Okay. So we now all know that Steve Jobs, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull are officially riding to the Walt Disney Company's rescue. But what does the Disney / Pixar merger actually mean? Will the Disney theme parks now be over-run with Pixar characters?
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Well, not exactly. But what this does mean is that -- from here on in -- we're probably going to be seeing a lot more impressive attractions being added to the Disney theme parks. At least that's the word coming from all the Imagineers who heard John Lasseter speak during his first official visit to their Glendale headquarters last Wednesday. During this talk, WDI's new Principal Creative Advisor reportedly told everyone within earshot that " ... the Walt Disney Company isn't going to make any more mediocre attractions." Which (I'm guessing here) means that we've seen our last "Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train."
Of course, one wonders where Jay Rasulo now fits into this new (Disney) world order. As the newly appointed Chairman of Parks & Resorts, Rasulo's main job was to keep cost down. Pull even more profits out of the Disney theme parks by pushing the clone agenda (I.E.: Why spend money developing new rides & shows when it's just as easy -- and, more importantly, more cost-effective -- to clone pre-existing attractions?).
But now here's John Lasseter. A man whose WDI battle cry isn't clones or cost containment. But -- rather -- quality. That the Disney theme parks have to return to their tradition of innovation & quality. And given that Lasseter doesn't actually have to report to Rasulo (Under the terms of the Disney / Pixar merger agreement, John only reports to one man. And that's Disney's CEO, Bob Iger) ... One wonders what Jay is thinking right now? Will he be the next Disney exec to pull a David Stainton (I.E. The former head of Disney Feature Animation who stepped down on the very day that the Pixar acquisition was officially announced. The way I hear it, Stainton was smart enough to recognize that it's far better to willingly climb down into the lifeboat than to suddenly be heaved over the side)?
Anyway ... One wonders who else is feeling nervous at WDI these days? Imagineering president Don Goodman, executive vice president Tom Fitzgerald and/or vice chairman Marty Sklar? Surely this trio -- which rode herd on WDI this past decade as it slowly drifted toward becoming a management company that out-sources all creative projects -- will feel some heat when Mr. Lasseter starts asking those really difficult questions. Like: "How could you let construction of DCA and Walt Disney Studios go forward? Theme parks that you knew were fatally flawed right from the get-go? Why didn't one of you stand up and say 'This isn't going to work? We need to fix this before construction gets underway. Not after we throw open the gates and charge the public to come inside'? "
Mind you, I've heard that Tony Baxter, WDI's senior VP of design, may be safe. Mostly because Tony was smart enough to reach out on his own and forge his own relationship with the artists and technicians at Pixar prior to this merger. Of course, the fact that Mr. Baxter is currently riding herd on Disneyland's "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage" attraction doesn't exactly hurt Tony's chances of staying on either.
Speaking of the "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage" ride ... Some Disneyland guests reportedly got a surprise late last year when they strolled into Tomorrowland early one morning. Right after that theme park had opened for the day.
"What exactly did they see?," you ask. Well, there -- sticking up over the construction wall that surrounds the old Submarine Voyage lagoon -- were two seagulls from "Finding Nemo." You know, the ones who continually cried "Mine! Mine! Mine!" in that motion picture?
Anywho ... I'm told that the sculpting of these two test figures was particular impressive. But what really amused those early morning Tomorrowland visitors was when someone down in the still-dry lagoon accidentally hit the wrong switch. And then suddenly these two robotic seagulls began moving. More importantly, they began loudly squawking "Mine! Mine! Mine!"
Evidently, what had happened is that the Imagineers had brought the two seagull figures into Disneyland to do a little after-hours testing. To see if it would be really annoying for theme park guests walking through this area to continually hear these robotic birds start squawking "Mine! Mine! Mine!" everytime a new submarine started sailing around the lagoon.
While, prior to the first guests being allowed into the park that day, this "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage" sound test was supposedly completed and the seagulls were then shut off. But then -- by accident -- these robotic birds suddenly got turned back on right after rope drop.
Evidently, after 20 minutes of repeatedly shouting "Mine! Mine! Mine!," the "Finding Nemo" seagulls were suddenly silenced and then quickly pulled out of sight. Those folks who actually saw these figures in action said that they were a great coming attraction for the "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage" attraction. Which (just so you know) still isn't due to officially set sail 'til the late Spring of 2007.
Speaking of Pixar-related coming attractions ... As of this moment, WDI actually has a significant number of Pixar-related projects currently in the works. Beyond the obvious stuff (I.E. The "Finding Nemo" -based retheming of Epcot's "The Living Seas" pavilion), these projects reportedly include:
There's also supposedly a lot of Pixar-related blue sky stuff out there too:
But -- as of this moment -- all of these projects are currently on hold.
"Why on hold?," you query. Well, getting back to Mr. Lasseter ... Given that John has reportedly proclaimed that WDI has produced its very last mediocre attraction, everyone at WDI is now revisiting the plans for these proposed Pixar-based attractions. To see if there are any ways that they can make these still-in-the-planning rides & shows seem even snazzier.
Speaking of WDI trying to make things even better ... Do you remember that story I did last Friday as part of my latest "Why For" column? You know, the one where I talked about those shipping crates that are stacked next to Min & Bill's Dockside Diner? And what a clever job the Imagineers had done with this particular piece of theming at Disney-MGM?
Well, as it turns out, the story here is even more involved than I originally thought. Here -- courtesy of MiceAge columnist Ian Parkinson -- are some shots of these packing crates as they appeared back in 2001.
Photo by Ian Parkinson
Please note that -- while these crates do feature some movie-themed addresses (EX: A bicycle that's being sent to a Miss Dorothy Gale in Kansas ...
... as well as some camel saddles that are being shipped to a Mr. "T. E. Lawrence." Who's evidently based in Arabia) -- some of these gags are kind of obscure.
I mean, who but the most dedicated film-and/or-history-buff is going to realize that "T.E. Lawrence" is actually a reference to that classic Peter O'Toole motion picture, "Lawrence of Arabia"? Or that -- by putting Dorothy Gale, Kansas and a bicycle (As in: Mrs. Gulch's bicycle) in close proximity -- that people were automatically supposed to make the cognitive leap to "The Wizard of Oz"?
Sooo ... When it finally came time to redo these movie-themed packing crates in 2001, the Imagineers decided to make things a little easier for Disney-MGM visitors. They did so by making the film references displayed on these boxes a lot more obvious. As in this particular crate, which is clearly intended to remind you of that Frank Capra classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" ...
Photo by Robert Bish
... Or how about this one? Which (to be honest) gives away far too much about the main plot point of Orson Welles' cinematic masterwork, "Citizen Kane."
But do you know what I like best about this next generation of shipping crates? How deep the in-jokes here go. By that I mean: As part of last week's "Why For" column, I mentioned that both the "Casablanca" -themed box as well as the "Gone with the Wind" -themed crate both featured veiled references (in their return addresses) to each of those film's directors. Which were -- respectively -- Michael Curtiz and Victor Fleming.
But let's take another at that box that's addressed to Scarlett O'Hara? Do you notice anything strange about that particular street address?
121539 Mitchell Lane. That address is actually a two-fer. It references the day that "Gone with the Wind" had its world premiere at the Loew's Grand Theatre in Atlanta (December 15, 1939) as well as the author of the novel on which this Academy Award winning films was based, Margaret Mitchell.
And as for that "Casablanca" -themed crate. Let's take another look at the shipping address on that box, shall we? Particularly the street address of Rick's Cafe Americain. Which reads 112642 Rue Renault.
That address is also a two-fer. It references both "Casablanca" 's opening night (This Humphrey Bogart film premiered in NYC on November 26, 1942) as well as the character that Claude Rains played in the picture, French Police Capt. Louis Renault.
Speaking of things that you'd expect to find on the side on a trunk (A word of warning: The following may be the most labored transition ever attempted in the history of the English language) ... You know who has a cute trunk?
Photo by Florence Lange
Nadirah, the newest member of DAK's herd of elephants. Nadirah (which means "rare" or "precious gift" in Swahili) was born back on December 19th. Weighing 233 pounds at birth, she can now sometimes be seen with her mom, Donna, wandering through "Kilimanjaro Safari" 's elephant enclosure.
Anyway ... I just thought that I'd share this photo with all you Disneyana fans out there. To remind you that there's more to do at Disney's Animal Kingdom these days than just ride "Expedition Everest." Like -- for example -- taking a look at all of the real animals that you'll find inside of that theme park.
Sooo ... What do you think of this new JHM column? You like? More importantly, would you enjoy seeing something like this posted every Monday here at JHM? If so, let me know, okay?
Your thoughts?P.S.EXTRA ADDED BONUS CONTENT! Arguably, no one artist had as much impact on the look & design of Disney's animated features of the 1940s & 1950s as the late Mary Blair did. Her bold use of color & keen sense of composition influenced such films as "Saludos Amigos," "The Three Caballeros," "Make Mine Music," "So Dear to My Heart," "Melody Time," "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan." Even today, on CG projects like "Chicken Little," Mary's work continues to inspire the next generation of Disney filmmakers. Suggesting dramatic new ways to color & light scenes.Which is why I think that it's great that Steve Worth -- the director of ASIFA-Hollywood's Animation Archive project -- has recently scanned in some illustrations for a Little Golden Book that Ms.Blair illustrated back in the 1950s,"Little Verses." Allowing us all a glimpse of her non-animation related work.If you're as big a fan of Mary's artistry as I am, I'm sure that you'll be charmed by the selection of images Steve chose to digitize. And while you're over at www.animationarchive.org, be sure and do a little poking around. Check out all the other great stuff that Mr. Worth has stashed away here.Better yet, why don't you just go ahead and bookmark the animation archive site? Make a point of regularly checking out this website.After all, the animation archive is a truly worthwhile organization, folks. Steve and his crew are doing some really important work when it comes to preserving film history. Which is why I think that it's important that animation fans have to continue to support the archive project. Either by making donations and/or helping out with the on-going scanning project.Okay. I'm getting off my soapbox now. But be sure and go check all of that great Mary Blair stuff that Steve scanned in, okay?.Later,j