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Al Lutz
Archived D-I-G Update
7/26 Update - A change in DCA's program? / small world not after all? / Speaking of the bears... / Painting in ToonTown / Mansion Merchandise Event Info / Clearing up something here... / You win some, you lose some / The "Parade of the Stars," it keeps going, and going, and going.... / DCA "shady" doings / Another "vent" I'm happy to accommodate / New Tom Sawyer Island raft being built! / I get letters...


A change in DCA's program?

Reader Tim wrote in:

I wanted to let you know that we were at DCA last night and learned that they're getting rid of the 10:30 PM electric parade beginning this Sunday (7/29). Starting Sunday, the park will also be closing at 10 PM instead of 11 PM. I confirmed this with two cast members - the gal manning the front desk at Mondavi's Vineyard Room, and one of the street vendors. I checked Disney's official web site to see if there was any evidence, but it still shows them staying open till 11 PM with two electric parade showings each night - at least as far as I looked. Anyways, I thought you'd be interested to know about this, in case you hadn't already heard. (I also wanted to let you know that I always enjoy reading your columns. You're a gifted writer and communicator. Keep up the good work.

First of all, thank you for the kind words Tim.

You're about the twentieth note I've gotten about this - and from what I can find out it appears that the attendance bump at California Adventure is now over, and the crowds have been thinning out way too much in the evenings. So, to save money they are most probably going through with the plans you detailed.

I've been digging around a bit to find out if it will also mean other cutbacks in entertainment - I'll keep my eyes peeled for everyone to try and update them here on the site.

As I've said here before, the reduction in admission price, plus the extra entertainment they had added (including the Electrical Parade) took this park from being a poor value to an acceptable one. Any cutbacks could put it back in the doubtful camp again as far as bang for the consumer's buck.


small world not after all?

Anyone who has been to Disneyland in recent years knows that the small world facade is looking, well... a bit shabby. When they hot-glued on all those "temporary" plastic clips for the Christmas lights used for small world holiday makeover a few years ago, a bad looking building got even worse. (Turns out the glue turned brown in the hot sun, staining the facade as the brown ran with the rain.)

The shabby looking small world facade
The shabby looking small world facade

There is a fix tentatively planned however. Imagineering (WDI) and Disneyland Facilities have created a proposal to completely redo the small world Facade, and take down all the painted wood flats that make up the entrance to the circa 1966 attraction.

The wood would be replaced with new plastic panels that have fiber optic type lighting embedded in it. This new lighting would be able to be programmed to change into several different colors. During most of the year, Small World would be festively lit with white and pastel colors. During the holiday season the lights could be automatically changed by a few keystrokes on a computer for brighter and more festive shades of holiday lighting. Patterns and different effects could also be programmed into the lighting display that could pulse with the music. And the colored plastic facade would stay brighter and fresher looking for years longer than its painted wood predecessor.

If you've ever seen the "Disneyland Tencentennial" episode of "Wonderful World of Color," you may remember Walt Disney speaking with small world creator Mary Blair as Walt showed Julie Rheim, the 1965 Disneyland Ambassador, around Imagineering workrooms. In a segment we see Mary Blair working on the facade of "it's a small world" for its future home at Disneyland after the 1964 / 65 New York World's Fair ended. Walt showed Julie the nighttime lighting effects they were planning for the small world facade, and how it would "sparkle like a jewel" at Disneyland. If the budget is approved for the replacement of the facade with the modern computer controlled lighting, Walt and Mary Blair would finally get their wish.

It's not just the facade that's in bad shape, so are the railings surround the attraction
It's not just the facade that's in bad shape, so are the railings surround the attraction

What would hold this plan up, besides the immediate outlay in this summer's increasingly precious cash of course? It seems that the long term planners and executives in the executive Team Disney Anaheim building out back (TDA) don't know if this would be a good "investment" for the Disneyland Resort.

As far as some of the TDA planners see it, small world may not be relevant to the average 21st century Disneyland visitor for much longer, and a big infusion of cash into the attraction may not be a wise decision. There have been recent serious discussions about the long term staying power of a quaint 20th century ride such as this one.

Granted, the attraction and it's signature theme song is often made fun of by all sorts of pop culture media, (even the new Buzz Lightyear show in Tomorrowland takes a rather mean swipe at it), and it seems to some of the more jaded types to be the laughable epitome of the old fashioned optimism and innocence that were Walt Disney's hallmarks in the 1950's and 60's.

So questions are being asked at TDA: Is that type of attraction still relevant to today's audience? What about the audience of ten or fifteen years from now? How long can small world continue to fill all those pastel colored boats full of paying visitors? Is it wise to spend over a million dollars on a purely cosmetic "Show" upgrade to an attraction that may be passing its prime, when there are many other areas of the aging Park that desperately need help too?

To be frank, I personally never enjoy going on this ride, except for the one time each year it gets its holiday makeover. But I remember once a while back, when I joked online about willing to pay for the privilege of riding through it with a bazooka, I got a barrage of email telling me about how much this ride meant to some families.

One note in particular described the wondrous eyes of a child as they took it all in, and how that the father wouldn't trade that moment with his kid for anything in the world. After reading that email, I understood just how important these types of attractions are for allowing a family to experience something together - one of the reasons Walt built Disneyland in the first place. He wanted a place where parents could do things with the kids - a lesson apparently blown off by the powers that be in that huge project across the esplanade from Disneyland itself.

It's interesting to note in that light that quaint and innocent Disney signature Audio- Animatronic™ shows built decades ago like the Country Bears, are already seeing their final weeks of operation. As you've been reading here, the fifteen minute long Country Bear theater attraction will be replaced by a simple Winnie The Pooh dark ride that is planned to last about three minutes.

Is a fifteen minute ride on the kitschy small world really integral to the Disneyland experience? At some point in the not too distant future, could there be a Disneyland without it?

Some people at TDA are looking into the possibility that it won't be a small world after all.


Speaking of the bears...

"Meetings continue about the Bears closing in early September," I was told. "There is a new twist for the Winnie The Pooh ride vehicles themselves." the kind soul continued. "As currently planned, they are going to look like rolling beehives with honey dripping over the sides. They will differ from the Walt Disney World versions, which are honeypot type vehicles. They are still planned to seat six, and will be sized almost identically to Superstar Limo cars. The ride speed will be about the same as well."

There's still no word yet on just what the park will be doing to commemorate the demise of the Bears. I would think this would be a natural for the merchandising department, no?

To think, a Disneyland without a Big Al. Hmmm, I know some folks who will still continue to dream of that day even after the Bears leave. ;)


Painting in ToonTown

They are finally painting, and making some repairs in ToonTown, here are some photos for you of what is going on:

I'm not thrilled they were doing this out in public two weeks ago (above) but I'll take what I can get. Note (below) they have started with some base coats on the backdrop hills last week. They already have finished the hills behind Mickey's house, which were shown in a past update.

They were working on the planters around the Icee stand (above) last week, and week before last I did notice they finally repaired the Chip 'N Dale sign (below) for the Tree House. (Dale had been stolen and was missing.) Rumor has it we may see the acorn  (ball) crawl come back, but don't hold your breath for it. As it is, it appears the Jolly Trolleys went back into storage once Roger Rabbit opened up.


Mansion Merchandise Event Info

The information originally posted here has been updated on Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix's Merchandise Page! Here's a LINK to the latest on this event.

Keep in mind the "Haunted Mansion Holiday" marketing juggernaut will begin in Southern California the first of October, so get ready for big crowds once it opens officially. That beautifully done Fastpass area on the south side of the Mansion will finally get the workout it deserves, that's for sure.


Clearing up something here...

The Haunted Mansion "Nightmare" overlay is a completely Entertainment Driven experience, and not an Imagineering (WDI) project. WDI is only doing minor support work.

The crew building everything has been hired by entertainment (all outside vendors), the crew that will install it is going to be Production Services, the director and creative Designer is Steve Davidson (it was his idea in the first place.) Art Direction is Brian Sandal among others. Music will be provided by the Disneyland entertainment music department.


You win some, you lose some

From a kind soul who needed to vent:

Disneyland's Merchandise Special Events department is the same group that has handled other similar special merchandise based events in the recent past, including this summer's "Set Sail" map event, with sometimes disastrous results.

Let's hope they use the minor and monumental mistakes of past events to learn from, and that this Haunted Mansion event goes off smoothly and graciously. This Christmas version of the Haunted Mansion has the potential to be a HUGE success for Disneyland this Fall and Holiday season.

After a very disappointing spring and summer at DCA, all eyes will be on good old Disneyland in the upcoming months to make up for its faltering sister Park next door. DCA has absolutely nothing new planned for this Holiday season, with the exception of the Labor Day opening of the Millionaire show, which can't really be marketed to the warmth of the Holidays. DCA has the definite potential to slide into oblivion for the next few years until major new E Tickets can be installed, and Burbank and TDA know it.

The Haunted Mansion Holiday attraction, along with the return of the Holiday Believe fireworks and nightly snowfall, plus Small World Holiday and all the other Christmastime classics, should be the perfect recipe for a very busy and very profitable November and December at Disneyland. When in doubt, turn to what has always worked.

Funny, that sort of echoes what I'd been thinking. :)

By the way, the merch guys are working hard to do something nice to make up for some of the problems from the 46th pin event, look for more details on this here on the site soon.


The "Parade of the Stars," it keeps going, and going, and going....

The underwhelming "Parade of the Stars" is planned to go to "weekends only" after Labor Day, ending a brief two or three year stint of Disneyland having daily parades even during the off-season.

This will help shore up some of Entertainments unexpected costs of putting the Electrical Parade (DEP) into California Adventure (DCA) so suddenly this summer. The DEP simply wasn't planned or budgeted to appear in Anaheim so soon, and it certainly was NEVER supposed to go to DCA. (Still on word yet on when the DEP returns to Disneyland proper either.)

Anyone who attended the haughty Entertainment Department presentations about DCA's entertainment at last October's "Cast Blast" can tell you that DCA was never supposed to be saddled with such corny and hopelessly 20th century concepts like the DEP and "Goofy's Beach Party" type Character revues. Never mind that the DEP and the Disney Characters are crowd pleasers, DCA's Entertainment was supposed to be cool and edgy and hip. Entertainment threw that hipness factor in everyone's face very brashly last October, but management hightailed it back to tried and true Disney when DCA attendance bombed.

The Parade of the Stars sadly though is with us for the next three, now seemingly endless, years! It will run at Disneyland through 2004, and then is planned to be shipped to Hong Kong Disneyland in mid '05 to be used as that park's inaugural parade! Hong Kong is tentatively planned to open in September, 2005, and the Parade of the Stars will be there. Sad, but true.

This is sad news for Disneyland for the next few years, but this also shows just how cheap they are being with the Hong Kong park. They don't even get a new parade, just a five year old Character parade from Anaheim.

And you thought the Attractions lineup was bad in Hong Kong?


DCA "shady" doings...

One of the biggest complaints Disney is hearing about the new park is about the lack of shade everywhere - thankfully these complaints are not falling on deaf ears. Here are some photos of what they are doing to fix that:

They have added some shade to the main queue for Soaring (above), and there have been a few umbrellas added to the overflow queue around the side of the building. Below you can see some of the trees in planters they have been lugging into the park - this one is in the Hollywood Backlot area, between the Goofy and Dalmatians shows.

I'm glad they are making the efforts, this and the walkway widening in front of Grizzly River Run (to help alleviate congestion at the entrance to the ride) are steps in the right direction.


Another "vent" I'm happy to accommodate...

Paul Pressler thinks Disneyland wardrobe and all their new "circles of excellence" (one of Paul's new buzz words) are so wonderful, that they will be instituting them in the other parks.

The "Disney store manager" that was in charge of costuming during this exciting time is now the Vice President of Entertainment as well as Show Costuming, with a dotted line to operations costuming.

Just ask all the cast members how she "improved" service at wardrobe (talk about spin!!) by closing on Wednesdays, how they don't have even close to the right stock, and how managers are all afraid to make even basic decisions if they cost any kind of money.

Well people can hardly wait (should be any day now) to see how she re-organizes entertainment. And with Anne Hamburger at the creative helm, why should the park need anyone in charge of entertainment that knows anything about it? If you can manage a store, obviously you can manage anything!

My fear? More of those horrific DCA Farmer Mickey shows. I understand even the normally cheerful Disneyland Resort President Cynthia Harriss winced at that one when she finally caught it.


New Tom Sawyer Island raft being built!

It's amazing what you can see nowadays because of the new parking structure! Special thanks to David Lane for the photo - I'm delighted that they are finally making some progress here.

Now, can I get you guys to paint the canoes too?  ;)


I get letters...

Speaking of horrific DCA Farmer Mickey shows, reader William expresses his thoughts on the matter:

Hi Al, I've read your columns for over 2 years now and I have seen you become more and more negative concerning Disney. I love how you will be negative about anything Disney does just to be negative case in point. You complain all the time about their being nothing dor kids to do at DCA, well Disney tried to fix that and you blasted it.. Saying all the shows stunk except the one which is for adults.. I don't think any kids would enjoy seeing that song and dance stuff in Hollywood Backlot with extras.

I've decided to save you time concerning Nightmare before Christmas Haunted Mansion, since you've already made up your mind that it will be horrible I wrote the review for you Well if Disney would of spent more money this would of been better. Disney is falling apart. I heard 50000 people talking about how horrible the Christmas celebration is this year. Eisner should be fired...They ruined what would of been a fun attraction

See saves you time, I can almost guarantee you will write something like that. Your bitterness is making you hate anything Disney. Just because they dont run the park they way you want isnt a reason to hate it. I just think that instead of trying to make money off the Disney name why not stop going. If I hated something as much as you hate Disney I would just stop going. But alas, you like to complain and bitch and moan and gripe.

Well alas, I am going to all the other fabulous Disney sites that don't try to put a negative spin on everything. I agree though that DIsney has gone downhill last 5 years. Heck they havent added a major attration since Indy but they are strides above anything Six Flags, Universal Studios and Knotts Berry Farms.

Take a dep breath relax and instead of being so negative open your eyes, you might see the glass as half full instead of half empty

William, I'm glad you agree with me that: "DIsney has gone downhill last 5 years. Heck they havent added a major attration since Indy"

So you know I'm not alone in some of the concerns I express here on the site, I'm sharing the following emails with you (and the readers today). I was going to get to an Ask Al™ column this week, but the new Free Desktops section kept me from it:

Hi Al ~~~~~~~~~ (that's me waving to you) I just found this website & it is terrific! I had a little help from Whimsical Will...he's the one who told me about this place. I'm sure I'll be spending many hours reading... it appears that I have years of info to catch up on.

I was also happy to find that I am not the only one who is disgusted by the condition of Toontown. Walt would have been so disappointed to see how quickly it ran down. And one of the biggest disappointments is when standing in line for Gadget's Coaster... they took out some of the cute & clever stuff & replaced it with "wooden" rails instead. Very tacky! And in Fantasyland there are a few things that could be mended... like the recorder that is missing from the dwarf's hand in Snow White. It's been gone almost since the attraction opened.

And, I was somewhat heartened to hear that I am not the only one who thinks that DCA is just not what we expected. As an annual passholder for the Big D, I got a chance to go to the pre-opening. The setting is beautiful, but there it stops. As far as I'm concerned, they have only one great ride... Soaring Over California. The line that day was over 6 hours! We got on a bit faster by using the single rider passes.

Perhaps down the line, DCA will improve, but until then, I can't think of much more than they are charging $43 (OK, so it's $33 for now) to walk around the old parking lot. I actually emailed Disneyland resorts & told them to make the admission cheaper. They gave me a song & dance about Walt opening Disneyland with only 17 rides & attractions, but he wasn't charging $43 to get in! (I remember driving through orange groves to get there. The MK opened just after my first birthday & I've been hooked ever since.) Then within a week, the price was lowered to the $33 for adults, free for kids. I still wouldn't pay that much to get in!

Anyway, I anticipate spending a good many evenings checking out this site. Thanks so much!

Peace, Elyse

Thanks for the kind words Elyse, and welcome to the site! (Al now waves back!) I hope you saw the photos here in the column about the painting going on in ToonTown.

I do try to note both the good and bad here - let's hope there's more good coming up, as there's been so much bad news since Mr. Pressler has been working his special brand of "magic." ;)

Reader Pat asked:

We visited DCA last month and especially enjoyed Soarin' Over California. My question is: What river were the people rafting on? It looked like the Merced in Yosemite but we're not sure.

We felt, as you have mentioned that DCA is not complete enough, there just wasn't enough to do to justify the cost. Also, there was not enough shade. We were there the end of June and it was very warm. We stayed from about 9:00 a.m. and left about 3:30.

We were fortunate to be staying at the Grand Californian, which was wonderful, so we went back and used the pool and then went over to Disneyland for the evening and the late showing of Fantasmic. We then also spent the next day at Disneyland.

It will be a very long time before we return to DCA. Hopefully they can get their act together and offer more options on things to do.

Pat, I'll put your question out to the readers - I am certain the location is here in California (don't laugh, more on this in a moment). Maybe the readers can fill us in. (The reason I said that was that the Whoopi film does feature several scenes filmed out of the state - in particular the train footage from what I understand.)

I hope you saw the photos above of the shade they are adding to DCA - at least they are listening. But I think things like that are probably too late for many people like you who have already visited, and feel it will be a long time before you return. That doesn't bode well for the new park's future.

Reader Merlin chimes in:

Popped by the park last night for the first time in several months on my way back to LA from San Diego. Got a chance to see the new Lincoln show and was very pleased with the overall results!

I want to truly thank the powers-that-be for showing some love to a classic attraction rather than replacing it. It's amazing how just a bit of change goes a long way. (AL - Did they do this because they wanted to - - or did a higher power like Roy force the issue?).

(Let's just say that Mr. Pressler had planned a shop for that location. Then his plans were changed. How and by whom, there are only rumors about. I'm sure we'll know what actually happened someday.)

(Continued) The highlight for me was the restoration of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Stars and Stripes sky from Walt's original show. The absence of these two items had long festered with me during the run of the previous version (which I never liked). The animation was far more restrained, subtle and refined in this version, a vast improvement over the previous over-acting figure (not just the capability of the figure but the animation acting in particular).

The flavor of the original show is in more evidence here than it had been (though the current show doesn't have that stylized Walt Disney era over-the-top finesse that makes me all teary - - particularly the original scoring and the more unique acting of Royal Dano).

The audio effects were fun and I think the gimmick is needed to get the attention of younger audience members, who were much more attentive here than they have been in years at this venue. I didn't think it interfered with the "dignity of the performance".

I do think that the presented backstory is overly elaborate and detailed (a more recent park tradition). These things used to be more subtext than text. It really doesn't take that much work to put you into the scenario.

At any rate I found the show successful for its modest intent. I only hope that they hand out a flyer or do some advertising to let people know the show has changed - - otherwise the finance department will not think these efforts are worthwhile (which they are!). People must know about it to see it. I wish that Tiki Room and Country Bears and Carousel of Progress (sent back from WDW) would be goosed up in a similar manner, respectful of the show's history, but freshening it to new audiences.

HOWEVER - - Everyone should be ashamed of the sorry exhibit prepared for Walt Disney - founder of a multi- billion dollar corporation - on his centenary. I've seen better displays in my office and bedroom. If it weren't for the wonderful remaining Formal Office (and the okay new film), there would be nothing to see! With all of the cool material available in Archives and Animation Research Library, the best they could do was mounting photos?

See... they DO hate Walt!!!

I would call The Disney Family Foundation and arrange to have portions of the current Reagan Library exhibit on Walt's life moved to DL after it finishes this fall. OR arrange something respectable from Dave Smith, please, in time for Walt's birthday in December. This is just pitiful.

If you look below Merlin, you'll read my thoughts on the show. But I do agree with you about the Walt Disney exhibit - it really is pretty dry.

There were rumors they were considering a Walt museum at the Disneyland Resort in of all places, DCA. (If there was ever the "anti- Disneyland..." ; ) ) The reason behind this was that they wanted to pull in the hard core Disney fans who might not be all that excited about the new park.

I do know the family is looking into doing something, but nothing seems concrete at this time. I feel as you do that Disneyland would be the best home for it though - it is the place he actually walked through, as so many WDI types like to say.

And I don't think they hate Walt, he still makes too much money for them. ;) Heck, they are still counting on W.E.D. to get numbers in for Orlando next year. Talk about indentured servitude ...

Finally, reader Cheryl writes:

Hi Al! Love the new desktop photos - but I miss that fabulous picture of the teacups you had before!! Could you put that one on there too? It is so colorful - and by far the best picture of the teacups I have found! Thanks again for making the photos available.

The teacups desktop, as well as many other favorites will return soon - the job of redoing the section was a huge one, and we have lots of new updated shots we also want to share with you.

I will go ahead and move the teacups shot to the head of the list though, since you were one of many to request it again. :) Look for more regular updates of this section as time allows.


In closing, I do want to respond to concerned reader William here:

I think you know as a long time reader that I don't enjoy reporting negative news all the time - especially when I care about a place as much as I do about Disneyland. But to ignore the problems there, well, that would be a major disservice to the many readers who have come to depend on us to give them that other viewpoint.

I know I'm tough on them, I'll admit that. But, then Disney is tough on our wallets. Customers should be able to speak up if they have issues of value for price paid.

Reading your note, I am guessing that you're on the younger side. Your history with the parks may probably be a lot more limited than some of us old timers. I myself have been a regular visitor since the early 60's (as a kid of course) - and I have seen Disneyland go through both good and bad times. Heck, there in the 80's for a bit (until Eisner came in and re-energized the company) things were pretty stagnant there.

But even when things got boring at Disneyland in the past, they never let things go like they have under this current regime. (See the small world photos above.) The difference is very clear - they really have cut back on what made this park so unique and so great. You even noted that in your letter to me.

I don't think anyone would not want to allow you to have your opinion, so why not permit others the same consideration?  When you get some time, ask one of your teachers at school about the concept of "criticism" and how it works. I think with a further understanding of it, you may enjoy more of what there is out there in the world for you to read.

Knowing *both* sides of any issue, even if you disagree with some of the opinions expressed, only allows you to make a more informed decision - whether you are planning a vacation, or just trying to find out the rest of the story. :)


Ok folks - before I close this one - I was delighted to see the "Chance to Shine" girls (below, who perform on the bare cement in front of "Hollywood & Dine" in the backlot area of DCA) are now listed in the guide map! I hope this brings them some more audiences - as the show is just too good to miss.

Here's the new set of show times: 11 AM, Noon, 12:45, 1:30, 3:20, 4:20, 5:15 PM. (They are doing one less show, they work so hard I don't blame them!)

And a personal thank you from me to all the readers who have helped with our "Magical Summer Memories" kid's ticket program. You guys are all the best - a lot of kids will have a much better summer thanks to you.

See you all at Disneyland! (And don't forget to visit the Amazon Honor System on the way out, ok? We were able to get the desktops back up thanks to that!)

Click Here to Pay Learn MoreAmazon Honor System

7/19 Update - A Chat with Abe

SuperSonic Lincoln

I'd just seen the new Lincoln show on the 17th, and had remained in my seat thinking about it. As luck would have it, (believe me, I didn't plan for this to happen) Paul Pressler, Cynthia Harriss and a few other Imagineering types were in the audience with me at that show too. They were in the front row, and I saw them leave afterwards from my seat in the back row.

I was surprised to see them there frankly, but I'd forgotten that it was a weekday, and the park was crawling as always with Disney execs. (Heck, I even ran into Anne Hamburger and her entertainment entourage again at Hollywood & Dine in California Adventure while waiting for a performance of "Chance to Shine" the little show that gets put on back there.) I'm getting away from the subject here, sorry.

Anyway, as I sat in the back row thinking about the new show a bit more, the doors quietly closed and I was all alone in the theater. It was dark, but not so dark I couldn't see the stage, and all the new trappings they had added to theme it a bit more to the new version.

To say I was perplexed after viewing what they had done with the new show was putting it mildly, as grateful as I was that Lincoln had remained (and not been turned into a shop as Pressler had originally planned to do). I was still disappointed with a few of the new details though.

Then slowly and silently, the curtain raised again, and there on stage I saw Lincoln seated. This time though he wasn't going through the motions of the show - he was looking out into the theater, tapping his fingers a bit on the arm of the chair, as if he were looking for something.

I then looked around, and except for me and Abe, there was no one else there. It was a strange feeling to say the least, but it would get hair- raisingly more odd as he seemed to look directly at me, adjust his new glasses a bit, and then say in that new voice of his...

"Hello Al, is that you?"

The Lincoln figure today - publicity photo © Disney
The Lincoln figure today - publicity photo © Disney

To say it was a great moment with Mr. Lincoln was an understatement. I wondered if a joke was being played on me, but a peek back into the control booth window up behind me saw it was empty and that we were alone.

Abe: I'd wondered when you were coming by. I looked for you this morning and missed you.

Al: Um... (this was just so weird) ...yes, I tried to make it, but got caught up with some glitches on the site this morning. It's our first anniversary today, we had some special content that got delayed.

Abe: Yes, I read it this morning after the first show.

Al: You read the site?

Abe: You forget Al, I'm wired into the fiber optic system here now - thanks to Light Magic. With just a few mental mouse clicks between shows I can pull the site up on the Innoventions computers and catch up with it every day. They stopped blocking you a while back.

Al: Goodness - Abe Lincoln on the web...

Abe: I read all the sites, and also have access to all the computer systems and data for the resort. It's great actually, I'm never bored anymore.

Al: That must be an amazing source of info.

Abe: It is. I'd tell you about the California Adventure headaches, but you know all that stuff already.

Al: Yeah, they weren't too pleased about my writing on that...

Abe: I won't read back the internal memos about you. (I saw a rubber wink over that glass eye of his I think.)

Al: Now, that, um... I guess I'm chatting with you - well - what are your thoughts about the redo of your show?

Abe: Well, as you know I am still tied down here to the stage. But the computer system does let me look around on all the cameras.

I took a look at the refreshed lobby and was glad for the new focus on Walt.

Al: I glad for that too - but it all seemed a bit, well, amateurish. Lots of pictures of movie posters, the same old stills of Walt - they didn't even come near the quality of that one display over at the Disneyland Hotel...

Abe: Near the ballroom there - the walls which hide the bathrooms and phones?

Al: Yes, that display. There's more interesting stuff there in that walkway about Disneyland and Walt than in the whole lobby outside here now.

Abe: Actually I agree with you - for a museum type setting, there are remarkably few artifacts from his life to actually look at. They could have called Dave Smith up at the archives and gotten some items to display - even things like costumes from Mary Poppins would help.

Likewise for my own history - I'm sure Eisner could have afforded a few of my belongings. It would have been nice to work out a deal with a couple of Lincoln museums to actually show something else other than just a bunch of framed photos.

SuperSonic Lincoln

Al: I was also disappointed that they moved Walt's casual office to Orlando. You'd have thought they could have done the 100th Birthday celebration in all the parks.

Abe: Well Marty Sklar did say it was coming back in 2003.

Al: What do you think about the new show concept?  If nothing else you should be excited about doing something different, it's been so long with the old script.

Abe: I have some mixed feelings about it.

First - I'm delighted I can now move much more naturally. This is the most lifelike I've ever been. The new skin they put on me is much more realistic - and the clothes are more comfortable. I was a bit rumpled in real life you know - they've captured that. Even my hair hangs a bit askew. The glasses are nice, I can spot all those Team Disney Suits in the back rows that I used to miss seeing before.

And let's not forget my new voice - I feel a bit more vigor in the speech - and that the audience is paying attention because of it.  I'm still not too keen on how I deliver it - via those headphones - but I am glad they finally retired Royal Dano's tracks.  They had served the show well.

Al: Speaking of that Abe, I have to tell you I was not looking forward to what they had done.  I understood Tony Baxter...

Abe: Yes, I know that guy - Imagineer, right?

Al: Yep - one of your most stalwart fans. Tony had expressed concerns that the new technology would overwhelm the show. He was voted down and they proceeded anyway with it.

Abe: You forget, I've seen all the memos on the network...

Al: Sorry... anyway, he did have a good point. There's a certain dignity to what you do, they needed to be careful to maintain it.

After seeing the show, I have to admit that I was very impressed with the overall idea and script. It was actually quite touching in parts...

Abe: But?

Al: What disturbed me was the two or three sound effects they put in for the thrill of it, not because they actually helped the story being told.

Abe: Let me guess - the scissors?

Al: Yep, that and where they blow in your ear, and the flies.

Abe: They do produce quite a few yelps in the audience don't they?

Al: Yes - during those moments it was sort of like "Honey I Shrunk the President," or "It's Tough to be Lincoln" ...I don't think they belong there, especially when you have such a dramatic story at some points. It really brings down the presentation. They are there just for the gimmick, not because they add to the show.

Abe: Yes, I would agree with you on that. The whispers up close, the placement of voices around you - those effects tell the story well enough I think.

What did you think of the new storyline?

SuperSonic Lincoln

Al: Much more in tune for modern audiences - they are looking to a new generation with what they are doing. But it's funny they had to use such an old technology to do it with - binaural sound goes back to the 50's. It was never widely used due to the fact you can only really experience it with headphones, and the recordings don't play back well on normal speaker systems.

Abe: I chuckled at that too Al. Especially how they tried to make it look like new technology.  But did you agree with the approach overall?

Al: Well, I'll tell you a little bit about what I used to do Abe, I used to work in the classical music biz.

Abe: Oh dear - that must have been awful. What with no music education in schools anymore...

Al: You do get around on the net don't you?

Anyway - I always worked hard in my old job to try and open up the world of the classics to contemporary audiences. One of the albums I did was "Heigh- Ho Mozart" where we performed Disney melodies in the style of the great classical composers...

Abe: Yes, I've heard that one - they have it on the background music system at the Paradise Pier Hotel.

Al: The classical purists used to just roll their eyes at my projects, but what they didn't realize was that I was working hard to try and get new ears exposed to classical music. If kids heard their favorite tunes done as Mozart or Beethoven, they may be more interested to hear that kind of music again as they get older. Walt sort of did the same kind of thing with Fantasia you know - and I was so glad nephew Roy followed up with Fantasia 2000.

I sort of felt the folks in Imagineering were doing the same thing with your show. Using the sound effects gimmick to try and get visitors excited about what you were saying again.

Abe: That's pretty obvious I think.  And I do have to say here, people seem to be actually paying attention now. I'd gotten tired of performing to empty houses with a few bodies here and there only taking a nap and air conditioning break.

Al: I can imagine.

Abe: But I think you're right, with a few tweaks they could sill impress the kids and keep a little more decorum about the presentation.

Al: As Adrienne Vincent Phoenix pointed out in her review here on the site - I think those few effects detract a bit - removing them would get the dignity back.

SuperSonic Lincoln

I also wished they had talked to someone like Randy Newman and had him do a bit more of an Aaron Copeland style musical score for it - it sort of just needs it. The whole thing comes across as if the budget was just ever so tight.

But I am glad about one thing though Abe -

Abe: What's that Al?

Al: That Paul Pressler apparently took the lead in keeping you here, and dropped that silly idea for a shop. I have to give him credit for that, if not much else. Do you think he's learning?

Abe: I'm still here, right?

Al: You know what I mean.

But let me tell you this, and I will detail it with more photos in the next update, I am starting to see paint now going up in Toontown, the Tiki Room is getting a slow rehab (as is the Jungle Cruise and Plaza Pavilion) and I already talked about Tarzan's Treehouse being kept in shape.

I'm starting to feel they are finally paying attention to the happiest place on earth...

Abe: Yet it needs so much more?

Al: You've read my stuff haven't you - I just want this place to be the showplace it used to be. I remember the first time I saw your show - I couldn't believe you weren't a real person. I also have vivid memories of freshly painted railings everywhere (they used to do heavy trafficked areas nightly). 

Later on as I got older I remember taking an overnight tour of the park before Pressler came on board, and meeting with the night crew. None of those things they used to do are being done anymore. It's just such a let down.

The place really made an impression on me as a kid you know?

Abe: I know, and I remember you out there in the audience over all the years Al. You did start to fall asleep more often in here when you got the annual pass, but you at least still came to visit every once in a while. (The rubber lips cracked a bit of a smile...)

Al: Well, I can hear them starting the spiel for the next show, you probably have to get back to work, right?

Abe: Yep. It never ends does it?

Al: I'm kind of glad you can say that Abe.

Abe: So am I Al.

Let's hope I see more good things on the network. You know, that dancing pixie show, was truly dreadful. But it gave me a set of eyes out of this theater.

Al: You know what they say Abe, out of the bad, good comes sometimes.

The curtain then slowly came down, the doors on the left hand side of the theater opened automatically, and the audience started coming in for the next show.

I strolled out into the exit lobby, feeling a bit groggy, (could it be I just woke up?), then left my headphones on the rack outside and walked out into the sunshine.

It was good to know Abe would be there again for my next visit.


Big update next week folks, thanks for indulging me on this one. Let me know what you think of the new Lincoln show.

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7/13 Update - Roger Rabbit's return / California Adventure's numbers go back down / Pressler and Braverman's planning thrown out the window / Sour Grapes? / Haunted Mansion Nightmare Before Christmas makeover details / Tarzan's Treehouse looks good / Wallace & Gromit toy info

Roger Rabbit's return

Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin returned to operation yesterday - with quite a few modifications made since it was closed due to the Brandon Zucker accident. The ride "soft opened" at about 4 PM, but it was still listed as being closed on the signs at the ticket booths.

It was clear that the cast members (CMs) were still trying to learn how to use the system, and the ride shut down quite a few times. Between 4 and 8 PM, the ride was only working about two hours in total - half the time it was "101" - below you can see the lines of people waiting while the ride was down.

The cars were totally redesigned, and each set now has an onboard computer. The new cars have a black rubber skirt around the bottom (below).

Note also the new track materials - they used to be a black rubber, the above brown edged lips look like a sturdier material which may prevent legs or arms going through it to the mechanism below. (There was a previous accident where a rider retrieving a fallen package had a leg caught in that track.)

There are doors on the new cars, as well as a lap bar (below). The lap bar must be manually lowered by the dispatch CM, and the door must be manually closed. They also added a "top down" convertible boot - which disguises the higher edges which were added to the seating area.

It's harder to get into the car, at least for an adult - as the doorway is pretty narrow now. The car doesn't seem any harder or easier to spin. When you get to the end of the ride, the door springs open, and the lap bar pops up automatically.

Here's Disney's list of modifications to the ride, and the statement given out to the press:

Installation of a guard around the bottom of each Roger Rabbit car that will prevent objects from passing under the car, and that also will electronically sense any obstruction in the vehicle's path, instantly stopping the ride.

Installation of a fully latching door to each car that can be opened only by the ride operator, and raised panels around each car's passenger compartment.

An updated employee training manual to reflect current Disneyland Park procedures.

Installation of additional high- visibility warning and caution signs, and the addition of recorded audio announcements in the queue informing riders of their responsibilities. (Including Spanish language.)

"Since it opened in 1994, the Roger Rabbit attraction has had an outstanding safety record," said Disneyland Resort President Cynthia Harriss. "More then 20 million people have enjoyed it without incident. We continue to believe that this attraction is safe for our guests to ride and our cast members to operate."

We understand the nearly identical Roger Rabbit ride in Disneyland Tokyo's ToonTown will not be modified.

It was noticed that CMs were not requiring small children to sit on the inside of the car. We saw at least one group dispatched with the small child sitting near the door. There is no height or age restriction indicated anywhere for children to ride.

A CM (shown above) walked up and down the line and approached parents with small children. She told visitors that there is no formal policy about children, and that it is up to each parent to determine if their child has the upper body strength to remain upright in the car. This was an interesting move on the park's part. It may play a part in any upcoming litigation.

Some news reporters were allowed in before the ride opened. When word reached other press that the ride was reopening - several other news vans parked out front to do live reports. After they arrived, Disneyland provided them all with newly shot video footage of the ride along with a description of what was modified. This move on their part allowed many stations to just run a brief clip on their shows - reducing the likelihood of live broadcasts from just outside the park that would rehash the story again.

The Zucker family lawyer (whose son Brandon was trapped under the Roger Rabbit ride vehicle) made herself available for the media once the news got out. Video footage was shown on a few of the local stations of the child and how he is being taken care of. You may want to visit our NEWS page for direct links to stories quoting the Zucker family's lawyer.

(A very special thanks goes to the MousePlaneteers who assembled the photos and info for the above update today.)


California Adventure's numbers go back down

The first week of the Electrical Parade (DEP) at California Adventure (DCA) had attendance finally reach the 30,000+ level that it was supposed to have been getting on weekends and holidays since February. However, that burst in attendance only lasted the 4th of July week, and now attendance has slumped back into the 20,000 range.

More alarmingly though, is that the recent bump in DCA attendance has been at the cost of Disneyland's attendance. Disneyland numbers during the past 10 days has been very soft, well below estimates.

It seems the extremely generous local discount offers are padding the DCA daily counts, at the expense of older park. Obviously, that is not how it was supposed to work. By skimming off several thousand a day from Disneyland, slashing the price of admission those locals would have paid, and just padding the DCA attendance with the Disneyland loss, the Resort as a whole is losing more now than when DCA had soft attendance and Disneyland was busy, with all visitors entering at full fare.

What a mess.

The continued hope is that the DEP can get a buzz going about the Park amongst locals, and attendance can pick back up for the rest of July and into August, then maybe DCA can limp through it's first year with a little dignity left.

What the management suits in the Team Disney Anaheim building out back (TDA) are really concerned about now is what happens during the upcoming holiday season. DCA was assumed to be such a sure fire hit by Burbank and Anaheim executives, that nothing major was planned for its first Christmas season. Much like the DEP was shoehorned in to salvage DCA's summer attendance, they will need to find something to pull in locals during the fall and winter.

Millionaire sign on the construction wall
Millionaire sign now on the construction wall

Hopefully the Millionaire show will give attendance a bump when it opens around Labor Day, too late to help with the summer. (They were shooting for August, then pushed it back.) But can it compete for the locals attention with all the over- the- top Holiday additions Disneyland now piles on in November and December? As you may all know, Disneyland puts on an incredible show for the Holidays now, after Paul Pressler pledged in the 1990's that "Disneyland will own Christmas" (which happened after the failed Mickey's Halloween promotions).

small world holiday, the wonderful park- wide decorations and lighting, the Christmas Fantasy Parade, the amazing Believe Holiday Magic fireworks show with the fake snow that had all of Southern California rushing to Disneyland last year, and the decades of memories that surround a holiday season at Disneyland will be very tough to beat. As if that weren't enough, the new Haunted Mansion Nightmare Before Christmas overlay will by hyped to the hilt.

How will DCA compliment / compete with all that? By stringing even more carnival lights on the Sun Wheel and putting a Santa hat on Cher in Superstar Limo? The thought of red and green colored tortilla halves, to be nibbled with festive Eggnog wine coolers isn't all that thrilling you know.

TDA has a very tough job ahead of them to sell this park year round before the permanent additions and fixes start to show up in '03 and beyond. This Holiday season at DCA could be a "Blue Christmas" if Millionaire doesn't strike it big with the locals.

Meanwhile the ticket giveaways continue unabated, here's just one of many e-mails I am getting detailing just how massive it is, thanks to reader Anthony:

Hi Al, Just thought you might like to know that they are giving away free DCA tickets on the radio as far away as Portland, Oregon. I couldn't believe my ears last week when I was casually listening to the radio and heard the DJ mention free Disney's California Adventure tickets in addition to all the other prizes some caller had won. Keep in mind that they only won tickets, not a vacation package or even airfare.

I guess my question is, have you heard of any DCA ticket giveaways outside of California? Seems rather ridiculous to be giving away free tickets 1000 miles away.

In this case Anthony, they are getting lots of mentions of the park with very little actually given away. It's obviously cheaper to just give tickets and not expense paid trips.  Even if they are never used, all the mentions on air are 100% free advertising.

It just makes one continue to wonder though just how many people are getting in for free overall - this is certainly a first for Disney. We must give Pressler and Braverman ample credit for that I guess.

By the way, reader SW commented:

I came across something rather interesting in a WDW brochure. Under the EPCOT page, there is a question asked, "What fun stuff can kids do at EPCOT?"

The answer: "There are rides, shows and games for kids of all ages. After all, it's a Disney park. And Disney characters are definitely around for photo and autograph opportunities..."

I'm not sure if that's meant to be a barb at DCA, but it reveals DCA's biggest problem- attracting kids. Just thought you'd be interested to see that, if you haven't already.

I guess the suits missed that one when they laid out the new park?  ;) Let's continue the thought here...


Pressler and Braverman's planning thrown out the window

Now that it is becoming increasingly clear that DCA is facing major problems, management has suddenly tasked Imagineering (WDI) to look into ways to quickly infuse the missing classic "Disney" entertainment (which surveys show people are looking for) into limping DCA.

Where to put the bears?
Where to put the bears?

Last week, WDI staffers were climbing all over the rockwork of Grizzly River Run early in the morning before the Park opened. They were taking measurements, snapping digital photos, and creating quick sketches for areas along the Grizzly flumeway that would be suitable spots to add animated "show scenes."

WDI would like to add actual Audio- Animatronic™ bears to the ride, since it does have the word "Grizzly" prominently in its name. Not surprisingly, many riders disembark disappointed when they don't see any bears, since they have been trained by decades of Disneyland attractions to simply enjoy such extras. Basically, Grizzly River Run is not meeting the expectations of riders who have Disneyland classics with lots of animatronics like the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Splash Mountain as their point of "water ride" reference when they board the Grizzly rafts. Many riders are coming off the rafts scratching their heads wondering "Where the heck were the bears?" Those same riders often mention this letdown to the army of guest research data collectors that always blanket the exit of DCA now.

So now where would the animatronics come from pray tell? The Country Bear Playhouse, of course. With two theaters full of very sophisticated animatronics to draw from, there are enough figures to populate Grizzly Mountain with at least a dozen bears, and still have plenty of Country Bears left over for the WDI parts bin or other projects.

But don't expect an exact replica of Big Al to be crooning to you as you splash by on Grizzly River Run. The Country Bear figures are only being tapped because they will soon be dismantled as their Playhouse gets turned into the new Winnie The Pooh ride, and those robots already have the basic build and form of real life bears. Several of the less cartoonish figures from the Country Bear Jamboree could easily be converted into realistic looking bears that would be reprogrammed to do realistic "bear things" along the sides of the Grizzly Mountain river.

There is even a bold WDI concept where one theater's set of bears is used to populate Grizzly Mountain and become spare parts, while the second theater's cast gets a freshening tied into the upcoming Country Bears movie and reopens as a classic animatronic theater show in the Golden State area of DCA. Unfortunately, that version is the most spendy, and it may take a complete attendance meltdown to trigger those drastic "Save DCA at all costs!" plans. And one has to wonder just how long something like that would last anyway, seeing how quickly the public lost interest with the Bears at Disneyland as it was.

It should be pointed out that along with the changes coming to the Bountiful Valley Farm area (the new kiddy rides) - that major areas of the park are now being very expensively overhauled. What a shame since just about everyone involved and even outside observers, (except those few execs and WDI types at the top), knew this was coming.

Such a waste of corporate resources.


Sour Grapes?

The Mondavi Winery
The Mondavi Winery

So with all the problems at DCA, we won't even get into how increasingly upset Mondavi is after all they spent to tie into it. Short of a refund, Disney may not be able to pull this one out of the fire. (It seems the press coverage of the winery has been uniformly negative across the board, so they especially feel damaged with all the goings on. Also keep in mind all the upcoming DCA changes are to deal with the kid issues, leaving the adult demographic, which Mondavi is keyed into, a bit abandoned.)

There are rumors floating around that Mondavi is communicating with other DCA sponsors to see what actions they may be able to take jointly in relation to the Disney company. The word "mislead" may apparently be popping up a lot in those chats.


Haunted Mansion Nightmare Before Christmas makeover details

Getting back to the subject of the Haunted Mansion / Nightmare Before Christmas October through December overlay, WDI is making sure that it will be quite the show. Much like small world holiday, there will be a nightly "lighting moment" at dusk as the eerie mansion lighting and exterior show effects are turned on.

Final preparation and staging work has already begun in Glendale warehouses for the September 4th move in date, as Imagineers will race madly against the clock for four weeks to make all the necessary Nightmare changes to the attraction that has seen only minor updating since 1969. (Still no word yet on if they will also bother to paint the exterior, which is looking worse by the day.)

By the way, WDI and attractions management in the park would like to add a themed costume piece or two to the already wonderful CM costumes at the Haunted Mansion for the Nightmare season. Maybe a spooky top hat for the Butlers like Jack Skellington wears, and a creepy Nightmare brooch for the Maids? Unfortunately, the beleaguered (and apparently clueless) Disneyland Resort Costuming department just doesn't seem to want to find the time or energy to help out there, and that fun detail may be left by the wayside. As it is, many CMs complain that costuming can't seem to keep the most basic and fundamental pieces in stock anymore, so anything extra to add to the "Show" appears to just be a pipe dream at this point. 

Interestingly, Disney hasn't said a word officially about this big holiday attraction that opens in less than three months. However, filming for the upcoming TV commercials did take place on the Haunted Mansion grounds on July 8th and 9th after Disneyland closed for the night. (Disney also plans to hype the Nightmare project on the, surprise!, web, with daily clues and Haunted Mansion trivia games available at the site.)

Judging from the amount of e-mail I get daily on this - I would suspect they may have a major hit on their hands already. Let's hope the folks planning it get everything they want, and that accountanteering gets the heck out of the way.


Tarzan's Treehouse looks good

Sure, we grumble when the park's attractions get so awfully neglected. But we also speak up about things that get done right too.

A MousePlaneteer walked through Tarzans' Treehouse last Wednesday, because they wanted to see how the attraction was being maintained. They were quite happy to note that every special effect was working - some even better than when the attraction re-opened. Here's what they found:

Sabor the leopard worked just fine - he growls when he's supposed to. The "magic book" with Kala works great. Jane's sketch book works as it should. The projector in the camp works just fine. The science lab effects work - the beakers bubble and boil as they should. The mallets have been replaced on all of the percussion instruments in the camp, and have been chained down. The rope that you pull to get sound effects works just fine.

The squirting baby elephant is the only thing that looks a little iffy, but he basically just needs to be oiled. (He still squirts just fine - he's just a little shaky.) There is a yell-o-phone in the camp, which converts your spoken words into animal sounds. That didn't work when the attraction opened, but it works now! Even the thatching on the roofs looks great.

One of the concerns everyone had when this redo of the treehouse opened was "would they keep it maintained" - as the park had cut back so much on these kinds of things. Isn't it good news then this attraction is up to the quality we expect of Disneyland?

So um... when will ToonTown get painted?  ;)


Wallace & Gromit toy info

Beating even my torrent of e-mails about Dubya (which was considerable from both sides I must say!) were the many requests for Wallace & Gromit meal toy details. Reader Jim sent in the following very helpful information:

About the Wallace & Gromit toys mentioned in your last two columns, Carl's Jr. recently (well, past couple of years recently...) bought the Hardee's chain which also includes the Roy Rogers restaurants in the Northeast...

I can't speak for the Roy Rogers locations, but the Hardee's in my area (Central Kentucky) have the W&G toys at their locations. Hope this info can help your readers.

Thank you Jim, I know many readers will appreciate it!


So um, guess what will be celebrating a birthday next week? I'll be there, will you? ;) If you liked the update, use the button below. It will help to expand what we do here for you.

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7/26 Update - A change in DCA's program? / small world not after all? / Speaking of the bears... / Painting in ToonTown / Mansion Merchandise Event Info / Clearing up something here... / You win some, you lose some / The "Parade of the Stars," it keeps going, and going, and going.... / DCA "shady" doings / Another "vent" I'm happy to accommodate / New Tom Sawyer Island raft being built! / I get letters...

7/19 Update - A Chat with Abe

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7/13 Update - Roger Rabbit's return / California Adventure's numbers go back down / Pressler and Braverman's planning thrown out the window / Sour Grapes? / Haunted Mansion Nightmare Before Christmas makeover details / Tarzan's Treehouse looks good / Wallace & Gromit toy info

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