Monday, December 27, 2010

My Year at WDW-In Which I Actually Say Something Nice About The Tarps

During the weekend that bridged the end of July and the beginning of August, when the Florida heat is so intense that merely turning your air conditioner down to “medium” can cause you to faint from heatstroke, I did a very stupid thing: I went to Disney World. Walt Disney World is a bad place to visit during the summer because, as any hardcore Disney fanatic will tell you, large chunks of it are located outdoors. A few posts ago, I made fun of the Team Disney Orlando executives for forgetting that little factoid when they gave the green light to Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration.  Well, as I baked in the sun while walking through Future World’s large unshaded expanses, I started to realize something: the designers of EPCOT Center forgot it, too.

EPCOT Center aficionados like me are always waxing poetic about the grand open spaces Future World used to have, especially in CommuniCore Plaza, and angrily denouncing all the visual clutter that’s ruined once-magnificent sightlines. Now, I still maintain that the tarps and whirlygigs in Innoventions plaza are unsightly, to say the least:

It looks like the nineties took a dump in the middle of Future World, and nobody cleaned it up.

But the tarps do occasionally serve a useful purpose:

Shade. Ditto for the hideous awning-looking thing that was bolted onto the front of the former World of Motion pavilion during its conversion to Test Track. Sure, this:


. . . is infinitely more attractive than this:

. . . but at least there’s some shade to be found under that giant ugly awning.

Of course, Walt’s original EPCOT concept offered a more elegant solution: the shopping area that inspired today’s World Showcase would have been enclosed and climate-controlled. No ugly tarps or giant Erector-set pieces required. One more reason why I’m envious of the version of myself that lives in the alternate universe where Walt’s EPCOT City actually got built.

Oh, one more thing. In addition to all the man-made clutter that’s popped up on Future World over the years, something else you’ll occasionally hear complaints about is clutter of the natural variety, by which I mean trees. Because EPCOT’s trees have not had the decency to remain the exact height they were when they were planted in the eighties, scenic vistas like this:

Now look more like this:

Okay, so the newer picture isn’t taken from the exact spot as the old one (I didn’t have the old photo with me for reference when I took it, also I think there’s a pretzel stand there now) but you get the idea. Anyway, I have no problem with this. Trees grow. That’s what living things do. Sure, they may obscure what might have been a postcard-perfect picture, but I don’t think that’s a good reason to chop them down or whack them in half.

And those are my thoughts about visual clutter at EPCOT. Insert a witty and clever ending here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

futureprobe reviews TRON:Legacy

UPDATE: For the funniest TRON:Legacy review on the Internet, click here.  You can see a lot more of Doug Walker’s amazing work on Now, on to the review:


By now you’ve read the reviews by people who are Experts In These Things. They’re all pretty much the same: TRON:Legacy is visually impressive but light on story. And I suppose they’re right. But why is that a bad thing? If all we wanted was to watch a story being performed on a screen, we could stay home and watch television. Or even YouTube. But we go to the movies to have an experience we can’t get at home, and TRON delivers that. In spades.

So why isn’t that going to be enough to make this movie the giant commercial success that would have had Disney considering a TRON makeover of Tomorrowland? After all, Transformers 2 had a putrid story and impressive visuals, and it made $400 million bucks. True, Transfomers commands greater nostalgic affection, overall, than the original TRON ever did. But the Transformers films had something else that the mass market loves: stupid comic relief. Oh, TRON:Legacy has a tiny bit of it, in the End of Line nightclub scene. But the makers of the film cared too much about staying true to the story they were trying to tell to cram in obnoxious characters that serve no purpose other than to entertain the people who find Larry the Cable Guy intellectually stimulating, and for that the box office returns will suffer.

Oh, one more thing. Very early in the film, before we go down the computerized rabbit hole, ENCOM’s board of directors are congratulating themselves on the release of their flagship operating system which costs more than the previous version, but whose only new features revolve around making it impossible to distribute for free. A suggestion by Bruce Boxleitner’s character that perhaps the company should treat their customers better and become a better corporate citizen, the way it was when Kevin Flynn was running things, is quickly dismissed by the greedy executives. I know that this wasn’t the filmmakers’ intention, but it really felt to me like a very on-the-nose commentary on the way Disney runs its theme park business these days.

More than anything, TRON:Legacy’s impressive visuals made me wish Disney would rip out Tomorrowland’s busy Flash Gordon jangles and replace them with the sleek electroluminescent look we saw in the film. It’ll never happen, of course, but wouldn’t it be something?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Horizons Resurrected

So there’s this guy Chris Wallace, and he has an amazing idea: re-create Horizons, one of the most immersive and amazing theme park rides in the history of the planet, as a 3D virtual model, and he’s blogging his progress.

I’m sure that anyone reading this will want to head right over to his site immediately. Here’s the link:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration Really Failed

Most hardcore WED-heads (myself included) are not huge fans of Stitch.


It’s not so much the character himself we dislike, it’s the way that Disney has tried to force him upon us. For the past few years, the company has been shoving him in our faces at every opportunity, as if to say “THIS IS STITCH! HE IS VERY POPULAR! YOU WILL LOVE HIM AND ADORE HIM AND TAKE OUT A SECOND MORTGAGE TO BUY ALL HIS MERCHANDISE!” So naturally we threw back our heads and gave a hearty laugh last year when Tomorrowland’s new show “Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration” was taken out and shot after less than two months. Some fans saw it as proof that Disney’s slow-witted management had finally realized that Stitch is not as popular as they thought he was. However, I think that that there was another, more basic reason for the show’s failure.

Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration premiered on May 9, 2009. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Floridian weather patterns, that’s the time of year when temperatures began to creep up from Merely Warm to Unbearably Hot And Humid. Now, through the magic of Google Maps, let’s take a look at the prime location that Disney selected for Stitch’s twenty-five minute show:


Image borrowed from Google Maps

Notice the abundance of concrete and the lack of any shade or seating. I’d argue that Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration was no more insipid than any other stage show in the parks (confession: that syrupy wishy-dreamy show at the foot of the Castle makes me retch) but it failed because people had to stand in the hot sun for a half hour to watch it. Never mind that it’s hard to see a video screen in the bright sunlight.

Of course, this means that the Team Disney Orlando executives are even more clueless than we thought they were. It’s bad enough that they they prefer to ignore common sense and make decisions based solely on spreadsheets and focus group data. Every large corporation does that. But the simple truth that nobody wants to stand for thirty minutes on a large unshaded concrete slab in the middle of summer is an inescapable fact of life in Florida, and the idea that Disney could spend maybe thousands or millions of dollars to develop a show that ignores that makes me think that the group of executives we call Team Disney Orlando is, in fact, a group of trained seals that communicate by clapping their flippers together and barking.

And that gets me thinking. You know how people are always starting silly irrelevant Internet petitions to get corporate executives to resurrect a TV program that no one was watching or something like that? Well, I have a much better idea: let’s just send buckets of fish to the Team Disney Orlando office building with a note that says “Fix Journey Into Imagination and there’s more where that came from”, or “Want more? Fix the Carousel of Progress.” I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before.*


*Note: That suggestion was made purely for satirical purposes. Under no circumstances does futureprobe endorse the sending of buckets full of aquatic or other life forms to the Team Disney Orlando offices. I can’t believe I actually had to say that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Year at WDW: Animal Kingdom

Between 1981 and 2007, I made maybe eleven trips to Walt Disney World, most of them before 1990. However, I was able to afford an Annual Pass in late 2009, and since then I’ve taken ten trips. As a result, not only do I know the best places to go the bathroom, but my perspective on the parks has undergone something of a metamorphosis.  My next multi-part ongoing series, entitled “My Year At WDW”, will delve into that new perspective a little bit.

Let’s start with Animal Kingdom.

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, it was missing a lot of the attractions we think of classics: no Space Mountain, Carousel of Progress, or PeopleMover, no Pirates of the Caribbean, and no Big Thunder Mountain. By the time the park celebrated its twelfth anniversary in 1983, all of those attractions had been added, and the Magic Kingdom as we know it today was largely complete.

Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 with only two rides, a smattering of shows, and lots of room for expansion. Surely, all kinds of stuff must have been added in the twelve years between 1998 and today. Let’s compare an 1998 guidemap and a 2010 guidemap and marvel at all the new attractions the park has! Well, there’s Expedition Everest, that’s a big one. Asia has gained Kali River Rapids-a little on the short side, but good on a hot day-and the Maharaja Jungle Trek. Over in Dinoland, they built that Chester and Hester’s Dinorama thing that nobody likes. And that’s it. Two rides (one of which is built around an Animatronic that doesn’t work as advertised) a walkthrough attraction that’s not much different from something you can see in one of your better zoos, and a cheap carnival area. And hey, the cheap carnival area is all concrete and metal, making it one of the best places to enjoy Florida’s blistering summer heat! To make things worse, the park’s only dark ride, Dinosaur, has had so many effects deactivated over the years that it’s hardly worth experiencing. Check out Martin Smith’s excellent Dinosaur tribute video for more details on that.

Another issue that I have with Animal Kingdom is that it’s basically the Star Trek: Voyager of Disney World parks. It’s the one they never should have built. The idea was that a fourth park on property would induce people to extend their vacations. Instead, it’s just cannibalized attendance and maintenance dollars from EPCOT and the Studios. If you want to hear more about this, I encourage you to check out Episode 46 of the WDW Fanboys podcast for a very insightful discussion on it.

My personal feeling is that while there are some nice things at Animal Kingdom, it’s just not worth my time. The executives obviously feel that having the Disney name on the park is enough to overcome its shortcomings, and that spending any money on the place is unnecessary. Fine. If Team Disney Orlando doesn’t want to spend any of their money on Animal Kingdom, then I definitely don’t want to spend any of my money at Animal Kingdom. Unfortunately, my wife likes the place, so I’m sure I’ll be dragged there at least once per trip. But I sure won’t be buying any merchandise or eating any expensive table service meals there.

And that’s it for Animal Kingdom. Next week, I’ll take a look at another park.