Monday, 28 July 2008

A perfect magical memory

A combination of luck and circumstance meant that this weekend I had more time than usual to spend reading, which was great as I had two brilliant books I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into.

The first one was “The Pixar Touch: the making of a company” which I had been meaning to read for some time. It appealed to my love of corporate histories as well as of course the relationship with Disney. The book proved to be informative, entertaining and very interesting but I wish it had more photos… however; my second book delivered those in spades.

As soon as I put down “The Pixar Touch” I started on what turned out to be a gigantic coffee-table book (it didn’t look that big on the website!), also about Pixar called “To Infinity and Beyond! The Story of Pixar Animation Studios” which is more of an official story. I was glad I’d read “The Pixar Touch” first as it gave me enormous background, whereas “To Infinity and Beyond!” glosses over the details about how the company came to be but is generous with photos, renderings and illustrations as well as lots and lots of information on each of the Pixar features to date.

I haven’t quite finished the second book yet but I am really enjoying it. As I said before, it appeals to my love of corporate histories (I just MUST know everything there is to know about companies I respect!) but the slightly geeky side of technology and computer animation is also very interesting to me. I have always admired Pixar and the incredible work they do and this was a chance to learn more about how they do it.

It also reminded me about the first time I saw Toy Story. I was a cast member at the time and we were invited to a screening of this movie – I don’t even remember it being a huge deal and it certainly was easy enough to get the tickets. I went along with some friends to the Magic Kingdom, after hours, where the screening took place (I’m fairly sure that it was the same theatre that used to show “The Walt Disney story”). It was fairly busy but we were more there because it was something free to do rather than because we were interested in Toy Story.

You have to remember the film hadn’t been out yet so the incredible response and positive reviews were a few days in the future at this point. I had heard something about Toy Story in our in-house communications but I can’t remember being excited beyond belief or anything. For me it was basically the chance to see a free movie at the Magic Kindgom and to see it before everyone else.

The movie started and I was SPEECHLESS. I just literally couldn’t take it all in – the colors, the toys, the music, the incredible animation… I felt like I was watching movies for the very first time. Soon enough the technology subsided and I was totally gripped watching this story of two mismatched toys that have to work together to get back to their owner and resume their lives.

To say I loved it would not be saying enough. I felt like I was looking at the future. I wanted more, I loved every single second of it, every word was perfect, every figure did just what they had to do, every shot was beautifully composed, every musical note was the right one.

There was also something surreal about walking out at the end of the movie and being in the middle of Main St, USA, surrounded by the third shift people and all those iconic buildings are standing there, lit beautifully, with Cinderella’s castle looking very peaceful at the end of the street. It was certainly an evening I wouldn’t soon forget.

To this day every time I watch a Pixar film I am once again amazed by what incredible things they do and just how entertaining their movies are. And it reminds me of that unforgettable November evening in 1995 when I didn’t just watch a movie – I lived through a perfect magical memory.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The Muppet comeback

I've been waiting for the Muppets to come back for years... and the wait is over!

New videos have been appearing on YouTube and the folks at The Disney Blog kindly placed them in one convenient place. If you like the Muppets make sure you watch these shorts - they are very funny!

New Skits from The Muppets at The Disney Blog.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Could this be the seed of my obsession?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Disney collector but a low-key one. I don’t have room for big collections so anything like plush or pins or snowglobes or even cels is out. I do have a few here and there but they are in no way a collection. No, my collection is more about music and books and even in those areas I’m a little picky. I only have CDs with either original movie soundtracks or theme park music (no contemporary collections, no re-recordings, no random compilations). I like to say that this keeps my collection specialized but what it really does is keep it manageable: I only buy maybe two or three CDs a year!

The music collection, however, is a new pursuit for me – what I’ve been collecting for a lot longer are Disney books. Like with the music, I have set up boundaries though so I focus on the non-fiction books: biographies, company history, business books, that sort of stuff. But I also have a lot of those gorgeous souvenir books, beautiful volumes full of photos and usually hardbound. I always try to buy a theme park one when I’m there (so I only have the souvenir books of the years I’ve visited a park) but I’ve recently started purchasing older books, mainly focusing on WDW.

There is something very interesting about looking through what is basically a glorified travel brochure but while getting the feeling of travelling back in time. One of my favourite books has a lot of photos of Horizons and whenever I see those I can still hear the beautiful score of the now-defunct attraction in my mind. These books bring back to life a World that sometimes no longer exists, except in my memories.

Recently, when I went through those old boxes in the loft I stumbled across what is perhaps one of my most cherished of those old souvenir books: The ‘It’s a Small World’ souvenir pictorial. I don’t remember purchasing it, as it is dated 1974 and I was only 3 years old at the time, so my parents must have bought it. It features the attraction as it is in Disneyland (not WDW) and it is filled with beautiful photos, amazing backstage facts and a lot of useful background information. There are even photos of Walt in there, for the opening ceremonies of IASW!

I remember having this book for ever, basically and even though at times I thought that it was a bit old and perhaps I should throw it away, I never did. I must have read it a bout a million times and I loved looking through the pictures, imagining what it must be like to work as one of the imagineers that built the attraction or even as one of those people present in the opening ceremonies. I can safely say that this was my first Disney book, my first collectible and my first brush with the company that would become my obsession and (briefly) my employer in the coming years.

It is quite telling that this book was among my prized papers, like journals and scrapbooks, as opposed to my books because when I moved to the UK it was more of a part of my personal treasures rather than my collectibles. When I found it up in the loft, in the box among my personal stuff, I decided that it was time that this piece took its place among my other Disney books. I then took a chance to look through it for what must have been the one-millionth-and-one time and, once again, was transported back in time – not just to the time when the book was published, but to the days when I was younger and would spend hours lovingly looking through this book.

However many books I buy none will ever be as special as this one is for me – my very first brush with Disney greatness.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Priceless experiences

My previous post was all about those things I regret I didn’t do while living and working in Walt Disney World. Well, as promised, today I will tell you about some of the cool things I got a chance to experience. The list is long so let’s get on with it, in no particular order:

Backstage. As I said before, a lot of people have paid good money to get tours of backstage at the various theme parks and of course as a cast member I could go there anytime. I got to know backstage Epcot particularly well but I also remember that I could walk anywhere in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then known as Disney-MGM) on the days when there were a lot of areas that guests couldn’t see, except from the tram tour. I could walk anywhere and actually BE a part of the tour!

Characters. I was luckier than most in that one of my roommates was part of the Zoo Crew and would play a variety of characters, including the Big Cheese himself. I got the chance to hang out with her while she was on stage and watch her work, and then come backstage with her and we’d mess around. I also got to meet a lot of the Crew and have an autograph book filled with the weirdest character autographs around. Very cool.

Raising/lowering the China bridge. Admittedly this is cool only on a low level but I picked up a lot of crowd control shifts in Epcot. These were pretty easy shifts, with a very easy afternoon followed by two hours of non-stop action while we policed the guests waiting for Illuminations in the evening. Part of that shift also included raising and lowering the drawbridge between China and Germany, to allow for the pyro carts to get in place for the evening’s fireworks. There was something pretty cool about knowing just what button to push and then to watch people’s faces as the bridge goes up, then goes down. While the barges would float by it would also give us a chance to chat to guests and often they would ask why we were raising the bridge. Our favourite answer was “to dry it” and they would think we were being serious.

Wearing other costumes. After a few months of wearing the same thing every day for work, well, it really does become a uniform. The job itself can become pretty dull too, so I always tried to get overtime in other countries around World Showcase or even in other parks and hotels. I picked up a lot of cool overtime and one part that I really liked was the chance to wear a different costume. I really loved the American Adventure dress so I worked there every chance I had, just so I could wear the pretty dress! I always wanted to work in Norway too, but never managed to get any shifts there.

Getting into parks for free. Our cast member ID could of course get us in anywhere for free (except the water parks) and to this day I find it difficult to pay admission to somewhere I used to be able to get in anytime I wanted!

Disneyana convention. This was another overtime shift I picked up, over two days. The first day I was photographing VIPs to make their convention IDs and I met a couple of old mousketeers from the 50s as well as Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, animating legends. It was thrilling to meet them because barely anyone in the room had heard of them! I printed out spare copies of their IDs and still have them, to this day, to prove I met these people. The following day I worked in the wrapping counter, showing people the priceless collectibles they had bought and of course we got to see some beautiful things. The highlight of the day was when we had to very carefully wrap and then unwrap a priceless Faberge egg – only 5 ever made of that type! Can you imagine if we’d broken it? I also remember people offering me money for my nametag, my earrings and even my watch. These Disney fans are crazy, I tell ya.

After hours park parties. About twice a year we would be invited to some sort of ball or party in the parks, after all the guests had gone home and we could get on some rides, have a few drinks and party. They were fantastic parties! We had one at the Magic Kingdom and we must have gotten on Big Thunder Mountain about 20 times. We also had parties on the streets of MGM and once in the American Adventure. Very cool!

Aladdin parade. Yet another overtime shift I picked up, somehow (I was good at finding OT I guess!) and it was to do crowd control for the Aladdin parade that was on MGM at the time. The parade was on twice a day so the first parade I did straightforward crowd control, you know, make sure everyone is behind the line, not climbing anything, etc. But the second parade I got a chance to BE in it: I was holding the banner at the end, that signals the end of the parade! Granted it was a very minor part but how excited was I?! I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for that, it was so much fun.

Fireworks. Because of my China bridge job I got to know the pyro guys quite well and on the 4th of July they invited me to view the special fireworks from a barge just off the American Adventure Theatre – it certainly was an experience. We had the best seats in the house and to watch the fireworks with the guys that make it happen was completely awesome.

School visits. I only got to do this once but school visits were always a popular diversion. We would go in a little group, in our costume, to a local school where the kids would ask us questions about our country, our lives, etc. It was pretty cute and the best part would be that we’d still be getting paid!

Spaceship Earth tour. This one is pretty cool. Somehow I got invited to a cast member only tour of Spaceship Earth, after hours. There were only about 10 of us and got to walk the length of the ride – with all the lights on! We heard a lot of stories of how it was built, how maintenance works and some interesting anecdotes from the cast members that work the attraction (like what does that graffiti really say, which presidents have been ‘recycled’ and what sort of things guests get up to in that dark and starry room). We got close up and personal with the guys in the Greek theatre, the cavemen and had a great view of the hidden Mickey and Donald in the book the Monk is working on. We even took some pictures and if I had a scanner I’d include some here. We also got a handout which has a lot of insider info on Spaceship Earth and has become one of my most valued possessions, even if it is only a photocopy. Spaceship Earth is one of my favourite rides so to experience it like this was definitely special.

I can’t complain, can I? I may never win a castle stay in the Year of a Million Dreams competition (I'll bet I won't even win a lanyard) but these are definitely money-can’t-buy experiences that I feel very lucky to have experienced. And in some cases I was actually getting paid to do them!

Monday, 14 July 2008

If I could turn back time

For many people, a trip to Walt Disney World is the trip of a lifetime. They plan and save and then have a week or two to experience all that The World has to offer. As anyone that has been there before will tell you, it is impossible to see it all in such a short time. The place is much to vast, with so many things to do and see.

I should know – I spent 16 months living and working in WDW and I still didn’t see it all! I missed out on some huge things, like Animal Kingdom, simply because they didn’t yet exist but I missed out on some other things because I didn’t know about them, didn’t have time or I just never got around to it. So there are a few things I wish I’d seen and done and I call this my big regret list. So in no particular order…

Discovery Island. If you’ve never heard of this, this was a sort of wildlife refuge/ mini zoo located in the island on Bay Lake, which you can view from the Wilderness Lodge. For a few years this was open to the public and they could come and see the birds and whatever else they had there. It’s been closed now for a while (since 1999) and may never open again so I wish I’d gone to have a look while I had the chance.

Magic Kingdom utilidors. It is a pretty well known fact that there are tunnels under the Magic Kingdom (‘utilidors’) that are used for cast members to walk from one end of the park to another easily, to transport goods, to provide break areas for cast, to store costumes, etc. They are one of the worst kept secrets of the park but they are pretty amazing and people pay good money to go down there on official tours. I did visit the utilidors once or twice but I wish I’d taken the time to explore them more because all I can remember is the staff restaurant and a couple of staircases!

Epcot utilidor. Yes, Epcot has one too. It isn’t very big as the water table was too high to build basements and instead the park has a perimeter road, away from sight of guests, which is how cast members get to work and take breaks, etc. I worked in World Showcase so I got to know the perimeter road very well but the Epcot utilidor I only saw ONCE. What a missed opportunity!

Adventurer’s Club, Pleasure Island. All the news recently about PI closing all the clubs down there made me regret this even more. I spent probably about half of my Thursdays partying down with all the other cast members at PI but I only went into the Adventurer’s Club once, maybe twice. I vaguely remember there being some show and drawers full of letters that you could read and other great little touches but sadly I never experienced it fully and it appears like I never will. Which is a shame as it is such a little gem.

Magic Kingdom. Of course I went to the MK and I did go quite a lot. I spent a lot of time looking in the shops, taking photos and sometimes just sitting on a bench and taking the atmosphere in. I wish I had got on the rides more often though, especially the really good, classic ones like Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion. I also wish I’d stayed to watch the fireworks more often – I knew the Epcot Illuminations backwards and forwards as I did a lot of evening crowd control shifts but I barely know the MK fireworks, which brings me to…

Fantasmic. I never saw these although, in my defense, they only started a few weeks before my contract was finished so it would have been a tight squeeze. However, even in subsequent trips we’ve never seen this show and I hope I get to see it before it too disappears forever!

Photos. This last one is one of my biggest regrets – I didn’t take a lot of photos. I know a lot of people that took thousands in the time they were there and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have that many photos myself! This was before the days of digital cameras of course but I can’t even remember owning a camera in the entire time I was there. Fortunately my DH (then my boyfriend) had quite a nice camera so he took lots of photos and those are now ‘our’ photos. If I could go back in time though I would take photos of everything that I was allowed to!!

So this are a few of my WDW regrets. Next time I’ll tell you about the awesome and fantastic things that I DID get a chance to do while at WDW!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

We're all the same - we just want to dance!

A few days ago someone shared this video with me. I don’t know why but it really made me smile and made me feel good about the future.

Seeing all these people from all over the world just dancing and having a great time made me remember also one of my favourite Epcot songs: Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand.

Put your hand on the future
Share a dream together around the world
With a voice from every country
And a face from every land
We'll celebrate the future hand in hand

This song was part of the Millennium Celebration and I actually don’t think I ever heard it on site but I discovered the song in the Millennium Celebration CD. It’s a happy song, that makes one get up and dance but also looks towards the future with hope:

The future is coming
We've got to catch it if we can
The magic's unfolding
You can hold it in your hand
We can touch tomorrow today
To make some memories
That will never fade away

It is really all about celebration, coming together and dancing and it does have a great beat which was useful when I was training for the WDW marathon. I loved listening to this song while out running and the best bit is at the end… the song fades away and you think it’s over when suddenly, the music slows down to a very familiar tune and the choir sings:

Like a boat out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

I was on a treadmill, running along and listening to the song on my MP3 player and I’d totally forgotten about the ending when it suddenly hit me. You know what? I nearly cried. To be training for an event that definitely was a dream come true for me and to hear these familiar chords all of a sudden was too much and the emotion took over.

Why do I like Disney songs so much? Because they remind me of happy times, because they bring a message of hope and because, sometimes, they make me cry. When I watched the video above for the first time, I had the same experience – I was so happy and so emotional that I nearly cried. It also made me think that all is not lost and that there is some hope for the future if we all just make an effort.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Fashion under fire

A couple of days ago we had what in the UK is considered a ‘hot’ day – but for me it was simply a ‘less cold’ day. We hit the dizzy heights of 26 degrees and it was sunny so of course everyone around me was melting. Everyone was outside enjoying the lovely weather and I was basically looking at everyone have fun from inside as my hayfever was quite bad.

I guess I was in a cranky mood because I couldn’t enjoy the weather so I started noticing just HOW terribly people around me were dressed. Because it rarely goes above 25 degrees around here people seem to throw caution to the wind and turn up to work in the most bizarre outfits. I’ve classified them in three groups (no photos as I thought I’d get sued!):

A) The Embracers. These people are SO ready to get out their summer outfits and whenever the weather is mildly suitable (never mind that it is 12 degrees out there), they just go for the lot: sandals, spaghetti straps, tiny skirts or shorts, a lot of flesh on show. Remember, this is at work! It’s touching that these people are so keen to get their summer gear out but honestly, some of these outfits are totally inappropriate for the office. Besides, it really isn’t that warm anyway.

B) The Deniers. This group of people (mainly men) are well aware that the UK isn’t the Southern Caribbean so they do not have any summer clothes in their wardrobe. Some of them don’t even have a short sleeve t-shirt or a lightweight skirt in their entire wardrobe. Yet these ‘hot’ days catch them unaware so they have to make do with whatever they find that is cooler so they turn up in their football shirts or wear their only pair of sandals but with socks. And cords. These people simply do not have a clue as to how to dress when the weather isn’t cold. Which is kind of understandable as it IS cold nearly all the time so there isn't much of a chance to practice.

C) The Accepters. These people get it totally right and are wearing the lovely linen dress with a cardigan or summer trousers with a very nice shirt. The shoes are cool yet not too casual and even the way they wear their hair is suitable for the weather and the occasion. Moreover, these people know that 26 degrees isn’t actually that hot and that covered shoulders are a must in the workplace. Oh and did I mention these people are almost always not British?

I haven’t even covered the legions of men that decide to remove their shirts at the first glimmer of sunshine so that we can see their horrible, tattoed, scrawny white backs or – even worse – their enormous beer bellies. But these guys thankfully stick to parks and other public venues and not so much around the office. But still - eugh.

While I'm on the subject, what is it about “women of a certain age” and their feet? It seems that the uglier the feet the more they show them in skimpy sandals. It’s amazing what a little bit of footcream and a pumice stone could do but sadly these items are not in general use yet people insist on sharing their horrible feet with the world. It’s enough to bring tears to my eyes. Either tidy up your feet or don't show them at all.

Am I too picky? Is it too much to ask for that, at least at work, people dressed appropriately? Or should I quit moaning and take my flip flops to work?


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