Monday, 27 February 2012

DisneyQ - Part One

In the last few days of October 2007, a colleague of mine at work decided that she was going to take part in NaNoWriMo that year; whats more, she decided that I was too so she wasn't doing it alone.
For those who do not know what NaNoWriMo is (which is probably most of you), it stands for National Novel Writing Month and it happens every November. The basic premise is pretty simple, participants have from midnight on 31st October until midnight on 30th November to write and post a novel of 50,000 words or more. And so on November 1st 2007, with only a couple of days to think of a premise and outline my story, I started writing my novel; a crossover between my love of Walt Disney World, and the only genre of fiction novel I ever read, Star Trek

I failed.

By the end of November I had only written just under 30,000 words, and while I hadn't finished the story, I was only a couple of chapters away from its natural conclusion; even if I had the time, there wasn't another 20,000 words of story to be told. And to make things worse, considering the effort I had put in and still failed, the colleague who had forced me into this month of work didn't even write a single word of her own novel. I put it away and didn't think about it for a long time.

Six months later, an on-line friend of mine read what I had written and insisted that I finish the story; so I did. And while it never made the originally intended length of 50,000 word; I did end up with a 31,000 word novel which I am very proud of and have had great feedback on from Star Trek and Disney fans alike.

So I figured I would post it on here for others to read and enjoy; a few chapters at a time. It is basically a novel about WDW, but with a Star Trek protagonist; so hopefully it can be enjoyed by fans of both or neither. Where I could, I used real details of WDW; although occasionally I had to take some poetic licence to make things work. Again I do ask that if you think other people would be interested in this, please tell then, tweet it out or post it on Facebook and spread the word; I should be posting a few chapters each of the next few weeks.

For the Disney only fans who know nothing of Star Trek, all you need to know is that there is a race of God like, immortal, super beings called the Q Continuum. Each member of the Continuum is named Q and one particular Q was a constant protagonist in episodes of all Star Trek incarnations from Next Generation onwards; although other Q have made appearences. Q is more of a thorn in the backside than an all out bad guy; but there is often more to what he does than obvious at the time. In later appearances, Q along with Q (a female member of the Continuum) had a baby (now teenager), named q. And in the last official Star Trek novel to have featured Q, Q and Picard saved the entire universe from being wiped from existence.

For more on the Q Continuum, check out this wiki page.

And so, with the introduction done; I present to you.....DisneyQ



Prologue

Bored.

Bored, Bored, Bored.

Sometimes Q envied humans. Sure they are far inferior beings that would never evolve into anything more; but their pathetically short life spans, half of which they spend asleep, coupled with how long it takes them to do even the most simple things gives them purpose; it gives them something to do. "Sometimes the problem with being Q," Q thought, "is that there's just not enough to do in the Universe; not that I haven't either seen already or caused to happen in the first place anyhow."

"I should have let that Calamarain get me." Q muttered to no one in particular. Of course he tried that and managed to pass the test he didn't even know he was taking by performing that one unselfish act; up popped Q, saved Q, saved the Enterprise, gave Q back his powers and so here he was. Bored.

The irony wasn't lost on Q that he was having thoughts so similar to those of Q, the first Q to be allowed to end his own life; an action to which Q himself was sent by the continuum to oppose in that joke of a trial with Kathy. "Dear Kathy," Q reminisced to himself, "an admiral now, stuck behind a desk all day; I wonder if she's as bored as I am?". And if Q, one of the most celebrated thinkers in the continuum, had come to the conclusion that there was nothing left to do; well what chance did Q have of finding something interesting. In the end, Q had assisted Q, or Quinn as he had started to refer to himself as, to commit suicide empathising with his reasons, which were mostly about being bored, despite the continuum’s contempt for the idea. But Q knew he could never commit suicide, he didn’t know why not, it wasn’t like there was anything to do now, but he couldn’t and that just left him here, now, bored.

So all these thoughts were futile; especially considering if Q had either been killed by the Calamarain or taken his own life in the past, following Q’s lead to escape the boredom, well, there wouldn’t be any Universe left to be bored of. “Picard would have never passed the test without me.” Q exclaimed to himself with an inflection that would have come across as a smug grin if Q weren’t a non corporeal being.

Because although Q was bored now, and had been in the past for such a long time, the end of the Universe and the events that had proceeded it had been; fun. For a short while by continuum standards, Q had really enjoyed himself and savoured existence. Maybe it was because there was so much on the line, after all, if he, and it really had been all his idea, had been wrong about humans, Picard or any of the lessons he had taught him, the Universe itself would be gone, engulfed into nothingness. So much like the humans themselves, his belief in them had given Q purpose, and there was always planning and anticipation of what was to come. Or maybe it was because while he had known himself to be right all along, Q, Q and Q opposed him all the way to the final judgement at Gorsach IX, and for much of the time it had been just him alone against the rest of the continuum; and that truly excited Q. Q’s part in assisting Q’s suicide didn’t go down well with the continuum either and added fuel to the fire and Q, Q, Q and Q argued so violently in the aftermath that the continuum deteriorated into civil war.

Looking back on it, Q was thankful for Q’s support; while she may not have agreed with Q’s belief in the humans as “the ones,” at least she didn’t dismiss his thoughts as Q and Q had. And of course, she had agreed to his plan to bring a level of harmony back to the continuum by conceiving a child together; the first new blood to be born in over ten millennia. Fatherhood; how rewarding. Sure, q had been a handful at times, he had even had to strip young q of his powers and force him to spend some time with Auntie Kathy to straighten him up a little; a little pot calling the kettle black but necessary. Q had shown q everything he could think of, filling him with all the experiences and knowledge the Universe had to offer; but when you can go from place to place in the blink of an eye and see one thing after another it becomes old. And looking at q now; well, he’s almost Q, looking to make his own mark on the Universe; a far fetch from the q once held in his arms.

It was all over now anyhow. Just as Q had always predicted, humanity and Picard had been “the ones” and when it came to the judgement at Gorsach IX, Picard had passed the test and saved the Universe. Picard had finally seen through the pretence of Q’s trials over the years, by his standards, as just warm up sessions for the end of the Universe and everything had returned to this; boredom. Even the gloating had gotten old. Obviously Q still wasted no time in reminding Q, Q or Q that he had been right and them wrong all along, and at first it had been great fun, Q was practically strutting through the continuum. But the level of smugness was dropping; Q, Q and Q just weren’t as incitable any more and if he were honest with himself, even Q was growing tired of it.

So here he was, a Q in the continuum; bored.

Bored, Bored, Bored.

“Oh would you give it a rest Q; your moping about is really beginning to annoy me.” Q said.

“Q!” Q replied, “Mon cherie; I am merely reflecting on the nothingness there is to entertain now that the Universe is saved.”

“Well get over yourself, the Universe is saved; life will continue and as long as there is life, then we shall find things to observe and nurture.”

“But I don’t want to just observe and nurture, I’ve just been involved in both the saving the Universe and shaking up the continuum. I..”

“Yes we all know how you were right all along Q, you, you, you. Have you spent any time with q that wasn’t bragging about your achievements; its all I’ve heard from you lately when you’re not sulking about having nothing to do.”

“That’s it Q!” Q exclaimed, “we should do something as a family.”

“I’m already regretting saying anything”

“A vacation. It’s something the humans do to get away from their normal lives…”

“Of course it is, always with the humans; maybe you should have stayed one.”

“Paris once talked of a place, you know how nostalgic he could be for old time Earth habits…”

“I really never paid that much attention to your human friends.”

“We’re going to Disney World!”

Chapter One

November 2007 – old Earth calendar


It was the start of a typical day at the Magic Kingdom, the flagship park of Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Florida. The skies were blue and within hours the sun and humidity would cause the temperatures to rise. The Lilly Belle had pulled into Main Street station and a small cast had performed a song and dance number culminating in a confetti cannon blasting off to signal the opening of the park. Throughout the day 40,000 people would pass under the railroad tracks; a good number of those were already there, waiting at the gates in order to run to their favourite attractions. Between the anticipation, the ongoing show and the families trying to shuffle a baby, stroller, 2 cameras, bag and have their tickets out ready, no one noticed the flashes of light that deposited three more guests that hadn’t been standing there before.

"What am I doing here?" q asked, "you don't even ask anymore?"

"Your father decided we should all go on vacation together;" Q replied in a tone that somewhat lacked enthusiasm, "apparently, this is it."

q looked at the humans around him. He had spent time with humans before, on Auntie Kathy's ship; part of a test his father had given him. But these humans seemed different somehow, they came across as even more primitive than Voyager had been; many of them wearing small black hats with two circular shapes protruding. q looked down upon himself at his own attire; a blue pair of jeans, q had been taught about human clothing by Icheb, and a t-shirt that bore a symbol very reminiscent of the hats the humans were wearing. He turned to his father who so far had said nothing. "Q, when are we?"

"Very good my boy. We have indeed travelled in time. The humans called this the year 2007; a little while ago even by our standards."

"So they will be even move primitive than before?" Q chimed in once she had realised what that meant; her demeanour dropping from unenthusiastic to downright unimpressed. "At least he hasn't dressed me up like last time" she thought to herself, suppressing a shudder at the thought of it.

"My dear," Q replied in his most charming voice, "at this point in time the humans hadn't made it past their own moon," Q chuckled, "only a hard full of them have even left the planet; they are trapped here like rats."

"Well I can think of only a few places I'd rather not be than here Q, so thanks for the history lesson but I have things to do. Care to join me q?"

"Definitely mother." q replied as he quickly moved to his mother's side. Q, however, stood still and made very little protest for someone about to be deserted by his family.

"We'll see you soon Q. You stay. Have fun" Q said as she smiled and snapped her fingers and...

Nothing

''Oh did I forget to mention?" Q quipped with a boyish grin, "I had your powers revoked for the duration of the trip."

"You did what?" Q shrieked; her annoyance with Q now not in the slightest bit masked.

"We're on vacation from being Q, Q;" Q explained, "how can we do that if we were still Q?"

Seeing the look on Q's face, Q decided to attempt an appeal to explorer in Q. "q and I have both spent time without our powers in the past and while things are that little harder, the level of reward with achievement can be hugely satisfying; you will love it.” Her face wasn’t moving, time to keep digging in a more grovelling manner “Besides; it’s not like q or I faced any danger while powerless.” Q knew that Q knew he was lying; both he and q had both faced death while powerless and around humans; this was going to be a hard sell even for Q’s suave self.

“Fine;” Q relinquished, “but I won’t forget this Q.”

Q had gotten away lucky and he knew it. The only thing an omnipotent, non corporeal being feared was an angry female omnipotent, non corporeal being; and Q was feisty even for a Q, it was one of her attributes that most excited Q. But he wasn’t going to let Q know how relieved he was feeling so he did what many had accused him of doing best; he lied through his teeth and put on a show. “Tremendous!” he bellowed making sure to grin widely and gesture wildly. In truth Q didn’t really have any idea what he was getting the group of them into or have any real desire to be there himself; but anything was better than being bored, and human culture had always fascinated him.

From seemingly out of nowhere Q produced three small pieces of card each decorated with drawings of odd looking creatures and passed them around, “these things are called tickets, apparently you need these things to get in and out so you need to keep them safe. And you’ll need some of these, they are called dollars and they work on a base 10 system, the decimal parts being referred to as cents; it’s what the humans used as currency.”

Q and q looked at each other quizzically as they held Q’s offerings in their hands; the concepts of what they were holding were primitive and basic but that made them easy enough to understand. Q, Q and q had all observed such basic systems on numerous planets around the Universe, but suddenly faced with the prospect of having to partake in them themselves rather than just laugh at other’s simpleness; it was just bizarre.

“So,” Q announced as he turned towards the entrance archways, “here we go.”

Chapter Two

"It's going to be a hot day today," Philippe Picard thought as he stood by the turnstile to the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad; "Thunder Mountain will be busy."

Philippe had only been working at Walt Disney World for a few weeks and found it exhilarating. He had grown up at the family vineyards in La Barre but had already decided to himself that the family business was not for him. He really didn't even like the taste of wine, although he was very careful to whom he confided that piece of information, his mother understood but his father would have been either very angry or very disappointed if he found out; Philippe didn't want to risk either.

So Philippe would sit at the table and sip the family's product, and if ever questioned by his father would explain he had to drive later that night or make up some other reason; luckily his mother always had his back and would collaborate his excuse. Spending his entire life working on the vineyard just wasn't an option that Philippe could entertain.

Telling his father that he wanted to get a job outside the vineyard hadn't been easy, and when he finally plucked up the courage to do it, it had been a very heated and emotional discussion. Philippe had never been more thankful that both of his brothers loved the vineyards; if he had been an only child his father would never have agreed.

He managed to get a job at Disneyland Paris, meant to be more of a temporary measure than a career choice, but he really enjoyed the work. So much so that he was still there nine months later when he was given the opportunity to take part in a cast member exchange program that would take him to Walt Disney World, the largest of the Disney theme park resorts; and he jumped at the chance.

And now here he was, working Thunder Mountain no less. In truth he believed the newer version of the ride at Disneyland Paris to be far superior, but this was one of the most iconic rides in the park and Philippe knew how important his job was as a part of the guest's overall experience; he took pride in what he did. 

Philippe saw the first people emerging through the walkways that led to Frontierland from Liberty Square; the main route from the hub to the furthest north-west corner of the park in which he was situated. Thunder Mountain being such a popular ride that people rushed to, in the hopes of avoiding the queues that would soon form, he knew they would be heading straight to him. "They've dropped the rope;" he thought as he prepared to speak in his best cowboy accent, "Hang onto your hats and glasses, folks, ‘cause this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"

***************************

It didn't matter how many times he saw it, it still made him tingle with joy and anticipation.

Mike Ridgway had stood in front of all five castles around the World before, each named for a different Disney princess; but while all stunningly beautiful, none had the same impact on him as Cinderella's castle here at WDW. He didn’t know exactly why it had such an effect, he thought it was more likely than not because this was the park he had visited as a child with his parents, so this park more than the others, and this castle more than the others stirred the child in him and brought back so many special memories. He could stand here and look at the castle all day.

Now an adult, Mike was a self confessed Disney Geek and proud of it. He had his daily rituals of visiting websites to read the latest articles, was a well known member of several Disney fan message boards and his iPod would contain all the best Disney podcasts that he would listen to religiously every week.

Living in New York, Mike wasn’t able to visit the parks as much as he would like; in fact it had been almost eighteen months since his last visit to the World; he had been to Hong Kong Disneyland in that period, but nowhere else felt like home like this did. Newly married, Mike had managed to convince his wife how wonderful it would be to move down the coast. He had used reasons like the weather, the possibilities and the lifestyle in order to convince her, all he really cared about was being close enough that he could become an annual passholder and visit whenever he wanted; now all he had to do was get a job down here and everything was set.

“Stacy wont mind me taking a little time out of job hunting to visit;” he thought to himself. After all, he couldn’t be down here and not visit the park at all, it would be sacrilege; especially as so much had changed since his last visit. He had read so many articles, heard reviews, even watched people's home videos of the new and changed rides on YouTube; now it was his time to experience them. Mentally he had been prioritising for weeks, Pirates of the Caribbean would have to be done, Nemo and Friends, O’ Canada and Gran Fiesta Tour all at Epcot would be good to do; Finding Nemo the Musical and Expedition Everest, which he only got to ride once as it had just opened on his last visit, at Animal Kingdom were musts. But most of all, top of the list, was the Haunted Mansion; which is why he had to get moving or the line would be huge by the time he got there.

He couldn’t remember the last time he had anticipated something so much. The Haunted Mansion had been one of his favourite rides as a kid, and while it remained one of the parks most popular attractions, it had really started to show its age over the past few years; the doombuggies’ sound systems had started to faulter, animatronics had started to break and not be fixed, and versions of the ride in the other parks had been upgraded while WDW’s had been allowed to stagnate. After months and months of internet rumour and speculation Disney finally announced that it would be shutting down the Mansion for a few months and spending thirty million dollars in order to restore and enhance the ride to not only match but surpass the other versions around the world. Once the rehabilitation was underway the rumour mill started up again with what the imagineers would do; Disney released certain information but was also careful to keep a lot of surprises in store for the reopening. So when it finally opened a few weeks ago the online community went into overdrive. It would have been near impossible for Mike not to hear about the changes, additions and surprises; he would have had to cut himself off completely. But, he had managed to resist the urge to watch any videos on YouTube though, so seeing it should still hold some surprises.

"I can't wait;" Mike thought as he made his way into Liberty Square, "the Escher room, floating Leota, new bride; this is going to be great!"

His upbeat attitude took a dive though when he realised that he could see the Mansion grounds and there were no people walking through them. "This doesn't look good," he muttered under his breath; and sure enough when he got the gates he was met by a cast member telling people the ride was closed. Mike's heart sank on hearing the news but the cast member added that it was a planned downtime and not a fault and that the ride would re-open by lunch time; so it wasn't the end of the world, she even gave him a fast pass ticket so he could walk in rather than line up"

"Waste a few hours in the Magic Kingdom;" Mike said to himself, "not a problem."

Chapter Three

Entering the park had been a little more hassle than expected; apparently these ticket things also involved sticking ones finger into a machine. In all the times Q had chosen to appear as a human, the need for representative detail had always been minimal, it had been more about the show and the lesson than the fine details; he was always still a Q inside and out, just looked like a human. Finger prints? What would ever have been the point of going into such level of detail when creating the perfect human form to appear as; and he did consider his looks to be perfect in every way. Q had gone first and when the machine had rejected her finger, Q had quickly realised the issue and with a blink of the eye given all three of them the needed identifying feature; Q just hoped that Q or q didn’t realise that Q still had his powers even if they didn’t. He quickly made a jibe about 21st century technology to divert the blame.

Upon entering Q, Q and q found themselves staring down the barrel of a long street crowded with people. There was noise coming from all around; families talking, children shouting, a band playing as well as music being played in the background and a very loud steam train pulling out of the station behind them. All the noises were drowned out however by the sight in front of them because what stood out more than anything else was placed just beyond the end of the street, totally unexpected compared to the environment in which they now inhabited; it was a castle.

Q looked at the castle with a sense of wonder. She had witnessed super novas, the creation of planets and life first hand before, she had even caused a few phenomena herself; but this single building captured her imagination. She wondered if it were something to do with the lack of her powers or something else that Q may have done to her; “damn Q,” she thought, “can’t trust him for a second.”

Her thoughts were cut short, however, when a ringing bell startled her attention. Seeking the source of the sound, she noticed a carriage being drawn by a horse heading straight for her at a fair pace; the driver motioning her to move. Acting on instinct, Q thought the oncoming vehicle stopped, Q would move when she was ready to, it would just have to wait for her. The oncoming horse and carriage didn’t stop. That was when the realism of not having powers hit her; “Q!” Q cursed under her breath as she quickly moved to avoid being hit.

“This isn’t right,” q exclaimed, “even in the 21st century, when they were still pre warp, the humans had mechanical modes of transportation; these buildings here are also non-consistent with time and appear to be unusually scaled; and the castle doesn’t fit in at all. What is this place?”

Q’s confidence in himself took over and he opened his arms wide; “Well,” he began; at which point he realised he didn’t have a clue how to finish his sentence. In fact he realised his entire knowledge of even the existence of Disney World had come from a quip that Tom Paris had made when asked what he was going to do next, but he had expressed “I’m going to Disney World!” so energetically that Q had surmised it was a special place in human history. Q inwardly scolded himself for not being more prepared; he had studied Earth for a long time before revealing himself to Picard at Deneb V but so much of this era’s culture had been wiped out by the nuclear World War III of the mid 21st century; this place included.

For the second time, in short succession, Q was glad he had retained his powers; with a blink of an eye he had his answer. “Well my boy,” he said again although this time with much more confidence, “Disney World is the ultimate incarnation of what the humans called a theme park. It was a place that young and old would go to immerse themselves in fictional places, enjoy rides and shows and have fun. The park we are currently in is called the Magic Kingdom, it’s the flagship park of the resort. And this park is made up of lands…” Q looked about and noticeably perked when he saw what he had been hoping to find, “here we go;” Q exclaimed as he took one pamphlet from a distribution box, he then opened it up to display a large circular diagram. “You see, here we are at Main Street USA,” Q pointed to the middle lower passage as indicated on the map, “it is purposely made to appear old fashioned.” all three Q had to laugh at the concept of the short lived humans of this time reminiscing about when they were an even more basic race.

“So gang;” Q asked with a peppy tone, “where do we want to go first? Do we explore the unknown on the Jungle Cruise, battle the Evil Emperor Zurg on Space Ranger Spin or witness Snow White’s scary adventures?”

Q and q looked to one another; again not looking impressed. “Q,” Q started, “this is your adventure, why don’t you lead the way and we will follow while imagining all the ways we are going to punish you once we have our powers back.”

“Great!” Q exclaimed ignoring the threats, “Then to Fantasyland it is.”

...........To Be Continued

Friday, 24 February 2012

ReImagining Imagination


I figured it was about time I wrote something that wasn’t totally retrospective, so time for some Backseat Re-Imagineering.

For those of you who don’t know, an Imagineer is a Disney term used to describe someone who works in the department (Imagineering or sometimes referred to as WED) responsible for dreaming up and designing the rides, shows and attractions that you find in a Disney park; the term is a mixture of Imagination and Engineering.

Now I know there are some people who think that I love everything about Disney full stop. But if anything, my love for Disney makes me hate certain aspects of it that either do not live up to expectation/standards or that were special and then allowed to degrade or changed for the worse. As I described in my history with Disney blog a few weeks ago, my return to WDW in 2006 and shock when riding the Journey Into Imagination with Figment attraction was one of the elements that drove me to start looking behind the kayfabe line to find out what had happened; so I think I’ll start with some Backseat Re-Imagineering here.

But first; some back story.

When I first visited Walt Disney World in 1985 there were two theme parks, the Magic Kingdom and the futuristic EPCOT Centre; which had been open for a couple of years at that point but was still considered very new. EPCOT Centre is split into two halves, Future World and World Showcase; the former being a series of pavilions dedicated to a science or theme, the latter being a string of pavilions that surround a body of water (World Showcase Lagoon) each representing a country.

At the age of 9, I have to admit that World Showcase didn’t do a whole lot for me; who am I kidding? at the age of 35 World Showcase still doesn’t interest me hugely apart from on a culinary basis. I think this is one of the reasons the Kim Possible game nowadays is so fantastic because it gives the kids (small and big) something to do in the countries while the adults take in the cultural aspects. So for me, EPCOT Center was mostly about Future World which at the time had several great rides and attractions. Show based, the Kitchen Kabaret (The Land) and Backstage Magic (Communicore) were both favourites of the family. Universe of Energy was popular with it’s huge dinosaurs, Horizons was ridden many many times with family collaboration on which ending we wanted to see each time. But out of all the pavilions, the Imagination Pavilion was “the” one that my sister and I most enjoyed being at. Unfortunately, none of what I just mentioned still exists in its original form if any form at all.


The building itself was magical in its appearance with two glass pyramids that glistened in the Florida sun; it can still be seen in the background of my avatar on Twitter. The surrounding area was usually full of kids and families; the reverse waterfall and leaping fountains, which back in the day leapt high in the air, providing fun entertainment. And then you had the roaming Dreamfinder character played by Ron Shneider, who voiced the character in the second half of the ride, and carried an appropriately sized Figment puppet which he manipulated to life. At the time, Dreamfinder and Figment were the only characters in EPCOT Center, Figment being “the” icon for almost all child based park merchandise; so he by default became a huge hit and a definite “must meet” for all fans; which I quickly became one of. Inside the pavilion, the magic continued with a huge mural depicting Dreamfinder and Figment where the line for the main Journey Into Imagination attraction wound, the whole place having a joyous feel with upbeat music and bright light. The attraction itself was a classic dark ride where your vehicle slowly moved past set pieces accompanied by the song “One Little Spark” by the Sherman Brothers. One element of the attraction that differed it from other dark rides was the opening scene which instead of being moved past, travelled with you around a turntable allowing the riders to see a long introduction from start to finish.


Upstairs was the 3D theatre which originally housed the Magic Journeys film but was soon replaced by Captain EO (after which I believe the pavilion reached its highest peak in my opinion), the ImageWorks and the Sensor/Rainbow Corridor which was so memorable and iconic to the pavilion. And of course, upstairs had the great view out over the surrounding area through the glass walls.

My Dad, Sister and I in the Sensor/Rainbow Corridor

The last time I visited EPCOT Center and the Imagination pavilion in its original form was 1993; my next visit wouldn’t be until 2006 and I was clueless to change. As we approached the pavilion the area was surprisingly quiet compared to how I remembered this family focal point in the park, and I straight away noticed that elements of the Honey I Shrunk The Audience (HISTA, which I had seen in Paris) had taken over some theming on the outside. As we entered the pavilion I was very aware that rather than entering the large open foyer that I remembered we were instead entering a much darker closed off space also re-themed to HISTA; however my “what the hell??” reaction was put on hold because Gage (aged almost 3) was chosen by cast members to become a scientist and was dressed up and given a certificate. So between that all happening and the picture of Robin Williams and figurine of Weebo (which made Tara very happy) concerns weren’t really at the forefront as we walked straight through the empty line area. I still expected the attraction to be the same, even if the pavilion had been totally re-themed, after all, who would mess with one of the best dark rides in the entire of WDW?

Gage being made a member of the Imagination Institute

And then we rode it.

I came off the attraction in shock at how it had been changed, but the shocks didn’t end there as I soon realised that upstairs too no longer existed or was at least not accessible; a pavilion that had been so joyous and full of wonder 20 years earlier had been completely stripped of all that made it special. I thought at first that maybe it was partly me that had changed, through the eyes of an adult and not a child and all that; but the fact that Gage was totally non-engaged with Figment, not wanting a T-shirt or plush, confirmed my feeling that it had indeed been ruined.

Eric Idle may be a star for many things; but he killed Dreamfinder
and one of my favourite attractions. He's not the Messiah, 
he's a very naughty chairman of the Imagination Institute!!

I later learnt that this “new” version (to me) was actually the third incarnation of the ride and that if I thought this was bad, the second incarnation was so bad that it received a record number of formal complaints and thus the third version was to improve on that.

Rather than give the complete history though, after all this is supposed to be my Backseat Re-Imagineering column and not a history one, I suggest watching these videos put together by the amazing MartinsVids.net; this shows the pavilion in its original glory and a very descriptive history of how and what was changed; it even has pretty diagrams to show how the pavilion was re-engineered with the tracks to fit everything in the single floor.
.

You can also read the transcript of Lou Mongello’s interview with Ron Shneider here, or just listen to episode 34 of the WDW Radio Podcast.

So, history out the way; here is what I would like to do with the pavilion in it’s fourth incarnation; Re-Imagineered by me.

First of all, it is out with everything that refers to the “Imagination Institute”; Captain EO is losing steam and there is no way I am putting HISTA back in the 3D theatre. So I want to take out all the inner walls and return the nice big foyer with the sun beaming in through the glass roof. The ImageWorks is also going back upstairs where it belongs, so that is coming out of the downstairs area to give the space back to the new dark ride (as a third of the original ride track was boarded over to create this space in the retheming). The retail space can stay.

Now until this point I probably have every EPCOT Center and Imagination pavilion fan on my side; time to disgust a few of them.

While I prefer “old” EPCOT Center to Epcot, I am not a purist and I have no problem with there being characters in the park. So while I fully want to re-establish Dreamfinder and Figment as the main characters and icons of Epcot or at least this pavilion; I want to make this whole pavilion themed around them in conjunction with Phineas and Ferb. I know I have probably ruffled more than a few feathers already, but please stick with me and hear this out. P&F are the perfect match for this pavilion; everything they do, every episode at its core, is about imagination, innovation and invention. Plus their popularity with all generations should allow it to be accepted without alienating any demographic. They fit.


Pavilion Entrance

So, we now enter the new/old spacious foyer area and it’s bright with a mixture of music being played including instrumentals of P&F songs and of course One Little Spark. The downstairs should be themed very much like it used to be with the mural or similar adorning the walls and whimsical shapes.

Ideally, the P&F meet and greet would be moved from Hollywood Studios to inside the atrium; the energy, music and dancing would make the wait time more entertaining and fireside girls would also entertain and involve children in the line (much like they do in Disney’s Calafornia Adventure P&F Dance Party).

Phineas & Ferb’s Journey Into Imagination

The attraction itself almost returns to original form but with a few important changes to make it operationally viable; it does however regain its lost track for length. Obviously the long introduction turntable has to go in any new re-imagineering of the original ride as it was so operationally problematic that it can’t be expected to be brought back; but I don’t think it needs to be either. It has appeared customary for the name to change in each incarnation of the attraction; while calling it P&F’s Journey into Imagination makes the most sense, I would prefer it retake it’s original name.

Pre-show:

There are three ways that the pre-show could be done to set the story and I think any of them would be sufficient; although would prefer the more expensive options. The cheapest way would be to do it as a comic strip mural on the wall near the start of the attraction, visible from the queue line; obviously this has the draw back of requiring guests to read it and take notice. The next level up would be to use screens and animate the segment which would have the additional benefit of sound; but perhaps be a little repetitive on a loop. The most elaborate way would be to have the scene done using animatronics just prior to boarding the vehicle.

As for the scene itself, it’s very simple. Phineas and Ferb are in the backyard with their friends; Isabella asks “What’cha dooooing?” to which Phineas explains that they couldn’t think of anything to do today, so they have built an “Imagination Rover” vehicle capable of travelling into their imaginations to get some ideas; showing the new ride vehicle as being the vehicle in question. And then they invite the gang and you along for the journey.

Loading:

The new ride vehicles seat people in three rows of three or four. The vehicle itself has a distinctly large nose piece that protrudes in front of the seating to represent the cockpit area in which P&F are supposedly situated. In the middle of each row is a wide screen which shows inside the cockpit and so has animated P&F showing on it doing pre-journey safety checks; the screen should be wide enough to be able to show a pan of the cockpit and thus both boys at all time in a static view.

Journey into Imagination:
After turning the corner out of loading bay view, Ferb hits the “Go” button and the vehicle is transported into “Imagination”. The symbolism of this happening would be a trip through a Rainbow/Sensor Corridor much like the pre-existing one upstairs; this gives relevance and representation for the tunnels.

Once inside the “imagination” things would be bright and colourful and cloudy (like before) and you would hear One Little Spark being sung in the distance while seeing the projections of the Dream Mobile flying by; very similar to the original ride.

Turntable Replacement Scene:

The next scene would replace the original extended turntable scene but is best described as a shortened version of it. The vehicle would slowly move past the Dream Mobile with P&F meeting and conversing with the Dreamfinder and him introducing, rather than creating, Figment through song; as you wouldn’t be able to time his creation lift with multiple vehicles constantly being moved past. In order to make this work the voice sound would not be on a loop in the scene, but would instead emanate from inside the ride vehicle allowing the whole entry to exit of the scene for the story to be told and yet not be odd because Dreamfinder’s beard covers his mouth sufficiently that riders cannot tell the lip sync does not match with the audio.

Rest of Ride:

From this point on, the attraction would pretty much be back to its original version, although with updated effects, as the Dreamfinder and Figment take P&F on the journey through imagination visiting the Dream Port and other areas. The main addition to the old attraction would be additional comments coming from P&F in the cockpit area where they would point out certain aspects and things that can be seen; they may even be tempted to join in singing One Little Spark in the finale scene.

And so that is my Backseat Re-Imagineered attraction. Now to be honest, I haven’t changed much other than take it back to the original attraction and solve the turntable problem; and that is purposeful because the original ride was so good and should never have been ruined so badly in the first place. The biggest addition to the attraction is not so much adding P&F themselves, but that the boys give both reason and ability for the journey to happen. Most importantly, despite the character injection, Dreamfinder and Figment should still be the stars of the attraction.

So if Dreamfinder and Figment are still the stars of the attraction with P&F in an enabling role; why bring them in?? Well, that’s where the rest of the pavilion comes in.

Magic Eye Theatre

Even before the passing of Michael Jackson and resurrection of Captian EO; HISTA had run its course and needed to go; now it is time for something new. Sticking with the theme, I would make an extended Phineas & Ferb 3D episode to go into the theatre; which would be synergistic to everything else in the pavilion.

3D Movie Plot:

Dr Doofenschmirtz’s new plan to take over the Tri-State area is to destroy everyone’s imagination with his brand new “Imaginationawayinator”; although he of course will be immune because of his hat. While Agent P is dispatched to stop Doofenschmirtz, P&F having another imagination wise slow day, decide to pay Dreamfinder and Figment a visit using the Imagination Rover; thus tying the movie in as a sequel of sorts to the attraction and keeping everything together. Once arriving at the Dream Port, P&F find Dreamfinder and Figment (in animated form) very worried as something seems very wrong; levels of Imaginaition are dangerously low. Dreamfinder dispatches P&F to try and stimulate levels of imagination while he does what he can to stop the Dream Port from caving in, which as per usual would lead into a song montage which should pay homage to One Little Spark as P&F travel in the rover helping imagination fight back. Meanwhile Agent P and Doofenschmirtz will have their usual battles, although Agent P will be feeling the lack of imagination too, and be captured within a diabolical contraption.

However, something P&F spark within imagination will get through to Agent P and he will use the split second to switch hats with Doofenschmirtz thus starting his comeback which, as usual, results in the reverse switch being flipped on the Imaginationawayinator and Doofenschmirtz suffering an ironic ending. Coincidentally, just as Agent P flips the reverse switch, P&F along with Dreamfinder and Figment make one last, dire moment, gigantic effort to fight back for Imagination and, to them at least, Imagination is fully restored; thus covering up Agent P’s involvement. Happy Ending.
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Whereas the attraction focused on Dreamfinder and Figment with P&F as secondary characters, the 3D movie should be just the opposite; allowing the pavilion to remain balanced but with continuity throughout.

ImageWorks

Returning to it’s rightful place on the second floor, the Imageworks would be completely updated with similar games, but taken to a new level. Preferably there would be some theming around the Rainbow/Sensor Corridor, everything on the glass window end of it should seem quite normal, whereas everything on the other end should seem more Imagination themed; again expressing that the tunnel is a transporter from one world to another.

The photo machines should be used reprogrammed to superimpose players into P&F scenes and famous attractions, and it would be very cool if some of the more iconic contraptions were built as statues or play areas. The musical instrument game should have animated Figment conducting them flying around the instruments, but could be doubled as a living character initiative as he could be operated ala Crush in Turtle Talk and could interact with those playing, asking their names and cheering them on; the song repertoire could also include P&F classics as well as Spark.

In general the Imageworks should be heavily influenced by all four main characters of the pavilion; however I would like to see one station set up for Dr Doofenschmirtz where guests could invent their most evil “inator”. A very good character actor portraying Doofenschmirtz in the area could really work. 

Obvioulsy I would also like to see the return of the Dreamfinder and Figment puppet (not the 6ft tall Figment) for meet and greets. I think this could be done inside the pavilion in an area of the ImageWorks where he could have an area set up that allows him to trigger effects thus adding to the magic. 

Retail

It’s a Disney pavilion, it has to have retail; but that shouldn’t be a problem in this new pavilion as it can be full of Figment merchandise (which may sell like it used to again with the attraction returned to former glory) and of course the complete P&F merchandise range.


And so that is my complete Backseat Re-Imagineering of the Imagination Pavilion; a mixture of returning the old to its former self with a little updating and refreshing, and introducing a fresh and current franchise into the mix and spreading the theme and continuity throughout. I hope you liked my ideas, I’m sure most fans of the original pavilion have their own thoughts and wishes for it in the future; although for many I think it is just a return to the past. Please post your thoughts on what I have come up as well as your own; I think Phineas and Ferb are the perfect fit for the theme, but I’m sure you guys have ideas just as good.

Again, I ask that if you like this blog, please take a look at my other blog posts and please tweet out or post to facebook to help me grow the readership.

Speak Soon :)

Friday, 17 February 2012

Autographed Vinylmations


First of all, I just want to say a big thanks to all those who read and retweeted my last post on Podcasts. This was my most read blog post since the Muppets blog post and I also got a lot of great feedback from the hosts of the podcasts that I talked about; so thanks. It means a lot whenever I get feedback or a retweet, so please feel free to do either or why not be adventurous and try both!!

Now back on subject, how many of you Disney fans have a bunch of these?


And hands up, who has them shoved away in some drawer somewhere, never looked at again, because despite having carried them and pens around for the entire vacation, once you have gotten home, there’s not a whole lot you can do with them.

Unfortunately, while collecting autographs on a Disney vacation is fun at the time, the format for doing so is pretty boring; the books are pretty generic (a few here are the same book bought years apart), you rarely if ever look through them again and unless the character you meet makes an extra effort in the signing, the signatures are pretty standard and could be from any of the 5+ time you’ve met Mickey that trip. Most of all, because they are not really displayable, other than stacked up on a bookshelf, they become forgotten about very quickly. In fact, if it weren’t for the little clues here and there (or proper labelling on the “my details” page), I would have a hard time working out which book was from which holiday; they have no charisma and little individuality.


I first tried something a little bit different in 2006 on our first family trip to Walt Disney World. Gage still had his autograph book, but I went with a pack of scrapbook background cards. Tara, at the time, was operating a scrapbooking supplies home business, so I knew we would be making a scrapbook of this holiday; and having the autographs directly on the right papers meant they could be added straight in. While this doesn’t get looked at a great deal either, because the scrapbook too just sits on a shelf with a bunch of them; at least when looked at, the autograph can be easily linked to the picture and some memory of obtaining it.

It wasn’t until the summer 2010 Disneyland Paris trip that I got experimental again. At a recent WDW Radio event, a whole bunch of fans and friends had signed a plain white 9” Vinylmation figure which was given to Lou as a memento and I thought it was a cool idea; so why not try it in the parks with characters.

For those who have no idea, I should explain what a Vinylmation figure is. Basically it is a vinyl figurine in a caricature shape of Mickey Mouse; however it is rarely painted to feature Mickey himself and is instead used as a 3D canvas for other art and designs. Usually 3” tall, these are released in themed collections as blind boxes, to add the element of luck and to encourage trading. The original Vinylmation shape design was very Mickey orientated, however recent changes to the design have taken out some of the elements that were being a bit pesky for the designers such as his nub nose and shorts buttons as well as indented lines that shaped around his face and separated his shorts from torso; while still obviously Mickey (because of the ears), it is now a far more generic canvas than previously. To learn more about Vinylmation you can check out the wiki page or these Vinylmation orientated websites:



Now I should give a spoiler alert here; I will be breaking kayfabe, so if you believe everything in Disney park is real, please stop reading here.
Still with me?

So its August 2010 and we have just arrived at Disneyland Paris. We check in at the Newport Bay Club and I buy a 9” plain white Vinylmation from the gift shop; I had brought a nice selection of coloured sharpie markers with me in preparation. From there we head off to Café Mickey where we have a birthday meal booked for Gage. As the characters come around I present them with the figure to sign rather than the standard book, and while there is some hesitation on their part, the experiment is under way. Now I should say from the start, that if you are a perfectionist, then doing this isn’t for you. The 3D shape of the object makes it hard for characters to both hold and sign, especially for those with gloves or mittens; and with the vision impairment there will often be clashing of signatures as misjudgements of size or direction are frequent. I think it is mostly a case of practice; character performers are so used to the standard flat book of a certain size for holding and signing, that they can do it without proper vision, much like typing on a keyboard; this changes everything. But while the signatures are usually not perfect, it is their imperfection that makes them and the finished keepsake both unique and memorable. Unfortunately, some characters, sometimes, either cannot or will not sign a Vinylmation; this can be because they do not feel confident enough to do it and themselves do not want to give a non perfect signature, because they cannot hold it themselves (Eeyore being a prime example), or because they usually use a stamp (like Buzz Lightyear) and you can’t stamp a 3D object. The key is persistence and good humoured begging, either with the character to solve the problem (such as holding it for Eeyore in his vision line so he can sign it); or to try again the next time you meet the character as it often comes down to performer capability or willingness.

And so here are the results of this first experiment and I was very happy with them. Yes, it’s was harder to carry around and it takes a little extra care as you don’t want to get it dirty or smudge the wet marker pens; but the end result was so much more charming than the book. Whenever a character handler would see us with it, they would comment on what a wonderful idea it was; people in line with us would also often comment, and those characters that could communicate would see it being signed by others and actually ask if they could sign it next with genuine excitement. Snow White kissed him on the nose; hence the pinkish smudge.

Signed by: Mickey, Jack Sparrow, Captain Hook, Mulan, Jasmine, Aladdin, Snow White, Eeyore, Dopey, Tigger, Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, Emile, Ariel, Tiana, Minnie, Goofy, Woody, Aurora, Chip & Dale, Tic & Tac, Pluto, Scrooge McDuck, Stitch, Lilo, Mary Poppins, Bert, The Genie, Price Philip, Smee, Daisy, Donald, Jessie, Remy, Pinocchio, Geppetto, Naveen & Belle

Most of all though, this didn’t come home and get put in a cupboard with the other autograph books. I decided at the beginning to write the holiday destination and the date in the front facing ears and also to have it hold a pen from the park which features either the year or the celebration theme of the time further identifying it; and so this became something that could be displayed and would stand out as a constant reminder of the trip. The only rule I had about it, was that I would only get one signature from each character; otherwise it would end up having lots of Mickeys, Goofys and Plutos on it and not much room for others (although in France I have gained two autographs from characters with French and English names)

A few months later, over Christmas and New Year, we went on a trip that involved a few days at Walt Disney World and a trip on the Disney Wonder cruise ship. Again I went with the Vinylmation to get signed, and again we were told time after time what a cool idea it was; apart from one CM on the ship who every time he saw me getting it signed said that I should hand it in to guest services and it would be signed and returned. While I understood his point, as obviously not rushed and out of costume the signatures would come back in a much more perfect condition, to me it was not the point as the whole point was to have this as a memory maker, not just something that was delivered completed; besides, that same handler had no qualms with signing it himself while in costume as Captain Jack Sparrow on Pirate Night.

Signed by: Mickey, Minnie, Woody, Pooh, Tiana, Thumper, Ariel, Eeyore, Mr Incredible, Goofy, Captain Hook, Belle, Jack Sparrow, Daisy, Handy Manny, Peter Pan, Snow White, Stitch, Pocahontas, Pluto, Duffy, Donald, Jasmine, Aladdin, Tigger, Lotso, Chip & Dale, Buzz, Lilo, Aurora, Piglet, Miss Bunny, Mulan, Frozone, Marie & Cinderella

By the end of this trip, it had become obvious to me that, for us, this was the preferred way of collecting autographs; it was fun, different and most of all memorable and had an a place after the trip; the autograph book was a thing of the past.

2011 saw our mammoth Disney adventure and given that this was my first real trip to Disneyland, and with the only one signature from each character rule, I didn’t want to go there with full Vinylmation and not make any memories there. So the only alternative was to split this trip up, a Vinylmation for Walt Disney World, one for the D23 Expo, and one for Disneyland; thus growing the collection by 150% in 3 weeks.

The WDW vinyl from this trip is probably my favourite looking of all them, it’s full, it’s colourful and features a lot of autographs that feature on no others.

Signed by: Mickey, Donald, Buzz, Cinderella, Daisy, Tinkerbelle, Rapunzel, Alice, Snow White, Tigger, Duffy, Belle, Jessie, Pluto, Phineas, Ferb, Pooh, Jasmine, Thumper, Oso, Minnie, Pocahontas, Marie, Angelica, Leo, June, Eeyore, Mary Poppins, Terk, Ariel, Eric, Frozone, Mr Incredible, Miss Bunny, Woody, Stitch, Lilo, Mrs Incredible, Tiana, Brer Bear, Aurora, Jiminy Cricket, Goofy, Chip & Dale, Handy Manny, Piglet, Rafiki, Fairy Godmother, The Genie, White Rabbit, Pinocchio, Aladdin, Vidia, Peter Pan & Yehaw Bob

The D23 Expo vinyl is special because it’s full of friends and celebrities that we had the chance to meet while at the event. The only character signature on this one is Mickey Mouse and this was the living character version and our first chance to interact with him (you can see the video of it being signed here). Others included voice actors, artists and Disney Legends.

Signed by: Lou Mongello(podcaster, author, hobbit), Beci Mahnken (MEI Mousefan Travel), MoJo Collins, Ricky Brigante (podcaster), Vicki Damanti (MEI Mousefan Travel), Annette Owens (podcaster, MEI Mousefan Travel), Jessica Clawson, Noah (Artist), TonyCaggiano, Jim Valeri (lead Vinylmation designer), Mickey Mouse (Icon), DaveSmith (Disney archivist), Scott Otis, Henry Work (former podcaster), PaigeO’Hara (voice of Belle), Marc Lorenzo (Disney Dad), Amy Mebberson (cartoonist), Stitch Kingdom (Disney news site), Alex Maher (artist), David Koenig (author), Sean Astin (voice of Oso, Goonie, Hobbit), Big Momma, as well as actors from Phineas & Ferb, Pair of Kings, Handy Manny and Fish Hooks; and many more.

And then we come to Disneyland; and this is where this blog is about to become a rant. First things first, when we got to Disneyland, finding a plain 9” Vinylmation was bloody hard work. In all other parks I have been to, the Emporium on Main St is loaded with them as are many other places; but I drew a blank in all park shops at Disneyland. Eventually on the first evening I was able to find the couple I needed at D-Street in Downtown but for a while I didn’t think I was going to find any at all anywhere. 

Our Disneyland autograph collecting started at the Storytellers Café the next morning where we had a character breakfast. As I usually do, I had the Vinylmation on the table along with an assortment of coloured pens and first out came Dale; but when asked to sign he turned me down. Now, in my experience, the turn downs usually happen when the vinyl is new or near empty and as soon as it starts to populate, the characters are all much more willing and eager to sign it; so a single turn down like this didn’t really bother me. Next up came Terk who signed and it seemed like things were back on track, but we were then turned down by Rafiki, Koda and Brer Fox in quick succession; which was disappointing because I hadn’t met Brer Fox since childhood and don’t have his or Koda’s signatures on a vinyl.

So we left the breakfast with just Terk and Chip’s autographs and headed to the park where we got in line for Alice and the Mad Hatter in Town Square. Hatter at one point started making his way down the line and I presented him with the vinyl; he hesitated before saying something like “I’m not supposed to but….” and then he signed it hurriedly; but on the bottom base rather than the visible area. When we got to Alice she started signing it too, but her handler got her attention to which she replied “oh, well, I’ve started it now”. This was getting weirder and weirder. So next we lined up for Mickey Mouse and we did the photo etc and then I presented the vinyl; and not only did he gesture that he wouldn’t sign it; but I could actually hear the female cast member inside the costume saying “Sorry, I can’t sign that”; the first time I have ever heard a masked character break kayfabe in such a manner and communicate with a guest verbally.

As this was the end of a character cycle, there were quite a few handlers milling about, so I asked one of them what the deal was with characters refusing to sign my Vinylmation to which he answered that they had received a memo basically saying that Vinylmations were not to be signed. I first said that it seems odd seeing as I have seen characters signing anything before, be it books, maps, tshirts, even books from other parks such as Universal to which the guy said he understood but couldn’t tell me any more. Not one to back down too easly, I then scrolled backwards through the pictures on my camera to one I had taken the day before of my signed Vinylmation from WDW, from the previous week, and showed it to the cast member countering with, “well, if there’s been a ban on signing them, why is everyone at WDW still doing it?” which left him a bit speechless and confused enough to go and get his supervisor. The supervisor basically said the same thing and both cast members (who were very nice btw) said that I should keep trying with characters and those who wanted to sign it, would; but both thought it wrong and odd that Disneyland character performers had been told not to sign them when other parks were either not being given the same restraints or not abiding by them.

I was later given the reason (by Mary Poppins) that signing had been stopped on Vinylmation because they are a piece of art and thus shouldn’t be embellished upon; and while I cannot argue with the sentiment behind this, because I too consider them a piece of art, this is wrong because this is a blank one that is for the sole purpose of embellishment. In this case the signatures I get turn this blank canvas into a unique piece of art that will be a reminder of our holiday; so the argument just doesn’t hold up. Anyway, once others had started signing it, more and more characters were willing; unfortunately this was a bit too late to fill the vinyl up so it looks a little sparse compared to the others.

Signed by: Mickey, Alice, Donald, Cruella De Ville, Terk, Mulan, Snow White, Geppetto, Stitch, Pooh, Chip & Dale, Minnie, Goofy, Pinocchio, Aurora, Jessie, Pluto, Eeyore, Mad Hatter, Baloo & Tigger
Refused to sign: Mickey, Rafiki, Brer Fox, Woody, Koda, Russell, Mary Poppins, Bert, Dug & more

Honestly, I hope this whole incident was just a big misunderstanding, someone has sent out the memo saying “don’t sign Vinylmations because they are art” and not had the thought to put “apart from the blank ones, they are ok” on the end of the sentence for clarification. Since this happened, I have wanted to put the rant you have just read into a letter to Disneyland operations, maybe to at least get clarification or a proper reason, but as I wouldn’t have a clue where to send it, I haven’t; maybe someone who reads this will pass it on. I plan on returning to Disneyland in 2013, and would hate to have another disappointing experience with autographs.

Ok, sorry, rant over.

The newest member of our autographed Vinylmation family came in November while I took a solo weekend trip to Disneyland Paris. Considering I was only there for a couple of days, I am very happy with how full it is. Also, being that it was a solo trip I thought it would fun to experiment again, so this time I got a red Vinylmation rather than the usual white and went with just black ink. While I like how it came out, it seems a little less eye catching than some of the others.

Siged by: Mickey, Chip & Dale, Tic & Tac, Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Minnie, Donald, Tigger, Rafiki, Baloo, The Genie, Winnie the Pooh, Timon, Gedeon, Eeyore, Pinocchio, Mad Hatter, Goofy, Dingol, Woody, Friar Tuck, Wendy, Pluto, Duffy, Geppetto, Jack Sparrow, John Darling & Captain Hook

And so that is our current collection of autographed Vinylmations. There will be 3 or 4 more added this year; hopefully each as individual and full of memories as these. If any of you have tired of autograph books, why not give this a go; it’s much more fun and I’m sure will give you a treasured keepsake of your visit to the parks.

Speak Soon :)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

An Earfull of Podcasts

The world of Podcasting is huge and by no means do I consider myself knowledgeable or an expert on the matter. Honestly, I do not think anyone can be, as much like TV, there aren’t enough minutes in the day in order to consume all that is released in this ever growing format.

Podcasting is an unusual medium in that it breaks the normal barriers of media; much like blogs but obviously in audio form. Many of the more publicised podcasts, the ones you will find on the front page of iTunes are produced by professional media companies and feature those who would usually be classed as celebrities. These are often condensed radio or TV shows, material from comedians or news/sportscasts; but really there are very few barriers of entry to podcasting, so anyone with a computer and a microphone can make and release their own podcast if they have something to talk about (or sometimes even if they don’t). In many ways a podcast could be compared to Public TV in terms of open access; but as it’s much easier to make an audio stream sound professional with simple effects, music overlay and editing than it is with the video format; and this helps to further blur the line between those produced professionally and those that start as a hobby and can grow to become much more.

The term “podcast” originated in 2004 and when Apple added podcast subscription and management to iTunes in 2005 the medium really started to take off. That isn’t to say that podcasts did not exist before these points, there were already internet radio shows that could be listened to either on demand or streamed; this technology just revolutionised their delivery and storage to allow them to be listened to both on demand and while mobile. Actually, I myself (despite my terrible voice) used to have a segment on a wrestling internet radio show back in 1999; nowadays that would be been classed and distributed as a podcast.

I, however, did not start getting involved in listening to podcasts mid late 2006. There were two reasons for this; firstly, I didn’t know of any that I wanted to listen to, but secondly (and mostly), my hatred of Apple at the time (and some still lingering) made me fight against having an iPod and like an idiot I thought you required one of these in order to listen to podcasts (it’s in the name!). Anyway, as I explained in my history with Disney blog, it was in mid 2006 while researching what had happened and why at Walt Disney World that I came across the MouseTunes podcast by Lou Mongello and Nathan Rose; I became a weekly listener straight away and also downloaded some of their older episodes. The mantra for the show was “you keep listening, we’ll keep babbling” and there were many mammothly long shows; but I really enjoyed the casual chatting which was both informative and entertaining. As I still didn’t have an iPod, I had at this point downloaded iTunes in order to get the new and old episodes and I listened to them in the study on the desktop while generally browsing the internet. Eventually, however, I caved and bought my first Apple device and with the ability to listen on the go, and my restarting to commute into the city, on a daily basis, my podcast library began to grow.

So, my podcasting origin story over, here’s a run down of my favourite podcasts in no particular, but at the same time very biased, order.

The Dave Gorman Podcast

I have been a big fan of Dave Gorman’s work for a long time having read all his books (some multiple times) and owning all his DVDs; Googlewhack in particular which since 2004 has remained “the” DVD that is put on in bed when there is nothing on TV. Summer 2009 saw Dave stand in for Frank Skinner on Absolute Radio and I downloaded the podcast versions of those, and later in the year Dave started his own radio show on the station which is live 10am till midday on a Sunday (GMT). Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the show until April the following year, so I spent the best part of two weeks catching up on the first 20 podcasts; I have never laughed out loud on a crowded train so often.

Dave is joined on the podcast by two more comics, Danielle Ward and Martin White; and the three of them have a great rapport. The show has a main topic each week and encourages and in fact thrives on listener interaction through twitter, text or email both live and in retrospect; the retrospect emails being half the content of the podcast extras (taped after the live radio show has ended) and the Someday podcast which is taped at the same time but released “Someday” (usually Thursday after controversy whether Wednesday or Thursday was midweek). Each of the presenters also get their chance to shine as a comic, Dave recites Found Poetry, Danielle presents Ward’s Weekly Word, and Martin writes and sings a song each show based on that week’s listener contributions. Several of the show topics have become full blown features on the show, the most recent to have stuck being Listeners Lexicon which encourages the submission of slang used within a family or friend group that is unique; but in the past there has also been Nicknaming with Attitude and Existential Moments of Self Doubt. And then there is Pun Street; having started as a show where they wanted real shops and services with pun names; this feature has become a beast that cannot be stopped. With the caveat that there can only be one shop or service of any type on the street at one time, there is competition and have been many controversies; the precinct has also been expanded to included Fail Lane, Charming Alley, Creepy Close and Punintention-ally for names that aren’t really puns but need a home. Two of the classics, and my personal favourites, are the dog grooming business “Indiana Bones and the Temple of Groom” and the halall butcher “Halall, is it Meat You’re Looking For?”; remember, these are real places of business. Unfortunately my submission for Fail Lane of “Melissa” which is an electrical supply shop near me never made it to the planning committee stage.

I have however had other entries read out on the live show and podcast, a couple just in passing, but the most prominent was on the 4th September 2011 show where, at 6:20 in, Danielle reads out my text message concerning a very Disney holiday over the summer before questioning if I have a life. At 9mins in, Dave then makes the Disney connection between that text and tweets from someone wearing Mickey ears in their profile picture tweeting from Tesco, and I made it into Martin’s song too.

The WDW Radio Show

In early 2007, pretty much to the surprise of listeners, MouseTunes presenters Lou Mongello and Nathan Rose announced they were going their separate ways. Shortly after Lou launched the WDW Radio show, a one man show which in the years since has grown to have a rather large supporting cast that join Lou for various segments concerning Disney history, current events and, obviously with it in the name, WDW. In the years since its inception, Lou and WDW Radio, along with the website and Lou’s others ventures such as his trivia books, audio guides and Celebrations magazine, have become a cornerstone in the online Disney fan community. The podcast, released Sundays, has evolved over time, at first including news and several segments per show, but now usually being more in depth about one particular subject or interview; with news being covered in a separate mid week Newscast that can be downloaded as a podcast or watched and listened to live as recorded from “The Box”.

Before explaining what “The Box” is, I should say that the WDW Radio Show is not only a community corner stone because of it’s content; but also because of its interaction with the fans; both virtually and in person. WDW Radio has long had meet events both in the parks and also at various Disney conventions and it’s turned strangers into friends and friends into a family where new members are warmly welcomed. In 2009, Lou broadcasted from a Disney fan event via UStream as an experiment and a few months later he did the same from the WDW Radio booth at the inaugural D23 Expo. It was originally thought it would just be for a few hours each day, it ended up being the entire event. For those of us who could not be at the Expo, this was our portal to the event, we chatted with people there, we were taken on trips around the exhibits (as long as the battery and the mobile signal lasted) and we experienced something amazing that we normally would have had no decent live contact with. And for the hundreds of us who watched non stop for 4 days through a webcam interacting with those there and with each other in the accompanying chat box; a real sense of community was developed. That weekend we christened ourselves “The Box People from Lou Mongello’s Basement” although later on it was shortened to just “The Box People”; we even have our own facebook goup. Many of my twitter and facebook Disney friends were met in The Box, and it has only helped contribute to the togetherness world wide of the online Disney fans. If I blame Lou’s MouseTunes podcast for turning me into a smart mark Disney fan, then I have to blame Lou’s WDW Radio Show for making me a member of the much larger fan community on a personal level.

Since then WDW Radio has broadcast from various events to The Box People including a 24hr live broadcast over Star Wars Weekends and a 40hr live broadcast on WDW’s 40th Anniversary. Meanwhile the podcast remains strong, winning the Best Travel Podcast category of the Podcast Awards every year since the show’s inception.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to communicate with Lou on several occasions, during live shows and by email; but in August 2011 I finally got the chance to meet Lou along with many members of the WDW Radio crew/family over several days while at the second D23 Expo. It was also my opportunity, for the first time, to be on the opposite side of the Box and give a wave to those with whom I usually share the virtual space; I made the "I Escaped The Box" stickers that were given to Box attendees at the event. WDW Radio meets have also started in the UK with Lou joining us via Skype, and this winter, I will be joining 500 other WDW Radio fans on the WDW Radio Dream Cruise 2.0; a trip I am really looking forward to.

WEDway Radio

WEDway Radio, hosted by brothers Matt and Nate Parish has been on the air for 3 years now and has been one of the breakout Disney related Podcasts of the past year or so; breaking into the Best Travel Podcast category of last years Podcast Awards. I first found out about WEDway through the BetaMouse podcast in early 2010 and it quickly became one of my favourites to listen to as I made my way through much of its back catalogue.

WEDway Radio, released Sundays, differs from many of the other Disney podcasts as it predominately covers Disney history, whether people, studio, or park based; and so is often informative and a learning experience whilst remaining entertaining. What I think I like most about WEDway though is that its basically a chat, and while Matt and Nate have a decent history with the company and knowledge base to build on, you can tell they have researched each show topic individually and thus they are learning themselves and from each other as the conversation on the show unfolds as well; it makes the show seem very informal and less like a history tutorial.

WEDway Radio has also recently launched a midweek podcast called WEDway NOW which covers this weeks Disney news so they have kept the original show in its niche history offering while having the time to expand their coverage to include the current.

Magical Definition Podcast

After MouseTunes ended, Nathan Rose launched the Magical Definition Podcast, released Sundays, along with Tim Devine and with Jim Hill as a frequent special guest. Soon after the crew was joined by Jackie O, who had been a frequent fan contributor to MouseTunes; but after the initial year the podcast went through some changes and has since become a show where Nathan interviews Jim on current subjects with the occasional historic look back.

What I like about this show is that you hear things here from Jim that many other podcasts either do not talk about or do not know about. It is obvious that Jim, being a member of the press, has a lot of inside connections within the company and while he doesn’t expose secrets that he is not supposed to, he does give a lot of inside sentiment and reaction to events and rumours. Jim is also a realist and looks at the company on a far more financial and business level, and not the rose tinted glasses of a Disney fan, which I find interesting; plainly saying when something like a movie or an event has been a flop or not met expectations.

Inside the Magic

Inside the Magic, hosted by Ricky Brigante, has been broadcasting since April 2005 and has predominantly been a one man hosted show although at various times there have been outside produced segments that Ricky has given air time to. Being a one man show usually without guests, ITM comes across as a newscast type show which usually covers everything that has happened in the last week, with an in-depth look at certain topics, often including audio clips from events or attractions. The show also includes movie, DVD and game reviews and listener email questions. In recent times, ITM has been recorded live with an audio and video stream available allowing chat between fans and with Ricky during recording breaks and outtakes.

ITM’s website is also full of videos and photos that Ricky takes from the parks on regular basis so offers a visual look at what is happening or new attractions. At the D23 Expo, Ricky recorded his encounter with the “B” Mode interactive Mickey Mouse and that of the guests in line after him; the first of which just happened to be Tara and I; so you can see us here.



WDW Today

Starting in the fall of 2005, WDW Today is one of the more prolific podcast releasers, issuing podcasts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The show is one of the few panel Disney podcasts with usual host Matt Hochberg, Mike Newell, Mike Scopa, Len Testa and Annette Owens. WDW Today covers some news, but is mostly geared towards advice concerning visiting the parks. Unfortunately, this means that often the same topics are covered multiple times, especially in listener emails where there is a lot of question repetition or such a small variance that the answer is still the same. That said, there have been some classic topics such as where in Walt Disney World would you want to be in order to give the best chances of surviving the zombie apocalypse (episode 837). If you are looking for advice, I do recommend this podcast, just look through the back episodes to find the subject you are looking for advice on.

WDW Today also has a live call in show once a month that airs on MouseWorld Radio and is released via the podcast stream later in the month; again mostly questions and advice.

Do The Right Thing

Yes, its another non-Disney podcast (That’s two! That’s a collection!). Danielle Ward hosts a panel comedy show that has been recorded in front of an audience; and with it being done for an explicit rated podcast, it’s anything goes. As the name suggests, the premise of the show sees the panellists trying to come up with the right, or sometimes wrong, thing to do when given a certain out of the ordinary situation. Unfortunately there have only been 5 shows recorded to date, but they are well worth a listen for the not easily offended.

Film Fandango

Another Absolute Radio podcast hosted by Danielle Ward (you may be seeing a pattern arising) where she and David Reed, joined by a special guest, review a newly released film which they may or may not have even seen, followed by a film brought in by the special guest which is usually a cult classic. Again often very funny, and I actually prefer the conversations on the cult classic movies than the recent releases.

The Unofficial Guide’s Disney Dish with Jim Hill

A podcast series with 4 episodes so far, Len Testa and Jim Hill roam Walt Disney World talking about what was there, what is there now, what could have been. Much like MDP, this is Jim Hill sharing his immense knowledge of the Disney company and there is always a bunch of tidbits to learn from.

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Due to the nature of podcasting, where so many are done by amateurs for fun; there are some podcasts that unfortunately come to an end; usually because of the time demands put on the makers. I have already mentioned MouseTunes, which ended in 2007, but I would like to mention a few others that I thoroughly enjoyed during their runs.

All About The Mouse

AATM was started in April ’07 by Bryan Ripper and from episode 12 onwards co-hosted by Jonathan Dichter. I knew Jonathan from MouseTunes where he would do impressions known as “The Voice”; and it was through him that I started listening to AATM. What was great about AATM was that it never took itself too seriously, it was produced very well but it was fun and informal and such a good time with plenty of humour and jokes made at their own expense. They also instigated the “All About The Mouseketeer” roll call for fans to get their official Mouseketeer numbers; mine was 365. Unfortunately, All About The Mouse came to an end in the summer of 2010 with a live call in show; the sheer number of online Disney community celebrities that either called in or left an audio message showed how much the whole community loved these two.

Lets Talk About Disney

LTAD was actually the first Disney podcast that I listened to which wasn’t by Lou Mongello or Nathan Rose. Starting in 2005, LTAD was presented by Jana and Mike and was a call in show with a sometimes wicked sense of humour and a real sense of community. As it was a call in show, it was always live and would be slightly edited down for podcast release; but it was the one live show that I always made an effort to be there for live (often with a video stream and chat room) even in the middle of the night because it was always so much fun. After the show was finished there would be either an aftershow party or LTAD-X which was not family friendly but was often hysterical as we all just hung out and chatted. If anyone witnessed the New Years Eve live party, it was me that sent Mike the bottle of Goldvasser which the two of us were doing shots of throughout. Sadly throughout the summer of 2008, the notices of a live recording became less and less until the podcast came to an end; but it was great while it lasted.

BetaMouse

The geekiest Disney podcast around, BetaMouse was dedicated to technology and how it is used within the Disney universe, either by the company or by the fans. Lasting only 2 years, ending in early 2012, and falling just shy of 100 episode, it was the revolution that brought up terms such as “Amped”, “Jazzed” and “FutureBox”. Hosted by Henry Work, then a programmer for TouringPlans but now working for the mouse, Jeff Chaney, Scott Barertt, Kidani Katie and Nate Parish, from WEDway radio; this was a fun chat session each week focusing on a very niche area. I found out about Betamouse when Lou Mongello was their guest on episode 13; I then went back and listened to the first 12 episodes as I joined the revolution and also starting listening to WEDway Radio though hearing Nate. Betamouse was again fun, and would include recorded bloopers after the outro.

I got the chance to meet Henry several times while at the 2011 D23 Expo; I wish him great success now working within Disney; just as long as he fixes everything that was complained about during the shows.

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So that’s my podcast preferences. If you are a Disney fan, then I think all the podcasts I have mentioned are certainly worth a listen; and everyone should listen to the Dave Gorman podcast as anyone should enjoy it. I've mentioned before that Tara and I have had an idea for a podcast of our own for some time; maybe one day this logo will be a reality (until then I have dibs on the name).

Again I do ask that if you like what I have written, please tweet the link out or share it on facebook and help me grow this thing a little.

Speak Soon :)