Saturday, December 28, 2019

Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show and "Making-Of" Attractions

Photo copyright Universal Orlando
The end of a year a time of retrospectives and remembrances. We sit around a tree, candles, table, or aluminum pole and talk about the past year with family and friends. Some tend to take the last few weeks of the year to write or produce retrospectives for their jobs. We look back and remember the fond times and hardships we've gone through. When sadness creeps its way into the holidays through regret, loss, or post-holiday depression these look backs can take an even more important meaning. The happier times gives us hope for a more positive future.

This is a post about a show, one that I had a good time with this year and one I will be having a good time with in 2020. It's a simple show with a long history that seems to operate out of view of the contemporary theme park management style. I even hesitate to post about it because it always feels on the edge of being closed or co-opted into something more synergistic. 

I am talking about Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Immersive Irony Experience Theme Park Podcast - 2010s Memorial Episode

In the last episode of the decade, Alan and Alex begin by discussing Alan's trip to Philadelphia as Alex obsesses over the cheesesteak details. Alan talks about his Thanksgiving weekend trip to the Netherlands and nerd out on the perfection of Efteling. Alex discusses his recent trip to Orlando with in-depth details about his first experience with Hollywood studios in nearly 20 years. The current state of operations on Hagrids Motorbike are also given. We wrap up the decade talking about all the different areas of the industry and predict what the upcoming decade will hold.

Monday, December 23, 2019

More Major Changes Coming to Universal Orlando CityWalk

In late November everyone's friend Universal Orlando Permit Bot (seriously follow them) discovered a new permit to combine four retail locations into one. No locations were given so speculation ran rampant.

Well we think we know what is closing now: Fresh Produce, the women's clothing store, is running a closing sale through the end of the year.

This spot of CityWalk currently contains four non-Universal owned shops: aforementioned Fresh Produce, Piq novelty shop, Fossil watches and leather, and Quiet Flight, a clothing store where half the foot traffic is from UOAP holders cutting through going to Universal Studios. While we have not seen indication the other three stores are closing yet it is likely they will in 2020.

So, why close these four stores and consolidate them into one? Some are posturing it could be the second American Nintendo World Store or a preview center for Epic Universe. I don't think it's likely those, it's still too early to open a Nintendo World Store in Orlando and a location on the west coast first makes more sense. Plus a preview center for a park that's still not fully revealed, in a huge area to boot, makes no sense. Instead I speculate the Universal Studios Store is moving from its current location and into an expanded, more prominent location.

Currently the store is located off the main walking path and is quite small. By moving to a larger location space can be made for dedicated Potter, Nintendo, Dreamworks, Illumination, and Marvel sections. Of course this is speculation and until Universal confirms their plans it is best to treat it as a rumor.

As for what would going into the old Studio Store area could be the much desired Epic Universe preview center, a new store, the much rumored escape room, or something else entirely.

With the further reduction of 3rd party vendors at CityWalk eyes now turn to two notable stand outs: Bubba Gump's and Margaritaville. Both occupy prime real-estate, including the first thing guests see walking in from the parking garages. I would not be surprised if Bubba Gumps closes soon to be replaced with another, new Universal owned restaurant.

Update: Posters on Inside Universal have said that Island Trading Company and Fossil are currently discounting their merchandise. It remains to be seen if Piq or Quiet Flight are part of the closing too. Additionally Fresh Produce has closed.

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "The New York World's Fair, 1939/1940: In 155 Photographs"

Before the 1964/65 World's Fair could be built on it's site and duplicate it's inability to make money, the 1939/1940 World's Fair occurred. One of the most fondly remembered Expos in American/World History, the fair took place at a time of grave danger for many participating nations, with some being occupied during it's run or being kicked out due to their activities during the two seasons it ran in Flushing Meadows, Queens, NYC. 

This photo book expressly tells you as you read the introduction that it will not have any pictures of the amusement zone, as the world needs no additional pictures of roller coasters and carnivals. Au contraire, mon ami. Meanwhile, my copy of "Highbrow Lowbrow", freshly handed to me, sits in the pile of books to be read. Almost like I'm suggesting it could wind up here. You do, however, get photos of many international pavillions, show spaces, and of course the large corporate pavilions as well. 


How Does It Read?: It's a photo book. You can be illiterate and still get something out of this.

Will I Learn Anything?: Always the big question with these - for me, I hadn't really thought of or even knew much about the 1939 Futurama ride at the GM Pavilion, and now I know it was basically an omnimover before there was an omnimover. Fair enough. Some of the other pavilions also featured "rides" of sorts, like the Ford pavilion where cars were driven around a short course. Also I frankly knew little of how many pavilions closed up shop or were replaced during the run of the fair and how some of that tied into the burgeoning World War 2. 

Did You Take Anything Away From This?: Optimism is great, but without any degree of practicality or realism, ultimately meaningless. Fascist Italy was allowed to keep their grand pavilion as their allies stormed Eastern Europe and they themselves began to enter quagmires in Africa and the Yugoslavic republics. Doesn't seem to have stopped them from rethinking their greatness. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #185 - Christmas at Dollywood

Merry Christmas! This week Joe is joined by Ashley from Parks & Wreked to discuss the Hallmark Christmas Movie 'Christmas at Dollywood'! We give our hot takes, all the feels, and what things made us ask what the hallmark? Ok we didn't steal that blatantly from another podcast. But we do talk about how they made the streets of Pidgeon Forge look great, line dancing, creating a parade in three days, bad green screens, and more!

Monday, December 16, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man"

Published in 2014 by Disney Enterprises, Inc., I decided to take a flyer on this book given the rave reviews a 2019 release dedicated to Marc Davis has gotten in Disney fan circles. This is expressly an art book, and any text that it contains isn't terribly in-depth, though it helps to flesh out aspects of Marc Davis' personal life, his background prior to animation, and his contributions to Imagineering. Marty Sklar makes the point that Marc Davis' touch for gags and humor was a cornerstone of the Disney Parks successes. He is attributed as to having gone into the parks and reporting that the place needed more humor, leading to his transition from animator to imagineer. The most prolific designer of his era, Davis saw attractions as things to experience rather than interactive narratives driven by the designers and as you may or may not be aware, that is a major sticking point in all arguments about theme parks before and after.


How Does It Read?: As this is an art book, words take a back seat unless they specifically describe aspects of the highlighted art. Theme park fans will be most interested in the 7th chapter with oodles of concept drawings for attractions like World of Motion, Carousel of Progress, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Will I Learn Anything?: Depends on the audience. For those who are hardcore Disney fans, I imagine some of the knowledge about his art is probably known. I'm not an animation history type of person or a Disneyana type, so I largely flew through those sections of the book as impressive as all the drawings were. It's less likely that you'll know as much about his time as a draftsman or his adoration of Papua New Guinea, and there is quite a bit there to unpack. I certainly know something about his relationship with his wife Alice now, but this isn't really the reason I read books related to the theme park industry either.

Did You Take Anything Away From This?: I mean, sure, Marc Davis is a very good artist and it was interesting that he would dabble in modern art work aside from his time working on animation and creating so many of the characters we know from the Disney theme parks. It's interesting to see all the sketches and such, but for me, I'm just not the target audience.


Introduction by John Canemaker

Chapter 1: Marc as Teacher (Bob Kurtz)

Chapter 2: Animal Studies (Andreas Deja)

Chapter 3: Sketchbooks (Glen Keane)

Chapter 4: Anatomy of Motion (Marc Davis)

Chapter 5: Animation Art (Pete Docter)

Chapter 6: Chanticleer (Charles Solomon)

Chapter 7: Imagineering (Marty Sklar)

Chapter 8: Fine Art (Don Hahn)

Chapter 9: Papua New Guniea and the Pacific Islands (Paula Sigman Lowery)

Chapter 10: The Divine Miss Alice (Mindy Johnson)

Afterword by Randy Haberkamp

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Parkscope Unprofessional Podcast Hour #184 - Line Culture

Joe and Nick are joined by Alex and Danny to discuss the biggest opening in Orlando in years... plus Rise of the Resistance! We go into SPOILERS as we discuss the queue, pre-shows, and ride experience of Rise of the Experience.

Monday, December 9, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "Total Landscape, Theme Parks, Public Space," by Miodrag Mitrasinovic

Published by Ashgate (an academic book/journal publisher, now since absorbed into Informa) in 2007, Professor Mitrasinovic's book lets you know the ground rules of what it will and will not cover very early on and how. This is a book intended for an academic audience; it is a book about theme parks, theming, and public space, it is about the concept of "Total Landscape", and it is not about solutions, alternatives, etc. It is meant to be a novel criticism different from Vinyl Leaves in that it expands on not just looking at the impact of theme parks in and of themselves within their own corporate structures and pop culture, but the way in which the "theme park model" has become inexorably linked with public space development post Reagan/Thatcher neoliberalism.

Dr. Mitrasinovic is not a sociologist, but rather an architect and urbanist who has studied in his native Serbia, the Netherlands, and ultimately the US. Today he has a lab at the Parsons School of Design, which is pretty much as close to peaking in the context of that academic field as you can possibly get. Should you have not heard of Parsons, take a look at this list of famous alumni on Wikipedia: Hitchens, Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, Shimon Peres, Norman Rockwell, Marc Jacobs, Marlon Brando, just, you know, some of the most important artists in modern history. Past faculty isn't any less impressive: W.E.B. Dubois, Derrida, John Cage, Robert Frost, John Maynard Keanes, Bertrand Russell, Frank Lloyd Wright. That second list is the group in which Dr. Mitrasinovic winds up being placed. When you are in a role that has previously been filled with titans of their space like a Charles Tilly or Slavoj Zizek, it is fair to say that this not going to be a picture book, nor is it some sort of Mitch Albom-like aw shucks fluff.

I wouldn't call this a "theory" book though it most certainly is as much of the book is also review of the subject. The theory brought to the table is "Total Landscape"; which was the original title of the book long before theme parks were even intended to be the target. Total Landscape refers to the definition of totalizing; comprehend in an all-encompassing way. Theme parks, especially Disneyland, sell reassurance rather than escapism as Imagineer John Hench is famed for saying. Mitrasinovic suggests that they sell far more than that: they so alter psychology that they relate socially conservative concepts about family and relationship to the state with consumption and social activity simultaneously. The author effectively uses the first three chapters to state his case relating "themeparking" and "theming" as separate things before doing an enormously indepth autopsy of how precisely theme parks are framed to do what he says vis-a-vis Japan's massive Huis Ten Bosch. No writer in history that I have seen, even among the imagineering books out there, is so detailed in breakdown and analysis of the exterior design and landscaping of a theme park as Dr. Mitrasinovic is in Chapter 4 of this book. Chapter 5 then discusses how theme parks were then used as the basis for reforming public spaces from the 1970s and forwards: Bryant Park receives a similarly in depth review.

Do I Want This: If Judith Adams' book was too much reading for you, you might as well not even try to obtain a copy of this book.

How does it read?: Phew. Buddy. Pal. It isn't a narrative or a story. It's kinda like a 200 page essay where the beginning and conclusion kinda sorta say the same thing and the middle is just establishing the case for why this is true. Every term in here is defined. Everything. You can't just breeze through this fucker and think you'll get 100% of what he's saying. You're gonna have to sit down and read this for comprehension. There's like, no humor here. None.

Will I learn anything?: At the very least, I learned a significant amount about the Japanese theme/amusement park industry and how it effectively parallels the development of the American outdoor amusement industry. And about some individual parks - Huis Ten Bosch for sure. It's a major focus of the book because that specific park had the most significant planning of any in history. Original plans had 20,000 residents living inside and around the park, though ultimately they fell way, way short of that due to completely misreading the real estate market and the viability of living at a theme park resort built on reclaimed land/former industrial space.

In greater detail, however, this book provides opinions - well defended opinions with an enormous amount of citations to back them both empirical and theoretical - about the privatization of public space. According to Mitrasinovic, to understand the expansion of private leisure space is to understand capitalism and to understand the underlying desire for both control and social conservative attitudes that are inherent to capitalism and liberalism. This is traced back to the 19th century and the Crystal Palace; a fine starting point for modern outdoor recreation influenced by the West. He claims that at the very root of this is the application of military theory - gathering of demographic information, topography, determinations about ease of transporting people in and out, supply chain management, and so on. Inherently militaristic, there are natural appeals to traditionalist family values, ruralism, agriarian life, and so on. Ultimately these are ploys to eliminate/prevent diversity through the guise of meritocracy, enforce class division, and inevitably merge back with the state & police structure as the "theme park model" becomes standardized for all public space while parks welcome surveillance apparatus onto their guests.

This is a very, very rough read of what he spends many thousands of words to say and is lacking in much nuance, so I would recommend that one actually take the time to read the book or at least some excerpts rather than merely take on my review of the book as the entirety of the argument. I am dubious of much of what is said here knowing full well the amusement and theme parks are not merely a western liberal construct, but as the author himself recognizes, follow traditions and models passed down through the centuries long before Adam Smith or Malthus. In addition, recreational spaces including amusement rides were prevalent in every reasonably developed socialist nation during the Cold War period: we know now increasingly how many public amusement parks existed in Russia, but there is clear and indisputable evidence of their existence in pre-Deng China, in Castro's Cuba, and certainly even Juche-era North Korea. To some degree this is acknowledged but it is also pointed out as to not be relevant as it is not the subject of the book. So be it. I am dubious of other things stated, particularly the relationship of military theory and liberalism; I find it hard to believe that amusement facilities and public space were built primarily upon developments made by generals still fighting in ordered rows exclusively in open fields rather than innovations primarily generated by mercantilism (European, Middle Eastern, Indian, or other).

However, having said that, there is certainly merit to many arguments and in some ways it seems prescient. Universal Beijing has announced that they will be using facial recognition for their park's entry: without a doubt this should be considered part of a large scale test of that same software for the purposes of the police and military in China and ultimately any nation desiring access to the software/hardware down the line. Theme parks as we know them are absolutely, unequivocally spaces that exclude persons, especially on the grounds of economic class. Much of the discussion about how theme parks increasingly seem to be exclusionary does so because of price increases to passes that make it more difficult than ever for local persons of middle class economic distinction to attend in lieu of a global audience traveling to see Disney and Universal. Alternately, discussion of Cedar Fair's new pricing options that helped drive massive increases in attendance over the Halloween season at parks like Cedar Point is frequently seen as not excluding enough persons.

Ultimately, reading this led me to request another book from the library which he contributed to and edited titled Concurrent Urbanities. Unlike Total Landscape..., this book is prescriptive and seeks to look at how design can be used to create spaces that are more conducive to community building and inclusion. These are things which Dr. Mitrasinovic sees as being the result of neoliberal policy and the commodification of the state, which are intrinsically negative and necessarily lead to establishing obstacles to upward mobility and an increase in policing. That having been said, the book won't be part of the Theme Park book series (after all, Prof. Mitrosinovic is not a fan of theme parks by and large!) as it simply doesn't deal with that topic.







Friday, December 6, 2019

Monday, December 2, 2019

THEME PARK BOOK CORNER: "County Fairs: Where America Meets" by John McCarby & Randy Olsen

Finally! Light reading and lots of pictures - the sorts of coffee table books this hobby is known for and ones for which I can tear through the contents in about a day or two.

This book was produced by the National Geographic Society in 1997, and my copy was acquired through a name you'll come to see frequently here in this feature: John K. King Books, the largest used book seller in Michigan and among the largest in the world. The former glove factory contains a reputed million books, which is entirely believable given the size and sheer volume of items inside. I go roughly 3-4 times a year on average, and I almost always bring back a variety of rarities and common books. This trends more to the common end.