They gave us a nice long lunch break before the afternoon session of D23’s Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration. They always clear the room, though, which means that if you want your fabulous seat back, you pretty much have to exit the presentation and get right back in line. (At the last two Destination D events I attended, people were actually leaving before the session ended to get in line for the next one, which to me kinda defeats the purpose of even going to the session). My rowmates and I agreed to take turns waiting in the line to get back in so we could each have a chance to get lunch.
My first task was to dash down to Mouse Gear to get some of the semi-limited edition Epcot 30th merchandise for Patrick and my DIS pal PryncessChrysty.
There was so much stuff and no line that in my excitement I went a little nuts buying anniversary and passholder-exclusive pins with this idea that we could sell them on eBay. Buyer’s remorse hit the instant I left the store, as I started thinking about what a hassle it is to sell stuff on eBay, so I returned everything but these:
I didn’t want to be the guy keeping my rowmates from leaving the line to get lunch so I just grabbed whatever was close on my way back. This meant eating (hot) fisherman’s pie, (hot) filet with truffle butter and (hot) Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup standing in the blazing sun in 90-degree heat with 96% humidity (did I mention my hair looked like a Foxy Cleopatra wig?).
Canada’s nearly unphotographable Mushroom Filet, Ireland’s Fisherman’s Pie and Canada’s Cheddar Cheese Soup
I know I say this every time, but if they’re gonna hold Food & Wine during Orlando’s scorching September and October, why don’t the chefs put any refreshing, summery kinds of food on the booths’ menus? It’s all molten-cheese-this and seared-beef-that, except for Japan’s sushi.
After about an hour cooking in the sun, we were allowed behind the big gate to wait in World Showplace’s shady-ish courtyard til the doors opened. Here’s hoping next time they bring in tents and/or misters or something to make that wait more bearable. Heck, they could just switchback the line under the existing tent at the entrance.
Imagineering Epcot: An Extra Perceptive Close-Up of Things
D23 wisely scheduled the comedy trio of Imagineers Jason Surrell, Jason Grandt and Alex Wright as the first session after lunch to keep us all awake. Their act was the breakout hit of last year’s Destination D at Walt Disney World, and this year they were charged with recapturing the magic of that freewheeling presentation.
“The Handsome One,” “The Silver Fox” & “The Bald One,” according to Surrell…
Looks like some of us didn’t use lunchtime for a bathroom break…
“Looks like you two didn’t use lunchtime for a bathroom break…”
Later, my friend Trish said she didn’t like that they covered a lot of the same ground as at last year’s Destination D and thought the gags weren’t as funny. Considering they aren’t professional entertainers, I thought they did pretty well, but it was tempting to hope for a repeat. Surrell has the heart of a standup, tossing out one-liners until something sticks (who knew it would be the running gag about Communism?), while Wright plays straight man and Grandt gets laughs out of deflecting Surrell’s teasing. Think of them as “The Mouse Pack”…
First we were treated to shots of our hosts as young Disney fans.
Only Jason Surrell is allowed to make up a funny caption for this photo
We learned that engineers originally told WDI it would be impossible to build Spaceship Earth as a complete sphere and that only up to 75% of it could be achieved. So John Hench devised a way to build that 75% on a platform with the other 25% suspended below it and eventually won an engineering award for the idea!
When talk turned to the Land Pavilion, fans of Grandt’s Twitter feed leaned forward in anticipation of one of his favorite subjects…
You just don’t see wall carpet like that anymore… or wall carpet, period. Bring back wall carpet!
Another of Grandt’s obsessions is the shape of the risers on these stairs leading to the Peoplemover, which were worked into this mural at Innoventions.
After Grandt mentioned the often overlooked beauty of this alternative approach to the Mexico Pavilion, I’d wager every person in the audience used the side entrance on their next visit.
Norway’s Stave Church, home to 100% not-formerly-human mannequins, on account of the display glass not being zombie-proof. Grandt also suggested we take a walk down its easy-to-miss side passageways.
…If you can fit!
The Friendliest Building in Epcot, where two storefronts share one door
Q: What makes the China Pavilion unique?
(I guess you had to be there…)
One thing I don’t remember hearing last year was a touching story about the statue of the Spirit of Self-Reliance (the farmer) in the American Adventure theater. Sculptor Blaine Gibson carved the figure’s face in the image of his father, and when he was told that the fellow looked too somber, he replied that was how he remembered his father looking. The task of creating a less dour look for the figure ultimately gave him a better understanding of his father.
I should probably be stripped of my Disneyland annual pass for never noticing that the train station used in the Civil War part of the American Adventure film was shot at New Orleans Square’s depot. Disney didn’t want to use a real place for fear it would turn into a tourist attraction (…a tourist attraction Disney couldn’t profit from, that is!).
Grandt told a funny story about spotting this melon box when scouting for items to put in the Japan Pavilion’s “Spirited Beasts” exhibit and then having to schlep it all over Tokyo to the bemusement of passersby.
Like Mexico’s side entrance, this box received a 5,000% jump in interest after the presentation
We also got to hear how, on a scouting trip to Morocco for that pavilion’s exhibit, WDI bought this costume literally off the back of a water seller passing in the street. What I wanna know is, did he continue on his merry way stark naked, or did the Imagineers donate some of their own clothing to preserve his modesty? If anybody ever spots a Moroccan water seller in an Orange Bird T-shirt on the Travel Channel, let me know….
I think the story on this slide is that the building incorporates three different styles of architecture. Either that, or it’s Surrell’s favorite place to take a meeting…
Because who doesn’t call it that?
We’ve Just Begun to Dream
I have to admit that this panel of Entertainment Department vets talking about Epcot’s elaborate opening festivities was a lot more interesting than I expected, probably because, duh, all the panelists are in entertainment!
Disney Legend, former Executive Vice President, and Executive Producer for Walt Disney Entertainment Ron Logan was the host. He kept things moving at a steady clip and peppered in funny asides to keep it interesting. My favorite factoid: Dick Nunis had a hard hat labeled “#1 SOB”!
Photographic Re-Creation; Not Actual Photo
The panelists were Carol Campbell, Gene Columbus, Gary Paben, Tony Peluso, Bob Radock, and Steve Skorija.
We learned that Epcot’s fanfare started with 12 notes from the first piece of music ever recorded on paper (tablet?), an ancient Greek tune comprising just 37 notes. We learned that Disney created the All-American College Band for Epcot’s opening, and that they stuck all 500 members on the roof of Communicore cuz there was no place else to put them. And we learned that a show of this magnitude is never accomplished without a few hiccups, but nowadays all we have are fond memories of people in white jumpsuits and floppy hair exhorting us to celebrate and imaginate.
EPCOT Illusioneering and Beyond
No D23 event would be complete without at least one dry Powerpoint presentation awash in bullet points. This one had a lot of great information provided by Imagineer Daniel Joseph, someone who’s clearly the subject-matter expert but who could have used an experienced co-host to help make the delivery more engaging. The idea of “illusioneering”—creating what can appear to be magic before guests’ very eyes—is key to Imagineering, and at Epcot alone, Disney invented scores of processes that are now common practice.
One of the first things Joseph shared was how Imagineer Yale Gracey came up with many of the clever illusions for the Haunted Mansion. The guiding principle was that they be simple to create, elegant enough to impress guests, and repeatable to accommodate the hundreds or thousands of cycles needed per day.
Among the numerous Epcot inventions…
Actually, these slides are saving me a TON of typing!
Even Patrick’s all-time favorite jumping fountain is a Disney invention!
This is how you get dysentery at Disney!
Other things we learned….
Joseph’s current project is the re-Illusioneering of Test Track.
Journey Into Imagination
I think this was probably the most anticipated presentation of the day for many people, owing to the enduring popularity of the original Journey Into Imagination and the chance to hear Tony Baxter speak about its creation.
This was the one presentation I knew we weren’t supposed to take photos of. I’d even heard the reminder about a half hour before. But my Pavlovian reaction when they started showing amazingly gorgeous concept art for never-realized attractions in The Land and the Living Seas was to grab my camera and start shooting. Talk about a short-term memory! A very nice event staffer had to come over and remind me of the restriction—I was sooooo embarrassed. Next time I’ll write it on the back of my hand…
The reason Baxter showed us these other concepts was to illustrate the way ideas are constantly recycled and refashioned at WDI. An idea for a “Landkeeper” character combined with the never-realized Discovery Bay’s “Professor Marvel” (who carried a dragon) eventually became Dreamfinder.
We got to hear a funny story about how Figment got his name thanks to an episode of the ‘80s-fabulous Magnum, PI in which Higgins kept talking about a figment of his imagination. And we learned that sponsor Kodak’s abhorrence of Fuji Green ruled out that shade for the dragon’s color; it was the Sherman Brothers’ lyrics that made Figment purple. Kodak’s red and yellow are of course seen in Figment’s clothes. I was surprised to learn that the ride was intended to have three roller coaster portions, in the terror, science and on-ride photo parts, but they could never get the mechanics to work right.
The last portion of the presentation featured Ron Schneider, the original Dreamfinder, and Steve Taylor, who portrayed him for 15 years after Schneider left the company. They shared how they got the part and what it was like to play such an iconic character. When Taylor told the story of the friendship he developed with a young cancer patient who adored Dreamfinder and Figment, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
At the very end, Baxter took us on a virtual ride-through of the original attraction using artwork, video, sound effects and narration much like he’d done with Western River Expedition at last year’s Destination D.
The Music of Epcot Center
The last presentation was about the many songwriters who contributed to Epcot’s legacy. I liked the title card!
Steven Vagnini and Tim O’Day chatted with Russell Brower (composer of the Innoventions plaza music and co-writer of music for the Living Seas) and Grammy-nominated composer Greg Ehrbar.
This would have been the perfect panel at which to announce the release of a box set of Epcot music, but no such luck. We did get a comprehensive overview of the works of each key composer of Epcot themes, starting with Buddy Baker.
The score to Impressions de France was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. I was surprised to learn that, although he was arranging works by the great French composers rather than composing a new score, Buddy Baker considered it his favorite project of the many he did for Disney (including scoring the Haunted Mansion and Journey to the Center of the Earth, plus tons of movies!).
Although I knew him as the lyricist of “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” and “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” X Atencio also wrote the lyrics to Buddy Baker’s tune for “If You had Wings.”
We got to hear a rare scratch track of Joe Rhode doing the part of Dreamfinder, plus a demo of the Golden Horseshoe’s Betty Taylor singing Bonnie Appetite’s part in Kitchen Kabaret.
We learned that Marty Sklar’s favorite Sherman Brothers tune is their theme to “Magic Journeys,” and I think it’s my favorite too! I love songs in a minor key, and they wrote so few. The orchestration of “Magic Journeys” is just so evocative of that period in time that when I hear it all I can think about is corduroy pants suits and macrame plant hangers and wall carpet. But in a good way!
We also heard more about the “lost” songs the Shermans wrote for Horizons, and then D23’s Melody Dale sang one of them, “Tomorrow’s Windows,” which was arranged by D23’s Michael Crawford’s brother, @loveisthenewhip. Now that’s some nepotism I can get behind!
There was a taped appearance the guys who wrote “Tomorrow’s Child,” who seemed awed that we were so interested in their song after all this time.
The end of the panel was a repeat performance of “Golden Dream” by Billy Flanigan, who also sang it at the close of last year’s Destination D. Not only did Flanigan perform in Epcot’s opening day ceremony, he played Ken in Epcot’s short-lived Barbie stage show!
Here, I’ll try to remember what he was singing for you…
“Americaaaaa/Spread your golden wings/Sail on… eagle…things[?]/Across the skyyyyyyyy…”
And then Flanigan was beamed up into the mothership, a spectacular ending to a spectacular performance!
The day wrapped up with a presentation of an internal video pep talk given by Marty Sklar and other executives to commend everyone who worked on Epcot and announce that we/they had in fact do-ed/done it!
But don’t let me tell you what it was about—let’s hear it straight from the teleprompter!
OK, I know that was kind of a slog, but if you can hang in there til next time, there will be DESSERTS! Inside Spaceship EARTH! Plus something at Le Cellier that looks even grosser in photographs than the Mushroom Filet!