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August 14, 2017

Disneyland Resort Updates from August 11

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Contributing photographer Jason of disneygeek.com sends us these photos from his trip to the parks on Friday, August 11, 2017.

Summer is quickly drawing to an end at the Disneyland Resort. Friday I met up with Laura and we enjoyed the the final day of the 2017 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band and caught up.

Starting off with a check of the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge construction from the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure. Here is a video overview.

The concrete building on the right of the Battle Escape Building has all the forms removed now from the walls.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Panning left to the Battle Escape building.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

In the distance the Millennium Falcon building.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Crews working on the roof and the exterior wall preparations on the Battle Escape building. On the roof the last section is being prepared for a concrete pour.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Rebar starting to bridge the gap and connect the concrete building to the wall on the right to close off the backstage area.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

A steel support structure for the facade/rock work over the Millennium Falcon building.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017


Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

First stop Buena Vista Street. Julius Katz and Sons no longer has pins, they moved next door to Atwater Ink and Paint. In that area now are figures and music boxes. The pins are in the front section closest to the street in Atwater.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Disneyland Railroad passing by the Rivers of America, as seen from the Mark Twain.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Behind the train you can see the steel that will be mountains in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

On the east side of the river you can see more of the exterior wall for the Battle Escape building and some of the steel for more facade/rock work.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

A look through the fence into Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. The mound of dirt is gone.. but equipment parked in the line of sight today.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

The 2017 All American-College Band got off to a rough start for their last day. They arrived for the first set and instead of introducing them the speakers started blaring noise..
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

The 2017 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band performing their Moana Medley.

Stopped by the Jungle Cruise since the wait was under 10 minutes.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Gathered in Town Square for the 5:15pm Flag Retreat Ceremony.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Next up a trip through the Tree House. Another view of the River Belle roof work.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge from the Tree House
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

The band starting their set.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

The 2017 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band performing their Earth, Wind and Fire Tribute for the last time.

Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

The 2017 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band preparing for their final set at the Royal Theatre
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Ron joined them for one song.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

A couple of video clips from the final set of the 2017 Disneyland Resort All-American College Band.

The 2017 All-American College Band - A final introduction and Disney Medley to conclude their season.

Found a spot for the Main Street Electrical Parade out by "it's a small world." The parade runs through next weekend, August 20th. So this is likely my last viewing of it.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Here are several video clips from the Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade.

Mickey and Minnie on the drum float.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Some of the Alice in Wonderland group.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Clock striking midnight.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Dopey driving the mine train.
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Elliot and Pete
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

The finale to Honor America
Jason @ disneygeek.com image from Friday, August 11, 2017

Hope you enjoyed this highlight tour of the Disneyland Resort. For additional photos and details from this trip you can check out the full Disneyland Update I posted on my site, https://disneygeek.com Also be sure to follow me on twitter @disneygeekcom for pictures from the parks.









August 7, 2017

D23 Expo: All The Rest (Day 1)

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Expo time has arrived! That once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I covered some of the major presentations earlier (Animation, Live-Action Studios, and Video Games) so we're now down to a summation of the rest of what the 2017 D23 Expo had to offer, and some quick thoughts on each.

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[Unattributed photos and video courtesy of Disney.]

So the first panel I saw on Friday, the start of Expo, was the Disney Legends Awards Ceremony. Receiving awards this year were Carrie Fisher, actress/author; Clyde “Gerry” Geronimi, animator/supervising director; Manuel Gonzales, cartoonist; Garry Marshall, TV producer/movie director;

Mark Hamill, actor;
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Wayne Jackson, Walt Disney Imagineer;
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Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, co-creators of myriad Marvel characters;
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Julie Taymor, filmmaker and musical theater director;
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Oprah Winfrey, producer/actress/talk show host/philanthropist;
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and Whoopi Goldberg, actress/comedienne/producer/talk show host.
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The ceremony was a nice acknowledgement of all the contributions the various Legends have made to the Walt Disney Company. In between awards, there were a number of performances including the Cadaver Dans, and what appeared to be an interpretive dance number of all the recipients.

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The Good: It's always nice to see people finally get recognized for a career-worth of hard work, especially Jackson and Geronimi who have really put time into the Disney Company.
The Bad: Since these ceremonies became public, it seems like there's been some tendency for them to pick some recipients because they're celebrities and will make a good showing, rather than because of any long Disney history. I'd rather see fewer Legends recognized each Expo, if that would allow them to choose people who have been a significant part of Disney.
The Meh: While all the interstitial acts were the usual Disney quality (most of them courtesy of ABC's "Dancing With The Stars") the concepts behind them were often puzzling. The long interpretive dance number was particularly confusing, as initially it seemed like they were just going to dance versions of all the Marvel super heroes, but then became evident they were going to dance interpretations of most of the award winners' oeuvres. It's a difficult thing, as the Legends awards are given out to performance and non-performance fields and someone may have done significant work in, say, accounting, but have nothing showy with which to excite a crowd.

In between panels I was able to take a quick run-around the show floor and took a quick peek at the Parks and Resorts booth with its impressive Star Wars Land model.

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Also taking in (and showing off) the sights was Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter.

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Thoughts: I only got a quick gawk at this booth, but my impression was that the model was great...but that's almost all there was. Compared to the much more elaborate booth they had for Shanghai and Pandora in the past, this seemed like a small version of something you'd see in Launch Bay. I believe they occasionally had someone wander around doing a spiel, but they weren't doing it when I was by and no one working the booth had much of a capacity to answer questions, either because the information was restricted or just absent. It was also a little disappointing that Imagineering didn't have a booth at all this year, when theirs has traditionally been the highlight of the whole floor.

Right next door was the terminally adorable joint Pixar and Walt Disney Animation booth.

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Within, they had a number of photo-ops...

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Displays of exclusive film crew t-shirts (I want them)...

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And a variety of what sounded like great presentations in their small stage that, unfortunately I was never able to make.

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"Animating Moana," with Hyrum Osmond and Amy Smeed

There were also a number of animator signings that were held throughout the weekend, the only one of which I was able to catch was Brad Bird and Nicole Paradis Grindle, Director and Producer respectively of the in-production "Incredibles 2."

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Thoughts: I love this booth, even though the facade and stage set up is basically identical to last time, and a lot of the art on exhibition has been shown at different events throughout the last two years. I always wish I had more time to go to the presentations and signings they have here because historically I only ever manage to stumble my way into one signing per Expo.

While the programming here was great, the logistics of getting into the programming were often pretty rough. There were a lot of instances where a random line would form way in advance of an event, and if you asked the CMs, they would hedge on whether they were planning on acknowledging the line or not. Ultimately, they would just start handing out tickets at an opening of the roped-off queue and whoever happened to be standing around there in a crowd at that time got one until they ran out. There really needs to be a more formal organization in advance, I think, because getting crushed forward by a mob of people towards the Brad Bird ticketguy (who was constantly yelling "NO PUSHING! I'LL CANCEL THE WHOLE THING IF THERE'S PUSHING!") was a little nerve wracking.

What I do love however is the way they give you artwork for the artists to sign. At one of the last conventions I attended, they provided exactly nothing for people to sign, which means that people got to bring their own items, which then leads to people showing up with wheelbarrows of items probably headed straight to eBay for signatures. On the other hand, if you are perennially unprepared like me, you never have anything--even paper--on hand for people to sign, so that's fun too. The way Disney does it keeps it much more organized and the line moving much more fluidly.

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The last panel of the day I saw was "Melodies in Walt's Time: The Music of Disney Live-Action Films." This was a celebration of Walt Disney's live-action musicals of the 1960s, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and accompanied by a 20-voice chorus.

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After going through a selection of songs from a number of films such as "Mary Poppins," Summer Magic," and "The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band," with guests Leonard Maltin and Karen Dotrice, the last half of the program went in depth with "The Happiest Millionaire" as Lesley Ann Warren and Joyce Bulifant talked about the filmmaking process.

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At the end, Richard Sherman came out as well, to enjoy the audience's accolades for so many film scores of fabulous music.

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Thoughts: This was kind of a peculiar panel, and not quite what I had expected. The first 45 minutes or so went about how I had thought, with Leonard Maltin and Whoopi and various celebrities discussing different films and the chorus singing songs from them. The last half, however, was almost completely just conversation about "Happiest Millionaire," that was moore or less identical to the Disneyana event held back in February. With all the Sherman songs performed throughout the night, it seemed like an obvious choice to have Richard Sherman (who has done whole concerts by himself at past Expos) come out and perform or at least join in the discussion, but he was saved for basically a curtain call at the end. The chorus was great and the soloists did a nice job, but both were underused in the last half as well. On the whole, a good panel if you didn't attend the Disneyana event, but I think the topic really has greater potential than what was done here.





August 4, 2017

Disney MaxPass - First Impressions

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MaxPass

The Disneyland Resort rolled out the new Disney MaxPass feature on July 19. You can read about Maxpass HERE, but essentially, for an extra fee, it gives guests unlimited PhotoPass downloads and the ability to make digital Fastpass selections.

Unlimited PhotoPass downloads really isn't anything new - several Disneyland annual passes have that feature, and it's available in several forms for purchase. With MaxPass you can use the Disneyland app to link attraction photos and character dining photos to your account, in addition to any park photos taken during the day.

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I think the most intriguing feature of MaxPass is digital Fastpasses. Lee and I tried it on Saturday, so here are some of my thoughts on our experience with it.

First, some things to know about the digital Fastpass feature of MaxPass:

MaxPass does not replace traditional Fastpasses. Those are still free, and are obtained by going to an attraction's Fastpass kiosk. In recent months Disney changed from using paper Fastpasses to scanning a barcode at an attraction's Fastpass entry points. (BTW, we think that the barcode scanning works much better/faster than the Magic Bands at Walt Disney World.)

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The barcode is either the one on your park ticket or the one on your phone generated by MaxPass. (While the Fastpass kiosk still generates a ticket, it's simply a reminder of your Fastpass return time and when you can obtain your next Fastpass. It is no longer used at the attraction's Fastpass entrance.)

MaxPass

MaxPass can only be used to make Fastpass selections for the 16 Fastpass attractions - 9 in Disneyland, 7 in Disney California Adventure. You can not use it to get Fastpasses for shows like Fantasmic! and World of Color.

MaxPass is included with Disneyland Signature Plus and Premier annual passports, but for single and multi-day tickets and other types of annual passports it's an add-on of $10 per person per day. Those Disneyland AP holders who don't have it can purchase MaxPass as an add-on for $75 and it will be valid until the pass expires. That could be ten months or two months away, but it's still $75 no matter when the pass expires. Passholders don't have to get the add-on - they can choose to purchase it day-by-day instead.

At least one member of your party must have the Disneyland app on their mobile device to use MaxPass. All members must have MaxPass to use the digital Fastpass feature. While technically each person could manage their own Fastpasses, we found that it was easier for one person to do it - that way the return times were coordinated.

MaxPass

Unlike Fastpass+ at Walt Disney World, you can not use MaxPass to reserve Fastpasses in advance. In fact, you can not do anything useful with MaxPass until you have entered one of the parks. If you need to purchase MaxPass for the day you can't even do that until you have entered a park.

MaxPass does not give you unlimited Fastpasses, nor guarantee that you'll be able to get a certain number of Fastpasses. You can not select a return time. Just like traditional Fastpasses, you'll receive the next available Fastpass return time. The exception is that a MaxPass user can cancel a Fastpass, and if they do, that Fastpass will become available to another MaxPass user.

You can use MaxPass to make a Fastpass selection at either park, no matter which park you're physically in. We got a Fastpass for Indiana Jones while we were still in Disney California Adventure.

Lee and I have Disneyland Signature APs, so MaxPass is not included. We were at Disneyland with Lee's family, who had MaxPass on their tickets, so we bought it for the day. Besides, we wanted to try it out.

I'll have a step-by-step with screen shots later, but essentially to get a digital Fastpass the process is:

1. Enter either Disneyland or Disney California Adventure.

2. Bring up the Disneyland app and "Create a Fastpass Party". The first time you'll need to link any additional tickets for other members of your group.

3. Purchase MaxPass for anyone who doesn't have it. You do this within the app, and you'll need a credit card.

4. Continue the Fastpass selection process and "Choose a Park". This brings up a list of Fastpass attractions in whichever park you select, and you can see the available return times.

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5. Tap on the return time for the attraction and confirm the Fastpass time.

6. When the Fastpass time arrives and you are ready to use the Fastpass, tap "Redeem Fastpass". Scan the barcode at each Fastpass point (some attractions have two, so don't put the phone away too soon).

7. Tap "Get a Fastpass" to make a new Fastpass selection. Note that you can do this as soon as you are allowed to do so - you don't have to redeem an existing Fastpass first. You also have the advantage that you don't have to visit the new attraction to do it.

We were at the parks on a day that was not very busy. Wait times for the really popular attractions were about an hour, and many attractions were only 15-20 minutes. Fastpasses were available for Radiator Springs Racers until after noon, and still available for Space Mountain at 7:00 p.m. We easily made eight Fastpass selections with MaxPass throughout the day, and after about 5:00 we stopped trying. That's certainly better than I've ever done with traditional Fastpasses. But I don't know if our experience would be typical on a busier day.

I'd say the best thing about MaxPass is the ability to reserve Fastpasses without having to go to the attraction to do it. That really saves a lot of time! In the MaxPass part of the app it's also very easy to tell which attractions still have Fastpasses available. While you can see the available Fastpass return times in the Disneyland app, it's not as straightforward - or at least I haven't found an easy way to do it. With MaxPass we felt like we had better visibility into what Fastpasses were available at what times, and could better analyze which attraction to choose next. And sometimes the standby waits were short enough that we didn't even need a Fastpass. On a busy day, that combination of visibility and not having to go to the attraction might help you be able to get a few more Fastpasses than you could without MaxPass. Also, as I mentioned before, we could reserve a Fastpass for an attraction in the other park. That gave us a head start when we moved from Disney California Adventure to Disneyland.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. The app was pretty straightforward and easy to use. The most complex part was purchasing MaxPass and linking the tickets.

Prior to using it, one of my questions about MaxPass was whether or not different people in your Fastpass Party could have different Fastpasses. And yes, they can. Each time you "Get a Fastpass" you have to create a Fastpass party from the linked tickets. This allows you to get separate Fastpasses if you wish.

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My experience with traditional Fastpasses has been that the return time will always be at least 30 minutes in the future - but with MaxPass we found that the return time was sometimes only a few minutes away! Unfortunately I never remembered to check at those attractions to see if the advertised return time there was the same. The one time I did check, at Indiana Jones, the Fastpass return time matched what was in the app, and was more than an hour in the future.

We had a few time anomalies. I was managing the Fastpasses for Lee and me, and his brother was managing the four for his family. On multiple occasions, even though we were booking Fastpasses at the same time, his Fastpass return time was 5-10 minutes sooner than mine. In one case it was 45 minutes sooner! That one might have been a canceled Fastpass, but that doesn't explain all of the others.

It is worth the extra $10/person? If you are trying to maximize your attraction experience, then I'd say yes. You'll also do a lot less walking since you won't need to visit each Fastpass attraction twice. If it were me, I'd probably pick one day of my trip to use MaxPass, rather than get it every day.

I haven't said too much about the PhotoPass aspect. As I mentioned before, there are other ways to get unlimited PhotoPass downloads. Though at this point MaxPass is the least expensive option. If you were using it just for PhotoPass, then only one person in your party would have to purchase it. I found it was quite easy to link attraction photos - just remember to take a picture of the photo so that you have a record of the code that you need!

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One change to annual pass benefits with the introduction of MaxPass: The PhotoPass download feature, which had been a benefit of the Signature, Signature Plus, and Premier APs, is no longer a benefit for new Signature APs. (It's still part of the other two, since they include MaxPass.) Those like us who already have Signature APs will be allowed to keep the PhotoPass download feature as long as we renew prior to the expiration date. Something for us to keep in mind when renewal time rolls around.

Here's a more detailed look at how MaxPass and digital Fastpasses work.

As I mentioned earlier, the first thing you have to do is go through the entrance turnstiles at one of the parks. If you don't, you'll eventually see this message:

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Then start the Disneyland app. You'll need to sign into your account if you haven't already done so. The first time it took me straight to MaxPass, but subsequently I had to go to the "My Plans" page and tap "Get Fastpass".

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Create a Fastpass Party. If your ticket/AP is already linked to the account it will show up. The first time you use it you'll need to link the tickets for other people in your Fastpass party by tapping "Link a ticket or pass". Each time you get a new Fastpass you'll have to select the people in the Fastpass party, but you'll only have to link the tickets the first time.

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On the next screen you can use the camera on your phone to scan the barcode of the ticket, or you can enter the number manually. We found that the barcode scan worked very well. Annual passes will show up with the name of the passholder, but for regular tickets you'll want to use the "Note" field to identify who it belongs to. Remember that everyone has to have entered a park that day.

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Once you've scanned the tickets for everyone in your party, tap on "Continue to Purchase" to pay for MaxPass for anyone who does not already have the feature for the day.

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Follow the instructions for payment. You can use the phone camera to scan your credit card or input the information manually.

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You'll repeat the "Create a Fastpass Party" step and all of the steps below anytime you get a new Fastpass.

"Choose a Park". This brings up a list of Fastpass attractions in whichever park you select, and you can see the available Fastpass return times.

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Select the attraction by tapping on the return time. If you tap on the name of the attraction the app brings up information on the attraction instead.

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If the return time is acceptable, tap "Confirm", otherwise go back to the previous screen to select a different attraction.

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When you confirm the next screen will tell you when you can make your next Fastpass selection.

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If the Fastpass return time was more than 90 minutes away, then our next Fastpass seemed to be available 90 minutes later.

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You can always go to "My Plans" to see your current Fastpass selection(s).

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When your Fastpass time arrives, tap "Redeem Fastpass" to pull up the barcode screen. At that time you can also make another Fastpass selection - you don't need to redeem your first Fastpass before you can get another one.

The app will have Fastpasses for all members of your party. After scanning the first one at the Fastpass entrance, simply swipe left to get to each subsequent Fastpass. Rather than using the app each member of your party could scan their park ticket, or if they also have the Disneyland app with their ticket linked to it they will have the barcode for their own Fastpass in the app.

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Repeat the process to get additional Fastpasses.

As I said, we had a good experience with it. We don't often go the parks to ride a lot of attractions, but if we did, it would be fun to use every once in a while. For guests who are not frequent visitors, and/or really do want to maximize their ride experiences, I think it's worth considering the purchase of MaxPass for a day.


Do you have additional questions on MaxPass? Do you think it's something you would use? Click on the "Feedback Form" below to submit any questions or comments, and I'll do my best to address them.

FOLLOWUP: Several of you asked if MaxPass could be purchased on runDisney race days
and then the PhotoPass feature used to download your PhotoPass photos from the race. The answer is: YES. Thank you to Don for providing that information!







August 2, 2017

D23 Expo: "Level Up! The Walt Disney Company's Video Game Showcase"

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Expo time has arrived! That once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I attended all Expo weekend and will be reporting back on the highlights.

So Saturday was an exceptionally busy day as far as panels went, and made for good aerobic exercise as all the panels I had scheduled alternated one after the other in venues on diametric opposite ends of the convention center. Wedged in between the live-action Studios presentation and the eagerly anticipated Parks and Resorts announcements was the Video Game Showcase.

[All unattributed photos and video provided by Disney.]

The presentation began with Chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media Jimmy Pitaro introducing the major games of the day: "Star Wars Battlefront II," "Marvel's Spider-Man," and "Kingdom Hearts III."

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Subsequently, YouTube personalities JackSepticEye and Strawburry17 took over as hosts and introduced Battlefront II's lead actress Janina Gavankar and Steve Blank, from Lucasfilm Story Group.

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For the most part, there wasn't a whole lot of information new from their recent presentations at both Star Wars Celebration and E3, which I recapped here, but they did give us a new summary video showing some behind-the-scenes footage and a look at some new characters in the game.

After a short chat about the game, they panel took a call from the livestream which turned out to be John Boyega (fresh from the Live-Action presentation just before.)

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Next up was Mike Goslin, VP of Advanced Development, to talk about the new Star Wars Augmented Reality Experience. The audience was treated to a first look at an AR headset Disney developed in conjunction with Lenovo and Lucasfilm to combine computer-generated images with reality and allow players to experience moments from Star Wars in completely new ways. The headset works off of your smartphone, which, with a downloadable app, is structurally integrated into it.

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More information will be provided as it becomes available at http://jedichallenges.com/

For Marvel Entertainment, Bill Rosemann, Executive Creative Director, Marvel Games, and Bryan Intihar, Creative Director, Insomniac Games, took the stage to talk about "Marvel's Spider-Man" and show a development video.

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--Spider-Man in the game is 23 years old and has been Spider-Man for eight years.
--Although Spider-Man is more experienced, his combatants are similarly more familiar with how he works, forcing him to vary his combat techniques.
--The villain of the game is Mr. Negative, whose duality as Martin Li, philanthropist, mirrors the duality between Spider-Man and his alias Peter Parker.
--New scenes for D23 Expo: Peter Parker's room and Spider-Man fighting Kingpin.

Rosemann then mentioned the various games that Marvel had available at their floor booth, particularly focusing on the reveal of a new character in "LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2."

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An entirely new game was also revealed in "Marvel Powers United VR," a first-person multiplayer virtual reality cooperative fight game.

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--Characters people can play currently include Rocket Raccoon, Hulk, and Captain Marvel.
--The game is exclusive to the Oculus Rift + Touch.

Finally, for the most awaited property, "Kingdom Hearts III," the Hercules trailer Square Enix debuted during E3 was played, and game director Tetsuya Nomura introduced.

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Nomura announced a new world for "Kingdom Hearts III"--the first appearance of Pixar in the franchise: Toy Story.

Story Supervisor Jason Katz and Associate Creative Director Tasha Sounart from Pixar spoke briefly about the process of joining the world of Pixar to the world of Kingdom Hearts.

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In an arguably bigger announcement (which garnered more screaming than any other panel I saw,) III was finally given a projected release date of 2018. The presentation ended with the entrance of Woody and Buzz and a slew of dancing green army men.

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July 31, 2017

Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad Reopen at Disneyland

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Because of the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, which required changes to the northern perimeter of Disneyland, the Rivers of America attractions, including the Disneyland Railroad, were closed for over a year and a half. Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island and Fantasmic! opened earlier this month, but it wasn't until the end of July that the watercraft and the trains returned.

While the official opening was on Saturday, July 29, I attended an opening ceremony for the Return of the Disneyland Classics on Friday morning. The ceremony was held on the riverboat dock. The Mark Twain was festively decorated for the occasion.

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As part of the opening Disneyland President Michael Colglazier touched on some of the announcements made at D23 about new experiences that are coming to Disneyland. He also took a moment to offer a tribute to Marty Sklar, the longtime Disney Imagineer who died on Thursday. A tremendous loss to the Disney community.

Once the ceremony concluded, we were invited to take a trip on the Mark Twain along the Rivers of America: the Mississippi, Columbia River Gorge, Missouri, and Rio Grande. There's new landscaping and new rock work along most of the river area.

The Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes were preparing to open as we sailed by. In the photo below you can see the new walkway next to the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country, which will eventually lead to one of the entrances to Galaxy's Edge. The Hungry Bear dining area along the river's edge is really a nice place to relax while you watch the traffic on the river go by.

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The part of the Rivers that I think most of us have been anticipating is the Columbia River Gorge, with its new elevated train trestles and five waterfalls. It really is gorgeous. (Click on the photo for a larger image.)

Rivers of America Columbia River Gorge

We stopped for a while at that point. The narrator talked to us about Walt Disney's love of trains and how it was inspired by animators Ollie Johnson and Ward Kimball. They both had their own backyard railroads, with engines named the Marie E and Chloe respectively. John and Nancy Lasseter now own the Marie E. And there they were, coming 'round the bend on the Disneyland Railroad: the Marie E, towing the Chloe - I believe it was the first time they had ever been together. Certainly the first time they'd ever been at Disneyland!

Marie E and Chloe trains

John Lasseter was driving the train, with Nancy beside him. It was a great moment.

Rivers of America

Not long after they went by, the C. K. Holliday appeared, with train cars full of Disney characters and cast members. (Click on the photo for a larger image.) There were even a few fireworks above it.

Disneyland Railroad

Columbia River Gorge, Marie E, C. K. Holliday:

We continued our journey...The Lakota village has returned, and we still hear the chanting of the shaman. His figure is much closer than it used to be.

Rivers of America

Looking back toward the Columbia River Gorge, with a family of moose near the river bank. There are lots of other animals, too - deer, elk, raccoons, beaver, etc.,

Rivers of America

Kim Irvine, Art Director for the Rivers of America, talked a little about the landscaping and other aspects of the project.

Though the official opening wasn't until Saturday, the canoes, Mark Twain, and Sailing Ship Columbia were open to guests on Friday. Nice to see the different watercraft sharing the river again.

Rivers of America

Here's a look at the path between the Hungry Bear Restaurant and the river, which will eventually lead into Galaxy's Edge.

Hungry Bear Restaurant path

John Lasseter was at the New Orleans Square train station in his engineer overalls and hat. He was excited about his role in helping to re-open the Disneyland Railroad that morning.

Train Engineer John Lasseter


Our last event was a ride on the Disneyland Railroad. We took the "Grand Circle Tour" starting from New Orleans Square, so the very first part we saw was the new tracks and trestles. We couldn't really see the waterfalls from the train, but it was great to be up on the trestles looking over the river.

Disneyland Railroad

As we approached Big Thunder Mountain we passed over one of what will be an entrance to Galaxy's Edge - below us were guests on Big Thunder Trail.

Disneyland Railroad

Lots of new landscaping and rock work in that area.

Disneyland Railroad

Approaching Fantasyland, we passed above what used to be Big Thunder Ranch, and made a left turn, to eventually join up with the original railroad tracks. The area below the train in the photo is the third entrance to Galaxy's Edge. The path just visible behind the trees on the far right is Big Thunder Trail.

Disneyland Railroad

There was lots of new landscaping in this area as well. And some new furry friends, too.

Disneyland Railroad

I didn't notice the fox inside the log until I zoomed in on the photo.

Disneyland Railroad

No changes in the railroad from Toon Town Station to Tomorrowland Station, as far as I could tell. Once we left Tomorrowland we entered the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas. Both of them have been repainted and greatly enhanced with brighter lighting and even some special effects.

Disneyland Railroad

Disneyland Railroad

I was happy to see the triceratops family has returned. :-)

Disneyland Railroad

The diorama still concludes with the dramatic battle between the tyrannosaurus rex and the stegosaurus.

Disneyland Railroad

The video below includes the new sections - New Orleans Square to Toon Town, and Tomorrowland to Main Street.

All Aboard!






July 29, 2017

D23 Expo: "Disney, Marvel Studios & Lucasfilm--Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios"

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Expo time has arrived! That once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I attended all Expo weekend and will be reporting back on the highlights.

One of the major events of the second day was the Walt Disney Studios panel "Disney, Marvel Studios & Lucasfilm--Live action at The Walt Disney Studios," in which Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and his special guests presented some of the many live-action projects currently in the works for all the affiliated Disney studios.

Back from the Animation panel the day before, Alan Horn introduced the Disney studio trifecta of Walt Disney Studios, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm, and noted that as diverse as they all are, they are bound together by common qualities of integrity and decency. They are apparently also bound together by phenomenal popularity, as five of the top grossing films of 2016 were all Disney: "Finding Dory," "Captain America: Civil War," "Zootopia," "Rogue One," and "Jungle Book."

[All photos and video provided by Disney.]

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Starting off with the Walt Disney Studios, Horn introduced Sean Bailey, President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, to talk about their upcoming slate of movies.

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First up was "Wrinkle in Time," an adaptation of the classic Madeleine L’Engle book. Director Ava DuVernay, as well as stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and Storm Reid took the stage to introduce the teaser trailer.

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Meg Murray, a young daughter of two renowned physicists, must embark on a fabulous journey aided by three celestial guides, her classmate, and her younger brother to locate and rescue her missing father and battle a powerful evil. “A Wrinkle in Time” opens nationwide March 9, 2018.

Next was “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Mackenzie Foy as Clara, Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger, Morgan Freeman as godfather Drosselmeyer, and famed ballet dancer Misty Copeland, it is a fanciful retelling of the E.T.A. Hoffmann tale. With an as-yet-unreleased trailer that seemed reminiscent of Tim Burton's hugely popular "Alice in Wonderland," "Nutcracker" sees protagonist Clara venturing through the lands of Snowflakes, Flowers, Sweets, and the less-benign-sounding Fourth Realm, where she must face the tyrannical Mother Ginger and a gang of mice. The CGI Mouse King movements are based on that of dancer Lil Buck, who gave a live performance of "jooking," his style of street dancing.

"Nutcracker" will open in U.S. theaters on November 2, 2018.

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Director Rob Marshall and star Emily Blunt then took the stage to talk about "Mary Poppins Returns."

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A musical sequel to the original movie, "Returns" sees Blunt's Poppins revisit a grown Jane and Michael Banks with her friend Jack, a street lamplighter played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, in order to restore childhood joy and wonder to their lives. Also joining her is Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks, Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks, Julie Walters as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen, Colin Firth as Fidelity Fiduciary’s William Weatherall Wilkins, Meryl Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin Topsy, Angela Lansbury as the Balloon Lady, and Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Jr., the retired chairman of the bank now run by Firth’s character.

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--Blunt noted that her take on Mary Poppins is a little closer to the character from the book than Julie Andrews' and is more "acerbic and weird."
--Julie Andrews is not in the film, in part because she felt she would detract too much from what should be Blunt's movie.
--One of the tables from the original movie was lent to the production from Club 33, where it is usually in residence.
--Marshall stated that Dick Van Dyke felt the production and the set had the same sense of joy as the original.

The audience was treated to a first look at the film, accompanied by a live orchestra performing original new music from the score conducted by composer Marc Shaiman

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The clips we saw looked very good--I have been a little wary of how the remake of such a classic will turn out, but the iconic Mary Poppins imagery/shots were done well and continue to be markedly evocative. The fact that we were watching it with live orchestration didn't hurt it any, either.

“Mary Poppins Returns” will be released in U.S. theaters on Dec. 25, 2018.

Afterwards, Bailey confirmed three more live-action remakes: "Aladdin," directed by Guy Ritchie with Mena Massoud as Aladdin, Naomi Scott as Jasmine and Will Smith as the Genie; "Mulan," directed by Niki Caro; and "Jungle Cruise," starring Dwayne Johnson.

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Tim Burton, still in London working on the live-action "Dumbo," sent a video greeting.

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The film stars Colin Farrell, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, and Colette Marchant. “Dumbo” is slated for release on March 29, 2019.

Finally, Jon Favreau gave the audience a first glimpse at the opening Pride Rock sequence in his live-action/CGI remake of "The Lion King."

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With Donald Glover as Simba, and James Earl Jones as Mufasa, “The Lion King” is slated for theaters on July 19, 2019.

Horn then came back on to introduce the Lucasfilm segment by introducing "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" writer/director Rian Johnson, and giving spoilers for anyone who hadn't seen the end of "Rogue One" yet.

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Johnson started off proving his Disney cred by reminding everyone he used to direct the "You're Watching Disney Channel" commercials.

"This wasn't 'High School Musical' Disney Channel--this was 'Halloweentown' Disney Channel. But we're not here to talk about Halloweentown..."
[Huge audience reaction]
"This might be the only crowd where it's a let down to not talk about Halloweentown."

Subsequently, cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro joined Johnson on stage to talk about "Last Jedi."

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[Main takeaway here was that Christie is an Amazon. The next tallest person there came up to about her chin.]

The final member of the cast then entered, which was of course, Mark Hamill.

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"Thank you for not making me stand next to Gwendolyn. You think I'm already a little short for a stormtrooper?"

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Lucasfilm finished off their segment with a behind-the-scenes video in which the late Carrie Fisher figured prominently. "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" picks up where "Force Awakens" ends, and will open in U.S. theaters on Dec. 15, 2017.

Finally, Marvel Studios was up at bat, with President/producer Kevin Feige announcing their first ten year anniversary celebration.

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The cornerstone of the celebration will be "Avengers: Infinity War," which will have virtually every Marvel Cinematic Universe character in it. At this point, Josh Brolin (Thanos) appeared to help usher in an enormous amount of cast members on stage, including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan and Pom Klementieff.

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Co-director Joe Russo closed out the presentation by introducing a video with appearances by every character in "Infinity War." While largely old footage, there were some new clips towards the end, mostly depicting the entry of the Guardians of the Galaxy into the larger MCU story-line. It was a LOT of characters.


[This is not that video, which has yet to be released, but an earlier one talking about the start of production on "Infinity War."

Clearly, it is going to be quite a showdown. “Avengers: Infinity War” releases in U.S. theaters on May 4, 2018.

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July 24, 2017

Fantasmic! Dining Package

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Fantasmic 2017

Fantasmic! is back at Disneyland. It was a lengthy absence due to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge construction (so nice to finally have a real name for that project!) which required re-routing the Rivers of America and closing all of the water-related attractions, as well as the Disneyland Railroad.

Jeanine saw the premiere of the new version of Fantasmic! on Monday, July 17. You can read about the changes and see a full video of the show in
her blog.

Access to the viewing areas for Fantasmic! that are right along the Rivers of America requires a Fastpass, though there are standby viewing areas on the upper tiers available on a first come, first serve, basis. Fastpasses are available to anyone at no charge (note that you can NOT use the MaxPass feature to book Fastpasses for Fantasmic! or World of Color). The Fastpass kiosks are next to the Mark Twain dock along the Rivers of America. These still deliver a paper Fastpass that must be presented for access to the Fastpass viewing areas. The area to return to will be identified on the ticket, e.g. Mark Twain Dock.

For those who wish a premium viewing experience, there are several dining packages available at various price points. These packages include access to what are arguably the best viewing areas for the show. Both Blue Bayou and River Belle Terrace offer a three-course prix fixe menu. They share the premium viewing area: in the center, in the first tier along the water. Blue Bayou is $65 for adults and $25 for kids 3-9. River Belle Terrace is $45/$25. River Belle offers a premium option: for an additional $15 guests can dine at 8:00 and watch the 9:00 show from their tables at the restaurant. This option can only be booked by calling Disneyland Dining.

Hungry Bear Restaurant offers an on-the-go option. Meals are packaged in a box and include a bottled beverage. Guests can choose to dine at the Hungry Bear's seating area or take the meal with them. A ticket for the preferred viewing area will be provided at time of pickup and payment - at this writing it is to the left of the premium viewing area. The price is $29.99 for adults and 19.99 for kids 3-9.

Blue Bayou Fantasmic! Menu
River Belle Terrace Fantasmic! Menu
Hungry Bear Restaurant Fantasmic! Menu

Lee and I tried the River Belle Terrace package on Friday night. We did not opt for the premium option. While it would be nice to have an actual chair to sit in for the show, the viewing from River Belle is somewhat obstructed, and not nearly as close as being right by the water.

When I made the reservation on-line at Disneyland.com I was automatically assigned to the first show - which was what I wanted. Reservations can be made starting at 4:00 p.m., our time was 5:10. We arrive at the restaurant about 15 minutes early, but they were able to seat us right away. The hostess verified that we were there for the package and for the 9:00 Fantasmic! show. She gave us a choice of inside or outside seating - we chose to sit outside in the shade. It's really quite lovely being outside in the shade on a warm summer evening! Much quieter than sitting inside.

River Belle Terrace

Our meal was a modified version of the regular River Belle Terrace menu. Soft drink was included. As a starter we had a choice of the House Salad or Corn Chowder. I had the salad, which normally is served with Gorgonzola, but I requested that be left off. It had arugula, shredded apple, dried cranberries and candied pecans. It was a generous serving, and I enjoyed it.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Salad

Lee tried the Corn Chowder. Lots of kernels of fresh corn in it. He said it was very good, and that the peppers on top were a garnish and there weren't more in the soup. (I don't like peppers.)

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Corn Chowder

Most of the entrees from the regular menu were available to us. I ordered the Oven-Roasted BBQ Half Chicken. It came with baked beans and my choice of another side: seasoned tater tots, potato salad, green beans or tangy coleslaw. I asked our server if "tangy" meant the coleslaw had peppers, but she didn't know, so I went with the tater tots. The chicken was nicely cooked, though it needed more BBQ sauce, which our server brought out as a side. The tater tots were lightly seasoned - they could have been hotter. My favorite part was the baked beans - there were black beans mixed in with them, as well as bacon. Lee thought they were a little too sweet, but I like them that way.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic BBQ Chicken

Lee tried the Pork Spareribs. I thought the dish was nicely presented. The ribs were very tender and easily came off the bone. I didn't care for the spice rub on them, but Lee enjoyed them. He ordered the potato salad as a side. Neither of us liked it - the potatoes were a little firm, and there was something in the dressing that gave it a slightly reddish tint and an odd flavor.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Pork Ribs

For dessert I ordered the Maleficent Dragon. That dessert was the reason I'd chosen River Belle Terrace instead of Blue Bayou. :-) Crunchy milk chocolate base with caramel mousse and a spiced dark chocolate-blackberry ganache center. The "flame" sauce was orange-vanilla. It was very good, and surprisingly complex for a mass-produced theme park location.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Maleficent Dessert

The ganache in the middle WAS spicy - but we didn't taste it immediately, it was pretty late on the palate. A little too spicy for me, though I still really enjoyed the dessert.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Maleficent Dessert

I had fun playing with the white chocolate pieces. :-)

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Maleficent Dessert

Lee chose the Strawberry Shortcake. It was good but not exceptional...he liked my dessert better - he finished off my ganache. :-)

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Strawberry Shortcake

The service was good, except it seemed like they were in a hurry to get us out of there. They brought our entrees just a few minutes after our appetizers - we were no where close to finished with them. Our server was going to bring the desserts soon after clearing the entree plates, but we asked for a few minutes to digest first. So that ended up being the right amount of time between courses.

Our server brought us our Fantasmic! tickets when we paid for the meal. The viewing area opens an hour ahead of the show; she recommended getting there at least 30 minutes in advance.

River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Fastpass ticket

We received a 15% annual passholder discount on the meal, but with tax and tip it was still about $100 for the two of us. Given what a three course meal, plus beverage, would have cost us on the regular menu, we only paid about $5 for the Fantasmic! ticket. Now, on a normal evening would we have dined at River Belle Terrace? No, but we did it to get the premium viewing of Fantasmic!

We went back to the Rivers of America area about 8:30. It was pretty crowded, though there was still a fair bit of standby area available - Jason was able to get a good spot at almost center stage at 8:30. Our server had told us there would be a sign near Haunted Mansion telling us where to go, but we didn't see any signs at all. We asked a cast member in the area and she directed us - the entrance was down near the water close to the Harbour Galley.

There were two entrances there: one for "regular" Fastpasses, and one for those with Premium viewing. Our Fastpasses were checked several times as we made our way along the river before we were directed into a viewing area near center stage. I was surprised to see that people who had the Blue Bayou package (identifiable because they were given seat cushions as part of their package) were sitting in the same section with us. It seems like they don't distinguish between Blue Bayou and River Belle in the preferred viewing areas.

Everyone had to sit on the ground in the preferred viewing area, with the exception of some people in ECVs who were allowed to sit on their vehicles at the back. A few people had been smart enough to bring blankets, and of course the Blue Bayou guests had their cushions. We were quite envious. :-)

The show...Wow. The projection system was updated and the projections on the mist screens were so much clearer, brighter, and more vibrant than they have been in the past.

Fantasmic 2017 Magic Mirror

In addition, the stage area on Tom Sawyer Island was digitally mapped. Projections are used to great effect to add depth and interest to the background area.

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The fountains were also upgraded - it seemed to me like they featured more movement and color, a la World of Color.

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This is a new version of Fantasmic!, and as you would expect, there are some new elements to the show - which means the removal of some older elements. The most controversial, I think, was the decision to remove Captain Hook and Peter Pan from the Sailing Ship Columbia and feature Jack Sparrow instead. I missed the charm of the Peter Pan version, though there is non-stop action and some fairly impressive stunts in the new one.

Fantasmic pirate ship

There are a number of new animated scenes featuring characters from "The Lion King", "Finding Nemo", and "The Little Mermaid".

Fantasmic 2017 Lion King

The movie "Aladdin" is featured prominently: Mickey interacts with a mist screen Genie to "Friend Like Me", and Aladdin and Jasmine float on their flying carpet to "Whole New World". I was a little disappointed in that scene: early press releases had described them as floating over a bed of fog, but there was little fog to be seen, and in fact we could see the support of the carpet.

Fantasmic 2017 Aladdin Jasmine

Flynn Rider and Rapunzel replace Snow White and her prince in the princess sequence. I thought the background of the island with the lantern projections worked very well there. Though that's not exactly new - it seems like every current Disney show has that particular scene and song from Tangled.

Fantasmic 2017 Tangled

Other than the Magic Mirror, the animation of the villains sequence looked basically the same - a little shorter. The quality of of the projections seemed noticeably inferior to me compared to the newer segments. I was surprised that they weren't upgraded. Nice to see the huge dragon back - though now it's Sorcerer Mickey that battles her rather than Brave Little Tailor Mickey.

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Mickey is quite a bit more present in the new show as a live figure on stage, though he also appears in animation.

Fantasmic 2017 Sorcerer Mickey

I really liked the new show. Overall it looks so much better than it did before. Since it's so much brighter I hope it will be easier to view even for those guests who don't have the prime viewing spot that we did.

Since we saw the early 9:00 show, we were able to stay in the viewing area to watch the Remember, Dreams Come True fireworks show. Disney added projections on the Rivers of America mist screens for the 60th anniversary Disneyland Forever fireworks, and there are projections for the Remember show, also.

Remember Dreams Come True Fantasmic 2017

Different than what we would see on the castle if we were on Main Street, though much clearer and more visible than they are on the castle.

Remember Dreams Come True Fantasmic 2017

If you want a guaranteed good viewing location for Fantasmic!, then I think reserving one of the dining packages is an excellent option. Choosing River Belle Terrace and Blue Bayou will give you equally good viewing, so I think it's a matter of the price and which menu you prefer. The Hungry Bear viewing area will not be quite as good, but still better than you're likely to get with a regular Fastpass ticket, and that dinner package is certainly cheaper than the other two. But there's less food included with the Hungry Bear option, so in some ways it's a lesser value.







July 19, 2017

Happy 62nd Anniversary, Disneyland! Welcome Back, Fantasmic!

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On July 17th, 2017, Disneyland celebrated its 62nd anniversary as a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

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As part of an anniversary moment, the Disneyland Ambassadors, the Dapper Dans, the Disneyland Band, and 62 of the classic Disney characters gathered for the traditional playing of Walt Disney's opening day speech, a little song, a little dance, and a whole lot of confetti.

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One of the anniversary gifts Disneyland chose to share with us that day was the opening of a brand new "Fantasmic!"

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New scenes to the long-running nighttime spectacular include Aladdin and Jasmine flying their carpet to the strains of "A Whole New World,"

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Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean on board the Columbia,

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and the addition of new characters from "Tangled," "The Lion King," "Finding Nemo," and "Aladdin."

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With the new emergence of projection mapping as the universally favorite show modality, there is no lack of it here. The whole surface of the Tom Sawyer Island stage has been digitally mapped and all technical elements of the show upgraded to provide clearer, brighter images on the island and the water.

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Whether you are new to the show or a long time "Fantasmic!" fanatic, you will surely want to come by and check out this updated version. Are the powers of Mickey’s incredible imagination still strong enough and bright enough to withstand the evil forces that invade Mickey’s dream? You are about to find out.

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July 18, 2017

D23 Expo: "Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films"

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Expo time is here! That once-every-two-year weekend where D23 throws a huge celebration of all things Disney for just you and around 65,000 of your closest friends. I'm attending this weekend and will try to report back on the highlights.

One of the highlights of the first day was the Animation panel "Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films," in which John Lasseter and his special guests presented some of the many animation projects currently in the works for both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Disney Pixar.

Introducing the panel was Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn who showed a brief montage of a lot of the upcoming films, animated and live-action. After the crowd went berserk over a quick view of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the remake of "Mary Poppins," he joked that the demand was such that they would bring back a version of "Mary Poppins" every fifty years.

[All photos and video provided by Disney.]

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He then introduced John Lasseter who came out with a t-shirt cannon and merrily shot shirts into the crowds. (I did not get a shirt.)

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After he finished lobbing projectiles into the audience, he began by introducing a clip called "Speed Test" from a Disneytoon Studio featurette as yet unnamed, which showed some fighter jets (with the trademark sentient vehicle eyes) and which will take a look at the future of Aviation. It will open April 12, 2019.

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Next Lasseter turned his attention to Walt Disney Animation Studios and their next visit back to Arendelle, "Olaf's Frozen Adventure," which will open with Pixar's "Coco."

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To help introduce the story of Olaf's quest to find some holiday traditions for the previously-estranged royal siblings Anna and Elsa, Kristen Bell took the stage.

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Unfortunately, as they began to play a clip from the short, the audio mysteriously cut out and who but Josh Gad should come to the rescue, singing one of the songs, “That Time of Year,” written by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, live with the animation track running behind him.

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Subsequently, Josh Gad noted that he was glad Olaf finally got a film where he was the star. Bell pointed out that it was really an ensemble effort, to which Gad replied "really? it's not called 'ENSEMBLE's Frozen Adventure!'"

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Moving on to "Frozen 2," not a whole lot of information was given, except that the original cast would be back, and it wouldn't be titled "Thawed." The original production team of Co-directors Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Producer Peter del Vecchio are all returning, and have already gone on a research trip around Scandinavia to prepare for it. It will open November 27, 2019.

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The next film up was the sequel to "Wreck-It Ralph," "Ralph Breaks the Internet." Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, along with comedian Sarah Silverman, who returns as the voice of Vanellope von Schweetz, showed clips of BFFs Ralph and Vanellope escaping their arcade into the Internet. A new character, Yesss, was introduced, with actress Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”) doing voice duty for her.

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They then showed a rough animation sequence where Vanellope and Ralph go to the Oh My Disney website and meet up with all manners of Disney consumers (I am reasonably certain the Tsum Tsum obsessed girl was not modeled after me.) Later, Vanellope has an encounter with a huge number of Disney princesses that is as hilarious as it is audacious for a company usually so careful with its property usage. It's not as coarse as, say, Shrek, but comes close to the same sensibility. All the original voice actresses came back: Auli‘i Cravalho (“Moana”), Kristen Bell (Anna in “Frozen”), Kelly MacDonald (Merida in “Brave”), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel in “Tangled”), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog”), Irene Bedard (“Pocahontas”), Linda Larkin (Jasmine in “Aladdin”), Paige O’Hara (Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”) and Jodi Benson (Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,”) and in fact came out on stage for the largest grouping of Disney Princesses ever. "Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-it Ralph 2" is opening November 21, 2018.

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Moving on to "Incredibles 2," they began with a video clip showing various models and designers giving tribute to one of the great design minds of our time, Edna Mode.

Subsequently Director Brad Bird did Edna Mode as a voice over where she finally agreed to come onstage "but only in the form of a disillusioned middle-aged man."

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In their new, mid-century modern design house, the Parrs resume life as a family that just happens to have super powers. Mrs. Incredible fights crime while Mr. Incredible does a stint as a stay-at-home Dad to baby Jack Jack. For the story, Bird promises new allies and enemies, with appearances from old friends as well.

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Bird was joined onstage with the cast of "Incredibles 2" which included all the original voices (Mr. and Mrs. Incredible--Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, Violet--Sarah Vowell, and Frozone--Samuel L. Jackson) with the exception of Dash, now played by Huck Milner.

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After all the actors took turns giving newcomer Milner some helpful career advice (Jackson: "Never read the comments.") they showed a short clip from the film, depicting Jack Jack still manifesting his powers while putting the smackdown on a raccoon. "Incredibles 2" is scheduled for release on June 15, 2018.

Lasseter then made the announcement that on "Toy Story 4," he would no longer be co-directing, but that Pixar veteran Josh Cooley would be the full director. While they had no footage ready at this early date, they did show a short docu/mocumentary on a typical day in the life of a Pixar director. "Toy Story 4" has an opening date of June 21, 2019.

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"Monster's University" director Dan Scanlon then presented the concept behind "Untitled Dan Scanlon Movie." It will be set in a magical suburb, in a world where magic exists, but at a level of difficulty that most utilize contemporary technology instead. There are no humans--just elves, trolls, and sprites, and unicorns are rodents. The story is based on Scanlon's personal history of having lost his father at a young age, and revolves around two teenage elves in a similar situation, who embark on a journey to spend one last magical day with their father.

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Finally, director Lee Unkrich, co-director and screenwriter Adrian Molina and producer Darla K. Anderson presented "Coco," in which Miguel, a young boy from a music-hating family, dreams of a career as a musician. His desperation to follow in his deceased idol's footsteps causes him to defy his family's wishes and earns him a trip to the Land of the Dead.

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Michael Giacchino is in charge of the score, while the main song "Remember Me," is penned by "Frozen's" Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. As a finale, guests at the presentation were treated to the first ever public performance of "Remember Me," with special guest Benjamin Bratt (voice of Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel's musical inspiration) singing it along with 160 performers including the Grammy-winning Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea and Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles.

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"Coco" will be in theaters Nov. 22, 2017.

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July 9, 2017

Helpful Hints for the Infrequent Conventioneer

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In case you are one of the vast majority of Mankind who does not regularly read my missives here, I regularly attend a lot of events--particularly conventions--of a variety of subjects and emphases. As we are once again approaching Disney's arguably largest event, D23 Expo, I thought it might be useful to share some general observations that might help people organize their thoughts for enjoyable con-going.

Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail:
Yes, this is a trite saying, and it also is a true one--painfully so, as many attendees of many conventions can attest. Unless a convention is a reasonably small affair where guests are pretty much guaranteed to be able to see every offering, there will be far more going on than you could possibly see or do, and far more people wanting to see or do each thing than could possible fit in the event's capacity. Consequently, it's a crucial thing to try to figure out your goals in advance. Do you love shopping and merchandise? Are you an autograph hound? Is your passion checking out exhibits? If you don't go over the schedules and lists of what's available, you'll run a good chance of missing out on the things you really want to see.

Personally, I mainly enjoy watching as many presentations on different topics as I can, which offers its own unique challenges. As a general rule, programming schedules are often set up to force choices between popular panels in order to break up crowds and lines. You need to prioritize the things you want to see vs the things you don't care about so much, vs the things you would sell your mother to see.

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Some things you might want to consider:
--Make a list of the panels you want to see. Then make a "plan B" and sometimes a "plan C" in case you don't get into the panels you want to see.
--Be realistic about your "plan B" and don't make it the same time as "plan A," because by the time you find out "plan A" isn't going to work, you'll have already missed your opportunity for "plan B."
--Look at a map and see how far apart the rooms are. If you want to see two panels twenty minutes apart and one is on the third floor of the convention center and the next one is in the ballroom of a hotel three blocks away, you are probably not going to make it.
--Have a sense of how popular the panels are going to be. Looking at the Expo schedule, there will be one panel on Disney Studios' Live Action films. Given the popularity of the MCU, and that they've already announced that "Star Wars" won't be making an appearance at SDCC this year, there will probably be a huge amount of interest in this, and likely a lineup that will start the night before. On the other hand, the Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media are doing Pancake Art demonstrations several times a day each day, so expect an easier time seeing that.
--Go all in, or not at all. If you know you have to see a thing, then get there hours (sometimes a day) ahead to scope out how bad the line is. If you blow that opportunity, then my best advice is to just show up 10-30 minutes beforehand and hope for the best. At least then, if you don't get in, you didn't invest that much time in finding out and were available to do something else in the meantime. What you don't want to do is start waiting an hour or two ahead of time in a line where everyone who is going to get in lined up three to four hours ago. I once spoke to a mother and daughter behind me in line who said they had spent their entire Expo day going from one line to the next, waiting a couple hours, and then not getting in. Don't Be Those People.

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Know How To Get What You Want If What You Want Is To Collect Things:
Check in advance whether your favorite companies or product lines have booths, and whether they are offering any limited edition items you want. If you know you will die coming home without that specific one-day-only-special-edition thing, you also need to look at a map of the floor and find out where that booth is, because you will likely only get one shot to safely hustle your way over there first thing at opening to get in line for it. Check official twitter accounts and webpages that are live reporting such things to see what the lines are like in advance--at SDCC, people regularly sleep out overnight to be the first ones into the Mattel or Hasbro booths, so this can be serious business. Know also that booth lines are not necessarily at the booths: In order to free up the passageways that can get clogged with huge lines, people are frequently lined up against the walls of the exhibitor's floor and then walked over in groups as people leave the booth. If you rush over to a booth for a popular item, and then realize the line is actually halfway across the room, it's probably going to be capped by the time you get over there and find it.

Also try to do the bulk of your shopping as early as possible, hopefully before the convention actually starts, if you can. Recently, I've been seeing a marked increase (even at Disney events) in sellers bringing merchandise in woefully insufficient amounts, often selling out by the end of preview night. While some booths will only sell a certain amount each day and then restock each night, some, either by design or accident, will just blow out all their goods immediately and then, I guess, just take a nap for the next couple days. Check sizing as well, if you're looking at t-shirts: Mickey's of Glendale and PIXAR are notorious for selling women's shirts in styles that run considerably smaller than most.

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...But Maybe You Shouldn't:
There are a lot of booths, and most of them will be giving away something: Art lithographs, posters, brochures, shirts, books...sometimes even chairs. In every case, as soon as people see there's something being passed out, huge mobs will form to try to get it. If you're desperate, you can usually tough it out in line, or haunt a given booth to try to time when they start distributing. Unfortunately, after a certain amount of time, it can be hard to know if you are desperate because you actually want something, or just because the crowd mentality has driven you insane and made you believe that it's reasonable to stand in line for 45 minutes for a paper tube (PSA: I've done this.) Sometimes you should step back and really consider whether it's worth spending your time and effort to get something that's just going to sit untouched in the free convention-provided tote bag in the corner of your room for the next five years.

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DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO

Security Might Not Make You Safer, But It Will Make You Late:
With the increased anxiety everyone has nowadays about security, measures to get into different panels and the convention itself have gotten increasingly elaborate and time-consuming. Unless you have some sort of priority access to entering in the morning, you may want to consider showing up hours early in case the given event decides it needs to search your bags, make you go through metal detectors, etc. As you remember from the airport, this takes forever with just your every-day people, but at a con where every third cosplayer has multiple bags with food, electronics, and prop weaponry, this can stretch into an eternity. I just finished attending one event where some people waited over five hours to get in the first day, and the lines stretched over blocks, snarling traffic so bad it took me 90 minutes just to circle the building to find parking. Few hate mornings more than I, but this is one time where you have to bite the bullet if you want to maximize your time.

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Everybody Has To Eat:
Eventually, you are probably going to expect to eat during the day, but where? And when? If the eating options in the convention center are limited, expect long lines that may cut into the event you wanted to see afterwards. It also goes without saying that the prices will be higher than normal, and the quality somewhat lower. You can bring your own food, assuming you have the energy and time to do it when you stagger back home exhausted each day, but then know that a lot of meeting rooms won't allow food or drinks. There may be only a comparative handful of tables and chairs in any convention center, and by and large you can't even sit on the ground most places, or people will come and yell at you to leave before the Fire Marshal declares you a hazard. I'm particularly bad at meal planning and have spent more than one con week subsiding on a diet of M&Ms and kettle corn.

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...But Maybe You Shouldn't:
Look, there's no doubt that the healthiest thing for you is to eat regular meals, but just be aware that any time not spent getting in line can make or break you for the next thing. I remember being in one panel and discussing with the woman next to me that we both wanted to go to the book-signing right afterwards. She went to the restroom and I didn't, and that's why we ended up meeting again, this time on opposite sides of the line cut-off rope.

On Q&A:
I have seen a lot of Q&A in my time, and some of it has been very insightful, and some of it has been at least interesting, and a WHOLE LOT of it has been reeeaaally bad. People are entitled to say whatever they want, of course, but for all that is Holy, I beg you to reflect on this.

Your question might be a bad question if:
--You start off saying "well, I guess this isn't really a question..."
--The topic can really only be of any interest to you and your immediate family.
--You are requesting one of the panelists touch you in a sexual or even non-sexual manner.
--You have been talking for over five minutes and have still not gotten to anything remotely close to a question.
--What you are saying is insulting/hostile/demanding/racist/sexist/terrible.
--The moderator tries to stop you by saying "we're not answering questions on that today."
--The moderator tries to stop you by saying "NO, DON'T COME UP HERE."
--You want someone on the panel to take a selfie with you or autograph an item.
--You are rapping.

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As Long As You've Got Your Health:
Con crud is a real thing. You're going to be stuck in a number of rooms and corridors with literally thousands of other people, some of whom are going to be Patient Zero for some horrific disease. You're going to be jammed into crowds where you can barely move because the cast of "Agents of SHIELD" are out on a table signing autographs and everyone wants a photo and the guy next to you is coughing non-stop into your face. Pity the poor celebrities, who are constantly assaulted with pleas for hugs/kisses/handshakes from everyone--no wonder they all charge >$100 for a picture nowadays. I actually found it fascinating that at Anime Expo (a convention I'll talk about in another blog soon) most of the predominantly Asian celebrities specified for autograph sessions "NO HIGH FIVES."

To a certain point there's nothing you can do. If you crap out and it's your turn to get some debilitating cold, you're going to get it. The best you can do for your immune system is to get as much sleep as you can, eat appropriately, and use hand sanitizer liberally. I'm also a huge believer in just holding your breath as long as you can in ultra crowded conditions--I've also considered using masks as they do in Japan, although those are more effective if the sick people use them.

As always, nothing is universal, and for many people none of these suggestions will be applicable. Some people don't have any goals or expectations going into these things, and are content to just wander around taking in the sights and then going home when the crowds become oppressive. Other people purchase priority access memberships ("Sorcerer's Package" for D23 Expo and "Master Jedi VIP" for Star Wars Celebration) which enable them to bypass the worst of the lines at a sizeable cost. That even at $2,250 the Sorcerer's Packages sold out in seconds is a measure of how valuable people find that advantage. Here, as is often the case, "money talks" and the rest of us...wait in line.

See you at the Expo!

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