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20 July 2012 @ 03:18 am
As a nostalgic fan of Disney theme parks, I have, at times, gone to extreme lengths to relive pleasant memories of the past and expand my knowledge of Vacationland minutiae. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on literature and pictorial souvenirs, hours poring over internet articles and YouTube archives, and gigabyte upon gigabyte of iPod capacity on attraction music and sound effects.

Desperate though this may seem to the average park-goer, I had never once regretted my efforts... Never, that is, until 45 minutes of my life were mercilessly hijacked by a wanton abuse of the television medium titled Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World’s 10th Anniversary.

When this network television special aired in 1982, I was far too young to know if it was something people saw advertised and actually anticipated. But I can say that it comes from a time where cable hookups were still more the exception than the rule, and thus there’s a strong chance that many an American household was tuned in on that cold, lonely Thursday in January (at least long enough to be appalled and kick their sets in frustration). In other words, unlike 99% of what you’d find today on Disney’s own channel, KSWDWTA is probably something they really tried on and expected the public to see, meaning there’s little excuse for it having gone so horribly, horribly wrong.

The main cast is... passable, I suppose? The opening narration refers to all of them as "guest stars," even the main characters. Dean Jones is "Mr. Lane," who is taking his family from Indiana to Florida for a Walt Disney World vacation. You may recognize Dean as the human protagonist of The Love Bug, in addition to a number of other “zany” live-action efforts by Disney in the 1960s and 70s (most of which had some sort of animal in the title). One could call him a poor man’s version of Fred MacMurray, which wouldn’t be so bad until you consider that Fred himself was already a poor man’s version of Jimmy Stewart. Sadly, in KSWDWTA, there are no furry creatures or sentient Volkswagens to overshadow Dean’s lack of charisma.

As "Mrs. Lane" we have Michele Lee, who just happened to star opposite Dean Jones in The Love Bug. Watching her in this, it seems that Michele once took to heart the classic drama school lessons of "project" and "smile big," but never learned to regulate their use, so that consequently her head seems like the largest part of every shot she’s in. She also appears to own as many teeth as the average great white shark.

Playing "Dana," the daughter, is Dana Plato. 1982 was not "pre-" or "post-" Diff’rent Strokes, but "mid-," so she actually had work at the time, and consequently far less excuse for starring in this. Per the opening musical number, Dana is hoping to find love at the Magic Kingdom, although whether she sings of puppy love or a full-blown romantic encounter is never made clear, particularly since her character’s age seems to fluctuate between 12 and 18 at the writer’s (and wardrobe department’s) convenience.

"Ricky," the son, is Ricky Schroder, who would go on the same year to star in Silver Spoons. I never watched Silver Spoons, so I couldn’t say for certain if it was a step forward in Ricky’s career, but anything seems like an improvement after KSWDWTA. Television specials about the Disney theme parks seem to have a recurring archetype of "kid who thinks Disney is childish before learning how to have fun," and Ricky is the example of said archetype here. He is a calculator-carrying statistics geek, which is apparently a negative thing in this universe. It seems Mr. Lane would much rather his son wind up a factory worker or ditch digger than dare waste his life on mathematics.

"Aunt Angelique" is played by Eileen Brennan, perhaps best-known as Captain Lewis in Private Benjamin or Mrs. Peacock in Clue. While I wouldn’t say she was a hot commodity in 1982, she was probably the one member of this cast likely to be regarded as a serious actor. Comparing her this way to the others could either be a compliment or a harrowing reminder of what she was willing to do for money. Speaking of lowering one’s self for money, Aunt Angelique comes off like a complete, sex-crazed floozy. And although you’d think that floozies have no place in a Disney production, you’d apparently be wrong, since promiscuity is funny, or something.

While he was but seven years away from becoming Batman, six years from becoming Beetlejuice, and just a single year from becoming Mr. Mom, Michael Keaton is relegated here to the role of "Kevin, the bumbling, job-hopping Disney cast member." Hence we are all reminded to "keep reaching for the stars." Keaton’s character serves as KSWDWTA’s primary "running gag," which, if you’ve yet to conclude, is not a positive distinction.

Wait… John who? Clearly, there is a typographical error in the opening credits. We all know this to be the one and only Bo Duke. I just feel bad for that John Schneider guy, since his picture never did show up.

And here are these guys. I presume by their names that they are musicians. I presume by their appearance that they are hillbillies (perhaps sent to accompany Bo Duke). If their presence means anything to you now or in 1982, congratulations, here they are.

And so the adventure begins, as Clark W. Griswold and his family prepare the Wagon Queen Family Truckster for… Uh… actually, this is the Lane family of Evansville, IN, moments from embarking on their Walt Disney World vacation. "Let’s join them!" says the narrator. He sounds quite friendly, and, really, what’s the worst that could happen? How naïve we must have been.

We’re treated to the introductory musical number, in addition to a thrilling assemblage of interstate driving scenes, complete with the requisite "getting pulled over" bit. I guess this part is realistic, at least? The Lanes leave Indiana in broad daylight and arrive in central Florida well before sundown. If Mr. Lane received a warning, it’s safe to say he did not follow it.

We also meet Aunt Angelique, putting along towards Lake Buena Vista in her recreational vehicle, and I do mean putting. Putting at such a rate that would lead to one being run off most public roads. Accompanying Angelique is Bobby, an out of place Asian child wearing Cub Scout gear. The story seems to be that Angelique is his den mother, and that the trip is Bobby’s reward for being "Cub Scout of the Month." It’s never quite explained, however, what type of parents would trust the extended safety of their child to such a flamboyant individual, or just how someone so sleazy was ever made a den mother in the first place. To make matters even more bizarre, Bobby does not speak, and often appears drugged. This will no doubt leave you envisioning far grimmer circumstances than the flimsy tale Angelique has woven.

The voyage culminates in some reserve footage from the Magic Kingdom and resort in general. It’s nothing spectacular or unique, but vintage views of the park are what I signed up for, so, if you’re like me, you’ll want to enjoy it while you can. There’s not a lot here to be had.

The Lanes and Angelique pull up in front of the Contemporary Hotel and are greeted by bellhop Kevin, while Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy waddle halfway onto the ramp and wave from a distance. Angelique intends to hurry on to a campsite at Fort Wilderness, since she’s determined to give Bobby an appreciation for frontier living, even though Bobby, in her words, just wants to meet Mickey Mouse. Observant viewers who remember 30 seconds ago would note that Mickey is already standing right there with nothing better to do, but onsite continuity checkers cost money, and most of the budget had probably already gone towards Bo Duke.

Kevin, meanwhile, struggles with a preposterous amount of Lane family luggage. The Lanes jeer at him to not forget the trunk, which I’m assuming is another trunk of clothing and not the trunk of their car, since it technically doesn’t have one (then again, this script could yet prove me wrong). Either way, the Lanes have packed far too much, and thus it comes as little surprise when Kevin, distracted by a nubile young passerby, loses control of the luggage cart and sends the whole thing toppling over, much to the overstated disdain of everyone else present. I didn’t see any of them trying to help, the ingrates.

We cut to Angelique’s Fort Wilderness campsite, where she bemoans the impossibility of assembling her tent, which you’d think might be a job for a Cub Scout of the Month, if there were one around. Fortunately, three shady rednecks meander up and leer at the scene before stepping in to help. Angelique, unlike myself, instantly recognizes the trio as the Gatlin brothers and tells Bobby, "You go hide in the wagon – I’ll call you when it’s over," as though she fully expects a gangbang to commence right there in the open. Larry Gatlin insists to Bobby that "she’s just kiddin’" – his polite way, I’m sure, of saying that even a Gatlin’s philandering taste has its limits.

The brothers have brought a collapsible tent and offer to trade with Angelique for the duration of her visit. Never mind that the Gatlins intend to cram three full-grown men into a tent designed for two – they are clearly the type to shun the excesses of a presidential suite, even at the risk of extreme awkwardness.

With the issue of accommodations having been resolved, Larry turns his attention to the morose-looking youth nearby. Angelique notes that Bobby hasn’t so much as cracked a smile since they arrived, adding, "I think he misses his family and his friends." You think? Larry offers to help until Stockholm Syndrome takes effect, and sets off on a pitiful attempt at being funny, making farm animal noises and stupid faces and wearing Bobby’s hat backwards.

Angelique and Larry then join together for an "uplifting" musical number, which quickly segues into the Gatlin Brothers having themselves concert at Pioneer Hall.

And if this was supposed to cheer Bobby up, it doesn’t appear to be working.

The next day, the Lane family men are by the hotel pool, where Ricky performs calculations and babbles on about how he could improve Disney monorail efficiency. Again, most parents would be happy to see their son on the verge of MIT enrollment, but Mr. Lane effectively tells Ricky to shut up, since it’s time that they begin their "father/son day of camaraderie and sports."

Of course, we soon find out that Mr. Lane’s idea of teaching his son sports is to have Ricky carry the golf bag, or load the tennis ball launcher while having said tennis balls rocketed back in his direction. They also drive a motor boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon, ride horses, and swim at River Country, all done in montage and set to an uncomfortable ballad between the two.

As the song reaches its finale, Ricky weeps and whines about the unfairness of life while Mr. Lane attempts to drown the child out, bellowing sentimental claptrap and getting redder-faced by the second. With his son’s spirits thusly crushed, Mr. Lane assures Ricky that they’ll "do it again sometime" - an interesting thought, since they’re still where they started and never technically went anywhere. If Mr. Lane is the sort of lazy parent who only ever sings about doing things with his family, it’s kind of a wonder that he bothered driving to Florida at all.

Meanwhile, or later that day, or the next day, or whatever, Mrs. Lane and Dana have ventured to a gift shop in the Contemporary Hotel. They find Kevin manning the counter, causing Dana to snarl, "Oh, no, not you again." This seems a little harsh, unless they’d been packing priceless Ming vases and Fabergé eggs in that stupid luggage of theirs. Kevin has moved on from his job as bellhop, but offers to help the Lane women with their shopping needs, which leads to the beginning of yet another song. Mrs. Lane and Dana paint a grim, lyrical portrait of bitter relatives and acquaintances, all so angry at being left behind that they’ll stone the wretched family if not appeased with overpriced baubles. Want to bet that someone is about to procure a list of absurd length?


The Lanes have clearly pissed off a lot of people in Indiana, and so feel obligated to buy something everyone - their mailman, their paperboy, their grocer, their window washer… their parrot? And they’re picking out some pretty lousy gifts to boot, so don’t go expecting a nice t-shirt, or a plush doll, or a set of mouse ears. The Lanes are more likely to bestow upon you a pair of socks, a box of crackers, or a "fancy rag" (for the window washer). The sort of stuff a bonus-deprived Homer Simpson might buy his family for Christmas.

The musical debacle concludes just as Angelique and Bobby arrive at the shop. Angelique requests that Kevin give Bobby "the full treatment," to "try and put a smile on his face." Pfft. Kevin and Bobby leave for a moment as Angelique boasts of potential romantic conquests at Fort Wilderness. We hear a brief sampling of Angelique’s many ex-husbands, and then Angelique begins to pester Dana about getting married herself, noting, "at her age I was in to my third husband already." Potentially pretty creepy, considering we still don’t know how old Dana is even supposed to be.

Kevin, after once again pausing to glance at the posterior of a shapely blonde woman, returns with Bobby, who is now draped in hundreds of dollars worth of Disney merchandise. Lo and behold, he is smiling, but what child wouldn’t respond well to an obscene quantity of new toys? Either that, or the sedatives are making him hallucinate, and he thinks these plushies are his real family, here to save him.

Whatever the case, the lesson is clear, kids: acting depressed at Disney World can only work out in your favor.

And now, a brief, Tomorrowland-centric reel of stock footage, which leads us to Ricky and Dana visiting a ticket booth in...

Adventureland? And while it seems natural, after an entire segment dedicated to shopping, that they might be ready to board a ride or two, you’d be wrong. They’re trying to secure tickets for a Bo Duke concert, but, unfortunately (or thankfully), the tickets have all been distributed. Ricky and Dana walk away dejected, as the attendant in the booth quietly derives a bit of pleasure from their misfortune. He must fill the empty void in his ticket booth-sitting soul however he can.

Dana mourns the lost opportunity to see her "favorite person in the whole world," but Ricky is hatching a plan. He returns to the attendant, who, still awash in the stupor of spiteful daydreams, is quick to divulge the whereabouts of Bo’s trailer. The attendant notes, however, that Mr. Duke is currently out rehearsing, since, you know, celebrities always notify the ticket booth before going anywhere.

Cut to the road through Tomorrowland, where two young women run and nearly fling themselves over a high railing in an effort to point out Bo Duke, sitting and singing country music on the lawn outside Cinderella’s castle.

Bo finishes the song and finds himself approached by an applauding mob of female tour guides and swan boat pilots, all of whom pant and drool over the hillbilly heartthrob as they take seats around him. Bo reacts to their presence with good humor, but stresses that he would really prefer to be alone, since he’s working so hard rehearsing, laying on the ground and keeping tune with a tape recorder the way he is. Never mind that he’s on a grassy knoll in the dead center of the park’s busiest thoroughfare (no matter how conspicuously devoid of guests the area happens to be).

The head fangirl raspily promises Bo that her horde will remain quiet if allowed to stay and watch, and Bo relents. He introduces them to the aforementioned tape recorder, which he calls his "orchestra" (since backup musicians were meant to practice separately), then begins another song. As luck would have it, actually, the tape recorder does a fine job of replicating a spectacular, studio-quality performance, if a Bo Duke performance could ever be called spectacular. The camera pans randomly around for a few minutes until the director (like the audience) loses interest and fades into the next scene.

So this is Bo’s trailer, parked there in another extremely public place. Bo isn’t around, as we’ve already seen, but the door is wide open, presumably so women can throw their panties through in adulation. A security guard outside angrily shoos away such women, which is fine, but why again is he defending the entrance to a lockable trailer while the star himself wanders the park unattended? Does the security guard even realize Bo left, or is his "need-to-know" clearance just not as high as that of the random ticket booth attendant?

Ricky and Dana approach the hapless guard, with Ricky demanding entrance on grounds of being Bo’s manager and needing to discuss "a couple of big movie deals." The guard scoffs, of course, knowing Bo is a C-lister at best. He tries to send the children away, but Bo, returning from his strenuous rehearsal, intervenes in the matter. Bo plays along with Ricky’s story (or honestly believes it, and is anxious to hear about the movie deals), and thus the two Lane siblings are granted entrance to the star’s personal chambers. The guard, meanwhile, is left confused and depressed outside, probably off to defend the gaping door of some other empty building.

Ricky thanks Bo, but Bo insists that the pleasure is all his, given the chance to make the acquaintance of Ricky’s sister. Now, if you imagine Dana’s character to be 18, this particular interaction is, at the very least, reckless and irresponsible, even if it is typical of celebrities. If you imagine Dana to be any younger than 18, on the other hand, Bo’s behavior here is no less than disturbing. He stands uncomfortably close and leans forward, his hands on his hips, before lifting his leg in a Captain Morgan pose, shunning the girl’s request for an autograph and instead proposing that the two "go out and see the sights" after his show the next evening. There is a brief moment where Ricky mocks Bo’s hillbilly semantics, but it’s not enough to cut through the awful tension, and, in the end, Dana is lucky to exit the trailer with her panties intact.

Later that night, the entire Lane family is dressed up and ready to dine at the Contemporary’s "Top of the World" restaurant. I don’t think their waiter’s identity is much of a surprise, is it? Nevertheless, the Lanes react to Kevin’s arrival with expressions of abject terror. To think about it, Mr. Lane has only met Kevin once, and Kevin’s offense at the time was at least forgivable. Mrs. Lane has dealt with Kevin twice, on the other hand, and he did a perfectly capable job of addressing her ridiculous shopping list, in addition to curing Bobby’s attitude problem. It could be that the Lanes are just terrible, hateful people and react the same way to any waiter they meet.

The family places their drink order, then asks sarcastically about the nearest phone, since they want to check with their insurance company. Again, wtf? Kevin departs, and Mrs. Lane notices the band is starting to play an old favorite.

From the beginning, I promised myself that I would not fast-forward, no matter how tedious this show became. After all, I paid a bootlegger a good ten dollars or so to burn me a DVD, and I was at least going to make a strained effort to get my money’s worth (how could I know that it would be posted to YouTube just a few years later?). However, no other moment tested my resolve quite like this one. Four minutes watching two terrible, smarmy people slow dance and trade one-liners, before singing to one another in off-key voices... If you cared about these characters, the scene would be a trial at best. As it stands, it’s somewhat akin to very slowly tearing off a well-adhered Band-Aid.

Finally, mercifully, it ends, but not before Angelique implies to Dana and Ricky that their parents will be copulating together that night, and insists that the children sleep over with her instead. As if it weren’t bad enough just hearing your leathery aunt speak of her own graphic sexcapades. And although Kevin attempts to dissipate the awkward exchange, reappearing with a tray full of salads, the damage has already been done.

Kevin, as usual, takes the occasion to ogle the posterior of passing female (lest this family-friendly fiasco suddenly deviate from the topic of sex), but still manages to correctly distribute the plates. The Lanes offer a sardonic round of applause - really the least they could’ve done, considering Mr. and Mrs. Lane obnoxiously left the table before ordering anything but drinks. Then another waiter, carrying a tray of his own, walks into Kevin, thus spilling the contents of said tray on the floor. Cue the sad trombone, I guess.

The next morning, after a steamy night of lovemaking and marshmallow cooking, the Lanes reconvene on Main Street. It’s the last day of their vacation, and they "don’t want to waste it." So, perhaps, after all this ridiculous dawdling, we’ll finally go on a ride? See a show? Eat a freaking soft pretzel?

No. No we will not.

Rather, Mr. Lane effectively commands his sappy family to go out, sing, make mirth, and, if at all possible, recruit further grinning idiots to the cause. And that’s what they do. The Lanes stages a sweeping medley across... well, across Main Street, mostly. Maybe they’re not aware the park has rides?

Here’s a man with really tiny shorts (I’m only guessing (hoping) about the shorts). I’m also not entirely comfortable with the way he’s holding that rolled-up brochure.

Amidst of all this oppressive badness, there is one redeeming factor, and that is Harold, the singing security guard. Now, I can’t attest to him truly being named "Harold" – the word on that tag has likely been lost to time – but he is, even despite such a fleeting cameo, the best part of KSWDWTA, and thus I feel he warrants a title. Just imagine how improved any given scene of this special would be if Harold zoomed by in his little box, mangling We’ll Sing in the Sunshine, regardless of what was being sung in the background. Harold is enough to make you forgive a lot.

And then Kevin shows up in the parade, playing a tuba and running to catch up with the band, and you quickly remember how unhappy you’ve been for the past 40 minutes.

Thankfully, here’s the grand finale. Yay, tenth anniversary.

Cue this bizarre little moment, with the Lane family struggling to find one another in the crowd, somewhat reminiscent of Gene Hackman and Fernando Rey in The French Connection II. If only the Lanes could be permanently lost, or perhaps hunted down and shot by a New York police officer with a grudge.

Regardless of where the rest of the family is headed, Dana, if you’ll remember, has a date to keep. Never mind that she and Bo Duke never decided on a meeting place, never mind that Bo doesn’t even know her name. Somehow, Bo has sent a missive via Kevin, and, of the tens of thousands of people on Disney property, Kevin knew exactly who Bo was talking about. Bo is canceling the date, but Kevin is free, and admits to having a crush on Dana, inviting her out for an evening of fun. Of course, as with Bo, this seems like a bad idea – partly because Kevin still appears a bit older than Dana, partly because Disney doesn’t take well to employees seducing customers, and partly because Dana’s parents already despise Kevin. Kevin also doesn’t know Dana’s name, but, unlike Bo, at least he’ll bother to ask before the night is through.

The morning after, everyone is out in front of the Contemporary, preparing to leave. Angelique says her farewells, and Bobby, much like Gizmo at the end of Gremlins, miraculously speaks, having been freed from his gloomy, catatonic state by the magic of Disney. Or by the stuffed toys from earlier. It was not meant to be overly pondered, I guess. Goofy shuts the door, and the RV/sex dungeon rolls off in the direction of the interstate.

Kevin drives up in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster a few moments later, since he is now the Contemporary’s valet service. Dana deflects Mrs. Lane’s obligatory barbs by describing Kevin’s plan for learning every job on the property… "before he’s 21 years old." Wh... wha? It was already a stretch to believe he wasn’t 30. Ricky, meanwhile, not only knows Kevin’s exact age, but also how many jobs Kevin has had, and how many jobs there are to have, and proceeds to calculate, down to the hour, how long Kevin’s goal will take. "Who cares?" says Kevin. Ha ha. Math is dumb.

Ricky agrees. It is the final calculation he will ever make. He hands his calculating device to Mickey as a gift, since such talents obviously have no real-world application, and would only ever lead to a dead-end job. Ricky, like Bobby, has apparently been healed by the magic of Disney. Possibly in a deleted scene. The college student playing Mickey walks off, anxious to hock this generous gift and buy food. The college student playing Donald follows dejectedly, and an ad-libbing Ricky pretends to kick her in the ass as she goes.

Kevin boasts that his career path will make him "vice president in charge of everything," and calls Mr. Lane "Pop." Mr. and Mrs. Lane scowl, and disgustedly order their children into the station wagon. Mr. Lane, the seething ball of hate that he is, insults Kevin one last time, and the family departs. The credits roll. The announcer notes that Kraft Salutes Walt Disney World’s 10th Anniversary was presented by Kraft (!), then gives an oozing endorsement to the Kraft recipes shared during the commercial breaks (none of which were included in this recording). He deems them "a taste of fantasy."

If the quality of the special itself was any indication, the announcer is a spinner of lies, and his recipes taste like vomit. Screw you, Dwight Hemion! Up yours, Buz Kohan and Phil May!

You know, it feels strange in 2012 to criticize a television special for not being an overt, hour-long commercial (barring the Kraft stuff), but, then again, it doesn’t really pay to present a story, either, if the story is so unbearably dull to watch. Was Disney World in 1982 not still enough of a mystery and a technological marvel to stand on its own merits? They don’t even give a passing mention to EPCOT Center, which was well under construction and due to open the same year.

In the end, I’m simply not sure who this was meant to appeal to. It’s too dry for children, and too dumb for adults. Only Bo Duke fans will truly be satisfied. It was essential, however, that somebody else feel my pain. If you are a true masochist, and want to see the special in its entirety, I wish you luck:

(Deleted comment)
Commodore Dusk: Figment and Dreamfinderlance_prevert on July 23rd, 2012 07:50 am (UTC)
Don't say later that I didn't warn you (in great detail)!
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Commodore Dusklance_prevert on July 23rd, 2012 10:25 pm (UTC)
At least the parade music has the added benefit of Disco Stu. Not to mention the special Paula Deen cameo.

Also, exaggeration aside, Angelique is still the sleaziest Disney character I can think of (Kevin, forever staring at women's butts, is probably a close second). I guess the writers thought it would be funny, but she really does kind of stick out in a "family" television special.
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Commodore Dusklance_prevert on July 26th, 2012 03:34 am (UTC)
I think the Lane family was simply so desperate to cast aspersions that they'd latch onto anyone's weakness.. Michael Keaton's character just had the misfortune of running into them several times over.

Anyhow, of all the old Disney TV specials (and they used to make a lot), this is still easily the weakest I've seen... Some of the others are a lot more fun, with celebrity appearances (ERNEST BORGNINE AND THE JACKSON FIVE IN FRONTIERLAND) that actually register. You should check a few of those out as well sometime. :D
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Commodore Dusklance_prevert on July 27th, 2012 12:54 am (UTC)
Harold still makes me laugh, no matter how many times I watch that part.