February 28, 2013

Reviewing a Preview: Oz the Great & Powerful at DCA

Oz Great Powerful Disney DCA preview MuppetVision review
The good news: Disney California Adventure is featuring a special "4-D" nine minute preview of the upcoming fantasy epic, Oz the Great and Powerful.

The bad news: It's in the Muppetvision 3-D theater, which means no Muppets during this preview event. This isn't a good swap. In fact, replacing a genuine major park attraction with an advertisement seems like a shoddy way to treat guests. While waiting for this preview, I witnessed several families complaining to the cast members about the missing Muppets and turning away from the "special event" in disappointment.

As for the preview itself...

February 27, 2013

Gone to Disneyland!

Disneyland castle Sleeping Beauty landmark Fantasyland
Today's post is very brief, because Mouse Troop is in Disneyland Resort for some fun, food and photos! Even though a few attractions are currently closed for refurbishment, we're looking forward to the lighter-than-average pre-Spring Break crowds. Can not wait to hop aboard Radiator Springs Racers and the Indiana Jones Adventure!

The Walrus has tagged along, so the Fish Heads & Crumbs comic, which would normally appear today, will return next week. Normal posting resumes tomorrow, even if I'm stuffed to the gills with Apple Freeze and Chili Cone Queso!

February 26, 2013

The Kind of Home that Annoys a Jeep

Fillmore's Taste In Disney DCA Cars Land Carsland hippy van
Yesterday we had a shot of Sarge's Surplus Hut, so it's only fair that we give equal time to the domicile of the neighbor Sarge loves to argue with, Fillmore the Hippy Van.

Fillmore's Taste-In is probably the least-visited home in Cars Land, mainly because there's not much to do there except purchase fruit and bottled liquids. Personal appearances by Fillmore and Sarge could turned this into a must-visit property.

Still, it's a kick at night with its swirly psychedelic lighting. Back in the 70's, I owned a little gizmo called the Fantastic Plastic Light Machine (as did nearly every other teen in the U.S.), which would instantly flood one's room with a similar color scheme. Where's my Dark Side of the Moon LP?

February 25, 2013

The Kind of Home a Jeep Could Love

Sarge's Surplus Hut Cars Land Carsland DCA DIsney Disneyland
Sarge the Army Jeep lives a down-to-basics, no-nonsense lifestyle, and that's reflected by the exterior of his combination home/business in Radiator Springs, Sarge's Surplus Hut. Modeled after a WWII-era quonset hut, the weathered and rust-stained dwelling truly looks as if it's been sitting in Cars Land for decades.

Inside the shop, things get a bit more whimsical. It seems Sarge has realized that human customers are more inclined to choose die-cast miniatures and plush Maters over his usual stock of military surplus. If you look around while toy shopping, however, you might notice some stashed-away items from his store's original inventory, including an enormous pair of night-vision goggles.

February 24, 2013

Pluto in the Park

Disneyland Pluto Statue bronze Central Plaza park hub Horse
Pluto is perhaps the most joyful little statue in all of Disneyland. He's certainly claimed a prime location in Central Plaza, a spot many DL fans love as a place to relax while still being surrounded by park activity -- not to mention the wonderful sounds of the Horse-Drawn Streetcars and other Main Street Vehicles.

Pluto's just one of many, many great little details most guests only notice once they've slowed down after rushing from ride to ride for half the day. When folks finally start relaxing and looking around at Disneyland, that's when the park's charms truly come into focus.

February 23, 2013

Holly Shiftwell in Tron-derland: Radiator Springs is Coming to Disney Infinity

Disney Infinity Cars Playset expansion video game figures
Decked out in monster-truck tires, Holly Shiftwell from Cars 2 carries Violet from The Incredibles through a Tron loop in Wonderland as the Caterpillar's alphabet smoke rings drift upward.

I can't wait for the June release of Disney Infinity (the company's highly-anticipated answer to Activision's mega-hit Skylanders franchise) and its recently-announced first expansion set, Cars. Here's another shot:
Disney Infinity Cars expansion playset June video game figures
Missile-equipped Mater somersaults in front of Cinderella Castle while Sully pilots a Recognizer. These images from the latest game trailer highlight a few of the potentially "infinite" user-created mash-up scenarios in the game's Toy Box Mode, which will also give players the ability to design their own race courses for use by all Infinity characters.

February 22, 2013

Friday With the Racers

Radiator Springs Racers Cars Land Carsland Disney DCA
We're barreling toward the weekend with another shot of my pick for The Most Fun Ride on Earth, Radiator Springs Racers.

I love the cars, the dark ride adventure, the race course, the music, the rockwork...and the fact that all those beautiful cacti are real.

Plus, of all the great rides at Disneyland Resort, this one's the most enjoyable to watch -- and you can watch it from a table at Flo's while eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. Or all three; on a future visit, I hope to spend an entire leisurely day in Radiator Spings, riding, eating, shopping and relaxing while listening to the town's amazing song playlist.

February 21, 2013

Remembering the Dream Fastpass

Disneyland Dream Fastpass 2007 Year Million Dreams 
Remember the Year of a Million Dreams promotion at the Disney parks? During the day, elusive Dream Squad cast members would show up at random locations and give out prizes to the next guests to pass their way.

Back in 2007, my family and I got just one prize out of that deal, but it was a good one: Dream Fastpasses for our group.

These were plastic cards with detachable tabs, which served as all-day Fastpasses for each Fastpass-enabled ride at Disneyland: Big Thunder Mt. Railroad, Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain, Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear and Autopia. Valid only for the day of issue, the pass could only be used once on each ride, as a cast member would snap off the appropriate tab as you entered.

Not a bad way to save a few hours of waiting time, these great little bonuses remain my family's best memory of The Year of a Million Dreams...which, you may recall, actually lasted 27 months.

February 20, 2013

The Ride Adults Fear Most (with Fish Heads & Crumbs)

DIsneyland Mad Tea Party Teacups motion sick walrus comic
What's the scariest ride at Disneyland Resort for many adults? Tower of Terror? No, that's in second place. We're talking about the good old Mad Tea Party. If you belong to the large percentage of adult humans who get motion sick when spinning wildly in circles, it can be a supreme act of courage to brave these jolly cups simply because your children don't want to ride alone.

Every day at Disneyland, that act of selflessness is carried out over and over again. It's kind of inspiring.
Disneyland teacups Mad Tea Party Walrus comic motion sick

February 19, 2013

Two Great Parks So Very Close Together

Disneyland Esplanade resort DCA entrance entry park
We've got two photos here -- two angles from the same spot, with Disneyland to the left...
Disneyland Esplanade resort Disney California Adventure entry
 ...and DCA to the right.

Disneyland Resort regulars have come to know this Esplanade as a wonderful transition zone where Monorails zip past and great Disney instrumental music plays nonstop.

For any park fans who have never been to Disneyland Resort (or at least not since DCA was built), this is a quick visual demonstration that, yes, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure really are that close to each other. It gives park-hopping new meaning; I'm sure someone in better shape than me could literally hop on one foot from one park to the other...or travel by pogo stick.

Now that DCA is finally a fantastic park, this area generates a unique, surreal atmopshere in the morning as guests line up at the opposing turnstyles, glancing over their shoulders and wishing they could somehow enter both parks simultaneously.

During the recent holiday season's busiest days, the lines for the two parks met in the middle.

February 18, 2013

Should the Treehouse Be Remodeled Again?

Tarzan's Treehouse Disneyland Adventureland Swiss Family
We're in Adventureland, looking up at the bridge leading to Tarzan's Treehouse, the clever 1999 remodeling of the beloved old Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. It's well done, but has never seemed as compelling to me as it did in its original form -- because it no longer feels like a real, functioning home.

Tarzan didn't live in a treehouse in the film (except briefly as an infant). Filmgoers mainly know this place as the spot where Tarzan's parents were killed. In fact, the killer is actually right there in the treehouse in one of the story scenes.

Tarzan's a terrific and beautifully crafted film, but it hasn't "stuck" in the public consciousness as memorably as other Disney movies -- at least for the time being. The treehouse needs new tenants.

Adam and Andrew at The Disney Hipster Blog recently posted about the lack of a Jungle Book presence in Walt Disney World's Adventureland. Looking at Disneyland's similar under-utilization of a very popular and enduring set of characters, I think Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Col. Hathi, King Louie, Kaa the Python, Shere Kahn and four harmonizing vultures would make awesome tenants for the Robinson's old digs.

Mowgli spent even less time in a treehouse (none) than Tarzan, but it wouldn't matter. Guests would line up for a Jungle Book encounter of any kind. And the music would be fantastic.

February 17, 2013

Small World Zoology: The Hippo

Disneyland Small World hippo Pumbaa Simba animals additions
Continuing our look at Small World's awesome stylized menagerie, we have the unforgettable Hippo with its glowing eyes and lazily bobbing head. Since Day One, this creature has provided one of the most fun encounters on the musical trip around the globe.

To the right, you can see two of Small World's semi-controversial recent additions, Simba and Pumbaa (eating a grub). I actually like the addition of the Disney characters; they add another level of fun to the ride (character-spotting) without taking the spotlight away from the original cast...much.

As I mentioned in Part One of this little series, the animals provide most of the fun and humor on It's a Small World. I really think many of the folks who claim to be "creeped out" by all the singing child dolls simply aren't paying enough attention to the ride's charming and hilarious wildlife.

February 16, 2013

Main Street's Masterpiece Maintenance Mural

Disneyland mural Main Street Horseless Carriages National
Now, this is what all maintenance doors should look like. Located near the Fire Station, this jolly painting adds character and backstory to a relatively quiet corner of Main Street, while turning an ordinary pair of maintenance/vehicle access doors into a little showpiece.
Disneyland Main Street mural National sponsor vehicles
It also functions as a pretty classy and fun bit of advertising; National Rent-a-Car sponsors the Main Street Vehicles.

February 15, 2013

Lizzie's Curio Shop in Radiator Springs

Cars Land Lizzie Radiator Springs Curios Curios shop night
It's the only shop owned by a Model T Ford, and at night it glows with a perfect blend of tackiness and beauty. Radiator Springs Curios, one of the three gift shops in Cars Land, offers an eclectic mix of merchandise, much as its exterior might suggest.

Fans of the movie can just stand in the street a moment and stare at the amazingly accurate details all over the front. My favorite element -- and it's a feature found all over Cars Land -- is the car-sized front entry.

February 14, 2013

Reviewing the Netflix Disney Films: Treasure Planet

Treasure Planet review Disney Netflix Jim Hawkins John Silver
Before I start nit-picking, I'd like to make one thing clear: Treasure Planet, Disney's sci-fi/fantasy retelling of Treasure Island, is a beautiful, entertaining film and well worth watching. It contains some of the best animated "acting" ever to appear on screen, and much of its imagery is unforgettable. It's the only family-friendly film one could reasonably file under "Steam-Punk," and it's got more imagination on display in any given five seconds of footage than most of todays sci-fi films have in their entire running length.

There are, however, good reasons the movie didn't connect with a wider audience in its theatrical run.

February 13, 2013

Primeval Walrus (with Fish Heads & Crumbs)

Disneyland Train Fred Gurley Primeval World Fish Heads Crumbs
The grand locomotive Fred Gurley has returned safely to Main Street Station after another thrilling trip through the prehistoric Primeval World. No other railroad on Earth takes you on a tour of the Old South, the Old West, the World of Tomorrow, the Grand Canyon and the Age of Dinosaurs -- and gets you back to Main Street in time for the afternoon parade!

Aston Walrus looks forward to park train trips as a chance to relax and reflect. But he lives in a comic strip, so things rarely work out that way...
Primeval World Disneyland comic Walrus Fish Heads Crumbs

February 12, 2013

Small World Zoology: The Giraffes

Small World Giraffes Disneyland ride animals Fantasyland
These wonderful giraffes are charming enough in a still photo. In person, bobbing their heads to and fro, they're one of my favorite sights in Disneyland. I love their flower-patterned fur, slightly dazed expressions and pom-pom ossicones (yes, that's what they're called. Thanks, Google!)

It's a Small World has become the butt of many jokes and snarky comments. Even by Disney standards, it can seem overly saccharine and a bit eerie to some folks. To those guests, I say, "Pay more attention to the animals!" That's where you find the ride's humor and best designs. If you don't like the smug singing child dolls, don't look at 'em. Small World bursts at the seams with delightful stylized wildlife, and that's the element that makes this ride such a joy for me.

We'll feature more of Small World's animal stars from time to time in the coming weeks. When it came to picking a kick-off species to get things started, all thoughts went immediately to the giraffe herd.

We can tell these are all female giraffes, because apparently only females get the tufts of fur atop their ossicones. Males go bald there. See what you learn at Mouse Troop?

February 11, 2013

Tom Sawyer Would Have Loved Pirate's Lair

Pirate's Lair skeleton Disneyland Tom Sawyer Island chest
In Mark Twain's classic book, Tom Sawyer loved nothing quite so much as a ghastly, bloody, violent pirate tale. He would have adored Disneyland's Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. Look at the photos above and below, which show a couple of the island activities: turn a capstan or man a pump and skeletons are revealed -- now, that's interactive fun a kid can love.
Pirate's Lair Disneyland skeletons Tom Sawyer Island chest gold
I have great memories of good times romping around the original version of Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island as a child. As I got older, I enjoyed getting a lemonade at Fort Wilderness and settling onto a rocky outcropping behind the fort to just relax and watch the Mark Twain pass by. It was a great place...
Disneyland shipwreck Pirate's Lair Tom Sawyer Island Den
And it still is. When this much care and attention to detail goes into a makeover, how could I complain? Plus, the spooky new show scenes inside Dead Man's Grotto are worth the trip to the island. I have to admit, if my younger self had a choice between old Tom Sawyer Island and the Pirate's Lair version...I would've picked the pirates in a Davy Jones heartbeat.

February 10, 2013

A Quiet Spot Near Radiator Springs Racers

Radiator Springs Racers Cap Cars Land Carsland DCA Disney
I love this little park beside the entry and exit to Radiator Springs Racers. It's a great spot for non-riders to wait for their families to return from the adventure, or for anyone to just unwind and listen to the happy screams of riders zipping around the base of Radiator Cap Rock.
Radiator Spings Racers Cars Land Carsland DCA Disney queue
Nearby, the Single-Rider and Fastpass queues wind through the landscaping before heading under the bridge to Stanley's Oasis. In the background, two racers head for the camelbacks during a test run (on this early morning visit the ride opening was delayed a few minutes).

The little rest zone is perfectly placed just between the normal crowd flow in and out of the ride, so you can usually count on finding an unoccupied bench while relaxing...or gearing up to take another spin on the Racers (remember...Single Rider Line)!

February 9, 2013

Beast Says...

Belle Beast Disneyland characters walk around meet greet
Organized meet n' greets have their place, but I prefer to see the characters out and about in the parks, intermingling, chatting and goofing around with the guests. In this lovely shot I took of a bunch of guest's heads a couple of years ago, Belle had begun an impromtu game of "Beast Says" with a group of children. She was so earnest and delightful that even Cinderella paused to watch the fun.

Beast played along like a big, genial goof as Belle called out things like, "Beast says, 'Cover your eyes!'" and, "Beast says, 'Stand on one foot!'"

It would have been awesome if the game had ended with "Beast says, 'GET OUTTA MY CASTLE!!!!'" -- and then have Beast chase everyone around...but that didn't happen.

Next to the Fab Five, Belle and Beast are my favorite park characters. I'm certainly glad they let Beast stay Beast, instead of Mr. Learned-His-Lesson-Prince from the end of the film. If they had went with the human dude, everyone in the parks would be saying, "There's Belle and...some guy..."

February 8, 2013

Downtown Disney: Getting Better All the Time

Downtown Disney Disneyland Resort Anaheim shopping dining
In the "old days" before Downtown Disney, most family's Disneyland visits began with the tantalizing view of the main entry across the vast expanse of the parking lot (now the site of DCA).

I still miss the fun of approaching the park from the front, but I must admit that the new entry route through Downtown Disney is growing on me. It really is a beautiful and lively creation, and it actually provides a smooth transition from the real world to the fantasy realms of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

And it definitely provides a more enjoyable walk at night than the old parking lot ever did.

VALENTINE SEASON FUN -- Be sure to check out This Happy Place Blog, a truly terrific site where Estelle Hallick is presenting the Disney Love Meter -- a series in which different writers present their thoughts on some classic Disney couples. I feel very honored to have been invited to contribute, and my look at Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet can be found there right now. I can't wait to see the rest of the entries!

February 7, 2013

Disneyland City Hall

Disneyland City Hall Main Street information schedules lost
Good old City Hall sits on the left side of Town Square as you enter Disneyland. What an incredibly inviting little structure; I'd love to grab an ice cream cone and just relax and people-watch from one of its front porch benches -- and not get up until the next horse-drawn streetcar ambles around to take me to the castle.

City Hall is your one-stop helpful spot to ask a question, pick up a show schedule, find a lost parent...
Disneyland lost parents sign City Hall children help find
or -- heaven forbid -- lodge a complaint. In the many years I've been visiting Disneyland, I've been tempted to leave a complaint a grand total of twice...and both times I started having fun again within about five minutes and forgot what I was irked about.

February 6, 2013

When a Cold Strikes at Disneyland (with Fish Heads & Crumbs)

Disneyland Main Street Blurry catching cold shakey vacation sick
Must...get..to...hotel...(I knew I'd find a use for this photo someday!)
There's no such thing as a good time to catch a cold, but feeling it hit right as vacation starts is just plain aggravating. I can tell you from personal experience that riding the Matterhorn with a pounding headache is not a good idea. Sometimes there's simply no other choice but to slog back to the hotel, collapse like a sack of coconuts, try not to blame the co-worker back home (who came to work with a fever) and hope it eases up in time to allow you at least a few good rides...or at least an Apple Freeze and a fritter.

For locals, it's not quite such a big deal; they just postpone for a week or two. They might even use the parks as their own comfort-food takeout service. Cue the walrus...oh, wait, he can't leave his house today...
Disneyland comic strip walrus fish heads crumbs Plunk cold

February 5, 2013

The Happiest Plaque on Earth

Disneyland entry Plaque entrance tunnel brass train leave today
To millions of Disneyland guests, this plaque (and its twin above the other entry tunnel) signals the official start of vacation. From this point onward, it's okay to act like a kid, talk to ghosts, pretend you can fly and hug a mouse.

If your family's anything like mine, you've passed underneath this sign while in the middle of an agreement (or friendly argument) about which ride to hit first. For my group, it's Space Mountain nine times out of ten.

February 4, 2013

Splash Mountain: A Tony Baxter Masterpiece

 Splash Mountain barn entry entrance Disneyland Resort
How many people have passed through the barn door entry to Splash Mountain since its 1989 opening? One thing's for certain: no one who enters this incredibly fun (and mega-popular) adventure leaves without some free Splash Mountain water as a souvenir.

I've always enjoyed the way the building provides a smooth transition from reality (well, Disneyland reality) into the ride's animated fantasy world. The queue winds through the convincingly real-looking barn setting while written quotes from the Br'er Rabbit tales foreshadow the adventure up ahead. Before guests know it, they've stepped from the barn into the "underground" rabbit burrow tunnel leading to the loading platform.

From that point on, it's a world of singing geese, evil plots, bees, laughing places and scary drops. The getting-soaked finale actually draws you more completely into the story; it's the price you pay for escaping the fox's lair!

Tony Baxter, the genius and magician behind Splash Mountian, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Star Tours, The Indiana Jones Adventure, Disneyland's New Fantasyland and much, much more recently announced that he's moving from full-time Imagineering to more of a consulting and mentoring role. Tony, thank you for all the great memories, fun, thrills and true magic you've given the world. You have worked wonders and delighted and inspired millions of people. You are amazing.

February 3, 2013

The Reluctant Dragon Hits Netflix

Reluctant Dragon Disney Netflix arrives new joins list classic
I have to admit I didn't see this one coming: Netflix just added The Reluctant Dragon to its growing Disney lineup. This isn't merely the short film that's appeared on home video; this is the entire, unedited (and extremely unusual) 1941 feature film starring comedian Robert Benchley with appearances by Walt Disney, Ward Kimball, Norm Ferguson, Fred Moore and Clarence Nash as themselves.

A combination of live action and animation, the film is a wild hodgepodge of fact and fantasy as it presents a very Willy Wonka-like tour of various departments of the Walt Disney Studios, climaxing with the debut of the offbeat and very funny title story. Along the road to Walt's screening room, you'll laugh, groan, and say "What the --" a lot. And --a warning here -- you'll wince at a couple of unfortunate culturally insensitive moments. Speaking for myself, there are two specific seconds of film I wouldn't mind seeing removed.

Most of the movie, however, is a fascinating trip back through time to see how Walt Disney publicly presented his studio to the American public in June of 1941. It's not one of Disney's greatest films, but it contains many terrific moments, and the Dragon short is a mini-classic.

February 2, 2013

Mater Takes a Break

Mater Cars Land Carsland DCA Disney California Adventure Cone
Mater exits the Cozy Cone and heads out to look for groundhogs...or maybe he's just rumbling backstage to take a break.

Without a doubt, the frequent comings and goings of Mater and Lightning add a huge amount of extra atmosphere and fun to Cars Land. Red the Fire Engine and DJ the boombox car are currently the only other full-size vehicles who drive along the streets (both of 'em) of Radiator Springs.

I hope future plans for Cars Land include having more of the citizens show up to greet the crowds. Seeing Sheriff, Doc, Sally, Filmore, Sarge, Ramone, Flo, Luigi, or Lizzie show up randomly would be fantastic. Of course, it would make it even more difficult for fans to tear themselves away from Radiator Springs to see the rest of DCA!

February 1, 2013

The Broom That Wouldn't Leave

Fantasia Broom Mickey Mickey's House DIsneyland Toontown
When you wander through Mickey's House in Toontown, making your way toward his backyard movie studio barn, you run across all kinds of memorabilia from the mouse's life.

My favorite is this lonely little guy, still hanging around hoping for another role in an animated feature. He's still ticked off about the live-action Nicolas Cage film.

That surreal lamp post seems to have escaped from the Roger Rabbit ride.