Thursday, February 22, 2007

Oh, Little Orange Bird...

In its march through history, Walt Disney World has lost many good and pure things, and yet today very few seem to match the strange and alluring appeal of the one time Walt Disney World lost an entire mascot: The Florida Orange Bird. Created by Disney for the Florida Citrus Growers, the Orange Bird today seems like a refugee from a long-lost time when the citrus grove, not the tourist dollar, was king in Central Florida and we were known for fun in the sun and not just fudging election results.

For a character relegated to obscurity, the Orange Bird not only represents, but actually is a huge portion of an entire era of Walt Disney World. The Orlando property initially boasted a huge number of attractions, shops and restaurants sponsored by outside companies - not just one attraction or show, mind you, but whole stretches of Real Estate: Pepsi-Cola/Frito-Lay controlled practically the entire Western extent of Frontierland, from Country Bears to the termination of the area. Coca-Cola held sway in Tomorrowland and Main Street, and Florida Citrus Growers sponsored not only The Tropical Serenade show (which took place inside the Enchanted Tiki Room) and the adjacent snack stand but, in a stroke of genius, all of those elements brought together under a single name and architectural style: The Sunshine Pavillion. This is extensive publicity for a sponsor, no doubt, but when we consider that all of this then had a unique mascot, one who summoned up all that was unique and strange and haunting about early Walt Disney World, does an acute sense of loss - historical interest loss of course, but loss none the less - enter the picture.

Another irritation about The Orange Bird is that for a character designed in 1970, his appearance is actually in lockstep with today's interest in what the Japanese have termed "chibi": ultra-deformed, cute, big headed and big eyed characters which manifest in America as all manner of decoration for products for little girls. If re-introduced today and marketed properly (similarly), it's not hard to see the character taking off as a theme park prescence again.

Orange Bird with a number of increasingly evil similar properties.

Vestiges of the Orange Bird remain. The Sunshine Tree Terrace still serves the Citrus Swirl, the most perfect confection ever created, although his 1971 likeness in that snack stand (complete with projected orange-smoke thought bubbles) is now tucked away in a box somewhere in the Disney Archives.

And of course some memorbilia still exists. Below is a comic book from 1980 which features the Orange Bird along with two unnamed other birds. As the title suggests it's not very interesting, but as a collectable it's a pretty unusual item. The authors are not credited, but Disney does not surprisingly mention the Florida Department of Citrus as a key collaborator.

Finally, Below I've attached three desktops of the exterior of the Orlando Tiki Room, circa 1990. I've made them available in 1024x768, 1200x1024, and 1200 x 800 for those with widescreen monitors. The later is my favorite because you can see the Torre del Sol Caribe poking out of the jungle in the background. Enjoy!

Digital art of the Orange Bird by the author.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Legends Are People

"You know what I really hate? I hate books that make my father out to be a plaster saint." - Diane Disney Miller to Neal Gabler

This weekend Ward Kimball's short film Escalation was released on YouTube. It is not for children. It portrays first a crippled dove of peace, followed by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson appearing as a hilarious caricature on a wheeled platform with a nose which grows longer and longer, eventually resembles an erect penis, and reaches orgasm at the climax of a recital of The Battle Hymn of the Republic in a frenzy of nuclear destruction and rapid montage. As the only short film produced independently by a major Disney studio talent, its' release is a cause for celebration, as well as contemplation.

Is it not rather difficult not to make a plaster saint of anybody whose work you study? Ward Kimball, Marc Davis, Claude Coates, and especially "Uncle Walt" - while Disney fans understandably place an emphasis on Disney product, it is perhaps only in short snatches and bits that we can jar loose from, say, The Three Caballeros, the true contribution of Claude Coates. There are sometimes rich veins to mine - the entire Mary Blair and Ward Kimball segments of that same film, for example - these are few and far between. For example, I spent years speculating on Marc Davis' exact contribution to The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad, finally deciding that he probably had a hand in Mac Badger and Ichabod Crane's girlfriend Katrina, based primarily on Katrina Van Tassel's movements and the striking similarities between her and the "tightrope girl" expanding portrait in The Haunted Mansion. Turns out he actually did the weasels. Damn.

Patterns of influence: Four Marc Davis pieces, from left to right: "The Spirit's House", Jungle Cruise Tikis, "Spirit House", Jungle Cruise native village finished show scene. (Click for larger) Below: "Sitting Pretty", Marc Davis.

Ward Kimball's film has everything "not Disney" - pornography, violent editing which calls attention to itself, a political agenda, minimal and intentionally fake animation - you name it. It's also as endearingly Ward Kimball to me as the Aracuan bird. I feel the same way about Marc Davis' fine art, his love of native cultures, and of women. They form a continuity of expression which makes the person behind the legend more real and more tangible, more understandable.

Walt Disney himself is even more difficult to distance oneself from, given his charming of the American public on television screens across America between 1954 and 1966. "Uncle Walt" is charming, endearing, and harmless. Walt Disney was conservative, conflicted, ran his studio with a very tight grip and smoked up a storm. On episodes of Disneyland there are sometimes flirtatious passes between Disney and young studio assistants which look uncomfortably like the real thing. He also approved of tour guide costumes for Disneyland hostesses which look remarkably like kinky jockey costumes, complete with a pony play riding crop. This doesn't make him any less loveable or admirable - it makes him human.

And as an author writing about the Disney Company, I am always conflicted as to how to refer to Walt Disney. It's best and easiest to give him his full name to avoid confusion. I try to avoid "Walt". It's what the fan community calls him but it's always been rather difficult for me to endorse that affectionate term - the man has been dead for 40 years now and "Walt" only seems, to me, to be half of "Walt Disney", after all. Or, alternatley, we can choose just "Disney", a more comfortable term to me. It's a gesture of respect for the stature and accomplishments of the man - like DeMille or Eisenstein - but "Disney" is, in our cynical society, something of a dirty word because "Disney" is often confused with "The Disney Company", which we oughtn't to do.

Sick of this yet?

I'd like to, then, wrapping up and taking a line from the classic line of Goofy shorts, remind everyone today that Legends Are People - the good with the bad, the brilliant with the mundane. And while we're being certain to carefully address Walt as Disney and not fashion plaster saints, for a while at least, let's also remember the remarkable and complex people - just like you and me - who dreamed wonderful dreams and made them real. Or: if you have any good sources or stories for Disney artists' work outside Disney, please share the love.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mike Fink Keelboats

Because I think this sort of thing is important to be available (which ought to show you more or less where my priorities are), today I present, for your reading pleasure, a transcribed WDI-approved show spiel for Walt Disney World’s Mike Fink Keelboats. The material is undated but based on layout and typeface I’d place this as being from around 1994 and no later than 1998, some of the final years of operations for the Keelboats.

For those of you who don’t remember or, more likely, just never bothered to ride this minor staple, Mike Fink Keelboats was an attraction which, like a lot of Orlando attractions, outlived its’ Anaheim counterpart by several years, running from 1971 to 2001. It originally boarded from the landing near The Haunted Mansion, but had moved into Frontierland proper by at least 1996 (which is another reason I say this spiel is early 90’s). The boats, free-floating vessels and numbering two, were driven by comedically inept pilots on a tour of the river region, much like the Jungle Cruise today. Since the Liberty Square Riverboat(s) and the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes cover(ed) much of the same ground, combined with an mid 90’s accident on Disneyland’s boats, it’s not especially surprising that these eventually went away.

More importantly, this is a pretty delightful spiel, much better than those provided for current spiel attractions like Jungle Cruise or Great Movie Ride. Of course, and I’ve included Disney’s instructions here for emphasis, pilots weren’t supposed to deviate from this patter but, just like at Jungle Cruise, being out in the heat tends to do irrational things to otherwise sensible people. Aside from a strange, forced drawl written into the spiel (if Keelboats was a Frontierland attraction in spirit why did it load from Liberty Square anyway?), I consider this worthy of reprinting here due to the sometimes genuinely funny jokes and the contagious nature of the writing – don’t be surprised if you, like me, find yourself repeating this aloud as you read along!

4.1 General


4.1 General

Live narrations are made only on the dock and boat during operation. Any deviation from the following standard narrations may be done only at the direction of the Lead or Supervisor.

4.2. Dock Narration

The following narration is presented to guests on the dock prior to boarding the Mike Fink Keelboats:

Folks, the (name of the boat) will be back in __ minutes. Please continue all the way through the turnstiles, filling in all available space on the landing. Also, we’d like to ask that you finish all eating, drinking, or smoking material before boarding. Thank you.

4.3 Mike Fink Keelboat Narration

The following narration is presented to guests on the keelboat before boarding:

Howdy folks! C’mon aboard the (Bertha Mae, Gullywhumper), the purtiest durn keelboat ‘tween here an’ ever’ place else.

Mind yer step, now, an’ mind yer head, an’ mind yer young’uns in you got any. While yer mindin’ things, you may as well mind your manners, cuz we ain’t left civilization yet.

Seein’ as how this is what you call a ‘keelboat’, I reckon you ladies and gents up atop thar better scoot all the way down, an’ sit on the dock side o’ the boat first. If’n you don’t, we may be “keelin’” over quicker’n you kin say, “Gosh, Ma, but ain’t this river wet!”

Just scoot along all the way. Thar. That’s it.

Now folks, I’m mighty glad to see y’all comin’ aboard my boat today. It’s like I was tellin’ my pal Davy t’uther day – Davy, I says, folks ‘round these parts ain’t skeered o’ no river pirates, castaways, or keel-boat pilots who’ve sunk more boats than a… uh, well, maybe it wasn’t Davy I was talkin’ to.

(If time, point to guests in Haunted Mansion Queue):

Say, what ‘you s’pose them folks are doin’ up there? You don’t s’pose they’re goin’ in that spooky ol’ house, do ya? Why ever’one knows that place is haunted with spirits an’ witches an’ ghosts o’ the folks who sailed on my keelboat. ‘Course I ain’t lost a boat fer quite some time. Maybe that’s ‘cuz I ain’t sailed fer quite some time. Any o’ you folks know how to sail a keelboat? Uh-oh. Looks like I may be losin’ a nuther one.

Folks, before we leave the dock, there’s one thing I gotta ask: have any o’ you seen a lucky rabbit’s foot lyin’ around? No? How ‘bout a lucky beaver nose? A lucky moose ear? Possum gizzard? Alligator spleen? Tarnation, this could be a real short trip.

(Filler, if needed)

Say, while we’re waitin’ to see if the boat still leaks, why don’t we have some music? Let’s all join in a little song… you folks know the fourth movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, opus 61 in D minor? Okay, one, two… (hums) Hey, this ain’t s’posed to be a solo! Well, how ‘bout this one… “Who’s the pilot of the boat / that sinks beneath the sea / (starts spelling out first name)” … Gee, you folks ain’t musically inclined, are ya?

(Alternative filler)

Funny thing about these here keelboats… no matter how many time ya run ‘em aground, or sail ‘em over a waterfall, or capsize ‘em, they just bob right back to the surface where you can patch ‘em up and do it all over again. Yep, there’s no safer place than a keelboat. ‘Specially if ya keep it out of the water.

(As boat prepares to leave)

Okay, I think you’ve had enough time to think twice ‘bout sailin’ with me. If my pardner there will give us a hand.. (Dockman claps) …very funny. Save that fer… if… I mean when we get back. Now give us a shove, an’ mind you, don’t fall in, like last time.

(Pushed away by Dockman)

How ‘bout a nice round of applause fer him, folks? Make him happy… he may have to come rescue us, later.

(Boat gets underway)

Welcome, once again to the (Bertha Mae, Gullywhumper), folks, one o’ the finest keelboats on the river. ‘Course its jest about the only keelboat the river. But even if there was a dozen keelboats on the river, it’d still be in the top ten or twelve.

‘Fore we get moving too fast, I want to remind y’all to stay seated at all times even if the urge strikes you to stand up an’ applaud at one a my jokes. The river’s purty treacherous if’n you don’t know it real well. Any o’ you folks acquinated with this here river? Hmmm.. wish I had that rabbit’s foot.

My name’s (first name), by the way, but since we’re gonna be on this river fer at least three or four days, you can call me (same).

Now this here boat is usually piloted by anuther feller entirely, but last night he got hung up down the river a ways. His neck’s gonna hurt fer a spell, but he’ll be okay. In the mean time, he’s turned the tiller over to me and told me to get you folks up river all safe and sound. I don’t reckon I know why he did that, cuz I ain’t never sailed one o’ these here boats. Naw, I’m jest foolin’. I could do this in my sleep. And I frequently do.

(Passing Frontierland)

All along the shore over yonder is Frontierland… sort o’ the last outpost ‘fore you git into the wilderness.

One o’ the landmarks o’ these here parts in the County Bar Jamboree, a whole bunch o’ singin’, dancin’, and geetar playin’ bars. Yup, thar’s quite a show “bruin” over thar. It’s purty “grizzly”. No “claws” fer alarm, though. Think you can “bar” any more o’ these jokes?

Now, when the wind’s blowin from off left thar, ya can hear folks a’ screamin’ louder n’ pigs in a waller. Well them screams are comin’ from folks that wander into Splash Mountain a’ lookin’ fer B’rer Rabbit’s laughin’ place. But what folks don’t know is – that ole’ laughin’ place leads right smack dab into the wettest, wild ride this side o’.. (looks to his right) this side o’…. (looks to his left) Say, any o’ you folks been watching whar we’re a goin’?

Wait a minute, ain’t that Tom Sawyer’s Island off to the right, thar. Sure nuff, them’s the rafts you have to ride to git over thar. Haw! Funny lookin’ rigs, ain’t they? Makes ya glad you’re on a keelboat, don’t it? I said, makes ya glad yer on a keelboat, don’t it!?

(Boat turns up river)

This here is where we start headin’ up river and into the wilderness… don’t panic – I know my way ‘round these parts like I know… uh, say, any o’ you folks got one o’ them little maps handy? Haw! I’m only foolin’ agin. Why, even a keelboat pilot ain’t that dim. I always keep my own copy.

(Approaching Big Thunder Mountain Railroad)

Say, looky thar! It’s a bodacious mountain, out here on the edge o’ nowhere. I hear tell there’s a gold mine up thar. I’d go up an’ see, ‘cept I like to mine my own business. Anyway, that train ride up to the top o’ the mountain seems pretty skeery, I think I’ll stick to sailin’ the river… ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and…

Just up ahead here, my cousin Zeke’s got a new cabin right alongside the river. I like to stop in now and then to say howdy.. I say, do you hear somethin’ funny? No, I don’t mean my jokes, I mean somethin’ funny.

(At cabin)

Well push me in the river and call me a duck, Donald, lookit that! Looks like cousin Zeke’s havin’ a house-warming party. You would know I’d ferget to bring the marshmellers. Hey, Zeke! How d’you like yer new house… well done?

(Passing train bridge):

Folks, ever’ once in a while you can see one o’ them Iron Horse critters huffin’ and puffin’ along them tracks yonder. I always thought I’d make a mighty fine Engineer. Seems like it’d be hard to sink a locomotive.

Folks, I hope y’all recognize the significant achievement represented by this particular point in our journey. Yup, that’s right, I never made it this far before.

‘Course maybe I spoke too soon. Out here we gotta be on the lookout for wild animals and river pirates. Or was that wild rivers and animal pirates? I’m getting’ confused. Sure you ain’t seen no rabbit feet?

(Approaching Indian village)

Now up thar is an American Indian village. These folks is right peaceful and real friendly like. Fact is, everythin’ I learned about the river, I learned from them. Course, I’ve plum forgot most of it… but y’all done figger’d that out by now, I reckon.

(Boat rounds bend in river)

Now I don’t aim to worry you folks, but we lost seventeen boats along this stretch o’ the river just last week. No, it ain’t what you think. Only 13 of ‘em were mine. Heck, them’s purty good odds fer us keelboat pilots.

Now, folks, if you thought my singin’ was bad, listen to them rascal river pirates hollerin’ away in that cave yonder. That’s what I call singin’ uck-apella.

(After a pause)

Whew! Folks, you kin all breathe agin, we’re through the worst of it. You weren’t skeered none, were you? That’s good. It ain’t safe for the passengers and the pilot.

Say! Do you recognize these waters? How ‘bout them waters over thar? Or that little ripply spot yonder? Yeah, one bit o’ water looks purty much like all the rest, don’t it? Be that as it may – uh, whatever that means – I think we made it. Yup, we’re almost home.

(Howl from Haunted Mansion)

Now, don’t go howlin’ it ain’t like we’ll never see each other agin. You kin come back and visit any time you like. Jest ask fer (first name), the finest keelboat pilot who ever keeled a boat.

(Haunted Mansion looms into view)

Uh-oh, there’s that creepy house agin. My cousin, Zeke, he once saw a real, live ghost walkin’ past one of them winnders. ‘Course Zeke tended to see lots of things, ‘specially after he’d seen the bottom of a jug. Yeah, he’d see pink ellyphants, purple wombats, folks with big round mouse ears stickin’ out o’ their heads…

(Boat approaches landing)

Well, folks, we’re comin’ up on Liberty Square, which means yer jest about free. Ever’body stay seated till I figure out how to park this thing.

(Boat is safely docked)

Well, how bout that? I done an’ did it! Okay, folks, you kin escape now. Abandon keelboat. Careful o’ yer feet and yer heads and yer kids and anything else that may or may not be of value to you.

Have a nice day, ever’one. If you feel like pushin yer luck, come back fer another ride some other time.

(To Dockman):

Hey, _________, you owe me five dollars. I made it all the way ‘round this time! Now let’se see if you kin do it! The (Bertha Mae, Gullywhumper) don’t seem to be leakin’ no more, so you should be able to take these fine folks up the crick, if you know what I mean.

4.4. Breakdown Narrations

In a breakdown situation, make the following announcements.

Audience Control –

Folks, the Mike Fink Keelboats are experiencing technical difficulties, and we are unable to cruise at this time. We are sorry for the inconvenience, but please check back with us later on today. Thank you and we hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in The Magic Kingdom park.