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The 10 Greatest Moments from the Disney Renaissance

Friday, October 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Chris’s series exploring Disney history: “10 Disney Cartoons from the 1930s that Reflect the Can-Do Spirit That Survived the Great Depression,” “10 Ways World War II Affected Disney’s Filmmaking,” “10 Examples Of How Disney’s Productions Reflected The Changing America Of The 1950s,” “Walt Disney’s 7 Most Radical Ideas From His Last Decade on Earth,” “Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 1: How The Studio Reflected The Chaos Of The 1970s” and “Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 2: How The Studio Navigated The Hit-Or-Miss 1980s.”

A few years after Walt Disney’s death, the studio he founded entered a creative drought of nearly 15 years. The projects Walt had his hands on had dried up, and the most creative minds in the company were working directly on the theme parks. Ron Miller, Walt’s son-in-law, oversaw the company during most of this era, and, though the studio managed to produce some underrated cartoons and live-action films during this time period, nothing matched the artistry and innovation of the years when Walt was still alive.

When Roy E. Disney and Sid Bass brought Michael Eisner over from Paramount to head Disney — along with Frank Wells — the company experienced an almost immediate injection of creativity. In the realm of animation, most everyone dubs the period beginning with 1989′s The Little Mermaid the Disney Renaissance. (Some people end the Renaissance with the execrable Tarzan from 1999, but for me, this period ends with 1995′s Pocahontas.)

A lot of exciting things took place at Disney during the first few years of the Eisner-Wells tenure, and here are the ten best of them.

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10. Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas marked the end of the Disney Animation Renaissance of the late-’80s and early-’90s, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s nowhere near as good as the films that preceded it, largely due to its over-earnestness, Judy Kuhn’s vocal melisma, and the screenplay’s loose play with history.

However, Pocahontas deserves mention because of its firsts. It was the first Disney animated feature based on a historical person, and it also brought the Disney Princess banner to an American character (something the studio did much better in 2009 with The Princess and the Frog). Disney also deserves some credit for turning the dramatic “Colors of the Wind” into a smooth pop hit.

Even though Pocahontas isn’t the greatest of the Disney classics, it does belong among the highlights of the early Eisner-Wells era.

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Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 2: How The Studio Navigated The Hit-Or-Miss 1980s

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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For the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the company Walt Disney built and how it has survived over the decades. We talked about how the studio reflected the can-do spirit that beat the Great Depression in the 1930s, as well as how World War II affected Disney. We’ve also discussed the changing world of the 1950s and how Disney reflected it, and we looked at Walt’s seven most radical ideas from the 60s.

Last week, we delved into what I call Disney’s wilderness years – the period after Walt’s death when the company had exhausted all of its founder’s projects and its output suffered creatively. We looked at the 1970s and how Disney reflected the both the general malaise and the leadership crisis the country faced.

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Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 1: How the Studio Reflected the Chaos of the 1970s

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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We’ve been looking at the output of the Disney organization by decade, from the 1930s to the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, and this week, we’re looking at the 1970s. Everyone who experienced that decade has an opinion about its culture, or lack thereof. From polyester leisure suits to Pet Rocks, the ’70s were the decade of disposable culture (in spite of some true classics like The Godfather films and Star Wars). I consider myself more of a child of the ’80s, since that’s when I came of age, but I remember my younger childhood in the ’70s — especially a lot of the music — fondly.

Much of the culture of the decade reflects a certain escapism. From the disco kids partying their troubles away, to the punk rockers flipping a middle finger at pretty much everything, to the banal pop of the mainstream, much of the music of the era plays on a desire to get away from the troubles of reality. Movies and television share a similar escapism — witness the endless disaster films and idiotic sitcoms of the day.

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Walt Disney’s 7 Most Radical Ideas From His Last Decade on Earth

Monday, October 6th, 2014 - by Chris Queen
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Walt on the set of The EPCOT Film in October 1966

Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at how Disney and its productions reflected, and sometimes influenced, the times. We’ve seen how Disney mirrored the can-do spirit of the ’30s, how the studio overcame the challenges of World War II in the ’40s, and how Disney changed with the times in the ’50s.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, Walt Disney appeared to have done it all. He had elevated the cartoon from an opening-act short to a feature-film art form. He had conquered live-action movies and embraced television, and he even revolutionized the theme-park experience. But Walt wasn’t done — in fact, it looks like he saved his most radical and powerful ideas for the last years of his life. And here are seven examples to prove it.

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7. Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (1961-1969)

After a seven season run for Disneyland on ABC, Walt wanted to explore different options. His greatest desire was to broadcast a show in color. Even though ABC had broadcast the show in black and white, Walt insisted on filming most of the segments in full color because he believed color would add long-term value to his productions. Rival network NBC had begun to promote color series heavily since parent company RCA made color television sets, and, after a brilliant sales pitch from Walt, the network bit.

Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color ran for eight seasons before undergoing a retooling and title change. During those seasons, Walt took advantage of the new and exciting world of color programming when few producers were willing to branch out, especially in the earlier years. Once again, Walt willingly blazed a trail, and once again his pioneering spirit paid off.

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10 Examples Of How Disney’s Productions Reflected The Changing America Of The 1950s

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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In my last two posts, we’ve looked at how Disney reflected the 1930s and the 1940s. As the studio emerged from World War II and into a new decade, it faced a changing nation. In their insightful book A Patriot’s History Of The Modern World, Volume II, Larry Schweikart and Dave Dougherty write:

Long-held and oft-repeated notions that the 1950s were a decade of sameness and conformity in the United States miss the revolutionary changes occurring in the decade – radical shifts that, fundamentally, may have altered America and the world far more than the superficial changes of the 1960s.

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Far from reflecting a widespread sameness among Americans, life in the 1950s witnessed a burst of new businesses, consumer products, artistic expression, and social cross-pollination.

Disney ‘s productions from the 1950s reflect this rapidly changing America, and here are ten examples.

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10. Matterhorn Bobsleds (1959)

Walt had two needs to fill: one was a way to promote the upcoming film Third Man On The Mountain, while the other was an attraction to fill space on a hill between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. He remembered the majesty of the Matterhorn when he visited the set of Third Man On The Mountain, and the Imagineers designed a roller coaster based on the mountain.

The resulting attraction became the first steel-tube roller coaster, providing a smoother – yet still thrilling – ride than the traditional wooden coaster. Disney changed the way we think of thrill rides and opened the door for endless possibilities. The Matterhorn Bobsleds still bring excitement to this day. Check it out:

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The 10 Most Overrated Disney Animated Films

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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For over 90 years, the Disney Studios has created some of the most memorable and enduring animated films of all time. But even a fanboy like me can admit that not everything Disney has released has been perfect. As much as Disney markets and hypes every animated feature as a classic, many of them are simply overrated. Here are the top ten.

My ground rules were pretty simple: I didn’t include Pixar’s output because they haven’t always been directly part of the Disney family. I also didn’t include the direct-to-video “cheapquels” that Michael Eisner made so famous, because they’re in a lower class all their own, and I left out the package features of the 1940s. Enjoy!

10. Meet the Robinsons (2007)

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Once in a while, Disney tries to throw a bone to boys to make up for the prominence of the princesses in animated films. While the idea is worthwhile and the efforts are valiant, once in a while the more male-oriented movies fall short. 2007’s Meet the Robinsons is one of the latter.

Meet the Robinsons had a lot of potential – a twisty, time travel story with a sweet adoption plot coupled with clever, stylized animation. Instead, Meet the Robinsons is dizzying, noisy, and just falls short. Part of the cartoon’s problem may stem from the fact that John Lasseter, newly taking over as head of animation after Disney acquired Pixar, suggested a retooling.

Whatever the reason, Meet the Robinsons just didn’t make the impact that it could have.

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Mary Blair: Unsung Disney Artist

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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She developed the unique color palette for many of the iconic Disney films of the 1950s. She produced some of the most evocative artwork from the Disney Studio’s 1941 South America trip. She created the characters for a beloved classic Disney Parks attraction. She outshone the men she worked with – including her own husband. Yet for some reason, Mary Blair doesn’t have the household name she deserves except among Disney aficionados.

With his new book The Art And Flair Of Mary Blair: An Appreciation, animator and historian John Canemaker hopes to change that perception. (I’ve waited nearly two years for this book’s release, and it was worth the wait.) Canemaker explores a woman with priceless talent who led a difficult, sometimes tragic life – an artist who has gone woefully underappreciated. As Canemaker writes on one of the book’s final pages:

The general public’s knowledge of Mary Blair’s name and her art is limited. Only one of her children’s books is still in print, and the hundreds of conceptual paintings she made for animated films are stored at the Disney studio or are in private collections.

Mary Richardson was born in Oklahoma in 1911, but her family moved to Texas when she was a young girl. The daughter of an alcoholic, she asked for money from the family budget to purchase art supplies because she knew that her father couldn’t then spend it on drinking.

Her talent earned her a scholarship to the famed Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and there she met Lee Blair, whom she later married. The Blairs harbored dreams of becoming fine artists, but the obvious need for money led them first to Ub Iwerks’ studio, then to Harman-Ising/MGM.

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Breaking Disney Parks Rumor: Is Soarin’ Getting A New Film?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Anyone who has visited Walt Disney World or Disneyland knows how cool Soarin’ is. In an earlier post on the 10 things you must do at Disney World, I referred to Soarin’ as “a feast for the senses” and “an engineering marvel.” The uniquely immersive attraction opened at Disney’s California Adventure in 2001 and at Epcot in 2005. Both attractions use the same incredible film highlighting sites up and down the state of California.

We’re now hearing a rumor that Soarin’ may get an update. The folks at WDWMagic, one of my favorite sources for Disney Parks news, rumors, and gossip, reports:

The use of the film from Disney California Adventure was felt by many as a temporary stop gap until Disney could shoot a movie specifically for the Walt Disney World edition of Soarin’, or a new version that could include both the east coast and west coast. We are now almost 10 years since opening, with the same California based film playing.

Well now it seems we are closer than ever to a new film for Epcot’s Soarin’. In the next month, film crews working on the new film are planning flights over Walt Disney World, and specifically Epcot. It is speculated that this new footage will be part of a Soarin’ over the World, which will include sights from around the world, including Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Keep in mind that we haven’t heard anything remotely official from Disney yet, and also that rumors of updates to the attraction have been around for years. WDWMagic even admits that speculation has been around almost since Soarin’ opened. But wouldn’t it be cool to see new footage? If you’ll indulge me to dream a little, wouldn’t an experience that changes every time you ride Soarin’ – like the new Star Tours – be so much fun?

What are your thoughts, Disney Parks fans?

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Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 6: ‘A Living Blueprint Of The Future’

Monday, April 21st, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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We’ve made it to the end of our series on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and Disney’s influence on it. If you’ve missed the rest of the series here’s where you can find the rest:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’
Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’

In this segment, we’re going to look at the legacy of the Fair on Disney’s theme parks. As we discussed in the first week of the series, Walt Disney used the New York World’s Fair as a sort of testing ground for an East Coast Disneyland concept. The success of the Disney-designed pavilions convinced the company that their secret land purchases in Florida would pay off. As Jeff Kurtti noted in Since The World Began, his (sadly out of print) account of Walt Disney World’s first 25 years:

Ninety-one percent of the guests at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair attended at least one of the Disney shows. And although critics scoffed at Disney’s creations, their popularity convinced many in the Disney organization that the theme park concept was fundamentally reliable, regardless of geographic location.

Since the Fair, Disney has opened a resort with five theme parks in Florida, expanded Disneyland to a second theme park, opened a two-park resort in Tokyo and single-park resorts in Paris and Hong Kong – with a resort in Shanghai set to open in late 2015.

Each of the four pavilions that Disney designed and built for the Fair have left their mark on the Disney brand over the past 50 years. It’s A Small World, with its inimitable spirit and charm, has made its way to all five Magic Kingdom-style parks and has been consistently popular since its Disneyland debut. That attraction also inspired and informed the spirit of World Showcase, the half of Epcot in which various nations show themselves off to guests, living in harmony along World Showcase Lagoon.

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Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Welcome to Part 5 of our series on Walt Disney’s contributions to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York City. If you need to catch up on the rest of the series, here’s where to look:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’

This week we’re looking at an attraction that made its debut at the World’s Fair and is still beloved today – It’s A Small World. It’s one of the attractions that appears at every Disney resort, on three continents. Because of its ubiquity all over the world, according to Disney, the title song “is always playing somewhere around the world.” During the course of a 16 hour day in any one of the parks, the song plays 1,200 times. Love it or hate it, It’s A Small World is one of the quintessential Disney attractions, but it almost didn’t make it off the drawing board.

A scant nine months before the Fair, Pepsi approached the Disney Studios requesting that the Imagineers develop an attraction that the company would sponsor to benefit UNICEF. Bob Thomas picks up the story in Walt Disney: An American Original:

A Disney executive, believing that three projects were more than enough to occupy WED, sent the Pepsi-Cola people to an engineering firm that specialized in children’s playgrounds. Walt was angry when he heard about it. “I’m the one who makes those decisions!” he declared. “Tell Pepsi I’ll do it!”

Walt detailed to stunned Imagineers his plan for “a little boat ride” in which guests would see simple, childlike figures representing the cultures all over the globe. He enlisted some of his most trusted artists to design the attraction. Mary Blair, whom Walt called his “favorite artist,” imprinted her unique stamp on the look of the ride. Marc Davis oversaw the animatronics, while his wife Alice and Joyce Carlson designed the costumes for the dolls. Claude Coats engineered the layout of what Walt would call “the happiest cruise that ever sailed.”

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Walt Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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In case you’ve missed the rest of the series:

Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’

Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’

Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’

Welcome back to our series where we’ve looked back at the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and Disney’s input into it. This week, we’ll see how Disney teamed up with one of the country’s most recognizable corporations to create a pavilion that celebrated American ingenuity and free enterprise.

In Disneyland’s early days, Walt devised the idea for a side street offshoot from Main Street, U.S.A. At the Edison Square attraction, Disney would team up with General Electric (which had its genesis in Edison’s company) to present the story of how electricity benefited a typical American family from the turn of the 20th century, through the present, and into the future. Disneyland’s souvenir maps listed Edison Square among the park’s coming attractions, but by 1959, General Electric (GE) requested that Disney use their idea in a pavilion at the forthcoming World’s Fair in New York City. They called the exhibit General Electric Progressland.

GE knew they had partnered with the right organization, and their promotional materials for the Fair touted Walt’s involvement:

Walt has used all his resources to make Progressland the number one attraction at the Fair. He has filled it with surprising, often startling, and always pleasing evidences of his great ability to entertain.

But the purpose is never lost sight of — to tell the story of electricity and the way it is changing the world — past, present and future . . . to showcase a great industry, the electrical industry, and tell how it has grown and prospered (and helped the nation to grow and prosper) in a free, competitive society.

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BREAKING: Disney Parks Will Thaw Out Cryogenically Frozen Walt Disney For One Weekend Only

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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At a surprise press conference this morning, Disney CEO Bob Iger made the special announcement that the company will thaw out the cryogenically frozen body of Walt Disney to make appearances at both American theme parks. The once-in-a-lifetime appearances will take place Independence Day Weekend.

“We’re thrilled to announce that Walt will come back to life this summer at Disney Parks,” said Iger. “He will appear at Disneyland on Saturday, July 5. We’ll fly him to Orlando over night, and he’ll appear at Walt Disney World on Sunday, July 6.”

Iger did not take questions from the media, but he remarked that the corporate board decided on Independence Day Weekend because of Walt’s patriotism. The CEO also acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the upcoming events.

“We’ve been aware of the urban legends, and we’re proving that the legends are true,” he said. “We’ve never tried this before, so we’re hoping the thawing process isn’t messy, especially in the Florida summer heat.”

A spokesperson followed Iger’s remarks to announce that the company will release details on the appearances in June.

“We’re counting on everything going according to plan because we know just how much it will piss Michael Eisner off,” the spokesperson added.

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Disney And The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’

Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’

Welcome to the third week of our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of Disney’s involvement in the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. If you missed last week, we looked at Ford’s Magic Skyway pavilion and Disney’s spellbinding work on it. This week we’re talking a look at another pavilion that allowed Walt to raise the bar on one of his newest innovations: Audio Animatronics.

Walt became interested with animatronic figures when he brought a mechanical toy bird back from a trip to New Orleans. He took the toy apart to see how it worked and to figure out how he could improve on it. His work on the mechanical bird led Walt to task Roger Broggie and Wathel Rogers to create a “dancing man” animatronic, and they did so using a film of actor Buddy Ebsen singing a vaudeville song on a proscenium stage as a guide. An entire attraction built around Audio Animatronic figures – The Enchanted Tiki Room – opened at Disneyland in 1963, but Walt had even bigger ideas.

Walt and the Imagineers began to develop the concept for a side street off Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. called Liberty Street. The area would center around the founding principles of the United States, and its key attraction would be One Nation Under God, a celebration of America culminating in a Hall of Presidents.

In 1962, World’s Fair mastermind Robert Moses visited Disneyland to check on the progress of Walt’s exhibits for the Fair, and Walt showed him the Hall of Presidents concept, inviting Moses to “meet Mr. Lincoln.” Moses found himself taken aback by the animatronic Abraham Lincoln that he declared, “I won’t open the fair without that exhibit!” By the following summer, Moses had convinced the State of Illinois to include the Lincoln show in their pavilion.

The Fair’s guidebook describes the attraction, entitled Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, like this:

After watching a brief sound and slide presentation, “The Illinois Story,” visitors enter a comfortable theater where the figure of Lincoln rises from its chair and recites excerpts from some of the speeches of the Civil War President. The figure is capable of more than 250,000 combinations of actions, including gestures, smiles and frowns; the facial features were taken from Lincoln’s life mask.

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Disney And The 1964-65 World’s Fair, Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’

Monday, March 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Welcome back to our series on the 1964-65 World’s Fair and Disney’s involvement in it. Last week, we looked at the background behind the Fair and the factors that led Walt Disney to take part in some of the pavilions. Today we’re diving into one of those pavilions where Walt and the Imagineers lent their touch – the Magic Skyway, presented by Ford Motor Company.

When Walt began to seek out corporate partners for the New York World’s Fair, General Motors was near the top of the list. Their Futurama pavilion turned into the hit of the 1939 Fair, which raised the stakes for GM at the sequel of sorts to that earlier event. GM was already in talks with Disney to sponsor a new attraction at Disneyland. GM chose instead to create a sequel to Futurama and put the kibosh on the Disneyland attraction, suggesting to Walt that he reach out to Ford.

Disney’s wonderful 2009 box set Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair contains not only a terrific selection of music from the fair – including early concepts, behind-the-scenes recordings, and unused pieces, but its liner notes also tell an extensive tale about each pavilion that Disney developed. Stacia Martin’s essay on The Magic Skyway tells the story well.

By 1960, Disney and Ford agreed to work together, and the auto maker secured a seven acre site. The next year, Disney pitched its first concept: The Symphony Of America, a ride across the country (in Ford vehicles, naturally) demonstrating “the land, its contrasting moods and its industry.” Ford nixed the idea, informing shocked Imagineers that the company wanted “something bigger” and was afraid that the concept was too close to Chevrolet’s “See The USA In Your Chevrolet” ad campaign.

After going back to the drawing board, Disney came up with concepts that Ford could accept. The attractions sat within the impressive Ford Wonder Rotunda, a 235-foot-in-diameter atrium which led to a seven-story show building. Inside the Wonder Rotunda, guests could visit the International Gardens, scale models of scenes from 11 countries in which Ford had manufacturing facilities. These scenes reflected Walt’s love of miniature dioramas, of course.

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Disney And The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Chris Queen
The Unisphere served as the icon of the 1964-65 World's Fair.

The Unisphere served as the icon of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which took place at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York. Today, many people know of it largely because of Walt Disney’s involvement in it. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at Disney’s contributions to the World’s Fair, but first, let’s glance at the origins of the Fair.

In his excellent essay on the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Bill Young sums up its legacy:

The Fair’s theme was “Peace Through Understanding,” dedicated to “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe” and was often referred to as an “Olympics of Progress.” The theme center was a 12-story high, stainless-steel model of the earth called Unisphere with the orbit tracks of three satellites encircling the giant globe.

By the time the gates closed more than 51 million people had attended the exposition; a respectable attendance for a World’s Fair but some 20% below the projected attendance of 70 million. The exposition ended with huge financial losses and amid allegations of gross mismanagement.

Today the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair is remembered as a cultural highlight of mid-twentieth century America. It represents an era best known as “The Space Age” when mankind took its first steps toward space exploration and it seemed that technology would provide the answers to all of the world’s problems. The exhibits at the Fair echoed a blind sense of optimism in the future that was prevalent in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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How Conservatives Can Conquer Hollywood

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Dear Roger,

I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree with two points from you piece last week, “How Conservatives Can Take Back (Some of) Hollywood for Oscar Time.” First, let’s take a look at where you place the goal posts for conservatives to aim:

But as you run your personal boycott of Hollywood, remember this. Almost everyone else you know — be it family, friends, business associates and, most especially, your children — is not. They are consuming Hollywood entertainment in mammoth gulps. And politics, as the late Andrew Breitbart said repeatedly (and he was far from the only one), is downstream of culture.

You give up Hollywood and you give up the country. Game over. And as we all know, it’s almost over already. Want that? Well, if you do, you can skip the rest of this article.

So… for those of you that are left… now more than ever is the time for conservatives and libertarians to take back at least some of the entertainment industry. Someone recently told me that Hollywood is like one of those football blowouts with a score of 90 for the liberals and 10 for the conservatives. We have to try to make it at least 70-30 (still a blowout, but there’s a glimmer of hope).

70-30? Come on. Settling for a pittance of the country’s entertainment industry is akin to aiming for a passing grade. Conservatives should proclaim bolder objectives with their efforts to enter the entertainment industry: to become billionaires and dominate the entire field through redefining it.

I’ve been studying and blogging on Walt Disney with Chris Queen here at PJ Lifestyle for over a year now to try to understand the secrets of his success. What did Disney do to make his name synonymous with a new art form? He innovated — a principle you as the co-founder of PJM know well. For Disney, his path — which is worth recounting visually since we can easily thanks to YouTube — made the first big splash with synched-sound cartoons in 1928:

Then Flowers and Trees, the first technicolor cartoon, in 1932:

Then Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature-length animated film, in 1937:

And after World War II then leaping to television and theme parks simultaneously, using one to support the other, with the Disneyland TV show in 1954:

Nowadays Disney’s TV and theme park divisions make much more money than the studio films. (BTW, from David P. Goldman, commenting on my Facebook: “Factoid: The market value of Disney Corp is larger than that of the whole Ukrainian stock exchange. So much for Marxists vs. Disney.”)

Conservatives should be looking to the future and to new mediums of entertainment. Humans are not going to amuse themselves by sitting around staring at screens forever. I still believe in the Breitbartian idea that the battle for the culture is more important than the fight over political ideology. Where I’ve changed is in realizing that there’s actually a force more important and powerful to affect and control. Culture is driven by technology. Movable type came before the Gutenberg Bible. Edison’s film camera came before Hollywood. The techniques of animation had to be discovered by Disney and his animators through years of experimenting with Silly Symphony and Mickey Mouse shorts before Snow White could be achieved.

So yeah, politics is downstream of culture. But technology has the power to carve the shape of the river itself.

And conservatives are even more behind when it comes to applying technology to winning elections. J. Christian Adams in the symposium last week spells out how now targeting the broad, mainstream culture isn’t even necessary for winning elections when it’s cheaper to churn out the base rather than work to persuade the undecideds:

Modern elections are all about energy. Energy wins. Period.

The left has developed an election data tool called Catalist. The GOP has no functioning counterpart.  This database allows leftist groups, the DNC, and the Obama campaign to activate the far left base in ways that were never before possible.

How do they do it?  They collect massive amounts of data about everybody.  What you read, what car you drive, what you said in a poll, everything. A consortium of leftist users pump data in, and a consortium of left-wing customers extract data.

The data about Democrat voters allow institutions to flip a switch and ensure a massive base vote.

So what does this have to do with Ted Cruz?

Democrats have realized that modern elections are won or lost by mobilizing the base, period.  Remember the treasured independent middle? Bah. Romney won them overwhelmingly but still lost the election.

The left swamped Romney using Catalist. Romney’s counterpart base mobilizer, “Orca,” crashed and burned on election day – literally. While Romney was spending one dollar to win one vote in the middle, Obama (using Catalist data) was spending a dime to get one vote in the base.

So the Romney campaign was doubly damned. They were outgunned technologically. But what were they shot with from all angles? Unrelenting images of Mitt the heartless corporate businessman, a symbol of the decadent 1%, lapped up by cultures and generations raised on the image of the evil executive. As I wrote about in the summer of 2012, “Why This Election Year America Is Carmela Soprano,” today people no longer know how to recognize good and evil in their leaders or entertainment. When Americans celebrate crooks at the movies they’ll surely vote them into office too.

How to counter this? What sorts of stories can get people to understand that evil actually often appears harmless or even noble to try to deceive you? With films of military tough guys fighting wars in lands most Americans can’t even locate on a map? I have another idea, and Sunday night’s Best Picture winner victory speech inspired me.

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Disney Raises Theme Park Ticket Prices Again

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Over the weekend, Disney Parks announced a ticket price increase for Walt Disney World, effective this week. From the Orlando Sentinel:

Disney’s Magic Kingdom guests will have to fork over a few extra dollars for single-day park admission.

The tickets will cost $99 for adults and children 10 and up.

This $4 price hike keeps Magic Kingdom the most expensive Disney park.

A one-day ticket for Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios will go from $90 to $94.

“Our pricing reflects the high quality and breadth of experiences we offer and our ongoing commitment to investing in our parks,” Disney spokesman Bryan Malenius said Saturday. “We offer a variety of ticket options that provide a great value, and find that most guests select multi-day tickets that offer additional savings.”

This increase was the second in less than a year. The company did not announce a hike in prices for Disneyland on Saturday, but insiders expect an increase in the not too distant future.

Many of the Disney fans I’ve spoken with bristled at the higher prices, but it’s worth noting that purchasing multi-day ticket packages can ease the blow a little – and the no expiration option, though expensive, allows guests to save tickets for years at a time.

Over at Theme Park Insider, Robert Niles put the price hike in perspective:

As long as more people keep going to the parks each year, theme parks will keep increasing their prices. Disney World’s attendance is up, so it’s just supply-and-demand for Disney to raise its prices. If you think Disney World’s gotten too expensive, don’t bother complaining. Disney’s looking at attendance numbers when setting prices, not people moaning online.

The fact of the matter is that dyed-in-the-wool Disney fans and other guests who really want to visit Walt Disney World will suck it up and pay the higher ticket prices. Even with the increased admission, Disney World still provides a tremendous value.

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Designing A Monorail And Kidnapping A Vice President

Thursday, February 6th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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The monorail systems at both American Disney theme parks serve as testimony to Walt Disney’s exciting futuristic vision. Monorails played a central role in the urban utopia of Walt’s Florida Project (and later on at Walt Disney World, of course), but many guests may not know that Disneyland has had its own monorail system since 1959.

Walt had wanted a monorail for the opening day of Disneyland, but his team had a difficult time finding a feasible plan for one. It took a trip to Germany for inspiration to strike.

During a visit to Europe in the Summer of 1957, Disney’s engineering group examined the experimental monorail developed by the Alweg Corporation, near Cologne, Germany. After further investigation, the group reported to Disney that this design appeared to offer the best prospects for economy, stability, and all-around practicality…

Walt asked Alweg to build a monorail for Disneyland, and he tapped Bob Gurr, an Imagineer who had worked on nearly all the other vehicles at the park, to work with the German company. Walt was pleased with the result and greenlit the Disneyland Alweg Monorail System, which opened June 14, 1959.

 This “Highway in Sky” featured two trains, each with 3 cabins and the now-iconic bubble top in front. Walt Disney’s hope was not only to provide a scenic journey above Disneyland, but to create a solution for mass transportation needs all around the world.

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Disney Parks From The Air Over The Years

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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By now, most people have heard the story of how Walt Disney initially came up with the idea to open a theme park. When he took his daughters on daddy-daughter trips to amusement parks around Los Angeles, he sat on a bench while Diane and Sharon rode rides and lamented the lack of activities for the entire family. The original idea for a small “Mickey Mouse Park” across the street from the Disney Studios has grown to two huge resort destinations in the United States, one in Europe, and two in Asia with a third coming soon.

Aerial photographs show us in a fascinating way how much the American parks have grown over the years. Take Disneyland in Anaheim, California, for instance. The original Disney theme park opened in 1955 on 160 acres near sleepy orange groves and is now 300 acres in the heart of Southern California’s bustling metropolis.

The photo below contrasts Disneyland in 1955 with today. Notice how undeveloped the area around the park was, and compare it to the urban sprawl that even in the late 50s bothered Walt and led him to build Walt Disney World in Florida. You can also see how the parking areas have moved to make room for hotels and additions to the park – including a whole new theme park, Disney’s California Adventure, which we’ll look at next.

Disneyland

Disney initially built Disney’s California Adventure Park on 67 acres at the southern end of the Disneyland property in 2001. The company retooled the park and expanded it six years later. The photo below shows the growth of the park between 2003 and today. While the growth may not look that drastic, you can notice in particular the growth in the southeastern part of the park as well as the major expansion of the Grand Californian Hotel at the center left of both images.

California Adventure

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Will Tomorrowland See A Makeover From ‘A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’?

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

Tomorrowland

Back in the summer, I wrote about the rumors that Disney has plans in the works for a Star Wars-themed land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. So far, we haven’t seen anything more substantive than those rumors. But since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, fans and theme park experts alike have speculated how the company would fold its new acquisition into the theme parks. Now, rumors have begun to swirl that Disney is planning a rehab of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland influenced by the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII.

The typically reliable MiceChat recently offered up a full update on Disneyland’s traffic numbers during the Christmas season (up!) and the park’s plans for the future. For those who like change, there’s apparently good news. Some of it is definitely coming, but it may not happen as quickly or be as drastic as Star Wars fans may have hoped. On the bright side, however, much of it may involve specific details from Episode VII, as the Disneyland crew recently was given a rundown on the plot and new characters that will be introduced to incorporate into their designs.

Apparently, the Tomorrowland remodel has been split into two phases… The first phase will involve relatively simple cosmetic alterations. The Astro Orbitor, [sic] that giant eyesore little kid’s ride pictured above, will be ripped out, along with the deserted track from People Mover. The buildings will also all be redone to look like a giant space port. Then, down the road, phase two will involve scrapping Autopia and replacing it with a speeder bike ride, putting some kind of spaceship walk through on the People Mover track, installing a new Astro Orbitor [sic] closer to Space Mountain and more, all positioned in the backhalf of Tomorrowland.

For Star Wars fans, this rumor (sorry, regardless of the source, it’s still just hearsay) could generate some excitement, and hopefully it will lead to changes at Walt Disney World as well – whether the changes be to  Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom or to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Adding a long popular franchise that just happens to be part of the Disney family into the parks is a wise move for both the creatives and the business people.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the comments at the end of the article, where commenters complained that a Star Wars patina is a bad addition to Tomorrowland, since the films take place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Of course, these folks have lost sight of the fact that Tomorrowland at both American parks isn’t exactly futuristic today. Imagineers have given Tomorrowland in both California and Florida – along with portions of Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea – a charming retro-futuristic vibe, influenced by science fiction from Old Hollywood as well as the works of Jules Verne. Art Deco flourishes abound throughout both lands, and other touches show a decided 20th century sense of style. It’s not strictly futuristic, but it is a distinct feel for these lands.

The bottom line is that Disney knows what it’s doing. The success of the Star Tours attraction and the Star Wars Weekends events demonstrate that Disney’s partnership with Lucasfilm paid off handsomely long before Disney bought the studio. I can’t help but believe that adding a bit of Star Wars influence to Tomorrowland (and a Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios – please, please, please) can pay off even more.

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Disney’s Tasty, Controversial Turkey Legs

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Of all the food options available at Disney Parks, many guests swear by the Jumbo Turkey Legs. I’ve never had one myself, but according to some guests, the Turkey Legs are a sure bet for a savory treat.

Like other famous Disney Parks snacks – the Dole Whip and the Mickey Ice Cream Bars – the Turkey Legs have spawned a merchandise industry all their own. The Turkey Legs made their debut in the late 1980s and have increased in popularity over the years – so much, in fact, that the New York Times featured the treats in a recent front page article.

Disney parks are about selling memories, and a spokeswoman, Angela Bliss, noted that foods like turkey legs play “an integral part in the storytelling.” For instance, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, they have been sold as “dinosaur bones.”

Disney is also in the business of making money, of course, and a jumbo turkey leg sells for up to $11.79.

Naturally, something that so many guests enjoy is going to generate some controversy. On one side, Disney executives fear that the Jumbo Turkey Legs steer guests away from more healthy snack options. (Because we all spend our vacations seeking out health food.)

Still, some executives at Disney’s corporate offices worry that the craze is starting to obscure their efforts to improve overall food offerings and nudge customers toward healthier items. Of the 12 million children’s meals Disney serves annually, for instance, more than 50 percent now come with milk, juice or water instead of soda. Disney has also sharply reduced salt in its children’s meals.

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Each leg is roughly 720 calories with 36 grams of fat, according to a supplier, Yoakum Packing.

On the other hand (or leg, if you prefer), some poultry industry watchdogs and other assorted killjoys have expressed their concern about the sheer size of the Turkey Legs. In a response to the Times piece, Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns wrote:

Why are these Disney theme park turkey legs so big? Turkeys have been artificially bred to grow so large that their legs, big as they are, cannot support their body weight.

The disability of turkeys bred for the meat industry is well documented in the scientific poultry literature.

Clearly Ms. Davis didn’t read the whole article, because if she had, she would have read that the legs come from tom turkeys, which are much larger than the hens we see around our Thanksgiving tables.

Despite the frenzy, it looks like Jumbo Turkey Legs are here to stay at Disney Parks. Any item that sells in the millions (Disney projected that they would sell two million of them in 2013) is bound to withstand controversy.

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Tom Hanks Reveals How He Landed The Role Of Walt Disney

Friday, December 20th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson as Walt Disney and P L Travers

Saving Mr. Banks opens nationwide today, and for the first time Disney has allowed an actor to portray Walt Disney. It’s the role of a lifetime, even for an iconic actor like Tom Hanks, and he told an audience at the Los Angeles Times’ Envelope Screening Series how he landed this plum part:

“I had all these people telling me that I was going to get a call from Bob Iger,” Hanks said. “And then one day the phone rang, and they said, ‘Yes, Bob Iger for Tom Hanks.’ And I said, ‘Yes, speaking. Go ahead and put him on.’ [And they said,] ‘One moment, please.’ ” [Hanks then hummed Iger's hold music: "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."]

After exchanging pleasantries, Hanks said, Iger’s pitch went something like this, taking on a mile-a-minute monotone:

“Oh, great. How are you, how are the kids, how’s lovely Rita? Give her my best, will you? … Hey, listen, Tom: If you could help us out here, we’ve got a tough position here. A movie came in based on Walt Disney — we didn’t develop it — and we feel as though we sort of have to make this thing. We can’t just let it go because somebody else would make it, and then what kind of schmucks are we that somebody else makes a Walt Disney movie? And if we just shut it down, then we’re going to come off as the evil version of Walt Disney, and we certainly don’t want that happening. So we’re in kind of a tough position here; we don’t know what really to do about it. It’s a lovely script, we’re all in favor, but if there’s any way at all you could just come in — it’d be nice if somebody famous played somebody famous. You know how that is. So if you’d take a look at it and just let me know if you’re interested in doing it, I’d really appreciate it.”

Hanks didn’t need much more convincing. “And that’s how I came to play Walt Disney,” he said.

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Disney Parks Will See A Greater Star Wars Presence

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 - by Chris Queen
(L-R) Bob Iger, Darth Vader, George Lucas

(L-R) Bob Iger, Darth Vader, George Lucas

Ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm just over a year ago and announced a new film trilogy, fans of the expanding Star Wars universe have sat on the edge of their seats awaiting a release date for Episode VII. Now we have a date – December 18, 2015, and the announcement became the talk of Hollywood last week.

The same day as the announcement, Disney CEO Bob Iger appeared on Blooomberg TV’s Street Smart to talk about Episode VII, as well as the increased presence that Star Wars will have at Disney’s various theme parks:

The only thing I can share which, actually I don’t think we’ve really talked about much, is that there is a fair amount development going on at Disney Imagineering right now to expand the Star Wars presence in California and in Orlando and eventually in other parks around the world… It’s probably likely that Star Wars will be more than in just our two domestic parks.

Iger made a similar (but more vague) statement back in May:

In addition to the Star Wars feature films that we’ve already talked about, we’re also working on opportunities for television and our parks. It’s still very early in the process.

What will this mean – individual attractions? Meet and greets? Or perhaps an entire Star Wars Land at the parks? (I’ve said for a while that a Star Wars land somewhere like Disney’s Hollywood Studios would generate far more excitement and interest than the Avatar Land in the works at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.) In March, the company surveyed guests at Disneyland to gauge their interest in a Star Wars land, and I wrote about swirling rumors back in June. The success of Star Tours 2.0 in the American parks, as well at Tokyo and Paris, along with the annual Star Wars Weekends in Orlando and Anaheim, suggest that the idea of a Star Wars land isn’t that great of a gamble.

Obviously, this situation continue to develop, but as both a Disney fan and a Star Wars fan, I’m excited at the idea that Disney Parks will see something in terms of an increased Star Wars presence. Stay tuned – as I learn more, I’ll pass it on here.

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Disney Parks’ Fascinating Running Subculture

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Disney Marathon

Seven weekends a year, they come by the thousand. They arrive from all areas of the country and throughout the world, ready to get up early, put on their shoes, and run. Walt Disney World and Disneyland offer 31 races and challenges – and ten accompanying parties, of course – throughout the year, and the races have developed quite a following. These seven events, five in Florida and two in California, attract hundreds of thousands of runners every year. And they often bring their families along for the trip.

It’s been nearly two decades since the inaugural Walt Disney World Marathon, and Disney figured out quickly that the running culture meant big business. The company has even put together its own brand for runners – runDisney. In a 2012 Orlando Sentinel article, Jason Garcia wrote:

Disney began staging marathons and other distance races as a way to fill its hotels and theme parks during historically slow times on the calendar, and that is still the primary goal. But runDisney has also bloomed into a business in its own right; it organizes more than a half-dozen races a year in Florida and California; hosts industry “expos” in which exhibitors pay as much as $23,000 for a booth; and hawks a long line of merchandise, from training gear to commemorative pins, necklaces and — of course —Mickey Mouse ears.

Disney says runDisney is now one of the three largest race organizers in the United States, both in terms of the number of events and the number of runners, alongside San Diego-based Competitor Group Inc., which stages the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series,” and the New York Road Runners club, whose events include the storied New York City Marathon. RunDisney has more than 150,000 followers on Facebook — more “friends” than Disney’s time-share or weddings businesses.

“In most major markets, there are one or two top races a year. We have three, four, five top races a year, right here in Central Florida,” said Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises. “That’s incredibly unique. And these races are open to anyone, from 4-year-old toddlers to 90-year-old walkers.”

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