Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Château de la Chatonnière

Not far from Azay-le-Rideau and its famous château in the Loire Valley is the Château de la Chatonnière. No castle, this is a charming country estate that brings to mind the humble home of Cinderella. The current owner Béatrice de Andia has employed the services of master gardener Ahmed Azéroual to surround the château with stunning thematic gardens on the ideas of science, romance, and fragrance. Unfortunately during our visit in May of 2013 we were too early to appreciate the gardens in full bloom. The trade-off was made with having virtually the entire estate to ourselves. Much like the Château d'Ussé that we visited on the same day, this charming villa is off the beaten path and decidedly worth the visit.











 

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Walt's Era - Part 14: Clear Sailing Through the Early Sixties, Part 1 (1962)


1962 is another landmark year in this series, in a certain way. This is the first year that not only lacks an animated classic, but lacks any kind of classic to speak of. There isn't even anything that might be called a minor, cult classic among Disney fans "in the know". The films are not bad, but not a one of them is on most people's top 10, or top 20, or maybe even a top 30 list. In Search of the Castaways, Moon Pilot, The Legend of Lobo, Big Red, etc. are pretty okay films and on the balance, 1962 was a pretty okay year. There are no truly awful films - even Bon Voyage has its merits -  at the expense of nothing truly outstanding. Luckily the company also re-released Pinocchio and Lady and the Tramp to offset things.

Behind the scenes, WED moved from the Disney studios to Glendale as construction began on New Orleans Square in Disneyland. The Swiss Family Treehouse also opened this year, adding the second actual attraction to Adventureland and its first expansion since opening day. Walt Disney Productions renewed its contract with Walt and WED Enterprises. Walt received some $3500 per week plus another $1666 in deferred payments and a percentage of profits from the films, with an additional $1500 going to WED.  


Swiss Family Treehouse, circa 1962.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Songs from the Tiki Room - Barcarolle


You stay off'a my back and I'll stay off'a your back!

When the Enchanted Tiki Room went down in the early Nineties for a refurbishment, its sometimes tolerance-testing 17 minute duration was trimmed to a taut 12 minutes by the exclusion of the peaceful Barcarolle number. Borrowed from Jacques Offenbach's opera Tales of Hoffman, the Barcarolle offered a calming interlude after the explosive introductory song The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room. It was, however, an unspectacular use of the attraction's signature audio-animatronics. Any use of audio-animatronics in 1963 was astonishing, and the Barcarolle served a proper function in the pace of the show, but 30 years later it simply tried the patience of audiences eager to get out and ride the Haunted Mansion or the Indiana Jones Adventure.

A barcarolle is a type of folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers or music in that same style. In Tales of Hoffman, which is regularly described as one of the most popular melodies in opera, the barcarolle is a piece entitled "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" and is sung between the Venetian courtesan Giulietta and Hoffman's muse Nicklausse, disguised as a male companion. In the opera, the pleasant melody underlines something sinister: Hoffman believes that Giulietta is in love with him, but in fact she is seducing him under orders from Hoffman's enemies.

Most uses of the song outside of Tales of Hoffman have employed this contrast in melody and intent. For example, in the film Life is Beautiful (1997), it contrasts the height of European culture with the collapse into fascism. Disney evidently thought that it just sounded nice, and previously used it in the 1931 Silly Symphony cartoon Birds of a Feather.


Birds of a Feather (1931)

Saturday, 20 May 2017

What Makes Something "Disney"?

Not very long ago, FoxxFur at Passport to Dreams posed the question of what makes a themed attraction, themed space, or theme park distinctively "Disney" in contrast to other amusement parks, rides, and spaces. What does it mean when we criticize something made by Disney of not being "Disney" enough? What do we mean when we say the so-called competition doesn't measure up to Disney, or has "out-Disneyed" Disney? Since I take my cues from Passport to Dreams apparently, which frankly isn't a bad place to take them from, I've been given pause to think seriously about what that means. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Story of Ngendei



Poor Ngendei, the Earth-balancer... Tormented by Pele, barely hanging on, wobbling around on the globe he is supposed to be supporting... If we descend into the original Fijian mythology from which Ngendi comes, however, it's really Pele who should be on the lookout!

Degei, also called Ndengei, is the supreme god of ancient Fiji. The first of the Fijian gods, he created the islands and peopled them, determines the fate of his people in the afterlife, and provides for them as they live, blessing them with fruits and rains... Or tormenting them with floods, famine, and devastating earthquakes. Like nature itself, Degei's moods change from kindly to wrathful, from provider to judge, jury, and executioner.

Fiji's coastline. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Walt's Era - Part 13: Disney in Transition, Part 2 (1961)


The process of finding new footing continued for Disney into 1961. The company paid off its existing loans, debuted Wonderful World of Color on NBC on September 24th (and introduced America to Professor Ludwig von Drake), and released its first truly new animated film since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to theatres. Disney also ended their popular series of Donald Duck cartoons this year, against the backdrop of general changes in America's filmgoing habits. Nevertheless, they also acquired the rights to the Winnie the Pooh character. The first draft of Mary Poppins was finished, and it is in this year that the film Saving Mr. Banks is set, fictionalizing the challenges of working with Pamela Travers. Disney was setting itself up nicely for its new-new era.



Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Mark Twain and the Rivers of America

The Mississippi River is one of the great rivers of the world. Counting in its entire drainage basin, the Mississippi and its tributaries drain 31 states and the southernmost part of two Canadian provinces. It straddles the Rocky Mountains to the West and Appalachian Mountains to the East. It is the fourth longest and ninth largest river in the world. The Mississippi is the central artery of American industry, controlling it meant victory for the Union and defeat for the Confederates, it demarcates Country music from Western music, and the settlements along its ever advancing delta gave birth to Jazz. Sooner rather than later, the living river might bypass New Orleans and Baton Rouge altogether, rerouting its primary outflow to the Atchafalaya River. It already would be, if not for the engineering marvels placed by the US government attempting to bend nature to its will. Great industrial barges ply the urbanized riverscape today, but in Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and wherever Imagineers have transplanted the American frontier, the romance of the river's old steamboat days are perpetually rekindled.    


In Disneyland, the riverboat is named for the Mississippi's favourite son: Mark Twain. Born and raised in Hannibal, Missouri, Twain grew up to the whistle of the paddlewheeler. He served as a pilot aboard one before he stopped working and became a writer. Never quite prepared to leave that life behind, he penned a nostalgic tome entitled Life on the Mississippi, capturing the spirit of those halcyon days.