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I was never able to visit Disneyworld as a child, but I’ve enjoyed my two trips there as an adult immensely. It’s been almost three months since my most recent trip there, in which I was able to visit almost all of the parks, including Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot Center, and the Hollywood Studios. I had a great time at every one, even the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, which I’d already had a chance to visit before and hadn’t expected to be very surprised by on another visit.
At the Magic Kingdom, we took advantage of the surprisingly short lines at Pirates of the Caribbean to ride it four or five times and made sure to take the plunge on Splash Mountain once again. But most of the attractions we visited were new to me: the Hall of Presidents (thankfully, no tea partiers or dittoheads in attendence to shout at robo-Obama/Robama), the jungle cruise (pretty lame, although our “tour guide” was a riot), and the Mickey’s PhilharMagic “4-D movie” (pretty good for what could have been a headache-inducing nightmare) among them. At the Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) we passed up most of the attractions that we’d seen the year before, including the “Extreme Stunt Show,” the Muppets 3-D movie, and the Tower of Terror. We relaxed in the “Animation Courtyard,” browsing Disney memorabilia, taking drawing lessons (my sketch of Stitch from the year before was drenched with Coca-Cola hours after I finished it, but my drawing of Eeyore from this trip made it home safely to my refrigerator door), and learning all about the history of Disney, which was much more interesting and inspiring than I’d ever imagined it could be. We rode the Aerosmith “Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster” (yikes) and the Great Movie Ride (yawn), and stumbled upon another attraction that we’d passed up on our last visit: “Journey Into Narnia: Prince Caspian” looked promising enough. I like the Narnia movies. With the help of a little Disney magic, how could this not be another winner?
I’ll abstain from writing an extraneous or overly dramatic retelling of our experience at Journey Into Narnia. If you want to experience it yourself, read the comments here or just watch this video while standing in a dark room. To get to the point (and omit about 1,200 words from my original post), this was an embarrassingly underwhelming waste of time and a stain on our otherwise wonderful vacation memories. It’s also likely on its way out, with the latest Narnia movie (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, set for release this December) being the first of the series that Disney won’t be distributing. So with this space being due for a new tenant, what’s Disney’s next move?
In a quiet corner of the park (across from a giant Coca Cola bottle that periodically sprayed water all over the sidewalk) I spotted a billboard advertising the upcoming DVD release for Ponyo. In a weekend where we took in movie-themed rides and shows and were exposed to hundreds of cross-promoted properties and products, this seemed to be the only sign of Disney’s hand in distributing the works of Hayao Miyazaki in America (and possibly the rest of the English-speaking market worldwide). From the success of Spirited Away to the more recent release of Ponyo, Disney’s partnership with Studio Ghibli has been mutually beneficial, but probably hasn’t reached its full potential. What could help expand the reach of these films in America beyond the relative commercial ghettos of the anime and “art house” crowd?
Just an idea: why not transform this soon-to-be vacant unit into a Miyazaki installation/exhibit/attraction? Spotlight Disney’s hand in helping bring his works to a bigger audience, as well as the company’s influence on worldwide animation. Borrow some ideas from the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. Sell merchandise. Basically, help make Miyazaki’s films part of the larger Disney experience, and not just a strange sideline that has no place next to Mickey and Minnie (or such classics as, um… Eddie Murphy’s The Haunted Mansion). Of course, no family would go out of their way to visit Disneyworld just to see such an attraction, but that’s missing the point. There are lots of attractions at Disney (the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, “Stitch’s Great Escape!,” “Journey Into Imagination,” Power Rangers street performances) that families either happen upon or visit on a whim, experience together, and go on to remember as part of their shared Disney experience, not as a some kind of lower-tier, lesser-promoted waste of time.
Besides, if there’s room for Disney to take up park space to promote trashy ABC sitcoms (now owned by Disney) and even “American Idol” (not in any way affiliated with Disney, as far as I can tell), why not find a tiny way to promote their partnership with Miyazaki in the same way? No, this will not cannibalize Disney’s audience for their own features, just help them sell more DVDs and maybe even turn their overseas partnership from John Lasseter’s critically-successful pet project into something a little more lucrative. Over 17.2 million people visited Disneyworld last year. That’s a lot of missed opportunities for Disney to show off (and ultimately help mainstream) one of their most exciting but still misunderstood properties.
At the very least, phase in such an attraction at the Japan pavilion at Epcot Center. It’s almost surprising that Disney hasn’t tried such a thing. I’m not alone in this.
I spent much of the past year looking forward to Anime Central, and did my best this time around to better prepare for it in advance. This time, we booked a room at the Hyatt and avoided an extra day’s worth of driving. This was probably one of the smarter decisions I’ve made in a while, an indulgence for sure, but a wise one as far as they go. No, we didn’t stay overnight in order to get the full convention “experience,” or at least that wasn’t my motivation as I made sure to request a quiet room as far removed from the glut of noisy congoers as possible. We didn’t attend the hardcore synergy dance on Friday or stay for the famous Soap Bubble rave on Saturday night. We didn’t cosplay, didn’t go out of our way to mingle with other attendees, didn’t meet up with online friends, didn’t do most of the things that probably draw at least half of the visitors every year. So why was it so important to us, or at least to myself to go?
To be honest, I guess it’s really one of the only times that I’m ever able to feel caught up in an experience that’s bigger than just myself, or at least bigger than anything I deal with in my everyday life. I’ve never been into “partying,” don’t make it out to many concerts anymore, aren’t involved in any clubs and feel nothing but awkwardness and doubt every time I find myself back at church. But just being around a mass of other people whom I feel I have something in common with — whatever their lack of self-awareness my be or how much younger they grow with each passing year — is still an energizing experience, however much it gets dragged down by the 4chan/Internet lulz culture that continues to slowly consume it whole year after year. I’m sick to death of this tired, lazy, mindless bullshit and disappointed at how any of the self-appointed gadflies of this scene are more likely to revel in it and use it as a crutch than to ever call it out for being the social disease that it is.
But enough about that. We had a good time and that’s all that matters. The panels were hit and miss: the Fullmetal Alchemist fanpanel never got off the ground, as the hosts never showed up and visitors did their best to improvise a discussion on the spot. Time was better spent at the Satoshi Kon (“Anime as Artistic Film”) and the always-engaging Evangelion panels. “The Bad Anime Panel” was a riot. Anime Hell was fun. The Iron Editor contest was… not as fun as last year, a little slow and weighed down by its reliance on boring AMV community in-jokes that should have been retired last year. The fanfiction panel was pretty much what I expected, affirming in so far as it’s good to sit in a room full of geeks that are still somehow older than myself.
Once again, I brought my camera along this year, but only took one photo during the entire convention. I appreciate a well-made costume as much as the next guy, and finally understand that most people who cosplay at conventions do so because they want to be photographed. Still, it was difficult to bring myself to snap anyone’s picture, partly because I didn’t want to bother anyone who wasn’t already posing for photographers, and partly because I didn’t feel the slightest bit motivated if it wasn’t of a reasonably attractive girl and/or of a character I liked. Here’s a girl who put together a pretty awesome Haruko (aside from the mini-guitar, but who wants to carry a 10-12 lb bass with them all day?) and pretty much fit the bill. Whoever you are, thanks for humoring me. Maybe next year I’ll actually ask more than one person for a quick pose. Hey, it could happen.
Overall, this year’s visit didn’t leave many strong impressions on me. I still had a great time and hope to come back again in 2011. I spent over $100 on DVDs (here’s most of my haul) and got a pretty reasonable rate for the room. Will I have enough money left this month to go to DEMF Movement, buy an external hard drive, and pick up the new Flying Lotus album? Who knows?
Oh yeah, the Embassy Suites hotel caught fire on Saturday night. Here’s some video I took. Brace yourself: