Destination D Trip Report: Day One

The 2016 Destination D convention happened on November 19th and 20th, and Magic & Misadventures was there! Throughout this post, and the next, I will be breaking down the presentations and events that we had the opportunity to see over the weekend.

Before we get to day one, though, there was… day zero-point-five, I guess we could call it. On Friday, November 18th, we went over to the Contemporary Resort (where Destination D is held) to register so we wouldn’t have to deal with doing that on the first morning of the convention. There was virtually no wait at the registration counter when we arrived that afternoon, and the actual act of registering only took us a few minutes. There looked to be slightly longer lines later in the day and the next morning, though even those seemed to be moving fairly quickly.

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Contents of the swag bag included: a Destination D pin, a “happy birthday Mickey” button that they had been giving out in the parks, and a special Destination D-themed MagicBand 2.0.

The MagicBand 2.0, which is slated to release for annual passholders in December and in January for regular guests, was given to attendees. Additionally, there was a display case of other styles as well as cast members on hand to talk about the new design and show off its features. Check out the photos and video on the Magic & Misadventures Facebook page to see more.

We also took this opportunity to check out the great exhibit set up by the Disney Archives, which featured photos and items from Walt Disney’s real-life adventures around the world. That was very cool to see, and it really showcased how these trips influenced so many aspects of the Disney parks. We stopped briefly outside of the exhibit to look at the art and photo reprints they had for sale. Incidentally, Imagineer Joe Rohde was standing RIGHT BEHIND US but we didn’t want to bother him so we didn’t say anything. He was totally like three feet away from us, though.

The Disney Archives exhibit was a very cool look at Walt’s travels, with photos and items from his trips.

We then wandered over to the Mickey’s of Glendale “pop-up” shop, but it wasn’t open yet and a pretty long (like two hour long) line had already formed. In addition to Destination D and Imagineering merchandise, they were selling limited exclusive pins that many people were very excited for. It seemed likely that most of the people in line were actually waiting for those pins, and since we didn’t really care about them ourselves we opted to leave and try again. We had dinner reservations at the Contemporary later in the day anyway, so we figured that we’d try again when we came back later. Before heading out, though, we headed to the Contempo Cafe (the quick service eatery at the Contemporary) for lunch. There, we ran into and chatted with John from BigFatPanda.com. This was one of the reasons we were really looking forward to Destination D–the chance to interact with other Disney fans and particularly other Disney bloggers/press.

This is Robert Lisinksy, a visual artist and fellow Destination D attendee. He overheard a conversation I had with someone about EPCOT Center, and stopped me later to show me this papercraft Horizons model that he had made. The model actually splits open to reveal “if we can dream it, we can do it” on one side and Mesa Verde on the other–which can be swapped out with Seabase Alpha. It was a very cool piece, and it was great to meet a fellow Horizons fan.

We took advantage of the beautiful afternoon and went back to the Grand Floridian to lounge in the pool for a bit. We did make it back to Mickey’s of Glendale later that evening (around five o’clock or so) and the line was considerably shorter. There was a separate queue for those exclusive pins that still looked to be pretty long, but there was no wait to shop for other items. We proceeded to spend a fair bit on exclusive Walt Disney Imagineering clothing items. We then found ourselves with a fair amount of time before dinner, so we did actually wait in line to check out the pins (partially because friend and former Imagineer Brian Collins had asked me to look for a certain pin), though we didn’t end up purchasing any of them.

The next morning we, along with hundreds of other Disney fans, collected in the Contemporary’s Fantasia Ballroom for the first day of Destination D!

The entry to the Fantasia Ballroom was decked out in the “adventure” theme of the event.

We got there early enough to check out the room (the convention kicked off at 9:00am, and we got there around 8:30am). There were adventure-themed photo op backdrops set up in the back, and in one corner the new Ethan Allen line of Disney furniture was on display. Aside from an area reserved for press and the front couple rows that were earmarked for the (very expensive) VIP ticket holders, it was open seating, so we picked chairs and soon things were underway. There were a lot of people there, but we were easily able to find good seats and it didn’t look like the room was actually at capacity.

At the back of the conference room were dioramas, like this Pirates of the Caribbean one, which was perfect for adventure-themed photos.

(NoteAs they didn’t allow any photos or recording during the presentations, I have no pictures to show you of the actual speakers.) 

A short video about “adventure” started things off, and then our host for the weekend took the stage. Dressed in a khaki jungle explorer outfit and pith helmet, with a neat beard and curled mustache, Dr. Albert Falls (who, of course, Schweitzer Falls in the Jungle Cruise is named after) introduced himself and welcomed guests to Destination D. He would reappear to introduce almost every presentation over the next two days and make announcements, and he was really a lot of fun. Kudos to the performer they picked to bring this character to life. Personally, I’d love to see Dr. Falls appear in the parks around the Jungle Cruise as a walk-around character.

He introduced D23 chairman Michael Vargo, who thanked everyone for coming and stated that the attendees for Destination D came from thirty-nine different states and from eight different countries! He brought up other D23 staff members as well, who talked about some of the different D23 events that we’ll be seeing over the course of the next year. Like the EPCOT 35th anniversary party in the Fall of 2017 that I really want to attend but probably won’t be able to.

Then, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Bob Chapek came onstage and sat down for a talk with D23’s Jeffrey Epstein.  One of the first things he said was to announce that Pandora-World of Avatar will be opening at Animal Kingdom in the Summer of 2017! He went on to talk a bit more about the project, explaining that there would be two attractions: a slow boat ride through the jungles of Pandora, and a thrill ride in which guests would “fly” on a Banshee creature from the movie. He then moved on to Marvel news, touching briefly upon the Iron Man attraction at Hong Kong Disneyland and then stating that while Guardians of the Galaxy is replacing Tower of Terror in Disney’s California Adventure, the attraction is remaining as it is at Hollywood Studios. He mentioned Star Wars Land briefly, but other than showing a new piece of concept art there wasn’t much by way of new information. He did, however, state that Star Tours would be refreshed with new content as new Star Wars movies get released (though he said that this means the numbered films like the upcoming Episode VIII, and not Rogue One).

Chapek then spoke about EPCOT, and admittedly this was something I was dreading. I had heard rumors about what may be closing and what could be coming in, and I feared that this was when all those rumors turned into truths. While he didn’t go into specific details, and he didn’t necessarily confirm or deny anything, he did state that EPCOT will be undergoing a “major transformation” in the future. He explained that there were points that they intended to hit in this, including making it: more Disney, more relevant, timeless, more family oriented, and true to the original vision. He didn’t really explain much about what any of those meant, nor did he give any sort of timeframe or concept for this. He moved on to talk about how they were focusing on the guest experience at the parks, and how they wanted to bring Disney Magic to every aspect of a vacation–from the resorts to transportation to the parks themselves. He said that they were working hard on “personalizing” the Disney experience, and we’ve already seen some of that come to fruition with the connecting of MagicBands to certain attractions. He also teased that the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (of which Dr. Albert Falls, as well as Dr. Henry Mystic from Hong Kong Disneyland, are members) would be getting a bigger role in the parks. There’s a bit of this already happening in the new Skipper Canteen restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and I’m excited to see this story–and hopefully the characters–get used a lot more.

After Bob Chapek’s presentation, movie producer Don Hahn (Beauty and the BeastLion King, and a bunch of others. Including one of my fave bad movies, The Haunted Mansion) and Becky Cline (director of the Disney Archives) came onstage to do a presentation about Walt Disney’s “True-Life Adventures” nature documentaries. They showed clips and talked about the production of the movies, which led into the more recent DisneyNature series (which Don produces). Learning how the crews past and present captured this footage–which often took weeks of waiting for a minute of film–was very interesting. They then showed a new clip of the next DisneyNature film Born In China, that’s being released on Earth Day 2017. Don Hahn in particular proved to be a hilarious presenter, with a deadpan delivery of comments that really had the crowd laughing hard. To be fair, the content itself lent itself to such commentary (if you ever cross paths with a Destination D 2016 attendee, ask them about the throwing of ducks) and it was a really fun presentation overall. The newer DisneyNature footage, including the new Born In China stuff, was simply breathtaking to watch.

The next presentation opened with a video of Walt Disney talking about the original Adventureland, and then legendary Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar came up to talk. He shared photos of original Imagineers taken during the construction of Disneyland, plus a rare photo of Walt himself standing in Adventureland chatting with guests. These photos were accompanied by his own commentary of what was happening in the photos, and anecdotes about the creation of the parks and the people involved. He showed and talked about original Harper Goff concept art for Adventureland, the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea film, and the Jungle Cruise attraction. He talked about Bill Evans, the landscape designer for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and then showed a short video of Bill on the Jungle Cruise talking about the different plants that were used on the ride. In all honesty, getting to hear Marty Sklar talk in person was one of the big reasons we were excited to be at the convention, and his presentation did not disappoint. Getting to see these photos and listen to his stories was an incredible experience.

After Marty Sklar’s presentation was a two-hour break. We hopped on a monorail and went to the Polynesian Resort for lunch, as the Contempo Café at the Contemporary (their quick service eatery) was packed. The Polynesian was busy as well, but it wasn’t nearly as bad. Plus, as it was a beautiful day, it was nice to sit outside for a bit after spending the morning in the conference room. There was a pop-up food service in a nearby room for the convention, but the line was really long during each break so we never checked out what they had to offer.

When the convention resumed, representatives from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment came onstage with a special announcement: Pinocchio is coming to blu-ray in January as a Signature Edition release. Like the previous Signature Editions, this means that it’ll be packed with behind-the-scenes extras. To celebrate this announcement, they also gave each attendee a special Pinocchio lithograph.

After that brief announcement, the next presentation featured Disney legend/Imagineer/former senior VP of creative development Tony Baxter as well as Imagineers Jason Grandt and Luc Mayrand, talking about the different Adventurelands at the Disney parks around the world. They shared photos and anecdotes, including a lot of information about the new Adventureland in Shanghai. Honestly, getting the chance to hear Tony Baxter talk in person was another big reason we were stoked to attend Destination D. He started as an ice-cream scooper at Disneyland in 1965 and became an icon, responsible for overseeing attractions such as Big Thunder Mountain and Star Tours, and both my wife and I are pretty big fans of his.

The next presentation, though, was one of the surprise highlights of the weekend. Called “Tales from the Jungle Cruise”, it featured a panel of Imagineers, former Jungle Cruise skippers, and Disney historians. Obviously, the presentation was full of humor and puns as the group (Justin Arthur, Kevin Lively, Alex Grayman, Wyatt Winter, Trevor Van Dahm, and Chris Merritt) talked about their own experiences as well as the history of the attraction. They shared stories about funny moments they had encountered, showed photos, talked about Marc Davis’s contributions to the creation of the ride, and more. They also spent some time talking about Skipper Canteen, the new Jungle Cruise-themed restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Adventureland. When my wife and I saw the original schedule we figured that this would be a fun one (it was about the Jungle Cruise, after all) but it was even more entertaining than we had envisioned. Also, we were all inducted into the Adventurers Club (part of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers). We had to recite an oath and everything. Truth be told, we love goofy moments like that and we even went back to Mickey’s of Glendale and bought an SEA pin the next day to commemorate that moment.

Don Hahn then briefly returned to the stage, and (after some hilarious set-up) showed the original theatrical trailer for The Swiss Family Robinson. This would end up being a recurring bit throughout the weekend, as he would return to the stage a couple more times to show more trailers for different Disney live-action movies.

Disney artists Casey Jones and Richard Terpstra, as well as Steven Vagnini from D23, then presented a look at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. They showed photos and artwork as they took us through the history of the resort, from its opening in 1971 to the recent renovations.  They then invited Auntie Kau’i, an original Polynesian Resort cast member, to the stage. She talked a bit about her own childhood (growing up not far from Pearl Harbor, and recalling the day of the bombing) and her time at the Polynesian Resort. Towards the end of the presentation, she was joined by fellow Polynesian cast members Ku’ulei and Kalei, and the three of them encouraged the entire audience to stand and dance as they offered us a brief lesson in the hula.

The final presentation of the day was by Jared Bush, screenwriter for Moana. He detailed the writing process, discussed many of the ideas that made it in and some that didn’t, and showed lots of exclusive clips of the (at the time) upcoming film. He also talked about how they tried very hard to embrace and respect the culture that they were representing in the film, and talked about their research trips and the incorporation of the legends that became a part of Moana‘s story. This led into a detailed explanation about the start of the Oceanic Trust, the group that was formed to make sure that the production offered an accurate and respectful representation of South Pacific culture.

Finally, Michael Vargo and some of the D23 team came back up to end the day’s presentations and also to give us information about the nighttime event that we were all invited to: watching Moana on the beach at the Polynesian Resort!

We rushed back to Port Orleans to get changed (we had changed resorts, from the Grand Floridian to Port Orleans, which is a longer tale that I won’t get into here) and grab a quick bite to eat, and then we headed over to the Polynesian Resort where we were directed to the beach by cast members. We were offered a bag of popcorn–which also had dried fruit, nuts, and possibly some other tasty snack things in there–and a drink, and then we settled into our seats in chairs on the sand. Jared Bush and a few others–including Disney Park Blog livestream host Mark Daniel and a Moana face character–came up onto a small stage and talked, and then we watched the movie. It was a great film, and we had been looking forward to seeing it, and getting the chance to do so a few days before release–and at the Polynesian Resort–was just a cool experience. After the movie we were invited to stay on the beach to watch Wishes (Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show) from across the water. They even piped in the music from the show.

Then, we headed back to our room. We were exhausted, but full of great information and still thrilled from the experience. It wouldn’t be long before we’d be back at the Contemporary for day two!

 

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The Spookiest Place On Earth

Welcome, foolish mortals, to the Magic & Misadventures Halloween post. It’s a… ghost post, if you will. 

You may have heard, my dear readers, of the lamp in Walt’s Disneyland apartment. Situated in a window above the Main Street Fire Station, Walt would turn that lamp on so folks would know that he was there, and since his passing  it’s been kept on all the time. A touching tribute, to be sure, to the man who created the park.

What if, however, there’s actually a more… supernatural side to this story?

There are stories of a custodian who, shortly after Walt died in 1966, went in to clean the apartment. As was normal at that time, she turned his lamp off as she left. When she got outside, however, she looked back and saw that the light was still on. Assuming that she must have forgotten, she went back inside and shut it off again. Once more she went back downstairs, once more she saw that the lamp was lit, and once more she went into the apartment to turn it off. The story goes that this time she stood there for a few minutes and, without being touched, the lamp turned itself back on.

There’s even a version of this eerie anecdote that claims she then heard a familiar voice telling her “I am still here.”

The creeped-out custodian left the apartment in a hurry and never returned, and since that day the lamp has remained on. Officially, it’s to honor Walt Disney, and officially the apartment is empty. Yet, in the years since his death, many cast members have claimed to hear footsteps and knocking from within the vacant apartment. Sometimes, out of the corner of an eye, they’ll catch a glimpse of the curtains twitching. As if, they say, an ethereal observer just stepped back from the window. Could it be that the ghost of Walt Disney is still there in his apartment, watching over the magic kingdom that he created?

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Is there a pixie-dusted poltergeist residing in this Disneyland apartment, or is it just a fanciful fable?

Frightening folklore? Perhaps. There are whispers, though, passed between guests and cast members, suggesting that the happy haunts of the Haunted Mansion aren’t the only ghosts in the Happiest Place On Earth.

So turn on all the lights and muster your courage, my friends, because it’s time to go on a tour of spooky stories about some specters that may dwell within the Disney parks.

There’s no turning back now…

Of course, we all know that the Haunted Mansion is full of grim grinning ghosts. Nine hundred and ninety nine, to be exact. They do say that there’s room for a thousand, and ask for volunteers, but maybe that last slot has already been filled?

Some people believe there is at least one more spirit, that of a creepy crying child, stalking the halls of Disneyland’s haunted house. As the story goes, a young boy died and his mother asked if she could spread his ashes inside his favorite attraction–the Haunted Mansion. Naturally, Disney said that she couldn’t, but supposedly that didn’t deter her from doing it anyway. After that, rumors of a ghost haunting the ride began to surface. Guests have claimed to see a tearful tot by the exit, but he ignores them when he’s spoken to and sometimes even vanishes altogether. Even cast members have said they’ve heard weird sounds, felt chills, and seen things out of the corners of their eyes while working at the attraction.

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Does a sobbing spirit haunt the exit of the Haunted Mansion, or is it all a morbid myth?

Some ghosts, it seems, may have been around long before the theme parks were built. One such spirit is said to be an old man holding a cane who rides Florida’s Haunted Mansion late at night. Though not much is known about him, it’s rumored that this apparition is in fact a pilot whose plane crashed in the 1940s on what is now Walt Disney World property. Many cast members claim that they’ve tried to talk to him, but he never responds. The ghost, known as “the man with the cane”, will more often than not just disappear.

Our last Haunted Mansion ghost story stems from a picture taken in 2004 and posted on this WDWMagic forum.

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Is this phantom only Photoshop, or is it actually an apparition?

According to the photographer, the face staring back from the doombuggy ahead can only be that of a spirit. This child was not there when the photo was taken, they claim, and in fact there was no guest of that age visible anywhere ahead of them in line. To add to the mystery, they say that they were not using a flash or external light source of any kind. So who could this kid be, why is their face so well-lit in the dark hallway, and why are they staring straight back at the photographer? Other guests claim to have also seen this ghostly youngster looking back at them from a few doombuggies ahead, even though they knew that they were the very first rider of the day.

The first living one, anyway…

I didn’t mean to frighten you prematurely. Many more chilling tales are coming. As they say, look… alive, and we’ll continue our little tour. 

Over in Adventureland, in Pirates of the Caribbean, resides one of the best-known Walt Disney World ghosts: George. In life, George was supposedly a construction worker back in the early ’70s who died while working on the attraction (though any details of his demise are lost to legend). Since then, many believe that his spirit lingers within the ride. Cast members say good morning and good night to George every day over the PA system, and it’s widely believed that he’ll get a bit mischievous if they don’t. The ride might stop, or a phone call may come from an empty control room. There’s even a door, near the jail cell and the key-holding dog, called “George’s door” because it will often open on its own after being closed. It’s not just the cast members who say they’ve experienced George’s hijinks, either. If a guest claims they don’t believe in him while riding the ride, the boats may suddenly stop (sometimes, according to reports, for an extremely long time). Saying his name three times while on the attraction is rumored to cause stops as well, and one guest who chose to taunt George early on swore later that their boat rocked much harder as it went down the waterfall. Cast members have claimed to see shadows moving where there weren’t any people, felt cold air blowing as if something was passing through them, and some have even said they’ve seen weird lights appear on photographs and security monitors.  Overall, cast members do maintain that George is basically harmless as long as you’re polite to him. If you don’t show this spectral swashbuckler respect, however, he can be a really bad egg. 

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Dead men may tell no tales, but does one creep through Pirates of the Caribbean?

Of course, you may expect ghosts in a haunted house or amid the bones of buccaneers, but what about among the stars? Some speak of a spirit, known as Mr. One-Way, who haunts Space Mountain in Disneyland. This futuristic phantasm, often described as a large man with red hair and a red face, will hop into the empty seat next to single riders but will have vanished by the time their rocket reaches the end of the trip. There have also been reports of cast members seeing Mr. One-Way in the Space Mountain locker rooms.

Interestingly, while Mr. One-Way is the most well known of Space Mountain’s ghosts, there’s also talk of a young boy who has been seen in the queue for the ride. Guests who have witnessed this particular wraith say that he’ll actually wait in line and talk to the people around him, though his information seems quite dated and he doesn’t seem to know about all of the changes to the park that have happened over the last few decades. He’ll even get on next to an unsuspecting mortal, but, like Mr. One-Way, will have disappeared before the end of the ride.

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Are there really rocket-riding revenants on this iconic attraction, or should we be skeptical of these Space Mountain spirits?

Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding. Are these terrifying tales true, or are they only imagination? 

Even Disneyland’s Main Street USA, that charming collection of shops and restaurants, is said to be home to its own eerie apparition. This spirit has been spied by both guests and cast members throughout the years, and they describe a woman dressed in a white dress that appears to be from the early 1900s. This silent specter wanders around the stores, and some even state that she guides lost children to the Baby Care Center. Though this helpful haunt’s clothing fits well within Main Street’s theme, it’s suspected that she’s actually from the turn-of-the-century and that she’s been there far longer than the theme park.

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Is Main Street USA home to an old-fashioned apparition, or is this poltergeist just poppycock?

Our tour of the supernatural is not only limited to the lands of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. There are stories of spirits residing in other Disney parks as well.

EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Maybe, though, we should replace “prototype” with “paranormal” since it’s said that a pair of phantoms can be found there. Described as ghostly children, they are most often seen playing in front of Spaceship Earth. The boy will run ahead of the girl, and then they will simply vanish. Both the girl (often said to have long blonde hair, a fairly consistent detail) and the boy have also been seen riding Spaceship Earth as well. While many claim to have seen them, nobody seems to know who these ghostly kids are or where they could have come from, or why they spend all of their time at EPCOT’s most iconic attraction.

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Are there phantoms frolicking in Future World, or would science-minded skeptics scoff at those who claim to have seen such shadows?

Hollywood Studios, too, could very well be haunted. As the story goes, a Tower of Terror cast member died of a heart attack on the loading platform for the “Delta” shaft and his spirit hasn’t moved on from the attraction. Cast members claim that, during their nightly ride-throughs on that particular elevator, all sorts of spooky scenarios can play out. They suddenly find themselves in complete darkness, though on the security screens in the control room the lights never seemed to go out. The music fades in and out. Sometimes, out of the corner of their eye, they’ll see a shadowy figure that vanishes when they turn to look. Some supposedly won’t ride Delta alone, and at the end of the night will wait for others to complete their own tasks and then go through as a group.

Consider the screenshot below, taken from a maintenance video that was posted on YouTube. At exactly 26 seconds, and only for the blink of an eye, a figure seems to momentarily materialize behind the cast member. Is it a trick of the light, a reflection, or some sort of glitch in the recording? Or, for the briefest of flashes, does a ghost actually appear behind this unsuspecting man?

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Does this tape tell that there’s terror in the Hollywood Tower, or should we just drop it?

From cast members who greet George every day to guests who claim to have seen a specter on Space Mountain, these spine-tingling stories (and more like them) have taken on an afterlife of their own to become a real part of the mythology of the Disney parks. Whether you think that they’re terrifyingly true or just silly superstition, of course, is up to you.

Our tour is almost at its untimely end, but before we reach our frightening finale I will leave you all with one last morbid mystery. Is this video eerie evidence of an entity walking through Disneyland late at night, or should we be somewhat skeptical of this recorded revenant? Watch, and decide for yourself. And the next time you’re at a Disney park, remember… beware of hitchhiking ghosts!

Hurry back… hurry back…

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Out Of Toon

Have you seen the recent live-action Jungle Book movie? I went to see it while it was still in theaters. It took aspects from the animated movie–as well as elements from Rudyard Kipling’s original tale–and overall it was a fun moviegoing experience. It was clear to me that the creators of this version really loved the story and wanted to do it right, and while it was told in a new way it retained (some of) the heart that made its cartoon predecessor so special. Sure, I still personally prefer the original, but I think this new take was worth seeing. Bill Murray made an awesome Baloo. I didn’t go in with high hopes, though, and therefore I was honestly (and pleasantly) surprised when it turned out to be better than I expected.

Why didn’t I go in thinking I was going to see a good movie? Because, in my opinion, the recent live-action Disney films had set up that fairly low expectation.

In particular, I’m referring to the remakes of other animated classics, Cinderella and Maleficent. I was excited for them both, I saw them in theaters, and I was disappointed each time. Instead of thinking that Disney had wondrously revitalized these classic tales, I mostly just wondered why we needed these new versions at all.

Spoilers ahead for both Maleficent and Cinderella, by the way.

I really did want to like Maleficent. I thought that the concept–the story as told through the eyes of the villain (especially one of the most iconic of Disney’s baddies) was really cool. In the animated feature we never learned anything about her other than that she’s evil and she’s miffed over not being invited to Aurora’s birth party (from what I’ve read, the original fairy tale didn’t add much more to that). So in the live-action version they added in an elaborate backstory for her, which included a history with Aurora’s father Stephan, to try and explain how she became the evil character that we know from Sleeping Beauty. It was a bit forced at times, but it wasn’t overly terrible, and it succeeded in actually making her into a sympathetic character of sorts. In the animated movie, of course, Maleficent turned into a massive dragon and went head-to-head with Prince Phillip. She lost, she died, and everybody (else) lived happily ever after. In Maleficent, however, she was redeemed in the end and became all happy and cheerful. Angelina Jolie did a great job portraying the character, and it was all very visually stunning, but ultimately I was more than a bit disappointed. I just felt that the new ending was too much of a deviation–even though I was willing to accept all of the other changes–and it was too drastic a departure for the character. I mean, she didn’t even turn into a dragon, and that’s pretty much what she’s known for!

Sure, some changes are to be expected in a remake, but altering the entire ending is a pretty big one. Then again, keeping Maleficent alive and giving her that redemption does allow them to make even more money off the franchise with the sequel that’s apparently happening.

Cinderella I really didn’t like. In the animated movie, we meet the character of Cinderella when she’s already a young adult. We’re given enough history to understand what’s going on, and then the movie is all about her eventually becoming a princess (with the help of some talking mice). The live-action version starts further back, though, and shows us her childhood. Her early life is fleshed out, and… sorry, it just doesn’t work. They try to add depth, and yet she just comes off as a one-dimensional character. We’re introduced to her parents in this version, and early on she’s told by her mother to “have courage and be kind”. This advice carries her through her childhood and her adult life, and it becomes basically the reason that she lets these bad things happen to her. You’d think that maybe “be nice but, y’know, stand up for yourself now and again” would have been a better life lesson. When her wicked stepmother and mean stepsisters are wicked and mean to her, she just recites her mom’s words and then keeps letting it all happen. True, her being abused by her step-family is the basic plot in every version of the story, but the addition of her oft-recited “mantra” made her (in my eyes) less of a sympathetic character and more of a doormat. I just couldn’t root for her. The animated movie added a healthy dose of Disney whimsy to her journey (again, talking mice) and it’s an important element of fun to what’s basically a rags-to-riches tale. Without that, the live-action version simply isn’t very interesting.

Let’s look at another recent example: Pete’s Dragon.

I may have, prior to its release, called the remake of Pete’s Dragon an “abomination” on my Facebook page. I really like the original (I’m not saying that it’s a great movie, but I’m saying that I personally find it entertaining) and in the trailers the new version looked to be a pretty drastic departure. The original was a bizarre, over-the-top campy musical, and the remake appeared to take itself far more seriously. Plus, no singing. I’ll admit that, based on my limited information, I was dubious.

Well it turns out that, while definitely very different from the original in just about every way, the new Pete’s Dragon wasn’t an abomination. It’s not actually that bad at all (even if there’s no Doc Terminus, who’s my favorite part of the 1977 film). It’s the story repackaged for modern audiences who may not be as receptive to a snake-oil salesman singing about chopping up a dragon to sell its part for medicine, or alcoholism used as a comedy device, or people who basically bought a child to use as slave labor.

OK, I think I get why they opted to go in a different direction here…

What’s interesting about Pete’s Dragon is that many people I’ve talked to didn’t even know that there WAS an ‘original’ version. So while some moviegoers may have gone to see the remake because they saw the old one, others were seeing this story (in any version) for the very first time. In that respect, Disney’s decision to make a new Pete’s Dragon was definitely a smart one. It put the franchise back on the map. It may be very different in tone, but it’s a new version of the story for a new generation.

This is all probably a bit (or a lot) grumpy and get-off-my-lawn sounding, I know. Though I think it poses an interesting question: when watching a remake, are we going in hoping to see a shot-for-shot recreation of the original, or are we expecting a new take on the story and are willing to accept the changes that are made? Jungle Book kept pretty close to the original, while Pete’s Dragon was very different (it had Pete, and a dragon, and that’s about it), and both were decent films. They took on the subjects in their own way but, like their predecessors, at their core they both had heart. Cinderella took that heart out almost completely, and the result was a bland retelling of the story. Maleficent had its moments, and they managed to add some real depth to her saga, but in redeeming her at the end they managed to just stray too far from the true soul of the character.

So what’s coming next for Disney live-action remakes? Everything, it would seem. Beauty and the Beast is slated for release in March of 2017. From what I’ve seen in teasers and photos, this one looks like it’s sticking pretty close to its source material. I’m sure that there will be changes, but I’m actually optimistic about it and I’m looking forward to seeing it. Jon Favreau is remaking The Lion King in the same live-action/CGI style as the recent Jungle Book (which he directed and co-produced). Tim Burton is recreating Dumbo, which is probably going to be… weird. There are also live-action remakes of Mulan, Sword in the Stone, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio in the works. A movie about Genie from Aladdin is coming, plus a remake of Aladdin itself. There’s one about Tinkerbell, and another about Cruella De Vil. There’s even one about Chernabog from the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of Fantasia, and supposedly there’s also going to be a movie about Snow White’s sister–dubbed Rose Red–coming at some point in the future. Additionally, sequels to Maleficent and Jungle Book have been announced.

It appears that, for better or worse, the live-action remake train has no intention of slowing down.

I mean, I guess I get why they’re remaking their classic films. They want a new generation to enjoy these stories (and, more cynically, to continue to make money off of these franchises) and remaking them is a way to do that. Entertainment has changed over the decades, so recreating these tales with modern sensibilities is a way to bring them to a new audience.

I think my issue with some of these live-action remakes can be summed up like this: when watching the animated originals, there’s a sense of magic about them that makes them special. They have a heart that captures the imaginations of kids and adults alike, and when those kids grow up they can’t wait to show the films to the next generation. It’s why they’ve remained so popular so long after their release. Most of these new versions, though, lack that spark. They feel kind of like many big-budget movies that have come out in recent years, lots of style but not much substance.

Will any of these live-action remakes still hold up years from now like the originals have? Recently, a local movie theater showed the original Sleeping Beauty on the big screen and the house looked to be mostly sold out with people from all ages there. Sixty years from now, will Maleficent garner that same kind of attention?

I don’t know if I have any answers to the questions I’ve posed here (or even if I have a real point to this rant). I’ll still go see the remakes when they get released. I’ll probably still walk into each one with low expectations, I’ll be pleasantly surprised when they turn out to be decent movies, and I’ll be disappointed when I don’t think they work.

Ultimately, though, I just don’t know if I’ll ever see them as exciting new takes on these classic tales, or if I’ll keep thinking they’re just largely unnecessary and then go back and watch the originals.

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