Thursday, September 3, 2015

Where have you been?

   It's been a while since I last said I'll see you all a little later... about two years, give or take?

   I'm sure anyone who's been following S&FS for the past half a decade has noticed a decline in content and posts over the years. So I'm here to answer questions about what's been going on behalf of one loyal fan who suggested I do so.

Q: So first thing's first: Is this blog dead, or is it you're imagination? Hmm?

A: Well, I don't really have a concrete answer. I'd like to say no, but I can't guarantee that ether. A new post could materialize randomly one day. But I just don't have the time right now to write, nor do I have the motivation, which is key. You'll also notice I've been wiping some of my old posts and revisiting some too. Expect this part to continue at a random pace. Several post may vanish. A new paragraph may join one. Pictures may disappear from one post and a new picture or two may materialize in an older post. So don't mark us down as dead yet on any death certificate... we may just hurry back here at some point...

Q: There's been a noticeable lack of "Strange & Frightening SOUNDS" coming out of S&FS. What happened to all the monthly mixes and downloads and stuff? All the cool stuff you used to release?

A: It's gone. It's over. It's not coming back. A surprise or two might turn up but an effort is being made to change the S&FS image. It's not about handing out music or media. It's tribute to the Haunted Mansion, Phantom Manor, and other related attractions and media ventures like movies and Halloween stuff. That might have been what jump started S&FS, but it's not the big picture I have for the S&FS brand. I want a nice little tribute site, a blog, and an active Facebook community that all love the same things. It was cool to share stuff for a while but I've learned I can't always trust my fans with the policies I released the stuff under, and I don't want the Mouse coming after to me. So the time has come to put that part of our brand to rest.

Q: What's up with the site? Is it ever coming back?

A: At some point it will be back, but it's a slow process. I can't give an estimate because I don't have one. Expect virtual written tours with pictures and some fan art and fan fiction galleries when it's ready for launch.

Q: Where did the battle of the Mansions post go?!?

A: Away to be re-written and re-posted someday.

Q: What's up with "A Night in the Haunted Mansion"?

A: It's in creep mode. It's still in the works. It's not dead. Think of it as being in development hell except it's not producers or studio executives holding us back. It's time, money, and resources. I don't care what it takes, I will see that project through one day. It may be in 10 years, it may be in 50. But an indie movie based on "The Story and Song of the Haunted Mansion" record will exist one day. I want to see it so I'm going to make it. 

Q: How can I stay up to date with S&FS and what's going on?

A: Facebook. That's where it all happens these days, if anything is happening.

   So yeah, we're not entirely dead. But when have we ever been alive?


Monday, November 4, 2013

Halloween at the Haunted Mansion

   Ah, there you are…

   I’m sorry this isn’t the next installment of the battle of the mansions, but before the details slip into my subconscious, I wanted to put together a report on my latest visit to Walt Disney World. Let it be known that visiting the Mansion again has given me a renewed interest in revisiting the battle; and since I’ve be stuck in another part that is all similarities and very little differences, it should be easier to make it through writing up this part.

   For those of you who don’t know by now, I spent my Halloween at the Magic Kingdom. I came dressed as… well, see bellow:

   The costume was inspired heavily by the Phantom from Phantom Manor, but I’m doubtful even a handful of attendees at the party knew that was what it was supposed to be. And honestly, that wasn't important anyway, because the reaction I got was regions beyond what I would have guessed at. From the moment I stepped out onto the dock at the Fort Wilderness marina to catch a boat the Magic Kingdom, I was met by oohs, ahs, pointing fingers, weird stares, and hushed whispers along with the occasional “awesome costume” or similar compliment. I boarded the boat which was filled with everything from a family of pirates to students of Hogwarts and set off for the 10 or so minute cruise to the marina over in the Seven Seas Lagoon. As I sat there in my costumer, I began to realize just how miserable the next few hours might end up being; trapped in a mask with a few layers of all black, sunshine sucking clothing on. It also occurred to me that begging hot and sweaty for just one night a year to go to a theme park looking as cool as I did was probably worth it.

   As I sat there, the first of many similar moments that made my night began to happen. I notice a little girl turned around in her seat staring back at me a few rows up. She and her family were all dressed as pirates. She must have been three or four at the most, and I really couldn't gather what kind of stare it was at first. Curious? Scared? I stared back, and realize my predicament was almost like the one Mickey Mouse faces when little kids stare at him. I couldn't really talk in the mask; at least very loudly. I couldn't convey any emotion with my face other than the eyes. I realized that trying to smile to reassure her I wasn't as scary as I looked didn't work right from the off. So I waved and nodded my head. She just kept staring, and soon her parents noticed. I didn't hold a stare, because that would have obviously come off as creepy, even if I wasn't wearing a spooky mask. Plus, I didn't want to build a reputation as being too scary before even entering the park. It is called “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party” for a reason. I’d look over every now and then. Before we got to the Magic Kingdom, the father asked if I would take a picture with the little girl. I thought, “Sure, I’m not in the park yet.” If you didn't already know, Disney doesn't really like you to take pictures in costume with others at the parks, probably because others are being paid to do just the same thing by the mouse. A few people have been kicked out of the Halloween party for posing for pictures with people before, so I was cautious about doing it too often throughout the night. The little girl in the pirate costume cautiously approached me, and then sat next to me, and they took the photo. I could tell she was nervous at first but after taking the picture, she realized that I wasn't anything to be afraid of. I ran into the family a few more times that night, and the little girl waved and I waved back. I got this good feeling from it; a connection between strangers of sorts. I thought, this has got to be what Mickey feels when he sees the little kids smiling back at him, not knowing who or what is inside the costume, but seeing him for what he is on the outside. Maybe it was Disney magic.

   I posed with a few more children that night, each of whom cautiously approached me, but in the end, realized I wasn't a bad person, even if I looked a bit scary. Like I said, I was just as cautious about taking photos with others as I was about coming off as scary around little kids. The last thing I needed was to have a security guard have me take the mask off. That would have ruined my night. For the first hour or two I was very cautious about how I presented myself, but I started to realize nobody cared, and that the mass majority of people, both staff and guests, though my costume was awesome. I had to take the mask off while going through security, purchasing souvenirs, and eating for obvious reasons, but left it on the rest of the night. Those times I did take it off actually came as a relief, because it was like a breath of fresh air without it on.

   At one point, I was riding Pirates and was placed in the back seat of the boat behind a family including two children, a mom, dad, and grandmother. The mom turned around and commented on how creepy it was to have me sitting behind them as we cruised into the darkness of the grotto scenes. I nodded in response, as there wasn't much more I could do. The sound of the pounding water around us would have been enough muffle anything I was saying into complete silence with the mask on. As we neared the drop, the father put his arm around the mom’s back and she freaked out, thinking it was me at first!

   Another funny instance occurred at Big Thunder Mountain. As my train pulled back into the station, I stared back at the people waiting behind the gates to get into the car I was in for the next go-round. They remarked something about how “that’s not what I want to see at this point” like I was an omen of death returning to the station as they prepared to climbed aboard a runaway mine train.

   Riding Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, I did the “Hitchhiking Ghost” pose. On Splash Mountain, the family I was placed in the log with seemed to be riding it for the first time. You can always tell when they are shouting out in anticipation saying “this is it” and such things as you climb the first lift hill, like they think the big drop is coming. At one point they had me turn around to take a picture with the nice young lady dressed as Minnie Mouse in the front. I couldn't really tell what was scaring her more; the prospect of getting wet on the ride, and when the big drop would come, or having me sitting next to her.

   Several people actually though I worked at the park too, which was pretty cool. Maybe someday, but not at the moment, no.

   Of course, coming back to the Magic Kingdom meant visiting the Mansion. This was the first time I had been there since the installation of the new Fast Pass+ Queue and adjustments, as well as the adjacent Rapunzel themed bathrooms and walkway. With the trees beginning to grow in, I don’t think the tower is as much of an eyesore to the Mansion as it was when they first installed it. The rock work and connection to the fence is all really well done. It’s weird to think that just a little over a year or so ago, there was a mound of land covered in trees there, along with Madame Leota’s souvenir cart. I spoke with a Mansion Cast Member who told me he believes that the cart will not be coming back. It was missing the entire trip, so it doesn't look as though it is going to be relocated elsewhere, as there really isn't anywhere to place it.

   As for the controversy of removing the plaque signs from the Mansion’s entry way; I have to clear some things up. First and foremost, just because its gone now doesn't mean it won’t come back. Sure, Disneyland’s exterior graveyard has long been extinct and never returned. But the Magic Kingdom’s headstones vanished in January 2011 during the construction of the new interactive queue only to return later in different locations when the construction was finished. The plaques themselves have actually moved before too. They haven’t always been on the posts at the main gate, because the main gate hasn't always existed! They were originally hung on either side of the portico leading into the breezeway, but moved down to their most recent location after the new gate was installed. Now obviously, if you study the pictures even slightly, you’ll notice their position has been taken by new signs with safety information on them, so they can’t come back in the same place that they were located before. But perhaps they can return closer to their original location. The original location itself wouldn't exactly be a prime area to place them now, since the traffic patterns have changed in this area and not everyone would see them. But perhaps they can be hung where they are at Tokyo Disneyland’s Mansion; on either side of the doors that lead into the foyer.

   Another thing that needs clearing up is that you DO NOT have to go through the interactive graveyard. There is a pathway to bypass it even if you don’t have a Fast pass, as shown in the picture bellow:

   ...So all you party poopers who can’t stand having a little fun in the graveyard can be quiet and keep moving forward, thank you very much.

   I’m also extremely happy they have replaced all the red tarps with green. The green color looks so much better. It blends in with the foliage more, and it doesn't look like as much of a circus ten as the red one did. Now all of the tarps match too. Originally, the interactive area was installed with the green tarp while the red tarps that were installed prior too in 2007 after the Re-Haunting remained, which looked weird. I was as though they forgot which color the tarps where. Prior to 2007, the tarp was green. Thankfully, the green tarp has made a return!

   The only thing I think that looks a little odd is the lighting under the signs at night, but other than that, I really don’t think the change was a bad one.

   You know what they say about the Mansion; every time you go in, you’re bound to find something new. For me, that statement hasn't been very true, partially because I know so much about the ride that finding new stuff seems illogical. I know the ride by heart, and all its little details. So when I spot things like a pattern in the carpets in the foyer and load area that I never noticed before, or a mausoleum up on a hill in the finale scene, it’s a big deal to me. I’m sure none of you would get as excited as I did about noticing the pattern in the carpet.

   During my stay, I’m sure the majority of the Mansion staff noticed me frequenting the attraction. I became accustomed to being greeted by “Back again?” or “You look familiar?” during the course of the half week I was there. It’s not hard to get noticed when you ride the ride consecutively in sets of 10. Nor is it hard to get noticed when you have to wear a trench coat all day because it was raining and you forgot to pack a rain jacket; leaving you with part of your Halloween costume as your only option to stay dry. (You’ll never catch me wearing a poncho) The one night, the park was open until 1:00 in the morning. I showed up the mansion again after visiting other parts of the park around 11:30 or so. I’ll just say I didn't stray far from the ride for the rest of the night. By 12:20 or so, I received permission to stay inside the mansion until the park closed and I had to leave. I want to personally thank the current mansion staff for their hospitality and generosity in letting me stick around into the wee hours of the night; and even going as far to let me stay on for one more go-round at 12:58, two minutes before closing. Not one of them was out of character either. I know it’s become customary for some people to think that working at the mansion means you don’t have to smile, and that’s it. But you've got to be in character too. Sadly, there have been times in the past when I have visited, and the maid or butler who opens the door just isn't in character, and just sound like your typical grumpy employee who you could find at a local Walmart. The maids and butlers are an integral part of the ride, and I can honestly say that this time around, I really noticed that more than I have before, because the current staff was really good at what they were doing. Keep up the good work and thanks again!

   Overall, I had a great time as usual. I met some new people and, got to ride the mansion with a few new people too; which is almost always fun as I generally ride alone, so riding with someone is always a pleasant change.

   Keep your eyes open for the next battle of the mansions post, which should materialize in the coming weeks… hopefully…

   I’ll see you all a little later...


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mystic Manor: Not A Mansion, Just an Awesome Stand Alone Attraction

   Welcome, Foolish Mortals...

   Today, we are going to cover a very current, very controversial topic. Well, okay, it may not be as controversial as the interactive queue updates, but in my eyes, it's controversial. Today, we are going to explore Mystic Manor; something I have said time and time again on various S&FS media outlets that our site will not cover. Let me restate that much used phrase. We will only cover it for instances because it's a "related attraction or medium", not a Mansion, and that's the whole reason why we're going to look at it today. Because it's not a Mansion. I'm not against it like I used to be, but that's only come to light very, very recently. I have very strong opinions about it, and much like the others who blog about my local Mansion in Orlando without ever visiting it and trying to make a point about how terrible something is. I'm going to be a hypocrite and do the same thing.. well, sort of. I'm going to post strong opinions about something I've never seen in person, and am only relying on videos and images to piece together my strong opinion. Unlike the other bloggers though, I'm not going to force you to agree with me. I just want to make a point, and you can choose if you want to agree or not. But because I strongly believe in my point on mystic point, this blog post may be a bit bias. I've never been to Hong Kong Disneyland before, nor do I have any plans in the foreseeable future to do so. You'll understand why momentarily. Let's begin.

   I don't want to sound overly negative throughout this entire post because that is no longer my mindset on the subject of Mystic Manor, but we can being this post on a sour note and get a little more positive as we reach the end. I feel like this is the perfect opportunity to address some issues about the park in which this ride exists without giving the issues their own highly negative post to exist in. Our story begins before Mystic Manor even made it's first appearance on a drawing board. Back in September of 2005 when Hong Kong Disneyland first opened, let's face the facts. It was the lamest Disneyland Park on paper at the time when it opened. When Disneyland opened, it was an innovative concept, and the fact that it lacked any big rides was completely okay because at the time, no one really knew what a Disneyland was; other then those in the company who had been working on it for so long. When Walt Disney World opened, the map was far from the full day's experience of today. But it had major E-Ticket attractions like the Haunted Mansion and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, drastically improved versions of Disneyland rides that were not even present at the time when the original first opened. Tokyo Disneyland opened with a great amount of big name rides. Even more big name rides debuted on opening day at Euro Disneyland, later renamed Disneyland Paris. But Hong Kong Disneyland was a dud in terms of what it opened with on paper in comparison to the previous two parks.

   You have condensed versions of four lands. No Frontierland in sight. Just Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, and... yeah, that's it... short list, eh? And you're only big name attractions were it's a Small World, Space Mountain, and if you want to count it, a heavily modified version of Jungle Cruise. The park's opening day turned out to be a repeat of  Disneyland's Black Sunday all over again. The park ran out of burgers, and lines for food around the park equaled that of those in queue for Space Mountain. But all the issues with lack of major attractions and space stem down to one major mistake when planing the fifth Disneyland park: a crescent shape hill that the designers just had to work into the backdrop. It's that hill that caused all of the additional attractions added to the park to be squeezed outside the berm, because they built the railroad around the tiny little park they debuted on opening day. Thus, an effort has been made to squeeze in mutated versions of various missing classics.

   The single mutated offspring of Expedition Everest, Grizzly River Rapids, Big Thunder Mountain, and Silver Dollar City's Power Keg made it's debuted in Grizzly Gulch; a small land standing in for Frontierland under the overly long name of Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. Take a look at this themed thrill ride lovechild bellow:

   Sure, it looks like a pretty awesome ride if you try and keep out of your mind the fact that it's a stand in for several other attractions combined into one to save space. Thus, we can assume Hong Kong Disneyland will never receive any of the attractions that were combined into this one to save space. One less Big Thunder Mountain... That's just the point though; other than Space Mountain and it's a Small World, every single major ride has been downsized or mutated into another to save space by combing the experiences of several rides into one. Jungle Cruise now takes place in the rivers or america shaped water way, and functions as a transportation ride to reach Tarzan's Tree House. And don't even get me started on Toy Story land, which should not exist in a Disneyland park, period. Big ugly carnival rides have to business in the heavily themed park, no matter how much themed overhaul they try to toss on them. They just don't belong. Send that stuff over to a Studio back lot park where it can exist without ruining the atmosphere!

   I guess this brings us to our main point of origin for the post. Mystic Point. This land stands in for... well... if I had to guess, it stands in for a new land because there was no room left in Adventureland, and because more lands on paper can lead a bumbling idiot to assume more rides on paper, the decision was made to not just expand Adventureland beyond the berm for this attraction. Anyhow, Mystic Manor is in Mystic point, and since it was announced, the general idea was that this was going to be Hong Kong Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. I was one of the very few who seemed to vent my anger and disagreement with this idea. The idea of the fifth Haunted Mansion revolving around a Monkey wearing a Fez drove me to rage, and still does. This video leaked earlier today, and it's clear to me now that this is NOT a Haunted Mansion, but a stand alone attraction. A really awesome stand alone attraction. Take a look this soft opening view inside Mystic Manor, which officially opens in May of 2013, and then continue reading; or stop reading this post if you for some reason don't want to spoil Mystic Manor for yourself, because the video is integral on getting my point across, so you really have no need to read on, because it won't matter. Anyway, take a look:

  Pretty awesome, eh? But it's no Haunted Mansion. Why so? Well, besides my issue with the Monkey wearing a Fez, it's doesn't fit certain criteria.Things that Phantom Manor fits, as well as the other three Haunted Mansions. Just because the concept art presented was overlaid on Rolly Crump's infamous indigo wallpaper doesn't mean it's automatically the fifth mansion. First and foremost, there is a certain lack of ghosts! Due in part to the fact that apparently for cultural reasons, it is frowned upon in Hong Kong to represent the dead as ghosts. So we don't have that grand ballroom scene or anything like it in Mystic Manor. No ghosts at all in fact. How can you call it a "Haunted" Mansion if it's not even haunted? Mystic Manor is cursed, not haunted. Phantom Manor and the other three Mansions are haunted, Mystic Manor is not. There's not Grim Grinning Ghosts, even though I'm sure Danny Elfman's Mystic Manor music is fantastic. There's no Doombuggies, or ride track for that matter. And there's a Monkey with a Fez. It's not Hong Kong Disneyland's Haunted Mansion; it's the ride Hong Kong Disneyland ends up getting in place of a Haunted Mansion, which is a ride they will never have due to spacial constraints.

   I don't blindly hate Mystic Manor as I did when it was first announced. After seeing the footage, I can safely say it's not a Haunted Mansion without needing to convince myself of that fact. It's not haunted because there are no ghosts. Maybe someday we will see that fifth Haunted Mansion get built. Mystic Manor isn't it. Mystic Manor is an awesome stand alone attraction that pushes the limits of what can be done with rides today. I'm honestly pretty impressed by what I've seen. It does not fit the criteria to put it alongside the Haunted Mansion in Anaheim  Orlando, Tokyo, and Phantom Manor in France. But it is an awesome little ride that makes Hong Kong Disneyland just a little bit better. With all the past failures in the short history of Hong Kong Disneyland, Mystic Manor looks like a step in bright direction. Now just tear down Toy Story Land and build a Splash Mountain in it's place, and it will finally be worth a visit!

   Who's idea was it to go all Cedar fair in a Disneyland Park? Seriously... not cool...

I'll see you all a little later...


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Case of the Missing Pirates

Avast thar' mateys!

  A Happy St.Patrick's Day to all! Just so you all are aware, tomorrow is the 46th anniversary of Disneyland's classic attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean. So for today, we're going to do another post all about Pirates. Actually, this post is going to center around two particular pirates for the most part. You may have heard one of them if you own the Disneyland Forever Pirates CD, and you might have seen both of them if you've ever looked at concept art or pictures of WED's miniature model. But the one place you have never seen these two pirates is in the ride. Which two pirates am I talking about?

  The two buccaneers seen in the Marc Davis concept art above very nearly made it into the ride's burning the town scene. While the quote accompanying the image above from Jason Surrell's Pirates of the Caribbean: From The Magic Kingdom to the Movies says otherwise...
"Walt loved this 1965 Marc Davis concept of drunken pirates in a dinghy overloaded with rum bottles, but the gag never made it off the drawing board."
...there's more than enough evidence to support that his claim is bogus. It did indeed make it off the drawing board, and there's enough evidence to say it even made it past the model stage. Surrell covers so much in his book that I can't really get on him for overlooking these two guys. Get yourself a copy of the book if you don't already own one, because everything until the last section (about the films) is worth reading over and over again. Anyhow, back to the two pirates...

  As seen in the artwork above, the duo of drunken pirates in the boat appear again in Claude Coat's panoramic rendering of the burning town scene. Besides the two missing pirates, (and the tenor in the musical trio playing what appears to be a tuba or trumpet) the rendering is exactly the same as what the scene would look like in the finished attraction. Compare bellow:

  Notice all that space between the boat with the pilfering pirate and the seawall off to the left of the shot above? That's about where the duo of drunks in their boat would have been if they had made it into the show. As I said before, the duo made it off the drawing board. Bellow, photographic evidence shows that they did make it into the 3-dimensional stage of production.

Photo from

  When creating a new attraction, the Imagineers always make a scaled model to work out any issues before moving into the full-sized version. This is a tradition carried on to this very day. Even New Fantasyland got a scaled model...

  Notice the slight difference in placement of the pirates between the black and white shot and the colored shot. In the B&W shot, there is a pirate holding a jug of rum sitting on a treasure chest behind the pirate stealing the loot. Notice that in the colored shot the treasure chests are there, but the pirate is not. Several alteration were made to the models before they decided on what would make it into the finished show. Every shot available (that I myself have located. If you know where to find more, I'd love to see them) of the burning the town scene features these two drunks in the boat, furthering the idea that they were cut late in the into game... very late actually... because one of the two pirates even had an audio track recorded for them.

  On the official Disneyland Forever Pirates of the Caribbean CD, a track called "Drinking Pirate" is offered, but listed as "never used", preformed by legendary voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft. The track consists of the sounds of gulping and hiccuping sounds that play in sync with the instrumental of "Yo-Ho A Pirate's Life for Me." You can hear a sample of the track here. This track would obviously fit at least one of pirates in the boat, or perhaps even the pirate who went missing from the black and white model still. While many have said they believe the track is used at Disneyland Paris for the pirate bellow, I can safely say this is not the case; having been on the French version of the attraction myself. The sleeping pirate bellow has no audio track.

  So, we are left to assume that they were pulled for aesthetic reasons, or perhaps noise pollution? Much like the muting of the Knight's vocals in Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion as of 2007, the idea of too much noise from one area makes sense to some degree. Maybe it was because there was too much happening on the left side of trough, and not enough on the right side. Maybe they got rid of them to even the action out a bit. On the left side, you have the two drunks clinging to one another; the drunk clinging to the lamp post; the pirate with the tower of hats and loot; and even the parrot on the bridge is technically off to the left side of the bridge. Then you have the drunk with the hairy leg in the center. On the right, there's the drunk in the mud with the pigs, and that's it. So many pirates off to the left... an there could have been at least two or three more...

  Before I wrap this post up and bury it in the graveyard of former posts, I'd like to touch on a few more addition that never made it into the final version of the show. Several pieces of concept art reveal scenes that would make the infamous pooped pirate blush. These risque scenes are much more suggestive then the final scene which was altered in the mid 1990's due to a few complaints about the sexual tension lingering around it. I wonder what these would have looked like had they made it off the drawing board into the final version?

  The lower one in particular peeks my interest the most. Although some audio snippets of what could have come from the artwork above it do exist, the concept of Pirates playing tug-of-war with a young maiden... I don't know, it takes the pooped pirate gag and amplifies it's provocativeness tenfold. It's not longer a chase, the pirates have captured their quarry. Surprisingly  this scene made it into the most recent version of the attraction in a less physical, silhouette form. Disneyland Paris's Pirates is the only version to still feature the "original" version of the chase scene. While there are a few differences; such as the dialogue being in French; several new additions were included to this version. The most famous of these additions are the inclusion of a  pirate and a townsman engaging one another in a sword fight, but my favorite addition can be seen in the video bellow:

  So what if it's inappropriate? It's France! You see naked women in adds all over the place in France! A little roughhousing (if you want to look at it in a glass half full style scenario... just whatever you do, don't call it a rape scene... that's all that needs to be said and this gag would be scraped) between two drunken men and a young woman isn't that outlandish, especially when all we can see it the outline.

  Well, that's all I've got to say about that... now off with ya'!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Visual Comparisons: Part 1

Ah, there you are...

  As you can see, this post's title is accompanied by a "part 1" indicating that it will be the first in a series. This series won't be a back to back installment with a final chapter though. Think of these Visual Comparison installments as small trivial posts. There are many things that you can compare with photos when it comes to the Haunted Mansion; especially if you have a constantly growing photo library the size of mine. So, let us begin this first installment:

  As many of my readers already know, I'm an avid Orlando Mansion supporter. I'm used to receiving negative feedback from some of my readers for my constant nagging about the Anaheim original. In this initial installment of Visual Comparisons, we will take a look at some elements in the attraction, comparing the Anaheim versions of the element to the Orlando version of the same element. You can't argue with visual proof.

  I think we'll start in the Attic, because I don't like to go in chronological order all the time. Plus, I was specifically asked to share a comparison of one of the most infamous elements that all S&FS readers should be familiar with: The dreaded garage door of ugly in the attic scene. Both the American Mansions have a garage door locate at the same point in the attic scene off to the left of the track. The only thing that makes them different is, well; just look:

Photo Credit: R. Padilla
  That's Disneyland's Attic garage door. Now here's nearly the exact same shot, taken at Walt Disney World in the same spot:

Photo Credit: A. Grancoin-Vinet
  Both shots were taken using flash; you can see the glare on the back of the Doombuggies in each shot. But the Orlando version of the door doesn't reflect the light of the flash like the Anaheim version because it's been painted black. From the look of it, I'd say at one point the Disneyland door may have been painted black, although it's pretty clear that it hasn't been painted in years. The shiny metal finish of the Disneyland door is further illuminated due to the brighter lighting in the attic scene. While I don't have good enough pictures to prove it visual for you, take my word for it, as I've been on both fairly recently.

  The Ballroom scene has two sheets of reflective materials dividing you from the show set. One of those is between you and the ghosts, and the other is between the ghosts and the set. The later is the huge sheet of glass which is used to achieve the pepper's ghost effect while the former is a sheet of plexiglass used to keep anything a guest might throw over the balcony from landing down bellow where it could turn into a "ghost object" in the show scene. (Another fun fact about the plexiglass is that it can be used to explain why your reflection can sometimes appear in the ballroom scene without spoiling the entire effect for someone. If a first time rider sees the glare or reflection, you can simply tell them that the plexiglass is there so that the ghosts can't get onto the balcony where you are) Anyhow, the plexiglass bounces off the lighting in the attic scene, creating a pretty crisp visual reflection in the final pane near the Duelist, Organist, and Dancers. Both American versions reflect the attic scene, but at Orlando, I've noticed that it isn't as harsh as it is in Anaheim. 

  I've never liked that the reflection was there in Walt Disney World's Mansion, but when I visited the Disneyland version in May, I noticed how much brighter the reflection was. After re-riding the Orlando version several times over the past months, I've realized how much less of a reflection there is in the Liberty Square version. This is one place where I must give proper acknowledged to Phantom Manor. They don't have any issues with reflections of another scene in their Ballroom. That can partially be attributed to the fact that they have a long dark hallway in place of the the first stretch of what is normally the attic scene. Also, they don't even have a garage door; only an indent where one normally would be:

Photo Credit: M.Brilhart
  So yeah; that's one more post about the ugly garage door.Who knew it was possible to do two full posts on such a lack-luster element in the Mansion? Next time, we'll look at something that isn't as technical and more show-related. Until next time...

I'll see you all a little later...


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Non Omnis Moriar

Ah, there you are...

   No, the Strange and Frightening Sounds blog isn't dead yet, as the title says. (If you can read Latin, and no, we won't be talking about Phantom Manor in this post. It's just a phrase after all) It's been quite a few months since I last got around to writing an entry on this blog. A lot has happened since my October 2012 visit in the last entry, but for the sake of time and keeping up with what's going on now, I'll cover those events as briefly as possible. Let's start back in November of 2012, when I took my first Disney Cruise.

   I really wish I would have sat down and done a full entry or two on this while it was still fresh in my mind. All I can say is if you ever get the chance or opportunity to take a Disney Cruise, do it. For an amusement park obsessed soul such as I, the Cruise provided a taste of what a real vacation feels like. Instead of rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off attempting to cram in as many rides as possible, I sat and relaxed in a hot tub; where I could look down through the floor and see the ocean bellow. I when to Broadway style shows nearly every night, dressed up in lavish suites. I dined in the company of an amazing team of hosts and hostesses on the finest of cuisine. I visited the islands of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas; seeing the real life locations that inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction's environments. At first, I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy the cruise because it lacked amusement attractions, which is what I always base my vacations around. By the end of the week though, I was dreading having to disembark from the Disney Fantasy; even though I knew an overnight (literary over night, with extra magic hours keeping in the Magic Kingdom park until 3:00 in the morning) visit to Walt Disney World was waiting ashore.

   Of course, the vacation can't last forever, so I had to return to my normal life for a bit. Of course, that was only for a few weeks. By the end of November, I returned once again to the most magical place on earth to experience Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party for the first time. I think it was during this visit that I really began to notice how great the condition of the Haunted Mansion was. Several things were missing, but I looked them over because part of me said that their demise wouldn't really hinder the ride overall. The sound for the Raven in tree next to the attic and the wolf in the graveyard were not functioning; and the pop-up ghost in front of the Phantom Five band was missing too. But other then that, the ride was looking better then ever. All the audio animatronic characters were preforming up to high standards. The ride sounded and looked great! I don't know if I can say the same for some of the other attractions.

   Over the course of 2012, I watched the condition of Splash Mountain get worse and worse. It's been reported by well-known sites like MiceChat that the mountain itself is falling apart due to an issue with the pipes inside that supply water to the live plant life covering the mountain. That tarp added over the loading area isn't just meant to block out the sizzling Florida sun; it's there to catch falling chunks of chic-a-pin hill. The audio animatronic cast has dwindled in size as more and more characters vanish for repairs and never return. The ones that remain are constantly acting up, and sometimes, not operating at all. Certain characters like Br'er Frog in the Laugh'n Place scene and the Porcupine in the Time to be Turning Around scene are never on cue with the rest of the singing and underline music, and seem to reset themselves mid-song; never actually carrying out their full loop. Certain speakers are way to loud, causing popping and static to degrade the sound coming out of them. As of this writing  the attraction is down for a nearly three month refurbishment. Hopefully, some of these issues will be addressed; but I'm still hoping that Splash will be the next candidate for a year or two long refurbishment, similar to the ones that both American versions of Space Mountain have received. It's desperately in need of it, especially if the mountain really is falling apart as many sources say it is.

   As for Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom, I can safely say somebody heard my complaints. They have been constantly trying to repair the condition of the attraction since my ravaging rant last year about the ride's quality, story and show issues. The Pirates are looking as good as they have in recent memory, although it's clear that the cuts in maintenance over the years have taken their toll on the Magic Kingdom version's cast. Somebody seems to be taking my personal issue with the quality of the musical trio of pirates to heart. I can see the improvements in their range of motion over the past few visits; although I still say replacements are in order whenever the funds are available to do so. Compare the Walt Disney World trio to the other three versions of the musical marauders from the other versions of the attraction around the globe in the images bellow. Maybe you'll see why I complain about them so much:

   The Very Merry Christmas Party was pretty cool. To see the snow on Main Street was neat, even though I was wearing shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt. The great thing about these special ticket events is the lack of lines everywhere. You can't beat walk-on's to Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, which are a rarity at any time of the year. I was pretty spot on with my guess that I'd enjoy it, but it wouldn't top the Halloween party; but that's because I'm more of a Halloween type of person.

   This brings us into January of 2013. After surviving the impending Mayan Apocalypse and enjoying another 13 Days of Christmas event, the time came to make one last visit. My annual pass is nearing it's expiration as I write this... I just returned about two days ago, so this visit is fresh in my head, but I won't linger on it for too long. After all, with so many visits in such a short span of time, what more is their to talk about? Those missing elements in the Haunted Mansion returned. Instead of a Droopy Eyes pop-up (see image, Droopy Eyes is the one to the left) in front of the Phantom Five band, we now have a Mister Winky (the one to the right) with an ear-ring. The extra Droopy Eyes pop-up switched places with the former location of this particular head, over by the crypt featuring arm holding the trowel. The sounds for the Raven and Wolf are back; but the Raven has been drastically turned down in volume, which isn't an issue as he's been too loud for years.

   There really is a lot more I could cover about my recent visits, but if I cover one thing, I'll feel like I have to cover another, an so forth. So we'll leave off here. I've had the most amazing year owning an annual pass. The 14th is going to be a terrible day for me, but I know deep down that I'll return to the most magical place on earth someday. Just not in a few weeks as has been the norm for me for the past year. I've got plenty of non-vacation report entries I've been dying to write. So keep up with the blog, because we're only just getting started...

 Hurry Back...   

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vacation Report: Walt Disney World, October 2012

Ah, there you are...

I have no time to fool around this time foolish mortals. Normally, I wouldn't be placing so much weight on myself to get this vacation report done, but since I've got less than two weeks till I leave again, I need to get this one out of the way before they begin to pile up. I've got trips planed in November, December, and January, so October's vacation report must be done now. Let's begin, shall we?

So, from late Thursday night (October 18th) to mid-Monday (October 22nd) I was at Walt Disney World, enjoying the use of my Premium Pass. Where to begin? So much happened (or is happening) that is worth talking about. Let's start with the Mansion, since this is the Strange & Frightening Sounds blog.

The Mansion hasn't looked better in the past few years then it does now. I can only pin-point two minor faults in an otherwise perfect show. With the exceptions of the low levels of lighting on the Caretaker, and a missing pop-up ghost in front of the Phantom Five Band, the rest of the show is 100% functional and perfect. As many of you have heard by now, the Bicycle Boos, which have been missing from the Liberty Square Mansion's Graveyard Finale since late 2009 have finally returned. It seems that while they were re-installed, the crew responsible took it apoun themselves to clean the scrims, and touch up the audio annimartonics, which are all moving fluidly and realistically. In fact, I'd have to say that the entire cast actually is moving more fluidly and function better than the cast in Disneyland's version is. Looks like once again, someone on the inside has read my complaints about the piss-poor upkeep of the Walt Disney World AA's, and has taken it apoun themselves to fix the problem! This isn't the first time this has happened (the removal of the green Mickey Glove from 2010 to the green arrow in the unload area seems to have come about due to my suggestions on the blog, and the same can be said for the October 2011 patch-up on Pirates of the Carribean's degrading quality of show) nor does it look to be the last for this particular trip anyway. But more on that later, as we still have Mansion stuff to cover before we move on.

Only one new sign was added since my last visit in January. I don't think there's been a trip yet that they haven't added a new sing somewhere since my renewal visit in January of 2011. They sure like to add new signs at the Mansion, not that I mind them. You can see in the picture here that this new one is attached to the main entrance doors. I'm pretty sure my next visit in November will break this trend, but it wouldn't surprise me if another sign pops up, since they seem to be installing a fast pass system. This system didn't look operation during my entire trip, but I did see numerous groups of guests presenting red and white slips of paper to CM's in line, resulting in them getting to jump ahead of the crowds. I guess it's that online fast pass thing that was rumored to be in the works. It's not like the mansion needs fast pass...

... then again, a nearly hour long wait may be a little too much for a Monday. But rest assured, you can always come back later in the day to find a much more empty queue; something that you really can't do for Dumbo or Toy Story Mania. I think that about wraps up the details on the Mansion. I'm probably going to do some updates to the Grim Grinning Ghosts 2007 post again, so check back later for new information and facts regarding those new vocal tracks. Oh, and here are some neat pictures of the Mansion changing color and fogging it up for the Halloween party:

Onto the next attraction report; Pirates of the Caribbean. As many of you already know (and as stated in my last blog entry in detail) I've always had a love-hate relationship with the Pirates attraction, and particularly the Walt Disney World version. When Captain Jack Sparrow and the rest of his Hollywood Hoodlums invaded the attraction in 2006, the imagineers in charge of the installation disregarded and destroyed the unique aspects of the Orlando version; treating it as a shortened version of the Disneyland original instead of the unique adaptation that it was. The entire mood of certain scenes was inverted  several unique effects where hacked off, and it seemed as though the new 2006 version was no longer meant to take place in the same time frame that it once was; with all clues pointing towards inferred time travel as with the Disneyland version. It seems that somebody read my blog before they installed those mermaids...

Mermaids; in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction? Yes, and I have no problem with them. As I had stated on numerous places around the web, I had no objection to the addition of the movie-based mermaids. I was doubtful that they would be visibly topless as in the film, (One reason me and plenty of other pre-movie pirates fans had nothing much to complain about the idea of their inclusion to the ride; since the mid 1990's PC refurbishments, their's been a lack of naked women that needed filling, at least for DL, who lost their woman in the barrel prior to Jack Sparrow's installation; for a static cat, no less) but it wasn't like another AA or projection with the likeness of a big-name Hollywood star being installed to replace yet another classic character. Rumors had also gone around that they would be turning the Wicked Wench Ship into the Queen Anne's Revenge. The only reason this rumor had any backing to it was because at Orlando, Davy Jones never returned as he did in Disneyland. I can't say I mind the removal of Squidbeard at all, as his accent was always annoying to me. Enough about the past, let's look at what's been done that has me so excited.

Besides the obvious installation of the Mermaid projections and water-ripple effects; the Mermaid Skeleton on the shore in the grotto, and several new lightning arrangements in the queue, the entire ride has finally received some much needed TLC. Nearly the entire cast of AA's are functioning better than ever, and are, for the most part, no longer looking as though they could fall apart at any moment. (Minus the Musical Trio in the burning of the town scene. Give them three years or so, and they WILL fall apart on the spot. I think it's time they build and install replacement AA's for these terribly aged 1970's originals.) Some of the cast was even on par with Disneyland's and Tokyo Disneyland's marvelously up-kept versions. Unlike with the Orlando Mansion, where it's almost expected now that it will look better in nearly ever aspect in comparison to the Disneyland version, I feel extremely pleased to say that Pirates in Orlando is looking great again for the first time in years. (I wonder if somebody exorcised George?) While it's still the least impressive of the four versions around the globe, it's finally looking like something I can be proud of again. The atmosphere of the grotto scene has gotten a little spookier since it's mood-inversion of 2006. It isn't pre-2006 soil-your-pants scary, but it's not exactly gentle and "rock-a-bye-baby" soft anymore. The gentle pan-flute version of Yo-Ho only plays until you pass under Blackbeard's waterfall. Then Jolly Sailor Bold (the song the Mermaids sing in the film to lure multiple pirates to their death) can be heard echoing through the caves ahead, accompanied by the good old (slightly updated and modernized with better SFX in 2006) sounds of howling wind and thunderclaps that once filled the entire grotto scene with a balder-emptying mood of terror. So we finally got a little bit of the "spooky" back in the caves. Even better, the addition of the mermaids and the skeleton actually help re-instate the idea that no time travel occurs in the Orlando version. Overall, I'm very pleased with what a one day refurb in the beginning of October resulted in.

Now we can talk about something every Disney Park fan is talking about. New Fantsyland. I myself haven't been as excited as the majority of the community has been about this. And even after seeing it, and getting to see first hand what it's like in person, I still find myself feeling forced to get excited about it. Don't ask me why, because I really only have a wild guess as to what's behind the lack of extreme enthusiasm in me. Don't get me wrong. The entire area is amazing, and is a huge improvement in terms of what has previously occupied that huge parcel of land since the closure of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. (Ariel's Grotto, and Winnie the Pooh's Playground) These are actually rides, not just a lousy meet and greet area or a padded foam play place. The facades and landscaping are marvelous, and I can't say I'm not impressed by anything in the area. But in the end, it's not like this new land is going to derail my routine at the Magic Kingdom. The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Carousel of Progress, and Jungle Cruise (because despite not even trying to make it an every-time-I-go thing, I've never been to the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland and not been on Jungle Cruise at least once during my visit. I don't know how it happens, because it's not one of my all-time favorites as with the others listed above) It's not like I'll feel obligated to visit the Little Mermaid's Under the Sea Voyage every time I got to the park. There are certain areas I tend to spend most of my time in at the Magic Kingdom, and Fantsyland has never been near the top of that list. I tend to linger around the area near the Rivers of America, Caribbean Plaza, and Tommorrowland. I don't see that changing entirely for me. The Magic Kingdom is really the last park that needs a major addition, (See Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom for prime candidates in need of a major expansion) but I really shouldn't complain, considering I spend about 68% of my time in the most magical park on earth when I'm not sleeping during my vacation. (sometimes more) An addition to my favorite park in the resort is always welcomed.

While I may not be extremely excited as many are for this major addition, I'm sure that it will be meet with nothing but positive feedback. I may not be in the target audience or mindset of guests who obsess over Disney's animated classics, but for those who do, I can safely say this will blow the Wizarding World of Harry Potter out of the water for you. While many things in this new area are obviously answers to what is present over at Hogsmead, (LeFou's Brew = Butter-beer  Gaston's Tavern = The Three Broomsticks, Bells Enchanted Tales = Olivander's Wand Shop (both interactive experiences targeted at younger children) etc.) you really will find it hard to nit-pick at Disney for doing it in the way they have, because they put just as much, if not more effort into making it. (Thank goodness that Disney sacrificed visual accuracy for function, as with the shops; something that Harry Potter's builders didn't exactly think through, resulting in them breaking the fire marshal's laws 70% of the time the shops are open.)

Little Mermaid in Orlando one-up's it's Disney California Adventure counterpart with a better facade and queue environment. If you haven't already spoiled Bell's Enchanted Tales for yourself on Youtube, then you should keep it that way until you see it in person; because I doubt I would have found it as amazing as I did had I know what exactly was going to happen. Experience it in person first, that's my suggestion.

For those of you who like construction updates, here's a few visuals of various spots in the Magic Kingdom where land is being turned, and I-beams are rising towards the sky. Mostly shots of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and some of the new area taking the place of the old Fantsyland Skyway Station:

I went to the Halloween party again; second year in a row, and my third time overall. It's still worth the price of admission  When else can you, as a guest, dress up and walk around the Magic Kingdom like everyone who works there? It's the only time of year you can spot Iron Man and the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man in the Haunted Mansion! I didn't miss the parade or fireworks this year, and it was great to see them in person, as both have some of the best soundtracks for their said forms of nighttime entertainment.

I didn't get to Animal Kingdom this time around, but I did stop at Epcot and Hollywood Studios on separate mornings before heading back to my favorite of the four parks. I rode Journey into Imagination and The Seas with Nemo and Friends for the first time. The former was very enjoyable, but the later was just okay. Not something I plan on finding myself waiting in line for again.

I stayed at the Polynesian this time around. After having my first Dole Whip during this trip, I can safely suggest this Hotel to anyone. How can you beat being on the Monorail line, and being able to get Dole Whips 24 hours a day? The atmosphere there really is amazing.

Overall, I had a really awesome trip. While I didn't get to meet up with any of you Foolish Mortals this time around, I hope to remedy that in November. Other than the official conformation in the new official resort hard-back and paper-back souvenir books that the Main Street Electrical Parade is on it's way out soon; to be replaced by that terrible rip-off, Spectomagic; and the completely unnecessary cuts made to the Country Bear Jamboree's recently refurbished show, I can't think of anything overly bad on this trip to complain about. That's a good thing. Keep up the good work Walt Disney World Management; your on a role right now. Another update will materialize in November...

I'll see you all a little later...