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Why For? : Baxter in 20K, Tiki Room Jokes, Haunter Hollywood Hotel, Disney TV Special, Project Gemini and a Mea Culpa

Tanned (okay, sunburned), rested and refreshed, Jim Hill returns with even more answers to your Disney related questions, including some insight into several Disney theme park attractions.



First, an apology.

You know, in yesterday's review of Carlene Thie's "Disneyland Under Construction" books, I'm afraid that I may have come down a bit too hard on Ms. Thie. Or — at the very least — criticized things that I didn't really know about.

For example: In yesterday's article, I chided Carlene for getting the freeway that ran past Disneyland wrong. In a caption in her "Disney's Early Years Through the Eyes of a Photographer," she identified this highway as the 101 rather than the I-5. Well, as several veteran Southern Californians have since pointed out to me, prior to 1964 (when the State of California suddenly decided to renumber a great number of its roadways), that highway really was designated as the 101. NOT the I-5.

So that was my mistake. NOT Ms. Thie's.

And then — as for getting the name of the place where her own grandmother worked (I.E. Cat Foot Cove instead of Catfish Cove) wrong in "A Photgrapher's Life with Disney Under Construction" — well, I've since learned that this was an error on the printer's part, rather than by Carlene.

So let me now extend a sincere apology to Ms. Thie for criticizing things that I didn't really know about. More to the point, let me again state that I still think that Carlene's "Disneyland Under Construction" books (which feature the amazing photographs of her late grandfather, Mell Kilpatrick) are still well worth purchasing. So go out now and snap up a set today! And — just to show that there are no hard feelings between myself and Ms. Thie (more importantly, to prove that Carlene is a really class act) look for an in-depth interview with this author to turn up on JimHillMedia,com in the not-so-distant future. Where she'll discuss what went into the creation of her next "Disneyland Under Construction" book, "Disneyland: The Beginning."

Okay. That's enough with the mea culpas for today. Let's get started with answering your questions, shall we?

First up. Eric P. drops by with a "20K" related question:


I was wondering if you could confirm something I realized for the first time a few days ago. Being an old fan of WDW's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and who never tires of seeing it again on home video, this was always my favorite line of the attraction ever since I was a kid.

CAPTAIN NEMO: Mr. Baxter, if you think you're seeing mermaids and sea monsters, you've been submerged too long!

Was this a deliberate in-joke about Imagineer Tony Baxter, since it's my understanding that he was responsible for "20,000 Leagues" at WDW?

Eric P.


Yep. The "Mr. Baxter" that Captain Nemo talks with as part of the audio for this late, lamented WDW attraction really was a none-too-subtle tribute to the veteran Imagineer. Of course, back when the soundtrack for the Magic Kingdom's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" ride was being recorded, Tony was really just starting out in his career at WED.

In fact, the very first time that Tony ever took a trip to the field to oversee the installation of a Disney theme park attraction was back in 1970. When he went down to Orlando to supervise the latter part of construction and the final detail work on WDW's "20K" ride.

Given the extreme dedication that Baxter had shown on this assignment (I.E. spending weeks working in the wilting Central Florida heat and humidity to make sure that each concrete piece of coral, each plastic fish was in its proper place), it only made sense to the Imagineers who were in charge of the "20,000 Leagues" ride that they should pay tribute to Tony's extra effort.

Which is how that originally un-named crew member on the "20K" soundtrack eventually became known as "Mr. Baxter."

And — speaking of soundtracks for Disney theme park attractions — Jeremy H. writes in with a few questions about Disneyland's "Enchanted Tiki Room":


I love the site and appreciate the candid "Why For" responses to … questions. But now I have some questions … about "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room" at Disneyland.

1) During the "Enchanted Tiki" room dialogue, there is a large amount of banter going on between the four masters of ceremonies in the center of the theatre. One part has been especially bothering me. It is when Fritz responds to Pierre.

PIERRE: My profile may not be marvelous, but my (voice) is out of this world.

FRITZ: Jawohl, but the trouble is it's not far enough out of this world. Isn't that right, Herr Smith? Oh ho, I see. Smith has no hair.

Who is Fritz referring to? An Imagineer?

2) Why was the show whittled down from its original running time? As a young child, I remember a musical sequence featuring classical music and the "Enchanted Fountain." And it seems like every time I go into the attraction and listen to the show, I seem to remember dialogue/lyrics that are no longer there. I do have sound clips confirming that the show used to be longer, but I wanted to be sure.

That's all for now. Thanks!

Jeremy H.


The "Herr Smith has no hair" gag is strictly that: a gag. This joke wasn't aimed at anyone in particular (hence the use of the name "Smith," which is a pretty common last name here in the States). Nor (to the best of my knowledge, anyway) was this jape referencing any balding Imagineer who may have worked on the "Tiki Room" show.

Remember what Sigmund Freud once said, Jeremy. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Well, sometimes the jokes in Disney theme park attractions don't have any secondary meaning either. Sometimes they're just … well, jokes.

Now — as for your questions regarding cuts that may or may not have been made to Disneyland's "Enchanted Tiki Room" show — THAT I can confirm. In an effort to cut back on the number of guest walk-outs that this once-beloved now-fairly-slow-moving Adventureland attraction had been experiencing, the Imagineers opted to lop the "Offenbach" sequence out of the show in the mid-1990s. Thereby shaving nearly two minutes off of "Tiki"'s 17-minute running time.

Sadly, this somewhat clumsy bit of cutting didn't actually cut down on the number of guest walk-outs that the "Enchanted Tiki Room" had been experiencing. Which is why the Imagineers continue to toy with the idea of changing out and/or updating this aged Adventureland attraction.

"Just how aged?" you ask. Well, the Disneyland version of "The Enchanted Tiki Room" will actually celebrate its 40th anniversary sometime later this month. The once state-of-the-art show (Disneyland press releases from the 1960s used to boast that the electronics equipment that was used to make the Tiki birds talk is the same technology that guided the Polaris missiles) opened back on June 23rd, 1963.

As for what the future holds for DL's "Enchanted Tiki Room" … well, there are a number of rumors coming out of WDI these days. One story has it that the Imagineers — in the not-so-distant future — may opt to radically revamp this Adventureland attraction by folding Lilo & Stitch into the mix. I.E. Creating audio animatronic versions of the title characters of Disney's 2002 animated release and having Lilo and Stitch host a new Hawaiian-themed version of "The Enchanted Tiki Room."

There's also reportedly been some talk of WDI going back to Walt's original concept for the Tiki Bird show. Which was to have these 1960s era AA figures serve as the overhead entertainment for an in-park Polynesian-themed restaurant. I've also heard some Imagineers say that they'd love to just tear down the "Enchanted Tiki Room" show building as well as the "Aladdin's Oasis" restaurant facility (formerly the "Tahitian Terrace") that's located right next door to make room for a Disneyland version of that Tokyo Disney Sea show, "The Magic Lamp Theater."

But — as of right now — the smart money is on DL's "Enchanted Tiki Room" to stay just as it is. At least until the Disneyland Resort is finished with its 50th anniversary celebration in January 2006. After that … well, Piere, Fritz, Jose and Michael may finally be forced to fly the coop.

Which would be kind of sad, don't you think?

Anyway … Next, Andrew M. writes in to ask:

I keep hearing and reading that at one point Imagineers actually considered having a legitimate guest resort in or around the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney-MGM Studios. How close did this project actually come to fruition? What kinds of plans were on the drawing boards and what unique ideas would have made this a great resort?

Andrew M.

As strange as this may sound, Andrew, it was reportedly Michael Eisner himself who came up with the idea of having WDW guests actually stay inside of the Tower of Tower. (Keep in mind, though, that Eisner was always coming up with somewhat lame-brained concepts for new Disney World resorts. How many of you out there recall when Uncle Michael actually suggested that the Walt Disney Company build a hotel that was shaped like Mickey Mouse? Talk about your cheesy ideas … Anywho …)

As I understand it: The way that Eisner allegedly initially envisioned this project (which was then just called the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" and/or "The Hollywood Horror Hotel" — way before the whole "Twilight Zone" mythos got folded into the project) was that it would be the most exclusive of the Disney World resorts. The number of rooms that were available for guests to stay in would be extremely limited. Some versions of the proposed hotel's floor plans only showed 10 rooms for WDW guests to stay in. Still other versions of the project (I believe) put the hotel's room count at 50. But never any higher than that.

So what would WDW guests have gotten as part of their high priced stay at this highly themed hotel (FYI: The projected cost of renting rooms at this proposed WDW resort ranged from $500 to $1500 a night)? To put it bluntly, it would have been like you were staying inside the Haunted Mansion.

By that I mean … ghostly faces were supposed to have appeared in your bathroom mirror. Room service carts — seemingly pushed along by unseen spirits — would have wandered through the hotel's corridors. And — of course — every trip up and/or down in elevator would have been a thrill unto itself. And let's not forget about that exclusive backdoor access to the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park that the hotel would have offered its guests.

Sadly, this pretty snazzy sounding project got tripped up by two fairly important factors.

COST: No matter how aggressively Disney's accountanteers massaged the project's numbers and/or bumped up the room count, they couldn't make the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" financially viable. Given the resort's projected construction costs (what with all the built-in illusions that were supposed to be an essential part of the resort's appeal, initial budget projections put the HHH at costing something in the neighborhood of a $100 million to build. Mind you, this didn't include the $75-$90 million that the Imagineers expected to pour into the construction of the Tower of Terror itself. That initial $100 million was just to cover the resort and its tricked-up hotel rooms), there was just no way that this proposed WDW resort was financially feasible. Even if the hotel was sold out for a solid decade, with guests paying top dollar to occupy ever single room, there was just no way that this proposed resort would ever come close to covering its construction or operations costs.

THE LEGAL ASPECTS: To put it bluntly, Disney's attorneys were scared absolutely sh*tless with the idea that the Walt Disney World Resort might actually go forward with construction of a horror themed, extremely tricked-up, illusion-filled hotel. "What if someone staying at this place were to become so frightened by an illusion that they suddenly keeled over and died?" the lawyers supposedly asked. "The Walt Disney Company could be considered responsible for their death. We could be opening ourselves up to tremendous liability." To counteract this, WDW resort executives reportedly toyed with the idea of having each guest — as they arrived at the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" — sign a waiver stating that they would not hold the Mouse responsible for any scare-related mishaps that might occur during their stay at the resort.

Luckily for Disney's attorneys, Eisner eventually lost enthusiasm for his idea of having guest stay (or — more importantly — having guests pay through the nose for the privilege of staying) inside a tricked-up illusion-filled horror-themed hotel. Which is why this concept eventually ended up in WDI's "Discard" pile.

Though I have heard that — when Disneyland Resort executives initially proposed adding a "Tower of Terror" clone to DCA's assortment of attractions — that the idea of building a smallish horror-themed hotel in the Timon parking lot (which was to have faced out toward the corner of Harbor and Katella appearing as if this new Disneyland resort was the only part of the Hollywood Tower Hotel that had not been damaged by that infamous lightning strike back in 1939) was briefly toyed with. Before (of course) the old concerns about construction and operations costs as well as legal liability were raised yet again. Which resulted in the Imagineers once again abandoning this intriguing idea.

Ah well … it would have been cool if they'd actually built this thing. I don't know how many of us would have actually been able to afford to stay at the place. But the "Haunted Hollywood Hotel" / "Hollywood Horror Hotel" still sounds like it would have been a fun place to stay, doesn't it?

Next, Chris chimes in with a music-related question:

Jim –

I came across your website several months ago and have become a devoted reader since the, There is a question that has stumped every person I have asked them, and I am thinking that perhaps you may be able to solve this mystery.

In the late 1970s or early 1980s there was a Disney made-for-TV special about a family traveling to WDW. Featured in this movie is a song that goes something like this:

"We're on the road,
On the way,
To a magical holiday,
Bye-bye blues.
Excuse our dust,
It's Disney World
Or bust!"

If you can solve this long time riddle, I would be most appreciative.



Sad as it is to say, Chris, I actually DO know where this song came from. Which clearly indicates to me that — someday very soon — I really need to get a life.

This particular song was sung as the opening number for a 1982 CBS television special, "Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World's 10th Anniversary." This program starred Mouse House movie vets Dean Jones and Michelle Lee (who both can currently be seen on the recently released collector's edition DVD of "The Love Bug" which I STILL haven't be able to find in any stores … on the East OR the West Coast … but I digress…) as well as Dana Plato, Ricky Schroeder and Eileen Brennan as members of the Lane family. At the start of the show, these performers were singing as they packed up the family station wagon for a trip down to WDW. Hence the "Disney World or bust" line.

An interesting side note: Were you to watch the "Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World's 10th Anniversary" special today, you might be intrigued to see who CBS hired to provide comic relief for the program. Check out the wiry guy playing that bumbling-but-well-meaning Disney World cast member. (One of the running gags of the show is that — no matter where the Lange family goes on Disney World property as part of their vacation — this guy keeps popping up. Checking their bags at the Contemporary Hotel, selling balloons at the Magic Kingdom, etc.) It's Michael Keaton. AKA "Batman" / "Beetlejuice."

Pretty weird, huh?

And finally, Scott Mills chimes in with a question about "Project Gemini."

Hi Jim

First I just wanted to say how much I enjoy the site. It's great having a place to find out what really goes on behind the scenes.

Anyway, on to my question – I was scouring through the "Project Gemini" scenarios and one thing caught my eye – the fact that there is a proposed "Little Mermaid" overlay of The Living Seas. It seems to me that the more logical theme would now come from "Finding Nemo," especially since this weekend it experienced the largest opening of any Disney / Pixar film (somewhere north of $70 million, if I'm right).

Now, of course, the Project Gemini plans were drawn up well before anyone knew that "Nemo" would be a hit, so hopefully the Imagineers will re-think this idea. Somehow I've got this image of going down (in) the Hydrolators to Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" stuck in my head. Also, they should replace the Hydrolator "windows" with video screens that would show various "Nemo" characters pass by as we go down (something similar to what you see in the closing credits).

Thanks again for the great work you do.

Scott M.
Los Angeles


It's funny that you should bring this up. For — just last week, as Michael Eisner was speaking at the Bernstein's Strategic Decisions Conference in New York — Disney's CEO revealed that a "Finding Nemo" attraction would soon be going into the "Living Seas" pavilion at WDW's Epcot.

Now where this gets interesting is that — as of March of this year — this new "Finding Nemo" attraction was initially supposed to make its debut at DCA as part of the Pixar-ization of that theme park's Pacific Wharf section. Mind you, that's still going to happen (in addition to clones of this "Finding Nemo" attraction going into Tokyo Disney Seas and the Walt Disney Studios theme park in Paris). But as of last week, this new WDI-designed attraction will be making its world premiere on the East Coast. NOT the West Coast.

So why did Eisner decide to ditch the "Little Mermaid"-themed redo of Epcot's "The Living Seas?" To be honest, I'm not sure, Scott.

Mind you, it's not that Uncle Mikey hasn't done something like this before. Some of you JHM readers may recall when the show that was originally supposed to have been presented inside of the "Tree of Life" at WDW's Animal Kingdom theme park was themed around the "Lion King" characters.

Well, that DAK show was all ready to go … until Eisner had one of his brainstorms. Coming back from an early work-in-progress screening of Pixar's "A Bug's Life," Michael reportedly had an epiphany: "Wait a minute! Bugs live in trees!"

And that my friends, is how Flik and Hopper ended up as the stars of the "It's Tough to Be a Bug" show at DAK's "Tree of Life." Strange but true.

Okay, that's it for this week, gang. Now that I've finally got unpacked from last week's trip, I should be able to start churning out some halfway decent stories about Nancy's and my California Adventure starting next week. Which (hopefully) will make for some interesting reading.

Til then … well, all you dads out there have a happy Father's Day, okay? And I'll talk to you next week.


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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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.

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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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