Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Songs from the Tiki Room - The Hawaiian War Chant

The gods have been angered by all this celebratin'!

Since opening in 1963, the Hawaiian War Chant has served as the dramatic climax of the Enchanted Tiki Room show. Tikis start chanting, drums start beating, orchids start howling, and the pace quickens and quickens until thunder sounds to silence the cacophony. With the exception of the title song, the Enchanted Tiki Room utilizes many pieces of music that were at least known, if not popular, when it opened. For example, when it came time to tighten the show for the demands of modern, harried audiences, it was a piece by Romantic classical composer Jacques Offenbach that was excised. Thankfully the Hawaiian War Chant remains!

It is said that the original version of the song was written by Prince Leleiohoku II of Hawaii's royal family. Though he passed away in 1877 at the age of 23 of rheumatic fever, he wrote countless songs based on the folk melodies of the islands. In its original form, Hawaiian War Chant was called Kāua I Ka Huahua'i or We Two in the Spray, and it was not a war chant at all. The original lyrics describe e a clandestine meeting between two lovers...
You and I in the spray
Such joy, the two of us together
Embracing tightly in the coolness
Breathing deep of the palai fern

Oh, such spray
My desire
Don't linger
Lest we be found
I loved you
Your warmth
Calmed passion
Preventing thought

The Cowel Glee Club recorded the original version in 1911 for Columbia Records, but the more renowned version was first played by Big Band leader Johnny Noble in the Thirties. Looking for new numbers for his band's performances in the Moana Hotel on Waikiki Beach, he reworked Kāua I Ka Huahua'i into the up-tempo Jazz piece we know today.

Tommy Dorsey and his Big Band brought it off the beach and into America's homes through his 1938 recording for Victor Records. His band went on to perform it in the 1942 film Ship Ahoy, and from there is took off into popular culture. While the Disney company and Disney fans today tend to take a more insular view of Disneyland, I don't think it can really be overstated how responsive the first generation of Imagineers were to pop-culture and popular films around them. They were themselves impressionable young men in the Thirties, Forties and early Fifties, and pop-culture beyond Disney's own products provided the common vocabulary with which they connected to the dreams of the American public. The vision of Main Street USA was formed less by Walt's boyhood experiences in Marceline, Missouri, as it was by films like The Gay Nineties (1933 and 1942), Mae West's Belle of the Nineties (1934) and She Done Him Wrong (1933), and Abbott and Costello's The Naughty Nineties (1945). Though named for Mark Twain, it is no accident that this paddlewheel steamship was christened by one of the chief actresses of the 1936 version of Show Boat. The Jungle Cruise is known to have been based loosely on the 1951 film African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and Harper Goff directly lifted his designs for the saloon in the 1953 musical Calamity Jane when creating the Golden Horseshoe. The Enchanted Tiki Room was itself a response to the post-war Tiki fad, and when they went about selecting music for it, they climaxed with an old standard: The Hawaiian War Chant.

The hotter-than-hot version of Hawaiian War Chant performed by the Tommy Dorsey Band for Ship Ahoy.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Maleficent and Once Upon a Dream

Yesterday Disney plastered social media with the new trailer for the forthcoming Maleficent, featuring a cover of "Once Upon a Dream" by Lana Del Rey. Here it is...

When I saw it I have to admit that I laughed, since I'd been waiting for the part where the two armies charge at each other and the big CGI monsters toss around the little CGI humans. On the one hand I love Sleeping Beauty, which is my favourite fairy tale of all time (to the point of our going to the real castle in France which inspired it), and I love Maleficent, who is one of Disney's most stunning character designs. On the other hand this is such a transparent attempt to mimic the success of Wicked while at the same time divesting it of anything that makes Wicked so good and transplanting it with all the tropes common to Alice the Great and Powerful Giant-Killer and the Huntsman: Witch Hunters of the Rings. It's got a good song though!

"Once Upon a Dream" is familiar to fans of Disney's 1959 animated version of Sleeping Beauty, but like the entire soundtrack, it was adapted by George Bruns from the original Tchaikovsky ballet. The tune we know as "Once Upon a Dream" is actually the "Garland Waltz" from Act 1, which opens the ballet. If you'd like a bit of cute overload to begin your week, the following video is the Academy of Russian Ballet's performance of the waltz for the Youth America Grand Prix...

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Story of Pele - Part 2

Though Pele longed for her lost love Lohiau, who loved her but ultimately rejected her uncontrollable temper, she met her match in Kamapua'a.

Carving of Kamapua'a.
Collection of the Baily House Museum, Maui.

Born to his mother Hina and father Kahiki-ula, and is considered an incarnate form of Lono, the god of rain and agriculture. He grew up as a trickster by necessity, given that he was a man-pig. Despite being a useful labourer for his brothers and mother, his nature as a pig resulted in his constantly being hunted by Chief Olopana of the island of O'ahu. Kamapua'a evaded him for a very long time, using his powers to turn himself into a tiny piglet in a sow's litter to grass and trees. Olopana wasn't totally to blame though: Kamapua'a was stealing and eating his chickens. Eventually, Kamapua'a killed Olopana himself and swam across the ocean in the form of the humuhumunukunukuapua'a fish (which is Hawaii's official state fish). He came ashore in Tahiti and proceeded to marry the daughters of the local chief there.

One fateful night, however, the fires of Pele summon Kamapua'a back to Hawaii. Assuming fish form once again, he swam back to the island and came to this intriguing new paramour. Though he assumed human shape to woo her, Pele could see through this to his pig form and began to mock him. They engaged in a war of bitter quips that enflamed to torrents of lava and ash being hurled at Kamapua'a. Thankfully his younger sister was born as a rain cloud and could subdue the pyroclastic fury. As they continued to fight, a grudging respect was born that developed into unquenchable passion. Pele and Kamapua'a succumbed to one another. For days. Awkwardly, Pele's brothers and sisters comment on her shameful behavior, which causes them to call a truce to their... activities... and share a meal. In the process they divide up the big island of Hawaii: Pele receives the regions of Puna, Kona, and Ka'u, which are the most volcanically active areas of the island. Kamapua'a receives Hilo, Hamakua, and Kohala, which are verdant rainforests.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Story of Pele - Part 1

It was like gazing at the sun at noon-day, except that the glare was not quite so white. At unequal distances all around the shores of the lake were nearly white-hot chimneys or hollow drums of lava, four or five feet high, and up through them were bursting gorgeous sprays of lava-gouts and gem spangles, some white, some red and some golden--a ceaseless bombardment, and one that fascinated the eye with its unapproachable splendor. The mere distant jets, sparkling up through an intervening gossamer veil of vapor, seemed miles away; and the further the curving ranks of fiery fountains receded, the more fairy-like and beautiful they appeared.
These words, written by the great American novelist Mark Twain in his book Roughing It, describe Halema'uma'u crater on Kilauea. This pit of lava is within the summit caldera of Kilauea, reaching a further 270 feet below the floor of the main crater. It is a circle roughly 2.5 by 2.9 thousand feet across, constantly belching sulphurous gasses and stony projectiles. The Hawiian Volcano Observatory on the rim of Kilauea, which is now within Hawaiian Volcanos National Park, has declared Halema'uma'u "very active" and suspended all hiking trails, roadways and overlooks to the site. Through 2008, a series of eruption events forced the evacuation of the National Park, and it remains a volatile crater to this day. Halema'uma'u is also the seat of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of Fire and Volcanos, and she is angry.

Halema'uma'u crater, Kilauea. Photo: Tim Bray.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Story of Tangaroa

One of the more awkward realities of the Enchanted Tiki Room is that what Disney presents as being fun and games and mid-century Tiki kitsch are often the real, genuine religious beliefs of real, living people. This is especially true of the garden, with its enchanted show of Tiki gods reciting wisecrack verse. They are not simply quaint South Pacific Islander mythology. Supreme amongst the pantheon of the Polynesian peoples is Tangaroa, the Sea.

18th/19th century carving of Tangaroa, Cook Islands.
Collection of the British Museum.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Communicore Weekly: The Musical

Our good friends over at Communicore Weekly wanted us to let you know about their brand new musical extravaganza. George, one half of the Communicore team, is the planner for mine and Ashley's honeymoon to Walt Disney World later this year, and threatened to hole us up in a broom closet in an offsite budget motel unless we posted this, so here you are... For the first time ever, hear the true origin story of how Jeff and George were brought together to face the biggest threat that the Disney theme parks, and the universe, has ever faced: Michael Eisner!

Through the use of patent-pending time travel technology, Communicore Weekly was able to obtain an episode of the radio broadcast “Theater On The Move” from the year 2215. In this episode, they are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Communicore Weekly: The Musical, and have brought the actors playing the pivotal roles of Jeff and George onto the show to discuss the lavish anniversary production and to share the music of the show.

Featuring all-new, all original songs from Amplify This Music (better known as the Communicore Weekly Orchestra), Communicore Weekly: The Musical will have you in stitches when you’re not tapping your feet along to the catchy tunes. On top of that, Disney Legends Rolly Crump and Bob Gurr both lend their voices to the Musical. However, the role of Michael Eisner is NOT actually played by Michael Eisner, contrary to popular belief.

“In the two years we’ve being doing it, we’ve really tried to make Communicore Weekly not just one of the most unique Disney podcasts, but one of the most unique podcasts out there, period. I’ve never heard of a podcast producing an entire musical before. Since we’ve always been a very musical show, it was a natural progression for us to actually produce a musical,” says Jeff Heimbuch, co-writer of the musical.

“Writing the music for the show is always a lot of fun, because the guys come up with some pretty crazy ideas. When faced with the challenge of writing original songs that fit into this ridiculous story, I absolutely could not turn it down. Plus, George is my brother, so it would have been really awkward if I had said no,” says Andrew Taylor, co-writer and musical genius.

“I like turtles,” says George Taylor, co-writer, “But I hate squirrels.” No squirrels or Disney cast members were harmed during the production of the musical.

“My lawyer said I’m not allowed to comment,” says Steve Williard, co-writer and another musical genius.

Following in the footsteps of some of the greatest Disney films, by pairing a great story with fantastic music, Communicore Weekly: The Musical is sure to entertain people of all ages.

Communicore Weekly: The Musical is available now on iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon, and more. For more information, visit You might also want to listen to the prequel, on Communicore Weekly's 2nd season finale: