Archive for February, 2008

Theme Park Headlines – Reinventing Disney-MGM Studios

February 10, 2008

A new name! New attractions! New entertainment! Oh, my! Walt Disney World is redefining its third theme park with a slew of major changes. And will American Idol and Ratatouille REALLY be making their way to Walt Disney World? Maybe.

By Blake

Originally posted February 10, 2008.

When Disney-MGM Studios opened in May 1989, it truly offered guests a look into how movies were made and was defined as “The Hollywood That Never Was and Always Will Be”, complete with backstage tours, behind-the-scenes exhibits, and actual television studios. Since then, the park has slowly distanced itself from its original intention and, bit by bit, has had less and less Hollywood charm as it once had. Sure, there have been massive hits such as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock n Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, and Fantasmic!, but overall the park has suffered as a whole. And, finally, Disney has recognized where they went wrong in turning the “fantasy Hollywood” park into a huge advertisement for modern Disney movies and products by turning its direction around.

The park took its first baby step in completely redefining its image by getting a name change. For years it had been rumored that the Disney-MGM partnership contract was running thin and that a name change would be in place soon. Disney Studios and Disney-Pixar Studios, as well as a few others, were suspected to likely be the park’s new title, but it was not until August 9, 2007 that Disney officially announced that effective January 7, 2008, Disney-MGM Studios would become Disney’s Hollywood Studios . . . which in the long run could cause potential confusion among guests, since Hollywood is an actual town name in the state of Florida.

So, does a new name mean a new park? Kind of. The park is no longer defined as a dreamy Hollywood, but as “all that today’s Hollywood has to offer – in movies, music, theater, and television”, as said in Disney’s original press release concerning the name change that was issued in December. And, over the course of the next few years, there will be a very evident change in the park as a whole. Some attractions will be refurbished and refreshed, while others will sadly have the curtain closed upon them to make way for forthcoming projects. Here’s a look at what’s already changing in the park and what still is yet to come:

First up is the new edition of Playhouse Disney Live on Stage. Since 2001, the show has entertained preschoolers by bringing to life (in puppet form) the settings and characters from Playhouse Disney television shows Bear in the Big Blue House, The Book of Pooh, Rolie Polie Olie, Jojo’s Circus, and Stanley. Well, while that might have been really popular for preschoolers when the stage show initially opened, not one of those programs still airs regularly on the network today. So, for the past couple of years, the show has been in serious need of some refreshment. On January 28, 2008, soft preview openings for a new version of the show, featuring characters from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Little Einsteins, and My Friends Tigger & Pooh, debuted before its official opening on February 1. And I’m happy to say that from the pictures and videos I’ve seen of the new show, Mickey and the gang make the transfer to puppetry quite nicely, and I’ve even read that the puppets were created using the same scale as the majestic “Partners” statue at Magic Kingdom.

Characters from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse are part of the new Playhouse Disney Live on Stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and coming soon to Disney’s California Adventure.

Characters from Handy Manny are part of the new Playhouse Disney Live on Stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and coming soon to Disney’s California Adventure.

Characters from Little Einsteins are part of the new Playhouse Disney Live on Stage show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and coming soon to Disney’s California Adventure.

The next step in the reinvention of the Studios is a parade replacement. Since October 2001, Disney Stars and Motor Cars Parade has entertained guests with its daily march through the Studios’ streets, featuring a plethora of Disney characters riding in unique cars suited to match the characters riding in them. (It also features plenty of rare character appearances! J) Unfortunately, the parade’s time has come to move on. It will have its last performance at the Studios on March 9, 2008, before being moved to Disneyland Paris. It will surely be missed, but a new parade, Block Party Bash, will debut in its place five days later on March 14. The question is will this completely different-style, high-energy Pixar parade please guests just as much as the quaint and charming Stars and Motor Cars? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. The new parade is being imported from Disney’s California Adventure, where it has been performed since May 2005, and features floats based on the Pixar films Toy Story; a bug’s life; Monsters, Inc.; and more.

The next date on the agenda is this summer, when the Mickey Avenue section of the Studios will awaken from its year-and-a-half hibernation as “Pixar Place”, a re-themed area of the park based on Pixar films. Just what WDW needs . . . MORE Pixar-themed attractions. Disney has officially confirmed that Toy Story Mania!, an interactive 3D ride featuring Toy Story characters, will open as part of Pixar Place this summer; and if the rumors I’ve been hearing are true, Pixar Place will eventually expand into further areas of the park. The word on the street is that the Backlot Tour, one of the only two rides that have been open since the first operating day of the park in 1989, will be demolished to make room for a Ratatouille-themed roller coaster, though this has not been officially announced, confirmed, or denied by Disney. Right now all it’s still a RUMOR.

Concept art for the upcoming Toy Story Mania! attraction, opening this summer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Imagineers “test-play” the new Toy Story Mania! attraction, coming this summer to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

And, finally, the year of redefining the Studios will come to a close in late 2008 with the opening of a brand-new, just-announced, breaking-news attraction . . . so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet. Announced on February 7 by Disney, with its temporary name “American Idol Attraction”, the hit Fox television show will be making a permanent home at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And while it would be really neat for Ryan, Simon, Paula, and Randy to set up camp for airing the show at Walt Disney World, that’s unfortunately not what this new attraction means. What it does mean is that beginning late next year, guests between the ages of 14 and 28 (yes, that’s 14, not the TV show’s age minimum limit of 16) will be able to pretend to go through the “audition” process and try out for Disney’s version of American Idol. Guests can either sing in front of a live audience or pretend to be a judge and review other guests’ performances. At the end of each operating park day, a winner for the day will be announced, and the winner will receive a “Fastpass” to skip the massive thousands of people in line at the REAL American Idol auditions for the television show.

Concept art for the upcoming American Idol attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

And while all this seems really exciting right now, I’d give this two – maybe three – years, if that, to belong at the Studios. I mean, think about it. Most of the kids who want to try out won’t be able to since the age minimum is 14 (and even then, how is Disney going to check to see if someone is 14?!), and most adults who would like to go through the experience would be too old. Additionally, the problem with creating any attraction based on a television series is that TV shows don’t last forever. They have their heyday for a few years and then it’s time to say bye-bye as the shows goes off the air, as evidenced with the former version of the Playhouse Disney stage show, as discussed above. American Idol’s popularity is great right now, but it’s not really a wise decision on Disney’s part to partner with the show if it’s not going to continuously be a phenomenal success in the years to come. I think that American Idol will surely last much longer, but you can never be too sure. Besides, who honestly wants to visit a Disney park to sit around all day and watch people sing karaoke?

Concept art for the upcoming American Idol attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

So, it’s pretty evident that Disney-MGM Studios is no more. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has officially taken over, both literally and figuratively. Whether the massive changes are good or bad is a decision too early to make. We can hope for the best, but with Block Party Bash and American Idol on the horizon, I wouldn’t bet on it just yet.

By Blake; originally posted February 10, 2008. All images (C) Disney.

DVD Review – ‘The Aristocats’ Special Edition

February 9, 2008
Image © Disney.

For the first time in eight years, Disney’s 1970 classic arrives on DVD with a fun story and clear restoration, but the lackluster bonus material questions its overall value.

By Blake

Originally posted February 9, 2008.

Now that I come to think of it, I don’t think one specific country has been the setting for an animated Disney movie more than France. Beauty and the Beast and Ratatouille prominently display the French setting in their respective films, and a touch of France is also subtly seen in Cinderella. Another Disney movie set in France, 1970’s The Aristocats, isn’t on the same grand scale as any of those three films, but still has plenty of charm, innocence, enduring characters, beautiful animation, and heaps of fun.

Originally advertised as a two-disc set to be released in March 2007, the new DVD of The Aristocats was eventually pushed back and degraded to a single-disc version, for reasons that are unknown. So, to say the least, it’s nice to have The Aristocats released again on DVD after an eight-year absence from the shelves.

The Aristocats Special Edition
Total Approx. Disc Running Time: about 122 minutes (about 2 hours, 2 minutes)
Highlight of Disc: Feature Film
Highlight Runner-Up: Deleted Song

The film itself (about 79 minutes) tells the story of a cat named Duchess and her three kittens, who are treated like royalty by their owner and are stolen by their greedy butler Edgar, who wants to take the fortune that their owner has left for the cats in her will. When the cats get lost and meet up with street alley cat Thomas O’Malley, he shows them Paris like they’ve never seen it before, filled with angry humans, wacky geese, and a jazzy bunch of alley cats. The film has lovable characters, catchy songs, and looks great – the new restoration only ups its value higher. The digital transfer is not too scratchy, yet not too gussied up, either.

Image © Disney.

Additionally, if you listen closely, you’ll recognize several Disney character voices from other films. Eva Gabor (Miss Bianca in The Rescuers) voices Duchess, Phil Harris (Baloo in The Jungle Book) voices Thomas O’Malley, Sterling Holloway (Kaa in The Jungle Book, Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and Winnie the Pooh) voices Roquefort the mouse, Bill Thompson (White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Smee in Peter Pan, Jock in Lady and the Tramp, and King Hubert in Sleeping Beauty) voices Uncle Waldo the goose, Hermione Baddeley (Ellen in Mary Poppins) voices Madame Bonfamille, and Paul Winchell (Tigger) voices the Chinese Cat.

So, the film is superb and the voice cast is great – but does the DVD package as a whole live up to the film? Well . . .

Bonus Features

Deleted Song (about 8 minutes) – Some DVD sets that include deleted scenes or songs would just have excluded portions of the film with no introduction or explanation as to why they weren’t used. Fortunately, that’s not the case here, where songwriter Richard Sherman presents two songs that weren’t used in the final cut of the film. First Sherman plays a rendition of the songs on piano, and then shows us behind-the-scenes footage of the voice-over recordings for the songs. Then the original recording of each song is played, accompanied by storyboard drawing to show us what might have been happening on screen when the songs were being sung in the film.

Disney Song Selection (about 11 minutes) – This feature simply plays the four songs from the movie consecutively with the lyrics on screen.

Disney Virtual Kitten (time varies) – Apparently Disney thought this game would be the definite favorite on this disc, because it’s been the “big draw” they’ve been advertising on the DVD’s commercials. However, I wasn’t expecting too much out of the Virtual Kitten – and my expectations were just about correct. The game is mainly aimed for the toddler/preschool set, but strains to be entertaining. Players simply do various activities to take care of their kitten, and then are rewarded a virtual surprise at the end.

Aristocats Fun with Language Game (time varies) – Another seemingly pointless activity, this game involves a voiceover person (a different one than the Virtual Kitten, though) listing several instrument names and showing the corresponding instrument image on screen. After he’s gone through the entire list of instruments, a name of each instrument is spelled on screen, and players have to match the word with one of the instrument images. Although its intent may be nice, I just don’t see an audience for this feature. It’s probably aimed at kindergarteners and first-graders who are just learning to read, but the instrument names such as “saxophone” and “violin” are simply beyond the kindergarten and first grade level. As for older children who can identify the words, they probably wouldn’t find any entertainment in this feature. So it’s a lose-lose situation here.

The Sherman Brothers: The Aristocrats of Disney Songs (about 4 minutes) – This feature really just guides us through the creation of the two used songs the songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman created for The Aristocats. As fascinating as this feature may be, I got really excited there for a minute only to be misled . . . they honestly could have come up with a better title.

Aristocats Scrapbook (time varies) – This is a very fascinating compilation of concept art, storyboards, sketches, paintings, publicity posters, and many more images (in fact, enough to fill up 18 pages of a virtual “scrapbook”). It’s also nice that, unlike many DVD art galleries, this one actually features captions so that we know what exactly we’re looking at. The only downside to this is that after every virtual “page” of the scrapbook, we have to return to the menu screen, turn the page, and click on an image to continue the slideshow. It does get annoying, but the images’ quality suffices that flaw.

The Great Cat Family (about 13 minutes) – An excerpt from a 1956 episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color television series, this is simply painful to watch and very “un-Disney”-ish. It begins with a brief introduction by Walt Disney, and then delves into the rather boring history of housecats. Having really nothing to do with The Aristocats whatsoever, I really question why this feature was even here in the first place.

Bath Day (about 7 minutes) – A feature to seem more and more common on Disney DVDs these days is a bonus classic cartoon short, and it certainly is nice to see these shorts highlighted once again on various DVD sets. The one featured here, Bath Day, is borrowed from 2006’s Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto Volume 2 DVD and is one of only three cartoons to have the main star be Figaro, Minnie Mouse’s pet cat (ironic, right?) that originally debuted as Gepetto’s cat in 1940’s Pinocchio. In this short, Figaro is given a bath and gets all gussied up, resulting in ridicule by the street alley cats and a humorous showdown between Figaro and the leader of the alley cats.

Figaro is featured in the short Bath Day. Image © Disney.

Sneak Peeks

The sneak peeks menu features previews for My Friends Tigger & Pooh, Handy Manny: Fixing It Right DVD, Little Einsteins: Race For Space DVD, Twitches Too DVD, 101 Dalmatians Platinum Edition DVD, Wall*E, Snow Buddies DVD, Hannah Montana: One In a Million DVD, and Disney Movie Rewards. Additionally, we’re treated to relatively new previews for Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition, Tinker Bell, and The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning DVDs. One thing I took notice of in the new trailers was that they seemed very prestigious. I can’t exactly put my finger on what was different than Disney promos in the past, but they seemed to be less cheesy, less knock-off-ish, and more refined. Whatever it was, it worked, because now I’m super pumped for October to be here. 😉

Wrapping It Up

The Aristocats is a charming and often-neglected Disney animated classic that’s pure fun to watch. The new restoration has the film looking better than ever, but the bonus material fails to live up to the standard the movie sets. While the deleted scene and bonus short are nice touches, the games aren’t entertaining, and the 1956 TV excerpt is just boring. Fans that already have the film in their DVD collection have no need to upgrade, but those that don’t own the film will find it a happy addition to their set.

How do I rank The Aristocats Special Edition DVD? (Bolded is my choice.)
Good movie + Not good bonus features =

  • Aaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

The Aristocats Special Edition DVD will most likely please: Disney Fans – Toddlers (ages 1-2) – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-7)

By Blake; posted February 9, 2008. All images © Disney.