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Why For?

At the risk of offending even more JHM readers, Jim Hill now answers your questions about the “Ward Kimball” steam engine & Disneyland’s “Alice in Wonderland” dark ride, talks about which attractions were actually open at that theme park on July 17, 1955, reveals WDI’s capacity concerns about “Expedition Everest” as well as looking back at the “Country Bear Jamboree” ‘s beginnings.



Okay. Let’s review. In the past four days, I have managed to offend:

  • People who love to hate Hong Kong Disneyland
  • “Save Disney” supporters
  • Fans of “Dream On Silly Dreamer”
  • Looney Tunes enthusiasts who had already decided to dislike “Loonatics”

And — what with this being Friday the 13th and all — I’m not sure if I should now press my luck right now. After all, if I answer some JHM reader mail today, I’m almost certain to upset somebody else.

But — then again — if I don’t post a new “Why For” today … Well, that’s bound to tick off a lot of readers too.

So I guess I’m damned if I do here, damned if I don’t … Soooo … To hell with it. I might as well get started on answering this week’s questions. And I can only hope that I don’t offend too many people in the process.

First up, Gene writes in to say:


I thought I had heard that Disneyland was getting a 5th steam engine, the Ward Kimball, on the DLRR as part of the 50th? Yet nothing has been mentioned about this for awhile and the celebration in now in full gear. Did the Kimball get side tracked?


Dear Gene:

No, the “Ward Kimball” wasn’t side-tracked. Just temporarily delayed.

The way I hear it, some technical issues prevented Disneyland’s newest steam engine from officially being rolled into service as part of the official kick-off of the Anaheim theme park’s 50th birthday celebration back on May 5th. But now that all the bugs have been worked out, the big question is: When should the “Ward Kimball” now make its big debut?

I’ll tell you what Disneyland’s PR department would like. They’d love to hold off on bringing this new steam engine on line ’til on or about July 17th. So that — what with the relaunch of Disneyland’s “Space Mountain” attraction — the Mouse’s marketing staff would then have a great hook to hang a new feature story on.

Whereas Disneyland train buffs (And their number is legion, folks) are pushing for the “Ward Kimball” to initially be “steamed up” on June 18th.

“Why June 18th?,” you ask. Well — as it turns out — June 18, 1955 was the date that Walt first took the E.P. Ripley (I.E. The first of the “Santa Fe & Disneyland” steam engines to be delivered to the Anaheim theme park) out for a spin around the berm. Which (for sentimental reasons) is why steam enthusiasts are now holding out for the “Ward Kimball” to officially be brought on line at Disneyland on the 50th anniversary of that date.

So who’s going to win in the end here? From what I’ve been hearing, Disneyland’s PR department seems to have the inside track. Which is why train buffs are now reportedly pressing for a private event that can be held on June 18th before the theme park officially opens for the day. 

That way, the Mouse’s marketing staff’s need for a new news story to throw to the media is met. While — at the same time — Disneyland’s steam enthusiasts’ need to see this anniversary properly observed can also be honored.

Either way, look for the “Ward Kimball” to be available for guests to ride on or about July 17th, okay?

Next up, John F. writes in ask:

I was wondering if on Friday you could tell us readers how the Alice In Wonderland Attraction came to be at Disneyland and why Disney has never exported this attraction to any other Disney theme Park.

Thanks for your time,

John F.

Dear John —

To be honest, the reason that Disneyland’s “Alice in Wonderland” attraction hasn’t been cloned yet is … Well, some of it is financial. While the rest of it is just some tough breaks for this colorful dark ride.

To explain: By the time the Imagineers had finally gotten around to designing the Fantasyland section of WDW’s Magic Kingdom, a budgetary decision had already been made that the Florida theme park would only have three traditional dark rides. And — given that the Magic Kingdom was already slated to get a “Mad Tea Party” (More importantly, given that “Mickey Mouse Revue” was supposed to feature a fairly large “Alice in Wonderland” production) — the feeling within WED was that this 1951 animated feature was already well represented at the Florida theme park. So there was no point in going forward with a recreation of the two-story Disneyland ride.

Now jump forward to the early 1980s. When the Oriental Land Company were trying to decide which version of Fantasyland to have replicated at Tokyo Disneyland … Well, given that OLC execs had already agreed to go with a clone of WDW’s Cinderella Castle, it only made sense to stick with Florida’s version of Fantasyland. Which — given that this part of the Japanese theme park also featured a “Mad Tea Party” as well as the “Mickey Mouse Revue” (Which had actually been imported from Orlando) — again, it was felt that the characters from “Alice in Wonderland” were already well represented at TDL. So there was really no need to recreate Disneyland’s “Alice” dark ride at the Tokyo park.

Then come the 1990s and the Euro Disneyland project. Where the Imagineers felt that it was vitally important to represent as many European nations as possible in Fantasyland. So “Snow White” (with its ties to the Brothers Grimm) was placed in that theme park in a deliberate effort to appeal to Germans. While “Pinocchio” (Given that this story’s author, Carlo Collodi, was Italian) was deliberately dropped into Fantasyland with the hope that Euro Disneyland would then be more appealing to Italians.

Unfortunately, given the large number of Disney animated films that are based on popular English children’s books, the Imagineers then had to figure out how to spread the wealth around, so to speak. Which is why — at EDL — while “Peter Pan Flight” remained a dark ride, Mr. Toad went from being the featured star of a Fantasyland attraction to the proprietor of a Fantasyland restaurant.

And though the “Mad Tea Party” spinner ride arrived at Euro Disneyland virtually unchanged, Disneyland’s “Alice in Wonderland” dark ride underwent a curious transformation. It changed from a traditional dark ride to “Alice’s Curious Labyrinth,” the first maze-based attraction to ever be built inside a Disney theme park.

Now does this mean that we’re never going to see a clone of Disneyland’s distinctive “Alice in Wonderland” dark ride ever built? Well, to be honest, I’m kind of encouraged by the fact that Hong Kong Disneyland is based on the look & layout of the original Disneyland.

And — given that HKDL’s “Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” dark ride (Which is located in the same approximate position as Disneyland’s “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”) seems to have a very large piece of open property located right next door … So could it be that — two or three years after Hong Kong Disneyland officially opens — that a brand-new version of Disneyland’s “Alice in Wonderland” dark ride (complete with its multi-colored caterpillar cars that roll leisurely down that oversized leaf) could be built at the Penny’s Bay theme park?

I’d love to answer that question. But … “The time has come,” the walrus said, “To talk of other things … “

And among those “other things” is this e-mail from Cris C. Who writes in to say:

Hey Jim,

Just wanted to point out that you left off “Peter Pan Flight” and “Casey Jr.” off of the list of Disneyland Fantasyland attractions in your Hong Kong Disneyland article. These two attractions were included in the black and white television broadcast of Disneyland’s opening day.

If you want to be technical, Disney actually listed “Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship” among the attractions for opening day . . . But I think it was just as much an attraction as Fantasia Gardens or Sleeping Beauty Castle in HKDL . . a cool looking location, but not an attraction.

I do enjoy your site, btw.


Dear Chris:

Technically, you’re right. “Peter Pan” and “Casey Jr.” were both shown as being fully operational on that live broadcast of Disneyland’s grand opening. But the fact of the matter is these two Fantasyland attractions were barely up and running on July 17, 1955.

Don’t believe me? Then ask Bob Penfield. Who — before he retired in 1997 — was the last remaining member of Disneyland’s opening day crew to work at the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

Bob doesn’t have very happy memories of July 17, 1955. He recalls originally being assigned to work on “Peter Pan Flight” on that date. But — because that Fantasyland dark ride would only work in fits & starts — Penfield eventually found himself being sent over to the King Arthur Carousel to help deal with the crowds. Bob vividly remembers seeing parents flinging their children over the fence toward the still-spinning ride. With the hope that this would then somehow make their kids eligible to ride this Fantasyland attraction next.

And as for the “Casey Jr. Circus Train” … On Disneyland’s opening day, this miniature train literally just ran long enough to make an appearance on the ABC broadcast. Then — out of safety concerns (I.E. A few members of Walt’s staff felt that some of the grades along Casey’s railbed were just too steep. Which could potentially cause the engine to tip back over and fall on  the passenger cars while the ride was still in motion) — “Casey” immediately shut down. And then wouldn’t carry any of Disneyland’s paying customers until at least July 31st of that same year.

So — as you can see, Chris — depending on how you define “opening day attraction,” Disneyland’s “Peter Pan Flight” & the “Casey Jr. Circus Train” were opening day attractions. In that they were shown as being operational on that live broadcast on ABC.

However — were you to ask anyone who was actually inside the theme park on July 17th as to whether these two Fantasyland rides were really available for riding — I’m pretty sure that you’d get a very different answer.

Next, Greg S. writes in with a quickie question:

Is Expedition Everest a part dark ride and roller coaster like Universals revenge of the mummy?

Yes, it is, Greg. Deep within the interior of this DAK mountain, you’re going to encounter several highly detailed show scenes. Including a couple of far-too-close encounters with an enormous & very ticked-off Yeti.

Disney’s hoping that “Expedition Everest” ‘s combination of high-speed coaster thrills as well as sudden appearances by an angry Abominable Snowman audio animatronic will help relaunch Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. In much the same way that the June 1959 opening of Disneyland’s Matterhorn helped re-excite the public about that Anaheim theme park. Making the “Happiest Place on Earth” a must-see again.

Of course, coaster buffs are thrilled that the Mouse is putting this sort of highly themed thrill ride into what (up until now) has been a somewhat tame theme park. But what bothers a lot of these folks is what’s not being said about “Expedition Everest.” As in: How many people does the Mouse expect to move through this man-made mountain each hour?

During last week’s WDW press event, the Imagineers were being extremely cagey about EE’s THRC (Theoretical Hourly Ride Capacity). According to one pal who was at DAK last Friday for the official announcement of Disney’s really-for-real expedition to Mount Everest, the closest that the guys at WDI would come to going on record about how many people they expect to get through “Expedition Everest” each hour was to say that they hoped to be able to accommodate at least 1700 – 2000 coaster fans on an hourly basis.

Which admittedly sounds a little vague. But — then again — you have to figure that it’s going to take at least a few months for DAK’s ops staff to finally get the hang of safely operating this extremely complex new thrill ride. Once they get all the kinks out, I’m that this DAK attraction’s THRC numbers will start to climb.

But — if you really have your heart set on riding “Expedition Everest” during this attraction’s first few months of operation — my advice is that you be sure and bring a nice, big, thick book with you whenever you go into DAK while this new thrill ride is still in “soft opening” mode. Ideally something with a high page count like Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and/or Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

Why For? Because — given how slowly “Expedition Everest” will undoubtedly be loading as the attraction’s opening crew initially learns the ropes (More importantly, given the amount of “down time” that this new WDW thrill ride is bound to experience as various glitches in its operational software suddenly emerge) — being able to keep yourself entertained as you stand there waiting in line for hours at a time is really going to be a plus.

So — if you’re not a Tolstoy or King fan — then how about something by Michener? Or — better yet — a copy of “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Which — given that you’re almost sure to feel somewhat foolish standing there in line with all those other hardcore coaster fans, hoping that you get to be one of the very first folks to experience “Expedition Everest” during its “soft opening” phase — a book about a bunch of dunces sounds rather appropriate, don’t you think?

Photo by Joe Apel

Seriously, though … From everything I hear, DAK’s new thrill ride will be worth the wait. Both the almost-two-years that it took to construct “Expedition Everest” as well as the what-will-probably-seem-like-two-years-time that you will stand waiting in line for your first chance to ride the thing.

Again, here’s hoping that “Expedition Everest” does to Disney’s Animal Kingdom what the Matterhorn did to Disneyland. Which is re-excite the public about this animal-based theme park.

And — speaking of animals — Ted writes in to ask:

We all know that Bear Country Jamboree was originally created for a ski resort that Disney was going to buy. Which one? Where? What happened? Also will Bear Country Jamboree be coming back? Rumors coming to DCA?

Ted —

Actually, Disney wasn’t out to buy a ski area. What Walt wanted to do was build a brand new ski resort in California’s Mineral King Valley area, which is located right next door to Sequoia National Park.

Of course, Walt being Walt, no dinky little ski area was going to do. According to the 10-year development plan that Walt Disney Productions put together … By 1978, the Mineral King Ski area was supposed to have 14 operating ski lifts, two huge resort hotels as well as an underground parking garage with room for more than 2,500 vehicles. (Can you now understand why the Sierra Club decided to take the Mouse to court in 1969 in an effort to shut this overly-ambitious project down?)

Anyway … Walt wanted Mineral King to be a full-service, year-round resort. Which mean that Disney figured that visitors (what with all the skiing & hiking) would be able to keep themselves entertained during the day. But — at night … Well, that was another story.

Which was why Walt envisioned building a bowling alley at Mineral King. Not to mention a movie theater, several bars and restaurants. As well as the “Country Bear Playhouse.”

Why the “Country Bear Playhouse”? Well, you have to remember that this was 1966. And Audio Animatronics were still fairly new. And — to be honest — Walt was in a mood to show off.

Which is why he had Marc Davis work up a show that was originally only supposed to be presented in the main lodge of the Mineral King ski area. With the gimmick of this attraction being that these were the bears that didn’t want to waste their time hibernating. They wanted to spend those cold winter months indoors with the humans, where it was warm. Where these bruins could earn their keep by putting a show for the resort guests each night.

I’m sure that most of you are already aware that Walt’s last laugh (at least while he was at WED) reportedly came in November of 1966. As he was touring Imagineering headquarters for one last time. And Davis showed Disney some of his preliminary sketches that he had done for what was then known as the “Bear Band Show.”

Well, after Walt died … Disney company executives sort of lost their enthusiasm for the Mineral King project (Though — to be honest — that lawsuit that the Sierra Club brought against Walt Disney Productions didn’t much help matters). But — that said — people still loved all of that preliminary development work that Marc Davis had done on his “Bear Band” show. Which was why the “Country Bear Jamboree” eventually found a home in Florida in October of 1971, as one of the original assortment of attractions presented at WDW’s Magic Kingdom.

Now — as for your question about whether Disneyland’s “Country Bear” show will ever return to Anaheim … Or — at the very least — will those bear AA figures be popping up as new additions to DCA’s “Grizzly River Run” attraction … I’m afraid that I have some sad news, Ted. To my knowledge, there are no current plans what-so-ever to revive the “Country Bear” show at either of the two theme parks at the Disneyland Resort.

The best that you can really hope for is that — on occasion — the “Country Bear” walk-around characters may make an appearance in Disneyland. Like they did a week or so back as part of the kick-off of that theme park’s 50th anniversary celebration. Beyond that … Look for the Disneyland to basically remain a “Country Bear” -free zone.

Okay. Now I’ve done it for sure. Between calling coaster fans dunces and/or disappointing all those “Country Bear” afficiandos, I’m almost certain to have ticked off some more JHM readers. Which means that they’re all probably banding together with the “Save Disney” supporters, the Hong Kong Disneyland haters as well as Thomas Adams’ friends & family and marching on New Boston, N.H.

Which is why that it’s probably wise that I’m heading down to Connecticut this weekend for some R & R. Which — in this case — stands for “Relocation” and “Reconstructive Surgery.”

So look for me to have a brand-new outlook on life (not to mention a brand new face) come Monday morning. Til then, you folks 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.' "

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"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.

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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.

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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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