Monday, January 14, 2019

It Came From the Fandom: MyVMK's Second Gate

I've mentioned MyVMK on this blog before, but it has been quite some time, so I'll sum it up here.
MyVMK is an MMORPG. Specifically, it is a fan-made revival of Virtual Magic Kingdom, an MMORPG that Disney ran for a few years starting in 2005, to promote Disneyland's 50th Anniversary. True to its name, the world map is of a Magic Kingdom-style park, mixing and matching details from the various real-world ones. There are a lot of spaces to explore with your childlike sprite, and mini-games to play either alone or against other players...but the real point of the game is to create your own spaces and mini-games using the mind-boggling variety of “rooms” and “furniture” you can buy with the in-game currency. In the several years that MyVMK has been up and running, its programmers and moderators have vastly expanded upon the items available in the original VMK, as well as introducing new options for customizing the placement of furniture within a room. But one thing they never did, despite the urging of the players, was create new explorable spaces.
All that is about to change. This is the current overworld view of MyVMK:

See Spaceship Earth in the lower right corner there, with the Epcot label? That was never part of Virtual Magic Kingdom. There was always an “Esplanade” area, with famous landmarks from non-Kingdom parks visible in the background, teasing us, but to the best of my knowledge there was never any plan to expand VMK beyond a single virtual park.
So far, there is no proper second gate in MyVMK either. If you click on Epcot, it will take you here:

There's nothing to do in this room, and nowhere to go from it. Yet. But it's coming. And I am weirdly excited about it. I haven't been very active in MyVMK for quite a while, but this could very well renew my interest. On the whole, of all the Disney parks I can't casually visit, Epcot probably intrigues me the most.* I've been there a grand total of once, nigh-30 years ago at this point, and I would love to see it again...even knowing that it's a mere shadow of its Eighties self by now. The high concept is that good.
A trip to the real Epcot is not in the foreseeable future for me. I'll be more than happy to pop in on the virtual one, when it opens.

* Tokyo DisneySea is a close second.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Imagineering Theory: Blending Themes

Last week's post included a link to FoxxFur's amazing article about border areas at Disneyland and how gracefully or ungracefully (usually the latter, though not necessarily to the park's detriment) the Imagineers manage the transitions. If you didn't read it then, I urge you to do so now, as it is a scrupulously well-documented analysis of design details you probably never noticed before, even though the whole point is how much they stick out compared to their equivalents in Magic Kingdom.
But it got me thinking: Could the transitions be made less awkward?* Perhaps the main reason Disneyland has so many abrupt boundaries between themed lands is the lack of space for subtle “fade” effects, but here's the thing: themes are not particulate. They can be tweaked and blended. I doubt if there are any two themes or genres in all imagination that are so dissimilar that they have no points in common and no potential to be hybridized.
So this post is my attempt to do that with all the border areas at Disneyland—all the places where two or more themes collide. It probably wouldn't be possible to retrofit the actual Disneyland with these ideas, so this is more of a what-if exercise.
Before I really get into it, I want to review my base material: what are the themes that need to be blended? This is not an exhaustive analysis of all the themes and sub-themes in Disneyland, just a quick summary. The nuances will be addressed when I start looking for ways to remix them.

Main Street, USA: A small American town around the turn of the 20th Century. Except for the period setting, about as “generic” as can be.
Adventureland: Tropical wilderness, barely explored by Westerners.
New Orleans Square: New Orleans ca. 1925 or so, plus supernatural elements. Say, is “historical urban fantasy” a thing? I feel like it should be.
Critter Country: Rural/wilderness area inhabited by anthropomorphic animals.
Frontierland: The Old West—settlers, “cowboys and Indians,” all-American wilderness, fairly realistic.
Fantasyland: Fairy tales and magical children's stories, especially if they've been made into animated Disney movies.
Mickey's Toontown: The Golden Age of cartoons.
Tomorrowland: Futurism and science-fiction.

Now, let's see what kinds of stews we can make from these ingredients!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Imagineering Theory: Why It Matters That Disneyland Came First

Here's an experiment to try sometime: Locate a cross-section of Disney theme park fans from various parts of the United States and put them together in a room. Make sure you have at least a couple Southern California and Central Florida locals in the group. Let them talk about whatever. If no one has brought up the parks in the first five minutes, introduce the topic yourself.
Measure the resulting heat and consider whether it might be enough to drive a turbine and constitute a source of clean energy.
There's a weird sort of tribalism that afflicts Disney theme park fans. Hardly anyone is an unbiased aficionado of the entire phenomenon; you're either on Team Anaheim or Team Orlando, insisting that your “home” resort (i.e. the one you're most familiar with—hardly anyone can afford to become familiar with both) is the better of the two. They have more parks, but ours are less of a hassle to get to. Our Castle is cuter and friendlier, while theirs is grander. Our food is better, but their hotels are better. We have the Matterhorn, they have the Hall of Presidents. Our version of “it's a small world” kicks theirs to the curb, but they got a better Fantasyland expansion. We lost the Country Bears, they lost Mr. Toad. And so it goes, ad infinitum.
But sooner or later, a West Coaster will pull out the ultimate trump card: Disneyland came first. Not that the Floridians will concede the argument, but it is at least an irrefutable point with no ready counterpart. Disneyland did come first. So instead the Floridians will claim that it doesn't matter. Big whoop, they'll say, not necessarily in those exact words. There's nothing inherently special about firstness; if anything, that just makes Disneyland the rough draft and Walt Disney World the polished product.
But I think it does matter. For one thing, there is something inherently special about firstness, which is why firsts are commemorated—why the Magna Carta is such a big deal and why Neil Armstrong is just a bit more celebrated than Buzz Aldrin. Beyond that, there are aspects to Disneyland's firstness that I think impact its quality, and our perception of its quality, for the better.

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.