Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A retro ride in a Superstar Limo

Last night, I experienced one of those bizarre pop cultural crossover coincidences that happens every now and again.

I was browsing some Disneyland-related sites — because you know I loves me some Disneyland, and I actually will get to spend a few days in Anaheim this summer — when I decided to check out this YouTube video showcasing one of the Disneyland Resort's former attractions, Superstar Limo. At the very moment that the late-but-unlamented ride's Audio-Animatronic version of Drew Carey appeared on my monitor, my television — tuned at the time to a 17-year-old stand-up comedy special on HBO — displayed the youthful visage of Drew Carey, from way back before anyone knew who Drew Carey was.

How weird is that?

In case you're wondering what in the name of Walter Elias Disney I'm babbling about, Superstar Limo was one of the original attractions at Disney's California Adventure, the amusement park that now occupies what used to be the main Disneyland parking lot at the corner of Harbor and Katella in Anaheim.

A so-called "dark ride" in the classic Disney park model — think Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, or others of that ilk — Superstar Limo allowed the visitor to pretend that he or she was a celebrity riding to a big Hollywood premiere in (what else) a miniaturized limousine. Along the route, one encountered Audio-Animatronic versions of a number of then-current pop culture icons, including Regis Philbin, Cindy Crawford, Whoopi Goldberg, and the aforementioned Mr. Carey, who at the time of DCA's opening was the star of a hit sitcom on ABC (the network of Disney, as you are certainly aware).

Superstar Limo was roundly panned by DCA attendees — both for its corporate-pandering concept and its lackluster execution — and closed about a year or so after the park opened. The current Monsters Inc. attraction now occupies the space its short-lived predecessor inhabited.

My memory of Superstar Limo was that it was cheesy but fun in typical Disneyland fashion. The recording of the experience on YouTube bears this out, I think. The main problem I had with the ride was that, had it survived, it would quickly have become dated. How big a star is, say, Tim Allen or Melanie Griffith today, more than a decade and a half later? It would have cost Disney megabucks to continually replace passé show-biz personalities with celebs that kids, especially, would recognize — megabucks that Disney has shown little inclination to spend in its upkeep of the Disneyland Resort.

Still, it's a kick to recall what it was like while it lasted.

Potentially fascinating historical trivia: The original concept of Superstar Limo when DCA was in the development phase called for a simulated high-speed escape from a band of aggressive paparazzi. Then, the Princess of Wales met her untimely demise during... well... a high-speed escape from a band of aggressive paparazzi. Disney's Imagineers retooled the ride's storyline at the last moment to avoid the grisly and unfortunate connection.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's Up With That? #66: Design on a Dyme

This apparently happened several months ago, but I first read about it yesterday over at Rocketship of the Mind (thanks, Sean!). So it's not really news, but if I'm just now hearing about it, it's news to me, right?

My wife KJ loves watching the endless array of home improvement programs on HGTV. One of her favorite shows there is Design on a Dime, in which teams of interior decorators reinvent rooms in people's homes using a maximum budget of $1,000. (I know, they should have entitled it Design on a Grand. Don't ask me why they didn't.)

At least, KJ used to enjoy that show until a year or two ago, when several of the featured designers were replaced with newer talent whom she didn't like as well.

Now, I've come to find out that one of Design on a Dime's former stars, one-time Disney Imagineer Lee Snijders, has embarked on a new career...

...as a purveyor of Internet pornography.

Lee and his paramour, a porn star-turned-photographer who goes by the name Jett Angel (I say "goes by the name" because I'm making the not-too-audacious leap of logic that there isn't a Mr. and Mrs. Angel somewhere in the American heartland who named their offspring Jett, thereby predestining her to a future in adult entertainment) have launched a Web portal called Goth Rock Girls, which according to a published press release, is:
an 'all-girl' punk rock porn site shot in hi-definition with a high end 'reality' format that shows the two producers as a power couple who bring these girls to life as they hold their cameras and direct the action.
Which is probably more than you wanted to know.

One can only wonder what thought process would take a guy from successful ventures in amusement park design, domicile decor, and mainstream cable television to creating... well... whatever that description was in the preceding paragraph. Fortunately, Snijders hastens to explain:
I tried to continue my relationship with HGTV by pitching them show ideas, but unfortunately they were not interested and the company did not renew my contract. I found myself auditioning for design shows with models and actors posing as designers while my competitors got their own shows on HGTV. With the housing market crash and being stereotyped as a budget designer, I stayed flexible, open minded, and moved on.
That's quite a move, all right.

I'm hoping that Lee didn't intend "flexible" as a double entendre. Then again, perhaps he did.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

A final wrinkle in time

I noted with a sharp twinge of nostalgia the passing on Thursday of novelist Madeleine L'Engle, whose Newbery Award-winning classic A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books in my lost-distant youth.

A Wrinkle in Time is far more than a mere children's tale, or a run-of-the-mill science fiction fantasy. It's a provocative musing on the nature of human existence in the universe, and on the power of love, and on the eternal struggle between good and evil — the latter represented in the book by the horrific Black Thing, personified by the disembodied brain known simply as IT.

I've never forgotten the impact that the strange adventures of Meg Murry and her psychically gifted little brother, Charles Wallace, had on me when I first read the book at age ten. I've also never forgotten L'Engle's detailed explanation of the word tesseract, which is, as anyone who's read the story knows, is "a wrinkle in time."

As I grew into adolescence, I read several of Ms. L'Engle's subsequent works, but never found in them the emotional resonance of A Wrinkle in Time. It's one of those effects that perhaps can only happen in that initial moment when one encounters bold new ideas. I encountered similar disappointment a few years ago when I attempted to watch Disney's made-for-television adaptation of Wrinkle, which served only to prove the point that some books can't be translated to film, no matter how hard one tries — and that sometimes not trying is better.

Ironically, I found myself leafing through a copy of A Wrinkle in Time the last time I was in Costco, perhaps a week or so ago. I wondered at the time whether the author was still living. The answer was Yes then, but No now.

I believe it was Mrs. Whatsit, or perhaps Mrs. Which, who taught me that.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What's Up With That? #46: No Tiggers allowed

Over the hill in Napa, a lawsuit is brewing against the local school district because an eighth-grader got busted for wearing Tigger socks.

Considering some of the trouble Tigger's gotten his striped self into recently, perhaps this makes a peculiar kind of sense.

Toni Kay Scott, a 14-year-old honor student, has been cited more than a dozen times for wearing apparel in violation of the Napa school district's dress code, which forbids denim (the only fabrics permitted are cotton twill, chino, and corduroy) as well as clothing bearing words or images of any kind — including Pooh's lovable spring-tailed tiger friend. Napa's school-going youth are also prohibited from wearing any items outside a narrow color palette that includes blue, white, green, yellow, khaki, gray, brown, and black. (They're not exactly embracing sartorial diversity over in Napa.)

As a parent, I understand the school district's concern about gang colors, potentially offensive T-shirts, immodest clothing, and such like. But seriously, people — Tigger socks?

I'd hope the folks in charge of spending my tax dollars to educate my child and the other offspring of our community would have more important tasks on which to focus than punting a kid out of class for wearing Disney-print hosiery.

The last time I checked, the Crips and the Norteños weren't using Pooh and Piglet as insignia.

But wouldn't it be a happier world if they did?

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Friday, March 02, 2007

It's WonderCon weekend!

That's right, true believers: WonderCon, Northern California's premier comic book convention, invades San Francisco's Moscone Center for three days, beginning today at noon. I'll be making the scene both today and tomorrow — taking in the plethora of colorful sights and sounds; rubbing elbows with the near-famous, the wannabe famous, and the formerly famous; and most importantly, scoring a few new commissioned artworks for my collection.

In next week's Comic Art Friday, I'll deliver a full-blown report on my WonderCon experiences. But today, let me give you a sneak peek at one of the pieces I'll be bringing home.

When I spied the name of Star Wars artist Tom Hodges on WonderCon's guest list a few weeks ago, I shot him a quick e-mail to see whether he planned to accept commissions during the con. Tom wrote back to affirm that he will, indeed, be drawing for the fans here in the Bay Area. He also noted that he had some time available before the con, and if I'd like to preorder some art, he'd complete it at home and bring it to WonderCon with him.

Never one to pass up a golden opportunity, I seized the chance to ask Tom to add a new chapter to my ever-growing Common Elements gallery. Earlier this week, Tom sent me this scan of his spectacular creation, teaming Mike Mignola's signature hero, Hellboy, with Marvel's feline Defender, Hellcat.

My first exposure to Mike Mignola's work actually wasn't connected to either Hellboy, the character for which he's best known, or even to comics at all. Several years ago, Mignola worked as lead character designer on the Disney animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire. When I saw the movie, I was curious about the design style, which struck me as decidedly un-Disney. Upon further investigation, I was chagrined to discover that the artist in question (a Bay Area native, no less) had risen to superstardom during my most recent hiatus from the comics scene, hence my embarrassing lack of familiarity. (Much later, I remembered that Mignola had illustrated a few issues of Power Man and Iron Fist for Marvel in the early '80s, albeit in a markedly different style from his Hellboy work.)

Tom Hodges's work shows a striking amount of Mignola influence, so I knew that he'd be the perfect artist (since, well, I can't afford Mike Mignola) to draw my Hellboy-centric Common Elements piece. As you can see, my instincts were spot-on.

In contrast to Hellboy, Hellcat is a heroine whose history I know quite well. In her everyday identity of Patsy Walker, Hellcat has amassed one of the most convoluted backstories in all of comics. When Patsy first showed up way back in 1944, she wasn't a superhero — she was the star of an entire line of teenage romance and humor comics. think of her as a kind of female version of Archie. The popular Patsy continued her youthful adventures for more than two decades in a number of titles published by Timely Comics, the company that would eventually morph into Marvel in the early 1960s.

Patsy made her first appearance in a superhero story in — coincidentally enough — the first comic book I ever owned: Fantastic Four Annual #3. By the early '70s, she was popping up frequently as the lab assistant of Dr. Hank McCoy, better known as the Beast of the original X-Men. Before long, Patsy adopted the costume formerly worn by another Marvel heroine, the Cat (who by this time had transformed into the were-woman Tigra), and gave herself the code name Hellcat.

Patsy's finest exploits as a crimefighter came as a member of the Defenders, my favorite superhero team of the '70s. Originally a showcase for Marvel's three most iconoclastic headliners — Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk — over time the Defenders became populated by minor-league heroes who didn't own their own titles — notably Nighthawk, the Valkyrie, and our girl Hellcat.

Both Nighthawk and Valkyrie have previously headlined entries in my Common Elements series. Here, Nighthawk teams with Green Lantern Kyle Rayner in a moody scene by horror specialist Kyle Hotz.

Meanwhile, Valkyrie joins the X-Men's Nightcrawler, in this gorgeous pencil rendering by Dave Ross.

Patsy and her new friend Hellboy will come home with me from WonderCon, courtesy of the talented Tom Hodges. I'm looking forward to meeting Tom in person later today.

And that's your Comic Art Friday. I'm off to the con!

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mom! Beast is takin' my picture!

What's gotten into those lovable Disney characters lately?

Just last month, we noted that an actor playing Tigger at Walt Disney World smacked a teenage park visitor with a roundhouse punch upside the head, as the kid's parents caught the incident on video.

Now, the guy who portrays the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast) at the same park has been busted by the Orange County Sheriff's Sex Crimes Unit for collecting child pornography. Deputies raiding Disney cast member Matthew Wendland's apartment confiscated more than 1,000 images of children — some no older than toddler age — engaged in sexual poses and activities.

According to the detective managing the case, Wendland — who, in between stints as Beast, also suits up as Goofy — told them that he didn't see anything wrong in ogling pictures showing naked children barely out of diapers. "He doesn't see the difference between a naked 8-year-old and an 18-year-old woman. They're just a body to him," said Sgt. Rich Mankewich.

Mankewich also stated, "We have no evidence he committed any crimes while he was in costume. He just leans over and hugs kids." And with Wendland's proclivities, you don't suppose that might be a problem?

The truly sad fact is that Wendland has a teenaged girlfriend, with whom he's already produced a 16-month-old child.

I suppose they're both just bodies to him, too.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Playing Tigger makes people Goofy

In Disney's Winnie the Pooh cartoons, Tigger is a happy-go-lucky, fun-loving stuffed tiger who just loves to laugh and bounce around.

In the real world, apparently, Tigger is Evil Incarnate.

A New Hampshire family's home video captures a Walt Disney World cast member, Michael J. Fedelem, applying an armlock and a haymaker to the cheek of the family's 14-year-old son during a photo op. In a statement to local law enforcement, Fedelem claims that he whacked young Jerry Monaco Jr. in self-defense, because the kid was tugging on his costume, causing him to lose his balance.

Watching the video, I can't tell for certain exactly what happened. It's clear that Tigger wheels a mitt on the boy's head, but it's less clear exactly what happened in the seconds leading up to the blow.

That rumbly in my tumbly, however, suggests that a lawsuit is in the offing.

This isn't the first time a Tigger has found himself in hot water at the Happiest Place on Earth. Back in 2004, a Walt Disney World employee named Michael Chartrand was tried and found not guilty in a Florida court, after being accused of fondling a 13-year-old female park visitor while wearing the Tigger costume. About a month after his trial, Chartrand was again accused of inappropriate touching, this time by two female coworkers.

Here's Uncle Swan's advice, kiddies: The next time you want to have your photo taken with a Disney character, stick with Snow White.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

The not-so-wonderful news about Tigger

Mark Evanier is reporting on his blog (which you should be reading daily, like clockwork) the death of ventriloquist and voice actor Paul Winchell at the age of 83.

For those of us of a certain age (and we know who we are, don't we?), Paul Winchell's unmistakable voice left an indelible stamp on our childhood memories. Mr. Winchell was the larynx behind such familiar characters as:
  • Tigger in Disney's various Winnie the Pooh projects.
  • Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races and Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines (also known as Stop That Pigeon!).
  • Fleegle in the never-to-be-forgotten Banana Splits.
  • The villainous wizard Gargamel in The Smurfs.
  • Bubi Bear in Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch!
  • Goober in Goober and the Ghost Chasers.
Before he was one of the most recognizable voices in cartoons, Winchell was a fixture on TV variety shows as a ventriloquist, probably the most famous practitioner of that dying art after Edgar Bergen. Winchell's figures Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff were, at one time, as famous as he was.

An inventor as well as an entertainer, Winchell held the patent on the original prototype for an artificial heart, which he developed in conjunction with Dr. Henry Heimlich of maneuver fame.

A rare talent, indeed. He'll be missed.

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