The Mouse Knows Best Podcast

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Salute to All Nations but Mostly America: Celebrating America at Disney

It was July 4, 2013.

My roommate, Erika, had just gotten home from an early morning shift at the Magic Kingdom where I was eagerly awaiting our afternoon plans.  We were going to the Magic Kingdom to see the Fourth of July fireworks.

Or so we thought.

We were naive little Disney Cast Members who were excited to spend their first July 4th watching the fireworks on Main Street.

What we didn’t anticipate is this:

Robyn Fleenor
So there we sat, on the Showcase Plaza area between the Port Entry and Disney Trader stores, and waited.  We figured the park would reopen later and we would get in.

We wandered around Epcot and to different resorts just trying to pass the time.  Eventually, as the sun began to set, we found ourselves perched on a bench outside the Magic Kingdom turnstiles.  I was furiously checking Twitter to see if someone...anyone was posting about the Magic Kingdom opening back up to guests.

And then it happened.

Robyn Fleenor
Less than an hour before the fireworks began, we were able to get into the park; however, we did not get too far inside the park.  We were stuck right in the middle of Main Street USA with a few thousand of our closest friends.

But the fireworks didn’t disappoint, and once they were over, we looked at each other and almost without words headed straight to the monorail to try and catch the fireworks at Epcot.

We made it and it was hands down one of the best memories of my time with the Walt Disney Company.

Although the Fourth of July only comes around once a year, you can see Walt Disney’s love for America and history all around the parks any day of the year.  

Walt Disney World

Main Street USA

From the moment you walk into Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you are transported back to the early 1900s in small town America.  There are bakeries, penny arcades, and City Halls.  The pinstripe-clan barbershop quartet, the Dapper Dans, can be heard harmonizing to Americana music and Disney classics.  The smell of freshly popped popcorn wafts through the air.  An American flag waves high in the air just pass the turn of the century train station where the steam locomotive passes through.  As you’re making your way right down the middle of Main Street USA, if you look up, you will notice various names painted on the windows.  Each one represents a different Imagineer or someone integral in the founding of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  Time stands still on this street, and I think that’s just the way Walt Disney wanted it to be.  He wanted us to always remember the small town America, like the one he came from in Marceline, Missouri.  

All Ears

Liberty Square and Frontierland

When you make your way out of Main Street USA at Walt Disney World, if you take the second bridge to your left, you’ll wind up in Liberty Square. The early, colonial American themes of the lands show a progression and history of the nation from east to west beginning with the 1660s-1880s: upstate New York-themed Haunted Mansion and traveling clockwise around the Rivers of America to end up in the late 1880s in Southern California at Frontierland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  America’s Founding Fathers come to life in The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square.  The show features a short film on the history of America as well as all of the presidents’ likeness as an Audio-Animatronic.  Similarly, in Disneyland, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is located on Main Street USA and offers a brief film on American history before the sixteenth president gives a speech.

Walt Disney World

American Adventure

Over at Epcot, The American Adventure offers a journey through America’s history.  The half-hour presentation is narrated by Audio-Animatronic historical figures Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. As the different periods of time change, different Audio-Animatronic characters and sets rise from the stage floor to tell their story.  The Audio-Animatronics follow American history from the American Revolutionary War to the Great Depression while a film montage brings viewers into the present day. In the rotunda of the World Showcase host pavilion, guests are treated daily to the Voices of Liberty. The eight member a cappella group performs in costumes from the 1800s and uses the rotunda’s dome to perfect their acoustics and amplify their voices.  Similar to the Dapper Dans, the Voices of Liberty sing a variety of songs, from classic Americana tunes to Disney classics.

Unlike Halloween and Christmas, the July Fourth holiday can be seen year-round at the Walt Disney World Resort. What is your favorite America-themed land or attraction at the Disney Parks? Let us know by tweeting us @TMKBpodcast!

Robyn Fleenor is a contributing writer for The Mouse Knows Best Podcast. She is an avid Disney fanatic and would rather be at Walt Disney World eating glazed almonds than anything else.  When she isn't working to pay for her next Disney vacation, she likes to binge watch TV shows and fall in love with fictional characters. She can be found tweeting at @rahrah6263.

Friday, June 23, 2017

And That’s the Gospel Truth: Why Hercules is One of the Best Disney Movies

Disney Wiki
The Disney Renaissance Era was packed full of classics: The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan.  These were the first films that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken worked on and of the ten films released during these years, four went on to be turned into Broadway musicals. So it is safe to say the Disney Renaissance Era was the pinnacle of Disney filmmaking.

And in June of 1997, a ridiculously underrated classic was released.  Compared to the box office totals during its first two weeks, Hercules performed less than its box office hit siblings by bringing in $58 million. As a result Disney stock slipped by almost 10 percent.  Some say that competing with other family films such as Men in Black and Batman and Robin contributed to Hercules’s less than stellar performance at the box office.

But I’m here to tell you, this is one of the best Disney movies.  And here are four reasons why I think that:

1. The Music

The music of Hercules is one of the best soundtracks from Disney.  The Greek mythology-based film features music composed by Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel.  The gospel music style of the film was suggested by co-screenwriter and co-director John Musker. “Gospel is a storytelling kind of music. It can be exhilarating, especially when it gets everybody on their feet,” Musker said in a 1997 article in the London Sunday Mirror.  “We were looking for a modern equivalent for the Greek references and this style of music seemed to be entertaining and a real departure at the same time."  From the Muses opening up the film with “The Gospel Truth” to the title character singing “Go the Distance” to Megara’s “I Won’t Say I’m In Love,” the soundtrack feels both deeply Disney and something brand new. Although it hasn’t been turned into a Broadway musical.  Yet.

2. Realistic Villain

Hades wasn’t someone you felt bad for.  He was the bad guy and that was clear from the beginning.  His villainous self is more akin to Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty who wanted to kill her enemy’s daughter than the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs who wanted to be the fairest of them all.  Hades wants to get back at Zeus, so what does he do?  Takes Zeus’s newborn baby and makes him mortal so Hades himself can have Hercules’s soul one day.  But jokes on Hades when Pain and Panic don’t give baby Herc all the potion and he still remains a god.  In addition to his evil side, Hades also has a sarcastic side that rivals any character in the Disney world. After Meg says Hercules won’t hurt her, Hades points out that “HE’S A GUY” so of course he will.  Hades is manipulative and controlling with a dash of sarcastic humor, and that makes him the perfect villain.


3. Real Character Progression

Unlike other movies, all the main characters go through some form of characters progression.  Hercules doesn’t just magically become a god.  He has to work hard to become a god.  And when he becomes a god again, he realizes that the fame isn’t everything he had hoped and chooses to live his life as a mortal to be with Meg.  For Megara, she goes from not trusting men to falling in love with Hercules.  Of course, it’s not an overnight think like it is for some female characters  (I’m looking at you, Cinderella). Meg is secure in who she is.  She knows she was tricked by the man she once loved and that means she’s stuck with Hades now.  She accepts her fate but is trying to better herself at the same time.  The story lines - although based on a myth - have real life applications.  We all have to overcome and accept our past to get to our future.  And Hercules teaches us that.


4.  The Humor.

From Meg’s sassy attitude to Pain and Panic’s comedic relief to the subtle jokes, Hercules is packed full of humor.  There are so many jokes that you may not even catch them all the first time viewing the film.  And some probably went over your head if you watched it as a kid.  Either way, the humor in Hercules is on point and other Disney films should take note that adults like animated movies too and dropping a few jokes for the “older” crowd never hurt anyone.

The Odyssey 

5. Philoctetes

I would be remiss to go an entire article without mentioning the great Philoctetes. The great trainer of heroes, Phil has been constantly disappointed in the shortcomings of his trainees. He's just about given up hope when Hercules comes along seeking his help. Phil is reluctant at first; he doesn't want another wannabe hero to mar his already muddied name. But Hercules is different and despite his original hesitance, Phil decided to train him. And much to his surprise and delight, Hercules becomes the shining star of Phil's life. When people look at Hercules, they think of Phil's boy. And that's all Phil has ever wanted. To train the next zero to hero. And he accomplishes that with Hercules.

Now that you know my favorite Disney movie, tell us about YOUR favorite Disney movie and why you love that movie. Tweet us at @TMKBPodcast and let us know!

Robyn Fleenor is a contributing writer for The Mouse Knows Best Podcast. She is an avid Disney fanatic and would rather be at Walt Disney World eating glazed almonds than anything else.  When she isn't working to pay for her next Disney vacation, she likes to binge watch TV shows and fall in love with fictional characters. She can be found tweeting at @rahrah6263.

Friday, June 16, 2017

We’re Ready to Go: 10 Attractions That Need to Be Replaced/Updated

In my previous article, I discussed ten attractions I hope will never be replaced at the Walt Disney World Resort.  That list was easy.

But this list was hard.

It was hard because I could fight just as hard for each attraction to stay, if for only sentimental reasons.  But Walt Disney himself said it better than I ever could: “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

In order to move forward onto new things, we have to let go of some things and leave them in the past.  So, it’s with that sentiment in mind that I present you this list.
Walt Disney World

10. Finding Nemo- The Musical

It’s been ten years since Nemo and company swam onto the stage. And just like Nemo and his school friends, I’m ready for them to go. With so many Disney movies that naturally incorporate songs, I feel like the space could be better utilized to promote a new musical production.  Just not Frozen.  Anything but another Frozen attraction.

Walt Disney World

9. Indiana Jones™ Epic Stunt Spectacular!

Although the show is a great way to see the behind the scenes workings of the popular Harrison Ford-led franchise, I believe it’s time for the nearly thirty-year old attraction to bid farewell to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to make way for the next generation of Hollywood Magic.  Just as Lights, Motors, Action! was removed to make way for Star Wars Land, removing Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! opens up a whole part of the park that could be expanded to accommodate more guests in the least visited Walt Disney World theme park. And with the construction of the new, expanded parking lot at DHS, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show was already on the chopping block as a new entrance to the park has been rumored for years.

Walt Disney World

8. Dinoland/Dinosaur

This area is basically just the walk through for me to get to Restaurantosaurus from Expedition Everest.  There is so much space there that could offer even more potential at the youngest Walt Disney World theme park.  And the nearly twenty-year-old Dinosaur attraction is in need of an overhaul.  The 2000 animated film of the same name was never a huge hit and yet it still managed to gain its own themed attraction - even if it is indirectly themed.  After the success of Pandora - The World of Avatar and Rivers of Light, it’s clear that Animal Kingdom has stepped up its theme park game, and it’s time for Dinoland to become extinct to make way for something fresh and new.

Walt Disney World

7.Tom Sawyer Island

I struggled putting this one on the list for two reasons: Walt Disney and Mark Twain.  But at the end of the day, land around the Magic Kingdom is hard to come by, and having a random island in the middle of Rivers of America could serve a bigger purpose than a place where few seem to visit.  I’m not an Imagineer, so I’m not sure what exactly could be built on the island, but even a themed restaurant would be a better use of the space that’s really only seen by the majority of people from the Riverboat anyway.

Walt Disney World

6. Mission: Space

This attraction has entered its teenage years, and its age is starting to show.  The effects of the space voyage attraction are not comparable to the newer ones used elsewhere in Walt Disney World, such as on Flight of Passage. Technology has vastly changed and improved over the last decade and a half, and Mission: Space needs to catch up.  Epcot is also in need of some attention now that its three theme park siblings have seen vast improvements and expansions.  And with Mission: Space sitting right next door to the former spot of the late Horizons Pavilion and the current Universe of Energy Pavilion, it’s prime real estate for a renovation.

Walt Disney World

5. Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Much like Muppet Vision 3D, Mickey’s PhilharMagic has fallen behind in the 4D interactive world. It is a must-do attraction but the effects need a major upgrade.  I also wouldn’t be opposed to new scenes being featured in the wonderfully air-conditioned theatre (But again, no Frozen).  So many movies have been released since 2003 when this attraction opened, and it’s time they get some screen time.  Literally.

WDW Live

4. Imagination Pavilion

Let me start by saying I love Figment as much as the next person. But again, Epcot is in need of some attention and some updates. With the 2015 release of the hit Pixar film Inside Out, I feel like Disney has the perfect chance to redo the Imagination Pavilion to feature all of our favorite emotions. The framework for the attraction would be very much like the current Journey into Imagination with Figment, but with the guests now experiencing the inside of Riley’s brain, just like in the movie. There are so many possibilities here. And the current Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival would fit perfectly into the new primarily Pixar-themed pavilion.  That is until another show can be created to fill the theater.

Walt Disney World

3. Universe of Energy

Like I said with Mission: Space, the Universe of Energy Pavilion is the perfect space for an Epcot revamp. And since construction permits have recently been filed, we can only hope that a renovation is on the horizon (See what I did there?).  The only attraction at the pavilion, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, is so old that when it first premiered in 1996, Ellen was still in the closet. Times have changed and it’s time Future World steps out of the past and into...well...the Future.

Walt Disney World

2. Tomorrowland Speedway

This attraction takes up a huge amount of land at the Magic Kingdom and, as I’ve mentioned before, that’s a rare commodity to come by at the Kingdom.  While the attraction could be removed entirely to make way for a newer attraction, a refurbishment would also been a great idea.  Instead of gas powered cars, the Walt Disney Company could team up with a car company - Chevrolet, maybe? - to create a new car that runs on wind power. The wind turbines could be incorporated onto the existing land of the track, making the ride self sufficient. The attraction could also be themed to the Cars franchise as a way to update it, taking a cue from California Adventure's Radiator Springs Racers.

Walt Disney World

1. Stitch’s Great Escape

For apparently being such a great escape artist, it’s been thirteen years and Experiment 626 is still at the Magic Kingdom.  Using much of the same technology as the previous attraction ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, Stitch’s Great Escape has always felt simply like a less intense version of the Alien attraction.  Alien was suspenseful and appealed to both kids and adults. Stitch is...cute.  And a little painful.  Set the harness at the wrong height and your shoulders will be paying the price when the experiment gets lose.  Much like Future World, it is time to bring Tomorrowland out of the past and into the future.  Under the right direction, Tomorrowland could once again be just that: a land of tomorrow.  As Walt Disney said at the dedication of Tomorrowland at Disneyland:  “A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying Man's achievements. A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure, and ideals. The Atomic Age, the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world.”

Now it's time for you to tell us what attractions you think should be replaced or updated. Tweet us at @TMKBpodcast and let us know your thoughts! And don't forget to check out our weekly podcasts!

And if one of your favorites is on this list, I'm sorry you don't have a better favorite attraction.

Robyn Fleenor is a contributing writer for The Mouse Knows Best Podcast. She is an avid Disney fanatic and would rather be at Walt Disney World eating glazed almonds than anything else.  When she isn't working to pay for her next Disney vacation, she likes to binge watch TV shows and fall in love with fictional characters.

Friday, June 9, 2017

No Touchy: 10 Attractions That Should Never Be Replaced

Over its 46 years, the Walt Disney World Resort has seen changes - both good and bad - in terms of attractions that have been replaced.  Kitchen Kabaret, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage, Snow White’s Scary Adventure, and many more have all been replaced with newer attractions.  Some of the replacements were met with backlash while others quietly closed without much fanfare.

In September of 2014, MagicBands had only been around for less than a year and people were still getting used to the idea of paper FastPasses being extinct.  At the same time, it was announced that Malestrom would be closing at Epcot which was clearly enough to send Guests and Cast Members alike into a downward spiral.  There were ‘protests’ as people were chaining...or well, ‘MagicBand-ing,’ themselves to the fence outside the attraction in a statement of love and devotion in the name of their beloved attraction.

Or they were just doing it for Instagram.

Either way, people were passionately vocal about the closing of the beloved flume ride, especially as it was being replaced by a Frozen themed attraction.  (Let’s not forget, though, that not everyone hates the idea of the princesses replacing the Norwegian ride.)

As much as I loved Maelstrom, I hold on to Walt Disney’s dream for Epcot when he said, “It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed but will always be introducing and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems.”  Walt Disney wouldn’t have wanted the parks to stay exactly the same as they were on opening day.  He would want his Imagineers to create new things to inspire the next generation.

And if creating a Frozen themed attraction brings in families who would normally blow off Epcot as a park “not for kids,” then I’m all for it.

But there are a few attractions that, if someone ever wanted to replace them, they would have to get through me and my MagicBand-chaining self first.

Walt Disney World

10. Splash Mountain 

As for overall storytelling, this attraction wins from beginning to end. The songs immerse you into the story as you make your way through the attraction, seeing various scenes playing out between Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear, and Br'er Rabbit as you make your way to The Laughing Place.  Although you know the 50-foot drop is coming, the anticipation of the inevitable fall keeps your adrenaline high no matter how many times you’ve ridden the classic attraction.  And not to mention the views of the park while on the ride are some you just don’t get to see anywhere else.

Walt Disney World

9. Tower of Terror 

Although I’ll be the first to fangirl over the addition of my beloved Groot to an attraction, the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT overlay of the Disney California Adventure version of Tower of Terror can just stay on the West Coast. For over two years I was lucky enough to be a Cast Member and to call Sunset Blvd. my home, and long before that time, Tower of Terror was my favorite attraction. I love the atmosphere, the music, the story line. It is all so perfect and, in my opinion, one of the best overall themed attractions.

Walt Disney World

8. Spaceship Earth

From Lawrence Dobkin to Walter Cronkite to Jeremy Irons to Judi Dench, this attraction has been informing Guests about the history of human communication that have helped get us to where we are today. Can you read this article? Thank the Phoenicians. Spaceship Earth is an iconic ride in an iconic geodesic sphere.  Although I don’t think the attraction should ever be removed, I do think it needs some updating to add the latest technology.  A lot has happened since the first computer was made in a garage in California.

Walt Disney World

7. Jungle Cruise

An opening day attraction on both coasts, the Jungle Cruise was originally designed to be a serious journey through Africa, Asia, and South America. But, according to Disney folklore, one day Walt Disney overheard a young boy ask his mom to go on the attraction and she responded with, “No, we did that last time we were here.” This caused Walt Disney to consult with longtime animator and Imagineer Marc Davis about a different direction for the attraction.  New scenes were added and the familiar humorous dialogue was born so guests would never experience the same ride twice.

Walt Disney World

6. it's a small world

This attraction is located in the Fantasyland area at each of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide, truly showing that it is a small world after all. The attraction first appeared at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and was easily the most popular ride.  And it is believed that the song - penned by the Sherman Brothers - is the most translated and most played song on earth.

Walt Disney World

5. Peter Pan’s Flight

This opening day attraction for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World is the definition of a classic.  Despite it’s age, Peter Pan’s Flight still manages to draw in crowds that rival even the newest attractions. It’s not uncommon to wait over an hour for the trip to Neverland with Peter and the Darling children.


4. Pirates of the Caribbean

This ride has truly come full circle: the attraction inspired a franchise of movies which in turn re-inspired the attraction.  Without losing the feel of the original attraction, Walt Disney Imagineers were able to add in rum-loving pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, as well as a few newer touches to the attraction based on the movies, to keep the ride as fresh and new as possible.

Walt Disney World

3. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Another 1964 World’s Fair attraction, the Carousel of Progress was the main feature of the General Electric Pavilion, and it shows the optimism Walt Disney had for the future and technology.  The theme song of the attraction, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” was also penned by the Sherman Brothers as was its equally iconic counterpart, "The Best Time of Your Life."  The Carousel of Progress also holds the record for the longest-running stage show with the most performances in the history of American theater.

Walt Disney World

2. Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

One of my favorite stories is the one of the audiences in the early days of this attraction thinking that Walt Disney and his team had trained birds to perform in their show. The show was the first to feature the Audio-Animatronic technology and set the groundwork for such great Audio-Animatronics such as the ones in Pandora: The World of Avatar. And although it had a new management period we won't talk about, the attraction still remains a classic today.

Walt Disney World

1. Haunted Mansion

Gracey Manor and all it's 999 Happy Haunts is easily my favorite attraction at Walt Disney World. I love the spooky atmosphere of the exterior that draws you inside the mansion. I love the graveyard and the stretching room and the Ghost Host. I love the use of Pepper’s Ghost throughout the attraction. I love the singing busts. I love the Hitchhiking Ghosts. It's my favorite and...just don’t touch it. Ever. Please.

We want to hear from you! Tell us what attractions you don't ever want to be replaced. Tweet us at @TMKBpodcast and let us know your thoughts! And don't forget to check out our weekly podcasts!

Robyn Fleenor is a contributing writer for The Mouse Knows Best Podcast. She is an avid Disney fanatic and would rather be at Walt Disney World eating glazed almonds than anything else.  When she isn't working to pay for her next Disney vacation, she likes to binge watch TV shows and fall in love with fictional characters.