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I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you …

With so many great new rides and shows coming to the Disney and Universal theme parks this year, Jim decided to take a look back at one of the parks’ newer offerings, revealing many secrets behind — and inside — Universal Studios Florida’s “Men in Black: Alien Attack” attraction.



We got so much great mail from you folks last week that “Jimmy Neutron’s NickToon Blast” article. People writing in just to tell us how refreshing it was to have a site that usually just reports about the Walt Disney Company saying such nice things about an attraction at a competing theme park.

Well, we really try to stay balanced here at So when the Mouse and/or Universal does something right, we like to report that. Conversely, when Universal Studios or the Walt Disney Company does something stupid … well, the crew at JHM isn’t happy to report something like that. But we at least attempt not to needlessly bash that project.

And Universal Studios … well, those theme parks are really on a hot streak. First with “Jimmy” opening down in Florida. And now with “Shrek 4D” in previews in Hollywood. (I’m told that this new 3D movie will finally officially open to the public out West over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. The Orlando version? I keep hearing talk of an opening date of June 12th or thereabouts.) And then — what with the “Mummy” coaster opening up at both stateside Universal parks by Summer of 2004 — well … the Imagineers are really going to have their work cut out for them now through next year. Trying to figure out a way to top the crew over at Universal Creative.

But — in my rush to praise the projects that Universal Creative is rushing to get ready to open and/or still has in the pipeline — let’s not forget the attraction that signaled the renaissance of the Universal Studios theme park chain. Industry experts have called it the best new theme park attraction to be built in North America in the past five years. A cutting edge mix of dark ride and shooting gallery. Hundreds of thousands of people have rolled through the thing in the past year, then raced around to the entrance, eager for their next chance to sample its high tech thrills.

Which ride am I talking about? Universal Studios Florida’s highly acclaimed “Men in Black: Alien Attack.”

By now, I’m sure that thousands of you have already ridden this USF favorite dozens of times. But how well do you really know this attraction? Are you aware of the layer upon layer of in-jokes that Universal Creative’s designers managed to cram into this show?

Better still, how about the numerous gags and cool special effects that the ride’s design team wanted to put in the show — only to have USF management balk at the proposed scope or cost of what they were trying to do? Well, let me clue you in on the 10 best in-jokes and behind-the-scenes stories associated with this radical ride.

1) Where have I seen those posters before?

You’re outside of the “Men in Black” show building, slowly making your way through the exterior queue. As the line plods toward the entrance, you keep passing these stylized posters that look very familiar.

Why do they look so familiar? Because “Men in Black: Alien Attack” design team wanted them to look familiar. The posters outside the show building are actually affectionate ripoffs/tributes to posters that were done for Disneyland attractions back in the late 1950s. Don’t believe me? Then take another look at that poster for the Sky Lounge. Doesn’t that look an awful lot like the poster Walt had made up for the Skyway back in 1956?

Better still, how about that poster for “The Universe and You?” Disneyland history fans may recall an early Tomorrowland attraction called “Space Station X-1.” The poster that promotes “The Universe and You” attraction deliberately apes the graphic look and layout of that classic Disneyland poster.

And speaking of familiar things …

2) What’s the deal with the music in “Men in Black”‘s fake pre-show area? I know that I’ve heard that stuff somewhere before …

No you haven’t. This is another of Universal Creative’s affectionate jabs at Disneyland. The music you’re hearing is a deliberate pastiche/parody of the music WED house composer Buddy Baker wrote for Tomorrowland back in the 1950s. To capture just the right hokey-but-optimistic tone, the lead designer on this USF project actually recruited one of Buddy’s protégés — a kid who was then just a student at Cal Arts — to write a Baker-esque underscore for this part of the attraction. This guy delivered an authentic sounding anthem in the Buddy Baker tradition, which lulls guests into a false sense of security …

Which is why Universal Studios Florida guests always seem so surprised when the music abruptly stops and the voice of Agent Zed (Rip Torn) urges them to hurry into the interior queue of the ride …

But — before we get all the way into the show building — let’s discuss the pre-show you almost got to see.

3) “Leaving on a Jet Plane … “

Had the “Men in Black” design team gotten their way, USF guests wouldn’t have been queuing up outside a retro-futuristic show building that borrowed elements from the 1964 World’s Fair, Dodgers Stadium, and the St. Louis Arch. Instead, these Universal Studios visitors would have been startled to find themselves back at Orlando International Airport.

Or at least a close approximation. Guest would have wandered into a look-alike terminal building, only to be directed to board one of those automated trams. You know, those monorail-like thingies that OIA uses to get its passengers out to the really remote gates at the airport?

Well, halfway to the gate, Zed’s voice would have come over the tram’s speakers and congratulated the new recruits for finding the proper shuttle to take them straight to MIB training headquarters. As the tram suddenly sped up, then dove deep into the earth under the airport, Zed would have been heard to say: “Hey, great idea disguising yourselves as tourists. Like we haven’t seen that one a million times before in this neck of the woods …”

Sounds like a really clever way to start the show, doesn’t it? Well, Universal management worried that this concept might be a little too clever. They worried that USF guests — particularly the park’s international visitors — wouldn’t get the joke. That these customers would just walk by the deliberately bland looking show building without stopping to sample the wonders to be found inside.

That’s why USF management insisted that the exterior of the “Men in Black” attraction prominently feature some sort of icon/artifact that was easily recognizable from the 1997 Columbia Pictures hit film. Which is why the outside of the “Alien Attack” show building is adorned with those flying-saucer shaped towers that played such an important part in the film’s finale.

Speaking of things that “Men in Black” designers *ALMOST* did …

4) Not that song! Anything but that song!

As perhaps the wickedest Disney in-joke of all, Universal Creative originally had another name in mind for the fake show that was supposedly being staged at the USF Expo Center. Rather than “The Universe and You,” the “Men in Black” design group had wanted to call the fake MIB show “It’s a Small Universe After All.”

Worse than that, the logo for the proposed parody attraction would have deliberately aped the look and style of the poster Disney used to promote “it’s a small world” at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. All in all, it would have added up to one killer joke on the Mouse.

But Universal’s lawyers were concerned that this Disney joke might be one Disney joke too many. Which is why they leaned on the crew at Universal Creative to drop this particular idea. But — if you yourself would like to see what the posters for the “It’s a Small Universe After All” show would have looked at — take a close look at the bulletin boards that you’ll see inside the coffee room on the MIB queue. You’ll find the concept art — partially obscured but still visible — pinned to one of the bulletin boards in that room.

As you continue to move along the queue, you’ll find a half-scale recreation of the more familiar sets from the “Men in Black” film: the immigration office. As the extraterrestrial twins work the controls that run the room’s massive main view screen, most USF guests are usually too dazzled to notice that this place seems oddly empty. As you might imagine, this is not what Universal Creative had originally intended this room to look like …

5) Dear Mom. Guess where I spent my break-time today?

If Universal management hadn’t kept shrinking the MIB budget, the immigration office area in this USF attraction would have been a real showplace for this show. It would been filled with dozens of audio-animatronic figures slaving away at their desks, typing up reports, answering phones. This place would have been a real flurry of activity.

But — as the budget kept creeping in — the team at Universal Creative felt it was more important that the attraction itself had lots of AA figures, rather than the show’s queue area. So a decision was made to put the absolute minimum of figures in the MIB pre-show. Which meant that — in the end — all that guests got to see were the worms hanging out in the coffee room and the twins working the view screen controls in the immigration office.

To the opening crew for USF’s “Men in Black: Alien Attack” attraction, this cut was particularly disappointing. They knew all about what Universal Creative had wanted to do in the immigration room, but ended up cutting due to financial considerations. Which is why these Universal Studios employees came up with a really intriguing way to help UC out.

At least for the first few months that the “MIB” attraction was open, these loyal USF cast members would take their breaks on stage — seated downstairs in the immigration office. They’d read, sit with their feet up on chairs, eat their lunches. Meanwhile, the folks walking through the overhead queue would look down at these folks, totally convinced that they were Disney-quality AA figures … until one of them got up and walk across the room.

Pretty wild, eh? And — speaking of wild — how about that MIB ride vehicle?

6) Maybe we can borrow a few cars from those nice Jonah Jameson fellow?

If Universal management had had its way, USF guests would have rolled through the “Men in Black: Alien Attack” show building aboard vehicles that would have been identical to the ones used in Islands of Adventure’s “Amazing Spiderman” attraction. After all, the company had spent millions developing that revolutionary new ride system. Plus the public really seemed to love the “Daily Bugle” SCOOP-mobiles. So why not get these vehicles into USF ASAP?

Well, there was just one slight problem with the SCOOP-mobiles. No one seated inside one of these smoothly swirling ride vehicles could ever seem to draw an accurate bead on any of the targets. To test this theory, the team from Universal Creative actually took over IOA’s “Amazing Spiderman” attraction late one night. They set up a few sample targets along the “Marvel Island” ride track.

And — even though these guys made multiple passes through the “Spiderman” show building and that they knew exactly where the robotic figures were hidden — none of the “MIB” design team was ever able to get a decent score on the test targets. The fluid swirling of these ride vehicles kept folks from getting an accurate bead on the targets. That’s when the crew from Universal Creative decided that the “Spiderman” SCOOP-mobiles just had too much movement to make a good “MIB” ride vehicle.

Mind you, these guys did eventually end up using a ride vehicle that had originally been designed for IOA to take guests through the “Men in Black: Alien Attack” show building. But which attraction did Universal Creative opt to “borrow” its ride vehicle from? Would you believe that kiddie favorite, “The Cat in the Hat?”

And speaking of kiddies …

7) Isn’t there someone missing from “MIB”‘s initial shooting gallery?

That’s right, folks. If you’ll remember back to this sequence in the original “Men in Black” movie, Agent Jay was the only recruit who opted to shoot sweet little Tiffany — that suspicious looking eight year old girl who was lugging some oversized science books through in a bad neighborhood at night. So why isn’t this could-be criminal cutie anywhere to be found in this otherwise exact recreation of this scene from the film?

One word explains it all: Columbine. After the infamous April 1999 shootings at the Littleton, CO. high school, Universal Creative no longer felt that it was funny for anyone to be taking a shot at a child. Even a pretend child. Which was why Tiffany ended up getting cut from this scene.

To compensate for the missing suspicious looking youngster, the “MIB” design team made sure the rest of the attraction was loaded with characters. Before you exit the ride, you’ll roll past over 120 AA figures. Among the most memorable are …

8) Hey, didn’t that guy win an Academy Award?

Keep your eyes peeled for a bearded guy who’s wearing a Jurassic Park baseball cap and reading a newspaper. Looks familiar, doesn’t he? He should. That’s “Men in Black” producer and noted filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Of course, Universal Creative couldn’t resist this opportunity to make a killer Dreamworks SKG joke. So if you shoot the Steven Spielberg figure, he lowers the newspaper to reveal a three-headed space monster. Not so coincidentally, Dreamworks SKG has three heads too: Academy Award-winning director Spielberg, former Disney Studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg, and music mogul David Geffen.

As your ride vehicle moves deeper into the pseudo-New York City setting, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the profusion of detail inside the “MIB” attraction.

9) What’s the deal with all the names on the store fronts?

Ah, if you’re a fan of movie and TV trivia, you’re going to absolutely love the interior of “Men in Black: Alien Attack.” There’s gag upon gag upon gag to be found here. Among the better ones are:

The “I.M. Hotep” Jewelry Store. Fans of Universal’s “The Mummy” movie might recognize this riff on that film’s undead title character, Im-Ho-Tep.

“Flaming Moe’s” Bar. Surely anyone who’s ever watched “The Simpsons” will recall the infamous episode where Homer invented a popular new drink — the Flaming Homer — only to have bartender Moe take credit for his creation.

Louie’s Taxi Service. Any fan of Nick at Night can recall the television show “Taxi,” where the not-so-lovable Louie DePlama (played by Danny Devito) rudely rode herd on all of his employees.

From this point, you eventually encounter the Big Bug. You blast your way to freedom and then …

10) Hey, wasn’t this attraction originally supposed to have 35 different endings?

That’s true, folks. You were originally supposed to see a video of Agent Jay (Will Smith) who would tell you if your score was poor, average or great. Your vehicle will then pull forward and — if your team did poorly — you would travel in silence and darkness back to the unload area.

If your team just did okay, this area would suddenly light up to reveal an alien AA coach figure — who then proceed to tell you what you’d done wrong during your trip through the attraction. In his best John Madden fashion, this figure would tell USF guests “You zigged when you should have zagged. You needed more hustle. But I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”

But if everyone riding in your “MIB” vehicle racked up really high scores, the area on the opposite side of this corridor would suddenly light up — revealing an alien tailor AA figure. This creature was supposedly be working on your “Men in Black” uniform, which the robotic figure promised “would be ready Tuesday.”

Pretty neat idea, huh? Thanks to the various things the Will Smith video could be programmed to say, plus all the multiple scenarios the alien coach and tailor AA figures could play out, USF’s “Men in Black: Alien Attack” attraction did indeed have 35 different endings.

Unfortunately, the people who performed poorly during their trip through “Alien Attack” complained bitterly that they got no interaction with AA figures before they exited the “MIB” ride. Which is why USF management eventually opted to reprogram the ending of the attraction. Which is why — no matter how poorly you do now — guests who ride through “Men in Black: Alien Attack” ride always get to see the AA alien coach before they climb out of their ride vehicles.

As for the AA tailor … only USF guests who racked up really high scores get to see this figure before they exit the “MIB” attraction.

The upside of this change: Everyone gets to see an AA figure before they exit the “MIB” ride now. The downside: This means that “Alien Attack” only features 15 – 20 different endings now. Which is kind of a shame, when you think about it.

Anyway … There you have it. The Top 10 secrets for Universal Studios Florida’s high popular “Men in Black: Alien Attack” attraction.

Of course, given that the nice folks at Universal Creative don’t want you JHM readers to go around blabbing about all this cool “Men in Black: Alien Attack” info you just learned about, I’m going to have to ask that you all stare into this neuralyzer that I’m holding in my hand and then …


… You won’t remember a single word you’ve read here.

Pretty neat trick, don’t you think?

(Special thanks to Agent Zed for sharing all those great USF “MIB” stories.)

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Seward Johnson bronzes add a surreal, artistic touch to NYC’s Garment District



Greetings from NYC. Nancy and I drove down from New
Hampshire yesterday because we'll be checking out
Disney Consumer Products' annual Holiday Showcase later today.

Anyway … After checking into our hotel (i.e., The Paul.
Which is located down in NYC's NoMad district), we decided to grab some dinner.
Which is how we wound up at the Melt Shop.

Photo by Jim Hill

Which is this restaurant that only sells grilled cheese sandwiches.
This comfort food was delicious, but kind of on the heavy side.

Photo by Jim Hill

Which is why — given that it was a beautiful summer night
— we'd then try and walk off our meals. We started our stroll down by the Empire
State Building

Photo by Jim Hill

… and eventually wound up just below Times
(right behind where the Waterford Crystal Times Square New
Year's Eve Ball
is kept).

Photo by Jim Hill

But you know what we discovered en route? Right in the heart
of Manhattan's Garment District
along Broadway between 36th and 41st? This incredibly cool series of life-like
and life-sized sculptures that Seward
Johnson has created

Photo by Jim Hill

And — yes — that is Abraham Lincoln (who seems to have
slipped out of WDW's Hall of Presidents when no one was looking and is now
leading tourists around Times Square). These 18 painted
bronze pieces (which were just installed late this past Sunday night / early
Monday morning) range from the surreal to the all-too-real.

Photo by Jim Hill

Some of these pieces look like typical New Yorkers. Like the
business woman planning out her day …

Photo by Jim Hill

… the postman delivering the mail …

Photo by Jim Hill

… the hot dog vendor working at his cart …

Photo by Jim Hill

Photo by Jim Hill

… the street musician playing for tourists …

Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention the tourists themselves.

Photo by Jim Hill

But right alongside the bronze businessmen …

Photo by Jim Hill

… and the tired grandmother hauling her groceries home …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there were also statues representing people who were
from out-of-town …

Photo by Jim Hill

… or — for that matter — out-of-time.

Photo by Jim Hill

These were the Seward Johnson pieces that genuinely beguiled. Famous impressionist paintings brought to life in three dimensions.

Note the out-of-period water bottle that some tourist left
behind. Photo by Jim Hill 

Some of them so lifelike that you actually had to pause for
a moment (especially as day gave way to night in the city) and say to yourself
"Is that one of the bronzes? Or just someone pretending to be one of these

Mind you, for those of you who aren't big fans of the
impressionists …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there's also an array of American icons. Among them
Marilyn Monroe …

Photo by Jim Hill

… and that farmer couple from Grant Wood's "American

Photo by Jim Hill

But for those of you who know your NYC history, it's hard to
beat that piece which recreates Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of V-J Day in Times Square.

Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, a 25-foot-tall version of this particular Seward
Johnson piece ( which — FYI — is entitled "Embracing Peace") will actually
be placed in Times Square for a few days on or around  August 14th to commemorate the 70th
anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day (V-J Day).

Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, if you'd like to check these Seward Johnson bronzes in
person (which — it should be noted — are part of the part of the Garment
District Alliance
's new public art offering) — you'd best schedule a trip to
the City sometime over the next three months. For these pieces will only be on
display now through September 15th. 

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Wondering what you should “Boldly Go” see at the movies next year? The 2015 Licensing Expo offers you some clues



Greeting from the 2015 Licensing Expo, which is being held
at the Mandalay Bay
Convention Center in Las

Photo by Jim Hill

I have to admit that I enjoy covering the Licensing Expo.
Mostly becomes it allows bloggers & entertainment writers like myself to
get a peek over the horizon. Scope out some of the major motion pictures &
TV shows that today's vertically integrated entertainment conglomerates
(Remember when these companies used to be called movie studios?) will be
sending our way over the next two years or so.

Photo by Jim Hill

Take — for example — all of "The Secret Life of
" banners that greeted Expo attendees as they made their way to the
show floor today. I actually got to see some footage from this new Illumination
production (which will hit theaters on July 8, 2016) the last time I was in Vegas. Which
was for CinemaCon back in April. And the five or so minutes of film that I viewed
suggested that "The Secret Life of Pets" will be a really funny
animated feature.

Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, Universal Pictures wanted to make sure that Expo
attendees remembered that there was another Illumination Entertainment production
coming-to-a-theater-near-them before "The Secret Life of Pets" (And
that's "Minions," the "Despicable Me" prequel. Which
premieres at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival next week but
won't be screened stateside 'til July 10th of this year). Which is why they had
three minions who were made entirely out of LEGOS loitering out in the lobby.

Photo by Jim Hill

And Warner Bros. — because they wanted "Batman v
Superman: Dawn of Justice
" to start trending on Twitter today — brought
the Batmobile to Las Vegas.

Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention full-sized macquettes of Batman, Superman and
Wonder Woman. Just so conventioneers could then see what these DC superheroes
would actually look like in this eagerly anticipated, March 25, 2016 release.

Photo by Jim Hill

That's the thing that can sometimes be a wee bit frustrating
about the Licensing Expo. It's all about delayed gratification. You'll come
around a corner and see this 100 foot-long ad for "The Peanuts Movie"
and think "Hey, that looks great. I want to see that Blue Sky Studios production
right now." It's only then that you notice the fine print and realize that
"The Peanuts Movie" doesn't actually open in theaters 'til November
6th of this year.

Photo by Jim Hill

And fan of Blue Sky's "Ice Age" film franchise are in for an even
longer wait. Given that the latest installment in that top grossing series
doesn't arrive in theaters 'til July
15, 2016.

Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, if you're one of those people who needs immediate
gratification when it comes to your entertainment, there was stuff like that to
be found at this year's Licensing Expo. Take — for example — how the WWE
booth was actually shaped like a wrestling ring. Which — I'm guessing — meant
that if the executives of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. didn't like
the offer that you were making, they were then allowed to toss you out over the
top rope, Royal Rumble-style.

Photo by Jim Hill

I also have to admit that — as a longtime Star Trek fan —
it was cool to see the enormous Starship Enterprise that hung in place over the
CBS booth. Not to mention getting a glimpse of the official Star Trek 50th
Anniversary logo.

Photo by Jim Hill

I was also pleased to see lots of activity in The Jim Henson
Company booth. Which suggests that JHC has actually finally carved out a
post-Muppets identity for itself.

Photo by Jim Hill

Likewise for all of us who were getting a little concerned
about DreamWorks Animation (what with all the layoffs & write-downs &
projects that were put into turnaround or outright cancelled last year), it was
nice to see that booth bustling.

Photo by Jim Hill

Every so often, you'd come across some people who were
promoting a movie that you weren't entirely sure that you actually wanted to
see (EX: "Angry Birds," which Sony Pictures Entertainment / Columbia
will be releasing to theaters on May 20, 2016). But then you remembered that Clay Kaytis
who's this hugely talented former Walt Disney Animation Studios animator — is
riding herd on "Angry Birds" with Fergal Reilly. And you'd think
"Well, if Clay's working on 'Angry Birds,' I'm sure this animated feature
will turn out fine."

Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, there were reminders at this year's Licensing Expo
of great animated features that we're never going to get to see now. I still
can't believe — especially after that brilliant proof-of-concept footage
popped up online last year — that Sony execs decided not to go forward
with  production
of Genndy Tartakovsky's
"Popeye" movie.  But that's the
cruel thing about the entertainment business, folks. It will sometime break
your heart.

Photo by Jim Hill

And make no mistake about this. The Licensing Expo is all
about business. That point was clearly driven home at this year's show when —
as you walked through the doors of the Mandalay
Bay Convention Center
— the first thing that you saw was the Hasbros Booth. Which was this gleaming,
sleek two story-tall affair full of people who were negotiating deals &
signing contracts for all of the would-be summer blockbusters that have already
announced release dates for 2019 & beyond.

Photo by Jim Hill

"But what about The Walt Disney Company?," you
ask. "Weren't they represented on the show floor at this year's Licensing
Expo?" Not really, not. I mean, sure. There were a few companies there hyping
Disney-related products. Take — for example — the Disney Wikkeez people.

Photo by Jim Hill

I'm assuming that some Disney Consumer Products exec is
hoping that Wikkeez will eventually become the new Tsum Tsum. But to be blunt,
these little hard plastic figures don't seem to have the same huggable charm
that those stackable plush do. But I've been wrong before. So let's see what
happens with Disney Wikkeez once they start showing up on the shelves of the
Company's North American retail partners.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of Disney's retail partners … They were
meeting with Mouse House executives behind closed doors one floor down from the
official show floor for this year's Licensing Expo.

Photo by Jim Hill

And the theme for this year's invitation-only Disney shindig? "Timeless
Stories" involving the Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm brands that
would then appeal to "tomorrow's consumer."

Photo by Jim Hill

And just to sort of hammer home the idea that Disney is no
longer the Company which cornered the market when it comes to little girls
(i.e., its Disney Princess and Disney Fairies franchises), check out this
wall-sized Star Wars-related image that DCP put up just outside of one of its
many private meeting rooms. "See?," this carefully crafted photo
screams. "It isn't just little boys who want to wield the Force. Little
girls also want to grow up and be Lords of the Sith."

Photo by Jim Hill

One final, kind-of-ironic note: According to this banner,
Paramount Pictures will be releasing a movie called "Amusement Park"
to theaters sometime in 2017.  

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, given all the "Blackfish" -related issues
that have been dogged SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment over the past two years, I'm
just hoping that they'll still be in the amusement park business come 2017.

Your thoughts?

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It takes more than three circles to craft a Classic version of Mickey Mouse



You know what Mickey Mouse looks like, right? Little guy,
big ears?

Truth be told, Disney's corporate symbol has a lot of
different looks. If Mickey's interacting with Guests at Disneyland
(especially this summer, when
the Happiest Place on Earth
is celebrating its 60th anniversary), he looks & dresses like this.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
All rights reserved

Or when he's appearing in one of those Emmy Award-winning shorts that Disney
Television Animation has produced (EX: "Bronco Busted," which debuts
on the Disney Channel tonight at 8 p.m. ET / PT), Mickey is drawn in a such a
way that he looks hip, cool, edgy & retro all at the same time.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights

Looking ahead to 2017 now, when Disney Junior rolls out "Mickey and the
Roadster Racers
," this brand-new animated series will feature a sportier version
of Disney's corporate symbol. One that Mouse House managers hope will persuade
preschool boys to more fully embrace this now 86 year-old character.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

That's what most people don't realize about the Mouse. The
Walt Disney Company deliberately tailors Mickey's look, even his style of
movement, depending on what sort of project / production he's appearing in.

Take — for example — Disney
California Adventure
's "World of Color:
" Because Disney's main mouse would be co-hosting this new
nighttime lagoon show with ace emcee Neil Patrick Harris, Eric Goldberg really had
to step up Mickey's game. Which is why this master Disney animator created
several minutes of all-new Mouse animation which then showed that Mickey was
just as skilled a showman as Neil was.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
All rights reserved

Better yet, let's take a look at what the folks at Avalanche Studios just went
through as they attempted to create a Classic version of Mickey & Minnie.
One that would then allow this popular pair to become part of Disney Infinity

"I won't lie to you. We were under a lot of pressure to
get the look of this particular version of Mickey — he's called Red Pants
Mickey around here — just right," said Jeff Bunker, the VP of Art
Development at Avalanche Studios, during a recent phone interview. "When
we brought Sorcerer Mickey into Disney Infinity 1.0 back in January of 2014,
that one was relatively easy because … Well, everyone knows what Mickey Mouse
looked like when he appeared in 'Fantasia.' "

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"But this time around, we were being asked to design
THE Mickey & Minnie," Bunker continued. "And given that these Classic
Disney characters have been around in various different forms for the better
part of the last century … Well, which look was the right look?"

Which is why Jeff and his team at Avalanche Studios began watching hours &
hours of Mickey Mouse shorts. As they tried to get a handle on which look would
work best for these characters in Disney Infinity 3.0.

Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And we went all the way back to the very start of Mickey's career. We began
with 'Steamboat Willie' and then watched all of those black & white Mickey shorts
that Walt made back in the late 1920s & early 1930s. From there, we
transitioned to his Technicolor shorts. Which is when Mickey went from being
this pie-eyed, really feisty character to more of a well-behaved leading
man," Bunker recalled. "We then finished out our Mouse marathon by
watching all of those new Mickey shorts that Paul Rudish & his team have
been creating for Disney Television Animation. Those cartoons really recapture
a lot of the spirit and wild slapstick fun that Mickey's early, black &
white shorts had."

But given that the specific assignment that Avalanche Studios had been handed
was to create the most appealing looking, likeable version of Mickey Mouse
possible … In the end, Jeff and his team wound up borrowing bits & pieces
from a lot of different versions of the world's most famous mouse. So that
Classic Mickey would then look & move in a way that best fit the sort of
gameplay which people would soon be able to experience with Disney Infinity

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Inc. All rights reserved

"That — in a lot of ways — was actually the toughest
part of the Classic Mickey design project. You have to remember that one of the
key creative conceits of  Disney Infinity
is that all the characters which appear in this game are toys," Bunker
stated. "Okay. So they're beautifully detailed, highly stylized toy
versions of beloved Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm characters. But
they're still supposed to be toys. So our Classic versions of Mickey &
Minnie have the same sort of thickness & sturdiness to them that toys have.
So that they'll then be able to fit right in with all of the rest of the
characters that Avalanche Studios had previously designed for Disney Infinity."

And then there was the matter of coming up with just the
right pose for Classic Mickey & Minnie. Which — to hear Jeff tell the
story — involved input from a lot of Disney upper management.

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Inc. All rights reserved

"Everyone within the Company seemed to have an opinion
about how Mickey & Minnie should be posed. More to the point, if you Google
Mickey, you then discover that there are literally thousands of poses out there
for these two. Though — truth be told — a lot of those kind of play off the
way Mickey poses when he's being Disney's corporate symbol," Bunker said.
"But what I was most concerned about was that Mickey's pose had to work
with Minnie's pose. Because we were bringing the Classic versions of these
characters up into Disney Infinity 3.0 at the exact same time. And we wanted to
make sure — especially for those fans who like to put their Disney Infinity
figures on display — that Mickey's pose would then complement Minnie.

Which is why Jeff & the crew at Avalanche Studios
decided — when it came to Classic Mickey & Minnie's pose — that they
should go all the way back to the beginning. Which is why these two Disney icons
are sculpted in such a way that it almost seems as though you're witnessing the
very first time Mickey set eyes on Minnie.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"And what was really great about that was — as soon as
we began showing people within the Company this pose — everyone at Disney
quickly got on board with the idea. I mean, the Classic Mickey that we sculpted
for Disney Infinity 3.0 is clearly a very playful, spunky character. But at the
same time, he's obviously got eyes for Minnie," Bunker concluded. "So
in the end, we were able to come up with Classic versions of these characters
that will work well within the creative confines of Disney Infinity 3.0 but at
the same time please those Disney fans who just collect these figures because
they like the way the Disney Infinity characters look."

So now that this particular design project is over, does
Jeff regret that Mouse House upper management was so hands-on when it came to
making sure that the Classic versions of Mickey & Minnie were specifically
tailored to fit the look & style of gameplay found in Disney Infinity 3.0?

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Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"To be blunt, we go through this every time we add a new character to the
game. The folks at Lucasfilm were just as hands-on when we were designing the
versions of Darth Vader and Yoda that will also soon be appearing in Disney
Infinity 3.0," Bunker laughed. "So in the end, if the character's
creators AND the fans are happy, then I'm happy."

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post's Entertainment page on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

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