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Why For?

From 30,000 feet up, Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about the history of Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion, why Disney isn’t shooting any TV shows at Disney-MGM, whether Latin America is going to get its very own Magic Kingdom anytime soon, an update on last week’s “Rhine River” questions, what’s the deal with Disneyland’s Astro-Orbiter as well as Disney’s Platinum Edition DVD release schedule.



Greetings from United Flight No. 1225. Seat 15F, to be precise. I’m in the process of winging my way west for 12 days of work and fun.

Nancy’s asleep in the seat next to me. Resting up for a trip filled with visits to animation schools. Not to mention two weekends full of schmoozing with ABC soap stars at Disney’s California Adventure.

Me? I’m looking forward spending some time with my darling daughter, Alice. As well as meeting all the nice folks who’ve signed up for next weekend’s tours of Disneyland and DCA. (FYI: We’ve still got a few slots open for next Saturday and Sunday’s tours. So — if you’d still like to get in on the fun — drop me a line at and we’ll see if we can’t accommodate you.) Plus there’s next week’s drive up into the High Sierra to see Mineral King. (One nice reader — on the JHM discussion boards, mind you — warned me to watch out for radiator-fluid guzzling marmots. Jeese! And I thought that dealing with the enormous snapping turtles who regularly tear up our front yard each June as they lay their eggs was unusual. Ah well …)

Anyway … to kill some time en route, I thought that I might try to answer a few of your “Why For” questions. First, Erik G. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim:

Hello! I greatly enjoy reading your articles on your website – I doubt I would have found much of this information here anyplace else. I have some questions regarding the history of the “Wonders of Life” pavilion: 1) Why was there so much trouble finding a sponsor in the planning stages of Epcot? 2) What happened to the original sign in front of the pavilion (the one which was an arch over the pathway into the pavilion) … and 3) Why is there speculation that this pavilion may be closing for good under ‘Project Gemini,” instead of renovating it? It’s one of my favorite pavilions at Epcot, so I’m rather interested in its fate.

Thanks you so much. Keep writing!

Erik G.


Thanks for the kind words about the site. Now, regarding your questions about Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion. The seven year delay in opening this Future World attraction wasn’t due so much with Disney having trouble tracking down a sponsor for this EPCOT Center pavilion. But rather, it was the engineering challenges involved.

You see, according to WED’s original plans for this Future World addition, the central attraction at this pavilion was supposed to have been a ride through the human body. Where guests would have boarded an Omnimover that was tricked up to look like a blood cel. They’d then have taken a spin through an unnamed individual’s circulatory system.

Which is an okay idea on paper, I guess. I mean, I’m sure that some of you may have already seen the concept paintings for this version of the attraction. Which were done by Imagineering vet Frank Armitage, who (not-so-co-incidentally) had done production design on 20th Century Fox’s “Fantastic Voyage.” A sci-fi epic where scientists were miniaturized and sent inside a man’s body to perform a dangerous operation.

(Baby boomers of my vintage — particularly the guys — usually have quite fond memories of “Fantastic Voyage.” Both for the film’s elaborate special effects as well as that sequence where Raquel Welch — in an extremely form-fitting wet suit — was attacked by white blood cells. And the other scientists on her team had to frantically struggle to pull the rapidly constricting cells off of Raquel’s body. Otherwise, Ms. Welch would have suffocated. Many a 1960s era adolescent boy dreamed of the day when they’d get their chance to pry white blood cells off of Raquel’s heaving bosom … or was that just me?)

But I digress, Erik G. So let’s get back to your answer. Which is already in progress …

ANYWAY … The Imagineers envisioned Epcot visitors moving through this over-sized version of the human body. Guest gaping in awe at a 40 foot tall version of a human heart, steadily pumping away. Until — of course — the engineers at Imagineering got wind of this project.

They then told the Imagineers in charge of developing Epcot’s Health pavilion: “Are you nuts? Do you have any idea the size of the mechanism that we’d need to build in order to have a 40 foot tall version of the human heart realistically beat? Never mind all the effort that would be involved with maintaining a moving set piece of that size.”

Faced with the economic as well as the engineering challenges involved with their original version of this Future World attraction, the Imagineers reluctantly tabled their idea for a “Life & Health” pavilion that would be built around a show that featured a ride through the human body … until, of course, WDI discovered flight simulator technology. And the central attraction of the “Wonders of Life” pavilion (which was once envisioned as an elaborate ride-through show on a par with GM’s “World of Motion” and AT&T’s “Spaceship Earth”) got rethought as a simulator ride similar to “Star Tours.”

Which was what finally made this ride — and, indeed, the entire “Wonders of Life” pavilion — financially feasible. At least from an engineering point of view.

As for your second question, Erik: That distinctive archway — which used to grace the entrance of Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” — has been recycled. You can see it every time you drive your car through those ticket booths at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot. You see that giant curved steel structure that’s holding up the “Magic Kingdom” sign? Yep. That used to be the “Wonders of Life” archway.

As for what will happen to this particular Future World pavilion once “Project Gemini” goes forward: I’ve been told that WDI is still exploring its options, Erik. The Imagineers would love to find a sponsor with some very deep pockets come forward and help Disney pull Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion out of the 1980s. But — given what’s going on with the economy these days — hopes are dwindling at Imagineering that some corporation is going to step up to the plate and help save this Future World attraction.

Which is why a number of Imagineers have pretty much given up hope when it comes to reviving/revamping Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion. And why these folks are now talking about razing this distinctive Future World structure and coming up with a brand new show/attraction/pavilion. Something ambitious and interactive that will appeal to kids of today.

And what might the theme of this new still-just-in-the-talking-phase Epcot attraction might be? I’ve heard everything from a Pixar-sponsored attraction (which would celebrate the world of computer animation, gaming and the Internet) to the building just being gutted and repurposed as WDW convention space. Where large groups could perhaps hold after-hours events. Elaborate Epcot-themed banquets. You get the idea.

Still, I have to stress that WDI’s plans for Epcot’s “Wonders of Life” pavilion are still very much in flux. Right now, the Imagineers are mostly concentrating on trying to successfully pull off “Project Gemini.” Once that’s complete, Walt Disney Imagineering will once again turn its attention to the “Wonders of Life” pavilion.

That answer your question, Erik? Hope so.

Next, Brad G. writes in to ask:


What does the future hold for Disney-MGM Studios? Why doesn’t Disney produce ABC television shows and live action feature films there? This would seem to provide perfect synergy.

Thanks in advance for any info,

Brad G.

Dear Brad G.

You know, for years now, executives at Disney-MGM have been wondering the exact same thing, Brad. Why doesn’t the Mouse shoot more movies and/or television shows at the company’s Central Florida production facility?

The story that I keep hearing is that — in spite of the fact that Florida is a “Right to Work” state (which means that it costs more than 1/3rd less to shoot TV shows and movies in Orlando than it does in Hollywood) — that alleged savings are eaten up by transportation costs (I.E. The cost of flying the cast and crew of a TV show down to Central Florida) as well as housing (the cost of putting up this same cast and crew while they’re down in Orlando shooting their TV show/movie/whatever).

What Disney had originally hoped would happen at its MGM production facility was that Florida-based technicians and talent would produce popular, cost-effective programming. Which the company could then air on the Disney Channel, ABC and/or ABC Family. But — in spite of years of effort — no hot hit television series and/or blockbuster motion picture has ever been produced in Central Florida. Not at Disney-MGM or over at the production facilities at Universal Studios Orlando.

Which is why you see the Mouse doing things like changing MGM soundstages into show buildings where attractions like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It!” can be housed. Mickey’s tired of trying, folks. Since Orlando — despite years of trying — has yet to turn into a second Hollywood, Disney’s moving ahead with its plans to change most of the production facilities along Mickey Avenue into show space for that theme park. (Look for a more detailed article on the Imagineers’ plans for Disney-MGM Studio theme park to pop up on JHM in the not-so-distant future.)

Next, a question all the way from Central America! Vinicio M. writes in to ask:

Hi Jim!

Bet you didn’t think that someone from this far visits your site. Well, I read all the articles you publish here. Great site, great stories!!! My friends are always asking me how do I know all these interesting stories about Disney. I’m always telling them that I am constantly reading your stories here at

I have a couple of questions for you. Do you think that Disney will ever build a theme park in Latin America? It seems that Disney is starting to notice people south of the border. We already have a Disney Channel (With exactly the same programming that you have in the U.S., [only] in Spanish). And we’re constantly shown ads for Disney World and the Disneyland Resort (my personal favorite). Next month, “Disney on Ice” visits Guatemala for the first time ever (For a small country like this, it’s quite an event!) So do you think if we have a chance to ever see the Mouse build a Magic Kingdom anywhere in Latin Ameriva?

Take care and thanks for all your great stories,

Vinicio M.
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Central America

Thanks for all the kind words regarding I have to admit that it’s still quite a thrill that this extremely humble website — which is only nine months old, by the way — has been doing so well. Pulling in readers from all over the globe. In record numbers, mind you. (So far this month, over 2 million visitors have dropped by JHM to find out what’s new.)

Mind you, in spite of the site’s not-so-humble sounding name, is NOT a one man operation. I have a lot of help from a not-sot-large but still very talented and dedicated crew. David Gasior handles the tech side of things. Chuck Oberleitner, Roger Colton, Andrea Monti, Patrick Hurd, Michael Howe, Mark Mitchell and now Jim Korkis regularly contribute columns. And let’s not forget about the folks who actually got the ball rolling: Michelle Smith and Jon Nadelberg. (Damn it! I just know that I’m forgetting someone. I think the altitude must be affecting my memory … Anywho …)

Okay. Enough self-congratulatory back-patting. Let’s get to that question of yours, Vinicio, shall we?

A Disney theme park in Latin America. Yes, Vinicio, this idea had been bandied about by the Imagineers for the past 25 years. Possible sites have scouted. Discreet conversations have been held with government officials from various Central and South America nations. But — to date — WDI’s dream of building a Magic Kingdom for Latin America has yet to go forward.

Why for? Oddly enough, it’s the Walt Disney World resort that’s actually standing in the way of this project. You see, the Mouse is so dependent now on Latin America tourists to help fill up its Central Florida theme parks and hotels that Disney’s completely abandoned the idea of building a Magic Kingdom south of the border. At least for the foreseeable future.

Of course, given how aggressive Universal Studios has become — what with that corporation’s plans to build at least two theme parks in China over the next 10 years, not to mention expanding its already-existing Spanish and Japanese properties — the Walt Disney Company could change its tune. Perhaps someday soon it might make sense for the Mouse to build its first Latin American Magic Kingdom.

Sure, a project like that might have a detrimental effect on WDW attendance levels. But — on the other hand — what would be better? To be the company to open a major theme park in Latin America, to have that virgin territory all to yourself … or to have to follow one of your rivals into this arena? To have to play “Catch Up” with Universal or Six Flags?

Based on conversations that I’ve had with WDI vets, I would say that it’s extremely unlikely that the Walt Disney Company will announce that it’s going forward with a theme park/resort project in Latin America before the end of this decade. But — as for that span of years between 2010 and 2020 — well … that’s a very different story.

So my advice, Vinicio, is to have some patience. Let the Walt Disney Company get Hong Kong Disneyland open. Then let the Mouse decide what it’s going to do about the Universal Studios threat. Then (I’d imagine) that Mickey will finally start to get serious about building a Disneyland in Latin America.

Okay. There was a slight pause there. Nancy’s and my flight just landed in Chicago. After grabbing some lunch at O’Hare’s itty-bitty version of the Billy Goat Tavern (Just for the record: I had Cheezborger, Cheezborger. Chips. No Coke. No Pepsi. Water), I’m now killing time at the gate the while Nancy prowls around the concourse, looking for something new to read.

Our next question … well, it’s not actually a question. It’s more on an expansion on an answer that I gave to a question that was printed in last week’s “Why For.”

Bryan writes in to add:

Thanks for your wonderful info, Jim … I really appreciate the hard work you put into your site. Your stories just make my day.

Anyway, I just wanted to add that – in the book “Since the World Began,” which was released by Hyperion – they quote that “A Rhine River attraction was originally planned, and a building was even built for it, but the attraction was never constructed. A pair of massive wooden doors near the rear of the Sommerfest outdoor café is the only indication of the show building behind the stone castle wall.” Just a little tidbit..

Your Number 1 Fan,


Thank you, Bryan. All last Thursday, while I was putting together last week’s “Why For,” I was racking my brain. Trying to remember where exactly I’d read about those doors at Epcot’s German pavilion that supposedly lead to where the “Rhine River” ride was going to be located. I should have realized that Jeff Kurtti’s excellent “Since the World Began” would have touched on this matter.

Jeff’s authorized history of the Walt Disney World resort is probably the best book that’s currently out there about the Mouse’s Central Florida property. Until — of course — David Koenig gets around to completing his unauthorized WDW history.

(And yeah, I’ve got a Disney World book of my own in the works. Which reminds me: I’ve really got to finish up that proposal and fire it off to that very nice publisher in Connecticut. Don’t worry, Kelly. I’ll be sending you something shortly. Perhaps even before I head back to New Hampshire. So please have a bit more patience, okay? … Anyway …)

It’s funny that you mention those doors, Bryan. Why for? Well, earlier this month, while I was taking my JHM tour group around World Showcase, we actually stopped in at the German pavilion and tried to find the entrance to the abandoned “Rhine River” ride. But — try as we might — we just couldn’t find that enormous set of double doors.

Perhaps Jim Korkis — once he gets back to active duty here at — can shed some light on this matter. Let us know for sure where this set of doors is located. More importantly, let us know if the more spectacular part of this story is true: that construction of the show building which was to have housed the “Rhine River” ride was actually completed … but the ride itself was never installed.

If this is truly what happened … then what’s back there now? An empty show building? I seem to recall that — back when I used to lead visiting high school bands around WDW property — that there was this huge rehearsal space actually located right inside Epcot’s German pavilion. To the very back of the building.

Could this cavernous room have been where the “Rhine River” ride was supposed to be installed? Can someone out there please answer this question?

Jim K? Some highly placed Disney World employee and/or WDI vet? Anyone?

Moving on now … next, we have a really-for-real question from Casey A.

Hey, Jim!

I love the articles. I can hardly wait each day for the updates. Anyways, I’ve always been curious – and forgive me if you’ve covered this in a previous article – but why did the Astro-Orbiter in (Disneyland’s New) Tomorrowland get moved from the top of the ‘observation’ tower to the not-as-exciting-and-very-boring ground?


Casey A.


I’ve actually heard a couple of interesting variations on the story as to why the Star Jets in Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland ended up becoming … well, basically a piece of kinetic sculpture.

One version has it that the real reason that WDI opted to turn DL’s Star Jets into the Observatron was that — after pricing out what it would cost to retrofit this late 1960s / early 1970s spinner ride with new Astro-Orbiter-like design elements — the Imagineers discovered that it would actually be cheaper (in the long run, anyway) to just build a brand new version of the Disneyland-Paris spinner ride at ground level and leave DL’s old Star Jets standing in place.

A more intriguing version of this tale would have it that the Imagineer who was in charge of this particular piece of Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland project was deathly afraid of heights. So much so that this guy freaked at the idea of regularly having to go to the top of the Star Jets tower to supervise this ride’s retrofit.

So — in order to avoid confronting his fears — this WDI vet supposedly connived to have the Star Jets changed into a purely decorative element of Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland (which then put this ride outside of his jurisdiction). And then — realizing that this part of the park still had to have some sort of spinner attraction — this wiley Imagineer persuaded Disneyland officials to let him bring a clone of Disneyland-Paris’ Astro-Orbiter to Anaheim. Which (given that this New Tomorrowland spinner ride is so much closer to the ground than the Star Jets) made it that much easier for this WDI guy to supervise its installation.

Based on conversations that I’ve had with various Imagineering veterans, it would appear that the former story (I.E. that it was more cost effective to just leave DL’s Star Jets in place and go with an all-new spinner ride for New Tomorrowland rather than try to affordably retrofit this old attraction with brand-new machine age elements) is closer to the truth than the latter. Which is kind of a shame. Given how much fun that “Imagineer who’s afraid of heights” story is.

Anyone out there want to step up with the definitive answer to Disneyland’s Astro-Orbiter’s origins?

And finally, Jake comes forward with a question about Disney’s Platinum Editions:

Hi, Jim

I’ve been an avid reader of your site for a while now and love your coverage. I thought you might be able to tell a few things about Disney’s Platinum Editions. Why has (Disney) reportedly recently changed the Platinum Editions release schedule (again)?

Ronald Epstien, the owner of the Home Theater Forum, has posted a heavily altered release schedule which he claims to have received directly from Disney. The new schedule:

The Lion King – October 2003
Aladdin – 2004
The Little Mermaid – 2005 (Previously 2008)
Bambi – 2006 (Previously 2005)
Cinderella – 2007
Lady and the Tramp – 2008 (Previously 2009)
101 Dalmatians – 2009 (Previously 2010)
The Jungle Book – 2010 (Previously 2006)

The switch for “Little Mermaid” is not a surprise to me since I remember you saying that (this Disney animted film) was getting the IMAX treatment (I heard it was due in 2004, so the 2005 DVD release is only logical). But some of the others are a bit more confusing. Can you shed any light as to why these were all changed, or even confirm this?




You know, there was a time in the not-so-distant past where the info that Ronald E. posted in his Home Theater Forum was mostly correct. But now … well, the release schedule for Disney’s Platinum Edition DVD and home videos are constantly being rewritten.

Why for? Well, to be blunt, the re-releasing of these animated films in the IMAX and large screen format just prior to their DVD debut hasn’t turned out to be the money-maker that the Mouse expected. Which is why — after “The Little Mermaid” is released in this format in late 2004 — Disney’s reportedly toying with dropping this portion of its re-release program and just putting as many of the animated titles from its film library out in the marketplace as quickly as possible.

And why would Buena Vista Home Entertainment do something like that? Because — as of 2007 — Disney is planning on re-releasing many of these same titles all over again. Only in the high definition DVD format. With the hope that — provided that the price is right — we’ll all decide to happily set aside our current Disney DVD collections and replace them with the higher quality discs.

Sounds like a silly business plan? Well, let me ask you this: how many of you own a copy of “Beauty and the Beast” in both the VHS and the DVD format? More importantly, how many of you — later this fall — are planning on picking up a copy of the 2-disc collector’s edition of “The Lion King” once that DVD hits store shelves … even though your VHS version of “The Lion King” is still perfectly watchable?

Quite a lot of you, I’m betting, answered the questions above in the affirmative. All because you (and I) think that these Disney animated films look better in the DVD format. More importantly, because you want to check out the extra features that Buena Vista Home Entertainment has crammed onto those discs.

That’s why I’m kind of reluctant to make fun of the Mouse for abandoning its previously announced Platinum Edition release schedule and embracing this new business plan. Sure, it sucks to think that — in five years or so — that we’re all going to be spending our hard earned money to purchase Disney movies that we already own (twice already!) in favor of brand new versions of these very same films in the Hi-Definition format.

You see, a couple of years ago, I actually did make fun of friends who were doing just that: buying DVD replacements from films that they already owned in VHS. But now … well, look at me. I spent an entire afternoon last week driving around to various stores in New Hampshire looking for the 2-disc version of “The Love Bug.” A movie that I’m not actually all that fond of … just because I wanted to see all the extra features that Buena Vista Home Entertainment included in this DVD release.

(By the way, I was never able to track down a copy of that “Love Bug” DVD in New England. But I have high hopes that I’ll be able to find this film in its new format sometime over the next 12 days that I’m in California.)

And — speaking of “high” — it’s time for Nancy and I to finally board our flight to Orange County. Thanks for coming along on this (mostly) airborne version of “Why For.” And remember — if you’re interested in taking part in next week’s JHM tours of Disneyland and DCA — just drop me a line at and I’ll fill you in on the particulars.

Beyond that … have a great weekend, okay?

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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?

Copyright Lucasfilm / Disney
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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