Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Disneyland is Escapism


While reading a review of Peter Jackson's "King Kong" remake a few months back, a quote resonated.

About Merian Cooper's classic 1933 movie, Jackson said: "The original Kong is a wonderful blend - probably the most perfect blend - of escapism and adventure, mystery and romance. It does everything an escapist movie should do: it takes you places you are never going to see and gives you experiences you are never going to have."

This definition of escapism could also fit Disneyland (and the whole classic Walt Disney experience) like a glove.

Lack of escapism is one reason the public has rejected Disney's California Adventure while still embracing good ol' Disneyland in its 50th year.

The Walt Disney Company marketers have become so fixated on mirroring the current consumer marketplace and lifestyle ("hip 'n' edgy, "relevant and compelling"), that they have forgotten that Disney's primary commercial niche has always been to transcend the dullness of reality with escapism and adventure, mystery and romance... idealism, sentiment, futurism and nostalgia.

Since the 40's, Disney has rarely been "relevant" to contemporary society- - but was often seen by trendsetters as corny, nostalgic and out of touch. But that didn't mean it was held in a lower commercial regard than "of-the-moment" programming and experiences like Nickelodeon or GameWorks. In fact, this timeless nature allowed the material to transcend trend, to bond generations through emotion, idealism and common aspirations, to carve a niche in the heart. It was indeed relevant, but to the wisdom of the ages, not the times.

It was "Disney" - - it was the premium brand, unlike anything else, beyond reality, beyond popular - - Disney was the part of our hopes and fantasies that lived in the stars, in another time and on the other side of the Earth somewhere, not at the mall, in the home, the office cubicle or the bank account.

We paid Disney good money to be transported to other worlds - - and even more to take home a souvenier of the experience to remind and reassure - to brighten our own dull workaday niche.

Imagineering must once again take us somewhere else, somewhere we didn't dream we could go, to an experience beyond expectation. We don't want to be reminded of the dull, competitive reality we are stuck with everyday. That is the world of soap marketers, not dreamers, entertainers, adventurers, time-travellers and futurists.

Imagineering must once again focus more on possibility than limitation.

The people will follow the dream.

"I don't want the public to see the world they live in while they're in the Park. I want them to feel they're in another world." - - Walt Disney

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes "no comment" is the best compliment a writer can get. So here goes: No comment.

Ted said...

I agree. However DCA does achieve this in the Grizzly Falls area of the park. That part of DCA is VERY well done with lots of details. And the Grand Californian helps to block out the "real world".

Paul said...

"To all who come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past...and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts which have created America...with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

-Walt Disney
Dedication of Disneyland on July 17, 1955
Disneyland Town Square, Main Street, U.S.A.

pariartspaul said...

Beautiful and simply put Merlin Jones. Your post says it all.

Do we see a need for a new Imagineering mission statement? I remember not too long ago quite a bit of executive time was spent comming up with an Imagineering 'mission statement' (and those who eventually coined it have long since departed Imagineering for executive posts at other corporations.) It was obvious they were grasping at straws figuring it out because it took some months for them to come up with something. Do you all remember what it was? Honestly I forgot.

I still say you ought to be in creative management over there Merlin!

S.T. Lewis said...

This is exactly why I was so disappointed the time that I was on Splash Mountain when it broke down and they walked us off the ride. I didn't want to see all of the back stage stuff... the pipes, warning signs, cleaning supplies, etc. I know Splash Mountain isn't a natural mountain, but I like to feel like it is. I'd have rather been blindfolded for that behind the scenes tour.

People go to Disneyland to escape reality, and a big part of that escape is the "show." Mickey Mouse isn't a girl in a costume... he's a giant mouse who signs autographs and poses for pictures. True or not, let me believe it. If I wanted reality, I'd stay home and work.

Dan Steinberg said...

Merlin, I absolutely 100% agree with you on this - I've been thinking the same thing for years. About 9 years, in fact - which is when I posted that same thought to the alt.disney.disneyland newsgroup, and it eventually showed up on Al Lutz's old Promote Paul Pressler page too.

I think it's too long to repost here (unless you folks really want it), but you can read that post here: http://tinyurl.com/p35pe

You know, it's funny how little has changed in 9 years.

Karl Elvis said...

You guys so get it. I hope the corporate bigwigs at disney are reading this.

Escapism is exactly what it's about and exactly what's missing from the concept of DCA. You look around, say, Animal Kingdom in Florida and you feel like you're a billion miles from modern america; it works, at least for most of the park. You walk down Main Street in D-land and you're in an era that never really existed.

That key concept is what makes Disney's theme parks Disney. And they're forgetting it.

JustinSpace said...

I would argue that "Disney has rarely been "relevant" to contemporary society" is in no way true, but clarify that Disney has instead long been viewed as being irrelevant, while, in fact, was not.

But now you've essentially brought up the subject escapism theory and all that comes with that. Escapism for the purpose of avoiding ones life is ultimately unfulfilling, it's like drinking. But if escapism allows you to confront real world issues in an unreal setting (often without knowing what’s happening) you will return to the real world empowered. This is the purpose of many classic children’s stories. I see no reason the Disney parks could not be employed to the same effect. If the park experience serves only to (temporarily) remove the burden that is everyday life without giving you anything in the process, then the attractions will become hollow experiences, hence being viewed as irrelevant. To be relevant, these escapist delights must also give you something you can take home. Walt understood this, probably because of his background studying fairy tales. He understood the parks allowed you to face danger but triumph (Snow White, Pirates of the Caribbean, or any roller coaster really), or to go on a journey and learn real world facts in a fantasy setting (“the Living Desert,” Animal Kingdom). Hollow escapism itself may seem like a gift, but it’s really the gift of something being taken away.

Did anyone read "The Uses of Enchantment”?

Merlin Jones said...

Dan: Your ADD post is so good and in-depth that I'd encourage you repost it here in its entirety!

Anonymous said...

I have worked for Disney, it was the biggest mistake of my life. I will never go to Disneyland again, watch their films or buy their products. Behind the scenes of this company it is nothing short of evil. Be warned, Disney is not what it once was.

Merlin Jones said...

>>Did anyone read "The Uses of Enchantment”?<<

Bettelheim's book is one of my favorites. You are dead-on, Justin - - it's all in the subtext. Archetypal and timeless themes of the human condition and growth are at the core of everything Walt Disney did.

It's not about slang and literalism, mirrored behavior and consumerism, but matters of the human spirit shrouded in allegory, fable and image systems.

While not perceived by most audiences or guests, the connection is received by most in the symbols used.

If you don't get this you can't take people there.

Diznophile said...

Fantastic prose. Oh, so on target!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dan Steinberg said...

>>But if escapism allows you to confront real world issues in an unreal setting ... you will return to the real world empowered. ... I see no reason the Disney parks could not be employed to the same effect.<<

Yes - Walt already did this! There are often subtle messages and points hidden in many of Walt's attractions. Think about it: Inner Space taught science, Mr. Lincoln (and all of Frontierland, to some extent) taught American history and American values, Small World reminds us of the universals that we all share, etc. Personally, this is one of the big reasons Disneyland became so special to me - it appealed to my mind and heart as well as my senses. It's not just a bunch of eye candy.

(Not that every attraction has to have a message. Some can - and should - be just fun, like Pirates or Indy. There needs to be a mix, however.)

And the key here is being subtle, because an overly preachy ride is no longer entertaiment. Part of Walt's genius was getting that mix just right.

Will Robison said...

So does that mean we have to scrap DCA entirely? Or is there a way to fix it? Can we create the California of the dream? It seems to me that you nailed the problem right on the head, but there isn't a soul here that wants to build a billion dollar park and then turn around and turn it into something else entirely. Bad as it is, DCA is built and is probably not going anywhere. So what can we do to make it acceptable?

Honestly, I don't have a clue.

Big Daddy said...

I worked at Disneyland for one summer, back in 1991. It was one of the best summers of my life, and one of the best jobs I've ever had.

I remember the first tour of the park I had in the employee training (do they still call it Disney University? I always thought that was cute). We were lead around the park for most of a whole day, and the trainer pointed out lots of things that I never, EVER noticed as a visitor (and, living in Orange County my whole life, I had visited hundreds of times).

There were all sorts of cute little details, like all the hidden Mickeys everywhere, and fun bits of trivia, like the private apartment in Main Street, but the thing that really struck me - the first time I really GOT what Disneyland was TRULY about...the first time I realized that there was a brilliant and deliberate design ideal to nearly everything that went into that wonderful place, was when the trainer took us to the gates.

He pointed to the kiosks, the strollers, the parking lot (remember, this was LONG before California Adventure, back when the parking lot was RIGHT THERE). He said, "you see all this? What do you see? You see cars, parking lots, other buildings and businesses...you see the mundane world that we live in each day." I remember he used the word mundane. He then walked us through the tunnel that leads under the train tracks and, once we were inside the park, he said. "Now, what do you see? What part of the mundane world do you see?"

And us college kids sort of looked awkwardly at each other for a bit before a girl said, "Nothing. It's gone."

And he said, "Exactly. Apart from the Skyway, and from a few of the very top parts of some of the roller coasters, you cannot see the outside world from inside the park. When you are here, you are completely transported to another world. The mundane world cannot touch you. And THIS is the world that you, as cast members, will be in charge of."

It was propaganda, but, man, I was hooked. I bought it. I was a cast member in mind, body, and spirit from that moment on. When I put on my Jungle Cruise uniform, I became a part of another world. A world of magic and adventure and possibility.

Maybe I'm just nostalgic and naive, but I felt that, back then, the park wasn't just about the Merch. Wasn't just about moving lots of plush. That it was about the experience. It was about existing in a fantasy world. I felt privileged to be a part of creating that fantasy for people, almost as much as I loved to experience the fantasy the zillions of times I went to the park growing up.

I'm much older now, and I have kids of my own. I don't really like taking them to Disneyland. Not just because it's insanely expensive - Disneyland has always been expensive.

It's just not the park that I grew up with. Grew up IN. When I was a kid in SoCal, all of my friends and I knew that a place like Six Flags Magic Mountain was an AMUSEMENT park...you went there for rides. Their theming sucked. It was half-assed. It didn't matter. What mattered was the rides. I've never bought a Six Flags souvenir in my life, and I never will. But Disneyland was a THEME park. It was about adventure. The place had meaning. You could get better rides and white-knuckle roller coaster action at Knotts or Magic Mountain - but we went to Disneyland more because it was a much richer experience. The souvenirs reflected the theme...some of them were things you couldn't buy anywhere else (at least, not that I knew of). I remember the wooden and metal blunderbusses you could buy at Pieces Of Eight.

The amazing candy in Main Street. The magic shop. I would save up my allowance so that I could blow it all in the magic shop, because in my suburban world, you couldn't buy stuff like that anywhere.

Disneyland used to be a theme park.
Now, it's just an amusement park.

I can scarcely put into words how sad this makes me feel, and I think that blogs like this are hopefully a way for Disneyland to find its heart, its soul, its THEME...to put it back in the hands of the artists who created experiences and wrest control back from the corporate vice presidents who just want the place to sell more crap.

Sorry for the length of this post...this subject gets me going.

Bartender Sam said...

Someone mentioned AL Lutz and ADD and I'm an old RADP person myself and I miss those days when those forums where used to discuss Disney (not so much now, ADD seems to be a mess when I check in and RADP has to many "plan my vacation for me" posts).

Anyways, even though it has been said a thousand times in this blog-space, let me repeat, you guys do get it. I hope "it" is contagious.
Thanks from a lifelong fan.

aDisneyGuest said...

I truly appreciate the ability to review these posts and understand what is on the mind of the imagineers. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the magic you have created, despite any missteps by management. This site seems to have provided a great source of release for the imagineers from the repression and frustration they have felt. It does seem, however, that the time has come to move on from 'this is what is wrong with current Disney' to 'this is what should be done to fix it'. While it is important to understand current state and the things that have missed the mark so that the same mistakes are not repeated, if you want to truly effect change you must offer concreate, actionable solutions, otherwise the 'powers that be' will see this site as simply a place to vent and will miss the true value it represents.

Please know I offer this opinion not to criticize, but as someone who truly loves all that Disney and the Imagineering process represents, and desparately wants to see a return to the true golden years.

Thank you for indulging my opinion.

devils advocate said...

I couldn't agree more.

The park used to be a place to go an get away from the stresses of the I-5...the family and I went again last year and I'd swear it almost the I-5...

Dan Steinberg said...

Okay, since Merlin asked for it, here's what I wrote back on June 16, 1997:

--------------------------------------

Lately, there have been a lot of questions in this newsgroup that no one could seem to answer, such as:

- Why do the fans of Disneyland care so much about a place that they have no real or direct stake in?

- Why do we call things "good show" and "bad show" with no easily discernible pattern?

- Is the "Disney Magic" something tangible or is it just a marketing buzzword?

- Why do smart people in management at Disneyland make bad or inconsistent decisions?

I've also thought about this for some time now and had the feeling that the Disneyland organization (and, to some extent, the entire Disney corporation) has no clear vision or focus of what they're trying to be. Why is this vision thing important? Well, without a clear vision it is extremely difficult for individuals to make decisions that are consistent with those made by others in the company. A vision for a company has been likened to putting together a jigsaw puzzle: it's relatively easy to put the pieces together in the right order if you know what it's supposed to look like when you're done. If you don't know, it's difficult, random, frustrating and the results aren't very pretty. Sort of like the decisions we've seen at Disneyland lately. A good vision for an organization not only brings focus to everyone's efforts, it also tends improve the business both by including all employees in pursuit of a "great cause" and by making your company stand out from its
competitors.

Recently, I've heard some encouraging stories about Paul Pressler's management style. And those who have met him (and I have not) say he seems to be a sincere and earnest man. And obviously, he is smart and has a lot of business knowledge and experience. But what I haven't heard out of Mr. Pressler is what his vision for the Disneyland resort is. In fact, what is Mr. Eisner's vision for the Disneyland or the entire company for that matter? If they have such a vision, I have not heard it.

Now I know someone will quickly point that of course Disneyland has a vision. After all they have a five-year or ten-year or whatever-year business plan, right? Well, unfortunately, as one expert said, "Strategic planning is not strategic thinking." Plans and goals are from the brain and are all about numbers and dates. Visions are from the heart and are about dreams and images and futures. To put it another way, your business plans may be achievable, but do they get you to where your company really should be? And also note that the most common corporate goal - increasing profit - is (although a business necessity) a rather poor vision. It doesn't make you unique or stand out from your competitors (they've got the same goal) and frankly it's not a very inclusive goal that all your employees can get behind with a near-religious fervor (let's face it, your front-line employees really don't care if some already wealthy shareholders get even more money). And it does absolutely nothing for your customers. Instead, what is needed is a unique vision that meets the business goals (like profitability) that everyone (management, employees, suppliers and customers) can get behind 200%.

As I've already said, I hadn't been able to make sense of it all, what the real the vision for Disneyland should be. Until last week, that is. It seems that those of us here in the newsgroup have all been too busy looking at the trees (and in some case, literally the leaves - the rusting ones outside the "Alice in Wonderland" ride!) and have completely missed the forest. Disney, too, has been studying the trees, with their marketing surveys of individual guests and the like. We've all missed the "Big Picture", the forest. It's somewhat surprising, considering that creator of this whole thing, Walt Disney, conjured this forest from thin air not all that long ago. The much-talked-about and elusive "Walt's Vision" is still here - we only need to step back and look for it.

And that's what happened to me. I was reading a book on leadership which had the story of a CEO of a successful florist company who succinctly explained his company's
vision as "We don't sell flowers - we sell Beauty." And then it hit me. Not like a lightning bolt, but more like a fog rapidly lifting. Suddenly it was all so clear, everything now made sense:

Disneyland does not sell a "product".

Disneyland does not sell rides, shows or "amusement".

Disneyland sells the experience of being in another world: a better world, a world unencumbered by the burdens of the so-called "real world".

That's it, isn't it? That's what makes Disneyland so unique and special. Of course, it's somewhat more complicated than that - Disneyland also caters to all ages and especially families. But this simple statement is indeed the heart of it all. We go to Disneyland to get away from the stress, strain and problems of everyday life, right? And it's what makes Disneyland so unique. Have you ever heard of anyone going to Magic Mountain to lose themselves? I doubt it.

And this ability of Disneyland to allow us to lose ourselves in different and yet better world is what "the Disney Magic" is all about, is it not? So the "Disney Magic" is something real after all.

For me, this vision of what Disneyland should be explains everything. It explains why some things work well. It explains why the unique themed rides and even the themed queues work so well. It explains why the themed resorts at Walt Disney World are so successful. These resorts keep us in another world even after we leave the parks. It
explains why friendly Cast Members, wonderful performers and a perfect park are so crucial to our enjoyment - they are what makes this other world better than our own. It even explains why people can come to the park over and over, not for the rides and shows, but to just to sit and watch the people or the ducks. It's like getting away from things for just a little while. And that's why we care so much - we don't want to lose this refuge from reality.

This vision for the park also explains why some things bother us so much - the "bad show" elements. It explains why water bottles floating in the "Jungle Cruise", stray confetti everywhere and sending guests "backstage" all upset us - it breaks our belief that we're in another place. It's like seeing the wires holding up a spaceship in a movie. This also explains why we don't like rude Cast Members, rude Guests or huge crowds - they're part of the reason we want to get away from the real world in the first place. The same goes for expensive Cokes in the same bottles they sell at 7-11, generic plush animals and cheap carny Light Saber toys - they're all reminders of the real world. It's why the thought of a McDonalds (way too real world) inside a Disney park puts us into such a frenzy. It's also why the Disney Store merchandise annoys us so - let's face it, the Disney Store is part of the real world to us.

Finally, this also explains (at least to me) why there's such a large lack of interest to even downright disgust towards the yet-to-be-built "Disney's California Adventure" park right next door to Disneyland. Not only are some of the rumored details (like chain restaurants inside the park and standard carnival-type rides) the antithesis of this vision, the entire concept of the new park is a problem. California, after all, really does exist and a lot of us already live there. It's not another world. It's the real world. And that's not what we (the customers) really want.

So why is this vision, of Disneyland as a place away from the rest of the world, a good vision for the park and the Disney company? Well, it certainly makes the park unique - no competitor has ever come close to creating such a believable and compelling world of its own. It's also a vision that everyone, from management to employees to customers, can get behind. If you don't think that's important, think about how motivated some of us out here are, for no apparent reason. Think about the care and effort that people like Al Lutz or Rick West have put into preserving the vision of the Disneyland park. There's no way any company could buy, recruit or create an incentive to get people to work that hard - and these are just the customers! Think of how amazing a place and incredible an organization Disneyland could be if the employees, managers and planners were all that motivated and dedicated to such a common goal. It's only a real vision such as this that can get us all there.

The ironic part is that this vision has been there all along. And, of course, it was none other Walt Disney who came up with it in first place! In fact, the first page of the souvenir pictoral guidebook used to have the following statement, "I don't want the public to see the real world they live in while they're in the park. I want them to feel they are in another world." Yes, Walt had a dream - a vision for the future: a world made better through its people and its technology. Disneyland was his prototype for that dream. It's still a pretty good dream, isn't it? And it still can happen - it just will take a leader with vision. And ultimately, that's what really counts. History doesn't remember good businessmen - it remembers visionaries. And that's what Disneyland really needs now - not better shows or rides, not better merchandise or food, not better profitably. Disneyland needs a visionary.

Dan Steinberg

devils advocate said...

I couldn't agree more.

The park used to be a place to go an get away from the stresses of the I-5...the family and I went again last year and I'd swear it almost was the I-5...

Anonymous said...

The grass wasn't always greener in the good old days.

Although it doesn't seem to be as much of a problem now, when I was a kid, it seemed like Disneyland was one big commercial. By that I mean everything was sponsored by a company (Monsanto, Bell Telephone, B of A, Kodak, GE, etc.)

Escapism? I can't escape thinking of these brands when I think of my chilhood Disneyland experiences. Good thing for the sponsors, not a good thing for me.

Anonymous said...

I just have to chime in again (this time anonymously) in response to this quote from Dan's excellent article:

"Recently, I've heard some encouraging stories about Paul Pressler's management style. And those who have met him (and I have not) say he seems to be a sincere and earnest man. And obviously, he is smart and has a lot of business knowledge and experience. But what I haven't heard out of Mr. Pressler is what his vision for the Disneyland resort is."

I know it's all water under the bridge now, but be thankful he left when he did. He actually told me he'd like to tear down It's a Small Word in favor of something more themed to merchandise. Believe it or not!

Merlin Jones said...

>>Bad as it is, DCA is built and is probably not going anywhere. So what can we do to make it acceptable?<<

Likely that will be the topic of another blog. But it's all in the context and theme.

If DCA remains about California, then we should be transported to the history and mythology of the State, otherworlds and times from our own. Where is Zorro and the rich Hispanic culture? Where are the Native Americans of the Southwest and their myths? Where is the coyote? Where is Annette, Fankie and the 60's surf culture? Where is the Golden Age of Hollywood? Where is Walt's California? Where is Bigfoot? None of that myth was planned into DCA - - it was all 90's mall culture.

If the theme of DCA were to change, even more possibilities would open... there are many ways to build upon what is there, but it needs to be done with clear vision, theme and commitment to building a conhesive escape from the Now.

Stinger Report - Editor said...

I am part of the many ex-Imagineers that actually worked on BlueSky project development in the late Ninties that was 'nixed' by the Eisner-clones before the big collapse.

I think that, if they have not been burnt or shredded, the dreams and opportunities (great ideas), beyond the failed and flawed plans that actually did get the green light - exist in WDI. I still work in the Out-of-home leisure entertainment sector, but am focused wholly on the future (interactive immersion), rather than the failed idea of 'Big Steel'.

Remember 'DisneyQuest'!

If you guys are serious and want to talk about how to re-invent the WDI dream, clean up the blood and build again, lets chat!

Kevin Williams
kwp@thestingerreport.com
KWP Limited
www.thestingerreport.com/kwp.htm

R2K said...

Welcome to the blogger front page :)

R2K

Epcot82 said...

Once again, a terrific post about one of the world's most visited, most important (arguably) places.

You're also welcome to join the discussion at my own blog devoted to Epcot.

Stoy Jones said...

After realizing what Walt intended for the original Epcot, I'd say we (as in city councils, planners, and politicians) are out of touch, irrelevant, and simply way behind on what "could be".

Tim Halbur said...

Two great existing threads are entertwined here, as I see it: the value of escapism, and the power of theming (both endlessly intriguing and worthy of endless discussion).

I'm in grad school for Urban Planning, and can't help but be drawn to the power of theming, which is a bad word in the field (Disneyfication! Oh no!). But the conclusion I've come to is that when you make an environment immersive and rich in detail it transforms you and your experience. And most of what people react badly too is poor theming, lack of detail and cheap material. It's as simple as that.

I have to say that there are still areas, and many new areas, of the park that do that for me. I had a sublime moment in the Jungle Cruise line where everything in view was part of that thick, 30's adventure-era experience. The Fantasyland redo in the 80s was another huge improvement.

Um Hi said...

Couldn't agree with you more. I will never get sick of watching old Disney movies, and I've watched them since I was a little kid. They transcend not only reality, but age as well!

Kelly said...

Growing up in Australia all we wanted to do was go to Disneyland...The most magical place on Earth!

My grandfather flew all his grandkids over to the USA so we could visit. I was 6 or 7 and I thought I was the luckiest person around.

At that time you could ask any kid if they could choose any place to go they would say Disneyland! Not just in the USA but in most places around the world.

Disneyland shouldn't be about trends and the latest technology it needs to get back to the essence...to what people love about it MAGIC!


Technology etc is good as long as it only helps create the magic.

Sorcerer Mickey said...

"When they come here they're coming because of an integrity that we've established over the years. And they drive for hundreds of miles. I feel a responsibility to the public." - Walt Disney

Can this still be said by the present (and particularly, the recent past) management?

kikkokatty2433 said...

Looking for people to read my blog to leave comments and suggestions. Also looking for online penpals.

Mickey Mouse said...

I wish everyone shared these sentiments. Afterall, you can't spell "imagination" without the "magic"...well, maybe you can. Hey what do I know? I'm just a mouse!

Ken said...

Another area where the "outside world" has crept in is foods. Most of the food available these days has become a Nestle or McDonalds or Carnation product.

I remember when there were food items at Disney that I would look forward to enjoying. Things I couldn't get in the "outside" world. You can still get some of that today in the full service restaurants, but the fact that you can't get an ice cream that doesn't contain artificial colors and hydrogenated oils, or that I have to smell McDonalds fries when walking toward pirates from Frontierland is a real travesty in my opinion.

Epcot82 said...

To re-capture the magic (not an easy thing to do) requires an admission that the concept of "annual passes" just doesn't fit with the core ideas behind Disneyland. Where is the "magic" in a place you drop your kids off to spend a few hours, or where you go on Fridays after work to watch the fireworks?

Growing up, a trip to Disneyland was special and rare. It took planning and made us giddy with excitement -- all of us, kids and adults. Even in college, it was a true adventure to go to Disneyland with my friends and enjoy the day together. We weren't just "going over to the park," it was something genuinely special, to be savored.

We live in an era of instant gratification, to be sure. But does that mean we should just be able to pop on over to Disneyland whenever we want?

I know most annual passholders love Disneyland and truly appreciate it. But there are many who go there as a way to pass time; they don't understand that for many they are mingling with, it's the trip of a lifetime (or at least the highlight of the year). They dress like crap, they treat everyone rudely and the act as if the park is their little plaything.

I wonder what would happen if prices came DOWN for a one-park pass, say to $40, and the annual pass was eliminated? My theory is that attendance would decrease for a while as the guests from Laguna Beach and Downey stopped coming so often ... but per-guest spending would rise, and over time revenue would increase as 100% of the guests would have paid for admission that day and would represent the kind of guest who is at Disneyland as a mini-vacation, not as an alternative to the movie theater or the mall.

It's just a thought that seems relevant to the discussion of why Disneyland no longer feels like the beautiful, memorable escapism it once was.

Mr Banks said...

Interesting post about annual passes. Enlightening concept. I'd consider taking it a step further and bring the price of admission for adults up to $100 and drop the admission price of children down to $20. Then I'd limit the amount of people into the park so that every guest didn't have to deal with the suffocating crowds while ramping up guest service considerably.

Epcot82 said...

Well, Mr. Banks, that's certainly an interesting suggestion! But it would eliminate many people who couldn't afford $100 per visit. (Not that I'd mind seeing fewer gaggles of teens at Disneyland.)

I wonder, though, what would happen if, in addition to eliminating annual passes and adjusting the price somehow, there was also a daily cap put on attendance. Disneyland would never have more than, say, 45,000 visitors a day. Hong Kong Disneyland does it (though it seems they don't really need to), and it would ensure a positive, memorable experience for everyone.

Merlin Jones said...

Walt wanted Disneyland available to the general public at popular prices, everyone on an even footing. The true Disney spirit has always been anything and everything but elitist.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with Disneyland. I have suffered from depression my whole life and going to Disneyland was my escape. It was a constant in my world that was chaos. It was reliable. I would always go to New Orleans square and find my secret corner and be happy. I would always get my adreneliane rush on Space Mountain. I could always daydream my problems away in Pirates. And yes, everytime Haunted Mansion would scare me in the elevator. I'm only 24, but my whole life Disneyland is the only thing that hasn't let me down. I have many more years to go, I hope it will never let me down. Disney is my escape.

Marsvilletv said...

Disneyworld has basically become the new sacred space of North America. Let's face it, every middle-class NA family (and presumably, any family in proximity to a Disney facility) MUST make a once-in-a-lifetime Mecca-like pilgrimage to the place. It has all the hallmarks of a sacred pilgrimage: a Kingdom where nobody ever actually sees the King, only his representatives; a hyper-controlled safe environment shut off from the outside world; elaborate consensual hallucinations that return one to a safe, child-like sense of wonder; invisible powers that produce magic; and, as anyone with children will attest to, an almost over-powering social pressure to visit and participate.