Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Fond Farewell to The Magic Of Disney Animation

     Out of the four parks at Walt Disney World, my favorite has always been Disney’s Hollywood Studios… or as it used to be called, Disney-MGM Studios. The place has Star Wars, Pixar, The Muppets, Indiana Jones, they’ve even recently incorporated Turner Classic Movies into the park! In other words, it’s basically everything I’ve ever loved! Recently, however, the park has been getting an overhaul of sorts. They started by shutting down the Studio Backlot Tour and then removing the park’s central icon, the giant Sorcerer’s Hat. I’m not a fan of change, but I’ve been pretty welcoming of these updates. I think the Studio Backlot Tour was way past its prime and as far as the Sorcerer’s Hat, it never really made much sense to me to begin with. I’ve always thought the water tower with Mickey Mouse ears was a better icon for a park with a movie studio theme.

     But even more recently, an update to the park came out of nowhere and really hit me right in the feels! On July 12th, Disney’s Hollywood Studios closed the doors on their attraction, The Magic of Disney Animation! I, for one, really liked this section of the park, but rather than gripe and moan about how things need to stop being different, I’m using this blog post to give this particular attraction the farewell tribute it deserves! …or at least the farewell tribute that some guy with a blog and some free time is able to give with minimal effort. Here are some fond memories I have of The Magic of Disney Animation!

      Disney’s Hollywood Studios was originally an actual working studio, and The Magic of Disney Animation was the Orlando branch of Disney’s animation studio where such films as Mulan and Lilo and Stitch were produced. At the attraction, park guests would be shown exhibits displaying the ins and outs of an animated film, the basic lifeblood of the Walt Disney company, and were then able to look through a window at an actual Disney animator hard at work. I’m not sure how the animators actually felt about this, but I thought it was cool.

Ever try drawing a dragon riding a featherless falcon while a sunburned couple from hackensack looks over your shoulder? Well it’s likely someone has.
     My most recent trip to Walt Disney World was in 2010. By then, the attraction was no longer a working studio, but the remnants were still there. My favorite part of the attraction was the massive amount of concept art for future projects that was on display. I love the film, Tangled, but this was months before it came out and I knew nothing about it. Massive amounts of artwork for the film filled the walls and display cases of the exhibit. I took photo after photo and poured over them for the next several months, ingesting every detail I could possibly attain on Tangled, as well as the animation business in general. For a wannabe artist such as myself, it was both humbling and inspiring!

     Down the hall were a few generic posters promoting animated films that were on the distant horizon such as Wreck-It Ralph and The Bear and The Bow, or Brave as it would later be called. This hall lead into a large, open room where different characters would greet guests throughout the day. There was the Main Mouse himself, Mickey, dressed in his Sorcerer’s Apprentice garb. The Incredibles had a regular meeting place, and then there was a location for characters from the most recent animated feature. While I was there, it was Lots-o-Huggin Bear from Toy Story 3!

And I could swear he actually smelled like strawberries!
     The queue to meet Lotso was decorated to look like Sunnyside Daycare from Toy Story 3. Backlit displays resembled windows looking out into the playground and the walls were adorned with children’s drawings of the Toy Story characters.  The theme of this location would change with the character so with Wreck-It Ralph, the queue would resemble Game Central Station, or with Winnie the Pooh it might resemble a storybook. It wasn’t the most mind-blowing thing you’d see at Walt Disney World, but it was still a fun little corner of the park that you could tell a lot of thought was put into.

     Last of all, I want to talk about the Animation Academy! These were actual drawing classes that The Magic of Disney Animation offered! For me, this was as close as I’ve ever come (or probably will come) to the real thing. A Disney employee, or “cast-member” as they’re called, would sit in front of a large classroom of drawing boards and go through the process of drawing a Disney character step-by-step. In our class, we drew Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I probably would have rather drawn someone like Gizmo Duck or Zummi Gummi, but, hey… whatchagonnado?

     My wife and I showed up to the class early, so we had to wait outside the classroom. The 3 or 4 cast-members that taught the classes were also waiting, I guess, and were standing in a group quizzing each other on their knowledge of Disney trivia. These people were Disney fans that loved to draw, and they actually got to do it at Disney World! When I first heard that The Magic of Disney Animation was closing, I instantly thought of them. I’m not sure it all worked. Maybe they’re art school interns or something, so they’re not technically out of a job, but I really hope that Disney is able to find a place for these fellow nerds somewhere else in the company.

     I can understand why Disney might feel the need to close The Magic of Disney Animation. Like Opie’s daughter said in Jurassic World, “people want an attraction with more… teeth” and I suppose The Magic of Disney Animation doesn’t really have much in the way of “teeth” sadly. There have been several occasions where I was sad that an attraction I liked closed, but then I ended up liking the new attraction even more! I’m sure the same will be the case here. I’ve even heard rumors about something Star Wars related taking its place! I’m definitely not going to complain about that! Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to the memories I’ll be making there someday, while always cherishing the memories I have from The Magic of Disney Animation. It was a lot of fun.

Maybe a little too much fun.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015

Disney Park Pals - Wave 4

     Disneyland officially opened it's doors on this day in 1955! To celebrate 60 years of the Happiest Place on Earth, I thought I'd roll out another wave of the Park Pals! For this go around, I thought it'd be fun to throw in a few park characters that aren't necessarily "Meet and Greet," but their faces are just as recognizable.

I'm not sure what the happiest place on Earth was 61 years ago. I hear Des Moines is nice.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Silly Nate Film Club - Life With Father

     My favorite Harry Potter character: Mad-Eye Moody. My favorite super hero: Batman. Favorite... duck? Uncle Scrooge! Pretty much across the entire board, my favorite character is always the grouchy yet lovable individual. I didn’t used to have an explanation for why this was always the case. But then it occurred to me… They all remind me of my father! A slightly intimidating guy with a sometimes surly disposition, but at his core... a lovable heart of gold.

     Besides strong values, integrity, and an understanding of the Grouchy Smurfs of the world, one of the things my old man instilled in me is an admiration for “old” movies. You know, the classics! Therefore, this edition of the Silly Nate Film Club is dedicated to you, Dad! From 1947, it’s director Michael Curtiz’s comedy, Life With Father

     This film’s main character falls right in there with that group of beloved protagonists that remind me of my own father. Set in the 1890’s, William Powell plays Clarence Day, a headstrong banker, husband, and father of four boys, who insists on having a certain order in every aspect of his life, especially in his own household. Unfortunately for Mr. Day, his sense of order at home seldom exists the way he’d prefer and thus, hilarity ensues! It’s a device that’s proven funny time and time again: an individual clinging to the belief that they are in control of the situation when, in fact, the opposite is the case.

     And then there’s Mrs. Day, played brilliantly by Irene Dunn. If anyone were in control of the Day household, I’d say it was she. Not that control is something her character really desires. I think what helps Life With Father stand the test of time is the stark contrast between these two characters. It’s never NOT enjoyable! Mrs. Day’s submissive gentility yet firm sensibility is constantly up against Mr. Day’s hardheaded stubbornness. Their different ways of achieving the same goals is a subtle power struggle, of sorts, that makes for some good comedy! Underneath it all, however, the two share a strong love and admiration for one another that Powell and Dunn play quite convincingly on screen. It’s not as catchy of a title, but I almost feel the film should be called Life With Mother and Father as it’s the stunning balance of the two characters that make this film the masterpiece that it is. 

     Life With Father is based on the autobiography of Clarence Day, Jr., the eldest of the four boys. I, myself, am the eldest of four boys so maybe that’s one of the reasons this film hits so close to home. My own father definitely expresses a lot more humility than Mr. Day, but the resemblances are still there. I always did, and still do to an extent, look up to my dad as an unshakable giant not unlike William Powell in Life With Father and have always strived to do right by him the way the Day boys do with their dad. One scene I enjoy is just a small moment towards the end of the film, when Mr. Day is sitting down with all four of his sons… just joking around. By this time, we’ve seen Mr. Day blow his top several times, yet his sons are never too intimidated to sit with their old man and enjoy his company. Like their mother, they understand their father and the love he has for them, and they don’t hesitate to return the affection. I think that’s what it is that I find so lovable about this type of character: the way the scales tip from hardheaded to softhearted. 

     Not long ago, I ran across a little quote from writer Thomas Merton. It might be kind of deep for a blog filled with cartoon penguins, but here it is:
"The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them"  
                                                                                    - Thomas Merton
     Too often we write people off for their so-called faults rather than focus on the good in them. We all have our imperfections and the sooner we try to relate to the Clarence Days that are out there rather than shun them for being different, then the sooner the world will be a better place. I don’t know if that’s the message Life With Father is trying to convey, but it’s what I get out of it, nevertheless. 

     Oh! And on a side note: the world would also be a better place if we had more movie posters like the one above! 

You gotta love the classics!