Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Theme Parking: Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

  • In the days leading up to PBS's American Experience, I found that I did not want to wait to learn more about Walt Disney. I did a quick Google search and eventually decided upon Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler. All of the reviews pointed to a thorough, modern examination of the man. With a handful of Audible credits available, I decided on the audiobook edition, read by Arthur Morey.

  • Gabler's biography is a mostly linear affair, from laying the groundwork for Disney's birth until his death. Some of the threads overlap, especially later in his life when Walt had multiple projects going at once. However, Gabler does a good job of reminding the reader of various milestones from other threads, so I never felt lost by the narrative. Gabler's prose is descriptive without being overly flowery. The book is more concerned with details than mood setting.

  • As one would expect, Disney's animation work takes up the majority of the narrative. From his initial shorts, through the creation of Mickey Mouse, to the feature films, Gabler devotes a lot of time describing the process of creation for each work. And, as expected, the triumph and setbacks of his business are a major component to the story.

  • Since I'm a huge Disneyland fan, I was very interested to see how the biography would describe its conception and construction. A couple times I fought the urge to skip ahead, especially during the Fantasia section. I came away slightly disappointed by how the subject was handled. That is likely my fault as that may be a better topic for a more Disneyland focused book than a biography could hope to provide.

  • My major issues with the biography are the facile conclusions Gabler draws to explain Walt Disney's personality. Each of Disney's actions either stem from a yearning for a childhood lost at the hands of his father or a personal drive to assert control over his life and environment. The way certain moments, right up until his death, were plucked to prove one of these assertions felt very Psych 101. By the end of the book, I found myself rolling my eyes whenever Gabler strayed from the narrative into analysis. The Walt Disney Family Museum has stated time and again that is supports fact based examinations of Walt Disney's life. While there is run for interpretation in biography, I think Gabler would have found himself in better standing had he followed that advice.

  • That aside, I found Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination to be a fascinating, well written examination of the man's life and work. I have no reservations recommending it to anyone interested in the subject, as long as they are forewarned about its one shortcoming.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Theme Parking: Disneyland Resort Trip Report - 9-11 September 2015

  • As opposed to the spontaneity of our August trip to Disneyland, this trip has been planned for a long time. We wanted to spend a couple days in the park in celebration of my wife's birthday. Instead of making hard decisions about what to ride and what to skip between the two parks, visiting multiple days in a row would finally allow us to relax and see everything we would want to see. There was just one small, but growing, monkey wrench that changed our plans.
  • Wednesday was devoted to Disneyland. The park was already decorated for Halloween when we arrived. It was fun seeing the blue anniversary bunting replaced with orange. And of course, there were jack o' lanterns up and down Main Street. After a quick stop at City Hall for a birthday button for my bride, we made our way to Carnation CafĂ© for a birthday breakfast. (Aside: I am now addicted to making dining reservations online. That's how we ended up with Thanksgiving reservations in the park.) During breakfast, I noticed on the Disneyland app that the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters had a ten minute wait. The wait times for the ride are usually so long that I mentally wrote it off months ago. But with miniscule line and because Midway Mania was such a hit last visit, I convinced my family to give it a try. It ended up being a big hit.
  • After the ride, we found ourselves in Tomorrowland, trying to figure out where to go next. Across the way, we saw Star Tours and decided to give it a try. We walked over to the entrance and asked the cast members there if we could measure our daughter. It was a near thing, but she could finally clear forty inches. In that instant, all of our usual plans went out the window and a whole new world of possibilities had opened. That first day we could finally returned to a couple of our favorite rides, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Star Tours. I can't even remember that last time I rode them. While we were trying new rides, we even hopped on Gadget's Go Coaster for the first time. It may be small, but it was a lot of fun.
  • With our first day winding down, I volunteered to camp a spot on the parade route while my wife and daughter visited the princess in Fantasy Faire. They has so much time that they also rode on the Mad Tea Party and Alice In Wonderland. When they returned, it was time for Paint The Night and the Disneyland Forever fireworks. We ended the night with a stop at Wetzel's Pretzels and opening birthday presents in our hotel room.
  • Thursday was our California Adventure day, for the most part. I wore my new We Wants The Redhead shirt and we walked to the park for our second day. Now that our daughter was the appropriate height, we could finally ride Radiator Springs Racers. Our first stop for the day was the Fastpass station. Even picking up passes soon after opening, we still received an afternoon return window. We also picked up passes for World Of Color, a show we have never stayed late enough to see. After finishing our scheduling, we could finally make our way to the rides. Our daughter's first choice was Ariel's Undersea Adventure. Afterward, it was time to visit the princesses again. You read that right. So that our daughter could see some of the other princesses, we crossed the esplanade long enough to visit Fantasy Faire.
  • Upon returning to DCA, we had two goals. First, we wanted to try new rides that we hadn't tried before. We ended up on Monster's Inc., Radiator Springs Racers (finally!), Soarin' Over California, and Jumping Jellyfish. Second, we wanted to see several shows. I think it was the announcement the prior night that the Aladdin musical would be replaced by Frozen that prodded us in this direction. We saw Aladdin, the Frozen Sing-a-long, and World of Color. Again, I was stunned by how much we could do in the park that we had not before.
  • Our original plans for this trip called for one day at Disneyland, one day at California Adventure, and then off to home. As we woke up Friday morning, we did a quick calculation and decided to head back to Disneyland for the opening of Haunted Mansion Holiday. It was our first time seeing the overlay. While it was well done, I have no affection for The Nightmare Before Christmas and it felt disorienting to see the ride that way. On the way out of the park, I picked up The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering A Disney Classic by Jason Surrell and we all chose treats from Candy Palace. All in all, it was a great mini-vacation that left us all exhausted and happy.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Played Lately: The Witcher 3

  • Geralt left the deserters behind to nurse their wounds in the ramshackle cottage. The hound outside watched him warily as he passed. Although the witcher has been hired to find the lost man, it was the dog who eventually led them here. But no matter; the job was done.

  • Roach cantered up at his whistle. Geralt. climbed into his saddle and they rode back across the corpse-strewn battlefield. Broken engines of war jutted from the mud and filth. The witcher steadied his steed with a pat on the neck.

  • Down the road, the witcher could see the burned out remains of the village ahead. There were bodies here too, though the survivors were disposing of the dead. A good thing too, Geralt thought. The corpse eaters would find the battlefield soon enough. There was no need to draw them to the village as well.

  • Not that there was no fear from the necrophages. The witcher had noticed signs of drowners the first time he passed through. No one was going to pay him for the job. These people barely had homes much less the money necessary to hire a monster hunter. Nonetheless, the witcher could not leave these people to even greater misfortune for lack of coin.

  • As Roach cantered down the lane, a shout rang out from above. Geralt turned toward the sound only to be met with an arrow to the arm. Before he could react, a second arrow struck, knocking a full quarter from his vitality bar. The witcher paused the game and checked his world map. An icon nearby indicated that he was near a bandit camp in the middle of the village. "Oh, I have to fuck these guys up now."

  • Actually now that I think about it, that last part might have been me. The Witcher 3 is a really good game everyone.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Theme Parking: Paying More For Less - Disneyland Annual Passport Prices Increase

  • Sometime Saturday evening, rumors started spreading that annual passports would be increasing in price. Within a few hours, those rumors became a reality for both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. The biggest change for Disneyland was the abolition of the Premium passport and its 365 day access. In its place are two new passes, the Signature and Signature Plus passes. The Signature is $50 more expensive than the old Premium pass, but now includes fifteen blockout days over the holiday season. The new 365 day pass, the Signature Plus, is now $1,049, a full $270 higher than the prior version.

  • The one announcement that was not made was any change to standard ticket prices. The one-day one-park ticket is still $99 and I don't see Disney wanting to break the hundred dollar barrier lightly. Instead, this increase is primarily targeted at annual passholders, especially those who fill the park on their busiest days.

  • It is for that reason why I find myself so confused about the comments I see about the increases. The common troupe is that Walt built the parks as a family vacation destination. While increasing ticket prices does have an effect on vacation planning, annual passports are not targeted at vacationers. While Walt was alive, the parks were still selling ride tickets. Annual passes did not show up until the mid 1980's when attendance was falling. There is no way to tell what he would have thought of people who return to the park repeatedly.

  • It will cost my family an extra $150 next year if we choose to renew our Deluxe passports for roughly the same amount of access. Thankfully, it's a decision we don't have to make until next April. We have already spent nine days at the resort during the first half of our passes and foresee spending several more days there. At this point, the passes have more than paid for themselves even at the new prices. When we decide whether or not to renew, our decision will come down to how much more we will want to visit Disneyland over the coming year.

  • In the meantime, something must be done about the massive crowds who seem to show up no matter what the prices are. Until the parks become too expensive for the value they provide, people are continue to flock to the park in droves. And even this price increase will not be enough to keep people away.

  • For more thoughts on why prices keep going up, here are articles from Robert Niles from the OC Register and Brian Krosnick from Theme Park Tourist (from earlier this year, but still relevant).

  • UPDATE 10/07/2015: Here is one more link, this from LA Times report Brady McDonald, titled "7 reasons why Disneyland raised its annual pass prices". There has been a lot written about Disney's greed (by the LA Times, OC Register, Motley Fool, and Frommer's). And although that is a factor in this change, it is not the only one. I would have written my own blog post, but Brady McDonald covered everything I wanted to say in much better fashion.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Theme Parking: Stirring The Pot - Will The Rivers of America Be Shortened?

  • The talk of Internet Disneyland today is MiceAge's rumor that the upcoming Star Wars Land addition will be accompanied with a massive redesign of the Rivers of America and the route of the Disneyland Railroad. According to those rumors, about one quarter of the length of the waterway will be excised to make room for the expansion. The north end of Tom Sawyer's Island will have to be removed to make room for the new waterway, taking Fort Wilderness with it. And along with change will be a rerouting of the railroad along the new waterway, cutting much closer to Big Thunder Mountain before cutting back toward Fantasyland Station.

  • It is difficult to take anything MiceAge reports as face value. Such rumors have the tendency to evaporate as reality encroaches. As writer Matthew Gottula stated on Twitter, "Then again, this is the same source that kept telling us a few years ago that an Ewok Village would uproot the submarine Voyage and Autopia." Here are a few of the highlights from MiceAge from the recent past:
  • Again, rumors are just that. Something to talk and laugh about while there is no real news to discuss. Maybe this is all true. But I'm not going to bet my Disney Dollars on it.

  • UPDATE 09/30/2015: I should have bet my Disney Dollars.
    Disneyland Today @DisneylandToday
    @ZachTWB Hi, Zach. The Rivers of America will have a new route when it reopens.
    Congratulations of MiceAge for getting this one right.