Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Story of Rongo

In the garden of Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, Rongo is portrayed as a playful god with a bounty of tropical fruits and a penchant for flying kites. The real story behind this deity is a little more complex and disturbing than the made-up riff on how he could have discovered electricity if only he had a key lying around.

Photo: University of Wellington.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Disney Enchanted Tales and Magic Kingdoms

Ashley and I recently downloaded two new games from Disney Interactive: Disney Enchanted Tales and Disney Magic Kingdoms. Both follow the pattern of many app games, in which one places buildings and decorations on a playing field in response to missions that get you more tokens with which to buy and place more buildings. For those without patience, they offer special tokens for real money that finish these missions more quickly and allow you to buy special buildings. Not all such games are made equal, so how do these measure up?

Both are enjoyable enough, though Magic Kingdoms offers you more to do at a time. It has become a running joke between us that Enchanted Tales is a game you play for 30 seconds at a time, once every half hour. By the time you collect tokens and set your characters on their various tasks, you've frittered away maybe a minute at most, and you can go do other things. Magic Kingdoms has a short enough turnover that you can play for a little longer before setting one character or another building on an optional four hour mission, slipping on your shoes and coat, and going to work. Of course, you could play Enchanted Tales for longer if you wanted to pay to do so, but who wants to do that?

In Magic Kingdoms, the slightly newer of the two, you have been tasked with cleansing a generic Disney park of an evil curse put on it by Maleficent and replacing the different rides, so you can attract guests, and harvest them for "Happiness" which in turn allows you to lift more of the curse. As you go along, more characters, areas, and rides are unlocked.

Unfortunately, Magic Kingdoms doesn't deliver on the implications of the original D23 announcement, which was that it was essentially a Disney-branded form of Roller Coaster Tycoon. Armchair Imagineers might salivate at the idea of building their own Magic Kingdom exactly the way they want it, with all the rides they want. Magic Kingdoms doesn't allow that. Because of the nature of this type of game, you're stuck building what they tell you to build and doing what they tell you to do, with your only real input being where you place things. I've already had to place my first Pixar attraction, which has already disproved the advertising jargon. No Disney park of my dreams would have a Pixar ride in it.

Magic Kingdoms aesthetics are fine for the most part, if a bit too cutesy in some places. It's a chunkier, more plastic looking, "Little People" version of a Disney park. It actually seems to most closely resemble the concept art for Shanghai Disneyland's tacky "Mickey Avenue." The rides are an amalgam of attractions from different parks, with a few generic classics (Space Mountain) and some specific references (Alice's Curious Labyrinth, the Disneyland Paris It's a Small World facade, Mickey's Fun Wheel). I just wish these aesthetics were applied to a game more like Roller Coaster Tycoon, with more flexibility and creativity.

Even though Enchanted Tales can only be played for 30 seconds at a time, it is a much cuter game with a more robust aesthetic. The premise is that after the "Happily Ever After," a little girl's quilted bedspread comes alive with magic, on which these fairy tales continue to unfold never-ending. The game allows you to choose from two stories, Beauty and the Beast and Frozen.

Being who we are, we of course chose Beauty and the Beast. Missions give you tokens with which to buy buildings and decor for Belle's village and the Beast's castle, which are stitched into the quilt. The characters are rendered in a charming, cartoony style, while the buildings and decor have a very cute quilted look. A close inspection of the trees and sheep show that they are sewn together like living dolls. It's an absolutely darling concept. The missions are filled with little jokes and references that make them equally adorable. For example, you can make Gaston "stomp around wearing boots" or make the bookseller "match wits with Gaston" in a chess game.

Between the two games, we've found Enchanted Tales to be the more engaging thanks to these sorts of references and the more ingenious aesthetic. Magic Kingdoms is also being judged against what one thought it was going to be versus what it actually ended up being, which is a hard stick to be measured by. We had no preconceptions coming into Enchanted Tales, to its benefit. Our interest in Magic Kingdoms is already waning, but we'll probably still keep playing both until we reach that point in all such games where you've done everything and gotten everything that you don't need to pay for and there's nothing left to do but tap on a bunch of buildings to collect tokens that you can't spend anyways.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Songs from the Tiki Room - Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing

Let's all sing like the birdies sing... Boo bububoo bububooo...

As I noted the last time we took a look at a song from Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, Imagineers did not operate in a cultural bubble. They were very attuned to the popular music and trends of their times, especially those they grew up with. To the exception of The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room, written by the incomparable Sherman Brothers, most of the music sung by the birdies were actually popular Big Band Era hits.

Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing was first written in 1932, by the team of songwriter Tolchard Evans and lyricists Stanley Damerell and Robert Hargreaves, along with Harry Tilsley. The first recording of the song was by Henry Hall, the English Big Band leader most famous for The Teddy Bears' Picnic.

Like many songs of the time, the Max Fleischer Studio made Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing into the focal point of an animated short. Released in 1934 as part of their Screen Songs series, it was directed by Dave Fleischer and starred Artie Dunn and Les Reis performing the title song. Screen Songs were a continuation of the Fleischers' Song Car-Tune series, which included the first animated films with synchronized sound, released in May of 1924 (predating Steamboat Willie by four years). Each of the Car-Tunes and Screen Songs featured a sing-along sequence inviting the crowd to join by following the bouncing ball. The tradition continues with the invitation to sing like the birdies, at least at the Disneyland USA version of the attraction.