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

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