Friday, July 30, 2010

Class of '55: The Jungle Cruise

Disneyland opened fifty-five years ago on July 17th, 1955.  In the ensuing decades a cavalcade of rides that once flourished have vanished, all replaced by newer, shinier experiences.  All told there are only thirteen attractions that debuted on opening day that remain operational.  Among these veterans are the Main Street Cinema, which originally ran vintage shorts and newsreels and currently plays host to a continuous black-and-white Mickey Mouse festival, and my favorite ride in the park, the crazy world of Mr Toad's Wild Ride.  But the only mega-attraction that managed to weather the storms of fickle guests and misguided managers is the Jungle Cruise, a boat ride inspired in part by the African Queen.

When the park opened the Jungle Cruise was the only ride in the area known as Adventureland.  Taking up approximately three acres of Disneyland's eighty-five, the attraction was one of the park's largest and most hyped entertainments.  Guests board a gas-powered boat that winds through a murky river along a hidden track.  Dense foliage surround the banks where many exotic (and animatronic) animals and natives play out scenes before the voyagers.  The boat's skipper guides the guests through the treacherous waters, punctuating their continuous narration with many a pun.  Head-hunters, hippos and pistol-wielding monkeys all approach you but as the skipper always states, the scariest part of the Jungle Cruise is the return to civilization.

In many the Jungle Cruise is a Disneyland anomaly.  Its massive outdoor setting puts it apart from both the giant multi-million dollar indoor spectacles like Space Mountain and the adjacent Indiana Jones ride, it also contrasts with the often smaller outdoor attractions like Dumbo the Flying Elephant.  The skipper's groan-inducing puns, which are as much a part of the attraction as the spectacles one sees, are often ad-libbed, a rare sign of Disney encouraging spontaneous creativity within the park's constantly controlled environment.  Pixar's John Lasseter, whose first job was working at Disneyland, always stated that his favorite shift was manning the Jungle Cruise boat.

Although today we are seasonally blitzed with promotions touting such new attractions as Harry Potter Land and the Simpsons Ride, the Jungle Cruise may indeed be the first theme park ride inspired by a movie.  Much of the attraction was designed by Harper Goff, the man who also designed the majority of Main Street USA, using his hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, not Walt's Marceline, Missouri, as the template.  He famously walked the length of the Jungle Cruise's as-yet-unbuilt river in one loop sketching the ride's layout by marking off the boundaries and riverbanks.  This initial improvised sketch is the track that still remains today.  There were originally six 27-foot long boats used to escort guests along the river.  They were painted white with red-and-white striped roofs while today they have been transformed into dingy brown versions in an effort to be more evocative of the African Queen.  Seven more boats have been added including the aptly named Kissimee Kate which references both one of stars of the African Queen and the town adjacent to Walt Disney World in Florida (bonus point for referencing a former Metro Classic as well!)

Links: The African Queen

From Variety's spoilerish original review of the film, on December 26, 1951:

"This story of adventure and romance, experienced by a couple in Africa just as World War I got underway, is an engrossing motion picture. Just offbeat enough in story, locale and star teaming of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn to stimulate the imagination. It is a picture with an unassuming warmth and naturalness that can have a bright boxoffice chance through good selling and word-of-mouth."

The Independent recounts the story around the legendary on location shoot, when Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and John Huston went crazy in the jungle. Kind of like the making of Apocalypse Now, only with fewer drugs and more elephants. Hepburn even wrote a book about it which I bet you could get at Cinema Books.

Clint Eastwood also made a film about it, the very good and very underrated White Hunter, Black Heart. Jonathan Rosenbaum writes about it in relation to Eastwood and Huston's careers at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Did you know London has its own African Queen? Dine in style while floating down the Thames. I'd go for the mussels.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Coming Attractions: The African Queen

Wednesday, August 4th at 7 and 9:10 PM.

Giveaways: a DVD from Scarecrow Video and a gift certificate to Cinema Books, respectively.

See you there!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The New Flyers Are Here!

Get yours today! Or just print this one and share it with your friends!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Series Announced!

Here's the lineup for the next series, to run every Wednesday night from August 4th through September 29th.

Wednesday, August 4 at 7:00 PM & 9:10 PM:

The African Queen (1951, Huston)
Drunk Humphrey Bogart takes snooty Katharine Hepburn on a riverboat ride through war-torn German East Africa in director John Huston’s seldom-shown comic/romantic adventure. The pioneering on-location shoot was mainly an excuse for Huston to go on safari and hunt an elephant. Nonetheless it remains one of his most popular and successful films. Also, it inspired the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. Bogart won his only Oscar for his performance, while Hepburn received her fifth of twelve nominations. Projected in high definition.

Wednesday, August 11 at 7:00 PM & 9:10 PM:

King Kong (1933, Cooper & Schoedsack)
Join us as we embark on a death-defying expedition through turbulent, uncharted seas to the mysterious Skull Island, an uninviting land of terror and intrigue. Here a ferocious beast lords over the frightened natives. His name is Kong and with his mighty size and ferocious roar he is a most fearsome beast! He’s also terribly lonely and woefully misunderstood. That’s why when the sexy Fay Wray arrives, he goes bananas! Ripped off and remade many a time over the last 70 years, the original remains definitive. Digitally projected.

Wednesday, August 18 at 7:00 PM & 9:10 PM:

The Princess Bride (1987, Reiner)
“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.” Rob Reiner’s fractured fairy-tale (his follow-up to the surprisingly as-yet-un-Metro-Classicized This Is Spinal Tap) is truly a film for all ages. As Peter Falk says, this film has, “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles... “ and yes, kissing. We would like to take a moment to thank William Goldman for writing such an amazing screenplay that we basically just copied it for this synopsis. Projected in high-definition.

Wednesday, August 25 at 6:50 PM & 9:10 PM:

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, Minnelli)
Judy Garland first teamed up with director Vincente Minnelli in this iconic musical about a year in the life of a family in turn-of-the-century Middle America. Featuring two of Garland’s biggest hit songs (“The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) and a stunning performance from seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien as the youngest sister. The film has the distinction of being the only good movie ever to be set in the city of St. Louis. Digitally projected.

Wednesday, September 01 at 7:00 PM & 9:10 PM:

All that Heaven Allows (1955, Sirk)
Upper middle class widow Jane Wyman becomes the scandal of the suburbs when she falls for Rock Hudson’s Thoreau-quoting gardener in one of Douglas Sirk’s most magnificently melodramatic melodramas. Neither her best friend Agnes Moorehead (Citizen Kane, “Bewitched”) nor her snobbish children understand why she can’t just watch her shiny new television like a nice girl. It’s kind of like King Kong, but with really bright colors. Digitally projected.

Wednesday, September 08 at 7:00 PM & 9:10 PM:

Dazed and Confused (1993, Linklater)
Move over Rebel without a Cause, shut the hell up American Graffiti, writer/director Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused is the definitive account of the listlessness of suburban youth. Set in the 1970s on the last day of high school, the film follows a menagerie of misfits as they prepare to embark on an uncertain journey into the real world. With an all-star cast, a groovy soundtrack, and Matthew McConaughey’s mustache, Dazed and Confused will simply leave you amazed and amused. Digitally projected.

Wednesday, September 15 at 7:00 PM & 9:10 PM:

Battleship Potemkin (1925, Eisenstein)
Inspired by the 20th anniversary of the mutiny in Odessa harbor (a precursor to the Russian Revolution), Sergei Eisenstein’s propaganda film is one of the most enduringly popular, influential and viscerally exciting silent movies ever made. It is the textbook example of the Soviet montage style of editing, which uses rapid juxtapositions of shots to express meaning, as opposed to the long-take style that had dominated the first 30 years of cinema. Plus: runaway baby carriage! Projected in high definition.

Wednesday, September 22 at 7:00 PM & 9:10 PM:

The Shop Around the Corner (1940, Lubitsch)
James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan star as bickering salespeople in a Budapest knick-knack shop in this workplace romance, the greatest romantic comedy ever produced by the Hollywood studio system. Turns out, these two people who hate each other are, in fact, pen pals who are totally in love with one another. Kind of like King Kong, but with awesome Hungarian music boxes. Also starring Frank “The Wizard” Morgan and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Digitally projected.

Wednesday, September 29 at 6:45 PM & 9:15 PM:

The Apartment (1960, Wilder)
In Billy Wilder’s tale of lonely people and their missed connections, office drone Jack Lemmon pines for elevator operator Shirley MacLaine, both of whom are in turn being exploited by that handsome jerk Fred MacMurray. Alcoholism, suicide and tennis-racket-spaghetti all find their place in this inimitable masterpiece. Has there ever been a comedy that managed to be as depressing as The Apartment? Probably not. That’s why it won Best Picture in 1960. Digitally projected.