Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Story of Hina Kuluua

Outside the Enchanted Tiki Room, Hina Kuluua and Tangaroa-Ru work together to shower refreshing rain on the Edenic lanai. The plaque beside her attributes the happiness of the garden to her, for it is her mists that make orchids boom and rainbows shimmer. Her ability to do that, however, does not have so happy a story behind it.

The story of Hina Kuluua is bound with that of her mother, sisters and brothers. The greatest of her brothers is Maui, the same Maui who conquered the sun. Their mother is Hina, and of her sisters, the most relevant in Hina Keahi. The latter Hina is a goddess of fire and it was one of her exploits that led a jealous and haughty Hina Kaluua to her end. Their exploits were centred around the area known today as Rainbow Falls and the city of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. In the native tongue, the river feeding Rainbow Falls is called the "Wailuku," which means "Destroying Waters." As melting snow from the peaks of Mauna Kea and precipitation from the lush woodlands of Mauna Loa rush down to the sea, they whip up into such a torrent that rocks and trees can be pulled from their moorings and sent out to sea. In the airy cave behind the falls, Hina was said to have her home.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo, Hawaii. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

What the New Epcot Needs

At the recent Destination D convention, Disney Parks CEO Bob Chapek confirmed that the beleaguered Epcot would be undergoing the same massive revitalization process enjoyed by California Adventure, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland, and to a certain extent, Animal Kingdom. Imagineers have been instructed to "dream big" in these initial blue sky planning sessions, stating that it would be both "more Disney, timeless, relevant, and family friendly" while at the same time staying true to Epcot's original theme of education. 

Epcot, originally known as EPCOT Center, has long been a trouble spot for Walt Disney World. Designed as a permanent world's fair of culture and technology, it has faced the ongoing struggle to remain abreast of technological developments while suffering managerial ennui. Anyone who has been paying attention to Epcot's status in the last few years might even bristle at the statement that it needs "more Disney" or to be more "relevant" and "family friendly"... Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros may be my favourite current attraction in Epcot, but Frozen Ever After was a controversial addition to Norway and rumours have a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction planned for the future. In the wake of our honeymoon in WDW, we had to admit that we loved World Showcase but found Future World uninspiring to say the least.

Besides the shortsightedness of merely injecting franchises into the park to spike merchandise sales and cross-promote feature films, which is an interior challenge of managerial will, Epcot's biggest external challenge has been the rapid rate of technological advancement since 1982. Most of us go through two or more versions of a smartphone before Imagineering can run a new attraction through the planning and building process. That problem shows no signs of diminishing any time soon, which is why the best course for Epcot may be to circumvent it altogether by slightly altering the theme of Future World. That alteration, if I may be so bold, is to evolve beyond the theme of technological progress to feature scientific discovery in general. 

That slight alteration can expand the subject matter of possible attractions, unshackle them from keeping pace with new technology, and present a more unified theme for the entire park. The new Epcot could move forward as celebration of human accomplishment in the arts and sciences, a testament to the diversity of cultures, histories, and peoples in a multicultural, globalized society and the ongoing improvement of our lives through scientific discovery and technological development. It would present, in an entertaining and picturesque format, a comprehensive story about our "Spaceship Earth," its place in the cosmos, the people who live on it, and the forces shaping our modern world. Epcot could become a place that helps us to better understand quantum mechanics, theoretical astrophysics, and one another. It would be, as I said, a celebration of human diversity, curiousity, and ingenuity. In this respect, it could mirror Animal Kingdom, which already celebrates natural and culture heritage with a wide range of natural and cultural attractions.

Lots of people will come up with specific attraction ideas, and I'm no different.  Personally, I would appreciate a new version of Spaceship Earth that diminishes the Eurocentric, Post-Enlightenment biases of the original to include aspects of traditional Indigenous ways of sharing knowledge, thus presenting a more nuanced view that challenges guests with a broader view of the human story. Mission: Space could stay, but Communicore West could certainly be useful for an exhibit on space exploration with participation from NASA, the Smithsonian, Chinese National Space Administration, Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or whoever. What about a new version of Adventure Thru Inner Space in Communicore East, talking about quantum mechanics? What about replacing the Universe of Energy with a more full-bodied and educational attraction about prehistory, including the creation of the Earth and the development of life, with a segment on the future, climate change, and the importance of allowing Earth's natural cycles to continue unhindered by human activity? How about kicking out Nemo and getting back to SeaBase Alpha? Disneynature seems like a more valid franchise to tie into Epcot than Pixar or Marvel. And what about adding a few more countries to World Showcase, especially non-European ones? I assume a new Journey into Imagination is a given. It's always worth remembering, though, that the idle speculations of us armchair Imagineers has nothing to do with the considerations that actual Imagineers have to make.

Such is my idle speculation, but I would be happy with Imagineers first taking a program in STEAM studies - Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math - and expanding Epcot to that celebration of human diversity, curiousity, and ingenuity in scientific progress and global cultures. That, I think, is more important than any particular widgets, geegaws, or recognizable movie characters, which is the atomistic thinking that got Spaceship Earth a giant wand and Hollywood Studios a giant hat, and got Animal Kingdom stuck with Avatar. It would become, and should become, the fundamental guiding principle of any development in Epcot. For this to turn out well, Epcot needs to have a good, solid, defined purpose and I can't think of a better one than to celebrate the story of humankind and its place in the cosmos.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

100 Disneyland Delights

Last weekend, the excellent Disneyland Dilettante blog celebrated the milestone of 100 posts. If you haven't been reading it, you really should check it out!

To celebrate, the Dilettante herself posted her "100 Disneyland Delights"... The simple things that she loves about visiting the Happiest Place on Earth. After exhorting her readers to give their own (and doing so), it inspired me to account for a full 100 of the little things, the simple things, perhaps the atypical things, that I love so much about Disneyland. These are in no particular order, and some of them might brand me as "THAT GUY! You're that kind of person who does that annoying thing!" but it is my (and partly Ashley's) list nonetheless.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Is Tiki "Cultural Appropriation"?

Short of the annual controversies over what are and are not appropriate Halloween costumes, there are perhaps few better candidates for accusations of "cultural appropriation" than Tiki culture. Today, Tiki is mostly a nostalgic niche interest, as evidenced by Disney's creation of Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar. Tiki bars are becoming increasingly numerous across the world, but have yet to enjoy the same cultural penetration that they did in the mid-century. Rather than an example of a vibrant, vital wind of Tiki blowing through society, Trader Sam's is a deliberate thematic element in their retro-Fifties refit of the Disneyland Hotel. Its thatched roof is only a stone's throw from a replica of the theme park's original sign from 1958. The origins of that mid-century milieu - of Tiki bars, tropical drinks, exotic Jazz, and "Polynesian Pop" - are shrouded in the ambiguities of colonial exploitation, tropical fantasy, artistic inspiration, and tasteless kitsch. Tiki culture grew out of America's relationship with Hawaii and the South Pacific, which was alternately a theatre of imperial occupation and deep cultural fascination. With that in mind, Tiki becomes an interesting laboratory to examine where the line is to be drawn between appropriation, appreciation, and acculturation.

Unlike my previous articles delving into potentially controversial subjects - Feminism and the Disney Princesses and Tropes vs. Men in Disney - where I refrained from tackling the thorny issues of feminist theory in-and-of-itself, the discussion over whether Tiki is cultural appropriation requires an examination of cultural appropriation theory. Much of the question over whether Tiki is appropriate hinges on whether cultural appropriation theory is actually valid.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Before Moana and the Enchanted Tiki Room: the Romance of Hawaii in the Golden Age of Travel

Tiki culture was largely a product of post-World War II leisure society, when soldiers who served in the Pacific returned home to build and benefit from an unparalleled economic boom. With more money and more time off than their parents could have dreamed of, reminiscing of faraway beaches and palm trees, Americans took to the road during ever lengthening vacation days while building oases for themselves at home during the off-season. Advances in transportation could bring them virtually anywhere, whether by America's developing system of highways (and old favourite byways like Route 66) or the flyways of the new Jet Age. With Cuba off-limits, an exotic, tropical destination was placed right on Americans' doorstep when Hawaii joined the Union in 1959. The fad for anything and everything evoking Polynesia, Oceania, even Africa and the Caribbean, exploded like an atom bomb, from Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room to Martin Denny's smooth Jazz to the ubiquitous at-home Tiki bar.

Americans had already been primed by Polynesian exotica for several decades before WWII. The roots of Tiki culture are found deep in the DNA of America's relationship with the Pacific, in the very first "exotic" bars that would become Tiki pioneers, in lavish Hollywood musicals, and in radio programs broadcast from the ballrooms of Hawaii's most glamorous hotels. Even Mickey Mouse took a Hawaiian Holiday in 1937, in Disney's first film distributed by RKO.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Walt's Era - Part 8: Disney's Greatest Year? (1954-1955)

What is Disney's greatest year?

Is it the year that they put out their best work? Their largest volume of work? Drew the biggest profits? Made the most arbitrary and shortsighted IP acquisitions? Is it even possible to measure such a thing as a "greatest year," or is it even necessary?

My own an emphatic answer to that original question is mid-1954 to the end of 1955. I'm measuring years the same way Disneyland does.

What Disney did on the big screen that year was substantive enough, including THE MIGHTIEST MOTION PICTURE OF THEM ALL. This period includes some of my personal favourite Disney films, having begun with The Vanishing Prairie (which I covered in our last installment). What really mattered, though, was what Disney was doing on the small screen and in a former Anaheim orange grove.

Building on the experience of The Reluctant Dragon and One Hour in WonderlandWalt Disney's Disneyland debuted on October 17, 1954. The introductory episode was pitch-perfect, introducing both Disneyland the show and introducing Disneyland the park as a shared conceptual space, tying them both together with Disney's feature films into a complete brand package. Walt makes his advertising pitch very entertaining, and follows it up with a quaint Mickey Mouse retrospective that really imbues him with character even as he is on the cusp of transitioning to full-time corporate icon (much like Walt himself). The remainder of the season is astonishing in its breadth and entertainment value: Alice in WonderlandSo Dear to My Heart, The Three Caballeros, The Wind in the WillowsTreasure Island, two behind-the-scenes advertisements for True-Life Adventure features, multiple veiled "advertainments" for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Lady and the Tramp, two theme park progress reports, Man in Space, From Aesop to Hans Christian Andersen, a Donald Duck anthology, and all three episodes of Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, all culminating in the opening of Disneyland on July 17, 1955. For sheer entertainment and for hungry fans of Disney company history, this first season is pure gold. It's a shame that it has never been released on home video in its original broadcast version.

Photo: Disney.

On October 3, 1955, Disney took over the airwaves again with the debut of The Mickey Mouse Club. The last Mickey Mouse cartoon was The Simple Things, released in April of 1953. His star had been eclipsed by Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, and Chip and Dale. New characters had also emerged, like Humphrey the Bear and Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore, who were introduced by Donald in 1954 and starred in two shorts of their own in 1956. They were so prominent that they also featured in The Mickey Mouse Club's opening fanfare. Mickey was settling nicely into his new role as a mascot. The mouse ears sported by the Mouseketeers would become the must-buy souvenir at Disneyland.

Oh yeah, Disneyland opened too.

There isn't much that I need to say about the opening of Disneyland. By now, people should have known that when Walt Disney set his mind to something, he would tenaciously make it work.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Story of Aladdin; or, The Wonderful Lamp

Where the story of Aladdin comes from is not known with any great certainty. One of the most popular tales from what are known variously as the One Thousand and One Nights, 1001 Arabian Nights, The Arabian Nights, or The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, it wasn’t included in the collection until a French edition translated by Antoine Galland in 1710. In fact, a number of the most popular and famous stories from One Thousand and One Nights, including Ali Baba and Sindbad, were not part of the original collection.

In its original shape, One Thousand and One Nights is a flexible anthology of Middle Eastern folk tales collected during the Islamic Golden Age. Between the 8th and 13th centuries CE, the Islamic world went through a period of tremendous cultural, scientific, and artistic advancement. This period was fluid, acting, reacting, and interacting with a variety of cultures. The preservation of Greek writings by Eastern Christianity and Christianity’s invention of concepts like the hospital and university helped develop the framework of the Islamic Golden Age, and extensive trade brought knowledge and ideas from the corners of Africa, India, and Asia. Knowledge also worked its way through the Middle East to these regions and to Europe, reintroducing Western Christianity to Greek philosophy. The story of Aladdin reflects this by making Aladdin himself a Chinese man (despite his distinctly Arabian name meaning "nobility of faith" or "faithful" and being specifically identified as a "Mussulman," which is an archaic term for Muslim) and the evil magician from North Africa. In the world of the original teller of the story, whoever that may be, those would have been farthest Western and Eastern reaches of the Earth.

Among the things imported from India and Persia were a group of stories collected and translated into Arabic as The Thousand Nights. This formed the nucleus around which The One Thousand and One Nights accumulated.  The oldest known fragment of the text dates to the 9th century, and the earliest reference to it in another text dates to the 12th. The variable number of stories included in The One Thousand and One Nights were all linked by the framing story of a jilted Sultan who executed his wife for her infidelity. Each evening he would take a new wife, and each morning thereafter have her executed before she could betray him. The last was Scheherazade, who preserved her life by telling the Sultan a fragment of a story each night, leaving him too curious about what happens next to have her executed. After her last story ended on the 1001st night, the Sultan had a change of heart and they both lived on in marital bliss.

The first European translation of The One Thousand and One Nights began in 1704 from the pen of Antoine Galland, a French archaeologist and scholar on the Middle East. Besides translating extant copies of the original story, he took it upon himself to add other folktales he had come across in his journeys. He did not have to travel very far to find the story of Aladdin: according to his own account, he heard it in Paris from a Christian monk visiting from Aleppo, Syria. No known Arabic original of Aladdin's story exists, and scholars are divided over whether it is an authentic Middle Eastern tale or whether Galland made it up. It is known that he adapted his translation to the tastes of the time and the vogue for fairy tales that were increasing in popularity. Later translations by the likes of Sir Richard Burton reintegrated the more questionable and erotic passages excised by Galland. Left in Galland's version were the attitudes towards race prevalent at his time.

The following translation and abbreviation of Galland was by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Smith for a 1909 edition of The Arabian Nights: Their Best-Known Tales. Acknowledging that "It would be a delightful task to any boy or girl to begin at the beginning and read the first English version of these famous stories, made from the collection of M. Galland, Professor of Arabic in the Royal College of Paris" they are still forced to admit that "We, like many other editors, have shortened the stories here and there, omitting some of the tedious repetitions that crept in from time to time when Arabian story-tellers were adding to the text to suit their purposes."

Even with these edits, the story of Aladdin is still a brisk 31,400 words. I've posted it here in its entirety, so buckle in and keep your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the carpet at all times...