Friday, September 30, 2011

Park Number FIVE?

So I was reading Jim Hill’s latest column. He started off by explaining that Disney isn’t making a big deal of Walt Disney World’s 40th anniversary this year because they’d rather wait and make a bigger deal of the resort’s more important 50th anniversary in 2021. Sounds reasonable, right? I think we all suspect that Disney will do something big for the 50th, although it’s surely too early to know exactly what that will be.

Or is it? In a sentence that was obviously written to make the reader do a double-take, Hill claims that Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration will span all five Florida theme parks. And then he “elaborates” by saying that Disney plans to have a fifth gate on the Florida property by 2021 before quickly ending the column.

The rumor of a fifth gate is a persistent one in Disney fan circles. I have no doubt that the possibility has been discussed within the company, and I’m sure that concepts and ideas for such a park exist in somebody’s filing cabinet. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I’m not a Disney employee, I don’t know any Disney employees, and I have no inside information. I’m just a blogger with opinions. However, I can state with unequivocal certainty that when Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration kicks into gear in 2021, there will still be only four parks in Florida. If I am wrong, may Mr. T himself strike me down.

MrT“I pity the fool who says Disney World’s gonna get a fifth gate!”

How can I be so certain? I’m glad you asked! Here are my top three reasons why Walt Disney World will not get a fifth gate anytime soon (and probably never):

  1. The economics don’t make sense. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the global economy is in the toilet. Oh, things are going pretty well for some people-such as former HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who spent a year running that company into the ground and was rewarded with a $10 million severance package when they fired him. But the other 99.9% of the population is not exactly rolling in greenbacks. During an appearance on the September 11 episode of the WDW Today podcast, Jim Hill mentioned that because of the bad economy people have been booking their Disney vacations about six weeks out instead of six months or more, which makes it difficult for the company to predict what their staffing needs will be. If the dire economic conditions are preventing Disney from predicting customer demand for their existing parks, how could they justify dropping billions of dollars to construct another? Even if they could, they probably wouldn’t because . . .
  2. Team Disney Orlando hates to spend money. Did you know that Team Disney Orlando was opposed to the Fantasyland expansion? It’s true. Even though it will help alleviate some of the capacity issues that force the park to turn away paying customers during the busiest days of the year, and therefore make the Magic Kingdom more profitable in the long term, the geniuses at Team Disney Orlando tried to veto the project. The adults at the corporate office in Burbank were forced to overrule Orlando management and thus the project went forward. If they’re unwilling to spend the money on a project that will lead to demonstrable benefits, why would they spend billions on a fifth gate, where the benefits are more nebulous and may not materialize? Speaking of which . . .
  3. A fifth gate will not cause people to extend their vacations. Aside from a desire to siphon business away from Universal Studios and Busch Gardens, what motivated Disney to build the Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom parks? They wanted people to book longer stays on property. However, in the years following the opening of Animal Kingdom it became obvious that this strategy had not worked. Rather than staying an extra day to see Animal Kingdom, people were just spending less time at the other three parks. I have no firsthand knowledge about the company’s inner workings, but I imagine Disney was counting on the increased revenue from longer stays on property to help offset the continuing cost of maintaining Animal Kingdom. That revenue didn’t materialize, and now the company is forced to operate the park without it. I doubt they’d make the same mistake twice by adding a fifth gate.

So there you have it, three reasons why we will not see a fifth theme park at Walt Disney World—not in the near future and probably not in the far future either. And yes, I’ve heard rumors of a smaller, limited-access gate for the very wealthy, but judging from the downward trajectory of the economy and the upward trajectory of Walt Disney World admission prices and room rates, it’s not too hard to envision a future where the entirety of the Florida property is a limited-access gate for the very wealthy.

Well, that’s all for this post. Coming up later, I’m working on a post about how EPCOT opened at the perfect point in history to capture the imagination of a generation of parkgoers, and after that I’ll have on a history of Disney space rides.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Revitalizing the Carousel(s) of Progress


CarouselProgressPicture from

If I’m at the Magic Kingdom and I overhear someone say they’re going to skip the Carousel of Progress because they think it’s old or boring or whatever, I immediately decide that person is a Grade-A Nimrod. I might even jump on Twitter to let everyone know what a big stupid idiot I just encountered. Within minutes, my Twitter friends will most likely chime in to agree that this guy is indeed the world’s biggest moron, and if he’s incapable of appreciating a Classic Disney Attraction that was worked on by Walt Disney Himself, then maybe he’d be happier at Six Flags.

We WEDHeads have a fiercely protective love for the Carousel. Why? Well, after Disney bulldozed, gutted, or dumbed down almost every Future World pavilion at EPCOT, the Carousel is one of the last bastions of the optimistic futurism that Walt Disney always embraced. And given the company’s track record, we’re terrified that they’ll close down the Carousel one day and replace it with something inane like “Stitch and Duffy’s DVC Adventure Starring Tow Mater”. Sometimes, though, I think that our emotional attachment to the show keeps us from viewing it as it really is.

Unlike other “classic” attractions such as the Tiki Room or Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, the Carousel of Progress is not a timeless show. It was designed for an audience that no longer exists today. The typical audience at a showing of the Carousel show at the 1964 World’s Fair was composed of people who actually remembered living in each of the time periods depicted. That made the show resonate with them in a way that’s impossible in this second decade of the 21st century. In an earlier post, I said that the Carousel should either be updated to restore the twenty-year gap between scenes or simply reverted to the 1964 version and left that way. I’ve done some more thinking on the subject, though, and I’ve changed my mind a little bit.

First, I believe that Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress needs to make a return to Disneyland. None of the shows that have occupied Anaheim’s Carousel Theater since the original show left in 1975 have measured up to it, in my opinion. Yeah, I know a lot of people have fond memories of America Sings, but I don’t think singing animals belong in Tomorrowland any more than Nemo and friends belong in Future World. Disneyland visitors have a love for classic attractions that most Florida visitors do not. Therefore, I think that a 1964-flavored version of the Carousel (minus some of the more sexist dialogue) should return to California, complete with a brand-new Progress City post-show on the second level.

Florida, I think, should get a new Carousel show that focuses on the innovation that’s had the biggest impact on today’s generation: computers and the Internet. The show would begin sometime in the late-1970s to early 1980s, where our Carousel family is excited about the possibilities of their first “home computer”, and end perhaps twenty years in the future, showcasing the advancement we expect to have by then. As long as the final scene isn’t too overly specific about the technology and doesn’t make the mistake of putting everyone in “space clothes” that look cool now but will look stupid in five years, it could seem futuristic for a decade or more.

More than just the advances in computing technology, this new Carousel of Progress would be about how the availability of personal computers and the Internet have changed the way we listen to music, watch TV and movies, play games and even socialize. If done well, it would resonate with 21st century audiences much as the original Carousel did with audiences in the 20th century.

Well, that concludes my not-quite-a-series of posts on Tomorrowland. I hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for reading!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Animal Kingdom’s Tall, Blue Expansion

Well, I was all ready with a post about the Carousel of Progress and then Disney went and dropped a bomb on us. A very large, very blue James Cameron-y bomb. I’m referring, of course, to the news that Animal Kingdom is finally getting a much-needed expansion in the form of an Avatar Land.

Predictably, the online Disney fan community erupted with howls of outrage. A lot of folks felt that a more original concept would have been better, and that it looked as though Disney were copying Universal by purchasing the rights to a popular franchise and building an area devoted to it. Others complained about Avatar itself, either about its story problems or its PG-13 content. The following short but very funny review nicely sums up how I feel about the film. Watch it, it’s hilarious.

So I am not an Avatar fan. Nevertheless, I had a positive reaction to Disney’s announcement. It addresses maybe the biggest problem on the Florida property: the lack of anything to do at Animal Kingdom. Now I know what you’re thinking: isn’t putting an Avatar Land into Animal Kingdom as thematically retarded as adding the planet Vulcan to EPCOT’s World Showcase? Probably. But since I don’t have the same affection for Animal Kingdom that I have for EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom, I don’t really care. Animal Kingdom’s slate of offerings is so anemic that almost any new additions (excepting an expansion of Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama) are welcome.

But my good feelings about this announcement go beyond the fact that I might actually have a reason to visit Animal Kingdom in five or six years. Along with the multibillion-dollar overhaul of California Adventure and the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland expansion, this latest piece of news seems to signal an important shift in the attitude of Disney management toward the parks. You see, since the late-90s Disney’s philosophy seemed to be that people would flock to the parks no matter what, so there was no need to try overly hard to please their customers. During this period we saw E-ticket attractions closed and replaced either with nothing or substantially inferior substitutes. Worst of all we got two seriously flawed parks: Animal Kingdom-which had roughly the same number of attractions as Adventureland spread out over an area the size of EPCOT, and California Adventure-which seemed as though it were Imagineered by an accountant.

A couple years ago I was pretty sure things would never turn around. Disney seemed content to just crank up the volume on the marketing messages about how “magical” the parks allegedly are and ignore the hole they’d dug themselves into during the late ‘90s and early 2000s. But now things have changed. The company seems to recognize the mistakes that were made and is spending substantial amounts of money to fix them. Are they fixing them in a way that we all agree with? No. But in my mind it’s silly to jump on the anti-Avatar Land bandwagon before we know anything about the place.

And while it’s tempting to make a list of the late-Eisner-era mistakes that Disney needs to fix after Avatar Land opens, right now I’m going to sit back and enjoy the fact that one of my fondest wishes for the property-that Disney would do something to make me want to visit Animal Kingdom-will be fulfilled in just a few years.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Heartfelt Tribute to EPCOT Center

A few weeks ago I was listening to my favorite songs from The Muppet Movie, and halfway through Gonzo’s “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday”, I realized it was the perfect song for an EPCOT Center tribute video. With the large amount of archival EPCOT Center footage available on the Internet, it seemed like it might be fairly simple, although time-consuming, to cobble together such a video.

Unfortunately, there were two problems: I am not a skilled videographer, and the only video-editing software I have is the rather limited Windows Live Movie Maker. So, I had to adjust my ambitions downward a bit and make more of a montage of still images. Hopefully, it still accomplished the effect I was going for. I’ll let you be the judge:

I’m hard at work on a post about the Carousel of Progress. Hopefully it’ll be ready by next week. Thanks for reading!