Thursday, November 8, 2012

Disney and Pixar loop de loop

Last weekend, I got to see Disney's latest effort, the nostalgic video game movie Wreck it Ralph.  Initially, I wasn't too keen on it upon first hearing about it.  It sounded like too much of a "boys" movie with a story about video game characters.  I've never been much of a gamer.  Then I saw the trailer....holy cow, is that Bowser and a Pac-Man ghost in the same room?!  And ooh....cute little girl character alert- maybe I will like this movie.  After all, I was part of that 80s game generation even if I was never very good at them.  My cousin had Pac-Man on her computer, and I was once very addicted to Donkey Kong, the game that inspired the film's Fix it Felix.  While my sister took a karate class at the JCC, I would hang out in the teen lounge where they had a bunch of arcade games set on freeplay, and I gravitated to Donkey Kong again and again.  The iconic sound effects of that game send me back every time.

I'm not going to do a full on movie review, but I will tell you this much- I may be very biased towards fairytale musicals with princess characters when it comes to animated films, but I had a big grin on my face throughout the entire movie.  The references and puns and unexpected "did they really just say that?" laughs didn't end.  My reaction to this movie reminded me quite a bit of seeing another movie with a packed, thoroughly entertained audience back in college- Pixar's Monster's Inc, and it's due to a similar dynamic: a hulking, can be scary but is really a sweet lug character befriending a precocious little girl.  Monsters had Boo- a 2 year old who doesn't talk a whole lot but really makes the film with her antics.  Age Boo several years and give her an attitude, and you have Vanellope von Schweetz- Wreck it Ralph's 9 year old sassy racer.  It's no surprise that I have absolutely fallen for this little livewire too just as I fell for Boo- I adore precocious little girl characters.  I almost immediately rushed out to the Disney Store for my own Vanellope.
(How are my future children going to react to a mom who has all these toys??)

I've already decided that I will be creating my own Vanellope costume in the future.  All I'd need are a mint green hoodie with pink ties, a pleated brown skirt, swirled stockings, black boots, and candy shaped barrettes. 

What really struck me about this film was that Disney Studios had created a movie that felt like a Pixar movie.  I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't!

Meanwhile, over the summer, Pixar created a film- Brave- that felt more like a traditional Disney story!  With John Lasseter now in charge of Disney animation, everything is coming full circle.  I did enjoy Brave a lot.  The story was on a much smaller scale that what I expected, but I've always been a sucker for magical transformation stories.  And I must say, the beautiful artwork of Brave makes a great advertisement for visiting Scotland.  If it wasn't high on my travel list before, it sure is now!

As for which film I liked better, it's really hard to say- they are so completely different.  I love the fairy tale quality of Brave, but I think I smiled and laughed more during Wreck it Ralph.  I will definitely be getting my picture with both sets of characters at Disneyland next week.  Whichever the preference, can we all agree that it is so wonderful to see Disney making really great movies again after the long lull they had once the spark of the Disney renaissance of the early 90s dimmed?

A little sidenote- Wreck it Ralph opened with a wonderful cartoon short called "Paperman" that had a nostalgic feel too it.  It too felt very Pixar in it's storytelling with it's lack of any dialogue- all the emotion played by the artwork and the music.  I actually hadn't heard there was going to be a short, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Castmember confession

I recently did an interview for MiceChat all about my years as a WDW castmember: that you can read if you'd like more details on what I did.

It got me thinking- a lot of people wonder what it's like when you work for the mouse.  Do you get sick of the parks?  Do you start to hate Disney after a while?  Does it ruin the magic?

Well, I can't answer for everyone, but as I'm sure you can guess from the topic of my blog, my answer to those questions is a resounding no!  Okay, maybe that isn't entirely true all the time.  There were days when I did not feel like smiling- when I'd had it up to my chin with guest issues and strict rules and miscommunications.  I will admit it wasn't all pixie dust all the time. But even on my worst days, I never hated Disney.  My job was to make people happy- it's hard to stay gloomy all day in that environment.  Enthusiasm and joy are contagious.  For every guest that gives you a hard time, there will be a dozen others that make your day.  Also, being a Disney fan is a core part of who I am.  Working for the company could never change me that dramatically.  I will always adore the stories of the films.

Did I get sick of the parks?  I can tell you that you don't feel the need to go all the time after a while once you've seen every ride so many times you feel the need to share random trivia with the person next to you, and you tell your friends not to bother with a guide map because you know where every bathroom is in the entire Magic Kingdom.  Sometimes I wonder if you led me blindfolded to an area of the park if I would be able to figure out where I was.   I avoided the parks during the hottest and most crowded times, rarely tolerated lines longer than 20 minutes, and visited less frequently as time went on.  However, now that I've gone from a local to a 6 hour drive from the nearest Disney park, I miss that easy access immensely.

Some think that being a CM must cause you to not want to set foot in the parks because you work there, and for some people that is true- especially if you are in guest relations and give tours so going around the park all day is part of your job. Most of my jobs, on the other hand, involved being stuck in one spot- I never saw any other parts of Disney property when I was on the clock!  Once my shift ended, it was as if my invisible barrier had been broken, and I was free to explore beyond the confines of my work location. 

Does working for Disney ruin the magic?  After all, you see all the behind the scenes stuff- characters out of character, the grumpy guses who complain to everyone backstage, and the sometimes stinky undecorated underbelly of MK known as the utiladoors.  Thankfully, as someone with a background in theater, I love seeing how the magic is created and learning the secrets.  I have no trouble suspending my disbelief again when I return to guest mode in the parks, so seeing all that behind the scenes stuff doesn't bother me.  Even if I was just talking to a character performer backstage, when I see Mickey out in the parks, he is the real Mickey. (Or at least as real as he can be in our world.)

  Some CMs go through the back way when going to play at the parks even though they are technically not supposed to, but I always made a point to enter through the front like a guest if I was there to play.  Going backstage immediately snaps you back to reality, and who wants to do that when you have plans to jump into fantasy?  I'd rather ride the monorail, pass under the train station, and travel down Main Street to Cinderella Castle- even if it takes longer.

Being a CM doesn't ruin the magic- it only alters how you perceive it.  Going to the parks becomes your local hang out rather than your vacation.  You might only go for a couple hours at a time and not even get on a ride during that time.  You tell your friends you went to Mexico for dinner or China for lunch, and they know you mean Epcot.  Sometimes I missed being a vacationer....staying at a hotel, being completely away from the real world, having the visit be a special occasion, etc.  And other times, I was so grateful to not feel the need to get to as many attractions as possible to get the most for my money.  I loved being able to pop over to Epcot once a week during the Food and Wine Festival or to go check out the newest thing whether it was a brand new attraction in its soft opening or a new shop or even just a new menu item at a quick service stand.  When Tangled premiered, I went to MK to have my picture taken with Rapunzel.  I just missed the cut off for her line and ended up waiting two hours to meet her and Flynn.  If I were a paying guest on vacation, I would have said no way, forget it.  But since that was the whole reason I had come to play that day, I stayed in line and had a really fun character interaction.  (Flynn asked me what was in my satchel, and he and Rapunzel were fascinated by my cellphone.)

Another way the magic is altered is that you are now a magic maker, and when you make magic, the magic you experience yourself is in their reactions.  I have had the pleasure of creating so many happy memories for people- the smiles, the hugs, the expressions of gratitude....I dare anyone to not melt when a little girl shrieks with joy and bounces around like Tigger after you've revealed her new princess hairdo.

Being a CM is not for everyone.  There are many others besides me who let a bad experience forever color their perception of Disney from that point out.  Working for them will either kill your fandom or make it stronger than ever.  It's really all about the attitude.  If you keep your head above the drama and always remember why you fell in love with Disney in the first place, you can live through being a CM with your love for all things Mickey still intact.  Look at me- over 8 years worth, and I'm still on board- forever a Disney dreamer.

Friday, June 1, 2012

No one does it like Disney

Since moving to Northern California, I ended a reign of over 8 years with Walt Disney World at my disposal...the freedom to go play at the parks whenever I wanted.  My new local park is California's Great America, a fun little park with lots of coasters.  I finally got my annual pass and checked it out yesterday.  It really makes you appreciate how much more effort Disney puts into their theming.

Great America is perfectly clean and pretty with plenty of fun rides and things to do, but their theming is marginal at best.  I walked through one area that suggested the idea that it was New Orleans with some of the classic iron detailing on the buildings, but it was a cleaned up if someone had drawn some ordinary buildings and thought at the last minute to declare that they were supposed to be in Louisiana style.  One of the eateries was called Pizza Orleans.   Pizza?  What happened to the beignets and gumbo?  When you go to New Orleans Square at Disneyland, you feel as if you've really traveled to another time and place.

I remember as a kid, we visited a little place in Memphis, TN called Libertyland.  Its highlight was the Zippin' Pippin'- a coaster rumored to be Elvis's favorite.  It was a tiny amusement park, and I was shocked that you could see the cars zooming by on the city streets from inside the park- something absolutely unheard of when you visit the big parks.

I know I'm biased.  I fully admit to being a Disney snob.  But, really, after visiting other parks, you have to agree that no one does it quite like Disney.  Only Universal comes close.  Their Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Island of Adventure is incredibly detailed, and I applaud a job well done.  (And as I say that, I'm craving one of those yummy frozen butterbeers!) But often, Universal falls just short of what you'll find at Disney.  A prime example is Shrek 4-D.  The audience holding area for this movie is perfect- you are in the Duloc dungeon.  There are signs everywhere indicating you are about to be tortured.  The attraction hosts announce that the punishments for not following the rules are various amounts of flogging.  Then you are herded into the theater....and *boom* no more theming.  It's just an ordinary theater.  The movie- a short sequel to the original Shrek, is great fun- the theater rumbles along in sync with the action on the screen as the ghost of Lord Farquaad persues Princess Fiona.  However, they've created a story with a complete disconnect from the audience.  There is no reason for us to feel those rumbles as we are not part of the story.  The characters don't acknowledge us.

At a Disney park, most of the 3-D/4-D movies actually have the audience playing a role in the story.  In Honey I Shrunk the Audience, we are the audience watching the science awards show.  We feel the rumbles because the giant toddler picks us up.  In It's Tough to be a Bug,  we are inside a tree.  Everywhere you look inside that theater looks like a part of that tree- the benches, the ceiling, etc. Flit talks directly to us.  At Muppetvision, we are right there inside the Muppet theater.  You can even see the Swedish Chef inside the back wall.  Statler and Waldorf are physically there in the balcony just as they are on the tv show.

In college, my friends and I had season passes to Dollywood, a themepark owned by Dolly Parton.   I spent many happy hours there, including a fun 20th birthday celebration.  I had to laugh at their attempt to imitate Disney though.  They have a ride called Blazing Fury which is a wild ride through an 1880's town that is on fire.  A few human figures pop up throughout the journey, but they all look incredibly fake, and all the female characters sound like Dolly herself.  Disney really has a monopoly on realistic audio-animatronic figures.

Don't get me wrong- one can absolutely have a great time spending a day at a non-Disney park, especially someone who only cares about the intensity of roller coaster thrills- something Disney doesn't have much in the way of.  My own dad is one who falls in that category.  Some folks are more about a good thrill than being immersed in the story, and that's fine.  For me, though, I want to be transported to another world.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

DL to WDW and back again

While I spent 8 years as a Walt Disney World castmember, I actually grew up going to Disneyland in California.  I lived in Burbank until I was 10.  My first trip to Florida's Disney was at age 12, a visit in which we spent one day at Epcot, one day at what was then called MGM Studios, and skipped the Magic Kingdom entirely on my parents' reasoning that we didn't need to go there because it was just like Disneyland.  I finally made it there when I was 18.

My first visit to Disneyland was in December of 1988.  Mickey was celebrating his 60th birthday, and I was 7 years old.  Mom and Dad took us there as one of our Hanukkah presents that year.  I remember them telling us about this magical place before we set eyes on it (We being me and my sister.)  I remember picturing Disneyland having similar qualities to the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade that we watched on tv- with clowns and such.  I imagined It's a Small World as a cave with life sized mechanical children singing stoically in a choir.  Dad used to point out the Matterhorn when we'd pass it while driving on the highway.  The first time he did this, I somehow missed the big white mountain, thought he was pointing to a building, and briefly believed that Disneyland was inside a building.

My memories of that first visit are a little hazy.  I do know that I insisted on wearing my Donald Duck sweatshirt even though it no longer fit.  You can see how small it is on me in this picture:

We spent most of that day in Fantasyland.  I found Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to be rather scary.  Probably my biggest memory from that trip, though, took place in Tomorrowland.  I chickened out on Space Mountain, but my sister at age 5 decided to try it.  She and Dad went for a ride.  When they came back, we kept asking Paula what she thought, but for some reason she refused to answer!  We spent the whole day there, right up until the midnight closing when Paula fell asleep and had to be carried to the parking lot.  We continued to return to DL every 1-3 years until I was 16, even after my family had moved to Tennessee.

When I finally made it to WDW's Magic Kingdom, I couldn't help but make constant comparisons to the California park.  When you are used to one, it is positively surreal to enter the other- Main Street in particular is like strolling into a parallel world.  It looks the same at first glance, but suddenly- hey why is the bakery over where the Emporium should be?  And whoa- the castle shrank/grew!  I ended up working at WDW during and after college because my family now lived in Tennessee.  At first, I very much thought of DL as my home park, but gradually, I had to admit that I now knew Florida's version better.  When I returned to DL for the first time in 10 years, my point of view was reversed!

On Disney message boards, the question comes up over and over- which coast is better?  Now, it's not really fair to compare the entire resorts to each other- Disneyland's 2 parks and 3 hotels vs. WDW's 4 parks and more than a dozen hotels (although I've read that despite that, WDW has a mere 10% more attractions than DL).  The best way to compare is to look at the two Magic Kingdoms.

WDW's Magic Kingdom is DL stretched out.  The pathways are larger, there is more space between attractions, etc.  Because of this, DL can often feel more crowded and more intimate.  In fact, DL actually has more attractions than MK.  They are just all squished closer together.  DL hosts several attractions that are found at WDW in parks other than MK such as Star Tours (MGM) and Honey I Shrunk the Audience (Epcot) which has now been returned to Captain Eo status.  The most obvious difference between the two parks is the size of the their castles.  Disneyland's adorable pale pink Sleeping Beauty Castle looks like a doll house compared to WDW's majestic Cinderella Castle.

Lots of people think that the Florida castle blows DL's out of the water, but personally, I love the little castle.  I think it's smaller size gives it a feeling of being more magical and whimsical- but then again, I love dolls and miniatures.

That's my feeling about Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World on the whole.  Walt Disney World really is a world in itself- a major tourist destination that people visit from all over the globe.  Disneyland, however, is a local attraction, and you get a very different vibe just wandering through it.  There is a sense of "this is our special park."  It's a regular family day trip as opposed to a once in a lifetime (or even once annual) vacation for a greater percentage of the visitors, which makes the atmosphere a little more relaxed. Also, this is the park that Walt himself had a hand in creating and could even be found visiting often during his life.  There's a whole history there that WDW doesn't quite match.

As for attractions that can be found at both parks, I find DL often has the upperhand.  DL's Pirates of the Caribbean is longer with more scenes than MK's.  DL's It's A Small World has larger show rooms and a better sound system.  When MK still had a Toontown, it was merely a shadow of what DL offers- although with the new Fantasyland in the works, WDW is likely to pull ahead.  I find Haunted Mansion pretty equal, although DL has you walk through a segment that is ride through on the other coast.  Jungle Cruise gets a vote for WDW- the Florida version has a whole Asian ruins scene not found in California.

Which park someone prefers is going to be a personal thing- often linked to which coast one grew up with.  My family has a history with Disneyland- both parents visited within the year it opened.

This is my dad and my aunt in '55:

My mom went to Grad Night at Disneyland in 1965.  She still has a program from that day with a message in it to all the students from Walt Disney.

I have an interesting perspective.  I grew up going to Disneyland only to end up spending most of my adult life so far working at WDW.  And now, I'm living back in California- only up north this time, about 6 hours from Disneyland.  And while I miss my life at Walt Disney World and it will always hold a special place in my heart, I can't help but feel as if I'm coming home now that Disneyland will be my Disney home base again.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Feminist yet a Disney Princess fan

The other day, I added to my collection of Disney fashion dolls (mostly Barbies, but some Disney Store brands too).  I have an entire over the door shoe organizer  full of them.  The vast majority of them are of my favorite of the Disney characters- the princesses.  I have nearly 30 of Belle alone:
Who's my newest addition?  Why Princess Merida of course:

Princess Merida is Disney's latest princess- an independent minded Scottish gal with a mane of fiery red hair whose movie arrives next month.  I know that technically she is Pixar, but as far as I'm concerned they are all one big happy family now, and I welcome Merida into the line up that began with Snow White.

What makes Merida interesting is not only is Pixar *finally* creating a film with a female protagonist, but from what I can tell from the trailers she has no love interest - making this the first Disney film to feature a princess character whose happily ever after for the moment doesn't involve finding a man.  Feminists rejoice!

I have to say, though, that while I consider myself feminist and am very excited to see Pixar's Brave, I do not have a problem with the romantic love stories of the other princesses.  I love a good love story.  What bugs me about some feminists is that they act as if woman shouldn't be feminine at all- as if it is a sign of weakness to be girly and romantic.  The truth is while a Disney princess usually end up with a man on her arms, that is not always the entire goal of the character.  I'll grant that Snow White seems to have very few goals beyond being swept away from her grim reality by a handsome prince and Princess Aurora has very little to do in her story, but Cinderella's desire to go to the ball had more to do with wanting to seek out joy and escape her stepfamily for a night than specifically to fall in love.  She doesn't go expecting to dance with the prince- she just falls into it.

Ariel is the first Disney princess to have real spunk and spirit enough to put changing her life into her own hands.  On the surface, it might look as if she sacrifices her whole world just to be with Prince Eric, but really it was an extension of wanting to be part of the human world.

One of my biggest pet peeves regarding the princesses are people who claim Belle has Stockholm Syndrome- the idea that Belle is acting like an abused wife who refuses to leave.  Belle sacrificed herself to save her father, and when she felt truly threatened, she did leave.  She only returned to the castle because the Beast saved her life!  She never sought out to change him.  She only helped him along when he showed her with his actions that he wanted to change.  She didn't love him until after this point.

The most recent additions to the Disney Princess line are the very different Princess Tiana and Rapunzel.  Tiana has amazing drive and passion with a dream to open her own restaurant. Rapunzel wants to see the world outside her tower.  Both meet their loves by chance while aiming for the path to their dreams.

I'm proud to be a fan of the Disney princesses- I have no shame in it.  I spent four years working at Cinderella castle completely immersed in their stories and little girls in sparkly dresses.  And while the princess franchise turns me off when it generalizes the characters and makes them all about tea parties and pretty hairdos, when one sits down and appreciates them as individuals, the beauty of their stories really shine.  If I have daughters someday, they will be allowed to play princess and be as frilly and pink and girly as they wish.  It won't make them into weak women.  And if they decide they don't want anything to do with that stuff, that's fine too.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Beginning

In second grade, I brought my Oliver and Company soundtrack to school and convinced my teacher to let us listen to it in class.

In third grade, I mentioned in three different school assignments that "Under the Sea" was my favorite song.

In fifth grade, we were asked to draw a picture of our favorite place.  I drew Sleeping Beauty Castle.

In eighth grade, I had a letter and my address published in a Disney comic book.  I ended up with a couple dozen penpals.

In high school, I was the one everyone came to if they had a Disney related question.

I chose a trip to Walt Disney World for my high school graduation gift.  During college, I spent a semester on the WDW College Program.  After I graduated college two years later, I moved to Florida where I would work for Mickey for the next eight years.  Needless to say, the Mouse and I have a long history together.

Last November, I got married, and my new husband and I moved all the way to Silicon Valley, CA where he has a great job as a software engineer for a start up company.  Since I left my castle home and am currently a stay-at-home wife (not yet a mother, but that will come within the next few years) keeping an eye out for opportunities, I decided to start this blog to share and nurture mutual Disney love.  In fact, I've discovered that since leaving the castle, my love for the magic is stronger than ever.

So what will this blog be about? Anything and everything Disney- from the parks to the films to the man himself and anything connected to those things such as fairy tales in general.  Let me know if there is something you'd like me to write about!

People often ask me what is it about Disney that I'm so infatuated with.  My own family doesn't get it- they have a healthy appreciation for Disney and they'll humor me, but I know they think I'm a little nuts.  The best way I can explain it is it's the stories- the happily ever afters and characters who touch your heart, the music- certain Disney songs can lift me up instantly, and the inspiration- Walt was a big believer in dreams and making them happen.

I recently visited the Walt Disney Family Museum.  I left feeling so humbled and proud and in complete agreement with many of his philosophies.

Here's a great quote of his:

"Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children's approach to life. They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought - sometimes it isn't much, either."

I salute you Walt.  And I vow to never let go of my inner childlike smile and laugh and find joy in simple things, to skip instead of walk, dance when the music moves me, to imagine and create and explore and experience.  

That is why I love Disney.

Hope to seeya real soon, fellow Disney dreamers!