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Why For?

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First off, BurgerBoy sends in an e-mail to ask:

Dear Jim -

What with all this talk of "Chicken Little" being Disney's first CG feature, I'm a little confused. Wasn't "Dinosaur" Disney's first CG animated feature? I mean, I know that movie was bad. But it was only released back in 2000. How is it that everyone could have forgotten about this Disney film already?


Dear BurgerBoy -

Well, what you have to understand about "Chicken Little" is that it's Disney Feature Animation's first totally CG feature. Both its animation as well as the film's backgrounds. Whereas "Dinosaur" ...


One of the things that people seem to have forgotten about this June 2000 Walt Disney Pictures release (Which -- by the way -- is a lot better film than perhaps you remember, BurgerBoy. I just caught "Dinosaur" on the Disney Channel a week or so back. It was the first time that I'd actually seen this feature in a couple of years. And I was genuinely surprised by how entertaining this flick was. I remember being somewhat disappointed when I first saw this film, hoping that Disney might be able to out-Pixar Pixar. But -- taken on its own merits -- "Dinosaur" is a lot of fun. Give this movie another shot sometime in the future, BurgerBoy. You too may be pleasantly surprised. Anyway ...) is that the Mouse wanted to do something really different with this film. To make sure that Disney's CG projects didn't look like everyone else's CG project.

So Disney's solution was to shoot live action background plates for "Dinosaur." So that the film's CG prehistoric creatures would come across as that much more lifelike looking because the backgrounds that they were standing in front of or moving through were actually real.

So, with this goal in mind, Disney Feature Animation sent two different film crews. One unit flew to exotic places like Hawaii, Western Samoa, Australia, Venezuela and Jordan and shot stuff. While the other "Dinosaur" units stayed in the United States and shot potential background footage in Central Florida, the Mojave Desert as well as at the Los Angeles Arboretum.

Speaking of the Los Angeles Arboretum ... there's actually a pretty funny story associated with the live action footage that was shot for "Dinosaur" in the LA area. You see, in order to get all the explosions and fireballs just right for the movie's big meteor sequence, the special effects folks at the Walt Disney Company bought up an awful lot of black powder.

How much black powder? So much so that -- one day in 1999 -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms actually turned up at the Burbank Studio. It seemed that these government officials were really kind of concerned about what Mickey Mouse might be doing with all that explosive. Could it be that the Walt Disney Company was planning some sort of revolution?

However, once the FX guys were able to prove that all of that black powder was actually being used right there in Burbank to simulate meteor strikes, the feds relaxed.

Anywho ... getting back to your original question, BurgerBoy. That's the reason that most folks in the industry really don't consider "Dinosaur" to be Walt Disney Feature Animation's first CG feature. Because of all of those live action background plates that were used in the picture.

Mind you, the Mouse wasn't the only company who was determined to do something different with their CG films. Remind me sometime to tell you the story of Dreamworks' original plans for "Shrek." Back when all the actors doing on that computer animated feature were going to have their physical performances recreated via motion capture. And -- as for "Shrek"'s sets -- those were all going to be stylized miniatures. Similar to all the settings you see in those Rankin-Bass holiday specials.

But -- as I said earlier -- that's a story for another time.

Next up, wdwmaniac writes in to ask:

What would happened if Sony's succeeds in purchasing MGM? Will Disney lose the Disney/MGM studios name? Also would it be plausible for Disney to buy MGM studios? As a way to bulk up in size?


For those of you who don't know what wdwmaniac is talking about, let me give you a little background: Earlier this week, word began flying around Hollywood that the Sony Corporation has allegedly made an offer to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. for approximately $5 billion.

This deal (which is reportedly several weeks away from being finalized) would then fold the 4000 plus films that are in MGM's library in with all of the titles that Sony Pictures Entertainment already owns.

As to the impact that this possible Sony/MGM deal might have on the Disney-MGM Studio theme park, wdwmaniac, I'm guess that there'd be little or no fall-out on the Disney side of the fence -- should this deal actually go down. After all, Kirk Kerkorian -- the gentleman who owns 74% of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. -- has already gone on record as saying that he has no absolutely non intention of ever extending Disney's rights to use the MGM name. So -- sometime over the next few years -- the MGM name is going to come off of that Central Florida theme park.

Why for? Well, mostly because Kerkorian's people reportedly still have dreams of building a bunch of MGM theme parks of their very own. Sure, that MGM theme park that Kirk had built as part of his massive Las Vegas casino crashed and burned back in the 1990s. But doesn't mean that this extremely stubborn billionaire has actually given up on the idea yet. As recently as last week, I heard that yet another MGM theme park may already be in the works. But -- as to what impact the Sony acquisition may possibly have on this project -- I really can't say.

Anyway ... getting back to your original question, wdwmaniac: I guess we're all just going to have to face facts. Sometime over the next couple of years, Disney-MGM Studios theme park is going to undergo a name change. As I understand it, the most likely new moniker for this Central Florida theme park will be "Walt Disney Studios" or "Disney Studios Florida."

Though perhaps the more interesting question would be: Given that both "The Great Movie Ride" as well as the "Magic of Disney Animation" attraction are both expected to undergo significant change-outs sometime between now and 2009 (Disney-MGM's 20th anniversary) ... never mind the name change ... what will this theme park look like over the next few years? Will we even be able to recognize the place? Or is this once-a-beautiful-little-gem-of-a-theme-park just going to become a sea of giant Mickey hats?

Okay. Moving on now. Over on the JimHillMedia.com discussion boards, Aloric -- on the heels of my "Who's Gonna Save SaveDisney.com" article -- posted this somewhat caustic comment:

Welp.. Jim is wrong as usual..

wdwinfo.com ranks a bit higher than mouseplanet.com -- but taking the few minutes to actually research the topic is apparently too difficult.

Devil is in the details Jim and everyone is getting sick of you not bothering to fact check. Way to pseudo-report again.

Well, Aloric may be kind of rude. But he is actually right. According to the info I just accessed from Alexa.com, wdwinfo.com does indeed have a slightly higher traffic level (placing 42,935 out of the top 100,000 sites on the web) than MousePlanet.com does (which -- as I mentioned in my original article -- places at 46,675 out of the top 100,000).

So let me first offer my sincere apologies to all the nice people over at wdwinfo.com. Honestly, no slight was intended by my accidentally overlooking your website as part of this week's "Who's Gonna Save SaveDiseny.com" article. I'm genuinely sorry if anyone's noses got bent by my awarding the Net's top ranking for a Disneyana site to my old pals over at MousePlanet.

But the fact of the matter is ... I really didn't take wdwinfo.com into consideration while I was writing Thursday's article. You see, I tend to think of wdwinfo.com as a vacation planning site. A place where I go on the Web if I'm looking for up-to-date information about what's open and closed at Disney World. So that I can have the best possible WDW vacation experience whenever I'm heading down to Orlando.

If -- on the other hand -- I'm looking for news about what's going on with the Walt Disney Company as a whole, I would (most likely) overlook wdwinfo.com and then head on over to a Disney news site like LaughingPlace.com, MousePlanet.com, Miceage.com or MouseInfo.com. Websites that don't just specialize in thoroughly covering one single theme park or resort. But -- rather -- make an attempt to cover all aspects of the Walt Disney Company.

Which is where (at least from Aloric's point of view, anyway) I went wrong with Thursday's story. If I had said that I was comparing the traffic that SaveDisney.com (which -- if you'll notice -- attempts each day to keep its readers up-to-date about what's wrong with the various divisions of the Walt Disney Company over the past 24 hours) receives to other Disney NEWS websites, perhaps then Aloric wouldn't have been so quick to find fault with my article.

But -- on the other hand -- given that Aloric seems to find fault with virtually everything that I write, I guess I should really count my blessings here. After all, if he only found that single thing wrong with my "Who's Gonna Save SaveDisney.com" article ... well, I must be doing something right.

Seriously, though: I am sorry if anyone's feeling were hurt over at wdwinfo.com. As is obvious by all the traffic you guys get over there, it's obvious that you do a truly terrific job with your website. So kudos all around, okay?

Okay. That's enough fence mending for now. Before we button up this week's "Why For," let's see if we can sneak in just one more question from PinkMonkey, who writes to ask:

I enjoyed your article last week about the "Brother Bear" attraction that the Imagineers are supposedly thinking of adding to Epcot's Canada pavilion. Do you think that -- if this attraction is successful -- that Disney will then consider adding rides and shows to any of the other international pavilions in World Showcase?

Dear PinkMonkey -

Well, it's not like the Imagineers haven't tried to add rides and attractions to Epcot's World Showcase before. How many of you recall the Mount Fuji / Fire Mountain coaster that was supposed to be built behind the Japanese pavilion back in the late 1980s / early 1990s? Or -- for that matter -- the new Swiss pavilion (which was supposed to be built -- appropriately enough -- between the World Showcase versions of Germany and Italy) which would have featured a clone of Disneyland's Matterhorn thrill ride as its centerpiece attraction?

For over 20 years now, the Imagineers have known that Epcot's World Showcase has been long on restaurants and shops and light on rides and shows. Which is why -- every time some nation talks about coming on board at Epcot -- one of the first things that WDI says is "Can we get a ride out of that country' history and heritage?"

Frankly, PinkMonkey, you'd be amazed at some of the stuff that's ALMOST made it off the drawing board. Like Epcot's Denmark pavilion (which was to have been built between World Showcase's U.K. and Canada pavilion) was to have featured a gentle outdoor boat ride. Which would have taken Epcot visitors on a voyage past many of the great pieces of architecture in Europe and Asia. Only done in miniature and made out of Legos.

Yeah, now that there's actually a LegoLand theme park here in the U.S., I know that this ride ride sounds somewhat unlikely. But you have to understand that this addition to Epcot was proposed back in the late 1980s / early 1990s.

In fact, some of you may have actually gotten to see WDI's model for Epcot's proposed Denmark pavilion. It was one of the pieces of that "Architecture of Reassurance" exhibit that traveled around the country a few years back. I distinctly remember -- when I was touring this exhibit during its stop in Washington D.C. -- looking at that model and marveling at the tiny little boats and buildings that the Imagineers had carved out of green foam.

Yeah, I would imagine that -- provided that this "Brother Bear" raft ride is a success -- that the Imagineers will then turn their attention to adding even more rides and attractions to Epcot's World Showcase area. After all, they're running out of things to upgrade and improve over in Future World.

I mean, think about it, folks. Is there a pavilion left in Epcot's Future World that hasn't already undergone some sort of significant makeover in the past 10 years? Okay. Maybe Spaceship Earth. But then you have to remember that the Imagineers have the whole "TimeRacers" attraction ready to go into the Geosphere. Provided -- of course -- that Disney can come up with a new corporate sponsor for this Future World attraction to help foot what-is-sure-to-be the enormous costs of rehabbing that attraction.

Yes, Epcot's Future World has received the bulk of the Imagineers' attention for the past 10 years. Now it's World Showcase's turn to shine. So -- if that means a few new rides and shows for that part of the theem park -- I say: go for it.

Speaking of bulk, did you see that picture that Doobie Moseley posted over at LaughingPlace.com on Wednesday, which showed how the "Soarin'" show building really is looming up behind Epcot's Canada pavilion? Spoiling the effect on that side of the park.

When you see a photo like that (nice picture, by the way, Doobie), you can understand why WDI is so determined to do something about preventing that piece of Future World from bleeding into World Showcase. Here's hoping that Epcot's proposed "Brother Bear" raft ride clears all of its budgetary hurdles and actually makes it off the drawing board and into that theme park sometime soon.

Okay. That's enough questions answered for this week. Here's hoping that you all have a great weekend. And we'll see you all again -- bright and early -- Monday morning, okay?


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