Dispatches from America’s Great Wonder-Land, Part 1

We hurried down the path, going a bit too fast, rushing against the dying light. Our time was dwindling. Our quarry might be just over the next hill, or crossing a distant meadow, and so we kept moving.

We did not even know for sure what we were hunting, or whether we would find it.

Yellowstone Poster

Old posters are the best posters. Image by National Park Service [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Then we rounded a corner and felt a subconscious, animal tingle warning us that something was not quite right. A hazy figure to our left came into focus in stages, like looking at the face of a stranger for a few moments before discovering you have stumbled upon an old acquaintance. But once resolved, it was unmistakable.

Twenty feet ahead, with nothing but empty ground and clear air between us, was the most dangerous wild animal in North America.

Amy slowly raised the aperture to her eye, her finger hovering over the trigger. “Cool,” she whispered.

Thursday, May 12

Here’s a nugget of information about us: our modus operandi is long lead times with heavy emphasis on strategic planning. We would never buy, say, a refrigerator, without research, deliberation, and several (several!) trips to the home improvement store for in-person evaluation. One time, and this is a true story, we decided to rescue a cat from our local shelter as company for our current cat, and making that happen took us longer than the Summer Olympics. Continue reading

It All Started With A Duck, Part Two: Now Starting With A Bear

The DONALD Scores are rankings for Disney animated films that combine personal opinion with a pseudo-scientific veneer of hard data. For a full introduction to the DONALD system, please go here. Please contribute your scores in the comments!

For the very first review under my new system, I decided start with an overlooked gem. It goes without saying that I will post reviews of all of the highest and lowest ranked movies. But with 70+ films on our list, and more coming every year, it may take a while to get to the titles in the middle.

Released in 2003, Brother Bear was squished between the surprise popularity of Lilo and Stitch and the ascendancy of Pixar and Finding Nemo. But Brother Bear was a decent entry in its own right, with good music, solid voice acting, and an interesting twist. In case it is not obvious, there are some plot spoilers below. Let’s jump to the numbers…

"Hooray, we're first!!"

“Hooray, we’re first!!”

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It All Started With A Duck, Part One: Introducing the DONALD System for Ranking Disney Movies

A little more than a year and a half ago, my wife and I took the first tentative steps of what would become a monumental journey. We fired up our DVD player and inserted the disc for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Four months later, as the credits rolled on Monsters University, we had watched every single animated feature film from Walt Disney Studios.

From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to No White and the Six-and-a-Half Dorks

From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to White Background and the Six-and-a-Half Dorks

As a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool, Disney fan, it had been easy to imagine that I had seen all of the films before. But, as it turns out, I was so, so wrong. Our first watch list had 68 titles: 52 from Walt Disney Animation Studios, 15 from Pixar Animation Studios, and one from DisneyToon Studios.

Because we committed our free time in the evenings and weekends on the films, I decided to use the viewing exercise as an opportunity to wrap my head around the entire Disney movie library. To accomplish this, I created the DONALD* system of movie rankings. This is a set of criteria intended to help a viewer think in critical terms, rather than just falling into the trap of saying: “I love Disney movies, therefore, this movie is wonderful.” Continue reading

We Say Some Of The Stupidest Things at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Five

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

— Anatole France

Thursday November 14, 2013

The shuttle bus rattled down the resort road, filled to standing capacity with happy children and cheerful parents, and pointed toward the most visited zoological park in the world. The sides of the bus were wet with morning dew, as the morning air held faint traces of the previous evening’s relative cool.

Tucked into a section of contoured plastic seats, our touring group – me and Amy, brother and sister Rich and Hydee, and their mom JaNae – was more subdued. We had left our rooms that morning just ahead of 9:00, which was not bad for a collection of inveterate night owls on vacation. But, in trade, we seemed to be operating on essential systems only, and our usual discoursing had been replaced with bleary silence.

Usually the vultures are hanging out in Splash Mountain.

Usually the vultures hang out in Splash Mountain.

From my seat I could watch our distant gazes and vacant expressions. We looked like commuters on our way to another eight-hour stretch at the office. I always say that I could live in Disneyland, but if we were already starting our mornings with thousand-yard stares, then maybe my reservoir of Disney devotion was not bottomless, as I had always thought.

We rolled into the Animal Kingdom complex, and with squeaking brakes and hissing hydraulics, the bus stopped to regurgitate us into the park. I was still deep in contemplation. But then, a miracle appeared in the heavens. It was a juxtaposition of images so unexpected that I grabbed everyone and pointed it out, and it made us laugh out loud, and turned our mornings around:

In the skies above Disney’s multi-million dollar animal conservation park were a dozen vultures, turning lazy circles.

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An Incomparable Day at Magic Kingdom – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Four

Comparison is the death of joy.

– Mark Twain

Wednesday November 13, 2013

Our ambitious Walt Disney World vacation was about to get real.

Magic Kingdom was almost instinctively familiar to us, being the East Coast version of our home park, Disneyland. Day four would be our first visit this trip, and we could not have been more excited about it. Our touring group was Amy and I, with our friends: siblings Hydee and Rich, and their mom, JaNae.

This view has never failed to make us happy.

This view has never failed to make us happy.

A swirling breeze and low, 50-degree Fahrenheit temperatures greeted us as we left our rooms, which was a change from the warm, wet blanket of air from the previous mornings. I was still in the shadow of the towering, Callipygian Ursula when I wondered if I should double back and grab my coat. But, no, I would manage. I was confident that my decision would not come back to haunt me at the end of the day.

The bus was packed, although we found a seat for JaNae next to some very nice people from Poughkeepsie, NY on the bus. True to her engaging and outgoing nature, JaNae made friends with them at once. Our conversation buzzed with talk of today being the “true” and “genuine” start of our trip – unfounded and unfair though it was to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Continue reading

From History Lessons to Horseplay at Epcot – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Three

The stone slabs leading up to Spaceship Earth look a little too mausoleum-y for my taste.

The stone slabs leading up to Spaceship Earth look too much like a mausoleum for my taste.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

― Winston Churchill

Tuesday November 12, 2013

Epcot was still something of a mystery to us, and I woke up the morning of our third day eager to change that.

Amy and I had vacationed at Walt Disney World twice before, in 2007 and 2009. These trips cultivated a burgeoning love for the amazing East Coast property, but were also barnstorming affairs. We had thundered right past masses of experiences in each of the four theme parks* on our way to the high-profile attractions. We also knew that these lesser luminaries – the things you “discover” – were the battleground. Either you found them, loved them, and it crystallized your fan heart forever, or you spent the rest of your life complaining about the price of ice cream bars and the line for Winnie the Pooh. There was no middle ground. Not for fans like us, anyway.

(*To say nothing of the two water parks and twenty-plus resorts.)

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Lowered Expectations at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Walt Disney World November 2013 Day Two

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

― Alexander Pope

Monday November 11, 2013

At last, after months of planning and daydreaming, and one long-and-winding travel adventure, we woke up to our first full day at Walt Disney World.

The last person to snicker at this view was turned into a sea slug.

The last person to snicker at this view was turned into a sea slug.

We had chosen Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (AoA) for our stay, and were in the Little Mermaid wing, on the second floor of the building marked by a five-story statue of Ursula the Sea Witch. Our doorway opened to a view of Hourglass Lake and Disney’s Pop Century Resort. Just around the corner was the open-air elevator lobby, and having it so close boded well for aching feet at the end of the day. The window of the lobby also happened to perfectly frame the billboard-sized derrière of the Ursula statue. Amy pointed it out with characteristic dryness: “Well, there’s Ursula’s butt.”

Our experiences had been great since the airplane landed the day before, but I had misgivings about our destination for the day. We were heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS), and I had been ambivalent about it since we first made our plans. The truth is, I was much more excited about Epcot the next day. The memories of our previous visits to DHS were not unpleasant, but were also overshadowed by better ones in other parks. Continue reading