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June 26, 2017

When a 'hard freeze' hit Walt Disney World in 1989, cast members turned to faux plants along Jungle Cruise


During the hard freeze of 1989 in Florida, most of the vegetation along the Jungle Cruise died, forcing Disney to bring in plastic stand-ins. [AllEars.Net]

The term "hard freeze" sends shivers up and down the spines of anyone in Florida associated with plant life. When the temperature dips below 32 degrees and stays that way for several hours, the affects can be devastating to vegetation.

In 1989, central Florida experienced a particularly tough hard freeze which lasted for several days. And Walt Disney World wasn't immune.

At Epcot, "the vegetation was virtually wiped out in that freeze," said Dennis Higbie, who went on to become Animal Kingdom's general curator of botanical programs. "We learned a lot in how to replace [plants] in record time."

At the Magic Kingdom, the Jungle Cruise was hit particular hard, especially when you consider the fact that there is so much natural vegetation growing all along the shorelines of the attraction.

According to Ted Kellogg, who was the supervisor of watercraft when Walt Disney World opened in 1971 and who was working in a more behind-the-scenes capacity during the time of the freeze, the water was drained from the Jungle Cruise to protect the submerged Audio-Animatronics figures.

Ted Kellogg enjoyed a long career with Disney, starting at Disneyland. He was the supervisor of watercraft when Walt Disney World opened, then transferred to behind-the-scenes work, helping to rehab a number of attractions and hotels. [Theme Park Press]

"But without water in the waterways," Ted added, "every tropical plant in the attraction literally froze to death."

Since it wasn't growing season, "there were no tropical plants available to replace them," Ted said. "So we bought every artificial plant we could find within 3,000 miles and brought them in by the truckload.

"We had an army of people getting rid of the dead plants and replacing them with all the artificial plants." It took about a week, but when the Jungle Cruise finally reopened, faux plants were the order of the day until the real things eventually returned with warmer weather. The thing is, nobody could tell the difference between the real and the fake plants.

But the Jungle Cruise's problems were the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

On the first morning following the hard freeze, "I got to work at 7 in the morning before the park was open and was walking through Cinderella Castle," Ted said. "When I got to the other side of the castle, I noticed that the water in the fountain in Fantasyland was frozen solid. At about 10 o'clock, sprinkler heads that were frozen began to thaw and crack."

It set off a chain reaction as water started leaking throughout the park.

"We had to bring in the Reedy Creek Fire Department to shut down every sprinkler system in the park. Eventually, we had to order tons of valves, repaint them and have them installed."

Ted Kellogg supervised a rehab to the lobby of the Polynesian Village Resort in the mid-1990s. His innovative ideas saved the lobby from being closed during the work. []

Ted Kellogg is a man of many stories, from Walt Disney World, to Disneyland, to his days as a fishing boat captain, to his once-in-a-lifetime trip with two buddies from southern California to South America by car, bus and dugout canoe.

He started by working part-time at Disneyland, often piloting either the Mark Twain riverboat or the top-heavy keel boats.

He came down to Florida with his new bride as part of the first wave of Disney cast members tasked with setting up opening the Magic Kingdom. After several years supervising the boats, Ted transferred to construction, supervising the rehabilitation of a variety of park attractions and on-property hotels.

He was the guy in charge when the California Grill was refurbished in the 1990s. Also in the 1990s at the Polynesian Village, his creative plan helped rehab the main lobby without having to close it, which would have been a major inconvenience for Poly guests.

Ted has written a book about all of his experiences, which I had the honor of contributing to. It will be available soon.

June 22, 2017

The Mousy Mindboggler



As you know if you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, each month our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Every month, James also Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog.

This month, James writes:

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

We received 53 correct responses. All of you knew that the name of the sequel to "Old Yeller" was 1963's "Savage Sam," named after Old Yeller's son. At least the sequel didn't pull on your heartstrings, like the first one did!

The winner of a Pluto pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Jodi A. of Madisonville, Lousiana.

If you missed it last month, that's OK, because here’s another chance.

This month we are continuing our look at the huge library of Disney's live-action films. This month’s film, "The Shaggy Dog," was Disney’s first foray into the arena of live-action comedy. It was also a launching point for actors who would become mainstays in Disney live-action films to come, Fred MacMurray, Annette Funicello, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran.

The object of this puzzle is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, send me the answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on July 8, 2017. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog sometime in July.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at

Thanks for playing, everyone!

June 18, 2017

The Architecture at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Gary Cruise banner

I’m a big fan of Disney’s talented corps of Imagineers!

When they design the theme parks we all enjoy so completely they do a masterful job. Every aspect of the product they create is realistic and immersive.

The Hollywood Studios park is a prime example. When they began laying out the concepts for the new destination, led by Marty Sklar, they had one overriding goal, to create something that showed “tinsel-town” in its glory days.

Rod Serling says it well in his introduction at the Hollywood Tower of Terror: “Hollywood, 1939. Amid the glitz and the glitter of a bustling, young movie town at the height of its golden age . . . “. That was what the Imagineers were striving to build in Florida . . . a way for us to experience exactly how Hollywood felt during that “golden age”.

They began by scouring modern day Hollywood for iconic examples of architecture and began planning the streetscapes around some of their favourites. An article in the Spring 2005 issue of Disney Magazine focuses on five of the buildings they incorporated in their final design. In the words of Imagineer Eric Jacobson, “Ninety percent of what you see on Hollywood Boulevard is inspired by, a modification of, or a copy of a real building in Los Angeles.”

The first building the article describes is Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, located on Hollywood Boulevard beside the Dolby Theatre and across from Disney’s El Capitan Theatre.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

The Florida reproduction of that famous Hollywood building houses The Great Movie Ride.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre 2006

Compare the picture from the article with a picture of the original building I snapped during a 2006 trip to Hollywood.

Have you noticed the building shaped like a camera on Hollywood Boulevard? It’s on your right as you walk toward Grauman’s Theatre. The picture in the magazine article shows the original building, on Wilshire Boulevard, as it appeared in 1938 and compares it to the reproduction that appears in the theme park.

The Darkroom

Here’s a picture of that same Los Angeles building as it appears today. I captured the image on Google Earth, check it out, it’s at 5370 Wilshire. These days the building houses a restaurant, but that unique camera façade will be with us for a very long time; it’s protected by the Los Angeles Conservancy!

The Darkroom today

Next on the list is the Max Factor Building on North Highland Avenue. Once again the illustration in the article compares the original building to the reproduction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s a remarkable likeness! Check it out when you visit the park; it’s across the street from The Darkroom.

Max Factor

Thanks to Google Earth and their Street View function I was able to get a picture of the building as it looks today. It looks like Max Factor has gone and this building is also now home to a restaurant.

Max Factor today

That building just inside the Hollywood Studios gate, the one with Mickey on top of the tower, it is a reproduction of another Hollywood icon, the Crossroads of the World building on Sunset Boulevard.

Crossroads of the World

Here’s what it looks like today!

Crossroads ot the World today

The last buildings the article looks at are the two stone building on either side of the entrance to The Hollywood Tower of Terror. In the theme park version the tall tower houses restrooms and the shorter building opposite it used to be home for the FastPass dispensers. They are modelled after The Hollywoodland Gates which in 1923 were at the end of Beachwood Drive. Hollywoodland was a new real estate development being built in the 1920’s and there was a huge sign erected up in the hills behind the gate. The “land” portion of the sign fell down, leaving the iconic Hollywood sign we all recognize today.

Hollywoodland Gates

Of course Hollywoodland is fully developed these days, but those old stone gates remain. You can find them near the corner of North Beachwood Drive and Belden Drive.

Hollywoodland Gates today

One last structure I’d like to look at is the entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That magnificent structure that first greets you, built in the Streamline Moderne style.

Hollywood Studios Entrance

It is also based on a Los Angeles building, The Pan Pacific Auditorium at 7600 West Beverly Boulevard.

Pan Pacific Auditorium

Once again the Imagineers created a remarkable likeness!

1600 Beverly Blvd today

Unfortunately, the auditorium no longer exists, it was consumed in a fire in 1989. Today the property is home to a sports field!

If you want to read more, the entire article from 2005 is included below. Click on each of the three images to read many fascinating details about each of the five buildings.

Disney Magazine Spring 2005 page 63

Disney Magazine Spring 2005 page 64

Disney Magazine Spring 2005 page 65

The Hollywood Studios park is currently transforming in a big way with the addition of new areas based on the Star Wars movies and the Toy Story movies.

While I’m very much looking forward to enjoying each of these new lands, I hope that we never lose that feeling of “glitz and glitter” the Imagineers created along Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. When some of the talented “streetmosphere” performers appear among those classic buildings it makes me want to sing "Hooray for Hollywood".

I really enjoy the “golden age of Hollywood” feeling I get when I visit the park!

June 14, 2017

REVIEW: Cars 3

by Jeremiah Good
AllEars® Guest Blogger


In 2006 after meeting Buzz, Woody, Nemo, and a bunch of Monsters a movie that really appealed to the little kid in me was released by Disney*Pixar, Cars. Being the first summer release Cars went on to be a critical and financial hit spawning a popular shorts series in the Cars Toons and now 2 major motion picture sequels. I personally felt the original Cars film still stands out as one of the best, start to finish, stories Disney*Pixar has done to date going through all the emotions and really getting to know and love the characters...yes even Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. Cars 2 well that is a different story, I like to think of that just as a VERY LONG Cars Toons but Cars 3 recaptures the Lightning in the bottle.

Set in the natural progression of time from the first film we find Lighting McQueen, again voiced by Owen Wilson, still racing and having fun leading the pack with some of the other cars he has been racing over the years...that is till rookie Jackson Storm, voiced by Armie Hammer, shows up and starts winning.

If you have seen any of the trailers for this film you have seen how the story goes, Lightning has to pull a Rocky 3 and get back out there and train to be better, stronger, and faster with the help of the new car on the block Cruz Ramirez, Cristela Alonzo. Along the way we meet a handful of new Cars and really get back in touch with the heart and humor of the original story between mentor and student.

To be as spoiler free as possible this film follows the age old plot of and student/teacher film, that being said this does it perfectly! After Cars 2 I, along with most fans, had given up and just resided ourselves to Cars Land in Disney California Adventure was where we could go to relive the magic of the first film but Cars 3 is a fitting sequel to the original.

One of my biggest gripes with Cars 2 was the lack of remembrance of Paul Newman's Doc Hudson. Doc was not only a great character but was one of the last things Paul Newman did before his passing in 2008 and I felt needed more than a passing mention, especially since it was him that put Lightning back on the track to being a multiple time Piston Cup champion. Thankfully Cars 3 not only addresses Doc's legacy and passing they even were able to find unused recordings of Paul Newman to have him reprise his role in a few flashbacks. It really is learning about where his mentor came from that helps set the course for Lighting along with providing some classic moments that will be added to animated montages for years to come.

This film is, as one critic said "Nothing Short of Groundbreaking" from start to finish the richness of the backgrounds often times made me question if they were real or not and the sound makes you feel like you are on the raceway and of course the voice talents all fit perfect. It is hard to fit such a large cast, as the Cars franchise has become, into one film without feeling someone gets lots in the shuffle but from returning cast all the way to the new members we get a good feel for the story of how they are or what they have been up to since the last film.

If I had one negative to say about the film is the lack of catchy music or iconic score, the original used "Route 66" to tie the story and "Life is a Highway" has become synonymous with not only Cars but with any road trip thanks in part to its use in the original film, yet after walking out of Cars 3 I would be hard pressed to remember any song or even bits of the score used.

Overall I give Cars 3 a three and a half Piston Cups out of four, if I had walked out wanting to buy the soundtrack along with all the new cars I will be picking up it would have been perfect. It is a must see for the entire family and I will be going back to see it again!


Where to find Cars Characters
Press Event

June 5, 2017

Pandora reaffirms Animal Kingdom's commitment to animals, great, small and mythical


The head of a Na'vi was on display near the Windtraders souvenir shop inside Pandora: The World of Avatar. [Cavrel Silvera]

With the opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar, all eyes are on Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. And well they should be. The new land is everything it was hyped to be ... and so much more.

After walking through the totally immersive land recently ... after seeing the magnificent floating mountains; experiencing the frenetic, almost free-falling excitement of Avatar Flight of Passage, as well as the serene, colorful and mystical Na'vi River Journey ... Disney's creative staff has finally fulfilled the promise it made more than 20 years ago when the park was first conceived.

It has given us a land devoted to the world of mythical creatures ... while reaffirming its commitment to all animals great and small, as well as the environment.

I remember the first time I learned about Animal Kingdom. It was during a break between shows on The Disney Channel. The year was 1995 and the announcer told us about a fourth Disney park in Florida that was due to open in 1998. At the time, they called it Wild Animal Kingdom. This new park would tell us the story, as only Disney can, of the intriguing world of animals ... be they living, extinct or mythical.

Little did I know then that Disney's creative team had been exploring the concept of this new park for more than five years. Little did I know how much work, how much research, how much thought was going into the planning of what would become perhaps the most unique theme park on the planet. It would be zoo-like, but definitly nah-ta-zuh.

Beginning in 1990, a small team of Disney Imagineers, headed up by the incomparable Joe Rohde, traveled the world on a number of expeditions in an all-out effort to craft a park that was real, that was unique and that was authentic. The team included landscape architect Paul Comstock; concept show writer Kevin Brown; designer Zofia Kostyrko; associate producer Patsy Tillisch; concept architect Tom Sze; show designer John Shields and show producers Kelley Forde and Ann Malmlund.

Giraffe and zebra roam freely on the savannah at Disney's Animal Kingdom right after the park's opening in 1998. Zebras have since been moved to another section of the park. [Walt Disney World]

Comstock, Animal Kingdom's principal landscape architect, visited 37 states in America and 28 foreign countries in his quest to bring back rare seeds and plants, foliage that would create lush forests and a stunning savannah, as well as feed and nourish the permanent residents of the park. In total, Rohde and his small band visited Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar in 1990; Thailand and Nepal in 1993; Bali, India and Bhutan in 1994; Mexico in 1995, and East Africa in 1996.

The backbone of Disney's Animal Kingdom was and always will be, animals. But dealing with live animals is an arduous task, one that's labor-intensive and requires a complete and total level of commitment. When your average theme park closes at the end of the day, the lights are turned off, the gates are locked and everyone goes home. The hundreds of animals living at Animal Kingdom need care and attention 24/7, 365 days a year. Where other theme parks employs street sweepers and technical personnel overnight, Animal Kingdom has that, plus veterinarians and animal caretakers tending to everything from hippos to elephants to crocodiles.

From the beginning, Disney was committed to doing this new park the right way. An advisory board of renowned animal experts and zoologists was formed, giving Disney's creative team a decided edge when it came to attaining that goal.

"A lot of people out there tried to stick a knife and make a hole in [the park], trying to point a finger at the Mouse," Comstock said about those early days during the park's development. "We had to be clean and above board on everything."

They also had to learn a lot about animals, plants and the environment. For instance, some plants can be toxic to some animals. "There was a tree that grew naturally on the Animal Kingdom property that could kill a black rhino, even if he ate just a few leaves," Comstock said. Needless to say, those trees were removed.

About a year before Animal Kingdom opened, it began acquiring animals from accredited zoos around the country. They were brought to the property to familiarize them with their new surroundings. During that time, just about every species was taught to respond to certain sounds, which means when an animal hears his or her sound, they dutifully return to their specific backstage area.

A giraffe "splays" its legs as it drops down to get a drink of water. [Dorene Splitstone]

Once there, they receive food, care and, if needed, all-important medical attention.

Dr. Scott Terrell, who is director of Animal and Scientific Operations for Disney, has been on staff at Animal Kingdom since 1997. He's an expert on every animal on property; talking to him is educational and reveals an incredible level of commitment shown by the park's behind-the-scenes staff. We had the pleasure of chatting with him in Harambe Village during the recent Pandora press event. He possesses an encyclopedia knowledge of the animals, as well as a compassion and commitment to their well being.

"Zebras require a lot of attention, especially their hoofs," he said. "They’re basically horses, so we have to make sure their hoofs are really pristine, so they get a lot of attention. In order to work with them, we have to anesthetize them. They take a lot of work, as do our rhinos. Rhinos are so critically endangered, especially our black rhinos.

"We’re not in a breeding situation right now, but we pay a lot of attention to our female rhino, particularly if she were to breed someday. There are so few left, maybe 5,000 black rhinos and 20,000 white rhinos remaining in the world. The poachers have almost decimated their populations, all for the horns. A typical horn cost about $80,000 U.S., on the black market, so that’s several years’ income for a lot of people. There was a tragedy in Paris several months ago where several criminals broke into a zoo and took the rhino. There have been incidents where people have broken into museums and stolen the horn. We have pretty good security here, though."

Indeed, Animal Kingdom, all 500-plus acres, is the ultimate gated community. "The entire park is fenced in," Dr. Terrell said, "in large part to keep out predators, both animal and human. We also have cameras on all the fences."

There are 23 crocodiles on property at Disney's Animal Kingdom ... all boys, according to Dr. Scott Terrell. [Chuck Schmidt]

Staffers who work with the permanent residents of Animal Kingdom have to be on their toes at all times. "There’s always something new going on. We have a little social issue with our crocs going on right now," Dr. Terrell said. "They’re all boys. We have 23 boys, and boys will be boys. They’re always fighting. They actually have features so they can be self-identified. When they came to us they were all about four feet long, now they measure up to 11 feet long and weigh about 750 pounds. They’re trained to shift backstage as well and we have an area that they voluntarily go in to so we can treat them. We have a CAT scan that’s big enough that they can fit in it. They get as good care as we get, sometimes better."

As we talked with Dr. Terrell, several birds flew overhead. "Those are our macaws. They’re free flight and occasionally, they go on 'vacation,' but most of the time they do come back and they get a reward when they return. That’s really the way zoos should be going, where animals display natural behaviors."

Breeding is a welcomed byproduct of caring for the animals in the park.

"Tigers can be very difficult to breed," Dr. Terrell said. "If a male and a female don’t get along, they’ve been known to fight with one another, sometimes to the death. Fortunately, our male and female tigers are on pretty good terms.

"We recently had a baby elephant born here. Stella is up to 600 pounds, but she can’t quite feed herself yet. She actually won’t feed herself for about two years because she’s practicing using her trunk. She’ll be on mom’s milk until she’s about 5, but she’s always practicing how to use her trunk. She was about 240 pounds when she was born on Dec. 14. She’s been a pistol.

"And we just had 40 baby otters born on Discovery Island. Their big thing is to learn how to swim. The moms love water, but the dads don’t, so every time the moms put the babies in the water, the dads pull them out. Otters don’t know how to swim, they have to be taught by their parents."

The real Dr. Jackie Ogden, who recently retired as vice president of Animal Sciences at Animal Kingdom. [Walt Disney World]

Dr. Terrell let us in on a little secret about the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora.

In the queue, "you'll see a scientist whose name is Dr. Jackie Ogden. That’s actually an homage to the woman who was vice president of Animal Sciences here for many years who recently retired. When they took Jackie to Flight of Passage and walked her through the queue and she heard her name, she actually broke down and cried."

May 26, 2017

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirate of the Caribbean


Jeff Marshall
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger

Yesterday, Walt Disney Studios released its fifth entry into the evergreen "Pirates of the Caribbean" series with "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is a movie that reminds us why we liked the Pirates franchise in the first place. Action, adventure, and romance are what make up some of the best points to any Pirates movie and this one does not lack in any of those departments.

The story follows our two main characters Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario) as they set out on quests to learn more about their families. They both realize their paths must inevitably cross with the “legendary” Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he races death itself at the hands of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).

This is a must-see for any fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, providing a well-told finale to the stories of Captain Jack and Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). I do hope to see more of these films, but if this is the end it's a fitting one for the crew of the Black Pearl.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is in theaters now and will surely bring fans of all ages to go on an epic journey on the high seas.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's the movie's thrilling trailer!

May 22, 2017

The Evolution of Pal Mickey


Pal Mickey, sold at Walt Disney World from 2003-2008, could still be used in the parks until 2014. On the box, it says that Pal Mickey "is the talk of the Parks!'

I have to admit, technology leaves me in awe. When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the idea of walking around with a phone in your pocket was simply unthinkable. So, too, were things like home computers, microwave ovens and other futuristic gadgets that we simply can't do without in this day and age.

The Walt Disney Company has always been at the forefront when it comes to new technology. Who would have dreamed that Disney guests would be able to carry their theme park tickets, credit cards, room keys, FastPasses, Magical Memories photos and dining reservations all on their wrists?

Oftentimes, new technology created by Disney is cutting edge and extremely popular. Other times ... well, let's just say there have been a few swings and misses.

Take Pal Mickey, for example.

Pal Mickey was an interactive device that guests carried around Walt Disney World. The little hand-held plush with "magical powers" was introduced in 2003 to somewhat mixed reviews. He would "talk" to guests whenever they were near a specific attraction and relay fun facts about it. During its five-year run and before it was phased out altogether in 2014, Pal Mickey was considered quite innovative, if a bit cumbersome to carry around.

He cost $50, but during the first year, you could rent him for $8 a day.

Although he was only around a short time, it took years to bring Pal Mickey to fruition. During the research and development phase, former Imagineer Eddie Sotto was instrumental in its creation.

"The research and development department had come up with this animatronic toy based on Genie from Aladdin," Sotto said recently. "It was a backpack. You'd wear it on your back and the Genie had eye movement and could talk. And the Genie would react and tell stories based on where you were in the park. It would ask questions, so you would get special information on the park based on where you were.

"So they had a demonstration of this product and I had just started this concept development studio where we could help other divisions of the company and not just be restricted to the theme parks, and I said, 'Hey, we have this idea, but do you really think it's practical? Where does a person put this backpack when they go on a ride like Space Mountain?'

Former Imagineer Eddie Sotto had a hand in creating the Pal Mickey interactive plush doll sold at Walt Disney World from 2003-2008. [Courtesy of Sotto Studios]

"You really can't see these eye movements when it's on your back; your family can see it, but you can't see it. It seemed like there should be more to it."

There followed a variety of different prototypes, with nothing really standing out.

"We took this little Beanie Baby-type toy that would vibrate on your wrist and it would be bound to your wrist and when it vibrated, that meant it wanted to tell you something." Sotto explained.

"You would put it up to your ear, but if you're putting it up to your ear, can you see its eyes move? No. Can you see its mouth move? No. That means you have to make it talk. The other problem was, what with the noise level in the parks, it was really hard to hear the Genie talk.

"So I said, 'Let's do this so it doesn't disturb people and it can whisper, so to speak, and not bother people around you. All this basic logic made sense and the company got into this idea.

"It migrated from this wearable item [which I think would have been a much better idea] to this Mickey doll. That's kind of where it went. We also wanted to change it to Simba from The Lion King, which was a fuzzier pet than a big Mickey Mouse."

Pal Mickey debuted in 2003 and was programmed to work in all four theme parks. It communicated with its owner thanks to 400 infrared transmitters that were scattered throughout each park. When Pal Mickey wanted to tell you something, it would giggle and vibrate. You could also prompt Pal Mickey to say something by squeezing one of his hands or by touching his belly.

In addition to giving you information on the area you were in, Pal Mickey also reminded you of upcoming parades and show times ... even which attractions had shorter wait times. Later incarnations saw Pal Mickey ask trivia questions and tell jokes. He also came in a variety of costumes, with the appropriate accessories; there even was a Spanish-language version.

Of course, with the proliferation of SmartPhones, which are not nearly as cute but are far more efficient, Pal Mickey's days were numbered. Sales of Pal Mickey were discontinued in 2008, although he could still be used until 2014, when the transmitters were taken down and Pal Mickey faded into Disney lore.

Still, according to Sotto, Pal Mickey "was a very innovative product and was a lot of fun to work on."

May 15, 2017

The Mousy Mindboggler



As you know if you subscribe to the AllEars® Weekly Newsletter, each month our friend James Dezern (known as "dzneynut" around several Disney discussion forums) supplies us with a puzzle of his own design.

Every month, James also Shares the Magic in another way -- by posting an all-new puzzle here in this AllEars.Net Guest Blog.

This month, James writes:

Here is the solution to the last crossword puzzle.

We received 24 correct responses. All of you knew that the person who makes a brief uncredited cameo appearance in “Johnny Tremain” was in fact Walt’s daughter, Sharon Disney!

The winner of a Peter Pan pin, randomly drawn from the correct responses, was Ken M. of West Valley City, Utah.

If you missed it last month, that’s OK, because here’s another chance.

This month we are continuing our look at the huge library of Disney’s live-action films. This month’s film is the very emotional "Old Yeller," released in 1957, along with one of the earliest instances of a sequel in 1963, "Savage Sam."

This picture, which included several popular child actors, took advantage of the popularity of the highly talented boys and girls that were seen performing regularly on television shows such as the "Mickey Mouse Club," "Hardy Boys," and other shows in the 1950s.

The object of this puzzle is, as always, to have fun, but if you'd like a chance to win a Disney collectible pin, send me the answer IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF AN EMAIL addressed to

Send your entries no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on June 10, 2017. All correct answers will be entered into a random drawing, and the winner will be awarded a Disney pin. The answers and drawing winner will be posted in this Guest Blog sometime in June.

As always, any feedback on the puzzle format or topics would be appreciated! Drop me a line at

Thanks for playing, everyone!

May 8, 2017

Imagineering's Kevin Rafferty turned love of cars, fear of bugs into hit attractions


Long-time Imagineer Kevin Rafferty poses for a photo while in attendance at a Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet. [AllEars.Net]

As the saying goes, you have to start somewhere.

In the case of Card Walker, who was the Walt Disney Company's CEO from 1971-1983, that "somewhere" was the mail room at the Walt Disney Studios in 1938.

Former Walt Disney Imagineering creative leader Marty Sklar's "somewhere" was as the creator and editor of The Disneyland News, which was sold to guests as they walked into the new park during the summer of 1955.

Imagineering Legend Tony Baxter kick-started his much-heralded career at Disney by selling ice cream on Main Street in Disneyland in the mid-1960s.

And then there's Kevin Rafferty, who is currently executive creative director leading the design and development of new projects for Imagineering.

How did Kevin get his start at Disney? By washing dishes at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland in 1974.

"To get my foot in the door with Walt Disney Productions, I applied for a job at Disneyland," Rafferty said recently. Through all the soap suds and sponges, Rafferty dreamed of becoming an animator. Then fate – actually, it was a poster, with Mickey Mouse featured on it, proclaiming: Mickey Wants You! – intervened.

"They were recruiting Imagineers to work on the Epcot project and Tokyo Disneyland in the late '70s,” Rafferty said. “I had just gotten out of school and had my art degree when I was hired by Imagineering. The weird thing is, I’ve spent the next 38 years being a show writer. I came up here [Imagineering's headquarters in Glendale, Calif.] and got to know all the original Imagineers, Marty [Sklar] and the gang, and did show writing.”

Rafferty stands in front of a model one of his most noteworthy Disney creations, the Radiator Springs Racers at Disney's California Adventure. [Courtesy of Walt Disney Imagineering]

Rafferty’s attractions resume is impressive, to say the least. In no particular order, he helped create and develop Toy Story Midway Mania!, It’s Tough to be a Bug! and Cars Land in Disney’s California Adventure. He also made contributions to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the Winnie the Pooh attraction in the Magic Kingdom at WDW.

The stories behind each of these wildly popular attractions is intriguing. Cars Land, for instance, came about because of Rafferty’s love of cars … and was conceived well before the Disney/Pixar movie Cars was released.

"I'm kind of a car nut and that's actually how that whole thing started,” Rafferty explained. “Cars Land was first called Carland, one word, before I even knew Pixar was working on a movie about cars. The story of the Radiator Springs Racers is I flew up to Pixar with a colleague of mine in 2004, two years before the Cars movie came out and they were still in production on the film. We had come up with Toy Story Midway Mania! together and within a couple of months after the return trip from Pixar, we had the Radiator Springs Racers on the boards. I'm really kind of proud and happy to say it's 99.9 percent of what the original board was."

The Radiator Springs Racers, as well as the stunning rock work featured in Cars Land, were developed two years before the first Cars movie was released. “The 288,000 square feet of hand-carved rock work is really epic, really amazing," he said. "I still can't believe we did all that. Unless you've actually seen it, it's hard to tell someone what it's like. Unless you stand there and look around, you don't get a sense of how spectacular it is."

The ride system for the Radiator Springs Racers is similar to Test Track in Epcot. "I worked on that one, too," Rafferty said.

While Rafferty is a self-proclaimed "car nut," he has a genuine fear of insects … which, in a weird way, made him the perfect choice to develop the It’s Tough to be a Bug! attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Hopper, one of the most advanced Audio-Animatronics figures ever created by Walt Disney Imaginnering, is the bad guy in the It's Tough to be a Bug! show at Animal Kingdom. [Walt Disney World]

"Yes, my entire life I’ve been totally fearful of insects," he said. "It’s kind of weird, things I’ve worked on, like Tower of Terror, the original one … I have a fear of falling; Rock ‘n Roller Coaster … I don't like to go upside down; It’s Tough to be a Bug! … I have this phobia of bugs! It's just one of the weirdest things. I guess I'm the right person to be doing all this stuff."

Rafferty’s original concept for It’s Tough to be a Bug!, which is located in the base of the Tree of Life, was rejected by then-chairman and CEO Michael Eisner.

"When Animal Kingdom was being developed, the outside structure of the Tree of Life was going to be like the castle and the base of the tree was going to be a walk-through, like the castles are. I was at a meeting one day and Michael Eisner asked the question, 'Is the base of the tree big enough to put a show in?' And we said, 'Yeah, we could probably put a couple hundred seats in that thing' and it kind of changed the whole design. He tasked me to come up with a show to put inside that. At that time, The Lion King was popular and Rafiki was the wise old sage and all that, so I came up with a show that had Rafiki as an Audio-Animatronics character, talking about the animal kingdom.”

A variety of creepy, crawly bugs take center stage during It's Tough to be a Bug! [Walt Disney World]

Rafferty pitched the idea to Eisner, who was underwhelmed.

"Michael said, 'You know, that's really a good show. If it were at any other place than Animal Kingdom, it would be a 10, but it's really only an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 and it's really got to be spectacular.” He then suggested Rafferty get in touch with the folks at Pixar, who were working on a film about insects, A Bug’s Life.

"I thought he was crazy!” Rafferty said. Why would Michael suggest a show about bugs when this is a park about animals? he thought.

"So, I started to do research and the first book I found said on the first page, 'The 10 quintillion insects of the world comprise 80 percent of the animal kingdom. I thought, ‘Man, that is fantastic.' I had to put my fear of bugs aside because without them, we'd be in a world of hurt.”

Rafferty then sought out several experts to get their feedback on a bug-themed attraction.

"As far as the research went, I started to meet with some entomologists, even some entomologists from the Smithsonian Institute. Of course, we wanted to make it an entertaining show, in 3-D. I was asking them about what kind of interesting things that real bugs do in nature that we could put in the show to support the theme that it's tough to be a bug. What do those guys need to do to survive? There was one session with some entomologists and they said, 'Your know, there are soldier termites that spray acid on their prey,' and I thought, 'Man, there's a 3-D act!' ‘And there's Chilean tarantulas that throw poison quills at their prey,’ and I was like, 'Wow! This thing is writing itself!’”

Although It’s Tough to be a Bug! was linked to A Bug’s Life, the movie was still years away from completion. "They didn't really have a whole lot of time to work on our show with us," Rafferty said, "so, essentially, I was given permission to make up our own characters, the rule being that they had to be believable, that if they were in the movie, they'd look the same. All Pixar had at the time were Flik the ant and Hopper. The other ones were still evolving, so we got to use Flik and Hopper, which was fantastic, and all the other bug characters we got to make up.”

All the new characters are "all exclusive to It's Tough to be a Bug!, but this is one of the few attractions, I think, that Imagineering's ever done where the characters in an attraction predated the release of the movie. I think the show opened six weeks before the premiere of A Bug's Life, so we got to introduce them before the movie came out. That doesn't happen frequently because it takes so much time to develop an attraction."

The Hopper character has long been recognized as an Imagineering tour-de-force.

"With all the little spindly grasshopper tentacles, it was really hard to do. We as an audience get to shrink down to the size of a bug, so that being the case, Hopper had to be relatively the same scale as he was in the film. Plus, he was designed to come up on a lift that brings him up to the show, in a couple of seconds. All of that carriage and all that complexity of the entire figure as it came up on the lift was a real challenge," he said. "What's really great about the team here is they really rise to the occasion. All the complexities of that Hopper figure ... there was a lot of head-scratching going on, but somehow, they figured out how it all came together … going up and down as it does during the show cycles."

Kevin Rafferty with Mr. Potato Head, featured in the queue of the Toy Story Midway Mania! attractions in both Disney's California Adventure and Disney's Hollywood Studios. [Walt Disney Imagineering]

The Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction featured in both California Adventure and Hollywood Studios presented its own unique challenges.

"For Toy Story Midway Mania! we asked them to do Mr. Potato Head, where he actually took his ear out by himself. That was a real challenge."

The concept for Toy Story Midway Mania! "wasn't that hard to come up with, but it was extremely difficult to actually do," Rafferty said. "At the time, Matt Ouimet was the president of Disneyland Resort and I was in the hallway with a colleague. Matt came down the hall and he said, 'Hey you guys, we really like Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. We really like that family game attraction. Can you guys think of something else along those same lines that we might be able to do?'"

"So we walked around California Adventure and we ended up on the boardwalk and we said, 'I wonder what it would be like if you actually got to ride through carnival games, all those midway games. The thing is they charge you like five bucks to throw three balls. What if you have the great Disney immersive experience and you have unlimited tossing objects and everyone was a winner?

Kevin Rafferty, center, poses for a photo during his dishwashing days at the Plaza Inn Restaurant in Disneyland. [Walt Disney Imagineering]

"At first, we landed on something called Mickey's Midway Mania, but we thought, 'You know, the Toy Story characters would be really fun to host this.' We came up with a story that Andy got this midway play set as a gift and when he went downstairs for lunch, all the toys set up all these midway games and they were all inspired by the characters themselves. We could shrink to the size of a toy and Mr. Potato Head, as the barker, would invite us in to enjoy the fun.

"We went over to the Disney Studios to pitch the idea and they liked it so much that they wanted to do two – one for Florida and one for Anaheim, almost simultaneously, which was a lot of work."

Toy Story Midway Mania! was designed in such a way that games could be switched out and new games added with relative ease. "All the hardware and the systems are there, it's a matter of creating another game and getting with our partners at Pixar and redoing that. It was kind of fun because the games themselves were inspired by the characters, like Ham on the farm and the Little Green Man and the ring toss. We actually designed it to be modular in the sense that it could be refreshed when we wanted to add a new game. It was kind of fun."

"Part of the challenge when you're thinking about an attraction these days that you want to keep relevant and fresh and add some new life to it once it's been around for a few years."

And just what is Rafferty working on these days? "I'd love to tell you ... but I can't. It hasn't been announced yet," he laughed. "But I'll tell you this: It's gonna be really fun"

May 4, 2017

REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

by Jeremiah Good
AllEars® Guest Blogger

Guardians of the Galaxy

Just about four years ago after the Marvel Cinematic Universe had given us the Phase One films introducing Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and Thor (aka The Avengers) a new team film was talked about -- The Guardians of the Galaxy. No one outside of true comic book geeks (I can call them that because I am one) had ever heard of the Guardians, with a talking raccoon, a walking tree, and the other misfits. Even fewer thought that film would go on to become a HUGE favorite for not only the MCU fans, but any fan.

Now we have jumped in our time machine and moved forward to 2017 for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This film picks up just as the last one left off, with our band out doing what they do best -- being the most unique heroes they could be. Whereas the first film was about Groot, Rocket, Gamora, Drax, and Starlord becoming a team, this film is very much about them being a family and the trials and tribulations that go along with that.

Without giving any spoilers (this was already revealed in the trailer), this is really a story about Starlord meeting his dad for the first time. Ego, played by Disney Legend Kurt Russell, has been searching for decades for his son Peter Quill aka Starlord, played by Chris Pratt. Ego has finally found his son in this film, and wants to be the dad he was always meant to be. Most of the cast from the original film (although no Thanos in this one) has been brought back for this film, and you can tell by watching just how much fun they must have had making it -- and that fun is multiplied by 10 for the audience watching them. Along the way we meet a few new characters, such as Mantis, an empath and scene-stealer, portrayed by Pom Klementieff, and Stakar Ogord head of the Ravangers, played by the one and only Sylvester Stallone.


I feel at this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe you as a movie-goer either love these films or have not seen a single one of them -- and I loved this film! I was a very vocal supporter for the first Guardians film because I knew the potential it had. With an amazing cast and an all-out, action-packed story, this one does nothing but set the bar even higher. From the opening scene to the final of the FIVE credit scenes I found myself laughing, cheering, getting excited for Marvel Easter Eggs, and maybe even crying a bit, which all in all made for a great movie-going experience. If I could give one piece of advice it would to see this film in 3D. I am not normally a MUST-SEE 3D guy, but this film is so beautiful with rich colors and some great "in your face" effects it is worth the extra few dollars to enjoy it as intended.

Now, I won't say this was perfect, but I also wouldn't say it was rubbish:

UPS: Lots of action, nonstop laughs, and enough plot to keep the story going.

DOWNS: Some characters were very under-used and in the end it felt as though they were left in while the rest of their story was cut. Soundtrack was not as solid as the first film's, and at 2:18 running time it can feel a bit imbalanced between action and story.

OVERALL: I AM GROOT! Translation: Go see this film opening weekend, then three more times after!

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.

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