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.