Look at this Stuff… Isn’t it Neat?

“Part of Your World” is such a perfect song to me. It seems as if it is always stuck in my head. There isn’t a day that goes by without me singing it or humming it at least once.

Tonight, I came across this little gem of a video. It’s Jodi Benson, recording the song with Howard Ashman. If you’re a big fan of The Little Mermaid, this will literally give you chills.

Enjoy.

The Little Mermaid: Disney’s Game Changer

I recently wrote this expository essay for a class and thought it was something that might interest you all. Hope you enjoy! It was lots of fun to write.

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“Glen Keane was leaving Disney.” The news that one of Disney’s greatest animators was choosing to leave the company was all over the internet. When I saw this, I wondered what it would mean for the future of Disney princesses. He was one of many artists, writers, composers, directors, and producers that changed the meaning of “Disney princess” forever. After my emotions settled down and I was able to look at this loss objectively, I realized that although the exit of Glen Keane from Disney’s toolbox was devastating, it was not nearly as devastating as it would have been if Disney had lost the rights to the first princess he designed: the little mermaid, Ariel.

Ariel was Disney’s game changer. She inspired every hero and heroine that has come after her. There isn’t one specific characteristic of her film, The Little Mermaid, that defines its significance. The piece as a whole reflects the expectations we hold our family entertainment to today.

The first thing you notice about Ariel is her exotic look. Glen Keane, her lead animator, spent a lot of time researching what made people beautiful and focused on two main concepts: a unique appearance and perfect eyes. Other characters he designed later, such as Pocahontas and Rapunzel, reflect this ideology. The key to real beauty, however, is not just found in appearances. Disney explored Ariel as a character and made sure her personality was defined and realistic. Ariel’s father, King Triton, says she is “careless and reckless,” and she acts more like a real teenager than the other young princesses that came before her. Because she does not speak for half of the film, her visual design and personality were vital to its overall success.

Those characteristics were not enough, however. Ariel also needed to be relatable, but at first glance, she has a few things going against her: she is a mermaid, a princess, and desires to become a human. The three most important things about her are things that no one can directly relate to. Yet somehow, Ariel’s dreams speak to us. It doesn’t matter what her dream is. What matters is why she wants it. Ariel longs for something more, for freedom, for a chance to live her own life. This is something every child and, more specifically, every teenager can relate to. Her motives are not limited to a specific desire like love, knowledge, wealth, or fame. She simply wants to feel alive and has enough nerve to make this dream come true. Ursula, the sea witch that turns her into a human the first time, tells her, “Life’s full of tough choices.” Ariel understands this, but is never afraid to make the right choice to turn her dreams into reality.

When you compare her aforementioned traits and decisions to those of the princesses that came before her- Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty- you can see the difference, but the line is still blurry. There is, however, a significant choice Ariel makes that separates her from her predecessors and becomes a tradition carried on by many of her successors. Princess Ariel saves Prince Eric. She rescues him from drowning. This single scene from The Little Mermaid created a pattern easily seen in Disney’s succeeding princess films. Belle brings the Beast back to life when she admits, “I love you.” Pocahontas puts herself in front of her own father’s weapon right before he tries to carry out John Smith’s death sentence. Rapunzel heals Flynn Rider with her magical tears after Mother Goethel stabs him. Still, Ariel was the original to do this, making her a true role model for Disney princesses and young girls alike.

Although The Little Mermaid’s title suggests that the story revolves only around Ariel, this film introduced some of the most memorable supporting characters in Disney film history. Sebastian, the royal composer and Ariel’s guardian, is the most vivid example from the film. Although he is just a tiny crab, he has a strong voice and a huge heart. He sings the most in the film, having two feature songs (one of which won an Academy Award), and delivers some of the film’s most powerful dialogue. He even directly states one of the film’s themes: “Children got to be free to live their own lives.” Other supporting roles have their turns in the spotlight as well. Ursula was the first villain in a Disney princess film to have her own full-length song, and Prince Eric was given his own distinct personality and motives.

Another part of the film’s success must be attributed to the thing that won the movie two Oscars: the music. The score was composed by Alan Menken, who changed the sound and musical caliber for all Disney films since his debut with the company.  His compositions can also he heard in later films: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Tangled. Alan Menken and the lyricist for The Little Mermaid, Howard Ashman, did more than simply add music. They gave characters real voices and drove the story with smooth transitions and passion.

Every person from the animators to the composers that worked on The Little Mermaid put their hearts and souls into the film. These collaborators turned fairytales into more than just love stories. Ever since The Little Mermaid, Disney films have stood for family, friendship, duty, and faith. Princess films are no longer just for girls anymore, with heroes like The Little Mermaid’s Prince Eric that boys can look up to. In the past, Disney was criticized for not making their princesses and leading ladies strong enough, but after The Little Mermaid, that argument has been permanently defeated. Ariel says it herself: “Bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand.” Entertainment fans all over the world owe it to Ariel and her creators for taking a risk and being ready to stand for what the future of princesses deserved to be.

Germany meets Disney: A Photo Tour

This summer, I had the opportunity to live in Germany for three weeks by participating in the German American Partnership Program. I stayed with my exchange partner, Lisa, and her wonderful family in Moosburg, Bavaria. It was the experience of a lifetime! I brought back many memories, souvenirs, and pictures, and I want to share a few today.

When my school group arrived in Germany, our exchange partners greeted us with bags full of German candy. After introducing my partner, Lisa, to the Orange Bird in America, she, too, fell in love with him and painted him on my bag! (She’s an amazing artist!)

The first weekend we were there was dedicated to following the soccer Euro Cup. Germany was playing, so we went to a “public viewing” to watch the game.

We got there five hours before it started, and it was during that time that I had my first German pretzel. The pretzels sold at the Germany Pavillion in Epcot’s World Showcase are horrible compared to these. In Germany, they are soft, freshly baked, and coated in butter.

Five hours seems like a terribly long time to wait for a game, and trust me, it was. But in the end, it was worth it. This public viewing was at the Munich Airport. By the time the game rolled around, the entire place was filled over capacity. I was so happy we got there early and were close to the screen with a little more breathing room than the late arrivers had.

We watched the game on a big screen, and each time Germany scored, every person there jumped, screamed, and hugged each other. It was amazing to see so many people coming together to support one shared dream, almost like a much rowdier, sports-related Illuminations.

I returned to Munich a few times with friends and my host family. On one of those occasions, we went zorbing in a lake near Munich’s Olympic Park. We were given five minutes to jump, roll, and crawl in these big plastic balls floating on the water. It was so much fun and would be a cool addition to Walt Disney World’s recreation.

We also traveled outside of Germany into Austria to play in the Alps. The mountains and surrounding landscape were breathtaking. It was obvious how much this region inspired the Walt Disney films and theme parks. For example,  my best friend, Alexis, bonded with a butterfly, proving that animals really are attracted to princesses!

Another example from the Alps is Disneyland’s Matterhorn. The real mountain is in Switzerland’s Alps, which I unfortunately didn’t visit this summer. But I did have a chance to do some hiking in the Austrian Alps, where the landscape is equally lush.

Above are the Disneyland Alps. Below are the real Alps.

I found even more inspiration for Disneyland’s Fantasyland! In Storybookland Canal Boats, you float under vine trellises. These trellises abound in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Above is from Storybookland Canal Boats. Below is from Germany.

One of my favorite moments of my trip was in Austria, when we went into a salt mine and rode on a real mine train! Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland is soon getting a mine train of its own, and after riding one like a true dwarf, I couldn’t be more excited. We even got to wear special “mine suits” and slide down to different levels of the mine!

My friends posing as each of the seven dwarfs and one as the hunter!

To celebrate my last weekend in Germany, my host mother and Lisa planned a trip for me to visit Bonn, Germany to see the Pixar 25th Anniversary exhibit! It was the best surprise, and I learned a lot about the true magic behind Pixar. It was an amazing exhibit. If it comes back to America, be sure to see it!

At our farewell dinner, four of the American girls wore the dirndls we bought. Dirndls are traditional German dresses that are still worn today to festivals and at biergartens. The female cast members in Epcot’s Germany pavilion wear them, and the costumes worn in Fantasyland are inspired by these styles. I hope to someday visit Epcot wearing my dirndl!

Germany is a wonderful country with wonderful people in it. You will find so much inspiration from the Grimm fairytales, nature, and artwork there. You can visit Switzerland and see the real Matterhorn and stop by Austria for a ride in a real mine train. It takes your fantasy and makes it reality. Germany and its neighboring countries have so much to offer and should definitely be added to any Disney fan’s bucket list.

The Road to runDisney’s Tower of Terror 10-Miler

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler weekend is coming up fast! This race is Saturday, September 29, 2012. It is a nighttime road race that features pavement, grass, and sand terrains. As always, there will be on-course entertainment. After the race, Disney’s Hollywood Studios hosts for the runners and supporters the Disney Villains Hollywood Bash, which features the park’s best attractions, entertainment, and characters. Other runDisney events that weekend include the Disney Happy Haunted 5k Trail Run and kids’ races. More runDisney race weekend details can be found on their website.

I’m still preparing for the 10-Miler, adding more miles each week. Since I signed up, I’ve survived 24 runs adding up to over 72 miles. A year ago, all of this would’ve seemed impossible, but thanks to the motivation of good music, quotes, and friends, I know I will make it to my goal at the end of this month.

Because I am training for a Disney race, I had to put some Disney songs on my running playlist. My favorites are:

  • “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” – Mulan
  • “Zero to Hero” – Hercules
  • “A Star is Born” – Hercules

They always give me the motivation to break my personal records.

When music isn’t enough to get me through another run, I search “running” on Pinterest. Here are the best quotes I’ve found:

Source: twitter.com via Lindsay on Pinterest

This last picture and motto became my mantra for this race. No one (including myself) saw me as a true athlete or runner, but by signing up for this race, I decided that I would make my own rules and prove that I can do anything I set my mind to.

If you plan on running or hanging out in the parks race weekend, let’s meet up! I’m staying at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort with my friend and recent Disneyland half-marathoner, Katherine.

My weekend plans:

  • Friday, Sept. 28- Arrival
  • Saturday, Sept. 29- Race Day
  • Sunday, Sept. 30- D23’s Epcot 30th Anniversary Celebration
  • Monday, Oct. 1- Celebrating Magic Kingdom’s & Epcot’s birthdays / Departure

Here’s my official countdown made on Magical Kingdoms. See you at the finish line!

magicalkingdoms.com Ticker

A Meditation on Disneyland

“Disney World incorporates some lessons learned in the original gold mine called Disneyland that opened 16 years ago at Anaheim, California. Some changes are minor. At Orlando the vinyl leaves on the Swiss Family Robinson Tree are draped with live Spanish moss. No such decoration at Anaheim. Disney World’s 18-story Cinderella Castle is more than twice as high as its Anaheim counterpart and houses a lavish restaurant. Anaheim has only one President, an animated Mr. Lincoln, but Disney World’s Hall of Presidents offers all 36 of them- in costume, in motion, and getting along famously.”

This quote is from Life magazine’s cover story of Walt Disney World’s opening, published October 15, 1971. The article makes Disney World out to be the vacation kingdom of the world- and it is! But as I read this, I thought of old Disneyland. No spanish moss, no castle restaurant, no presidents besides Honest Abe… But somehow, during my recent trip out west, Disneyland stole my heart from Walt Disney World, and I don’t know if it will ever get it back.

An essential part of the Magic Kingdom experience on both coasts is Main Street U.S.A. It’s the first part of the theme park you experience, and it sets up your expectations for the rest of the park. Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. understands its objective. It doesn’t try to be the place for Disney merchandise because that’s what the neighboring World of Disney store in Downtown Disney strives for. Instead, Main Street U.S.A. features smaller stores with unique identities that keep crowds flowing up the street towards the main attraction. Main Street U.S.A. also takes advantage of its theming to incorporate Disney stories that otherwise couldn’t fit in the park, but rightfully belong, such as Mary Poppins and The Happiest Millionaire. In the evening, Main Street U.S.A.’s objective changes slightly from a warm welcome to a tender goodbye. At Walt Disney World, leaving the Magic Kingdom is often a nightmare caused by the evening parade and the chaotic stores, but at Disneyland, it is calm and charming; the Disneyland guest can relax on the curb to castle-gaze, a luxurious freedom granted nowhere else within American borders. You’re given a true choice of staying for a float and some shopping or leaving to dream about a surreal day now passed.

Special freedoms are not only for the guests of Disneyland. The characters seem to actually live there. They are citizens of Disneyland instead of distant celebrities constantly guarded by self-important character watchmen. Alice and the Mad Hatter can play with guests, Br’er Bear can frolic around Critter Country, and Hans and Otto can climb to the Matterhorn’s peak. Because the characters here are granted more freedom, guests can liberate themselves to a higher level where they, too, begin to see Disneyland as their imagination’s playground. When everyone else is able to act on this same level, Disney’s main objective of authenticity is brought to the outermost rim of reality.

Authenticity is achieved when any contradictory elements are removed or hidden. Disneyland’s execution of the Rivers of America illustrates this precisely. The river is a part of New Orleans Square, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Critter Country, and integrates elements of each land without contradicting any guest’s view. There are so many types of boats on the river: a sailing ship, a steam-powered riverboat, rafts, and canoes. They make this river feel real, important, and natural. Each boat offers a different perspective of the river. It’s more than landscape, more than an effective transition; it has multiple attractions that each hold value.

Along the Rivers of America sits a land Walt Disney World has never known: New Orleans Square. This land is imaginative and colorful. The feeling of magic and fantasy here is on a whole other level compared to Walt Disney World’s counterpart, Liberty Square. New Orleans Square is full of high energy from its winding streets to its live entertainment. It’s a place you want to explore, and it features two of the greatest attractions of all time: Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.

In addition to the variety of attractions, Disneyland has longer rides than Walt Disney World does. When an attraction is longer (or even if it just seems longer), it is more immersive. The deeper you’re immersed, the greater affect the ride has on you. That is a vital part of how memorable an attraction is. Naturally, if you love an attraction, you will probably come back to experience it again. A direct comparison between Disneyland and Walt Disney World is found in Pirates of the Caribbean. Disneyland’s version is 16-minutes long, with more stories, imagery, and drops that make it the hands-down winner when compared to Walt Disney World’s version. Another example that parallels length and quality is Indiana Jones Adventure. This attraction’s queue extends deep into Adventureland, and the ride itself has enough suspense and thrill to drive an entire film.

Although the entire park is a gem, Disneyland’s crowning jewel is Fantasyland. It has a perfect balance of charm and whimsy. Its approach to fantasy is a classic one, focusing on original, timeless Disney stories. Guests of all ages can thoroughly enjoy it because everyone knows the stories of Snow White, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio. Disneyland’s Fantasyland is pure and immersive; it encompasses enough space so that when you’re there, it feels like Fantasyland is the only place in the world. Although every attraction here is golden, there is one that stands out, visually and emotionally: the Matterhorn. In this attraction, instead of witnessing your favorite stories come alive, you create your very own story. As you board your bobsled and Hans and Otto climb the mountain’s peak, you feel wholeheartedly that the fantasies of your wildest imagination are finally reality.

There is a unique feeling you get when you enter Disneyland. A little voice tells you,  “Walt was here,” and when you leave, that voice says, “He’s still here.” This is something only Disneyland can do. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are so different, and even if they tried, one could never be exactly like the other. But that’s okay. They don’t have to be the same, and they shouldn’t strive to be. Disneyland doesn’t have Epcot or Disney’s Animal Kingdom, just as Walt Disney World doesn’t have Storybookland Canal Boats or the Matterhorn. Neither resort is better, only different, and it all comes down to personal preference. For now, I prefer Disneyland, but nothing is for certain in our ever-changing world. The only thing I do know for certain is where my mind goes when it wanders, and I wrote this essay with only one objective: to find out why.

The Quest for the Best Float

Vacation is the perfect excuse for lots of desserts and sweet treats. On my recent trip to California, I made this my motto, and put an emphasis on finding the best float.

My quest began at Disney’s Soda Fountain in Hollywood with an orange soda and vanilla ice cream float. I have to admit, I was rather confused when it came out. The soda was served in a huge mug with a scoop of ice cream resting on the rim. I tried, without much grace, to get the ice cream into the mug, but the soda fizzed up and nearly exploded. When it did calm down, though, it was quite delicious and as close to a citrus swirl as I could get on the west coast.

My next float was from the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland. We were about to say goodnight to my new favorite theme park, but found an excuse to stay a little longer by getting dessert. This time I ordered a coca-cola and vanilla ice cream float. Once our order was ready, we took our treats to the curb. We people-watched and castle-gazed until park closing. It was the perfect way to end a perfect day.

My final float was in Carsland from the Cozy Cone Motel. I went with a coca-cola float again, and it came in a neat Cars souvenir plastic cup. It was a great escape from the heat wave that day.

In the end, the Gibson Girl float won first prize. I’m not sure, though, if it actually tasted better or if it was just the magic of the moment. Disney’s Soda Fountain won best appearance, and the Cozy Cone won best cup. This quest sure was a tasty one, and I cannot wait to return to California for more.

The Lucky Rabbit

Yesterday, I was greeted with a familiar, happy sight, a brown and blue cardboard package from the Disney Store, that contained a not-so-familiar sight, a tiny stuffed Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Although he is gaining popularity and working his way back into our pop culture, there are still many people that do not know this little Disney icon. To be honest, I don’t know much about him either. I read some of his general history and saw a few of his shorts, but I definitely cannot consider myself an Oswald expert. I can say, though, that Oswald is still an important part of my Disney fandom.

Walt Disney said, “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Every time I hear or see this quote, I think of Oswald. As the legend goes, after Walt learned he lost the rights to Oswald (click here for that story), he spent the train ride home inventing a brand new character that changed his entire company forever, Mickey Mouse. Just when Walt thought Oswald wasn’t so lucky after all, the circumstance Oswald put Walt in was the luckiest thing that could have happened for the company.

I wear Oswald clothing and have a stuffed Oswald not because he’s my favorite character or I know everything about him, but because he’s an inspiration and a reminder that kicks in the teeth can be gifts in disguise. Luck doesn’t always announce itself, and you have to keep moving forward to realize it’s always there.

Photos from Buena Vista Street in Disney’s California Adventure at Oswald’s