Tuesday, July 1, 2014

An Incredibly talented team


I had the recent pleasure of attending the National Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Pixar in Concert at our nearby outdoor amphitheater, Wolf Trap. It was a beautiful evening for a engaging performance. Highlights from each Pixar film were presented on a large screen while the orchestra majestically performed highlights from each film’s score. The music of Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, Michael Giacchino and Patrick Doyle filled the summer night.

While enjoying scenes from every Pixar treasure, I realized again that Lasseter and company create many layers of hidden secrets. Sure, A113 and the Pizza Planet truck quickly come to mind. And Pixar’s clever habit of cross-pollinating its films with references to future releases is worth mentioning - think of Jessie The Cowgirl’s cameo in Boo’s bedroom in Monsters, Inc. However, it’s the more esoteric entries that I find fascinating. In that vein, let’s examine a few that can be found in The Incredibles.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland have signs on windows, crates or posters that typically carry a deeper meaning or message. Similarly, two very brief scenes at the end of the film showcase members of the Pixar team that helped bring Bob Parr and his family to life.

As the Omnidroid is wreaking havoc on Metroville, the Incredibles and Frozone band together to fight back. In one tense sequence, Helen Parr rescues Violet and Dash from the crushing orb. In the background, a building is emblazoned with the name IMAGIRE CO.


This is a quick tribute to Bryn Imagire, an art director for Pixar. The film’s credits list her as art director: shading. Extra credit goes all around for having a very Pixar-esque name. Her additional Pixar credits include UP, Ratatouille, A Bug’s Life and Toy Story Two.

In another brief scene, Violet and Dash are seen in front of another Metroville building that bears the name LOZANO RECORDS. 

(images courtesy of Disney/Pixar)


Not only is this a peak into a bygone era when music came in the form of vinyl platters, but it’s a quick tribute to Pixar Art Director Albert Lozano. In addition to The Incredibles, Lozano has worked on Monsters University, UP, Cars and Finding Nemo.

There are probably other hidden tributes to Pixar’s vast team of artisans in The Incredibles, but these are two that I caught on a recent viewing.

Stay tuned to Hidden Disney - I’ll be featuring other Pixar personalities who have tributes on screen.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fencing In The Imagination

One sign of a Disney park attraction (never a ride) is the overwhelming attention to detail. You won’t find simple lines for attractions. Instead, you have elaborate queues. The interior queue for the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is stacked with details worthy of your attention as you meander closer to the limo. The excitement within the G-Force recording studio makes the time spent outside in the bland (but covered) queue worth the wait. The studio also serves as a museum of sorts, featuring gold records, vintage guitars, poster and album artwork among the artifacts. The pre-show features a mockup of a recording studio with the band members from Aerosmith winding down their session. Their manager (who is channeling her best Bobbi Flekman) whisks them away to a performance for which they’re late. Steven Tyler, ever so courteous, arranges for a stretch — no, make that a super-stretch — limo, parked out back in the alley, to take us to the show.

This is where it gets fun. The indoor attraction has the luxury of utilizing a small and dimly lit space to reconstruct a faux alley, complete with a parking garage next to it, cheap apartments and a gritty, utilitarian fence separating the guests from the road. There are bills plastered along the wall advertising the Ska Review, about as diametrically opposed to Aerosmith as you can get, musically. 

Signs at Disney parks always have some meaning, if only to help elaborate on a theme, project a pun or offer a hidden layer of Disney goodness. Several signs here are worth noting. Two fall into the bad pun department: First up is an overhead sign by the parking garage entrance that reads Lock 'n Roll Parking Systems. A smaller sign on the wall is an advertisement for Sam Andreas & Son, Earthquake Busters, specializing in structural retrofitting, an obvious nod to the earthquake-prone antics of Los Angeles.


The best sign, albeit small and nondescript, is for the Buena Vista Fence Company and is attached to the chain-link fence: 


The phone number isn’t for a fence company, but instead for a different organization that’s near and dear to our hearts. It’s the number to the front desk of 1401 Flower Street in Glendale, California, home to Walt Disney Imagineering (minus the local area code, of course).

Walt created what was then known as WED Enterprises (for Walter Elias Disney) in 1952 as his ‘personal playground’ to develop Disneyland and its attractions. Buena Vista further adds a layer of Disney history, which references Buena Vista Street in Burbank that runs along the western edge of the Disney Studios. It’s also the name of the distribution arm that Disney established in 1953 for its films. Finally, it references Lake Buena Vista at Walt Disney World.

There you have it. A subtle tribute to Imagineering which, among other things, developed one seriously intense coaster. Keep your eye out for this sign the next time you’re there. Oh, and don’t forget Chris’ black Les Paul. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The details that are underfoot

There are no accidental props or artifacts at Walt Disney World’s theme parks. All items and signage serve to enhance or extend the overall story in a given area. Think of the elaborate scenery in the external queue and eventually inside the show building for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, for example.

The smaller the item, the better, I say. The reward is finding the minor, esoteric details that Disney designers and Imagineers have concocted. Sometimes, they’re simply underfoot, waiting to be discovered.

Utility holes, in their most basic state, exist to allow access to the necessary underlying infrastructure that any municipality needs, including theme parks. Given their, well, utilitarian nature, they are typically of the no-frills variety. Not at Walt Disney World.

Around the property, you can find the old-school “Globe D” icon embedded in the center of utility lids. My favorite moderate resort, Port Orleans French Quarter, has lids that read “City of Port Orleans,” adding depth to the overall theming of the resort.

In this regard, I was thrilled to find another small nugget on a utility hole cover at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, near the intersection of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. The cover I found had a basic grid of raised squares, to allow for traction with the multitude of footsteps that fall upon it. There in the center in a square pattern is a four letter acronym RCID and a water wave icon, combined to make a larger central square. What, exactly, is RCID? And why is it important?



RCID is shorthand for the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and its roots trace back to Walt himself. As the Walt Disney Company was determining how to make Walt’s dream of an experimental prototype community of tomorrow a reality, it knew it needed land, and lots of it. Further, it would need an autonomous agency to aid and assist with the development of the property. Disney petitioned the Florida State legislature to create an Improvement District that “could act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government. The new legislation said that landowners within the Reedy Creek Improvement District, primarily Walt Disney World, would be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc.”* The legislation was passed, and the newly minted Improvement District was named for a nearby existing waterway, Reedy Creek.

Orange County and Osceola County sheriffs have legal jurisdiction at Walt Disney World, but the environmental and municipal issues are handled by RCID. The logo on a utility hole cover is perfectly natural.

RCID also provides fire protection at Walt Disney World. It’s why the fire houses on property sport the RCFD — Reedy Creek Fire Department — logo. 

For an in-depth review of development of Disney’s Florida property, including the Reedy Creek Improvement District, turn to Chad Emerson’s fascinating and detailed book, Project Future.

*From rcid.org

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A two-for-one Main Street special

One of the  many reasons I enjoy visiting Walt Disney World is for the immersive experience it provides. In Adventureland, I’m transported to exotic ports and  layers of intrigue. Liberty Square is Disney story-telling at its finest, from the patriotic tones of the Hall of Presidents to the playfully spooky Haunted Mansion. Everything has a beginning, and for the Magic Kingdom that’s Main Street U.S.A. It’s a fanciful recreation of a bygone era, showcasing life at the turn of the century - the 20th, that is.

The Walt Disney Company, diversified as it is today, built its foundation on movie making, first with animation and then live-action. The Magic Kingdom borrows many filmmaking elements, beginning with how Guests are introduced to the park. As you arrive, you walk underneath the train station along red carpeting, as if you’re attending a movie premiere gala. Attraction posters line up either side of the tunnel, as if they are trailers for future films. As you exit the tunnel, you enter into Main Street, transported back in time. Continuing to use filmmaking concepts, the buildings utilize forced perspective, a technique that alters the ratio of second and third stories, making them appear larger. We’ll start with the establishing shot, which takes in the broad avenue of Main Street and ends with Cinderella Castle, it too featuring forced perspective, allowing us to believe that its spires are magnificently tall. The wide shot of Main Street also features store fronts and a horse-drawn trolly gently clip-clopping along. Next, a medium shot is featured, highlighting the town square and the adjacent Town Square Theater. A dolly shot, tracking alongside its subject, showcases the eatery Tony’s Town Square and the nearby confectionary shop and The Chapeau, featuring Disney hats and custom monogramming. Finally, a closeup shot fixates on a pink hat box hanging outside The Chapeau. That’s where our story begins.

(quick sidebar - whenever I think hear the word chapeau, I immediately recall Steve Martin’s monologue about the French language: “Chapeau means hat. Oeuf means egg. It’s like those French have a different word for everything!” But I digress . . .)



A pink hatbox hanging outside a hat shop? Perfectly natural, of course.The Main Street barbershop still uses the traditional red, white and blue striped pole to indicate the service offered within. The ornate hatbox, complete with a bow, elegantly states Chapeau, indicating it’s a fancy store. If our story ended here, it would be, pardon the pun, neatly wrapped up in a bow. Instead, this is where it gets interesting.

Recall that Tony’s Town Square is next door. Its inspiration is from the 1955 Disney animated classic Lady and the Tramp, a canine love story. A key scene in the movie is set at an Italian restaurant, lending an air of authenticity to Tony’s Town Square. There’s a clever nod to the film outside Tony’s, where a paw-drawn heart, pierced by Cupid’s arrow, is forever memorialized in the cement. Two sets of paws are within, one from Lady and the other from Tramp. However, the key establishing shot from the movie is Lady’s entrance. Jim Dear presents a gift to his wife, Darling, one Christmas morning, in a beautiful lavender- and cream-striped hat box. As Darling unwraps the bow, the lid pops up to reveal Lady, a sweet cocker spaniel pup. There it is - Tony’s Town Square and The Chapeau shop next door, each cleverly referencing and reinforcing each other.

But wait - there’s more.

Disney fans will be thrilled to learn that the Christmas scene from the film also has a story, taken directly from Walt’s life. Walt longed for a family pet but his wife Lillian was steadfastly against it. Walt researched the ideal dog breed to counter Lillian’s objections and settled on a chow, given their disposition, odor and fur. The next challenge - how to deliver it. Walt used a Christmas eve family gathering to present his special gift to Lillian. While family guests weren’t looking, he placed the chow pup into a hat box and set it under the tree. The label read: To Lilly, from Santy Claus. When presented with the hat box, Lillian made the logical conclusion that she was getting a hat. To her great surprise, instead it was a dog! She quickly fell in love with the gift, and named the chow Sunnee. You can hear more about this special gift in Walt’s own words, courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Museum.


There you have it - Main Street U.S.A.’s two-for-one hidden Disney tributes. The chapeau sign cleverly referencing a classic Disney animated feature, and also pays tribute to a special moment between Walt and Lillian Disney.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Monsters love Disneyland too


Pixar and Disney have a long and rich history together. Many Disney animators, notably John Lasseter, sharpened their skills originally at Disney Animation, and of course there’s the original multi-film agreement in which Pixar created and Disney marketed and distributed the early films, all which defined Pixar as a studio above the rest. Disney’s purchase of Pixar in 2006 made permanent this amazing relationship.

With this background, it should come as no surprise that Pixar films include nods to Disney and its history. One such instance recently bubbled back into my head while enjoying the deliciously oversized Poster Art of the Disney Parks book. This treasure highlights poster art from the Disney parks around the globe and is a wonderful way to capture a unique slice of Disney history in vibrant color.



Two such classic Disneyland posters from the 1950’s are featured, albeit briefly, in Monsters, Inc

Near the end of the movie, Mike Wazowski is trying out his standup routine in a little boy’s bedroom, working to elicit laughs instead of screams. The boy’s room has the usual artifacts - bed, dresser, bookshelf, and toys and clothes on the floor. Two posters on his wall, however, are directly inspired by Disneyland posters from its early years.

Above his bed headboard is a fleeting glimpse of the AstroJet ride in Tomorrowland. This is a direct reference to the 1956 attraction poster by artist Bjorn Aronson.


 

Next to the boy’s bedroom door and above the bookshelf is another classic poster, also by Aronson, of the Sailing Ship Columbia. This three-masted vessel, which debuted in 1958, is celebrating its 55th year and continues to serve as an iconic attraction with lineage tracing back to the early years of the park.


 


The next time you’re enjoying Monsters, Inc, keep a sharp eye out for these quick nods to Disney. There are other unique tributes tucked inside the film, but those can be shared another day. And on a related note, I’m looking forward to seeing hidden tributes in the Mike and Sully’s prequel, Monsters University.

Finally - if you’re a fan of the Disney parks, then you must add this book to your collection.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Finding Sunny


In honor of the 3D re-release of Finding Nemo, let’s examine a little tribute to Pixar placed within the film. No, it’s not typical in-house reference to A113 or the Pizza Planet truck. No, it’s not the Buzz Lightyear action figure briefly seen in the dentist office.

Pixar presents a short film before each theatrical release. Early shorts were done to hone creative and technical talent within the Studio. Lately, the shorts are a way to continue character development of established franchises, such as Cars or Toy Story.

The short that premiered prior to Finding Nemo on May 30th 2003 was a much earlier Pixar work titled Knick Knack, created in 1989. It's about the sheltered life of a snow globe snowman. He’s trying to find different ways to escape, caught by the lure of Sunny the mermaid and other tropical delights. 


In the end he does escape - only to find himself back in the snow globe. In Finding Nemo, Sunny makes a cameo in the dentist office fish tank, so sharpen your eye to spot her on the prow of the sunken ship in the tank!




Monday, September 10, 2012

Humphrey the Bear


Disney’s animation heritage isn’t limited to the theme parks of Walt Disney World. Mickey and the other members of the fab five - Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto - are evident throughout the entire resort, if only on guide maps and other signage.

But If you dig a little deeper into the pantheon of Disney’s animation characters, you’ll find a rather obscure creature named Humphrey the Bear. 

He’s a easy-going brown bear who hangs his proverbial hat at Brownstone National Park. He starred in six Disney animated shorts, debuting in 1950. Humphrey’s antics, including his eternal quest for food from park visitors and his nemesis, ranger J. Audubon Woodlore, inspired Yogi Bear.

Although he’s not an instantly recognizable character to Disney fans, he blends in nicely in the cavernous Wilderness Lodge lobby. He can be found on the bottom of a totem pole just outside the ‘mercantile’ store. The brown bear is the official mascot of this amazing resort, and Humphrey gladly stands duty, perhaps waiting for an opportunity to grab a snack from an unsuspecting Guest.