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Sights & Sounds of Disney Parks: Disney’s Songwriting Mom & Dad

posted on December 9th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

Even as it begins to add its magic to your neighborhood theater, Disney’s new animated feature “Frozen” is already getting critical raves and Oscar buzz, particularly for its marvelous new songs.


You’ll be delighted to learn “Frozen’s” songwriters, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, are not only among today’s top Broadway (and now Hollywood) composers, they’re also a doting mom and dad — and huge Disney Parks fans. In addition to “Frozen,” they wrote the songs for the 2011 Disney animated feature, “Winnie the Pooh,” “Finding Nemo—The Musical” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot!

We caught up with Kristen and Bobby just as they were on their way to take their young daughters Anna and Katie (both of whom also can be heard in Frozen) to Disney California Adventure park to see “World of Color — Winter Dreams,” the new holiday edition of the nighttime water spectacular hosted by none other than Olaf, the lovable snowman from “Frozen.”

Greg Ehrbar: “As Disney fans yourselves, it must be surreal to hear your songs on Disney Parks attractions, films and now ‘Frozen.’”

Kristen: What’s funny, and I think helpful, is that we consume more Disney stuff than we create. Bobby keeps buying “Frozen” merchandise and filling our entire studio with all-things “Frozen.” Every day I ask, “Okay, what did you buy today?” and he says something like, “I got the two crowns!”

GREG: “’Finding Nemo—The Musical’ has such great songs. I love listening to the sound track album [available on iTunes]. The songs you both write so well have strong, memorable melodies. They’re very hummable and like the Sherman Brothers’ songs—and I mean this in the best possible way—they’re what folks call earworms, those tunes you can’t get out of your head.”

Robert: “Well, as a songwriter, one of your dreams is that people would be forced to listen to your song for a constant loop all day long! That’s basically what it means to get a song into an attraction, right?” (laughs)

GREG: “I recall that Walt Disney said something to the effect that ‘songs were the things that the people took with them after they left the theater.’”

Kristen: “Chris Montan [President of Walt Disney Music], who’s been doing this kind of thing very successfully for a very long time, was the person we looked to as our guide, both melodically and structurally. We called him ‘Gandalf’ because this was an epic journey. We really had to get that ring of Mordor and we had a very small window of time. Neither of us had ever done this kind of thing before, so we would turn to Chris.”

Robert: “And like Gandalf, he had a number of projects that he was doing at once so we didn’t always have him.”

Kristen: “Right. It was as if he’d have some sort of ‘Balrog’ thing to take care of and would have to be away … but upon his return, he would be ever so much stronger.”

(They both laugh.)

Kristen: “…and so then, we finished the film!”

GREG: “You seem to have very eclectic tastes. The variety of styles in your songs for ‘Frozen’ reflect that.”

Kristen: “Definitely. I would say I have a little more of a foot in the top-40 world than Bobby, but he loves some of the classic pop hits and he’s a huge Billy Joel fan. That’s how he gets the girls. That’s how he got me.”

GREG: “When you take the girls to Disney Parks in Florida and California, what are the must-see attractions for you?”

Kristen: “Well, the Finding Nemo ones, of course!”

Robert: “That was the one that really established us as a family of Disney Park goers. When our daughter was between the ages one-and-a-half to two, she spent pretty much that time at Disney. So we were a tried-and-true Disney family by the end of that. We always try to go to Expedition Everest in Florida, that’s our favorite coaster-type ride.”

Kristen:Star Tours.”

Robert: “Oh, definitely every time, Star Tours.”

Kristen: “And there’s so much great music at Epcot.”


Kristen: “Soarin’ is amazing. And I love the Spaceship Earth music as you head up into space.”

Robert: “We go to ‘it’s a small world’ every time. That’s a song that rings true with us. As songwriters we see it as the happiest song ever, but when you hear Richard Sherman play it softly and soulfully…”

Kristen: “…it’s a prayerful piece.”

Robert: “Yeah, how deep it is. The whole thing is a beautiful experience.”

Kristen: “I was a huge fan of the original Journey Into Imagination song, too.”

Robert: “We love The Enchanted Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, we love it all.”

Kristen: “Oh, and let me tell you something else, Greg. Just for fun I have an app on my phone that shows the Disneyland ride waiting times. Every once in awhile I’ll be in a meeting or something, and I’ll just go on the app and see that it’s 90 minutes to get on to Radiator Springs Racers, or it’s five minutes for Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, or – ”

Robert: “– and I’m married to her.”

Kristen: “It does sound corny but it’s true—we remind ourselves everyday to be mindful of being grateful to be in this position.”

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From Outer Space to Disney Parks … Meet the Dads from ABC-TV’s ‘The Neighbors’

posted on December 6th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

What if, instead of riding into the galaxy on Space Mountain, Star Tours or Mission: SPACE, you had next-door neighbors who came from beyond the stars? That’s the idea behind one of today’s most talked-about TV comedies, “The Neighbors,” airing Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. CT on the ABC TV Network.

Last season, the Weaver family moved into a nice little New Jersey subdivision and all the other residents turned out to be from the planet Zabvron. Now in the second season, they’ve become best friends with Zabvronian expatriates Larry Bird, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Reggie Jackson and Dick Butkus (they’ve taken on the names of the Earth’s finest physical specimens).

Of course, in real life, the stars of “The Neighbors” (and their families) travel into the galaxy by visiting either Disneyland park or Walt Disney World Resort. We chatted with the two TV dads: Lenny “Marty Weaver” Venito and Simon “Larry Bird” Templeman just before they were off to a script reading for the next episode.


Greg Ehrbar: Simon, you really are an alien, right?

Simon Templeman: (laughs) Yes, at least to you Americans! I grew up in the UK in Sussex and came out during a show here in Los Angles and in New York. I met my wife (award-winning actress and Anaheim native Rosalind Chao) when she was an international tour guide at Disneyland. She got to wear the short tartan skirt. I wish I had seen her in that plaid skirt.

Greg: I would just love it if “The Neighbors” went to Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Maybe your TV wife, Jackie [played by Toks Olangundoye], could wear one of those tour guide outfits.

Simon: She’d fit, that’s for sure! But actually, Rosalind and I got married in Malibu, Calif. and we had the reception to our wedding at the Disneyland Hotel. Twenty-five years ago.

Greg: No kidding! Have you guys ever been to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida?

Lenny Venito: I have. I’m from New York, so that’s our “Disneyland,” so to speak. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., in Bay Ridge. You know what, I love going there with my niece — or with any kids, for that matter — because the look on their faces is something to remember. It’s like living my childhood over again.

Greg: What do you like best at the parks?

Lenny: I love all that stuff. I love roller coasters. I love all the fried dough. Big fan of the fried dough. That is my thing. I like how everything is in the shape of Mickey’s head! You get the waffle that looks like Mickey, you get the chocolate thing that looks like Mickey. All I’m doing is eating Mickey all day long and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Greg: (laughs) And you seem like such a sweet guy, Lenny! Now Simon, when you came to this country, didn’t it seem like another planet?

Simon: Yes, and it seems even more so after that conversation! If I get nervous, I still start coming out with English words and phrases, like the “bonnet and boot.”

Greg: Can you tell us a little bit about what’s coming later in this season?

Lenny: Yes, we’re going to see more about the relationship between Reggie — Larry Bird and Jackie’s son — and Amber, the daughter of Marty and Debbie [Jami Gertz].

Simon: Also, we are trying to get as much music into the show as possible. There are so many great singers in the cast, we are trying to integrate that into the show. Since last season, we have learned that everybody wants to be a Broadway star. [You can download songs from “The Neighbors” on iTunes.]

Lenny: Also, Larry Bird recently got a job at a coffee shop called “Tanner’s Beans.” It’s actually named after the assistant to Dan Fogelman [creator of “The Neighbors” and co-writer of such movie hits as “Tangled” and “Cars“].

Greg: One of things my wife and I like about “The Neighbors” is that, as zany and wacky as the characters can be, none of them are portrayed as stupid.

Simon: I think our alien characters, and I’m sure Toks would agree, just don’t have all the information. It’s not that they’re dumb.

Greg: There is a deft and subtle sweetness to the show. It’s one of the nicest sitcoms of its kind that’s been on television in decades.

Lenny: I think you’re right when you say there aren’t a lot like it anymore. You used to have a lot of those family shows where everyone sits down, the parents and the kids and they each get something out of it. My favorite part is that sweetness, that heartwarming feeling you get from some of our shows. There’s an innocence to the Bird-Kersees as they learn about Earth, and to the Weavers as they grow as a family. We’re at our best when that all comes together.

Simon: Yet that sweetness is not too saccharin because of Dan Fogelman and our writers, who are very adept at balancing both. That’s the thing that first drew me to the series. The humor doesn’t feel mean spirited.

Lenny: All I know is that I love being Marty and if they keep letting me do it, I’m gonna keep doing it.

Greg: In other words the show is like butter, like a whole stick of butter.

Lenny: Like butter!

Greg: In our house it’s appointment TV. We all gather to watch it on Friday nights.

Simon: I love that.

Lenny: Family television, man! Let’s keep it going.

Watch brand-new episodes of The Neighbors” Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. CT on ABC-TV.

Parents note: The Neighbors is rated TV-PG for language.

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Sights & Sounds of Disney Parks: Whoopi Goldberg Shares ‘The View’ of a Candlelight Processional Performance

posted on November 8th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

Candlelight Processional—the stirring Epcot holiday tradition in which a star narrator performs a reading of the Nativity story accompanied by a 50-piece live orchestra and massed choir—is as magnificent an experience for those on America Gardens Stage as it is for those watching the presentation.


We got the Candlelight Processional narrator’s perspective from none other than Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner Whoopi Goldberg.

Greg: How do you approach the narration of the Nativity story?

Whoopi: I am respectful of it because it’s a wonderful story. The idea that you can tell this story with these choruses behind you thrills me. I know it’s a story that people love and it’s important to people of faith to hear and so I try to be respectful of it as well but I also want to have a little fun with it.

Greg: Do you let the text and music flow through you? Is every performance a fresh experience?

Whoopi: Sure, you can put it that way. Because you are changing choruses after each performance you have to listen how their air is circulating behind you. You feel differently with different people behind you. I try to feel everything. I love my conductors because it’s always fun. I love people singing those traditional songs and I know lots of people wish that there was more of it—more of that kind of traditional caroling going on.

Greg: Isn’t the narration of the text like music, in a way — the rising and falling of the words, the emphasis and tone?

Whoopi: Well maybe, sometimes. I’m never boring when I read. You can say it’s like jazz but you can never perform it as a jazz piece. It’s a traditional piece. In my hands it’s a little less traditional. There are pieces of music I adore.

Greg: We’re so delighted to have you back for the Candlelight Processional. How does it feel to be part of the holiday experience and tradition of so many people?

Whoopi: I don’t know whether you all are aware of this but you know I alternate with Santa Claus with delivering things. We chronicled it in a film called “Call Me Claus”. I like being part of the holiday tradition because it’s a big part of my life and some of the best memories come from the traditions that I grew up with. I like the magic of it and I think as long as you can give the magic of the holidays to children they will always stay children.

Greg: Congratulations on receiving the Excellence in Media Award from Temple University. How do you feel about awards in general — do you have some that have special meaning to you?

Whoopi: All awards have special meaning to me because it means that somebody thought enough of you to go and buy something and say hey remember us because we’re honoring you we think you did a good job with whatever or being a good person. I like them. I think it’s all right to get awards.

Greg: I’ve heard you’re a big fan of classic animation. The great Billie Holiday also loved watching cartoons. Any Disney faves?

Whoopi: Well I’m a big Peter Pan girl. I love Peter Pan. I like some of the newer stuff as well but I like all of the old Mickey. I like a lot of the Fleischer brothers’ things also. I just like the idea that you can make animation. That you can make inanimate objects talk when you animate them. I love that stuff. Anything Disney does, I’m happy with.

Greg: You’ve always got so many great projects in the works. What would you like our readers to get excited about?

Whoopi: Well I hope that everyone has watched my documentary on HBO called “Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley.” I hope that they all go see “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which I’m in, and then I hope they all watch Lifetime, where I’m in “A Day Late and a Dollar Short” (2014). And I hope they all lobby to get Pixar to put me in one more thing!

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Sights & Sounds of Disney Parks: Clang! Clang! Clang! It’s the Trolley with a Special Summer Song

posted on August 14th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

Every time you visit Disney Parks, you participate in a story with a beginning, middle and end. One of the most delightful of these beginnings is the series of Magic Kingdom Park “welcomes” that start your day of enchantment.

The first “scene” in your story occurs before park opening. You look up at the Main Street, U.S.A., train station and see colorfully costumed Disney cast members performing a song called — what else — “Welcome.” (You can get this song on the “Four Parks, One World” official Walt Disney World Resort CD album, available in select shops.)

Mickey Mouse and his friends, including characters from favorite Disney animated features, ride into the station aboard the Walt Disney World Railroad for a hearty “hello” before you — and they — head off for a day of Magic Kingdom Park fun.

Once you’ve entered Main Street, U.S.A., you can feel the anticipation and excitement as everyone heads toward Cinderella Castle — and the attractions that await them on all sides. But if you linger a little, you might see and hear the next “welcome moment,” an appearance by Dapper Dans, crooning a ditty or two aboard a trolley.

You might decide to shop for a few minutes. At this hour, you can breeze through the Emporium, savoring the pleasant music in the air.

Clang! Clang! Clang! It’s the Main Street Trolley Show at Magic Kingdom Park with a Special Summer Song

At 9:30 a.m., the talented troupe of performers that you saw on the train station, some now toting pic-a-nic baskets, merrily moving down the street on their trolley. The song you hear is — of course — “The Trolley Song,” one of the “Great American Songbook” hits that Judy Garland sang in the movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

The trolley comes to a stop and the dancers leap onto the street. They launch into a special summertime song, “Things Are Gonna Hum This Summer.” The leap, whirl and twirl with such unbridled elation, it’s as if you’ve stepped inside one of those happy, peppy movie musicals from the good ol’ days. The trolley makes two more stops for similar performances in order to delight more Main Street, U.S.A., guests. Such happy peppiness should be shared with as many folks as possible!

As “The Trolley Song” fades away, you’re off to enjoy your Magic Kingdom Park day — maybe with just a little extra spring in your step. You smile in recognition of one of those wonderful little touches that add up to an unmatchable Disney Parks day.

Look below for more from the “Sight & Sounds at Disney Parks” series:

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All the Birds Sing Words and the Flowers Croon…Coast-to-Coast at The Enchanted Tiki Room

posted on June 25th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

George’s delightful post about the anniversary of Walt Disney’s original Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland park inspired us to give a shout out to the fans who “sing like the birdies sing” here in sunny Florida!

The attraction at Disneyland park was the very first to feature Audio-Animatronics characters—over 150 of them! When Walt Disney World Resort opened its version, entitled “Tropical Serenade,” it also included the Sunshine Tree Terrace. Both were sponsored by the Florida Orange Growers, who teamed with the Walt Disney Studios for a national promotion. One of the benefits of this project was a Disneyland Storyteller record album with songs by the Oscar-winning Sherman Brothers. Both the advertising and the LP record featured the first Disney Character created especially for Walt Disney World Resort: Orange Bird.

Throngs of admirers turned out when our fine-fruited friend made his triumphant return appearance to the Sunshine Tree Terrace last year, a short time after The Enchanted Tiki Room also returned in a revised version of its original glory.

All the Birds Sing Words and the Flowers Croon at Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

The songs in the present Magic Kingdom Park edition include the classic, ultra-catchy “Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki Room,” also by the Shermans. Another is a pop hit from 1932 known as “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing.” The grand finale is “Hawaiian War Chant,” written in the 1860’s by Prince Leleiohoku and became a hit on records and movies when it was revised and reintroduced in 1936. Probably its most famous version is also the silliest one, by Spike Jones and His Slickers.

If some of the voices in The Enchanted Tiki Room sound familiar, they are. Thurl Ravenscroft plays Fritz, voice of one of the singing busts in the Haunted Mansion (look for the organ with his name in the interactive queue). He voiced, among hundreds of things, Tony the Tiger and sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

Disney historian Jim Korkis recently told me that legendary Hollywood “ghost singer” Bill Lee is also in the Tiki Room cast. Bill sang off-screen for countless movie stars, from Christopher Plummer in 1965’s “The Sound of Music” to Yogi in 1964’s “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear.”

Another Tiki Room alumnus who sang in the Yogi feature is Ernie Newton, who voices Pierre in the attraction. And playing José and Michael are two Disney Legends from the beloved Disneyland park stage musical, Golden Horseshoe Revue: Wally Boag (the master comedian who mentored Steve Martin) and Fulton Burley, the celebrated Irish tenor.

I always get a kick out of the exit song, a parody of “Heigh-Ho” that basically tells us to go away in an entertaining way! My favorite line is “Don’t stop to look / Or read a book!”

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A Floridian’s Top 10 for a Disney Summer: Discover Some Walt Disney World Resort Summer Favorites

posted on May 16th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

This summer is like no summer before with the promise of adventure through our upcoming Monstrous Summer, a handful of secrets you may not know, and awesome out-of-the-park activities that you absolutely must check out. Join me on a ride through the entire Walt Disney World Resort and let’s explore some of the most fun summer adventures both inside the theme parks and out:
A Floridian's Top 10 for a Disney Summer. Discover some Walt Disney World Resort Summer Favorites

  1. Walt Disney World Resort will be kicking off Monstrous Summer with an all-nighter at Magic Kingdom Park. Come by on May 24 and help us charge up with scream energy to power Magic Kingdom Park for an entire 24 hours!
  2. If all-nighters aren’t your thing (heck, who doesn’t love to sleep in), don’t worry. A lot of the Monsters University students will be setting up shop around Disney’s Hollywood Studios to meet their biggest fans all summer long.
  3. Amid all this monstrous excitement, look for the “Monsterail” as it zips around in scare-riffic style. Text your favorite joke and see if it gets into the show at the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor at Magic Kingdom Park. And make a note to see Disney•Pixar “Monsters University,” premiering June 21 at the AMC Downtown Disney 24 Theatres at Downtown Disney West Side!
  4. Get ready to take a swim without setting foot in the water! Visit New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park and check out Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid. You’ll be delighted with a lineup of familiar characters and favorite nautical songs.
  5. Since you’re already in Magic Kingdom Park, make sure to track down a secret frosty treat, the Dole Whip! Dating back to when Walt first opened Disneyland park, the Dole Whip is an elusive pineapple-flavored ice cream concoction that you can only find in a few locations worldwide!
  6. Sometimes summer weather is best served inside a relaxing (and not to mention air-conditioned) lounge. Soothe away your stresses with one of the many spa treatments at Senses Spa at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort to conquer the dog days of summer.
  7. With the kids’ summer break looming, a night out at Splitsville Luxury Lanes at Downtown Disney is the perfect escape. Roll your way through a few frames and some fresh sushi in this beautifully styled restaurant, lounge and bowling alley.
  8. What fun would summer be without a trip to Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park? Enjoy steep drops and adventurous water rides. Sometimes a lazy river can’t match the huge thrill of a plunge down Summit Plummet!
  9. Make some time in your schedule for a lap around Test Track Presented by Chevrolet at Epcot. You’ll cool off with speeds up to 65 mph and the gusts that come with them as you tear through the newly re-imagined track.
  10. The perfect way to end a perfect summer day is with a perfect summer night! Visit one of our nighttime fireworks spectaculars that you’ll find in Magic Kingdom Park and Epcot.

*Theme Park hours are 6 a.m. on May 24 to 6 a.m. on May 25, 2013. Subject to capacity restrictions. Select attractions, entertainment and services will be available. Valid Theme Park admission required.

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Sights & Sounds at Disney Parks: An Artist’s Journey from Disney Parks to Oz

posted on March 8th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

One of the things I love about Disney’s “Oz The Great and Powerful“, which opens nationwide in theaters today, is how the citizens of Oz worked together to make magic happen.

Finley, China Doll, Tinkers, the Quadlings, and others are characters you may not recognize now but will soon seem like old friends. They, along with beloved Ozians like the Munchkins, make a difference, regardless of their size or the size of their contribution. While those in power may boldly lead, inspire and make heady decisions, every person everywhere may also affect the world in a positive way as well. (It was one of the messages in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”, too.)

Some people can change entire “worlds” in a more literal way. Art director Arte Contreras created magical settings for Disney Parks years before he was selected to be one of the two assistant art directors for “Oz The Great and Powerful”, led by Production Designer Robert Stromberg (two-time Academy Award winner for Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” and James Cameron’s “Avatar“).

While studying architecture in college, Arte met and worked with his mentor, Eddie Martinez Sr. A retired Imagineer who helped design Epcot, Eddie’s many accomplishments include painting the portrait of Walt Disney with his characters, which became a U.S. postage stamp. “Eddie took me under his wing,” said Arte, “and introduced me to his friend and mentor Herbie Ryman – a Disney Legend and one of the original Disneyland park designers.

“Both Eddie and Herbie worked with, and were mentored by, the great John DeCuir Sr., three-time Academy Award-winning Production Designer for numerous movie classics, such as “The King and I”, “Cleopatra” and “Hello Dolly!”, I feel blessed and fortunate to be associated with such a talented legacy.”

Arte’s prior realization of believable yet fantastic places in Disney Parks was one of the reasons he is a perfect fit in Oz. When he was with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Creative Entertainment as an art director, he designed Disneyland Resort parade floats and Disney Afternoon Avenue, which was the precursor to Mickey’s Toontown. He worked on live shows as well, including “Belle’s Bookshop” – a show pre-dating the Broadway musical – and was involved with the design of Fantasmic!

After working in Walt Disney Imagineering on designs for Disney California Adventure park, Tokyo DisneySea and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Magic Kingdom Park, Arte’s career took him to other entertainment venues, live shows and the Emmy-nominated Disney’s Greatest Hits on Ice. “There is something special about doing a project for Walt Disney Pictures that takes place in a fantastic place like Oz,” Arte said. “I prefer doing things that lean toward fantasy. It allows you to take existing architectural styles and artistic motifs and add flares of individuality.”

“When I joined the Oz production, a lot of the sets had already been fleshed out. Rob started out with an affinity and appreciation for Walt Disney’s original classics. We went to The Walt Disney Archives to see the actual animation artist’s cel paintings from “Dumbo“, “Pinocchio“, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and others. This was the inspiration we used to create much of the fantastical world of Oz.

As art director on Glinda’s courtyard, for instance, I oversaw all construction and made sure we had the right colors and textures, as well as a lot of ornamental detail that accentuated and complimented Glinda’s character. Rob envisioned the courtyard as an iridescent, art nouveau French chateau that reflected her strong yet feminine personality. I sketched a lot of doors, railings, topiary and other architectural and sculptural details.”

Arte and his team created scale models of each set once a design was approved. The graveyard was a large model,” he recalled. “It’s an American Victorian hybrid with the flare of Tim Burton (whom Rob had worked with on “Alice in Wonderland”). When I was designing the gates, the tombstones and the entry gargoyles, I used Alice and the Haunted Mansion attraction as my inspiration.”

Tinker’s was the third main set that Arte was asked to design and art direct. “This set appears toward the end of the film, in which a plan is formulated to save the Land of Oz from evil,” he said. “The setting has an intricate and mechanical theme. This set brought to light an interesting coincidence – Rob and I found out that we worked together on a project in 1993 and never knew it. He said, “I want you to design Tinker’s and I want it to look like that project we did 100 years ago with heavy wood grain, kinetics—turning cogs, gears and pipes – with a Disney-like Fantasyland feel.”

During the filming of “Oz The Great and Powerful”, people would come up to me on Glinda’s courtyard set and say, ‘This feels like a Disney Theme Park!’ I would smile at the compliment, giving credit to my Disney roots – this background that helped me channel that Disney magic to a very magical Disney film.”

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Believe in the Magic of Oz…See it in Bloom at Epcot

posted on March 8th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

The marvelous land of Oz has captured the imaginations of people for over 100 years. Chances are good that this wondrous place has sparked your imagination, whether you’re a school kid, bank teller, rocket scientist—or a horticulturist like Eric Darden.

Eric is the Manager of Horticulture for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. This year, the event is presenting one of the most ambitious dreams that Eric, his team and his fellow Disney Parks cast members have ever made come true.

“The Land of Oz Garden is one of the biggest single areas we’ve ever created for the Festival,” said Eric. “It starts in the ‘Kansas’ section, where kids can play midway games in the tents.”

In Walt Disney PicturesOz The Great and Powerful” — which opens today nationwide — you’ll see Kansas in black and white, Oz in dazzling color and all in three-dimensional RealD splendor (at select theaters). But at this new Epcot garden, of course everything’s blooming in full color — from the ring toss game and fun mirrors to the Baum Circus tents (named for L. Frank Baum, author of all 14 original Oz books).

“As you walk along, you’ll seem to travel through Oz, where the kids can enjoy the large playground,” explained Eric. Newly designed, this playground sparkles with details that celebrate the film. As the kids play, grown-ups will appreciate the nearby shaded chairs. Look on the other side of this area and you’ll see that it’s actually themed to the Wizard’s deflated hot air balloon!
The Wizard’s Deflated Hot Air Balloon in The Land of Oz Garden at Epcot
A dazzling array of unusual flowers and plants suggest the setting of Walt Disney Pictures’ “Oz The Great and Powerful,” including a bed of yellow pansies arranged to resemble a very familiar brick road—plus some dazzling red glass poppies. These amazing creations were prepared especially for The Land of Oz Garden by artist/sculptor Craig Mitchell Smith using his own elaborate technique of cutting, heating, shaping and reheating each flower—a process that takes four days per poppy!

Now through May 19, 2013, The Land of Oz Garden is just part of the overall new excitement at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. “Now we have great food and beverage options at twelve Garden Marketplaces,” says Eric. “Now it’s all tied together—from the garden to your table—better than ever.

“And we’ve placed plenty of character topiaries all over Epcot. There’s a picnic scene at the front entrance, with Minnie sitting on a blanket, Donald and Daisy playing badminton and Goofy is about to drop the cake! Mickey is grilling hot dogs—though unbeknownst to him, Pluto has already taken his share.”

Over at Showcase Plaza, you’ll see Mike and Sulley as they will appear in the eagerly awaited Disney•Pixar movie Monsters University. “Almost all of our gardens are now beautifully illuminated at nighttime, so you can make it a complete day and night visit,” Eric adds. “We’ve brought back the butterfly garden, HGTV celebrity designers and Flower Power Concert Series. We couldn’t be more excited about what we have to offer this year.”

For more information, visit

Entertainment subject to change without notice.

Read on for more updates about the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival:

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Fantastic Food Marketplaces Are the Newest Festival Attractions at Walt Disney World Resort!

posted on February 19th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

This year’s Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is bigger and better than ever — with gorgeous new gardens and whimsical new Disney character topiaries, plus new Garden Marketplaces serving up tasty culinary creations. And this year, look for topiaries and select gardens to be lit up at night! All this and more gets underway starting March 6, 2013.
Culinary Creations at the New Garden Marketplaces for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival

From the bounty of the garden to your table

Twelve new Garden Marketplace locations will sprout up around the promenade, offering culinary creations and special libations inspired by the gardens at World Showcase.

“Our horticulture team recognizes that our guests are curious about where their food comes from and how it is grown,” says Michael Jenner, Park Event Content Development Operations Manager. Garden Marketplaces are a great opportunity for discovery, as guests are able to sample some amazing dishes and learn how to incorporate their own garden harvests into their meals at home.”

“We had been planning to do something like this for many years, and the 20th annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is the perfect opportunity,” Michael explains. It became a reality thanks to Walt Disney World Resort guests like you. Last year, just one experimental marketplace was so overwhelmingly popular, it “grew” this year to a dozen different areas with a wide variety of offerings.

It looks good enough to eat!

Each new marketplace will have two small gardens in front of them filled with plantings to match the host of food and beverage (many nonalcoholic) selections. For instance, the garden at the front of World Showcase Plaza will have blueberries growing to tie in with the Blueberry Wine. The garden near the Canada Pavilion will feature pineapples to match the Pineapple Upside Down Cake that you can purchase.

“I don’t think many guests have actually seen pineapples growing, and that should be a treat,” adds Michael. “We will also have ‘TRYit’ opportunities at these marketplaces to encourage children and adults to sample some out-of-the-ordinary delights like Watermelon Salad with Pickled Red Onions, BW Farms Baby Arugula, Feta Cheese and Balsamic Reduction.”

Many of these creative menu selections were developed by Epcot Executive Chef Jens Dahlmann, who made sure they would be “tapas-size” items, so that you will be able to explore multiple choices.

Don’t forget the new garden passport!

“We will offer guests a special passport with one page per Marketplace,” said Michael. “It will list the plants and other information so that guests can check off what they tasted, write notes and even get it stamped for free, like a field journal.”

One of the most popular marketplaces is sure to be at The American Adventure Pavilion. A huge smoker will be rolled onto the stage to barbeque brisket and pork. Guests can top off that meal sample with a glass of Mama’s Little Yella Pils from Oskar River Blues in Lyons, CO (Czech-style Pilsner), or Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco, CA (India Pale Ale), or just a delicious Rocky Road brownie.

Oz, monsters and lights into the night

There’s so much to see, do and taste during the 75-day garden party! Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival surprises are around almost every corner.

There will be new topiary creations, including a salute to Disney•Pixar “Monsters University.” You’ll find whimsical children’s play areas, the newest being The Land of Oz Garden, inspired by Walt Disney Pictures’ “Oz The Great and Powerful.” Look for a butterfly bounty, HGTV celebrity designers, hands-on gardening seminars and more. On weekends, rock to performances by top Flower Power Concert Series rockers of the 1960s and ’70s.

And the fun won’t end when the sun goes down — almost all the gardens will now be gorgeously illuminated for the first time, making the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival a complete delight, day and night.

For more information, visit

*Entertainment subject to change without notice.

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Sights & Sounds at Disney Parks: What’s it Like to ‘Be Our Guest?’

posted on February 19th, 2013 by Greg Ehrbar, Writer/Author, Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group

We asked Ted Robledo, Senior Concept Designer, Walt Disney Imagineering, to give us the exquisite details you’ll experience when you enter Beast’s Castle to experience Be Our Guest Restaurant. So much more than just a dining location, this amazing place at New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom Park echoes the way Belle herself must have felt when Lumière tipped his cap and proudly presented her dinner and so much more.

Like every Disney artist since Walt himself, Ted told the “story” of Be Our Guest Restaurant so vividly, his description took on a life of its own. We could imagine it all, as if it had come from a storybook. Let’s begin now…
Be Our Guest Restaurant at New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom Park

Once upon a time, but not too long from now, in a fantastic new land within a magical kingdom, a glistening landscape unfolds before you, where elephants fly and mermaids sing. Your gaze is suddenly transfixed upon a mysterious castle in the distance.

Your instincts are correct — it is indeed Beast’s Castle on a snow-capped mountain peak. Could this really be the place where the tale took place? The story of a young beauty, a fearsome yet vulnerable creature and the love that drew them together? You decide to investigate.

As you move along the path leading to the castle, you somehow know that it must be the Beast’s family property — two ruins flank the original gateway that was likely set up by his ancestors. More and more hints of this become evident — gargoyles on lampposts and suggestions of royalty in the intricate ironwork and stone carvings — as you cross a bridge over the river below.

Tall ornate gates, adorned with the family crest, remind you of the moments in which both Maurice and Belle ventured onto the Beast’s property. Reaching the grand entrance, you sense some of the same foreboding they must have felt, or are you just startled by the horned “guardians” around this massive front door? Are these imposing sculptures some kind of animal, or a combination of several birds and beasts?

Above the double doors is a stunningly beautiful tile mosaic, telling the story of how the Prince came to be cursed to remain a beast unless he finds true love before the last petal falls from the magic rose. Now, standing in the foyer, ominous stonework Minotaurs, half-bull and half-man, hold up a giant archway — within which you perceive a sculpted relief suggesting the agony of the Prince’s transformation amid a motif of dragon tentacles and that all-important rose.

So, the castle itself is, in effect, telling the story to you, step by step. But that’s just the beginning. Through the foyer, you come to the grand hallway, flanked on either side by suits of armor. There’s something magical about them, but you’re not quite sure why…is that a parlor up ahead? Yes, it is a room of welcome, where a traveler might be brought in to seek shelter and enjoy the bounty of its pantry and kitchen. You admire the tapestries and spot a large chair that sits by a fireplace. Is this where Belle treated the wounds of the injured Beast?

There seem to be several places where you might savor the marvelous creations of the castle chefs — or are they cooked up by a hidden, enchanted living stove and kitchenware? Perhaps the most opulent is the Grand Ballroom. You cannot believe you’re actually here, in a setting inspired by that iconic movie scene in which Belle, dressed in a gorgeous golden gown, appears for her evening with the Beast. You’re now completely immersed in the world of the tale.

Magical surprises seem possible in every corner of the ballroom. Most dazzling are the glittering chandeliers, one of which looks as if it leapt off the movie screen. In the distance through the windows, the first snow is falling on the rolling countryside under a starry sky.

By now you’re not sure if the unforgettable music is playing in your head, your heart or throughout the castle, but you’ve now found yourself in the exquisite Rose Gallery. Woven in rose images, you admire paintings of the characters you love from the story, some sprawling as tall as eight feet.

The music you “felt” as well as heard was coming from a truly marvelous music box in the middle of the gallery. Crafted of exotic wood with meticulous detail in gold leaf, this immense handcrafted musical marvel was surely, you surmise, a wedding gift from the ingenious inventor Maurice. Roses wind their way throughout this entire room in all the architectural ornamentation.

Every story has a dramatic high point. You’ve decided to explore the West Wing. It is a moody, foreboding place, where draperies hang in tatters and the painting of the young prince has been slashed in anguish. But in the corner, the enchanted rose itself sits under a glass bell jar. What will happen as each petal falls? Will love triumph?

You are certain that you will find your happily ever after at Be Our Guest Restaurant, not only through the extraordinary experiences and magical surprises that you’ve encountered and enjoyed, but again through the castle’s own astonishing enchantment. For this castle is able to share with you one of the most wondrous powers of all — the gift of unmatchable storytelling.

Call 407-WDW-DINE (939-3463) up to 180 days in advance for table-service dinner reservations at Be Our Guest Restaurant. Lunch is quick-service and does not require reservations.

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