Friday, November 22, 2019

Dead Media from Tokyo Disneyland

Once, a long time ago, listening to music at home meant buying records. And, in those days, Disney records were in a league of their own. The Disneyland record label consistently made something that was viewed as a banal part of everyday life fun and interesting with elaborate gatefolds, slipcovers, and lavish multi-page books. Disney's key target demographic was children - cheap plastic record players had become increasingly common through the 1960s, and "storyteller" records with included storybooks were a good way to keep children entertained. Releases such as Country Bear Jamboree and The Enchanted Tiki Room are fascinating objects for modern theme park fans because of this lavish attention to detail.

Sadly, by the late 70s and early 80s, buying a Disney album on LP had become just about the worst way possible to experience the product. Long gone were the lavish booklets and clever custom programs and the quality of the records - which had never been all that hot to begin with - had degraded to near paper-thin. Late-stage landmark Disneyland Records releases such as The Official Album of EPCOT Center and, yes, Mickey Mouse Disco and Mousercise are just lousy products - thin-sounding, with cheap packaging. It's a fairly depressing state of affairs for collectors who enjoy these items as mementos, even if the actual contents of the discs are rarely exactly earth-shaking.

But there is an exception, and I recently discovered it: the LP release of the Official Album of Tokyo Disneyland. It's weird, and lavish, and surprisingly interesting.

To begin with, the booklet is back. Except this time it's something more akin to the "Pictorial Souvenirs" produced for stateside parks in those days, making it a pleasant complement to the other early Tokyo Disneyland souvenir products, such as their guide maps and souvenir picture book.

We've covered Disney's exceptional photographic publicity from this era before, and interestingly Tokyo Disneyland got the royal treatment in 1982 and 83 - even photographs which could have been duplicated from identical areas at Magic Kingdom, such as inside It's A Small World, got brand new excellent photography.

Best of all, the center of the LP booklet is a reproduction of the park's 1983 map poster, the one where the spot that would one day be occupied by Star Tours has the Queen of Heart's soldiers "painting the roses red". These delightful vintage items are among the most expensive on the second-hand market, so having a medium-size reproduction here is a real treat.

Go ahead, pop it on the turntable and give it a listen.

The contents of the LP are fairly interesting as well. The nearest analogue is the 1980 "Official Soundtrack of Disneyland/Walt Disney World", but in comparison that release was frankly a budget affair - dropping together various tracks from already-released albums in basically random order. But in terms of arrangement and sequencing, the TDL effort vastly exceeds it.

For instance, the 1980 DL/WDW release has a few tracks that paste together some of the more popular shows, such as Country Bear Jamboree and Hall of Presidents. These are clearly cut down from the existing mix-down versions done for lavish LPs released in 1972, giving the tracks a rushed, inelegant sound.

In comparison, the TDL equivalents of these tracks are actually mixed from isolated source elements, possibly because the music elements were available having been utilized in creating the new Japanese language soundtracks. The new versions are much better, and give us opportunities to hear things not heard in any other version of these soundtrack releases - the piano introduction to Teddi Barra's number in Country Bear Jamboree presented without Henry's narration being a high point.

The entire first side of the album is dedicated to Fantasyland. Walt Disney Productions was very concerned that Japanese audiences would not connect with the other areas of the park, which is why the Americana aspects of the park are de-emphasized - renaming Frontierland to Westernland, for instance. But Japan HAD been a clearing house for Western animation and cartoons through the 50s and 60s, and the emphasis on their cartoon back catalogue here both reflects Disney's strategy in Japan and sets the stage for the cartoon mania which still grips that park.

The extra space allows the Disney sound engineers to do some interesting things. Background and incidental music is featured, something that would never happen on Western releases until the 21st century. The version of Mickey Mouse Revue finishes with a cut-down version of the attraction's theater entrance music, ending with funky guitar riffs which nearly scream 1971. Elsewhere, attraction underscore is presented for Peter Pan's Flight and It's A Small World.

The crown jewel is Pinocchio's Daring Journey, which was heavily marketed within Japan as being designed exclusively for Tokyo Disneyland (it wasn't, and managed to remain exclusive to Tokyo Disneyland for about three months, but theme parks could  get away with things like that in 1983). Practically a quarter of the first side of the platter is devoted to this ride, with a mix of what I believe is attraction underscore and Famntasyland area music. It's bizarre to listen to this record as elaborate mega-attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean blip by in one-minute sound clips while Pinocchio's Daring Journey goes on... and on... and on. The soundtrack on this record is longer than the actual attraction is.

Side Two continues with excellent Japanese-language compressions of Tiki Room and Country Bear Jamboree and is highlighted with a short version of Meet the World.  The Tokyo Disneyland record is not only the best park soundtrack of its era in both technical and presentation areas, but also paves the way towards the modern Disneyland soundtrack.

But before I had the record, I had the cassette.

Purchased in a bulk lot of Tokyo Disneyland items, I picked up the cassette on a whim because I was intrigued that it was devoted entirely to Fantasyland - before I knew that it represented Side A of the LP release. But I was fascinated by the oddities of its tracks, especially the Daring Journey track, and was intrigued enough to import the LP from Japan to continue the search. Here, in the interest of completion, is the cassette version of the Fantasyland tracks.

I'd still like to know how this was released. There's no indication of it being, say, Cassette 1 of 2, and it appeared in my life all alone, in its own vintage plastic case with no insert. A compact cassette can hold much more music than an LP can, so if Disney simply wanted to issue the TDL soundtrack on cassette, they were perfectly capable of doing so without splitting off the Fantasyland tracks over two sides. What I suspect is that this was released as part of some sort of book and tape combination, probably focusing on the Fantasyland area of the park, and the book has since gone missing.

It's an oddity, to be sure, but an oddity that crosses over through a lot of my interests - there can't be too many others who are invested in theme park music, vintage releases from Japan, write a historical blog such as this, and who have the equipment already sitting around to digitally transcode both records and cassette tapes of both.

It's a narrow window, sure, but even minor players like these in the history of how a park was promoted upon opening can be interesting, never mind the very first overseas Disney theme park, the first black ship launched into foreign waters. It's an auspicious moment that looks both backwards and forwards at the tail end of the Post-Walt era before Disney would rapidly become very, very different.


If you enjoy Disney Park obscurities and weird old music, then you're in the right place! Check out our Walt Disney World History Hub for more deep dives and Park Music Hub for more old music rescued from weird old formats!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Meet Beverly: The Italian Connection

If you've been to Epcot in the past 20 years, you've almost certainly come across it at the Coca-Cola free soda exhibit... a clear, odorless, intensely bitter soda being dispensed under the amusingly bland name "Beverly". So infamously unwelcome is this product it's become a common prank to trick somebody into drinking it, or take the "Beverly Challenge" and watch the imbiber squirm:

Look online and you'll find plenty of colorful adjectives to describe it: the worst taste in the world, like old socks, like puke.

But there's more to the stuff than that! And with the Coke exhibit likely ready to be torn down in the next couple of years, let's take a quick tour of what Beverly actually is, learn some history about it, and perhaps gain some perspective on what is actually a fairly interesting little beverage that's been making hapless American tourists gag for 20 years.

Italy, Meet Beverly

Beverly is an aperitif drink, which is a tradition essentially unknown in the United States but beloved in northern Italy.

You almost certainly have come across forms of the aperitif recently in the United States, with the bitter Italian subcategory of drinks lately being very vougeish among drinkers. The most infamous is currently the Negroni. As author Mark Kingwell memorably noted, the Negroni is not a drink for fence-sitters - it's strong, bitter, and thick, and those who love it love it precisely because it's overkill.

If you're allergic to bitter flavors and all you've had in the way of experience is Beverly and perhaps a sip of Negroni you're going to be tempted to write the whole thing off right now... but wait. There is an aperitif for every palette.

Perhaps more fundamental to the concept of the aperitif is the ubiquitous Italian vermouth, a mild red wine spiced up with various botanicals. Poured into a tall glass over ice, it's as basic and Italian as an aperitif gets, and a gentle start to an evening of leisure.

But the thing is, I can't really convey what an aperitif is in toto by pointing out examples, because simply an aperitif isn't a single product so much as it is a whole range of practices - a whole way of thinking about things that went down in flames in the United States with the death of the cocktail hour. And while elaborate drinking rituals have returned in city centers over the past two decades, as Americans we still don't have an instituted culture of stopping the work day with a lightly alcoholic, sparkling drink as a prelude to dinner.

That's really what can't be conveyed here, in this country where we have trouble keeping work out of the rest of life and cannot stand any dickering around over matters such as stopping to enjoy a casual drink and snack at the cusp of the evening. But it's a very civilized way to start the evening, if you're so inclined to give it a try - and the options available to you are numerous.

There are as many apertif beverages as there are towns in Italy, and they cover the entire range from sweet and welcoming to minty and medicinal. The most common options are Aperol, Cynar, Ramazzotti, Campari, Montenegro, and Averna, but there are hundreds. The other thing to understand is the most common way of taking these beverages is to top them up with sparkling water or prosecco, which utter transforms them. Bitter Campari, which taken straight from the bottle will remind many Americans of cough syrup, lightens up into a surprisingly sweet, round drink redolent of blood oranges when lengthened with seltzer. It is therefore appropriate to think of these bottled mixers as being comparable to the concentrated syrup that Coca-Cola is made from - tough to drink on its own, but add carbonated water and the flavors open up dramatically. Pre-diluted bottles of the most popular options, such as Campari, are sold throughout Italy for easy imbibing.

Which brings us back to Coca-Cola.

Coke introduced Beverly in Italy in 1970 in an effort to hedge their way into the popular regional drinking traditions. Advertised as "Cold as Helsinki - Sparkling as Rio - Dry as El Paso", advertisements of the day show a non-alcoholic, deep red (!) beverage alongside newspapers and revelers. And if you were a gigantic corporation trying to establish a toehold in an international market that had remained stubbornly loyal to traditional local beverages, what would you do to sway drinkers to try your new product? You'd probably model it as closely as possible on the most popular aperitif on the market, wouldn't you?

The flavor profile Coke chose to emulate was Montenegro, among the lightest and sweetest of the amari on the market. Montenegro is among the most approachable options on the market, herbal and sweet straight out of the bottle rather than harsh or minty as many are - the Montenegro American website suggests such options as a "Monte Mule", "Monte Manhattan" or "Montenegroni" for home mixographers. But to an American Epcot fan, all it takes is one sip and you'll immediately know - this tastes like Beverly. Actually - this tastes better than Beverly.

Around 2007, I began to become interested in getting ahold of the real bottled Beverly, but could find nobody who could import it for me. According to the World of Coke website, Beverly was discontinued in 2009.... if it was widely available at all by then. Traditional amari won... at least in Italy.

World, Meet Beverly

Coke and Disney have always had a traditional partnership, but it wasn't until the 80s when the company laid down sponsorship money for The American Adventure at EPCOT Center that Coke really solidified their hold on Disney - a position they have yet to cede. Ahead of the opening of Animal Kingdom, Coke negotiated a new deal with Disney for a series of drink stands across the resort, which resulted in some of the tackiest features of Walt Disney World's absolutely most garish period. Animal Kingdom got off easy, with the beautifully realized Dwolla drink bar in Asia. Of the rest, the least egregious was the expansion of the Refreshment Outpost in World Showcase's "Africa" section into the Refreshment COOLpost. Disney-MGM Studios got this terrible freestanding oversized 6-pack of Coke:

Instead of the Hot Set, this was the COOL set, and the lid of the giant bottle would pop open and spray passersby with water. I still can't believe this survived for two decades.

Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland stand, the COOL Ship, at least somewhat fits in with the rest of the area, although why we are still subjected to stacked shipping boxes of cola is the definition of suspect theming. Perhaps the stacked futuristic shipping boxes of Coke were a necessary counterbalance to the stacked futuristic shipping boxes of Fed-Ex which once littered the open floor space in the Space Mountain queue?

This is the official photo, look how proud they are.

But poor Future World got the worst of it, starting with the Test Track COOL Wash, where blinking lights inform us "Frozen When Flashing!". Mist and fans spray water out in all directions, car wash bristles reveal the shape of cola bottles when spinning, and a Test Track car in the center of it all has the last remaining crash test dummy. Here it is in 2007 with its original Test Track colors:

Mr. Iger, tear down this car wash!

But somehow none of that was quite as bad as a giant igloo in the middle of Epcot, emblazoned with the pink text "Ice Station Cool".

Opening in July 1998, Ice Station Cool at least was the most elaborate of these experiences, offering a short tunnel where the temperature was kept near freezing thanks to a pair of air curtains and a show machine regularly produced snow drifts. This emptied into a shop themed after an arctic exploration base stocked with Coke t-shirts. The drinks were dispensed by these strange contraptions aimed a gigantic globe on the rear wall of the shop.

The most memorable aspect of Ice Station Cool was the frozen caveman glimpsed halfway through the cold tunnel, of course captured in ice at the moment of his demise clutching a bottle of Coke. Personally, as a frequent visitor to Epcot in 2004 and 2005, the most memorable aspect was the raised rubber treads on the floor, which were perpetually sticky with spilled soda. By that time the air curtains had been turned down and the snow machine would simply dribble some cold water on your head. But perhaps, in the end, truly the most noteworthy thing about Ice Station Cool his that it unleashed Beverly on an unsuspecting population.

In 2005, Ice Station Cool was closed and reworked into Club Cool, the form that it exists in today. This basic installation was copied and brought back to the World of Coke attraction in Atlanta, where it is known as the "Taste It!" exhibit. The original flavors were Krest Ginger Ale, Fanta Kolita, Beverly, Vegeta Beta, Kinley Lemon, Lift Apple, Smart Watermelon, and Mezzo Mix.

As you have probably realized by now, I have remained a fan of Beverly since I began to become accustomed to bitter flavors in my 20s, and more than once repeated shots of Beverly have saved me from dehydration after a full lap around World Showcase on a summer day. I've been the subject of intended pranks to "tricking" me into drinking it, which I have always done and reported my enjoyment. To me, the bitter taste of Beverly is as much a part of Epcot as Spaceship Earth.

What I'm not convinced of, however, is that what Coke is distributing there is actually a fair representation of Beverly.

In the research dives for this article I've only ever come across very old Italian advertising for Beverly, which to me suggests that even before Coke officially pulled the plug on the stuff in 2009 it was effectively off the market anyway. What Beverly tasted like in Italy in the 70s we'll never know, but I'm not convinced that the Epcot version is an accurate version. For one, it's not red, which we know for sure the product was on launch. Additionally, it's much, much bitter-er than Montenegro, which it's transparently modeled on. Third, it's being distributed for free in a theme park by the division of the company that never produced it. I think Coke is offering a fairly crude approximation of Beverly, that the real product in the 70s was likely much better balanced, and of course the pure volume of the stuff being mixed with carbonated tap water and dispensed into tiny paper cups all but ensures that the flavor will never be quite right.

But the fact is that even if the flavor was dead accurate, the context would always, always be wrong. Epcot tourists have certain in-built expectations when they see Coca-Cola, and something dry and bitter is not one of them. Additionally, placed right in a row of sweet flavors, the bitter, medicinal taste will always hit harder than if it were sampled, say, before the rest. Presented across a bar, in a tiny glass, and offered as something reminiscent of a Dry Martini, Beverly would have an opportunity to find an appreciative audience. But Coke knew very well what they were doing here, and they set up these tourists to gag and groan and spit and do all of the things they've been doing since July 1998.

Except some of us. Some of us who really like it.

We have no idea if the Coke exhibit is going to be relocated once Communicore gets torn down in a few years, and with Beverly off the market, what's a fan of bitter soda to do?

Home Bar, Meet Beverly

Once I came across Montenegro and immediately recognized it as the basis for the taste of Beverly, I began excitedly experimenting. Perhaps it would be easy enough to simply dilute the stuff with seltzer and I could enjoy Beverly at home?

It wasn't that easy. Over my years of making Negronis at home, I've learned that amari react in strange and unusual ways to being tinkered with. As a syrupy mixer, they have a background taste that some of their least kind critics compare to cough syrup. Diluted, the sweetness becomes properly checked and the fruit flavors emerge. Stirred with other spirits, the bitterness comes forward and the syrupy quality remains. Shaken up with ice, the syrupy quality vanishes and a pleasant, surprising dryness emerges - one can easy make a Negroni into a dry, summery drink by shaking it up with and orange wedge, whereas the stirred version is a strong, brooding drink.

In this case, the Montenegro simply turned into orange soda once it was diluted with seltzer, far too sweet to hit those familiar Epcot Beverly notes. I would have to get creative.

In this case my blueprint was a spin on the Negroni called the Lucien Gaudin, which balances the aggressive Campari with triple sec, resulting in a surprisingly sophisticated cocktail. Again the gentle nature of Montenegro required careful handling and rebalancing.

The result is a beverage that tastes reminiscent of Beverly but with the edges sanded off. It's orangey-sweet and not too strong, which required a new name...

Velvet Beverly 
1 tsp St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz Montenegro Amaro
1 oz Dry Gin
Stir until very cold and strain into a cocktail couple. Garnish with a fancy lemon peel.

The Elderflower Liqueur can be substituted for Triple Sec, Maraschino or indeed any other cordial you enjoy. Go easy on the teaspoon - most of the sweet in the drink comes from the Montenegro, which should be kept in check.

Even those of you who prefer to keep things on the sweet side will perhaps next time stop by Club Cool and think of Beverly in a different way. When your palette becomes fatigued by the sugar, try a sip or two to cleanse your taste buds. Or pour yourself a cup while you're leaving and sip it as you stroll into World Showcase, as a refreshing and fortifying end to your sugar high.

It's a fascinating product, a failed attempt to emulate a fortified cordial invented in 1885 half a world away, then re-created to shock and surprise theme park tourists in Orlando. Even 20 years later it's a stranger to this land - dislocated, out of time - but sometimes it's the strange things I treasure the most. Ciao!

We have more entries on Walt Disney World drinks, real and invented:
Jungle Navigation Co. Punch | The Seven Seas Drink | Howling Dog Bend

Friday, April 12, 2019

Five Batshit Crazy Rides

Okay everybody, put on your silly hats, because today we're all about really weird rides.

As a Disney World-obsessed child growing up on the other side of the country, although Disney was a major influence on my interests, the fact is that it was not an everyday, every week, or even every-year thing. Just as big of an influence on me, in those multi-year stretches between the family vacations, were less-ambitious examples of theming: malls, miniature golf courses, oddball restaurants, and regional amusement parks. So while the obsession really took hold between the ages of eight and ten or so, the fact is that I have more, and stronger childhood memories of something like Lake Compounce or Riverside Park or Lake George than I do Walt Disney World.

On this blog, we spend a lot of time talking about the prime cuts: the Disneys and Universals of the world, which offer beautifully, fully realized environments. But just as compelling to me are the lesser steaks, the parks that operate on smaller budgets and milder ambitions, that make do with less. They may not be as rich and juicy, but there's a lot of flavor to chew on in places like Knobels, or The Enchanted Forest, or Silver Dollar City.

Which is maybe a longwinded way of saying: I love Pirates of the Caribbean, but I love the weird shit too, and there is simply not enough of it on this blog. And while these five examples may not per se be on the same level as a handmade mini golf course in Michigan, they aren't exactly on the Disney or Universal or Efteling level either. What they are is truly, truly bizarre, sometimes ambitious, fascinating, and, yes... batshit crazy.

Mammut Tree, Conny Land, Switzerland

We'll start with something fairly mild. As the park says, "to conquer this tree, you need nerves of steel"!

A landmark in Conny Land, the Mammut Tree looks like a gigantic redwood with its top blown off. On the ground level, pedestrians can walk around and through the root system of the tree. In the air, a cable car takes riders through a hole in its top. Looks harmless, right?

Except! when the car passes through the terrifying Mammut Tree, doors close around the car and it's trapped and, then... well maybe you should just watch the video, but there's wind, sparks, fireballs, and... yodeling.

Conny Land has other oddities, like a shuttle coaster that stops you upside down and a Universe of Energy-inflected dinosaur dark ride, but it's the weird, inexplicable "mammoth tree" that captures my heart. It's like a non-sequitir given physical form.

Gremlins Invasion, Warner Brothers Movie World, Germany

When I was about ten years old, Gremlins was one of my favorite things in the world. It's the perfect "starter" scary movie - crazy, a little gory if you're ten, suspenseful, and sweet. It's gone on to be recognized as something of a classic in years since, but in the depths of the 90s with the world having moved on all I could do is rent the thing and keep spreading the word and wondering if I was the only one who loved this movie as much as I did.

Suffice to say, had I had access to this attraction as a ten year old, Gremlins Invasion / The Great Gremlins Adventure would maybe be my favorite ride ever.

The premise begins with absolute lunacy and only gets weirder from there. Passing through a receptionist office and into a screening room at "Warner Brothers Studio", visitors are treated to a collection of bloopers from films past and present hosted by... Sandra Bullock? Okay...

After several minutes of this, we suddenly cut to the set of ALF, where ALF is chasing the household cat under a sink. He's then attacked by the Gremlins, who electrocute the cameraman shooting the television program. As ALF encourages viewers to flee, the projector breaks and the famous "film break" segment of Gremlins 2 plays. An employee rushes into the theater to hurry the audience to a load area where the ride operator has been killed by the Gremlins, but no worry - ALF and Gizmo are at the ride controls!

Some context here. There were two versions of this attraction, one in Australia and one in Germany. The Australia version featured Beetlejuice, which I suppose makes some sense as that character was then at the height of his popularity and was also a fourth-wall breaking, horror comedy kind of character. If you squint a little, you can see why somebody would make the connection.

Meanwhile, over in Germany, ALF had been something of a cultural phenomenon, and he took a much larger role in the German edition of the attraction, piloting the vehicles through the Warner Brothers Film Archive and appearing in the pre show. While touring a film archive under attack by Gremlins while Beetlejuice appears and cracks wise is plenty bizarre in itself, the inclusion of ALF as a major character elevates the simply weird into the truly sublime.

You wanna know what? This ride is pretty good. It uses entirely dimensional sets, it has decent gags, and it's perfect for the Gremlins - attacking a movie studio and re-enacting scenes from Singing in the Rain and The Adventures of Robin Hood. There's a decent Pepper's Ghost gag where ALF and Gizmo electrocute a number of Gremlins, and another moment where the ride vehicles pass each other and trailing behind the second vehicle is a ride car filled with Gremlins. The finale where ALF arrives in a fire truck has never made much sense, but if you've gotten this far into the ride, what do you honestly expect? The Gremlins pack themselves into boxes, the film archive burns, and the perfect late 80s pop culture dream state ends.

In the past ten years, Gremlins Invasion has graduated from obscurity to minor infamy due to the ever-vigilant novelty consuming nature of social media, but right there at the intersection of crazy and possibly good sits a ride starring Sandra Bullock and ALF that was torn down for a Van Helsing coaster. It is, in its' own small way, perfect.

Donkey's Sherry, Shima Spain Village, Japan

This one only exists thanks to the diligence of park designer Dave Cobb, who knew weird when he saw it back in the 90s. Donkey's Sherry is vastly bizarre and makes one wonder what other strange rides once existed across the globe that were never documented and since have been lost.

A fever dream starring anthropomorphic donkeys, rather than the cute Disney-style characters you may expect, this is entirely "musician of Bremen" style donkeys, upright animals wearing clothes. As the ride begins, the donkeys are manufacturing the sherry, crushing grapes in huge wooden vats, drinking the sherry, dancing in the town square, getting drunk.... and then things get weird.

The absolute masterstroke of Donkey's Sherry, if it can be said to have one, is after all of the escalating insanity with executioners, conquistadors, and a burning city, is the puzzling final scene, where we are left to wonder if the whole thing was the drunken hallucination of an animal. Honestly, we're left to wonder if it wasn't a drunken hallucination of *ourselves*, but no matter. there may be plenty of questionable in Donkey's Sherry, but find me another ride that wordlessly suggests a twist ending with nary a bit of narration.

Looney Tunes Adventure, Warner Brothers Movie World, Germany

Here I go picking on poor Movie World Germany again. For what it's worth, this park has a really interesting history which predates its Warner Brothers branding in the 90s, and Warner did a lot of interesting things with it when they bought it. It was the only place in the world with a rapids ride themed after The Never-ending Story, a stunt show based on Police Academy, and a Batman Returns motion simulator. It was.... very odd.

Much like Gremlins Invasion, Looney Tunes Adventure was a copy of a similar ride originally built at Movie World Gold Coast in Australia. In both attractions, we enter the Looney Tunes Studio where a pre-show room has an actor interacting with animated figures of the Looney Tunes characters. It seems we're just in time to participate in the filming of their newest picture, to be set in, depending on one's location, either the outback or the Black Forest of Bavaria. So off we go into the ride and board a boat...

Where even to begin? The animatronics were designed by Sally Corporation, and honestly with the exception of Bugs, who's very difficult to translate into three dimensions, I think they're pretty good. But mein gott, this ride is just strange. The juxtaposition of the Looney Tunes, faithfully realized in three dimensions, with realistically created trees, rocks, and Bavarian architecture is just strange. But what pushes the whole thing from peculiar to haunting is the fact that there is absolutely no musical soundtrack during the ride! The Looney Tunes act out their comedy at the sluggish pace provided by mid-range animatronics circa 1996, viewed from a slow moving boat, and scored to a backdrop of birdsong and croaking frogs. The result is queerly suspenseful, but strangely compelling, in a mirror-world kind of way.

Oh, and another thing. I gave a simplified version of the actual story in the description above, because it was already confusing enough that their was a somewhat similar but also very different Looney Tunes Adventure in Australia. In the pre-show, you see, we're welcomed to "Hollywood" (the sign is on the mural in the background) and told that Bugs Bunny has gone to Germany to scout new film locations! In order to make the film, we must, and I kid you not, dig a hole through the earth to Germany. Speedy Gonzales asks if he can get good tacos in Germany, and no, I didn't just make that up. So we're led to the set of an old Science Fiction film, where Marvin the Martian is at the controls, and we ride his gigantic drill, Flight to the Moon style with televisions and a shaking floor, to the Black Forest. This is why Bugs says "Welcome to Germany!" when we see him in the first scene.

So at the Looney Tunes Adventure at Movie World Germany, we're transported to Hollywood for a pre-show, then through back immediately to Germany in the most bizarre way possible. Here's a video with both of the pre-show rooms, and a better view of the baby dragon encountered at the finale:

What can I say? It's strange, very strange, and I wish like hell I could have seen it. I'm sure the same kid who would ride El Rio del Tiempo six times and who grew up to write this blog would have loved every strange moment of it.

(Thanks very much to this blog post and this wiki article for helping make sense of blurry videos in other languages!)

Hollywood Tour, Phantasialand, Germany

I don't know what it is about Germany that just breeds crazy rides, but I'm well aware that 4 of the 5 on this list are located in Germany or Switzerland - and I didn't even get into Europa Park! This is also the only true knockoff on this list, but boy howdy, it's a dilly.

Phantasialand is honestly a very well realized park, with compelling rides and far, far above average textures and theming. One simply has to look at the facade and queue of their enclosed drop tower, Mystery Castle, to see that they're working at a much higher level than their competitors. Their version of Main Street is a lushly realized vision of Berlin at the height of its pre-WWI spendor. They have a very interesting Chinese variation of the Haunted Mansion, one of the most inspired such "reinterpretations" in the world. Oh, and there's Hollywood Tour, which is honestly insane.

To get on this ride you climb up! up! up! many staircases until you reach a barely decorated loading room where an animatronic of a director holding a martini - who may or may not be Alfred Hitchcock - addresses you. Then you board a boat, drop into a cavern, and...

The type of internet commentator who likes to shriek that any less than perfectly realistic animatronic is "creepy" will have a field day here, but really, those are the cheap shots. This ride is almost perversely strange, and the low budget figures are just part of it. It's the whole thing, the strange music, the slow pace of the boats, the reckless and entirely bizarre idea to replicate a mashup of the Great Movie Ride and the Universal Studios Tram Tour as an animatronic boat ride...

I love, for instance, that it recreates the Jaws scene at the Tram Tour in bizarrely specific detail - including the now-removed fishing guy in a boat who's pulled underwater. The entrance from The Great Movie Ride is there, as is Wizard of Oz, but in other cases they're riffing and coming up with their own weird versions of iconic scenes, like Frankenstein or an unspecified giant spider movie. The whole thing builds up to an experience that's appropriately named... it's oneiric, half remembered, hallucinated.

It's a mutt, but I love mutt rides - after all, the Disney and Universal park franchises now have options all over the world, but there's only one Hollywood Dream.

What's your favorite batshit crazy ride from outside the world of the billion-dollar attractions? Leave the details in the comments, and if you enjoy reading about Theme Park design, check out our archives here. Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 25, 2019

Caribbean Plaza: The Sound of the Sun

(It's BGM catch-up month here at Passport to Dreams, with two shorter posts this month to get a record of the remaining fully identified original loops online!)

Caribbean Plaza had its signature attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean, ready in December 1973 but didn't really mostly come online until April 1974, when all of its shops and snack bar were operational. At some point in that few-month period, a new piece of BGM arrived.

And so from December 1973 until July 3, 2006, Caribbean Plaza echoed with steel drums. Although highly atmospheric, much of the steel drum music begins to sound the same after enough time, and for years it was thought that the same steel drum music had been playing in the Plaza since it opened.

Thankfully a few years ago Mike Lee came forward with a 1991 live recording of Caribbean Plaza, which he identified as the music he had heard playing in the Plaza when he was a child. Since many of the original 70s BGM pieces survived until the early 90s, this was entirely credible as the original Caribbean Plaza loop.

Interestingly, it turned out to be merely the first 9 of 12 tracks of a single vintage album, played entirely in album order. Given our educated guess back in 2013 that the original Main Street BGM was simply one album played entirely in album order, this definitely fit an established pattern.

Caribbean Plaza Area Music (1973 - 1993)Running time: approx. 30:00 
01. Sixty-Nine
02. Patsy
03. Coc-che-ohco
04. Erica
05. Landlord
06. Mamma, this is Ma's
07. Mambo Lake
08. Love in the Mist
09. Linstead Market 
All tracks are sourced from the 1967 album Trinidad: The Sound of the Sun by the Westland Steel Band. Thanks to Michael Sweeney for identifying the tracks.

The Westland Steel Band LP has cycled through various owners over the years, and currently can be legally streamed through YouTube. I've created a playlist of the full Caribbean Plaza loop:

20 years later, Disney was modernizing Magic Kingdom's sound system and many old Jack Wagner loops, stored and delivered on magnetic tape, were being phased out and replaced with new ones as the new, CD-based delivery systems came online. Down the street, Adventureland Veranda's languid tropical strings were replaced with upbeat drumming from an endless loop of a single CD released by Balafon Marimba Ensemble. When Caribbean Plaza got its CD player, WDI imported a track from the then-new Disneyland Paris.

Caribbean Plaza Area Music (1993 - 2006)Running time: approx. 60:00 
01. Fire Down Below [3]
02. Grass Skirt [3]
03. Trinidad Girl [4]
04. Mary Ann [3]
05. Spear Dance [3]
06. Grenadine Jump-Up [1]
07. Zulu Chant [3]
08. Badjan Mambo [1]
09. La Paloma [3]
10. Soca Batiste [Edited: 00:00 - ~05:39] [2]
11. Jungle [3]
12. Calypso Non-Stop [Edited: 00:00 - ~07:00] [2]
13. Native Mambo [3]
14. Beef Island Merengue [1]
15. Spur Dance [Edited] [3]

[1] Bomba!: Monitor Presents Music of the Caribbean by Various Artists (Monitor Records, MFS 355)
[2] Steel Band: Antigua & Trinidad by Various Artists (PlayaSound)
[3] Steel Band Music of the Caribbean by Various Artists (Legacy International)
[4] Steel Bands Carnival by Various Artists (PlayaSound)
Notes: Playlist based on 2009 live recording of El Pirata y el Perico by Horizons and compiled by wedroy1923 with assistance from eyore, Filmographik, and needmagic.

One of the goals of the area music conversion in the 90s was to get more music playing in more places of the park, and to get more consistency across the musical signatures of the various areas. As a result the new loop played in areas which previously did not have music, such as the snack stand complex across from Pirates of the Caribbean. This allowed the 1993 loop to survive the area's switch to Pirates of the Caribbean movie music in July 2006 and be recorded and documented in 2009.

Speaking of the Pirates franchise movie score BGM, the history of that version is an interesting story in of itself. While it overtook the steel drumming in 2006, it's gone through multiple versions and locations over the years.

While the hour-long length of the thing strongly suggests it was created for Magic Kingdom from the start, the movie score music was actually used at Disneyland in the attraction's foyer area, displacing the iconic Pirate's Overture for at least a few weeks before being removed. The movie score music actually stuck at Magic Kingdom, where it very soon began to feel at home amongst the sun-washed plaster walls. The original version of the loop was retired in 2007 when the score for the third film, At World's End, was made available, replacing several redundant cues and greatly improving the variety of the loop.

El Pirata Y El Perico was given a mild facelift in 2011 and re-christened "Tortuga Tavern", at which time the 1993 steel drum loop was removed and replaced with a new loop of nautical and ocean-going music. Interestingly, as of Summer 2018 this Tortuga Tavern music now appears to play in the main corridor of Caribbean Plaza, with the movie score being relegated to the extended queue outside of the attraction.

I'm sure kids born in the early 2000s will one day be nostalgic for the Jack Sparrow music, which did indeed lend a sleepy area of Magic Kingdom a certain gravitas. My nostalgic preference is for the sound of the steel drumming music, but there's honestly nothing inherently wrong with any of these choices; what should the 16th-century Caribbean "sound" like anyway?

Miss the original Pirates of the Caribbean? Take a listen to my restored soundtrack of the 70s version here.
Want more theme park music? Check out the Passport to Dreams Park Music Hub!

DEAR READERS: Starting in 2019, Passport to Dreams will be going off its monthly update routine, to focus on providing more of the long-form writing this site excels at as well as clear time for larger projects that need to get finished. If you'd like to get updated on when new posts arrive, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks for your support!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Musically Setting the Stage

This post was updated in October 2022 to correct a sourcing error and clarify a point about the Disneyland Main Entrance BGM

The Main Entrance music at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom is one of those few that average people get pretty emotional over. Specialist news websites report when it has been changed, and a quick search shows these pieces of music are among the most frequently reposted on sites like Tumblr and YouTube. There's just something about it.

What is that exactly? Is it the upbeat orchestrations? The sweeping feeling? Or is it simply the act of being there, hearing the music again?

But if you stop and think for a moment, there's absolutely no hard and fast rule that Disney was absolutely going to play upbeat Disney music just outside its gates - in fact, there was no rules about the music that was going to be played at all. And yet many of the choices made by Jack Wagner back in 1971 and 1972 have remained fairly consistent as various versions of in-park music have come and gone, and the Main Entrance music hasn't ever strayed too far from that original musical template. So let's take a look at those early entrance loops.

Two versions of them circulate through collector's circles, a short version and a long version. In most cases, I would be inclined to believe that the short version is simply an incomplete recording of the long version, as is the case with several shorter versions of the Skyway Music in circulation. But in this case the track order of each is significantly different.

Also, the run time of the short version is about 44 minutes, and as we have already established on this site, most of the really early Magic Kingdom loops run about as long. Therefore, in the lack of other compelling evidence, I'm inclined to treat this shorter version of the Main Entrance music as the original version, which was later padded out to one hour in the mid-70s when other loops such as Main Street and Frontierland were also altered.

And oh yes, since we're talking about Walt Disney World here, it's worth remembering that this music played at both the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Magic Kingdom.

Transportation and Ticket Center / Magic Kingdom Turnstiles
Short Version, (1972 - 1975) 
01. Me Ol'Bamboo [3]
02. Mickey Mouse Club March [4]
03. Whistle While You Work / Heigh Ho [4]
04. Pop! Goes the Weasel [4]
05. Parade of the Wooden Soliders [4]
06. Step in Time [6]
07. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious [6]
08. The Work Song [6]
09. Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? [8]
10. Winnie the Pooh (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
11. The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers (Songs from Winnine the Pooh) [8]
12. Colonel Hathi's March [2]
13. The Bare Necessities [2]
14. Disney Medley No. 1 [2]
15. Disney Medley No. 2 [2]
16. March of the Cards [2]
17. it's a small world [2]
18. When You Wish Upon a Star [1]
19. A Marching Band (We're the Mouseketeers) [8]
20. A Wonderful Day Like Today [2]
21. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes [6]
22. Roses of Success [3]
23. Trotter's Mile [3]
24. it's a small world (Choral Version) [5]
25. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah [1]
26. Chim Chim Cher-ee [1]
27. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious [Mary Poppins Medley] [8]

We know for sure this has to have been installed in 1972 because the WDW Band record wasn't available until then. And then, here's the version that played until it was replaced by the Disneyland Paris main entrance music in late 1991:

Transportation and Ticket Center / Magic Kingdom Turnstiles
(1975 - 1991) 
01. Mickey Mouse Club March [4]
02. Whistle While You Work / Heigh Ho [4]
03. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers [4]
04. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins Medley) [8]
05. Winnie the Pooh (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
06. Wonderful Thing About Tiggers (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
07. Disney Medley No. 1 [2]
08. March of the Cards [2]
09. it's a small world [2]
10. When You Wish Upon a Star [1]
11. it's a small world (Choral Version) [5]
12. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah [1]
13. Chim Chim Cher-ee [1]
14. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins Medley) [8]
15. Me Ol'Bamboo [3]
16. Mickey Mouse Club March [4]
17. Pop! Goes the Weasel [4]
18. Step in Time [6]
19. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious [6]
20. The Work Song [6]
21. Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? [8]
22. Winnie the Pooh (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
23. Colonel Hathi's March [2]
24. Bare Necessities [2]
25. Disney Medley No. 1 [2]
26. Disney Medley No. 2 [2]
27. A Marching Band (We're the Mouseketeers) [8]
28. A Wonderful Day Like Today [2]
29. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes [6]
30. When You Wish Upon a Star [1]
31. Trotter's Mile [3]
32. Hip Hip Pooh-ray! (Songs from Winnie the Pooh) [8]
33. Little Wooden Head [7]
34. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah [1]
35. Keystone Cops [9] 
[1] Academy Award Songs [Vol 1. and Vol. 2] by Frank Chacksfield and His Orchestra (Decca, 1969) 
[2] Disneyland Band by Disneyland Band (Buena Vista Records, 1969)
[3] Fantasmagorical Themes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Irwin Kostal and His Orchestra (United Artists Records, 1968)
[4] Hi-Fi Music for Children: From 2 to 92 by Russ Garcia and His Orchestra (Liberty, 1957)
[5] It's a Small World (Especially at Christmas) by Disneyland Boys Choir (Buena Vista Records)
[6] March Along with Mary Poppins by Members of the Famed U.C.L.A. Band (Disneyland, 1965)
[7] Pinocchio: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Disneyland, 1963)
[8] Walt Disney World Band by Walt Disney World Band (Buena Vista Records, 1972) 
          [9] Capitol Hi Q Series Release 093 'Cartoon'

This longer loop also played outside of Disneyland's main entrance during the same era, although with some differences - including possibly the removal of "Roses of Success" and "Wonderful Thing About Tiggers". However, these music loops could and did change higgledy-piggledy all through the 70s, so approach this information with caution.

I feel like I haul this observation out every time we look at an old Jack Wagner loop, but isn't it delightful how absolutely odd this thing is? Jack seems to have begun with the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Band LPs as his basic sound, then branched out to Russ Garcia's extremely oddball Hi-Fi Music for Children and Irwin Kostal's Fantasmagorical Themes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I've recently discovered that many of today's Disney fans don't know about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but the capsule version is that it was a 1968 attempt to create a Disney-style movie launched by the creators of the James Bond franchise. They were through in their poaching of the talent that made Mary Poppins sing, including the Sherman Brothers, Irwin Kostal, and Dick van Dyke. The Disney Studio, which prized loyalty over all else (and still does), rankled at the insubordination represented by the Shermans' departure. So it's very amusing to see that music from that film used to play outside of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom - a modern equivalent might be if the soundtrack to Anastasia played somewhere at WDW.

EPCOT may have legendary entrance music, and the Studios parks have famous movie themes, but nothing quite replaces that emotional feeling of standing in front of the train station and hearing a beloved Disney song drifting on the breeze. Despite all of my hemming and hawing on this site over total musical obscurities, that it's that emotional connection that Disney really invented and perfected in the middle of the 20th century. It's things like this that are why we're here.

Want more theme park music? Check out the Passport to Dreams Park Music Hub!