Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Where Walt and Pixar Intersect

Welcome back, Pixar! It's been two long years since the last theatrical release from Lasseter and company. Monsters University premiered in June 2013 and The Good Dinosaur, originally slated for 2014, was pushed back to later this year to sharpen its story.

Inside Out graced the silver screen last Friday, June 19th and has - again - raised the bar on Pixar quality. Pete Docter, who last spun gold with UP, shows us his gift for connecting us with the human spirit. Inside Out gracefully displays the balance we all have with our inner emotions. Simply put, we can't truly enjoy happiness and joy without understanding and appreciating the counterbalance of sadness.

Like all Pixar features before it, the film is peppered with hidden Pixar references. Fan favorites such as the Pizza Planet truck, the Luxo Jr. ball and A113 – the CalArts classroom where the future Pixar animators cut their proverbial teeth – all make an appearance. John Ratzenberger provides his voice to a secondary character, making him the only actor to appear in all fifteen films. There’s a brief tribute to Finding Nemo in the form of a board game box labeled Find Me! with a cartoon clown fish below it. Underneath that board game is another called Dinosaur World, a likely nod to the next Pixar film.

The aviary flock from the early short “For The Birds” can briefly be seen on a power line as Riley, the protagonist from Inside Out, and her family trek cross country from Minnesota to San Francisco (the same flock of birds can be seen in Cars, during that film’s cross country montage sequence).

Fans of the Disney theme parks are in for a treat as well, when the background music from the Haunted Mansion is briefly heard during a dream sequence Riley has.

However, perhaps the most unique and original Disney tribute can briefly be found in the film. Since the physical realm of Inside Out is set in San Francisco, Pixar animators, from their nearby headquarters in Emeryville, didn’t have to travel far for field research. San Francisco’s unique architecture, often set again dramatic hills, is well represented, including Lombard Street’s unique hairpin turn configuration. Disney fans know that the Walt Disney Family Museum is located in the City by the Bay, in the historic Presidio district. From a southern viewpoint, Guests can sight the museum in the foreground and the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge in the background. And that’s the setup.

(image courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum)

Docter and his crew created a briefly seen exterior set of an ice rink building, where Riley goes to try out for a local hockey team. This building is flanked by others that feature the distinctive terra cotta roof design used on the structures along Montgomery Street in The Presidio.

(image courtesy of the Pixar Animation Studios)

The placement isn’t accidental; the filmmakers used the location of the Walt Disney Family Museum, which honors the man that elevated theatrical animation to an art form and inspired countless boys and girls to aspire to be animators, as a deliberate tip of the hat to Walt Disney.

Well done, Pixar!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Today's two-for-one special

To borrow an expression, “the only constant is change” is an apt phrase that can apply to Walt Disney World. Attractions, lands, restaurants all come and go, occasionally leaving behind a trail of metaphorical crumbs to guide us through the past. Today, we’re going to review a small corner of property that’s undergone significant change since opening day.

The Magic Kingdom’s gradual expansion of Fantasyland, dubbed New Fantasyland, was announced at the 2009 D23 Expo, and includes land formerly occupied by Mickey’s Toontown Fair and fallow property formerly occupied by one of Walt Disney World’s original E-Ticket attractions, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. This submarine voyage simulation, similar in size and scope to Disneyland’s 1959 addition Submarine Voyage, retraced Captain Nemo’s aquatic journey both through the lagoon, visible to Guests in the queue and around its perimeter, and an oversized show building, obscured by foliage, rock work and waterfalls, which hosted many of the sights featured in the attraction. It operated for over twenty years, from 1971 to 1994 when it was temporarily closed. Alas, the attraction’s longstanding weaknesses - low hourly ride capacity, slow loading, frequent ride breakdowns chief among them - finally caught up with it and Disney management shuttered the attraction for good.

This image, circa 1995, shows the lagoon still filled with water and the massive show building behind the tree line (on the far left is the it’s a small world show building, and on the right are the tents from Mickey’s Toontown Fair, the site repurposed from the ‘temporary’ Mickey’s Birthdayland originally set up in 1988).

(image courtesy Google Earth)

The lagoon was eventually drained of water and filled in and the show building removed. A tree line was stood up to hide the former property, and a small portion was modified into Pooh’s Playful Spot, a playground for restless children. Naturally, it was across from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, itself an attraction in the show building formerly occupied by Mr. Toad. This next image, from March 2005, shows the outline of the former lagoon and show building.
(image courtesy Google Earth)

So, what do to with this site? The Magic Kingdom is the smallest of the four Walt Disney World theme parks and its most popular. Fantasyland was expanded, functioning as a glade and hosting new eateries - Be Our Guest and Gaston’s Tavern, and new attractions and shows - Enchanted Tales with Belle, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Sitting on the footprint of the former 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea now is the Little Mermaid attraction. The last entry to open in New Fantasyland is the Mine Train, a lateral replacement of the shuttered Snow White’s Scary Adventures, which yielded to Princess Fairytale Hall. New Fantasyland is now complete.
(image courtesy Google Earth)

Today, tributes to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Snow White’s Scary Adventures can be subtly found in New Fantasyland. When aligned, icons of both can be found along an upper sightline. A weather vane atop a building in Prince Eric’s castle features a squid, one of the notable antagonists from the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea film and the attraction. Just beyond it is a vulture found on the first lift of the Mine Train ride. The vulture is the former Audio-Animatronic previously featured in Snow White’s Scary Adventures.

Both of these original attractions are gone, but keepsakes and reminders remain.

But wait - there’s more. The iconic image from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is Captain Nemo’s submarine Nautilus, a terrifyingly original submarine designed by Disney Legend Harper Goff. His design influences for the sub include an alligator and shark - the green eyes and rough skin of the ‘gator and the imposing dorsal fin and tail of the shark led to the Nautilus’ unique appearance. An outline of the Nautilus could be found in a tree knot outline on the tree in Pooh’s Playful Spot. Presently, a larger outline of the Nautilus can be found in the rock work along the outside queue for the Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction.

For more information of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction, visit this wonderful fan tribute site.