Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Heigh-Ho! Heigh-Ho!

I was out last night playing trivia, and the Brawny Hombre asked me if I would be writing another "30 Days to Disney" countdown article like I did back in November/December of 2005 when I went. This was a 30 day (well.... 35 days actually) countdown to my much-anticipated trip where I listed one thing I love about Disney each day for 35 days leading up to the trip, culminating in a Top 5 things of:

5) The Great Movie Ride (oh my how it's fallen)
4) Kilimanjaro Safari
3) Pirates of the Caribbean
2) Mickey's PhilharMagic (Apparently I just LOVED this after my trip in January of 05.)
1) Disney "Magic. (Kinda seems like a cop-out now... though I know what I meant.)

So anyway, I'm thinking that I WILL write another one. I'll do my best to not refer back to the old list at all, and then see what remained, 4 years (and 4 trips later). That said, today I'm going to focus in on another Disney list topic...

The Five Coolest Jobs at Walt Disney World
(assisted by my good friend and co-worker "Meredith")

5) Be a Costumed Character!
Okay... so I think this has the potential to be the actual best job in the parks. It's only downside is that it's super effing hard to do. Imagine going to Florida in July. It's 95 degrees and humid. You're wearing shorts and sandals and using one of those water-misting fans. You're miserable. Now imagine instead of the shorts and sandals, you're wearing fur from head to toe. And that fur weighs an extra 30 pounds. And you have to hug little kids all day and be cheery and whatnot. So... how is this even in the running for best job? Well... 1) It's a super coveted position in terms of status among cast members. If you're one of the 20 girls (that's right) who play Mickey, that means something. 2) You could be representing an icon. Sure, you may end up getting Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story, but you also could get to play Donald fucking Duck. It's like playing Stanley Kowalski. It's like playing Willie Loman. It's just so effing cool, it doesn't matter how hot you are. (see what I did there?)

4) Host at Haunted Mansion
I don't know why, but I've always wanted to be the dour, Lurch-like greeter at The Haunted Mansion. It's sort of like the Disney version of the Queen's Guard at Buckingham... you can't smile or laugh. You can only joke if you use topical "death/ghost" related puns. You can stroke your inner goth. It just seems like a great time. More than anything, you get to say my favorite cast member line in the whole of WDW: "Please move to the center of the room. The dead center of the room." It makes me laugh every time.

3) Behind the Scenes Tour Guide
Maybe it's just that I've always wanted to be part of the action from as an "insider", and who is more inside than a Backstage Guide. I think my favorite backstage tour is the "Behind the Seeds" tour of the Epcot greenhouses... (I never fail to giggle at the mention of hydroponic cucumbers) Any of you who really know me, know that I'm an insufferable attention hound, and really there's no better stage for me than a small group that is not only a captive audience, but also is viewing me as some sort of expert. I think I'd probably get into trouble, actually.

2) Prince Eric in "Voyage of the Little Mermaid"
I've often said that this is the single greatest acting job on the planet, and I stand by this now. Let me paint you a picture... You just got your BFA from Boston University in Acting... You're a good looking dude, you've got skills. You go down to Disney and audition for their shows, because you're looking for something to kill the Summer before you move to New York. They offer you Prince Eric. You never leave Orlando ever again. Why? Well... here's what the role consists of... You have 2 lines. They are (in order) "MAX!!" and "Ariel!". You have 2 entrances that total stage time of about 1 minute. 20 seconds of that is spent kissing a hot redheaded actress playing a mermaid. Repeat this 8 times daily. Collect cash.

Awesomest. Acting Gig. Ever.

1) Imagineer!
Disney has a group of folks whose entire job is to come up with the cool shit people see and do in the parks. When you walk around in Asia in Animal Kingdom and notice that the pavement has been distressed to look like bicycles have been zipping around... that's an Imagineering detail. When you walk through the Tower of Terror queue and notice that the dust isn't real, but is a paint effect; Imagineers thought of that. When you are seemlessly sent on a virtual hang glider ride through California and you can smell orange groves... Imagineers. Basically any creative element of any ride or attraction or detail starts with a brainstorm of the Imagineers. Oh...and not only that, but they get to go on awesome research trips. When they built Animal Kingdom they went to Africa and Asia...for MONTHS! When they built Everest, they went to fucking EVEREST. It's probably the coolest single job I can think of anywhere. Not just at Disney.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cat Conversations

They're Cats! Yeah!
Adorable Cats! Yeah!
Chasin' String, and Eatin' Fish, and Sucking Thumbs!
They're Cats! Yeah!

Bear, a cat of regal bearing, lounges on the front stoop of his caretaker's house. A beam of sunlight shines across him as he dozes. The breeze ruffles gently through the grass and garden in front of him. It is idyllic.

Suddenly the peace is disturbed by another cat, one with a face almost humanlike, bounding out of the foliage to the left. This is Sammie.

Sammie: Heewwwhooooaaaa Behweeeee!

Bear: (Sighing) Fuck.

Sammie: Behwie! Wets go huntin' mo'es! I fink it's time I catched me one!

Bear: Can't you see I'm resting you ridiculous animal? Does it look like I want to go hunting moles right now?

Sammie: Come AWN Behwie! It'ew be fun! We can catch dem. And pway wif dem. And wick dem. And eat dem wike we eat da toon toons.

Bear: I'll tell you what, Samuel. If you catch a mole all by yourself, I'll play with it with you. But first you have to do me a favor.

Sammie: Anyfing fo you Behwie. Anyfing.

Bear: I need you to scratch my ears. These fucking mosquitos are absolutely killing me.

Sammie: Shur fing! I wike skwatching you-aw eaws anyway. It makes me giggle. (Commences scratching).

Bear: Oh....shitttt. That's the stuff. That's perfect. You're not all bad Samuel. You're not all bad.

Sammie: Oh FANK YOU Behwie! FANK YOU! (Goes up behind Bear and hugs him... after a moment he gets a little over zealous and bites Bear in the neck.)

Bear: Whoa whoa. You're welcome. Stop trying to fuck me you damned perv. Now go get that mole. I'll be right here waiting to play when you get back.

Sammie: You wiwy mean it Behwie? Wast time you toad me dat you went inside befowh I could catched me one.

Bear: I think you're misremembering. Go on! Go "catched you a mo'e." (aside) Christ.

Sammie: Okay Behwie. You pwomised dis time! (Bounds away) Wheeeee!

Bear waits 5 beats or so and walks around to the cat door into the house.

Bear: (to himself) What an idiot.

They're Cats! Yeah!
Adorable Cats! Yeah!
Chasin' String, and Eatin' Fish, and Sucking Thumbs!
They're Cats! Yeah!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Walt Disney World... For ALIENS

I'm about 4 months away from my next trip to the glorious Walt Disney World.

Because it's starting to loom again, I've been thinking more and more about my plan and more and more about how I want to spend my time once I'm there. The more time I've spent down there, the more creative I've got to be in order to keep finding new things... Don't get me wrong, I could do the traditional tours every day for the rest of my life and be happy, but why?

So I wouldn't call myself jaded, but certainly harder to impress. Lately I've started thinking about what it was like to be a Disney Virgin, and that led me into thinking about the iconic attractions in all of Walt Disney World.

So here it is...

The 5 Attractions I'd recommend to Aliens if they could only experience 5, and wanted to understand the very essence of Walt Disney World. (It's a working title.)

Man...this is really tough. I've consulted Annie from Fend to Blog on this as well, and she's in agreement that this is really difficult. It's almost too confining to someone who cares as much as me. I mean... I LOVE things like the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, and in a way it's very Disney in that no other place would really spend that much time on what is essentially a cute time diversion, but can I really use up one of my 5 items on it? Same with something like Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at the Studios. It's a great ride, and maybe one of the 5 best rides in the joint, but does it scream Disney? I dunno... Here's what I'm gonna do... I'm going to list as many candidates as I can and rate them. Maybe as I go, I'll come up with some sort of criteria.
Whew... Okay... I'll try to be as brief as possible... (stop laughing.)

The Magic Kingdom Candidates

Space Mountain: The PROS: Probably the most famous Disney Roller Coaster. It IS iconic in that everyone knows about Space Mountain. It's an actually exciting ride even once you get past the gimmick of being in the dark. It's one of the oldest rides in the park (1975), so it's popularity is hard to argue with. CONS: Aside from being futuristically themed to fit into the Tomorrowland theming, there's not really a whole lot that says DISNEY here. I'll give it a 7 out of 10.

Splash Mountain: The PROS: It's really popular. It's really fun. It's AMAZINGLY themed. It's long, so you get a ton of bang for your line-waiting buck. CONS: It's based on a somewhat embarrassingly racist movie (Song of the South) and has thus been underplayed for years. Still an 8 out of 10.

Big Thunder Mountain: The PROS: Pretty much everything about Space Mountain is also true about Big Thunder, except it's not as famous. It's faster. CONS: Um... It's basically no different than Space Mountain in terms of what it brings to the table. Good theming. Good ride. Not super Disney-ish otherwise. Maybe a personal favorite, but for this a 6 out of 10.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The PROS: I mean... my god. It's probably the most famous ride at the park. It's the only ride that's spawned a movie franchise. It's a phenomenal example of Disney Theming. The historical impact of this ride (the last one that Walt directly worked on..well..the Disneyland version.) The audio-animatronics are still great. The updates they did to include the movie characters are all smooth. I approve. CONS: Um... Pirates are historically horrible people who probably shouldn't be glorified? That's about it. 9 out of 10.

Haunted Mansion: The PROS: Technologically speaking... it's incredible. The theming is out of this world. The holograms and the special effects are great. The ride cars (Doom Buggies) are one-of-a-kind. The ride incorporates the trademark humor that Disney is known for (an aside: I remember as a kid being scared of pretty much everything, and being super nervous about going into a Haunted House. By the time I exited, I was sold on Disney. It may have been the key moment for me.) CONS: Unlike Pirates, the movie it inspired was really bad. Annie pointed out that there really isn't a true "Disney" connection. It's a bit of a stand-alone. 8 out of 10.

It's a Small World: The PROS: Well... as much as I hate to admit it, this ride is truly iconic. The song alone is world-famous. Mary Blair is an Imagineering Icon. It makes a strong argument. CONS: Unless we want to drive the Aliens insane (and let's be honest, if the aliens want to know about Disney, they can't be all bad), we should probably not subject them to this ride. I've always wondered what sort of horrible thing the cast members there did to get assigned this ride. 7 out of 10. (10 out of 10 on mute, which is sadly impossible.)

Mickey's PhilharMagic: The PROS: This is the newest attraction on the Magic Kingdom list, and it really deserves some kind of consideration. The 3-D elements to this are the most well done I've ever seen. They're seemless. In terms of Disney character incorportation, it doesn't get any better. There's a great story to it. It never fails to make me a little emotional. CONS: I will admit that I absolutely hate the queue line for this ride. I've never had to wait long, because the thing seats so many people and I go early in the day, but the ventilation in there just isn't good. 8 out of 10.

The Enchanted Tiki Room: The PROS: It was one of Walts favorites. The original music (In the tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki, tiki room!) is classic and extremely catchy. The bird animatronics were revolutionary (The birds BREATHE for god's sake.) CONS: It's not the original version anymore. Iago is annoying. It hardly has the same feel as the original. 5 out of 10.

Epcot Candidates

Soarin': The PROS: An absolutely breathtaking ride in a totally unexpected way. It's as peaceful a thrill ride as you can ever find. The ride mechanics are the only ones like it in the world (aside from it's twin in California). The fully sensory experience is very Disney in that Disney's goal is to completely immerse a visitor from start to finish. CONS: Nothing really "Disney" about it, aside from a trip to Disneyland at the end. The lines can be oppressive, and while the theming isn't bad, it's a little boring. 8 out of 10.

Spaceship Earth: The PROS: It's housed inside one of the most famous landmarks within all of WDW. (The big golf ball). Some of the refurbishments are really good. CONS: Overall, the refurb took away from it a bit. I miss the music. I miss Jeremy Irons. Maybe I'm just being nostalgic. 6 out of 10.

Test Track: The PROS: It definitely falls into the "Education is FUN!" genre that Disney seems to have perfected over the years. It has one of the best queue lines around. It's definitely fun to ride too. CONS: It's been sponsored by GM since it was built in the late 90s, and let's be honest... I'm not sure what the future of the Test Track is now that GM has fallen apart. I'd be a little nervous that I'd introduce this great ride to Disney Virgin Aliens and then it'd be gone when they came back. 7 out of 10.

Journey into Imagination: The PROS: FIGMENT!!! EEEEEEE!!!!!!!!! Okay... I'm the biggest Figment the Imagination Dragon fan in the world. I love him. He's aDORable! And he's a creation of the Disney Imagineers completely. The ride never has a wait, and it's air conditioned, which makes it extremely hot-day friendly. One of the greatest theme park songs of all (I have the Sheet Music!!) CONS: Many people believe this current incarnation is inferior to the original, but the Dream Catcher was creepy to me. PUT THAT ROTTEN TOMATO DOWN!! 7 out of 10.

Honey I Shrunk the Audience: The PROS: More really excellent 3-D effects than any other attraction. The interactive quality of it with the moving seats and the smells they pipe in is really entertaining. CONS: I have a hard time ever thinking about this space without thinking about Captain EO, which is weird. It's a fairly dated attraction now. I don't think that Honey I Shrunk the Kids has the legendary status you'd like with a permanent attraction. 6 out of 10.

World Showcase. The PROS: This is probably cheating by grouping them all together, but it's just a really fantastic attraction overall, and while I don't think that any individual piece is grand enough to discuss out of context, when taken as a whole, it's amazing. You have everything... Great restaurants. Great shops. Educational, yet breathtaking movies. Rides. It's a great slice of Americana (in that it's these Americanized versions of these places, fully sanctioned by the places.) CONS: It's big? I dunno. It's the best. 10 out of 10.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Candidates

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster: The PROS: As I mentioned above, it's a great ride. Probably the most exciting in terms of traditional ride types at the entire place. The theming is great. The connection with Aerosmith is really fun... but CONS: As I said... it's not really Disney. Really this is the same problem with everything at this park. This is the Park least connected to Disney (tonally) in general. 6 out of 10.

Tower of Terror: The PROS: As thrilling, in it's way, as any ride in WDW. (Especially if you like repeated plummets to certain death...which I don't.). It has arguably the most extensive and detailed theming of any ride in theme park history, and theming is what sets Disney apart from all the rest. The attention to detail is outstanding. They also created this randomized ride system that is pretty one-of-a-kind. CONS: Scary as fuck. Not really Disney. 8 out of 10.

The Great Movie Ride: The PROS: At one point, this was my favorite ride. I loved it. It has a great nostalgic feel to it that isn't really re-created anywhere else at the park. It shows a real love of the movies and movie magic. CONS: Most of the movies it discusses aren't Disney movies. The quality of the performers has significantly decreased in the last few years. 5 out of 10.

Lights! Motors! Action!: The PROS: It's probably the most advanced automobile stunt show I've ever seen. It's got some crazy good effects. CONS:.... NOT DISNEY. I mean... it's got the elements of the things Disney is famous for (the attention to details. The showmanship. The technologically superior presentation, but it's not Disney specific in terms of content (aside from a cameo from Herbie.) 6 out of 10.

Animal Kingdom Candidates:

Dinosaur!: The PROS: It's a great ride. It's really exciting. (Though it shakes you around pretty good.) It's got a Disney theme to it (The movie Dinosaur! is prominently featured in terms of the story), even if that theme was added retroactively. The queue line has one of my favorite in-joke "easter egg" type things I know, which is a true hallmark of Disney creativity. That's one of the things I love most about Disney... They layer so many elements into an attraction that they can be enjoyed multiple times. In this case there are red and yellow pipes running along the queue area, and they have a chemical equation on them. It turns out that the red one is labled with the chemical equation for Ketchup and the yellow one for Mustard. LOVE it! Also, the ride vehicles themselves constitute some of the most advanced ride technology ever created. If I told you, after riding that ride, and the ground is completely level, smooth concrete, you'd never believe me, and that has to do with the ride vehicles. CONS: I can't really think of any. It's kind of dark, thematically (the original title was "Countdown to Extinction", before the movie Dinosaur came out.) It can be scary for kids. 8 out of 10.

Expedition Everest: The PROS: It's the best pure ride in the park. The theming is incredible, and the look of it is beautiful. There's a term in the Disney-verse for landmarks that draw crowds from a distance. They call these "Weenies". This is the ultimate Weenie. You can see it from almost anywhere in the park, and it looks AMAZING. This is another example of exemplary ride technology as well. I'm not sure I've ever heard of a roller coaster of this type going backward and forward with this much precision. THE TRACK MOVES!! Oh, and also it has the worlds most advanced audio-animatronic figure in The Yeti. CONS: Again... pretty scary for kids, but I'm a great big roller coaster pussy and I love it. 10 out of 10.

Kilimanjaro Safari: The PROS: This is one of the most unique experiences you can have at Disney World. It's difficult to describe how cool it is to be THAT close to animals you usually would only see on TV. That's sort of the essence of the Disney experience at it's very heart. CONS: This is going to sound crazy, but the most "Disney" part of the attraction is also the dumbest part. The "Save Little Red" storyline is dumb. I think that Disney seems to get this, though as it felt pretty downplayed the last couple of times I've ridden. Some of my fellow readers will disagree about how cool this ride is, but I am going to chalk that up to we Cincinnatians being jaded to seeing live animals since we have a great Zoo here. 8 out of 10.

Festival of the Lion King: The PROS: This is probably the best live show at any of the parks. The music and characters are straight from the movie, and are so popular and so recognizable. I'm rarely moved by the sappy "Kid sees their favorite characters for the first time" bit, but this show gets to me more than most. The ability of the performers varies from cast to cast, but all are working on a high level. CONS: Um... it's hard to put my finger on, but I guess I've always felt that no matter how great a show it, it's still barely more than a diversion. That's probably why I don't have any night shows or parades listed. 7 out of 10.

It's Tough to be a Bug: The PROS: The setting (inside the Tree of Life) is extremely cool and dramatic. The theming is awesome. (I especially love the fake movie posters in the queue area). The effects are pretty good. The Hopper animatronic figure is CRAZY cool. It's fun to watch the little kids freak the fuck out when he shows up. CONS: Kids freak the fuck out. The show's a little short, so unless the wait is short too... it's hard to justify. The film could use some's getting old. 7 out of 10.

Phew... this has become insane..

So here's where we stand:

DEFINITELY IN (1o out of 10s)

ALSO IN (9 out of 10)

That leaves me 2 spots to fill and the following choices that received 8 out of 10s:
Kilimanjaro Safari
Tower of Terror
Mickey's PhilharMagic
Haunted Mansion
Splash Mountain

Gosh this is hard. (That's what she said...)

Okay... so here's what I'm going to do I'm going to create 5 categories and give them a gut feeling rating (out of 10) in all 5. The 2 with the highest Aggregate Score get selected.

The Categories Are:
Icon Status: Would someone who had never been to Disney World before have the slightest idea of what this was by just hearing the words?
Uniqueness: Can a ride like this be found anywhere else?
Details: What kind of Disney-esque elements are added that set it apart from similar rides elsewhere?
Nostalgic Feelings: When I think about going to Disney on my darkest days, do I think about this ride?
Disney Essence: Does something about this ride say "Disney"? Be it characters, or technology, or theming?

Kilimanjaro Safari


Tower of Terror


Mickey's Philharmagic

Haunted Mansion

Splash Mountain

So here they are Folks

The 5 Attractions that Most Encapsulate the Disney Experience:

Expedition Everest

Epcot's World Showcase


Pirates of the Caribbean

Haunted Mansion

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Perfect Game

"There's nothing wrong with a one-hitter, there, Barbie. In fact, it's miraculous. And I won't have you of all people cheapen what should be an endless pursuit of perfection just because you want the world to laugh with you tonight."
-- Dr. Cox, Season 1 Episode 12 of Scrubs "My Blind Date"

Baseball is my favorite sport. I've been told lately that I toss around the word "Favorite" a lot, but baseball really truly is my favorite. Has been since I was but a tot. For some reason it's always spoken to me on a deeper level than any other sports.

There are a lot of reasons... I'm hopelessly sentimental, and I have dozens of warm memories from my childhood that revolve around baseball. I love arguing, and there's no better sport to debate (Barry Larkin vs. Greg Maddux for 1995 MVP... GO!). I love history, and what sport has a richer, more colorful history than baseball?

Those are all big reasons for me... but maybe the biggest correlates to this gut feeling that baseball just makes sense on a cosmic level. I've stated, probably entirely unoriginally, that I believe baseball is a beautiful allegory for life in microcosm. I was discussing this recently with the Decidedly-UnBeefy Muchacha (I'm working on a cooler nickname for her), and she suggested that I get it down on pixel here in the blog. So here it is...

Baseball as Life.

Despite the claims to the contrary, life IS fair.
Everyone says that life's not fair, but I totally disagree. Life often sucks. Life is rarely balanced. When you look at life's individual moments, many of them are unfair. However, when you look at life as a whole... the WHOLE fucking thing, it all pans out exactly the way it should. I'm not saying that it's always good, because, let's be honest here... people often equate "fair" and "good for them", and that's just wrong, but it's exactly how things SHOULD be. Same with baseball. It's not a sprint, but a marathon. You NEVER see a team win the World Series without earning it. I'll use this year as an example... The Kansas City Royals and The Florida Marlins both started the season super hot. We're now about 60 games into the season and they are both currently in 4th place in their respective divisions... There are no pretenders in baseball... Sure you'll occasionally get a really weak division where a bad team makes the playoffs, but you don't see them winning.
The overall point is that Life is long like a 162 game baseball season. There are peaks and valleys, streaks and slumps... but in the end you always end up right where you should.

Everybody gets the same chance.
I said it. I know that on the surface this seems patently false. People are born in slums or mansions. People have phyisical advantages. People have genetic advantages. That's all true, and that's not at all what I'm talking about. On a spiritual level we're all given the same chance to be a good person. To make smart choices. To be upstanding. That's a pretty twee things to say... I know. I acknowledge that everyone has different obstacles in their way. I would contend, though, that everyone HAS obstacles. In baseball, these same issues arrise. Each team has the same number of innings. The same number of outs. Each batter has the same number of strikes and balls. And as with life, there are obstacles. A home team bats second. Certain ball parks are better suited to different styles of play. Some players are naturally better than others. The more important factor, though, is that every game is played by the same defined standards. It doesn't end in a tie (except for one dumb All Star game). I know if I'm going to the ball park, I'm gonna see 9 Innings. Every time.

Everyone has a style.
Earl Weaver, famous baseball manager, is associated with the game style philosophy of "Pitching, Defense, and the Three Run Homer". On the other hand Whitey Herzog won a World Series without a real power hitter (sorry Keith Hernandez fans) playing nothing but small ball. The point is, there are more ways to win than there are stars in the sky. Just like life. Some people toil and chip away and work every day of their life. Hitting singles and doubles and taking their walks and stolen bases. This works for them...they end up with a lot of successes based on small movements. Other people build up for the big score (the home run). They put all of their eggs in one basket and sometimes it works out, and when it does it's HUGE. Sometimes it doesn't, and they have nothing to fall back on.
The quote I listed at the top of this entry is from one of the best episodes of the first season of Scrubs... Dr. Cox has 27 patients on his watch, and he's trying to get through the whole night without one of them dying (likening it to a perfect game in baseball). He makes it to the very end of the shift... five minutes to go, and one does. Elliott, trying to help, wants him to just wait 5 minutes before calling the death, and he shoots her down using the beautiful words above.

For me, it more than anything, perfectly sums up why I love baseball, and why baseball and life are one and the same.

You always, in life as well as baseball, aim for the absolute top. Batting .400... Pitching a perfect game...Whatever personal achievement that equates in your life. And rarely will you achieve those goals. Only one guy in the last 70 years has hit .400. Only 17 perfect games have been thrown in Major League history. If you measure success in such black and white terms... "I'm only a success if I can purchase my own jet." You're going to be pretty miserable. However, if you can look at the little successes.... Turning a beautiful double play or lining a double into the gap. Throwing a one hitter.... Those are small things that contain trememdous beauty. If you can savor the minor successes, you're going to be happy. Life will be fair and balanced. Maybe not always good, but fair.