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Category — A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis

Fridays with Jim Korkis: Mickey’s PhilharMagic

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

MICKEY’S PHILHARMAGIC IN FANTASYLAND AT MAGIC KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

Mickey’s PhilharMagic is a twelve minute long 3-D animated film that is enhanced by interactive effects like scents, vibration, jets of air and water.

Donald Duck must set up the instruments on the stage for the performance but is warned not to touch Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice magical hat that Mickey will use to conduct the instruments. Of course, Donald disobeys and finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magic that swirls the hat away.

Image (c) Disney

Donald follows to try to catch the hat that spins through several animated features including Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, Aladdin and The Lion King.

“This is where all the Disney characters go to see concerts,” said Kevin Rafferty, senior show writer and director for Walt Disney Imagineering. “Today’s performance will feature Mickey Mouse conducting the PhilharMagic orchestra.

“What’s neat about this space is this is where Mickey made his debut as a conductor in the Mickey Mouse Revue when the Magic Kingdom Park opened. It’s exciting that Mickey is coming back in a next generation version of a classic character attraction.

“The theater has a beautiful musical motif inspired by the classic music halls of Europe, mixed with the design elements of Fantasyland. The décor inside has royal blues and golds, and the carpet has musical notes and instruments in the design. As soon as guests walk in the door, they’ll know it’s a very special, enchanted place.

“Donald decides he wants to be the conductor, so he puts on the enchanted hat and begins to conduct the instruments. The instruments give him a hard time and send him into this vortex like Alice in Wonderland.”

Creative Executive for Theme Park Productions at WDI George Scribner directed the animation. He also directed the animation for the Gran Fiesta Tour at the Mexico pavilion in Epcot. He started at Disney as an animator and became a director on Oliver & Company (1988).

He said, “For example, all of the close-ups and tight shots of Lumiere were done by Beauty and the Beast animator Nik Ranieri who animated the character in the original feature film. He was amazing. Here’s an animator who shifted from traditional animation to learn computer-generated techniques and nailed it.

“Then there was The Little Mermaid animator Glen Keane who animated Ariel in the original feature film. We wondered how we could make a scene with Ariel and Donald better, and Glen went in, reanimated it in computer-generated animation and it really showed.

“Music is an important element. Our goal was to convey the storyline through music and not have to rely on dialog, thus making the production more universal in scope which is one of the reasons that Donald was perfect for the starring role.”

According to the posters in the queue area, previous performances in the theater have included:

  • “An Evening with Wheezy – Now in its final squeak!” Wheezy is a squeaky toy penguin from Toy Story movies.
  • “Genie Sings the Blues.” Aladdin’s Genie is of course blue.
  • “Hades Sings Torch Songs.” From Hercules, Hades is fond of fire.
  • “Ariel’s Coral Group- A Must Sea.” The Little Mermaid’s poster is a pun on both undersea coral and musical “choral”.
  • “Wolf Gang Trio performing Sticks, Stones and Bricks in B flat.” The Wolf Gang Trio is a musical group made up of the Three Little Pigs who defeated the Big Bad Wolf.
  • “Festival de los Mariachis- Una Fiesta Festiva”. This poster advertises the Three Caballeros: Donald Duck, José Carioca, and Panchito Pistoles.

The large mural found in Mickey’s PhilharMagic’s queue is titled “Music on Parade,” and according to a plaque it was donated by Minnie Mouse. The mural features imagery from classic Disney cartoons that showcased music including: Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom (1953), Melody Time (1948) and Fantasia (1940).

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Thanks, Jim! And for more from Jim on Mickey’s PhilharMagic, see this and this.

And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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June 18, 2021   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: Fantasy Faire in Magic Kingdom

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

FANTASY FAIRE IN FANTASYLAND AT MAGIC KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

Disney fans like the joke that Disney purposely puts a merchandise shop at the exit of its ride attractions as a way of squeezing more money out of guests.

Actually, the original concept was more innocent. It was felt that after enjoying the emotional experience of an attraction, that guests might like a physical souvenir as a memento, and that by placing a merchandise location near the attraction would make things easier and perhaps prompt an impulse buy.

Over the decades, the shops became more themed to the particular attraction in addition to offering other general park merchandise.

Image (c) Disney

For instance, with the opening of Mickey’s PhilharMagic in 2003, the Fantasy Faire shop in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom underwent a transformation so that it was an extension of the new attraction.

The name of the store refers to the Renaissance fair atmosphere of Fantasyland and the outside banner design reinforces that theme. It opened in May 1995, replacing the Mad Hatter hat shop that had occupied the space since 1971.

The shop’s themed architecture features musical-instrument accents and fixtures situated around a hanging sculpture from the ceiling of an exasperated

Donald Duck entangled in thirteen musical instruments (thirteen because it is an unlucky number that is referenced in several Donald Duck theatrical short cartoons).

“In the attraction, Donald steals Mickey’s Sorcerer’s hat and the instruments attack him,” said Joni Van Buren, art director at Walt Disney Imagineering. “In the sculpture, he’s totally tied up in them and has that typical angry Donald ‘I couldn’t be more frustrated’ look.”

Not only does the shop offer attraction-logo merchandise but also many items featuring Donald Duck.

“Since Donald figures prominently into the attraction’s story, we needed a good selection of products with him,” said Kevin-Michael Lezotte, who was in charge of merchandise for the shop. “At the end of the story, Donald gets shot out of a trombone and crashes into a wall, so we created a design called Donald Breakthrough.

“Every product with this art is two-sided. With the T-shirt, Donald’s head and arms stick out through the front and his tail sticks out of the back, like he’s crashing through the shirt.

“We also created an Attitude Donald design with hats that say, ‘I’m not mad at you. I’m just naturally crabby’ and “Crabby yet loveable’. Like our successful Grumpy products that feature Grumpy and his attitude, we’ve taken Donald and allowed him to have that attitude.”

“Any time we have a new merchandise offering, it’s another great way to bring to life a tangible memory that guests can take home,” said Merchandise General Manager Mary Burns.

The shop also offers general park merchandise including custom embroidered Mickey Ears as well as character plush, pins, hats, plush dolls and t-shirts.

The shop also showcases a full-sized sculpture of Mickey Mouse dressed in a tuxedo but wearing the Sorcerer Apprentice’s hat and holding a baton standing behind a music podium getting ready to conduct an orchestra.

The shop has a pressed penny machine with four different images of Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Winnie the Pooh playing musical instruments.

The background music loop in the shop plays the same songs heard in the queue line to the attraction.

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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 new books Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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June 11, 2021   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: The Cars Area at Art of Animation

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

CARS AT DISNEY’S ART OF ANIMATION RESORT

By Jim Korkis

One of the four sections at Walt Disney World’s Art of Animation Resort is dedicated to the 2006 Pixar computer animated feature film Cars.

The section is painted to resemble the desert backdrop of the fictional town of Radiator Springs along the fabled Route 66. The full-sized automotive residents of the small town, like Sally, Mater, Doc, Luigi and Guido, as well as Lightning McQueen, greet guests as they walk down the freshly blacktopped road to the rooms situated in a building representing the Cozy Cone Motel from the movie.

The resort includes many references to the popular film that spawned two film sequels and tons of merchandise.

Of course, there are the beloved Hidden Mickeys in all four sections of the resort including the section devoted to Cars that has a Hidden Mickey made out of tires and hubcaps on the edges of the carpet. However the Cars section also has “Hidden Cars” in the cloud formations at the top of the buildings.

On the full-sized cars are details that are often unnoticed by guests. Like NASCAR cars, McQueen has a bunch of ads on his cars featuring parodies of human products including Gasprin and Leak Less Adult Drip Pans.

Fillmore is covered in bumper stickers with clever takes on being pro-recycling and environmentally friendly like “Pardon my back fire I eat veggie fuels”. Although Pixar is known for its 3D computer animation, Fillmore has a sticker that proclaims, “Save 2D Animation”.

Fillmore also has a registration like-sticker that mentions “Luxo.” Luxo is the official mascot of Pixar and is that little lamp you see jumping across the screen at the start of every Pixar film. Fillmore’s license plate (51237) is the birthday of George Carlin, the comedian who voiced the character. Carlin passed away in 2008, two years after the first Cars film.

Mater’s plate is A-113 and this is a reference that can be seen in some form in all Pixar films (in fact, it is the license number for all the cars in the animated feature). It refers to classroom A113 at the California Institute of the Arts where many students included John Lasseter and other future Pixar artists had classes.

Luigi’s plate strangely has the numbers 44.5-10.8 that seems to be a joke about the metric system used in his home of Italy. However, it may be a bit clever than that obvious assumption since it is also the GPS coordinates for a Ferrari manufacturing plant in Maranello, Italy.

While Flo’s SHO GIRL vanity plate may not seem all that clever, the Motorama 1957 above it is. The 1957 refers to John Lasseter’s birth year, and the Motorama refers to a wild and crazy car show that takes place every two years on the campus of Pixar.

In addition there is the Cozy Cone Pool with oversized orange traffic cones as cabanas. The rooms in the Cars section have a motel (motor hotel) “feel” where tool chests serve as drawers and storage spaces, while a map of Radiator Springs adorns the top of the coffee table.

The storyboard chandelier in Animation Hall has a storyboard drawing of McQueen signed by John Lasseter. Jerome Ranft, a character sculptor for Pixar signed a drawing of Mater tractor tipping. Pixar artist Josh Cooley autographed the drawing of Lightning McQueen chasing down Chick Hicks and The King.

In that drawing McQueen is numbered “57” instead of the number “95” he was in the film. Originally McQueen was going to be “57”, a reference to Lasseter’s year of birth but it was eventually changed to “95”, the year Toy Story debuted.

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Thanks, Jim! There’s much more on Disney’s Art of Animation Resort here. And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

.

 

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June 6, 2021   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Cast Member Reminiscences by Annie Salisbury

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

YOUR PERSONAL DISNEY LIBRARY (40)

By Jim Korkis

Former Executive Vice President Dick Nunis would tell newly hired Walt Disney World cast members that “I can’t promise that you will like your job. I can’t promise that you will like the people you work with. I can promise you that as soon as you tell someone you work at Disney they will want to talk to you about it.”

It is definitely true that for people who have never worked at Walt Disney World there is a eager fascination in knowing what working there is like, and they often picture a pixie-dusted world. In truth, WDW is a business like any other, and so has its share of office politics, stupid arbitrary decisions, clueless managers, bad scheduling, poor pay, and worse.

Even some of the more high profile roles are plagued by these same things. When I worked at Epcot in Guest Relations, I had many Guest Relations friends who were part of Disney Special Activities–the VIP Tour Guides you see in the parks wearing plaid and herding people to ride).

The Private VIP Tour is an exclusive, customized experience lasting a minimum of seven hours.  Private Tours can accommodate groups up to ten guests. Celebrities and special guests of the Walt Disney Company usually have VIP Tour Guides to get them through crowds.

A Private VIP Tour is not a narrated history like the regular tours that can be booked, although guests can ask questions and do. Basically, the VIP Tour has a guide who can maneuver a guest quickly thanks to backstage access to the shows, rides (thanks to unlimited Fast Pass access), parades, and nighttime spectaculars (preferred viewing) or even transportation by van to another park so with a large group it is possible to pack the maximum amount of activity into a minimum amount of time.  Guests can pick their own itinerary.

Such Private VIP tours are not cheap. Pricing varies seasonally but can run up to $4,500 for the first seven hours.  Additional hours may be added at a rate of $425 – $750 per hour. Valid Theme park admission is required and is not included in the tour price. (By the way, the guide is paid their regular hourly rate, and does not receive a proportion of that exorbitant price).

Annie Salisbury (a pseudonym), the author of these two books, spent roughly three years working at Walt Disney World, primarily in Guest Relations and Disney Special Activities. Before being hired at WDW, she was a huge Disney fan and a frequent visitor with her family.

The Ride Delegate and Would You Like Magic with That? share some of her personal experiences in her roles in Guest Relations and Disney Special Activities, and her strong opinions. The books have short, anecdotal chapters and present the working situation through the perspective of the author.

These are not happy books, although you may find yourself smiling or laughing especially about how some Disney guests behave, like the female guest who complained long and loudly about not being able to hear the carousel music everywhere in the Magic Kingdom, because that was what was supposed to happen in an amusement park, and wouldn’t leave until it was fixed. She does not hesitate to share warts and all about her experiences, the frustrations and stress surrounding the job, and some may feel there might be too much whining and condescending about her situation, co-workers and guests.

However, for those interested in how some Disney Guest Relations cast members perceive their work and the guests they deal with during the day, these books will provide an insight into all of that and more.

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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 two new books,  Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.

 

 

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May 28, 2021   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: Mickey’s PhilharMagic

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

RICK ROTHSCHILD ON MICKEY’S PHILHARMAGIC

By Jim Korkis

Walt Disney Imagineering senior vice president and executive show director Rick Rothschild spent 41 years working in Imagineering before leaving the Walt Disney Company. Among other things, he worked on the Mickey’s PhilharMagic attraction at the Magic Kingdom.

(c) Disney

Mickey’s PhilharMagic is a 4D twelve minute long attraction in Fantasyland where Donald Duck travels through several different Disney animated feature films including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Peter Pan and The Lion King, to try to retrieve Mickey’s magic hat from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Before the attraction opened in October 2003, Rothschild shared the following with Walt Disney World cast members:

“The last 3-D film that I worked on was The Magic Lamp Theater at Tokyo DisneySea, which made extensive use of 3-D animation for the first time. Working on that gave us the notion that something like Mickey’s PhilharMagic was possible, so we laid the groundwork with Disney Feature Animation, and everybody got excited.

“What allows us to do this attraction is the whole advancement of computer animation and 3-D technology that has been part of advancements used by Pixar Animation Studios and our own work, as well as outside studios. We needed more power and tools that work faster, and now we have them. It’s helped us accomplish what we’ve talked about for years: creating 3-D classic character animation.

“The building has gone through some pretty dramatic changes. The main structure remained but the projection booth was enhanced and enlarged. We’ve made a lot of use of the walls and ceiling and reworked a lot of what’s inside the theater shell. The exterior façade, the marquee and the queue are all new.

“We are using a number of laptops to program the show. There’s no audio or videotape that we have to start and stop like we did long ago. Everything is now stored digitally – just a hard drive with all the video images stored as individual images. You can either play it back in real time or you can stop it and literally work on it frame by frame, so you can study it and work on it very accurately.

“That’s so important because everything we do in programming all the special effects, the lighting and everything else is tied to the idea that you should feel absolutely connected to the world you’re looking at on the screen.

“There’s a great deal of subtlety in what we’re working on to make seamless connections that will suspend your disbelief and let you fall into the 3-D world. A lot of lighting cues and other effects are not designed to draw attention to themselves so much as they supplement the environment that you’re looking at and make you really feel that it’s extending into the real world, or that you’re in that world.

“The film differs dramatically from the other shows in terms of the journey that you go on. In Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and It’s Tough To Be a Bug, you’re physically in a theater. It’s a stage presentation, and things happen as a result of what you’re watching.

“Mickey’s PhilharMagic takes you on this magical journey into the worlds of Disney music and classic characters. The guests’ journey will be much more immersive than an apparent theatrical presentation that uses 3-D as a way to convey special effects.

“Every sense is going to be happily massaged. Sight, sound, tactile….the film is very tactile in a gentle, romantic way. In every different scene, you’re sort of reminded of the environment you’re in and hopefully, you’ll lose the sense that you’re in a theater and get caught up in this physical journey.”

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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 new books Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.

 

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May 21, 2021   No Comments

Fridays with Jim Korkis: The Seas with Nemo and Friends

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 SEAS WITH NEMO AND FRIENDS

By Jim Korkis

The Living Seas pavilion that included what was at the time the largest saltwater aquarium tank in the world opened at Epcot in January 1986. The hydrolaters and Seacabs that took guests to Sea Base Alpha were closed in 2001, although the rest of the pavilion and its restaurant remained open.

Starting in 2004, the pavilion was re-themed to the popular Pixar animated feature film Finding Nemo (2003). Imagineer Jerre Kirk was assigned the dual role of project and construction management to oversee the four phases of transformation.

The first phase was the creation and installation of Nemo’s Garden outside the pavilion. The second phase was the installation of the theater showcasing Turtle Talk with Crush. And the third phase was the re-imagining of Sea Base.

Kirk said, “This third phase was a re-do of the circulation space, merchandise area and the aquarium outside the original ride.” This re-do entailed a new color scheme to the entire pavilion that had to be done while the Coral Reef Restaurant remained fully operational.

The fourth and final phase was the Nemo attraction that officially opened January 2007. Principal engineer Jerold Kaplan said the biggest challenge was adapting to the existing ride around the aquarium.

Kaplan said, “The portion of the old ride that ran around the fish tank is the existing ride system. We snipped track off where it went in and out of the fish tank. The 280 feet of track we added is in the space that used to be theaters and the hydrolaters that took guests to the Sea Cabs.”

The new attraction transports guests in Clamobiles through nine scenes.

“The coral in the first thee ride scenes is a new technique,” said Kaplan. “They are very thin castings of fiberglass that never have been done before.”

Principal Production Designer Ed Hanna worked with Senior Production Designer Eric Miller and Production Designer Gary Graham to refine the technique until it was just right for the coral. Art directors for paint Allen Jones and Julie Bilski added to the process.

The finale includes an entire cast of animated characters from the film singing In the Big Blue World that had been written originally for the Finding Nemo: A Musical stage show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom composed by Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez that would open roughly two months later.

The animated characters appear to be inside the pavilion’s giant saltwater tank swimming with the real fish.

The projection technology in the finale scene was developed by R & D Designer Alfredo Ayala. He set up a demonstration that Imagineer Kathy Mangum said “really opened up the opportunity for us to create the finale. The technology really drove what the creative application could be.”

Imagineers had to tweak the animation and the projection to create the right effect. “Pixar was on site several times to go through the animation to get it right,” said Kaplan.

The anglerfish that chases Marlin in real life moves at incredible speeds and with great agility, so Imagineers had to find a way to make it look real. Making the anglerfish move the right way required extensive modifications of existing technology and lots of trial and error.

WDI vice president and project creative director Kathy Mangum said, “What’s so important about this attraction is that it revitalizes the whole pavilion for us.

“The aquarium is so stunning and this was our chance to take it, extend it and do the overlay using storytelling with classic Disney characters to introduce guests to the pavilion. Epcot is about exploring new places and it was a natural fit to tell the story by using these characters.”

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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 new books Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.

 

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May 14, 2021   No Comments