Monday, December 22, 2014

Field Notes on Disneyland Winter 2014

This is a report on a visit to the Magic Kingdom gate at Disneyland in December of 2014. My two previous posts on Disneyland can be found here and here.

This time I visited the park with Harvie Branscomb and Yayoi Wakabayashi during their annual Thanksgiving visit to see Harvie's father in San Diego. They were there the entire day and aggressively achieved a very high attraction visitation rate.

I had a more eclectic agenda involving a variety of topics that have been on the backburner for several years now. I still need to return to see several new attractions (new to me, at least) and updates of some older, traditional ones.

Its important to know as you read this that I grew up in S. California and have visited the park many, many times in the past, perhaps 20 times. I remember when Space Mountain was just a drawing on the maps of the park they used to sell. I used to give an informal tour of Disneyland to visitors from outside the area. (1)

Here are my notes:

1. In all the times I have visited Disneyland, this is the first time that I never had to wait in line for an attraction, other than a very brief wait for the Disneyland Railroad. Fastpass completely changes the strategy of seeing the best of the park and makes everyone's time more productive. On the other hand, Harvie observed that the user experience associated with Fastpass per se is decidedly flat. Where is the entertainment value is just printing out a little ticket? At the very least it could resemble a Pachinko machine or perhaps Esmerelda could be located in all these machines (spiritually of course) and could also print a fortune while she is doing her Fastpass thing.

The boring Fastpass device could certainly be more entertaining.

For example, it could be made to resemble a Pachinko machine.

2. The Haunted Mansion was in its holiday version based on Nightmare Before Xmas. I had never seen this whereas I knew the traditional Haunted Mansion by heart. I liked the design but I felt something was missing, and that was probably the score. I would swear that they had been able to change the order of some of the rooms, something I would have guessed was impossible.

I thought the announcing angels of the apocalypse were a nice touch.

3. I had dinner with Yayoi Wakabayashi and Harvie Branscomb at the Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square where Yahoi had thoughtfully made reservations. What stunned me, what completely flabbergasted me, was that the “usual vegetarian entree” was actually very good. It was regional, it was fresh, it was great. It is one of the best high end vegetarian plates I have ever had, and believe me, I have had a few.

4. There seem to be no more animals in the park. Horses powering trolleys and carts were an important part of the recreation of the turn of the century America. Now kids will only realize that horses had something to do with transportation and motive power through the archaic term “horsepower”.

5. The attendants in Jungleland were extremely helpful in understanding what I was looking for in terms of shrunken heads and glowing skulls, and reported that those tschotskies had not been at the park for a long time. I did notice, however, some excellent faux snakes and bats that would have fulfilled the same role in a horror-oriented young visitor.

6. The attendants / docents of the Disneyland Railroad answered our questions (we sat right behind the engine) and explained where the five locomotive engines had come from, and various other technicalities of the track, the cars and so forth. These are real steam locomotives, something that barely exists anymore, but was so critical to the history of the modern world. The Small World alarm clock animation helpfully went off while we were waiting inside it.

7. I explained to Harvie the vital necessity of finding the access roads and the places where the park turned inward and became behind the scenes. This is particularly productive when using the railroad or the monorail, as both take you behind the scenes, if only unwittingly.  We noticed that they would occasionally paint fences and gates with camouflage.

8. I had heard that the Main Street Cinema was no longer there but fortunately this is not the case. It is still there, and it still attracts its tiny number of appreciative adults and children. To my amazement, the glass blowers on Main Street were still on post as well, although on lunch break when I happened through. The Penny Arcade has been turned into a Disney Store while retaining a few key exhibits from its more glorious past. Esmerelda is still telling fortunes and the electric hand grip manhood evaluator is still there to evaluate your potency.

Esmerelda will foretell the future.  The penny arcade one reelers are to the left.

9. The Kodak store has been turned into the Nikon store. I don't know for sure what they sell there, but there is no more film sold anywhere in the park. Just think how symbolic this is, the great American company is no more, so they outsource the storefront to a far eastern company and do not actually sell anything there. Its beautiful

10. I refused to see that traitor Lincoln, or his robotic avatar, unless I could throw tomatoes at it. Sic Semper Tyrannis.

11. Harvie points out that the audience at Disneyland is far less interesting than the audience at Burning Man.  Although that is no doubt true, I think this is something of an unfair comparison.  The whole point of Burning Man is that the audience is the performance, and the people who attend Burning Man are people who buy into that aesthetic.    The Disney parks are based on a more traditional audience / performer dichotomy.   I also point out that just our one park that we attended that day had 50,000 or so attendees, and they do numbers like that more or less every day of the year.  Burning Man does about 50,000 attendees a year, and the attendees spend a non-trivial amount of the year preparing for that 1 week event.  It is certainly an interesting comparison but they (Burning Man and the Disney Parks) are very different sorts of things.  I might even call Burning Man a more elite counterculture type of event, which by its very nature can not be sustained year round.

12. Harvie and I both noticed that people seemed to be wearing "custom" mouse ears that were very colorful and creative.  Harvie concluded that people had made their own, which was my first impression as well.  They are very nice mouse ears, don't get me wrong, but I am pretty sure that everything I saw was for sale at various places in the park.  I think that Harvie was observing this through his Burning Man filters and giving the audience a bit too much credit here.  The mouse ears were no doubt entertaining and value added however, but I am pretty sure they were an expression of a whimsical purchasing decision not a personal creative endeavor.

We will discuss the dramatic and insidious shrinking of the park and the wreckage of our future that is Tomorowland in our next post.


List of current Disneyland attractions:

1. My tour was called “Transcendental Style in Theme Parks” and discusses how the divine and eternal are represented at Disneyland.

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