Saturday, 26 May 2012

An Adventure in the Magic Kingdom 2012


Miss Ashley and I arriving at Main St. Station, Disneyland.


It has been quite some time since my last trip to the original Disney theme park. Six very long years, in fact. My original intention had been to wait for the completion of the renovations to the California Adventure theme park, but my impatience grew as the project dragged on and on. For the duration of my graduate studies, a reformatting of my career and a long-awaited trip to Japan, Disneyland was not a priority. Most debilitating of all was an unfortunate string of romantic partners who were ambivalent to the point of contemptuous of it, and flying Disneyland solo has a certain amount of enjoyment but isn't everything it could be. That brings us to now and a trip occasioned by the birthday of my girlfriend, the lovely Miss Ashley. A disciple of fairy tales and a lover of Disney in her own right, she had never been!

A six year gap provided plenty of new things to see. Our trip fell just short of the June 15th grand reopening of Disney's California Adventure park with its Buena Vista St. and Carsland. However, there was still the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough, the controversial alterations to Pirates of the Caribbean and Tom Sawyer's Island, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, changes to It's a Small World, Star Tours 2.0, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and the updated House of the Future in Innoventions. Excuse me while I take a moment to do some quick critiquing.

As it stands, Pirates of the Caribbean was worse than I thought. An act of vandalism really is the only way to describe it. Each addition for the sake of the movie series was painfully conspicuous, a graffiti tag by talentless marketeers. No effort was made to blend these new elements with the original attraction, its designs or its themes. You just had Jack Sparrow shoehorned in wherever he could fit, his eerily realistic animatronic frame sticking out amongst the classic caricatures. New audio was recorded for some of the pirates and was played back at considerably different quality than the original audio. Stuck right in the middle of the delightfully kitschy old tune from 1967 was a full orchestral rendition of the movie's overture. Then there is the projection effect of Blackbeard and some squid monster in a ride with no other squid monsters or projection effects. Lines spoken by these nonsequiters contradict the explicit theme of the ride 'till now: dead men tell no tales. The poetry of the original attraction is gone along with it. Tableaux of skeleton pirates were presented for our contemplation as a framework for the self-destructive revelries of drunken swashbucklers. This acted to legitimate the romantic myth of piracy with a morality tale... Sing along with the pirates if you must, but remember, the wages of sin is death and dead men tell no tales. Now there are skeleton pirates for no reason and a squid monster for no reason and the rest is just us watching Jack Sparrow get away with stealing all the treasure (and we don't even get to see any good parts, just him in a barrel). Yes, Pirates of the Caribbean has been "plussed," just like painting a moustache on it would "plus" the Mona Lisa. I guess people like it well enough though, since the lowest denominator doesn't ask for more than a Johnny Depp robot.

There, now I feel better.

Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer's Island has fared better and become less intrusive now that the novelty has worn off, crowds have thinned and the island permitted to dilapidate yet again. I did enjoy the revitalization of the old settler's cabin into a reference to a classic bit of obscure Disneyana, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. The addition of Disney characters to It's a Small World was fine, especially concerning films that Mary Blair herself had worked on, but the new America section was just plain sloppy. It was very obviously not the product of Blair, Marc Davis, Rolly Crump, or anybody else who made the entire rest of this amazing float-through work of kinetic art. The Submarine Voyage could have done without the Finding Nemo overlay and the House of the Future looked pretty nice, though it relied too heavily on computer screens. Purporting to show the tech-savy domiciles of the upper middle class in the near future, its Art Nouveau decor fit well with the principles of Neo-Victorianism - adapting new technologies to classic aesthetic sensibilities - but digital photo frames won't be worth having in the house until e-ink technology develops full colour. Star Tours 2.0 was surprisingly fun considering the source material. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln was interesting from the perspective of historical Disneyana. However, it gave the kind of visceral heebeejeebees that people who are not American get whenever Americans speak of so-called "universal values" in the context of war.

My favourite new thing in the park was most certainly the walkthrough of Sleeping Beauty's Castle. To actually go inside the castle, to turn it from a giant prop into that portal to another world of fantasy is absolutely priceless. The artistry is charmed and, amusingly enough, told the story better than the movie. Compared to the original fairy tale and ballet, Disney made an odd narrative choice in having Princess Aurora and Prince Philip meet before she falls into her deathless slumber. Snow White is actually asleep for longer in her movie than is Sleeping Beauty. It would have made considerably more sense to have the two lovers meet at first in their dreams, separated by a hundred years. The walkthrough attraction does not say that this is the case, but certainly lends itself to that interpretation by not introducing our hero until after Aurora pricks her finger.









Outside of the park, my new favourite bar is easily Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar over at the newly remodelled Disneyland Hotel. The drinks are good (a reported repreive from Disney's usual stable of watered-down refreshments) and the Adventureland-style decor is to die for. It is replete with references that are worthy of another post of their own, and the way the room literally lights up when certain drinks are ordered is fabulous. Well, maybe the first few times. After a while you kind of want people to stop ordering Krakatoas so you can actually finish your conversation (nah, I wouldn't trade them for anything!).


Hanging out at Trader Sam's with Paul Barrie,
host of the Window to the Magic podcast.


Inside Trader Sam's, blurred to simulate one Pirahna Pool too many.


The trip didn't simply involve new things, but also things that were new to me. Somehow I had never eaten in the Plaza Inn, which quickly became our favourite restaurant inside the park. I'm a sucker for the whimsical "Gay Nineties" decor at which Disney excells and which this resuratant exemplifies. The Plaza Inn also had passably good food! The thing about Disneyland cuisine is that it is usually adequate at best. I can cook up a better plate of sausage and eggs than the River Belle Terrace, and the Blue Bayou is way overpriced for the quality of its pre-cooked steaks. Luckily we found the places with really decent noshings, including the Plaza Inn, the Big Thunder BBQ's all-you-care-to-eat meat in buckets, and the new Jolly Holiday Bakery. It was also my first time riding in the pilot house of the Mark Twain Riverboat, one of my favourite attractions. Of course, everything was new to Ashley, and I tried to treat her with style, such as a ride around the Disneyland Railroad aboard the Lilly Belle VIP salon car.






The Plaza Inn and interior details.


Miss Ashley modelling buckets of meat.


Jolly Holiday Bakery's Matterhorn macaroon,
with the Matterhorn for comparison.






Earning our pilots certificate on the Mark Twain Riverboat.
Thanks Captain Dan!






Aboard the Lilly Belle.


With less than a month to go before its closure, we managed to follow up that Grand Circle Tour with the "All Aboard" exhibit at the Disney Gallery. It was a special treat for lovers of Disney railways and featured a number of vintage pieces like conductor cap badges and materials from Walt's backyard railway. The walls were also decked in reproduced pieces of concept art and newly commissioned works for sale (I couldn't resist the print of Jeremy Fulton's DLRR poster, which can be seen at the bottom of this page).










Miniature pot-bellied stove gifted by Walt Disney to his railfriends.


Builder's plate from the Fort Wilderness Railroad, a now-defunct
narrow gauge route that ran through the Fort Wilderness campground
at Walt Disney World in Florida.




Stationary and some of the last known pieces
from Walt's backyard railway, the Carolwood Pacific.


Disneyland was not the sole beneficiary of our presence. We made two forays into Hollywood, one with our friends Macabri of Nerdy Girlz and her husband Ryan, and another with Adventures by Disney's Lights... Camera... Magic! daytour. We can't claim to be overly interested in living celebrities, but the sights and shrines of Hollywood's Golden Age was certainly on the itinerary: Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn, the Hollywood Museum in the Max Factor Building, and Universal Studios. The latter is most notable for its studio tour, though the new horror walkthrough attraction has a magnificent two-storey recreation of Dr. Frankenstein's lab.


Grauman's Chinese Theater.




Hollywood's first couple, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.




Roy Rogers and Trigger. Apparently Roy was tiny,
as evidenced by mine and Ashley's feet in comparison to his
(for reference, I'm a size 12).




Interiors of Grauman's Chinese. This is how movies should be seen.






The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
It's ballroom hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929.




The Hollywood Museum in the Max Factor Building.
Hollywood make-up artist Max Factor was
essentially the creator of modern cosmotology.


Ashley is ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.


Costumes from Moulin Rouge!




The Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn.
Hollywood's first movie was shot here, being DeMille's Squaw Man (1914).


Recreation of DeMille's office.


A camera formerly owned by Buster Keaton.




Universal Studios Hollywood.
Ashley walks the red carpet.


The whole raison d'etre for the Adventures by Disney tour was the opportunity to see the Walt Disney Studios. Unfortunately we skipped over the two things I had wanted to see most - the archives and Stage 3, where 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was shot - but it was just amazing to be there anyways. To have walked the halls of the original animation building, where so many incredible things were made, was awe-inspiring.






The Hyperion Bungalow, one of the few buildings moved from
Walt's original studios at 2719 Hyperion Avenue.






The original animation building.
Miss Ashley inspects a batch of rough animation sheets.


Stage 2, where Mary Poppins was filmed.
Also, a billboard for our new favourite TV show.


Original model for the Hyperion airship from Island at the Top of
the World
in the display outside of the archives (that we didn't go into).


The multiplane camera, on which was filmed
Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi...




The top floor, corner office of Walt Disney himself.


Stage 1, in which were filmed the live segments of Fantasia.


With the Partners statue in the Disney Legends Plaza.


In the hands of my favourite Disney Legend,
animator and rail enthusiast Ward Kimball.


Miss Ashley in the hands of Julie Andrews.


A rare close-up of Partners.


The famous Dwarf caryatids on the building named for
the infamous Michael Eisner.


The current animation building, which was not on the tour.


A slight misfortune to the trip was Disney's new Grad Nite policy, which allowed hordes of teenagers to descend upon the parks for the whole day prior to their exclusive evening parties. The consequence was customarily manageable off-season crowd levels turned into chaos while regular guests were herded around like cattle. It's not a working strategy and Disney ought to rethink it. A nicer time might be had by coming back after they shunt the kids off to California Adventure.

Nevertheless, for as amazing a place as Disneyland is and whatever the faults I've been complaining about through this trip report, what really makes the park a worthwhile experience is the people you go with. It's been too long since I got to spend time with my friends in LA, I got the chance to meet some more great people, and most of all, I couldn't have had a better companion for this dreamland than my dreamgirl...


Quite the jolly holiday indeed!


...Or not!!!