Sunday, October 5, 2008

Read All About It: Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers

Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers by Robert R. Reynolds is a look at the history of ride design company Arrow Development, as told through interviews by its founders Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon. The book is full of stories about rides for Disney parks, ventures with other parks, and interesting anecdotes about the general history of rides and roller coasters.

Ed and Karl met in a civilian Navy plant during World War II. Soon after they founded Arrow Development and began work machining parts for everything from crop dusters to Hewlett Packard machinery. Before they knew it, they were in the amusement park business. The first in a long line of revolutionary developments, the team built the first all-steel carousel.

It wasn't long after that a small boat, the Lil' Belle, that caught the eye of Disney. The boat was built for Lake Merritt Park in Oakland, California. Soon, Arrow Development was contracted to build ride systems for the soon-to-open Disneyland park. The team conceived and built the dark ride systems that we know today. The list of their early contributions include Mad Tea Party, Snow White's Adventure, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Dumbo, Autopia, and Alice in Wonderland.

A later challenge was the Matterhorn. Here Arrow had other firsts in the amusement park business, including one that would revolutionize the roller coaster industry: tubular steel track.

Through the course of time, Arrow Development designed rides for Disneyland, the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair, and Walt Disney World. Their Disney credits go on to include It's a Small World, Flying Saucers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and development of the Omnimover. They worked with other theme parks, many of which failed, including Freedomland in New York, the Pacific Ocean Park in California, Knott's Berry Farm, and Busch Gardens. They had further revolutionary designs in the amusement park realm including the flume ride and the corkscrew loop. Along the way, they also had other projects such as designing capsules that would sustain monkeys sent into space.

The book is filled with stories about Arrow's interaction with Disney through the years: their transition to working for "movie people" instead of amusement park operators, Disney briefly owning an interest in the company, Karl getting sucked into the air system of the Flying Saucers, flooding out the Small World show pavilion at the World's Fair, and interacting with numerous Imagineers as they did what they did best.

In 1998, Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon were honored with the Hall of Fame Living Legends award by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. They are the first to share the award, and the honor puts them in league with the likes of George Ferris, Walter Knott, and Walt Disney.

The Verdict: This book is a quick easy read, laid out almost entirely as interview answers by Ed and Karl. At times they often speak highly technically, which could cause the average reader (myself included) to not understand all of their jargon. But in the midst of this, is a long trail of great stories told by the men themselves -- stories about their hardships and successes, and stories about the people they worked with. It focuses mostly on their work with Disney, but does include many of their greatest achievements apart from their ties with Disney. This is not a book for everyone's shelf, but it is a must have for the collector or researcher of any theme or amusement park.

EDIT - FEBRUARY 19, 2012: I have been informed by the author that this book is now available in Kindle format through Amazon. Aftermarket prices for the print version have remained high for years. So this is a great opportunity for anyone who was looking for a good read rather than investing in a collectible item for their shelf.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Disney Synergy

The idea of synergy within the Disney company is not new. We see much of it today -- such as cross-branding from The Disney Channel into retail outlets, movie theaters, and theme parks. But this is not a new idea by any means. In 1967, Disney's synergy among its various organizations was alive and well. The company went so far as to create an updated diagram of the creative and marketing links shared within. This was not the first such diagram to be created, but given the time period, it tells many great stories. (click on the image to view a larger version)

The first thing that jumps to attention is that the studios were central to the Disney operation. The studios command the largest amount of real estate on the diagram and have more links than any of the others. In 1967, the company was still deeply rooted in its studio beginnings, and this entity formed the core of all the company's activities.

Other divisions of note include Disney World Florida which was in planning stages, the Mineral King ski resort which never found its way to realization, and the Celebrity Sports Center which was a short-lived recreation center in Denver, CO.

Some of the more interesting synergies:

  • Disneyland plugs motion pictures and keeps characters before the public - As much as many Disney theme park purists may dislike the seemingly rapid growth of characters in the parks in the recent years, this was a planned strategy forty years ago. Sleeping Beauty Castle was named while the film was still in production as a means of building interest in the character and story.
  • Disneyland and Disney World Florida provide a major sales outlet for merchandise licensing - The company has always carried various souvenirs for sale in the parks, including ones branded with characters from television and film.
  • WED master plans, produces audio-animatronics, and imagineers and designs attractions for Disneyland, Disney World Florida, and Mineral King - It is no surprise at WED's involvement in the theme parks that we know today, but the Mineral King ski resort was to be home to a small set of imagineered attractions, as well. The Country Bear Jamboree was originally conceived for Mineral King.
  • TV promotes the theme parks and the talents of WED - Walt Disney viewed television as a great promotional tool since its inception. Even after his death, the company still realized the potential that this outlet had in getting audiences excited about the theme parks. We still see this today with such things as the fairly new Disney Travel on Demand series.
  • Music, TV, publications, comic strips, studios, and theme parks promote each other through use of characters, stories, and settings - There are many links amongst these divisions that showcase how the company viewed its intellectual assets as a means of advertising and providing source material to other divisions. These synergies are too many to list here.

Disney has maintained course on realizing the potential it can gain by aligning its various divisions. The ESPN brand is a great example. The cable network occasionally has Walt Disney World centered promotions. Plus Walt Disney World has annual ESPN weekends and will soon re-brand the Wide World of Sports to include the ESPN name.

It would be quite interesting to see an up-to-date synergy diagram.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Epcot 1978: Dubailand?

With the recent activity in Dubai to create a world-class travel destination, it is interesting to note that early plans for EPCOT Center included a United Arab Emirates pavilion.

Press materials describe the pavilion as follows:

"Guests arriving at the Pavilion presented by United Arab Emirates will immediately pass two ancient Arabic Dhows (sailing ships). Inside the pavilion visitors first experience the excitement of a re-created Bedouin encampment. Located at the center of this desert oasis will be the traditional ascetic black tents which symbolize Arabian warmth and hospitality. Guests browsing within these tents will observe a veritable treasure of Arabian hand craftsmanship both on exhibit and for sale. Surrounding this encampment, a series of cultural displays and facades will be constructed authentically duplicating the arid architectural style typical of the Arabic countryside. Guests passing through this area will also be exposed to the fragrant aromas of an Arabian restaurant offering the finest in traditional Arab food.

"Upon exiting the Bedouin encampment, guests are beckoned by the opulent royal marquis to enter an Arabian nights experience, a thrilling magic carpet ride through the Arab World's most fascinating cultures, both past and present. As guests glide above the courtyard area, a powerful mythical character appears before them to serve as narrator and guide through the adventure. Leaving the black tents behind, magic carpets actually pass through the mythical character's apparition into a star-lit night where the narrator describes early Arabic contributions in the fields of astronomy, navigation, and mathematics. Once again, the narrator appears in front of the approaching magic carpets to guide guests into a showcase of medicine, chemistry, libraries, and science, all of which had their earliest beginnings in the Arab World.

"Finally, the mythical character appears once more to present the many cultural contributions occurring in the Arab World today."

Monday, June 30, 2008

No Vacancy: Asian

"The Asian hotel will be strongly Thai in its motif. A theme restaurant and lounge at the top of its 160-foot tower building will provide an enchanting setting for nighttime dancing and stage-show entertainment."

Approximately two-thirds of the 600 rooms would be constructed on the water with the remaining rooms in the tower building, overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon and recreation facilities. Included in the design were plans for 50 suites, decorated in royal Thai decor.

The planned convention facilities were to be underneath the main hotel facilities to separate them from the public resort areas.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

No Vacancy: Persian

"Stepping right out of The Arabian Nights is the Persian resort which will reign like an exotic far-Eastern palace on the Northwest shore of the lake. Jewel-like mosques and columns will rise above landscaped courtyards, while terraced sundecks offer sculptured swimming pools and 'old Persian' dining facilities."

The 500 rooms of the resort were designed to radiate out from the central lobby, which was to be crowned with a huge dome. Restaurants and swimming pools could be found on terraced decks, overlooking landscaped courtyards.
"Guests will practically be able to sail to their own rooms through a sheltered marina."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Vacancy: Venetian

"At the Venetian resort, an enclosed small boat harbor and intricate system of waterways will recreate the old world charm of the famed Italian 'City of Canals.'"

The 500-room Venetian was to be designed to resemble St. Mark's Square. The 500-room hotel would feature a 120-foot campanile which would toll the time. The glass-topped lobby would create a "brilliant, sunlit atrium effect indoors."

Shopping would be a unique experience as guests were to have ridden gondolas through waterways flowing under ornate bridges, linking various sections of the resort.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No Vacancy

As we all know, Walt Disney World opened in 1971 with two theme resort, the Contemporary and the Polynesian. These resorts were designed to handle the crowds at the Vacation Kingdom during the first few years, but they were not expected to handle the growing crowds by themselves for very long. Three other theme resorts were on the drawing board from the start and, as Walt Disney Productions President Donn B. Tatum explained, would "be ready to meet the demands of our audience as experience dictates." These resorts were the Asian, the Persian, and the Venetian.

But before we get into the new hotels, lets take a step back and look at the idea of theme resorts. Theme resorts were not at all a common thing. In fact, Disney had to take care to explain the concept as it was releasing plans for its Florida destination.

"The hotel 'theme resorts' -- so called because each is being planned around a single theme that represents a culture or architectural style around the world -- will offer far more than simply convenience of location to the new 'Magic Kingdom' and its attractions. In design motif, food specialties, recreation activities, convention facilities and even the type of entertainment to be presented, these major hotels will complement each other and the attractions of the theme park."

With the idea of theme resort, Disney began work with Welton Becket & Associates, a former partner who helped design show buildings for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Two of Walt Disney World's flagship hotels were completed, but the other three were met with challenges that ultimately led to the demise of the plans.

In the photo above, taken before the Walt Disney World was complete, you can see that site prep had already been started for the additional hotels. A pad was built into the Seven Seas Lagoon for the Asian. Land was cleared for the Persian. Tests were performed on the eastern shores of the lagoon to determine the feasibility of constructing a hotel on that land.

Before the end of the planned five-year "Phase One" which would have brought these hotels to life, the US economy took a hit. With inflation and an energy crisis, tourism dwindled and Disney was not in a position to invest in new hotels.

Ultimately, the Grand Floridian took the place of the Asian hotel. We never did see a resort on the north shore of Bay Lake. But we did get a hotel near the planned location of the Venetian. But why on Bay Lake rather than the Seven Seas Lagoon? The land on the lagoon was not solid enough to hold a building. Test pylons that were built on the site continually sank into the ground. The land to the east of the original site was deemed suitable and there today stands the Wilderness Lodge.

I came across some interesting pictures while researching these hotels. The one above shows Richard Irvine, John Hench, and Card Walker overlooking an early model of the Walt Disney World property. What caught my eye here was that the Asian, Persian, and Venetian hotels, as well as the campground, are all on the map, but the Polynesian and Contemporary are missing.

This graphic was widely circulated, but has some interesting details. First is just the general skyline that was on the drawing board in 1971. We see all five hotels. The Polynesian is still the old-style main house, before the design of the realized Great Ceremonial House was conceived. The monorail cars are all red, and the monorail track goes right through the Magic Kingdom on its way to the Persian hotel. Also, Space Mountain is represented by the old Space Port concept. Finally, Discovery Island obviously has some construction on it.

Stay tuned for my next few posts which will detail the three resorts that were left on the drawing board.

Friday, June 13, 2008

EPCOT 1978: Magic of Morocco

Rather than the Restaurant Marrakesh that we know today, the Morocco pavilion was to have a dinner show called Magic of Morocco. The pavilion would welcome guests with exotic plants in the Hesperides Gardens and jagged rock formations in the Hercules Grotto.

Past the Medina would be the Southern Morocco sector. "Here, lunch can be enjoyed in a desert kasbah where scenes of the Moroccan landscape pass before the diners. Later in the evening the kasbah features the 'Magic of Morocco' dinner show. This presentation combines live action with a panoramic background. A storyteller appears on the stage and begins to relate tales of Morocco. Scenes from his stories appear behind him, and he turns and seems to step into the film itself. He guides the guests through the setting and comes upon a troupe of dancers and acroboats. They, in turn, step out of the film and onto the stage to complete their performace."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Haunted Mansion Secret Panel Chest - Update

Last week, I posted some pictures of one of my favorite theme park souvenirs. Today, Ed at The Blog Wore Tennis Shoes has posted pictures of the Disneyland version of the Secret Panel Chest. He also found some interesting information on the origin of the boxes at

Monday, June 9, 2008

Music from the Parks: Pirates

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction has a storied and well-reported history. Like its counterparts It's a Small World and the Haunted Mansion, which can all be found in parks around the world, a tune was created for the attraction that would prove to be an iconic work in Disney theme park lore. "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" has surfaced time and time again on theme park soundtracks and is a perennial favorite in the genre.

X Atencio had been brought on to the Pirates project in 1965. His background had been in animation and he had been doing some work with audio animatronics when Walt Disney asked him to work on the script for the Pirates attraction. As development of the attraction progressed, many Imagineers were worried that the entire premise of the attraction might not be "Disney" enough given the debauchery and drinking taking place.

Atencio decided that a sea chantey might lighten the mood and provide a sense of continuity for the show. Using the old saying "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" as inspiration, he came up with a few lyrics and some ideas about the tune. After presenting his rough version to Walt, he was paired with Disney music veteran George Bruns. Atencio completed the lyrics while Bruns scored the piece. The finished song was recorded for the attraction by the Mellomen.

The music and other audio from the attraction have been released in various forms. The storyteller record set included audio from the attraction, as well as sound effects and music tracks borrowed from other record releases. For the attractions 33rd anniversary, a limited edition CD was released that included the entire attraction audio, early and unused versions of the attraction's song and music, voiceovers, commercials, and audio from a press conference in which Walt described plans for the attraction. This collection was later made available in general release, although without the press conference or commercial audio.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Haunted Mansion Secret Panel Chest

I just wanted to share one of my favorite theme park souvenirs in my collection. Sadly, I didn't purchase this new at Walt Disney World. I picked this up from a collector in the early to mid 1990s. I don't have a lot of history on the item, except that it is copyrighted Walt Disney Productions.

The top panel of the box says The Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World Secret Panel Chest. It has several sliding panels that are designed to blend in with the box. It takes five moves to open the main box, then a sixth move to get to the second hidden compartment -- a small drawer.

Judging by the generic instruction sheet that was included, I would guess that these trick boxes were mass produced for other companies. Just the graphics on the top panel would have been altered.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

EPCOT 1978: Space

Long before Gary Sinise led trainees into a journey at the International Space Training Center, the Imagineers had devised a different journey into space. Rather than boarding X-2 Deep Space Shuttles, guests would enter a twelve-story high gantry and board the Leviathon.

This ship would blast off from Future World, zoom around the earth, then head out into deep space. The attraction would create "the feeling of actually leaving EPCOT and flying through deepest space, complete with the sensation of zero gravity."

It took an engineering feat to bring zero-gravity to Epcot guests in 2003. We can only imagine how Disney designers would have pulled this off with a 768-seat theater, rather than a forty-seat centrifuge.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Music from the Parks: An Anthropologist's View

The 1992 book Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America is an anthropologist's take on everything Walt Disney World. Stephen M. Fjellman explores art, architecture, government, politics, consumerism, music, Kodak Picture Spots, and anything else that might be deemed remotely cultural. I will write up a formal review of this book sometime in the future.

Fjellman dedicates roughly four pages of the book to the music that we hear in Walt Disney World. Throughout the book, he is very cynical about American consumerism and how Disney and the various sponsors prey on this attribute of its guests. This section on music is no different. Fjellman starts:

"Many attractions at WDW have musical signatures. Although they differ somewhat in style in the various theme parks, they perform a similar set of rhetorical functions. Most of the show music at the Magic Kingdom is infantilizing. The themes suggest that adults performing nefarious and violent activities, as at the Pirates of the Caribbean, are just like children whose mommies and daddies will tuck them into bed after their adventures. The ghosts and goblins at the Haunted Mansion are not to be taken seriously; the possibilities of supernatural terror are punctuated with humor and general silliness. The theme from It's a Small World presents 'a world of laughter' in which fractious adults do not exist. Although initially separated by continents, child dolls join together in the last room -- dressed in white -- in a sentiment internationalism."

He goes on to say that tunes in the Magic Kingdom are like "obnoxious commercial jingles" and he relates "It's a Small World" to water torture. He lumps "One Little Spark" with the Magic Kingdom music. He does hit the head on the mark though in describing the themed lands as "experiential envelopes" where visitors are inserted to experience a created world where music and sound help complete the illusion.

Moving on to EPCOT Center, Fjellman notes that the songs are simply there to remind us about the dreams of Americans -- "fun, freedom, creativity" -- and then show us how the sponsors' commercial products can fulfill those dreams. For example, "Tomorrow's Child" from the AT&T-sponsored Spaceship Earth simply tells us that we will "have an exciting, communicative future." He also tells us that "Listen to the Land" preaches exactly the opposite of what the ride teaches us. The song wants us to make peace with nature while the ride focuses on controlling nature by manipulating it, tricking it, and beating it into submission. One positive note comes from Kitchen Kabaret, where people who lived through the 1930's - 1950's will be able to identify with the various allusions to musical styles and performers of that era.

I must say that I am a bit perplexed by Fjellman's assessment. He fails to note that the music is intended largely for guests' entertainment. His academic lens has turned the focus to control and consumerism -- how can Disney and its corporate partners make us believe that we need to consume the ideas and products that they are presenting. He only briefly implies the music's function in place-making, escape, and whimsy. He also completely ignores the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park and World Showcase. The omission of World Showcase is especially troubling given that a good amount of text in this book relates to cultural elements and how they are conveyed -- though through a happy lens -- by Disney in an effort to educate the guests. There are several instance in World Showcase where a country's music is used to teach about its heritage and culture.

Perhaps I am missing something. Maybe I am just jaded by my love for the parks. But it seems that Fjellman has read into the purpose of the music too much. It seems he is assigning intent that does not exist, or perhaps intent that was a secondary rather than primary reason for creating the music from the parks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

EPCOT 1978: Israel

For many years, plans for an Israel pavilion were on the drawing board. Even after EPCOT's opening in 1982, Disney advertised that Israel would be a future addition to the World Showcase.

Guests would be welcomed to the pavilion by the ruins of an ancient minaret. Past an entranceway of olive and cyprus trees, visitors would find a delicatessen and a convenience shop offering native publications, books, and films.

Further into the grounds, rising walkways would lead to a bazaar-styled marketplace. Here guests could purchase things such as tapestries or custom wood and brass items. The theming would reflect both new and old styles of Israel.

Finally, guests would pass through an archway and into a covered amphitheater. Here Israeli musicians would perform classical and traditional folk music.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Music from the Parks: Where I Started

Writing these recent music posts has really made me think about why I started to love Disney theme park music. It all started with an innocent little CD set...
I purchased The Music of Disney: A Legacy in Song at the Disney Store when it was released in the early 1990s. I picked it up because of all the great movie music that was on it -- from classic cartoons, to live action films, and animated features both old and new. It even had a few theme songs from the afternoon cartoon series. The last seven songs on the third disc, though, are theme park music. The Mellomen singing Meet Me Down on Main Street, music from The Main Street Electrical Parade, Tiki Room, Pirates, Small World, Golden Dream, and a version of There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow that isn't found in many other places.

I was hooked. I had not realized before how well I already knew this music, and until I found this set I never realized that you could have the theme park music at home. We had gone to Walt Disney World every year from 1985 to 1988, but then not again until 1993 which was right around the time I got these records. So this treat coincided perfectly with my return trip to the World.

Shortly thereafter, I found The Official Album of Disneyland and Walt Disney World CD at the Disney Store. It had actually been released a year prior to The Music of Disney, but I had never noticed it on the shelf. Every time we went to the Disney Store, I would pick it and read through the track listing, going through all the rides in my mind and singing along. But for some reason I never bought it.

Flash forward to the spring of 1999, when my high school marching band took a trip to Walt Disney World. We did Magic Music Days and had a session with some cast members, and we marched and played through the streets of the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park. On the last day of our trip, we had to catch the buses at the Transportation and Ticket center. I went in and saw The Official Album of Walt Disney World. It seemed like a good buy.

And that's all she wrote for me. I listened through the album and just loved it. The Spectromagic Medley is fantastic (I would love to get my hands on the piano sheet music to this track). Illuminations and Remember the Magic also struck a chord with me (no pun intended). Since then, I have been picking up all of the CDs and records (and even an 8-track) that I can find. I think it is great that Disney has allowed their guests to take this piece of the magic home with them.

While the earlier soundtracks were mostly songs, the more recent albums have also been including more area music. The background music is a great way to transport yourself to another place. You don't realize how big a role that music plays until you hear it outside of the parks. This realization struck me when my parents were on a Disney trip without me. They had called me at work from a pay phone. I could hear some music playing in the background, and I immediately said to my mother, "You are in Epcot, at the phones by MouseGear." She was shocked that I knew that. And so was I. At that time, I had not had much of a collection of background music so I wasn't too familiar with it all. It was merely the feelings that the music invoked...the place that it had transported me for that brief moment.

Disney theme park music is a major piece of the magic that everyone travels so far to be a part of. Without it, the parks would not be quite the same. The architects and designers would have a much harder job of creating a sense of place in the parks. We have many, many people to thank for all of the great music and songs that have been composed for our pleasure at the parks. And a special thanks, too, to those people who continue to provide great souvenirs in the form of Official Albums.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Read All About It: Designing Disney

Many books about Imagineering spend a lot of time talking about engineering and show. They refer to art, but it is typically just the display of concept art. John Hench's book Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show takes a different angle on design of the theme parks. This book focuses on art, but does more than just show pictures. Hench delves into the world of artistic design and the role that the choices of the artists play in capturing the sense of place that we have all come to love in the parks.

Designing Disney is a true gem. Throughout the book, Hench describes the thought process of an artist -- the challenges that are faced, the decisions that must be made, and the how's and why's of various design choices.

A large focus of the book is on the use of color. There is a whole section of the book dedicated to it, and many other references throughout. It is amazing to learn about all of the feelings and emotions that the Imagineers can generate in you without you even knowing it -- and they can do much of it just by choosing the right palette of colors. After reading this section, you won't look at the Disney parks (or maybe anything) the same way again. Hench illustrates his points with many examples. He describes the color design that went into the American Adventure pavilion -- four colors of brick and three shades of white. He goes on to explain how colors must also interact with their surroundings. They must be adjusted for things like the quality of light from the sun or light reflecting off of nearby grass.

The book also explores many other facets of design including the use of wienies, the role of characters, setting time and place, creating moods, and avoiding contradictions. Hench explains how design choices can trigger subconscious feelings and emotions to rise out of individuals by creating new places that are somehow familiar and reminiscent of experiences we have had before. The stories in this tome range from designing Disneyland through Animal Kingdom, the Disney Cruise Line, and as recent as Mission: Space.

A little background about the author... John Hench joined Disney in 1939 at the studio. His artistry can be seen in many classic animated features such as Cinderella and Peter Pan. He is also did special effects work for such films as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He moved on to Imagineering and worked on everything from the original Disneyland Tomorrowland to Hong Kong Disneyland.

The Verdict: This book is a must for fans of theme park design. If you already own the Imagineering Field Guides and Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real, then this will make a great addition to your library. It has a truly unique perspective on the design of the parks that is unmatched by other books.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

EPCOT 1978 - Life and Health Pavilion

Original EPCOT Center plans called for a Life and Health pavilion to be included in Future World. When the pavilion was finally realized in 1989, many of the ideas survived, but in altered form.

"The Life & Health Pavilion will give guests a new awareness and appreciation of themselves. In the 'Joy of Life,' the beauty, dignity and strength of man from birth to the golden years is dramatized. The Incredible Journey Within is a thrilling trip exploring the inner workings of the fascinating, complex human machine. Along the 'Great Midway of Life' a whimsical series of experiences will involve guests in the lesson that good health is based, more than anything else, on their own personal responsibility and behavior."

The Incredible Journey Within was ultimately realized in two forms -- Body Wars and Cranium Command. The former provided a ride that transported guests inside the human body, while the latter served as more of the educational tool in understanding how the body works. In place of the Great Midway of Life, the Wonders of Life pavilion had the Fitness Fairgrounds.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Music from the Parks: It's a Small World

One of the first things that pops into many people's minds when they are asked about Disney theme park music is the song It's a Small World. Whether you are one who finds the melody catchy, or one who tries to escape the endless refrain, it is hard to deny the impact that this song has had over the past four decades.

The story goes that Walt's original idea for the attraction was to have children from each nation singing their national anthem. As the guests cruised the seas, the music would provide a sense of place for each scene. But early tests revealed that this cacophony of sound was rather unpleasant. So Walt turned to the Sherman brothers to hatch out a tune for the ride. He directed them to write a song that talked about unity, understanding, and brotherly love.

The brothers first attempt at writing a theme resulted in the song we know today, but they were not pleased with it. It was designed as a song that could be sung in a round, but rather than one melody it had two that could be sung over the same chords. They found it to be too simple. After coming up with a few other tunes, they were pressured by Walt to have a completed song. They ended up returning to their first piece. And their decision has had tremendous impact on park guests.

The song has had a life of its own in commercial releases. The It's a Small World storyteller record was the first full-length storyteller to be based on a theme park attraction. It has since been released in numerous variations on records and compact disc. Some of the releases have been simply music from the attraction, but other have included additional pieces such as various folk songs from around the world. It's a Small World is a staple on contemporary theme park soundtrack compilation albums.

And let us not forget that this song plays in an endless loop every day at five different theme parks on four continents. At any time of day, there is a very good chance that someone is listening to this enduring work.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It's in the Details - Dedication

Here is a nice little detail from Stitch's Great Escape. It reads...



2004 NOVEMBER 16

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

EPCOT 1978 - Model

Here we see a photo of the EPCOT model, circa 1978. There are several interesting things to note about the model.

First take a look at Future World. Spaceship Earth is not as we know it today. It is an earlier design that featured a smoother surface, and it does not appear to be raised above the landscape.

The six Future World pavilions are laid out differently than was finally realized. Notice that The Land is on the east and Space (which will become Horizons) is on the west. Also, The Seas is not in its final place. Further, the Imagination pavillion is not yet on the map, but Life & Health is sitting in its place.

Looking into the World Showcase, we quickly see that the American Adventure is front and center on the north side of the lagoon. It is hard to make out much detail on the other pavillions, but if you look at the eastern side of the lagoon, you can see what appears to be the Sydney Opera house, which would suggest plans for an Australia pavillion.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Music from the Parks: Early WDW

It seems the appropriate place to begin is the beginning. So our first look at specific theme park albums will be the first two releases from Walt Disney World.

The first two albums to be released for WDW were The Hall of Presidents and Country Bear Jamboree. These two records were both released in the storyteller format which includes a "storybook" along with the record. This was a popular release method for movie-related albums as it allowed pictures from the movie and read-alongs to accompany the music or voice record. For these albums, though, the storybook's purpose is to give more information about the attractions.
The album for Country Bears was the first to be released. Side I includes the entire show. Side II features area music for the Mile Long Bar area. The storybook features background information for the various characters in the show. For example, Wendell originally wanted to be an athlete, but kept running into issues due to his small stature. Big Al "was resident bard and balladeer in the swamp before Walt Disney World was built (and three badgers and an alligator have expressed great joy that he is now singing for people)."

Since this album, the Country Bears have had a far-reaching presence in the realm of WDW soundtracks. Either "The Great Outdoors" from the Vacation Hoedown or "The Bear Band Serenade" from the Jamboree have appeared on almost every soundtrack compilation album that has been released since. Also, the entire Vacation Hoedown and Christmas Special shows appear in the Disneyland 50th anniversary collection.

The Hall of Presidents album features the entire attraction. At the time of the record's release, Nixon was the latest president on stage. The storybook with this album includes little snippets of U.S. history about such things as the Constitution and the Civil War. Unlike the Country Bears, The Hall of Presidents has been largely neglected on park albums since its soundtrack was released.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Did You See That? - Three Little Pigs

The Disney animators have always tried to inject some subtle, blink-and-you'll-miss-it humor into their work. In Practical Pig's family pictures we can see his mother doing just fine, but we can't say the same for his father and uncle.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Imagineering the Magic

Disneyland recently began selling a park-exclusive, two-disc DVD set called Disneyland Resort: Imagineering the Magic. This set has about 90 minutes worth of interviews with imagineers where they explore the history of the Disneyland Resort and specific lands and attractions.

The first disc contains the main feature, "Imagineering the Magic of Disneyland." This 60-minute piece is a collection of interviews with imagineers such as Marty Sklar, Tony Baxter, and Tom Fitzgerald. They discuss the how Disneyland and imagineering came to be. The whole feature is strewn with old and new photos, videos, and concept art. For a few brief moments it feels a bit like a Travel Channel special, but for the most part the imagineers stick to stories about how Walt came up with different ideas and how the imagineers have transformed those ideas through the years.

The feature is split up as a general history of the park, and then deeper dives into the individual lands and some of the more popular attractions. Interspersed throughout the feature are various videos of Walt, often featuring famous quotes, used as segways between the various topics. There are also several clips from various television appearances by Walt as he discusses the Tiki Room, It's a Small World, and other attractions.

There were some nice gems in here -- video of the Country Bear walk-around characters dancing and the Tower of the Four Winds; an old Disney home video; and telling how they put an actual teacup from the ride onto the track in one of the dark rides in order to get a feel for how the spinning cabs might work in the Roger Rabbit ride.

The second disc contains several shorter segments. First is a featurette about California Adventure. This is more of an informational piece that explains the theme of the park. There really aren't any imagineering insights. Oddly, they present MuppetVision and Tower of Terror as if they were originally designed for the California park.

Next up is "What is Imagineering." My favorite part of this segment is a quote from Marty Sklar. He says that a blank sheet of paper is "the most frightening thing in the world because you have to make the first mark on it" but it is also "the greatest opportunity in the world because you get to make the first mark on it."

The DVD also contains a trivia section with about 10 or 15 questions to test how well you paid attention to the first few features. You are presented with various multiple choice questions that were directly answered in the dialogue earlier on the discs.

The final two featurettes are "Imagineering New Attractions" -- which looks at transforming Tom Sawyer Island's Fort Wilderness into the pirates lair and creating the Nemo submarine voyage -- and "Imagineers on Imagineering" which contains rapid-fire soundbytes of the imagineers talking about their jobs.

Overall, this was an interesting collection. There was not any information on the disc that isn't already available in literature or on fan sites. But this does serve as a great introduction to the history of Disneyland and many of the attractions. Any fan of theme park history would do well to pick up a copy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Buy n Large

In anticipation of the upcoming WALL-E Pixar feature, a viral-style website ( has been launched to promote the film. This is the "official" site of Buy n Large, the corporation that manufactures the WALL-E robot, and others in the line such as SALL-E, GAR-E, and the upcoming PEET-E.

In addition to robotics, there are press releases for several things, including

  • Roboti-Mates - robots that mimic the behavior of average committed relationships
  • Xanadou - a drug that simulates the "euphoric shopping experience"
  • BnL Annual Report: The Musical - held at the Stanton Hall Theater
  • 4-D animation from Pix-Vue Animation Studio
  • The Sloth Games where players' main objective is to lay prone

You can also visit the Buy n Large store (hosted by to pick up shirts, coffee mugs, and the like. My personal favorite shirt is the BnL Legal T-Shirt which has a long legal spiel on the front with such gems as "The Customer agrees to treat all information obtained while wearing this Buy n Large-branded proprietary to Buy n Large" and "Buy n Large does not endorse, ensure the accuracy of, or recommend any shirts, and Customer uses said shirt at the Customer's own risk."

Be sure to click the Privacy Policy link at the bottom of the main page and read all the great things the company will do with your personal information.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Music from the Parks

Anyone who visits a Disney theme park will be touched by music. Whether consciously or subconsciously. They may not even know that they are hearing half of the music that reaches their ears. The music is a large part of getting lost in another time and place. It sets the mood and the guests' expectations.

In addition to the place-making background music, we hear catchy tunes in various attractions that we find ourselves humming for the rest of the day. We return from vacation with words from "One Little Spark" or "It's a Small World" running through our thoughts.

Disney has capitalized on their creations over the years by releasing this music in various records, CDs, cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and now digital downloads. They have been releasing albums with theme park music for decades. I cannot find an official list anywhere, but I know there were Disneyland releases as early as the 1960s, if not earlier. A good resource for this would be the book The Golden Age of Walt Disney Records 1933 - 1988. This book is a price guide, but seems to be a fairly complete listing. If anyone has a copy of this, I would love to know when the first Disneyland albums were released.

My first encounter with officially released music was the 1992 set The Music of Disney: A Legacy in Song. This three-CD collection included seven tracks from the theme parks. I hadn't realized before then that this music was available for me to listen to at home. At that point, I was hooked. Since then, I have religiously picked up CDs each time I visit the parks, and eBay has become a great friend in adding older releases to my collection. My CD and record collection today includes about 60 items. Most of these are Walt Disney World releases, although a do have a few from Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

In several posts to follow, we will be exploring this collection. We will see how the releases themselves have transformed over the years, as well as how the releases have reflected changes in the Florida resort. We will also look at a few books to get some more information about music from the parks.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

To all who come to this happy place... Welcome!

Welcome to Earning My Ears.

I guess an introduction is in order... My name is Craig, and for as long as I can remember the worlds of Disney have been a big part of my life. My first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 1982 -- I was a year and a half old. While I don't have memories of this trip, it is a reminder of how I was introduced to Disney. Disney has been part and parcel of my life since the beginning, handed down to me by my parents.

My earliest Disney memories are our yearly family vacations to Disney World in the mid- to late-1980s, and my first Disney VHS tape -- Lady and the Tramp. As these seeds were planted early, the parks and animation have long been favorites of mine. But, my passion for what the Disney name has stood for and what it has produced since the 1920s has only grown stronger as the years have gone by.

In the past few years I have striven to learn as much as I could about Disney. It has been a journey in "earning my ears" that I continue to this day. This site is a manifestation of my search for knowledge. I want to share with you everything that I am learning in hopes that you can earn your ears along with me.

This site is dedicated to exploring all things Disney. Here we will look into the history, present state, and future of the theme parks, studios, corporation, collectibles, and anything else we can find.

You can expect regular features. Plus I may throw in quick updates from time to time, such as links to other websites or articles of significance.

So please join me as we earn our ears together.