July 31, 2013

A Portal to Wondrous, Dark Adventures

Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle Fantasyland night lights
Sleeping Beauty Castle is more than a fanciful park icon; It beckons you into a land containing the best collection of classic-style dark rides on the planet. And, once upon a time (before the mid-eighties), those rides were darker and more mysterious. Today's guests experience the adventures of Snow White, Pinocchio, Peter Pan and Alice as journeys into film worlds they're well acquainted with. Mr. Toad's movie remains relatively obscure, but at least the film's available.

But the dark rides weren't always visits to familiar film worlds. Two factors originally combined to make each ride a stranger, more thrilling experience, particularly for children. Sure, there was the massive Fantasyland makeover in 1983, but most of it revolves around the fact that Disney animation was not always something you could view anytime you wanted.

Anyone who grew up in the 1950's, 60's or 70's might remember the particularly strong sense of otherworldliness Fantasyland held. Because...

In the pre-home-video days, more park guests knew the Disney versions of Alice, Snow White, Peter Pan, and Mr. Toad from their Fantasyland dark rides than from the films themselves.

July 29, 2013

Condor Flats Needs More Personality. Planes, Anyone?

Disney Planes toy die-cast figure Skipper animated toys
An unusual new Disney animated film is nearly upon us (the first non-Pixar feature film set in a Pixar world), and--no surprise--the Planes merchandise has landed ahead of the movie to begin the ballyhoo.

As usual for the Cars franchise, the little collectible die-cast characters are slickly packaged, and I love the backdrop for Skipper (shown above), as it looks like a ready-made Imagineering pitch for an upgrade to DCA's airstrip-themed Condor Flats.
Soarin' DCA Disney California Adventure Condor Flats hangar
This area, of course, holds the gigantic hangar-shaped show building for Soarin', the only real reason anyone ventures into Condor Flats. This land needs another ride and a big boost in the personality department.
DCA Disney California Adventure Condor Flats shop Fly Buy
It's got an appealing theme, and I love the ramshackle airstrip buildings on the Grizzly Peak side.
Soarin' DCA Disney California Adventure Condor Flats mister
Perhaps, however, it's time to get rid of the giant rocket jet mist-blaster (which is an eyesore even when it's working) and really add some more charm (and much more shade) to the whole zone. I know I'm not the first blogger to point out that this would be a fantastic photo-op location for meeting the cast of Planes.

Any chance of the film's mythical Propwash Junction coming to life here in any form depends, I'm sure, on the movie's box office take. With or without the Planes crew, however, DCA's Condor Flats needs to become a truly beautiful and memorable destination, and not just the place you hurry through on your way to Soarin'.

July 26, 2013

Main Street Details: Above the Mad Hatter

Mad Hatter Shop Disneyland Main Street store sign shopfront
Disneyland's Main Street tucks dozens of great details into its signage and shopfronts, and the modest little Mad Hatter shop is a great place to pause and soak in some of the visual fun.
Mad Hatter Shop Disneyland Main Street sign entry shopfront
The hat itself, of course, sits front and center. It's unusual to see such a faithful sculpting of a piece of classic animation on Main Street.

Just above the oversized topper, however, sits the real treasure of this particular address...
Atencio Window Disneyland Main Street lyricist writer Imagineer
As many of you know, Disney occasionally honors its major artists and contributors by awarding them their own window on Main Street. This one belongs to X. Atencio, the Imagineer responsible for adding a lot of wit and magic to two of Disney's most beloved attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. In addition to writing the scripts and dialogue for both rides, he wrote the lyrics to the rides' theme songs, "Yo-Ho" and "Grim Grinning Ghosts." He voiced the talking skull guarding the first drop on Pirates, and he can be heard trying to break out of the coffin on Haunted Mansion (as well as advising us to stay in our "Doom Buggies" if the ride stops unexpectedly).

Photo by Lana Whitham

July 24, 2013

In Every Park, One Ride Has To Be The Worst

Jumpin' Jellyfish DCA Disney California Adventure worst ride
I hate to bad-mouth such a jolly-looking ride, but Jumpin' Jellyfish takes top spot on our short list of things we'd (still) love to see replaced at DCA.

It has an identity crisis. It's basically a children's ride that looks too intimidating for many kids to want to ride alone. For adults, it's not worth any kind of wait in line. It goes gently up, it comes gently down. You get a nice view for a few moments, and wonder is this all it does? Yes, that's all it does.

The kicker, though, is the seat design. See, there's this knob on each seat that fits between the rider's legs. The seats come to rest inconveniently high off the ground, so you have to do a backwards hop to get aboard. If you happen to be male, and miss the mark slightly...you might find yourself turning green and doubling over before the ride even begins. Fun times.

One of the last untouched holdovers from DCA's opening day, Jumpin' Jellyfish simply takes up too much valuable waterfront space. The same might also be said of its neighbor, Golden Zephyr, but the Zephyr's actually fun to ride. Jumpin' Jellyfish, on the other hand, is the one attraction at DCA I wouldn't recommend to anyone unless there's absolutely no wait--and even then, watch out for those seats!

Photo by Lana Whitham

July 22, 2013

The West Coast Sorcerer Hat

Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World are both "blessed" by giant sorcerer hats, each paying a tribute to the most famous sequence from Walt Disney's Fantasia.
Disneyland Hotel Sorcerer hat entry resort night sparkling TInker
The stylized West Coast version isn't nearly as controversial as its larger Florida cousin, mainly because it doesn't block the view of a beloved landmark. In Anaheim, the hat merely serves as a whimsical entry marker for the Disneyland Hotel. It essentially lets guests know they're leaving Downtown Disney and entering the hotel grounds.
Disneyland Hotel Sorcerer hat entry sign Tinker Bell night
It's a cute piece of pop art, and it sparkles effectively at night. It doesn't, however, quite fit the 60's retro theming of the DL Hotel's recent remodeling. If and when it's replaced with a different sort of entry symbol, I doubt many guests will miss it much, as it's always felt like a temporary place holder. Then again, who'd have guessed the Florida hat would have stuck around as long as it has!

July 20, 2013

The Avengers Storm Netflix

Avengers Netflix digital streaming Disney superhero movie
A quiet little art-house movie Disney distributed last year has become available for instant digital streaming on Netflix. You might have heard of it; It's about two British spies named John Steed and Emma Peel who -- oh, wait. Sorry. No, this is the one where superheroes bicker, things explode, Loki gets beat up real good and the Walt Disney Company dances all the way to the bank.

It's not perfect, but The Avengers is certainly a spectacular flick with an outstanding cast and some amazing action set-pieces. If you haven't yet seen this one, get some popcorn and settle back for a fun ride.

For more films, see our full guide to Disney on Netflix.

July 19, 2013

Heimlich in Hollywood Land

Everyone's favorite ravenous caterpillar winds his way (in several pieces) along Hollywood Blvd. during the Pixar Play Parade at DCA. This parade never fails to make me grin as it passes by. It's impressive and filled with ingenious costume and puppetry concepts, yet manages to feel completely casual, light-on-its-feet and unpretentious.

By the way, that's DCA's best shop in the background: Off the Page. Filled with Disney art prints, cels, books and collectibles, it also gives you a chance to commission a personalized character sketch from an on-duty Disney artist. You could request a drawing of anything from Mufasa to Mickey to...well, how about Heimlich?

July 17, 2013

Fifty-Eight Years Ago...

Disneyland Disneyland's birthday fifty-eight years old July 17th 1955

The Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes

Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes Disneyland Splash Sawyer river
With Splash Mountain looming in the background, one of Crockett's canoes passes the Fantasmic stage on Tom Sawyer Island.

 If you drop by Disneyland during the canoes' limited operating hours--and the sun's not too scorching--be sure to give this adventure a whirl. You'll get some great exercise (these are genuine trackless, people-powered canoes) and unique, up-close views of river landmarks you can't get from the Mark Twain or Columbia.
Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes Disneyland sign Critter Country
I love the ride's entry sign, too. It looks so charmingly, perfectly rustic (and that real forest background certainly helps) that the modern-day safety advisories don't disrupt the old-time atmosphere at all. It all just looks "right" with that classic Disneyland balance of history, fantasy and function.

Photos by Lana Whitham

July 15, 2013

DCA's Rushin' River Outfitters

Rushin River Outfitters DCA Disney California Adventure shop
Located near the Grizzly River Run whitewater ride, Rushin' River Outfitters has always been one of DCA's most enjoyable shops. Its name is a twist on Northern California's Russian River (DCA's original designers certainly loved puns), its decor can be described as mountain-highway-truckstop-town-chainsaw-sculpture-classic, and its merchandise is generally worth a gander.
Rushin River Outfitters DCA Disney California Adventure shop
I love the interior of this shop. Despite the intentionally cluttered look of the props hanging about, the place has an open, airy atmosphere that's cozy in the winter and refreshingly cool in the summer.

And, just so you don't miss it, let's zoom in on that little sign up there...
Rushin River Outfitters DCA Disney California toboggan
A pause to groan. Bonus wordplay down on the lower right! I do admire the clever use of fake merchandise as shelves for the actual merchandise; They've almost got a little WDW Blizzard Beach West vibe going here.

For clothing and coffee mugs with a Disney-Goes-Pacific-Northwest theme (as well as Grizzly River Run souvenirs), Rushin' River Outfitters offers a relaxed and comfortable shopping option with a focused, well-chosen inventory. As a bonus, it's right by the gate to the Grand Californian Hotel, making it extra convenient for the hotel's guests (and Paradise Pier Hotel guests using the gate as a shortcut).

July 13, 2013

Geeking Out Over the Saving Mr. Banks Trailer

I didn't expect to shift into Disney Geek Overload mode at the debut of the trailer for the upcoming film Saving Mr. Banks, but...wow. Let's run down the checklist of fun, here...
Disney Hanks Thompson Saving Mr. Banks Trailer Disneyland
1: First and foremost, we've got two great performances by Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson as Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers.
Disney Hanks Thompson Saving Mr. Banks Trailer Disneyland
2. We've got Disneyland portraying itself as a young park. With attraction posters front and center.
Disney Hanks Thompson Saving Mr. Banks Trailer review
3. We've got scenes portraying the songwriting Sherman Brothers caught in a cultural crossfire with very funny results. "Responstable is not a word!"
Disney Hanks Thompson Saving Mr. Banks Trailer review
4. We've got a re-creation of one of Walt Disney's most playful appearances on television, when Tinkerbell sprinkled him with pixie dust in his office, levitating him off the floor--much to his annoyance.

July 12, 2013

Flik's Flyers in A Bug's Land

Flik's Flyers ride DCA Disney Bug's Land take-out box California
DCA features several great ways to fly, carrying guests skyward on everything from virtual hang-gliders to the nerve-jangling swinging gondolas of Mickey's Fun Wheel. For pure strangeness and wonderment, though, I can't pick a more delightful DCA aircraft than the airborne juice boxes and take-out containers of Flik's Flyers.

As with Dumbo and The Mad Tea Party, here's another case of incredible theming transforming a basic carnival ride into something amazing. Although A Bug's Land is aimed toward families with small children, this ride manages to catch the attention of many an adult party heading through en route to Cars Land. Seriously, who wouldn't want to cruise the heavens in an egg roll box?

Photo by Lana Whitham

July 10, 2013

How Casey Jr. Sums Up the Disney Difference

Disneyland, Casey, Jr., Storybook, Fantasyland, circus, train, ride
An afternoon in Fantasyland wouldn't be complete without the sight of Casey Jr. chugging by on his way to the chain lift that'll help him up the "I Think I Can" hill.

This miniature railroad, one of the park's oldest rides, beautifully represents a key design philosophy that sets Disneyland apart from other theme parks: It's so much better than "good enough."

Back when Disneyland was first being constructed, it would have been far less draining to the park's tight budget to create Casey Jr. as a basic little railroad ride with a simple oval course. Fortunately, Walt had a grander vision for his little train.

Casey follows a winding, ingeniously laid out multi-level course that includes rocky passes, bridges you travel across and under, and a long, thrillingly dark climactic tunnel. You can almost picture Walt scribbling a checklist of every element he wanted included in the layout. The above-mentioned chain lift pulls the train to the track's highest point as Casey (of course) chugs "I think I can, I think I can," and the entire adventure gives you an elevated view of Storybook Land that complements the water-level vantage point of the Canal Boats.

What a fantastic little masterpiece. If, by chance, you've never taken a ride on Casey Jr., please don't miss it on your next trip to the park. It's not just a great old ride. It's a great ride, period.

July 8, 2013

Cars Land at Night

Cars Land Carsland DCA Disney California Adventure night
Welcome back to Disney California Adventure! The sun's down, the neon's lit and the music's playing as we take a nine photo stroll through nighttime Cars Land.
Cars Land Carsland DCA Disney California Adventure night
Fillmore's Place, home of black light, folk art, bootleg fuel and fresh fruit.
Cars Land Carsland DCA Disney California Adventure night
Outside Mater's Junkyard, looking down Route 66.

July 7, 2013

Underappreciated Disney Characters Part 2

Welcome back to our ongoing tribute to Disney's most overlooked supporting players. Last week, we focused on Col. Hathi and Alice's Horn Ducks. Today, we've got another unjustly ignored pair of troupers.
Disney Joanna Rescuers lizard goanna Underappreciated

Bursting onto the scene in The Rescuers Down Under, Joanna the goanna (I used to think she was a komodo dragon) is the funniest villain sidekick in Disney history. She doesn't speak a word, but her brilliant animation will delight you--and make your skin crawl at the same time.

She's incredibly important to the film, because this movie's villain, McLeach, is one of Disney's most hateful and frightening scumbags. There's no way to lighten up an eagle-killing kidnapper who thinks nothing of tossing a human child to crocodiles. Enter Joanna, who--even though she's on McLeach's side--provides some welcome comedy during the film's darkest moments.


Joanna has pretty much vanished in the company's eye, and that's Disney's loss. Can you imagine how many Joanna plush or rubber lizards they could sell every day in Adventureland? How about a Joanna hat? And wouldn't she be a natural at Disney's Animal Kingdom? By the way, if you've never seen the excellent Rescuers Down Under, it's streaming on Netflix right now!

Next up, we've got man's--and woman's--best friend...
Disney Bruno Cinderella dog underappreciated character

This image captures my favorite moment in Disney's Cinderella. Look at it from Bruno the dog's perspective:

1) He's just been through a humiliating night as a human.

2) He had to hike home after Cindy forgot the one thing the Fairy Godmother told her to remember.

3) His well-deserved slumber is now rudely interrupted by over-caffeinated birds who only serve to remind him that Cinderella never sewed any clothes for him, oh no sirree.
Everything--Cinderella's future, Gus-Gus's life, the fate of the Kingdom--depends on how quickly he can wake up. And, once he does snap out of dreamland, he delivers justice like only a true-blue dog can do. Bruno is the real hero of this film. Okay, the mice get some credit, too.

The moral of Disney's Cinderella has nothing to do with wishes or magic: If you're nice to people, you increase the odds that, someday, your friends just might come through for you when you need them most. All that's summed up perfectly in Bruno.


Bruno's gotten the occasional merchandising nod: I once owned a fun little PVC statuette of the ol' hound. Being a dog has its advantages when it comes to product potential. Of course, there's also the two video sequels, but the less said about them the better.

Join us next time for part 3. In the meantime, who are your favorite underappreciated Disney toons?

July 5, 2013

The Chaotic Cabs of Car Toon Spin

Roger Rabbit Disneyland Toontown Car Toon Spin Rabbit's dark
Mouse Troop's got toons on the brain this week, so today we're taking a look at the vehicles and loading zone for the dizziest dark ride in Disney's lineup, Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin.

Roger Rabbit Disneyland Spin Rabbit's dark ride taxi cabs
Remember, this is Lenny the Cab, not Benny from the movie. Benny actually appears as a character in the first ride scene.
Roger Rabbit Disneyland Spin Rabbit's dark ride taxi cabs
Is it just me, or does Lenny look a bit too eager to plunge us into danger?
Roger Rabbit Disneyland Spin Rabbit's dark ride taxi cabs light
I love this little red/green light signal hand that sends each pair of cabs on their way. Seconds into the ride, weasels throw toxic "dip" on the track, sending your cab into a spin mode that lasts for most of the ride.

Although riders can influence the spinning by turning the steering wheel, it doesn't take long to realize that--between the cars' momentum and the many sharp turns in the track--the cabs seem to have a mind of their own. That's actually a plus on this ride, because your struggles to guide the lurching vehicle add to the ride's slapstick atmosphere.

If you want it to spin constantly, it's going to fight you. If you don't want to spin at all, you're still going to pivot a lot. And if you just want to keep facing forward to take pictures...yeah, good luck with that!

Out-of-control craziness is the order of the day at Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, and that seems like the perfect approach for a Toontown adventure.

July 2, 2013

Two Park Classics Parade Onto iTunes

Disney Electrical Parade SpectroMagic iTunes Amazon digital
In another big marching step for fans seeking digital park music, Disney's Electrical Parade and SpectroMagic have become available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon MP3.

The price points are reasonable, considering the track lengths ($2.99 for the 9:57 Electrical Parade and $3.99 for the 14:16 SpectroMagic). The sound quality is excellent on both releases.

SpectroMagic's release is a bit bittersweet, considering this week's news about the uncheerful fate of the retired parade floats, but the high quality of this recording should rekindle happy memories in fans and introduce newcomers to the timeless fun of this Walt Disney World exclusive.

The Electrical Parade's release might strike a pang of nostalgia in many Disneyland regulars who are coming to grips with the increasingly unlikely prospect of ever getting that show back to California (Elliott, we miss you!). This is the terrific Randy Thornton mix created for The Musical History of Disneyland (complete with Alice and Pete dialogue with the crowd) but with the DCA-era alternate opening and closing announcements hailing it awkwardly as "Disney's Electrical Parade." It just sounds odd not hearing "Main Street" in that fanfare.

Still, any Electrical Parade on iTunes is better than none!

I encourage all Disney park fans to purchase both of these releases: If we want more park music released digitally, we need to vote with our wallets!

As always, I'm hoping there's more to come!

For a complete list of currently available digital Disney park music, please click here.

July 1, 2013

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Tower Terror Twilight Zone DCA Disney California Adventure
Seen through a thin web of overhead Trolley wires, the supernaturally twisted Tower of Terror rises above Hollywood Land at DCA.

It's the only ride at Disneyland resort that still scares me every single time I climb aboard. The anticipation during the story scenes--knowing what's coming--creates one of the most awesomely tense, nerve-wracking first moments of any ride I can think of.

And when the drops begin, the whole elevator cabin echoes with passengers' screams and laughter (a perfect combination of both) at an intensity you'll find nowhere else on property. This ride plugs directly into everyone's instinctive fear of falling, and somehow makes the sensation fun and terrifying at the same time. When it all finally ends, I always find myself grateful it's over, yet glad I went.

An import from Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida, DCA's version of ToT lacks the original's horizontal track Fifth Dimension corridor, opting instead for an extra scene inside the main drop shaft. I hope to someday try the Florida original to compare the adventures; I'm sure I'll be every bit as scared dropping faster than freefall on the East coast as on the West.

Photo by Lana Whitham