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Ears to You ! New audio tour will make "Behind the Magic" even more magical

Ears to You ! New audio tour will make "Behind the Magic" even more magical

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During his life, Walt Disney coined a term called "plussing,"  taking something good and making it better. It's a lesson that the folks at the Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich., took to heart for an exhibit that honors Disney and the Anaheim theme park he built.

Within the next few weeks, an audio tour will be added to the "Behind the Magic: 50 Years of Disneyland," a traveling exhibit currently at The Oakland Museum of California through Aug. 20. For more information, call the museum at (510) 238-2200 or visit www.museumca.org. The audio tour is included in the admission price.

It supplements the exhibit with about 45 minutes of material, including interviews with Imagineering design legends Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Tony Baxter, senior show writer Pam Fisher and Matt McKim, son of Imagineer Sam McKim.

These creative geniuses are just a few of the talented people behind some of the world's most-beloved theme park attractions, from the original Autopia and Jungle Cruise in 1955 to this summer's revamp to Disneyland's beloved Pirates of the Caribbean.

"We weren't sure about the audio tour at first," said Donna R. Braden, the lead experience developer for the Henry Ford. "My image was a bunch of people by themselves, nobody talking to one another. But what we added are stops where people are encouraged to listen to the material and then talk about it."

Braden said she and others took notice of places that museum guests seemed to quickly pass by when the exhibit opened last year in Dearborn. She used this knowledge in picking some of the 25 or so audio stops. At these stops, patrons will lift a small device to their ear and learn some interesting story about the artifact on display. This set-up isn't as isolating as earphones.

"There are a few areas where it seems like a sea of art. The audio adds a real nice cohesion and continuity to the show and provides some clarity as to why some things are there and how the pieces relate to one another," Braden said.

Tim Halbur of "Antenna Audio" in San Francisco conducted the interviews during a memorable visit to Imagineering headquarters in Glendale.

"What impressed me was how everyone kept talking about Walt Disney's vision and concepts for the park," Halbur said. "Take Tomorrowland for example, Walt was very optimistic about the future and technology. He wanted people to visit Disneyland and envision what could be."

Like the overall exhibit, the audio tour is family friendly -- with a couple of stops designed specifically with children in mind. In "What it's like to be an Imagineer," Sklar and Gurr talk about all the various disciplines involved in creating the magic of a theme park attraction.

"One of our original goals was to inspire young people. To let them know you can have a career doing this type of creative work," Braden said.

Another spot sure to delight children and adults alike offers a lesson in how to talk like a pirate, she added. "It's fun."

There's an audio stop at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair Mr. Lincoln figure and deeper background on the Audio-Animatronic console and how it works. Another stop covers some of the artifacts on display from The Haunted Mansion, including the stretch paintings, a concept by Disney animator and Imagineer Marc Davis.

In a bit designed to encourage Disneyland visits later this summer, Sklar talks about the "plussing" currently under way to bring the film characters of Capt. Jack Sparrow, Barbarosa and Davy Jones into Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in New Orlean's Square. The attraction's reopening will coincide with this summer's theatrical release of "Pirates of the Caribbean II," starring Johnny Depp.

Braden's delighted with the audio tour and thinks that guests to "Behind the Magic" will enjoy it as well.

 "Anytime an Imagineer speaks it's a treasure," she said. "I've learned things I've never read or heard in all my research for the exhibit. It's great to hear this stuff from the people who were there ... including some who worked directly with Walt Disney."

Leo N. Holzer can be reached at [email protected].