Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Return to Glory: Tropical Serenade and Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

It's hard for many Disney fans when an attraction at the parks is updated. Many changes are necessary to adapt to guest preferences, increased attendance, or changes in the Disney catalog but it's especially painful when an attraction changes, is universally panned, but keeps going regardless of guest sentiment. A prime example would be Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, located in WDW's Magic Kingdom.

One of the strongest direct links to Walt when it debuted as an original Magic Kingdom attraction in 1971, Tropical Serenade was a near perfect replica of Disneyland's attraction. José, Michael, Pierre, and Fritz warbled and joked through the same set of material culminating with a rather cheeky riff on Snow White's Heigh-Ho that sent guests on their way through the exits. As was common in the Eisner years the parks consistently sought to reinvent themselves with low-dollar improvements, especially those that could be adapted to embrace new, and profitable, characters from the resurgent Disney film library. And, so, in that manner Tropical Serenade was 'plussed' to include Iago and Zazu and fit within an easy to manage 10-minute show window with the name The Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management. For fourteen years guests were subjected to the dulcet tones of Gilbert Gottfried's voice interrupting the Sherman Brothers' In The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room number until, in January of this year, a fire broke out in the attraction building. News spread quickly, almost like wildfire (sorry), with information centering on the fact the fire irreparably damaged the Iago animatronic figure and many speculated on changes that could occur as a result.

And then on August 15, 2011 a wonderful thing happened. . .

The attraction reopened and in the spirit of celebrating WDW's 40th anniversary a version of the original show returned (albeit without the Offenbach piece and its cruel and unusual jokes). Fans everywhere with an appreciation of everything "old school" about WDW rejoiced and a thousand angels received their wings. (And an extremely long penance for someone ended.) In addition to the restored show attraction the pre-show was returned to its former state where Clyde and Claude prepped guests for what was to come in a four and a half minute garden show. PFTP visited the restored show and we were thrilled with the restored attraction. (Unfortunately, other guests still look at us strangely when we recite the show in its entirety. Is this a odd thing to do?)

In the end, this is a case of Imagineering bringing order back to the universe and reaching back to the past to bring guests a small piece of Walt Disney himself; not the young filmmaker with the world before him but the grandfather and tired visionary who just enjoyed bringing birds to life.

These photographs were taken by the author in November 2007, November 2008, and October 2011.


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Contemporary Resort and Mary Blair

Mary Blair is one of the better known women to have worked for Walt Disney and is known primarily for her work on It's A Small World and, more dear to the hearts of the PFTP staff, the 90 ft. high mural inside Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort.

Mary was born on October 21, 1911 and began her animation career with the Ub Iwerks studio after graduate studies at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. Mary joined her husband, Lee Blair, at the  Walt Disney Studios in 1940. Mary's close relationship with the Disney family was forged on the very interesting Good Neighbor tour of South American countries with Walt and Lillian in 1941. (Please see 'Walt and El Grupo' for more information on this tour and the problems Walt faced during the war at home.)

Throughout her career at the Disney Studios, Mary was a concept artist, color stylist, and an art supervisor for a large number of films. However, she left the studio in 1953 only to return and this second phase of her Disney career cemented her legacy. During her absence from the Walt Disney Studios in the '50s Mary spent time working for commercial advertising clients. It was her success here, and her previous work on films ranging from Fantasia to Cinderella to Peter Pan and many shorts that led Walt to ask her to contribute to the World's Fair effort. Mary soon began work on the Pepsi-Cola sponsored pavilion, which benefited UNICEF, along with Rolly Crump and the iconic attraction never looked back.

In the end, Mary Blair became synonymous for her work on the 1964 World's Fair and the It's A Small World attraction. In addition to this immediately recognizable attraction Mary is also widely known for her mosaic murals in Disneyland's Tomorrowland (many of which are gone and/or covered over) and at Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort. The mural at WDW is striking just for its size, which encompasses the entirety of the central elevator bay. It depicts a stepped mound with Native American children and animals, all instantly recognizable as her work in 12" x 12" squares.

The mural has four sides; the north and south faces display children and animals while the east and west faces, smaller and less detailed, depict children and larger animals. Each side has numerous items to view and, in the end, it's an amazing feat of sculpture.

Each tile has raised surfaces with incredible detail that's best experienced up close. Perhaps the best place to see just how raised these tiles are is directly across from Fantasia gift shop, in the central area of the main tower. From here, directly to the left of the Grand Canyon Concourse escalator leading to the monorail station on the 5th floor, you can see this wonderful owl. Alternatively, you can view tiles directly above the order kiosks at the Contempo Café.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the mural is Blair's five-legged goat. According to multiple sources, Mary wanted people to remember nothing is perfect, hence the intentional mistake. PFTP hasn't been able to verify this statement but, nonetheless, it makes for an excellent 'Did you know?' moment for those not as familiar with Disney lore.

The next time you have a few minutes at the monorail station or are looking for something to do outside of the parks, head over to the Contemporary Resort and examine the mural in closer detail. You won't be disappointed.

These photographs were taken by the author in October, 2011.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Back to the Briar Patch: Research Trip

The staff from Photos from the Parks are headed back into the Briar Patch again, eager to drink in Epcot's Food and Wine Festival, Star Tours 2.0, see what's going on in and around Fantasyland, and more. See you soon!

This photograph was taken by the author in October, 2008.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Magic of Disney Animation - Animation Gallery

With a rich history of animated films at its disposal, Disney's Hollywood Studios offers guests a unique chance to see ephemera associated with many of its classic movies. The Magic of Disney Animation building (which hosts a number of 'attractions') is a great place to see items related to many of our favorite films.

The building hosts an interesting history: many park fans fondly remember the Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams narrated film discussion the magic of Disney animation and the 'behind the scenes' walking tour that followed. Park visitors were treated to the sight of animators working on new films and restorations back when the park served as a functioning animation studio. (Sigh.)

As always, change is inevitable and the activities within the building are no longer as exciting. The Magic of Disney Animation attraction remains and guests can watch cast members draw characters and try their own hand at following along. Maquettes, concept art, background paintings, and storyboards now abound touting new Disney films as do character meet and greet areas. In the end, most of the magic is gone with the exception of one particularly interesting and out of the way area within this building: the Animation Gallery area.

Here, as mentioned above, guests can see a duplicate of one of Walt's Academy Award for Special Award in 1941; a certificate of merit for Fantasia related to the special use of sound in a movie which he shared with two others and RCA.

Additionally, this area showcases prints, sketches, and other items from a rotating set of films. On display here are items related to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

This area of the building is normally very quiet and provides guests a chance to take their time to view items in the exhibit; one of the rare opportunities to catch your breath and actually soak in a piece of history.

These photographs were taken by the author in May, 2010.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Famous To:s and From:s

One of the benefits of a theme park devoted to motion pictures and television is the ability to place tongue in cheek and/or seemingly insignificant trivia items wherever you want. In the case of Walt Disney World's Disney Hollywood Studios, these innocuous references are found in many places, one of them being a set of crates located next to Min and Bill's Dockside Diner in the Echo Lake portion of the park.

Min and Bill's, itself, is a rather oblique reference to an Academy award winning film from the early 1930's and the 'diner' is on-board the S.S. Down the Hatch. This establishment is nothing more than a convenient place to grab a snack (think Disney Dining Plan snack) as you make your way into the southeast portion of the park.

One of the more interesting accoutrements are the cargo crates located dockside. While they may, at first glance, appear as nothing more than obstacles to those running towards the Sounds Dangerous building (does anyone ever run to this attraction?) the crates are a clever nod to great films part of Hollywood's past including 'Citizen Kane', 'It's a Wonderful Life', 'Casablanca', 'The Producers', and more. These are just one of the many 'wink-wink nod-nod' references to items in Disney's Hollywood Studios that makes it enjoyable for kids, parents, and grandparents alike.

These photographs were taken by the author in May, 2010.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Happy 40th to WDW

Hard to believe it, but Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Park turned forty years old today. Wow.

This photograph was taken by the author in October 2010.