Sunday, October 28, 2012

'The Mouse Castle Lounge' Podcast Premieres: Happy Hour Has Begun!

Well, I went and did it. In the early morning hours I officially opened the doors to The Mouse Castle Lounge, my new Disney podcast.

In this premiere episode, you'll hear John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman talk about Wreck-It Ralph, Disney executive vice president Leslie Ferraro talk about 2013's "Limited Time Magic" at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and historian/author Jeff Kurtti talk about his fascinating career in and around the world of Disney.

You'll also hear me talk. A lot.

My guests sound great, but I could use a little polish. I know this. With your help, I'll get better, I promise.

I want The Mouse Castle Lounge to be a place where friends hang out, have a drink (non-alcoholic or otherwise--we don't judge) and talk about all things Disney. I realize that's a pretty tall order when you look at the size of the Disney universe, but that's part of the fun. What news, stories and events can you bring to the party? I want to hear from you. Give this first episode a listen and please let me know what you think. Leave your comments below or send me your thoughts and ideas at

We're going to make this the coolest Disney podcast on the Internet. Your unofficial Disney happy hour has begun. 


To download The Mouse Castle Lounge for your MP3 device, click here.

Update 10/30/12: The Mouse Castle Lounge is now on iTunes!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Mouse Castle Lounge is Almost Open!

Coming soon. You've been warned.....

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Book Explores 50-plus Years of Disney Poster Art

Cover of Poster Art of the Disney Parks
© Disney
Have you ever looked at a poster at a Disney theme park? I mean really looked at it.

You may have given one or two a quick glance as you hurried through the tunnel underneath the Main Street train station, eager to get to your first attraction. It's okay if you did. The best posters are designed to tell their stories on the fly, to get your attention in a flash with a compelling graphic design and a minimal amount of words. If all you do is make a brief mental note that, oh yeah, you need to ride Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion or It's a Small World later, then the poster has done its job.

But, take a few minutes to stop and study a Disney attraction poster, to appreciate both its simplicity and complexity, its use of shapes and colors, its ability to tell a story, and you discover a unique and beautiful art form unto itself.

If you're an old guy like me, the Disneyland posters created in the 1950s and 1960s stir up a wealth of childhood memories. Even more so than in the entrance tunnels, I remember the attraction posters that adorned the posts supporting the Monorail track outside the main gate: Dumbo, the Rivers of America, the Swiss Family Treehouse, Alice in Wonderland and many others. After spotting the Matterhorn and the uppermost spires of Sleeping Beauty Castle on the drive in through Anaheim, these posters, visible once you entered Disneyland's parking lot, were the next best delightful teasers of what was to come.

Authors and Imagineers Vanessa Hunt and Danny Handke
Disney Editions has released a compilation of the best of over 55 years of Disney Parks posters in the beautiful new coffee table book Poster Art of the Disney Parks. Not just a collection of artwork, it's a visual history of Disneyland, Walt Disney World and all the international parks as seen through the eyes of very gifted artists, graphic designers and Imagineers. The book spans the vivid silk-screened layouts of Bjorn Aronson and Paul Hartley during Disneyland's early days to the more recent retro-cool designs of Greg Maletic for Disney California Adventure's massive face lift and expansion.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks was written by Danny Handke and Vanessa Hunt, who both grew up with a passion for Disney that ultimately landed them their dream jobs at Walt Disney Imagineering. By e-mail, they were kind enough to answer some questions for me about their new book.

Peter Pan's Flight
by Bjorn Aronson (1955)
© Disney
Tim: In the book's Acknowledgements, you both mention your love and appreciation of all things Disney. Where did that love start?

Vanessa Hunt: My love for Disney started when I was very young and would watch all of the animated films. My love for Disney Parks started when I was six years old and my parents took me to Disneyland for the first time. They had to take me once a year every year after that!

Danny Handke: It’s funny because my story is very similar to Vanessa’s. My love for Disney started at a young age watching all the animated classics and going to Disneyland once or twice a year with my family. I knew I wanted to work for Disney at either Walt Disney Imagineering or the Animation Studios. My passion for Imagineering peaked when I worked at Disneyland as a ride operator after college.

Tim: When and where did you start working for Disney? How did you end up at Imagineering?

VH: I started working for Disney in 2001 at my local Disney Store. In 2007 I interviewed for an internship at the Art Library and have been here ever since.

DH: My Disney career started in 2002 at my local Disney Store in Scottsdale, AZ. Then I worked at Disneyland, followed by Mickey’s of Glendale (the employee store at Walt Disney Imagineering). In 2009 I landed my dream job in WDI Creative as an associate show producer.

Mickey's Fun Wheel
by Greg Maletic (2010)
© Disney
Tim: Where did the idea to write Poster Art of the Disney Parks come from?

VH: This is what happens when two book and attraction poster fans get to talking. Danny wanted to do an attraction poster book for our Imagineering store and I said it had to be a really nice “art of” coffee table book. [Disney author and historian] Jeff Kurtti is a regular in the Art Library so I took the idea to him, he took it to Disney Editions, and you know the rest of the story!

Tim: You credited Jeff Kurtti for his "influence and guidance" in completing the book. What type of support did he provide?

VH: I had never co-authored a book before, so Jeff was there for me throughout the entire four years. Anytime I had a question or wanted feedback, I would ask Jeff. He has done so many amazing books, is very knowledgeable about Disney, and is a very good friend. So having his support meant the world to me.

Tim: Vanessa, you're credited as the book's designer while Danny, you're named as the writer. How much did the two of you collaborate on the text?

VH: Danny and I both conducted interviews for the book. So that and providing artist and date information from the Art Library database was my contribution. We didn't have all of that information, so Danny and I tracked down what we didn't have during our interviews and research. I would say that Disney Editions had the most input on his text but I’ll let him elaborate on that.

DH: It was very much a collaborative effort, especially when it came to the order and groupings of the posters. We probably iterated the copy and the layout dozens of times based on the story we wanted to tell. Disney Editions had the most input on the text. They wanted to make sure the book had broad appeal. Vanessa and I were fine with this approach knowing that the posters are self-explanatory. I’m especially happy with Chapter One, which goes into the history and the people behind the posters.

Tim: What type of look were you trying to achieve in the overall design of the book?

VH: I wanted it to showcase the artwork entirely. I didn't want anything to distract readers from these amazing posters, which is why it is a very clean layout with minimal text and somewhat small captions. Part of the attraction posters’ job is to tell a story, so I wanted to allow them to do so.

Grand Canyon Diorama
by Paul Hartley (1958)
© Disney
Tim: Were there any surprises as you put the book together? Posters/concepts that you weren't aware of? Stories/insights from people you interviewed?

VH: We learned a LOT while putting this book together. One of the biggest surprises came while we were looking at some original silk-screened posters in the Art Library Vault. We noticed an archival storage box labeled “Attraction Posters” and decided to open it up. It contained a handful of concepts that we had never seen before. Turns out they were not cataloged yet, so only some of my Art Library co-workers had seen them before now!

DH: Learning about the screen printing process was fascinating for me. I didn't realize the tremendous amount of effort, time and passion the screen print artisans put into producing these attraction posters until after we interviewed several of the Imagineers.

Tim: How was the condition of some of the earlier 1950s and '60s-era Disneyland posters? What were the challenges of digitally cleaning up the poster scans for publication?

VH: Most of them are in really good shape considering their age and the fact that some of them may have been displayed in the Park. First, I had to be sure we had a high resolution, color accurate scan of the original silk-screened poster. Once we have that, we look at the file and see what needs to be done. We want the posters to look how they would have looked when they were brand new. That means tears, blemishes, dirt, scratches, spots, etc. have to be edited out digitally. That process can take anywhere from an hour to several days! Luckily, everyone in the Art Library is highly trained in digitally cleaning art and we were able to get every poster looking perfect.

Tim: It's probably an unfair question, but do you have a favorite Disney Parks poster? A favorite poster artist?

VH: I love all of the '50s and '60s Disneyland posters, but if I had to choose one, it’s the Grand Canyon Diorama poster. I love the color palette used and that train is just amazing!

Turtle Talk by Chuck Ballew
and Will Eyerman (2009)
© Disney
As for a favorite poster artist, there are so many great ones. But I would have to say Bjorn Aronson and Paul Hartley are a couple of my favorites.

DH: Every day I have a new favorite poster because there are so many to choose from! Today, my favorite poster is the Turtle Talk poster from Tokyo DisneySea. Chuck Ballew and Will Eyerman did an amazing job stylizing the poster to make it appropriate to the time period of American Waterfront (a land in Tokyo DisneySea set in 1912 New York).

In addition to Bjorn and Paul, I would say Jim Michaelson is another favorite poster artist of mine. His ornate “window box” posters defined a whole new generation of attraction posters in the late 1970s through the opening of Disneyland Paris. Greg Maletic is one of my favorite modern poster designers. His digital art for the Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland posters capture the essence of the original 1950s and 1960s posters for a whole new generation.

Tim: What do you think has been the biggest change in the appearance of Disney poster art over the years? What has remained the same?

VH: There has been a lot of change over the years. I think the biggest jump was when they became more like illustrations with the “window box” style in the 70s. That was a huge difference from the more simple posters of the '50s and '60s.

Disneyland Railroad
by Jim Michaelson (1977)
© Disney
What has remained the same though is their purpose. [Imagineer] Tony Baxter said the posters were a way to educate and entice you into experiencing the attractions. The first posters and many of the ones following were always drawn from the perspective of your being engaged in the attraction. “You were in the vantage point of the family looking at the giant squid, you were on the jungle boat with an elephant out there, you were flying in the Skyway bucket.”

I think that great attraction posters still have that same effect on you when you see them; you look at them and immediately know that that is something you want to experience for yourself.

Tim: What do you think is the significance of poster art to the Disney Parks?

VH: In the beginning, the posters would educate people on what this brand new place was. Now that people are much more familiar with what a “Disney Park” is, I think they have become more decorative. Although, every day there are people coming to a Disney Park for the very first time, so I’m hoping that the posters are still educating and enticing those guests!

DH: In addition to what Vanessa said, I think attraction posters are now considered a Disney Parks tradition. Take Disney California Adventure for example—the poster program that launched a few years ago helped redefine the park as a distinctly Disney experience.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Annette Funicello and the Ravages of Multiple Sclerosis

Annette Funicello
Walt Disney discovered Annette Funicello when she was only 12 years old, performing at a dance recital at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank. Less than a year later, she'd be receiving 6,000 fan letters a month.

As a member of the original Mickey Mouse Club, Annette (really, she's always just been "Annette") became Disney's first superstar girl next door, arguably the most famous of all the Mouseketeers. When the series ended its first run in 1959, she stayed under contract with Disney, appearing in the movies The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and The Monkey's Uncle. Beyond Disney, she was co-starred with fellow teen idol Frankie Avalon in the popular "Beach Party" movies of the 1960s.

She was pretty and vivacious. She could sing, she could dance. She could sell Skippy peanut butter. In 1992, Annette was named a Disney Legend.

1992 was also the year she publicly revealed she was suffering from multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system. Hers was the most debilitating kind of MS, the kind that gradually and relentlessly ended her ability to walk and to talk and to care for herself. Today, as Annette nears her 70th birthday, she requires constant care and is attended to by private nurses and her husband of 25 years, Glen Holt.

As the ravages of the disease took its toll, Annette withdrew from public life. In 1993, she founded the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases to fund research and treatment of MS and other neurological diseases. Her last movie appearance was in the 1995 telepic A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, based on her autobiography of the same name. Since then, she has rarely been seen except by her family and her closest friends.

Until now.

On Friday, the Canadian news show W5 presented Annette's heartbreaking and courageous story. For the first time, viewers get a look inside her home, where she must be physically lifted every day from her bed to her wheelchair and back again. We see the devotion of her husband, who talks to her constantly and takes her on daily outings, trying to keep her engaged even though she can only blink in response. This story vividly shows the cruel and devastating nature of MS, which afflicts more than 250,000 people in the U.S. alone. It also offers hope as it details a controversial treatment Annette underwent last year. And while that treatment only provided minor relief to Annette--her body is already horribly damaged by the disease--it could signal a breakthrough to patients worldwide who suffer from this most severe form of MS.

Full story (with video): Annette Funicello: Her Life With Multiple Sclerosis

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cinderella on Blu-ray: Evil Moms and Talking Mice

If the mice can talk with Cinderella, why can't the bluebirds? Or the dog? Or the cat?

Are mice multilingual? Do they possess an intellect and social development beyond that of other animals? Do they really like to wear little hats, shirts and shoes?

And where did they learn to sew so well?

These are questions that have puzzled me for years. Seriously, watch Cinderella--available for the first time on Blu-ray this week--and see if you can figure it out. I mean, I get the whole pumpkin coach and glass slipper thing. Bibbidi, bobbidi, boo--that's very simple, really. Fairy Godmother, hello!

The thingamabob that does the job
But...Lucifer the cat can only viciously purr and hiss. Bruno the dog, well, he doesn't do much but chase the cat--when he's not sleeping. Jaq and Gus-Gus, however, have regular conversations with the little cinder girl. Yes, they have speech impediments, but you can still understand them, kind of. What the hell does "zug-zug" mean, anyway?

Rodent evolution aside, Cinderella was Walt Disney's masterful return to fairy tale form following the studio's financial struggles during World War II. It was a make-or-break film that turned out to be a huge financial success. While not as ambitious or elaborately detailed as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, it was still a beautifully animated film (Mary Blair's color styling is exquisite) with likable characters and the meanest bitch of a villain ever to inhabit a Disney film. There's a cruelty to Cinderella's evil stepmother that doesn't exist in other Disney villains who are motivated by greed or vanity. Lady Tremaine mistreats Cinderella and forces her to work as a scullery maid simply because she can--and that makes the stepmother the most evil of all.

Disney packages the Blu-ray release with a number of bonus features previously seen on the 2005 Platinum Edition DVD (in general, the bonus features from this earlier version are far more extensive and satisfying). Best among the new material is "The Real Fairy Godmother," a profile of the inspiration for Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, Mary Alice O'Connor. The wife of long-time Disney layout artist Ken O'Connor, Mary Alice was a passionate champion of charity work and community service programs. She eventually became known as the "Fairy Godmother of Burbank." "The Real Fairy Godmother" is a touching tribute to a woman who devoted her life to helping others with more than just a wave of a magic wand.

Disney has excelled at bringing it's classic animation library to Blu-ray, even when they've been skimpy with the bonus features. Still, if you're a completist adding to your Disney Blu-ray collection, Cinderella is a no-brainer addition. It looks and sounds beautiful.

Now, if they could just explain about those talking mice...

Monday, October 1, 2012

The 21st Century Began Thirty Year's Ago Today

Walt Disney World's Epcot turned out quite differently from the ambitious Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that Walt Disney envisioned over 40 years ago. Still, as the permanent world's fair it's become, Epcot clings to many of the optimistic ideals Walt held--that technology and industry are the keys to a better future and that cultures from around the world can peacefully coexist  On today's 30th anniversary of Epcot's grand opening, The Mouse Castle takes a look back at the ideas and concepts that brought this innovative theme park to life.

"There's enough land here (in Florida) to hold all the ideas and plans we could possibly imagine. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future, where people actually live a life they can't find anywhere else in the world." -- Walt Disney

Spaceship Earth under construction

"Epcot Center represents a unique combination of innovative imagination and technical virtuosity. Disney's 'Imagineers' have created a new dimension of pleasure, excitement, amusement, and education.  From Opening Day onward, Epcot Center will be the standard by which all such undertakings will be measured, and future phases will further expand even the current level of appeal. Until now, there's never been anything remotely like Epcot Center, and it's unlikely there ever will be again." -- Stephen Birnbaum, Disney News, Fall 1982

Souvenir preview book, 1982

"If we can bring together the technical know-how of American industry and the creative imagination of the Disney organization--I'm confident we can create right here in Disney World a showcase to the world of the American free enterprise system." -- Walt Disney