Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy 50th Birthday Carousel of Progress

I want to preface this article with a couple of notes. First, I usually refrain from being too critical of things at the Disney Parks, because that’s just not my style. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I just focus on the positive. But while this article has been written with a comedic tone, it qualifies as a, “It’s funny because it’s true” piece. Second, this article was written out of love. I actually cleaned the Carousel of Progress sign once. I was there the day they shut the attraction down to shoot a scene from Brad Bird’s upcoming film Tomorrowland (and broke the news on Twitter the night before). And perhaps the greatest moment of my Disney life occurred when I got to sing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” with Richard Sherman. I assure you, I adore this attraction.

On April 22, 2014, the Carousel of Progress turns 50. Sure it wasn’t available from October 18, 1965 through July 1, 1967 (while it transitioned from the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair to Disneyland), and again from September 9, 1973 through January 14, 1975 (as it transitioned from Disneyland to Walt Disney World), however those closing dates were merely periods between transfer.

Progressland Pavilion, 1964/65 New York World's Fair

So, happy birthday, Carousel of Progress!

WDW Magic recently revealed that every Disney fans’ favorite rotating theater will be down for refurb this summer, from August 25 through September 4. We here at The Disney Project have compiled a suggested “to-do” list of tasks for the folks at WDI/Maintenance over there in Lake Buena Vista to take a peek at, that we fully believe can be tackled in large part during the scheduled downtime.


1) Marty Called—Wants Swiffers!

The state of disrepair that my beloved Carousel of Progress has endured is approaching epic proportions, to the point that I am FULLY willing to donate at least one entire day of my next Walt Disney World vacation onstage in the classic attraction with a Dustbuster and some 409. Remember “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day”? Bring that back, Disney, but modify it to let superfans like myself clean our favorite attractions for said day, and you can keep the free one-day park ticket. I’ll sign any waiver you want.

I realize that some areas need to appear worn for show elements. But in Act Three, there has been a noticeable film of dust on the bench seating surrounding Father at least since my first visit back in 2005. At times I have fantasized about risking Disney Park-banning along with audience gasping and storming the stage with gritted teeth and a wet paper towel. For the love of Pete, sometimes I can’t see anything else during that scene!

2) Bell’s palsy: it’s not just for humans…

Before you guys get offended, I actually had Bell’s palsy once, so I know firsthand (er, firstface) what it feels like. Furthermore, I know exactly what it looks like. And in Act One, it looks a lot like Father has it.

I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of Audio-Animatronic figures, other than any stories Bob Gurr has told me in regards to the 1963 Abraham Lincoln figure he worked on. That said, it can’t be that difficult to grab a Phillips-head screwdriver and loosen up the ol’ joints around Father’s mouth, can it?

3) The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

On both sides of the main stage in Acts One through Three there are smaller “turntable” stages, each containing different family members that Father either talks about or interacts with. The stages rotate 180 degrees mid-scene—behind the cover of a scrim—to allow not two but four additional outer scenes. It’s a fun, clever feature, when those little turntables aren’t creaking and clicking like a Yugo.

While the noise doesn’t ruin the experience for me (let’s face it, nothing really could in the CoP’s case), it does act as a temporary distraction when Father is talking and I hear *creeeaakkkkkk* on either side of him. Not to mention if you happen to be sitting right in front of said mini side-stage, good luck hearing Father at all during the moments of creakery. Let’s update my “Volunteer CoP cleaning day” shopping list, Disney: Swiffers, 409, and a can of WD-40.

4) Give the man some pants!

Okay, I am now going to reveal just how geeky I am. I ride the Carousel of Progress multiple times every Walt Disney World trip. While my preferred seat is in the front row, right in front of Father, I have sat in many different sections so I could enjoy “different show experiences”. Hey, I warned you. That said, there are a few select seats in the front row during Act Four that afford a view of something that may just “ruin the magic” for some.

Father isn’t wearing any pants.

Wait, what?

Okay, so that doesn’t mean you can tell whether or not Father prefers boxers or briefs. But because he is cooking and remains behind the counter the entire time, the Imagineers opted to not bother giving him any legs. He is basically a torso on a swiveling, curved stick. How do I know this? Because you can clearly see it in the reflection of the lower part of the stove (again, if you’re sitting in certain seats in the front row). Is it a huge deal? Not really, considering the vast majority of guests would never have noticed if they hadn’t read this article (uh, sorry). But I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed, and all it takes is a pair of pants placed around the swivel to give the illusion of legs in the reflection.

5) Not to mention laser discs, and hi-def TV!

Staying in Act Four, saying it needs to be updated is an understatement. That scene is so terribly 90s, I keep waiting for Kid ‘n Play to join the family for dinner right after Jimmy’s pager starts vibrating.

However, I understand that updating the entire final scene would basically require updating the entire attraction. That of course would involve a new script, new voice actors, new sets, new audio-animatronic figures, and even a new exterior paint job. That is no small task, and is “probably” not something that can be tackled between August 25 and September 4. So, what’s an Imagineer to do?

My vote: at least update some of the audio. We can overlook the virtual reality video game, that apparently requires Grandma to shoot only about 6 bad guys before destroying the “resident flying ace’s” high score. But some of the dialogue can be altered to update the technology references. The daughter Patricia, for example, says to Grandpa, “Oh no. You're not going to tell us about the old days when you didn't even have a car phone.” The word “car” can easily be replaced (by a Patricia sound-alike) with the word “cell”. If changing just that one word is too noticeable, have the sound-alike redo that entire line. Or heck, the entire scene! Patricia only has about 6 lines in Act Four. The new voice actress could redo all of the lines, while replacing “car” with “cell”.

Changing Grandpa’s line “laser discs and high def TV” is a little trickier. Until you update the entire show, you have to leave Rex Allen’s voice in there as Grandpa. It’s the perfect tribute to the original show. And frankly, “high def TV”, while not called that anymore, is at least still applicable today. So how do you replace the term “laser disc”? Go to the archives! If they could mish-mash different pieces of Walt’s Mickey Mouse dialogue together for 2013’s animated short Get a Horse, perhaps they could find at least one or two words spoken by Rex Allen that could be used to substitute blu-ray’s archaic ancestor.


The Carousel of Progress is more important than a lot of people give it credit for. Sure it may not be the most “thrilling” ride in town these days, but it is an important piece of history that calls back to a time when ingenuity superseded marketability. When the attraction was being developed, it was basically meant to be one long General Electric commercial. But thanks to Walt and his Imagineers, it became so much more than that. Never before (and not since) had an attraction combined so many attractive elements at once: cutting edge (at the time) technology, an engaging story, an impressive ride capacity, one of the all-time (if not the) best attraction theme songs, and a perfect blend of both nostalgia and the future. After all, progress is one of the main components of optimism.

"There was more of Walt in the Carousel of Progress show than in anything else we've done." ~ Disney Legend Joe Fowler

So while updating the entire show is preferred (not to mention absolutely vital to its future), we at The Disney Project believe that at least the first 4 of the aforementioned list items can easily be tackled during the late summer refurb. Our fingers will be crossed. And again, Disney, if you ever decide you want some free labor in regards to the Carousel of Progress, don't hesitate to email me! #sonotkidding

After all, tomorrow is still just a dream away.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Story of Walt, WED, and WESTCOT: Part One

The series of events that led The Disney Project to host its first ever Disney fan event is a collection of comedic and not-so-comedic anecdotes, of which I will do my best to compile for you now. It all started back in the spring of 2013. My friend Jeff Heimbuch and I were full steam ahead on the bi-weekly column Dueling Disney, and our readers had remarked more than once as to the entertainment value of our banter. The chemistry was solid, so Jeff suggested I help him out with a little presentation he was planning to give at the upcoming Disneyana convention that summer in Anaheim. He was going to talk about the infamous (and failed) WESTCOT project, and I happily agreed. Not only did it sound like fun, but I’ve been a frequent Disneyland guest since birth, so I actually remember when WESTCOT was announced.

Photo © Disney

We created a Google doc and began organizing the slideshow. I am more of a writer than a PowerPoint guy (well, more than anything, really), so I focused on gathering literature. Jeff, ever resourceful, had obtained dozens of concept images of WESTCOT from a former Imagineer who was assigned to the project. The program was looking good, and we actually had a little bit of buzz going. But then, we were run over by a dog. And his blog.

Jeff received an email from the Disneyana organizers advising us that they had the opportunity to host a panel featuring the stars from the Disney Channel series “A Dog with a Blog”. I am not sure if the dog was going to be one of the panelists. The problem was, there were no more available spots by that point. So we got bumped, for a Dog with a Blog. Let me repeat: we got bumped, for a Dog with a Blog. We weren’t thrilled, but hey, we understood what the Disneyana folks were thinking. I believe more than a few people watch the Disney Channel, so in terms of promotion, it sort of made sense. Maybe not in terms of quality, since Jeff and I had planned on killing it in there, but alas, what was done was done. The mockery of the show began, however, if for nothing else to quell our bitterness.

"Fighting" over a souvenir at the D23 Expo, August 2013 

Then one fine day I made a joke to Jeff. “Maybe we should go to Disneyana anyway and give our presentation out in the hallway.” He laughed, I laughed, we moved on. Or, did we? At that point I said to myself, “Hey, why can’t we give that presentation somewhere?” There was no reason why we couldn’t. So we immediately began looking for other conventions to serve as venues for our highly (and by highly, I mean moderately) anticipated WESTCOT talk. The search proved fruitless, however, and it looked like we might just have to wait till the next Disneyana convention in the summer of 2014. Not long after that realization, I made yet another joke that once again didn’t remain a joke for long: “Why don’t we just have our own little expo?”

Another Google doc was born. Where would we have it? Anaheim, of course. Who else could we get to appear? We both know Bob Gurr. I am friends with Jeff Kurtti. Mister Heimbuch “kind of” knows Rolly Crump. Between the two of us we realized we had the amazing fortune to know/be friends with several prominent Disney personalities. It seemed doable. Jeff and I could do WESTCOT, and some other Disney folks could do presentations of their own. So before long the Google doc was filled with over a dozen possible Disney-related presentations. Our “little expo” had turned into a weekend-long event. And why not? Many of the other Disney fan conventions were that length. Disneyana goes on for 4 days, in fact. But, the Disneyana folks have done this before. Cue the reality check.

It was too much for us to plan. At the time we were both busier than ever, and the thought of making our very first event consist of two full days of programs seemed arduous at best. As much as I hated to do it, we had to cut it back down to one day. The search continued for a venue in Anaheim, but early on, nothing in our price range seemed appealing. Then one day I was hanging out in the back offices at the Walt Disney Family Museum here in San Francisco, talking to my friends who work there. “Hey,” I said to one of them. “How much does it cost to rent our theater?”

The WDFM's beautiful theater

It was affordable. Meaning, it was an amount I would comfortably be able to put on my credit card until we sold enough tickets to cover the fee. The Museum’s theater is gorgeous, so that was a huge plus. The lower lobby came with the price of the rental, so maybe we could do autographs for whichever Disney personality we brought along? And since the theater itself has a state-of-the-art audio/video system, maybe we could also do a short film or two for entertainment value? It all seemed plausible. The downside was that we could only book it for 4 hours. Jeff and I discussed the pros and cons, and decided that the shorter time block would work out to our advantage. With less time we could keep it to just two programs, one being WESTCOT, the other being hosted by our special guest(s).  In between programs we could do autographs, show a short film or two, etc. It was perfect.

I corresponded with the events coordinator at the Museum. I was given some paperwork to fill out, and contracts to sign. By this time it was fall of 2013, and the venue was secured. I asked Bob Gurr to be our special guest, and Jeff asked Rolly Crump. They both agreed. Jeff and I had a few ideas for some short films we could create specifically for the event. We were both very much looking forward to putting together the content for our first mini event, which for a while we had nicknamed “The HeimGluck Expo”. Since we booked the WDFM, however, the event quickly became known as, "A Night at the (Walt Disney Family) Museum". Everything was going along great.

That is, until, the wheels fell off.

part two coming soon!