Archive | September, 2013

Adios, Guest Assistance Cards

24 Sep

As of October 9, WDW and Disney parks will no longer offer Guest Assistance Cards to Guests with disabilities.

In a statement from a Disney spokesperson to Yahoo! Shine: “We have an unwavering commitment to making our parks accessible to all guests. Given the increasing volume of requests we receive for special access to our attractions, we are changing our process to create a more consistent experience for all our guests while providing accommodations for guests with disabilities. We engaged disability groups, such as Autism Speaks, to develop this new process, which is in line with the rest of our industry.”

(What that really means: “Quit abusing the system.”)

The change comes after countless reports of tour groups “hiring out” disabled “tour guides” to use the perks of the Guest Assistance Cards.

Currently, GAC cards provide alternate entrances, front-of-the-line service, and immediate services to card holders and their entire party.

Disney is collaborating with disability groups to better service their needs while the GACs are being replaced with the new system. This new system will be similar to the FastPass system currently used, where guests recieve a ticket and return to an attraction for a shorter wait time.

I have a training session this week on the phasing out of GAC cards and transitioning to the new system. Personally, I’m glad to see the cards go. I understand its use for a number of Guests, but it frustrates me when Guests come up to me and say “Here, we have a FastPass for this,” and wave a GAC in my face. It gives everyone in line the assumption that GACs are equivalent to FastPasses but are applicable on all attractions. I have no doubt groups abuse the cards to avoid a 10-minute wait time.

More details to come as Cast Members get trained in the upcoming week.


Bye, Bye, Bruckheimer

22 Sep

The Walt Disney Company and director/producer Jerry Bruckheimer are parting ways after nearly 20 years of collaboration.

Best known for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Bruckheimer worked with the studios for 27 feature films, including National Treasure, Con Air, and Armageddon (Disneyland Paris still has a simulation attraction based on the film).

The move comes after the (rather dismal) box-office flop of The Lone Ranger reboot, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger. Some estimates suggest Disney could lose $190 million on the long-anticipated summer blockbuster.

Disney said in a statement it will continue to work with Bruckheimer on the fifth Pirates installment. However, the release date has been removed from the company’s distribution schedule. It had been listed to launch in the summer of 2015.

With Disney’s acquisitions of MARVEL and Lucasfilms (on top of studio projects from both Walt Disney Studios and PIXAR), the company has plenty of material to produce. However, Bruckheimer’s next projects are not as predictable.

What will happen to the franchise once expected to churn out three more movies after its initial trilogy? Critics and fans of the Pirates franchise wondered how the plot could continue after losing two leads (Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom), but how will it fair with this news?

Copyrights, Intellectual Property, and “Escape from Tomorrow”

14 Sep

Within the last week, Randy Moore’s film Escape from Tomorrow generated quite the buzz as the Sundance selection is slated for release in October. The film chronicles a day in the life of a father’s family vacation to Walt Disney World after finding out he was fired from his job. Sounds normal enough, right? The subplot is where it gets creepy. The family keeps bumping into these two teenage girls, causing the father to have some not-Disney-approved fantasies while on vacation. Eww. That’s enough to get me to pass on the film entirely.

But (as if I needed any more reason not to see this movie) it was secretly filmed on Disney property, both WDW and Disneyland. The company knew nothing. The actors, lighting, and film crews extensively prepared before entering the parks; they performed each scene in one take and quickly moved to the next scene as to not look suspicious. Moore even went so far as to edit the film in South Korea. Kudos for being able to pull that off.

Parents disgruntled paying $3.75 for Mickey premium bars, frustrated with higher ticket prices, and exhausted by long wait times probably rejoice over the concept of this movie. One review on IMDb begins with “FINALLY! [sic] A film that depicts Disney World the way that I see it!” Hipsters everywhere will probably rejoice over the Sundance selection. The neo-noir film gives an overall unsettling tone, and the small budget, “artistic” jump-cuts, and relatively unknown actors are live bait to indie-film lovers. Some critics have even likened the film to the work of Roman Polanski (okay, let’s not get crazy here, people…).

But I wonder how anyone who has any knowledge or respect for copyrights or intellectual property could sit through this movie and honestly enjoy it.

The nature of filming shows absolutely no respect for the Walt Disney Company.

“But it’s a multi-billion dollar corporation! It doesn’t need our respect,” you cry.

Just think back to when the company started for just one second. Before Iger, before Eisner, before The Lion King, Little Mermaid, or even Snow White. Disney only had Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an adorable little critter he dreamed up while at Universal. Disney then left Universal to start his own company with his older brother, Roy. However, a copyright snafu caused Disney to relinquish Oswald and most of Disney’s animators back to Universal. Disney vowed to never make the same mistake again.

Fast-forward to present day. When a Cast Member asks you to turn off all video-recording devices, cameras, and cell phones, it’s not just to make a show more enjoyable. It’s also due to copyright protection. When Guests come to the Halloween parties dressed as Disney characters, they cannot pose for pictures with other Guests or sign autographs. Again, copyright protection.

And while you might not think the corporation needs your respect, think about the thousands of Cast Members who worked to create everything you see at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or any Disney movie.  At least have some respect for them.

Copyrights are frustrating at times, I completely understand. Last semester, I visited the David Bowie exhibit at the Victoria and Albert. Camera ready, I prepared to take in every last detail of the exhibit. However, posted in large signage near the entrance, I was instructed absolutely NO photography or video of any kind due to the exhibit being a display of Bowie’s intellectual property. Instead of trying to sneak a couple of pictures once I got in, I had enough respect for him, his music, his costumes, and him being a major cultural icon to put away my camera and simply enjoy the exhibit.

Disney is no different in this situation. With the grand scope of the Disney empire, it’s easy to forget it all started with one man’s dream.

So, enjoy your cheaply won successes while you can, “Escape from Tomorrow” cast and crew. Bask in the glory of a Sundance selection, limited theater openings, and hipsters flocking to see the film. It won’t last.

I hope you make enough money to pay off a fraction of what you’ll have to give when Disney’s legal team gets done.

Forgotten Attractions: EPCOT Edition

10 Sep

Once again, my friend Meagan and I found ourselves wandering around EPCOT before work one day. And, once again, we gravitated toward the rarely-thought of attractions. I don’t know if we take pity on the island of misfit attractions, but somehow we’re always one of 20 guests seated in a theater meant to hold 180.

These are the attractions you miss running to Test Track because they posted a 10 minute wait-time, or because you were headed to France’s patisserie and didn’t feel like waiting another 20 minutes (you need your croissant now, danggit!).

1) Journey Into Imagination with Figment – Hop on the imagination train with Dr. Nigel Channing (Monty Python’s Eric Idle) and Figment, his discovery, as you explore the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Figment might be one of the cutest little dragon/dinosaur critters ever, little yellow sweater and all. “Why is the music still stuck in my head?” you’ll cry as you exit the attraction. “It’s like ‘it’s a small world’ all over again!” Well, that’s because the composers of “One Little Spark” and “it’s a small world” are the same geniuses (and Disney legends): the Sherman Brothers. Figment is also a well-loved Disney attraction; it was brought back by popular demand (after numerous complaints to Michael Eisner) to replace Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, returning Figment to center-stage in 2002.

2) Ellen’s Energy Adventure – Late-1990s Ellen DeGeneres has a problem with figuring out where we get our energy from and she needs Bill Nye the Science guy’s help to learn about the coal, oil, solar, and (most importantly) brain power that makes our world function. The clothes and lack of gray in Alex Trebek’s moustache might be a dead giveaway that this attraction debuted in 1996 but that doesn’t mean it’s any less relevant today. Plus, you say the words “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and I’ll be there. Most of my elementary school education came from those videos.

3) Captain EO – As I excitedly took my seat for Captain EO, the gentleman next to me make a rather snarky comment I did not appreciate: “Yay! Money-grubbing Disney is out for more with Captain EO!” It was hard for me to contain myself and not moon-walk across his face. (YOU, sir, DID NOT HAVE TO COME TO DISNEY WORLD. GO TO UNIVERSAL STUDIOS IF YOU DON’T APPRECIATE TRUE INNOVATION SMOTHERED IN SENTIMENT.) I love every single cheesy thing about Captain EO: Michael Jackson circa 1987, George Lucas’s hand in props and overall cinematography, Francis Ford Coppola’s jump cuts from tight to wide angles with no mid-width shots, the way your seat bounces to the beat of MJ’s music. Plus, the costumes. The sweet, sweet leather cut-out costumes. They’re 1980s gold. I’m so glad they reopened the attraction in 2010 in all Disney parks around the globe (I tried to see EO in DisneyParis, but no one would sit through it with me…).  They kept a lot of the original special effects save a couple extra laser beams. I just love it oh-so-much. Hurry to Captain EO while you still can, before Disney takes it out and replaces it with something less-spectacular and 1980s-tastic.

4) Living with the Land – Confession: Meagan and I skipped over Living with the Land for Soarin’ (which I had never done but now love). I have yet to do the Living with the Land tour, which takes you on a tour of plants, ecosystems, and sustainable-living/agricultural goodness. It also displays Epcot’s four working greenhouses and one Aquacell, the products of which are used at The Garden Grill and Sunshine Seasons restaurants.  Added bonus: Soarin’ and Living with the Land are in the same building, so ride Living with the Land while you wait for your FastPass time for Soarin’. The building itself contains most delicious smell on the face of the earth (and this is coming from someone who has to walk by the Main Street bakery every day for work). Living with the Land is on my to-do list when I’m able to spend an entire day at EPCOT.

Scariest Disney Attractions

6 Sep

Since I’ve started at Stitch’s Great Escape!, there’s no telling how many small children and parents I’ve escorted out of the chamber right before the show starts. The show could be set to begin and suddenly, up pops little Johnny who makes a bee-line for the door. He’s followed by his exasperated mom who asks for the nearest exit and a non-thrill attraction little Johnny can enjoy. I send them to Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor before heading back inside to start the show.

To avoid situations such as these, I’ve compiled a list of the scariest attractions WDW has to offer. You might scoff at some of these, but please remember everyone has different fears. What seems harmless to one kid might scare the pants off another.

1) Stitch’s Great Escape! – I adore Stitch, and I’m not saying that because I work there. The attraction continues a great story that entertains a wide range of Guests. It remains stationary and includes amazing special effects. However, it gets pitch-black dark. You will not be able to see your hand in front of your face (and you CANNOT pull out your cell phone for light. DO NOT BE THAT PERSON. I WILL escort you out of the chamber). In addition to utter darkness, you’ll be harness into a seat where Stitch can mess with you however he pleases. He’s innocuous compared to when the attraction was still Alien Encounter (and if you’ve seen Alien, you can only imagine how terrifying that monster would be escaped in a dark room…)

2) Tower of Terror – Fun personal story about Tower: I chickened out the first tiem I attempted it. Dad and I were at the elevator doors about to board and I couldn’t do it. The same thing happened to a coworker of mine this week when we tried to get her on the ride for her first time. Luckily, a Cast Member takes you down the real service elevator to the exit. Most Guests think as soon as you load the elevators, you drop. Nope. The suspense builds as your elevator mosesy through darkly lit hotel corridors with trippy Twilight Zone effects.

3) DINOSAUR – Kids love dinosaurs. It’s a phase 99.9 percent of all children go through. There are two kinds of dinosaurs: the adorable ones (Rex from Toy Story, Land Before Time, 2000’s Dinosaur) and the ones that will rip you to shreds (Jurassic Park’s raptors). The dinos featured in Animal Kingdom’s DINOSAUR attraction are the latter. If your kid will have problems with this big guy chasing your time rover around, you might want to opt for Chester and Hester’s Dino Land instead.

4) The Haunted Mansion – Yeah, yeah, I know. The Haunted Mansion is essentially a kid’s parody of a haunted house. But the skeleton that pops out behind the tombstone during the graveyard scene still makes me jump.

5) It’s a Bug’s Life – The only reason I’m putting this one on the list is one scene. Those who’ve seen the Pixar film know about the movie’s villain, despicable Hopper the grasshopper. In the show, Hopper makes an appearance. Upset with Flik for allowing humans to enter into bug territory, Hopper sets to destroy the audience like they do bugs. There’s a very thick smoke effect to replicate bug spray during this segment, followed by large animatronic spiders dangling feet from the heads of audience members.

6) Expedition Everest – Easily the best coaster in all of WDW, it’s also one of the most terrifying attractions. The audio-animatronic Yeti that you encounter when you least expect it can give even the bravest mountain explorer nightmares. It used to be worse: the Yeti was meant to take a swipe at Guests as the train passed underneath him. However, the Yeti got a little too close to the trains for Imagineers’ comfort, so they made him a stationary figure.

Parents, please understand what terrifies your kids before getting in line. Also, read the clearly marked descriptions of an attraction or ask a Cast Member before boarding. It’ll make everyone’s day a little more magical.

Ever get the pants scared off of you by a Disney attraction? Feel free to comment below. Also, comment with any attractions I missed that you find particularly chill-inducing.


5 Reasons You Should Be Excited for ‘FROZEN’

1 Sep

I’ve been following along with the production of Frozen, Disney’s 53rd animated film, since Idina Menzel posted on Facebook over a year ago that she had been cast as one of the leads. Based off of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” Frozen follows sisters Anna and Elsa who try to find each other. Here’s Disney’s plot summary:

In Frozen, fearless optimist Anna teams up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.

Still not convinced? Here are 5 reasons why you’ll be headed to the theater to see Frozen when it comes to theaters November 27:

1) The Cast – I’ve already mentioned Idina Menzel (Wicked, Glee, Enchanted, RENT), who will be playing Snow Queen/Elsa. Broadway babies Jonathan Groff (Jesse St. James from Glee, original Broadway production of Spring Awakening) and Joshua Gad (Book of Mormon) also fill out this cast. Groff plays rugged Kristoff (potential love interest for Anna? We’ll see…) and Gad plays goofy Olaf the Snowman seen in the teaser trailer. Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) gives life to Anna. Alan Tudyk is listed as The Duke, who seems to be set as the film’s antagonist. If so, it’ll be Tudyk’s second time voicing a Disney villain; he voiced King Candy in 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph. Stage performer Sanito Fontana plays Prince Hans.

2) The Animation – “But it’s not the same as hand-drawn animation!” No, it’s not. It’s just as artistic and beautiful. If anything, the CG-style gives animators more versatility with character movements and adds visual depth. During the lantern scene in Tangled, I doubt anyone thought at that moment it would be more beautiful hand drawn. No, you sure didn’t because your mouth was agape taking in the scene. Looking at some of the film stills released, it appears that Frozen is on track with Tangled, set to wow audiences with gorgeous animation.

3) TWO Princess – This is an idea I’ve been hoping Disney would do for years now. With Disney presenting both Elsa and Anna as equal players in this film, it leaves the potential for TWO princesses being welcomed into the princess family (which they inevitably will be once movie ticket sales stats come in). This means kids get more options as to which princess they relate. (I didn’t get that option as a kid! The princess I best relate to didn’t come along until Tiana in 2009 with Princess and the Frog, and by that point it’s a little odd to admit your Disney ‘spirit-animal’ was one that debuted when you were 16…) It’s also brilliant for Disney’s marketing team: double the merchandise, double the princess dresses, double the movie posters, etc.

4) The Production – Jennifer Lee, the genius behind Wreck-it Ralph, penned the script, so no worries there. Lee is co-directing the film with Chris Buck, the man behind Tarzan.

5) The Music – It’s a Disney animated movie; you’ll like the music. Menzel premiered a snippet of the song “Let it Go” at D23. It’s not nearly enough for me, but it’ll have to tide me over until November.

If you’re still curious, don’t do what I did when I heard about the project and read the Hans Christian Anderson original story. Disney is pulling a “Little Mermaid” with this project as well and loosely basing the movie’s plotline on the story. If they tried to do this exactly like HCA’s fairy tale, it could easily be a repeat of The Black Cauldron in terrifying thousands of small children…

“Frozen” is currently set to be released Nov. 27, 2013.