The Explorium

epcotexplorer:

Polynesian Potpourri: A Tour of the Village 

In honor of its opening 43 years ago, today, let’s take a quick jaunt back to the Polynesian Village of the 1970s. 

The Polynesian is currently in the throes of a radical aesthetic change. Refurbishment work began earlier this year to begin the process of removing some of the older features of the resort, with most of the changes centered in the Grand Ceremonial House. By the time the work is complete, the waterfalls that graced the entrance will be woefully gone, replaced by a more open area adorned with Japanese float lamps, and a large statue of the nameless (but popularly called “Tiki Shrug”) tiki deity that has served as the resort’s mascot since 1971. 

What’s interesting, however, is that these are not the first large scale changes to be seen at the Polynesian Village since its inception. When the resort first opened, and until the late 80s and early 90s, the Polynesian boasted a much more organic aesthetic in some areas. Different textures, color pallets, and art dominated the landscape. And of course, different eateries and facilities also graced the southern banks of the Seven Seas Lagoon. Today’s look back is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive, but features what I think are some striking examples of the aesthetic shifts made at the Polynesian Village over the years. 

First, the Tangaroa Terrace restaurant. This building is still standing at the resort, but only as a Cast Member break room and training center. This picture allows you to really see the original color scheme and more organic texture used in the early days of the resort. Now, brighter reds, yellows, and oranges cover the A-frame architecture, though the deep browns remain. The original woodgrain, while more authentic, has given way to something more akin to a mid-century styling. 

The same goes for the interior and entrance to the Tangaroa Terrace, as seen in the pictures 2 and 3. Authentic wooden motifs graced the entrance and Polynesian inspired chairs and tables furnished these spaces.  What’s really notable in the first three pictures are the tiki statues that populate the restaurant. These four pieces were carved by Oceanic Arts, a duo of two artists based in Southern California, who can be attributed to the proliferation of Polynesian and tiki art and culture in the 1950s and 60s. As far as I know, the two male and female warrior statues in the entry hall are still there (at least they were in 2010, when I got to see them!) as is the replica of the Enchanted Tiki Room column in the dining room. Oceanic Arts also carved many of the original signs around the village, which are still in use today. Picture 4 shows off a lovely mural of Polynesian agriculture and some really striking bamboo motif chairs. More on this later. 

Next up is a glamor shot of a meal at the Tangaroa Terrace. But who cares about the food! Look at the “Tiki Shrug” logo on the candle holder! Look at those amber glasses! Look at the Walt Disney World logo matchbook and ashtray! And, although you can’t see it in this shot, the white plate here is made out of fine china and boasts a small, gold Disney World “D” logo along the crest. This is the epitome of 70’s Vacation Kingdom class. 

Moving onto picture 6: Recreation and Bob Around Boats! These funky little vessels were available to rent for excisions onto the Seven Seas Lagoon. Complete with a sound system, the Bob Around Boats carried a family of four, and cost 8 dollars an hour. Sadly, they didn’t live beyond the first decade of the Walt Disney World Resort, as the resort’s initially strong focus on recreation and the theme parks slowly gave way to the parks and more heavy thematic offerings. EPCOT Center, for example. 

The next two pictures (7 and 8) show off one of the original retail locations at the hotel: News from Civilization. As seen above, this shop offered sundries and themed merchandise unique to the Polynesian Village. Up for sale? Tapa cloth, mobiles of shells, beachcomber art… This was, essentially, an extension of Adventureland and is a perfect example of how diverse Disney’s original merchandise was. Some ‘Polynesian Village’ branded items were available, but this shop specialized in unique and thematic wares. Also, if you look out the back window, you can see the bamboo siding to the Great Ceremonial House. Later, this space became the Wyland Art Gallery. Now, the shop has been effectively turned into an exterior space, and functions as the Pineapple Lanai, the new home to the much craved and beloved Dole Whip. 

The final picture (9) offers a wonderful vista of the original lobby in the Great Ceremonial House. Of course, the waterfall fountain is brand new in this shot, but look at how lush it was during those first few years! You can barely see the rocks and falls; greenery and tropical trees dominate the scene. Also notice the furniture: while not as obviously Polynesian (remember those bamboo chairs?) these pieces are much more mid century modern than preciously seen. The flat lines, angular shapes and dark textures carry the spirit of the 1950s and 60s tiki craze into the 1970s. In his new book, Tiki Pop on the American tiki culture craze, Sven Kirsten argues that this aesthetic was the result of the merging of space age characteristics and exotica. Given how closely tied the two aesthetics are in not only style, but time, I would certainly say that that is a plausible conclusion.

 Seeing that the last picture above doesn’t afford a glimpse of the tiles and their amazing lime green colors, please join me in basking in the original aesthetic for the Great Ceremonial House. Where most of the resort was more organic and authentic, perhaps these lurid tiles were a delightful outlier. By the early 90s, they had been replaced by the dark,  rough igneous stone that currently tiles the Ceremonial House floor. 

In short, pictures like these serve as a reminder that Walt Disney World, while artful, is also fluid and malleable.  It is constantly changing. I will forever miss the waterfalls in the Great Ceremonial House, but I find comfort in the fact that they were changed over the years, as did the entire look and feel of the Polynesian Village. On this, the 43rd anniversary of the resort and the hotel, I would hope that its brighter days are before it and that the new iteration of the Polynesian might be as well respected and beloved by others as it has already been for the past four decades. 

Happy 43rd, Polynesian Village. 

Polynesian Potpourri: A Pictorial Tour of the Village 

In honor of its opening 43 years ago, today, let’s take a quick jaunt back to the Polynesian Village of the 1970s. 

The Polynesian is currently in the throes of a radical aesthetic change. Refurbishment work began earlier this year to begin the process of removing some of the older features of the resort, with most of the changes centered in the Grand Ceremonial House. By the time the work is complete, the waterfalls that graced the entrance will be woefully gone, replaced by a more open area adorned with Japanese float lamps, and a large statue of the nameless (but popularly called “Tiki Shrug”) tiki deity that has served as the resort’s mascot since 1971. 

What’s interesting, however, is that these are not the first large scale changes to be seen at the Polynesian Village since its inception. When the resort first opened, and until the late 80s and early 90s, the Polynesian boasted a much more organic aesthetic in some areas. Different textures, color pallets, and art dominated the landscape. And of course, different eateries and facilities also graced the southern banks of the Seven Seas Lagoon. Today’s look back is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive, but features what I think are some striking examples of the aesthetic shifts made at the Polynesian Village over the years. 

First, the Tangaroa Terrace restaurant. This building is still standing at the resort, but only as a Cast Member break room and training center. This picture allows you to really see the original color scheme and more organic texture used in the early days of the resort. Now, brighter reds, yellows, and oranges cover the A-frame architecture, though the deep browns remain. The original woodgrain, while more authentic, has given way to something more akin to a mid-century styling. 

The same goes for the interior and entrance to the Tangaroa Terrace, as seen in the pictures 2 and 3. Authentic wooden motifs graced the entrance and Polynesian inspired chairs and tables furnished these spaces.  What’s really notable in the first three pictures are the tiki statues that populate the restaurant. These four pieces were carved by Oceanic Arts, a duo of two artists based in Southern California, who can be attributed to the proliferation of Polynesian and tiki art and culture in the 1950s and 60s. As far as I know, the two male and female warrior statues in the entry hall are still there (at least they were in 2010, when I got to see them!) as is the replica of the Enchanted Tiki Room column in the dining room. Oceanic Arts also carved many of the original signs around the village, which are still in use today. Picture 4 shows off a lovely mural of Polynesian agriculture and some really striking bamboo motif chairs. More on this later. 

Next up is a glamor shot of a meal at the Tangaroa Terrace. But who cares about the food! Look at the “Tiki Shrug” logo on the candle holder! Look at those amber glasses! Look at the Walt Disney World logo matchbook and ashtray! And, although you can’t see it in this shot, the white plate here is made out of fine china and boasts a small, gold Disney World “D” logo along the crest. This is the epitome of 70’s Vacation Kingdom class. 

Moving onto picture 6: Recreation and Bob Around Boats! These funky little vessels were available to rent for excisions onto the Seven Seas Lagoon. Complete with a sound system, the Bob Around Boats carried a family of four, and cost 8 dollars an hour. Sadly, they didn’t live beyond the first decade of the Walt Disney World Resort, as the resort’s initially strong focus on recreation and the theme parks slowly gave way to the parks and more heavy thematic offerings. EPCOT Center, for example. 

The next two pictures (7 and 8) show off one of the original retail locations at the hotel: News from Civilization. As seen above, this shop offered sundries and themed merchandise unique to the Polynesian Village. Up for sale? Tapa cloth, mobiles of shells, beachcomber art… This was, essentially, an extension of Adventureland and is a perfect example of how diverse Disney’s original merchandise was. Some ‘Polynesian Village’ branded items were available, but this shop specialized in unique and thematic wares. Also, if you look out the back window, you can see the bamboo siding to the Great Ceremonial House. Later, this space became the Wyland Art Gallery. Now, the shop has been effectively turned into an exterior space, and functions as the Pineapple Lanai, the new home to the much craved and beloved Dole Whip. 

The final picture (9) offers a wonderful vista of the original lobby in the Great Ceremonial House. Of course, the waterfall fountain is brand new in this shot, but look at how lush it was during those first few years! You can barely see the rocks and falls; greenery and tropical trees dominate the scene. Also notice the furniture: while not as obviously Polynesian (remember those bamboo chairs?) these pieces are much more mid century modern than preciously seen. The flat lines, angular shapes and dark textures carry the spirit of the 1950s and 60s tiki craze into the 1970s. In his new book, Tiki Pop on the American tiki culture craze, Sven Kirsten argues that this aesthetic was the result of the merging of space age characteristics and exotica. Given how closely tied the two aesthetics are in not only style, but time, I would certainly say that that is a plausible conclusion.

 Seeing that the last picture above doesn’t afford a glimpse of the tiles and their amazing lime green colors, please join me in basking in the original aesthetic for the Great Ceremonial House. Where most of the resort was more organic and authentic, perhaps these lurid tiles were a delightful outlier. By the early 90s, they had been replaced by the dark,  rough igneous stone that currently tiles the Ceremonial House floor. 

In short, pictures like these serve as a reminder that Walt Disney World, while artful, is also fluid and malleable.  It is constantly changing. I will forever miss the waterfalls in the Great Ceremonial House, but I find comfort in the fact that they were changed over the years, as did the entire look and feel of the Polynesian Village. On this, the 43rd anniversary of the resort and the hotel, I would hope that its brighter days are before it and that the new iteration of the Polynesian might be as well respected and beloved by others as it has already been for the past four decades. 

Happy 43rd, Polynesian Village. 

waltdisneydoingfunnythings:

It is Tuesday. 
It feels like Tuesday. 
Here’s Walt Disney hugging a pony. 
I hope that helps. 
#WaltDisneyDoingFunnyThings (sponsored in part by @43SquareMiles who finds these wonderful images) 

waltdisneydoingfunnythings:

It is Tuesday. 

It feels like Tuesday. 

Here’s Walt Disney hugging a pony. 

I hope that helps. 

#WaltDisneyDoingFunnyThings (sponsored in part by @43SquareMiles who finds these wonderful images) 

The Oncoming Storm: Losing Norway, Culture, and EPCOT’s Vision

On October 5th 2014, EPCOT’s Maelstrom will close and Disney will begin to revamp the Norwegian pavilion to include the characters, music, and narrative from Frozen, last year’s hit animated film. 

I’ll put this simply, because it’s too soon to think of anything else to say: I’m angry. And I’m sad. 

World Showcase’s original intent was supposed to be so much more than another repository for Disney’s brands and intellectual property. World Showcase and all of EPCOT was created out of Disney’s once unerring ability to be a company that showcased things, and showcased things that mattered. World Showcase was a permanent (if slightly stale) World’s Fair that existed to be an exhibition of the diversity of man, uniting and captivating visitors with the beauty and drama of the human difference. World Showcase was bravely dedicated to cultures that have defined what our world civilization had done throughout time. Does this description sounds grandiose and overzealous? Good. It should. For a very long time, EPCOT Center inspired these thoughts and these feelings with the content that it had on display. Norway and Maelstrom fit this theme like a glove.

While madcap and quirky and often downright puzzling, Maelstrom at least showed off the sinew of Norwegian myths and legends and culture. Brave vikings, mystical trolls, the barren wilderness of the arctic… The idea of Norway was encapsulated in a short ride. It was a romp. It was a short experience in the “genre” of Norwegian culture. 

And now? It’ll be replaced by singing princesses that are “inspired” by the Scandinavian culture. This is a problem. Disney can not showcase culture vis-a-vis something made in their own image. Disney’s Frozen is more a reflection of Disney Animation than it is a reflection of culture. Aesthetic and narrative cues might come from Norway, but they were used to create a place called Arendale… a place that is fictional. A place based in pop culture fantasy. To show off Norway as it really is, Disney needed to extrapolate upon the underlying archetypes that existed within our collective unconscious about the place. Maelstrom already did that. Frozen will not. Frozen is a narrow narrative that uses Norwegian aesthetics and adapts one Norwegian story into a fairly enjoyable film.

Frankly, I like Frozen. I saw it in theaters, twice. But this enjoyment of it doesn’t broker any acceptable vision of EPCOT  that includes shoehorning a modern film into a space that was meant to speak to the greater aspects of culture and mythology that define an entire country. 

EPCOT, which has undergone a tumultuous trajectory over the past decade or so, is now faced with yet another thematic rift. Norway and Maelstrom now join The Seas with Nemo and Friends and Journey into your Imagination and Innoventions and other attractions that do not support a coherent and cogent vision of what EPCOT once was and should be. Some gems in the park will still exist, of course, but this is a large step in misaligning EPCOT’s focus and making the park less unique. Things like the alleyways of Morocco and Impressions of France and Living with the Land can only do so much on their own to support what EPCOT was and is supposed to be. 

EPCOT faces an oncoming storm in removing Maelstrom. I hope it can weather it. I am an optimistic person, but a loss as large as this hurts. And it even hurts to admit that. With the removal of Maelstrom and the inclusion of Norway, there is no stopping what Disney can decide to do with other original and cultural attractions. Disney is now crossing a line into synergizing what was meant to be above and beyond what could be found in a magic kingdom park, or any other Disney park.

It’s a wicked storm, indeed. It’s a maelstrom. 

epcotexplorer:

Son et Lumière: A Rare Look at EPCOT Center’s First Night Spectacular 

These rare 1982 press shots gives us a rare insight to one of EPCOT Center’s shortest lived and obscurest shows: Carnival de Lumière. 

The precursor to the now famous line of IllumiNations shows, Carnival was rather basic, in the fact that it only preformed on the entrance part of World Showcase Promenade. Instead of the quadrant of barges that form a loop in the center of World Showcase Lagoon, as in IllumiNations, Carnival had a fan of three barges that stretched from Mexico to Canada, much in the same way Disneyland’s World of Color is preformed today. The barges were solely for the purposes of projecting imagery onto large screens of misted water, a precursor to Laserphonic Fantasy employing actual lasers to paint bright shapes and images on larger curtains of water. Above, note the fountains positioned higher up, and being shot “down” into the lagoon, so as to be screens for the projections. 

Pyrotechnics, meanwhile, were launched from smaller barges in between the fountain barges, and provided for a seamless line of spectacle across the northern shores of World Showcase Lagoon. The pyro effects weren’t as large as today’s presentations, but an assortment of comets, bursts, and streamers were used to accent the musical score. 

Although there are no known recordings of the score, we can surmise that it was much like Laserphonic Fantasy’s: the original IllumiNations score, but under the guise of a heavy synthesizer. 

However, despite all these negative qualifiers, this was the first! The first EPCOT Center night show that used the classical music of the nations of World Showcase, and the technical wizardry of Future World. A perfect synthesis for the grand and inspiring showcase that EPCOT Center is. 

We’ll miss you, Genie. 
Robin Williams
1951-2014

We’ll miss you, Genie. 

Robin Williams

1951-2014

45 Years of Ghoulish Delight and Happy Haunts 

Today marks 45 years of operation for one of Disney’s most storied and accomplished thematic attractions. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion premiered on this date after nearly a decade of design and planning to ensure that the attraction would not only meet the demands of the growing theme park, but to also solidify the artistic experience that WED’s ‘haunted house’ wanted to boast. 

1969 could perhaps be considered when WED began to hit their stride and when their technical acumen began to pay off in droves. The Haunted Mansion encapsulates this moment in time. Bolstered from success in 1963 with Walt Disney’s  Enchanted Tiki Room and the 1964 World’s Fair, WED’s preceding attractions reflect their confidence and ingenuity. These attractions were also the last to be personally overseen by Walt Disney who passed away in 1967. Audio Animatronic figures quickly became the standard showpiece of attractions and high capacity people moving systems ensured that many Disneyland guests would get to partake in these new adventures. The first attraction to accomplish this was Pirates of the Caribbean. The Haunted Mansion followed, but in formula only, perhaps making the duo a sort of ‘call and response’ for WED’s attractions in the late 1960s. Where Pirates is joyfully meandering and appropriately takes place on the water, Mansion is bound to the confines of a labyrinth of a structure and follows a pattern of illusions and effects. Although not confined to a strict narrative, the Mansion does have its experiences follow a semblance of rising and falling action to better intrigue and interest guests. 

These technical aspects giving way to the demands of experience and illusion are markers of the artists and engineers who took part in the design and creation of the attraction. The Haunted Mansion had its humble beginnings in Rolly Crump’s Museum of the Weird, a walkthrough attraction of historical and mystical oddities that would have found a home in the alleys of New Orleans Square. In time, this grew into a greater haunted house concept with Ken Anderson at the helm. And finally, the Haunted Mansion evolved into Claude Coats’ eerie and effect heavy first act, and Marc Davis’ jubilant finale. 

This melange of styles and methods is perhaps what makes the Haunted Mansion so beloved after 45 years. It is archetypically chilling and spooky, but not overtly so- just enough to make you a little on edge and to elicit and nervous laugh. And its finale of happy haunts and of music and of a party offers a subtle message of morality: In the end, we’re all dead, but we’re all happy.

45 years on, WED’s haunted house remains one of Disney’s pinnacles of themed entertainment and a staple at the magic kingdoms around the world.