By Russell Meyer
This story will be a little different for regular Theme Park Insider readers, but should be of some interest to even the most casual theme park fan.Tweet
Saving Mr. Banks is a new film from Walt Disney Pictures that dramatizes the development of Mary Poppins. The screenplay, from relative unknown writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, follows the pre-production meetings and constant disagreements between author P.L. Travers and Walt Disney and his staff.
Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson (1992's Howard's End) plays the lead role of a writer wedded to her work but in need of financing. She has been receiving yearly requests for two decades to adapt her beloved children's book for a silver screen treatment by Walt Disney. After staring blankly at her typewriter and some nudging from her agent, she agrees to take a two-week trip to LA in 1961 to listen to the pitch. Thompson's Travers clings to her creation like a prized possession, and has a specific vision in mind for Poppins. She enters the meetings vehemently opposed to her character being given a musical treatment, and absolutely against it becoming an animated feature.
Walt Disney, played by Tom Hanks, does everything he can to woo the curmudgeonly stubborn writer. From a suite full of stuffed Disney characters and assorted gift baskets to cakes, donuts, and Mickey-shaped Jell-O at production meetings, to a private car with a charming chauffeur played by Paul Giamatti, Walt does everything he can do to make Mrs. Travers happy. Did I mention that Walt went to all of these lengths, along with oodles of pre-production, without even having a signed agreement giving his company production rights to the property? He did, after all, make a promise to his daughters that he would make Mary Poppins a reality. Disney introduces Travers to Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford of "West Wing" fame) and the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), who begin to lay out their vision for Mary Poppins. Unfortunately for them, Travers is disgusted with the treatment, right down to the mustache on the family patriarch's face.
The audience is left to wonder why Travers, an imaginative storyteller, would be so untrusting of Disney and his staff, and why is she so distant and reserved. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side and The Rookie) choses to reveal the development of Mary Poppins chronologically weaved in with flashbacks of Travers' childhood growing up in Australia with her parents (Colin Farrell and Ruth Wilson) and siblings. Farrell's father character lends insight into the source of Travers' imagination, but is far from a perfect role model.
Bring a period piece, Saving Mr. Banks features some wonderful costumes and props from Travers' childhood (turn of the 20th century) along with the early 60's. Disney and theme park fans will salivate over the level of detail in Walt's office and the look of the 60's-era Disneyland costumed characters. The producers even performed some principal photography in Disneyland, as in one scene, Walt invites Travers to the park to demonstrate his devotion to storytelling.
Travers initially scoffs at the invitation, calling Disneyland Walt's "personal dollar printing machine." Theme park fans are probably going to want to see more of Disneyland in this movie, but the park is rarely featured on film, and aside from Escape From Tomorrow, a film that may never get a wide big-screen release, Saving Mr. Banks provides the most extensive views of the park albeit for only about 6 minutes.
I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that Travers eventually concedes to letting Disney make Mary Poppins, and the rest, they say, is history. Ultimately, the story is more about storytelling and family than the casting of Dick Van Dyke and animated penguins. Hanks' Disney is a little strange, probably caused by his identifiable look and portrayal of so many other historical figures (Jim Lovell, Carl Hanratty, Charlie Wilson, and the very recent captain Richard Phillips). He tries to summon Disney through his voice and characteristic syncopation, but it just didn't ring true for me. On the other hand, Thompson's Travers is mesmerizing, despite being an overly hyperbolic character. Farrell, Whitford, and Schwartzman provide strong supporting performances, but Giamatti was an under-utilized, yet key character.
The movie also features much of the music from the original movie, which audiences will be singing along with and humming long after the credits have stopped rolling. Scenes of the recently restored film (for its 50th anniversary Blu-Ray release) are shown at the end. Despite being a late-year release, Saving Mr. Banks probably won't garner any Best Picture award nominations, but it's possible that Thompson may receive recognition for her superb performance. Despite the limited length of Disneyland's appearance in the film, theme park fans, and especially Disney fans will really enjoy this movie.
By Robert Niles
More information continues to emerge about Shanghai Disneyland, now under construction. At a conference with investors, Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo (the former head of Disney Parks) today said that Disney and its Chinese partners are envisioning a rapid expansion of the park after it opens in late 2015. "We're opening the park for a pretty healthy number of attendees but more importantly both we and our partners and the Shanghai government are eager and willing to expand rapidly after that," Rasulo said.Tweet
Shanghai Disneyland construction in September. Photo courtesy Stefan Zwanzger
Consider this a verbal Rorschach test of your optimism about Disney Parks. Does this mean that Disney's anticipating a hit, and making plans to follow up with even more attractions? Or that Disney's dropping yet another half-finished theme park on us in 2015 and already trying to pre-empt criticism with early promises of a fix?
Last week, Disney unveiled concept art for an 11-acre gardens that will stand at the hub of the park. Today, Rasulo said that the Shanghai Disney Resort will be 1,000 acres when it opens, third in size behind the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris resorts. But Rasulo said that Disney expects Shanghai ultimately could top Tokyo's 28 million annual attendance, placing it second behind only the Walt Disney World Resort. It's hard to imagine Shanghai doing that without a second gate. Is that the expansion Rasulo teased? We'll see.
Speaking of the Disney parks, Facebook has revealed the top 25 destinations worldwide for check-ins using the social media service in 2013. Facebook excluded airports and other transportation hubs to focus on destinations, instead. Four of the world's five Disney resorts made the list: Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Tokyo Disney in Japan, plus Disneyland Paris in France, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Curiously, the Disney resort with the most actual visitors — Walt Disney World — did not make the list. Does this that Disney World visitors are less likely to use Facebook? Or does it suggest that Facebook check-ins skew more toward locals on a day trip or night out than toward visitors on vacation away from home?
One more Disney item: Our new Orlando correspondent, Krista Joy, reports that the popular Beaches and Cream at Walt Disney World's Beach Club Resort will begin taking reservations December 18th.
Here's something for thrill fans: Adventuredome at Circus Circus in Las Vegas this week is planning to complete the track for its new El Loco roller coaster. This new S&S Worldwide model will allow "riders to enjoy movements never before experienced," according to a press release from MGM Resorts International, owner of Circus Circus. More details:
Accompanied by a customized soundtrack, El Loco’s unique elements will provide guests with a 72-second, adrenaline-pumping adventure, including:
The El Loco coaster car. Photo courtesy Circus Circus
The ride description and the car photo remind me of Universal's Rip, Ride, Rockit. Thoughts?
Finally, we're pleased to announce that our new Orlando guidebook, Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014 is now available via iTunes! You can read Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014 via the iBooks app on your iPhone or iPad. The guidebook also remains available for Kindle (and Kindle apps) at Amazon.com. Or you can buy the book in paperback. (Readers in the United Kingdom can buy the book via Amazon UK, too.)
If you've already gotten a copy, first, thank you! And, second, we'd certainly appreciate your reviews of the book, via Amazon or Apple. Positive reviews help encourage both Amazon and Apple to suggest the book to more readers, so please support your favorite authors by reviewing their books, no matter who they are!
By Robert Niles
Disney's launched a new online animated series inspired by its classic theme park attraction, "It's a Small World."Tweet
The first episode, It's a Jolly Holi Day, brings the "Small World" kids to India to celebrate Holi.
Disney also recently launched a new merchandise line featuring Small World-inspired dolls, representing the various nations depicted in the ride by Mary Blair's original designs.
In a recent interview with Theme Park Insider, Disney Imagineer and company Legend Tony Baxter expressed Disney's multimedia approach toward intellectual property. If a theme park attraction doesn't derive from another medium, Baxter said, Disney will create content in other media featuring the characters and themes of that attraction in order to support it. That's the attitude that led to the billion-dollar Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, as well a multiple attempts to launch other movies based on Disney theme park attractions.
An online animated series is much less expensive to produce than feature films, or even TV specials, and provides Disney another opportunity to connect "Small World" with its pre-school and early-elementary target audience.
Have you watched "It's a Small World - the Animated Series"? What did you think?
By Anthony Murphy
We began our last trip to Walt Disney World with a trip to the much hyped Kona Café in Disney's Polynesian Resort. This smaller and open-air restaurant seems to have been created for overflow from the famous Ohana, but this restaurant has created a reputation for its breakfast.Tweet
When we arrived, we were promptly seated, but the place was full of people. We didn’t feel claustrophobic, but I could see some guests feeling a little close to each other in certain areas of the place. Reservations were not hard to get, but there were very few walk ups that were able to find openings.
We started our breakfast with some Kona Coffee and some Liliko’i Juice which was made with Orange, Passion Fruit, and Guava. My mother works at Whole Foods coffee section so she is familiar with Kona Coffee and she said that this was some of the best she ever had. My Liliko’I Juice was a little warm, but I didn’t mind because it told me that this was squeezed and made to order. It was one of the best juices I have ever had. Very tasty!
The main reason why I wanted to come here is the (Walt Disney) world famous Tonga Toast, a French Toast concoction that has been named best breakfast items by other travel and Disney websites. It is a banana stuffed sourdough French toast rolled in cinnamon sugar and topped with strawberry compote. Now, I am usually not a fan of French Toast since it is usually pretty soggy, but the Tonga Toast came out crunchy and left the softness to the fresh bananas in the middle. This dish lives up to its reputation. It was one of the most unusual and delicious items I have ever eaten for breakfast. It was outstanding without the compote, but adding it gave more flavors to the dish. It also came with a choice of a side (I got bacon).
My parents decided to share the Big Kahuna and it probably was a good idea. It was huge! It included French Toast (not Tonga), Pancakes topped with pineapple sauce, eggs, potatoes, ham, sausage, and bacon. I got to taste everything on this dish and the pancakes were really good. I am surprised that this is a dish for one person because it was easily enough for my two parents.
If neither of these items sound like your kind of breakfast, do not worry. Kona Café also has omelets, steak and eggs, and pancakes to name a few. What we really liked about Kona Café is we felt that the pricing for what you got was very good. Sure, you are still at Disney World, but the food did not appear to be overpriced. The Tonga Toast and Big Kahuna was around $13. If you are looking for a breakfast place that is really good and has more than just the common bacon and eggs, I highly recommend checking this place out!
If you don’t want to sit down and just are looking for some pastries and Kona Coffee, they do have a quick service right next to the restaurant. Sorry, no Tonga Toast there!
By Krista Joy
The 2013 holiday season is here, and Universal invites you to start "untraditional" holiday traditions at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.Tweet
This year I was very fortunate to attend on the behalf of Theme Park Insider for the opening of the 2013 holiday celebrations at Universal. You too can catch the festivities at Universal December 7 through January 4.
Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular
The Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular is the centerpiece of the Grinchmas celebration at Seuss Landing. It's a very sweet, live show starring the Grinch. The show also includes a colorful cast of Who-ville residents and music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller. As wonderful as the live actors are, an actual dog plays the part of the Grinch's dog Max, and he certainly steals the show at times. The Wholiday Spectacular is scheduled at various times throughout the day. You will want to check your in-park map for times. Something important to note is that there aren't any restrooms available inside the building — so be sure to plan accordingly. The show is really enjoyable and the Grinch makes the audience laugh quite a bit. I remember being a little frightened by the cartoon at a young age — but nothing about this show seemed to bother even the youngest kids, which was nice.
The Who-ville Tree as seen backstage when you are waiting for the show to open.
Who-ville residents are super excited that Christmas is coming!
Max rides on the sled that the Grinch has filled with gifts. To get the best view of this part of the show, you'll want to sit stage left.
The Who-ville Tree before the Grinch steals the ornaments...
Then afterwards...that naughty Grinch!
No worries, at the end of the show all is restored, and the Grinch is much more kind and gentle. However he does not lose his gritty edge. He is still that rebellious Grinch that we all know and love.
After the show, the media was treated to a question and answer session with the show director for Universal Orlando Resort, Lora Wallace, and John Piper, the vice president and creative director of the Macy's Parade. It really shows that they are very proud of just about every aspect of this beloved parade. The excitement and giddiness of these two business professionals was really great to see.
One of the things Lora and John told us is that the major change in this year's parade is the addition of Happy Hippo. Just like the song, "I want a hippopotamus for Christmas," Happy is really fun and makes everyone smile. You may recognize Happy from her TV appearance on the original Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. She hasn't appeared in the parade since the 1940's — and she has had a makeover since then. She is now in Orlando, fresh from New York, with her newly updated girly pink toenails and eyelashes. In fact — she is such a star — that she was revealed to us in her very own mini preview. Doesn't she look fabulous?
This is the first time Universal Studios guests will be able to see a parade balloon before it's marched through the park. Happy will make a street appearance like this one near Mel's Drive-In each night. "She will walk out as low as we can possibly make her walk..." said Lora. Balloon pilots also delighted guests by making Happy "dance" and jiggle to the music. It is really funny to see. Happy will appear at 3:50 p.m. ahead of the 5 p.m. parade during Universal's event except from Dec. 26 to Dec. 31, when the parade will step off at 8 p.m., and Happy will appear at about 6:50 p.m.
Safety precautions were also discussed during the press conference. John told me that the New York and Orlando balloon pilots go through very extensive training. In fact, because the show here in Orlando has been running for so many years, some of the Orlando pilots are now training the New York pilots. Other members of the team in white suits with devices that measure wind speed can be seen everywhere before and during the parade. Universal turns all the traditional looking street lamps to the side, and any that have pointed decorations are covered in Santa hats as an added precaution.
Santa hats — not just for decoration!
This method has worked so well that many of the light posts wear jester hats during that other famous parade at Universal — Mardi Gras! Once the press conference was over we made our way to our parade viewing spot.
Along the way we saw Curious George
and these sweet faces behind us!
Macy's Holiday Parade
For many of us, The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is something most of us have probably only seen on TV. The beauty of Universal hosting this parade here in Orlando is that once the legendary New York City parade ends, many of its awesome balloons and (even the floats!) are sent down here to us!
Universal does a great job with this spectacular version of the parade. Here are some highlights:
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