By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here.



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Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Tomorrowland and the Kugel Ball

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE THEMING OF TOMORROWLAND AND THE KUGEL BALL

By Jim Korkis

“New Tomorrowland [which opened at the Magic Kingdom in 1994] was conceived as the meeting place of the universe,” stated Imagineer Alex Wright. “It is an interplanetary hub chosen to serve as the headquarters of the League of Planets. Everything in this land relates to excitement and optimism about the future. Every detail relates to this theme.

“Ours is a retro-future concept replete with all the trappings of an intergalactic spaceport. We all remember when we thought the future would be like this. Tomorrowland offers us the opportunity to visit it.”

In keeping with the theme that this is a city that exists in some alternative version of the future, at the entrance is a huge sign from the Tomorrowland Chamber of Commerce that welcomes guests with its motto: “The Future That Never Was Is Finally Here.”

Walking down the main street of the Avenue of the Planets, guests find themselves in the central hub of Rockettower Plaza. The names are a playful reference to New York’s famous Avenue of the Americas and Rockefeller Plaza.

This hub is the main transportation system for the community.

With so many interstellar travelers passing through this area, some are bound to need directions. So a map of the universe was installed near the Merchant of Venus merchandise shop.

The map is a large black granite ball floating on a very thin layer of water less than the thickness of a credit card. The water, pumped from below, lubricates the stone and creates a pressure so that the solid heavy piece of stone is easily rotated.

Looking closely on the exterior of the ball, there is a gold “You Are Here” star that marks the location of Rockettower Plaza. Further examination will reveal other clever notations including an exit from the fabled Route 66 and not far from that marking is a symbol indicating that fuel can be obtained just like on the iconic gas station road maps of the 1950s.

This unique ball is not a Disney creation, and several exist in similar fountains around the world with different images. It is just another example of a Kugel Ball.

The term kugel is from the German word meaning ball or sphere.

Kusser Fountainworks of Tampa, Florida represents the sophisticated fountain construction technology developed by Kusser Aicha Granitwerke, a leading European fountain company. This family-owned business with almost one hundred years of history is in the hands of its third generation.

In 1989 the first Kusser Fountain known as The Kugel was installed in the United States. Today there are similar versions in science museums, parks and more.

The granite must be a perfect sphere, placed on a base that has the exact same curvature as the ball in order for the magic of physics to make it possible for even a child to move the several tons easily with a push.

The kugel ball in Tomorrowland reportedly weighs about six tons, or over 13,227 pounds. Roughly that is the same weight of a full-sized adult African elephant. While low friction of the water bearing helps the ball to rotate, there is still some friction, so the ball will not perpetually roll, and guests can use their hands to stop the ball as well. Of course, shutting off the water pressure will also stop the ball from moving.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Call Me Walt, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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November 17, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Never-Built Venezuela Pavilion at Epcot

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

VENEZUELA AT EPCOT’S WORLD SHOWCASE

By Jim Korkis

Imagineer Alan Coats (son of Imagineer Claude Coats) was deeply involved in the creation of attractions for Epcot before it opened in 1982.

He worked on a film for the Universe of Energy pavilion that at one point was being written with Jim Algar and would have had a dialog between a scientist (writer Issac Asimov) and a reporter (actor Walter Pidgeon) with animated scenes of Jiminy Cricket interspersed to help explain things.

“I think the first piece I wrote was a sequence with Asimov, Pidgeon and the Cricket about using turbines for harnessing the wind to generate electricity, something common today but rare back then,” Alan told me at the Disneyana Fan Club Anaheim event in October 2017. “I wrote a scene where Jiminy in a lab coat demonstrates how to make a solar cell and in another, how to heat a house with sun power. When I re-read the script, it seemed he knew more than our expert did.

“When we finally pitched it to Ron Miller, it was called ‘Dialogue on Energy’ and we were now thinking of Arthur C. Clarke as the scientist and Hal Holbrook as the reporter. Ron loved it but when we later showed it to an Exxon executive, he fell asleep in the middle of the presentation. Later, Carl Sagan got involved but wanted to take over the whole thing and wanted it to focus more strongly on other alternatives than Exxon did who was paying for the thing. Sagan did like the use of Jiminy Cricket though.”

Among his other never realized projects for Epcot was a World Showcase pavilion that he told me about in an interview in 2012:

“I jump started development on the Venezuela pavilion with initial research on the country. Negotiation had been on going with several nations and the feeling was that it was a priority to include at least one country from the southern hemisphere. Brazil and Venezuela had shown interest in World Showcase participation.

“Using the WED research library, I assembled a series of storyboards, actually more like ‘subject boards’ on the history, culture, architecture, natural resources, festivals, whatever I could come up with as sort of a snapshot of the country. The overall idea for all the Showcase pavilions was to give the visitor a feeling of having been to the country, if only briefly, to taste the food, listen to the music, purchase the merchandise, and meet some of the young people from the nation who would be working there.

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“These subject boards became the basis for renderings, models, and ride-system layouts that would follow. My dad (Claude Coats) as show designer used every foot available. He laid out a suspended cable-car ride that snaked through the attraction giving visitors a bird’s eye view of activity below in the village sets filled with shops, the open restaurant, the musicians’ stage, and other scenes. The entire area was dominated by a large-screen projection of Angel Falls in the background on a continuous film loop.

“Collin Campbell painted a beautiful rendering of the interior in a nighttime setting. X. Atencio was show writer and also responsible for the theme song: ‘Discover Venezuela!’ The show was really coming together when Gordon Cooper acknowledged in an interview with Orlando-land magazine in October 1976 that among ten or twelve pavilions in the works, full scale sections had been built and ‘We’re very far along on the Venezuela pavilion’. However, as we know, that nation never was represented in Showcase, nor was any other country in South America.”

Of course, with Disney’s continuing popularity in Brazil, the Disney Company has also continued negotiations for a possible Brazil pavilion to be installed in the World Showcase.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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November 10, 2017   1 Comment

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Mariachi Cobre in Epcot’s World Showcase

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

MARIACHI COBRE IN MEXICO AT EPCOT’S WORLD SHOWCASE

By Jim Korkis
The television commercial has a family returning to visit Walt Disney World and an excited mariachi band happily declaring “You’re back!” and bursting into song. That band is Mariachi Cobre.

For the October 1, 2017 event marking the 35th anniversary of Epcot, George A. Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort, was joined onstage by the patriotic Voices of Liberty ensemble and the Mariachi Cobre from the Mexico pavilion – two acts that debuted when that theme park originally opened in 1982.

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Mariachi Cobre is a band of internationally acclaimed mariachi musicians. The group was formed in 1971 with Randy Carillo on guitar, his brother Stephen on trumpet, Mack Ruiz on violin, and Francisco Grijalva as the arranger who also played in the group.

Over the years the company of players has expanded to include Chris Figueroa (violin), Pablo Hector Gama (violin), Miguel Angel Molina (trumpet), Israel Galvez Molina (violin), Roberto Juan Martinez (vihuela), Antonio Hernandez Ruiz (violin and viola), Javier Trujillo (guitarra de Golpe), Mario Trujillo (violin), and Adolfo Roman Garcia. Many of the members have played together since they were teenagers in Arizona.

Mariachi Cobre was founded in Tucson, Arizona, and evolved out of the mariachi youth group Mariachi Juvenil Los Chanquitos Feos De Tucson, which was formed in 1964. It was the first youth mariachi group to be formed in the United States.

Randy admitted he wasn’t very excited when his parents suggested he try out as a guitarist for the group. At the time, he was more interested in rock ‘n’ roll. But once he was introduced to the mariachi sound, he said he was hooked.

“At fifteen years old, to be playing in Anaheim at Disneyland for Cinco de Mayo, I would have never thought that at 63 I would still be so invested in the Walt Disney Company,” said Randy in October 2017.

Eventually, he and some of the members of the group formed Mariachi Cobre, taking their name from the Spanish word for “copper.” Randy explained that Arizona is known as “the Copper State” and that copper was a semiprecious metal to Mexican Indians.

“When we arrived here before the opening of Epcot, I couldn’t believe it. It was like a fairytale land,” said Randy. “The architecture, the lighting, the detail, it was all incredible.”

Since opening Epcot in 1982, Mariachi Cobre still performs seven shows a day, five days a week.

“It’s not the easiest job, but it’s a lot of fun,” Randy said. “You have to develop a certain discipline to accomplish all of those sets and to keep a good attitude and to keep yourself physically and musically healthy.”

In addition to that schedule, the Disney company allows the group to take breaks that have let it over the years perform with more than 44 orchestras in the United States and Mexico, including the Boston Pops and the orchestras of Minnesota, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Utah, Houston and Guadalajara, as well as record CDs.

Mariachi Cobre’s recordings include Mariachi Cobre, Este es Mi Mariachi, XXV Anniversary and The Latin Album with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops. The group has accompanied a wide range of mariachi and non-mariachi artists including Linda Ronstadt, Lucha Villa, Lola Betran, Ana Gabriel, Guadalupe Pineda, Carlos Santana, Julio Iglesias, and Vikki Carr.

Since their founding in 1971, Mariachi Cobre has played a major role in the preservation and appreciation of one of the most respected cultural music folk forms of Mexico and delighted millions of guests, often giving them their first taste of this type of music. The mariachi musicians speak in both English and Spanish and encourage the audience to relax and have fun by clapping and cheering.

“We are all like brothers and we are all a family,” said Stephen in October 2017. “Day in and day out we get to meet people from all over the world and we get to share our culture and our music with them. It’s truly special and I really enjoy that.”

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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November 3, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Books of Skipper Canteen

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE BOOKS OF SKIPPER CANTEEN

By Jim Korkis

Several companies sell books by the foot or the yard to fill book shelves on stage sets for television series, movies, and stage plays. Many sell to interior decorators trying to create a particular look for the room of a house. Collections can be generic or made-to-order including not just content but binding, size and color.

The tomes in the book case in the Meridian on the Disney Cruise Line ships are specifically filled with vintage nautical volumes.

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However, sometimes Imagineers get creative, as in the garage of Mickey Mouse’s house at WDW’s former Mickey’s Toontown Fair, where the shelves had titles like Repairing Electrical and Bermuda Shorts, How to Toon Up Your Car, Replace Your Wheels Without Tiring and The Auto-biography of Susie the Blue Coupe (a reference to a 1952 Disney short cartoon).

At the Skipper Canteen, the table service restaurant in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland, the shelves are filled with books that reference Disney parks (The Eyes of Mara by Jones, obviously a reference to Indiana Jones and the Disneyland attraction); Imagineers (Crooning Flowers by Sherman and Sherman referring to the Disney composers the Sherman Brothers and their songs for the Enchanted Tiki Room); in-jokes (Friends for Dinner by T. Sam, a reference to Trader Sam the cannibal from the Jungle Cruise attraction); as well as some books that are just silly wordplay (Spotted Tigers by G. Rowl) or punny amusement (Fleas Navidad and Other Winter Insects). Some books have neither title nor author.

The secret meeting room of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) is behind the bookcase and is accessed by pulling on a volume of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.

Here are a handful of the many delightful titles here:

  • In Search of the Yeti by Harrison Hightower III. Hightower is not only a member of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) but was based on Imagineer Joe Rohde, who was responsible for much of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, including Expedition Everest. Hightower has several different books on the shelves including Treasures of the Animal Kingdom.
  • A Manor of Fact by Mystic is a reference to Henry Mystic and Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland. He is also represented by other books including Treasures from the Manor and Primates as Shipmates referring to his pet mischievous monkey Albert who causes trouble in that attraction.
  • Captain Mary Oceaneer wrote Parrots as Pets referring to her diving companion parrot Salty. She also wrote Charting Course since she is an ocean traveler.
  • Leaders Throughout History by Professor G. Kalogridis. This is George Kalogridis, the President of WDW.
  • Songs of the Tiki Bird by Professor Boag honors performer Wally Boag, who helped write and voiced the parrot Jose in The Enchanted Tiki Room.
  • Universus Arboribus by B.M. Evans is a tribute to Imagineer Morgan “Bill” Evans, who loved putting Latin names on the Disney park horticulture.
  • A Journey to the Stars by Kimball references Imagineer Ward Kimball who wrote and directed the three Disneyland television Tomorrowland episodes about outer space.
  • Hamlet: A Lion’s Tale by Shakes Speare acknowledges that the Disney’s animated feature film Lion King was inspired by the classic Shakespeare play.
  • Native Orange Birds of the Southeastern United States by Dr. Sidd Truss, (pronounced Citrus) is a nod to the Florida Orange Bird of the Florida Citrus Commission that was prominent in the first decade of Walt Disney World.
  • Banjos and Baboons, by Goff, is a reference to Imagineer Harper Goff who was a banjo player but also the designer of the Jungle Cruise attraction.
  • Primates of the Caribbean by Coats, references Imagineer Claude Coats, who did set design for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
  • A View from Above by S. W. Buckets recalls the former Skyway attraction.
  • Mission to the Red Planet  by Tom Morrow is a reference to the former Mission to Mars attraction.

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Thanks, Jim! There’s more from Jim Korkis on Skipper Canteen here. And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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October 27, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Totem Poles in Canada

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

TOTEM POLES IN CANADA IN EPCOT’S WORLD SHOWCASE

By Jim Korkis

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, the totem poles in Frontierland were meant to be artistic enhancements like on a movie set and not authentic re-creations. When Epcot opened a decade later, the same was true of the three fiberglass totem poles that decorated the entrance to the Canada pavilion.

Totem poles can recount tribal legends, commemorate people or significant events, represent supernatural powers, mark the territory of a specific tribe and more. Most guests were not troubled by these colorful fakes that added to the atmosphere of the area.

However, over the decades, the world’s attitude to respecting native cultures changed significantly. The Disney Company was sensitive to these changes and so for the Canada pavilion, even though it would not increase attendance or revenue, it was decided to change out the fiberglass totem poles to realistic cedar ones that would more accurately represent an authentic cultural experience.

In April 1998, Disney employed Tsimshian artist David Boxley from Alaska, noted for his decades-long dedication to authentic tribal art, to carve a 30-foot tall totem pole to replace the one near the trading post. Boxley was raised by his grandparents and taught the Tsimshian traditions.

This beautiful hand-carved totem pole tells the well-known tale from the Pacific Northwest Indians of Raven and Sky Chief. The Trickster Raven steals a “golden ball of light” from a hidden box and tosses it up into the sky where it becomes the sun, the moon and the stars.

In 1986, Boxley made a major decision to leave the security of a teaching position and devote all of his energies toward carving and researching the legacy of Northwest Coast Indian art. Boxley has carved over 68 totems in the last twenty-six years for institutions, museums, corporations and more.

He stated, “Carved from mature cedar trees, totem poles are an important part of the coastal First Nations culture. Totem poles were created and raised to represent a family-clan, its kinship system, its dignity, its accomplishments, it prestige, its adventures, its stories, its rights and prerogatives. A totem pole served, in essence, as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder of its ancestry.”

On January 22, 2017 at 11:30 am, two new totem poles carved by Boxley were installed to replace the remaining original fiberglass poles at the Canada Pavilion.

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The Eagle Totem Pole tells one of Boxley’s favorite cultural tales, in which a boy finds an eagle caught in a net on a beach and frees it. Years later, when hunger strikes the boy’s tribe, he walks on the same beach, only to find the eagle there waiting for him with food – paying him back for his kindness years ago. The bottom of this totem pole also tells the story of how a family of beaver taught a human family the importance of treating all creatures – human and animal – with respect.

The Whale Totem Pole depicts the tale of the first potlatch, a ceremonial feast celebrated by the Nagunaks and creatures of the undersea world.

The overnight installation was followed up with a dedication ceremony for the new poles that included a performance by the Git Hoan Dancers (People of the Salmon).

Based in Washington State, Git-Hoan members can trace their ancestral roots to some of the main tribes of Southeast Alaska, the Tsimshian, the Haida and Tlingit. They also performed at the Epcot International Festival of the Arts on January 21 & 22, 2017.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

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October 20, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Flights of Wonder

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

FLIGHTS OF WONDER IN DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

When the Flights of Wonder show originally premiered at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in its opening year, it had a fanciful storyline and continued to evolve through several different versions.

It was finally re-scripted to be a more straight-forward educational presentation along with the comedy relief of a clueless tour guide character named “Guano Joe” who is more than a little fearful of these avian performers. Along with the audience, he learns about them and learns to love them. The roughly tweny-five minute show is performed several times a day.

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Under the canvas canopy of a shady sanctuary that is what remains of the Maharajah’s crumbling fortress is the makeshift Caravan Stage in the “ruins” that are now the refuge for a dazzling array of birds. From opening until 2015, the Caravan Stage was covered with a canopy. A permanent roof was finally installed during a renovation in early 2016.

The façade of the roughly thousand person amphitheater is designed to resemble the architecture of that found in the Himalayan highlands or Rajasthan, India. The theater is situated outside the fictitious village of Anandapur, on the “trade route” towards Africa.

Guests are introduced to approximately twenty species of exotic birds who perform natural behaviors rather than the traditional silly tricks in some other bird shows. Some of the birds perform their antics onstage while others swoop over the audience and show off their dramatic wingspans.

While the show is entertaining and at times amusing, its core is a much deeper message about serious conservation themes and habitat loss. It promotes the World Wildlife Conservation Fund. The finale includes the appearance of an American Bald Eagle and the story of how thanks to concerted conservation efforts, this majestic bird is no longer endangered.

Among the species are birds most guests see include Barbary falcons, macaws, Amazon parrots, Harris Hawks, ibis, vultures, crowned cranes, a Trumpeter Hornbill, Great Horned Owl, Black Vulture, the previously mentioned American Bald Eagle and several other interesting birds.  The birds are from various continents and not just Asia. While the specific birds may occasionally be different in each show, the format of the show remains the same.

The host is an actual trainer who has spent hours with these birds. The birds are trained to react and take different actions based on audio and visual cues they have been taught.  Certain noises, words or a subtle hand placement will spark an action from the birds.  While the show has been carefully rehearsed to demonstrate how birds hunt and eat, they have not been trained to do the typical tricks but merely duplicate natural behaviors with an emphasis on entertainment value like grabbing a dollar bill an audience member holds high in the air.

Groucho, the singing parrot in the show who is an audience favorite, was named the World’s Best Singing Parrot on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno after an appearance. He’s also appeared on other television shows including The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

He is fairly unusual for most parrots because he is able to sing seven full songs including How Much is that Doggy in the Window?, Camptown Races, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Alouetta and Jingle Bells.

Hatched in 1986 in Kalamazoo, Michigan and raised by Theresa Barylock, Groucho is a yellow naped Amazon parrot with an amazing ability to articulate many words and phrases such as “Look ma! No hands!”

In 2017, trainers and birds from the Flights of Wonder show now also made occasional appearances in Harambe and DinoLand U.S.A., again emphasizing the birds’ natural behaviors.

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Thanks, Jim!  And here’s more on FLights of Wonder from The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2018:

 

Come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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October 13, 2017   No Comments