Thursday, May 30, 2013

Disney Associations

Over the years, there have been many non-Disney films that have in one way or another reminded me of being in Disney. Most of them are films I have seen while on vacation at Disney. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Why would you go all the way to Disney just to see a movie?” Well I have been to Disneyland many, many times. I’ve been every year of my life, and multiple times per year once I procured the means. That said, I have been there during several off-seasons, when the parks (or just park, pre-DCA) closed at 8pm. And when Downtown Disney opened in 2001, it was a new thing to do. That new thing included catching the occasional flick. Vanilla Sky and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back are two films I very specifically remember watching at Downtown Disney. I also saw Bowfinger and Black Dynamite at nearby theaters. However, none of these films do anything specific to remind me of Disney. They were just films I happened to catch while there, and could be replaced with any other film and still produce the same effect.

What I want to talk about is, films that for some reason make me think of Disney, without ever having watched them in Anaheim or Lake Buena Vista.

Antitrust (2001 - Ryan Phillipe, Tim Robbins) – A young computer programmer gets an apparent dream job with a Microsoft-like company, only to discover his boss may or may not be involved in some shady, and deadly, antitrust practices.

My Disney Connection: Spaceship Earth (Epcot)

Because the film deals with young computer programmers on the verge of breakthroughs, there are a few scenes that involve computer stations inside garages. The first time I rode Spaceship Earth after the 2007 redo, the “garage in California” scene reminded me of the film. I didn’t think much about it after that, until a few months later when Antitrust aired on basic cable. One of the garage scenes instantly took me back to Spaceship Earth, and now whenever I happen to catch the film, I think of Epcot.


Spaceship Earth

Blazing Saddles (1974 - Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder) – A dirty politician appoints a black sheriff to the small town of Rock Ridge, in an attempt to send the town into ruins. The politician gets much more than he bargained for, however, when the Sheriff wins the town over.

My Disney Connection: Frontierland (Disneyland)

One of the most politically incorrect films of all time also happens to be one of the funniest films of all time (AFI ranked it as the 6th funniest American film ever made). Now why would I associate an R-rated, not nearly safe-for-family-viewing film with Disney? Two reasons, actually.

The scene in which the late (and brilliant) Madeline Kahn’s character performs her musical number takes place in “The Rock Ridge Saloon.” I never watched Westerns as a kid, so the only other “saloon environment” I had ever seen was in-person, at the Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland. As I was grabbing screenshots for this article, I realized that the two venues don’t look terribly alike. But the scene in the film did manage to make me think of the famous Disney saloon as a kid, and actually still does today.

The second and more obvious reason is: Disneyland actually used to play the theme song to Blazing Saddles in Frontierland. While I haven’t heard it on my last couple of trips, up until recently the title song of Mel Brooks’ Western parody (sung in earnest by Frankie Laine, who incidentally wasn’t told the film was a comedy at the time of recording) could be heard as background music whenever you sauntered through Frontierland. Fun fact: the 1946 song “Cool Water” (by The Sons of the Pioneers) could also be heard in Frontierland, and that is another song Frankie Laine recorded.

Blazing Saddles

Golden Horseshoe Revue
Photo courtesy of

White Men Can’t Jump (1992 - Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes) – Two street basketball players, one black, one white, form an unlikely duo to hustle the rough courts in South Central Los Angeles.

My Disney Connection: Universe of Energy (Epcot)

I had no idea what the Universe of Energy was about prior to riding it during my first visit to Epcot in 2005. When I entered the show building, the pre-ride film was just starting. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I found a spot on the floor in which to relax (this was either before they didn’t allow it, or the CM that day just didn’t care). I chuckled at some of the scenes in the pre-show, particularly the fact that Ellen seemed to have every single item Bill Nye the Science Guy came over to borrow all together in one kitchen drawer. When Ellen drifted off to sleep and appeared on Jeopardy, I remember thinking to myself that I hadn’t seen Jeopardy “on the big screen” since the movie White Men Can’t Jump. The very next time I saw that film again, just like with Antitrust, I was transported back to Epcot’s Future World. Weird, I know.

White Men Can't Jump

Universe of Energy

Arthur (1981 - Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli) – A happy and often intoxicated multi-millionaire is faced with a decision: marry a woman he can’t stand, or be cut off from the family fortune. To make matters worse, he just so happens to be falling for a blue-collar girl.

My Disney Connection: The (Former) Frontierland Shooting Gallery (Disneyland)

This is the original “reminds me of Disney” film, since it dates so far back for me. I couldn’t find much information about it, or any photos for the longest time, but there used to be a shooting gallery located inside the store now known as the Pioneer Mercantile. The store’s back entrance faces Adventureland, and if you were to enter through there, the gallery was immediately to your left. It consisted of little plastic bears with infrared sensors, and when you hit one, the bear would “growl,” stand up, and change direction. There were only two places on earth I had ever seen that gallery: In Disneyland, and in the movie Arthur.

Arthur (1981)

B'ar Country
Photo courtesy of Kevin Kidney

HUGE thanks to Kevin Kidney for providing the “B’ar Country” photo, as I was going crazy trying to find one.

The Arthur/B’ar Country connection was the main inspiration for this article, and I guess I wanted to share my somewhat strange Disney associations with my readers/fellow Disney fans. I mean, I can’t be the only one, right?

As it turns out, I'm not. After Kevin provided me with the photo above, he then told me, "I know what you mean about non-Disney films that remind you of Disneyland. For me, 'Meet Me In St. Louis' is the quintessential 'Main Street USA' movie, streetcar and all."

Looks like I'm in good company!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dueling Disney: Square-off

Ye come seeking adventure and salty old pirates, aye? Well don’t close your eyes, and don’t try to hide. For my fellow Americans, we have ourselves a good old-fashioned Square-off!

We can smell the pundit’s fresh ink now: “Not since Dueling Disney: Main Street has there been such an overwhelmingly lopsided victory in this neoteric and arresting series.”

New Orleans Square vs. Liberty Square


Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Storyboard’s Unusual Suspects series oft-focuses on a character considered by many to be secondary. A minor role, if you will. This month, as the WDFM focuses on Walt Disney's classic Alice in Wonderland, we decided to shake things up a bit and talk about a rather primary character, who still manages to fall under the realm of an unusual suspect.

Film poster for Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Photo © Disney

Check out the complete article here: 

Friday, May 17, 2013

2013 Expedition Everest Challenge Recap

On Saturday, May 4, I competed in the 2013 Expedition Everest Challenge. The last time I ran this race, it took place in September. September 26, 2009, to be exact. Other than the month change (runDisney changed the month to June in 2010, then to May the following year), the new experience for me was the redesigned course. When I ran the race in ’09, the obstacle course came after you completed the 5K. Now (and since 2010), the obstacles are interspersed throughout the 3-mile run. They’ve also gotten easier.

My medal from the 2009 race

One other huge difference for me this time was the weather. This time it was close to perfect, whereas in September of ’09, I had to battle not only a Yeti, but a monsoon. That race predates this blog, so I’m afraid I don’t have a recap for it. However I can tell you that before the start of the ’09 EE they were warning us the race may be stopped depending on the proximity and frequency of the lightning, and as it turns out, many runners weren’t allowed to finish. I was lucky enough to finish that night, and actually at the time I believed it would be my first and last Expedition Everest Challenge. I can honestly say now, I’m glad that didn’t end up being the case.

I ran my first full Marathon in January 2013. I was eager to take a break from running, with my next race scheduled for late August (the Disneyland Half). Enter my friend Stacey, and the peer pressure that can only be applied by fellow Disney runners. “Let’s do the Expedition Everest Challenge!” she said. There needs to be a scientific study done on the level of difficulty present when attempting to resist a friend’s offer to do a Disney race.

My shirt for this race

What I knew going into this race: next to nothing. I didn’t even glance at the course, nor did I do any specific training (other than my standard workouts). All I knew was the obstacles were during the 5k this time. I just wanted to use this as a fun race, no competing. I even decided I would take video during the run (the video is at the end of this recap).

2013 Expedition Everest Challenge Course Map
photo courtesy of Disney Every Day

Since the race portion was only a 5K, the expo technically wasn’t an expo. There were basically just a dozen or so booths set up at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and they were all outside.

My friends and I were staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which we felt was a good idea, since it was a host resort for the race. Well, apparently everyone else had the same idea. The race started at 10pm, so we decided to catch the bus to the race just after 8, thinking that would allow us plenty of time. It did not.

The line was huge, and buses weren’t coming fast enough. We contemplated taking a taxi, but other people in line were in communication with their friends who had, and as it turned out, the people in taxis were stuck in traffic trying to enter the race area. It was getting down to the wire. Finally, we were towards the front of the line at about 9:36. I knew we’d fit on the next bus, but that wasn’t the concern: when the next bus was coming was.

At the last minute a Cast Member came out and started yelling, “Corral A! Anyone here in Corral A?” My friends and I, who were in fact in Corral A, skipped on over to him. He had us stand in a separate line, and more runners gathered behind us. Within one minute a seven-passenger van pulled up, and seven of us piled in as the driver rushed us to the race. It was true that traffic was still backed up, so he took us through the Cast Member parking lot and got us as close as he could to the race area (about 200 yards away). We ran over, and entered our corral just minutes before the start! I managed to find my friend Katherine, who may have participated in every runDisney race possible in the past few years, and posed for a quick photo. If you look behind us, you may even spot the “snow” in the air. Very Everest-y!

My friend Katherine and I in Corral A

The fireworks went off, and thus began the 6th annual Expedition Everest Challenge. It is always a treat starting in Corral A. The weaving through runners required when starting in a later corral really does take a toll. I had a mini burst of energy at the start, so I ended up towards the front of the pack. I ran off to the side a little however since I knew I’d be sporadically filming, and planned to slow down a bit during those stretches. The first mile was easy, but it didn’t take place in the park. We ran along the perimeter of the Butterfly parking lot, and runDisney put out a few decorations (I seem to remember a glowing glacier like structure in the water along the course), and speakers pumping out sounds of a growling Yeti (that part is audible in the video recap). I had incorrectly assumed that the obstacles would all be at or around each mile marker. Obstacle #1, jumping over bales of hay, appeared about three quarters into Mile One. The bales weren’t very high, and jumping them was relatively easy (and surprisingly fun).

The first mile marker came just as we entered the park. The path took us up through the Oasis, past the Tree of Life, through Africa, and over to Asia. There was a decent amount of backstage running on this course, and at one point we were actually behind Expedition Everest, which was kind of weird. It was at about Mile Two and a quarter that we finally hit the second obstacle: tires. This was technically the most difficult of the three. There were more tires than I had anticipated, and they were wet. Plus, I was trying to film my feet the whole time. I managed to not fall, however, and pressed on.

The final leg of the 5K had us run along a small body of water outside of the park. The third and final obstacle, crawling under a cargo net, came pretty much at the end of Mile Three. Like the hay it was pretty easy, and upon completing it, the race portion of the event was pretty much done. As you crossed the finish line, folks that would normally be lined up to hand you your medal or a banana, were passing out clue cards instead. The scavenger hunt begins.

I hate to admit it, but the first clue took me a few minutes to figure out. As soon as I saw numbers I got flustered, since Math was never my strong suit (I am an English major!). But after staring at it long enough, a pattern emerged.

I highlighted each zero to reveal the pattern

The next clue was decidedly easier, as it was impossible to miss the letters in all caps.

Apologies for bad quality - but check out all of the capital letters

Clue number three was tricky at first, since I again thought it was some sort of Math equation. But then I started to think, “What is 26?” The first (and only) thing that came to mind was the letters of the alphabet, and from that point it was simple.

19 = S and 23 = W

The last clue was a bit confusing. I knew it was a direction however, since we already had Northwest, Northeast, and Southwest. I was going to just guess Southeast, but as I arrived to the location, I heard one of the volunteers giving other runners a clue. “New England,” he said to them. Well that answered that. I grabbed the first available volunteer and said, “Northeast.” I was handed the final clue, which basically instructed us to piece our previous clues together, and look for a pattern that would match one on our bib. My first instinct was to piece the clues together as they would be on a map (Southwest would be lower left, Northwest upper left, etc), however that proved incorrect once I realized two of the answers were Northeast. It took me a few minutes, but I eventually realized that there were little letters on each side of the puzzle pieces. What were the letters? Why N, S, E and W, of course. After arranging the respective piece to match its clue answer, I came up with this…

Disclaimer: That lower-left piece is actually wrong, but I could still see the symbol

I identified the symbol on my bib (the white one, although when I tried to point to it in the video recap I accidentally pointed at red), picked up my puzzle pieces, and began the run back to the finish line. I remark in the video how it felt like running a 5K (three miles) all over again. It turns out I was close. Another runner who was tracking his distance said all told we ran about five miles that night.

I came to the finish line, and just before crossing, a volunteer made sure I had the answer to the final clue. I stopped and pointed to the white symbol on my bib, and she ushered me along. I crossed, received my medal, snapped a pic, grabbed a Powerade and a banana, and waited for my friends to finish. Physically I felt really good. Five miles is hardly a significant amount of running, and again, the obstacles were pretty easy. In fact, that’s really only one of two things I didn’t care for.

In 2009 we had to scale a wall, and also climb a cargo net. I later heard those were too difficult for some people, so that explains why the obstacles are so easy these days. However when the obstacles are too easy, they barely feel like obstacles. I don’t know if this would be feasible, but I wonder if they could somehow have two separate divisions, easy and hard, with two different sets of obstacles? That would be a good solution, as that brings me to my only other knock on this event: the price. Races have become quite trendy as of late, and registration fees have been increasing to the point of, “Is this race worth that much?” In the case of the Expedition Everest Challenge, I have to say it was a really fun event. I didn’t get to enjoy the 2009 race at all, due to the monsoon. With great weather, I was able to appreciate all of the elements that went into this challenge. I love the physical/mental combination required, but again, the distance was short, and the obstacles were easy, making the physical part not much of a challenge. For the price we paid ($110 to $130, depending on when you registered), I would have liked to see either the aforementioned tougher obstacles, or perhaps the race distance being doubled to a 10K.

The post-race party was pretty fun. We danced a little, and rode Expedition Everest. It's always cool getting to ride that at night.

Showing our bling

Again, I would like to point out that this was a very fun event. It’s just at some point you have to start looking at overall value for your money. But runDisney did a great job structuring a fairly complex course. There were plenty of Cast Members out to cheer us on, and all of the volunteers who guided us through the scavenger hunt portion were wonderful. This race definitely gets a thumbs up from me.

Jenna, Keith, Stacey, Katherine

And if you’d like to see the obstacles and course for yourself, check out the video below!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dueling Disney: Home State as a Vacation Destination

This time on Dueling Disney, we thought we’d take a look outside of the theme parks, and cast an eye on the surrounding state. “What’s that?” you cry. “There’s more to a Disney vacation than just the parks?”

Why, yes, there is. In fact, there are plenty of other things to be seen in the surrounding areas of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. In fact, you could even make a whole vacation out of it! So, let’s venture off Disney property and see what’s going on elsewhere.

Who will win this time? California, or Florida?

Home State as a Vacation Destination


Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Disney Project Podcast--Episode 7: The Secret Tour of Disneyland

This month we're joined by John and Lauren Delmont, the father/daughter team that produced the wonderful video "The Secret Tour of Disneyland." The two give us a glimpse into what it was like making the video, share some fun stories about interactions with cast members, and talk about a few of their Disney favorites.

Your listening options are: iTunes, the direct podcast’s page, or via the window below. Enjoy!