Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Cory's Disney in Review 2014? Top Five Extinct and Extant Attractions

Last year at this time, I did a "year in review" covering what I thought the top five things were that Disney had done in 2013. Unfortunately this year, Disney didn't do enough that I would consider noteworthy to fill out that list. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride was awesome though!

All of New Fantasyland is pretty great, in fact!

Given that I'm four short of a top five, I decided to take a look at my favourite things that Disney used to have. For one reason or another, the universe prevents us from being able to enjoy one or another attraction that we might have really loved if we had gotten the chance. Perhaps it was taken out before you were even a twinkle in your parents' eye, or perhaps you were just never able to get to that particular park before the ride was closed. This is my list of regrets.
  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Magic Kingdom; Space Mountain: De la terre à la lune, Disneyland Paris; Le Visionarium, Disneyland Paris; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Disneyland USA. My first place is a cheat, but with a good reason. All four of these attractions are related to Jules Verne and place as highly as they do because of my love for the great Frenchman's literature (you can probably also guess my tie for top extant attractions in any Disney park). It didn't seem fair to me to have almost my entire list composed of rides that appeal to me for almost identical reasons. The one I'm least broken up about is the 20,000 Leagues attraction at Disneyland USA, since this exhibition of original film props was removed in 1967, a decade before my time. The loss of the submarine ride at Walt Disney World was a terrible blow, since this is just about the best 20,000 Leagues ride conceivable: an actual ride beneath the waves aboard the Nautilus. That loss alone was sufficient reason not to bother going to WDW, except that it was replaced by attractions based on Ashley's favourite Disney movie! I shake my head most at the needless loss of Paris' original version of Space Mountain and it's Le Visionarium. Not only did these have the benefit of being based in Verne, but they also set Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland apart from the Tomorrowlands of other parks and set-up its retro-futuristic premise so well. Without them, it becomes more like the hodge-podge of ideas and licences that break down those other Tomrrowlands.  The body of Space Mountain still exists, but its soul is gone. In the place of a charming excursion from the Earth to the Moon, we have just another Space Mountain.

  2. Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland, Disneyland USA. I am much more of a slow-going, dark ride kind of guy than a seeker of thrills, so given the choice between a leisurely mine train ride through a Wild West version of the Jungle Cruise or a roller coaster careening through caverns, I'll take the mine train, thank you very much. If we include all of Nature's Wonderland, with the stagecoaches and pack mules, one could argue that a large part of Frontierland's soul was lost when this was bulldozed. At least the river remains, even if it has been overrun with pirates.  

  3. Adventures Thru Inner Space, Disneyland USA. Though it is easy to fall into mythologizing attractions one has never been on, this journey loosely inspired by The Incredible Shrinking Man and Our Friend the Atom is easily one of the most original and legendary of Tomorrowland attractions. I think it also demonstrates better than most what Tomorrowland was supposed to be about: the collusion of scientific fact with powerfully emotive delivery to spark the imagination with the incredible promise of Space Age discovery. Adventures Thru Inner Space, Submarine Voyage, and Rocket to the Moon were probably the three most Tomorrowland attractions. It's too bad that it has finally given up and become the Universal Studios of Disney's miscellaneous IP acquisitions.    

  4. Adventurer's Club, Walt Disney World. According to friends who have been there, I would have loved this silly homage to hapless Victorian explorers in pith helmets. I love the aesthetic of exploration, of gentlemen's clubs filled to rafter and beam with curios from far-flung lands, and commiserations about adventures held and mountains climbed. Giving it a wink and a nod is even better. At least there remains Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, which I have on good authority does echo some of the Adventurer's Club's atmosphere.  

  5. Photo: Janey Henning

  6. Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour, Tokyo Disneyland. I don't so much identify with it anymore, but in my heart of hearts I'm still a Goth and have tremendous affection for Disney's dark side. While the Villains are, of course, integral to the stories in which they are antagonists, there are no attractions really devoted to them. Once upon a time, just three years before I went there, Tokyo Disneyland had a tour of the netherworld beneath their castle, in which Maleficent, Chernabog, the Evil Queen, and the Horned King reigned. 

  • Honourable Mention: Walt Disney World. As I observed when Ashley and I went to WDW for the first time on our honeymoon, it's not really the rides at the resort that make it what it is, but rather, it's everything else. Some rides are better than their counterparts elsewhere, and some rides are worse, but in the end, it all the different types of experiences and attractions that are available that make it the "vacation kingdom." While it does have a lot of fun stuff still today, there are a few things from its past that I would have liked to see. The Fort Wilderness Railroad, for instance. Before Animal Kingdom, guests could have up close and personal wildlife encounters at Discovery Island in the middle of Bay Lake. Just offside was River Country, their first official water park (closed in 2001 due to the creation of WDW's existing water parks and the potential for waterborne diseases in Bay Lake). Meanwhile, over at the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, there was the Empress Lilly. This paddlewheel steamer (really a building erected offshore designed to look like a paddlewheeler) served as a restaurant and nightclub steeped in Louisiana atmosphere. It is still accessible today, but heavily renovated and divested of thematic elements, as Fulton's Crab House. None of these are things that would make or break a trip to WDW - it's hard to argue that River Country was in any way better than Typhoon Lagoon, for example - but especially in Empress Lilly's case, they point to that little bit extra that would have been nice. Not to mention hearkening to a nostalgia for when WDW first opened, EPCOT was new, and all of that. Now that I think of it, perhaps the original EPCOT Center should be included here as well.

So I don't end this year or begin the next on a total downer, I should include my top five favourite attractions that still exist. The only caveat is that I can only choose from attractions I've actually been on. Sorry Mystic Manor. Trust me, from what I've seen in videos, you would be on this list if I could put you on it.
  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, Tokyo Disneysea. By necessity, my first spot is a tie. I simply can't choose between these two magnificent attractions. On the one hand they are alike enough to be thought of in the same breath, and on the other they are so different that it is impossible to choose between them. Both attractions are based on the works of Jules Verne and Disney's live-action adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. That is what makes them similar and what puts them over for me, given that Verne is my favourite author and 20,000 Leagues is my favourite live-action Disney film. Where they differ is that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a classic dark ride using the same basic mechanics as Peter Pan's Flight, only simulating a journey to the bottom of the ocean. Journey to the Center of the Earth begins as a more upscale dark ride but has a nice jolt of high-speed thrill ride just at the end as you shoot out of a volcano and zip the circumference of Mysterious Island, the port in which both attractions are found. Both are based in the Retro-Victorian aesthetics pioneered by Harper Goff for the film, but both add a nice, creative, cartoony element that ties Disney live-action, animation, and theme parks together. They are remarkable visualizations of their source material that still add nice twists that I can't reveal for fear of spoiling them! They fit so well into the general theme of Tokyo Disneysea, which is the adventure of exploration and discovery: their plot has Captain Nemo inviting you to become a member of his scientific crew. Most deliciously of all, they are based on a 60-year old film and 150-year old book, neither of which could be considered hot tentpole franchise material. 20,000 Leagues and Journey are perfect examples of how fantastic ideas and well-executed attractions win out in the end.

  2. Haunted Mansion, Magic Kingdom. It's not the biggest, best, most modern, most thrilling, or most perfect attraction, but it is a sentimental favourite. The Haunted Mansion is a fun fusion of the classical haunted house with Addams Family kookiness, excellently conceived and executed. It is also a great example of how misbegotten modern Imagineering's obsession with "story" is. There is no defined narrative in the Haunted Mansion. There is no story of how one or another things happen to a protagonist and how that protagonist wins in the end and lives happily ever after. There is only the experience of being taken on a tour of a decrepit manor populated by ghosts. It does have an internal logic, but that logic is cinematic and experiential rather than narrative. As you move deeper into the house, new scenes unfold before you. You become a part of the experience, as your "sympathetic vibrations" release the spirits who only want to have a bit of fun by scaring you. And there is no "happily ever after," only an invitation to hurry back and not forget your death certificate. The Haunted Mansion is classic Disney, and the version at the Magic Kingdom is the best executed version of it. The lessons learned from Disneyland's original were employed in WDW's, making a much more convincing atmosphere of a real haunted mansion from start to finish.

  3. Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland Paris. I make no apologies for not being a fan of the vandalism performed against Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland USA, the Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland. It's not Jack Sparrow I necessarily object to. I would have been fine with him in the background, designed in such a way to look like he'd always been there and we just didn't notice. The problem is its just plain awful execution with its too-realistic animatronics set against Sixties models sculpted by Blaine Gibson, and projection effects of squid monsters in a ride with no other squid monsters or projection effects, and sudden blasts of Hans Zimmer's soundtrack against the vintage ride score, and a story that makes no internal sense (why is the town hiding Jack Sparrow?) while completely defeating the running gags of its own source material (Jack Sparrow was the only one to call himself "captain"... that was an important point in Pirates 1 and 2) and completely trouncing and corrupting the poetic morality tale of the original (piracy and lust for treasure is its own curse). The whole thing was just done so poorly. And Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland Paris has none of that! When we rode it, I just about broke into tears because I had forgotten how much I used to love it. While the order of the scenes is a bit different, all the essential elements are still there and still work. Until they either restore the version in Anaheim (yes!) or vandalize the version in Paris (no!!), this Pirates of the Caribbean holds its place.

  4. Peter Pan's Flight, Disneyland USA. Disneyland is itself a sort of Neverland. What is Neverland, after all, but the interior world of a child's imagination? Pirates, cannibals, cowboys and "Indians," mermaids... And what is Disneyland but a physical manifestation of this same imagination? It too has pirates, cannibals, cowboys and "Indians," and mermaids (as well as fairy tales and space ships). Thematically, Peter Pan's Flight would already be the perfect Disney ride. It is also a perfect example of what Disney rides do when they are at their best, which is to draw us into the story (not merely watching it from a cart) and conveying experiences that cannot be had in the real world. Nowhere else is it possible to sit in a pirate ship and take flight through the starlight sea surrounding Neverland. Allow me to echo the words of the great Ray Bradbury in his rousing defense of Disneyland: "I shall be indebted to him for a lifetime for his ability to let me fly over midnight London looking down on that fabulous city, in his Peter Pan ride.

  5. Enchanted Tiki Room, Disneyland USA. Of any "top five" list, I always find slot #5 the hardest to fill. I know with great certainty what goes in slots 1 and 2, and maybe 3. It starts to get questionable by 4 and 5 is right out, because there as so many competing possibilities. Should it go to Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant in Disneyland Paris, or the Disneyland Railroad and Primeval World, or the Mark Twain Riverboat, or...? Then Ashley reminded me that there are actually very few attractions that I say we must see. One of them, one of the biggest ones, is the Enchanted Tiki Room. Prior to my first time at Disneyland, I had no particular attachment to Tiki culture or interest in the South Pacific, but something about the Enchanted Tiki Room captured my imagination. It was colourful, fun, musical, charming, whimsical... dare I say it... enchanted? There was also the ritual about it: getting the mandatory Dole Whip and deliberately staying for the video (I prefer the original one, with the guy who really likes his pineapple), and the speeches of the Tiki gods, and singing like the birdies sing, and cribbing the hand motions from Grease for the Hawaiian War Chant. Given my antipathy to heat, I'm not sure if I ever intend to visit Hawaii or Tahiti or Samoa. I have, however, gotten caught up in Disney's repackaging of Tiki culture, from Trader Sam's to Citrus Swirls to SHAG's artwork to the Spirit of Aloha. Even our kitchen is Tiki-themed!

  • Honourable Mention: All the Attractions that Disneyland Wouldn't be Disneyland Without. As I alluded to in my previous entry, attractions like the Mark Twain Riverboat and Disneyland Railroad with its Grand Canyon Diorama and Primeval World rank highly in my books. Few people would think of those as the must-do, top-tier favourite Disneyland attractions. Those distinctions always seem to go to the newest, biggest, highest, fastest rides with the most recent whizzbangs and geegaws. For me, though, they are two attractions that Disneyland just wouldn't be Disneyland without. Likewise with the Main Street Cinema, Penny Arcade, Tom Sawyer Island, and Court of Angels (oh...). I might even put the Jungle Cruise on that list. I don't think of it as being a favourite attraction as such, but if it were closed down for refurbishment, I would reschedule my trip just as surely as I would reschedule around Peter Pan's Flight or the Haunted Mansion. Walt Disney World showed me what was missing by not having the Peoplemover or the Country Bear Jamboree. These are attractions that give Disneyland its sense of place, that set its mood, and put it apart from the world outside the berm and from other theme parks. They are what make it a classic. They aren't E-tickets, but they are totally indispensable.

If you enjoyed these top five lists, let us know in the comments and share your own top extinct and extant attractions! Would you be interested in seeing more lists like this? What would you like to see lists of?

And thank you everyone for supporting Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy through another (eventful) year! Stay with us in the coming year for a new article every second Wednesday, beginning January 14th!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Mont St. Michel

One of the unmistakable influences on the design of Rapunzel's kingdom in Tangled is Mont St. Michel. Located off the coast of Normandy in northern France, this tidal island has been the site of a monastery since the 8th century. The island itself held strategic importance since Roman times and was permanently occupied by Christian hermits since the 6th century. Bishop Aubert received a series of visions of the Archangel Michael in 708 CE, which compelled him to construct a shrine dedicated to him on the peak of the island. Over the subsequent centuries, the site was built up with a full Gothic abbey and a village hugging the sides of the island. The island became a major pilgrimage site, withstanding invasions by Vikings, the English, and the Hugenots. Finally it was the anti-religious fanaticism of the French Revolution that closed down the monastery, turning it into a prison. In the 19th century, Mont St. Michel was restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the architect and champion of the Middle Ages who also restored the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.

In May of 2013, Ashley and I visited Mont St. Michel as it stands today. What we discovered was a charming, but crowded, Mediaeval attraction. At a five hour drive from Paris each way, we were at the mercy of a scheduled tour with only a few harried hours inside the abbey itself (even after we ditched our tour guide and the busload of people we came with!). We have already conspired that on our next trip to France, we are going to stay in one of the island's tiny inns for a couple nights. Our brief taste of life on Mont St. Michel has only succeeded in whetting our appetite for further exploration of its winding streets and vaulted chapels.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

'Tis the Season for Giving, Again

Once more it is that time of year for family gatherings and present giving. And once again, it is good to spread some of that wealth around, whether we have a little or a lot.

Last year I mentioned the Walt Disney Birthplace project. The current owners of the home in Chicago where Walt Disney was born in 1905 fell short of their Kickstarter goals last year, but have been dauntless in seeking donations ever since. Their current fundraiser on Start Some Good has already passed its tipping point of $15,000, which will allow them to restore the windows to their working class Victorian finery. There is a lot left to do, and more money left to gather. Their total goal is to make $40,000.

Another fundraising product that the Walt Disney Birthplace has produced is O'Zell Soda. In 1912, Elias Disney, Walt's father, purchased stocks in the O'Zell company. This company promised huge profits in the burgeoning "soft drink" market, but ended up being an embezzlement scheme by its president. The company folded, taking a good chunk of the Disney family earnings with it. As a last laugh, the Walt Disney Birthplace project is using the brand name to market their own sodas to raise money for restoring the Disney family home. To purchase a few bottles, visit their website.

Dig in a little and help them preserve the birthplace of the man who has inspired us all so much! And remember to look beyond that as well to the people in need and worth causes in your area or in those things that concern you. Many people are in a great need of your generousity.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson, Volumes 1 and 2

In the 1930's, Mickey Mouse was a veritable superstar, but Walt Disney was still feeling out his potential as a character and a corporate icon. His films varied in tone, subject, and quality. The merchandising machine was just gearing up. And King Features Syndicate was beating down Walt's door to produce a daily newspaper strip starring the Mouse. Thanks to the efforts of publisher Fantagraphics and editors David Gerstein and Gary Groth, this early slice of Mickey's life has been preserved for us in a series of very handsome volumes.

The first two volumes in the series - Race to Death Valley and Trapped on Treasure Island - set the stage very well for Mickey's rise to fame and the conditions under which artist and writer Floyd Gottfredson inherited the strip's mantle. In 1930, shortly after Disney's merchandising department was created, Walt personally scripted the strip drawn by Ub Iwerks. These very early strips were almost exact adaptations of the early cartoons, particularly Plane Crazy. However, Walt's responsibilities as the head of a growing company and the sudden departure of Iwerks led to a shakeup from which a new hire in the animation department - Gottfredson - was given the "temporary" assignment. That assignment lasted until 1975.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Grimm's Little Snow-White

Originally published by the Brothers Grimm in their original 1812 collection of fairy tales, Little Snow White has become one of their most popular. This is due in no small part to Walt Disney's adapting it into his first full-length feature animated film. Several feature-length animated films were made during the silent era - the first in 1915 and the oldest extant one being The Adventures of Prince Achmed from 1926 - but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first one in colour and the first one out of Hollywood, as well as being the one to really set off animated feature films as a viable medium.

As we will see from the following 1884 translation by Margaret Hunt, Disney took some liberties with the story. The fault isn't necessarily on him, however. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is essentially a remake of the 1916 live-action silent film, which was itself an adaptation of a 1912 stage play. What alterations he made to the story were come by honestly. It should be noted that the Grimms themselves consistently adapted and altered the story, with their final revision being published in 1854. For example, in the original it is Snow White's own mother who is jealous of her and in a rough draft, it is she who abandons her daughter in the woods.

Without further ado, Little Snow-White by the Brothers Grimm, illustrations by Franz Jüttner for a 1910 German edition...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Castillo de San Marcos: A True-Life Fort on the Spanish Main

The Spanish Main... A name that evokes the long ago days of buccaneering pirates and Spanish Conquistadors, palm trees and buried treasure. Geographically, it was the mainland portion of Spain's empire in the New World, encircling the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. It included the coastlines of Texas, Mexico, Central America and the northern coast of South America, as well as the land known as La Florida. Gold and spice-laden ships from the Caribbean had to pass Florida on their way to Spain, making them tempting targets for privateers and enemy navies. To protect their shipping routes and land claims in North America, the Spanish built what remains today as the oldest stone fort in the oldest city in the United States: Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida. 

An historic aerial photo of Castillo de San Marcos. Photo: NPS.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Our Fairytale Wedding Centrepieces

When Ashley and were planning our wedding, we decided on a fairytale theme for our reception. Our colours and general aesthetic were peacock themed, but for each table we wanted something tied to our love of fairy tales, fantasy stories, and Disney. But not, like, Disney. We love Mickey Mouse but didn't want him all over our wedding. Plus, we were trying to cut costs where we could, and using our own stuff for the centrepieces helped out considerably!

A cupcake preparing to meet its doom. Photo: K&E Imaging.

Each party to the reception was given a slip with an excerpt from the original story that their table was themed to. For example, people at the Aladdin table had an excerpt from Sir Richard Burton's translation of Arabian Nights, and people at the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea table had an excerpt from Jules Verne. Based on their slip, they had to guess which table was theirs. A few had issues, but for the most part, people were up on their classic literature. When time came to eat, a medley of songs related to each table was played, and people sitting there had to figure it out on their own. I was worried at the people at 20,000 Leagues wouldn't know Whale of a Tale, but thankfully someone did! Other songs included Be Our Guest, Sorcerer's Apprentice, Heigh-Ho, The Unbirthday Song, and Over the Rainbow for the one non-Disney fairy tale table. Sadly a few ideas had to be cut, like Wind and the Willows and a French Canadian story about a diabolical flying canoe called La Chasse-galerie. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy the centrepieces and the tests of knowledge that went with them.   

Below are some of the planning photos we took for the valued friends who were willing to help out setting things up. By all means, feel free to pilfer the idea if you or someone you know has a wedding coming up!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Our Fairytale Wedding

Since we only plan on getting married once (not counting vow renewals), we'd like to share some of our wedding photos with you. I know calling it a "fairytale wedding" is fairly stereotypical, but considering that we lacked a pumpkin carriage and did a good part of the planning and organizing on our own, I think we did pretty well.

Our wedding took place on August 29th, 2014, in Banff, Alberta, Canada. For anyone counting, our ceremony venue was Tunnel Mountain Meadow, and photos were taken there, at Cascades of Time Gardens, and the Banff Springs Hotel. Photography was provided by K&E Imaging of Calgary.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Real Fountain of Youth?

It is the stuff of legend and tall tale: how Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León, became enthralled with stories of the mystical Fountain of Youth in a mysterious land far to the north and west... beyond Hispaniola... beyond Cuba... beyond even the Bahamas. There, at long last, would be the secret to eternal life that had so eluded humanity for so long. In 1513 he landed at a place he called La Florida and disappeared into the jungles, never to be seen again...

Or not. The quest for the Fountain of Youth was attributed to Ponce de León after his death in 1521. He died of a poisoned arrow shot from a Calusa Native American bow during a failed attempt at establishing a colony in the vicinity of Charlotte Harbor. His journey in search of La Florida had more prosaic concerns of finding gold and expanding the Spanish Empire in the New World. And so far, that mysterious Fountain of Youth still eludes its dogged pursuers. That said, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in Saint Augustine, Florida, still tells the important story of America's oldest city and its first European colonizers.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Publishing Biweekly on Wednesdays

For the next little while, we're going to be trying out a little experiment. So as not to overexert ourselves, or run out of material too quickly, we're going to go to a biweekly schedule starting this Wednesday. That means that every other Wednesday, we'll be posting something new about the inspirations behind Disney films and attractions, topics on Imagineering and themed experience, or who knows what! However, we might also sneak a few extra things in on the odd weekend. They might be things like, say, wedding photos, or book and movie reviews, and other things that are just off the main topic of our blog. 

This is an experiment and we'll see how it goes. In the mean time, thank you for supporting Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy and don't forget to sign up to our Facebook page for all the latest!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Story of Chernabog and A Night on Bald Mountain - Part 2

It is generally assumed that the responsibility of identifying Disney’s monstrous entity with the ancient Slavic deity lies with Chernabog’s chief animator, Vladimir “Bill” Tytla. No name is given to the character in the film, and both production sketches and promotional materials of the time call him by all sorts of different, satanic names. Tytla, however, made use of the name “Chernobog” and was himself a Ukrainian-American who may have been familiar with the name through his ancestral roots. In his own words: "On all my animation I tried to do some research and look into the background of each character. But I could relate immediately to this character. Ukrainian folklore is based on Chernabog." Some linguists argue that the name of Chernabog is still in use, in a modified and nearly unrecognizable form, as a curse in Slavic tongues. While it’s not implausible that Tytla recalled his Ukrainian heritage, I think there is another very likely possibility: Chernabog is mentioned by name in the program of Night on Bald Mountain.

Bill Tytla and a maquette of Chernabog.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Story of Chernabog and A Night on Bald Mountain - Part 1

Walt Disney called him “Satan himself,” though perhaps that was a little heavy for what was nevertheless a Disney film in all that may imply. He is Chernabog, the Slavic “Black God” ruling high atop Bald Mountain in the climactic piece from the brilliant Fantasia. Chernabog is one of my favourite Disney character designs, in my favourite piece of Disney animation, in my favourite Disney film, which might be a little awkward if we took Uncle Walt’s word for it that this was the Devil. While he may have been utilized to that effect in Night on Bald Mountain, the history of Chernabog is far more interesting.

Character model sheet for Chernabog, by Kay Nielsen.

The first recorded mention of Chernabog (also variously called Chernobog, Czernobog, Crnobog, and Tchernobog) was from a 12th century account of Slavic culture written by the German Christian priest and historian Helmold of Boseau. Born in Lower Saxony around 1120 CE, Helmold became a priest in 1156, after which he was asked to write the Chronica Slavorum, a history of the conversion of the Slavic people of modern-day Poland. Though ostensibly meant to shed positive light on the time between the conquests of Charlemagne and his own time (the book closes at 1171 CE), Helmold was rather critical of the Holy Roman Empire’s actions against the Wends (another name for Polish Slavs).  He decried the Wendish Crusades of 1147 and their leader Duke Henry the Lion as interested in only money and violence. Scholars generally see the Chronica Slavorum as being of questionable historical value where it predates Helmold, but fairly reliable where he is writing about contemporary events.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

When music scholar and popularizer Deems Taylor (currently voiced by Corey Burton) introduced The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia, he observed its contrast with the more abstract and emotive pieces like Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  “And now we're going to hear a piece of music that tells a very definite story,” Taylor says. “As a matter of fact, in this case, the story came first and the composer wrote the music to go with it.” That is true, though he overshoots the age of the story as we know it by a little bit: “It's a very old story, one that goes back almost 2,000 years.”

Concept painting of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
The version to which Taylor is possibly referring is the story Philopseudes by the Greek writer Lucian. Written in 150 CE, it tells the familiar story of the young Eucrates who eavesdrops on his friend, the Egyptian sorcerer and priest of Isis named Pancrates. Curious to try out what he overhears, Eucrates gives life to various household objects, including a broom and a pestle, only to have things spin out of his control.

'When I was a young man, I passed some time in Egypt, my father having sent me to that country for my education. I took it into my head to sail up the Nile to Coptus, and thence pay a visit to the statue of Memnon, and hear the curious sound that proceeds from it at sunrise. In this respect, I was more fortunate than most people, who hear nothing but an indistinct voice: Memnon actually opened his lips, and delivered me an oracle in seven hexameters; it is foreign to my present purpose, 34or I would quote you the very lines. Well now, one of my fellow passengers on the way up was a scribe of Memphis, an extraordinarily able man, versed in all the lore of the Egyptians. He was said to have passed twenty-three years of his life underground in the tombs, studying occult sciences under the instruction of Isis herself.' 'You must mean the divine Pancrates, my teacher,' exclaimed Arignotus; 'tall, clean-shaven, snub-nosed, protruding lips, rather thin in the legs; dresses entirely in linen, has a thoughtful expression, and speaks Greek with a slight accent?' 'Yes, it was Pancrates himself. I knew nothing about him at first, but whenever we anchored I used to see him doing the most marvellous things,--for instance, he would actually ride on the crocodiles' backs, and swim about among the brutes, and they would fawn upon him and wag their tails; and then I realized that he was no common man. I made some advances, and by imperceptible degrees came to be on quite a friendly footing with him, and was admitted to a share in his mysterious arts. The end of it was, that he prevailed on me to leave all my servants behind at Memphis, and accompany him alone; assuring me that we should not want for attendance. This plan we accordingly 35followed from that time onwards. Whenever we came to an inn, he used to take up the bar of the door, or a broom, or perhaps a pestle, dress it up in clothes, and utter a certain incantation; whereupon the thing would begin to walk about, so that every one took it for a man. It would go off and draw water, buy and cook provisions, and make itself generally useful. When we had no further occasion for its services, there was another incantation, after which the broom was a broom once more, or the pestle a pestle. I could never get him to teach me this incantation, though it was not for want of trying; open as he was about everything else, he guarded this one secret jealously. At last one day I hid in a dark corner, and overheard the magic syllables; they were three in number. The Egyptian gave the pestle its instructions, and then went off to the market. Well, next day he was again busy in the market: so I took the36 pestle, dressed it, pronounced the three syllables exactly as he had done, and ordered it to become a water-carrier. It brought me the pitcher full; and then I said: Stop: be water-carrier no longer, but pestle as heretofore. But the thing would take no notice of me: it went on drawing water the whole time, until at last the house was full of it. This was awkward: if Pancrates came back, he would be angry, I thought (and so indeed it turned out). I took an axe, and cut the pestle in two. The result was that both halves took pitchers and fetched water; I had two water-carriers instead of one. This was still going on, when Pancrates appeared. He saw how things stood, and turned the water-carriers back into wood; and then he withdrew himself from me, and went away, whither I knew not.'

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Fantasia - Live in Concert

Last night, Ashley and I had the opportunity to attend a performance of Fantasia - Live in Concert by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. After we attended their Disney in Concert performance last year, I remember thinking that it would be amazing to see the shorts from Fantasia with live accompaniment, given that Fantasia is my favourite Disney film and, I believe, one of the greatest films of all time. Columbia Artists Management Inc. must have read my mind, because they licence this ensemble of pieces from Fantasia  and  Fantasia 2000 out to orchestras around the world. Fantasia - Live in Concert has played everywhere from Royal Alberta Hall in London to the Hollywood Bowl.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Fantasia and Transcendental Art

Walt Disney's masterpiece Fantasia is not only a brilliant synthesis of music and animation, nor an ambitious (if failed) experiment in the moviegoing experience, nor a repository of classic images Disney has utilized for 70 years, but also carries a distinctive if difficult to define visual style. It is painterly, yet lends itself so well to the sleek affectations of Art Deco and Streamline style. For many it seems to stand on its own, but its roots can be found deep within a short-lived artistic movement of the early 20th century, known as Transcendental Art.

One of the easiest connections to make is to the Russian painter and spiritualist Nicholas Roerich. Born in 1872 in St. Petersburg, he graduated from both St. Petersburg University and the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1893, with degrees in both art and law. From 1906 to 1917 he served as the director of the school of the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. His most direct connection to Fantasia was his role as the original costume and set designer for Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913.

One of Roerich's backdrops for Rite of Spring. 1930.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Fantasia for Halloween

The fairies of autumn are beginning to turn leaves a golden hue and my thoughts turn to my favourite Halloween traditions. Unfortunately it is no longer possible to turn on Wonderful World of Disney and see Hans Conried as the Magic Mirror, exclaiming the virtues of Disney's villains. I can, however, pop in Fantasia to revel in The Rite of Spring, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Night on Bald Mountain.

On account of that (and our attending Fantasia - Live in Concert with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra on October 10th), we're going to be spending October looking at Fantasia. Stay tuned each week for a new article on my favourite of all Disney films. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Corrections to the Disney Timeline

Recently, Tumblr user Aish's (disneynewsgroove)  historical timeline of Disney animated films made its way around social media. For the most part it was a very good attempt and it is easy to see where they opted several times to place the film either when the original story was published or the original film released. Of course, there are a few exceptions that we noted and wanted to point out in good fun, because we're a nitpicking blog dedicated to the real historical influences behind Disney films and that's what we do.

Rite of Spring, 4,500,000,000 to 65,000,000 BC

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Our First Trip to Walt Disney World!

Ashley and I were married on a beautifully atmospheric August 29, 2014, in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and shortly thereafter took our honeymoon in Walt Disney World. Disney has marked off a few major points in our relationship - our first trip together was to Disneyland USA and we were engaged in Disneyland Paris - so Walt Disney World seemed an appropriate choice for our honeymoon. Going there also completed my checklist of Disney resorts that are not in Communist dictatorships where my religion is illegal. Now that we're home, we're able to reflect on the similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses of each of the free world Disney parks.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

We're Going to Disney World!

Yesterday, my beloved Ashley and I were married, and tomorrow (very, very early tomorrow) we head off for our honeymoon in Walt Disney World. Therefore, for obvious reasons, Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy is going to be taking a break for a couple weeks.

When we get back, we will post our thoughts and photos from our first trip to Florida (and some wedding photos once we get them). We might also try some "live posting" from WDW on our Facebook page! If you haven't done so already, check it out at and click "like" to see what trouble we get up to and to get updated whenever a new post comes out on the blog!

Thank you to everyone who is sticking with us as we get this blog back up and running, and for those of you who are just joining us!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Disneyland SHOULD BE a Museum

“Disneyland is not a museum” is the tried and tired mantra employed by Imagineers and Disney fans alike whenever news of a change to the park is received with anything less than glowing enthusiasm. It is meant to invoke the spirit of Walt Disney, who said that Disneyland would never be completed, against accusations that Walt wouldn’t have done something in a certain way. Whether or not that is true, the phrase “Disneyland is not a museum” is a thought terminating cliché that is less troublesome for what it says about Disneyland than what it says about our attitudes towards museums and our ambivalence towards the preservation of history. In my life beyond blogging, I work as a professional educator in the museums and heritage field whose undergraduate degree focused on exhibit design, and I would like to share with you the argument that Disneyland should be a museum.

I don’t personally know anyone who hates changes at Disneyland for the sake of hating changes. Rather, what I see are people who are justifiably critical given that Imagineering’s track record at actually improving guest experience with new additions is uneven.

Most people can list alterations and renovations that they have liked and that they have disliked, sometimes within the same attraction. For example, when all is said and done, the addition of Disney characters to It’s a Small World was innocuous, but the addition of the America section was just awful. It was not awful in principle, merely because it is a new section, but it was so poorly executed. When I took Ashley to Disneyland for the first time, I decided to run a quick experiment by not telling her that the America section was a relatively recent addition. Afterwards, she volunteered the opinion that this section looked like it was from an entirely different ride.

 Saying that “Disneyland is not a museum” is problematic on the surface because it is an attempt to shame critical engagement with a work of art. By “critical” I do not necessarily mean “negative” (though it can certainly be). Instead, I am using it in the technical sense of a formal analysis of a work of art. Critical thinking means to engage with a work of art, to reflect on it, to absorb it into one’s psyche, to feel it and reason through it, and to consider how it does or does not achieve its goals. It would be to ask why, in my opinion, the addition of Constance to the Haunted Mansion works while the addition of Jack Sparrow to Pirates of the Caribbean does not, and to be able to formulate a coherent argument to defend that point of view.

Yes, I actually like Constance.
This is important because being able to think critically is valuable. Study after study into museum and arts education has revealed that fostering the ability to think critically about art improves our ability to think critically and creatively about other subjects. It is known to enhance math scores and reading comprehension, to stimulate and motivate further learning, to develop creative problem solving skills, boost confidence and self-esteem, promote tolerance of ambiguity and understanding of other people and cultures, encourages sensitivity to others and our environment, train minds to reason logically and think abstractly, deepen our appreciation of history and beauty, increase emotional and psychological health, and improve all-around quality of life and personal satisfaction. Thinking critically about art makes us better people.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Story of the Flying Dutchman

Few maritime legends were left untouched in the course of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. From Greek deities to Robert Louis Stevenson, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Davy Jones himself, the rich mythology built by sailors and authors fueled the sprawling and circuitous plot by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. But if Davy Jones is going to be turned into a squid-pirate, then a squid-pirate presumably needs a ship. Which one? Well there are no ships more famous and more infamous than the Flying Dutchman!

The Flying Dutchman, by Albert Pinkham Ryder, 1896.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the Flying Dutchman acts as a vessel for Davy Jones (then Will Turner) to ferry souls to the afterlife. Amongst professional mythologists, this role is known as a "psychopomp," which derives from a Greek word that literally means "guide of souls." These are figures who, like Charon in Hercules, are meant to conduct the dead safely to the other side. They are not the judges of the dead (as Charon in the Hercules series quips, "I just row the boat."), merely the guides. In some cultures, they work both ways, not only ferrying the dead to the afterlife, but ferrying new souls through birth. Though the ship comes to this use in Pirates of the Caribbean, the actual plot between Davy Jones and Calypso is heavily influenced by the most celebrated version of the Flying Dutchman's story.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Story of Davy Jones

The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was a brilliant piece of cinema capturing the rollicking adventure of swashbuckling films of yore. Using the ride as its jumping off point, it brought together great characters, great actors, great action, and a great story (and skeleton pirates!) to deliver the deeply satisfying kind of viewing experience one rarely gets in movies made after 1960. Then they had to make some sequels. Rather than keep up the strategy that made The Curse of the Black Pearl so successful, writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio took a queue from Lord of the Rings by trying to cram Dead Man's Chest and At World's End full of mythology and plotlines that never quite jelled together.

However, if you're an aficionado of maritime lore, there were lots of really neat allusions pillaged for content. The title of the second film, and the treasure chest to which it refers, was taken from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Just as "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" sounds like an old sea shanty despite being written by George Bruns and X. Atencio expressly for the ride in Disneyland, Stevenson invented his own suitably pirate-sounding song for his novel, entitled "Fifteen Men on the Dead Man's Chest." The Flying Dutchman is a legend amongst sailors, and the plotline surrounding it is unmistakably adapted from Richard Wager's eponymous opera. Inside the ship is an organ decorated with a relief of Gustave Doré's engravings for Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Then there is the man playing it, a Lovecraftian tentacle horror identified with Davy Jones.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Rapunzel Untangled

The adjective used to title Walt Disney Animation’s 50th animated feature film could just as easily describe the circuitous route taken by the original story transcribed by the Brothers Grimm before it was rendered in 3D CGI. Rapunzel was first published in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales in 1812. Like my previous piece on Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, I’d like to reprint that story for you, with a few notes to follow. This translation from the original German was by Margaret Hunt, for the two-volume publication Grimm’s Household Tales in 1884.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Spectatorship and Experientialism in Disneyland: Rethinking "Story"

The bread-and-butter of much discussion throughout the Disneysphere is the perceived decline of Imagineering and the attractions it creates. Many of these focus on the question of licensed works as opposed to original concepts, having observed a decided lack of modern classics in the vein of a Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion or Journey into Imagination. Most seem to be running statistical tallies on the number of thrill rides or E-tickets, shedding a tear over each new C-ticket attraction and Princess meet n' greet. Despite the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World being the best-attended theme park in the world, beating out Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure by more than 10 million visitors in 2013, well-intentioned fans are frantic over the need for a "Potter-Swatter" or Disney's need to step up to the plate when they already own the field. To put it in perspective, 10 million is a little more than the attendance of The Louvre in 2013, or the total number of visitors to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined.

Oddly absent is debate over the single most important dialectic problem in Imagineering design today... The problem cutting to the very heart of what a Disney theme park experience is, regardless of whether it is a ride or a meet n' greet, an E-Ticket or a nice bit of place-making, a true themed-park or simply an amusement park encrusted with diverse franchises. It is often mistaken for being the debate between "story" and "theme" but it runs even deeper than that. It reflects the very nature of how a guest subjectively determines the success or failure of an attraction. That problem is the issue of spectatorship versus experientialism.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Form and Content in Disneyland

It likely goes without saying that an overabundant love of Disney and its parks are incomprehensible to most people. The majority of us have experiences of being looked at from down someone’s nose as they mutter something about us going to a Disney park (again) or, in my case, proposing to my fiancée in one. Doubtless many of us are equally familiar with the self-appointed critics who live in a state of utter exasperation that anyone could like a Disney park when there are other amusement parks with newer, larger, and more expensive rides out there.


"Totally Lame."

"That horse isn't even a 3D projection! Way to drop the ball, Disney!"

As incomprehensible and exasperating as our love for Disney may be to them, the inverse is often a more vexing problem to the mouse-eared faithful. What is wrong with these people who don't love Disneyland? Why don't they "get it"? It doesn't help that this “it” that other people don't get is very difficult for Disney fans to explain. More often than not, it devolves into platitudes about Disney's special "magic", how it is the "happiest place on earth" and where "dreams come true"... All the advertising slogans invented by the company marketeers.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Disney Runs Away With the Circus

On the dustjacket of their impressive tome Walt Disney's Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Theme Park, Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon reiterate one of the "primal myths" of Disneyland’s origins: “Fifty years ago, Walt Disney utterly transformed the concept of outdoor entertainment venues from tawdry carnivals and seedy amusement piers called ‘amusement parks,’ to an entirely new destination that would come into common vernacular as the ‘theme park.’” When the Imagineers of today added a new area to Walt Disney World's Fantasyland based on the circus – ostensibly the most “tawdry” of American amusements that are legal in most States – it certainly raised some eyebrows and some ire. How could they so betray the spirit of Walt Disney himself by including an area themed to the very thing he tried to get away from?

For as brilliant and creative as they are, I think one always has to take what Imagineers say with a grain of salt. For example, when they are criticized for poor artistic choices, they frequently dust off the thought-terminating cliche that “Disneyland is not a museum.” Nevertheless, when Walt explained what Disneyland was, he had this to say (emphasis mine):
The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another’s company; a place for teachers and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education. Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see and understand. Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world. Disneyland will be sometimes a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic. It will be filled with accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make these wonders part of our own lives.
Oh, sometimes Disneyland is a museum. Walt did a brisk business in nostalgia, and the very first incarnation of Disneyland was very much the sort of thing we would recognize today as a “living history museum” or “historical village.” In 1951, Walt intended to build a quaint historical village in a parcel of land adjacent to his studios in Burbank, where today one finds the headquarters of ABC and Walt Disney Animation. The following rough blueprint was sketched by Harper Goff, showing the intended attractions in this “Mickey Mouse Park.”
You may have noticed the paddlewheeler plying a man-made river, a hub-like town square, a boating canal, a steam train, and other features that would work their way into the park that would come to be built in Anaheim. But what is that in the left-hand corner? Could it be? Yes... A circus!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Walt Disney and the Triumph of Corporate Synergy

A visit to any given Disney fan forum will often suss out complaints about how talentless and corporate Disneyland has become. Every new "kiddie ride" and attraction based on a hip current franchise rather than an original concept brings it out, as does every new Starbucks that opens in a Disney Park. I'm not immune to it myself, since I could certainly do without Tomorrowland being reduced to a Universal Studios-style patchwork of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. However, the oddest tack taken by these complaints is that "it weren't always that way"... The false impression that this sort of activity is something new. While the pain of its obviousness may have gotten worse over time, there is no greater example of corporate synergy than Disneyland itself. I'm sure we all know the story of Disneyland's growth from a tiny historical village adjacent to the Burbank studios to the Magic Kingdom in an Anaheim orange grove. In order to gain the necessary funding to pursue this vision, Walt and Roy were forced to cut a deal with ABC to provide them with a television program. That program was... Disneyland. Let's grab our copies of Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA (or do a quick search on YouTube) and take an hour to go back in time to watch that first episode from October 27, 1954.

"The Disneyland Story" a fascinating program to watch for many reasons. For one, it demonstrates that Disneyland is not just a theme park, but a conceptual space. Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Main Street USA are not just places but states of mind. The theme park itself reinforces and is reinforced by presentations on the Disneyland program that embody each of these conceptual spaces. Though I am speaking of it in terms closer to cultural studies and art critical theory, make no mistake about what this is from the other side of the ledger: a multiplatform, multimedia brand.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Perrault's Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

With the excitement over the upcoming revisionist fairy tale Maleficent, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the original story published by Charles Perrault in 1697, with just a bit of commentary at the end. Most of us are familiar with the first half of the story, in which the princess (who is nameless in this version) is cursed by the aged fairy and slumbers for a century before being awoken by her predestined prince. This translation from the original French was by Charles Welsh, for the publication of The Tales of Mother Goose in 1901. I've also included the illustrations by the unparalleled French engraver Gustave Doré, published in 1867.
Once upon a time there was a king and a queen, who were very sorry that they had no children,—so sorry that it cannot be told. At last, however, the Queen had a daughter.  
There was a very fine christening; and the Princess had for her godmothers all the fairies they could find in the whole kingdom (there were seven of them), so that every one of them might confer a gift upon her, as was the custom of fairies in those days. By this means the Princess had all the perfections imaginable. 
After the christening was over, the company returned to the King's palace, where was prepared a great feast for the fairies. There was placed before every one of them a magnificent cover with a case of massive gold, wherein were a spoon, and a knife and fork, all of pure gold set with diamonds and rubies. But as they were all sitting down at table they saw a very old fairy come into the hall. She had not been invited, because for more than fifty years she had not been out of a certain tower, and she was believed to be either dead or enchanted. 
The King ordered her a cover, but he could not give her a case of gold as the others had, because seven only had been made for the seven fairies. The old fairy fancied she was slighted, and muttered threats between her teeth. One of the young fairies who sat near heard her, and, judging that she might give the little Princess some unlucky gift, hid herself behind the curtains as soon as they left the table. She hoped that she might speak last and undo as much as she could the evil which the old fairy might do. 
In the meanwhile all the fairies began to give their gifts to the Princess. The youngest gave her for her gift that she should be the most beautiful person in the world; the next, that she should have the wit of an angel; the third, that she should be able to do everything she did gracefully; the fourth, that she should dance perfectly; the fifth, that she should sing like a nightingale; and the sixth, that she should play all kinds of musical instruments to the fullest perfection. 
The old fairy's turn coming next, her head shaking more with spite than with age, she said that the Princess should pierce her hand with a spindle and die of the wound. This terrible gift made the whole company tremble, and everybody fell a-crying. 
At this very instant the young fairy came from behind the curtains and said these words in a loud voice:— 
"Assure yourselves, O King and Queen, that your daughter shall not die of this disaster. It is true, I have no power to undo entirely what my elder has done. The Princess shall indeed pierce her hand with a spindle; but, instead of dying, she shall only fall into a deep sleep, which shall last a hundred years, at the end of which a king's son shall come and awake her." 
The King, to avoid the misfortune foretold by the old fairy, issued orders forbidding any one, on pain of death, to spin with a distaff and spindle, or to have a spindle in his house. About fifteen or sixteen years after, the King and Queen being absent at one of their country villas, the young Princess was one day running up and down the palace; she went from room to room, and at last she came into a little garret on the top of the tower, where a good old woman, alone, was spinning with her spindle. This good woman had never heard of the King's orders against spindles.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

48 Hours in New Orleans

Disney fans are familiar with New Orleans Square and the Haunted Mansion, the Port Orleans resorts at Walt Disney World, and the tailor-made animated feature The Princess and the Frog. How do these idealized visions of the Crescent City match up to the real thing on the banks of the Mississippi?

In preparation for our upcoming honeymoon at Walt Disney World, where we will be staying at the Port Orleans French Quarter, I decided to do some research for the sake of context. One wonderful video I came across was 48 Hours in New Orleans, a promotional co-production of Discover America and The Independent. Guide Simon Calder takes us on a whirlwind tour of New Orleans' highlights, including the French Quarter and Garden District, the best restaurants and places to stay, and out of the city and into the bayou and Oak Alley Plantation (which served as a backdrop to Interview With the Vampire). As a tourism feature, it is also good preparation if you ever choose to see the real thing that inspired Disney.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Story of the Petrified Tree

On the shores of the Rivers of America in Disneyland USA is one of the park's most interesting, unsung attractions. Virtually every Disney fan who knows of the existence of the Petrified Tree knows the story of how it arrived in the Happiest Place on Earth: how Walt bought it for Lillian as a birthday present because it was filled with opal and how she donated it to the park. What is the story of this natural marvel before it got to Disneyland? How did it form and what do we know of the environment when it lived millions of years ago?

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A Visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum

Anything with the name Disney attached to it invites the image of the multimedia conglomerate with its chains of theme parks, cross-platform franchises and intermittently successful tentpole films. It is an industry, an empire in full expansion mode swallowing up every available license like a neighbouring Gallic province. As shareholders look to the bottom line of immediate returns and go about laying off its creative producers, it can be increasingly difficult to see Disney’s output as a work of art. There are even pressures within the Disney fan community to stifle you from looking at it in that way. Any artistic criticism - in the proper academic sense of the term as the rational evaluation of art - is frequently shouted down with endless thought-terminating clichés like “Disneyland is not a museum” or assertions that one should embrace the Disney “magic” without thinking too hard about the product’s integrity.

One of the beautiful things about the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio is that it gives the individual some space to consider these questions. After all, it is a museum. As a museum, it is a place for contemplation of the life and work of not only Walt Disney, but the legion of artists he brought together like Mary Blair and Ub Iwerks. It allows the visitor to examine both the technical craft as well as the visual artistry, in an environment that is itself incredibly well designed.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Songs from the Tiki Room - The Hawaiian War Chant

The gods have been angered by all this celebratin'!

Since opening in 1963, the Hawaiian War Chant has served as the dramatic climax of the Enchanted Tiki Room show. Tikis start chanting, drums start beating, orchids start howling, and the pace quickens and quickens until thunder sounds to silence the cacophony. With the exception of the title song, the Enchanted Tiki Room utilizes many pieces of music that were at least known, if not popular, when it opened. For example, when it came time to tighten the show for the demands of modern, harried audiences, it was a piece by Romantic classical composer Jacques Offenbach that was excised. Thankfully the Hawaiian War Chant remains!

It is said that the original version of the song was written by Prince Leleiohoku II of Hawaii's royal family. Though he passed away in 1877 at the age of 23 of rheumatic fever, he wrote countless songs based on the folk melodies of the islands. In its original form, Hawaiian War Chant was called Kāua I Ka Huahua'i or We Two in the Spray, and it was not a war chant at all. The original lyrics describe e a clandestine meeting between two lovers...
You and I in the spray
Such joy, the two of us together
Embracing tightly in the coolness
Breathing deep of the palai fern

Oh, such spray
My desire
Don't linger
Lest we be found
I loved you
Your warmth
Calmed passion
Preventing thought

The Cowel Glee Club recorded the original version in 1911 for Columbia Records, but the more renowned version was first played by Big Band leader Johnny Noble in the Thirties. Looking for new numbers for his band's performances in the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach, he reworked Kāua I Ka Huahua'i into the up-tempo Jazz piece we know today.

Tommy Dorsey and his Big Band brought it off the beach and into America's homes through his 1938 recording for Victor Records. His band went on to perform it in the 1942 film Ship Ahoy, and from there is took off into popular culture. While the Disney company and Disney fans today tend to take a more insular view of Disneyland, I don't think it can really be overstated how responsive the first generation of Imagineers were to pop-culture and popular films around them. They were themselves impressionable young men in the Thirties, Forties and early Fifties, and pop-culture beyond Disney's own products provided the common vocabulary with which they connected to the dreams of the American public. The vision of Main Street USA was formed less by Walt's boyhood experiences in Marceline, Missouri, as it was by films like The Gay Nineties (1933 and 1942), Mae West's Belle of the Nineties (1934) and She Done Him Wrong (1933), and Abbott and Costello's The Naughty Nineties (1945). Though named for Mark Twain, it is no accident that this paddlewheel steamship was christened by one of the chief actresses of the 1936 version of Show Boat. The Jungle Cruise is known to have been based loosely on the 1951 film African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and Harper Goff directly lifted his designs for the saloon in the 1953 musical Calamity Jane when creating the Golden Horseshoe. The Enchanted Tiki Room was itself a response to the post-war Tiki fad, and when they went about selecting music for it, they climaxed with an old standard: The Hawaiian War Chant.

The hotter-than-hot version of Hawaiian War Chant performed by the Tommy Dorsey Band for Ship Ahoy.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Maleficent and Once Upon a Dream

Yesterday Disney plastered social media with the new trailer for the forthcoming Maleficent, featuring a cover of "Once Upon a Dream" by Lana Del Rey. Here it is...

When I saw it I have to admit that I laughed, since I'd been waiting for the part where the two armies charge at each other and the big CGI monsters toss around the little CGI humans. On the one hand I love Sleeping Beauty, which is my favourite fairy tale of all time (to the point of our going to the real castle in France which inspired it), and I love Maleficent, who is one of Disney's most stunning character designs. On the other hand this is such a transparent attempt to mimic the success of Wicked while at the same time divesting it of anything that makes Wicked so good and transplanting it with all the tropes common to Alice the Great and Powerful Giant-Killer and the Huntsman: Witch Hunters of the Rings. It's got a good song though!

"Once Upon a Dream" is familiar to fans of Disney's 1959 animated version of Sleeping Beauty, but like the entire soundtrack, it was adapted by George Bruns from the original Tchaikovsky ballet. The tune we know as "Once Upon a Dream" is actually the "Garland Waltz" from Act 1, which opens the ballet. If you'd like a bit of cute overload to begin your week, the following video is the Academy of Russian Ballet's performance of the waltz for the Youth America Grand Prix...

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Story of Pele - Part 2

Though Pele longed for her lost love Lohiau, who loved her but ultimately rejected her uncontrollable temper, she met her match in Kamapua'a.

Carving of Kamapua'a.
Collection of the Baily House Museum, Maui.

Born to his mother Hina and father Kahiki-ula, and is considered an incarnate form of Lono, the god of rain and agriculture. He grew up as a trickster by necessity, given that he was a man-pig. Despite being a useful labourer for his brothers and mother, his nature as a pig resulted in his constantly being hunted by Chief Olopana of the island of O'ahu. Kamapua'a evaded him for a very long time, using his powers to turn himself into a tiny piglet in a sow's litter to grass and trees. Olopana wasn't totally to blame though: Kamapua'a was stealing and eating his chickens. Eventually, Kamapua'a killed Olopana himself and swam across the ocean in the form of the humuhumunukunukuapua'a fish (which is Hawaii's official state fish). He came ashore in Tahiti and proceeded to marry the daughters of the local chief there.

One fateful night, however, the fires of Pele summon Kamapua'a back to Hawaii. Assuming fish form once again, he swam back to the island and came to this intriguing new paramour. Though he assumed human shape to woo her, Pele could see through this to his pig form and began to mock him. They engaged in a war of bitter quips that enflamed to torrents of lava and ash being hurled at Kamapua'a. Thankfully his younger sister was born as a rain cloud and could subdue the pyroclastic fury. As they continued to fight, a grudging respect was born that developed into unquenchable passion. Pele and Kamapua'a succumbed to one another. For days. Awkwardly, Pele's brothers and sisters comment on her shameful behavior, which causes them to call a truce to their... activities... and share a meal. In the process they divide up the big island of Hawaii: Pele receives the regions of Puna, Kona, and Ka'u, which are the most volcanically active areas of the island. Kamapua'a receives Hilo, Hamakua, and Kohala, which are verdant rainforests.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Story of Pele - Part 1

It was like gazing at the sun at noon-day, except that the glare was not quite so white. At unequal distances all around the shores of the lake were nearly white-hot chimneys or hollow drums of lava, four or five feet high, and up through them were bursting gorgeous sprays of lava-gouts and gem spangles, some white, some red and some golden--a ceaseless bombardment, and one that fascinated the eye with its unapproachable splendor. The mere distant jets, sparkling up through an intervening gossamer veil of vapor, seemed miles away; and the further the curving ranks of fiery fountains receded, the more fairy-like and beautiful they appeared.
These words, written by the great American novelist Mark Twain in his book Roughing It, describe Halema'uma'u crater on Kilauea. This pit of lava is within the summit caldera of Kilauea, reaching a further 270 feet below the floor of the main crater. It is a circle roughly 2.5 by 2.9 thousand feet across, constantly belching sulphurous gasses and stony projectiles. The Hawiian Volcano Observatory on the rim of Kilauea, which is now within Hawaiian Volcanos National Park, has declared Halema'uma'u "very active" and suspended all hiking trails, roadways and overlooks to the site. Through 2008, a series of eruption events forced the evacuation of the National Park, and it remains a volatile crater to this day. Halema'uma'u is also the seat of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of Fire and Volcanos, and she is angry.

Halema'uma'u crater, Kilauea. Photo: Tim Bray.