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Marvelous Mechanized Magic Kingdom revealed what it was really like to work for Walt

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Marvelous Mechanized Magic Kingdom revealed what it was really like to work for Walt

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You don't normally find alligators lurking inside of the Disneyland Hotel.


Photo by Jim Hill

Or - for that matter - PeopleMover cars parked just outside of this hotel's Grand Ballroom.


Photo by Jim Hill

But - then again - this past Saturday night wasn't exactly your average night at the Disneyland Hotel. Given that theme park fans from all over the country had crowded into the Grand Ballroom so that they could then be on hand for the 1313 Club & Ape Pen Publishing's Marvelous Mechanized Magic Kingdom event.

Things got off to an energetic start with a performance by the Can Can Girls from Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Revue.


Photo by Jim Hill

Then self-proclaimeed theme park geek Neil Patrick Harris took the stage. He quickly established his Disney dweeb credentials with this crowd by admitting " ... You know those Disney theme park history DVDs? I bought about 40 of those before they became highly litigious."


Photo by Jim Hill

Harris did what he could to keep the evening's program moving along at a good clip. Which proved to be something of a challenge when Disney Legend Bob Gurr made his entrance by rolling onstage aboard the world's smallest & slowest monorail.


Photo by Jim Hill

Bob then apologized for his somewhat underwhelming entrance but explained that what this under-sized, under-powered monorail lacked in speed, it made up for with on-board amenities. Which meant that - if you opened up the secret compartment in this monorail's control panel - it then dispensed Bombay Sapphire Martinis.


Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of the Monorail ... Rudy Pena (who was one of the charter members of MAPO, that division of WED that built all of the Audio-Animatronic humans, animals and dinosaurs for the 1964 / '65 New York World's Fair) told this great story about how the Abraham Lincoln figure -- which had just been installed in Disneyland's Main Street Opera House - had begun acting up. Rudy and his crew frantically searched for what might be causing Abe to go ape. Eventually, they realized that it was Disneyland's monorail that was causing the problem. Every time this Tomorrowland Transportation system left the station, it would send a surge through this theme park's power supply, scrambling Lincoln's circuit. Once this issue was dealt with, Anaheim's Abraham then started working like a champ.


Photo by Jim Hill

To hear Pena tell the tale, there was a lot of trial & error back in the WED / MAPO days. Take - for example - what happened with that Audio-Animatronic robin that Julie Andrews sang to during "A Spoonful of Sugar" in Mary Poppins. Rudy was the Imagineer who'd been assigned to ride herd on this mechanical bird, should anything go wrong during the shooting of this Walt Disney Productions musical. It took upwards of 3 hours to get Ms. Andrews properly made up & wired up for this portion of that musical number as the power & control chords for this AA figure had to be run up Julie's legs and under her costume so that they wouldn't be seen on camera . Well, you can imagine what happened when there was a short circuit. Ms. Andrews involuntarily jerked and sent that delicate little mechanical bird flying.


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This was a constant refrain at the Marvelous Mechanized Magic Kingdom event; that the original Imagineers may have not known what they were doing and - consequently - made lots & lots & lots of mistakes ...


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But because of Walt's personal belief in this incredibly talented group of artists and animators, they always went on to achieve the seemingly impossible. Using space-age technology to bring much-beloved characters like Mickey Mouse ...


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... or original characters (like this bear one-man-band that Marc Davis drew back in the 1960s.  This was one of the many sketches that that Disney Legend did as he was developing "Country Bear Jamboree")


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... to create these truly entertaining rides, shows and attractions for the Disney Parks & Resorts.

And this tradition continues with "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure." During his portion of Saturday night's event, Larry Nikolai (i.e. Senior Conceptual Designer at Walt Disney Imagineering) talked about how WDI had asked Glen Keane for his opinion on the Ariel AA figure they had designed for this new dark ride. This master animator looked over the Imagineer's sculpt of his character and then gave them a detailed series of notes & drawings about how they could tweak the AA figure. The Imagineers followed Keane's suggestion. And - as a direct result - the Ariel who'll appear in DCA & WDW's Magic Kingdom's "Little Mermaid" attraction will look like she swam straight off the screen.


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In short, this was a night of wonders. With peeks behind the scenes at Garner Holt Productions back when they were working on Disneyland's Haunted Mansion Holiday ...


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... as well as the AA Jack Skellingtons that would appear in the Tokyo Disneyland versions of this holiday overlay.


Copyright Garner Holt Productions Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, it ain't all pixie dust and singing mice. In one of the true highlights of the evening, Darrin Hughes (one of the most prolific and influential animatronic figure programmers working in the themed entertainment industry today) had the audience rolling on the floor as he talked about what it was really like to go to the field and program AA figures. Working conditions sometimes included fierce winds, torrential rains and four-inch-long cockroaches and - in other cases - featured a working area that was so tight that he and his team had to turn a wheelchair into a mobile animation desk.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To be honest, today's article is little more than a highlight reel for Saturday night's event at the Disneyland Hotel. There were so many terrific speakers who shared stories about people that they knew and projects that they worked on that the Marvelous Mechanized Magic Kingdom event (which was supposed to have ended at 10 p.m.) didn't actually come to a close 'til after 11 p.m.


Photo by Jim Hill

So what did attendees come away with from this Club 1313 & Ape Pen Publishing event? Well, I'll let Disney Legend (and JHM favorite) Floyd Norman have the final word. During his portion of the night's program, Floyd talked about what it was like to be on the Disney Lot as they were building the AA figures for the 1964 / '65 New York Worlds Fair. Where there were full-sized dinosaurs being constructed on Soundstage 1, the AA figures for Carousel of Progress being built on Soundstage 2 and that mechanical Abraham Lincoln being tinkered with back in the Studio's machine shop.


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"Being there on the Lot as Walt helped invent this whole new technology, it truly felt like you were in a Wonderland," Norman said.


Photo by Jim Hill

And for a few hours this past Saturday night, those of us who were in the Grand Ballroom at that hotel got a little taste of what it was like to work with Walt in this Wonderland. And it was a pretty sweet experience.

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  • I flew out to California from Texas just to attend this event, and it was worth it. What an amazing evening it was! I got the chance to talk to X Atencio and Bob Gurr, which alone was worth the price of admission. The presentations and panels were all great. I cant recall an evening when I have had so much fun. Thanks, Jim, for posting the information on this event a few weeks back. I would have never known about it if I had not read about it on your site.

  • I agree with Don's comment. I was given the privilege of displaying my special effects (Ghost Bride and Decapitated Dans barbershop quartet) and was so, completely blown away to hear X Atencio and Bob Gurr complement them. After all, it was their early work that inspired me.

  • They could have chosen a better host than Neil Patrick Harris, surely. Why not Floyd Norman? He's certainly personable, knowledgable and a heck of a lot less controversial. But all that aside, the evening looked like it was spectacular. I wish Jim would devote a few pages to events such as this, that many can't attend (I had planned to, but have been laid up with a sprained ankle) and give us more pictures and perhaps a full transcript. It's info like this that makes this site worth visiting.

  • Don, I'm jealous!  I live in Austin and thought about heading to CA for the event and just didn't have the cash on hand to do it!  I'm glad you could make it.

  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: dismarks.com/.../Marvelous_Mechanized_Magic_Kingdom_revealed_what_it_was_really_like_to_work_for_Walt

  • "Sweet" was the word for it! Thanks for the great write-up!

  • I gotta agree, this was an amazing event and well worth flying out for.  So many great stories and got to meet some great people along the way!

  • Good heavens, what's controversial about Neil Patrick Harris??

  • I second that, Neal Patrick Harris is as controversial as a walk in park.

  • I was very excited to work on the designs for this event. I unfortunately was unable to make it to the event, but it looks like everyone had a good time! Now if I could just get my hands on one of those little booklets for my portfolio.

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