Friday, December 15, 2017

Happy 44th Anniversary to WDW's Pirates of The Caribbean: My Wish List For Refurbishing This Classic Attraction

(Lee on Flickr)

Today sadly marks 51 years since the passing of Walt Disney, but it also marks the 44th anniversary of one of WDW's greatest attractions, the Pirates of the Caribbean. Plagued by a harried construction and ride length half that of Disneyland's version, WDW's Pirates is consistently the lowest rated of all the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions throughout the world. But nonetheless, it has some wonderful, unique elements that set it apart from the rest of the Pirate rides. For one thing, it has the magnificent Caribbean Plaza as its home, a wonderful work of terraces, hidden courtyards, and wrought-iron details that truly set the Caribbean stage for the Pirates. The facade of WDW's Pirates is the stunning Castillo del Morro, an impressive recreation of a Spanish fortress, complete with the iconic clock tower. The dark and sublimely detailed fortress and dungeon queue nearly make up for the shortcomings the ride has, and in fact was an important part of the entirely different story the WDW Pirates once told. In the original WDW Pirates of the Caribbean, there was no time travel; guests traveled to a Caribbean town, entered a fortress under attack by pirates, boarded longboats to escape the marauders as a pirate ship sails in the distance, and then ended up back in the same Caribbean town as the pirate ship arrives and attacks. Unfortunately, both the queue and ride have been altered greatly over the years and not necessarily for the better, from political corrections to the arrival of Jack Sparrow to the questionable addition of Fastpass+. These changes have impacted not only many of the iconic scenes but also the experience itself; now it is possible to infer time travel in the story, and much of the pirates ransacking of the Spanish Main has been turned into a Where's Waldo-esque search for Captain Jack Sparrow. On top of all of this, there is at least one more controversial change yet to come. From February 26th to March 18th next year, WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean is set to have a refurbishment for the primary purpose of politically correcting the classic auction scene. I have already wrote a lengthy post about why I feel this is a bad idea, so needless to say I am hoping above all else that this does not happen (unfortunately, it did). However, seeing an upcoming refurb for Pirates got me thinking about what I'd love to see Disney do during the three-week refurbishment or a similarly short refurb of the ride, and what long-term things that I think Disney should do to restore Pirates of the Caribbean in time for WDW's 50th anniversary. So without further ado, here's my wish list for both this short refurbishment and long-term refurbishments for WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean:

What Could and Should Be Done in 3 Weeks*

* I've made my most educated guesses on what could actually be done in a three week refurbishment, but it is possible that one or more of these things could require more time to accomplish.
  • Turn back on the firing cannons on the fort facade. Before Jack Sparrow invaded Castillo del Morro, the cannons on the top of the facade used to loudly fire across Caribbean Plaza and Adventureland. Restoring the firing cannons would not only add texture to the sounds of Caribbean Plaza, but also restore an integral part of the story that the pirates are actively attacking the fort, and of course the fort must defend itself!
  • Restore the original queue music and soundscape. The queue is already a visual masterpiece, but it also used to be an auditory one. At the entrance tunnel of the fort, an eerie piece of music called "Fortune Red" played, and then faded out into a mixture of silence, the voices of the Spanish soldiers as they prepared for the pirate attack, and choruses of "Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me" implying that the pirates were already in the fort and could be around any corner. In both sides of the queue, a lonely invisible man strummed the gentle chords of a Spanish guitar into the darkness. On the right path of the queue, as guests prepared to make sail, the sounds of someone digging with a shovel and drunken singing and laughing emanated out of a cave, where no doubt pirates lay just out of sight digging for treasure. The cumulative effect of these sounds was an incredible introduction using sound to the experience that awaited guests as they prepared to escape from the besieged Spanish fortress and into the murky, eerie caverns. All of this was drowned out in 2006 by the loud playing of the gentle flutes in Disneyland's "Pirate Overture" which has always played in their queue. This poor decision reduced the once impressive audio atmosphere of the queue to mere whispers all but silenced by an ill-fitting piece of music. Restoring the sound systems in the queue and the original compositions to boot would be an excellent idea.

    (Brian Hammond on Flickr)
  • Restore the Pirate Barker Bird to his rightful place at the entrance of the ride. This wonderful fellow was originally located above the unloading dock of the attraction, cautioning guests to watch out for the "moving gangplank". His delightful appearance quickly caused a bottleneck there, and so he was moved to the entrance of Pirates of the Caribbean, and he became the Barker Bird. For over 30 years, he was a wonderful sight to see, a feathered and salty squawking and whistling "pirrot". He was also quick to tell guests about the adventure with salty old pirates that awaited them if they passed through the old fortress and didn't miss the longboats waiting to take them to Pirates Cove. The Barker Bird became an iconic character and absolute fan favorite at WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean. Inexplicably and regrettably, he flew the coop during the 2006 film-based refurbishment, and he has only shown up as part of displays in special events elsewhere. It has now been over a decade since he disappeared for no good reason, and it is way past time for him to return to the perch at the home he should've never left.

 Long-Term Things to Refurbish and Restore

(Joe Penniston on Flickr)

  • Take Pirates of the Caribbean off of the Fastpass+ attraction roster and undo the physical changes to the queue made for Fastpass+. When Disney ludicrously decided that Fastpass was needed for Pirates of the Caribbean, a high capacity boat ride, they made two physical alterations to the queue that weakened its effectiveness. First, a new merge point was created, meaning the two separate queues not only now meet each other, but now have an open view of the loading dock where there was once walls. Keeping this merge point if Fastpass+ was discontinued for this attraction would be as unnecessary as Fastpass+ is currently for Pirates. I would close back up the walls and return the queues to the state where neither one could be seen from the other until after exiting the "fort". The other change made was the knocking down of a wall near the entrance of the tunnel to turn the righthand queue into a Fastpass queue. The resulting expansion of the left Standby queue resulted in the loss of the original passageway into the right queue, which cleverly declined after the incline of the entrance ramp to produce the illusion of descending deep into the dungeons on that side. Again, as Fastpass is unnecessary for this attraction in my opinion, I would restore this original passageway and incline and decline illusion to the queue.

  • Reconsider the political correction of the pirates. I've already covered much of this ground in my previous post about the future changes to the auction scene, but I wanted to note once more that political correctness does not do any favors to an already family friendly attraction about pirates. Despite the romanticized portrayal of pirates in the attraction, it is important to remember that the Pirates of the Caribbean is not a fun tale of the ransacking of a town by pirates; it is a morality play that uses scenes of skeletal pirates in desolate coves to remind us that those who are greedy, cruel and selfish will pay the price in the end. The original pirates chasing women scene and the auction scene are two of the most effective enforcers of this story. The Pooped Pirate's original dialogue, along with the petticoat and slipper that he held, the two turntables of pirates chasing women culminating in the gag the third turntable with a fat lady pursuing a shy pirate and the lady in the barrel should be brought back. And of course, keep the auction scene in its original form. 

(Norm Lanier on Flickr)

  • Begone Captain Jack Sparrow, and take your friends and foes with you! I'll admit I was excited when it was first announced that Jack Sparrow would be joining the Pirates of the Caribbean. I had seen Johnny Depp's remarkable performance as Captain Jack in Curse of the Black Pearl, and I was right among the chorus of 7-year old boys who were out of their mind happy that Jack Sparrow would soon be in Disney World. When he finally did arrive, it was really wonderful and cool at first, especially with how lifelike the Jack Sparrow animatronics were. But as I got older, I started recalling more and more often things that I dimly remembered had been in the attraction before Jack that I had loved but had gone away. I started to miss the Barker Bird and the talking skull (kudos to WDI for recently returning the latter), and the new narrative in the attraction involving the movie characters made less and less sense. I have now come to realize just how nonsensical and poorly thought out the movie additions to WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean really were from a narrative and logical standpoint, especially since this confusing search for Jack Sparrow replaced a linear non-narrative experience of pirates ransacking a town that didn't need elaborate explanation. WDI should unfetter this iconic ride and give it the care and respect it deserves by giving movie tie-ins the boot and focusing on what made the original Pirates of the Caribbean a truly classic attraction.

I hope you've all enjoyed my thoughts on what should happen in both short and long term refurbishments to revitalize and restore WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean in time for WDW's grand 50th anniversary. Haunted Serenade wishes Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World a very happy 44th anniversary!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Happy Birthday Walt: Where His Presence Can Be Felt Most at Walt Disney World

(Tom Simpson on Flickr)
 Yesterday would've been the 116th birthday of Walt Disney. He was a man beyond his time, seeking to make better his own, driven to unimaginable success by his desire and ability to make people's dreams come true. While others sought only or primarily financial gain in the operation of their businesses, Walt simply wanted to bring joy and happiness to the world, and he happened to have a great imagination and the talent of bringing together the right group of people to make his visions a reality. Nothing stopped him, not even financial difficulties or the "sharp pencil boys" that Walt always made sure worked for him and not the other way around. Visionary, optimal behaviorist, leader, game-changer, creator, and human, he all was. He made possible some of the greatest animated and live-action characters and films the world has ever seen, and then went on to make an entirely new and prosperous business for himself when he invented the world's first true theme park. Disneyland changed Walt's company and the world for the better, but it wasn't long before Walt set out on his grandest and most ambitious dream yet. Sadly, he passed away before he could see it to completion. His Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow died with him, but his Vacation Kingdom shines in the hot Floridian sun to this day, and within lies the final incarnations of Walt Disney's last and greatest dreams: the Magic Kingdom, the wonderful resorts and their amenities, and what's left (not much) of EPCOT Center. Walt may have never stepped foot in the complete World that is named after him, but he has a powerful presence there nonetheless. To honor his birthday and the incredible life that it represents, I will now take a look at where Walt Disney's presence can be felt most at the World that he would've been proud of.

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

(Norm Lanier on Flickr)
 Walt's hands may have never touched this first recreation of his Tiki Room, but even without Walt's physical presence, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room is nearly every bit as nostalgic and filled with Walt's spirit in Florida as it is in California. As it is, WDW's Tiki Room contains much of the essence that made the original show at Disneyland an instant classic. The same delightful avian banter and spellbinding songs that enchant guests in Disneyland play in abridged form at Disney World's Tiki Room. Although the tiki birds at Disneyland will always be the first true audio-animatronics, the birds that sing and the flowers that croon at the show that used to call itself Tropical Serenade represent in spirit that same momentous achievement that Walt made all those years ago.

WEDWAY Peoplemover and the Monorail

(Joe Penniston on Flickr)

(CetusCetus on Flickr)
One of mankind's greatest dreams has always been the freedom and ability to travel quickly and comfortably to wherever they pleased. In that spirit, Walt showcased in his lifetime two marvelous and groundbreaking transportation systems at Disneyland; the Peoplemover and the Monorail. The Monorail was first; a gleaming, sleek, emissions-free train of the future gliding in the skies above on a roundabout trip through Tomorrowland at Walt's kingdom. The iconic Monorail trains would become the perfect mode of transport to and from Disneyland and the Disneyland Hotel when a station was opened there, and well after Walt had passed a Monorail station was created at Downtown Disney. Advances in track and vehicle technology made by Disney during the creation of Ford's Magic Skyway for the World's Fair would lead to the development of another truly spectacular transportation system: the Peoplemover. This motorless, emissions free system of cars powered along a track with motorized wheels embedded in it was thought by Walt to be a revolutionary concept for future transportation, one that he was proud to use for a grand circuit tour of his Tomorrowland.

At Walt Disney World, both the Peoplemover and the Monorail were intended to play a much bigger role. Both were meant to be the primary means of getting out and about in Walt Disney's E.P.C.O.T., the first time that the two systems would have been used in tandem in an actual city anywhere. Although the city of tomorrow never came to fruition, the Monorail and Peoplemover still had starring roles in Disney World's grand show. In addition to transporting guests between the Ticket and Transportation Center, the Magic Kingdom, and the Polynesian and Contemporary Resorts, the Monorail line at WDW would later be expanded to include EPCOT Center and the Grand Floridian Resort when they were built. Deep within the paradise of the Magic Kingdom, a new and improved Peoplemover, now using magnetic linear induction motors instead of embedded motorized tires, sailed on a covered track high above the utopia of Tomorrowland. Unfortunately, neither line expansion nor update of the trains has happened for the Monorail since the late 80s, and while WDW's Peoplemover outlasted its Disneyland cousin, it has been somewhat neglected in recent years. Despite this, both the Peoplemover and Monorail remain wonderful examples of the innovative ideas and inventions that Walt so often showcased in his projects.

Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress

(Joe Penniston on Flickr)
 If there ever was a theme song that could encompass Walt's life and who he was, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" would be it. As the Carousel of Progress has changed and moved over the years, first from the Progressland Pavilion at the World's Fair in '64 to its home in Disneyland's Tomorrowland, then to Walt Disney World when GE felt it was time to tap into a new audience on the East Coast, it has never truly lost its very real and very powerful connection that it has with Walt Disney and all it represented. Even though the final scene is outdated and the GE appliance advertisements have been replaced with a mediocre sitcom in the script, as long as that wonderfully unique theater is still rotating in Tomorrowland, Walt's presence will always be alive and well somewhere in the World dedicated to him.

Progress City and the Original E.P.C.O.T.

(Cory Doctorow on Flickr)
 At last, we come to the one thing in all of Walt Disney World that can claim the most powerful connection by far to Walt; a piece of the original Progress City model. The model that now resides in a dark and quiet corner of a Peoplemover showbuilding was once part of the magnificent Progress City model that resided on the second floor of the Carousel of Progress building at Disneyland. This powerful, bold, and delightfully kinetic model was filled with painstakingly detailed buildings and landscaping, moving cars and vehicles, and an electrician's cornucopia of lights. Only a fraction of this model exists today, but in the face of being overlooked and in need of some TLC, this part of Progress City that figuratively and literally has Walt's fingerprints on it continues to be a powerful physical and spiritual link between Walt Disney World and the man himself.

This model also represents one of the last physical conceptions remaining of Walt's most powerful yet unrealized dream; his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. An actual city never came to be at WDW, but the theme park that rose from its ashes was genuinely sublime. In its prime, EPCOT Center was an optimistic and futuristic force to be reckoned with, combining Walt's vision of American free enterprise and international cultures showcasing their very best with some of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring work that WED Enterprises (the original Imagineers) ever did. EPCOT Center sought to be, and for a time was a transformative center of learning and culture for all the world. EPCOT Center lit the spark of many of today's great thinkers, inventors, and scientists. The tide has long since ebbed for EPCOT Center, but it will be hard indeed for the world to forget the brilliant attractions and concepts that resided there and the truly remarkable effect it had on today's society and livelihood. The theme park with the amazing geodesic sphere was not Walt's city, but the same brilliant concepts, themes and ideas that Walt had made the beating pulse of his E.P.C.O.T. were reincarnated beautifully in EPCOT Center.

I hope you've all enjoyed this look at just a few of the incredible things that Walt accomplished in his lifetime and beyond. May his spirit and soul live on, if not at the Disney company, in our hearts and memories of the experiences and dreams that Walt made come true for all of us.

Happy Birthday Walt

December 5th, 1901 - December 15th, 1966

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy First Anniversary for Haunted Serenade: Five Overlooked Walt Disney World Attractions I Am Grateful Are Still Around

It has now been a year (and a few days) since I published my first writings on Haunted Serenade, a tribute to masterpieces and strange things alike at Walt Disney World and regions beyond. As it is getting very close to Thanksgiving, that wonderful day of counting blessings, I thought I should express my thanks and gratitude for some of my own. To everyone who has taken the time to read and express their thoughts and appreciation of this blog, thank you. Your praise, thanks, and opinions have been nothing short of wonderful for me to see. I hope you all have an amazing Thanksgiving, and I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts and musings on some WDW's greatest or overlooked attractions and more!

Another thing I felt I should express my thanks for is those few remaining Walt Disney World attractions that are often overlooked but are childhood favorites of mine that are still alive and well at their respective theme parks in the World. Without further ado, here are five of the most underrated but personally beloved attractions that I am grateful are still alive:

#5: WEDWAY Peoplemover

(Joe Penniston on Flickr)
Rain or shine, daytime and especially nighttime, the Peoplemover has always been a reliable old friend, one of the most relaxing and comfortable attractions in the entire Disney World. The covered and sturdily supported track eliminates any fear of heights, and combines a gentle motion, a relatively quiet atmosphere, and wonderful looks at the attractions of the land to produce a singularly relaxing ride. It's particularly wonderful at nighttime after a long, sweaty and exhausting trip around the Kingdom, just the perfect kind of ride to put up your feet on and relax, especially if the obnoxiously loud Tomorrowland dance party is not performing. But no matter the time of day or night, the breeze from the motion of the Peoplemover and the dark and calming trips inside the show buildings are a much-needed respite from the brutal Florida climate. A preview of Buzz LightYear's Space Ranger Spin and a look of part of Walt Disney's original Progress City model are both wonderful, but the trip inside Space Mountain is undoubtedly the highlight of this experience. Otherworldly and soothing music from outer space accompanies glimpses of the lift hills, the incredible post-show dioramas, and a previously amazing look at the ride itself that unfortunately is now too dark to see much but still hints at the thrills and terrors of Space Mountain.

(Hector A Parayuelos on Flickr)

 Both the Magic Kingdom and the guests that enjoy it are very fortunate that the WDW Peoplemover has chugged along long after Disneyland's Peoplemover was first transformed into the disastrous Rocket Rods and then completely abandoned. The countless days and nights I've traveled up those conveyor belts to that platform underneath Astro Orbiter and been whisked away on the most pleasant and relaxing ride in the Magic Kingdom is one of the greatest pleasures I've ever had in visiting the Magic Kingdom. The Peoplemover continues to provide true magic on my vacations even as less and less of that magic is present in much of Walt Disney World, and for that I am most thankful.

#4: Gran Fiesta Tour

(Rain0975 on Flickr)
This may be a surprising inclusion for those who have considered this attraction in a lesser form after its conversion from El Rio Del Tiempo to Gran Fiesta Tour. But as I mentioned in my detailed comparison of both attractions and their success, I have every bit as much to love about Gran Fiesta Tour as I did El Rio Del Tiempo. Namely, one of the greatest yet understated scenes in a Disney boat ride I have ever experienced; the few moments of silently gliding through a dark, thick jungle, and emerging in that amazing lagoon with the Mayan pyramid, and the fiery volcano in the distance. This scene is one of the most comparable things in WDW to the sublime Blue Bayou in Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean, and it basks in that same incredible atmosphere of scenery and darkness.

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
 Another thing I undoubtedly enjoy about this attraction is the starring role the Three Caballeros play. Although I am in general not a fan of character overlays of attractions at Epcot, Gran Fiesta Tour comes the closest to success as an attraction out of all of them, and it is nice to see old and overlooked characters such as Panchito Pistoles (the rooster) and Jose Carioca (the parrot) be featured in an attraction. Donald Duck also happens to be my favorite Disney cartoon character, so this ride can't help but be a personal favorite of mine. Gran Fiesta Tour also unintentionally continues in a way to inform people about Mexico and its culture; Dias De Los Muertos and footage of various real locations in Mexico figure prominently into the experience. All of this adds up to a fun, colorful, and enjoyable attraction with a great trio of characters that unlike Frozen Ever After does not completely ignore and in fact showcases the very real Mexico it is supposed to represent. That is indeed something to be thankful for.

(Inazakira on Flickr)

Unfortunately, out of all the attractions in this list, Gran Fiesta Tour may be in the most imminent danger. The Pixar film "Coco" appears to be doing great in the box office, and it doesn't take a genius these days to figure out what will happen next. The fundamental problem with what would be the second IP overlay of the original Mexico ride is that "Coco" to my knowledge almost entirely focuses on Dias De Los Muertos and the Land of the Dead. If the Mexico ride were to be rethemed to feature Miguel from this movie, it would most likely mean that the attraction would be rethemed as well to mostly be about Dias De Los Muertos, and that's the equivalent of an attraction at the America Pavilion that only focuses on Halloween (I know the two holidays are not exactly the same, but it's as best of an analogy as I can make). This would mean that only one main aspect of Mexican history and culture would be represented in that pavilion's attraction, a questionable decision at best. I hope fervently that this does not happen, in part because of the reason just stated, but also in part because I still hope to enter that misty tunnel and see those wonderful Three Caballeros on the other side.

#3: Tom Sawyer's Island

(Rain0975 on Flickr)
 I bet you can feel the motion of the raft taking you to Tom Sawyer's Island right now. I know I can. I feel sorry for anyone who hasn't boarded a raft named after Tom himself or one of his friends and made for the island across the Rivers of America. From the moment you step off the raft and start exploring the island, there's no limit to the adventure or relaxation you seek. Whether you sit down on a barrel and play rustic checkers with a friend, precariously cross the unpredictable floating barrel bridge, venture into the abandoned, creaky Harper's Mill, or try to scare each other stiff in the dark and eerie tunnels and caverns beneath the island, there is always something to do, a path to walk, and a way to relax. Isolated from the rest of the Kingdom by the Rivers of America, you can enjoy the quiet, shaded woods of Tom Sawyer's hideaway as you watch the Liberty Belle sail by or the wild trains speeding on Big Thunder Mountain in the distance. If the last raft didn't return to the mainland well before sunset, you could spend all day and all night on this island and may still not do or see  everything that's there. Fort Longhorn in particular is a playground for child and adult alike; junior cowboys and Indians would be at home running around while the parents admired the dioramas of fort life within its walls. There are even mock rifles to shoot with! Tom Sawyer's Island is a veritable treasure of adventure and fun in all forms, and I am thankful for the many times I've gotten to go on whatever adventure I wanted to have in that wonderful place.

#2: Living With The Land

(Hector A Parayuelos on Flickr)
By all accounts, the mere fact that this Epcot attraction is still alive is a miraculous and joyous thing. Of all the attractions in the original Future World that truly strove to entertain, inform, and inspire, this is the only one still left. In a world without Horizons, the original Journey Into Imagination, World Of Motion, the Nemo-less Living Seas, and Universe of Energy, Living With the Land is still alive and well, its refurbishment in 1994 updating it rather then ruining it. While the ride still has the misfortune of having part of it become outdated by about two decades, that is a far better fate then being gutted and replaced with a shell of itself or outright demolished. Those guests who step into one of those beautiful canopy-covered boats end up experiencing the last true bastion of EPCOT Center and its dreams and ideals. The ride itself is neat. The dioramas of a thunderstorm, tropical rainforest, desert and prairie are all wonderful works of classic Imagineering from the WED era. The living greenhouses, aquariums and laboratory, completely unique experiences in an attraction that set it apart from its peers in Future World, boasts a mind-boggling array of plants, crops, and aquamarine life, not only displaying great advances and experiments in agriculture and aquaculture, but also contributing to the supply of ingredients for meals served at Walt Disney World. While it is a shame that this in particular is where the out of date parts show, hanging plants and hybrid agriculture are still cool sights to see, reminders of Epcot's original geeky spirit.

(Joe Penniston on Flickr)

With the recent and painful closure of Universe of Energy making all too clear the demise of both EPCOT Center and the Epcot park that still strove to inform in some way, it seems to be only a matter of time before Living With The Land as we know it is gone. What confounded ride based on an existing IP will replace it? I don't know. But this I do know: I am especially grateful to be able to have experienced the last great and true EPCOT Center attraction, and learn some things about living with the land.

#1: Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room (AKA Tropical Serenade)

(Norm Lanier on Flickr)
 Were it not for a fire 6 years ago that to this day is still known as a freak act-of-God, this attraction would probably not be on my list today. This fire, far from ruining the Tiki Room, saved it from the tyrannous rule of Iago, a rule that was all 11-year old me had ever experienced in the Tiki Room before the fire. When I at last got to see the true Tiki Room, it was one of the best things I ever got to experience. The amazing towering pagoda that marked the entrance and the marvelous interior of the Tiki Room with its brilliant window dioramas of tropical paradise were already things I knew and enjoyed, however plagued the actual show was by the New Management. But I had never gotten to meet Clyde and Claude, that absolutely wonderful pair of toucans perched on the tiki god inside the waterfall before. And when the first few lines of "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" passed with no obnoxious Iago interrupting and descending from the ceiling, well, the true enchantment of the Tiki Room began. The glee club's cheerful singing and whistling during the first song delighted me in no small amount. Jose, Michael, Pierre, and Fritz made excellent hosts of the Tiki Room, their playful banter and one-liners showcasing the natural talents of the Tiki Room that had been suppressed for so long. When the wunderbar birdmobile descended from the ceiling and the girls sang, their song was a pleasant surprise: "Let's All Sing Like The Birdies Sing" was one of my fondest memories from the Disney sing-along films I used to watch constantly as a little kid. But it was when the flowers and tikis did their incredible performance of the Hawaiian War Chant that I really fell under the spell of the Enchanted Tiki Room. I sat enthralled as the chant got faster and more raucous, as the volcanoes and peaceful blue skies in the windows turned an eerie red, and smoke poured out of the center planter and enveloped the room. Then came the thunderstorm to punctuate the climax, and afterwards the joyful goodbye bid by the tiki birds to the tune of "Heigh Ho". It did not take long after I passed through those beautifully carved exit doors for Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room to become my favorite show in the entire Walt Disney World.

(CarrieLu on Flickr)

The return of Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room to the Magic Kingdom was nothing short of a miracle, a stunning resurrection of a show back from the abyss in which many late great Disney World attractions have gone and never come back. But now, rumors swirl about Moana "joining" the Tiki Room, and it will remain to see if Disney remembers the critical lesson that the terrible Under New Management taught them about not messing with the Tiki Room. It would be heartbreaking if they didn't. But regardless of all that, I will be forever thankful and happy that it returned and is still around for countless guests to enjoy, and for getting the incredible opportunity to enjoy for myself Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room (and getting to eat a Citrus Swirl while seeing it!).

The End

Happy Thanksgiving from Haunted Serenade, and Happy First Anniversary Haunted Serenade!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Happy 80th Anniversary to The Old Mill: The Disney Silly Symphony That Paved The Way For Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

A great number of Disney animated film fans remember 1937 as the year that Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs - Walt Disney's first and truly sublime feature-length animated film - was released. But not as many people know about Walt Disney's The Old Mill, a superb short film released in the same year, on this day 80 years ago. Over a month before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opened to heartfelt applause at the Carthay Circle Theatre, this humble, overlooked film tested and proved many of the incredible advancements in animation featured in Snow White, and became an amazing motion picture and work of art in its own right. To celebrate the 80th anniversary of The Old Mill, I'll take a look at its history, and how it went on to pave the way for one of Walt Disney's greatest successes.

The Old Mill, Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies, and Snow White

(Kevin Slavin on Flickr)
In 1929, a ghoulish danse macabre captivated audiences of Walt Disney's newest project. The Skeleton Dance was the first in a series of bold experiments in animation initiated by Disney called the Silly Symphonies. These animated short films were a showcase for Disney's newest innovations in film technology, story development, and character animation. If the Disney animation studios had a new technology to experiment with or a new story idea to try out, a Silly Symphony was their experimental apparatus. For 10 years, the Silly Symphonies were produced by Disney for this purpose. Most of these films featured a completely unique story, and almost all were set to a wonderful musical score, classic or contemporary, hence the name "Silly Symphonies". In 1932, Flowers and Trees, a delightful film about the anthropomorphic trees and flowers in a springtime forest, became the first commercial animated film to feature three-color Technicolor, a remarkable improvement over the two-color films of the time, and went on to win the inaugural Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. In 1934, the Three Little Pigs became the first major success of the Silly Symphonies, thanks to an incredible advancement in Disney's storytelling: the story department, a department of storyboard animators solely dedicated to the purpose of story development. By creating emotionally gripping stories that wouldn't let audiences off the hook, Disney produced many more wildly successful films long after the classic Three Little Pigs, which went on to win another Academy Award for Disney.

But perhaps the greatest achievement in the history of the Silly Symphonies were yet to come. In 1937, final production for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was in full swing. This full-length animated film promised to be truly groundbreaking, attempting something that had never done before in the United States, featuring truly spectacular advancements in film and story production. But, it also was an incredibly risky project, one that was already being called "Disney's Folly", and was predicted by many in Hollywood to be an absolute disaster. No matter how confident (or not) Walt Disney was in his project, there needed to be a good test of the techniques and technologies that were to be featured in Snow White. Thus, The Old Mill, a new Silly Symphony, came to be.

DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT own this video; Disney does. Used for purely educational purposes.

The Old Mill became one of the biggest successes of the entire Silly Symphony series, and won yet another Oscar for the studios (a Silly Symphony won the Academy Award every year between 1932 and 1939!). It achieved great heights thanks to the unprecedented ideas and technology used in its creation.

A relatively simple story of a community of animals inside an abandoned mill weathering a powerful summer storm was brought to great heights by the subtle but effective introductions of the creatures that call the mill home, and the wonderful build up of the story to the raging climax of the thunderstorm that threatens the lives of all the creatures living inside the mill. The moment when the sails of the windmill break free from their rope restraints and the mother robin and her egg-filled nest are nearly crushed between the spinning gears of the mill is a heart-stopping and powerful moment, a great testament to the emotional connection the story developers created between the audience and animated characters on a screen.

A greatly-developed story was not the only reason for The Old Mill's success by far. The multi-plane camera, an astounding tool that used a camera and multiple layers of animation cells that could move on platforms separate from each other to provide near perfect perspective in zooming in or out shots, was used by Disney for the first time in The Old Mill. Among the many other great advancements in animation that brought The Old Mill to life were the highly realistic designs and animations of animals, plants, and water, from ripples in a pond to splashes, reflections, and pouring rain. The latter would combine with incredible animated clouds, lighting, wind and thunder sound effects to form a terrifying thunderstorm that temporarily resurrected a long-abandoned mill to horrifying life and then stopped it forever. Lighting, color, and rotation of detailed three-dimensional objects would also aid in bringing a new level of realism, depth, and emotion to The Old Mill.

(Tom Simpson on Flickr)

All the lessons learned in the creation and success of The Old Mill would be put to use just a month later. The powerful connection between audience and film would happen again when audiences joined Snow White in hopeful wishes, flights of terror and silly songs of celebration, each scene perfectly timed and sequenced as similarly emotional scenes had been in The Old Mill. A terrible thunderstorm like the one that ravaged an old mill on a summer night struck down the Wicked Witch to her horrible death. The wonderfully realistic yet softly caricatured forest animals that aided Snow White had a predecessor in the inhabitants of The Old Mill. And the lighting, colors, multi-plane camera and rotation of 3-dimensional objects that had created amazing scenes for The Old Mill was used in even more spectacular ways in the story of Snow White.

This December, in honor of the 80th anniversary of what I like to call "Disney's Triumph", I plan to write about perhaps the greatest film Walt Disney ever made, sharing my thoughts and exploring the long and deep connection me and many others have with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But next time you think of Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs and the amazing film that tells their story, I hope you remember the tale of an old and not-so-abandoned mill that made it possible.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reawakening the Spirit of Norway, Part Two: The Challenges to Conquer Before The Maelstrom Can Return + Bonus Halloween Maelstrom Three-Headed Troll Jack-O-Lantern

"You are not the first to pass this way..."

(Jeff Krause on Flickr)

"Nor shall you be the last..."

Ever since Maelstrom, the hidden gem and signature attraction of the Norway pavilion at Epcot was closed and replaced with Frozen Ever After (an attraction that at best can claim but minuscule relevance with the real country whose pavilion it occupies), I have deeply missed the true spirit of Norway's presence in World Showcase. In the first part of my musings on Maelstrom, I shared my profoundly wonderful memories of my search for the spirit of Norway. Now, it is time to explore and conquer the problems that froze the Maelstrom over solid.

The Challenges to Conquer Before The Maelstrom Can Churn Again

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
When it comes to extinct Disney attractions, there are three distinct camps of closed attractions. There are those attractions that were darn near perfect and should NEVER have been closed, such as the original Journey Into Imagination and Horizons. There are also those attractions that were flat out awful and had it coming (take Superstar Limo and Journey into YOUR Imagination for example). Finally, there's a broad group of attractions that each had a unique set of problems that factored into their closing but could've been easily resolved with a proper refurbishment. Maelstrom, a short, low-capacity ride with quirky transitions between the numerous aspects of Norwegian culture requested by sponsors, is most definitely part of this last group. No matter how nostalgic I may be for its Norwegian charm, it is important that I take steps to resolve the problems that plagued Maelstrom til its closing day before I can successfully plan to return it to the Norway pavilion. I shall individually address each of these problems and determine the best way to conquer them.

A Note About Frozen

This film was most definitely NOT my cup of hot cocoa.
It would be a mistake for me to completely ignore the role Frozen plays into Maelstrom's closing. Let's face it: an old, eccentric dark ride featuring trolls and oil rigs never stood a chance against the somewhat-related-to-Scandinavian-culture box office and marketing behemoth that is Frozen. What irks me is that not only was an entire country's unique history and culture eclipsed by a fictional kingdom from a Disney animated feature film, but that jamming a Frozen attraction into a cramped space not built for the massive crowds Frozen attracts denies Frozen fans an opportunity to experience a brand new, wonderful, and long Frozen attraction in Fantasyland. Although not a fan of Frozen by any means, I begrudgingly admit that a new Frozen ride, if Frozen proves its long-term staying power like all Disney classics have, would be a fantastic addition to Fantasyland beloved by many guests. So why did Disney choose the quick and easy way to build a Frozen attraction? Money can be the only answer, and a perfect explanation for why Disney executives said Frozen was a "perfect" fit for Norway when it was so painfully obvious it really wasn't (the recent closure of Universe of Energy for a Guardians of the Galaxy ride shows they don't really care anymore about whether an IP fits Epcot's theme in any way or not). After first having the Norwegian corporate sponsors sell their stake to them and then the Norwegian government not renewing their 5-year agreements to sponsor it at $200,000 a year, the only thing that was really stopping Disney from closing Maelstrom was the lack of a related lucrative IP that a new ride could be based on. Once Frozen came in, it was all over. But for my scenario, I imagine that the new Fantasyland attraction Frozen may deserve is announced, and with it the catalyst is provided for the grand return of Maelstrom.
First Impressions Matter, or How to Fix a Queue

(Special thanks to Jack Spence for permission to use his photos)

(Sam Howzit on Flickr)
(Elisfkc on Wikimedia Commons)

 One minor but important fact that needs to be contended with before the Maelstrom can start churning again is that its original queue was awful. I mean, REALLY awful. Bare wood-accented teal walls lined with Norwegian flags and a map of the ancient Viking world was the only theming (besides the mural) in an otherwise purely basic switchback queue. The massive mural above the loading area, filled with people and scenes from Norway's past and present, was a wonderful thing to admire and study before boarding a longboat, but sadly the only highlight of a queue that otherwise did nothing to impress and build up anticipation before the Maelstrom began. Now maybe such an underwhelming queue made the cool but short ride that followed afterwards more impressive by comparision. But the fact remains that a solid introduction to a ride via a queue, taken to incredible heights in the design of WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain queues meant the simply themed queue line of Maelstrom left a lot to be desired. 

(Simo Rasenen on Wikimedia Commons)

 Luckily, there is a relatively easy solution. The original concept art for Maelstrom's load area presented a spectacular scenic backdrop. Imagine traveling through one of Norway's great forests, passing through majestic stands of ancient trees, and the mighty Scandinavian mountains towering above you in the distance as you board a Viking longboat. This was the original plan for Maelstrom's queue and load area, one which would make up for the short indoor line by offering an incredible backdrop that instantly transports you to Norway and hints at the grand adventure waiting for us once our boat sails into that mysterious cavern.

A Longer Search for the Spirit of Norway

Copyright Disney

In order to conquer the second challenge in reawakening the spirit of Norway, I must remember the spirit of the seafarer, who sailed across strange and perilous seas in the pursuit of exploration, conquest, and adventure. The original Maelstrom, though underrated and great it may have been, was an awfully short ride, clocking in at roughly 4 minutes. By comparison, the ride duration of Maelstrom was about half the time of WDW's Pirates of the Caribbean (ironically also half the time of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean). The brief ride time may not have been as noticeable if the ride hadn't had so much ground to cover. The original concept for what would become Maelstrom was a fantasy ride through Norway's mythological world of trolls and fairies, as guests searched for a rainbow bridge to Valhalla. The Sherman Brothers were even writing a song for it. Unfortunately, the Norwegian corporate sponsors quickly rejected the proposal; they understandably did not want their entire country being represented by its myths and legends alone. They requested that the Imagineers incorporate several other things they wanted to see representing Norway in their pavilion's ride: Vikings, polar bears, a fjord, an oil rig, a fishing village, and a troll or two. This extensive checklist of Norwegian history and culture was a very tall order for a 4-minute ride, one that it ultimately struggled to fill. The lift hill took up nearly a quarter of the total ride time, an absurd proportion. Norway's fearsome Vikings and terrible trolls, infamous icons of the country, were given a combined total of four show scenes in a mite over a minute (from the end of the lift hill to passing the tree troll backwards shortly before the Far North), and the Arctic, fjords, North Sea with oil rigs, and modern fishing village had to be content with one scene each for the final two minutes of the ride. This acutely cramped journey through vastly different times and spaces of Norway used time travel effected by the great god Odin as a story crutch for an otherwise nonsensical travelogue of Norwegian history and culture. The original ride had such odd transitions between these scenes such as traveling backwards from a Norwegian swamp to the Arctic and then to a fjord, and dropping from said fjord (a long narrow inlet bordered by steep sides, cliffs, and/or mountains) directly into the middle of the North Sea. The unfortunate brevity of Maelstrom, combined with its undeniably quirky experience, led to two camps of opinion on the attraction; in the eyes of modern day Epcot guests, it was either a cool, underrated, semi-classic ride steeped with nostalgia, or a boring, laughably dated attraction that was overdue to be updated or replaced. This division of opinion sowed the seeds for the high controversy that surrounded its closure and replacement, with numerous guests offering passionate criticisms and defenses of Maelstrom. But no matter the view one had about Maestrom, it was clear that both it and its marginally longer replacement were/are plagued by a short ride time.

In the above picture, I have drawn to scale the original layout of Maelstrom, including more general locations of the original load, unload, and theater. Note the sizeable expansion space (also to scale and carefully designed within the currently under-utilized backstage space behind the Norway pavilion) that I have attached to the back side of the original building. In the third and final part of this series about Maelstrom on Haunted Serenade, I will fill in that expansion space with my fully fleshed out idea for what a new, improved version of Maelstrom could be like.*

*This is no longer the case. As well as concerns about the accuracy and feasibility of the expansion space as shown on my layout board above, I have come to the opinion that a major expansion of the showbuilding would fundamentally transform Maelstrom and cause it to lose some of the nostalgic charm it possessed. A full explanation of my reasons for not creating or using an expanded building are explained in the next and final part of this series.

The Spirit of Norway: Restoring a Neglected Film

(michaelg83 on Flickr)
"To know this land’s heart and soul—to discover its spirit."

With these humble but powerful words, the Spirit of Norway film began to reveal the final part of the true spirit of Norway to guests. When the film first debuted with the rest of the pavilion in the late 80s, it was faithfully modern - the latest fashions and technologies made cameos in the film - yet reflected the ancient, primal spirit of Norway as well. But as time passed, the vignettes of modern Norway, along with the technology used to present the film, began to age. More and more guests grew tired of being held inside the fishing village in Maelstrom's unload area, waiting for the next movie to begin. An increasing number of these guests began to walk straight through the doors of the theater, skipping the film entirely rather then spending the few minutes it took to see it. Eventually, the theater doors were permanently held open, a blessing for those many guests who would rather skip the film, but an irritation for those who still wanted to see the film. But if the "modern" sections of the film aged badly, the rest of it remained as fresh and inspiring as it had been in the late 80s, and in my opinion, it was an underrated gem of a film, sadly neglected in its lifespan more than any other film in World Showcase. I would return the film to the Norway pavilion as a complement to the Maelstrom attraction, and give it the update it badly needed. I would use the blueprint of the update of China's Circlevision 360 film, retaining much of the same narration and footage of the original film, but with a complete upgrade to the film and sound technology, and the addition of modern segments to the film to reflect the changes in Norway's culture since Michael Jackson's "Bad" era (yes, it was THAT long ago). At the same time, to address the failure of both holding guests within the fishing village and perpetually open theater doors, I would construct a bypass path that would allow guests who did not wish to see the film to skip it without waiting or distracting from the experience of the film. In this way, I would restore the last and critical part of Epcot's representation of the Spirit of Norway.


(Dennis D on Flickr)
I have sailed the stormy seas of the history of the Norway Pavilion at Epcot, searching for the problems that led to Maelstrom's closure, and attempting to virtually conquer the challenges in returning the attraction, and with it the true spirit of Norway, to World Showcase. I readily admit my doubts (and resulting frustration) that Frozen will ever release its icy grip from the Norway pavilion. But I've mentioned the only probable course I could think of for Anna and Elsa to go elsewhere, and allow the Maelstrom to churn again. I've also scoured the greatest problems the original Maelstrom had; its queue, the length of the ride, and the post-show theater, and tried my best to resolve them. In the third and last part of this series, I will implement the solutions I create, and present my grand return of Maelstrom, fully showing in detail my new version of the ride, a bigger and better search for the Spirit of Norway then ever before.

UPDATE (June 2018): In the several months between the publishing of this post and the next part of Reawakening the Spirit of Norway, much of the ideas presented here have either been altered or changed completely in the final post. Part Three of Reawakening the Spirit of Norway features a presentation of my ideal plan for the resurrection and improvement of Maelstrom, some of which is much different than the ideas I originally presented in this second installment. I hope you enjoy the plan I ultimately ended up going with in Part Three.

Don't Forget To Read the Previous and Next Installment of Reawakening the Spirit of Norway!

Part One: How I Was Drawn Into A Maelstrom -

Part Three: Revising and Presenting My Ideal Plan For Maelstrom's Return -

HALLOWEEN BONUS! My Maelstrom Three-Headed Troll Jack-O-Lantern (Happy Halloween 2017!)


All this writing about Maelstrom and Norway and trolls gave me the PERFECT idea for carving my immensely huge Jack-O-Lantern. I think the results speak for themselves. I was very impressed with how it turned out, and I hope you are as well! Happy Halloween Everyone!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Curtains Fall on Hollywood and Dinosaurs Go Extinct Again: What the Closure of Great Movie Ride and Universe of Energy Mean to Me

My feelings for this Sunday are exactly the same as Calvin's, but for entirely different reasons. I'm trying to enjoy the last day before the closure of Great Movie Ride and Universe of Energy. I decided to share my feelings on the impending execution of both rides and perhaps find a way to say goodbye.

Farewell for Hollywood

(Jeff Krause on Flickr)
The Great Movie Ride was both literally and figuratively the heart, soul, and center of the old MGM Studios, and with some TLC it could have been the same thing for Disney's Hollywood Studios (or whatever it will now be called). But instead, all of the amazing animatronics and sets, from Indiana Jones in the viper-filled pit of the Lost Ark to the Wicked Witch terrifying the land of the Munchkins, are set to have the curtains closed on them forever. The replacement? A "two and a half dimensional" screen-based ride that stars Disney Channel's "modern" and "trendy" (AKA marketable) versions of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and their iconic friends. The pain of losing Great Movie Ride could have been eased for me if it was being replaced with a ride through the classic Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons. But the modern cartoons, with their ugly, weird parodies of Disney's cartoon stars, is the basis for this new ride, and I am not pleased. There are so many ways the Great Movie Ride could have been refreshed, thereby keeping the central spirit and theme of the Studios alive for many more years, but doing things like Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway (I.E. imitating Universal) is how the company operates nowadays. The glamorous, grand Grauman theater facade will still be there to admire, but inside, it will be little more than a hollow shell of its former self. This development, combined with the off-the-shelf carnival calling itself Toy Story Land, and a Star Wars Land guaranteed to be choked by crowds beyond all enjoyment, leaves me with the sad realization that visiting Hollywood Studios anytime in the forseeable future is pointless. How many times can I go to a park that has Rock N' Roller Coaster, Star Tours, and MuppetVision among the best (and only) things it has to offer? Perhaps someday Hollywood Studios will offer a complete, cohesive experience that I enjoy, and I'll be willing and glad to visit there again. But before then, I'll have the wonderful memories from a spectacular journey into the movies.

(Meaghan Kelly on Flickr)

(This, Alien, and Casablanca Joe Penniston on Flickr)
(Evan Wohrman on Flickr)

(Norm Lanler on Flickr)



(Ricky Brigante on Flickr)



Dorothy and her friends say farewell to the Emerald City and the Great Movie Ride before it all fades away like a dream. (Jared on Flickr)

Just Ellen's Energy Adventure, I Guess

(Mickey Views on Flickr)

Don't get me wrong, Ellen's Energy Adventure BADLY needed to be updated or replaced, but not like this. Not. Like. This. Choosing to close and discard both the Energy ride and the whole concept of the Energy Pavilion, a critical part of Future World and the future of our world as well, for the sake of Guardians of the Galaxy is a far worse fate then letting the pavilion continue to stagnate and show footage of Jeopardy from 20 years ago. The closure of Universe of Energy threatens to extinguish the flame of EPCOT's original theme and purpose, of entertainment, information, and inspiration, forever. Keeping the original exterior of the pavilion will almost be pointless with the destruction inside, and especially with the seeming removal of the wonderful mirror tiles and tile mural. The incredible traveling theater, the completely unique screens that make up the theater, 45 minutes of AC, darkness, quiet and rest will all be gone. But that's not the worst part of all. The unbelievable, unparalleled, unforgettable prehistoric diorama, will be hit by a catastrophic meteor, both figuratively and literally, and its even more fantastic saurian inhabitants will go extinct just like their real counterparts tens of millions of years ago. What Bill Nye once profoundly exclaimed as the chance of a hundred million lifetimes will cease to exist, and I, Walt Disney World, and indeed the entire world, will be that much poorer for it. But hey, everyone loves the Guardians of the Galaxy, especially Rocket and Baby Groot, and Peter Quill VISITED Epcot when he was a kid! I could've, and still could throw up when I hear that pathetic, horrendous excuse for having something like Guardians of the Galaxy in what was once a proud showcase of the future and world culture. But by tomorrow morning, it will be pointless to gripe. The best that we can hope for at this point is that E82's Project Phoenix is successful, and that in the future we can witness a grand return of the Universe of Energy, with a new and improved show looking at our energy choices for the future. I hope that on that day we can look at the Universe of Energy and say, "the passion and vision of EPCOT Center's creators and its fans made this possible." But until then, the dinosaurs in the Universe of Energy will be as dear to my heart as the crocodile logs and nightmarish trees in WDW's Snow White's Scary Adventures, the vikings and trolls in Maelstrom, and the rousing cry of "We Wants the Redhead!" I'll miss you all.

(marada on Flickr)
(CL Photographs on Flickr)
(Jeff Krause on Flickr)
(Dennis D on Flickr)
This mighty pteranodon looks upon his primeval home one last time before the meteor destroys it all. (Jeff Krause on Flickr)

The Aftermath

As the end draws near for them, I think of all the incredible times I had on Great Movie Ride and Universe of Energy. I'm happy to say that I did get to travel into the prehistoric world in Universe of Energy one last time on my Disney vacation in February, but I thought I would be able to relive the greatest moments at the movies at the Great Movie Ride on my next trip. I am thankful for all the times through the years that I got to ride through prehistoric times when dinosaurs ruled the earth, and to ride through the classic and defining movies of Hollywood (and see Trading Places in the finale). May they both rest in peace, until the day when creative people who truly care about Walt Disney, the people who he inspired, and the dreams he achieved are in charge of the Disney Company again. Then, and only then, can the Disney theme parks and the rest of the company as we once knew it be brought back from the brink of total ruin.


Great Movie Ride 1989-2017 

Universe of Energy 1982-2017