Popular wisdom holds that “curiosity killed the cat.” This phrase is used to warn people against being to inquisitive for their own good. If you don’t ask questions, you won’t find out any information that could get you dead. Eliminating curiosity is good for people or organizations with something to hide. It also good for those who want to exert dogmatic control on their followers. However, humans need to be curious. It improves imagination and leads to greater creativity.Continue reading 3 Disney-related Quotes about Curiosity and How it Improves Imagination
I typically shy away from books and essays that critique Walt Disney and his films. There are several reasons for this. We don’t need to kill our heroes. Walt was a product of his times. It’s easier to critique and tear down things than it is to create them. However, the biggest reason is that too many of these types of essays contain inaccuracies and falsehoods that come from someone not being an expert in Disney knowledge and/or doing sloppy research. It’s insane how many “educated” people believe Walt’s frozen head lies in a secret lair under Disneyland. It’s hurtful how many people say he was racist or anti-Semitic when those who worked with him deny those allegations. Sometimes, it’s just ridiculous the interpretations that people come up with for Disney films.Continue reading Disney Films, Academic Essays, and an Open Mind
(This article contains affiliate links. If you order something using these links, it doesn’t cost you more, and I get a small advertising fee.) In 1937, Walt Disney released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The first animated feature was often known as Disney’s Folly. People said no one would sit through such a long cartoon. Some said people’s eyes would bleed if they watched that much animated film in one sitting. When it premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater, it was an instant hit. Celebrities cried. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” became the highest grossing movie of all-time until “Gone with the Wind” knocked it off the top spot in 1939.Continue reading ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’: Music and Worry
The Walt Disney Company has been considered powerhouse in creative endeavors. With its innovations in animation, movies and theme parks, people associate the Disney brand with creativity. So, aside from my two books, “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity,” what are the best books about Disney and its creative process? Here are my Top 8:
“Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self” – Don Hahn gives readers practical advice for getting more creativity from life. He uses his life experience and his work at Disney to provide some of the best insights and most fun stories for creativity.
“The Imagineering Way: Ideas to Ignite Your Creativity” – The imagineers explore creativity principles and provide examples on how to add more creativity to your everyday life! Use it in conjunction with “The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles” and get your creative muscles in shape.
“The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles” – The imagineers give you some exercise to improve your creative output in this companion book to “The Imagineering Way: Ideas to Ignite Your Creativity.”
“One Little Spark! Mickey’s Ten Commandments and The Road to Imagineering” – Marty Sklar leads us on an exploration of the rules that imagineers follow to come up with and implement their ideas. Go inside the idea process with the experts at the Walt Disney company.
“Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” – The section on Steve Jobs makes this book about Pixar and creativity worth the read. Ed Catmull does an outstanding job with this story of the Pixar Studios. Read my review at our archive website http://www.penguinate.weebly.com.
“Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms” – Marty Sklar was a prominent imagineer who got his start writing for Disneyland before the park opened. “Dream It! Do It!” is Sklar’s autobiography as it relates to his work with the Walt Disney Company. Check out the review at our archive website http://www.penguinate.weebly.com.
“How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life” – Pat Williams takes an honest and positive look at Walt Disney’s life. Williams pulls out creativity principles using Walt’s biography as the basis for illustrating those principles.
“Walt Disney: An American Original” – Biographies are a great way to get inspired and to dig into what made someone creative. Bob Thomas’ seminal work on Walt Disney was released not long after Disney’s death. It is one of the most accurate portrayals of Walt’s life and how he accomplished what he did. Start here before looking at the more modern biography by Neal Gabler.
Tell us which book on Disney and creativity is your favorite!
In improv comedy, you never want to shut down the person you’re on stage with. Even if you have no idea how something is going to be funny, you need to take what you’re given and add to it. The phrase is “Yes, and…” Because improv is creative and difficult enough, negating someone’s idea will shut down the comedy as it destroys the other person’s confidence.
Walt Disney knew instinctively that creativity came from the “Yes.” People who said “no” were always looking at how not to do things and that’s what they would end up doing – nothing. When Walt proposed something that sounded crazy, the answer was always “Yes.” Sometimes, there was a qualifier and the answer was “Yes, if…” People who said “No” to Walt often found themselves unemployed.
When creating the effect for the Rainbow Caverns, Heinz Haber told imagineer Claude Coats that it would be statistically impossible to keep the colors separate form each other. They would be gray within a week. When Coats relayed Haber’s assessment to Walt, Walt said, “Well, it’s fun to do the impossible” (according to MiceChat). Walt trusted his people to find a way to accomplish the impossible because he believed in the power of “Yes.” As long as someone thought they could or they thought that Walt thought they could, they usually did.
For more on creativity, get “Disneyland Is Creativity,” “the Haunted Mansion Is Creativity,” and “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories,” and join our Patreon. For more on the Disney Company, get “Penguinate! The Disney Company.”
Perhaps the most famous story involving X. Atencio and his creativity comes from his work on the Pirates of the Caribbean. In an interview with ParkHoppinPartyGuys, Atencio said that he was brought in by Walt Disney to write the script for the attraction. Atencio had no experience writing scripts, but he said “All right, Walt, whatever you say.” He wrote the auction scene first and showed it to Walt, who told him to continue. However, this wasn’t Atencio’s last or most well-known first.
At the last script meeting, Atencio said he thought that the pirate attraction needed a song. He told Walt his idea, and Walt thought it was great. He said do the music with George Bruns. Atencio had never written a song before, but he came up with “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).”
When someone asks you to do something outside of your comfort zone, especially if it’s creative, do what X. did, say “yes” and get to work.
Sources: “The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic” by Jason Surrell.
“Disney Legend Interview: X. Atencio” by ParkHoppinPartyGuys at https://youtu.be/QeDH9S17WzU
You can also find more articles about Disney, Disneyland and creativity at our archive website, www.penguinate.weebly.com, and on our blog. If you would like to get even more articles about creativity, join our Patreon and become a Penguinator.
As a Penguinator, does it make sense to be critical of Disney California Adventure (DCA)? No one at the Disney Company is likely to read this post and think, “Oh, yeah, we did forget that,” or “Schnikey! We need to fix that ASAP,” especially if I were to leave this post private and for Penguinators only instead of giving you an advanced viewing opportunity. I don’t have any Disney employees on my Patreon list that I’m aware of, and I’m decently certain there aren’t any that visit my blog. Even if there were, the company is notorious for not accepting unsolicited ideas from outside.
Besides, anything I say has already been said by someone else and probably thought of by the imagineers. Still, as a mental exercise to improve creativity, looking at DCA provides the opportunity to unleash the judge, find what’s wrong with the current park, and figure out how to make it better. Imagineers can talk about the idea of Blue Sky thinking where everything goes and there are no rules, but in the end, they are constrained by the park’s current footprint and the bean counter’s budget, which would include the opportunity cost of any major renovation that would significantly change the park. We have no similar constraints if we choose to offer up possible solutions to the DCA problem. We can truly engage in Blue Sky thinking without reference to financial consequences, thinking only about what’s wrong with DCA and what would make the park better.
Where’s the Theme, Park?
Disneyland changed the amusement park industry by, among other things, theming itself and its lands. Walt Disney established early on that spacemen and cars don’t go into Frontierland, and the cowboys stay out of Tomorrowland. The sightlines were created so that people viewing a building on Main Street, U.S.A. would see a different roof than they would see when viewing the same building from Adventureland.
The berm with its train and trees was devised to keep the rest of the world from interfering with the guests’ ability to suspend disbelief. When coupled with the negotiated rules that Anaheim passed for buildings outside the park, guest don’t see anything that Disney doesn’t want them to see (beyond the occasional plane or helicopter flying overhead). Even with Tomorrowland’s current shortcomings (there are plenty of them) and the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy Edge, Disneyland is all about theming – right down to the dolls making the popcorn in the popcorn carts.
As ill-conceived as it may have been to put a theme park about California in California when a majority of Disneyland visitors are from California, DCA was themed appropriately when it opened. The Sunshine Plaza was upbeat and California themed through and through. Hollywood Backlot Studios had the glamour of the 1930s. Golden State celebrated the architecture of the Bay Area, and Paradise Pier took its cue from the Beach and Boardwalk parks. Condor Flats took on California’s aviation history, and Grizzly River Peak with the neighboring Redwood Trail were a tribute to California’s north. The park may not have been good when it opened, but it was themed.
Unfortunately, the theme wasn’t the right one, and the Disney Company had to come up with ways to get people to spend their money to go over to their second gate. Bug’s Land was added to appeal to youngsters. Not really California themed, but it didn’t intrude on the rest of the park, and there were bug’s in California. “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” was built in the backlot; the perfect place for it. As a hotel from Hollywood’s glamor days of the late 1930’s, the Tower of Terror fit in with the rest of the theme.
When “Monsters, Inc.: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue” opened in 2006, it signaled the beginning of the end for DCA’s theming. Placed in Hollywood in the same area as the defunct Superstar Limo ride that lasted less than a year; Mike and Sulley weren’t (and still aren’t) Hollywood themed. Still the monsters occupy a prominent place in Hollywoodland as one of the two rides in the area – the other one being the Tower of Terror.
In 2008, Paradise Pier saw the opening of the beloved Toy Story Midway Mania. Set within the games of the pier, Midway Mania could be forgiven its intrusion; even if its story, guests being shrunk down to the size of toys so they could play the game, didn’t fit with the theme, the game element of the attraction worked. With Mr. Potato Head playing the Midway Mania Barker, the Toy Story characters didn’t do much to detract from the theme though no self-respecting boardwalk would have such a sophisticated game during the time that Paradise Pier was supposed to reflect. (And let’s face it, Midway Mania is one of the best attractions in either park.)
Other rides on Paradise Pier were rethemed over the next three years to include Disney characters. Mickey’s Fun Wheel received a new paint job and a giant Mickey Head. The Orange Stinger became the Silly Symphonies Swings and Mullholland Madness became Goofy’s Sky School. Within the singular concept of the ride, the retheming of the last two was brilliant. The Silly Symphony Swingers opens up to reveal a painting of Mickey Mouse conducting the band from “the Band Concert,” which isn’t from the Silly Symphony series (highlighting the theming problem again). Still, the use of the whirlwind cartoon on the swings support pole is a great idea. Goofy’s Sky School is just “plane” fun. The problem is that none of the changes align with the area’s theming at the time, and these rides are exactly that – rides – not attractions. These are off-the-shelf, experience-them-at-your-local-carnival rides.
While hyped tremendously as a new attraction for the park, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure quickly became DCA’s version of Snow White’s Scary Adventure. At seemingly twice the size and half the fun, this show-stopping, audio-animatronic disappointingly doesn’t carry the story far enough or strongly enough. Still, it’s routinely 5-minute wait time makes it a nice place to take a break from the heat, and it features some interesting advances – the descent into the sea and the Ursula figure. It’s still in the wrong place. The Little Mermaid has nothing to do with California or Paradise Pier.
In 2012, DCA attempted to keep with the California theming and connect to its mythical beginnings. Missing a golden opportunity to capitalize on its largest changes, the park turned the Sunshine Plaza into Buena Vista Street of 1923, the time when Walt Disney arrived in California with a suitcase and a dream. The Carthay Circle Theater was opened and fit in with the Tower of Terror in the background, but Cars Land with its decidedly Arizona feel debuted at the same time. Arizona isn’t California. How is Cars Land a part of the California Adventure? It’s not, thematically speaking.
In 2016, the popular Soarin’ Over California was replace with Soarin’ Around the World. California is not the world, and the world is not California. In 2017, the Guardians of the Galaxy took over the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and, in one fell swoop destroyed the themes of Hollywoodland, Grizzly Peak Airfield and Buena Vista Street. These are both popular and fun attractions, but popular and fun aren’t a theme, and the original versions were just as popular and fun.
In 2018, Paradise Pier became Pixar Pier. Pixar isn’t a theme. It’s a collection of (if the Internet is to believed) vaguely related films with different settings. Even if Pixar properties were relegated to Pixar Pier, the them wouldn’t work. Mixing the superheroes of “The Incredibles,” the shrinking you down to toy size of Midway Mania and Jessie’s Critter Carousel, and the Inside/Out characters of the mind isn’t a theme; it’s a cacophony. Add to it that Mickey’s Fun Wheel and Flik’s Flyers just received paint jobs, with no significant changes otherwise, to go along with the Pixar theme and it looks like Disney has just decided to throw in the towel. They probably could’ve left Flik’s Flyers alone since it was a Pixar film and the theming would’ve worked with Midway Mania, but “A Bug’s Life” has other problems when it comes to theme parks.
Leftovers from Paradise Pier, the Golden Zephyr and Jumpin’ Jellyfish make no sense in terms of theming. They aren’t related to Pixar or Disney characters and only represent the former California Beachside aesthetic. With all of the incohesive changes, Disney California Adventure doesn’t really celebrate Disney or California. Instead, it focuses on providing Pixar a place to put its movie franchises. Things won’t be much better when Marvel joins the scene with its own land. Marvel Land will be able to adopt Guardians of the Galaxy, but this will leave the Red Car Trolley out in the cold and gut the main attractions of Hollywoodland – the Marvel Meet and Greets.
This mishmash of rides and attractions keeps DCA from achieving greatness through theming. Instead it’s a great example of what Disneyland never wanted to be – an amusement park (except DCA is clean and the cast members are friendly).
Why Bug’s Land Had to Change
While the new Marvel Land may not fix DCA’s theming, it does address another relatively small problem: the relevancy of A Bug’s Land. Based on the 1998 Pixar film “a bug’s life,” the land opened in 2002. The land itself was made to be attractive to the younger set, except the 4D film experience “It’s Tough to Be a Bug,’ which was terrifying for some adults. It’s environmental and educational feel was a welcome respite from some of the larger areas of the park, but there was no way these bugs could survive.
The film itself was not one of Pixar’s best. It earned $363 million at the box office, but without a sequel, TV shows, or a cuddly, iconic character, the film has no relevance to today’s children. How many people even remember the film without confusing it for “Antz”? Disney’s classic animation fare has been able to remain relevant through marketing (specifically, the creation of the Princess line, which keeps all of the princesses in the public light as long as new princesses are added every couple of years or so) rereleases and remakes. These movies hold up even through the changing times, and the theming of the lands act as a crutch.
Attractions at Disneyland also remain relevant through the sheer size and scope. The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are iconic, beloved attractions that create their own atmosphere and fans. Flik’s Flyers? Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies (which were not bumper cars)? Francis Ladybug Boogie… Does anyone even remember this ride? These were all rides with no real creation to them and without a Dumbo to keep them aloft. Only Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train seemed to make an effort to provide something akin to a new place to visit.
With nothing new on the bug front, DCA needed to come up with something new. Marvel provided the answer. As long as they stay away from the now deceased Iron Man, the land will remain relevant for the next few decades.
World of Color’s and Incredicoaster’s Footprints
The World of Color, which debuted in 2013, is arguably the best show in DCA. The fountains are spectacular, the water screens are amazing, the pyrotechnics are amazing, and the show is flexible enough to be changed almost on the fly to advertise new movies subtly and include new animated sequences. One Christmas show featured the magic of snowflakes a foot in diameter that floated up into the sky. Even the dining options and the viewing areas that go with them are incredible.
The investment in the equipment that Disney made and the popularity of the show make changing the venue area around the show basically impossible. Imagineers are constrained by the World of Color’s space needs.
Just as constraining is the space required for a lesser attraction, the now-called Incredicoaster. Wait times for this attraction hover around 25 minutes, but it is still large enough and technically advanced to warrant protection by the bean counters. It’s change over from California Screamin’ is also an advance in storytelling, especially when it comes to roller coasters.
By Any Other Name
When it first opened, the park was called Disney’s California Adventure. Ironically, it didn’t include Buena Vista street, but was more the company’s interpretation of what California was. Wine country, the Bay Area, the Redwoods, these were all represented. Yes, critics wondered why people would want to see the Disney version of the Golden Gate Bridge when it was just a seven-hour drive up north or a 2-hour flight. Still, that’s what Michael Eisner and his team came up with.
It changed its name to Disney California Adventure in 2010. Linguistically, this could mean that this park is an adventure in California Disney-style. Something along the lines of “have yourself a Disney California Adventure.” It doesn’t have to have the California theming in order to work, except it’s already associated with its first incarnation, and the California parts haven’t been drummed out of it. Choosing another name might work better as far as managing expectations, but it doesn’t change the fact that the park has no cohesive theming.
People come to Disneyland and its related theme parks for the cleanliness, the wonderful cast members and the theming. In its effort to cash in on its acquired IP, the Disney Company has forgotten about the theming at least as far as Disney California Adventure is concerned. Maybe they’ll get it fixed sometime in the future, but for now DCA will suffer from its continued lack of relevance and inability to inspire people to come for more than a day.
It’s our turn for Blue Sky thinking! What could Disney do to make California Adventure better?
Vision can be the way you perceive things. No one sees the world exactly like you. Your life experiences have given you a unique way of viewing situations. The only way that anyone can begin to understand what you see in the world is if you share your vision.
A vision can also be the goals that you want to achieve or the way you see the future. You might look toward a utopia. You might see problems with the drainage system and possible solutions. You might have the key to opening up a new discipline. But this only happens after you develop your vision and show it to people. If you aren’t able to tell people about what you want to achieve on a grand sale, you are unlikely to achieve it.
You can use your vision to drive toward your vision, and creativity should be an important part of that drive. Walt Disney saw that there were no places where adults could enjoy spending time with children. He sat eating peanuts while his daughters took rides on the carousel in Griffith Park. His vision was a park that parents and children could enjoy equally together. Without either sense of vision, we wouldn’t have Disneyland or any of the other theme parks that came after it.
For more on creativity, order “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Get “Penguinate! Essays and Short Stories” and improve your creativity for a better life and world. For more on the Disney company, get “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Join us at Patreon for the “Secrets of Creativity” available only to our Penguinators.
When Pamela Travers confronted Walt Disney about changes she wanted to see in “Mary Poppins” after the film premiered, Walt Disney said, “Pamela, that ship has sailed.” It was one of Walt’s frustration with film. Once it was done, he could change it or tinker with it to make it better. It’s part of the reason he created Disneyland; it gave him something he could change and improve. You would think that the company’s live action – or in ‘the Lion King’s” case, CGI animated – films would allow them to improve on the story.
You’d be wrong. Jon Favreau’s self-proclaimed live action “Lion King” does nothing to improve up on the original and eliminates some of the best parts of the 1994 classic. Was there nothing the filmmakers thought they could improve upon?
The elimination of Ed the hyena who communicated through laughter is one large change. It was Ed’s change from bumbling fool to evil, backstabber that was the most frightening change in the original.
The “Be Prepared” sequence lacks the emotional impact that the Jeremy Irons number had. The visuals and message in the original are staggeringly relevant and scary. It may have been the best song in the movie.
Favreau’s animals are limited to the things that animals can do. This necessitated a huge change to the visuals for the “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” number. There’s no Hula dancing meerkat, and staff-wielding Rafiki is only revealed in a lackluster moment of no import. Rafiki pulls the staff out of a hiding place in the tree and says, “My old friend.” There’s no connection to this staff in the film, so this statement doesn’t serve a purpose, except as fulfilling fan expectations. Seriously, you don’t need any fan appreciation because it’s ALL fan appreciation.
I can respect that Favreau wanted to make these animals photo-realistic; it’s something Disney tried to do with Bambi in 1940. But in doing so, Favreau eliminated a lot of what makes the 1994 version a standout film. In fact, this new version doesn’t even do justice to the stage play, which was truly something new and fresh when it debuted – and it’s still a work of art.
The last battle between Scar and Simba has less drama than an episode of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” where the lions’ strength would be on full display. Here, it comes off as “Man, this would be powerful if they were real lions in the wild; instead, it’s artificially enhanced by sound effects.”
In the past Disney released their animated films in the theater every seven years so new children could become acquainted with them. That worked for the new “Aladdin.” There were enough changes that it was clear the movie was released for the next generation. “The Lion King” just seems like it was developed because the original made a billion dollars. For those who love the originals, the 2019 version plays like “Phantom Menace” without a new plot line.
Great for creativity and a sneak peek at the creative process at the Disney Company.