Bucket List #30: Ride an elephant

In my naivety I’d somehow gotten into my head that elephants were like dogs or horses, and that after centuries of living alongside man were kinda happy with their role. I imagined that for a creature as large as an elephant, a person on their back wouldn’t be a big deal. 

And so, as part of a Tarzan style fantasy I added riding an elephant to my bucket list.

How I imagined it going

Of course, this turned out not to be the case and reading about the elephant riding industry in Asia made for depressing reading (more). With all this new info I couldn’t in good conscience hop aboard Jumbo or Nelly and have a ride.

But crossing something off the bucket list without having done it seemed to be a cop out. I could just delete stuff if they became too tricky to achieve, and for me part of the idea of the list was to stretch myself.

No, it would have to stay. And to cross it off I would have to get creative.

And so, back in the Autumn I worked out how I could do it without any animals suffering. Where could offer such a solution? Disney World of course. 

Yes, high on my list of things to do in the happiest place on Earth was jump aboard the Dumbo ride. And so, I succeeded in riding an elephant.

And before anyone says this was the easy way out, they’ve obviously never suffered the suspicious stares you get as a lone adult male queuing for what is essentially a children’s ride.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Walt Disney World: Epcot Top 5

Epcot, or Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow to give it’s full name, differs from the rest of WDW, and feels a bit more grown up. There are still rides and characters about, but it might be a bit dull for younger visitors, and there is an educational vibe to much of it.

There was also a food and wine festival going on and so there were more childless adults here.

Still, there was enough to keep older kids interested and the World Showcase with zones based on different countries is cool.

It’s also well worth staying for the closing firework show “Illuminations of Earth” as it is stunning. Anyway, here’s the top 5:

5. Spaceship Earth

Hosted in the park’s iconic globe this ride takes you back in time to see the development of civilisation. Narration from Judi Dench adds some class and the end part “imagine the future” is great fun, using photos from the ride to add you to cartoon visions of the future.

4. Short Film Festival

A trio of Disney and Pixar shorts presented in 3D. The Mickey Mouse story “Get a Horse” is the best, making great use of the technology to make a fourth wall shattering film loaded with sight gags. And it was cool to rewatch Feast and Piper.

3. Soarin

WoM wanted to ride this flight simulator, but was nervous due to her aversion of heights. Being a good husband I reassured her and did my best to keep her calm.

My confidence evaporated when we wound up higher than I had anticipated, and my own elevation anxieties kicked in. The ride is wonderful and incredibly immersive, the gigantic screen makes you feel as if you’re actually flying over the global landmarks you’re shown. Of course, my enjoyment was tempered when I made the rookie mistake of looking straight down.

Not wanting to panic WoM I had to play it cool until we were back on the ground. It was worth it however, as she loved it.

2. Frozen Ever After 

A newer ride with some cool animatronic effects featuring some of the movie’s best songs. This was lots of fun andba few quick drops and backward parts keep you on your toes.

1. The Finding Nemo stuff

There’s quite a big section devoted to Finding Nemo which is cool as I love that movie. There are three sections but I’m counting them as one. 

Part one is a fun ride which mixes screens, animatronics and projections on real tanks, as you help Marlin look for Nemo after he wanders off.

Then there’s the actual aquarium which features a wide range of sea creatures and is pretty cool. There’s also a dolphin show.

And finally “Turtle Talk” an interactive show featuring Crush the sea turtle as he answers audience questions. I always dug Crush due to his surfer drawl and laid back vibe. He works well as the host and it’s fun and educational, and there are some cameos thrown in as well.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Walt Disney World: Animal Kingdom Top 5

Much as we enjoyed Animal Kingdom, it was definitely my least favourite of the parks. Given how much I loved Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom this isn’t harsh criticism.

It’s just that I left both of those parks with a list of things I still wanted to do, whereas here it felt like I got everything out of it in one day.

I loved the wildlife aspect, but Pandora was a dud. Anyway, here’s the top five:

5. Feast of the Lion King

A fun show featuring animatronic characters alongside dancers, acrobats and Timon. The performers work the crowd well and it’s fun and vibrant.

4. Finding Nemo: The Musical 

A clever show which sees performers use large puppets of the characters to provide a condensed, musical version of the story. Fun but a little lightweight. Also don’t take little kids as the death of Nemo’s mother and siblings broke a few younger audience members.

3. Kali River Rapids

Fast paced river ride with fast turns and drops. You will get wet but this is very much part of the fun and it packs in plenty of thrills. Very entertaining.

2. Rivers of Light

Animal Kingdom’s nightly firework show this works off the theme of light, water and life. Using boats, lights and projections this was visually striking and the theme of how all life is connected is cool. The skill, artistry and technology on show are admirable and it’s wonderful.

1. Kilimanjaro Safari

As a nature lover the safari was a big draw for me and it didn’t disappoint. The reserve is set out in a clever way which provides the animals with plenty of space. The bumpy ride adds to the atmosphere and the guides provide interesting and entertaining commentary.

There are wonderful animals to see and for a Brit it’s nice to see the animals of Africa basking in the sun and not sulking in drizzle. The kids aboard were fascinated and anything that gets children into loving nature and conservation is a good thing.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Meeting Characters

I have a friend who went to Walt Disney World and refused to have pictures with the characters. I guess they saw it as childish or lame.

I think they were wrong. Meeting the characters is a lot of fun.

Sure, I felt a little odd and self conscious at first, but like the whole Disney experience it goes a lot better if you just throw yourself into it all. Don’t try and resist or act cool, just go with it and let the Disney atmosphere sweep you along. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun. 

For me the easiest moment to go with it came when my inner child came rushing to the surface. Why? Because I met the towering galactic hero that is Chewbacca.

We were waiting in line and next up when Chewie came around the corner to greet us. In that moment I didn’t think about the fact it was a staff member, I just was overjoyed to be face to face with a character from one of my favourite movies. Look at the photo below, look how childishly happy I am. 

There were other great moments in meeting the characters from Tigger jumping on me as I walked through Magic Kingdom to Peter Pan consoling me into having been tricked into marriage and growing up. Also there was the knowledge that our nephew back home had been amazed to see photos of his aunt and uncle with Mickey Mouse.

I really wanted to meet Stitch, one of my all time favourites, but was told he probably wasn’t going to be about. So, when we found him a few days later I was stoked to add him to my photo album.

I’ll admit that I found it easier with the masked characters than those without (e.g. the Princesses) but they were all magnificent and fun. I got really into meeting as many as possible, and seeing how great they were with guests was heartwarming.

So if you go to Disney do yourself a favour, get an autograph book and go meet these iconic characters.

Let out your inner child, your outer adult will enjoy it just as much. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom Top 5

WOM favours Hollywood Studios but for me this is the best of the parks. It’s got the iconic castle, a variety of different themed areas and more rides. It even has a section devoted to my favourite Disney movie Tangled.

With so much here narrowing down a top five was tough, so here are a few honourable mentions: The Muppets’ Great Moments From History show, Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor.

And now the top 5:

5. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Similar to the Toy Story games at Hollywood Studios this sees you riding an armed cart through various stages trying to hit targets. The difference here being that there are no 3D screens, just a laser pointer. It made it more challenging but I still managed to beat WOM twice and max out the scoreboard.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean

An old ride but with new updates and appearances from Jack Sparrow, means it continues to appeal. It’s surprisingly dark with scenes of pirate debauchery and one where they auction off female prisoners as “wives”. That’s probably part of the appeal and what sets it apart from most of the park which is bright and happy.

3. Jungle Cruise

A boat ride in a jungle setting with animatronic characters this was elevated by our guide, who delivered a stream of cheesy gags, puns and one liners, all delivered in wonderful deadpan. 

2. Festival of Fantasy parade

All the characters appear aboard some fantastic floats. The cheerful vibe is infectious and it’s hard not to become a big kid and return the waves of the characters. Simply joyous. 

1. Haunted Mansion

The best ghost train ride I’ve ever been on, thanks to some great effects and delightfully creepy design and flourishes. It’s also helped by a sense of humour and flair reminiscent of Vincent Price or old Hammer movies. Great macabre fun, but please, don’t take little kids on it.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: It’s A Small World

Having a pint of Guiness in Dublin. Placing a bet in Vegas. Taking a photo so it looks like you’re holding the Tower of Pisa up.

There are somethings that you pretty much have to do in certain places.

A trip to Walt Disney World wouldn’t be complete without a go on one of their most famous rides. The slow boat ride through various settings showing small animatronic children representing various nations. They are accompanied by the eponymous song, a cheery, upbeat number about peace and brotherhood. (The song written by the Sherman brothers who wrote the songs for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book)

The ride is often dismissed as cheesy and a little naff. Even Disney themselves have poked fun at it.

These criticisms are fair enough, although the quaint, optimistic tone has a certain charm. But for me the major problem is that it is creepy as hell.

I should clarify that I have a minor case of pediophobia. This is the fear of dolls, and dummies. Ventriloquist dummies, old china dolls, they freak me the hell out. After clowns they are my major phobia. Clown dolls are literally the worst thing I can encounter.

WOM had warned me it might creep me out, but I put on a brave face and climbed aboard. Right off the bat there was a problem, the bench was painfully low and so my knees were up by my chin, not the most comfortable ride.

Made worse by the fact that the dolls stare at you with their dead eyes. And there are seemingly thousands of the buggers.

I tried to enjoy the ride but it’s hard to when you’re trying to keep your eye on every single doll just in case one moves from it’s cycle. Had one of them done so there would have been a Chris shaped hole in the wall and I wouldn’t have stopped running until I was out of the state. 

I was glad when the ride was over, and having unfolded my legs got off quickly, and now done I never have to do it again.

Kinda bummed they don’t actually sell the badge below as I earned it.

The dolls have slipped into my subconscious now, to haunt future dreams, while the impossibly catchy song is bound to make an appearance on the Random Mental Jukebox, so it might be that of all the things I saw and did at Disney this will be the one that stays with me the longest.

 Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Disney Classics #17: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I remember reading the book this is based on in school, I think because the English department decided it would get them an easy day or two as they took us all to see the live action version. They could have saved themselves the hassle of a shepherding us on to buses and making sure none of us wandered off in Swansea by just sticking this on for a couple of lessons, as this is definitely the superior version.

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The story starts with narration from Pongo (Rod Taylor), who laments the bachelor life he finds dull and decides to find partners for himself and his “pet” Roger (Ben Wright). From the window he spies Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her human companion Anita (Lisa Davis), and rushes out to win her over. This sequence is quite well done, with Pongo looking out the window at the passing canines and dismissing them for various reasons, which match with their owners, going along with the notion of owners looking like their dogs.

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After a short time Roger and Anita marry, and Perdita announces she is expecting puppies. The joy is slightly marred by the arrival of Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), an old schoolmate of Anita’s who is obsessed with furs, and delights in the pattern of the dogs’ coats. When Perdita delivers fifteen puppies, Cruella offers to buy them all, but Roger refuses.

Cruella De Vil is a great villain, a gaunt figure surrounded in noxious cigarette smoke. From her entrance at the wheel of a careening car, she is a dynamic, captivating presence and over the course of the movie she becomes increasingly dishevelled and unhinged as her mania takes over. The film’s most memorable song is the theme tune that Roger creates for her, detailing her wicked nature.

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Shortly after while the parents and their owners are out, two goons Jasper and Horace (J. Pat O’Malley and Frederick Worlock, respectively) trick their way into the house and steal the puppies. With the human police having no leads the dogs take the lead (unintentional pun) and get the word out through “the twilight bark” a method of relaying messages across the country.

One of the cool things about this sequence is that there’s a nice little easter egg for observant viewers, with several characters from Lady and the Tramp having little cameos.

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The chain yields results and the puppies, along with many others, are discovered. The message is sent back and Pongo and Perdita rush to the rescue.

The rest of the film is an enjoyable adventure, with the courageous canines saving the puppies and then trying to avoid capture as they escape through the snow. The whole thing is quite pacy and there are a few tense moments as they try to escape. The action is slapstick in places, but it works far better in cartoon form, and watching it back I was impressed, with the movie holding up quite well.

It could do with a few more songs, and the goons are a little too bumbling for my tastes, but these minor quibbles aside this is a good adventure which has a certain charm.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #16: Sleeping Beauty

The third Disney Princess arrives to a suitable fanfare at the opening of this movie and the “hail to the Princess Aurora” song is irresistibly catchy. But the movie really kicks into gear with the arrival of Maleficent (Eleanor Audley), one of Disney’s best villains.

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I can’t think of another kids’ movie where the villain is such an overpowering presence, even in Disney flicks that include baddies like Ursula, Scar and Jafar, the heroes match up to them, but here the iconic image of the movie is Maleficent in her dark, regal glory.

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Stealing the show

Annoyed not to have been invited to the christening of the newborn, rocks up and curses her, possibly providing an insight into why she doesn’t get invited to parties. The curse? When the Princess is 16 she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Luckily good fairy Merryweather (Barbara Luddy) steps in and changes the curse so it’s not death, but rather a deep sleep until true love’s kiss wakes her. Still, the King isn’t happy and burns every spinning wheel in the country, which seems a short sighted move as what will happen when people need new clothes? Also, you had sixteen years!

The good fairies, Merryweather and her sisters Flora and Fauna (Verna Felton and Barbara Jo Allen, respectively), match the King’s overreaction by kidnapping Aurora and going into hiding until her sixteenth birthday, renaming her Briar Rose. Unbelievably, as the big day approaches she is still hidden from Maleficent, because her minions have still been searching for a baby. How much more successful would Disney villains be if they hired better help?

Briar Rose (Mary Costa) now an adult goes into the forest as her three guardians plan to surprise her for her birthday, because apparently revealing that she’s a princess and that they are her kidnappers isn’t going to be enough to drop on the poor girl. While out she meets a handsome young man, who turns out to be Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley), who is captivated by her singing (princes appear to have a major weakness for singers). They fall in love, neither knowing they’re actually already betrothed, and Phillip (named after Britain’s own Prince Phillip, fact fans) heads off to tell his dad that the arranged marriage is over, planning to return to Briar Rose.

The love story here is done quite well, and the sequence where the two meet and dance together to the glorious “Once Upon a Dream” is wonderfully charming. Sure, it feels rushed, but just go with the love at first sight conceit, and it’s rather sweet and well executed. At least there’s actual conversation here.

Unfortunately, despite not using magic for almost sixteen years, the fairies are useless practical skills like making a cake (even I can do that) and dress making (I’d struggle with that, admittedly), and resort to breaking out their wands. But this catches the eye of Maleficent’s raven sidekick Diablo, who raises the alarm.

I always loved this sequence as a kid, and it’s still very entertaining as the fairies make a pig’s ear of the whole situation. Throughout the movie the three fairies are good fun, bickering with each other and my three sisters each assigned themselves a different fairy.

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Briar Rose learns the truth and is taken to the castle, where she is bewitched by Maleficent and pricks her finger. At this point Maleficent adds to her evil stakes with some top quality gloating over her fallen foe before legging it.

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Maleficent gloats

Knowing that Merryweather has messed with her plans, she dispatches her minions to grab Phillip and take him prisoner.

The fairies work out that Phillip is the mysterious man Aurora mentioned and, put the entire kingdom to sleep and before setting off to rescue Phillip. At this point, Maleficent cements her place as a great villain with a truly evil plan- she’s not going to kill Phil, she’s going to keep him locked up until he’s old and allowing him to revive the still youthful Aurora. That’s delightfully vindictive.

The fairies save the Prince, and arm him. This is another of the movie’s strengths, in that Phillip is far more heroic than the other princess. He fights off the minions, and rides out to the rescue. And then he faces off against Maleficent who has transformed into a gigantic, menacing dragon.

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After slaying the dragon (Maleficent having made the classic mistake of getting caught doing a monologue), he gets to his girl and breaks the curse. And there was much rejoicing.

I used to love this as a kid, and watched it a fair few times, and I’m really happy with how well it holds up. It’s got action, romance and comedy, and benefits from a decent script and some solid characters. The three fairies and their rivalries stop them from being too goody goody, Phillip is a better hero than what had come before and then of course there’s Maleficent and her pure evil. Her imperious mannerisms and voice are fantastic, and it’s so much better that she has no back story. She’s evil. That’s what she is and we don’t need to know how she got this way.

Disney Score: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Disney Classics #15: Lady and the Tramp

Maybe it’s no surprise that as a cat person a movie dedicated “to dogs everywhere” didn’t really float my boat as a kid. In fact I grew up in a house that had, and loved, cats, so a film where the only felines are villains was unlikely to go down well.

That being said it’s hard to deny the film’s charms especially the classic spaghetti scene, which could warm a heart of stone.

Plot wise it’s pretty simple, fancy uptown dog Lady (Barbara Luddy) is feeling threatened by her owners’ new baby. She also meets Tramp (Larry Roberts), a charming stray from the wrong side of the tracks. They get into a variety of scrapes and Lady learns despite his carefree, roguish reputation Tramp is actually a good dog. After they rescue the baby from a rat Tramp accepts a place within the family and settles down with Lady.

It’s a rather sweet tale and it’s helped by a good supporting cast and some good moments. These include a rather dark sequence at the dog pound which is like a doggy death row and set’s up what for me is the film’s best song, the bluesy “He’s a Tramp” performed by Peggy Lee’s Peg.

Watching it back I realised that the story with Lady and Tramp rescuing the baby only to be blamed for the attack is similar to the Welsh legend of Gelert.

It’s not the strongest Disney movie, but it has a few high points contained within a sweet and charming story.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #14: Peter Pan

I don’t know why but this wasn’t one of the Disney flicks that I liked a lot as a kid, which doesn’t make sense as it has pirates, Native Americans, sword fights and flying, all of which would have won me over.

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I think the problem is that even as a kid the main character kinda annoyed me. Peter’s a self centred braggart and for me the idea of never growing up held no appeal. As a kid you can’t do a bunch of stuff which adults can, I wanted to be a grown up. It was only years later that I find myself wishing I could stay away from adult responsibility. I must have seen it as a kid but it never wowed me.

Watching it as an adult, Peter (Bobby Driscoll) still irritates me, but I think that might be the point? That growing up is kinda important and staying as a child would be daft?

There’s another aspect of this that I don’t think I picked up with, in that I actually feel sorry for Captain Hook (Hans Conried). I mean, sure, he’s a villain and he tries to make them walk the plank, but the poor dude lost his hand and is now a frazzled mess, reduced to a jibbering wreck whenever the crocodile that swallowed his hand is nearby.

Incidentally, this is one of my favourite parts of the film, the way the ticking arrives and the croc’s eyes move with each sound. It’s wonderfully done, and the croc is shown to be quite a malicious beastie, gleefully awaiting Hook to fall into his jaws.

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Back to Hook, he’s actually quite a good villain, with a clear motivation and some smart plans (he plays Tinkerbell like a fiddle), and there’s quite a lot of humour from the inept crew he is surrounded by.

This film actually made me laugh quite a few times, and there are some very funny moments and the action is quite good too. The plot moves along at a decent pace that just about covers up the flaws.

The flaws are numerous, with Peter’s obnoxious nature being just one- almost all the female characters are shown at varying times to be either stupid, jealous or vindictive. Wendy, Tinkerbell and the mermaids all seem besotted with Pete, and react badly when he shows interest in someone else.

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And the representation of the Indians on the island is horrible to watch. All the braves have giant noses and deep red skins, talking like cliches. You may say it was a different time, but watching it in this time it’s not pleasant.

One thing I had forgotten was just how angry and sassy Tinkerbell was. In the more recent films featuring the character she’s shown as a heroic, nice character but here she’s quite nasty. She’s madly jealous of Wendy and Peter’s interest in her, to the extent that she tries to kill the poor girl and rats out the Lost Boys’ hideout to Hook. I have to say she’s one of the more memorable characters thanks in part to the great animation which captures her mannerisms and quickly shifting moods.

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Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned

When it works, this is great fun, and the times it stumbles are fairly brief, and you can ignore most of them if you go with the movie.

It’s a fun adventure story but the ending baffles me. Was it all a dream? If yes, then how did Wendy’s dad have the same dream? If it wasn’t a dream does that mean he was a Lost Boy who chose to leave? It makes no sense!

Disney Score: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.