Thursday, July 28, 2011

Walt's Fascination with Outer Space

Walt Museum

On Saturday, July 23rd, I went to a presentation at the Walt Disney Family Museum called “Walt's Fascination with Outer Space.” I was looking forward to this one because like Walt I am also fascinated with outer space. Some of what was discussed at the presentation I had read previously in different Walt biographies, but much of the information was new and very interesting. The speaker was Jim Korkis, longtime Disney historian and author of the book The Vault of Walt.

Jim displaying his book, The Vault of Walt - on sale now!

It was only supposed to last an hour, but Jim ran a bit over because he was having so much fun educating all of us. Jim is very friendly and charismatic, and engaged with the audience several times. He’d be in the middle of a story that took place in the 1950s and spot somebody who appeared to be around his age, and say, “I know you remember this!”

Here are just some of the fascinating tidbits he shared with us (editor’s note – I didn’t have time to fact-check all of these, so if any of them happen to be incorrect please let me know):

-The 1939 New York World’s Fair was what first inspired Walt’s fascination with space.
-After World War II, scientist Wernher Von Braun, champion of getting man into space (and soon to be Disney collaborator), was brought to America from Germany during Operation Paper Clip.
-It was Von Braun who came up with the idea for the rocket ship, and he turned to the Disney artists for help designing it.
-Von Braun wrote articles for Collier Magazine detailing his vision of the space program (the first series was titled Man Will Conquer Space Soon!).
-When Von Braun, a genius in his own right, was asked who he felt was a genius, he replied, “Walt Disney.” When the reporter laughed thinking Walt was just a cartoon maker, Von Braun advised him that when he and Walt were talking about the space program one day, Walt had asked him questions so sophisticated not even NASA asked him questions of that caliber 10 years later.
-Man in Space was the first of three films The Disney Company produced about space and the space program. It was so enormously successful that:
I President Eisenhower asked for a copy of the film so he could show it to the Pentagon.
II It was re-run more than once (which was unheard of back then) and eventually released theatrically, garnering an Academy Award nomination.
III It sparked a series of books published specifically for children's education.
IV Like Eisenhower, the Soviet Union asked for a copy as well (Korkis added a funny side note: Walt said no. Not because they were Russia, but because he had previously loaned them a print of Snow White for “two weeks” that they returned over 10 years later… scratched).
-Mars and Beyond was the third of the three space films Imagineer Ward Kimball directed for Disney. One scene depicts possible life forms on Mars. Some of them were “pretty out there,” so much so that Walt himself turned to Kimball after a screening and asked, “How do you guys come up with this crazy stuff?” Kimball couldn’t believe that someone with an imagination like Walt Disney asked him that question!
-The famous Moonliner in Tomorrowland got its name in part thanks to the Boeing Stratoliner.
-Imagineer John Hench designed a special entrance to the Moonliner for the pre-show of the old Rocket to the Moon attraction that showed guests just how they would be boarding their rocket. In those days when people traveled via air, they had to walk onto the tarmac and take stairs up to the airplane. Hench designed a covered, elevated walkway leading to the rocket’s entrance. Airports wouldn’t start using those, which we call jet ways, until 10 years later.
-In 1964 the U.S. was lagging on sending a man to the moon. Wernher Von Braun called upon Walt to re-spark interest in the space program by convincing him to pay a visit to Space Center Houston (which Walt Disney Imagineering helped design, by the way) and tour the facility. Walt, very curious by nature, wanted to take a crack at two different simulators there. This made Von Braun very nervous since he felt that if Walt botched either one, it could produce bad publicity and undermine the purpose of their visit. On top of that, a few professional pilots had just failed each simulator while demonstrating themselves. Walt completed both simulators successfully on his very first try.

After the event, Jim had a fun Q&A, and then a meet and greet/book signing. I didn’t bring anything for him to sign, but I waited in line anyway so I could chat with him. In the few minutes we chatted we covered a lot of stuff. His knowledge of Disney is extremely impressive, and I am happy to say that I actually impressed him with a few of my questions, which was pretty cool. After our chat it was picture time.

I still can't believe I was the only one who wore that shirt.

If any of you ever get the chance to attend a Jim Korkis event, I highly recommend you go. He is a very nice and knowledgeable man, and a pleasure to chat with. I myself was lucky enough to procure a ticket to the Carousel of Progress (my favorite attraction, ever) Event AllEars.Net is sponsoring in Disney World this December, which will in fact be hosted by Jim Korkis. Looks like I’ll have a pic for him to autograph this time!

Thanks Jim for the fascinating insight.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Disneyland Model and Rod Miller

Walt Museum

On Disneyland’s 56th birthday, the Walt Disney Family Museum was hosting an event: “Disneyland Model: Creating the Disneyland of Walt's Imagination.” For those of you who have yet to visit the Walt Disney Museum, their Disneyland model, located in Gallery 9, is considered by many patrons to be the museum’s crowning jewel. The model is actually called The Disneyland of Walt's Imagination, for it represents a park that never was. What I mean by that is, it contains attractions that never co-existed in Disneyland, like Space Mountain and the Carousel of Progress (even though Space Mountain opened 11 years after Walt passed, he was very much a part of its original planning process back in the mid 1960s).

We weren't allowed to take pics so this is all you're gettin'!

Carol Bauman from Kerner Optical, the design company that produced the model, was there to fill us in on how the model came to be. Kerner Optical has provided services for some of Hollywood’s biggest films, from Pirates of the Caribbean to the second Star Wars trilogy.

The model was built at Kerner’s facility in San Rafael, California (about 30 minutes north of San Francisco), and upon completion was transported via van (gingerly!) down Highway 101 and across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Walt Disney Museum in the Presidio. Here are some cool tidbits Carol shared with us:

-The original idea for the model was for it to be largely mechanical, where entire sections could change to reflect different eras in Disneyland’s history. They scrapped that idea due to fears of never-ending maintenance.
-To recreate the Rivers of America, they actually painted that section of the model green and placed blue shower door material over it to simulate depth and movement.
-They started the model with Tom Sawyer’s Island and worked their way counter-clockwise, ending at Tomorrowland.
-Frontierland was the most time-consuming section, taking three months to complete. Each subsequent land only took about a month each.
-Carol’s favorite section, the Rainbow Caverns, has real black light paint and black light lamps.
-The second to last thing added was Space Mountain. The workers were dreading that piece because of its large size compared to the rest of the items they had to build.
-The last “portion” to go into the model was the mini orange grove, which was meant to represent the land Disneyland was originally built on.
-The very last thing to be added to the model was the boats, because Carol had to paint the little waves around them.
-There are two “Hidden Walts” in the model; both are him with his daughter/museum co-founder Diane Disney Miller. One is them in a red Autopia car, the other is them near the castle.
-Speaking of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, that was the only piece that was not done by Kerner Optical. Disney Imagineers took that honor.
-The entire project took about nine months from beginning to end, which Carol appropriately compared to having a baby.
-Half of the crew that worked on the incredible model of Disneyland… has never been to Disneyland!

Just after the event

Thank you Carol for the wonderful presentation.

And guess who else was at the Walt Disney museum on the 17th!

Mid-playing he noticed me and flashed a smile!

Rod Miller himself! For you Disney World folks, Rod Miller was a staple at Main Street in Disneyland for over 35 years until his retirement in 2006. He provided so many great memories for countless guests throughout his time at the park. He truly is ragtime, and it was very cool to hear him play again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy Birthday Disneyland

As many of you know, today is the “official” birthday of Disneyland.

"To all who come to this happy place, welcome..."

While it didn’t open to the public until July 18th, on July 17th, 1955, it was opened to invited guests. About 11,000 studio workers, Disneyland construction workers, dignitaries, press and employees of companies who sponsored attractions were amongst the invitees. Due to a clever counterfeiter, however (also some crafty gentleman who set up a ladder at the back fence and charged people to climb it into the park), roughly 33,000 people showed up.

July 17th, 1955 would be dubbed “Black Sunday” due to the myriad of problems that happened as a result of the overcrowding. Rides broke down, eateries and snack stands ran out of food and drink, and water even found its way onto the deck of the Mark Twain due to too many passengers. But while everyone may know that story, they also know that it would hardly stop Walt or his dream. Ninety days later Disneyland received its 1 millionth guest, and the rest, of course, is Disney history!

On a side note, today is also the birthday for Splash Mountain! Disneyland’s opened in 1989, Disney World’s in 1992. It was the first theme park ride that depended upon a computer to control its motion. At the time, that 52-foot flume was the longest in the world.

"Hey can I call you back in about 3 seconds?"

And as many of us “old-timers” know, many of the audio-animatronic figures used in Splash Mountain were taken from the recently closed attraction America Sings.

Happy Birthday Splash. And Happy Birthday, Disneyland.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Disneyland vs Disney World: shared attractions

There are always people who like to compare Disneyland to Walt Disney World, and vice versa. And while that’s like arguing over which flavor of ice cream is the best, it’s fun to debate. There are a few indisputable facts for both: Walt Disney World is massive. It is roughly 47 times larger in terms of square miles, and holds two more theme parks, dozens of more resort hotels, miniature and professional golf courses, and a much larger Downtown Disney District. But, Disneyland in California is the original, and the only Disney theme park that Walt himself ever stepped foot in. Many people regard that tidbit as irrelevant, however as a lifelong Disney fan and a lover of both resorts, I can unequivocally say that Walt’s footprints do matter. Disneyland holds an unmistakable charm that the much larger Magic Kingdom in Florida just can’t duplicate. But even that is opinion, by definition. Sure it’s a popular one, and one that even the most ardent Disney World fans are often willing to concede. Aside from the above facts, however, most of the debate revolves around opinion, as debates often do. Yes Walt Disney World is visited more, but that has a lot to do with its aforementioned size advantage, as well as its proximity to foreign tourists. But even though Disneyland resort is drastically smaller, it is almost equal to Disney World in number of attractions. That being said, The Disney Project would like to compare all of the mutual attractions between the two locales. Yes each has their own unique attractions (WDW has the only Spaceship Earth in the world, DL has the only Matterhorn, etc), but this article isn’t about that. Without any further ado, here is TDP’s list comparing the attractions the resorts share. In the case that the rides themselves are virtually identical (i.e. Soarin’), I will evaluate other factors. Some may tie, however.

Disclaimer: I grew up going to Disneyland and have been there every year since birth, while I only just started going to Disney World in 2005. But for this article I promise to be as impartial as possible.




Astro Orbiter: Disney World
I’m not a fan of either design (I much prefer the original), however the simple fact that this ride is in its original location in WDW whereas it’s been relocated to the ground in DL gives the nod to Florida.

Autopia (Tomorrowland Speedway in WDW): Disneyland
As an adult I don’t ride either version often, but I find the one in WDW louder for some reason. The DL version has also benefited from a relatively recent refurb, which saw both the Fantasyland and Tomorrowland tracks combined. DL’s also has a nicer queue.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: Disney World
WDW’s is bigger and better, with more thrills and more scenes.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters: Disneyland
What were they thinking in WDW making the guns stationary? 

Captain EO (or Honey I Shrunk the Audience): Tie
No discernible difference between queues, same show.

Disney Monorail: Disneyland
This one was closer than I thought it’d be. WDW’s is bigger, covers more ground, goes through a hotel, and one train has a Tron skin! However, the Mark VII monorail is much cooler looking both inside and out than the Mark VI.

Disney Railroad: Disneyland
Not only does it have more stops, but it also has the Grand Canyon Diorama as well as The Primeval World.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant: Tie
Same queue, same ride.

Fantasmic: Disneyland
Many people might disagree considering WDW has its own theater just for the nighttime spectacular, but the show itself is better at DL. Not to mention during the finale it’s much more magical seeing the characters aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat as opposed to the nameless ship created specifically for the show in WDW.

Haunted Mansion: Disney World
Sigh. This one was tough to admit. DL’s mansion exterior is vastly superior, however WDW’s is superior in pretty much every other way. Not even counting the recent queue upgrades, it also boasts some cool rooms DL’s doesn’t have (stair room, mausoleum), and some nifty hitchhiking ghost effects. Even if/when DL adds the new effects and queuing area, it doesn’t have the space to add those cool extra rooms.

Side note: While it’s true that DL gets the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay (which is awesome), I couldn’t use that in this case since WDW doesn’t get it, making it technically not an attraction they share.

Innoventions: Disney World
I’m not a fan of either, personally. But I do find WDW’s more tolerable.

It’s a Bug’s Life: Disney World
Same attraction, but in WDW it’s in the Tree of Life, whereas in DL it’s just in some building.

It's a Small World: Disneyland
Not even close. Better ride, standalone building with much cooler facade.

Jungle Cruise: Disney World
More or less the same ride, except WDW has that cool part where you go indoors for a bit.

King Arthur Carrousel (Prince Charming Regal Carrousel in WDW): Tie
Pretty much the same ride.

Mad Tea Party: Disneyland
I realize the weather in Florida requires the ride be covered, but when you compare the two visually the one in DL looks way better sans cover.

Mark Twain Riverboat (Liberty Square Riverboat in WDW): Disneyland
Both boats stroll around their respective rivers, and the one in WDW is larger. But it’s hard to argue that the Mark Twain in DL isn’t nicer to look at. Maybe it’s the twin smokestacks: Mark Twain | Liberty Belle

Peter Pan's Flight: Disney World
They are nearly identical, but for some reason WDW’s is slightly more enjoyable, and it has FASTPASS!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Disneyland
Another one that’s not even close. In fact I have yet to meet someone who has ridden both and prefers WDW’s. DL’s is bigger, longer, and has two drops!

Sleeping Beauty Castle (Cinderella’s Castle in WDW): Disney World
I love Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. But WDW’s is bigger, prettier, and has its own restaurant. The tunnel through is also home to some incredible glass mosaics. While the DL version has a great recently re-done walk-through depicting the film Sleeping Beauty, it still can’t compete with WDW’s castle.

Snow White's Scary Adventures: n/a
I can’t include this one because it’s supposed to be closing very soon in WDW. But if you were curious, I would have given the point to WDW, since it has an actual ending.

Soarin’ Over California (Soarin’ in WDW): Disneyland
The rides themselves are the same, but I’m giving the nod to DL in this case because its name is more accurate, and the queue is slightly better. The queue in WDW is more aesthetically pleasing, no doubt. But in DL the queue displays portraits and information about heroes in aviation, which is cooler in my opinion.

Space Mountain: Disney World
This may be the most “controversial” of my opinions, since DL’s just went through a fairly recent two-year refurb, and WDW only had a 6-month refurb. For me I guess I prefer the single row rocket vehicle, and the music in the queue at WDW is outstanding. I could be wrong but it also feels like WDW’s has more drops.

Splash Mountain: Disney World
Not close. WDW’s is better in pretty much every way.

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue: Disney World
Like Soarin’ Over California, it’s a simulator so the ride itself is the same. But also like Soarin’ Over California, the tipping point goes to the queue. And last time I checked, DL’s Star Tours didn’t have a huge AT-AT standing outside of it!

Tarzan's Treehouse (Swiss Family Treehouse in WDW): Disney World
Tarzan is newer, but the Swiss Family Treehouse is a classic. I actually loved Disney’s Tarzan, but the Tarzanization of DL’s treehouse didn’t dramatically improve it. You’re still walking through a treehouse. Because of that, I’ll take the classic over the good newer film.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Tie
Technically the queue is nicer in DL, but for some reason the ride was slightly better in WDW. So, it’s a wash. Neither should have been built since they both replaced classics!

Tom Sawyer Island: Disneyland
Not the most enjoyable place if you’re older than 5, but with the relatively new Pirate’s Lair addition to DL, it gets the nod over WDW.

Tower of Terror: Disney World
The ride system is supposed to be more sophisticated in DL, but I have two words for you: Fifth Dimension.

Toy Story Mania: Disney World
The same ride, but WDW has a better queue and FASTPASS.

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management in WDW) n/a
Like Snow White, I’m also forced to refrain from counting this one since at the time of this post, WDW’s is currently being restored to its original state. For the record, had there not been a fire (which I still swear I didn’t start) that ultimately “sparked” the decision to change the ride back to normal, the nod would have overwhelmingly gone to DL. Tiki Room UNM was one of the few rides in any Disney park that I preferred a root canal over. Two words: Disco Ball. Two more: Buster Poindexter. Nuff said.

So, let’s tally up the votes!

Total: 33 - Ties: 4 - n/a: 2 – DL: 12 - WDW: 15

So Disney World comes out on top. I can’t say that I’m surprised. It was close though! I told you I could be impartial.

What do you think? Did I miss any? Was I way off on any? Let me know!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th from The Disney Project

As The Disney Project is still a very young blog, celebrating its second week (woo hoo!), so is America a very young country. Compared to China we’re still an infant age-wise, and even France has about 1300 years on us. But we Americans like to believe it’s quality, not quantity. And it’s hard not to think of the word quality when you hear the name Walt Disney. 

Speaking of Walt, and America, and France, here’s a patriotic tidbit about the man himself.

During World War I, Walt, too young to join the military at sixteen, was trying to figure out a scheme to somehow join the effort. After an attempt to cross the border to Canada where they enlisted at a younger age was thwarted, Walt’s co-worker Russell Maas came to him with a new plan. He found a volunteer outfit called the American Ambulance Corps, which was part of the Red Cross. The age minimum was seventeen, so Walt and Russell changed the year of birth on their applications from 1901 to 1900. After a serious bout of influenza, Walt was eventually shipped out to Paris. By that time World War I had officially ended, but he was hardly free from danger. Falsifying his age to join the war efforts at the age of sixteen was Walt’s first great act of patriotism, but it wouldn’t be his last.

“Walt loved the idea of progress, and he loved the American family. And he himself was probably as American as anyone could possibly be.”

--Jean Shepherd, narrator of Carousel of Progress

Happy Independence Day!