In response to a recent post on Screamscape regarding Epcot’s failure.
I believe Epcot’s “failure” began a long time ago, when the remaining execs at Disney launched the idea and began building the park. It was an idea that I think existed solely in the mind of its creator, Walt Disney, and nobody in the company had the vision or any idea of how to bring it to reality. So, they came up with this idea, that wasn’t bad really, and had some merit, but lacked a true leader who was charismatic enough to make it successful. Businesses and even some countries bought in to it, only because of the Disney name, which was known for several successful ventures prior. However, as they quickly found out, this wasn’t exactly an idea that Walt dreamed up, and it didn’t have the kind of creative vision and sustaining entertainment value that the public would embrace more than once. Without this, the park soon began to falter and they started tweaking the model to try and stem the flow of bad press, attract guests and hopefully have them return. But, once word got out that it was a dull and boring place with little entertainment value, crowds died down, businesses turned away as did the flow of money to sponsor attractions and pavilions due to little or no return for their contributions. Which is kind of where we are today. Without major investors willing to commit millions of dollars for essentially advertising, not too many are willing to jump in with Disney. The name is no longer known for success and more importantly, investing in a Disney park provides very little return for a company.
So, where did it all go wrong? In my opinion, it was the death of Walt that killed the idea of Epcot. In the absence of a charismatic visionary who could lead the company and sell its successes in such a way that businesses would eagerly buy into and even line up to be a part of, it became more of an expense for the companies that did buy in rather than an investment that yielded returns as well as recognition. Without investors to help fund the parks and attractions, Disney is left developing and funding them out of their own pockets, which means they have to find something suitable and entertaining enough to draw the public in order to produce a quick return on their investment. Good or bad, this means that many of the attractions are going to be based on pop-culture or current, proven entertainment media such as movies like Frozen or even Avatar, because, developing and building original attractions and stories is expensive and a risk that nobody wants to gamble millions of dollars on.
That’s not to say that I’m displeased with what’s happening, I’m just a little let down. Because, like many, I liked the idea of Epcot, and specifically World Showcase, a place where you could get a small taste of a variety of real cultures from around the world. But, in the spirit of Walt’s famous words about Disneyland, I know that Epcot (as well as all the parks) will never be completed and will continue to grow and change, based on imagination and the pursuit of the all-mighty dollar.
I’ve been around the Disney community for 11+ years now, chatting and contributing to the various message groups and forums, and something I’ve heard more times than I care to remember is “What Would Walt Do”, often shortened to the mnemonic, WWWD, a play on the popular, What Would Jesus Do, (WWJD).
I don’t mind the question really, except when people get extreme about it, and start into a rant about the current whatever being so far out of line with what Walt Disney would have done IF he were still alive. I’m sure I have used the WWWD phrase myself a few times as well. Mind you, I think it’s important to think about how or why Walt would have done things in his time, given the projects he worked on. And, in some capacity, many of those principles that he formulated, are still applicable in today’s world, and more specifically in the parks and movies that bear his name. However, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he’s not with us anymore, and we have to figure things out for ourselves. And, I think, based on some of his work and ideas, we can do so with a good balance that respects him and what he did, while also moving forward.
The part that gets a little “hairy” though, is when you start talking about changing or removing so-called classic attractions that Walt was a part of, either in concept, design or creation. In my opinion, there are a few of these that could be changed or completely removed, but for the sake of keeping this post flame-free, I will refrain from naming any. But, thinking about what Walt would do, it is my belief that he would feel the same way. An attraction is only good, and worth keeping around if the majority of guests still enjoy it, and it will continue to represent the sponsor and Disney company well. Old worn out attractions need to be either removed or updated.
It’s just my own belief based on what I’ve seen and read about Walt, but I’ve come up with the following list of what I believe to be some basic principles behind his ideas for building the parks and attractions the way he did.
APPEAL TO ALL – I think this was his inspiration and number 1 driving factor behind building Disneyland and the attractions he wanted for that park. He wanted a place where kids and adults could laugh and play together. A place where adults could act like kids, and kids could play with their adult parents who had been magically transformed.
Supporting quotes: “We believed in our idea – a family park where parents and children could have fun- together.” and “It has that thing – the imagination, and the feeling of happy excitement- I knew when I was a kid.”
FANTASY – Stemming from his many years in making cartoons and films, he knew how to tell stories that carried people away to make believe worlds of fantasy and fiction. He himself said: “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the Park (Disneyland). I want to feel they’re in another world.”
PASSION – When he built Disneyland, I think Walt was at a point where he was looking to do something new and then just kind of stumbled into it. But, I don’t think it was the kind of thing that was just a throw together. No, Walt had drive and determination about him that might be labeled as close to obsessive. It was a deep-rooted passion that led him to create such an incredible and magical environment. A passion that overflowed from him into many others who saw it and wanted to be a part of it. “When we opened Disneyland, a lot of people got the impressions that it was a get-rich-quick thing, but they didn’t realize that behind Disneyland was this great organization that I built here at the Studio, and they all got into it and we were doing it because we loved to do it.”
VISION – Along with the passion, I believe he also had a grand vision of what he wanted, not just from the start, but for the future as well. And this is where my own frustration comes when communicating with others about what Walt would do. See, I don’t believe that he would be happy with attractions staying the same for years on end and growing tired and stale. I think he himself would have been constantly pushing and tweaking them to make them even better. Just read the following quotes and I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
“It’s something that will never be finished. Something that I can keep developing…and adding to.”
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
“I’ve always said that there will never be another Disneyland, and I think it’s going to work out that way. But it will be the equivalent of Disneyland. We know the basic things that have family appeal. There are many ways that you can use those certain basic things and give them a new decor, a new treatment. This concept here will have to be something that is unique, so there is a distinction between Disneyland in California and whatever Disney does in Florida.”
“I’m doing this because I want to do it better”
And, of course, the quote that I use for this blog:
“Whenever I go on a ride, I’m always thinking of what’s wrong with the thing and how it can be improved.”
So, based on the principles above, I’m hoping to start a new feature/segment titled, That’s what I would do (TWIWD), and consequently, ask the question, What would you do (WWYD)? I don’t mean for it to be irreverent or dis-respectful to Walt Disney or any Imagineers past and present, but more along the lines of exploratory and let’s see what else we can come up with, in the spirit of the Imagineering concept of “blue sky” – where there are no limits. Now, personally, my ideas tend to be somewhat less than blue sky, as I usually toss in a healthy dose of realism to make them more palatable, or affordable, as I know how the real world works, all too often with tight budget and time constraints.
So, check back soon, I hope to have a TWIWD post shortly.
Quotes ref: http://www.justdisney.com/walt_disney/quotes/
So, we have the so-called web 2.0, which, to paraphrase is a more interactive (social) web, hence the blog you’re reading now, and allowed to post comments to. So why not “Theme Park 2.0” that’s more interactive and responsive to the guest/visitor? I would like to lay claim to the label “Theme Park 2.0”, but in researching/writing this entry, I came across a blog posting at Theme Park Insider, by Robert Niles where he talks about some of what’s going on, not just at Disney, but other parks as well, and he calls it “Theme Park Interactivty 2.0”, so I’ll give him the credit, and as he said in his entry, this is “a topic that we ought to talk about more”.
I wasn’t able to attend D23, but in the days since it wrapped up, I’ve been reading, watching and listening to various people tell about some of the presentations that were shown, and I must say, I’m really hyped to hear what they’ve got planned. It really sounds like Disney has started a new chapter in the design and function of new attractions in their parks. Taking in all of the media from D23, led me to my own naming and further thoughts on where they might be headed.
Really though, while Disney may not necessarily choose to label their new creations how Robert or I would with the “2.0” moniker, this new chapter appears to have actually started at least in part over 10 years ago with Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Sure, as some may say, it’s just a moving version of the Frontierland shooting gallery, but still, it takes interactivity up a level, and gives the rider somewhat of a different experience if not challenge when they ride it. In some sense, Toy Story Midway Mania took Buzz up at least another level if not 2 or 3. Yeah, at the core it’s still a moving shooting gallery, but it’s one that uses 3D screens and compressed air effects to react to you with a much broader range of actions, taking the fun, challenge and variety to a whole other level.
It’s nice to see that “2.0” isn’t limited to just attractions either. Starting back a few years ago, Disney debuted their first walkabout animatronic, Lucky the Dinosaur. They’ve since followed with Muppet Mobile Labs and Wall-E. While I’ve yet to see any of them in person, I’m really impressed with what they’ve done with these and hope to see more of them in the future. These are great additions to the parks, and have the potential for creating a really unique experience for guests that they’re very unlikely to experience anywhere else. Another, who isn’t a walkabout, but still impressive, is Remy (the rat from Ratatouille) at Chefs De France in Epcot. And, while they’ve begun building walkabout animatronic characters, they haven’t forgotten or neglected the classic costumed characters such as Mickey, Minnie, Donald and others. They’ve given them sort of a “2.0” upgrade by making their mouths and eyes actually move now instead of just being stationary. I have to admit though, while it was neat to see the first time, it’s also a little on the creepy side.
One of my favorite implementations of “2.0” has to be the combination of technology and show in what Disney calls the “Living Character Initiative”. First seen at Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot, then Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club at Magic Kingdom, and the latest addition of Luxo Jr at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the recently opened and closed Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration. I still recall my first time seeing Crush and watching him interact with guests. Everyone in the room was completely in awe by this turtle from Finding Nemo moving around and talking right in front of us. To this day, it is still one of my favorite shows. I like The Monsters Inc comedy show too, but it seems like they struggle more with the material and finding good comedic rhythm. Perhaps it’s just been the talent that was working the show on the two times I’ve seen it. Still, it’s a cute show with enough variety and interaction to make it an okay show. In my opinion, it could be a better show if they had a comic show writer to help freshen the material from time to time.
Other “2.0” like features have also included Pal Mickey, which was a lug-around, somewhat plush Mickey reportedly with the guts of a PDA and infrared receiver that triggered specific phrases stored in his “brain”. Being a techno-Dinsey geek, I rushed out and bought one of these when they first came out. He was cute, but a little corny, and the tidbits of information he gave while you were roaming the parks made him slightly entertaining and fun to carry around, most of the time anyway. Sadly, he’s been discontinued now, and is no longer being sold in the parks, but from what I hear, the sensors that trigger him to talk are still in the parks and he will still work. Another of Disney’s latest interactive features, is the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. Themed to Kim Possible, guests use a “Kimmunicator” that is actually a flip phone, and wander thru the different pavillions in World Showcase tracking clues sent via the device. The device will also trigger some effects when the guest is near or has found them. I like the concept of this, but I think the theming of Kim Possible is a bit late. Regardless, it’s still a neat new use of “2.0” in the parks. Perhaps in the future they will expand this to other parks using other themes.
All of these lead in to the announcements made at D23. If they wind up doing everything they presented, it should make for some fun, interactive experiences never before seen. Let me just try to highlight what they presented.
Probably one of the biggest attractions, they’ve ever designed and to be built, Radiator Springs Racers Disney’s California Adventure sounds like it will have a few new “2.0” features. At the core of this is what’s being called a next gen Test Track with 2 tracks side by side where riders will race each other thru Radiator Springs. I’m not real sure what next gen means in terms of Test Track, but the riders will experience what sounds like a few different interactive features where the riders can choose different stops along the route like Luigi’s Casa Della Tires, or Ramone’s House of Body Art.
The new Fantasyland upgrade/expansion at Magic Kingdom, is chock full of new “2.0” features. In Cinderella’s country chateau, behind the castle, guests will get to witness her fairy godmother magically transform the princess from her servant’s clothes into her ball gown right before their eyes. Afterwhich, they will help her practie for the ball or train to be one of her royal knights. One that’s interesting and a bit mysterious is the Beauty and the Beast adventure. Apparently there will be a “magic mirror” at Belle’s father’s cottage that will somehow transport guests to the Beast’s castle. Once in the castle, they will get to participate in retelling the Beauty and the Beast by performing it for Belle. Another mystery is the “interactive games” that were promised to eliminate the queue for Dumbo. All of these sound quite intriguing, but so far are details on them are rather sketchy.
Moving out of the Magic Kingdom, over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is probably one of the more exciting (for me at least) attractions, rather upgrades, and that’s Star Tours II. It may be a stretch to put the “2.0” label on this yet, because details on this are sketchy as well. But, from the sound of things, this attraction is prime material for having some real “2.0” style features. It’s being reported that there are at least a couple of different scenes from the different Star Wars movies. The trailer used at D23 showed a sequence from the pod races on Anakin’s home planet, Tatooine. Also, the attraction will be in 3D.
The best thing that new “2.0” features offer is the relative ease and flexibility in changing and enhancing an attraction. Not necessarily a “2.0” feature, but the guys at Imagineering were very wise when the built the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s unknown if they intended to change up the drop sequences when they first bult the attraction, but by making some programming changes, they transformed the ride into something that’s potentially different every time, or at the least it’s a random experience which the rider doesn’t know or expect. By designing attractions with this kind of flexibility, hopefully it will allow them to stick around long after they might have been otherwise replaced. This kind of branches into a future entry I’m working on regarding the chemistry of classic attractions, and how there haven’t been very many in the last 15-20 years. But, like I said, that’s a future entry.
All of this is a natural and very welcome evolution of (Disney) theme park attractions. And, I believe it’s what Walt had in mind by constantly pushing the envelope, looking for new and exciting ways to entertain people.
I neglected to mention, The Orlando Sentinel also posted an article along these lines, titled: Theme Parks’ Goal: Less watching, More Doing, it’s worth a read.
In case you haven’t heard, Disney has confirmed the expansion plans for Fantasyland at MK that were leaked on the Internet a short while back. Some are already calling it Fantasyland 2.0, but I’m not real fond of that, I think it might be more aptly named Princessland due to the heavy influence of all the princesses being added. Of course, Dumbo (supersized) will still be there as will Gaston, and all the dark rides that currently exist are going to stay, but there will be several new attractions aimed at little girls added to the new Princessland, eh, Fantasyland. But, I’m okay with it, really. I really think it’s something that was needed, as MK did lean pretty heavily toward boys prior to this. You have Stitch, Buzz, Space Mountain, The (Indy?) Speedway, Goofy’s Barnstormer, Peter Pan, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Pirates, etc. There just wasn’t a lot for little girls, so this is a good move that should help balance out MK and add more capacity and freshen things at MK where it had started to become a little stale.
While I find this news, and the news of a new Star Tours enhancement, encouraging, I must admit I will be a teensy tiny bit sad to see Mickey’s Toontown go away. The new plans involve moving Dumbo, over to where toontown now sits, and adding on another side so they’ll have two sides/spinners for Dumbo. It’s not that I’ve been a tremendously big fan of Toontown or that I thought it was anything spectacular, because there really wasn’t a lot back there, and everything seemed kind of cheap and built on the fly. But the main attraction was the big cheese himself, Mickey. However, I found the the concept behind Toontown to be quite novel and entertaining. I like the idea of having a specific place set aside and themed where you could go and visit Mr. Mouse and his spouse and see where they live. Wait, are they married or not? Can’t remember.
Personally, I think they should try and preserve the concept of Toontown, somehow. I don’t see how or where they could do it at MK, but DHS might potentially have space for something of the sort. Or, if they couldn’t fit it in at DHS, maybe even somewhere at Downtown Disney. Or, better still, and here’s where Imagineering kicks in, how about a fully themed Toontown at a new location altogether. Something that would be even bigger than the soon to be destroyed Toontown, and would add even more for guests to see. I really think it’s time that Disney (World), built a separate entertainment venue, not a park necessarily, but an area at WDW housing a museum and “exploration center” type of attraction allowing guests to see the history of Walt, Mickey, The Disney Company, and WDW.
This idea stems from a couple of different sources. Over the summer, I took my family on vacation to somewhere that wasn’t Disney! Surprising, right? Anyway, we went to Hershey, Pennsylvania and visited the attractions there. And, while it wasn’t Disney, it was a charming and enjoyable experience. Outside the factory, which they don’t allow public tours of anymore, they have Hershey’s Chocolate World, which is a combination mock factory, history center, food court, and of course gift shop. They have a people mover style ride that takes you thru a factory simulation of the chocolate making process, plus several interactive activities where kids (and some adults) can participate in “making” and packaging chocolate. It’s a neat experience, although, I will say the food court they have there left a lot to be desired, but I’ll leave it at that.
The other half of the idea comes from my own thoughts that they really should have some type of history center dedicated to Walt and the history of WDW for visitors to be able to experience and learn more about him and the wonderful creations he’s responsible for. I know there is now the Disney museum in California, but I’ve yet to see, and not sure when I will. And, since it’s in California, I’m not sure when I will, as the same might go for many who visit only WDW. Which is why I think WDW could sustain something like this.
So, here’s my idea for a Walt Disney History Center. First, I have mixed thoughts on the cost of admission. I would suggest it be free to the general public and most of the attractions remain that way. Here’s a few of the ideas I’ve dreamed up for the center.
- Small World food court and play area dedicated to all the children of the world, using murals and drawings by Mary Blair and some history of her and her involvement with Walt Disney.
- History Center where the Disney story would be told. Walt’s early years and his life prior to the success of Mickey.
- Animation and Imagineering – showcasing animation and imagineering history and future achievements and failures. This area could be divided in two depending on the amount of material displayed.
- Florida Project & Epcot (City) – The establishment and building of Walt Disney World and Epcot, as well as a historical review of some of the now retired attractions. In this part they could show pictures and videos of some of the attractions that are now gone, and show what they were replaced by. I would see this as something similar to Widen Your World or Yesterland, both great sites that do their best to showcase and archive extinct Disney park attractions.
- Retro Park – Retired attractions. This previous area might lead into this part, where there would be entire attractions on display, and perhaps even a few that were still in operation.
- Toontown – This is the area where Mickey and Minnie’s houses would be moved to as well as other Toontown-related features. Visitors would also have the opportunity to visit with Mickey and Minnie and get pictures and autographs.
- Gift Shop – featuring unique items that couldn’t be found or purchased anywhere else.
For a throwback to history, they could make the attractions accessible using Ticket Books like they used to have at WDW in the early days.
I’m not sure where this would fit best. I’m torn between somewhere between MK and Epcot on the main drive there, or as an extension of Downtown Disney, or even somewhere else on property. Regardless, I think it’s high time for this, if nothing else to showcase the history of Walt and WDW. I don’t really see this idea in any shape happening anytime soon, however, it would be nice to see them at least try and preserve Mickey and Minnie’s houses in some way. Move them over to the backlot or what’s left of it at DHS, or make them fixtures at Downtown Disney, or auction them off in whole or in pieces, but don’t just tear them down, please!