Friday, July 28, 2017

Disney Legend and Imagineer Marty Sklar Dies at 83

Disney Legend and Imagineer Marty Sklar has passed away. It is a sad day as we have lost yet another person who had a direct connection back to Walt.

We are sorry to report that legendary Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar has passed away:

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Imagineer Wayne Jackson accepts the Disney Legend award

Congrats to Imagineer Wayne Jackson - for being named a Disney Legend! Its nice to see that someone who was there when Walt was still running things gets recognized! Congrats Wayne, well deserved!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Kermit The Frog - Steve Whitmire - Fired By Disney

In case you didn't see it - long time Muppeteer Steve Whitmire, who has dedicated his life to the muppets since he was 19, and who has played Kermit The Frog since Jim Henson's death in 1990 has been let go by Disney after 27 years of service, as his role was being "Recast". Steve has been quiet about it for several months, but has now started his own blog to talk about what happened and to share his feelings about the Muppets. From Steve's first blog post.. he writes

"For me the Muppets are not just a job, or a career, or even a passion. They are a calling, an urgent, undeniable impossible to resist way of life. This is my life's work since I was 19 years old. I feel that I am at the top of my game, and I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that I would never consider abandoning Kermit or any of the others because to do so would be to forsake the assignment entrusted to me by Jim Henson, my friend and mentor, but even more, my hero."

In a lot of ways - this is exactly why Save The Magic exists - to call attention to when these sorts of things happen in Disney. To those of us who are fans - Disney represents a lot more than just money, or an entertainement product. For us, Disney represents memories, and a history which transcends corporate politics. Absent some grave malfeasance, it just feels wrong to end a 27 year career. This is how the "feeling" of characters change, and something is lost in the process, and every fan is the poorer for it.

Drop by Steve's blog and send him a note of support.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Changes to Pirates of the Caribbean and valid reasons...

By now, no doubt, most fans of Disney parks will be aware that Disney has announced that they are planning on making a fairly important change to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. When Pirates of the Caribbean reopens at Disneyland Paris on July 24th - the famous Bride/Wench auction scene will be gone from the attraction. Florida's Magic Kingdom park and California's Disneyland park will follow Paris's lead and will have the scene removed in 2018. In place of the scene, a new "pirate loot auction" will be installed. The idea behind the new scene is that the townspeople, under threat of violence, will haul their valuables to a "pirate auction" in front of the town tavern where drunk pirates will bid on the townspeople's valuables. The famous "red head" character will now be transformed into a pirate, brandishing a gun, and apparently supervising the auction. The plus sized woman from the auction scene will now be in the background either feeding chickens, or offering her chickens to be auctioned (its not really clear which it is, from the rendering released).

Artist Concept - Copyright Disney

 Los Angeles Times Article

On July 7th - an article ran in the Los Angeles Times, and was widely picked up by other news outlets, which featured some comments and a brief interview with Kathy Mangum, an SVP who is Atlantic Region Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering. I would like to quote here the Los Angeles Times article as Ms. Mangum gives the internal thinking about what drove this change.

After consulting with diversity groups, including Imagineering’s in-house WIN — the Women’s Inclusion Network — Imagineering decided to adapt the ride for a generation weaned on strong female Disney characters such as Merida, Elsa, Moana and Judy Hopps.
“Last November, for the first time, we had a woman who was a viable candidate for the president of this country,” Mangum says. “I hate to say times are changing, but there's an advancement in pop culture and society, and the timing felt right. We didn't link it to any one initiative, but as we talked about it, we couldn't think of a really valid reason for keeping it as it is.”

The article continues...
Does she expect a backlash? “Because it was Walt's last attraction,” Mangum says, some fans are “not going to want any kind of change. We understand that. I understand that. But it's the same reason we added Jack Sparrow. You have to think ahead to other generations who won't have the tie-back to Walt.”

History with Walt

While its been widely mentioned that Pirates of the Caribbean was the last attraction that Walt Disney supervised - what is not as widely known is that there were only two segments of the attraction which were completed to the testing stage, and were actually viewed by Walt in person. The two scenes were the "dunking the Mayor" scene and the "bride auction" scene. Indeed - not only did Walt view and approve the full size operating segment - but Walt himself was actually responsible for adding in the auction scene in the first place. In Fall 1999 issue of The "E" ticket magazine an interview with Claude Coats (one of the original imagineers who worked on Pirates) - mentions,
"Walt added the Auctioneer scene kind of late... He came in one time and even said, 'This will be all right won't it?' He was just a little doubtful of auctioning off the girls. Was that quite 'Disney' or not? We added some other signs around, buy a bride or something like that, that augmented the auction scene as though it was a special big event. Marc (Davis) had done some drawings of the other girls who were tied up and shivering. The way the girls were done it's not an offensive scene at all, but it probably could have been if it hadn't been handled in a very interesting way."
One of the other lesser known aspects of the attraction is that, at least in the storyline of the attraction in Disneyland, the "red head" character apparently had years of happy marriage to a pirate and eventually became a pirate herself. We know this because Disney Imagineer Marc Davis painted the"red head" character as she would appear later in life as seen in the crew quarters area at the beginning of the attraction.

Really Valid Reasons... 

Ms. Mangum of imagineering mentioned in her interview "You have to think ahead to other generations who won't have the tie-back to Walt.” and her insight is key to understanding why this change should not be made. One of the things which is most important to our mission at - is to do everything possible to keep Walt's touch alive in the parks. That is not to say that the Disney parks need to be museums. Numerous are the quotes, which Disney is all too quick to point to, from Walt about changing the parks and installing new things. As the years go on, less and less of Walt will exist in the parks as a normal matter of course, new parks are built, and times of course change. This is why it is all the more important to try to save the things which we know that Walt was directly involved in. Change at the Disney parks on classic attractions should only be done when the change is consistent with the story line already established, and when the change adds something meaningful which advances the story. For example, over the years the animatronics have been updated with newer more advanced models. That change is fine, as it keeps the attraction's story as it had been, yet improves on the experience without changing the story line of the attraction. This change, on the other hand, is something much different. Not only does it wipe out a scene which we know Walt worked directly on, and approved - but it fundamentally changes the attraction's story line. Change by change the attraction is transformed into something which Walt wouldn't recognize and this, more than anything else, will break the "tie-back" to Walt. 

But it's the same reason we added Jack Sparrow...

In 2006 Disney announced that they would be adding the Jack Sparrow character to the pirates attraction. Originally, as Walt designed, the ride was a loose tableaux representing scenes that historical pirates may have, from time to time, been engaged in. Unlike the attractions found elsewhere in Disneyland, this attraction wouldn't have a linear story line based upon a specific preexisting movie. This was a departure from all the attractions which had proceeded it in Disneyland, and indeed was the genius and strength of the attraction. Unlike a linear story based attraction (Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad, Snow White, Etc.) this attraction would have a story which would be ever new every time you rode it. With so much recorded dialog, it was likely that a guest on the attraction wouldn't hear everything the first time they rode through. This would enable the guest to experience the attraction ever new each time it was experienced, and provided the ability to keep the attraction interesting. It was a major development and break-though in theme park design - as it was the introduction of the non-linear story.

One of the worst things to befall pirates, before this idea of changing the auction scene surfaced, was the addition of the Jack Sparrow character to the attraction's story line. The reason this was so bad is because it took the Pirates attraction and made it have a linear story focused on the Sparrow character. Gone were the tableaux, and in its place was a "where's waldo" sort of experience as you see the Sparrow character pop up three times within the attraction. From imagineering's point of view, the idea was that it would tie the attraction to a character that the modern audience would relate to. The issue here is that this stripped the attraction of it's timelessness. Will the Sparrow character still be relevant in 50 years? Or will that need to be ripped out and replaced with what ever the flavor of the moment is in the future? It is a bad precedent. For example, how well did the Ellen DeGeneres animatronic character age in the Epcot remake of the Universe of Energy attraction? At last check, Disney removed it.

Worse, the change in Pirates belayed that at some point, Imagineering had sort of forgotten their own history. Clearly, dealing with what actual pirates did in history; kidnapping, looting, plundering, shooting, murder, etc., was problematic for a family friendly attraction. The solution to this when Walt was still around, was when Marc Davis attempted to inject some humor into the attraction, and the pirates became, to a certain extent, "cartoonized". In many of the Davis influenced scenes the pirates became sort of bumbling ne'er-do-wells. The Sparrow character, however, was rendered in all the modern Imagineering skill, as a hyper realistic Audio-Animatronic character. It is out of place and jarring against all of the more cartoonzied pirates in the rest of the attraction. Not only was Disney removing the non-linear storyline, but with the addition of the new Animatronic they managed to inject a darker more hyper realistic feel into the attraction. One of the key things which Imagineering Legend John Hench used to teach is that Disney Parks did not have jarring contradictions. Hyper-realistic put against cartoonized characters is a huge jarring contradiction, and a big no-no in imagineering design.

Change for Change Sake requires a really valid reason.. 

Imagineering an attraction, especially one which is as advanced and delicate a balancing act as Pirates, is a difficult proposition. It must be done with the utmost care. It must be done with respect for the art which is the attraction, and respect for Walt Disney's genius. Change because the "timing felt right" is not a good reason for making the change. Indeed making a change because a working group (Women's Inclusion Network) thought it was a good idea is also not a good reason for making the change. The change should only be made if it doesn't alter the story line, and enhances the attraction. Its clear that keeping the same narrative was not a consideration in making this change, in fact it was the motivation to change the story line and delete this scene which was the primary reason for making the change in the first place. Walt Disney was a genius, the likes of which do not come along very often. There were many times when people thought Walt was crazy; sound cartoons, first full length animated feature, first true theme park, etc., and in every case Walt was proven right. In this instance I think its a grave mistake to alter such a fundamental part of the story line personally approved by Walt. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Pandora's Effect On Walt Disney World Attendance

Interesting article over at on Pandora’s effect on crowd levels at WDW, and animal kingdom in particular. Lots of data and charts and it is a little bit “inside baseball” for those of us who are Disney Fanatics.. but the long and short of the article is that people are just cutting back on their visits to Hollywood studios and Epcot to spend more time at Animal Kingdom, rather than choosing an extra day at Disney over Universal. So in the battle of Universal's Harry Potter vs. Pandora, it seems like Universal is the clear winner at this point. Pandora isn’t drawing anyone “new” in like universal has done with potter. It seems that its people who are already there and they are just going over to see Pandora since they are there. It also seems like people are just going into animal kingdom, seeing Pandora, then they are leaving – rather than staying in Animal Kingdom as Disney had hoped they would. That indicates that Animal Kingdom still has a serious issue with the rest of the park not being really compelling. Disney really needs to up their game if they hope that this would cure all that is wrong with Animal Kingdom.