Mickey’s 90th Birthday gifts are a mixed bag

This weekend, Mickey Mouse is celebrating his 90th birthday. In past birthdays Disney has celebrated with a special cupcake, maybe some merchandise, and a social media campaign, but not much else. I foolishly assumed his 90th birthday would be something similar. Instead, Disney brought out the media train in full force.


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Earlier in the week at IAPPA, Disney’s Chairman of Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products, Bob Chapek shared a few details about upcoming Disney Parks projects. The Disney Skyliner will be open by Fall of 2019, and we got an exciting test video of the Guardians of the Galaxy coaster. But in true Disney fashion, the real show came on Disney’s own turf at Disney’s D23: Destination D event.


Buckle up, because we have a lot of details coming your way. We’ll start at Epcot. If you’re like me, you’ve already begun the 12 step program to say goodbye to the currently running fireworks show, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. We’ll say goodbye to that show in 2019, and today we have learned that its permanent replacement will arrive in 2020. In Disney’s words “The new nighttime spectacular will celebrate how Disney music inspires people around the world, and will feature massive floating set pieces, custom-built LED panels, choreographed moving fountains, lights, pyrotechnics, and lasers”.


This is more confirmation of the concerns that Epcot purists have had about Disney characters becoming a larger presence in Epcot. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t see how anyone can (or should) be surprised. Disney has been clear about this for a while. You can be upset about it, but not surprised. We only have a brief description to go off of but if we are going to have Disney characters in Epcot, this sounds like a pretty good way to do it. The big tell for me will be if they respect and honor the actual cultures of the respective countries. They can use the characters as a primer for kids, but use that foot in the door to share some highlights of actual culture.


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In fact, we learned today that both Canada and China will receive new circle vision films, which is very welcome news. France will also receive an additional film, but not a replacement to Impressions de France. Instead, a Beauty and the Beast sing along based off the live action film. I’m not the biggest fan of this (although I can already hear my nieces asking me to take them), but they haven’t removed Impressions De France, so I’m taking this as a win win. We have 2 years to wait to see how they handle the integration of Disney characters into World Showcase, but I’m optimistic.


Disney will be filling that 2 year gap with a temporary show ironically titled “Epcot Forever” in fall 2019. They shared a piece of concept art, and the detail was that it will “feature classic Epcot tunes”. Some have speculated that they may use a mini show that is currently used for some conventions and special events, but there is no confirmation of that. If you’ve been to Hollywood studios recently, you’re familiar with the sense of limbo as we await the reimagining of the park. It sounds like starting in 2019, we will begin to feel that at Epcot.

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We don’t have too much longer to wait for some new entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as we learned that a new nighttime show will debut in May. Utilizing very familiar projection technology, “Wonderful World of Animation” will celebrate 90 years of Disney (and Pixar) animation. As Tom Bricker points out, there is no mention of pyrotechnics so this will probably be a show to play in front of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, which is presented at the Chinese Theater. 

Speaking of that Chinese theater, the same concept art shows some updates to the facade. I’m not sure if this will be done during the show with projection technology, or if this is a peek to a new permanent fixture on the building. Here’s hoping it’s the former. We also have what seems like a slightly delayed launch window for Mickey’s Runaway Railway of Fall 2019. I don’t know what is taking this long for a dark ride, but I’m hoping it’s worth the wait because Fall 19 is shaping up to be a busy time at the studios.


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A majority of those Fall 19 crowds will be headed to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. This is the real meat and potatoes of the event, as we learned a decent amount about the relatively secretive project. “Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run” and “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance” are the official names of the main attractions at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. These are pretty wordy for my taste, but I get why. If they name the Falcon attraction “Smugglers Run”, guests will eventually end up calling it the Millennium Falcon ride. It reminds me a lot of Apple naming the touch screen iPod, the iPod touch. The official name is iPod touch, but tell me anytime you’ve ever heard someone call it that and not “iTouch”. In this case, Disney is just going with what they know people will end up calling it.


At 86 years old, one of the most influential composers in Hollywood isn’t slowing down. John Williams has been composing the music for main line Star Wars films, and is going to continue with composing the score for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Let that sink in. John Williams, a legend in Hollywood, is composing the score, for a theme park. I’m not sure that this has ever been done. Yes Michael Giacchino has written some great attraction music, but it looks like Williams is involved in the whole nine yards. They’re not just hitting shuffle on every Star Wars album and calling it a day. There was a clip of the score released, and you should definitely take a listen. I was already on the hype train, but this clip put me in the conductor’s seat.


While I might be excited about an extremely immersive experience, I was a little concerned about normal day guests. I have a lot of friends that I would consider nerds, and they would never want to do any live action role playing in a theme park. They want to be immersed in a different world, but not quite dress up and play a part. It looks like Disney may have realized this in some play testing at Disneyland, as they announced today that you can role play only if you wish. It will be facilitated through the Disney Play app, so it’s easy to join. Or not. This is probably the right call, but I hope the experience is still ground breaking and immersive. There’s a difference between getting lost in the world of Star Wars, and being glued to your phone where you’ll get Twitter notifications, iMessages, calls, etc. 

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If you on the other hand want to be fully immersed into the Star Wars universe, Disney has you covered there as well. The untitled Star Wars hotel won’t be opening alongside Galaxy’s Edge, but it does seem like this resort will really scratch the itch of the most passionate Star Wars fans. Pitched as a cruise liner in the Star Wars universe, you can safely assume the First Order will fix that pesky “relaxing” vacation you planned on. I’m sure there will be plenty of quests for you to embark on be it in the hotel itself, but also inside Galaxy’s Edge.

Untitled Star Wars Hotel

Untitled Star Wars Hotel


As though they need to make it extremely clear that you don’t need to dress up like a Jedi to stay at a hotel, Disney also shared the name of the previously announced resort coming to the Fort Wilderness area. Reflections - A Disney LakeSide lodge, will open in 2022. I’m disappointed to say that this is the least interesting announcement of the day. The concept art was released last month, and it looks like any hotel that you would find in basically any city. Or maybe a rehab facility you might find in south Florida. This absurdly mundane name compliments the lifeless aesthetics of the architecture, so I guess they nailed what they were going for. Bob Chapek has said that his goal is to make everything “distinctly Disney”. I’m not sure what is “distinctly Disney” about a holiday inn, but what do I know? I’m just an average Dis nerd.


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Even with that negative response, there is still a lot to be excited for here. Disney has repeatedly said that Galaxy’s Edge will be revolutionary, and the more we learn about it, the more I think that isn’t hyperbole. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter changed the industry without question, but Galaxy’s Edge may just turn it upside down. Epcot is getting some much needed TLC in the form of updated circle vision films and some new nighttime entertainment. There will even be a quick farewell to the Epcot of old before the new era is brought in.

My disappointment in these announcements cannot be boiled down to “Intellectual property has no place here”. IP can be used to attract guests provided there is a clear vision. I have yet to see a clear vision for Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot other than an assortment of attractions featuring characters you know and love. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but that story has not yet been told.

Epcot Forever - temporary opening in Fall 2019, closing at some point in 2020

Epcot Forever - temporary opening in Fall 2019, closing at some point in 2020

Avengers: Infinity War


Avengers: Infinity War Review

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Much has been said about Marvel putting together the “most ambitious crossover event in history”. From a business perspective, the success of Marvel Studios is undeniable. The only films that can compete at the box office with Marvel at the moment are close cousins, Star Wars. For critics, the success has been more hot and cold. For every “Captain America: Winter Soldier”, there might be a “Thor: The Dark World”. Now after 10 years and 18 movies, Marvel has not only mastered the ability to construct a cinematic universe but also how to sacrifice it.


This is your formal warning for spoilers about The Avengers: Infinity War. I am one that chooses to avoid any form of media possible when it comes to a big movie like this. If you haven’t yet seen Infinity War but want to, the best advice I can give is to go in blind. Go in with as little information as possible. Of course I’d love for you to come back after you see the movie and read the rest of this post, but until then enjoy the movie.

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Fans of game of thrones will tell you the season premiere and finale of each season are events. People throw parties, order pizza and drinks, and enter Westeros together. Avengers Infinity War is the cinematic version of the premiere. In isolation, it is an exciting romp through the cosmos with some interesting characters. For fans of the universe, it is a harrowing fight for their lives. For fans like myself, this is a Godsend. The serialized movie universe that we’ve dreamt about for years may actually stick the landing. For others though, it may be exhausting. Recently, friends of mine who have not seen a single Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie asked me if they should go see Infinity War this weekend. I had to take a surprising amount of time to come to the answer of “maybe not”. I’m not saying that those people wouldn’t enjoy themselves, but much like Game of Thrones, a lot of the emotional punch of this movie is delivered because of movies and character moments that came before it.


The story itself is simple enough to follow, even without knowledge of the 17 movies that preceded it. There’s a villain who needs to find shiny stones, and you’ll learn about why as we move along. A newcomer could easily keep up with the plot beats. Although, that same newcomer will have a really hard time investing emotionally with the cavalcade of Hollywood stars that share the 156 min runtime. The film makers understand this and don’t spend much time (if any at all) introducing characters. The moment the bass line of “Rubberband Man” begins, the movie assumes the audience will have an idea of who will be coming up next. With less time needing to be spent on character introductions, there’s more time to jump straight to character interactions.

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From the moment Nick Fury appeared on screen in the end credits sting for Iron Man, to the first time Tom Holland’s spider-man swung onto the screen, fans have concocted countless ideas about how their favorite characters would bounce off of each other on screen. To a certain extent, those connections are the reason people want to see these movies. To avoid overwhelming the audience, the enormous roster of characters is split up into smaller groups early on in the movie. The New Yorkers defend manhattan, the globetrotting avengers defend Vision in Scotland, and the Guardians of the Galaxy meet up with Thor to defend other worlds. If you have a favorite Marvel character, you will likely have at least one moment in this movie where you cheer or gasp. Each group is not only given the opportunity to have some amazing battle moments with each other (Spider-Man easily catches a hammer aimed at Mr. Stark and casually exclaims “sup dude?”), but also character building moments. Rocket begins to fill the shoes of a leader by talking to Thor about his tragic past, which sets up Thor to have a truly heroic finale. After his terrifying run in with Thanos Hulk struggles with PTSD, which forces Banner to be a fighting member of the team. The only weak point in this formula is that not every character gets much deserved screen time. Steve Rogers and Bucky finally reunite as friends, but the moment is over as soon as it begins. While one might say that the Russos did that intentionally to create a sense of urgency, it ultimately removes weight from the tragic ending that Thanos brings.


There is a phrase that is said in the comic fan community that Marvel focuses on compelling heroes, while DC focuses on interesting villains. Of course there’s no black and white here, but this has been somewhat true for Marvel and DC movies. While Loki is a thoughtful and formidable villain, you can’t find many that would argue he is better than Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. Marvel seems to have heard this in recent years and has brought us villains like Baron Zemo, Adrian Toomes, and Erik Killmonger. All of whom have taken on a noble cause, but with extreme methods. Following in their footsteps, the writers of AIW have taken Thanos in a more empathetic direction from his comic roots. Rather than have him attempt to woo a literal embodiment of death (seriously guys, comics are out there), Thanos wants to bring balance to the universe. His goal of combating overpopulation is emmpathetic considering we share the same problem on earth, but his methods are extreme and lack compassion. Thanos’ battle with the Hulk is disturbing and sets the tone of the movie extremely well. In contrast, Thanos’ children, The Black Order, are not given as much menace. They fulfill their job of distracting and challenging The Avengers, but without much information other than their power, they are never quite as compelling as their father.

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One would assume after all these movies and buildup, this big bad Thanos would be a force to be reckoned with. With that force comes loss. While superheroes are known for sacrificing themselves for the greater good, Infinity War forces our heroes to question whether or not they can sacrifice more than themselves. Some characters like Heimdall sacrifice their lives to protect others, while numerous characters are asked to sacrifice what they love. Peter Quill and Scarlett Witch are both asked to sacrifice a loved one. Even though neither of our heroes actually succeed in their sacrifice, the decision to act on it changes them. The villain is the only one to succeed in this sacrifice. Thanos struggles to kill Gamora initially, but he always knew nothing would stop him from achieving his goals. Thanos even watches these heroes grapple with what they have to do, and he tells Gamora “I like him” and tells Wanda “now is not the time to mourn”. The end game is easy for him. For all the talk of D.C. being dark and Marvel being too “light-hearted”, the theme of sacrifice is challenging and discomforting. Marvel demonstrates that you do not need to have a dark color palette and gruesome deaths to have challenging and adult themes.


It is fitting that a studio that produces a film with such strong themes of sacrifice may soon be sacrificing much of what they’ve built. Infinity War is a film that takes everything Marvel has learned over the past 10 years of translating comic books to film and attempts to put them in a pressure cooker. They mostly succeed in delivering the cinematic version of what comic book fans have had for decades, and by the end of this movie it seems that they are ready to start anew. Infinity War sacrifices almost all of their newest and most popular characters, with a strong and emotional moment. Those familiar with comic books can assume that these characters will be returning in the finale, but I think Marvel is preparing us for what will inevitably be a bittersweet final movie. Marvel is ready to move in a new direction, and Infinity War is the first step in sacrificing the old to bring in the new.

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