Thursday, May 30, 2013

Surviving the Disneyland (Almost) All-Nighter: Things I Learned Last Weekend

I've got my eye on you!
Now that I've sufficiently recovered from the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter at the Disneyland Resort last weekend, it's time to reflect on another crazy 24-hour event that, despite all the concerns, never materialized into the carnage everyone feared it would become--even with a Grad Nite gathering added to the mix. People who survived last year's One More Disney Day on February 29th will recall mass overcrowding, excessively long lines, insufficient staffing, unnecessary restaurant closures, and Anaheim traffic gridlock. In my experience on Friday/Saturday, none of these were an issue. Certainly, the parks were busy, but it felt more like a busier than usual summertime crowd--and it really thinned out after midnight. To its credit, Disney learned a lot from last year's debacle and pulled off one hell of a fun event.

The Monstrous Summer kickoff was an educational (and exhausting) experience for me as well. Here's what I learned from marathoning it at Disneyland on Memorial Day weekend:

1. Two Parks are Better Than One
For One More Disney Day last year, only Disneyland remained open the full 24 hours from 6:00 a.m. Wednesday to 6:00 a.m. Thursday. Disney California Adventure closed at 8:00 p.m. and a massive migration ensued as guests flocked across the esplanade to Disneyland. Capacity was reached by 10:00 p.m. and the park stayed insanely busy well into the early morning hours. No such problem this year. DCA remained open for the duration, giving the large summer crowd more room to roam. These were the lines to get into the parks around 5:30 a.m.:

Busy, but not out of control by any means.

2. It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint--Pace Yourself
First stop after entering DCA, the Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass queue. Second stop, breakfast.

Next to Frontierland's River Belle Terrace, my favorite place to grab breakfast inside the parks is at the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe (i.e., Starbucks). On a day when I had no intention of bolting from ride to ride to ride, a nosh on Buena Vista Street was a great way to start the day. I sat at an outside table, watching the Red Cars roll by and Five and Dime perform in front of Carthay Circle. My day went mostly like this, enjoying the sights and sounds without pressuring myself to hit every attraction. I picked up the pace a little bit in the evening, but only as part of a mission dictated by my Facebook followers (see below). Sometimes it's fun to just BE in the parks.

3. No Matter When They Tell You the E-Tickets are Opening, Check Back Early
While waiting in line outside the DCA entrance prior to 6:00 a.m., cast members advised us that the E-ticket attractions, particularly Radiator Springs Racers, would not be open until 9:00. At 7:40, I walked onto the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. At 8:05, I waited about ten minutes for RSR (and I still had a Fastpass for later). Early morning wait times rock!

4. On High-Traffic Days, Plan for the Worst, but Hope for the Best
A lot of people stayed away from the All-Nighter, fearing it would be another One More Disney Day, with far too many of the great unwashed crowding the parks. I made up my mind weeks before the event that I would take on whatever was thrown at me. That's really the only way to survive this kind of event. And sometimes you get a surprise. Here was the early morning traffic on Hollywood Boulevard:

Meanwhile, on Route 66:

Okay, it didn't stay like this all day, but the crowds still never reached the overwhelming mess we all expected. 

5. Never Pass Up an Opportunity to Ride the Fire Engine Up Main Street

On a really long day at Disneyland, riding is always better than walking. Plus, Walt drove the fire engine himself on more than one occasion. Why wouldn't you ring the bell and go for a spin?

6. Whether You Have a Two-Year Old With You or Not, It's Always Fun to Hop Aboard Casey Jr.

In this case, I did. My friend Erik joined me with his (nearly) two-year old son Lucas. We rode in the Wild Animal cage because that's what you're supposed to do when you ride Casey Jr. Unless the Monkey cage is available. Always ride in the Monkey cage.

7. Never Pass Up an AP Preview

I caught the 2:00 preview of Mickey and the Magical Map, the new musical show in the newly restored Fantasyland Theater, and I really enjoyed it. It's a greatest hits show with most of the tunes taken from Disney's more recent animated films (TangledThe Princess and the FrogMulanPocahontas). The story line is a Sorcerer's Apprentice tale right out of the Epic Mickey video game. Substitute a kinder, gentler Map and Spot for Wasteland and the Blot and the stories are strangely similar. Apprentice Mickey misbehaves when the sorcerer Yensid isn't looking and gets sucked into the Magical Map, which transports him to a series of imaginative worlds. I was amused how Yensid (shown only on the show's cleverly rendered video screens) looks almost exactly as he does in Epic Mickey. Also entertaining is how on-stage live action Mickey seamlessly blends with on-screen Mickey via some pretty snazzy transition effects. Throw in energetic singers and dancers and you have a very fun afternoon show for all ages. Go see it.

8. Nothing Beats an Afternoon at the Cove Bar

If you know me, then you know I'm stating the obvious here. But really, whether you're a drinker or not, it's hard to top a relaxed hour or two at the Cove in DCA, especially on a busy afternoon. And that's exactly what I did on Friday (and yeah, well, Thursday too). A dirty Grey Goose martini with an order of fish tacos is my usual, but I'm also partial to the Buffalo wings which were my choice on Friday. Of course, the lobster nachos are to die for, but they're best enjoyed when you have a few friends to help. And, of course, if you're partial to non-alcoholic libations, the Cove Bar can accommodate you there as well with a number of tasty choices.

This all comes back to pacing, taking a break from the action without drifting too far from the hustle and bustle of Paradise Pier. Plus, when the sun's shining just right, the seat backs cast really cool shadows on the seat cushions.

9. Let Your Followers Be Your Guides
After a couple of martinis at the Cove, I was feeling brave, so I let you decide via Facebook and Twitter where I should go next. This led to some very fun, if somewhat mixed, results. A visit to Goofy's Sky School was brief (it went 101 and was closed) while the wait for the Indiana Jones Adventure was verrrrrrrryyy loonnnnnnnnng (an hour and 40 minutes in the standby line), but I did it along with the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion (as well as a side trip to Space Mountain to use my Fastpass).

And here was the most gratifying part of the entire day: taking you with me on my Disney adventure. It's amazing how many people you can fit in an iPhone, and how fun it is to see all your comments, likes and encouraging words. Twenty-four hour Disneyland days are frivolous events--we're not saving the world here--but through social media, we're reminded what a kick it is to share our experiences in real time.

Knowing you were all there rooting for me kept me going well past midnight, but...

10. A Man's Got to Know His Limitations
At 2:00, I hit the wall. After leaving Mansion, I was beat. Exhaustion was setting in from being up since 4:00 a.m. the previous day. It was the kind of tired where I felt physically hurt. Plus, looming ahead of me was a four-hour drive home in the afternoon. Should I push through to 6:00 a.m., or just grab a bite to eat in hopes that it perks me up?

I got some chicken nuggets at the Stage Door Cafe in Frontierland. Nothing.

At 2:30, I left the park and dragged myself back to my room at the Anabella. I was asleep by 3:00.

Moon Over Mansion, 2:00 a.m.
This was my second 24-hour party and the second time I came up a few hours short. Still, 20 1/2 hours straight at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is pretty impressive for an old dude like me.

On Sunday, I messaged a couple of friends who were unable to make the Monstrous Summer weekend. They're already talking about taking on the next 24-hour party, whenever that may be. I told them they better. There's strength in numbers and maybe we just might be able to push ourselves through to 6:00 a.m. Even better then carrying friends around in your phone is having them there in person to cheer you on.

So, when do we do this again?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ashman Talks Ashman: Sarah Ashman Gillespie in the MCL

Sarah Ashman and Howard Ashman in 1983
Last week, I posted a birthday tribute to Howard Ashman, the late writer and lyricist who, with composer Alan Menken, wrote some of the all-time great Disney songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. This week, I'm happy to share part one of my conversation with Howard's sister, Sarah Ashman Gillespie, who manages the website Howard Ashman: Part of His World, a celebration of her brother's life and legacy.

Howard Ashman's story is one of both great achievement and unfulfilled promise. A talented wordsmith with a passion for theater, he found success off-Broadway writing and directing the musical Little Shop of Horrors and later adapting the screenplay for the popular Frank Oz-directed film version. Success on Broadway eluded him, however. Smile, a comical and sentimental send-up of teen beauty pageants that he wrote with composer Marvin Hamlisch, flopped and closed at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in early 1987 after only 48 performances.

Ashman's talent would not be denied, however. When Disney came calling in the late 1980s, he and Menken found themselves at ground zero of perhaps the biggest movie studio comeback in Hollywood history and became one of the driving forces behind Disney's animation renaissance. Ashman's death from AIDS in 1991, months before the release of Beauty and the Beast, is one of the great tragedies in entertainment. He was at his creative peak when he passed away, and although the body of work he left behind was impressive and beloved, we are left wondering what musical and theatrical magic might have happened had he lived.

In part one of my interview with Sarah, she talks about the origins of her website, Howard's early career and how he was pursued by Disney. Enjoy!

The Mouse Castle Lounge can also be heard on iTunes and Stitcher.

Related: Sarah Ashman Gillespie, Part Two
             Sarah Ashman Gillespie, Part Three

Friday, May 17, 2013

Remembering Howard Ashman

Today would have been the 63rd birthday of the late writer, lyricist and director Howard Ashman. With composer Alan Menken, Ashman wrote the great songs of Disney's animation renaissance during the 1980s and 90s: "Part of Your World" and "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid; "Be Our Guest" and "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast; "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali" from Aladdin--among so many others.

Ashman had a passion for musical theater and a gift for clever wordplay that coalesced brilliantly during his time at Disney. In this clip from the 2009 documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, we see Ashman in action, coaching Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, through a recording of "Part of Your World." He goes on to explain why that song and others like it are critical in theater and film to make audiences "fall in love" with the leading lady.

With Menken, Ashman won two Academy Awards for "Under the Sea" and "Beauty and the Beast." In 1991, Ashman died far too young at the age of 40 from complications arising from AIDS. Both he and Menken were named Disney Legends in 2001.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ashman's sister, Sarah Ashman Gillespie, about her brother's life and legacy. Sarah manages the website Part of His World, a labor-of-love tribute to Howard, full of history and fond remembrances from Sarah and some of the people who knew and worked with Howard, including Alan Menken, Jodi Benson and John Musker. I'll post part one of my conversation with Sarah this weekend in The Mouse Castle Lounge.

Happy Birthday, Howard.  You are missed.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

MCL: Down the Rabbit Hole with Camille Rose Garcia; Merida Gets a Princess Makeover

Happy Mother's Day from The Mouse Castle Lounge!

In today's episode, I talk with artist Camille Rose Garcia about her new exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum, Down the Rabbit Hole, a fanciful interpretation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Ms. Garcia shares with me the things that influence her work, from Walt Disney to Philip K. Dick to all manner of pop culture. She also talks at length about how it feels to share space with the great Disney artist Mary Blair, whose concept art from Disney's Alice in Wonderland also adorn the gallery.

Camille Rose Garcia

Down The Rabbit Hole at the Walt Disney Family Museum
This weekend, Merida from Pixar's Brave officially took her place among the Disney princesses with a royal coronation at Walt Disney World. 

It was all the usual Disney fluff and fun for the benefit of guests, but on the consumer products side, Merida's princess makeover is causing a stir among fans of Brave for making the headstrong Scot a little too princessy. Even Brenda Chapman, who co-directed Brave and created the character, has gone out of her way to criticize the new look, calling it "a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money."

I respect Chapman's objections. After all, Merida is a very personal character to her. But, in the grand scheme of things, is this really that big a deal? Disney has been tarting up its princesses for years, not a look I'm particularly fond of, but in the end it doesn't change the spirit of the characters I remember from their movies. Merida is strong, brave and wields a wicked bow and arrow. Nothing Disney merchandising can do is going to change that.

Walt Disney Animation Studios released a sneak peek of Big Hero 6, its new animated feature based on a little-known comic book series in the Marvel universe. Think The Avengers with an Asian vibe. And while this clip is attractive to look at, it's little more than an animation study and really doesn't do anything to create excitement for the film which is due out November 2014. Sorry, Disney, you're going to have to show me a bit more to get me interested.

All this and more is in today's edition of The Mouse Castle Lounge. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Walt Disney Family Museum Takes you 'Down the Rabbit Hole' With Camille Rose Garcia and Mary Blair

Camille Rose Garcia
"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?" - Alice, Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Starting today, The Walt Disney Family Museum presents a charming--and slightly dark--bit of nonsense as it opens a new exhibit, Camille Rose Garcia: Down the Rabbit Hole. The exhibit features several dozen paintings by the well-known "lowbrow" artist, who reinterprets the world of Alice in Wonderland in her unique Goth-tinged style. Garcia's paintings from this exhibit first appeared in a 2010 reprint of Lewis Carroll's classic children's tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, replacing the traditional illustrations by John Tenniel. The result was a Wonderland that visually was more harried, emotional, disorienting...and quite compelling.

Providing an ideal counterpoint to Garcia's work, the exhibit also includes a selection of Alice in Wonderland concept art by Mary Blair, Disney's legendary artist and color stylist. Though their respective takes on Alice are quite distinct and separated by more than 50 years, Blair and Garcia are still kindreds in their vivid use of color and their abilities to challenge perspective.

I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Garcia about her work--and that's all I'm going to tell you for now. You can hear our conversation in the next edition of The Mouse Castle Lounge podcast, which will be out this weekend. Suffice it to say, Ms. Garcia scored points with me for having grown up in Orange County, a stone's throw from Disneyland, where she spent a good portion of her childhood. That she embraced the works of William Burroughs and Philip K. Dick as she grew older, darkening her pop culture sensibilities, only made her more interesting.

In Camille Rose Garcia's Wonderland, Alice is a bit of a hot mess.

Garcia's trip down the rabbit hose is very distressing.

Blair's rabbit hole is much more orderly, but just as vivid.

Garcia's mad tea party is disorderly, even menacing.

Blair's tea party is just silly, but the White Rabbit is none too comfortable with it.

Camille Rose Garcia: Down the Rabbit Hole will run through November 3, 2013 in the Walt Disney Family Museum's lower level theater gallery. For more information, visit

For more about Camille Rose Garcia, visit or listen to my interview with her at

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

MCL: "Iron Man 3" Reviewed, the Official Princess Merida and Pez Ratzenberger

There's nothing like staying up late to finish a podcast when you have to catch a 6:00 a.m. flight to San Francisco. It's for a good cause, though, as I get to preview the Walt Disney Family Museum's new exhibit showcasing the dark and fanciful art of Camille Rose Garcia. In the meantime, though, here's the latest from inside The Mouse Castle Lounge: I have my review of Iron Man 3, all the details about how Merida is becoming an official Disney princess, and why it's cool John Raztenberger is being immortalized in Pez dispensers. Enjoy!

The Mouse Castle Lounge can also be heard on iTunes and Stitcher.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

MCL: Monstrous Crowds Expected at Disneyland's 24-Hour Party

I've got a bunch of fun stuff crammed into the latest episode of The Mouse Castle Lounge. First, Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom are going to be plenty busy on May 24 when they each host a 24-hour party from 6:00 a.m. straight through to 6:00 a.m. the next day. The Magic Kingdom will be busy, to be sure, but the crowds on the west coast will be, well, monstrous as the Disneyland Resort attempts to hold a Grad Nite at the same time.

Also, Iron Man 3 opens in the U.S. this weekend after an overseas opening worthy of a superhero. I've got sound clips from Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, IM3 director Shane Black and producer Jon Favreau as they talk about the making of the film.

All that and a preview of the still-under-construction Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World are inside this edition of The Mouse Castle Lounge. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

IBM's New Adventure Thru Inner Space, The Movie

"This is the tracking procedure of an adventure through inner space. Adventurous men of science who have made this journey before you are carefully plotting every phase of this incredible journey as you shrink beyond the smallness of an atom, the smallest building block of matter. We wish you an enlightening experience, for though your body will shrink, your mind will expand." -- Disneyland's Adventure Thru Inner Space, 1967-1985