Sunday, January 24, 2016

STAR WARS: Season of the Force - STAR TOURS


Check out my other reviews for Star Wars: Season of the Force here and here.

In keeping with Tomorrowland's recent Star Wars makeover, Star Tours has added scenes to promote the release of the new movie. 

The line for Star Tours wasn't too bad when I went two weeks ago. My friend and I went a few times to get a feel for the ride, and to see if you see the same scene every time. Yes, every ride takes you to Jakku with the Millennium Falcon, and BB-8 relays a hologram message each time. The second planet you visit will be a random planet from the regular rotation.

To begin with, I really liked the Jakku scene. The desert landscape with the crashed Star Destroyer is a great setting for Star Tours. I had no idea John Boyega was going to appear, and that was an awesome surprise for me. My friend, on the other hand, was disappointed that they didn't use Daisy Ridley.

So, apart from what I already mentioned, there's nothing else remarkable about the ride. We noticed that the animatronic C-3PO in the waiting queue was improved. They finally fixed that hand.

Anyway, I'm sure this update to Star Tours will be here for a while, so that everyone gets to see it. I hope that rather than making this permanent, they simply add Jakku to the random mix of planets in the ride at some point. Is that too unrealistic?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

STAR WARS: Season of the Force - HYPERSPACE MOUNTAIN


Finally, after weeks of anticipation, I found some time to hit the park with a buddy and ride the new Space Mountain. All I can say is that my low expectations were blown away. What I feared would be a lazy mash-up of Star Wars and Space Mountain turned out to be a lot more exciting and inspired.

Keep in mind that as always, I will be discussing the ride in detail. If you wish to experience it for yourself without "spoilers", stop reading here.

The new Fastpass for Hyperspace Mountain was a pleasant surprise.
Now, having always been a huge Star Wars fan, the prospect of a Star Wars-themed Space Mountain has appealed to me for a long time. I've always imagined soaring through the void of artificial space while John Williams' TIE Fighter Attack blasts triumphantly in the background. That experience alone makes Hyperspace Mountain worth it. However, after the project was officially announced, I began to worry that a mess of ships and lasers spinning all around you via projectors would fail to capture the excitement of a Star Wars space battle. I'm happy to say that I was wrong.

What stood out were the little tricks and surprises that really drive this attraction home--from the Star Destroyer in the beginning to shooting the TIE Fighter down. Some of the effects, such as the X-Wing flyby, fell a little flat for me. However, I was pleasantly surprised overall. I will never get over that drop with the TIE Fighter roaring overhead and the startling laser fire. That was the moment I thought, "Wow, I'm in Star Wars."

My greatest fear was that this would be cheesy and overdone, and I'm pleased that this was not the case. It was paced just right, to emulate the intensity and chaos of a dogfight while maintaining the emptiness and vastness of space. It's not perfect, but for my money, it's the best Disney could have done. This will be a must-see attraction for any Star Wars fan.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Inside The Walt Disney Family Museum


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Walt_Disney_Family_Museum
Last month I visited San Francisco, and stopped by the Walt Disney Family Museum. The museum is located in the Presidio, in view of the Golden Gate Bridge--an absolutely stunning and iconic part of California. The museum itself is housed in historic 19th-century army barracks last used in World War I. Today, it houses one of the most impressive collections of Disney artifacts in the world. It is worthwhile to note that the museum is not directly affiliated with The Walt Disney Company (Disney), but was established privately by Disney family members.


The lobby of the museum is Walt’s trophy cabinet--an entire room full of awards, medals, honorary degrees and titles, trophies… this man was well-decorated. It also includes fifteen of his twenty-six Academy Awards.


The tour begins with Walt’s childhood, and the often clashing yet intimate relationship he had with his parents. The museum does a great job putting the patron in Walt’s shoes, telling his story candidly with all sorts of anecdotes--from his father’s abuse to his mother’s objection to socialist ideals--which were very important influences on Walt Disney as a person.

Mickey Mouse concepts
An elevator takes you to the second floor, which begins with an introduction to Walt's early animation career: the crude, early works like the Laugh-O-Grams, Alice Comedies, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons that first gave Walt a name for himself. For an animation enthusiast like myself, some of the early relics are among the coolest items on display. There's some Steamboat Willie production art by Ub Iwerks, along with a copy of his original Mickey Mouse drawing, and a cel drawn and autographed by Winsor McKay.

The Band Concert, Mickey Mouse's
first color cartoon
The Disney museum is rich with pieces of animation history, as well as many personal items from Walt's life. It was remarkable to stand in the presence of some of the most recognizable Disney relics, from celluloids, to cameras, to movie props. Being the Disney fan that I am, I was absolutely geeking out over some of the hand-drawn cels from my favorite Disney shorts like The Three Little Pigs (1933), The Band Concert (1935), and The Old Mill (1937), all beautifully preserved over 70 or 80 years after their release in theaters. Truly, these are like classical paintings from a renaissance era of traditional animation.

Another great artifact housed in the museum is one of the original multiplane cameras from Walt Disney Animation Studios. This thing is massive, like, two stories tall. You get an interesting view from the bottom floor, where the art would have been laid out, and another birds-eye perspective from the second floor, that allows you to see through the different planes and experience the effect for yourself.

If you're not familiar with the processes of early traditional animation, the multiplane camera was a groundbreaking piece of technology that allowed for all sorts of visual effects in animation--realistic weather and water effects, illusions of depth and movement--it's truly a piece of film history. I'm not sure whether this is the specific multiplane camera seen in The Reluctant Dragon (1941), as I would imagine that one is still in Burbank at the Walt Disney archives. But nonetheless, this camera was surely used to produce some of the more memorable and visually fascinating scenes in some early Walt Disney classics.

Here's an in-depth explanation of the camera as told by Walt Disney himself.



One spectacular feature of the museum is its clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It can be seen through many windows in the place, but one part of the gallery in particular has a vast windowed section, giving you a full view of the Bay and the famous bridge. The Presidio is a very photogenic area, and this museum is no exception. It's almost surreal to view such a historic Disney collection against such a picturesque backdrop.



Of course, what Disney museum would be complete without a section dedicated to Disneyland? The Walt Disney Family Museum features an interesting look at the ideas and development surrounding the park, and a model of Disneyland based on Walt's imagination.


The Disneyland of Walt's Imagination
This model is based on attractions that were inspired, in part or in whole, by the mind of Walt Disney. Every ride and attraction you see here was in some way envisioned or influenced by the man himself--including some now-defunct rides like the Rocket Jets and Adventure Thru Inner Space. Note that Space Mountain still looks like it did in its conceptual phase--Walt died 11 years before Space Mountain opened at Disneyland.



Luckily I visited San Francisco just in time for the Disney and Dalí exhibit, which ended on January 3rd. I was more than pleased to discover this exhibit, as both Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí were significant inspirations to me as a child. I must have been five years old in my first painting class when I tried to imitate Dalí's melting clocks--a foray into surrealism that really sparked my young imagination. I have grown up greatly admiring the works of these two artists, and to see the physical product of their collaborations was nothing short of breathtaking.


Destino Concept Art
One of the more unique Disney projects I can recall was a long-abandoned short film called Destino, first envisioned by Walt and Salvador in 1945. It was eventually completed after 58 years, and first released in 2003. Destino was completed with great care to preserve Dalí's vision, using a blend of CGI and Dalí's distinctive style to capture the essence of his storyboard ideas, and finally bring the picture to life after decades of dormancy. I first saw Destino years ago, and was completely enraptured by not only its remarkable vision, but its intriguing history. At this exhibit I actually got to see the meticulous sketches by Dalí, his first ideas and expressions of this film to be put to paper, and I was speechless. Although this exhibit is no longer running, I would highly recommend any Disney fan a trip to The Walt Disney Family Museum. I'm sure the gallery hosts all sorts of priceless artwork year-round.



Friday, December 4, 2015

STAR WARS: Season of the Force - Star Wars Launch Bay

Last month I got to check out the new Star Wars Launch Bay, the somewhat grand reopening of Innoventions. As expected, this is not a permanent attraction--merely a placeholder to showcase Star Wars memorabilia and promote the new movie. Still, I was pretty disappointed by how temporary it feels. For the way this attraction was hyped up, I honestly expected more activities. It's virtually just an expansion of the Marvel floor upstairs; character photo-ops and relics from the movies. The Star Wars costumes and props are certainly cool to look at up close, keeping in mind that they're not the screen-used props from the movies. If you were at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim this year, or San Diego Comic-Con, you've probably seen most of the stuff on display here. Although I don't remember seeing Phasma's helmet at either, so that was pretty cool.


My best hope for this place is that it continues to develop as the main center for Star Wars, for the next three years until Star Wars Land opens. I can just see Star Wars Launch Bay in a couple years, decorated with posters and promotional models for the new land. So I have high hopes for Star Wars Launch Bay, even though I was probably in and out of there in five minutes total.

For first-timers and visiting Star Wars fans, definitely check out the Launch Bay. For regulars, you probably won't need to see it more than once. Expect a review of Hyperspace Mountain and Star Tours in the weeks to come.

Flame Trooper from Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Friday, October 30, 2015

Abandoned Desert Water Park

Author's note: This was the first post I ever wrote for Disneyland Report. Soon after I decided to adhere to a Disney theme, and this post was removed. However, I thought it was fitting for a Halloween post, so I'm bringing it back. I'm not sure about the state of the water park today, but this would have been from my Vegas trip around August 2012. 
Happy Halloween!

You're travelling down Interstate 15 just east of Barstow; Las Vegas bound. There are towering water slides sporting bright colors. Is it a mirage? No, it's the Rock-A-Hoola Water Park!


Or so it was.

This ambitious water park had a mere 6-year run before it faced total abandonment in 2004. Rock-A-Hoola featured 18 water slides, a lazy river, and other typical water park attractions. It was built by Bob Byers in 1998 as part of his famous man-made Lake Dolores water park, the self-proclaimed first water park in America. Rock-A-Hoola had a 1950's theme, paying homage to the musical greats of the 50's, as well as the historic Route 66, where the park stands. Guests could ride such attractions as the Doo Wop Super Drop and Big Bopper while listening to classic 1950's music played around the park. The park also featured a video arcade, cafe, and gift shop.


A few years after the park's demise, Rock-A-Hoola remained in remarkably good shape. The slides were left intact and there was a surprising lack of vandalism. That is, until no foreseeable future came to the park, and it was abandoned by security. Rock-A-Hoola's location on one of America's busiest highways between two of America's busiest cities make it one of Route 66's most curious landmarks. The park may be closed for business, but you can still check it out today.


The buildings have rotted away in the desert winds, and the paint has been done over by graffiti.


The Lazy River once carried people around the park. Now, it houses battered beach chairs and the broken shambles of old water slides.


The Lazy River Cafe used to feed hungry guests. It now stands as an eerie centerpiece for the park, with dilapidated soda fountains at each window.

Check out other images we took at the desolate Rock-A-Hoola Water Park:




Monday, October 26, 2015

The Fate of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride


A couple of weeks ago, I went on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride with my sister. While standing in line, a kid noticed my Mr. Toad shirt and timidly asked where I bought it. I told his parents which store it was; evidently this was his favorite ride. As I saw the kid climb into his own motorcar (the true way to experience the ride) I thought back to my own childhood. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride always stood out among the dark rides. While Snow White's Scary Adventures and Pinocchio's Daring Journey are also dark and somewhat frightening, Mr. Toad is a special blend of madness--swerving, spinning, explosions, and even getting run over by a train and going to Hell--that's just awesome when you're a kid. While the other Dark rides (namely Peter Pan, Alice, and Snow White) have lost their initial object of making the rider the main character, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride still puts the riders directly behind the wheel of Toad's motorcar, as they romp through Toad Hall and the English countryside from The Wind in the Willows.

So I got to thinking... will future generations remember this ride? Most people have probably never seen the short film it was based on. Wind in the Willows was released during a slow period for Disney; the post-Dumbo slump which saw a dramatic cut in the animation budget due to World War II. Thus, a delayed production and limited staff never allowed it to develop into the movie it was intended to be, relegating this classic to a half-hour short. Having released in 1949, the cartoon was still fresh in memory when Disneyland was constructed--perfect for an opening day attraction alongside the likes of Peter Pan and Dumbo. But today it's mostly forgotten, and sticks out as an obscure theme for an attraction. None of the characters would be seen strolling around the park; they appear only on pins and a reference in the Storybook Land Boat ride. It really does beg the question whether this ride is becoming obsolete.

If it were my decision, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride would stand until the end of time. I loved this ride as a kid, like countless children before me. And as I've learned from my last trip to Disneyland, it continues to be a favorite. Part of the magic of Disney is keeping the old alive and seamlessly integrated with the new. And Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is the embodiment of old Disney magic capturing the hearts of children and adults today. As Disneyland has made quite painfully clear over the years, virtually no attraction is safe from demise--the old must make way for the new. But the attention that they've shown in modernizing and keeping relevant the 1955 attractions is very promising. I have no doubt that a ride like Mr. Toad can stand the test of time, just as well as Dumbo the Flying Elephant or The Jungle Cruise. Maybe soon we'll see another Fantasyland overhaul: a complete re-imagining of all of our favorite dark rides. Who wouldn't want to see a grander, full-scale Toad Hall? Bumpy roads and sharper turns like Indiana Jones--scenes from the movie brought to life with projection and updated animatronic technology like we've seen on Alice in Wonderland and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in recent years. All I can do is maintain hope that I will never see the end of this glorious ride. Don't follow in Disney World's footsteps, Disneyland. Long live Mr. Toad!

P.S.-
If you have Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch The Wind in the Willows, it's on instant streaming as of 10/26. Help keep this Disney masterpiece alive, and may Mr. Toad's Wild Ride never close its doors.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Disneyland Raises Prices Again

Sigh, this is becoming an almost yearly post. This time, Disney has cut the Premium and SoCal passes out altogether, introducing the Signature and Signature Plus passports. The new highest price point for a Disney annual pass comes at a whopping $1,049. The cheapest option, the Southern California Select, now costs $329.

This is an experiment to see how much they can charge for tickets and still make a profit. Of course they're trying to squeeze as much money out of us as they can. And of course they need to cover the cost of Star Wars Land, which will be Disneyland's top priority throughout next year. And because of the construction, several attractions will be closed next year, namely the Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad. My advice is that if you don't think the price change warrants admission, don't renew. Some people, particularly Premium passholders, will be upset with the change and I understand completely. However, I will probably be renewing my pass anyway, because I love Disneyland. If you feel like you're being gouged, or you don't enjoy going to Disneyland several times a year, simply don't get a pass.