Month: January 2013

Paperman: A Few Thoughts on Making Human Connections

I adore Paperman.

It’s a brilliant, simple short film by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Directed by John Kahrs, it is nominated for an Oscar. Originally shown before Wreck-It Ralph in theaters, it is now available for free viewing on YouTube and I urge you to see it – even if you have already, see it again. It’s that good.

Many people have gone on and on about the technical aspect of the short, and while I do find that fascinating, here I want to share my thoughts on what this short means to me on a philosophical level.

Every day there are thousands of tiny human interactions. You hold the door open for someone at the bank. You say “excuse me” when you pass someone in the aisle of a grocery store. It happens, and maybe there could be a connection there, but then it’s gone and you never see that person again. We’ve all wondered, who was that person, where are they now, and what might have happened if fate brought you and them back together. Everyone loves a good reuniting story. Many people have said they got teary eyed while watching this little 6-minute short.

Do people still meet for the first time in person? Has online dating taken the spontaneity out of romance? Are we living too comfortably, too reliant on technology to take a chance?

Thanks to the Internet and social media we are more connected to each other than ever before. And yet… concurrently, these same tools often make us feel more distant than ever before. (Not to mention, more jealous.) It’s the ultimate irony – the more ways we have to connect with each other, the fewer meaningful connections actually take place. Why? Because it allows us to be lazy.

Why give me a call or come over to visit when you can send me a quick text instead? Why bother asking for my opinion or advice when you can Google it and find the same information? Perhaps we gain a little time saved, but what do we stand to lose? Are we reduced to hiding behind a profile picture that may not even accurately depict us, so intent we are on avoiding that bothersome thing called human interaction?

By being so engrossed by what happens on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. (there’s even an acronym for this: FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out) we tend to miss out on what’s going on around us.

I’ve been guilty of this. Often when I visit a theme park, I’m so busy documenting what I find with a camera or on Twitter that I forget to enjoy myself and the company of who I’m with. You’ve encountered people like this before, and it’s rude. You miss so much of what’s going on in reality when you’re absorbed in some other digital universe.

That makes chance human connections, like the one depicted in Paperman, that much more special and rare.

Like the male character in Paperman, you may find yourself waving your hands out the¬†window, desperately trying to get the kind of connection we all really want – with a living, breathing human being. The paper airplanes could represent any of the various ways we try to stay in touch – Facebook messages, tweets, Instagram pictures, etc. They’re a shot in the dark. You fold it and you throw it out, hoping it will fly on course and land in the right lap.

Of course, in classic Disney fashion, the paper airplanes come alive and help bring these two people together. I don’t think social media is inherently a bad thing. For instance, Twitter has introduced me to some really fine folks I never would have talked to otherwise, and some I have met in person.

We just have to be careful not to let secondary forms of communication dominate our lives. It will never replace face-to-face human interaction, so make the effort to see the people that matter to you. And don’t miss out on real life – you never know what (or who) might catch your eye.

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Review: “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” is a Must-Read for Disney Fans

It’s kind of a wonderful book.

In fact, it’s probably the best Disney book I’ve ever read.

What makes “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” so great isn’t just because it’s about a legendary Imagineer whose work includes some of the most beloved Disneyland attractions ever built – The Haunted Mansion, ‘it’s a small world,’ The Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s because it’s told by Rolly Crump himself – he’s hilarious, oddball, and filled to the brim with cute little stories. It’s as if Rolly is sitting across from you in a comfy chair with a glass of wine, recounting everything from the posters he made advertising marijuana (yep) to his peculiar fascination with mobiles to the mischievous pranks Disney animators played on each other. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading this book.

Did you know that Rolly designed the fanciful Tower of the Four Winds? Did you know he hated it and didn’t want it to come back to Disneyland after the New York World’s Fair? Instead it was cut up and thrown into the ocean (!). Rolly is forthright with his opinions and isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. And I love that.

For me, the book is most interesting when it reveals some of the creative differences between artists and the push-and-shove of egos within WED, Walt’s small team of designers for Disneyland. For example, Roger Broggie apparently didn’t like Rolly and Yale Gracey very much and he refused to help them build effects for the Haunted Mansion. When Rolly designed some portraits for the “stretch room” of the Haunted Mansion, Marc Davis came to look at them and said they were no good and that he would redo them. And there was quite a rift between Rolly and Dick Irvine – they didn’t see eye to eye on anything! It’s fascinating to see the passion these artists had and the lengths they went to defend their designs and ideas.

The book explores Rolly’s incredibly colorful life – growing up, becoming a Disney animator, and working on many memorable theme park projects, including: the delightfully kooky Museum of the Weird, the Tomorrowland redesign of 1967 (including the Tomorrowland Terrace stage and the wonderful flower beds at the entrance to the land), his time as Supervising Art Director of Disneyland (where he saw to everything from the chain links in the queues, to trees which are still in the park today, to the lighting in many park areas including ‘small world’ and Tomorrowland, to theming the popcorn carts and trash cans to their respective lands), some dark rides for Walt Disney World (including the greatly missed Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride), ideas for EPCOT (including a master plan with a very different World Showcase and design for the Wonders of Life and The Land pavilion – which John Hench pretty much all hated), Knott’s Bear-y Tales, and more.

There are lesser-known projects here too. I had no idea that Rolly designed what basically amounts to an alternate version of the Enchanted Tiki Room for the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, complete with animatronic birds. Nor did I know he helped design an Omnimover-type ride that took riders to the bottom of the ocean for a project called Ocean Center.

The book is filled with great photos and examples of Rolly’s work in color and black & white. Unfortunately in my copy there is a small glitch with the image of ‘small world’ on page 81. But other than that, the book is a joy to look at as well as to read.

What I most enjoyed from this book is Rolly’s working relationship with Walt and how things got done. There was no guest research or test marketing. If Walt thought something was a good idea, he just went ahead and did it. “Well, build the goddamn thing then!” he says to Rolly, regarding the ‘small world’ facade.

There’s also some really great little nuggets of wisdom from Rolly about working and life in general. One of them is: believe in the people that work for you and turn them loose, because you’ll end up with a much better product. Another: accept life as it’s handed to you and just enjoy it, and have a sense of humor.

One more thing – I was amused to learn that one of Walt’s favorite sayings was “Oh, for Christ’s sake!” for anything that irritated him. (Just wait ’till you read the cute little story about the Christmas present Rolly made for Walt involving the the word “Shit” – his favorite cuss word.) There are a million other little stories and they’re all so fun.

Do yourself a favor, fellow readers – GET THIS BOOK. I highly recommend it to Disney fans or anyone who appreciates the art and design that goes into theme parks. Many thanks to Jeff Heimbuch for all his hard work putting the book together – it was well worth it!

You can purchase a paperback copy of “It’s Kind of a Cute Story” on Amazon¬†for $20.70 (17% off! Eligible for free shipping!) or the Kindle Edition for $4.99. If you’re in the SoCal area, there are a few chances coming in a few weeks to meet Rolly Crump and get your copy signed. Visit the official book site for details.

(Note: My review is unbiased; I purchased this book myself and I have no personal or working connection with the authors or publishers.)