New Mouse Notes

Two debuts of note at Walt Disney World. As is so often the case, Orlando Weekly Arts & Culture critic Seth Kubersky has the final word.

At the Magic Kingdom, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor has been “previewing” for test audiences since last December but only recently had its official opening. The new show is the most ambitious implementation yet of Disney’s “living character initiative,” and it’s been the subject of an unusually public fine-tuning, with scripts being rewritten on an almost daily basis. Plus, it has the least appropriate acronym ever. The former home of The Timekeeper (a Circle-Vision film featuring Robin Williams) has been transformed into a faux comedy club, where the one-eyed Mike Wazowski is milking laughs to generate power for Monstropolis. Mike and Roz, along with a handful of forgettable new characters, appear “onstage” in the form of CGI projections, interacting with the audience via the same technology that powers Epcot’s Turtle Talk With Crush.

Unfortunately, while the surfer-terrapin is a dude, this new show is a dud. The computer animation, though improving, still stutters; best-loved characters Sully and Boo are absent; and the stale puns are aimed at second-grade kids. Some of Orlando’s best improv actors are working hard behind the scenes, saving it from being an outright disaster (like its neighbor Stitch’s Great Escape). Just don’t hurt yourself trying to rationalize how contemporary cartoons fit into Tomorrowland’s rapidly dissipating theme.

He has kinder words for the revamping of the Ageing Rio Del Tiempo ride at the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase.

El Rio del Tiempo, has re-emerged from a brief rehab as Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. By adding Donald Duck and his feathered co-stars from the 1944 Latin American travelogue, much-needed life has been injected into a ride that was formerly only notable for a theme song that burrowed into your brain.

Though the Mexican-American artists who helped craft the opening-day original were attempting to give visitors a taste of their culture, many riders dismissed it as It’s a Small World en Español. The video projections of bewildering interpretive dancers and late-’70s-vintage tourist traps have all been replaced with fresh animation featuring Donald and his poultry pals as they race to a concert in Mexico City. The best elements of the old have been retained (the atmospheric riverside volcano and Acapulco cliff divers) while the most cringe-inducing (stereotypical street vendors and creepy marionettes) are history.

The renovation isn’t perfect (the finale is sorely lacking in animatronic fowl) but it’s enough to give fans hope that the upcoming changes to Spaceship Earth will be worth the wait.

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