Monday, August 29, 2011

Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue


Based on my recent review of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, I had a few friends sort of agree, while the ones who disagreed seemed to think perhaps I was being a little too harsh because I am considered a “Disney purist.” To that I say, “untrue!” Well maybe I am kind of a Waltist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the new(er) attractions (go to Disneyland Paris with me sometime and watch my face when I’m on the Phantom Manor). And to back that up, I would like to offer a quick review of a newish dark ride.

Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! (aka the Monsters Inc ride) opened in Disney’s California Adventure in January of 2006. It replaced quite possibly the worst attraction in Disneyland Resort history, Superstar Limo. So while creating a better ride than what was previously in that location could have been done with an etch-a-sketch and a blindfold, creating a high quality dark ride was in no way guaranteed.

But, they did it.

The queue is simple enough. You arrive in Monstropolis via bus and stroll through the depot, looking at posters of different attractions to check out while in town. While on your way to catching a cab you may catch an amusing image or two.

Care for a snack?

Yum. I hope I have enough quarters for the Sugar, Salt & Fat bar

Perhaps catch up on local news?

This paper has real articles, and they're funny

At this point you jump into your cab and you’re off to Monstropolis!

The reason I enjoy this ride so much is it because it does a great job of encapsulating the film, which in my opinion is what a dark ride should do. After going down the tunnel we get a glimpse of what’s happening in Monstropolis: a human child is on the loose. We enter the city and see the chaos that the little girl caused. Monsters are scared silly and are leering out of their windows (some of their eyes follow you as you roll by), and the monster we had just seen on the TV in the cab is still recounting his exaggerated experience to the news reporter.

Now I am calling this a “quick” review because this ride has been out for a while, so I know you guys don’t want a detailed description. But every scene is great, and while the Audio Animatronics aren’t as advanced as the ones in Mermaid, they definitely do their job. The scenes have more than enough to keep your eyes occupied, and there’s so much detail you can even spot new things from time to time.

The good…

The queue: Once inside (you rarely have to wait outside, which makes it that much more hilarious that such a huge queue was built for Superstar Limo), there are several things to make you chuckle before the ride. It also provides a little bit of pre-story.

The scenes: All of them were done well, especially the door scene. The effects aren’t mind-boggling, but they are very good for a dark ride.

The flow: Unlike Mermaid there is no disconnection. Each scene leads to the next, and like I stated earlier there is always plenty to look at. As always there is only so much time/space to work with, but I think they chose the right scenes to use to summarize the film.

Hurry up Sulley, hurry up!

The bad…

Mr. Waternoose: It was actually hard for me to think of a dislike for this ride! Again, fully aware that there is only so much time/space to work with, I still think Disney should have included at least one Waternoose in there somewhere. He’d make a pretty cool AA, in my opinion.

C'mon, how cool of an AA would this be? -- Photo © Pixar Animation Studios 

The ugly…

Roz: Okay so technically this belongs under “good,” but then my pun wouldn’t have worked. For those of you who don’t know, there is an interactive Roz character at the end who (thanks to Disney magic) usually says things that are specific to your vehicle (ex: if you’re alone in the back you may hear something like, “young man in the 3rd row, sitting alone, eh?”).

Did you remember to turn in your paperwork?

In summary: Dark rides are harder to design than many people think. You’re always gonna get, “Oh they should’ve added this scene,” or, “Why didn’t they include this character?” (case in point, see my whiny comment 10 lines up) – So what I like to judge them on is continuity, and how well they capture the spirit of the film. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue succeeds in both. Tip of the (4) hat(s) to you, Monsters Inc ride!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Walt Disney’s Comedic Influences

Walt Museum

On Saturday, August 13th, I attended a presentation at the Walt Disney Family Museum called “Comedic Influences with J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt.” It was all about how Walt Disney used popular comedic influences from his day and correlated them into the Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons. I am a pretty decent movie buff, but I know very little about non-Disney films before the 70’s (okay, nothing really before Star Wars). I don’t dislike old movies, I just don’t enjoy them as much. So needless to say I had a lot to learn by going to this presentation.

Again, the only pic I was allowed to take!

J.B., Disney historian and author (Walt in Wonderland, South of the Border with Disney), started things off. He showed us several film clips featuring comedians of the 1930’s, mostly Charlie Chaplin. He followed many of them with a Disney cartoon that seemed to have its own take on each of the performances, even if it was something as simple as a nuance. For example, look at the end of Mickey’s The Barn Dance (1929). In it, Pegleg Pete and Mickey Mouse battle it out for Minnie Mouse’s affection. Originally the animators had planned for the story to end with Mickey and Pete kicking each other as Minnie stormed off. Walt sent them a memo stating, “I don’t think much of the kicking stuff. Maybe try some cute forlorning and a sigh of disgust.” In the end, Mickey’s inability to avoid crushing Minnie’s feet while dancing cost him the date. He turned to the camera and his eyes welled up with tears. It was cuter than a kicking contest, but it wasn’t quite Mickey, Walt felt.

Disney decided to start infusing comedic influences of the day, such as Harry Langdon and Charlie Chaplin. In the end of The Tramp (1915), Chaplin is seen walking away, dejected. At first his head is down, and even from behind you can see he is defeated. But all of a sudden he stops, lifts his head, kicks up his legs and strolls off. He had decided that things weren’t so bad after all, and Walt felt this is how Mickey ought to react to hardships.

Speaking of Chaplin, the 1930 cartoon The Firefighters was Disney’s spin on the bumbling fireman antics made popular by Chaplin’s 1916 short The Fireman. In Fireman, Chaplin does everything wrong on his way to the fire, from losing the fire engine piece by piece en route, to battling the hose instead of the fire upon arrival. Mickey also loses the fire engine one piece at a time on his way to the fire, but has to do battle with an uncooperative fire hydrant instead of a hose. Five years later, however, in the color short Mickey’s Fire Brigade (1935), Mickey would indeed have his battle with the infamous “out of control hose.” But Disney used this scene to take advantage of the fact that it was cartoon and not live action, and beautifully animated Mickey’s struggle while playing with both height and perspective.

YouTube this cartoon! It's a very cool short.

J.B. passed the mic to Russell (fellow Disney historian and co-author of Walt in Wonderland), and he began by telling us how Walt loved the gags in films by Charlie Bowers and Buster Keaton, the latter of which featured a humorous, over elaborate labor-saving contraption (used by Keaton’s sidekick) in the film Go West (1925). In fact a few years before West, Disney used a contraption in one of his very first animated shorts ever, the Laugh-O-Gram version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1922).

Think Walt didn’t appreciate Buster Keaton? Steamboat Willie (1928) derived its name from the 1928 Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr. (Keaton played Bill Jr., who was referred to as Willie in the movie).

Russell went on to inform us that in the early 1930s, many studios tried to put a comic face on The Great Depression. Walt led the way with his interpretation of The Three Little Pigs (1932). In Pigs the Big Bad Wolf is a sinister character who (among other things) wanted to take away your house, which was one of the most common fears during that time. Three Little Wolves (1936), the second sequel to Pigs, opened with Chaplin’s Modern Times. In Times, Chaplin is a factory worker who is “assaulted” by modern technology.

Poor Charlie

One year later, Disney released a Donald Duck cartoon called Modern Inventions (1937). In Inventions, Donald Duck gets assaulted by, you guessed it, technology!

"Shine your shoes, guvenuh?"

After the presentation, the two men opened up the floor to Q&A. Here are a few tidbits gathered from that session:

-By the mid 1930s Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin were well acquainted and shared a great deal of mutual respect for one another.

During Q&A when asked if in addition to films influencing cartoons, did any cartoons influence films, they responded with:

-In Go West, Buster Keaton dressed up and walked like Felix the Cat in one scene.

-One of the producers on the Laurel and Hardy film Babes in Toyland (1934) was friends with Walt Disney. Because of that he was allowed to use an instrumental version of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” during a scene that featured three “little” pigs. There was also a monkey in the film dressed up as Mickey Mouse.

-The Wizard of Oz (1939) probably wouldn’t have been made the way it was if it hadn’t been for the success of Snow White.

-Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein was another of Walt’s many admirers. So much so he patterned the opening of his film Alexander Nevsky (1938) after the Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance (1929). He also proclaimed that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was, “The greatest movie ever made.”

After the Q&A it was picture/autograph time. I of course forgot my copy of “South of the Border with Disney,” but I wanted to snap a few pics and ask a follow-up question or two. I have read several Walt Disney biographies, but at the time I couldn’t recall if Walt had any specific favorite movies or comedians. Russell also said that he wasn’t sure if Walt had a #1, but he mentioned the standards of those days: Chaplin, Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields. He did add something though: He said that when Walt was once asked a similar question, Walt seemed to make special mention of the actor Harold Lloyd. While it wasn’t clear that he was specifically Walt’s favorite, Russell found it interesting that Walt singled him out. And I do too!

Picture time!

Hangin' with Russell

And my cousin Brian (who you all first met in this Splash pic) wanted in on the pic action as well.

Keith, J.B., Brian

Thank you J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt for a very fun and interesting afternoon. And good news for anyone who happens to live in the Bay Area: J.B. and Russell compiled so much information for this presentation, they didn’t have time to use it all! They will be doing a follow-up presentation soon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Talking Water Fountain in Epcot

Trip Report

A few years ago when I was passed the point of WDW rookie, but not quite yet a WDW seasoned vet, I performed a search for something I was told existed in Epcot; a talking water fountain.

I thought I knew where it was, but I was unable to locate it. I asked a few CMs (cast members), but they were no help. The day before a friend and I had tried to locate it on our way to retrieve Test Track Fastpasses, but to no avail. This had become a mission, and Guest Relations, with their fancy plaid-vested CMs, were just the chaps I needed to recruit.

As I entered Guest Relations, the line was short in length, but not in time. Usually people go there for resolution to at least somewhat complicated issues, and this day proved no different. A CM came out from the side door and began talking to people in line, trying to see if he could be of assistance as to lessen our wait time. I instantly hoped I would be called up to the desk before he got to me, because dammit, he wasn’t wearing a plaid vest!

He eventually made his way to me, and ended up being the coolest freakin’ CM I would ever encounter.

I regaled him with tales of a fountain so magical, it would speak to you as you imbibed its water. He was intrigued. He had never heard of such a thing, but assured me he would get to the bottom of my query. I sat and waited, and he came out to tell me that I must mean the magical brass bowl-thing in the China shop that hummed when you rubbed it. I begged to differ. I went into further detail, and outlined its possible former location. He adjourned to the back once more, and came out with semi-good news. “It may still exist, but, it might be gone. Let’s go to where it should be according to my friend.”

Let’s go indeed.

My new best friend Elton and I traveled the 100 feet over to the Fountain of Nations, and took a left towards Mouse Gear. We looked around, and at first we didn’t see anything. But then, we found it! A stainless steel box with two water fountains jutting out. Positive we were in the right location, we both tested the fountain. But alas, the talking feature was no more. I was a little sad because even though it’s not a huge deal, I love stuff like that. It’s one of the touches that set Disney far and away above other places. We went inside Mouse Gear to peruse the very book that mentioned the fountain just to make sure, and that was it. I felt bad that I dragged this poor CM all the way to the Fountain of Nations and then Mouse Gear from Guest Relations. But he was so friendly and fun to talk to, we had a blast just hanging out. Upon exiting Mouse Gear, he and I simultaneously came up with an idea, and that idea manifested into one of my all-time favorite pics!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the talking water fountain in Epcot: