Ahoy, squirts! Quint here, newly returned from a nice working vacation in New Zealand. I’ve been away from home for a solid month and miss my own bed, but I can’t complain. I’ve been to heaven on earth and then get to spend another 6 or so days in Southern California doing some cool shit.
First up on the cool shit schedule is Disney’s D23, their big fan even in Anaheim which began today. There wasn’t much on the schedule today except for a musical performance by Dick Van Dyke and his Vantastix, a barbershop quartet group led by Van Dyke that sing his classic Disney songs and other covers. How cool would that be?!?
With little going on at D23 today (tomorrow’s the big day with Pixar panels, Marvel movie panels, Disney movie panels and more) I decided there was no better way to start a weekend celebration than with my first trip to Disneyland in over a decade. So, bright an early, within minutes of the gates opening, I was cruising the park with my buddy Chris Speidel, an old hat at the park who knows the ins and outs of Disneyland like nobody’s business.
I’ve never been to Disneyworld, Epcot Center, California Adventure… But I’ve been to Disneyland as a kid and have amazing memories of those experiences. For all parents who may be reading this, forget an X-Box and PS3 for your kids, save up and do the Disneyland trip. There is no better Christmas gift and I should know. One Christmas my parents gave me a wrapped box, I opened it expecting some Ninja Turtles or something and found a cheesy construction paper with the words “When you wish upon a star…” on the front. I opened it and there were pictures of Mickey Mouse, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Minnie, etc glue-sticked inside around the words “We’re going to Disneyland!”
There was not a better gift for me and those memories I will have until my final days. It’s still a place of magic. I could see it in the eyes of the kids all around me. Sure, there were some annoying loud little shitheads, but for the most part it was just thousands of wide-eyed children from all walks of life that could still feel the magic of the Magic Kingdom.
Whether it was boarding the new Star Tours, seeing the room expand in the Haunted Mansion, following Goofy around like he was the Pied Piper or singing along to It’s A Small World After All I’ve never seen happier kids.
It’s enough to bring out the kid in me… Granted, as an adult geek I’m not that far removed from my inner-child, but still.
Here’s the final count for the day. I spent 9 hours in the park, did The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain EO, Star Tours (3 times), The Haunted Mansion (twice), Space Mountain (twice), Splash Mountain, The Tiki Room, Big Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones Experience, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, ate a Dole Whip and a crazy awesome Monte Cristo sandwiche at Café Orleans and did some unique shopping on Main Street.
Let’s begin at Star Tours.
Throughout the day I was able to get two fast passes (you can pick up one every two hours for rides and they essentially act as front-of-line tickets for specific rides) for Star Tours. They don’t tell you this, but these say they can only be used over a specific 60 minute time period, but really they can be used anytime in the day after the beginning time. For instance, if these passes say 12:20pm-1:20pm you can use it anytime after 12:20pm, even if it’s that evening.
So, two Star Tours passes were saved for later and my first Star Tours experience since the original was opened (rest in peace the Pee-Wee Herman voiced REX) was but a short 15 minute wait. The original experience was awesome, the Death Star run and I had some Disneyland Star Tours gift store purchased Ralph McQuarrie art posters on my walls throughout my childhood because of this ride.
If you haven’t read up on the new and improved Star Tours it’s broken up into a few parts. You essentially visit two locations from the Star Wars universe (OT and PT) piloted by C-3PO (animatronic) and R2 (on the video screen). These two planets are alternated and there’s the possibility for a few different openings and special appearances mid-way through.
The most common opening for me had Darth Vader and a ton of Stormtroopers approach the shuttle and force push us around, demanding we release a rebel spy (whose face shows up on the screen and was one of the park-goers on the ride). R2 brings up the ships guns, Vader drops us, forced to pull out his lightsaber to deflect the laserblasts and we burst out, going into hyperspace, avoiding Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, ending up on one planet, get into some shenanigans and go to another, but not before a Rebel Alliance spokesperson holograms in saying we need to deliver the spy to them.
I’ve heard of Yoda and Obi-Wan appearing, but the two I got in my three trips were Admiral Ackbar and Princess Leia. Leia blew my mind. She holograms in in the “You’re my only hope” style, but it was Carrie Fisher. YOUNG Carrie Fisher, telling us we needed to deliver this spy safely. I mean, like they filmed it in 1976 Carrie Fisher. If they could make an animated movie using that kind of photorealism I’d be a happy geek.
Now, I only got one Original Trilogy planet (Hoth and it was awesome), but even with my cynical prequel hatred in full force I still thought the Coruscant, Kashyyyk and Naboo levels were a ton of fun. Especially Naboo, which takes us over the hills, into the water and through the Gungan city (yes, Jar-Jar even makes an appearance) until we have to try to avoid underwater sea monsters and deliver our spy, ending the ride.
As much as I miss the Death Star Trench, I gotta say going into the ride not knowing what combination of elements you were going to get was a real treat and a brilliant way to keep people coming back to the park and returning to this particular ride time and time again.
I have three anecdotes to share about Star Tours… One, while waiting in line a Stormtrooper casually walks in, blaster up and everybody quieted down. They sell R2-D2 Mickey hats, where the cap part is R2’s dome and then the Mickey ears are normal. The Stormtrooper walks up to a kid of maybe 5 years old wearing this particular cap and grabs it, turning it around on his head as if inspecting it. The trooper shakes his head and wags his finger at the kid and walks away. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid grinning bigger. You can see the kid below in the green shirt.
The second is after exiting the ride and gift shop and seeing Boba Fett walk around. He looked great and a kid behind me enthusiastically screamed out “JANGO!!!” and my heart broke a little bit.
Thirdly, this cute Star Tours girl intro’d the ride and instructed us to find our seatbelts by declaring “It’s a strap!” Marry me, cute Star Tours girl!
With Star Tours done, my next priority was The Haunted Mansion, but my park-buddy Chris advised on riding Pirates of the Caribbean next door first because it’s a longer line later in the day, so I had my first run on the new Johnny Depp-ified Pirates. I greatly prefer the old version, but for the most part the movie stuff doesn’t get in the way. There’s a few Jack Sparrows around and an animatronic Geoffrey Rush (and Blackbeard projected onto mist), but other than that it was just the ride I remembered.
You know something strange, the smell of Pirates of the Caribbean triggers instant childhood feelings for me. The dank theme park-water smell takes me right back. While the awe of seeing the attraction has diminished a little bit, I have to say that wonderment was replaced with a completely different appreciation. The Imagineering team was legendary to the young teen version of myself, but at this age I found myself marveling at the sheer level of creativity on display with the ride.
And it’s a long ride. Well over 15 minutes and expansive. The stories being told with simple characterization (the infamous prisoners trying to tempt the dog with a key ring in his mouth with a bone springs to mind) are impressive as is the scope of imagination on display. Say what you will about Uncle Walt, but there’s nothing else like this place and it was his passion. And I’m saying this having never stepped foot into Epcot, which I hear is even more expansive.
As much as Pirates impresses me, I’m a Haunted Mansion guy through and through. Again, this stems from my childhood visits to the park. I grew up loving scary things and The Haunted Mansion was tops on my list. I remember my mom telling me that it was too scary for me and I protested, saying I wasn’t going to be scared.
Cut to me standing in the dark as the room elongates and that horrible voice tells me there’s no doors or windows and no way out… well, except for his way and we see the skeleton hanging from a noose above us. And boy did I cry my little eyes out. I screamed bloody murder.
The ride itself was fine and I was calm by the end of it, but that opening got me good. Now that I think about it that’s probably why image of a hanging body still gets under my skin even after decades of desensitization by the goriest, creepiest, scariest horror movies ever made.
What struck me about The Haunted Mansion on my adult run-through was how it is so well directed. And I mean directed. Like no other ride at the park, this one shows you what it wants you to see. The two-person cart you’re in (called Doombuggies) is on a rail and it points you at everything, twisting and turning through the Mansion and directs your gaze in much the same way a good movie director tells you what to focus on in a film.
On top of that you have the amazing physical effects, much of it done with projectors. On my second ride of the day the ride broke down for a minute overlooking the ghostly dining room, which has green ghosts dancing, balancing on the chandelier, popping out of paintings (a pair of duelists turn and fire at each other for all eternity) and having a merry old time. Because we were stopped over it for a bit I really got to take in some of the detail and it’s mind-boggling.
I know the big wigs like Guillermo del Toro (developing a Haunted Mansion movie that hopefully wipes away all traces of that piece of horseshit Eddie Murphy did) and Jon Favreau (doing Magic Kingdom, set in the park) have gotten the after hours VIP tour and have been able to walk around The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean… I would kill, KILL, to get the chance to do that. Who do you want dead, Disney? I’ll do it!
Space Mountain was also another pleasant childhood memory. Essentially the rollercoaster ride is done in pitch blackness, with you not being able to see the twists and turns. The only light in this room is simulated starlight and it’s incredible. I was about 45 people from the front of the line when the ride broke down and we were told it was going to be a wait that could be 10 minutes or 2 hours. We stuck around for a solid half hour as people gave up and ended up about a dozen people back when the ride opened up again.
The benefit was that word hadn’t gotten back to the rest of the park that the ride was up and running again, so after we got through our first run we returned to an empty platform. “Do you want to go again?” A resounding “Hell yeah!” came from everybody and again we went.
Space Mountain feels like the fastest rollercoaster I’ve ever been on and I’ll pass on a pro-tip I learned from Chris. Look up. Seriously, you can’t see the anything in front of you anyway. Look up and you’ll really have the sensation of flying through the galaxy as stars race by. It took a great ride to another level for me.
Another pro-tip learned was that the legendary Dole Whip (a soft serve made up of Dole Pineapples) available outside the Tiki Room is not only delicious and super awesome, but you can avoid the big line out front if you go into the Tiki Room patio and order from that side. Don’t say I never gave you nothin’!
A big reason for me wanting to revisit the park was the return of Captain EO in 70mm 3-D. Again, I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, but I remember being blown away by the 3-D. I’m not sure if they just didn’t project it right or my adult brain is more discerning, but the 3-D was really wonky this time around. I’m guessing it was a projector issue because a couple minutes in the 3-D became much clearer.
The movie itself is bugnuts ridiculous. Michael Jackson is a great singer and dancer, but a rougish Space Captain he is not. Even though this time around I noticed he tried to look harder than he was by not shaving and having a few lonely whiskers stand out on his face. The whole thing is silly, but so infectious that I couldn’t help but love it all over again. Michael Jackson turns Borg-looking bad guys into partially clad ‘80s dancers with mullets and Jerry curls with magic love power from his fists and some Care Bear blasts from the rainbow on his tee-shirt! Directed by the man who gave us The Godfather. THE GODFATHER!
Before I left the park, I had to take advantage of a photo-op. I have a picture of me with Pluto as small kid and low and behold Pluto was outside taking pics with tourists. So I’m going to show you two images. One is me, older, uglier and fatter with Pluto, who is about the same except for a much smaller tongue, and other is the cute kid me with the dog.
I had a great time at the park, but booked it to D23 for the last hour of the floor being open. In a weird way D23 felt like Comic-Con for Disney nerds. It’s a bit more commercial than Comic-Con, believe it or not, since Disney runs it and has multiple, multiple stores just set up to be raided by Disneyana collectors. And if you thought Comic-Con crowds were thirsty for trinkets you’ve never met hardcore Disney fans. There were pins, Vinyl figures, toys, prints and every kind of collectible you can think of and they were selling out left and right.
Another thing that the Disney crowd is the Comic-Con crowd’s patience and determination, which I found out the hard way. I figured showing up for the Dick Van Dyke panel over an hour early would be safe. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. The line was already capped and I discovered that D23 had no press row (they do have them, just not for this panel) and I was turned away. The D23 guys were really nice about it, I just wish they were more clear with what panel has press access and what doesn’t.
Thankfully a Twitterer (@ollybishop) sent me a link to a YouTube page which has some of Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix performing. Well, I say thankfully, but all the footage does is make me even sadder I couldn’t have been there to witness this. As a life-long Mary Poppins fan it would have been the perfect closer to a day already overflowing with nostalgic remembrances.
Tomorrow is the big news day, with massive Disney Studios presentations (I’m already covered for a seat there, so no worries about that) featuring The Avengers, The Muppets, John Carter, Brave and more surprises. There’s also a couple Pixar panels featuring John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, Jim Morris, Lee Unkrich, Dan Scanlon and Mark Andrews (not sure if I can make it from the Studios panel to the Pixar one, but will give it the good ol’ college try) and a Monsters University panel.
Look for updates tomorrow evening as I wrap up the day’s events. Hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane! Big news stuff tomorrow, for sure.
I’m going to leave you with a few more Disneyland pictures, including some Splash Mountain (which is apparently the only part of Disney not embarrassed by Song of the South) and other random park pictures. Why? Because I like ya’!