there is a hidden Roy Disney tribute that was at WDW from the very beginning and still resides prominently but generally unknown on WDW property. The story starts and ends in Japan.
Emperor Hirohito of Japan was a huge fan of Mickey Mouse. He was given a Mickey Mouse watch as a gift during his special tour of Disneyland in 1975. For years, even on formal occasions, His Majesty was observed wearing the watch. In 1979, there was panic when the watch stopped ticking, and a concerned palace chamberlain rushed it to Tokyo experts specializing in American timepieces.
This situation was of such national concern to both Hirohito and the people of Japan that it was reported in “Time” magazine in its September 18, 1979 issue. Fortunately, the watch merely required a new battery.
When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, two Japanese companies were investigating the possibilities of having a Disneyland in Japan. Official formal talks with lawyers began in 1974 with a contract finally being signed in 1979.
To help cement the friendship between Japan and Disney, Emperor Hirohito personally presented to Roy O. Disney, for the dedication of the Magic Kingdom, a Japanese lantern to light the way to success and happiness.
No, it wasn’t a paper lantern. There are many, many different kinds of Japanese lanterns. This one was a Toro.
Toro are usually a stone lantern used to illuminate the grounds of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, Japanese gardens and other locations that are steeped in tradition. The hollowed out top piece is where a candle or oil lamp is placed. The most famous of these lanterns are the several thousand lining the entry to Nara Prefecture’s Kasuga Shrine.For almost ten years, the gift was on display, without any placard, at the Polynesian Resort. However, with the opening of Epcot’s World Showcase with a Japan Pavilion (as well as the construction of Tokyo Disneyland only a year from completion), the stone lantern was moved to the Japan Pavilion, right opposite the structure at the entrance that was inspired by the eighth-century pagoda found at Horyuji Temple in Nara.The deer on the side of the lantern represents the famous Nara Deer Park adjacent to the shrine.
When I asked one of my Imagineering friends why there was no placard sharing this story, he replied without hesitation that “it is a story of the Disney parks but not of the story of Japan we are trying to represent”. However, I did notice the next year at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival that a placard with the story did temporarily appear although it has seemed to have disappeared once again.Thousands of guests pass the lantern every day without realizing its story but now you won’t be one of them.
Wow. So Emperor Hirohito of Japan and King Hassan II of Morocco contributed to their respective pavilions.
Are there any other human rights violators who are personally represented in the World Showcase?
Disney’s Hollywood Studio Backlot Tour
The Backlot Tour opened with the park in 1989. As of 2013, it’s twenty-four years old.
Here are some attractions that didn’t last twenty-four years.
Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland,
Disneyland’s Country Bear Jamboree,
Adventures Thru Inner-Space,
World of Motion,
the entirety of the Wonders of Life pavilion,
Journey into Imagination,
If You Had Wings,
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,
about half of California Adventure,
and the vast majority of all of the attractions in both of the American Tomorrowlands.
In the next year, the Backlot Tour will surpass el Rio del Tiempo, and in two years, the Magic Kingdom’s version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Mark my words: this thing will outlive the Great Movie Ride, Walt Disney World, and possibly humankind.
Forget Seinfeld—theme parks are unique in telling a type of story where nothing happens.
They feature neither dialogue nor action. There are no visible protagonists, objectives, or antagonists. The events began, escalated, and resolved long before we arrived.
These stories are forensic. They leave archeological clues that imply what happened, which lets us assemble the pieces together into a narrative.
My girlfriend stole my planner and filled it with silly activities. I followed all of her instructions—except for the one that said, “Write a poem about bees.”
For over a year, I’ve been unable to find an exhibit of live bees between Central and South Florida…until today. Animal Kingdom is celebrating Pollinators’ Day, and I’m celebrating the conclusion of my photo essay!
I also made Disney History by being the first person to go to Disney World specifically for Rafiki’s Planet Watch!
A GIF is an image that can support animation. Nothing too complicated, mind you, just a few actions. Roughly as much as we’d see, passing by an animatronic in a dark ride.
Here, for example, is a GIF of the clock from it’s a small world.
That’s all that clock does, all day, every day, rain or shine. There are classier ways to argue for theme parks as a valid artistic medium, but goddamn if that 8-bit image doesn’t capture what makes that clock as fun as it is in real life.
Some animatronics take their GIF-like movement a step further—by telling stories. There are fewer of these characters, but they enrich their surroundings immeasurably.
A ride populated with living characters who tell small-but-complete stories feels less like a narrative and more like a world. Everyone’s dealing with their own problems, but they’re all related to problems you’d find in the jungle. Or with ghosts, or pirates, et cetera.
Of course, there aren’t many GIFs of animatronics. That would be helpful. That would illustrate my theory. That would make this essay easier to read. Thank heavens the internet hasn’t cursed us with more than a handful of GIFs of animatronics.
The internet has, mercifully enough, provided us with a wealth of GIFs from Disney cartoons. In theory, these could be adapted into animatronic figures, so for our purposes, we’ll pretend that’s what they are.
Without further ado, let’s discuss the GIF story.
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait—“more than two hours” for it’s a small world?!
Has anyone—even on the blackest of blackout days—ever waited longer than one hour?
Every time Br’er Bear is in Splash Mountain, he’s showing off his taint. Someone might as well get some fanservice out of it.
The moral of this story: if you build it, they will come.
“When I was [designing the Enchanted Tiki Room’s birds,] I had runners to get the feathers. […]
“The guys loved that assignment because when they went to Hollywood Fancy Feathers, that’s where the strippers got their feathers. They would love me to send them down there and they’d come back and tell me who they’d seen.
“One time they came back, one of them said they saw a stripper and her mother—and they were both strippers!”Harriet Burns, Imagineer
And there you have it. Disneyland was a place where parents could have as much fun as their children, and so was the strip club near Hollywood Fancy Feathers.
Apparently this is one of the last photos taken of Walt Disney, and it’s also one of the few times he actually visited Disney World.
I like to think that, as sweat spooled down his moustache hairs and splotched the papers beneath him, he wondered, “Christ, why did it have to be Florida?”
Tex Ritter, “Blood on the Saddle”
It’s a real song. It’s two minutes and fifty seconds long.
Seriously. Who in their right mind chose to play this song in the Magic Kingdom and how can I shake their butch, butch hand.
After we opened [it’s a small world], people loved it. But, it still generated a lot of scrutiny from the public. You wouldn’t believe the questions and letters that we received about it.
For example, there was one letter from Australia that stated, “The koala bears that you have in the Island section would die climbing those palm trees because they live off eucalyptus leaves. We would like to see eucalyptus leaves in the bears’ hands.”
Well, my first reaction was, “Where did you ever see a koala bear that was made out of yellow chicken feathers?” But, believe it or not, real eucalyptus leaves were put in the bear’s hands in case that guest from Australia ever came back.Rolly Crump, Imagineer
Wait, why aren’t they still holding the leaves?
I like to think the Australian returned, and wrote another pissy note, so Rolly taught him a lesson by starving the koalas.
Space Mountain, one of Disney’s most viable franchises, seems to have doomed Tomorrowland to existence, and the inclusion of Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters seem to be the most viable opportunities to continue to resuscitate the land. But I ask: why?
Hong Kong Disneyland’s flaccid, flat, vacant Tomorrowland is window dressing to their version of Space Mountain, so if the inclusion of a whole area to validate the existence of a single thrill ride is deemed important to the essential makeup of the park, then the solution is to reinvent Space Mountain so it doesn’t have to inhabit a Tommorowland area and axe Tomorowland from all future designs entirely.
Disney seems uncomfortable with futurism these days, and real forward-thinking futurism died in mainstream culture around the time of Walt Disney’s passing.
— FoxxFur, “Futures with No Future”
Harriet Burns, Imagineer
Look on the bright side, Harriet. Walt probably would’ve forced you to clean that restroom, right before you started cooking the other Imagineers’ dinner, and picked up their kids at school.