Hey there, and welcome to the Phile for a Friday. How are you? Some of you might know I love Waffle House. I have one next to my apartment complex and I am there pretty much at least once a week. But If you find yourself in Forrest City, Arkansas looking for a quick fix of waffles and hash browns, might you consider the illustrious house of waffles, known to all that feast on cheese and eggs as Waffle House? Definitely not going to be any hair in those hash browns, because they just passed a health department inspection! Although, you might want to know, a certain incident caused that health inspection... onlookers caught two employees using a pot of water in the restaurant's kitchen to do their hair. Antonio Robinson told a local news outlet that his friend began to cough. "I looked up at him. He went to pulling out strings of hair out of his mouth." The pair then went to the kitchen with their cell phones. "She dipped her hair in the pot and when it came back up she was drying it off with one of the towels," said Robinson. "I see people do that in their houses and things like that but for a restaurant, I don't know." Waffle House apparently does know, however. The two employees lost their jobs, and a spokesman issued the following statement, "We were made aware of this via a Facebook Private message this morning. We immediately reached out to the local management team. After identifying the parties involved, they were immediately terminated. The health department has been out to the restaurant for an inspection which it passed, and they have closed the case. We do not tolerate these behaviors and strive to provide a clean, safe environment for all our customers." So there you go. Waffle House is officially as hairless as Donald Trump under that combover. If Ian and Ashley ever do that at my Waffle House I'd freak out. Haha.
The other day, Ted Cruz created a brouhaha by saying Donald Trump's campaign song should be "New York, New York," because "he embodies New York values." Trump, who has never shied from his identity as a New Yorker, took offense, as did a large segment of the (often NYC-based) news media. But what does that mean? Was Ted Cruz praising Donald Trump's business success, energy, and creativity? That seems... unlikely. People didn't have to wait long to see Cruz asked this question, since it came up quickly in Thursday night's GOP debate on Fox Business News. Well, no one actually said what it means, but apparently everyone in South Carolina knows exactly what it means. Which kind of makes everyone in South Carolina sound like a huge jerk (which they're not, and that's why you shouldn't generalize). Many people think it's just a nastier version of "East Coast elites." New Yorkers probably wouldn't argue that they're the most elite of the East Coast elites. After all, George W. Bush used "Massachusetts" as an effective insult against John Kerry in 2004. Many others, however, remember very similar phrases have a long and nasty history. There is the famous "West Wing" scene about a "New York sense of humor," although in Cruz's case (and he made the remark in response to a dig from Trump about Cruz being born in Canada) it's likely more about all of the types of folks and the types of beliefs they hold than a specific group. Wait, what were those New York values, again? Oh, right, abortion and money... all anyone in a city with more people than 38 of the 50 states cares about.
Someone has a car that has turned to the Dark Side of the Force. Instead of having those cutesy family decals on the back windshield of the car, the Vader-black Jeep just has a big ol' spoiler for The Force Awakens. That means if you keep scrolling down this page, you will see a spoiler for The Force Awakens. Seriously. It spoils a big part of the movie. The movie which you should have seen by now. So if you go past this point, it's very much your fault.
So what happened to the owner of this car? Did someone ruin the film for them, driving (ha) them to exact their revenge on the masses? Did they lose a bet? Or is the owner of this car simply a grade-A jerkwad? It's probably that last one. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
El Chapo didn't really want to meet Sean Penn. He wanted to get laid. Recently leaked text messages from El Chapo show that the notorious drug lord never even heard of Sean Penn. According to NBC news, El Chapo asked his attorney, "What is the name of this actor again?" That explains the awkward handshake. The former fugitive was hot to set up a secret meeting with someone else though: Latin soap opera actress Kate del Castillo. That's probably why he bought that jazzy button-down! It was reportedly her idea to bring Penn into the mix, and that's the real reason the bizarro meeting took place. The "New York Times" reports that the actress and El Chapo were flirty texting for months before his arrest. He offered to get her a light pink cell phone, "suitable for a woman," and even to have her meet his mother. Who knew a murderous narcotics kingpin could be so romantic? Del Castillo posted on Twitter that she looks forward to sharing her story.
The first question a journalist might ask: Why do you sign your name to your tweets?
The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has returned to Twitter after the 2016 Academy Award Nominations were announced and included no people of color in any of the acting categories. Many of the reactions were because Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Creed while Michael B. Jordan did not receive a nod. Additionally, Straight Outta Compton only received a nomination for best original screenplay, and the writers the film are all white. There is going to be a Creed sequel, so perhaps Michael B. Jordan will have another shot at an Academy Awards nomination. That is, of course, unless the quality of Creed sequels matches those of later Rocky sequels, in which case Jordan will need to look for an award-winning role elsewhere.
So, I saw a crazy picture of Hillary Clinton I have to show here...
And I thought to myself where did I see that face before. Then it hit me...
Scary! So, do you know what the original name of Star Wars was supposed to be called? No?
Haha! Seaking of Star Wars, you know Poe from The Force Awakens? Did you know he had another got before the movie?
Haha. That's so stupid. That's as stupid as this is...
Stupid. Okay, so, as you know it's the Phile's 10th anniversary and this month I am showing you actual people reading the Phile. It's true. Ha! Take a look.
What what pheature on the Phile they like? I bet it's he monologue. And now from the home office in Port Jefferson, New York, here is...
Top Phive 2016 Oscar Picks
5. Most terrifying prehistoric creature (tie): Indommus rex, Jurassic World and Nick Nolte, A Walk in the Woods.
4. Special achievement in pushing Adam Sandler to Netflix: Pixels.
3. Best picture that sounds like it's about cookware: Pan.
2. Best drama that the Golden Globes think is a comedy: The Martian.
And the number one 2016 Oscar pick is...
1. Best film about a hateful group (tie): The Hateful Eight and the Entourage movie.
Okay, so, like you know, I have been showing you some Mindphucks that some of my readers sent in. Here's another...
Casual Friday is the only time you should see what your co-woekers might look like outside of the office.
Alright, today's guest is a Phile Alum and author of "Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew (Volume 1)," the 43rd book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club. Please welcome back to the Phile... Jim Korkis.
Me: Jim! Welcome back to the Phile for its 10th anniversary year and month. How have you been?
Jim: Grateful to have survived another year and happy to be asked back to talk about Disney and my latest book. Congratulations on a decade of sharing Disney magic! I bet it seems like you just started yesterday.
Me: No, it seems like I started 20 years ago. Haha. I have to tell you in case you didn't know that you are one of my favorite guests to have on the Phile and one of the most popular. Do you do a lot of interviews in the year, Jim?
Jim: I find I have to do a lot of interviews and podcasts to let people know about my latest books. Every podcast has a different audience that doesn't listen to other podcasts or go to other websites. I tell people the hardest thing is not researching or writing a book but letting people know it is available so they can buy it. In addition, I am asked to do a lot of interviews because there just aren't as many people out there any more who know much about the history of Disney. I think people’s memories are getting shorter. With the closing of the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights, I mentioned the disappearance of the Lights of Winter archways at Epcot and people had no clue what I was talking about even though they have only been gone since 2009. So many things have disappeared in the last few years.
Me: I loved the Lights of Winter. I interviewed last year David Ackert who wrote a book called "40 Years in a Mousetrap" which was published by Themepark Press, the same publication company that puts out your books. Did you read it? What did you think?
Jim: David certainly had a colorful career and I don't think there will be many Cast Members these days who will be able to have a 40 year career. Disney has never cared much for the “graying of the Mouse," the expression they use for Cast Members who get older with the company. I don't think we realize how much Walt Disney World changes and how many of those things are so small that people don't notice immediately. I am happy so many people like David are sharing their day-to-day experiences on the front lines to keep some of those memories alive. Most people want to hear from animators or Imagineers but it is the front line Cast Members that really make the magic. I think David’s book gives those who have never been a Disney Cast Member a glimpse of just exactly how crazy and disorganized things can get working at Disney.
Me: Okay, before we talk about your book "Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never Knew (Volume 1)" I have to ask you about some other stuff that's going on in the parks. So, what did you think about the announcement of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land? We knew it was coming but did you know it'll be that big?
Jim: I am still withholding judgment because Disney will announce something and then it will continue to evolve. Just recently, the plans for the New Fantasyland and Hyperion Wharf underwent huge changes after their initial announcements so I am sure that there will be changes in Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land. I am happy to see new experiences but I am sorry for some of the things that will be eliminated to make room for this expansion... just as I was sad that Horizons had to be torn down to make way for Mission Space. I also hope that Disney will feel challenged to match or exceed what Universal Studios did with the Harry Potter franchise. Avatar Land is still a big question mark for me as well. I think too often lately Disney has settled for “just as good” rather than setting the bar for others to try to reach. When Disney does something right, no one can match them and I hope that both Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land will be done right.
Me: Do you think Disney will succeed in making Star Wars Land like Harry Potter's area is in Universal? Employees at Universal, or Team Members as they are called, have to take a Harry Potter test to work in that part of the park... do you think Disney will make us take a Star Wars test? I am sure I'd pass the test with flying colors.
Jim: Since Disney has cut back significantly on Cast Member training for the last decade or more, I don't think they will do any new training of knowledge for Star Wars Land. They certainly didn't do any special training for Star Tours but I know there were dedicated Cast Members who did their own research and shared it with their peers. Once upon a time, Disney had massive Standard Operating Procedure manuals with background information. For instance, the S.O.P. for the Submarine Voyage at Disneyland had an opening essay by Admiral Joe Fowler, who not only had a distinguished Naval career but was the construction boss for Disneyland and Walt Disney World. These manuals covered not only the operational information but statistics and background story. I think the more background you can give to cast members, the better the experience for guests. I think Disney will just assume that everyone, including Cast Members, “know” all about Star Wars and nothing could be further from the truth. The direction that Walt Disney gave to Cast Members when he was alive were that he expected them to know the answers or know where to go to get the answers.
Me: By the way, I don't think I ever asked you about Universal... I know you are a big Disney fan, but do you like Universal? Do you go there often?
Jim: I don't go to Universal as often as I do WDW but I grew up in the Los Angeles area and spent much of my time at Universal Studios California and saw it go through so many changes over the years. I am a huge classic movie fan so Universal appealed to me on a different level and it was an actual movie studio. Here in Orlando, I think Universal has done some amazing things to become a major player. While it is obvious that they did a wonderful job on the Harry Potter franchise, I think the other changes they have made from the Simpsons area to the proposed Volcano Bay water park to so much more like the Spider-Man ride have matched or sometimes exceeded what Disney has done. When Islands of Adventure first opened the big joke was that it was one of the best parks ever built by Imagineers since Universal Creative hired Disney Imagineers who had been laid off. The dueling dragons’ roller coaster had originally been planned for the Beastly Kingdom at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Being a big fan of King Kong, I am really looking forward to the Skull Island attraction, especially since it has been designed so everyone can enjoy it. I think the big mistake everyone is making these days is creating rides that are limited to who can ride them. If Universal had made a Harry Potter ride that anyone regardless of age, size or health could ride, they would have had lines out of the park and down the block. Not everyone likes being bumped around and upside down and whatever by the latest technology. That was the thing Walt understood when the Imagineers wanted to make Monstro the whale a water flume or Mr. Toad a mini-roller coaster like we have in Fantasyland today. I think in the rush to have the latest thrill ride that parks are missing out on many guests who want a more comfortable experience.
Me: There's people on-line complaining that Disneyland is gonna be shutting down certain attractions for Star Wars Land. What are they shutting down?
Jim: Obviously Big Thunder Ranch is history. The backstage area for horses will be relocated. They may move the railroad track. The Rivers of America may be rerouted. I have heard that even Mickey’s Toontown may be in jeopardy. With Disney you never know and they never like to say. Always remember that everything at Disney is written in Jello. I have had reliable sources tell me that something was definitely slated to be taken out and it still remains there today for any number of reasons, especially financial that it was too expensive to remove.
Me: No one is complaining what attractions they are closing at Hollywood Studios... well, I am sure some people are complaining. People are always complaining about certain rides closing. Is there one ride you wish they never shut down? I miss Mister Toad's Wild Ride but it's still at Disneyland I believe.
Jim: Since Streets of America are being closed for construction, I think it is safe to say that Lights, Motors, Action is probably on the chopping block since you access that area through those streets. I am also guessing the entire Echo Lake area including the Indiana Jones Stunt Show will also be removed because all of that land is valuable. I was told that the stunt show will be replaced by the Millenium Falcon. Many times the Great Movie Ride was designated to be removed. Things constantly keep changing. I love the spirit of Classic Hollywood but today's generation of guests do not share that same affection so everything is vulnerable including the Muppet attraction. I will definitely miss Gertie the Dinosaur. I am sorry more guests weren’t interested in One Man’s Dream because that is disappearing piece by piece. Complaining to Disney does absolutely no good... other than the fact that Disney has learned not to announce the removal or destruction of something ahead of time until it is too late for it to be saved. It is a business and if the attraction is not attracting a sufficient number of guests or is too expensive to maintain (like the Hunchback of Notre Dame stage show because of all the Equity salaried actors) or would cost too much to rehab, then it goes. The facts that the attraction had a rich history or guests still loved it make no impact on a balance sheet. With Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, the attraction at Walt Disney World was significantly different than the one at Disneyland so I am very sorry it was gone but at the time Winnie the Pooh was much more popular with guests and sold a tremendous amount of merchandise. There are many things I miss that have gone from the Skyway to the Diamond Horseshoe Revue to the Keel Boats to so many others. I tell people to enjoy the park and all its attractions while you can because nothing is going to remain there forever.
Me: Okay, so, of course I have to ask you about the Star Wars movie. I am sure you liked it... what did you think of it, Jim? I loved it myself... I have a few mild complaints about it but I give it a rating of 10 outta 10.
Jim: I did like the movie but my brother and his ten-year-old son did not. They thought it was too long and convoluted. To me, Abrams was smart to do a “re-telling” of A New Hope to help mend all the fractures made by the prequels. Struggling young “nobody” person on a desert planet becomes involved in a battle with evil forces and discovers a special power inside them. The person has to make sure that a huge planet sized weapon is destroyed. The person teams up with an older mentor who gets killed at the end by the main villain who has a secret. The young person now sets out on training to make things right. Everything is there including the cantina scene and the X-fighters having trouble. Now, that things have been re-set, we will have to see what happens with the next movie and whether it goes into new territory. I thought Harrison Ford was excellent, some of the best acting work he has done in quite a while and he was obviously enjoying himself. I thought Abrams was respectful to the tradition but also prepared things for new adventures. It deserved to make the money it made. Hard to believe it did so well that Disney recouped its entire investment for buying the entire franchise with just one movie. I liked the new characters of Rey, Finn and BB-8 especially and the end of the movie made me want to see the next installment right now! So the film did its job and did it well. I was very happy to see no discussion of trade embargos and taxes.
Me: Okay, I wanna ask you about the book "The Vault of Walt: Volume 4." I love those books. In it you talk about why Roger Rabbit isn't in the Disney parks. It's not because no one knows who he is, right? Why isn't he there anymore?
Jim: It is because half of him (and Jessica and some other Toontown elements) are owned by Spielberg through his old company, Amblin. Eisner thought he would be smart having Spielberg handle half the investment up front and that Spielberg loved Disney so much he would never interfere later. Well, it turned out that Spielberg was unhappy with some of the decisions Eisner was making about Roger and Disney was unhappy that Spielberg kept getting half the income on merchandise and Roger’s appearances and more. Disney created Bonkers Bobcat so they could have their “own” wacky Roger character but audiences never warmed up to the character. Perhaps Iger can mend this fence like he did with Pixar and the Muppets but at the moment, Disney doesn’t see any advantage in doing so since as the years go on, people forget the character that first appeared over twenty-five years ago. You have a new generation or two who have no emotional investment in the character or his stories.
Me: And why isn't Oswald in the parks in Florida but is in the parks in California?
Jim: I wish I had an answer to that one. I have been to Disney’s California Adventure and love that Oswald store and the Oswald merchandise in the front of the park. I also think that even people who are unaware of Roger’s history are drawn to the nostalgic design of the character and his world. Walt Disney World always feels it is different than California and attracts a different type of guests which is the reason they keep giving for not doing the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay of the Haunted Mansion out here among other things. Iger was supposedly going to aggressively reintroduce Oswald (like in the Epic Mickey videogames and a cameo in the short “Get a Horse!”) but it all sort of fizzled out. I think Disney just doesn’t understand the character or how to make him relevant to new audiences.
Me: Back to Roger... do you think they'll ever make a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Did you ever read the novel it was based on? I did and it's pretty good.
Jim: I read the original novel before I saw the film. People don’t realize that in the novel Roger is more involved with comic strip characters like Dick Tracy. I also talked with Gary Wolf, the author, who wrote a sequel to his original novel that has nothing to do with the movie Roger. Eisner hired Wolf to write a screenplay about the adventures on Typhoon Lagoon, using the water park as a movie set. That’s why the Imagineers created the rich back story for that park with all those interesting characters whose names you see on buildings. Over the years, Disney has tried to come up with a sequel and there were proposals of having Roger go into World War II as part of the Toon Platoon (since the first movie took place right before the war), Roger go to Broadway to seek his fortune before coming to Hollywood and many other interesting ideas. Animator Eric Goldberg even did a sample of Roger in computer animation to see if the film could be done cheaper and quicker that way. It couldn’t. Also, Disney is not aggressively promoting its animation department and its animators. I bet not one person reading this can name a particular animator and the character he worked on in Frozen where not so long ago we all knew about Glen Keane, Mark Henn, Andreas Deja and more or even the older guys like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. We have been so bombarded with special effects in every film that the simple charms of hand-drawn character frolicking with real live actors is no longer something magical. Right now, at Disney, Roger does not have a “champion” so it is a dead project but at Disney nothing is ever really dead. Disney announced in 2012 that it might finally do a sequel to The Rocketeer, one of my favorite movies of all time.
Me: You mention in "Volume 4" that the story of the Haunted Mansion isn't the original story... what is the original story and why was it changed?
Jim: Things always change at Disney as I have said and that is true of attractions. One of the challenges is that if you are doing a haunted location, guests are going to expect some frights but since this is Disney and you have young kids who are even afraid of just the dark in the dark rides in Fantasyland you need some comedy to alleviate the scares. How do you find that balance? Once Walt died, there was no one in charge to make a final decision on things so the Imagineers fought among themselves so you have an attraction that starts out like a horror movie but then ends with ghosts who come out to “socialize” and not “terrorize." While there were several variations, the basic foundation for the original story was a sea captain who had formerly been a pirate who marries a very young girl who discovers his secret and he kills her on their wedding day. She found the proof in a trunk in the attic and he throws her out the window and her spirit comes back to haunt him mercilessly so he hangs himself to escape but their ghosts are both trapped in the mansion. Good stuff, huh? It was developed by Ken Anderson who came up with lots of other ideas like the changing portraits but never gets the credit he deserves. The WHOLE story including how they tested it out in the buildings meant to film the "Zorro" television series on the Disney Studio backlot is in the book.
Me: Did you hear they are making a new Haunted Mansion movie? I never saw the other one, did you?
Jim: The Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion movie was simply terrible although the special effects were quite good. They wanted to make it a family comedy and it didn’t quite work. Urban legends like Gracey being the master of the mansion were now presented as fact rather than fancy. Most reviews felt the film was neither scary nor funny but as lifeless as a ghost. The new movie is being done by Guillermo del Toro who has done some amazing horror oriented films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak and Hellboy so I have high expectations. He has several other projects on his slate but I hope he gets to this film. But remember, Disney also announced a Jungle Cruise movie with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Now, supposedly it is a project with Dwayne Johnson. Jon Favreau was going to direct a movie based on the Magic Kingdom. He went to Disneyland and took extensive notes and had lengthy meetings with Tony Baxter. Disney has also announced a new movie based on the Tower of Terror. Disney desperately wants to spark another franchise like it did with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Me: What do you think of them making live action versions of the animated Disney movies?
Jim: It makes no sense to me to make a live action version of a still popular Disney animated feature. I think the live action versions have been well done and I am looking forward to Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book coming out this spring but why remake something that was so well done originally? I know classic live action movies and television shows have been remade but none of them have been as good or better than the original. The director of the Disney television movie “The Descendants” said that he was shocked that his young cast had never seen the original animated feature films that featured their villainous parents. So, he scheduled weekend parties for them to come over to his place and he showed the films so “they would know who Cruella is." I guess I am pretty isolated that I thought most kids grow up seeing Disney films. I know when I babysat my nieces and nephews I had to watch animated features like The Little Mermaid over and over until the videotape wore out while we only watched the straight-to-video sequel once or twice. That was true of some of the other classics as well. I have got to assume that today parents are being driven just as crazy having to watch Frozen or the sing-a-long version over and over. With all the options that exist these days for kids to be able to see Disney animated feature films, it never occurred to me that maybe they never have so there is a market for these live-action remakes that seem to do quite well financially for Disney. And as we all know, if something does financially well for Disney at the moment like the straight-to-video sequels, then Disney will keep doing them until all the milk is out of the cow.
Me: Did you see and like Malelficent and Cinderella? I never saw them but I'm thinking I will see The Jungle Book.
Jim: You really need to go out and see more movies! I think of these films as “alternate universe versions” of these stories. As well made as they are with some fine acting, special effects and direction, they still don’t capture the magic the originals do for me. A book I wrote called “Everything I Know I Learned From Disney Animated Feature Films” includes a page of inspirational quotes from each of the films and demonstrates how they inspired us to live happily ever after without us being consciously aware of it. The other pages for each film include summaries and fun facts. I would love to write more books about Disney animation but sales show there is not a market for those type of books like there was twenty years ago.
Me: Okay, let's talk about the 43rd book to be in the Phile's Book Club... "Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never Knew (Volume 1)." I purchased it off Amazon and really liked it. There's a chapter on my attraction... Star Tours: The Adventures Continue! We'll talk about that in a bit. Anyway, how did you come up with the idea to write this book?
Jim: When it comes to books, Walt Disney World gets ignored except for a handful of trivia related books. In addition there is so much misinformation out there about Walt Disney World that just gets continually cut-and-pasted over and over. Unfortunately, a lot of well-meaning Cast Members share misleading or out-of-date information with guests that gets repeated as authentic because it came from a Disney Cast Member. I tried to encourage other people to write a real book about WDW but when it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen, I decided I better write what I know myself before these stories get lost or muddled up.
Me: There's a lot of secrets in the book... was it hard to chose which ones to write about?
Jim: That was one of the hardest choices to make. There are almost one hundred stories. First, you want to share those rare stories that most people don’t know like the background of the Roy O. Disney lantern in the Japan pavilion or the railroad garden in Germany. But you have to realize that many Disney fans are unaware of the more commonly known stories like Cinderella Castle or Country Bear Jamboree (and how they were originally meant to be Florida bears) or Splash Mountain and why CEO Michael Eisner picked the name. I limited myself to just two pages per story so I could include not just the theme parks but stories of the resorts, the history of WDW, things that were never made and other stuff like the water parks, the miniature golf course and more. I have dozens of stories that just could not fit within the page limitations.
Me: Is there a favorite one you have?
Jim: That’s like asking who my favorite child is. I do have a fondness for oddball things like the history of Walt’s family in Florida, the Empress Lilly and, of course, good old Beacon Joe who appears as a Disney audio-animatronics character in three different attractions at the Magic Kingdom.
Me: I know a few secrets myself, working there for almost 28 years... maybe I'll tell you for "Volume 2." Wink, wink. Anyway, how long did it take to write this book, Jim?
Jim: I always want to learn more stories and I have started a file folder of stories for "Volume Two" starting with the ones I had to leave out about the candy wizards at Epcot and the Madison mermaid statue at Disney Hollywood Studios. Just know that whatever you tell me, I will go out and find at least two other independent sources that support it. That’s a lot tougher than you think because the documentation sometimes doesn’t exist or the people involved have passed away or their memories have gotten faulty. I always want people to be able to trust the information in my books although every now and then a “gremlin” typo will creep in despite how carefully I and my editor go over the material. I actually started writing this book in 1995 when I got access to some of the different libraries at Walt Disney World and started to write notes about these things that no one was telling guests or Cast Members. Of course, it has changed its content and format over the years. When I committed to writing it the way it is, it took about two years. That’s working every day. When I get up every morning of every day, I check my e-mails, scan a few sites (most of them not Disney related) and then start writing for hours.
Me: Let's talk about a few things you talk about in the book... you mention the pavilions that never made it to Epcot. Do you think we'll ever see a new pavilion there?
Jim: One of the last things I was involved with when I was working at Epcot was helping the folks who were trying to convince Russia to open a pavilion. That was over five years ago now. I was supplying information about the connections between Disney and Russia including the very first Mickey Mouse comic book printed in Russia. The negotiations can take years because there is not one set contract. Each country negotiates their contract. For instance, Japan negotiated that Disney supply ESOL classes for its Cast Members working in Mitsukoshi department store in the pavilion. I know that for a fact because for several years I was the teacher doing those classes. I am still a certified teacher and used to teach public school in California. Of course, a pavilion is a major expense. How do you convince the people in your country that you are spending millions of dollars in Orlando, Florida when that money could go to so many other things? Of course, when Norway originally financed its pavilion, they discovered that tourism to Norway increased four hundred percent in the first year. Having guests interact with people from Norway, eat Norwegian food and finding they didn’t die, getting excited about seeing the film were the primary reason as they found in surveys. However, even then, that impact started to lessen and Norway pulled out of supporting the pavilion in 2002 which is why Disney is introducing Frozen elements because Disney has been financing the pavilion by itself for many years and needs to see some greater return on that investment. I have no doubt that the Frozen additions will initially be very lucrative and if Disney pushes ahead with Frozen II and it is good, then Disney will reap many benefits.
Me: What's your favorite pavilion? I like United Kingdom for obvious reasons.
Jim: I am a fan of the U.K. pavilion as well for the historical aspects and that my parents loved it. My mom was Welsh and she and my dad loved having fish and chips there. They claimed it was very authentic. I love the show in the American Adventure. I think each pavilion has its own special charms and the more you know about the elements and details in each pavilion, you appreciate them even more. In "Volume 2" that may be ready by next fall, I am going to have chapters about each pavilion to share some of those things like the locks that used to be in the waterway behind the Rose and Crown, how the name Rose and Crown relates to the War of the Roses, and a secret about the gazebo in the rear garden. Lots of stories to share about each pavilion.
Me: And you talk about Figment. You say corporate politics made him purple. Tell the readers what is that about.
Jim: Imagineer Tony Baxter created a character called Professor Marvel who was going to be the host of a gallery of illusions in a new Disneyland area to be built called Discovery Land. It would have been like a Carousel of Progress attraction. Marvel had odd hobbies like raising dragons so Disney made a maquette of Marvel holding a little green dragon. Once Epcot Center got underway, Disney put Discovery Land on hiatus to focus completely on the new park. When Tony was trying to get Kodak on board to sponsor a pavilion at Epcot, he came up with a character called Dream KEEPER to represent Kodak (because you keep memories in photos) and he brought in the little statue. Kodak asked if they could have the dragon as well but they didn’t like him being green because that was the signature color for its chief competitor Fuji film so Figment became purple.
Me: And whatever happened to Dreamfinder? That's one person I'd love to interview... the original guy who played Dreamfinder. Do you think that'll be possible?
Jim: The character of Dreamfinder disappeared at Epcot because of behind-the-scenes corporate politics reasons. The performer who really defined the character was Ron Schneider who wrote an interesting book about his life not only at Disney but other entertainment venues entitled “From Dreamer to Dreamfinder." I know he would love to be interviewed by you and talk about his book. Schneider was also involved as Dreamfinder in a "lost" Dreamfinder film. Apparently there was some concern that Magic Journeys would not be ready in time for the opening of the Imagination Pavilion so WED prepared a back-up film with Dreamfinder directed by Mike Jittlov! Steve Taylor took over from Schneider and did the role for over fifteen years and developed the "bit" of Figment grabbing a hat and flinging it away. It came as a huge surprise to him when they called him in one day after his shift and was told that he didn’t need to come in the next day because Dreamfinder was being eliminated.
Me: Have you read the "Figment" comic? Whatcha think?
Jim: Again, I think this is an “alternate universe” version and not canon, same as the new comic book about Big Thunder Railroad. There was a Haunted Mansion comic book for awhile as well. These are all other people’s ideas about the attraction and characters much like fan fiction. People have been writing their own stories about "Star Trek," "Dark Shadows," Star Wars and more for decades. The comic book has no connection with Tony Baxter’s original ideas about the character.
Me: Do you think they'll ever make a Figment movie or TV show? It'll be popular if they did.
Jim: Disney made eleven half hour Figment films in 1988-1989 with Billy Barty doing the voice. These were all educational films produced by Epcot Educational Media for schools. Figment supposedly lived in the world of Figonia and each episode would include a boy and a girl who were different actors in each episode and from a variety of ethnicities whom an animated Figment would help solve a problem. One episode was entitled “Would You Eat a Blue Potato?” When the Disney Channel started there were even three episodes of a Dreamfinder television series with Figment. They were only run once and never rerun. Jack Kruschen played Dreamfinder. Again, I don’t know if many people these days know Figment. He was intended to be just one of several characters specifically for Epcot.
Me: You talk about Beacon Joe in the book, Jim. Tell the readers who he is, and where did he come from?
Jim: It is not unusual for Imagineering to re-use audio-animatronics figures in other attractions. Pirates from the Caribbean transformed into gangsters in the Great Movie Ride. President Thomas Jefferson from Hall of Presidents is the sheriff on the balcony in the Great Movie Ride. Disney Legend Marc Davis created an audio-animatronics character for the Blue Bayou in Disneyland. Davis re-used the character as Beacon Joe on the Rivers of America with his dog watching the current to notify river travelers. That same sculpt was used as the standing pirate in the jail cell trying to coax the dog with the keys and also as the clean-shaven crown-wearing character sitting in the ballroom banquet table in the Haunted Mansion. Once you know what he looks like, it is hard not to see him.
Me: Okay, so, about Star Tours... what did you think of the new scenes? It annoys me that the time line is blown outta the water. The Millennium Falcon changes satellite dish's during the ride.
Jim: I haven’t seen the new scenes in Star Tours yet. Guests want to see references to the new characters and scenes and aren’t as disturbed by consistency like you and me. I suspect Kylo Ren will be popping up in the Jedi Training Academy shows soon although Darth Maul is much scarier. Those long waiting lines in the Launch Bay to meet Chewbacca or Darth Vader are incredible. Once upon a time, Disney was concerned about consistency and not disrupting the immersion of the guests into a different reality but now anything goes.
Me: Okay, so, this is the 10th anniversary of the Phile like I said and I am asking my guests where what were they doing 10 years ago. So, what were you doing in 2006? You had books published back then, right?
Jim: Ten years ago I was working as a co-ordinator for the Disney Learning Center at Epcot. I had some books published but they were all animation oriented and co-written with my friend and former business partner, John Cawley. Animators at Disney Feature Animation Florida had copies of them and even Pixar storyman Joe Ranft when he came out to do a series of lectures asked me to autograph one of them. If I had wanted to do a Disney related book, I would have had to get approval through Disney. I was writing under the pseudonym Wade Sampson for websites. Wade Sampson is a character from an obscure 1971 book entitled “The Rat Factory” who was a doppelganger of Walt Disney. The novel was written by J.M. Ryan who was a pseudonym for John Richard McDermott who was an animator at the Disney Studios in the 1930s. He wrote a novel to share what it was like at the Hyperion Disney Studio. Ten years ago, I never would have suspected that I would have ten Disney related books in print with more to come.
Me: Okay, so, there be a "Volume 2" of the secrets book... will the vault books have a volume 5?
Jim: Yes, there will be a "Volume 5" of "Vault of Walt" and a "Volume 2" of "Secret Stories of Walt Disney World." People voted with their wallets by buying these books. I have file folders with material for both of those books. I’ve already talked about what some of those secret stories will be. For "Vault," there will be stories about Walt’s testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee, a tribute to former Disney CEO Ron Miller and all his accomplishments, background on why Walt made “package” films that were compilations of short cartoons and much more. I hope if readers have enjoyed the stories that I have shared here, they will search out my books on themeparkpress.com and amazon.com.
Me: Thanks again for being back here on the Phile. I'll have you back when your next book comes out. Take care, and keep on touch. We need to have lunch sometime, Jim.
Jim: We do need to have lunch sometime. Always happy to be invited to share my stories and glad that your readers enjoy them. Thanks for keeping the Disney magic alive.
I liked the way he thanks me for keeping the Disney magic alive. If anybody does, it's him. That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to Jim Korkis for another great interview. The Phile will be back on Tuesday with Phile Alum Kirk Waldrop from Nine Times Blue. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bier you. Bye, love you, bye.
Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker