Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet 2012--Part Three

Part Two of this recap left off at the end of Tony Baxter’s incredible presentation. Since it’s time to wrap this baby up, let’s roll right into the last keynote of the day, featuring Marty Sklar with Jeff Kurtti. But first, there was one last piece of pre-keynote entertainment in store. This time Don filmed another parody of a ride intro you may be familiar with: The Tower of Terror. I’m afraid I didn’t snap any pictures of this video, but it was just as hilarious as the others. And when the video ended with the PNWMM crew in the elevator after the building was struck by lightning, the lights came up, they had all “magically” appeared on stage. It was a very clever way for Don to introduce his partners-in-crime.

Left to right: Don Morin, Michelle Morin, Eric von Oy, Crystal von Oy, John Garcia, Marc Morin
-Pic courtesy of Don Morin-

Not pictured is Jonathan Dichter, who in addition to being a member of the planning team, was also out in the main hall between keynotes performing “Main Street Magic” shows. I was unable to catch one, as I was either mingling with guests or hanging out with Jeff. I will be sure to catch one of his performances next time!

After Don’s crew stepped off the stage, Don stayed on to bring up friend of the PNWMM, friend of The Disney Project, and all around great guy, Jeff Kurtti. Don wanted to thank him for all of the support. Jeff has done a lot for them over the years. He’s done a lot for The Disney Project, too. He truly is a wonderful person, not to mention a terrific author, father, and fellow Walt-ist.

Don and Jeff

Soon Don departed and Marty Sklar joined Jeff onstage. Jeff used to work under Marty, which made for a fun dynamic. One of the first things Marty talked about was how he started with Disney. He was a student in UCLA, and someone had recommended him to E. Cardon “Card” Walker, head of Disney Marketing. Card left a message for Marty, but Marty never returned it. He thought it was a frat brother playing a trick on him. “Nobody had the name ‘Card,’” Marty said, “except maybe a dealer in Vegas.” Luckily for Marty, Card called back. Walt wanted an 1890’s newspaper to be sold on Main Street, and Marty was hired as its editor-in-chief. He was hired just weeks before Disneyland opened, and had to present his work to Walt himself. He was quite nervous. Walt liked his work, however, and went on to write/edit more periodicals, like the Disneyland magazine Vacationland.

Jeff and Marty seemed to have a genuine conversation, as opposed to a strict regimen of questions and answers. Because of that, the topics would vary, and Marty would often throw in little insights that only someone who worked so closely with Walt would know. One great example was how well Walt used the word “thing.” Marty recalled, “It really got your imagination going. One time when he was describing the Pirates ride, Walt said, ‘And towards the end we’re going to have an entire ransacked town, with pirates everywhere, and all these other things,’ and we’d say, ‘That sounds pretty good already!’” Marty also remarked on how well Walt fit people into positions, even ones they had no idea they were capable of. “Walt was the greatest casting director ever,” he stated.

Jeff and Marty

The two speakers then tackled one of my favorite periods in Disney’s history, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. “The Carousel of Progress almost didn’t happen,” Marty told us. “When Walt showed them the concept of the ride, one of the General Electric executives wondered why we were showing off such old GE appliances.” It turns out that after that, Walt immediately called GE and advised them that they had better send some different people over. And, they did! Another tidbit that Marty offered us was, “Ford wanted to be known as an international company. The genius part of that pavilion was Walt was developing the Peoplemover system at the time, so while General Motors was putting people in seats, we were putting people into Ford cars.”

Towards the end of Walt’s life, Disney World (which included EPCOT the city) and Cal Arts were constantly on his mind. In regards to the Florida Project, Walt asked Marty to write two endings for its short promotional film. One ending was to be seen by the public, and one was meant to attract American Industries to buy into Epcot. In December of 1966, just before Walt Disney passed away, one of the last people he asked to see was Harrison “Buzz” Price. Walt gave Buzz all of the files on the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), and said to him, “Make sure this school gets built.” No pressure, right? However Buzz came through for Walt, in a big way.

On October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World opened. Unlike Disneyland’s opening day, it went quite smoothly. It was an instant success, and by Thanksgiving, traffic was backed up 12 miles with folks trying to get there. Then in 1974, Marty once again received a call from Card Walker; only this time Card was the president of Disney. “What are we going to do about EPCOT?” he asked. The Disney Company had a fantastic group of talented people, but quite frankly, without Walt, EPCOT the city just wasn’t an option. It eventually morphed into a new theme park concept, and Marty suddenly realized that they hadn’t needed any “new” music for a park in years. So Marty did what any sensible Disney employee would have done, he called the Sherman Brothers and said, “We need your help.”

Jeff then shared a humorous moment from his days in Imagineering. At some point Disney decided to create cardboard cutouts of some of its Imagineers, much to Marty’s chagrin. He took it in stride, however, and even “posed with himself” for the camera.

Bottom left, Marty poses with, Marty!

And Jeff being the goofball he is, decided to have a little fun with cardboard Marty.

Marty wrapped up his chat with Jeff by talking about an organization he is very passionate about, Ryman Arts. Per their official website, Ryman Arts “teaches teens essential skills for art and life in a rigorous, nurturing studio environment.” It gets its name from legendary Disney artist, and Disney Legend, Herb Ryman. It is a very cool program for up-and-coming artists. And oh by the way, while you do have to be selected to attend the program, it is totally free!

Ryman Arts

The audience gave Jeff and Marty a resounding round of applause, and extended its ovation for the earlier keynotes, as well as to thank the PNWMM crew for all of the hard work that went into the event. After the applause, we all gathered in the main exhibition room one last time to get the results of the raffle drawing. Before Don took the stage, I grabbed him for a quick photo.

Keith and Don

Unfortunately I didn’t win anything, but then again they could have called my number without me noticing, because I was busy in the back enjoying my chat with Marty (who was soon joined by Lou Mongello) and Jeff. Oh, and I also ran into the lovely Miss Deb Wills from AllEarsNet!

Deb and Keith

Marty and Lou

After the charity raffle, Don called Marty up to the podium and presented him with a check for Ryman Arts in the amount of 7,000 dollars. The crowd roared, as we knew it was our last time we would be able to show our appreciation. Don was clearly as thankful for the outpouring of gratitude as we were to him for the amazing day he and his crew gave us. He then officially called the 2012 Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet to a close, followed by one last round of applause, of course.

The Next Day

For a small subset of attendees, the weekend wasn’t over just yet. Don had organized a small brunch not far from Lynwood, and Marty was on hand again to regale us with even more stories. I have to say, I can listen to that man talk all day. During the meal I was able to converse with fellow Disney fans at a much more relaxed pace, since I was so concerned with getting photos and taking notes the previous day! I got to actually speak with Lou Mongello. I chatted with my Bay Area neighbors, the folks from Mousetalgia. Future Disney author Russell D. Flores was sitting next to me, and he was kind enough to give me a sneak peek of his upcoming book. It’s titled, “Seen, Un-Seen Disneyland,” and it’s all about the stuff at Disneyland that’s hiding in plain sight. It comes out soon, so be sure to like the official Facebook page for updates. I saw the unfinished version, and it was great! I also hung out with Don, and was lucky enough to be at the same table as Marty. A cool side note: the morning after brunch raised another 500 dollars for Ryman Arts!

Keith and Lou

Keith and Russell
-Pic courtesy of Russell D. Flores-

As the brunch wound down, Marty spoke to us for close to an hour! At one point during his talk he picked up a napkin and drew Spaceship Earth. My new friend Jenna was the lucky recipient of the finished piece.

"Like a grand and miraculous spaceship..."

After his last talk, Marty happily posed for individual photos. As I stood next to him he asked the photographer, “Can you make me as big as Keith?” I couldn’t believe he remembered my name! He had met so many new people that weekend.

Marty and Keith

And finally, after the last individual photo was taken, it was time for a group shot. We took two: one normal, one silly. I think you know which one I’m going to share with you guys.

The entire brunch posse
-Pic courtesy of Don Morin-

Thank you Don Morin and the PNWMM Crew for an unforgettable weekend. Thank you to Joanna Hiltz and the rest of the “vendors” for showing off their wonderful creations. Thanks to all of the fellow Disney fans for helping to contribute to Ryman Arts. Thanks to Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter for the awesome one-on-one talks. Thanks to Paige O'hara for the great stories, and all of the PNWMM sponsors. Thank you to the weather gods for showing us that the Pacific Northwest does get some sun (it was in the mid 80s!). And thank you to Jeff Kurtti, for everything. You are a good friend.

I hope you enjoyed reading my three-part recap. And if this wasn’t enough to convince you to go next year, send me an email so I can convince you myself!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet 2012--Part Two

Part One of this recap left off just before the keynotes began. The first presentation of the day was Paige O’hara (the voice of Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), joined by WDW Radio podcaster Lou Mongello. The room for the keynotes featured a stage for the speakers, and a large projection screen on either side. As we waited for the presentation to begin, I began to notice some of the decorations by the PNWMM crew. Cutouts of characters lining the base of the stage stared out at the eager audience. A coat/hat rack sat in the stage’s rear right corner, decorated with a blue sorcerer’s hat, a tan hat that one might see atop the head of a Jungle Cruise skipper, and a hat, bag, and umbrella that all looked like they belonged to some sort of British nanny. One of the cooler touches I felt were the projections streaming across the wall, high above the stage. The graphics displayed ranged from fireworks to a moving monorail, and I appreciated that extra touch.

Speaking of extra touches, before the scheduled speakers took the stage, the lights dimmed and the audience was treated to one of the reasons there were video screens. Don Morin appeared and gave everyone a little pre-show spiel, which bared a hilarious resemblance to that of Patrick Warburton’s in the Soarin’ Over California queue. It was very funny.

Sorry the image didn't turn out great, but you get the gist!

With the audience already warmed up, Paige and Lou took the stage. After a nice round of applause, the two began to discuss Paige’s life and experiences with both Broadway and Disney. Paige made her Broadway debut in 1983, playing Ellie May on Showboat. One of the funnier stories she told us however involved her at the Academy Awards. At the time she was mortified because they had made her wear an awful “Bo Peep” dress. She was in the dressing room with Celine Dion, and one of the production assistants came in and asked Celine if she wouldn’t mind changing her dress, as it looked similar to Angela Lansbury’s. Celine advised them that she paid a lot of money for her dress, and she would not be changing. “How were you able to do that?” Paige asked Celine. “Look at my dress!” Celine calmly replied, “Paige, you just have to learn how to be a… B word.”

Lou Mongello and Paige O'hara

During the Q&A, one audience member convinced her to sing for us. Paige blushed, but being the performer that she is, went on to perform the first part of Beauty and the Beast’s opening song, Belle (Bonjour). “Little town, in a quiet village…” I have to say, it was pretty neat to hear the original Belle sing that live. When asked who she admired growing up musically, Paige responded immediately with, “Judy Garland.” Fitting, since it’s been said that her Judy Garland-type quality was partially responsible for her landing the coveted role of Belle. We also found out that she and Robby Benson (Beast) recorded almost all of their dialogue together, with the exception of two scenes: When the Beast was attacked by wolves, and when he catches Belle snooping around in the forbidden West Wing. A touching story Paige told us centered around the time she spoke to Howard Ashman (Academy Award-winning lyricist in music for Beauty and the Beast, as well as many other Disney films) on the phone, not long before he passed away. He was in the hospital at the time, and he wanted to hear the title song, Beauty and the Beast (sung by Angela Lansbury in the film). She sang it to him, and he loved it. Because of this, that song will always have a special meaning to her.

After the first keynote, folks meandered on back into the main convention room, where Jeff, Marty, Tony, and Paige climbed behind their respective tables again to sign for and converse with the attendees. Dole Whips were doled out, pins were traded, and raffle tickets were purchased. Before I knew it, it was time for the second keynote, this time by Mr. Tony Baxter. The folks once again gathered in the next room, and once again, Don and his crew provided some excellent pre-show entertainment.

The premiere of MouseCenter began to play, and judging by the crowd’s reaction, it was an instant hit. Don was the lone anchor, delivering Disney-related “news” with the help of a few correspondents, and a hilarious script. The format mimicked the ESPN stalwart SportsCenter, complete with program list on the left side of the screen and scrolling ticker across the bottom. “The 3 o’clock parade will start at 4.” In fact, Don has decided to extend this brainchild of his and make it its own series! You too can now enjoy this humorous look at the Mouse from the comfort of your own computer. Check out MouseCenter's official page.


After the frivolity, the crowd was excited to hear from Disney imagineer extraordinaire, Tony Baxter. He came on the stage, and had a great presentation in store for us, along with plenty of amazing photos.

Tony Baxter

He went at a brisk pace, so I jotted down as many notes as I could while also taking pictures of the video screen. One of the first things he told us was that when Walt Disney was in the World’s Fair, he was first starting at Disney!

One of the very first things Tony designed was a Mary Poppins dark ride. He called it “Jolly Holiday,” and the ride would revolve around the scene in which the carousel horses detached from the carousel. He even created concept art for each show room, as well an overview of the entire interior layout. It was very impressive.

Scenes from Tony's "Jolly Holiday"

Interior Layout

Tony was lucky enough to mentor under the brilliant Claude Coats, who was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1991. After talking about Claude, Tony showed us another ride he designed that never came to fruition. “Island at the Top of the World” was a pretty ambitious dark ride, and it even featured a full-sized dragon. Tony had a running joke throughout his presentation, stating that he “never let go of anything.” He gave us several examples of such, including the dragon from his failed “Island” concept eventually making its way to the cavern beneath Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland Paris.

Another dragon Tony created was slightly smaller in size. When he first created Figment for the Imagination Pavilion in Epcot, circa 1983, the concept had the little fella green in color.

Green Figment

When he showed the show’s sponsor, Kodak, there was an audible gasp, or at least a disapproving nod. Tony was gently reminded that green was the color used by Fuji, one of Kodak’s main competitors. He promptly changed Figment’s color to purple.

Purple Figment

At one point Tony asked Claude Coats to teach him how to paint like he did in Pinocchio (arguably the most beautifully animated film of all time). Claude obliged, and Tony created a great piece of art, which found a home on the wall above his desk. It must have been really great, actually, since that painting is what got him the 1983 remodel of Disneyland’s Fantasyland!

When Disney started working with George Lucas, Tony was the one who drove him around. George would try to engage Tony in conversation, however instead of listening to what he was saying, Tony was too busy worrying about crashing the car! He was very excited to be able to work on Star Tours with the creator of Star Wars. In fact, Tony referred to it as “the dream of a lifetime.” Star Tours was originally planned to be a roller coaster. Space was an issue however (space as in capacity, not as in a galaxy far, far away), so they had to think of alternative options. Then one day someone told them about an amazing military simulator over in England. Tony and a small crew hopped across the pond to see it, and they quickly realized their problem had been solved.

Tony then began the “Awww I wish they had done that,” portion of his presentation. Bittersweet, as it was really neat seeing some of the concept art, but really sad that pretty much everything he showed us would have been awesome! Did you know there was a plan to convert the Mission to Mars attraction into a restaurant? Some of the booths would have even been old Peoplemover cars! How cool would that have been?

Check out the Peoplemover booths in the back!

He also talked about how the Rocket Rods attraction was originally meant to be a GM-sponsored companion to Test Track. GM got cold feet, however, so the whole idea had to be re-worked (if they had only banked those turns! Sigh). And before the submarine ride was re-themed with Finding Nemo, two ideas for it were an Atlantean Adventure (based on the Disney film Atlantis), and a Treasure Planet theme in which you could operate cranes from within the subs to grab treasure. Neither of those films did very well in the box office, however, so both ideas were quickly scrapped.

Original Rocket Rods model

"Don't Waste Your Air Screaming?" Interesting.

Tony showed us concept art of The Western River Expedition, Discovery Bay (which would have revolved around a character named Jason Chandler, who created the innovative city thanks to gold taken out of Big Thunder Mountain), and maybe the most heartbreaking failed project of all, Westcot. Tony was sad (like the rest of us) that Westcot was never created, however he did take some solace in getting what he referred to as a pretty great consolation prize; The Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland.

Proposed Westcot entrance

Section of Westcot's World Showcase

In regards to current projects, Tony showed us concept art from the new Fantasy Faire area of Disneyland, which replaces the Carnation Plaza Gardens area. A few of the things he told us about were: Swing dancing at night, a shop, a meet and greet area for princesses, a mini Rapunzel tower maypole (called Tangled Tower), Maurice's cart (Belle’s father), and Figaro the cat.

I still have another page full of notes from Tony’s wonderful and expansive presentation, but this recap is starting to run a little long, so maybe I can work it in to a future post. Tony closed out with Q&A, and addressed one audience member’s question very decisively. “Are they ever going to bring the Peoplemover back to Disneyland?” Poor Tony. I myself have heard (and may have discussed once or twice) that so many times, I can only imagine how many times he’s heard it. He let those of us with hope know right away, that it was time to officially give up that hope. “You guys can help me put this one to bed,” he advised. “The Peoplemover does not meet any of the codes of today. You can reach out and touch walls, there are no escalators to exit in case of an evac…” Everything he said made sense, in a really sad way. The Peoplemover is not coming back, at least in its original form. He did offer us something, however. “I think what will happen next," Tony said, "is a major re-look at that entire land.”

After soaking up all the amazing information Tony presented, there was still one keynote left in the day. Marty Sklar was scheduled next, and was to be joined by the brilliant Jeff Kurtti. Please check back soon for the third and final installment of this recap where I outline what was discussed in Marty’s keynote, who exactly benefited from the end of day raffle, and… what happened the day after the PNWMM??

Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet 2012--Part Three

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet 2012--Part One

On August 4, 2012, I attended the 4th annual Disney fan gathering known as "The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet" in Lynnwood, Washington. Now I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve never even heard of Lynnwood.” Well neither had I. But for me that little town 17 miles north of Seattle will now be synonymous with an incredibly delightful weekend, and in addition I hope an annual trip for many years to come.

The weather was gorgeous, the modestly sized Lynnwood Convention Center was wonderfully decorated, and the roughly 400 Disney fans were all ready to have a great time, a desire that Don Morin and his crew thoroughly fulfilled. My readers and I first got to meet Don in May, during his Pacific Northwest Mouse Trek to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

The PNWMM magic began right away. Upon entering the building, little Disney touches were strewn about the hall. I checked-in, received my name badge and goodie bag, and mingled with fellow Disney fans while waiting for “rope drop.”

The event officially began at 11am with a few quick words from Don, and a confetti shower for the attendees. As we all turned the corner en route to the event, we quickly realized that the fun wouldn't be relegated to the conference rooms. In the second hall there were several displays featuring creative works from various Disney fans, adding a dose of pixie dust to what easily could have been an undecorated area. The first thing I happened upon was a map of the United States, complete with a few pins already in it (I was towards the back of the crowd). I grabbed a white pin and inserted it firmly where the map read San Francisco. I noticed right away that while I was one of the few to have inserted a pin that wasn’t from Washington or Oregon, I had not nearly traveled the greatest distance to be there. A little red pin protruding from central Florida was reflecting light off its shiny tip, and I could only assume the joy its operator must have felt placing it there after having traveled about 2950 miles more than they normally had to for a little Disney magic. I found out later that it was placed there by the wonderful Miss AllEars Deb!

The creative exhibits ranged from homemade attraction displays, to models of Walt Disney’s Carolwood Pacific Barn. LEGO superfan Steven Walker was on hand to showcase four of his LEGO pieces: Mickey’s House from Toontown, The Haunted Mansion, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and the Main Street Station of the Disneyland Railroad. Steven’s works have been on display at places like BrickCon (an annual LEGO convention and exhibition), and are comprised of literally thousands of LEGO bricks. His most impressive piece, the Main Street Station, involved over 500 hours of labor, and is made up of over 18,000 LEGO bricks.

LEGO Main Street Station

Joanna Hiltz came up with the idea for her innovative exhibit after a trip to Disneyland for her daughter’s first birthday. “Small World caught my attention as a great bedroom theme and I started dreaming up installations for her room,” she told me. And six weeks and more than 100 labor hours after she put her idea into motion, Joanna had completed an absolutely charming homage to the classic attraction that included just about any material you could think of. When asked exactly what materials were used, she replied, “The easier question is what wasn't used! Metal, wood, foam, grout, mâché, clay, kiln fired art glass, corduroy, lights, motors, sound card, glitter, paint, solar tube, resin ice chunks, 5 ping pong balls and a pool noodle. That's by no means the whole list, but it gives you an idea of what it takes to create.” The exhibit even has an audio track, which features narration by Walt himself!

Joanna proudly shows off her hard work

Future projects for Joanna include: A Small World rainforest sculpture, converting an old popcorn cart to look like it’s fresh off of Main Street (with a hinged lid that actually hides her daughter's laundry basket), and an original ride concept model, complete with concept art. I hope you’re reading this, WDI!

Once inside the main exhibition room, each section was easy to distinct. On the right there was a long table showcasing and selling some vintage Disneyana, just beyond that was Disney Legend Paige O'hara’s station (Paige was the voice of Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), where she was signing autographs and selling original artwork.

Paige signing an autograph
Some of Paige's terrific art

Past her station was the raffle area, with dozens of great prizes to win, all in the name of charity. In the back there was a Dole Whip stand, a PNWMM table, and a WDW Radio table with podcaster Lou Mongello himself.

I spy my friend Vanessa Hunt's Poster Art of the Disney Parks book!

Sad to say I didn't have one because of the stupid diet I'm currently on

On the left wall was a Mouse Fan Travel table, a Mousetalgia table, and of course, the Disney celebrity tables! From right to left it was: Tony Baxter, Jeff Kurtti, and Marty Sklar. All three gentlemen not only signed autographs and posed for photos, but were happy to converse with Disney fans as well. And in the center were all the tables where fans could chat, exchange stories, and trade pins. I knew right away that I was going to have a good day.

Becky and Dave from Mousetalgia

Fans gather in the center of the room

Tony Baxter

Jeff Kurtti chatting with fans

Marty Sklar

Because of both the size of the crowd and the layout of the event, lines were never really that long for any of the Disney celebrities on hand, which was awesome. The first hour was sort of a whirlwind, with fans bustling around soaking up the atmosphere, chatting with one another (as well as the aforementioned Disney celebs), and enjoying the displays out in the main hall. Keynote presentations by Paige O'hara, Tony Baxter, and Marty Sklar with Jeff Kurtti were still to come, and the results of the charity raffle were slated for the end of the day, dangling like a carrot for those of us hopeful to win some amazing prizes. How were the keynotes? What kind of cool stuff did the PNWMM crew produce as pre-keynote entertainment? Would Keith get his 200th picture taken with Jeff Kurtti? Good questions, all! And they will all be answered. In part two.

Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet 2012--Part Two

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Buena Vista Street isn’t just the name of the amazing new entrance to Disney California Adventure. It also happens to be where Walt Disney had his Studio built once he finally got some money in the bank (thank you, Snow White!). One of the very first projects to be completed at the new Studio was a little film called Fantasia.

"You may think you're so powerful, well, this is my dream!"

I recently wrote a few words for Storyboard, the official blog of the Walt Disney Family Museum, about how Fantasia came to be. Please click the link below to find out why it was originally supposed to be about 20 minutes in length, who they targeted as conductor before Stokowski, and, one of the seven dwarfs as the apprentice??

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice