Thursday, November 17, 2005

Disney on my Mind


Imagineer Joe Rohde has been a very busy guy; we caught up with him when he had just returned from China, was about to fly to Tibet, and in between he's been frantically working on the finishing touches to the biggest thing to hit Disney's Animal Kingdom since the addition of the Asia land back in 1999.
It's a towering achievement guaranteed to leave Guests cold - yet breathless with excitement.
It's Expedition Everest, Florida's newest mountain.
Joe gave us an inside peek at what to expect next spring, when the first brave Guests set out on an expedition into the heart of the Himalayas, and embark on a collision course with the legendary yeti itself.
The first thing Guests should know is that Expedition Everest is going to be one wild ride.
"Expedition Everest is definitely a thrill ride. It does have good speeds and forces, comparable to Rock ‘n' Roller Coaster," Joe explains. EDITOR'S NOTE: OK. YOU GO ON IT FIRST, JOEL, AND THEN TELL ME IF I'M GOING TO YOUKNOWWHAT.

Beautiful but beware -- Expedition Everestwill be packed with thrills!

Detailed stories and immersive experiences are a hallmark of Disney theme park attractions, and Expedition Everest will not disappoint. Joe gave us the full scoop.

"The premise is that we, the Guests, are Expedition Everest. We've arrived on this particular day in this little Tibetan town in the foothills of the Himalayas. And the little trekking company that we've engaged is going to get us on this train, which they've just refurbished. It used to be the train that served the tea plantations in the Himalayan foothills - they've refurbished it to get us to Everest really, really fast. But to do that, we have to go through the realm of the yeti. And traditional Tibetan thought holds the yeti to be the protector of the hidden and forbidden reaches of the Himalayas. So the yeti is doing his job as defender of the mountains when we encounter him on our train journey, attempting to get to Everest. And it ends up being that we now have to escape from the wrath of the yeti and make our way back to town in this high-speed escape adventure." EDITOR'S NOTE: GLAD THEY HAVE A BACK-STORY. CAUSE CLIMBING AN ENORMOUS MOUNTAIN IN ONE OF THE MOST STRIKINGLY SCENIC PARTS OF THE WORLD PROBABLY ISN'T ENOUGH.
The thrills will be there in plenty, but Joe is proudest of the incredible detail that is going into creating the world of Expedition Everest for Guests to explore.
"It feels like you are in the Himalayas," he promises.
And having just returned from those peaks himself, Joe should know.
Many of the painstaking details of Nepalese and Tibetan culture that appear in the attraction's environment are modeled on what he and his colleagues have encountered on the Mission Himalayas expeditions, as well as years of other research.
"This region we were just in has a very powerful living oral tradition of the yeti as the protector of the forest. So we adopted a lot of that attitude to put our ride together," says Joe. "And many of the details we saw there can be seen all across the Himalayas, so we picked them up from other places. There's some architectural color, some props, and there's a little area in the standby queue where we're going to talk about the actual expedition - what we discovered, where we went, that kind of thing."
Expedition Everest will be unique among Disney Park attractions in that Guests choosing the Fast Pass or standby queues will pass through very different areas and have different experiences.
"The standby queue for this ride is a spectacular environment. It takes you around a pagoda temple that was actually designed and produced for us by Nepalese wood carvers. It's completely covered with various images of the yeti, and I believe it's the only structure of its kind in North America," Joe explains. "It's very impressive, and there's scene after scene that takes you through the experience as if you were booking a trip, then traveling through this little town on your way to the train in the Himalayas.

Joe traveled to the Himalayas toresearch the attraction.

"The Fast Pass people are treated a little differently, even within the story, in that they're assumed to have already done most of that, so they're on a ‘fast track.' They get their permits stamped in the permit office, and then they kind of blow through a little mountaineering equipment place, and then they're on the train. So depending on which line you choose, you're enveloped in the story in different ways." EDITOR'S NOTE: DIFFERENT ENOUGH TO BE WORTH STANDING IN LINE FOR AN HOUR?
In keeping with the best Imagineering tradition, Joe won't divulge whether there are any Hidden Mickeys along the way - but he did give us a few tips for details to watch out for.
"There are many many portrayals of the yeti spread through this village, reflecting this idea of the yeti as a kind of protector of the environment. Just looking for those alone, you could spend an hour." EDITOR'S NOTE: WHICH IS, COINCIDENTALLY, HOW LONG YOU WILL BE STANDING THERE LOOKING AT THE 'ENVIRONMENT'.
Although Expedition Everest looks tantalizingly complete to passersby, there's plenty to finish before it opens to Guests.
"We're installing props in the buildings, doing little finishing paint touches in the buildings. We're installing the yeti into the great cavern where the yeti lives, and we're running the ride around the track and testing it to see how it works and testing the special effects to see how they work," Joe says.
So far the only ones lucky enough to ride Expedition Everest are specially shaped water buckets designed to simulate the attraction's effects on people of different sizes - "sort of like a jerry can with a waist," as Joe describes them. "You seatbelt them in and fill them with water to represent the weight of different humans, and then they get to ride over and over and over. I'm sure they're very happy, thrilled little water buckets!" EDITOR'S NOTE: EXCEPT FOR THE WATER BUCKET WITH PINK SOCKS; SHE'S FEELING NAUSEOUS.
Come spring, Guests will get a chance to encounter the yeti for themselves - and see if "happy" and "thrilled" are the order of the day.

Curtin global marketing vp at Disney Parks
Chris Curtin, who last month ended his tenure as general manager of the Muppets Holding Co., was named vp global marketing at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Curtin had run the Muppets since the Walt Disney Co. bought them from the Jim Henson Co. in April 2004, though he was let go from that position when the unit was folded on a more formal basis into Disney's consumer products division. A onetime special assistant to former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Curtin's new role will have him directing marketing initiatives with a new-media twist, including advertising the Disney theme parks on TiVo and mobile devices.

It's not easy being green - but it does have certain compensations.
For one, Kermit the Frog, who turns 50 this year, doesn't look a day over 22.
For another, he got a grand welcome to kick off his anniversary celebration in a town that could have been made for him.
Kermit, Texas, turned out in force to celebrate with Kermie.
Kermit coworker Debbie McClellan accompanied the famous frog on his pilgrimage to the small Texas town, population around 5,700, and told us about the festivities.
"We wanted to find a place for Kermit to visit that was either green or had something to do with Kermit the Frog. When we found Kermit, Texas, it just took off from there!" she says.
The people of Kermit welcomed the birthday boy with open arms. He read stories to local school children, met the mayor, received a key to the city, and found his visage painted on the town's water tower. He also got to ride in the Kermit homecoming parade, and even crowned the Kermit High homecoming queen. EDITOR'S NOTE: CAREFUL, KERMIE. MISS P WILL BE JEALOUS!

Kermit celebrates with the people ofKermit, Texas.

Debbie had nearly as much fun as Kermit - although there is no water tower in her honor.
"There were two really special moments," she says. "The first when Kermit was introduced at the press conference and I was on the stage and the town cheered -- the stage literally shuddered from the amount of noise that was made. The second was at the end of the day when Kermit was signing autographs, a woman said to us, 'you have no idea what this has done for our town, this was so special and it was something that brought us together.' That was really moving." EDITOR'S NOTE: AWWWW....KERMIE IS DA MAN, UM, I MEAN, FROG.

Kermit keeps an eye on his namesake town fromatop the water tower.

Debbie assures us that the Kermit we know from film and TV is the real deal - no Hollywood hotshot.
"Kermit the Frog is everything you would want him to be, cute, modest, and sweet. What you see on TV is what you get. No prima donna there ... but Miss Piggy is another story!" EDITOR'S NOTE: WATCH IT; DON'T BE PICKIN ON MY HEROINE! (THE DIVINE MISS P!)
Kermit's first 50 years have been eventful ones, taking him from humble beginnings as part of a Washington, D.C., local children's television show called "Sam and Friends" all the way to international stardom and his current status as part of the Disney family.
His recent starring role in "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz," coupled with the DVD release of the first season of "The Muppet Show," prove once again that the plucky frog is truly evergreen.
Kermie will be taking a break from the silver screen for the time being to continue his travels - current plans include a trip to Pamplona for the annual running of the bulls ("I thought they said bullFROGS," he has confessed), a visit to the Great Wall of China, and even - gulp! - a guest appearance at a Frog Leg Festival in Fellesmere, Florida.
Debbie will accompany him throughout. "Needless to say I'm thrilled," she says. "I never get tired meeting people who feel an affinity for this frog and how he can make everyone from ages 2 to 99 smile." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND WHAT A GREAT GIG SHE HAS, HUH?!


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