Thursday, October 26, 2006

Promotional Prose

Let us take a moment here, between articles, to admire the succinct but brilliantly constructed lost art form which was the Walt Disney World "pictorial souvenir" produced between 1971 and 1992 or so. These large, in later years often hardcover, books were simply thick with the kind of taut, evocative and smart ad copy Disney only wishes she could write today. Take this passage from a 1977 book:

"A world of discoveries awaits visitors at the Walt Disney World Shopping Village. In a setting of weathered bricks and woods, and shops with cedar-shingled roofs, old-world craftsmen carry out their vintage arts before admiring eyes..."

And all this for the fairly sedate Disney Marketplace! Furthermore, the imagery was striking and often wonderful, capturing beautiful settings in flattering light at all times of the day with real people in real clothes enjoying themselves in real time. In honor of this lost art, we proudly present to you a collection of staggering vintage promotional imagery with accompanying text. Always click on the image for a larger view if possible; many are scanned at very high resolution.

"Crossing the bridge and climbing the Swiss Family Treehouse, adventurers g
ain a spectacular panorama of the sprawling jungle region. Below, bargain hunters browse through informal tropical shops."

"A journey to exotic tropical regions of the world unfolds in Adventureland, whe
re the last outpost of civilization borders on a "wonderland of nature's own design."

"A veritable United Nations of plants was assembled to represent the tropic regions of the world. From the South Pacific to the West Indies, from darkest Africa to densest Amazon, flowering trees radiate the spectrum in brilliant, ever changing patterns of blossoms. Vigorously twining vines and vast strands of bamboo, palms, ferns and grasses add contrasting textures and cooling shades of green."

"Here is America on the eve of Independence - 1776. Around the bustling square are shops that recall the busainess life of Colonial America - silver, glass, Mlle Lafayette's Parfumerie. And places to sample the hospitality of the times: Liberty Tree Tavern, Columbia Harbour House. In Liberty Square, Walt Disney sought to dramatize 'in a different and exciting way' the importance of our American heritage."

"Man is on the move in Tomorrowland - across America, around our world, and beyond the earth into Outer Space... For youngsters of all ages, Tomorrowland is a stepping stone to the future... an opportunity today to preview many adventures which only yesterday seemed generations away." [Editor's emphasis]

"In addition to being astronomically enlightening, [Mission to Mars] is rich in light-hearted embellishments. Among them is a cosmic phen
omenon that hurls passengers into a 'hyper-space warp' and through an 'anti-universe' mirroring their own."

"Enclosed within the hotel's imposing steel and concrete A-frame is an enourmous open area called the Grand Canyon Concourse. It soars nine stories and stretches one and a half times the length of a football field, with rows of guest rooms opening into it on both sides. Sleek, silent monorail trains continually arrive and depart in this unique 'lobby', transporting guests to and from The Magic Kingdom and other resort destinations. Beneath the monorail station is a small community of shops and restraunts, set in a shimmering decor inspired by scenes of the Grand Canyon."

What really sets these apart today is their technical honestly, statistical accuracy, prose format, and, above all, honest commitment to showing the park, as it is, in the best possible light. In today's publications the pages overflow with promotional and conceptual images, watered down press-release style "information", and other nonsense about as useful as the average Walt Disney World entertainment production. Take a look at these stills, scanned from a mid-90's Disney book:

Just look at those clean cut, white, lying 'tourists' clad entirley in Disney garb clutching their mouse ears and faking a turn on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad! The illusion of them actually expirencing the attraction in a nonstaged format is so artifical that the slightly canted camera angle to help the trick is noticable, and Ms. Blonde on the right is even looking square into the camera! The difference between this offensivley bland American grouping and a cool guy with an afro riding his Grand Prix Raceway car past a blurry Contemporary is about as stark as you can get. And is that a fish eye lens you're using on the Castle Mosiacs there, Mickey? Why? So you can get all of them in one shot? Where's the art?

As for the prose, I only need to cite two passages from two different years to illustrate what happened:

"Among the most popular attractions in The Magic Kingdom, Country Bear Jamboree is a complete theatrical production, relying on precise timing of humorous patter and songs. And most of all, it relies on the ability of the Disney Imagineers to create incredibly life-like personalities for an Audio-Animatronics cast that includes 17 full sized bears, a raccoon, and the talktative hunting-trophy heads of a buffalo, stag and moose." Walt Disney World: The First Decade, 1981
"At Grizzly Hall, Audio-Animatronics bears, a racoon [sic], and talking buffalo, stag, and moose heads present The Country Bear Jamboree. One of the most popular stage shows in The Magic Kingdom, it relies on precision timing and stars like Teddi Barra, Big Al, and Liver Lips." Walt Disney World Resort, 1994
These wonderful old volumes are invaluable resources now, and some, like Walt Disney World: The First Decade, and Walt Disney's Epcot Center, are literally cornerstone works on any Disney shelf. By the mid-90's the books were fully "Eisnerized", with full color characters composited onto awkwardly taken images of actors pretending to be guests, and much of the charm was gone. Please, Disney, bring back these big old hardcover books with unique text and custom photographs - there are plenty of us willing to shell out top dollar for this kind of thing again and you know it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Jokers in the Wild, Part Four

Recently, The Jungle Cruise at Disneyland has seen further upgrades and repairs. The most complex and patently lame is a new, intrusive piranha effect which at least gives the attraction a bit more of an ending, regardless of the fact that Disneyland has had the old “jumping fish on a stick” gag since at least 1959 and the opening of the Bear Valley segment of Nature’s Wonderland. There is also a new water cannon effect at the Gorilla Camp and some more subtle, but positive, shifting around of props and elements. Although the effects are more in the current Disney spirit of “knock them over the head and/or get them wet”, getting cynical tourists to respond to a ride operating on a 50 year old design aesthetic isn’t a bad thing. Far worse is the “Blood and Thunder” climax of Hong Kong Disneyland’s stripped down “Jungle River Cruise”, which manages to be twice as loud and one-third as appealing as even simple passages of traditional jungle acreage, such as Inspiration Falls.

Current Disney marketing image for The Jungle Cruise.

But the Jungle Cruise has stood the test of time and become something of a Disney staple, still lush, fresh and exciting while similar Disney staples need to be buffered every five years to stay appealing (Space Mountain, anybody?). Perhaps the innate simplicity of the attraction is its’ greatest asset: a guided tour through every Hollywood adventure cliché packed into 4000 feet of track. The illusion of the jungle being an endless expanse still is brilliant and effective, and jokes like “the backside of water” still get laughs after 50 years of daily use. And, of course, a funny skipper spiel, on-script or not, is still something to be commended. A late 90’s attempt to change the spiel to an automated one, as well as retheme the attraction to tie into the long forgotten “George of the Jungle” movie, resulted in almost full-scale revolt and thankfully only in the new boat models having a superfluous “SPIEL” button next to the “AUDIO” switch.

Perhaps the Jungle Cruise, because of its’ popularity and attachment to Walt Disney, lingered around just long enough to become cool again. In 1959, Hawaii became a US State, and tropical excess was everywhere, still apparent in American culture in the form of luaus, tiki torches, and tiki bars. At this time Jungle Cruise was poised to be cutting edge, with its’ new Polynesian-inflected neighbors The Enchanted Tiki Room and Tahitian Terrace tapping into the American public’s fixation on the distant port of call.

The Walt Disney World of 1971 reformatted this appetite into a swooning South Seas song of beauty and romance, but by the 80’s and 90’s, The Jungle Cruise must have looked pretty sad. With new cutting edge attractions like Star Tours and Splash Mountain competing, Jungle Cruise’s pneumatic thrills looked how Disney marketed it: a low key attraction suited for children. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, published first in 1989, even made apologies as to how “hokey” the whole thing was.

But by the mid-90’s, the attitude was changing. Left to their own devices for 45 years, the fake animals and the skippers’ sometimes flippant attitude about them began to look like something new again: a post-modern attraction. Now jokes about Its A Small World, freeways and optical illusions flow as freely as water over Schweitzer Falls: the artifice has finally become the aesthetic, not the means to it.

Weather this is a good thing or not is up for debate: The Jungle Cruise’s design intent is really more in the vein of a soothing tropic breeze or the mystery of the darkest ruin. It’s vibrant landscape, colorful flowers and fanciful tableaus speak more to the romantic than the pedantic, but now that these same “informed” and “modern” tourists can begin to enjoy the show, the more evident these tonalities are. Ask anybody who’s stood on the jungle launch dock at twilight on a balmy summer evening, watching those boats, all lit up, passing into the mists of the rain forest. The cock-eyed attitude of the attraction betrays a very pure center.

So let’s celebrate, 50 years later, one of the longest living and most over the top toy chests any kid could ever ask for: The Jungle Cruise and the tradition of the live spiel. It’s still honored after 50 years of revision. And here’s to another fifty.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Jokers in the Wild, Part Three

In 1993 a series of changes that would alter the original Adven-
tureland forever began. Construction of the Indiana Jones Adventure, a gigantic E-Ticket designed to match Pirates of the
Caribbean in scope and size, began and shortly its’ influence would spread into the Jungle Cruise just as it required redressing and retheming of the entire land. New boats arrived, now aged and dressed to look less like tour boats and more like the homes of the skippers on board, and Harper Goff’s original candy-striped awnings were a thing of the past. Work began to add more exotic, middle eastern style facades to older structures like the Tahitian Terrace (now an ill-advised and under-utilized Aladdin tie in) and the Sunkist, I Presume juice bar. Waterfalls now graced the entranceway and the original vaguely British Colonial feeling of the smallest and simplest of Disneyland’s original lands began to be filled with Indiana Jones-looking items like weathered jeeps and canvas awnings began to appear. All would cede to the power of cross-promotion.

By late 1993 the Jungle Cruise was closed and the second dispatch structure, a maze of thatched huts, fell to make way for a two-level British Colonial structure of impressive scale and theme. Gone was the feeling of a simple switchback queue and in its’ place rose a congested, tightly themed, highly detailed scene-setting structure with a new gift shop out front. Now the story became that the Jungle Shipping Company, once a disreputable supply firm stocking the curio shop out front, began to turn profit once tourists began to arrive in the outpost region to flock to the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. The company turned from freight to tours, and now runs a lucrative if disreputable guided tour of the wilderness.

To necessitate the flow of guests into and out of the Indiana Jones attraction, an entire original bend in the river was removed, as well as a full sixteen feet of dock space for the jungle launches. Now rather than a few quick turns through the rainforest it’s a straight shot to the first show scene with the new E-Ticket itself prominently displayed along the waters’ edge. And although the cruise itself was always kind of flakey on geography, now sitting next to each other is an Indian temple and a Cambodian shrine, making for a bizarre contrast.

Less effective was a wholesale change to the Adventureland area, now affixing to it an unnecessary specific date and time period so that it could fit into the Indiana Jones film franchise. No longer would wholesale assorted exotica infused with Hollywood sensibilities be Adventureland’s trademark: now everything had to fit into Spielberg and Lucas’ films or hit the highway. The most destructive change to the Jungle itself was the imposition of this date and time on the material. No longer were sarcastic comments about Disneyland, Southern California, freeways, It’s A Small World, and other “modern” elements permitted. Skippers were given an astonishing volume of information about the attraction’s new backstory and current people and events of 1938 that were “safe” to refer to. A brand new rewritten spiel – probably the best ever devised by WDI for the Jungle – integrated traditional humor with more popular, but until then not approved, jokes.

Of course this flies in the face of the jungle’s greatest asset, the ability of the skippers to improvise along the way according to the demands of the situation. If an animal isn’t working or – worse – Schweitzer Falls isn’t running, a quick anachronistic joke can save face and help smooth over the awkward situation. Although technically such out of show jokes are not allowed, they always have been a tradition on the jungle rivers.

Across the country, there were doings over at the other Jungle Cruise in 1994. Possibly realizing that the Orlando Adventureland was even more ornate and fancifully nonspecific than the Anaheim version, the Florida jungle got a significant facelift. Although the candy striped boats would remain, the entire boathouse was signifi-

cantly redressed to give the appearance of being a functioning shipping facility, stacked with boxes, crates, and other items. A jeep outside gave the very nonspecific date of Est. 1931. Apparently written and recorded by competing teams of show designers, Orlando’s new boathouse audio loop one upped Anaheim’s sedate radio program and Indiana Jones related news broadcasts with a raucous selection of 30’s big band tunes interspersed with a seemingly endless onslaught of jokes and puns.

Other significant changes took place. The redressing was extended to the small shed across from the loading area. An original 1971 conceit – a synthetic canopy of vines for the rainforest segment of the attraction – had since been removed as the actual foliage had by then formed a true natural canopy. The African veldt – originally brilliantly designed to look boundless – had to have it’s horizon line filled in to hide the newly constructed Grand Floridian.

The area immediately after Inspiration Falls was significantly redressed. The pygmy canoes were crowded together much more haphazardly on one side of the beach and numerous set dressings such as paddles and skulls on spears were added to increase the sense of menace and of a group having had just left in a hurry.

The African Veldt itself had its lions reconfigured for less awkward staging. Perhaps most significantly, and bizarrely in that it has never been duplicated anywhere, the trapped safari tableau was restaged. Deleting all but one of the original Nubian guides, the new safari was mostly white and now climbing up to their news camera perched at the top of the tree. The animation retimed, Marc Davis’ gag of them rising sequentially after each rhino swipe was retired in favor of a sight gag of the rhino having already snagged the fellow on the bottom in the seat of his pants with his underwear exposed!

Political Correctness? Not unlikely in the mid-90’s, but then why not also redo the entire hostile natives scenario, which is frankly more offensive? Why such a specific restaging? Although the idea of a film crew escaping a rhino is perhaps more accessible to modern audiences, the reason is lost to the sands of time and the mysteries of WDI show “upgrades”.

Return next week for the final installment!

Note: Whenever possible I try to use my own photos or those from Disney-released materials, but today I ended up using two photos from Al's fantastic photo archive Disney Fans. Photos are used with permission and please give him a visit.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jokers in the Wild, Part Two

The final evolution for the Jungle Cruise took place in 1971 with the opening of Orlando’s Magic Kingdom. Of the original roster of Magic Kingdom attractions, The Jungle Cruise is one of the most complex, and the ride was reconceived from the ground up in order to place it firmly in the company of such modern marvels as The Haunted Mansion and The Hall of Presidents. It can be considered the “final” shape of the attraction and all subsequent versions have been either modifications or lifts from it.

Blessed with unlimited space and no restrictions, Imagineers this time sidestepped the rather abrupt opening of the California version by designing entirely new scenes leading up to the first major tableau, the Great African Veldt, and dispersing the major set pieces more evenly through the attraction. Guests now first visited giant but harmless butterflies in a misty rain forest, then stopped to admire beautiful volcanic waterfalls to set the right tone of tropical whimsy, but immediately thereafter sailed through a shaded, narrow waterway towards ominously abandoned native canoes before encountering their first animal: a giant python. Subsequent animals encountered become larger and larger until, for the first time, the foliage parts and the veldt rolls into view, complete with lions in a brand new cave.

Walt Disney World's original veldt; notice the "boundless horizon" effect, since filled in due to devolpment.

Elements that worked were kept, often expanded – as in the case of a gigantic new Schweitzer Falls, which dumped almost twice the amount of water its’ predecessor did, and was placed midway through the attraction. The major departure from the California original was the reconfiguration of the mysterious Cambodian ruins to an interior show scene with a menacing, foreboding exterior of fallen columns. Although the reconfiguration of the Cambodian Ruins into an interior space seems obvious, the method used is brilliant: instead of merely enclosing the existing configuration into what would essentially be a diorama, the space was laid out as a tight circle. The constant leftward passage of the boat makes seeing what is around each corner impossible, allowing for the kind of cinematic reveal perfected in an attraction like The Haunted Mansion, but now in the much more open and free unit of the jungle boat. A small rightward turn on the start and end of the almost-circle makes it possible to perfectly reveal a menacing Bengal tiger and the elephant bathing pool.

Marc Davis designed new scenes for this version including a base camp overrun by gorillas, a gorilla batting at a crocodile, a bird on a branch being menaced by crocodiles, a brand new Trader Sam, abandoned pygmy war canoes, and others.

In 1976 as many successful elements of the Florida redesign as possible were wedged into the California space, including the gorilla vs. crocodile and crocodiles vs. bird tableaus that were cut from the Florida show for budgetary reasons. The Giant Python, now with water buffalo that were never installed at Florida, made his appearance after the Rapids of Kilimanjaro. The Gorilla Base Camp replaced one of the few remaining opening day figures, mother rhino with babies. The Lions in their cave looked incredibly cramped, but overall the changes only improved the original attraction. And this is the way both versions would remain, despite some changes in the landscape plan, until 1994.

The difference a designer makes: Jungle Cruise character design before and after Marc Davis.

Return next week for Part Three and more photos!