Archive for April, 2009

Theme Park Headlines – Disney’s Hollywood Studios Turns 20

April 29, 2009


Disney’s Hollywood Studios celebrates 20 years of showbiz enchantment on May 1.

By Blake

Originally posted April 28, 2009.

WDWCelebrations has done it again. For the third time, the fan-based Disney website http://www.wdwcelebrations.com/ set up an unofficial event to commemorate a special Disney park anniversary. Also for the third time, Disney indirectly set up some official events of their own to accommodate the many fans attending the unofficial WDWCelebrations event. This first happened for Epcot’s 25th anniversary in October, 2007 and then again for the 10th anniversary of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in April, 2008.

Now it’s happening again for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as WDWCelebrations’ “Studio 20” event takes place at the park on Friday, May 1, 2009 and Saturday, May 2, 2009.

The day caps off an eventful few weeks for Hollywood Studios, as several other activities surrounding the park began on April 17 when Grad Nites began. A special event exclusive to high school seniors, Grad Nites took place at Hollywood Studios this year after years of occurring at the Magic Kingdom. Grad Nites took place four select nights April 17 – 25.

The Hollywood Studios birthday fun continued today (Tuesday, April 28) when The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios by the Imagineers was released into bookstores. However, even though the book was supposed to be released on the 28th, the bookstore that I visited to buy it didn’t have a copy available. When I went to go ask if the bookstore could order it, they said that for some reason the book hadn’t printed yet, so they couldn’t order it. I do not know at this time if the book was indeed released today, or if it was delayed. If anyone else has any news about the book’s release status, please let me know.

The new book The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios was supposed to be released April 28, though some stores may not have it yet.

The next DHS-related event will occur on Thursday, April 30, when characters from the popular Disney Internet game Club Penguin will begin making appearances at Hollywood Studios near the Backlot Tour. It should be exciting to see how the characters look, as well as if Disney decides to put anymore of their Internet characters (such as those from Toontown Online or Pirates of the Caribbean Online) into the parks.

Characters from the Club Penguin online game are scheduled to begin greeting Hollywood Studios guests starting April 30.

Lastly, Disney is planning some official events to take place on Friday, May 1, in addition to the unofficial Studio 20 activities. When the park opens at 8:00am, a special ceremony will take place. Later on at two different times throughout the morning, a special Imagineering presentation will take place in the Premiere Theater, which should definitely be an insightful experience for those who attend. Imagineers Tom Fitzgerald, Eric Jacobson, and Bob Weis are all scheduled to speak at the presentations. Any park guest can view both the ceremony and the Imagineering presentations (you don’t have to participate in Studio 20 to see them).

With The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios being released, the Club Penguin character meet & greet beginning, Studio 20 taking place, and the special ceremony and Imagineering presentations going on, it’s sure to be an exciting 20th anniversary celebration for Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

*Update from May 2, 2009.* You can check out coverage of Hollywood Studios’ 20th anniversary (which featured a speech by the park’s vice president Rilous Carter and a special exhibit) on StudiosCentral.com, LaughingPlace.com, and AttractionsMagazine.com.

*Update from May 16, 2009* The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios is now scheduled for a July 2010 tentative release.

Related BlakeOnline articles:
By Blake; posted April 28, 2009; updated May 2, 2009 and May 15, 2009. All images (C) Disney.
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Disney Detours – Budgeting Disney, Part Two: When to Go

April 28, 2009


There’s a lot you have to take into account while deciding when to visit Walt Disney World. With school schedules, Disney special events, and room rates all bouncing around, just when is the best time to take a Disney trip?

By Blake

Originally posted April 27, 2009.

Welcome to part two of a multi-volume series about how to plan an efficient Walt Disney World vacation while still watching your money. Last time I looked at some of the promotions Disney offers, which is definitely the first step any vacationer should partake in for any trip, Disney or otherwise.

Now it’s time to look at the next component of planning a Disney vacation: when to visit. Some of the deals discussed in the last article may influence a guest’s decision on when to vacation, and there are several other things that may also affect this.

The first component to look at for guests on a budget is Disney’s “value seasons.” These are weeks when the parks may not be as crowded as other times of the year, so Disney entices vacationers to visit by lowering their hotel rates slightly. They usually stick to about the same schedule every year, and 2009’s first value season took place January through mid-February, with more coming mid-August through September and early to mid December.

Disney holds several special events throughout the year annually. Some (like Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in May and June, as well as Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival in October and November) attract large crowds and are very busy times to visit for their respective parks. Other special events include the Walt Disney World Marathon in January, ESPN: The Weekend at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in late February/early March, Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival in the spring, Fourth of July festivities, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom in September and October, and Christmas celebrations in all four parks in November and December. (These include the popular Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios).

Walt Disney World guests who visit from mid-November through New Year’s to experience Christmas events at all four parks.

The weather is also a major issue given Walt Disney World’s central Florida location. If you visit in November, December, January, or February, you’ll probably need a jacket in the mornings, but will be fine in a T-shirt by the afternoon. It’s relatively warm in March, April, and October. It gets hotter in May, and by the summer months of June, July, August, and going through September, it’s very hot. Plenty of sunscreen and water, as well as a healthy amount of sleep, are all musts during the hot summer months. Also during the summer, it’s likely that a brief, though large, thunderstorm will take place sometime in mid-afternoon.

Additionally, not only is temperature an issue to consider, but hurricanes are another story all together. About late August through early November is hurricane season, and if a hurricane strikes during your vacation, it could cause quite a problem, especially if you have a short trip. All of the parks and activities are closed when hurricanes come through, and guests must stay in their hotel rooms until they are told they can come out. However, Disney handles the situation very well. I have been in Walt Disney World during a hurricane, and not once did the power ever go out in our hotel room. A continuous loop of Disney movies was playing on the television, characters were greeting guests in the lobby, and everyone that had park tickets that would have expired for that lost day were given a one-day make-up pass that would expire in 20 years. The next day, the parks opened as usual and you would have never known a hurricane had ever taken place. You definitely don’t want a hurricane to occur during your vacation, but if you’re staying on Disney property you should be in good hands. Hurricanes are serious risks to think about, though.

Another thing to consider is whether to take children out of school. I would say high schoolers would have a significant amount of work to catch up on if they were pulled out for a vacation during the school year, middle schoolers would be “iffy” (depending on their workload), and kids under middle school should be fine (as long as you’re not away for over a week). It also depends on whether or not you think your individual child would be able to handle a few days away from school. If they were absent, would they have the work ethic to make up the assignments they missed? It basically varies based on what you think you child can handle. Also take into account when important state tests are given.

If you don’t think it would be too much trouble to take children out of school, then I’d say the very best time to visit Walt Disney World is early December. The weather is usually nice, you won’t have to worry about hurricanes, the crowd levels will be low, value season will be in session, and you’ll get to experience the magnificent Christmas festivities. If you can’t make it then, I’d visit in late January. There won’t be any special events going on, but again the weather will be nice, there are low crowds, and it’s value season. Some schools are also out for a day or two for Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

If you can’t take kids out of school, the best time to go is mid-August. Some people may think that any time schools are out of session that the parks will be equally crowded each of these times. That is not exactly the case. Crowd levels during Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, and the Fourth of July are insane. Some of the parks even reach their full crowd level and stop letting guests in around the afternoon because it’s so crowded. Around Thanksgiving and June, although slightly less crowded than the aforementioned holidays, are still very crowded times to visit. Holidays also have the highest hotel rates than other times of the year. That being said, if you MUST visit Walt Disney World during a holiday, take advantage of Extra Magic Hours in the evening. Sometimes the parks are open as late as 2am or 3am for Disney resort guests, and late nights are the prime hours to visit to avoid the crowds.

Again, mid-August would be ideal if you can’t take kids out of school. Although the weather will be pretty hot and no special events will be taking place, you’ll probably just avoid hurricane season (I think 2008’s first major one occurred around August 20th or so), and value season will have just started.

Hopefully you’ll be able to use some of these tips to successfully decide the best time for your family to take a trip to Walt Disney World. Remember to check part one of this series to first take a look at some of the deals Disney offers. That might help you decide when to visit, in addition to the topics discussed in this article. Whenever you decide to visit, remember that an efficient plan can ease the stress no matter when you visit, but please take the thoughts from this article into account when making your decision.

Related BlakeOnline articles:

By Blake; posted April 27, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

Disney Talk – Disney Celebrates Earth Day 2009

April 20, 2009

Earth Day arrives this year for Disney with a new Schoolhouse Rock! production, a TV marathon, and a new theatrical documentary.

By Blake

Originally posted April 20, 2009.

The Walt Disney Company has a long and dedicated history of working with animals and the natural world around us. From the research done to create 1942’s Bambi to the production of the successful nature documentaries in the True-Life Adventures series that were released from 1948 – 1960 to the development of the magnificent Disney’s Animal Kingdom park at Walt Disney World in Florida, Disney has been involved in numerous examples of promoting the importance of taking care of animals and the environment.

Walt Disney adored animals and was fascinated with the way they responded to situations. He believed that learning could be fun, and that people could learn a lot from observing animals and nature.

Likewise, not only does the Walt Disney Company have experience with animals, they also have a history of celebrating Earth Day. Disney’s Animal Kingdom even opened on Earth Day, 1998. To simultaneously celebrate Earth Day and the park’s birthday, there’s usually an annual selection of activities to take part in around the park on April 22 each year. These include special exhibits and appearances by Jiminy Cricket, who has become somewhat of a symbol for Disney’s efforts to protect the environment.

In 2008 on Earth Day, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a special ceremony was held that featured Walt Disney World Senior Vice President of Operations Erin Wallace, Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, and conservationist Jane Goodall. It really was an impressive ceremony, and also featured a performance by the casts of some of Animal Kingdom’s shows. You can see videos and pictures from the ceremony on LaughingPlace.com. Later on in the day, Joe Rohde held a special presentation where he told the history of the park and talked about what it was like to create it.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is an all-around celebration of nature. The park features the fantastic Kilimanjaro Safaris, shown here.

Also on Earth Day 2008, it was announced that the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund would become the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and a new logo for that branch of the company was created.

This year, Disney is again participating in several Earth Day events.

On March 31, two environment-themed DVD’s were released onto shelves. The first was Handy Manny: Manny’s Green Team, a compilation of the Playhouse Disney TV series Handy Manny that featured a new green-themed episode.

Handy Manny: Manny’s Green Team is now available on DVD.

The next DVD released in time for Earth Day was Schoolhouse Rock! Earth, which was also released on March 31. The DVD features new songs and was made by the original creators of the Schoolhouse Rock! TV series.

Schoolhouse Rock! Earth is now available on DVD and features new songs.

On Wednesday, April 22, 2009, Disney Channel will have a “Protect the Planet” marathon, featuring environment-themed episodes of their shows. Nickelodeon is having a similar event, with new green episodes of iCarly and True Jackson, VP airing that night.

However, the most prestigious of the events Disney is having this Earth Day definitely would be the theatrical release of Earth, a documentary following the real-life stories of three animal families. It will be released on Earth Day – Wednesday, April 22, 2009. Narrated by James Earl Jones, the film is the kick-off of Disney’s new film company Disneynature. StitchKingdom.com points out that although Earth is the first Disneynature film to debut in North America, the real first film from Disneynature was The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos, which was released last December in France. Nevertheless, Earth should be a very fascinating film.

Disneynature will be launched in North America with the release of Earth on April 22.

It should be noted that to promote Earth, Disneynature is this year’s sponsor of the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival at Walt Disney World. A sand sculpture featuring animals from Earth appears in the park during the festival.

An Earth sand sculpture is seen at the 2009 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.

With various green-themed DVD’s and TV episodes, as well as the release of Earth from Disneynature, this Earth Day is sure to be an exciting one for Disney. Remember to recycle and do your part to protect the environment.

Happy Earth Day!

By Blake; posted April 20, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

Channel Flippin’ – Celebrating the Sponge

April 18, 2009

Celebrity guests, new specials, and more highlight Spongebob’s 10th anniversary celebration.

By Blake

Originally posted April 18, 2009.

As I walked into Wal-Mart a few weeks ago, a rather large display caught my attention just inside the main entrance. A sign that hung from the ceiling read “Happy Spongebob,” with merchandise abundant all around the area, all of it featuring Spongebob Squarepants. A smaller sign read “Celebrating 10 Years.” What?! Ten years? Really?!?

Yes, the highly popular Nicktoon Spongebob Squarepants premiered on May 1, 1999, and to celebrate the fry-cook sponge’s 10th birthday, Nickelodeon has several exciting events planned, some of which have already taken place.

The party kicked off on January 9, 2009, with the unveiling of a new Spongebob website, www.Spongebob.com. The site features videos, games, a blog written by the show’s crew members, character “biographies,” and an area where fans can create a Spongebob-related profile page.

On January 18, the main voice cast (including Tom Kenny as Spongebob, Bill Fagerbakke as Patrick, Roger Bumpass as Squidward, Carolyn Lawrence as Sandy, Clancy Brown as Mr. Krabs, and Mr. Lawrence as Plankton) gathered to read an entire episode in front of an audience at the Sundance Film Festival. You can catch a video of that event here.


The episode that they performed was a double-length special entitled Spongebob vs. the Big One. The episode features the voice of Johnny Depp (though he did not appear at the episode reading event) as Jack Kahuna Laguna, a surfing expert who has to teach Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward how to surf back to Bikini Bottom when the trio is lost on an island. In the book Bring Me That Horizon: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean by Michael Singer, a story is told of Johnny Depp initially approaching Disney with a request to voice an animated character in one of their movies, and instead they asked him to play Captain Jack Sparrow. Even though he did voice a character in the 2005 stop-motion film Corpse Bride, I’m still glad that Johnny Depp did indeed get to play an animated character in Spongebob that his children could enjoy watching.

In a clever marketing move, Nickelodeon premiered Spongebob vs. the Big One first on DVD on March 3, over a month before its television airing on April 17. In my opinion, the special is one of the better double-length Spongebob episodes (which are usually released twice a year), and features a surprise joke that has to be one of the funniest in Spongebob history. If you missed the initial airing of Spongebob vs. the Big One, you can catch it again tonight (Saturday, April 18) at 7pm Eastern time on Nickelodeon, or you can rent the DVD. It’s definitely worth at least one viewing.

Spongebob vs. the Big One is now available on DVD and features the voice of Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp isn’t the only guest voice that will appear as part of the show’s 10th anniversary, though. Spice Girl Victoria Beckham will also make an appearance in an upcoming episode.

Additionally, two more specials (that are expected to be an hour long each) will debut later this year. The first is reported to premiere in the summer, and will be a documentary looking into the creation of the show and the extensive impression it has made. The second new special is supposed to debut in November, and will be a “flashback” clip episode where Spongebob and friends look back at some of their most memorable moments.

All of the aforementioned events are taking place in addition to the airing of regular Spongebob Squarepants episodes. The show is currently in the midst of its sixth and seventh seasons (with the sixth season having a few episodes left to air, while some of the seventh season episodes have already begun to air), and new episodes will continue to premiere throughout the 10th anniversary celebration.

If you can, catch an airing of Spongebob vs. the Big One featuring the voice of Johnny Depp (or rent the DVD), and additionally be on the lookout throughout the rest of the year for new episodes, a guest appearance by Victoria Beckham, a documentary, and a special clip show. Happy 10th birthday, Spongebob!

By Blake; posted April 18, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

Channel Flippin’ and Theme Park Headlines Reminders – Spongebob and Space Mountain

April 17, 2009

A few quick updates.

By Blake

Originally posted April 16, 2009.

Hey, everyone! I first want to say thank you to everyone who supported the Easter post I wrote a few days ago. Your support really means a lot.

Secondly, I wanted to inform you of two quick updates, since I don’t currently have the time to write a full report on either news stories.

The first piece of news concerns the guy who lives in a pineapple under the sea, Spongebob Squarepants. Remember to tune in to Nickelodeon on Friday, April 17, 2009 at 8pm Eastern Time to see an anticipated episode of the hit Nicktoon. The episode is a half-hour special called Spongebob vs. the Big One and will feature a special voice appearance of Johnny Depp!

The next bit of news concerns a Walt Disney World favorite, Space Mountain. The next few days are your last chance to ride the classic Disney roller coaster in the dark before it goes into extensive refurbishment on Sunday, April 19, 2009. It is currently scheduled to re-open on November 21, 2009. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority will also be closing on April 19, but will re-open a little earlier than Space Mountain, on August 24.

Image © Disney.

I just wanted to remind everyone of that news, so make sure you watch Spongebob Squarepants on April 17 at 8pm Eastern Time to hear Johnny Depp voice a character, and if you’re in the Orlando area try to ride Space Mountain before Sunday, because it’s your last chance to ride it until November!

-Blake

By Blake; posted April 16, 2009.

Happy Easter From BlakeOnline!

April 13, 2009

Hi, everyone!

I hope you all have a wonderful and happy Easter Sunday. I wanted to take this time to address a matter that sometimes gets overlooked in the midst of all the eggs, bunnies, and chocolate. Missing from that bundle of Easter traditions is by far the most important Easter celebration of all.

The true reason we celebrate Easter at all is the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who came to Earth to suffer an excruciating death so that our sins are forgiven. It doesn’t seem fair that the One who cares the most should have had to take the punishment for something we’re all guilty of, though that’s the entire essence of the Easter holiday.

Jesus died to save you. Does the way each of us live our lives reflect our thankfulness to Him for doing that?

Everyone that repents for their sinful nature and accepts the forgiveness that Christ offers by inviting Him into their lives is eternally saved.

I don’t mean to be a burden, but as you enjoy your egg hunts, candy, and dressing up in your Sunday best, take some time to celebrate the true meaning of the Easter holiday, the rise of Christ from the dead.

-Blake
April 12, 2009

Disney Detours – Your Day Off

April 9, 2009

Fun, inexpensive activities to do at Walt Disney World outside of the theme parks.

By Blake

Originally posted April 9, 2009.

For financial and physical restoration reasons, guests who take a somewhat lengthy trip to Walt Disney World would be wise to plan a “day off” in the middle of their vacation. Just take a day to relax, don’t visit any theme parks, and just enjoy yourself. You’d be surprised at how many inexpensive activities Disney offers outside of their parks.

Of course there are the “biggies,” such as the two water parks, Cirque de Soleil, DisneyQuest, or renting some sort of watercraft. While I’m sure all of those are enjoyable, they’re still going to rack up price-wise and end up costing around the same (some even more) than a theme park ticket. And one of the whole points of your day off is to save money, while still having fun.

Whatever you plan to do on your day off, make it simple and don’t over-plan anything. Leave plenty of wiggle room on your schedule for unexpected diversions and try not to be in a rush when going from place to place.

I’d suggest starting the day off with a character breakfast (remember to book one that’s not in the theme parks!). Reservations are suggested for each one. One of the best times to book a character breakfast is in the last hour that the restaurant is open for breakfast, which is usually around 10:45am or 11:00am. Most of the time, the restaurants are less crowded during their last hour, so you get more one-on-one time with the characters. Not only that, but booking a late breakfast reservation will allow you to sleep later, which is necessary for resting your body and for keeping a Disney-fied attitude throughout your vacation.

Character breakfasts that are offered outside of the theme parks include:

  • Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald
  • ‘Ohana at the Polynesian Resort with Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto
  • 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort with Mary Poppins, Alice, the Mad Hatter, Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger
  • Cape May Café at the Yacht and Beach Club Resort with Minnie, Goofy, and Donald
  • Garden Grove at the Swan Resort (weekends only) with Goofy and Pluto

Guests can dine with Alice, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, the Mad Hatter, and Tigger at 1900 Park Fare for breakfast at the Grand Floridian.

The cheapest of these options are ‘Ohana, 1900 Park Fare, and Cape May Café, which are all priced at $19 for adults and $11 for children ages 3-9*. A character dinner is also an option, though those are significantly more costly.

*Prices may change during peak periods.

After your character breakfast, take some time to do some “resort hopping.” Don’t go out of your way to see any particular resort, but depending on where you ate breakfast, just explore the surrounding area. Also remember that although it is OK to visit Disney resorts, using a pool at any resort that you are not staying at is not allowed. If you ate at Cape Cay Café or the Garden Grove, take a stroll around Crescent Lake and visit the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, and the Boardwalk area. Sports fans will enjoy a visit to the ESPN Club, especially on game day. Since you just ate, you won’t be hungry for a meal, but at least pop in. You can also play tennis for free at the Swan and Dolphin, the Yacht and Beach Club, and the Boardwalk.

If you ate breakfast at Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana, or 1900 Park Fare, you can do some monorail riding to visit the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Resort, and the Grand Floridian Resort. They all have great gift shops and the theming in particular at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian is excellent. Another fun (and free) excursion is to take a round-trip monorail ride from the Transportation and Ticket Center to Epcot, and then back to the TTC. (Just don’t get off.)

Want something fun to do on your non-theme park day? Hop on the monorail!

After you’ve finished riding the monorail, head on over to the Magic Kingdom. Don’t enter the park itself, but instead take a boat to either Fort Wilderness or the Wilderness Lodge. Even during peak seasons (including spring break), Fort Wilderness is basically empty in the middle of the day, but everything there is still open. You can play tennis, basketball, volleyball, and tetherball for free, or you can visit the petting zoo. For a small cost, children can ride a pony. It’s very relaxing to sit out on one of the rustic rocking chairs outside of Pioneer Hall, especially when there aren’t many guests around.

Next, you have a few options. If you want to use the rest of you day off to relax a little more and give your body some rest, head back to your resort and take a nap. I suggest this whether you’re tired or not because if you don’t want to sleep, you can do some swimming at your resort’s pool. (Remember that you are only allowed to swim in the pools at the resort you are staying at.) If you’re coming from Fort Wilderness, take a boat to the Magic Kingdom and then a bus to your resort, and if you’re coming from the Yacht/Beach Club, Swan/Dolphin, or Boardwalk, walk or take a boat or bus to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then take a bus to your resort.

After your nap/swim, you have even more options. You can either chill out the rest of the day, or you could do something else.

You could see an early dinner show performance (for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue or Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, which are both are Fort Wilderness, or the Spirit of Aloha at the Polynesian Resort). However, those can get a bit pricey, though can be a bargain when used with the Disney Dining Plan. If you do plan to see a dinner show, you must make advanced reservations.

Or, for a more affordable rest of the day, you can go to Downtown Disney. Although some of the extra activities (like Cirque Soleil, DisneyQuest, and the Characters in Flight balloon) cost extra money to experience, admission into Downtown Disney itself is free. If you don’t plan on seeing anything extra, go to the Marketplace section of Downtown Disney. There are several great shops, and an excellent pin trading station. A great meal for a relatively inexpensive price at Downtown Disney can be found at Wolfgang Puck Express (not Wolfgang Puck Café), located near the Disney Christmas shop in the Marketplace section.

Downtown Disney Marketplace has several unique shops, including Once Upon a Toy, pictured here.

I hope you can implement some of those money-saving tips into your Walt Disney World vacation, and hopefully they’ll provide you with a day away from the theme parks that’s relaxing and not stressful, while at the same time remaining budgeted.

By Blake; posted April 9, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

Disney Talk – Toys “R” Back

April 8, 2009

Toy Story returns, as do two of Disney’s beloved animated princesses.

By Blake

Originally posted April 8, 2009.

Disney re-releases several of their classics onto DVD every year. But with the spread of DVD and Blu-ray, it’s been quite a while since a Disney masterpiece has been given a re-release in theaters. Until now.

I reported in January 2008 that Disney was planning a return of the Toy Story franchise. It began last year with the openings of Toy Story: The Musical onboard the Disney Wonder and Toy Story Midway Mania! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s California Adventure. It continued promotionally when the Buzz Lightyear balloon appeared in the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The next phase of this Toy Story return will begin this fall, when a video game based on Toy Story Midway Mania! will be released on the Nintendo Wii game system.

Toy Story Midway Mania!, a theme park attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s California Adventure, will have a video game based upon it, coming to the Nintendo Wii system this fall.

Then comes the really exciting part. On October 2, 2009, both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 will be re-released to select theaters in 3-D as a double feature presentation! Previously, the films were going to have two separate re-releases (with Toy Story in October 2009, and Toy Story 2 following in February 2010). Now they will both appear together in a double feature for the price of one ticket.

Economically, this is fantastic. Two movies for the price of one? Count me in! However, both movies back-to-back total about three hours of sitting in a theater. I personally don’t have a problem with that, but squirmy preschoolers might. Additionally, many families own Toy Story already on video or DVD. Even if you are indeed getting to see two movies for one price, a movie theater outing is still expensive, especially with the added-on price of 3-D films. Will families justify going to the theater to see two movies that they can rent for a fraction of their ticket price?

I think it’s worth it for Disney fans who know and love these films and are eager to see them again in a new medium. Additionally, getting to see a movie on the big screen that you’re used to watching on a TV set should be very exciting. Not only that, but both films have been reported to have received some tweaking in lighting using technology that wasn’t available during their initial theatrical runs. Overall, the Toy Story double feature in 3-D would probably be a pleasant experience that wouldn’t hurt the wallets of individuals or couples, but I don’t know if entire families will give in to the cost.

What’s all of this Toy Story hoopla leading up to? The very anticipated release of Toy Story 3, coming to theaters in June 2010.

Toy Story 3 is coming to theaters in June 2010!

Just a few days after the first two Toy Story films will be re-released to theaters in 3-D, another Disney classic will be re-released, but this time not in theaters. On October 6, 2009, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will be released on Platinum Edition Blu-ray. It’s quite the coincidence that Toy Story (Pixar’s first feature film) and Snow White (Disney’s first feature film) are being re-released in the same week, isn’t it?

However, a DVD version of Snow White will not be available at first. It will eventually, with a two-disc Platinum Edition DVD release on November 24, 2009. However, if consumers want to see Snow White on DVD before then, the only option is the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, which includes both formats of the film. However, an individual DVD option (without the Blu-ray) won’t be available until November 24.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is coming to Blu-ray in October and DVD in November.

I think this is somewhat clever on Disney’s part, because previously they’ve just implemented the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack a few days before wide DVD releases (like they did with Bolt). Most people are content to wait a mere few days to purchase a DVD version if that means they don’t have to pay extra for the Blu-ray. But a few weeks? That could pose an issue.

Personally, I won’t be giving in to the Combo Pack, although I certainly would rather Disney not decide to implement it in the first place. I don’t see the point in purchasing a player for a few hundred dollars just so I can see a movie a few weeks ahead of time. I’m content to wait. Besides, Platinum Editions are fun to anticipate, anyway. They provide a plethora of bonus features that delve deep into the making of their respective films and give plenty of behind-the-scenes glimpses that are pleasurable to watch. They’re not worth buying an entire Blu-ray player just to see them in advance, but they’re worth their wait, and for that reason I’m content to hold off until Snow White’s individual DVD release.

Next up is a re-release that I am absolutely ecstatic about. Coming to 3-D in IMAX on February 12, 2010 is Beauty and the Beast! I’m not sure if it’s going to be limited to just IMAX theaters, but I would hope that it will be released in the same way that the Jonas Brothers 3-D concert was in February, available in both regular 3-D theaters and in IMAX.

Beauty and the Beast will be re-released in 3-D and IMAX in February 2010.

For Beauty and the Beast, I don’t see the financial issues discussed above with the Toy Story re-release being such a problem. Although Beauty and the Beast has been released in IMAX before (in January 2002), it also hasn’t been released on video or DVD since October 2002. This was during the later part of the video-to-DVD transition that many families were making, and at this time my family hadn’t bought a DVD player yet. Because of this, we purchased the VHS version of Beauty and the Beast, and other families may have done the same thing. For this reason, Beauty and the Beast may not be as accessible to families today as Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are because VHS players are scarce and both Toy Story films were released on DVD in both 2000 and 2005. Long story short, I’m very excited about Beauty and the Beast being released in theaters again.

With Toy Story and Toy Story 2 coming to 3-D in select theaters in October, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs coming to Blu-ray in October followed by a DVD release in November, and Beauty and the Beast coming to 3-D in select theaters and IMAX in February, Disney fans have plenty to be celebrating about! Those are four of some of Disney’s greatest animated features, and to see them again in a new experience should be fantastic.

By Blake; posted April 8, 2009. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Beauty and the Beast images (C) Disney. Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, and Toy Story Midway Mania! images (C) Disney/Pixar.

Disney Talk – Read Your Way Through Imagineering’s Secrets

April 6, 2009

Several exciting book releases are in the works from Walt Disney Imagineering.

By Blake

Originally posted April 6, 2009.

In the past, Walt Disney Imagineering – the team of the Walt Disney Company that creates the attractions guests experience in the Disney theme parks – have been the subject of several fascinating books that have given fans a glimpse into what goes into creating some of Disney’s most beloved rides and shows.

There have been looks into Disney’s “mountains,” advice on how to think like an Imagineer, sneak peeks into the making of movies based on some of Imagineering’s attractions, and more. Looking ahead into the rest of 2009, there are several more very exciting books coming from Disney Editions that pertain to Imagineering.

The first is The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The fifth book in the Imagineering Field Guide series by Alex Wright, it will give a look into the creation of Walt Disney World’s third theme park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The book will be released on April 28, 2009*, just three days before the parks’ 20th birthday. Like the other Imagineering Field Guides, this one is expected to include a run-down of the development of the park’s rides and attractions, as well as little details that can be found throughout the park. It will be especially fascinating to see what went into creating Toy Story Mania!, the Tower of Terror, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, and Muppet Vision 3-D. The book will sell for $9.95.

*Update from May 15, 2009: The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios is now scheduled for a July 2010 tentative release.

The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios is coming soon.
Another Imagineering release is scheduled to be published on November 3, 2009. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real by the Imagineers will be a sequel to a highly popular Imagineering book that was published in 1996. If the new installment is anything like its original, it’s sure to be magnificent. The book’s list price of $60.00 is a bit much, though hopefully a less-expensive paperback edition will be offered like it was for the book’s predecessor.

The next title, set to be published on December 15, 2009, is The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World–Updated!. The first version of this book was the book to kick off the Imagineering Field Guide series, and was published in 2005. Since that time, the Magic Kingdom’s major changes have included the addition of the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor and the refurbishments of Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Additionally, at the time the book will be published, the Hall of Presidents and Space Mountain are both expected to have finished their refurbishments. I would think that these changes will be covered in the new edition of the book, though nothing has been confirmed. Selling for $9.95, the value of the book is most likely worth whatever changes may be made to its contents.

It should be noted that all release dates are tentative. Books tend to get their release dates moved around sometimes, and the dates listed here are when these books are expected to be released, and should not necessarily be viewed as their definite release dates.

I’m very excited to see what the Imagineers have in store to tell readers once these titles are published. The Imagineering Field Guide to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real, and The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World–Updated! seem to be like fascinating treats into backstage Disney magic.

By Blake; posted April 6, 2009. All images (C) Disney.

DVD Review – “Bolt”

April 4, 2009

The fantastic Bolt comes to DVD with a new short highlighting its release.

By Blake

Originally posted April 4, 2009.

I absolutely love Bolt. The characters are some of the best Disney has developed in years, the sophisticated animation sequences match that of any Pixar production, and the overall appeal of the movie, complete with its engaging plot and winning heart, blended together with a splash of comedy, make it an excellent film.

Bolt’s impact since its initial release in November has been quite the to-do, at least for a Disney animated film in today’s day and age. The line to meet the film’s three main characters at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been consistently long, the movie gained a Golden Globe nomination for Best Song (for “I Thought I Lost You”), Miley Cyrus was nominated a Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Voice From an Animated Movie for her role as Penny, and the film was nominated for Best Animated Movie at the Academy-Awards, Golden Globes, Annie Awards, and the Kids’ Choice Awards. And the public absolutely adores Rhino.

The premise of Bolt (about 96 minutes) surrounds the titular dog headlining his own TV show that he thinks is real-life. Naturally, when a cliff-hanger episode of the show leaves his owner, Penny, in the clutches of the bad guy, Bolt heads off on a trek to save her, thinking she’s really been taken away. He then finds himself shipped to New York, where he enlists the help of Mittens – an independent alley cat – and Rhino – a hamster, and Bolt’s biggest fan – to travel back to Hollywood.

Bolt encompasses all areas that a film should contain – it uses its brilliant characters to not only touch the viewer emotionally, but also provide a heap of laughs. Hopefully this is the beginning of a new line of Disney animated classics headed our way. You can read my full review of Bolt here to read more of my thoughts about the film itself, but here I’ll also be reviewing the DVD bonus material.

Bolt Deluxe Edition
Total Approx. Disc Running Time: about 132 minutes (about 2 hours and 12 minutes)
Highlight of Disc: Bolt Feature Film
Highlight Runner-Up: Super Rhino animated short

Like the High School Musical 3: Senior Year DVD, Bolt has come to DVD in two separate editions. The first contains one disc, which includes the feature film and a bonus short. The Deluxe Edition contains two discs – one for the movie, the bonus short, and several other supplemental features and another disc for the digital copy of the movie.

Bonus Features

The only bonus on the standard edition of the film, Super Rhino (about 4 minutes), is an all-new short from Walt Disney Animation Studios. I was very surprised, yet also delightfully pleased, that a new Bolt short was created for its DVD release. The short has the ever-popular crowd favorite Rhino saving Bolt and Penny from the Green-Eyed Man. It includes hints of the original film cleverly throughout, and my only complaint is that it’s not a little longer. Nonetheless, I wasn’t expecting a short in the first place, so the fact that Super Rhino was even created has me happy that the folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios see the potential that Bolt, and more specifically Rhino, has.

All of the other bonus features described from this point are only available on the Deluxe Edition DVD and the Blu-ray release, not the standard DVD edition.

Next, two deleted scenes (about 7 minutes) are shown, and include optional introductions with directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard. The first deleted scene involves two alley dogs confronting Bolt in Las Vegas, while the other has Rhino flowing down a river and calling for Bolt’s help. Had either of them been included, they would have altered the way that some of the pivotal moments in the film would have been portrayed in its final version.

Two bonuses are found under the “Music & More” section. The first is the music video for “I Thought I Lost You” (about 2 minutes), which features clips of Miley Cyrus and John Travolta singing in a recording studio, along with clips from Bolt shown in-between the recording footage. The next bonus is “In Session with John Travolta and Miley Cyrus” (about 1 minute), which includes brief interviews with the two about their feelings towards the song.

The first featurette under the “Backstage Disney” sub-menu is “A New Breed of Directors: The Filmmakers’ Journey” (about 5 minutes). It mainly consists of interviews with the directors of Bolt – Chris Williams and Byron Howard – as well as one from executive producer John Lasseter. Also included are glimpses into the Walt Disney Animation Studios (formerly Walt Disney Feature Animation) building, which is something that I had never gotten a peek into before. Usually we’re toured all around Pixar’s studio, so it was nice to see what the other side of Disney animation’s offices look like and what wacky happenings occur there, including animators rolling in a giant hamster ball through the hallway.

Next is “Act, Speak! The Voices of Bolt (about 10 minutes). It’s a rundown of the main characters’ voices in the film, plus interviews with the voice actors as well as directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard, executive producer John Lasseter, producer Clark Spencer, and character animator Amy Smeed. Highlighted are Miley Cyrus as Penny, John Travolta as Bolt, Susie Essman as Mittens, James Lipton as the TV director, and Mark Walton as Rhino. Here we find out that Walton is a Disney Studio story artist and originally did the voice of Rhino in the early storyboard version of the film, and was soon cast as the permanent voice of the hilarious hamster.

Lastly, there’s “Creating the World of Bolt (about 7 minutes), which is a look at the unique style of the film, which features CGI backgrounds that are meant to look like hand-created paintings. The end result looks beautiful in the film, and here we see interviews with the people that created that look, including art director Paul Felix (who also created Mickey Mouse’s 80th anniversary portrait) and director of look and lighting Adolph Lusinsky. Also discussed are the different techniques and research that was used to create the different types of lighting for each of the locations featured in the film, ranging from New York to Las Vegas.

Concluding the disc are sneak peeks (about 11 minutes). They include previews for Schoolhouse Rock! Earth DVD; Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray; The Black Cauldron Special Edition DVD; the Disney Channel movie Princess Protection Program; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs DVD and Blu-ray; Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure DVD and Blu-ray; the TV channel Disney XD; The Princess and the Frog; Lilo & Stitch Big Wave Edition DVD; Bedtime Stories DVD and Blu-ray; Disney Blu-ray titles; and Disney Movie Rewards. The big surprise here for me was The Black Cauldron being re-released, which I had not heard of until I saw the preview.

Menus

The DVD’s menus have various stills used as backgrounds, except for the main menu, which includes animation of Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino on a train. A transparent grayish rectangle surrounds the remote control’s selection on the screen, making it easy to see what you’re choosing.

Over the past several months, most Disney DVD releases have not included a hardcopy DVD guide to map out the disc(s)’ contents. Additionally, for the most part there is no art or pictures adorning the actual discs, but instead a blank mirror. Both of these are minor adjustments, however, and I guess if something’s got to be cut back, I’d rather it be these than less bonus features.

Wrapping It Up

Bolt is a great combination of classic and enduring characters, breathtaking animation, and a magnificent story that all culminate together to create a wonderful film. Hopefully it’s a sign of what’s to come in the future in Disney animation.


The movie itself is fantastic, though its DVD presentation seems to be less satisfying. This seems especially odd because the film certainly has plenty of fascinating history and background to elaborate on with bonus features, though that history is not shown here. What would have been really cool would be a look at what Bolt was originally supposed to be – American Dog. The basic storyline was supposedly going to be the same as the film’s final version, though several characters and locations were to be completely different. It would have pretty neat to see what the film was initially supposed to be like. Additionally, most of the bonus features that were included seem to be relatively short, as if there was something more to them. An audio commentary would have been welcomed, possibly even with Mark Walton as an in-character Rhino (like the hilarious audio commentary with Rutt and Tuke on the Brother Bear DVD).

However, I do thank whoever decided to create a new short to be included with Bolt’s DVD release, especially since I wasn’t even expecting it to be there in the first place. Super Rhino was definitely the highlight of the bonus features, and I’m very glad that not only a new short was included, but also that it was all about Rhino. Thankfully, Super Rhino is the one bonus feature that’s included on the standard single-disc edition of Bolt, so those who opt out of the Deluxe Edition still get to see it.

Unless you really want a digital copy of the film, I recommend the standard single-disc edition of the DVD. You’ll get the feature film and Super Rhino, which was the best of the included bonuses. Overall, Bolt is the best non-Pixar Disney animated film since Lilo & Stitch and has me anticipating what Disney has up their sleeves next.

How do I rank the Bolt DVD? (Bolded is my choice.)
Brilliant movie + Good bonus features =
  • Aaaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

The Bolt DVD will most likely please: Disney Fans – Dog Owners – Animation Fans – Preschoolers (ages 3-4) – Kids (ages 5-7) – Older Kids (ages 8-10) – Tweens (ages 11-13)

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By Blake; posted April 4, 2009. All images (C) Disney.