Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tokyo Disneysea's Mysterious Island Concept Art

Without need for any real ado, here are some pieces of concept art for Mysterious Island and its attractions at Tokyo Disneysea...

Mount Prometheus and Fortress Explorations.

Inside Mysterious Island.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Mechanical Kingdom

With the announcement of The Mechanical Kingdom pin set on the Disney Parks Blog last week, there has been a certain degree of apoplexy over Disney "appropriating" Steampunk. For the first time, they're even using the term "Steampunk"! A few are holding out hope that the set's April 1st release date means that this is really just some sort of horrible April Fool's joke.

For some people, Steampunk is about being Punk. Which is to say, Steampunk is about being cool. And Disney is not cool. Disney is for "Ed Hardy Housewives" who do tacky things like have children who play sports and buy art from department stores. Some time ago, in the first issue of Steampunk Magazine, the Catastrophone Orchestra and Arts Collective stated:
Steampunk is a re-envisioning of the past with the hypertechnological perceptions of the present. Unfortunately, most so-called “steampunk” is simply dressed-up, recreationary nostalgia: the stifling tea-rooms of Victorian imperialists and faded maps of colonial hubris. This kind of sepia-toned yesteryear is more appropriate for Disney and suburban grandparents than it is for a vibrant and viable philosophy or culture.

There you have it, the Axis of Uncool: Disney, suburbia and grandparents. But for those in need of a refresher...

Disney has been at the forefront of the genre for over 55 years; much longer than any of the complaining scenesters that have been leeching off the aesthetic, contributing nothing for the enjoyment of others but some photoshoots of their raygun. In other words...

However, to recite this history as I have done and Mike "Steampunk Scholar" Perschon has done before me is, I think, to miss the point. These people know the history; there is no excuse not to. For as much street cred as they (successfully!) try to earn by proudly proclaiming that they don't care about either the Victorian Era or Science Fiction, they know that Steampunk has always been mainstream. Steampunk was mainstream before it was Punk. Steampunk was mainstream before it was Steampunk!

Steampunk has not always been popular, which is what most folks mean when they say "mainstream". The genre has only had intermittent waves of popularity on a roughly 15 year cycle. Unlike those previous waves, Steampunk's current fame is not because of a string of mainstream books, comics, movies and games. Rather, it is because Steampunk has been turned into a fashion statement, and fashion statements are always marketable. Popularity is a knife-edge on which something has to be just popular enough for the train-jumpers to find out about it, yet not so popular that other, tackier people find out about it. That's really what's at stake here. People who are into Steampunk because they think it makes them cool dudes are worried about losing their status.

Like Ray Bradbury, it's easy to feel sorry for people who are too cool to like Disney. Now that I've flogged that for a while, and for the benefit of my Disney fan readership, how do I actually feel about The Mechanical Kingdom?

My only real criticism is that Disney Design Group artist Mike Sullivan studied the Steampunk look too well. When Disney is serious about doing a Scientific Romance, it's usually much prettier and more visually interesting than most of what passes for Steampunk aesthetics. The complainers could actually learn a thing or two from Disney. The Columbiad from Disneyland Paris, the Hyperion from Island at the Top of the World, the RLS Legacy and eponymous sphere from Treasure Planet, and the Windwagon from The Saga of Windwagon Smith are particular favorites of mine. I guess the outcome of caring neither for the Victorian Era nor Science Fiction is this drab set of sepia-toned repetitions of Cyberpunk fashion. The Fab Five have definitely stooped to get the look down perfectly.

It might have been nicer to have the characters hew a little closer to the fine work Disney has already done. I've already seen Mickey dressed as Captain Nemo, but they could easily have drawn from The Nifty Nineties, pull the Hyperion from cold storage, or put Shrunken Ned ahead. There was no need for the story to reimagine the castle in wood and brass when the real castle Disney bases theirs on was only built in the 19th century. I do enjoy the inspiration behind attaching each character to a land, though, even if Daisy is stuck representing the all-time least popular make-over of Tomorrowland. Minnie recalls Mary Poppins in her Fantasyland outfit, Goofy handles Frontierland's Weird West, and Donald is intent on offending somebody by traipsing into Adventureland with his pith helmet. It's a cute reference to have Mickey in his Steamboat Willie hat, even if he is a tinkerer. Despite these criticisms, I do generally like it. Having Mickey and Co. dressed up in some kind of Victorian Science Fiction outfit is better than not having them in any kind of VSF outfit at all, and I look forward to seeing whatever comics and figures come out of a possible new franchise.

The sticker price for the full set is $195 and includes the individually-carded Donald, Minnie, Goofy, Daisy and Ludwig Von Drake pins (which go for $12 each) as well as exclusive Mickey and Pete pins in a storybook box. According to Disney's pin trading site, the current run is a 2500 piece exclusive to Disneyland USA and Walt Disney World but may go into "open edition" after that. This makes it a little too expensive for me to justify, but I might show up for a Mechanical Kingdom event at Disneyland if one materialized from the aether. It shouldn't be too hard: a Mike Sullivan signing, extra giveaways for people in costume, a Mechanical Kingdom scavenger hunt around the park, and topped off with a showing of 20,000 Leagues in the Opera House. Right, Disney?

Saturday, 27 March 2010

VEx March Contest - League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 & 2

According to Steampunk Scholar Mike Perschon, Jules Verne gave his tortured mariner a respite... A mysterious island where the vengeful monster could be put to rest and the man of science allowed to live. This month we will be exploring Disney's rehabilitation of Captain Nemo, but we're going to begin with a giveaway of his denial by Alan Moore.

March's contest will be for volumes one and two of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I'm also throwing in the America's Best Comics 64-Page Giant, which features the LoEG game. These are the original issues I collected and loved a decade ago, all first printings and in generally pretty good condition. Now it's time to lighten my own load and pass them along to someone who can enjoy them just as much and who maybe wasn't around at the time.

To enter, just leave a comment on this post and ensure that your e-mail is linked to via your Blogger profile. The draw will be at midnight on March 27th. Good luck and thank you for your continued patronage of Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age!

The Results: Congratulations to Yazir for winning the prize for March! But once again, I don't have our winner's e-mail! Yazir, to claim your prize, drop me a line via the link in my Blogger profile. If the prize goes unclaimed by this time next week, I will have to draw again!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Tokyo Disneysea's Journey to the Center of the Earth

To fill out the menu of attractions in Tokyo Disneysea's Mysterious Island, Imagineers turned to the other works of Jules Verne for inspiration. I do not doubt that it would have been fascinating to be a fly on the wall of those meetings, hearing the debate and brainstorming over whether to have Captain Nemo take visitors on a journey Around the World in 80 Days or to have him become a Master of the World like he was a master of the sea. Maybe they would take a queue from Disneyland Paris and have a new invention take them From the Earth to the Moon?

The winning entry was Journey to the Center of the Earth, which in Disney's hands was given a heavy technological make-over. This is Captain Nemo's journey, after all. As he outlines in the signage leading up to the ride:
My first exploration of this volcano and the mysteries at the center of the Earth began with my creation of this amazing drilling device. It opened the door to the unexplored forces beneath the Earth - forces that can move the Earth... or destroy it.

Far from Liddenbrock's meager expedition, Nemo's excavation of the centre of the earth is a full-fledged scientific endeavor. Throughout the first part of the queue are laboratories filled over with crystals, rock samples and organic life culled from the dark depths. The careful observer - with lots of time on their hands - can even find foreshadowing clues to the ride's climax under the microscope and recorded in sketchbooks.

Adorning the walls of the queue's carved cavern are paintings reflecting the key moments of Nemo's explorations, echoing those of the original novel. The souvenir of choice for Journey to the Center of the Earth, nay, the whole Mysterious Island, would be an art book filled with these paintings and those like them that pepper both this and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. However, it is something that Disneysea is withholding from us. The runner-up would be print-on-demand posters for both attractions. Alas.

At the end of this first queue is the Terravator, an elevator that takes visitors thousands of feet into the earth. Once there, you disembark and line up along catwalks that circle drilling machines and bottomless pits before loading into your exploration vehicles.

Then you're off, descending into the interior of the earth. Much of the ride is akin to the darkride format of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You pass through blacklit scenes from the book populated by almost cartoonish characters. The crystal caverns wow you, the giant mushroom forest is populated by strange glowing creatures unknown to science, and the underground ocean takes your breath away.

But things go wrong as they are wont to do. A cave in prevents your vehicle from going down the safe route carved by the drilling machines, diverting you into unexplored caverns. Grotesque egg-sacs hang from the ceiling and rumbling behind the walls tells you that something is chasing you. Then you burst onto a lava pit in which a horrifying, unknown beast swims. Avoiding it hungry lunge at you, the vehicle speeds off, up and up, spiralling through the tunnels at a rapid clip until you burst out of the side of Mount Prometheus. After going weightless for a thrilling moment, the vehicle careens to the unloading area where, once again, Nemo's corporate sponsor gives you a word of wisdom.

Also like 20,000 Leagues and countless other attractions at Tokyo Disneysea, Journey to the Center of the Earth has its own story paper (click to enlarge):

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Tokyo Disneysea's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Tokyo Disneysea's Mysterious Island contains within its volcanic walls two attractions based on the world of Jules Verne. The first, and most obvious, is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The fourth such attraction in Disney parks over the course of the last 50 years, Tokyo's 20K both shares many similarities and deviates wildly from its predecessors.

On the signage throughout Mysterious Island, Nemo himself outlines the mission of the attraction:
The sea has many secrets and much to teach us. I have devised a fleet of submarine boats to expedite my exploration of the sea's bounty.

One such sub-pod can been seen hanging from the chains of 20K's spiraling outdoor queue.

Beneath the surface, the entrance to the sub-pod bay winds past Captain Nemo's private offices and the diving suit staging area. Though evidently savvy to the Japanese language, a self-portrait in his office indicates that this is none other than the original Nemo from the film, portrayed by James Mason.

The line eventually brings you to the sub-pod bay, where you load into your boat and are dropped into the briny depths. At this point, Tokyo's 20K resembles those that have come before. Aboard your craft you visit the underwater farms, ship's graveyard and have a fateful meeting with a giant squid. One unique feature of the attraction is that searchlights periodically turn on that can be controlled by the joystick in front of your seat. With them you can focus your gaze on the funny and frightening fish of the various settings. After electrocuting your way out of the squid's grasp, you once again sink to depths beyond which man has not travelled.

Sure enough, the remains of Atlantis are to be found there. Here we finally complete the mystery of the Greek ruins flanking Mount Prometheus and the Fortress Explorations painting depicting the city's destruction. Then this 20K takes a turn into the weird, for something else lives in Atlantis now. Training your searchlight on the frescoes, you see the story of Atlantis' abandonment and occupation by a new species that may, in fact, be from beyond the stars.

Narrowly escaping a bizarre threat, your sub-pod returns to the dock and you make your way to exit. Waiting for you there is a friendly word from Captain Nemo's corporate sponsor:

20,000 Leagues is a dry-for-wet attraction much along the same lines as Peter Pan's Flight. The submarine pod suspends from a wire monorail and the water effects are all self-contained within the vehicle's bubble windows. The effect, however, is quite convincing. It also bears another, more subtle similarity, in that 20K is more an heir to the Fantasyland darkride in its mechanics than to previous 20K rides. As the pod swims through blacklit sets, your searchlight scopes out fluorescent fish sculpted in a cartoonish, often comedic style. For example, in the ship's graveyard, Venus statues are given back their arms and heads by the careful positioning of a comic eel. Several fish find themselves adorned with pirate hats. The... somethings... that now occupy Atlantis also have a cartoon style that almost seem to transpose 20K onto the medium of animation.

The associated Nautilus Gifts in Mysterious Island is sadly devoid of official 20,000 Leagues souvenirs, save for a Japanese copy of the DVD. The ride itself has purely Japanese narration to boot, but Disney remedied both of these problems in one fell swoop by publishing an English "story paper" for the attraction. "Story papers" are free slips of good stock paper printed with English text and excellent graphics that tell the premise of the ride for the English-speaking portion of the audience. Most attractions in Tokyo Disneysea have a story paper that is readily available for the asking (usually at the ride loading area) and they make fantastic mementos that really ought to be common at every park. The following is the story paper for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (click to enlarge):

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tokyo Disneysea's Mysterious Island

Welcome, declares Captain Nemo, to Mysterious Island!

The centrepoint of the Tokyo Disneysea theme park, Mysterious Island is a Verne fan's dream come true: a whole land (or in Disneysea parlance, a "port") based around 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Seen very briefly in that film as Nemo's secret base, in the few minutes before it was raided by the surface world's armies and subsequently consumed in a nuclear explosion, Mysterious Island recreates Vulcania in the "alternate history" of 1872 (some three years after the date given in the film for Vulcania's destruction and Nemo's death). Taking its name from the Verne book of the same name, this Mysterious Island is ruled over by the kinder, gentler and living Nemo.

Mysterious Island from Disneysea's Mediterranean Harbor,
with Fortress Explorations on the shore.

One of the most compelling things about Tokyo Disneysea is the overarching theme of the park. Rather than driven by situations of violence and conflict, Disneysea's narratives are driven by themes of adventure and exploration. Elsewhere in the park, one can join Sinbad's Storybook Adventure, take on the thrills of climatology in Storm Rider, help out Indiana Jones, or join the Society of Explorers and Adventurers in their Fortress Explorations. In keeping with this theme, Captain Nemo has been rehabilitated into an enigmatic and eccentric scientist singlemindedly devoted to discovery.

In some ways, probably unintentionally, this mirrors the arc of the character in Verne's own writings. As Mike Perschon observes of the novel Mysterious Island:
At the close of 20,000 Leagues, Aronnax wonders at the fate of the Nautilus and its Captain, with the hope that "the dispenser of justice will die, and that the man of science will … continue his peaceful studies of the seas" (388). Unbeknownst to Aronnax and Verne’s contemporary readers alike, the dispenser of justice had died, while the man of science survived, abandoning his quest for revenge and retreating to Lincoln Island in self-exile. Here, he is "no longer…unreconciled to God and man" (Mickel 496). Nemo’s benevolence toward Cyrus Smith and his castaway companions is evidence of a "man at peace with himself, one who has overcome the inner hatred which consumed him" (496).

Though Walt Disney gave Nemo the unequivocal death denied him by Verne, the company to bear Disney's name has given the mariner his chance at healing and redemption. To further his cause, Nemo has thrown open the doors of Mysterious Island and invited the peoples of the world to explore the ocean depths and centre of the earth along with him.

Inside Mysterious Island.

Therein, Nemo has provided the best in amenities. Handy signboards point out the various marvellous sights of Mysterious Island, like the volcanic Mount Prometheus and the Nautilus at berth. Of the former, the sign declares that:
The powerful forces of nature that created this island are still active beneath our feet. It is my quest to harness that power and utilize it for the future of mankind.

And of the latter:
Behold the Nautilus -- Perhaps my greatest creation! It is the world's first and only self-contained and powered submersible boat.

Too bad that, unlike Disneyland Paris, there is no walkthrough of the Nautilus itself. Some secrets must still be kept!

He has also opened up two eateries. The foremost is the Vulcania Restaurant, which serves serviceable Chinese food. Like the rest of the park, this restaurant is impeccably themed (except for the disappointingly normal bathroom) to the base's power plant. The other is the counter-service Nautilus Galley. Of the restaurant, the signage reveals:
Heated steam from deep within the Earth's core rises to the surface under great pressure. It provides an infinite source of energy that powers this entire island. It is even used to cook the food we eat.

Vulcania Restaurant.

Nautilus Galley.

Recognizing his visitor's desire for souvenirs, Nemo has also constructed Nautilus Gifts. Unfortunately, the gift shops in the Tokyo Disney Resort have bitten the same bullet as those in the United States. Nearly all the shoppes sell the same goods, which in Japan are an even more constrained collection of sweets and frumpy hats. Once upon a time, Nautilus Gifts had a vast array of statues and goods bedecked with the Nautilus. Now, the best I could muster was a toy car of the vehicle from Journey to the Center of the Earth, the park soundtrack CD and pins of Mickey and Minnie in crew uniforms, posed with Nautilus Gifts, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Nautilus Gifts.

Nemo's fantabulous penny-pressing device.

The meager spoils.

Water fountains!

Even the water fountains are in Vernian industrial style! But the main attractions are, of course, the big attractions: Journey and 20,000 Leagues. Together, they are perhaps the two finest examples of Imagineering in the world. 20,000 Leagues is a darkride-style attraction following, to an extent, the familiar narrative of previous 20,000 Leagues attractions. We see the undersea forest, ship graveyard and squid battle, and then it rolls off into weird and strange environs. Journey to the Center of the Earth is an inspired part-dark, part-thrill ride that takes Verne's novel, replaces Liddenbrock with Nemo and suitably mechanizes it. The grand sights of the novel - like the mushroom forest, crystal caves and underground sea - are all included, and then everything goes wrong.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
and a submarine pod.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
and a drill machine.

Mysterious Island is, without doubt or parallel, the fullest expression of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea's influence on the Disney parks. It would certainly have been amazing to have seen the original attraction at Disneyland, 50 years ago, which housed the original set pieces from the film. Walt Disney World's submarine ride is long since gone and Disneyland Paris' follows the Disneyland model of a walkthrough of Nemo's amazing craft. While such a walkthrough would be very welcome at Disneysea, the visitor still enjoys a chance to immersively enter the whole world of Captain Nemo and Jules Verne on an incredible scale. Mysterious Island is the height of Imagineering.

Mysterious Island by Night.