Friday, August 28, 2009

Tanner Says "No!"

I assume once the gosh-awful routine of the school year kicks in around here, we'll be able to resume more frequent posts at WWoB. Until then, here's an old home video that was recently unearthed, edited and slapped up on YouTube. It's my son Tanner, maybe not even a year old, answering a battery of questions...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Down The Rabbit Hole

A few weeks ago I told you about our trip to the fantastic Storybook Land park just outside of Atlantic City. I promised a more in-depth look at one of their more unique attractions and today we're going to make good on that promise with a photo tour of their Alice in Wonderland walk-through attraction. The attraction was designed and built in-house, meaning Storybook Land didn't hire an amusement park ride company to come in and create Wonderland. It's a homemade affair. When you approach the attraction, you're greeted by the White Rabbit several times as he's looking at his watch and realizing how late he is. You follow him into a tunnel...
...and kids are invited to slide down the rabbit hole into Wonderland!

(There's also a ramp for Moms & Dads!) Once down the rabbit hole there's a series of brightly colored caves and tunnels. As you follow the path, the story of Alice in Wonderland unfolds on the walls around you.

To say the art work is inspired by Walt Disney's 1951 film adaptation is a slight understatement. The scenes and characters depicted on the walls are clearly lifted right out of the famous cartoon. That's not to say that the artwork isn't beautiful. The whole attraction (as well as the park itself) looks like it just got a fresh coat of paint the morning of our visit!

Several spots along the path have small windows where displays of dolls, antiques and stuffed animals illustrate the story in another medium. In this Tea Party scene you can make out the Disney version of the White Rabbit on Alice's petifore, as well as some antique Disney Alice in Wonderland china.

Kids love a good tunnel their size. Adults can choose another path which doesn't involve eating a cookie to shrink down to the size of a three year old!
The finale of Storybook Land's Alice in Wonderland experience is the escape from The Queen of Hearts in a maze of card soldiers.

The path leads out from the cave into a huge maze of playing cards. The maze is quite large, but the wrong turns are short so you never really get lost. My kids had a blast running through the deck of cards and thinking they were completely lost.

Storybook Land's Alice in Wonderland is a completly original and charming attraction tucked into the middle of a charming little park. It's a shame more amusement parks don't have similar low-tech experiences for families.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Week In Movies - The Week Before the Beach

While I was at the beach last week, I didn't see any movies. We made our way through Disc 1 of Looney Tunes Volume 2 and got our Shark Week on via OnDemand...but no movies. Since I didn't bother to update WWoB while I was down the ocean, here's My Week In Movies for the previous week, beginning August 3.

Aliens in the Attic (2009) I was really surprised that my kids chose this over the fighting gerbils of G-Force. Aliens is exactly the kind of late summer no-brainer film that I love. The plot: some kids find some little aliens in the attic of their summer home and fight them. Done! It's as simple as the title implies. This film wastes alot of talented people like Kevin Nealon, Andy Richter, Tim even kind of wastes Ashley Tisdale. The only one who gets anything to do worthwhile in this movie is Doris Robberts (Ray's mom from Everybody Loves Raymond) who is involved in a Matrix-style kung-fu battle royale thanks to the mind-control devices of the aliens. In the end, this is mindless fun - harmless for the kids. Not very funny or exciting yet not all that bad either.

When Comedy Was King (1960) Starting in the late 1950's and going on through the 70's, movie audiences were reintroduced to Hollywood's stars of the silent era through a series of well produced documentaries/clip films. This is the second of these pictures and I found it to be incredibly entertaining and very informative. Several silent movies have been taken and re-edited with music, sound effects and a narrator who helps move the stories along while giving a history lesson about the films and their stars. While I'm sure some silent film purists find this presentation blasphemous, I thought it was well done. The music and sound effects added to the films, and the narrator knows when to shut up and just let the films speak for themselves. I was introduced to quite a few Hollywood legends that I had never heard of before and laughed myself silly at the film's final sequence: the 1929 Laurel & Hardy silent classic "Big Business". Honest to goodness, they just don't make `em like that anymore!

Spy Hard (1996) When I originally saw this in the theatre I didn't think much of it, but after the recent slew of "less than stellar" parody films that have come out - it's a real gem. When you're doing a parody film you can't go wrong with Mr. Leslie Nielsen. He's made a career out of staring in these kinds of films and he's always a welcome face on my movie screen. Here, he plays Agent WD-40 who must save the world from an evil bad guy played by Andy Griffith. Again folks, you just can't go wrong with Andy anything. Visual gags, word play and slapstick are all on display here as well as some movie parodies and shots at Hollywood celebrities. The silliness comes first in this movie and the lame jokes about Michael Jackson's hair catching on fire and other outdated references are kept to a minimum. The best part about this movie is the opening title sequence which parodies the opening musical sequence from the early James Bond films. Whereas the Bond films always featured a song by a popular singer of the time, Spy Hard's theme is song by none other than "Weird Al" Yankovic - who also appears on screen in the segment. Good Stuff!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Greatest Thing That Never Happened

The other day I was at my Mom's house helping her clean up the 30+ years of "treasures" that have collected in her basement. We moved a cabinet that had been pushed up against a wall for as long as anyone can remember and discovered a collection of bumper stickers that we hadn't seen in many years. Among them was this great patriotic sticker that declares "WE WANT GREAT AMERICA". Now, what the heck does that ask!? Back in the late 70's the Marriott company, who was into the theme park business at the time, wanted to build a giant, first-class theme park in the county I lived in - practically in my backyard! (For those of you familiar with the Howard County, MD area, we're talking somewhere near the intersection of 175 and Rt. 1 in Jessup.) Of course to me, being not even 10 years old, I though this was the greatest idea since Saturday morning cartoons! The only other amusement parks that I knew of were car rides of 3 hours or more, but this one was going to be 5 minutes from my driveway! Other people wanted Great America to be built in Howard County too. It would have created tons of jobs and been a boost on the economy of the area. But many more people didn't want a theme park in their backyard. People were worried about traffic and noise and some even thought an amusement park would be an eye-sore for the community. I guess none of those people stopped to think that we'd have cartoon characters for neighbors and log flumes and roller coasters at our nearby disposal.

The park never happened. The negative people won and for a long time I was pretty bummed about it. Years later, my sadness over the event grew when I found out that Maryland's Great America was to be the ultimate theme park. Here's an excerpt from a 1978 book called FunLand U.S.A. by Tim Onosko:

"Finally, just in time for the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations, the Marriott Corporation simultaneously opened two parks, in Santa Clara, California, and Gurnee, Illinois, both appropriately named Great America. Though the parks were planned to be identical, geography and climate produced subtle differences. Nearly 5 million people visited them in the first season. A third park, tentatively planned to open in 1980 near Howard County, Maryland, will present a refinement of the Marriott theme park idea, based on the lessons learned at their other parks."

How sweet does that sound!? I figure I would have gotten a job there when I was a teenager and would have worked my way up through the ranks over the years and today I would be Vice President of International Affairs for the Six Flags Corporation. But the good people of the nearby brand new city of Columbia pushed the amusement park people away, and today - standing where rides, shows and attractions should be standing is a run down old shopping mall and a prostitute-infested truck stop.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two Off the Bucket List

I'm a huge fan of Roadside America, the quirky and odd little tourist attractions from a bygone era when the "getting there" was half the fun. I've read about these types of attractions for years, I've seen countless documentaries on them and I've even hunted some of them down myself...not to mention the ones I pestered my parents to take me to when I was younger! I was thrilled yesterday to finally cross one off my list that I've actually driven by many times but have never stopped at. The Haines Shoe House in Hellam, PA is a giant shoe shaped home that sits on the side of Rt. 30 on the way to Lancaster. I'd say we go by it at least every couple of months or so but today we were out and about with no particular agenda and we decided to stop and see the giant shoe is all about!

I have to say, it was a very soleful experience. The Shoe House was built in 1948 by Mahlon Haines, a local resident and shoe salesman who eventually opened a whole chain of shoe stores in PA and Maryland and became a millionaire in the process. He built the giant shoe as an advertising gimmick, he also built it as a fully functional house although he never lived there. He was, however, a very generous man and offered the Shoe House to friends as a Honeymoon suite. We toured the home, which didn't tie us up too long. The house is five levels and includes bathrooms, a kitchen, bedrooms and everything else you'd need to feel comfy in a giant shoe. Inside, all the rooms are decorated with loads of shoe knick-knacks and furnishings that people have sent in over the years.

In case you were wondering, this 61 year old gigantic shoe does not smell as one would think.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to lay my eyes on another huge Roadside America legend that I had only read about. Standing at six stories tall and just outside Atlantic City, NJ is Lucy the Elephant, another building built to look like something other than a building. Lucy was built in 1881 as a gimmick for a new real estate venture, when that business failed the giant pachyderm was used as everything from a hotel to a bar! You can climb a very small spiral staircase in Lucy's rear legs to a large room in her tummy. From there you can peer out her eyes or take another flight of stairs up to her howdah and look out over the Atlantic Ocean. There's even a little eatery next door called "I Love Lucy's", get it?
As soon as we got there, the battery on my camera died. I was only able to snap this one picture with my son in front of Lucy to prove that we were actually there! (He's eating a Lucy chocolate lollipop!)

If you want to read more about either of these attractions we suggest visiting your local library, or head on over to the official Roadside America website and visit the Haines Shoe House page or the page about Lucy the Elephant.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Back From The Beach `09

We spent a week at the ocean. We brought our laptop so I figured I would update the blog while we were there but then I never felt like doing it. So now we're back in the WWoB offices and the fun and mirth can continue! We were in Ocean City, MD for one whole week. We had a great time. Quite a few friends of ours were down there the same time we were. Some planned it that way, others we ran into! The weather was hot and beachy with highs of 103. The actual beach part of the beach continues to be my children's least favorite part of the beach experience. They prefer the mini-golf, candy stores and rides and quite frankly that's fine with us. We spent a lot of time at the pool and many evenings strolling the boardwalk listening to the sounds of the ocean and a guy wearing a cardboard box painted like Spongebob Squarepants and playing the banjo. Life is good!

One of the new attractions at Ocean City that we were looking forward to checking out is The Pirates Plunder Museum and Gift Shop on 26th St. With all the same ideas repeated over and over in Ocean's nice when something original and different opens up. This little museum is small and doesn't have a whole lot to offer but at $3 bucks a head (kids 10 and under are free) it's worth the price. There are plenty of pirate artifacts on display such as weapons and treasures, and there is a bounty of information to be had in this small space. Who knew Blackbeard the pirate had a home and a wife right here on the East Coast of Maryland!? The museum offers lots of photo opportunities and it even has a small theatre that runs a very fascinating National Geographic film about Blackbeard. There's a large gift shop attached with all sorts of pirate goodies to take home including toy weapons which happens to be the very favorite item of one of my own little crew members and believe me, he left a happy little pirate! And yes, in case you were wondering, the soundtrack to Pirates of the Carribean was playing the entire time we were there!

Of course, eating plays a big role in a visit to the beach. For me, and many others, nothing is better than a serving or three of Thrasher's Fries. I also visited the wonderful Dough Roller for my beloved Pizza Omelet and traveled over the state line into Delaware for my newest favorite pizza in the world: Grotto Pizza.
I also established two new food traditions; a Peanut Butter Fudge and Banana milkshake at Dumsers and Kohr Bros. banana frozen custard with chocolate sprinkles! That's flavor country, my friends. We also hit up other favorites like The Bonfire, Tequila Mockingbird, Phillips Seafood, Big Peckers and Harpoon Hanna's. Oh, and the kids dragged us into at least a dozen Candy Kitchens.

A highlight of the trip for me was finally getting to ride the Haunted Mansion ride on Rehoboth Beach's boardwalk. Rehoboth Beach is about a 20 minute drive from Ocean City but offers a completely different beach experience. Rehoboth has a small amusement park called Funland which operates a handful of rides in a tightly packed but beautiful little area. Their Haunted Mansion is considered one of the best dark rides in the country. It only opens at 6:30pm so the lines are very long. I've tried to ride it two other years and waiting in a long line isn't an option when you've got two little ones with you. This year, I went back and checked on the line near the end of the night and there was no wait. I bought my $1.50 worth of tickets and walked right on this legendary ride. Unlike most Haunted Houses, this one's cars suspend from the track and the whole ride is actually upstairs from the loading area. It's a really cool ride filled with all sorts of old fun house gags and props collected from other classic dark rides. One of the highlights of the ride is the "Peeing Skeleton". Sounds charming, don't it!? It's a great ride which I hope I get to do again soon!

On the way home from Ocean City, we decided to make a small detour and visit Cheeseburger in Paradise in Pasadena, MD. There used to be a CIP not to far from our home, but it closed down about two years ago. We've often talked about making the 75-90 minute drive down to the next nearest location, but sole Maryland operation ended up only being about 10 minutes out of our way on our return trip. We were so happy to be back. Cheeseburger in Paradise has the best sliders - hands down! They also have lots of yummy island inspired dishes and drinks and you get to chow down while listening to Jimmy Buffet tunes. It was a great conclusion to a fun (and calorie) filled week!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Classic Commercial Sunday - 8/16

To this day, any bunny that takes up residence in my yard gets named Jean-Luc.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Classic Commercial Sunday - Underwear That's Fun To Wear

Let's face it, life just didn't get any better than Underoos! For those of you out of the loop - Underoos were underwear for kids that looked like the outfits of several different popular cartoon characters and super heroes. Fruit of the Loom debuted the product in 1978 in three test markets. Here was the first commercial...

I had a sweet Mork & Mindy pair that looked like Mork's uniform from Ork.
If I was a girl, you could bet I would have had these cool Flintstones ones...

I think we can all agree that the Underoos brand started to go downhill when they started making sets that looked more like regular T-shirts. We all loved The Dukes of Hazzard, but a Dukes T-shirt was not as cool as looking like Superman!?!

The Underoos brand name is still around but the kids today just don't get as excited about them as we did back in 1978!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Storybook Land

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I took the kids to a little fairy tale theme park called Storybook Land, located just 10 miles west of Atlantic City, NJ. It turned out to be a beautiful day with mild weather and a very light crowd at the park. Storybook Land is, of course, similar to Maryland's beloved Enchanted Forest. Storybook Land is actually two months older that Enchanted Forest, and has been going strong since 1955. The grounds are beautiful with flower beds everywhere, nice landscaping, and walkways that are paved and kept clean. Everything at Storybook Land is cared for with great attention and it shows. All the buildings and attractions appear to have received a fresh coat of paint the morning we visited. And although most of the rides are simple portable rides, each is housed in it's own pavilion with permanent fixtures and top notch show quality. This obviously is not an amusement park for thrill seekers, but if you've got kids between 2-10 this little gem is worth the drive from the Baltimore area. (It took us about 2 1/2 hours to get there.) Let me show you around:

As you enter the park you are greeted by this gigantic statue of Mother Goose. One of the nice things about Storyland is that everything there has a story behind, and this ol' lady is no exception. She was brought to Storybook Land from a park in Ohio in 1985, but she started life at Fantasyland park in Gettysburg, PA. I live within 20 minutes of where this park used to be and I've attempted to do research on the park and find out more about it. But unlike Howard County's Enchanted Forest - which is a sacred memory for many folks who grew up in the area - Fantasyland does not seem to be remembered as fondly. Mostly because the park was built on/near battlefields which many folks in these parts find unacceptable. So much so, that the park closed in 1979 when the land was purchased by the State Parks Dept. and all the pieces were sold off. Nothing remains of Fantasyland, except it's parking lot which was used for overflow parking to the Gettysburg Welcome Center. But back to Storybook Land...

Storybook Land has a small train that runs through the park, similar to the train you'd find in most small amusement parks. The neat touch here is that near the back of the park, the train rides through a large shed where hundreds of toys are on display. It almost looks like Santa's workshop. It's a really cool out of ordinary surprise.

Storybook Land is home to a nice antique car ride called Olde Tymers. The cars are connected to a track so there's actually no steering like at most parks, but the grounds that the ride covers are beautiful both with flowers and with auto related antiques. Another unique experience.

In one of the front corners of the park, there are several Christmas themed attractions grouped together. Santa has a large home here, where he visits children on select visiting during the summer and then daily at Christmas time. Santa's reindeer are all on display, as well as a Christmas shop and several windows full of animated Christmas figures. The kids really flipped out at a chance to go inside a real igloo (even though it wasn't real). But the North Pole in the background is actually frozen solid!

They don't have birthday packages at Storybook Land, but they do have this giant birthday cake pavilion for you to snack under. The cake was bought from a nearby park and for Storybook Land's 50th birthday the top two layers of the cake were added. Every year they change the number candles on top of the cake to reflect the age of the park. It's a great example of the care and pride that are put into this park.

Of course the meat and potatoes of any good storybook park is the Nursery Rhyme and Fairy Tale displays, where classic rhymes and stories are brought to life in living dimensions. Storybook Land takes the concept a little further than most parks of it's kind as a large number of the displays are either animated or interactive. Here's Storybook Land's Hickory Dickory Dock. Inside the clock is a small mouse which runs (along a chain) up one side of the clock and down the other. It's a nice little touch that really excited the kids.

They also went above and beyond with their Jack and Jill attraction. Kids can climb the hill to fetch a pail of water at the well. Then they can take a spill with Jack and Jill via a nifty slide down the side of the hill. A sandbox at the bottom prevents any broken crowns!

Here's the boys in the Christmas section of the park enjoying some old fashioned Christmas window displays. Each display is loaded with buttons for kids to push and activate the different animations. It's a very nostalgic setup reminiscent of the displays department stores used to pride themselves on around the holidays.

The Three Bears house also features the Three Bears mailboxes, which happen to be beehives. Another nice little touch from the folks at Storybook Land!
One of the neatest attractions at the park is their walk-thru Alice in Wonderland experience. We thought it was so cool that we're saving it for another separate post here at WWoB.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My Week In Movies - Fixing the Pixar Band-Aid

The Incredibles (2004) This is the only Pixar film that I did not fall in love with. As such, it's the only Pixar film that I don't own the DVD of. Seeing as how my kids love all things Super Heroes, they had been wanting to see this movie for quite sometime. I figured I'd give it another chance since it's always bothered me that I didn't connect with the film like the rest of America did. Bottom line, for me anyways, is that The Incredibles doesn't deliver the solid laughs that Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo had. Action sequences are the bread and butter of this animated movie. On my first viewing I found some of the fighting scenes a bit boring. On my second screening this past week, I found the film a little more charming. It has heart, and a good story and good characters as all the Pixar films do. It just never comes through with the big belly laughs. The action scenes aren't quite as drawn out as I remember them but I'd still have to put The Incredibles at the bottom of my Pixar list.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Vampires Suck: 5 Movies EW Forgot

America is having a love affair with vampires, or so Entertainment Weekly claims with their cover story in this week's issue. Ever since that Tom Cruise movie came out like 15 years ago you could see this obsession with vampires bubbling up in the female movie going public. Everyone is crazy about this Twilight school for vampires movie, and I couldn't be more sick about everyone talking about True Blood. Entertainment Weekly has already devoted countless covers to Twilight and an endless amount of articles on True Blood. Now they've gone and killed two birds with one stake through the heart and featured both the depressed goth vampire from Twilight and the vampire with dime store Dracula teeth from True Blood on the same cover to announce their multi-page All Star Salute to Vampires!

I don't give a crap about vampires, but EW did do a nice job in a sidebar giving props to such legendary vampires as Grandpa Munster, Count Von Count from Sesame Street, Elvira and even the all-puppet Dracula spectacular at the end of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Well played EW....well played! They also have a list of 20 Greatest Vampires. But would you believe that in all this hype about vampires they forgot to mention a few great blood-sucking movies from my home video collection!?! So now we present WWoB's list of 5 Best Vampire Movies:

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) EW lists Count Dooku as the best on screen Dracula of all time, but for my money you can't do better than Leslie Nielsen. Actually, when you're doing a spoof movie it's kind of lazy casting to put Leslie Nielsen in your lead role - but who's complaining!? Mel Brooks gave us this funny take on the Dracula legend almost 15 years ago...and he hasn't make another movie since! It's a shame, even though Dracula isn't anywhere near Mel Brooks' funniest pictures - it's still a good film with some really solid laughs. This film also has one of Harvey Korman's last big screen performances.

Once Bitten (1985) Before Ace Ventura, even before In Living Color Jim Carey stared in this very good film about a high school student who gets seduced by an older woman (played by Lauren Hutton) who turns out to be a vampire. At one point in time, I probably considered this one of the best movies of all time. It's really good. Also, the late great Cleavon Little appears in one of his last big screen roles.

The Flintstones Meet Rockula and Frankenstone (1979) The Flintstones and the Rubbles go on a game show and win a trip to Rocksylvania. Once there, they stay at Rockula's castle where, just as the title suggests, they meet Rockula and Frankenstone. It turns out that Rockula has a thing for Wilma, but when Wilma's not interested Rockula and Frankenstone try to kill Fred in the hopes of changing Wilma's mind. OK...this isn't really a movie, it's a TV special! But of course I'm going to squeeze the Flintstones into the list if I can!

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) No matter what the subject, you just can't go wrong with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. This film started off a string of hits for the boys where they "meet" several of the monsters from Universal Pictures' popular stable of horror film characters. Here, Bud and Lou are baggage clerks who must deliver the remains of Count Dracula and Frankenstein's monster to a horror museum. Dracula is played by none other than Bela Lugosi, who played the role several years earlier in the 1931 film version of Dracula. EW ranks his performance in the original film as #3 on their list of 20 Greatest Vampires. Lugosi became so associated with the role that he had a hard time finding work. He took the role in Abbott and Costello strictly for the paycheck and found the film to be an insult to his talents. Whatever, Bela! This great movie remains, to this day, one of the more popular Abbott and Costello movies.

Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood (1996) This is a fantastic movie, light on the gore - heavy on the laughs. Dennis Miller stars as a private investigator who ends up at a whore house populated by vampires...and then the fun begins! Miller is out of place as the lead in an action/horror movie, but he makes it work for himself and ends up being really hilarious. There's alot of great supporting talent in this film such as Erika Eleniak, Corey Feldman and yes, the Crypt Keeper! I'm proud to say I'm one of a small handful of people who went as saw this unblockbuster in the theatre. Thank you very much!
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