The Maturity of Toy Story: A Disney/Pixar Masterpiece (Video Essay)

FeaturedThe Maturity of Toy Story: A Disney/Pixar Masterpiece (Video Essay)

I attempt to explore the main theme of this beloved franchise and why I think it’s an unparalleled masterpiece…

WEBSITE UPDATE: As you may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot more time making video essays on YouTube than writing new blog posts these days. There’s a reason for that. Although my first and foremost passion is writing about the things that I love, there is no denying that more and more interest is being generated in audio/visual content. While I’ve been stuck at home during this unprecedented situation, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the extra time on my hands to grow my YouTube channel and hopefully offer more of this type of content. However, my goal is to always create what I love, and not what I think others want to see, so I have put great care into my writing of the video’s scripts to accomplish this. I have poured my heart and soul into these videos and I hope my passion for writing still comes through in it. The long and short of this update is to say that I am absolutely 100% planning on making more written content in the future. I have not abandoned that. Videos just take a long time to make, and as I currently do everything by myself, it naturally has taken up most of my time. In addition, my current situation during this pandemic has made it difficult to create an accurate schedule or reliable method of creating content, at least for these last few months, and it will take some time to figure out how to move forward in the changing landscape of the future. My goal is to eventually balance the two  forms of media and find a schedule that works for releasing fresh and original content in both video and written form! I can’t wait! Thank you for reading this and I hope you have a magical week! 🙂

Disney’s Villainous Voices

FeaturedDisney’s Villainous Voices

A Special Behind-the-Scenes Look at Disney’s Top Villain Vocalists

It’s that time of year again when the leaves start falling from the trees and the aroma of Pumpkin Spice is everywhere, to the joy (or chagrin) of many. It’s also what I like to call ‘spooky season’, and that means that it’s time to get the ball rolling on costumed candy-corn content for those of you who enjoy alliterations with your hot cocoa. During this season, Disney fans everywhere are delving into their own unique brand of October fun. These Disney fall festivities include movies like The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Hocus Pocus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coco. They also consist of Disney Park offerings like The Haunted Mansion, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. However, there is one Disney Halloween tradition that is wholly unique; the Disney Villains.

I’ve noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve visited this specific Disney brand. And since I’m not really that good at “traditional” Halloween fare because of my strange aversion to the macabre and my dedication to being obnoxiously cheerful, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to delve into some fascinating topics relating to the Disney fiendish foes…Do I really need an excuse?

For our first “Villains Month” offering, I’m diving deep into some of the greatest vocal performances in Disney history! This is a countdown of The 15 Most Iconic Disney Villainous Voices!

(Note: This list only includes the 57 films of “Disney’s Animated Canon”, and due to the sheer number of Disney Villains, not every iconic voice could be included)
  1. Queen of Hearts

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Her royal red highness from Alice in Wonderland (1951), is a bit more obscure when it comes to vocals. However, she’s earned a place on this list due to a voice that was highly iconic for the time. Radio veteran and accomplished voice-actor Verna Felton, known for her iconic work as Dennis Day’s mother in the Jack Benny program, lent her talents to this short-tempered villainess. The constant cries of “off with their heads” should sound familiar too, because Verna ended up voicing characters in 6 different Disney features: the cruel Elephant Matriarch in Dumbo, The iconic Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, The Queen of Hearts, the antagonistic Aunt Sarah from Lady and the Tramp, the fussy Good Fairy Flora from Sleeping Beauty, and finally another elephant in the Jungle Book! That’s an impressive track record!

  1. Man in the Bowler Hat

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Meet the Robinsons is definitely one of the more obscure Disney movies, and although it has become a cult classic with legions of fans all around the world, it’s not exactly the first place you’d look for something like this. However, Meet the Robinsons is actually a treasure trove for amazing vocal performances! The Man in the Bowler Hat (yes, that’s his actual title), better known as Goob, is on this list because of his hilarious portrayal by Director Stephen J Anderson. Stephen is known for his work as a story artist and writer on films like Tarzan, Zootopia, Frozen, Moana, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-it Ralph…and the list goes on and on! His ridiculous, over-the-top, and irreverent portrayal of the charismatic, and yet incredibly pathetic, Michael Yagoobian is one of the many reasons why Meet the Robinsons is so fun to watch!

  1. Ratigan

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Ratigan is somewhat of an icon for fans of Disney’s “Dark Age” of animation. People who grew up on films like Robin Hood or Aristocats, remember The Great Mouse Detective fondly for it’s unique reimagining of Sherlock Holmes as a mouse called Basil. And of course, every Sherlock Holmes needs his own Moriarity! Ratigan, a criminal genius of a rat, fills this role perfectly and is portrayed wonderfully by one of the most refined and iconic actors of classic cinema: The King of Macabre himself, Vincent Price. The sophistication, menace, and dark humour of Ratigan come through in every line of this unique performance thanks to Vincent’s phenomenal vocal range.

Don’t know who Vincent Price is? There’s actually a big chance that you’ve heard of Vincent Price’s work, even if you don’t recognize his name! Seriously, just take a look at his filmography!

  1. Clayton

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This villain from Tarzan often gets passed over in the grand scheme of things, and that’s a real shame. He’s a well-crafted antagonist, but Disney’s precarious licensing deal with the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate ensures that he stays out of most movie-related products, and thus out of the public eye. Such is the world of copyrighted trademarks, unfortunately. But even if he isn’t an incredibly popular villain, he still deserves a place on this list for his highly entertaining vocal performance.

British actor Brian Blessed, known for his long and illustrious career in film and television, and roles in cult-classic franchises like Flash Gordon, lends his booming sophistication to this heinous hunter. The pleasant bass tones of Brian’s educated vocals lend themselves perfectly to Clayton’s persona of the refined and menacing Englishman.

  1. Shere Kahn

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The Jungle Book was the last animated feature that Walt Disney himself worked on before passing away in 1966. As such, it has earned a place of reverence not just with Disney fans, but also with artists inside the Disney company itself. The movie focused on character above anything else and presented the culmination of Disney’s refinement after 30 years of animating animals. Each character is full of life, authenticity, and fluidity, and each has a distinctive voice that matches their personality perfectly. And the villain is no exception!

Academy Award Winner George Sanders was tasked with bringing the powerful Shere Kahn to life and he did not disappoint! Sanders’ filmography is incredibly extensive, with his most iconic role being The Falcon, and he has played characters ranging from heartless villains, to charming royalty. His resonant vocals gave an air of confident control to Shere Kahn and the performance, along with the sophisticated animation that was paired with it, were quoted as direct inspirations for one of the greatest villains in Disney history; Scar from The Lion King.

  1. Yzma

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There is plenty of irreverent self-aware humor in the The Emporer’s New Groove, so it’s no surprise that the casting wouldn’t be any different. Eartha Kitt was an incredibly accomplished singer and actress who is revered around the world as an icon of civil rights in show business. She used her talents to rise from poverty and oppression into worldwide fame. In her later years, she remained humble and was often known for her ability to find the humor in serious situations. She is also remembered for her willingness to poke fun at her own life.

Known for her beauty and alluring voice, Eartha’s work includes iconic songs like her original holiday hit Santa Baby (yes, that Santa Baby!) and roles like Catwoman in 1966’s Batman television series. So, it’s no surprise that her self-aware role in the Emperor’s New Groove would reference her career. Eartha, who was in her 70’s by the time of the film’s debut, was delighted to learn that Yzma would encapsulate her unique sense of humor. In the film, Yzma is an old woman trying to appear young and beautiful to creepy affect, poking fun at Eartha’s own history as a showbusiness icon.

Most stars wouldn’t be comfortable making fun of themselves, but apparently Eartha loved this self-referential humor so much that she signed on to play the character again for the sequel and the subsequent TV show!

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There are more villains to get through on this list, but unfortunately, we’ve run out of time here. But don’t fret! October is a long month, and we have many more fiendish foes to follow! Check out Part 2 here!

 

Which Villainous voice is your favorite? Let us know in the comments down below!

Iron Man and Captain America: a Deeper Look Into the Success of Avengers Endgame

Iron Man and Captain America: a Deeper Look Into the Success of Avengers Endgame

 

I think that it’s safe to say that Avengers Endgame has become a true cultural phenomenon. Marvel has accomplished what other movie studios have only dreamed of  doing by delivering this culmination of the epic MCU Saga. They have created a franchise that has not only been met with enormous financial and critical success, but also one that has come a define an entire generation.

But how has the marvel Cinematic Universe risen to such unparalleled success? What has been the key ingredient with their meteoric rise to fame? What is the one common thread that makes the average Marvel movie better than most other superhero films? There are many answers to this question, but if I had to pick one, I would said that it has to be Marvel’s emphasis on character.

Endgame represents, not only the epic conclusion of an entire saga, but also the symbolic fulfillment of a dozen beautiful character arcs. Every single character in Endgame has an ending that represents the thematic culmination of who they are as a person, and what they mean to the greater MCU story. Even if a character’s story isn’t over in Endgame (Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Winter Soldier, Etc.) it comes to a crisis point; leaving every Avenger changed.

The most obvious examples of this genius character-driven storytelling is the culmination of the iconic legacies of both Iron Man and Captain America; the two key players of the Avengers in the MCU. And to understand how these stories were so brilliantly told, we have to take a closer look at end of these Avenger’s stories.

(WARNING: Heavy spoilers for Avengers- Endgame ahead!!!)

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The death of Iron Man.

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It was not a cheap trick. It wasn’t a sacrifice just to earn a quick tear from the audience. It meant something. From the very beginning Iron Man was the tortured hero. The hero who made mistakes. He was always a little prideful, but he also always tried to be better. Through the course of the three Iron Man movies, Tony Stark has struggled with what it means to be a hero.

In the first Iron Man film, he saw his weapons in the hands of the terrorists who almost killed him. That moment defined him. It changed who he was. From that moment forward, Tony Stark’s character was driven by a singular purpose. He knew that he had to use his second chance at life to protect the people instead of building weapons to destroy them…He had to use his wealth to save the world instead of destroying it.

And sometimes, like in the case of Ultron and the Sokovia Accords, he went too far or made mistakes. But Iron Man’s goal was always to protect. His heart was always in the right place, even if his head wasn’t. He wanted to be an armor for the weak. He wanted to save the world that he had once so recklessly endangered.

So, when Tony Stark gave up his life to undo Thanos’s snap, it represented the fulfillment of his life’s purpose…to protect the world, even if it meant giving up his own life! He gave up all of his selfish impulses once and for all. None of his past mistakes mattered anymore, because he gave up everything to save the people he loved. Everything came full circle when Iron Man fulfilled his own prophetic quote from the first MCU film;  “I shouldn’t be alive… unless it was for a reason.” This was the second chance that Tony had been waiting the rest of his life for. This was the reason why he was alive, and the ending was so beautifully executed that you feel that sacrifice. Right in the heart.

Captain America’s Last Chance at Peace

 

cap 2Likewise, Captain America also has a very meaningful sendoff in Endgame, but in a very different way. It’s one that represents the fulfillment of what fan’s have been asking for for years…A chance for the most selfless Avenger to have a shot at happiness.

Captain America has always been the soldier. He’s always been the one to sacrifice everything in the service of others, sometimes to his own detriment. In the first Captain America, Steve Rogers proved that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. He proved that power meant nothing if it wasn’t given in service to others. The Red Skull lorded his strength over others, while Cap gave up his own life to protect those who were weaker than him. That experience in World War 2 shaped who he was for the rest of his life. It propelled him on a path to always do what was right

Frozen in ice for decades after sacrificing himself to save countless millions from death, he was revived only to face a torment worse than death; loneliness. He became a man out of time. All of his friends were dead. All of the things that he once knew were taken away from him. And the one friend that he still had was twisted into a weapon against him. But no matter what, Steve Rogers always laid down his life to save others. He always put others before himself; even if it meant losing everything.. In every single Captain America film, Cap gave all that he had, and sacrificed everything that he had held dear, to fight for what he believed in; truth, friendship, unity, and protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves.

So in Endgame, when the final battle was won, and the new heroes took up the torch, Captain America finally got what he so rightly deserved. For once, Steve Rogers obtained lasting happiness. There were no more sacrifices to be made. No more wars to be won. It was just Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter for the rest of his life. It was second chance at joy. After almost a hundred years of selflessly giving up his life in service of others, Cap finally got some peace for himself. and it felt meaningful because it was earned.

And just like Iron Man, Captain America’s ending hit us right in the heart, just in a different way; proving that these two characters are two sides of the same coin. Iron Man and Captain America. Grieving and joy, sadness and peace, sacrifice and reward. The two endings may give us opposite feelings individually, but put them together and they give us a story unlike any other.

Iron Man and Captain America represent the very heart and soul of the MCU. Iron Man was the foundation and the center for the MCU’s grand story, and Captain America represented the heart; the spirit that it stood for. Together, their character arcs not only stay true to their own personal journeys, but they also represent the core of the beautiful story that they have both been a part of!

Tony and Steve feel like real people because they each changed naturally over time, and the story changed with them. They both grew as people with their own ups and downs in life. So, it’s only fitting that their endings would change the story again. This time, they would make way for a new generation to grow and change. Together, the two of them ushered in a new era for new stories.

With character-driven stories like theirs, the possibilities are endless…

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The Origin of Mickey Mouse (and What it Means to Me)

FeaturedThe Origin of Mickey Mouse (and What it Means to Me)

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There’s something incredibly special about Mickey Mouse. Even 90 years after his debut, he’s still making people smile all over the world. But why is Mickey Mouse so special? This is a peculiar question, because I don’t think people ask it very often…or even think about for that matter. For a lot of people, he just is. Today, I think that it’s kind of easy to take this cartoon character for granted and miss the spirit which made him popular in the first place.

Today, I wanted to explain what Mickey Mouse means to me. I wanted to talk about why Mickey Mouse is my hero…

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As I was growing up, I knew that I loved animation. I was already interested in movies, but there was something unique about the hand-drawn films of Disney’s heyday that captured my attention. There was an intangible charm that set them apart from most of the live-action movies that I had seen. Animation was the playground where anything was possible.

And of course, you couldn’t be a fan of animation without at least hearing the name Mickey Mouse. He was an icon; his face was everywhere.

So, as a small child who didn’t understand how films were made, I think I took Mickey for granted and just assumed that he went with cartoons the same way that peanut butter went with jelly. But as I got older, and began to study the film industry in earnest, I began to realize that Mickey Mouse represented so much more. And in order to understand why, we have to go back to his creation.

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The story of Mickey Mouse’s inception is a long one, so I’ll try to keep this recap brief for context. The most important thing about his creation was that Mickey Mouse was born out of desperation. He was created during one of the lowest points in Walt Disney’s life. In fact, Mickey Mouse’s creation was a direct result of Walt Disney losing everything. During the 1920’s, in the early days of his animation career, and before his name would become synonymous with high-quality animation, Walt produced cartoons for established industry leaders. But it was hard work for very little return and Walt was having trouble making ends meet. Still, ever the perfectionist, Walt strove for greatness and a standard of quality that made his competitors balk. But in this season of pushing for the best product possible he may have done too well. first truly successful creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was popular enough to run a series that Walt’s Distributor, Charles Mintz, coveted. But Walt Disney poured every cent the company had back into his cartoons to make them better. In addition, he spent as much time and talent as was possible on improving the quality of the animation which slowed production and limited the amount of cartoons that Mintz could cash in on.

Of course, this didn’t sit too well with Mintz’s avarice. Mintz, who still retained the right to distribute Oswald and therefore could make his own cartoons (despite Walt having been the one who created the character) decided that he didn’t want Walt’s quality control. He believed that he could pump out cartoons twice as fast and make double the profits on low-quality animation. He believed Walt to be unnecessary to his own chars and swindled Oswald out from under Disney’s nose. And if that wasn’t enough, Mintz then proceeded to bribe most of Walt Disney’s top animators into leaving him. Effectively, the entire studio, save for a few loyalists who believed in Walt’s standard of quality, abandoned Walt to work on Oswald for Charles Mintz.

Even after working years for what little he had, Walt had lost everything.

Walt Disney, along with his wife Lillian, claimed that on the train ride home from this heartbreaking and potentially career-ending event, he refused to give up hope. No matter how bleak everything looked, Walt was determined to survive. So, with no creative assets to his name, Walt decided to try and create one more character to make new cartoons with. In his desperation, he sketched out a little mouse, and although the design would end up changing significantly thanks to the collaboration of a genius animator named Ub Iwerks (one of the few employees that remained loyal during the Mintz fallout) the spirit of the character was created. Mickey Mouse had been born. And without knowing it, Walt Disney created the most recognizable and popular cartoon character of all time. And he had done it during a time when everyone thought he would fail. That fateful day, Disney proved Mintz wrong. He proved that the Disney touch was crucial to his cartoon character’s success!

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The rest is history…and that’s the point.

Mickey’s history, and what it represents, is what is most important about him. What makes Mickey Mouse so special isn’t his popularity, or even his bankability (although he has both in spades), but rather what he meant to Walt Disney himself. For Disney, Mickey Mouse represented perseverance. Mickey was proof that hard work, perseverance, and quality were the keys to success. He represented Disney’s own humble beginnings, and this was something that Walt Disney never forgot.

“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing-that it was all started by a mouse.”

Walt would say this years later, recalling the humble start of his artistic legacy. It remained a lesson for Disney to never forget how he had started out with nothing, and that he had a responsibility to treat whatever he earned with respect. To remember that he was no better than anyone else, and that what he had was a blessing.

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Ironically, Mickey Mouse came to eventually represent that very thing; an average, humble, everyday citizen who could do something extraordinary if he put his mind to it. And knowing the history behind it all, there’s no way that this could have been a coincidence. Walt put his very identity into this little mouse, because he had risked everything on him, and as a result Mickey became Walt’s alter ego, literally and figuratively. Walt even voiced Mickey for several years in his classic cartoons; turning Mickey into who Walt Disney wanted to be.

Mickey is special because he reminds us of what it means to persevere; to never give up on your dreams. Without Mickey, Disney would have never found success, and because many consider Disney to be the pioneer of modern animation, the art form itself might not have become the prevalent and memorable industry that we recognize it as today. Mickey changed the way we look at animation and shaped The Disney Company into what it would one-day become.

epcot 46So, when I look at Mickey Mouse, I cannot help but be full of gratitude for what he’s done for the movies that I love. When I see him, I’m reminded of what animation means to me, and why I love film in the first place. Filmmaking inspires me to live out my dreams and to never give up on them. It pushes me to tell stories that impact the world and invites me to bring a smile to faces everywhere. Mickey Mouse is simply a physical reminder of this love, and for that, I owe him my undying respect.

So, when I go to a Disney Park and see the statue with Walt Disney holding Mickey’s tiny hand in his, gesturing to a world of imagination, I must thank them both for being brave enough to follow their dreams… and in turn inspiring me to do the same. Mickey Mouse is more than just an iconic face. He’s the representative of a legacy that spans generations, and reminds dreamers everywhere, that they can do anything that they set their minds to. It shows them, like Walt Disney said, that “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

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Why I Love Disneyland

FeaturedWhy I Love Disneyland

Why do I love Disneyland so much?

This is a question that i’ve been asked many times during my tenure as a Disney blogger, both in the context of mocking and legitimate inquiry, and It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

So, why do I love ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’? It seems like a simple question on the surface, but any Disneyland fan will tell you that it really isn’t. It’s so hard to put into words why a single place makes you feel so happy and how memories made in that place could bring you so much joy years after the fact. But I thought about it long and hard, and I can finally narrow it down to one core idea.

It feels like coming home.

Whenever I walk through those gates, no matter how many times I’ve been there before, I always feel a deep sense of longing and belonging. It’s a similar feeling to seeing your hometown for the first time in 15 years, or that inexplicable warmth that washes over you during Christmastime. Some people chock it up to mere nostalgia, and while that’s partially true, I feel like that limits the full breadth of emotions present in the experience.

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My Brother, Sister, and I in 2007

Yes, I have nostalgia for Disneyland. After all, I had my first visit there before I was even a year old, and I’ve been going with my family ever since. But that’s not the only thing that stirs up this feeling of home in me. It can’t be. How could it explain the hundreds of people who have never been to Disneyland before, that weep at their first time going as an adult? No, there’s something far more… dare I say…magical about the happiest place on earth.

I never get tired of Disneyland either, and as anyone knows nostalgia can only go so far…can only last so long. If the age of reboots and sequels hasn’t proven that, I don’t know what will. No, my joy in Disneyland goes deeper than that!

As a child, I adored Disneyland, and while my childhood visits were comparatively few and far between, every single one of them was an event to remember. It was a real treat, and an extremely special occasion, for me to go to Disneyland. My love for Disneyland only grew with each consecutive visit.

So naturally, when I became an adult, I would want to save my own money to keep going to the the place which had brought so much joy to my childhood years. I saved every nickel, and eventually was blessed with the chance to buy an annual pass. This allowed me to go to Disneyland more often than I had ever been before. Everyone warned me that I would get tired of Disneyland if I went too much. They said that it would stop being special to me and that I would get bored with it eventually.

They were all wrong.

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Me Circa 2010

Now I adore Disneyland more than I ever have before! Sometimes, I don’t even ride any rides, and simply go in the park to window shop or sit down on a bench to eat. It’s no longer a trip every few years, but a place I visit on the regular. In light of this fact, nostalgia seems like an underwhelming explanation for my love of Disneyland. Due to this continuing enjoyment, I often struggle to find and adequate explanation for the experience.

So, I keep on coming back to this concept of coming home. They say home is where the heart is, and that is indeed true for the happiest place on earth! I may call the place where I live home, but Disneyland definitely feels like a second one. Every time I walk down Main Street U.S.A, sit down in the view of the castle, or ride the Disneyland Railroad, I’m hit with an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. No matter how rough the outside world might be, no matter how stressed I might feel, as soon as I walk through those turnstiles, it’s very hard to remember those things. Instead, all of my senses are flooded with creativity and imagination.

Suddenly, I smell the popcorn, I feel the brickwork underneath my feet, I see beautiful works of immersive art in every direction, and I even hear the music and sounds of a fantasy world come to life. It’s by no means perfect, but it does give you a sense of safety and freedom. It may all just be pretend, but sometimes it’s fun to let go and pretend. Too many people expect perfection from Disneyland, or are too eager to fulfill their plans like a checklist, that they miss the magic that happens right under their very noses. You don’t happen to Disneyland, Disneyland has to happen to you! And once you get into that frame of mind, if you let yourself be immersed in the world that Disneyland tries to create for you, and resist the temptation to act like an adult, you might just find yourself having that same feeling of home.

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Disney trip 2012

It’s that feeling of being a kid again and playing in a world of your own imagination. It’s that sense of escapism that comes with visiting a place from your favorite book. It’s the feeling of adventure that comes with fantasizing about the past or dreaming about the future. It’s the feeling of your dreams coming true. Like a warm fire on a cold winter night, Disneyland is a comfort for those that let their inner child reign.

If you let it, Disneyland can be like coming home to the innocence of youth.

That is why I love Disneyland. Why do you?

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DCA/Disneyland Esplanade 2010

Swinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2

FeaturedSwinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2

Read Part 1 HERE!

The year is 1966. A thrilling adventure on the high seas has just been added to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. But there is something else that grabs the attention of guests in the area. Something new and mysterious. Wide-eyed children look through a pair wrought-iron gates at a strange building…an opulent mansion. No one knows what will be inside, and the only hint of what’s to come is a sign that reads:

“Notice! All ghosts and restless spirits. Post lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion”

It’s followed by a description of the mansion’s offerings for retired haunts and ends with the phrase:

“For reservations send resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept., Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person.”

This sign is all guests would get about the Haunted Mansion for several years. However, instead of disappointing them, it only raises their expectations to a whole new level.

Fast-forward to early 1969…All who visited Disneyland were eagerly awaiting the future attraction; none of them even realizing the development nightmare that had been going on behind the scenes for nearly half a decade.

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They could have never known that in 1964 work on the mansion (which had already been in development for 10 years) came to a screeching halt when Walt Disney diverted all of his attention to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Everyone who was anyone at Disneyland was sent to work on the extensive lineup of attractions that would debut at the fair, and no one was left over for work on any of the ongoing home-projects at Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion would have to wait for a while.

However, fate was on the Haunted Mansion’s side, because the World’s Fair actually provided several technological breakthroughs that effectively solved any future storytelling problems that the Mansion’s had! You see, the story that the Imagineers could tell In the haunted mansion was limited by the technology of the times. The World’s Fair provided an unprecedented stroke of luck that greatly broadened these borders to previously unimagined horizons. The first of these lucky breakthroughs, and arguably the most famous, was the “perfection” of Disney’s Audio Animatronic technology; which had first debuted in the Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963. With the technological innovation of the photo-realistic Mr. Lincoln at the World’s Fair, it was finally possible to populate the Mansion with a believable cast of characters in movement, rather than in static scenes, allowing the story to be told in a much more efficient manner.

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Abraham Lincoln Figure Made for the World’s Fair

The second breakthrough, and probably the most important for the future of the Mansion, was the advent of the Omnimover Ride System. This ingenious vehicle design was an evolution of the PeopleMover system developed for the Ford’s Magic Skyway attraction at the World’s Fair. In essence, this system was a chain of individual swiveling vehicles that ran on a hidden track underneath the ground moving at a constant speed, so that passengers could be unloaded and loaded in an efficient manner and at consistent rate.

The reason why this second innovation proved such a game-changer was the fact that, up until that point, the Haunted Mansion was supposed to be walkthrough exhibit. The Omnimover system allowed the attraction to become a continuous ride-through experience; raising its hourly capacity tremendously. It also allowed Imagineers to control what riders would see, by preplanning the track layout and the programming of the individual cars to swivel or turn; effectively controlling the audience’s view of the story and special effects just like a camera lens does in a feature film.

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Omnimover System Patent

Now with the technology to tell an effective story, Disney simply needed storytellers that could execute these tools correctly. Luckily, after the World’s Fair ended, two of Walt’s greatest storytellers were now available for the mansion. Marc Davis, known for his brilliant animation of Cinderella, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, Tinker Bell, and more, was brought onto the project for design, especially in regards to the characters. After his concepts for Pirates of the Caribbean proved so crucial to its success, Walt wanted him to help guide this new masterpiece. At the same time, Claude Coats, a Disney background painter who was known for designing many of Fantasyland’s famous storybook rides and providing the layout for Pirates of the Caribbean, was brought in for his familiarity with the spookier aspects of fairy tales.

However, there was one problem with this dynamic duo; both had completely different ideas for what the Haunted Mansion’s tone should be. Marc wanted the mansion to be funny and lighthearted, believing that a real haunted house would be too scary for a family establishment like Disneyland. On the other hand, Claude Coats believed that you shouldn’t even make a “haunted house” attraction in the first place without making it scary. The two conflicting ideologies became a temporary problem, so much so that Walt was forced to bring in a third party to reconcile the two of them.

Walt knew exactly who to call; good ol’ X!

Xavier ‘X’ Atencio was an animator at the studio in whom Walt saw something very special. Even though Atencio had never written a script before, Walt thought he would be good at it, and had him assigned as the lead writer on Pirates of the Caribbean. Walt’s insight would prove prophetic as that ride became what many consider to be the greatest ride in theme park history, and Atencio’s lyrics for “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” would be sung around the world; remembered by thousands to this day! Walt thought Atencio might be able to pull it off again with the Haunted Mansion.

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X Atencio at work on a Winnie the Pooh feature

Again, Walt Disney was right! Atencio managed to somehow juggle Claude Coats dark tones with Marc Davis’s silly characters and create a script that balanced the macabre with the satirical. After a few drafts, a final story focusing on that “retirement home for happy haunts” was approved. This final draft would tie together separate side-stories based on Marc Davis’s unforgettable characters under one sinister-looking roof of Claude Coat’s design. Finally, the Haunted Mansion had the story it deserved, and although Walt never got to see the finished product due to his untimely passing in late 1966, the ride would have made him proud. The Haunted Mansion opened to critical acclaim in 1969 and has been entertaining guests for 50 years!

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It may have taken over 15 years to create, but it was worth it! And with 999 happy haunts to visit, you’ll want to hurry back again and again! After all, there’s room for a thousand… Any volunteers?

WANT MORE DISNEY HISTORY?:

Peter Pan

EPCOT

Splash Mountain

It’s A Small World

Alice in Wonderland

Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

It had been sitting, seemingly abandoned, for years…

The mysterious building in the far corner of New Orleans Square towered above the land in opulent style, causing all guests to wonder at what could be taking place inside it. But they would not wonder for long. Finally, the mansion’s gates were opening, and its secrets were available to the public. Even though its visionary founder, Walt Disney, had been gone for 3 years, the Imagineers were still able to finish the dream. The long-awaited happy haunts were assembling for a swinging wake.

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But how did the Haunted Mansion get its start? What made it become one of the most famous attractions in theme park history? The answer to that question is found in the mansion’s origin, way back in time; at the beginning. The very beginning…

In 1951 Walt Disney began brainstorming what would become one of his most important achievements: a Disney theme park. Walt had been frustrated with local parks where kids and adults had so little that they could do together, so he made up his mind to create a theme park where families could do everything together. At the time, this concept was referred to as Mickey Mouse Park and would be located across the street from the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California.

This was where the idea for the Haunted Mansion was born.

Legendary artist Harper Goff was called upon to conceptualize ideas for concepts that might be found in the park. One of these concepts, was a drawing of a graveyard path, leading to a crumbling Victorian mansion off on a distant hill. This would be the first ever mention of a haunted house attraction for a Disney park.

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Harper Goff Concept

Eventually, the concept for Mickey Mouse Park grew into something much more than a small diversion, and it became abundantly clear that the 11-acre lot across from Disney’s Burbank studio would not be enough space to contain the rapidly growing plans for Walt’s theme park idea. So, a new location was found in Anaheim, and the park was renamed Disneyland.

However, during this time, there were so many concepts for the new park, that they could not all make the final cut. Many ideas were inevitably put on hold, and when the park opened in 1955, many of the attractions that had been created for Disneyland were set aside for future expansions. Harper Goff’s haunting concepts happened to be one of these delayed ideas. Luckily, Disneyland became a smash hit, and many of the delayed concepts were resurrected to accommodate the public’s seemingly never-ending appetite for themed Disney entertainment.

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Disneyland Opening Day

In 1957, Walt brought out the haunted house concept as a possible element of an upcoming expansion to Disneyland. He was planning on opening a brand-new land on the far corner of Frontierland, and he needed new attractions for the area. It would be called New Orleans Square, and would also be home to plundering pirates…but that’s a story we’ll cover later. Walt went live on BBC stating that he planned on building a “retirement home” for happy haunts who no longer had a place to live because their original homes had been destroyed over time.

“The nature of being a ghost is that they have to perform, and therefore they need an audience.”-Walt Disney

The haunted house would be a premier New Orleans Square attraction, and Disney had something extra special in mind for its debut. Being the master storytellers that they were, Disneyland’s “Imagineers” wanted to craft an immersive experience. None of them were content with throwing together a bunch of haphazard spooky carnival ideas and calling it a day. Walt especially wanted a real story, something to provide consistency and quality; elevating his haunted house above the generic ones you’d find at the town fair. To this end, he tasked Imagineer Ken Anderson with brainstorming a story and a possible layout for the haunted attraction.

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New Orleans Square Concept

Ken Anderson had been a Disney animator for many classic films,  and he had also previously worked on Fantasyland’s famous “dark-rides”, (like Snow White’s Scary Adventures). And although the Fantasyland rides weren’t meant to be too scary, he knew a thing or two about playful spookiness…and he also knew how to tell a good story. Walt was famous for family entertainment, and it was almost certain that he wanted the haunted house to be much more lighthearted than other haunted attractions found across the country; making Ken Anderson a logical choice for lead designer.

Still, early concepts for the ride tended towards the scarier side of things, and although some ideas stuck, the story would go through several unused iterations before Walt Disney would even begin considering construction. We’ll cover these unused concepts in a future article, but it’s important to know that they ranged anywhere from a concept based on an evil sea captain and his unsuspecting bride, to an idea revolving around an entire family dying mysterious and sudden deaths. There was even a concept based on a never-ending ghostly wedding feast! You can see why Disney didn’t want to use some of these creepier concepts for his family park!

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Ken Anderson

But since he had announced it already, Walt couldn’t delay the project for too long. He had to come up with something concrete to show the public. At the same time, he strove for quality and never wanted to rush anything. So he came up with a clever compromise.

They would begin construction on the facade that guests would see when they visited the park, but take more time to perfect the attraction behind the scenes. So, even though the inside of the mansion was facing major story delays and roadblocks, the outside would soon come along rather nicely. In 1958, Ken Anderson had drafted a pencil sketch inspired by a Victorian-era antebellum mansion. The drawing had a decaying, run-down, and creepy look, which artist Sam McKim made into an official display painting. Walt liked the look of the house, but not the state of repair that it was in. He didn’t want a ramshackle, rotting house to be a visual blight in his pristine and clean Disneyland. So, he told his Imagineers to make the outside look nicer, saying:

“We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.”

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At around the same time, Walt brought on Imagineers Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump to design the special effects that would be placed into the ride. Both Gracey and Crump had made a name for themselves at Disney for their technical wizardry and mastery of imaginative special effects. Walt had them spend a huge amount of time perfecting the tricks that would sell the story of a ghostly retirement home. They tinkered away, day and night, crafting the greatest illusions and special effects of their entire careers. In fact, the special effects created by Gracey and Crump for the Haunted Mansion deserve their own article, but suffice it to say that they were so numerous and well-made, that they earned the pair a prestigious new title: “Illusioneers”! This is a nickname which is still used today for Disney special effects artists!

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Yale Gracey

Despite these breakthroughs, the development of the story was not going well. To the untrained eye, it would have seemed like everything was coming together nicely, but in actuality the project was dangerously behind schedule, and the attempts to come up with a satisfying story had so far met with disaster. The Haunted Mansion was slowly dying, and it would take more than a nice façade or state-of-the-art special effects to save it…

Read Part 2 HERE!

Childhood Innocence: The History of It’s A Small World

Childhood Innocence: The History of It’s A Small World

The Year was 1966, and Walt Disney smiled cheerfully as a crowd gathered in the far corner of his magical kingdom known as Disneyland. It was a beautiful day for a Grand Opening, and Walt was pulling out all the stops to make sure this would be one to remember. There were celebrities, balloons, fanfare, family, friends, and a whole crew of cameramen gathered around a little “canal” leading into a charming looking building; a façade that would put a smile on anyone’s face. The crowd cheered and clapped as little children representing countries from around the world each poured a bottle of water shipped from their country into the man-made river. The balloons were released into the air. Walt Disney smiled even wider as his boat drifted down the river into the building and disappeared as he waved to the crowd.

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It was a celebration the little ride deserved, because it was one of Walt’s favorites. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Or you at least have the tune stuck in your head! It’s a Small World, after all!

It seems impossible, but Small World has only grown more popular since that day in 1966. It seems daunting that, more than 50 years after its debut in Disneyland, it’s still entertaining the young, and the young at heart, who ride it. But what’s even more astounding is the origin of the happy singing dolls; which goes back even further than that special day at Disneyland.

In 1963, Walt Disney was called up by Hollywood friend Joan Crawford with a very interesting proposition. Crawford was the widow of Pepsi’s former president Alfred Steele, and she was desperately looking for an attraction for Pepsi to sponsor at the already famous upcoming World’s Fair in New York. Pepsi was on a deadline and time was running short. Joan Crawford believed Walt Disney, who was already working on four other attractions for the fair, was the only one who could create a worthy attraction for the Pepsi brand on such short notice. It would be a tribute to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), but other than that, Pepsi had no idea what it would look like.

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Walt, who already happened to have an idea lined up, jumped at the chance to get funding for another of his wild ideas. With only 11 months to prepare the attraction, far less time than any other thing he had contributed to the fair so far, Walt immediate jumped at the task. He wanted to make something truly special; something that would touch the hearts of millions and bring a smile to their faces. It would be a little boat ride with children from around the world in adorable doll form called “Children of the World”.

Truth be told, Walt wanted a change of face from what he saw in the rest of the world. It was the time of the Cold War. Tensions were high, and a possible nuclear war loomed on the horizon. Culture was changing, and unrest was breaking out all over the country. Walt was sick and tired of the fear which clouded the atmosphere and aimed to make this new attraction a ray of sunshine to the anxious public; a symbol for the World’s Fair and its idealistic look at the future.

IT'S A SMALL WORLD AT THE 1964 WORLD'S FAIR 50TH ANNIVERSARY

So, Walt brought on board the happiest crew of “Imagineers” that had ever set sail on a Disney voyage. Walt put his favorite artist, a Disney color stylist and children’s illustrator named Mary Blair, in charge of most of the project. With Mary’s unique style helming the design of the attraction, other talented artists had clear direction on where to go. The husband and wife team of Marc and Alice Davis were immediately set to work on designing the iconic look of the dancing dolls and breathing personality into them; Marc imagined the characters, while Alice lovingly clothed them in fashion of her own design. A younger Imagineer named Rolly Crump, who had repeatedly impressed Walt with his very unique creative style, was given the task of designing the Doll’s toys and accessories, as well as the kinetic “Tower of the Four Winds” which would anchor the outside of the ride and draw attention to it. Lastly, master modeler Blaine Gibson sculpted out the physical dolls under Walt’s direct supervision. Strangely enough, every single one of these Imagineers, save for Mary Blair, would eventually work together again on Disneyland’s great masterpiece Pirates of the Caribbean; and most of them would contribute to the Haunted Mansion too!

The result of this all-star team of Imagineers was nothing short of magical, as the ride exceeded all of Walt’s expectations. But it was the music of the ride that would elevate it from a great ride, to one of Walt’s favorites. The Sherman Brothers of Mary Poppins fame were inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 to write a song of hope to go with the ride. They specifically made it as catchy and simple as they possibly could, so that it could be translated easily and sung in multiple languages. At first, they wrote it as a slow Ballad, but on prompting from Walt for something more upbeat and cheerful, they sped up the tempo. The resulting song “It’s a Small World” moved Walt so much that he decided to change the name of the entire ride in honor of it, and it was subsequently moved to the World’s Fair in 1964.

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the Sherman Brothers and Walt Disney

Despite its extremely short production time, the now renamed It’s a Small World was a huge hit, becoming one of the most popular attractions at the fair. But it wasn’t only children who were flocking to it. There was something deeply innocent about the ride which spoke to the hearts of downtrodden adults everywhere. Whether they were 9 or 99, Small World made them think of a simpler time when the threat of nuclear missiles wasn’t at their doorstep. It gave them hope that maybe the world would one day be at peace again. It’s a Small World seemed to reach out and speak to the child in everyone.

Even today, the original Small World continues to entertain and delight children of all ages with its message of hope and unity. And with versions at Disney parks all around the world, it’s continuing to bring smiles to faces everywhere…Just like it did to Walt over 50 years ago.

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The Wild History of Splash Mountain!

The Wild History of Splash Mountain!

Legends of the Magic Series:

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The year was 1983. The Disney Parks seemed to be changing every day, and the designers of these shifting magical environments were faced with some rather daunting tasks at about the same rate. In fact, up-and-coming Imagineer Tony Baxter had a major problem on his hands. Tony had been launched into a career that he could have never imagined; thrust into the spotlight with the massive success of designing Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1979. Now others were looking at him to lead them into this new era of Disney Parks. If you would have told Tony Baxter that he would become one of the most successful Disney artists of all time when he was first hired as an ice cream scooper in 1965, he would have thought you were crazy.

But nevertheless, here he was, with dozens of people looking at him to fix all the park’s problems. Unfortunately, during 1983, there happened to be a very specific large problem at Disneyland. Actually, Disneyland had a few issues that eventually played into each other. The first was that The Disney Company was about to have a change in leadership, and that change seemed to be going in a very specific direction. The Disney Company was looking to widen its audience beyond just children and animation. As a result, Disneyland executives were getting more and more interested in thrill rides, something that Disneyland was sorely lacking, compared to other theme parks. It was a tall order, and after the success of Big Thunder (which just so happened to be the type of thrill ride they were looking for) they had immediately turned to Tony Baxter for another similar experience.

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The second problem facing Disneyland was that all the original Imagineers (Disneyland designers/builders/engineers etc.) were retiring, and a second generation was in the process of discovering their place in the parks. These new Imagineers were attempting to honor tradition, while simultaneously trying to forge a new path. A very fine line to walk, especially when the leadership of the company was set on the goal of thrill. As a result, some of the attractions that were seen by the new management as more outdated, (all of which were rides that were overseen by the original Imagineers, the new artist’s mentors and idols) would have to close, or at least be refurbished, which caused distress from those new Imagineers that wanted to honor the work of their predecessors.

The third problem, while comparatively trivial to the aforementioned issues, would prove absolutely crucial in the future. The problem was a section of Disneyland known as Bear Country…Rather it was the attendance of this section. Unfortunately, there was no Galaxy’s Edge at the time, and the land was cut off from the rest of the park. The land’s location at the far corner of the park, tucked away behind New Orleans Square, with no other path leading in or out, caused dwindling interest and low attendance. Few guests wandered past the haunted mansion into Bear Country’s single entrance. The area was often virtually deserted. Disneyland was desperately looking for a way to boost the area’s draw to guests.

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These problems mulled around in Tony Baxter’s mind for a quite some time, but he couldn’t think of any way to solve them effectively. There were just too many variables and he was being drained creatively by all of the projects management seemed to throw at him. He was at a loss for what to do. That was, until one fateful day when Tony happened to be daydreaming in California’s rush hour traffic. Tony suddenly received an unexpected and brilliant epiphany; he could solve all three problems at the same time! His brain bursting with imagination, Tony Baxter rushed straight to his boss, unable to keep the idea to himself. In a legendary pitch, Tony Baxter explained his idea to Disney executives in almost exact detail what he had conjured up.

His idea, called Zip-A-Dee River Run (later changed to Splash Mountain when the ride’s production was green-lit in 1984), would be an old-school log flume type thrill ride, fulfilling the desire of Disney executives to draw in older audiences. But this log flume wouldn’t be just any thrill ride! It would be a highly-themed and immersive ride that would take the amusement park staple of a log flume to the next level. But How would they do that, you ask?

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To understand that, we must first go back in time to 1946 and the release of a live-action/animated hybrid film called Song of the South. Disney may have had the best intentions in mind when they made Song of the South, and had never meant to offend anyone, but due to several crucial mistakes and sheer ignorance, they created what soon became a very controversial film. Ashamed of their mistake, Disney would never release the film to a home audience (for more information on the troubled history of Song of the South, we recommend reading the excellent book “Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South” by Jim Korkis.) However, when he was younger, Tony Baxter happened see Song of the South in theaters, and he chose this obscure film as the property to base the ride on.

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Tony Baxter was convinced that most of the animated sequences featured memorable and cute characters that could be extrapolated from the more controversial aspects of the feature and planted into a new story. If they removed the controversial aspects of Song of the South, and focused on the cute animated characters, building a new story grown out of the cartoon “cat and mouse” chase segments of the film, that it would be a perfect theme for a ride to fit into Bear Country (later changed to Critter Country for Splash Mountain’s debut). At the time, executives were convinced that a majority of Disneyland guests would not be familiar with Song of the South or would not have seen the movie. They reasoned that guests would assume that it was an original property and that they could retool the characters as Disneyland mascots instead of references to Song of the South. Still the characters continued to gain controversy over the years, and the connection to the film, however small, would eventually effect the future of the ride in a big way… more on that later.

Back in the design phase: the Imagineers were back in their element solving difficult problems. By pure luck, Song of the South’s animated critters happened to be designed by legendary first-generation Imagineer Marc Davis who also just so happened to have been the designer for the soon to be extinct attraction America Sings, an outdated stage show featuring a huge cast of Audio-Animatronic animals. Because of this amazing twist of fate, the imagineers could simply reuse most of America Sing’s cast as characters in Splash Mountain because they looked like they belonged in the same world! So, besides a reskinning of two Animatronics into Brer Fox and Brer Bear, the rest of the America Sings animals were simply reprogrammed to synchronize with the new show and moved over to Splash Mountain!

But even after all these creative solutions, there were still some rather large obstacles that the Imagineering team needed to overcome. After all, building a Disney attraction is no easy task. After 4 years in production, Splash Mountain had risen well over its budget at a cost of over $75 Million and would continue to rise in cost to an estimated $85 million by the time it finally opened; which is more than the entire Disneyland park cost in 1955, even adjusted for inflation!

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As a result, during the year of 1988, Imagineers were looking for a way to save some money on the tail end of this construction behemoth. Tony Baxter suddenly realized that his earlier decision to recycle many of the audio-animatronics from America Sings had saved the company millions. If it wasn’t for that foresight, it would have never been green-lit, or would have been cancelled halfway through construction.

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Finally, after five years in development, including 80 hours of reprogramming for every single Animatronic, and an additional three months to rewire them, Splash Mountain opened to the Imagineer’s great relief on July 17th, 1989; the 34th anniversary of Disneyland! The ride was an instant success and soon spawned beautifully redesigned versions at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.

And although it’s a fan favorite around the world, it’s controversial film roots have finally caught up with it. After careful consideration, the Imagineers were faced with a brand new problem: retooling Splash Mountain with a brand new theme not connected to Song of the South. And with Disneyland’s Splash Mountain situated right on the edge of both New Orleans Square and Critter Country, it would make sense that the new property that it’s based on would have some footing in both worlds. Hence the decision to utilize the Princess and the Frog…a film that has deep roots in New Orleans, and a wonderful connection to the lovable animals found in Critter Country! It just goes to show that any problem, no matter how big, can be solved if we’re willing to put our imagination to work! Who knows, maybe your next big idea will come during rush-hour traffic!

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Which version of Splash Mountain is your favorite?