Archive for July 2009

Let’s all warble like nightingales

July 14, 2009

I loves me some Disneyland.

Living, as I do, some 450 miles from the front gates of the Magic Kingdom, I don’t get to visit Uncle Walt’s happiest place on Earth with anything approaching the frequency that I’d like. So, when I found myself attending a convention literally across the street from Disney’s Anaheim resort, I made it my business to squeeze in as many hours of blissful Mickey love as an already jam-packed schedule would permit.

With time at a premium, I had to be selective about the attractions that I visited. That meant taking a pass on a few old favorites with agonizingly lengthy lines — sorry, Peter Pan’s Flight — in favor of getting the most bang for my Disney Dollar. It also meant foregoing some of the most delightful but schedule-consuming parts of the Disney experience — wandering through the three Disney hotels, character dining at Goofy’s Kitchen, cruising the Downtown Disney shopping and dining complex, taking leisurely circuits on the Monorail and the Disneyland Railroad.

Alas. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta get stuff done.

Between three abbreviated trips, though, I managed to get around to most of the attractions that mean Disneyland to me, as well as several new experiences that have appeared on the Disneyscape since my last visit seven years ago. Some of the highlights follow.

Pirates of the Caribbean. Number One on my list since the first time I rode it 37 years ago, and not even an interminable action movie franchise can change that. Unlike many Disneyland fanatics, I’m not such a hardcore traditionalist that I resist change, so I was tickled to see the new tweaks that have been added to Pirates to tie the ride and the films closer together. The appearances of Captain Jack Sparrow and company, in my opinion, actually give the ride more of a thematic through-line. And the Davy Jones mist-projection effect is wicked cool.

Haunted Mansion. Another classic that has benefited from a handful of high-tech upgrades. I love the new talking bride effect in the wedding scene. She’s a fitting companion to Madame Leota and the singing busts.

Toy Story Midway Mania. The newest addition to the offerings at Disneyland’s companion park, Disney’s California Adventure (hereafter referred to as DCA), is worth the trip all by itself. It’s a spectacular melding of a traditional Disney dark ride (it reminded me a lot of Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin) with a shooting gallery video game, with the added flair of 3D. The mothership park has its own newer ride based on a similar concept (Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters), but TSMM kicks the basic notion up about five levels of awesomeness. I could spend hours hopping back into the queue for this one.

Splash Mountain. It’s worth getting soaked — and believe me, I did — to experience one of Disneyland’s best-designed attractions. I’m old enough to recall when most of the Audio-Animatronic characters in the final scene resided in the Tomorrowland attraction America Sings, which long ago retired to Yesterland.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. I’ve never quite gotten past the bizarre disconnect of finding Indiana Jones in Disneyland, but when it’s working (the technically complex attraction breaks down frequently), this is still an amazingly fun ride. I do wish the Imagineers could find ways to fill in the attraction’s several dead spaces. Then again, if they put more effects in, the ride would probably break down even more often.

Jungle Cruise. My enjoyment of this classic is closely tied to the raconteurial talents of the skipper who guides the tour. Skipper Randy earned a solid B on this trip — nothing fancy or outside the box, but skillfully delivered. I confess a preference for the skips who push the envelope and really make the monologue their own, but I realize that isn’t everyone’s bag.

Enchanted Tiki Room. A visit to Disneyland would be woefully incomplete without a stop at the original Audio-Animatronic attraction. As I told the energetic and enthusiastic cast member on duty during my visit, the Tiki Room never gets old to me. Even in my advancing middle age, I feel no shame in singing along with the animated birds, flowers, and tikis. For 15 minutes, it’s my 1960s Hawaiian childhood all over again. Be sure you get a Dole Whip frozen pineapple dessert at the stand outside. Dole Whip is life.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The older I get, the less of an adrenaline junkie I am — not that I was much of one to begin with. But of all the Disney roller coasters, this one remains my favorite. The ride is less monotonous than Space Mountain — which, aside from the environment, is an awfully pedestrian coaster — and more jarring and electric than the Matterhorn. It’s also the only one where the theming really works. Always a treat.

Soaring Over California. The signs outside this DCA ride warn that people who are afraid of heights may want to skip the experience. No one on the planet is more acrophobic than I am, but I absolutely love this ride. The idea is that you’re soaring in a giant hang-glider over a series of scenic California locations. The effect is achieved through a combination of ride effects and an enormous IMAX screen — and what an effect it is! The one thing that would make this ride more effective is less abrupt transitions between the sequences. Oh… and 3D.

The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh. When last I visited Disneyland, the Pooh dark ride was still under construction. (Somewhere I have a photo of my daughter sitting in the ride vehicle that was then on display as a teaser for the coming attraction.) I’m glad I finally got to see the finished product. It’s a throwback to such old-school Fantasyland attractions as Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but with a modern twist. Nicely executed. (Bonus: No wait to ride.)

Monsters Inc.: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue: Another of the newer dark rides, this one at DCA. It’s an excellently themed attraction that makes clever use of the characters from Monsters Inc., though I doubt that the storyline makes much sense to anyone who hasn’t seen the film. For some reason, this ride is tucked away in an obscure corner of DCA that makes it difficult to find — at least, it did for me. I’ve never had to ask for directions at the Disney resort before, but I needed help from a friendly cast member this time.

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle Tour. The walk-through dioramas relating Princess Aurora’s story have been completely redone, incorporating distinctive visual effects. This little gem has always been one of Disneyland’s hidden treasures, but now it’s every bit as stunning as any of the other Fantasyland attractions. Very, very cool.

Independence Day fireworks. The Disney people outdid themselves with the aerial display on the night of July 4th. They threw in several pyrotechnical effects I’d never seen before. I can’t recall the last time I enjoyed a fireworks show as much.

Beyond my unavoidable time constraints, the only disappointment of my Disneyland journey was missing the Finding Nemo retooling of Tomorrowland’s venerable Submarine Voyage. This has always been a slow-loading attraction with a lengthy wait, and with the new theming, everyone who visits the park — especially everyone with Nemo-loving kids — wants to see it. I’ll have to catch it next time around.

Shopping is an essential facet of the Disney experience, and I’m pleased to report that I contributed my fair share to Mickey’s corporate coffers. I brought home souvenirs for the girls: KJ got a sweatshirt, a new Disneyland tote bag to replace the one she’s been carrying for the past seven years, a Mickey mug, and an addition to her spoon collection. KM got a Tinker Bell T-shirt and a Cinderella mug, the latter laser-etched with the legend, “Once a Princess, Always a Princess.” (She’ll need that as a reminder when she heads off to college next month.)

For myself — yes, of course, I bought goodies for myself; it was my trip, right? — I picked up a vintage baseball shirt (memo to Disney Merchandising: stock more apparel in plus sizes, because fat guys spend money too), a rolling tote that will be the new addition to my travel ensemble, and a terrific mug reading, “Beneath this Grumpy exterior beats the heart of a dashing hero.” As Baloo would say, “You’d better believe it!”

After singing my heart out on the BHS International stage and tripping the Disney light fantastic, I capped my Anaheim trip on Sunday afternoon by taking in a baseball game pitting the homestanding Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim against the visiting Baltimore Orioles. More about that in my next post.

Until then, save me a seat in the Tiki Room.

Happy Bastilla Day!

July 14, 2009

If you happen to be in France as you read this, happy Bastille Day.

Only the French would think it a good idea to have a national holiday honoring a prison. I doubt that one could muster much enthusiasm on these shores for, say, San Quentin Day.

Seeing that Bastille Day is a tough sell, I’m proposing an alternative: Bastilla Day.

Sweet, savory Moroccan pie stuffed with chicken, eggs, and almonds, dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar… who couldn’t get behind that?

Eighth is not enough

July 13, 2009

Most of you probably know whence I headed off on my recent annual hiatus. For the benefit of the newcomers, however…

VIH_logo_250x109

I spent the first week of this month with my chorus, Voices in Harmony, at the Barbershop Harmony Society‘s International Convention in Anaheim, California. This marked our third consecutive year of competing in the International Chorus Contest — which is pretty cool in itself, considering that we’re only three years old. (The ensemble. Not the individual members. Although we descend to that level of emotional maturity on rare occasion.)

VIH placed eighth in this year’s contest. Disappointing, seeing that we placed third a year ago with similar scores. But that’s a reflection of the quantum leap that many of our fellow competitors took during the past twelve months. The two choruses that won the gold and silver medals this year both eclipsed the previous record high score for choruses. The chorus that placed sixth scored a 90% average — no chorus had ever before scored a 90 without placing in the top three. (We took third last year with an average score of 89.8.)

So, we have our work cut out for us over the next contest cycle, as we look forward to next July in Philadelphia.

Congratulations to the Ambassadors of Harmony from St. Charles, Missouri, on their record-shattering win. The Ambassadors surpassed a powerful challenge by the Vocal Majority from Dallas, which hadn’t been defeated at International in their last 10 appearances, dating back three decades. (The chorus that wins the International contest is required to sit out for two competition cycles, and thus can only compete every third year.)

Choruses from suburban Minneapolis, Denver, and Toronto rounded out the top five.

For the first time ever, the director of the winning chorus was also a member of the championship quartet. Dr. Jim Henry, best known to barbershop fans as the bass of the legendary Gas House Gang, teamed with three other previous gold medal singers — lead Mike Slamka, baritone Brandon Guyton, and tenor Fred Farrell — to form Crossroads, which edged out a tough slate of foursomes to take home the gold.

As for me… well… I drowned my dashed medalist dreams at Disneyland. And at an Angels baseball game.

I’ll write about my adventures in the Magic Kingdom in my next post.

My date with the Mitchell Brothers, revisited

July 13, 2009

The hot story around these parts today is the arrest of James Raphael Mitchell, who stands accused of beating his girlfriend to death and kidnapping their infant daughter over this past weekend. (The child was found unharmed and returned safely to her maternal grandmother. Thanks for asking.)

Mitchell is the son of the late Jim Mitchell, of the notorious Mitchell Brothers, once the Pornography Kings of San Francisco. (Marilyn Chambers, Behind the Green Door, the O’Farrell Theatre, Rated Xthose Mitchell Brothers.)

You may recall that back in 1991, Jim killed his high-living sibling Artie — the junior half of the aforementioned Brothers — and ultimately served three years in prison for manslaughter. Post-incarceration, Jim died of a heart attack at his home right here in Sonoma County in 2007.

All of the above simply affords me the opportunity (or excuse — choose the word you prefer) to share with you again the once-told story of my now-legendary interview with Jim and Artie Mitchell, back in the day.

It’s okay… the link is SFW.

Trust me.

Memo to Bill Cosby

July 12, 2009

Dear Cos:

Be careful. Junior Barnes is looking for you, with a snowball in his hand.

Oh, yeah… happy birthday.

Your friend,

Swan

Comic Art Friday: Back to the egg

July 10, 2009

All right, already. I know that I took a few more than seven days off. But I’m back.

Just in time, in fact, to celebrate SSTOL’s fifth anniversary.

That’s right, friend reader — five years ago this weekend, your Uncle Swan first spread his mighty wings over the Internet. The cyberverse would never again be the same.

Although our signature tradition of Comic Art Fridays wouldn’t begin until several months after SSTOL’s debut, I thought that in honor of our quinquennial, we’d revisit the very first piece of comic art ever posted on these august Web pages. (Actually, if you want to get picky about it, the august pages at the old e-dress. But you know what I mean.)

WonderWoman_Adkins

This Mona Lisa-like portrait of Wonder Woman inaugurated my comic art gallery, and in particular my collection of pinups dedicated to the Amazing Amazon. Both the pencils and inks are the work of longtime comics stalwart Dan Adkins, considered by many one of the greatest inkers in the history of comics, but also a penciler of significant distinction. Adkins broke into the industry as the assistant of legendary comics artist Wally Wood, then went on to a stellar career on his own merits.

For whatever reason, Wonder Woman is one of Adkins’s favorite pinup subjects. Today I own three of Dan’s Dianas, but this was the first one I purchased. Ironically, I bought it less because it was a great Wonder Woman drawing than because it reminded me a little of my good friend Donna, another statuesque brunette with a remarkably similar first name. (I’ve never actually seen Donna sporting a bustier and tiara, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did.)

Five years later, this piece is something of an anomaly in my gallery. I don’t usually collect closeups or medium shots — to borrow the cinematographer’s parlance — and these days, I rarely buy a new drawing that I didn’t commission personally. But even though this Adkins WW sticks out like a cowlick in my Temple of Diana, and even though I own better representations of the character by the same artist, I’ve hung onto this one because it’s the cornerstone upon which the entire rest of my collection was constructed.

Not to mention a continuing legacy of Comic Art Fridays.

Speaking of which…

This has been another one.

[View the back catalog of Comic Art Friday posts here.]