and I have been friends for close to 20 years.  It is just amazing how time flies.  As we extensively documented last year we had never met face to face until there was finally an event of such magnitude that it forced us together.  WDW47 was an exciting, impossible adventure that has now inspired others to attempt it and I am sure eventually surpass it.  But we were the first.  We took on a challenge that was just so nuts that we had to try it, and we came SO CLOSE. (If you don’t know about WDW47 watch this)

WDW47

Come on, is that not the cutest? And the guy in the white hat is OK too.

This was the first time I had ever spent so much time in the parks with someone who knew as much about them as I do (well ALMOST as much).  It was an incredible time spent with a great friend.  After the fact, Shane told me that this day was perhaps his greatest day ever in the parks.  I know that he was just wrapped up in the moment but nonetheless the fact that he felt that way and enjoyed his time with me as much as I did with him meant the world to me. For a weekend, WDW47 was the most popular story on the Orlando Sentinel web site and we even became huge celebrities in Norway from it… but that’s a different story.

4) The greatest park ever

By the time 2001 came around I had been to all the parks in the U.S. many, many…MANY times and my wife and I had also checked out Disneyland Paris a couple of times. But Tokyo was lurking out there; it seemed so far away, so exotic so… well, so Japanese.

TDS

Looking at this stuff just never gets old. This was basically the view from our room.

I had always wanted to visit but in terms of Disney Tokyo Disneyland seemed too close to the Magic Kingdom to make the effort worth it (a poor assumption BTW).  But then Tokyo Disney Sea opened and it was going to be unique and new and unbelievable.  For years leading up to that time the embryonic stages of the Internet buzzed with anticipation and speculation as to what this wonder would really be like. The old AOL message boards (where I first met Shane) would debate every minutia of every concept art piece or press release that came out.  It was too much to resist… I could not stand knowing that this place existed on this planet and not see it with my own two eyes… and so our trip was planed for early spring of 2002… and then September 11th happened… and people were scared.  (We actually flew to Disneyland in September 2001 very shortly after the attacks and the paranoia and fear were real and palpable).  But we pushed on and in April took off for what has become one of my all time best Disney memories.

Mira Costa Pool

Wet-N-Wild Tokyo… oh wait, no, it’s the Mira Costa pool.

We went for it big time and stayed at the Hotel Mira-Costa… a room dead center looking out over the lagoon and directly into Mount Prometheus; the volcanic icon of the park.  We arrived late in the evening and so I had to stare out of that window and see the park and smoldering volcano bathed in a purple glow without actually being able to enter it for a full night (talk about a way to build anticipation).  When the dawn came my wife and I lined up at the special hotel park entrance and the excitement was electric… this was not the first time in the park just for us but also for the vast majority of the Japanese locals around us.  It was a communal kind of buzz that is hard to explain.

It’s amazing how the last 13 years or so has changed the demographic of the average visitor. At the time we were quite literally the only non-Japanese we saw the entire trip.  Now it is not uncommon at all to see Americans, Europeans and visitors from other Asian countries as well as Australia all over the park.  You cannot chuck a rock without hitting an American plodding around the place, but at the time we felt very special and unique.  And of course the park did not let us down, perhaps it even exceeded our expectations, as did Tokyo Disneyland, which was amazingly clean and well run.  I realized that visiting Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea is really like going back in time.  It is revisiting the way Disney ran its parks in the Walt and post Walt pre-Eisner eras.  Everything was perfect, everything worked, and everything was the way you wanted it to be.  I have been back multiple times since and in fact, depending on when you read this, I may be there right now… it’s great each and every time… but the first time will always be something special. As an aside we really fell in love with all of Japan and its people and have similar non-Disney related memories of our visits there in general. Having the opportunity to bring our daughter there has been a special memory in and of itself.

3) Dodging the Grand Prix bullet and saying hello to Mike

I was 18 and working at Walt Disney World on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  That was awesome enough but a specific series of events led to this memory:

Grand Prix

Not only is it hellish to work at but it was also partially responsible for the collapse of WDW47… some day Grand Prix… revenge will be mine.

First of all I dodged a major bullet when I was hired. After general training I was sent along with a group of other new hires to a manager’s office where we were assigned our positions.  Now I knew I was already lucky to be working on an attraction as opposed to say janitorial or food service… nothing wrong with those but I really wanted to work a ride.  We sat around hoping for something great… maybe I would get Haunted Mansion or Pirates! Then the positions were announced, my whole group would get either a rotation of smaller Fantasyland rides (think Dumbo and the Carousel) or we would get the dreaded Grand Prix.  The Grand Prix was outdoors surrounded by diesel fumes and loud motors all day… no cover… the sun beating down on you on blacktop in Florida in the summer… with motors roaring around you all day, every day.  My heart sank.

Then the phone rings and I hear the supervisor talking about “20k”, short for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and how they needed someone to fill a spot.  This was an E-Ticket baby!  This was a marquee attraction and I wanted it… badly.

20kpostcard

The new Fantasyland stuff is OK but honestly this was better

As he was talking on the phone I just burst out; “20k!  I’ll Take it… can I work on it?”  He cupped the mouthpiece of the phone, looked a little confused and asked “You want to work on 20K?” … “YES I DO!” and so the proverbial squeaky wheel got the grease.  My compatriots were off to work carnival rides while I would be piloting the freaking Nautilus… SUCKERS!

Yet that is not the actual memory, as great as it is.  Later in the summer new CEO Michael Eisner came to visit us… he was now the star of the Disney Sunday Movie taking up Walt’s old position as host (nah, no ego on Mr. Eisner). They were going to air the actual movie Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and needed to film his intro on our ride.  Once again being shy was not going to get me anywhere… I started campaigning to my lead that I HAD to be involved.  I was into film and video and lighting… that was my thing and so I would learn so much from this.  That’s what I said at least, and while actually true my real motivation was just to be in and around the action.

So they closed the ride, brought in a huge crane with a camera mounted on the end.  Myself and three other guys got to ride the Nautilus out into the lagoon while standing at attention on the back of the boat.  Michael (as he was introduced to us, no “Mr.” Eisner at Disney) stood up front and read his lines.  Take after take we stood at attention until Mike finally nailed his scene. From meeting him and having the CEO of the company call me, the lowest level park employee, by my first name and then myself calling him by his, to seeing it air on TV months later was all awesome.

20K is sadly long gone but my memory will be with me forever.

2) Dawn of a New Disney Era

There have been at least two watershed events in my life that I was lucky enough to be the PERFECT age for.  I was 9 years old when Star Wars opened.  I saw it in a huge theater with a group of my friends and my Dad on my birthday… it was a big deal.  I love that I had that communal experience and that I was young enough to really be blown away by what I was seeing but old enough to remember it all vividly.

Dawn

Likewise when EPCOT Center opened I was 14, the sweet spot for that park. It really was the “Dawn of a New Disney Era” as the marketing slogan went; it was so very different than the Magic Kingdom but still steeped in all of the history and values that Disney was known for (and I mean Disney the man, not the company). Click here for another take on early EPCOT

My first visits to EPCOT Center are collectively some my greatest memories.  It was so exciting, so optimistic, so futuristic and somehow simultaneously foreign and familiar.  I was old enough to be given free reign of the place, free of the shackles of tagging along with the family.  I sprinted from pavilion to pavilion crisscrossing from Future World to World Showcase and back. It was an empowering experience and the type of thing I hope my daughter can find somewhere somehow.

epcot 82

This would be easy to make fun of… but I just don’t want to, it’s STILL cool.

Seeing the incredible talents of those same Imagineers who pioneered the field now let loose to create the next generation of attractions was exhilarating. The scale was so massive; the rides were so grand it truly was Mecca for a kid like me.

I had spent a couple years waiting for EPCOT Center to open.  At one point they opened up the monorail and let visitors ride out to and through the as yet unopened park and it was like sweet torture to be so close and yet so far away from the big grand opening day.  I poured over the Abrams EPCOT book taking in every nuance of every piece of concept art.  I imagined what it would be like to walk in those paintings and actually be able to touch and feel those incredible looking places. This coincides with a period of time when I took several closely spaced trips to the parks (see number 8) and so I got to see the rapid evolution of EPCOT Center.  Imagination, Horizons, The Living Seas… each new addition was better than the last.  The park was unstoppable.

Epcot book

I’ve posted this like three times… seriously get it

I recall my mother getting up crazy early and leaving the hotel well before the rest of us (my brother, my father and myself) in order to run to the Worldkey video kiosks and make dinner reservations for the family in France or Italy or Japan. It seemed like anything was possible, anything could happen at any time.

You could explore the depths of the sea or the depths of your imagination.  You could travel in time or in space.  You could visit the far corners of the world that you may never actually see. Most of all you could experience a pulsing almost electric sense of hope, optimism and excitement that simply does not exist today. I used to pretend to travel through time when I crossed the bridge connecting Future World to World Showcase and then again as I swept through World Showcase. Every ride was pure and sincere in its intent.  There were no “hip” in-jokes or attempts to be a thrill park; it was all about looking forward to what seemed to be an impossibly great future.

There will never be another place like the original EPCOT Center. For 8 years or so the future was accessible in the present and the possibilities were limitless and I got to experience it all.

1) The first time (of course)

Every fan’s first trip to the parks is probably going to rank fairly high on a list of park memories, but I have a specific moment of that first trip that really stands out to me:

My dad had a business trip down to Orlando in the mid seventies.  Walt Disney World had opened a few years earlier and was getting lots of press.  Many families living on the eastern side of the U.S. had never been to Disneyland and had only a vague understanding of what it really was.  My father found himself visiting the Magic Kingdom while on this trip and came back with stories of Pirates, Presidents and transparent ghosts.  Being one of those families who had never been to Disneyland this was hard for me to digest.  I was a kid, maybe 7 or so… the closest I had been to Disney World was a pirate themed restaurant at the Jersey Shore… this was another world.

So off we went and while my first steps into Walt Disney World are lost to time this one event has become a touchstone of sorts for my family: My first ride on Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates Poster

Tell me again why I want to risk death or dismemberment?

My Dad had told us all about pirates attacking boats and sacking a town but I just could not compute what this meant.  I clung to my parents and did not want to go on this hellish trip no matter what they said.  Why on Earth would I want to be attacked by Pirates?  Why would I want to risk being shot at or stabbed?  Why would I want to drop down a waterfall and face living skeletons?  I cried like a baby, I did NOT want to go.  I begged and pleaded to skip this nightmare. We worked our way through the dark caverns of the queue as I made a last ditch effort to convince my parents that this was not for me… and then we went… and then it all changed.

Over the duration of that one ride, and perhaps really just the opening moments of that one ride I suddenly understood… it made sense to me. This was not real; this was a living fantasy.  This was going down the rabbit hole into a real-world Wonderland.  This was entering Willy Wonka’s factory and anything really could happen. This changed everything.

Vintage Pirates

The start of something big

The rest of that trip and the many more to follow were full of (I generally hate this phrase) magic.  It was a little kid being given the power to control where we went and when.  It was a kid having things he could previously only imagine materialize and become tangible. It was everything that later became important to me in life unfolding in front of me; whimsy and imagination, creativity and hard work, understanding that incredible things can happen and realizing that the smallest things can have the biggest impacts.

Decades later my inaugural ride on Pirates of the Caribbean is still my strongest and most meaningful Disney memory.

 And more

Frankly I could make a top 50 list.  So many memories of special trips with my family; of buying trick hot candy from the now extinct magic store (don’t get me going) and fooling my Dad into eating it. Memories of riding Big Thunder Mountain a dozen times in a row with my mother and now again with my daughter (at HER insistence not mine). Eating fried ice cream at the old Golf Coast Room, the special occasions on the Empress Lily or studying the maps that used to hang in every resort room and dreaming of what the never built hotels would look like. Riding the monorail with Ron Howard (total random coincidence) and giving him park tips and directions around the park or sneaking to the very top of the castle to peer down Main Street (I worked at WDW at the time).

More memories of riding in the front of the monorail and then recreating that again decades later with my own child. Swimming in River Country, buying crazy masks with my brother or crazy hats with my friend and then wearing them all day long. Our visits to Disneyland Paris or of riding any new ride for the first time. Being at the grand opening of Hong Kong Disneyland or simply strolling out of a quiet and empty park late at night. Disney has the ability to create legitimately special and long lasting memories for all of us.  It is not about selling up-charged character dinning meals or autograph books either.  At its simplest, Disney can create environments and occasions that are conducive to special things happening.  They give you permission to be silly, to be stupid in the best possibel way and to find delight in the smallest of things. I hope they never totally lose sight of that.  It is not about marketing, it is about allowing things to happen that can never happen in the “real world” and that is real magic.

Have any special memories of your own be they big it small? Let’s hear them.