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July 22, 2010

New "Spirited Beasts" Exhibit in Epcot's Japan Pavilion

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The Japan pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase recently unveiled a new exhibit in its museum space adjacent to the Mitsukoshi Department Store. Entitled "Spirited Beasts: From Ancient Stories to Anime Stars", the exhibit focuses on the mythological origins of modern Japanese animated characters.


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"Anime", as Japanese animation has come to be known, originated about 1917, but has enjoyed a great deal of popularity outside of Japan in recent years. The success of animated cartoon series like Pokemon and animated feature films like "Spirited Away" and "My Neighbor Totoro," by director Hayao Miyazaki, have broadened the art form's appeal.

This new exhibit looks at how many anime characters and their traits are derived from ancient Japanese characters. As an introductory plaque says: "For centuries, heroic animals and magical creatures have appeared in traditional Japanese myths, stories and art. Today, they are the heroes and villains of Japan's manga comics and anime. These "spirited beasts" from Japan's past have become pop culture superstars, known and loved around the world. Join us as we celebrate these mysterious, magical and mischievous animal figures."


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The "Tsuru", or Japanese crane, is a symbol of happiness, prosperity and world peace, and adorns much Japanese art and decor. The display below shows one thousand paper cranes, known as Senbazuru -- folding them is thought to grant a wish. (This exhibit is covered with a mesh screen, then lit periodically to reveal the cranes underneath, hence the grainy image quality, sorry.)


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Kitsune (below) are magical fox spirits that grow extra tails as they gain in age, wisdom and power. Expert tricksters, they may take on human form. Kitsune are popular in kabuki drama as well as in popular manga and anime.


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Cat Heroes
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Saru - Monkeys
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Tengu (below) are winged warriors that combine human features with birdlike beaks, wings and talons. They may teach their knowledge of magic to the worthiest humans. (This is also behind a mesh screen, so it was hard to get a clear photo.)


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The statue below, The Slayer of Vanity, is a crow-tengu -- a powerful birdlike spirit that stands ready to defend. The figure wears the traditional robe of a Shinto priest. These were skilled warriors who often play mischievous tricks on those who are vain and proud.


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The famous tryptich (by Kunisada Minamoto) below portrays the nobleman Yoshitsune being trained in the art of swordsmanship by a group of magical "tengu", birdlike spirits of the mountain. The long-nosed king tengu, Daitengu Sojobo, looks on.


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A sign in the exhibit acknowledges the following: the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery of Scripps College in Claremont, CA; the Spencer Museum of Art of Kansas; Mr. Mitsuo Ogishima of the Japanese Outreach Initiatives of the Universoty of South Florida in Tampa; and Mr. and Mrs. Brennan of Windermere, FL.


July 23, 2010

Dinner with the Stars: The Great Movie Ride Dinner

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On Saturday, July 17, my husband, son and I attended the Great Movie Ride Dinner, hosted by Tables in Wonderland, Disney's dining program that offers members restaurant discounts and access to special culinary events.

The price tag was a hefty $155 per person plus tax, but the prospect of dining INSIDE the Disney's Hollywood Studios attraction with animatronics and movie sets of famous films was enticing. There were only 80 spots available so we decided quickly to try to make reservations and were thrilled when we learned that the event had not yet sold out.

So on Saturday night, dressed in "casual evening attire", we arrived at the Studios. Park admission was included in the price of the dinner, so we found the cast members at the turnstiles, who checked our names off their list and allowed us into the park. We then proceeded to the courtyard in front of the Graumann Chinese Theater, home to the Great Movie Ride. The event wasn't due to start until 7:30 p.m. so after checking in with the cast members there and getting wristbands, we had some time to kill. We spent it looking around the courtyard at the handprints and footprints of celebrities who had left their marks. It was surprising to see some stars of today scattered among those of yesterday, like Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Cruise, whose feet are apparently much smaller than those of my 18-year-old son's!

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Just a few minutes after 7:30, once all (80) members of our party had checked in, we were welcomed by "Director" Otto von Bonbon, who, after jokingly protesting that he wanted "no pictures," led us into the theater:

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Have you ever seen the lobby of this attraction empty? It was almost eerie, especially since the movie montage preshow was still playing on the screen.

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After a brief introduction as to what the evening would entail, we were all allowed to wander into the attraction itself. It was interesting to note that the path was smooth -- the ride's trams clearly don't travel along tracks.

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We passed by the Busby Berkely scene, and Gene Kelly Singin' in the Rain, then past Mary Poppins and Bert. It was rather dark along here so unfortunately I wasn't able to get great photos. It was absolutely cool to be able to see these animatronics up so close, though, and to spend a few minutes examining them.

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Once we passed Public Enemy Jimmy Cagney, we settled into the Gangster Scene, where we were greeted by Louie ("The gun isn't loaded, but I am! and you never know when I might go off!) and his moll, who helped us locate our place cards with our seating assignments.

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There were a few cocktail tables positioned around the Gangster Scene, and near the big garage-type door there was a piano and a bar, with a great bartender pouring soft drinks, beer and wines (Columbia Crest chardonnay and Canyon Road cabernet, disappointingly low-end for such a nice event). Needless to say, most people congregated in this area, as it was also where Louie serenaded us with a song and the servers entered with their trays of hors d'oeuvres.

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The trouble with this arrangement, though, was that if you weren't standing in this area, the goodies never made it all the way back to you -- the folks "up front" gobbled them up. Luckily for us, Otto noticed this and made sure to collar a few servers before their trays were emptied, and brought them back to where we, and several folks on scooters, were hungrily waiting.

The hors d'oeuvres included:
-- Bugsy's Fire-roasted Duck with Cherries
-- Dillinger's Seared Shrimp with Dill
-- Bonnie and Clyde's favorite Chive-stuffed Potatoes

I managed to get two of the shrimp and one of the duck, and found both to be quite good. I never saw the potato canapes at all -- though my son said he'd enjoyed one, but that it was "microscopic."

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After about a half-hour or so, the big doors opened and we made our way to Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and the Western Scene.

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Tables covered in red-checked cloths stretched from one end of this scene to the next, bearing the names of famous cowboys and legends. We hunted for our table, Wyatt Earp, and found it to be at the furthest end of the room. We were seated with 8 others (11 total at our table), directly across from the elevated portion of the room on which our musical entertainment was performing. (They called themselves "Ma's Boys," but I recognized them as The Banjo Brothers and Bob from the Magic Kingdom.)

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At the other end of the room was the piano player, who had followed us from the Gangster Scene and performed when "The Boys" took a break.

"Ma" herself was on hand to get things rolling, and she circulated around the room throughout the meal to make sure folks were satisfied, occasionally bantering with her boys on the stage.

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Our plated dinner began with a Creamy Free-range Yard Bird Corn Chowder with Grilled Flatbread, followed by a salad of Wild Greens tossed with Cactus and Cilantro Vinaigrette and topped with Carrot Tumbleweeds. The soup was flavorful and hot, and the salad very fresh, but they must have run out of flatbread, as plain Italian bread had been substituted on a few guests' plates. A chef moved from table to table to ensure that everyone was happy with their food, so I took the opportunity to ask where they had prepared the meal. Surprisingly, she told me that most everything had been prepared at Epcot's hub kitchens, then transported to the Studios. She added that some of the food was being finished or heated in the back. She also shared her secret for making the soup so tasty -- she had put her fingers in it! I wasn't supposed to tell -- don't let her know I spilled the beans!

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Speaking of beans, our entrees featured some:
-- Mesquite-grilled Beef Filet with Herb Butter
-- Truffle Mac and Cheese and Molasses Pinto Beans
-- House made Roasted Onion Bread with Butter

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The beef was as tender as could be, but I have to say the portion could have been a bit larger (remember, we'd paid $155 per person). I'm not the biggest carnivore around, but even I found the size of the filet to be on the way too small side. You can imagine what my son thought! The mac and cheese was delicious, though, and the beans were a nice, cowboyish touch.

The bar had been wheeled to follow us, but there were empty wine
glasses set on the table, so we all assumed that servers would come
around to fill them. After the soup and salad, we realized that wasn't going to happen, so we decided it was time to go to the bar and get our drinks ourselves. It's not that we minded doing it, but it would have been nice to have been told that we were supposed to -- maybe a few additional servers would have helped avoid this situation. Never mind, the bartender (who we think has a future as a stand-up comic) made it all right in the end.

These were minor annoyances, because as we finished our entrees around 9 p.m. Otto and Ma made their rounds through the room again, and it was time to move on to dessert... in Oz.

After we left the Western Scene behind, we passed through Alien -- the creatures even fumed and shrieked for us:

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And then a personal favorite, Raiders of the Lost Ark, where we spent way too much time looking at all the snakes (so realistic even up close), Indiana Jones, mummies and the Hidden C3PO and R2D2:

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Then Tarzan:

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And Casablanca:

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And then we saw it... the beginning of the Wizard of Oz scene! Ooops, looks like someone dropped a house on her!

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I can't even begin to tell you how excited I was to be actually
walking through this scene from one of my favorite films of all time. As we entered Munchkinland, we found small tables strewn around the path, with buffet tables covered with Munchkin-sized desserts in all the brilliant colors of the movie set surrounding us -- with a special emphasis on bright green as we were so close to the Emerald City!

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The bar was again stalking us and there was also coffee and tea service to go along with the delectable mini desserts, which included cannoli, small cheesecakes on a stick, mint mousse atop chocolate cookies and fresh fruit. As if eating sweets in one of the sweetest settings imaginable wasn't enough, who should appear to circulate amongst us but Glinda the Good Witch! She sweetly posed for photos and just generally made sure that everyone was enjoying themselves.

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All too soon, it was 10 p.m. and we were treated to a surprise appearance by the Wicked Witch, followed by a rousing send-off by the munchkins singing, "You're off to see the Wizard..."

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It perfectly fit the theme -- yes, we got the hint that it was time to go, and sadly we shuffled out of Oz and back into the reality of Disney's Hollywood Studios... but not before we snuck another few sweet treats, including one of the Tootsie Pops placed in the bowls on the tables, as well as a quick photo op with Glinda, and Dorothy and company...

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We found ourselves back in the night air by about 10:15 p.m.

Despite some of the criticisms we had (the small filet, the low-end wines, the disorganized hors d'oeuvre service), we all agreed that the evening overall had been well worth every cent. How often does one get to dine in such a magical spot?

After speaking with a Tables in Wonderland cast member at the event, we learned that they are exploring the possibility of offering other similar events, perhaps in other attractions. If they are of the same caliber as this Great Movie Ride dinner, sign me up!

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About July 2010

This page contains all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in July 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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