Monday, December 10, 2018

After-Action Report: New Christmas Decs!

Short post this time—I've been a bit sick and the holiday tasks are piling up as it is! But I did manage to fit in a visit to the main park recently, and I took a few pictures of some lovely decorations that have been added this year.
I'll begin in Frontierland, which has been putting up Christmas decorations for quite some time (as described in this post). But these ones are new, and have a lot of character. It's not just the ornaments that are unique to each—the evergreen bases to which they are attached vary from post to post, as if each was assembled from scratch by a different person who used whatever they had on hand or could easily find. The highlight has to be the single boot, which is a perfect Old West stand-in for a Christmas stocking:

From there, we move to Fantasyland, where...I don't want to alarm anyone, but they have finally started putting up decorations in the Fantasyland Courtyard. I speculated in the post linked above about what that might hypothetically look like, but the reality turned out to be far more restrained than what I was imagining. You could put these up in your house without anyone batting an eye:
Yes, those are apples on the decoration for Snow White.

It almost feels like a beta test, like maybe they plan on expanding these in years to come. They are a little sparse for the medieval castle environment, I think.

Around this time most years, I put the blog on a little year-end hiatus so I can focus on my holiday obligations and brainstorm ideas for the new year. But I'm finding myself in a bit of a quandary this time around...I think I'm running out of topics to write about! I am coming to the end of my fourth straight year of Disneyland blogging, having maintained a pretty faithful weekly schedule for most of that time. Even a lifelong just-short-of-obsessed fan like me has to run dry eventually, right?
There are a few things I don't want to do. I don't want to start spacing the posts out more, for fear my eternally busy schedule squeezes out my motivation to maintain the blog altogether. And I don't want to let it devolve into more of this—just collections of recent photos detailing minutiae like crowd levels, construction progress, and maintenance hiccups. I want to keep this a thoughtful blog.
I might not be averse to expanding my subject matter. Reviewing other theme parks is probably off the table for now for financial reasons, but I occasionally touch on the subject of Disney movies, and perhaps I could go into more detail on my thoughts in that area.
Ideally, though, I would keep my focus on the Disneyland Resort. So I put it to you...what would you like to see me write about that I haven't yet? Any attractions, past or present, you'd like to see my take on? Principles of theme park design I should address? General questions I should answer?
I'll give you the next...oh, three weeks or so, to think about it. Until then, Happy Holidays to my few but loyal readers, and keep dreaming!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Second Sense: Top 5 Holiday Music Loops

As long as we're thinking about Christmas music...
This isn't the first time I've gone off about the area music loops in the Disneyland Resort and it probably won't be the last. But we're solidly into the Christmas season now, with all its attendant responsibilities, and I need to write and post something simple. one of the most basic delights of the holiday season at Disneyland: the temporary replacement of many area music loops with holiday versions.
Background music is a key element in creating themed atmosphere (or atmosphere at all, really), and this is especially true when the theme involves Christmas, because the intergenerationally familiar music is such a big part of the holiday. Disneyland's holiday loops are generally excellent for their purpose, but only about half of them are much good for any other purpose—i.e. general seasonal listening. I'll pull up the New Orleans Square waterfront loop as part of my Disneyland Christmas lineup, but not when I just feel like getting my holiday spirit on. Dixieland jazz isn't a normal part of my music listening habits.
But there are a handful of these loops from both parks, past and present, that I absolutely adore on their own merits, not just because they remind me of Disneyland. Here they are, in reverse order of my preference, so that the best is saved for last!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Armchair Imagineering: Walt Disney Animation Holiday

We can definitely start thinking about Christmas music now.
Disney sure loves its holiday overlays. Between Halloween and Christmas, and counting parades and fireworks shows, there are no fewer than eleven holiday-specific attractions in the Disneyland Resort.* Likewise, quite a few music loops throughout the resort are seasonally replaced with Christmas-y versions.
However, there is one—attraction? sort of? let's call it an attraction-esque feature—wherein the music is much of the point, yet it has never been given this sort of temporary reskin. And this despite the fact that the feature in question is so modular that creating and executing a special version for the winter holiday season would be a snap. I am referring, of course, to the lobby area of Walt Disney Animation in California Adventure.
I've gushed about this spot before. It's just such a pleasant place to pass a half-hour or so until the display loops around. Given the extent to which my personal enjoyment of the Christmas season relies on the holiday's unique atmosphere, I can't help but feel this would only be enhanced if the lobby lined up with the holidays. The only snag there enough material?
It's not that Disney never makes anything specifically for Christmas. Consider Mickey's Christmas Carol, or Prep and Landing, or even Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas. The problem from our point of view is that Walt Disney Animation focuses exclusively on theatrical features, on the output of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar. And given that the point is to toot Disney's horn about its best offerings, things should probably stay that way. So where are we supposed to come up with a 30-minute loop's worth of Christmas footage when not a single entry in the Disney Animated Canon or the Pixar filmography counts as a Christmas movie?
Well, there are a few things we can do. The main one is that instead of celebrating an entire movie at a time, we can zero in on particular scenes, sequences and songs that are Christmas-related. Another is that we can then broaden our standards to include general winter imagery, which in American culture is associated almost exclusively with Christmas. I'll go ahead and say we can venture a little outside the WDAS/Pixar dyad, as long as we stay within the realm of theatrical feature animation. And a holiday special, maybe this loop doesn't have to be as long as the standard one. 15-20 minutes should suffice.
So what have we got to play with?

Monday, November 19, 2018

After-Action Report: 5 Cool Custom Gifts You Can Get At Disneyland

We can start thinking about Christmas shopping now, right?
Once upon a time, strange as it may seem, Disneyland was considered a prime shopping destination. The park was chock-a-block with unique shops selling lines of merchandise that could be found literally nowhere else. There was a candle shop on Main Street, an antique shop in New Orleans Square, and the Guatemalan Weavers operated out of the Adventureland Bazaar. This all changed in the Nineties, when Archdemon Pressler decided it would be more efficient to just stuff the park with the same stuff being sold in every large mall in the country via the Disney Store. But even the machinations of a suit-wearing hellfiend couldn't completely eliminate the park's uniqueness, and to this day, there are quite a few distinctive, customizable, and surprisingly affordable items available at Disneyland's specialty shops and kiosks.
Here are just five that would make awesome holiday gifts for the special people in your life.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Kidnap the Magic: Disneyland Christmas Ornaments

We can start thinking about Christmas decorations now, right?
One year, my Christmas decorations revolved around a Disneyland theme. Before you roll your eyes and go “Well, duh,” you should be aware that I choose a different decorating scheme every year, and usually it's color-based. For instance, this year, my colors are red, green, gold, and purple.
But one year, I just couldn't settle on a palette for some reason, so I went with Disneyland. I used all the various mouse-eared ornaments I've picked up at the park itself, tied loops of string to my die-cast ride vehicles to turn them into ornaments and since that wasn't enough to really fill out my tree...I made a bunch more. I made an entire set based on the Small World Promenade Wreaths, using 6” snowflake ornaments as backdrops. I gave those away to a friend some years ago, but I still have some others that I put together:

And I do mean put together. These ornaments are assemblages of elements. Disneyland is far from my only subject matter when it comes to creating ornaments like these,* but I'm sure it's the one you're interested in. They're actually pretty easy to make, if time-consuming...but you do need special materials that are not necessarily easy to acquire. Said materials are as follows:

Monday, November 5, 2018

It Came From the Fandom: The Disney Experience

I don't like doing one of these only three weeks after the last one, but it was just Halloween—my time and thoughts have been very occupied with matters other than this blog.
Anyway, this one is a lot of fun. The Disney Experience is a website dedicated to cataloguing creative resources for Disney fans. It's more addressed to general Disney fandom than the Disney theme park fandom specifically, but there is a lot of theme park related content, and crucially, the website treats it as its own facet of the Disney brand rather than making the common mistake of treating the parks as a mere spinoff of the film properties.
I want to call special attention to the paper model “kits” (actually downloadable PDF files) featured as their own category, as this is where the best theme park material is concentrated. If you have access to a color printer, a detailed, accurate model of the iconic Disney structure of your choice is within your reach!*
Other points of interest include:
  • Paper dolls and other crafts that are not the elaborate models.
  • Tools for customizing a personal computer with a Disney theme, including desktop wallpapers, mouse pointer sprites, and—my personal favorite—fonts!
  • Special events and contests and whatnot.
  • Validation for anyone who was worried that they were alone in their Disney obsession.

Poke around and see if you find anything you like!

* Provided, that is, your choice is one of the Castles, Haunted Mansions, Snow White's Wishing Well, the old Disneyland marquee...

Monday, October 29, 2018

After-Action Report: GotG—Monsters After Dark

They should not have closed the Tower of Terror. I still hold that opinion. That ride was...basically perfect for its circumstances. It fit in exactly with Hollywood Land, it did an extraordinary job of building up atmosphere, it made guests the center of the story (“ tonight's episode you are the star...”) and the effects were pretty dang...effective.
Guardians of the Galaxy—Mission: Breakout! is a distinctly inferior replacement. I have no animus against the GotG franchise itself—on the contrary, the movies are delightful and the second-worst thing about the firing of James Gunn is the wrench it throws into the production cycle of the third one*—but it's not the sort of thing that begs to be a theme park ride, and certainly not this theme park ride. It's awkwardly crammed into infrastructure that was designed for something completely different, it jettisons the Tower's beautiful melding of physical sets with digital effects in favor of a collection of movie screens, instead of making the guests the protagonists it makes them side characters in someone else's adventure, it has an unwieldy, overly wordy name, and the building is an eyesore.
Someone signed paperwork approving this design. Wrap your mind around that.

(Some people have the audacity to claim that this is an improvement on Tower of Terror. To them I say: On what grounds? Seriously, what does it do better? Also, aren't you the same people who were telling us we shouldn't be upset that it was being changed because it was still going to be a drop ride? Do you see the contradiction there?)
All that said, there is something at least moderately interesting about the ride's Halloween overlay, Guardians of the Galaxy—Monsters After Dark, and that's that it is framed as a direct sequel to Mission: Breakout! I don't think that's ever been done with Disney theme park attractions before—Star Tours: The Adventures Continue is framed as a prequel to the original Star Tours, what with the older Starspeeder model and glitchy prototype of Rex in the queue, but there is no sense in which the events of the one lead to the events of the other.**
Mission: Breakout! literally causes Monsters After Dark. The tower's generators get shut off during the former, and in the latter, the loss of power has freed all the dangerous creatures from confinement (hence the title). If nothing else, I appreciate the experiment. A Halloween overlay that only goes into effect at night (with the default version of the attraction operating during the day) is probably the only circumstance under which this conceit could really work, and I imagine it must be pretty cool if you manage to go on both in one day.
This is not to say that similar ideas couldn't work, especially if played subtlely. It could cross the borders of attractions or even lands. Imagine, for instance, if evidence were planted suggesting that the founder of the Jungle Cruise Co. got his startup capital mining gold in Big Thunder Mountain (before the disaster, of course). Obviously this would have to be used sparingly—Imagineering is doing something like this with the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, and the overall consensus from the snooty elitist fans is that it's not nearly as clever as the creators seem to think it is, doesn't really add anything to the attractions it touches, and discourages guest imagination by imposing One True Backstory on everything.
Anyway, back to Monsters After Dark: How is it as a ride? Eh, it's okay, I guess. It has all the same weaknesses (compared to Tower of Terror) as its non-Halloween/daytime counterpart, but some of the details are different. Pro: Since it is framed as a horror story rather than action-adventure, the queue is made creepier and more atmospheric, with reddish lighting and corrupted video transmissions playing on the big screen. Con: Instead of a more traditional eerie Halloween score or even the upbeat pop songs of Mission: Breakout!, our musical accompaniment is abrasive and repetitive heavy metal.***
I'm also not entirely sure it works as a Halloween overlay. Mission: Breakout! is already a ride that drops you at unpredictable intervals while various threatening situations play out on the screens and occasionally are staged to narrowly miss you. I'm not sure there is a way to make that scarier or more thrilling and aside from the unsettling elements in the queue, I am sure Monsters After Dark isn't such. It also doesn't reference Halloween by name, or use any of the holiday's specific imagery such as ghosts or pumpkins. If they decided to make it a year-round thing, it wouldn't exactly be out of place.
And that's about all I have to say on the matter. Should you check out Monsters After Dark, if you find yourself in California Adventure this Halloween season? Sure, why not. Unless you're legitimately afraid of heights/falling, darkness, monsters, fire, or Bradley Cooper.
Have a magnificent spooky holiday, readers mine. Next week...something different!

* The first-worst thing is that it was done at the behest of neo-Nazis. In case you were wondering.
** And that's not even addressing the fact that in aggregate, the events of ST:TAC are a stinking jumbled mess of shredded continuity.
*** I don't personally mind it, and it is composed by Tyler Bates, who also did the scores for both movies, but I imagine it must have fairly niche appeal among the theme park crowd.