Thursday, March 5, 2015

Journey Into Imagination

One of my favorite original EPCOT attractions, "Journey Into Imagination" opened on March 5th, 1983. In 1998 the attraction closed for a major refurbishment and The Dreamfinder left for good.  While Figment remained, his role wasn't expanded until 2001 with the attraction became "Journey into Imagination with Figment".  I still miss the original theme song, "One Little Spark", as sung by The Dreamfinder and composed by the famous Sherman Brothers.  

"Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow.
Horn of a steer, but a lovable fellow.
From head to tail, he's royal purple pigment.
And there, Viola!, you've got a Figment!"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Legend of Big Thunder Mountain

"Hang onto your hats and glasses, folks, cause this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"

And so it is! 

As your mine train car rushes in and out of the mine, into the mountain, through canyons, into the town and over the river, you can almost believe the spirits of Big Thunder Mountain are real.  Disney lore tells us that gold was discovered in Big Thunder Mountain in the late 1800s and the towns of Tumbleweed and Dry Gulch sprung up around it.  Of course, you need a mine train to transport your gold to and from the mine and, hence, the establishment of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMRR).  Soon, the miners began to experience eerie things – cave-ins, flooding, equipment malfunctions and ghostly sounds in the caverns.  The trains themselves seem to take on a life of their own, apparently possessed by spirits of the mountain who were angry with the removal of its gold.  Word soon spread that the mine was haunted, the mine subsequently abandoned, and the towns became true ghost towns. 

Fast-forward to today and we see that new prospectors, ignoring the legends of old, have resurrected the Mining Company.  But as we soon shall see, some legends are merely the truth in disguise!

On November 19, 2012 Disney announced a new backstory for Big Thunder Mountain. According to the Disney Parks Blog:

Portrait of Barnabas T. Buillion.
He's supposed to look like Tony
Baxter (Disney Imagineer credited
with the design of BTMRR), but I
think he looks a bit like a young
Donald Sutherland. 
“Barnabas T. Bullion is the founder and president of the Big Thunder Mining Company. The longtime mining magnate comes from a powerful East Coast family and considers gold to be his very birthright by virtue of his oddly appropriate name; in fact, he considers the ultimate gold strike to be his destiny. And that is why he is having so much trouble with Big Thunder Mountain. According to superstitious locals, Big Thunder Mountain is very protective of the gold it holds within, and the unfortunate soul who attempts to mine its riches is destined to fail. And so far that prophecy is coming to pass. The mine has been plagued by mysterious forces and natural disasters ever since. And yet the Big Thunder Mining Co. is still in operation. In fact, Bullion is discovering new veins of gold and digging new shafts every day, offering a closer look at the Big Thunder mining operation than ever before. But a word to the wise for anyone attempting to visit the mountain: watch out for runaway trains.”
— Disney Parks Blog

This new piece of information ties in nicely with the original backstory of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and enhancements to the queue will provide more to the story as well as the introduction of a new character, Barnabas T. Bullion to the story line which currently includes two colorful residents of the town of Tumbleweed.  Cousin Elrod floats along the now flooded town in his bathtub, and Professor Cumulus Isobar, with this rain making machines, which seems to have worked a little too well.  Speaking of the residents of the town of Tumbleweed, if you take a peak inside the Gold Dust Saloon, you’ll see a lively party upstairs and evidence of a card game on the first floor.  The cards are facing up on the table and it appears to look like a real hand in a card game.  Look quick, because your mine car travels fast.  You might have a better view of the town from the Walt Disney World Railroad which passes just along the edge of Big Thunder Mountain.  I often wonder if the cards on the table have a secret meaning.  Maybe the dead man’s hand?  Similar to what you might find on the wall in Pecos Bill’s Tall Tales Inn?  I would love to find out if anyone knows?   

Look quickly!  It's the flooded town of Tumbleweed.
It's hard to see but there's a table with cards inside.  Anyone
know what hand is being played?
Could it be Wild Bill Hickok's "dead man's hand"?  This
item can be found inside Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Your Room is Ready!

Today is Friday the 13th...mwah, ha, ha....  I thought today would be appropriate to revisit my favorite queue at Walt Disney World -- Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The story of the hotel, adapted from elements of the Twilight Zone television series, includes the hotel being struck by lightning on October 31, 1939, mysteriously transporting an elevator car full of passengers to the Twilight Zone and causing an entire wing of the building to disappear.  Disney Imagineers create an atmosphere that transports the guest from the hustle and bustle of Sunset Boulevard to the eerily abandoned Hollywood Tower Hotel in the Hollywood Hills.
According to Disney lore, the Hollywood Hotel opened in 1919.  It became a famous place for Hollywood and film star elite.  One day, on Halloween in 1939, the hotel was struck by lightning.  Part of the building was destroyed and 5 guests who had just entered the elevator disappeared.  All of the other guests ran out of the building in terror leaving all of their belongings behind. The Tower of Terror is left empty until 1994 when it mysteriously re-opens. To the bellhops and porters that work the hotel, it’s as if the hotel never closed.  While all this is never thoroughly explained during the attraction, you can easily see how the queue and pre-show ties itself into the backstory behind the Hollywood Hotel.  It’s quite an eerie atmosphere.
Guests enter the Hollywood Tower Hotel though the main entrance gate. The outdoor queue winds through the overgrown gardens of the hotel.  The outdoor queue takes you through gardens of broken stoneware and decaying plants.  

An empty fountain and cracked fountain awaits you at the entrance to the hotel. In the background you're listening to haunting melodies from the past by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Vera Lynn, and other notables from that era.  And your eyes haven’t deceived you, that is fog rolling through the gardens.  Once inside the lobby, it is dimly-lit and covered in cobwebs and dust. There is a yellowing copy of the Los Angeles Examiner dated October 31, 1939, a table set with tea and stale pastries, several suitcases, and a cobwebbed owl sculpture surrounded by a circle of dead flowers that appears to be the centerpiece of the room.

Behind the front desk is a broken elevator, a sign still reads "Out of Order". Everything in the hotel has apparently been left undisturbed ever since it mysteriously closed decades ago. Guests are informed that their rooms are not quite ready yet. For the time being, guests are asked to simply enjoy themselves in the hotel's library. The library is full of not only books, but exotic antiques, a television, and plenty of Twilight Zone memorabilia. Through the window, you observe that there is a thunderstorm going on outside.  At this point, the pre-show starts with a lightning strike and the television coming on, apparently of its own accord.  The opening sequence of The Twilight Zone plays, followed by a supposedly "lost" episode. 
The attention to detail throughout the queue is amazing here.  Even if you can’t or don’t want to ride the attraction, please take time to traverse the queue and watch the pre-show.  Don’t worry, there is a chicken-out door for you.  Just ask any cast member.  As you travel the queue, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered into a hotel that was long since abandoned.  

Your room is you dare?

Saturday, January 3, 2015