Sunday, March 26, 2006

Walt's Idealism - The Big Concept

I received this email from Tim Halbur last week and I think it has some excellent thoughts in it - and I think it's very relevant to what we’ve been blogging about here. Here it is:


Love the Re-Imagineering blog. I've got an idea for a post for you guys, if you're interested. I'm writing a project about Disneyland right now, and I've been thinking a lot about Disney's opening speech:

"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."

We've been hearing it a lot lately, but I don't think people have been really hearing it all. It's not just about escapism, or the power of myth. He wanted it to be about joy AND inspiration. By starting with Lincoln and Main St. America and moving into Frontierland, he was illustrating the ideals of America, the best ideas of progress at the time (think about the unbuilt Edison Square, the cutting edge of the day).

And then into Tomorrowland, where the idea wasn't to show aliens and lightsabers and fantasy in the stars. Walt was showing the bright future that wasn't too far away with the Carousel of Progress, Progress City, and Monsanto's House of the Future. Tomorrowland was supposed to inspire the world to be better, use innovative public transportation, really get people interested in building "a great big beautiful tomorrow"!

So the BIG, BIG step back to Disney's ideas would be to start rebuilding that idealism. Reopen the Carousel of Progress with TODAY'S big ideas for the future. I'm in school for urban planning right now, and there are exciting ideas happening that could radically change the way we live. People need a warm, guiding hand like Walt's to usher them into that phase and make it exciting.

Yes, Walt relied a lot on the corporate world and technology to save the day. Imagineers don't have to do that all over again. We know now that technology won't save us, it has to be used in innovative ways. Back when the Imagineers were developing Tomorrowland they visited NASA and Bell Labs and talked to the thinkers of the time about what the future would look like. They should do that again, although this time include people like William McDonough, the green innovator of construction, or Andres Duany, the persuasive New Urbanist.

I'll stop now, but I'd be curious to hear what everyone would think of this. I know it would be a push, because today people want escapism, not ideas. But I was listening to the Progress City track on A Musical History of Disneyland and thinking, what if?

Best, Tim Halbur

About Tim:

Tim Halbur cried on the Pirates of the Caribbean when he was 2. He has spent the majority of his professional career writing and producing audio tours for museums and historic sites, including Johnson Space Center and Madame Tussaud's in Las Vegas. Currently he is finishing a masters degree in urban planning and has the distinct pleasure to be writing the audio tour for the Behind the Magic: 50 Years of Disneyland exhibit at the Oakland Museum of Art.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Criticizing ‘Ellen’s Energy Adventure’ at Epcot Center is a tricky proposition. It can easily be argued that when Ellen Degeneres became the host of Exxon’s Universe of Energy in 1996 (both on film and as an Audio Animatronic figure) the original show got a vital dose of pure entertainment value that was sorely missed. Sturm und Drang was replaced with levity and laughs, science fact was replaced with science light and the brooding orchestral score was replaced with, well, the theme song from Jeopardy.

But in their efforts to lighten the tone of the original show Imagineers perpetuated a dangerous trend that if continually embraced in further attractions will threaten to topple one of the company’s greatest legacies- its ability to create timeless entertainment.

From Snow White to Pirates of the Caribbean one of the hallmarks of the Disney brand was its ability to transcend the here and now and take us to worlds of universal appeal populated by characters not threatened by the passage of time or changes in fashion. Classic Disney storytellers deliberately shunned all things anachronistic, keeping a careful eye on any material that threatened to remind audiences of the real world they lived in.

But now with ‘Ellen’s Energy Adventure’ we have Ellen Degeneres playing Ellen Degeneres, Bill Nye playing Bill Nye and Alex Trebek playing Alex Trebek, all of it grounded firmly in 1996 with nowhere to go but stale. You can bet that in a span of time far shorter than the 14 years the original Universe of Energy played we will have long forgotten who Bill Nye was.

If we haven’t already.

Collective wisdom has it that it was Disney’s Aladdin that shattered the timeless taboo when Robin William’s Genie actually impersonated Arsenio Hall. Disney Theme Parks wasted no time in following the trend, with a robotic Regis Philbin, Drew Carrey and Whoopi Goldberg popping out amongst the scenery in DCA’s Superstar Limo, Animatronic Vegetables belting out contemporary rock tunes in Epcot’s Food Rocks and The Tiki Birds rapping like the birdies rap in ‘Under New Management’ back at the Magic Kingdom. Hopefully the fact that only one of these attractions still survives today is lesson enough.

Imagineers are at their best when they refuse to settle for the here and now and instead shoot for the stars. In chasing the hip and trendy they degrade the Disney Brand, cheapen the guest experience and lose out on the far more satisfying reward of creating something truly original, truly profound, truly timeless.

ADDENDUM: For those readers who have taken a certain glee in listing the many anachronistic moments in Disney film and theme park classics, from Pinocchio and Sword in the Stone to the Haunted Mansion and The Tiki Room, we implore you to see the message through the trees. As one reader succinctly put it, "It's a pay me now, pay me later sort of thing. You can invest in undated treasures and have something that lasts a long time, or you can climb on the back of a pop reference and have something that turns over in a few years."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Keep the guests moving!

The Imagineers of the 60’s attempted to keep park guests on the move with huge and innovative new ride systems. As we think about Re-Imagineering Disneyland it would be good to take a look back at this phenomenon, not just for nostalgia's sake, but with the idea of improving today’s guest experience.

Part of the old magic of Disneyland was that, as a park guest, you felt you were constantly being masterfully moved throughout the park. Old Tomorrowland was probably the best example of how designers were able to keep park guests on the move. With the Carousel of Progress, Peoplemover, Adventure through Inner Space, Subs, Skyway, Monorail and Circlevision Theater all running at the same time – it had more capacity than any other land in the park! Today Pirates, Haunted Mansion and Small World still showcase some of the best capacity conscious ride systems ever designed, and they continue to successfully cycle thousands of guests per hour, day after day, year after year.

Recently, new additions have been smaller capacity attractions, like Pooh and Buzz Lightyear. At the same time Disneyland continues to get more crowded and attraction queue lines get longer. Personally, as a guest, I would much rather wait in a large queue line if I can see that it is moving fast.

As new attractions are developed today, it would be great to see much more emphasis on developing clever new ways to move people through them on a grand scale. New innovations such as motion bases, speed accelerators and the like are terrific additions, but I think capacity should be the primary concern for overall park guest satisfaction.

Even a return to some of those classic tried and true high capacity ride systems would be appreciated by park guests today.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Matter of Character

“Until a character becomes a personality it cannot be believed. Without personality, the character may do funny or interesting things, but unless people are able to identify themselves with the character, its actions will seem unreal. And without personality, a story cannot ring true to the audience.” - - Walt Disney

Onscreen or at the parks, the Walt Disney hallmark has always been specificity of character.

The most popular animated icons have lasted in the popular imagination through the decades by virtue of their indelible personalities. They aren’t just drawn or generated images; they are as real, as complete (in a cartoonish, caricatured way) as you or I.

Donald and Goofy are two separate and distinct personality types - - the quick-tempered loser and the dimwitted fool, respectively - - their thinking, their reactions, their mannerisms unique and identifiable in any situation.

The Seven Dwarfs, while virtually all the same height and weight, were individuals, not a faceless collective, each with a specific personality represented in their names and a distinct way of behaving thanks to skillful story, design, character animation and voice characterization. For example, we all know Doc has an absent-minded stutter and Dopey is a mute clown.

TinkerBell is a naughty minx. Snow White is a twinkly, dreamy airhead. Mickey is a spunky hero. This is why we love them. We know them and their ticks instantly.

One senses immediately when one of the Disney characters is “out-of-character” - - behaving in a manner inconsistent with their established quirks and mannerisms. Immediately they cease to be believable… or funny.

With the development of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disney on Parade, Disney on Ice and other live theatrical presentations, the notion of character consistency and personality became as important to the flesh-and-fur versions of the Disney characters as their animated personas.

Disneyland became the place where these characters “lived” in the popular imagination. For years, all was well, with former animation talent guiding much of the design and storytelling of park attractions and shows. The characters were the old cartoon friends we all grew up with. They never changed.

But in recent years, attempts to “update” characterizations, to make shows more “relevant and compelling” - - to make the Disney characters reflect the times or the interpreter’s own social message, have led to huge changes and disconnects in characterization. And the entertainment factor has suffered as a result, with audiences failing to recognize the personality they know from the classic films.

Instead, reinterpreted storylines and mannerisms and intentions and tone have often left the characters floundering like merchandising mannequins with no relatable persona… or found them coming across as condescending mimes in a Disney themed character suit.

One of the worst examples of this trend could be seen in the “Snow White: An Enchanting Musical” show at Disneyland (now on hiatus).

Snow White “reinvented” the well-loved personalities and thematic subtext of the familiar Walt Disney version to accommodate a politically correct "children's theatre" vision.

Instead of a two-dimensional vain and jealous Queen fearing sexual competition and replacement by the budding adolescent beauty (an archetypal theme for the ages), she became a one-dimensional harpy trying to stop love from blooming in her kingdom.

This change is more resonant... how?

Not only had her motivations changed, but the Wicked Queen now acted like the Wicked Witch of the West, cackling and shrieking, waving her arms and hamming it up, running around the stage... totally out-of-character. Everyone knows the real Queen simmers and smolders with understated power, cunning and narcissistic self-absorption.

And the dwarfs? An announcement before the show said “Hello, this is Doc…” and went on to give the usual show spiel and audience instruction, but in plain dry formal English, no stuttering, no malapropisms… Hey, that wasn’t “Doc” at all - - it was just a fella. Where was the comedy? Why even say the announcer was “Doc”?

As a group, the dwarfs no longer expressed their exaggerated personalities much, but seem to be a faceless line-up of communal workers.

And Snow White? She was no longer the sparkly, corn-fed, overstated Shirley Templish caricature of Hollywood and Disney myth, but a preachy mommy with a normal voice and self-awareness of her childhood abuse and lack-of-trust-issues. She orders her animal helpers to take a “time out!”

Did the creators of this show even lower themselves to watch the movie? In the press, they certainly boasted that they had improved on the original and added depth and layering. Meaning: they made it more politically correct. One can detect more-than-a-whiff of contempt for both the root material and the intended audience. Charming.

But the proof is to be found in the audience’s pudding of reaction: Except for the very youngest of tots, the show sits there on the Videopolis stage like a poisoned apple pie. No laughing, no joy, no charm. This can't be “Walt Disney’s” Snow White at all.

While there is always room for artistic interpretation in style and presentation, the characters themselves need no help from the analysts. We already know who they are and what they do. We come to Disneyland to visit these old cartoon friends in person, not to become reacquainted with progressive doppelgangers who stayed too long in therapy.

While this unfortunate trend has also been seen in the animated sequels and videos (Goofy depressed and self-reflective?), the parks have really dropped the ball. Poor Donald hardly ever loses his temper anymore. Can that be gloomy ol' Eyore doing a sprightly jig? (Well, this IS the age of Prozac).

And what's up with Mickey and Minnie? They express an almost drug-addled nervous-giggling-and-energy-projection habit. They appear all-keyed-up, jangly, jittery and neurotic. It's a long, long way from the farmhouse or the band concert.

Everyone seems to be talking-oh-so-carefully (or contrarywise, shrieking) down at us… spelling out the gags… patronizing the public.

By and large, the walkaround characters do a much better job of staying in-character than those in the scripted shows, where higher powers with a disregard for characterization hold sway. The low-paid walkaround actors seem to have better personal instincts for who the characters are than the Theatrical Entertainment department honchos.

Where, oh where, are our cool and funny old friends, so confident, corny and casual in their quirks?

We loved them. We miss them.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tiki, tiki, tiki!

Thirty one years of guest memories plus a renewed interest in retro-tiki culture could add up to a win-win situation for Disney and guests alike if Adventureland’s Tahitian Terrace restaurant and dinner show could be revived. Earlier guests to this wonderful oasis hideaway are still talking about how magical it was and what fond memories they have of it. Hula dancers, firewalkers, and the best island ribs west of Tahiti were featured.

The Tahitian Terrace originally opened in 1962 and ran until 1993 to make way for the Aladdin’s Oasis dinner show, which ran for two seasons. Aside from some storytelling venues, this prime little piece of real estate and been vacant for over a decade now.

It would be great to get a little more romance of the islands back into Adventureland!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Brushing Up On The Classics

Ask current guests of the Disney Parks what their favorite couple attractions are and you’ll almost always hear Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. It’s as if they’ve always belonged in the same sentence.

Both are nearing their 40th birthday and both have yet to be topped at any theme park anywhere in the world for their sheer audacity, artistry and showmanship. Will modern audiences ever see new original attractions that even begin to compare? More importantly what do these two attractions have in their DNA that hasn’t been as successfully replicated since their debut?

The answer is elusive yet at the core very simple.

As both attractions were designed and built by people with long and illustrious careers in film, these first generation imagineers shared a storytelling philosophy that deeply informed these shows. As far as they were concerned Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion were three act plays obligated to unfold much like great motion pictures do. Screenwriters, directors and cinematographers still bandy about the same buzzwords these early imagineers were all too familiar with; spine, structure, premise, thru-line.

Though not stories in the traditional sense (and this cannot be stressed enough; these were NOT literal narratives and were not burdened by plotting), these E-ticket experiences still share an underlying structure that informs the very best storytelling. Both start with a first act proposal and continue to play out a carefully choreographed climax and resolution, with every last show detail, from lighting, to costumes, music and animation at the service of a carefully crafted progression of events.

With Pirates the proposal is that we better keep a ‘ruddy eye open’ because ‘there be plundering pirates lurking in every cove.’ Act 1 serves as a sort of warning with the skeletal remains of past treasure seekers scattered throughout a cavern and the promise that ‘dead men tell no tales’, then turns course with our inadvertent discovery of that ‘cursed treasure’. Act 2 begins with the arrival of a pirate galleon at the forts of a port city intent on finding that treasure. Tension mounts as we witness the marauders sell off the town’s women, get drunk, pillage loot and, in the third act climax, burn up the city.

In Haunted Mansion the proposal is that if we remain quietly seated we might very well see a ghost. Act 1 and we only sense their presence as rooms stretch, candelabras float and doors knock by themselves. Act 2 and the spirit world seems ready to make an entrance, but only fleetingly. Act 3 and an entire graveyard of ghouls throw caution to the wind and partake in an outrageous party to die for, now so comfortable with our presence that they promise to haunt us until we return.

With imagineers fully understanding the classic traditions of storytelling it’s no accident that both of these attractions start with quiet and end with mayhem, begin in small intimate spaces and climax inside giant show buildings, weave several variations of a musical theme throughout, showcase running gags and characters, employ set-ups and payoffs, tensions and release. Was it any wonder these theme park attractions inspired actual motion pictures 35 years after they opened?

Arguably Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye was the last stateside attraction that came close to usurping the crown in 1995 but take a more critical look and you’ll realize that when it comes to visual storytelling (at least in the actual ride thru- the queue is spectacular) there’s no comparison. Though rich in detail and full-up of state of the art technology, the tone is singular, the context confusing and its set pieces rarely interested in informing and building upon the last. In the end it’s all sound and fury signifying very little; a somewhat empty thrill.

If Imagineers are to reclaim the glory of these earlier E-tickets it’s best they take a long hard look at what truly sets Pirates and Mansion apart. It’s not rocket science. It’s just visual storytelling.

And in this time of change at the Mouse House there’s no harm in brushing up on the classics.

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

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Restoring Walt Disney’s Disneyland: The Golden Horseshoe Revue

There are many differences in today’s Disneyland experience from that of Walt’s classic Magic Kingdom. And it’s not just a matter of old rides that are missing or replaced, but of a different tone and texture.

There was a time when the environments of Disneyland were more like a time-machine: the frontier, the turn-of-the-century, the future - - all these lavish sets were meant to transport the guest to that idealized time and place, to sort-of a living movie-lot - - not just a modern day “themed” experience, like Las Vegas or Solvang or Outback Steakhouse.

Part of that immersive show was the live entertainment that evoked the times portrayed, whether it was the Dapper Dans singing barbershop on Main Street or a wild saloon show in the old west.

Slue Foot Sue’s Golden Horseshoe Revue was the showplace of Frontierland from opening day clean through to the Eisner era, when it closed as the longest-running stage show of the day.

A passionate vaudevillian at heart, Walt Disney proudly presented a full-bodied, over-the-top, corn-fed interactive burlesque show right out of the history books, and audiences ate it up with a silver spoon.

With a saloon madam, her dancing girls, an Irish tenor and a cowboy comedian (and their band), The Golden Horseshoe Revue didn’t try to be relevant to the times in any way, but transported guests back into another era of entertainment; to the days before movies and television when seltzer and pantaloons reigned supreme.

Wally Boag, Betty Taylor and company made the show fresh for close to thirty years. During times of amazing political and social change and upheaval in the real world, the show continued to shoot from the hip. Despite the onset of several wars, civil rights, feminism, hippies, disco and rap, the girls of the Golden Horseshoe kept kicking their heels to the delight of the most diverse audiences…

Into the 80’s, Pecos Bill was still spitting teeth, the girls were still posing for the Police Gazette and Sue was still looking for her Big City Beau. Audiences never seemed to tire of the show.

Even though history had marched on, the old west remained the same – and so did the burlesque. It was, after all, supposed to represent another era. As spectators and participants, we learned about what that era may have been like. We didn’t look for our own social reflections and moog synthesizers in their frontier antics.

But the coming of political correctness and entertainment expense cutbacks (as well as the retirement of the original cast) finally called a halt to the old time fun.

Sadly, Frontierland has gone from boomtown to ghost town in the process. The Golden Horseshoe was the gold-digging, gunslinging heart of Walt’s old west. Now Frontierland more evokes Boot Hill.

The Revue’s replacements have been less ambitious and uniformly less-successful: from children’s shows (Woody’s Round-Up) to hillbilly bands (Billy Hill) to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers-style cabaret shows (Golden Horseshoe Jubilee), some had charm, but none captured the wild & wooly west of Hollywood and Disney lore like Slue Foot Sue and her spirited Can-Can girls.

So why have those saloon girls stayed away so long? Even a stripped down cast of just the madam and her girls would fill the bill if costs of a large cast were an issue (and surely a well-heeled backer could again be found - - the Revue was historically sponsored by Pepsico).

But one suspects that PC is the real issue – and perhaps marketers who want Disneyland to reflect the “relevant and compelling” world of the modern consumer. They think this sort of entertainment is “quaint.” After all, what kids today would relate to that stuff? Who would line-up to see it?

Well, guess what? That sort of entertainment was way out of date in the 1960’s too – - As kids, we didn’t relate to it either, or get the timely gags - - we just thought it was cool! We loved being able to go to another time and place. And those girls were great dancers with a contagious joie-de-vivre!

The spicy, sexy (but totally wholesome) doings at The Golden Horseshoe helped to make Disneyland an experience for the entire family, not just the parents and tots of today’s targeting. After all, Disneyland’s charms can naturally lean a bit too heavily toward Mom, Princess, Kitten and Uncle Arthur, rather than to Dad and Bud.

But The Golden Horseshoe’s shapely Can-Can girls, along with the hula dancers at Tahitian Terrace and the go-go girls of Tomorrowland… and those crop spanking Disneyland ambassadors… provided some eye candy and entertainment that men’s men of all ages could appreciate with a wink and a smile to their wives and girlfriends (and significant others).

What’s so wrong with that? Sex appeal is a whole level of the Disneyland dream that has vanished over time - - and perhaps not coincidentally, those demos have grown weaker.

Again, old Walt knew what he was doing.

That this celebrated aspect of Disneyland's history did not return for the 50th anniversary is a travesty of executive planning. I hope one day we Can-Can go back again to kick up our heels at Slue Foot Sue’s.

The stage awaits their return – and ours.

Sometime Dreams Do Come True

A dream is a wish your heart makes, so long as the sugar shock doesn't put you into cardiac arrest. Thankfully the millions of guests who wished this gargantuan exercise in bad taste was only temporary had only to wait till the 25th Anniversary of Walt Disney World was over.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cutting a line...

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney MGM in Orlando is a masterpiece of imagineering, bringing the best technology, theming and visual storytelling to the table. And it all starts when you hop in line.

Moss covered oaks, fog shrouded hillsides, ornate columns suffocated by vine growth, a bone dry fountain cracked at its foundation. And somewhere in the distance, perhaps only in our imagination, the haunting sounds of a 1930's ballroom orchestra echo through the courtyard. Before we even enter the decrepit sad remains of The Hollywood Tower Hotel a powerful mood has been masterfully created.

So when the faltering California Adventure ordered up its own version of this attraction you'd have thought that at the very least this Tower of Terror would live up to the original.

And you would have been wrong.

Gone the ornate pre-show entry, gone the ethereal music and even worse, gone the jaw dropping ride OUT of the elevator shaft and into the surreal fifth dimension setpiece, a moment so genuinely unexpected and seemingly impossible that the effect threatens to make the actual freefall an anti-climax.

Don't believe me? Well, go ahead, get in line.

Imagineers are almost always afforded the opportunity to re-jigger and plus attractions that are ordered up at other parks and often the results are spectacular. Later editions of Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Star Tours, Big Thunder and arguably Pirates in Disneyland Paris are all superior versions of the originals. But cost-cutting and corporate greed made sure that any blue sky aspirations current imagineers had for spinning California's own Tower of Terror to an even higher level of showmanship remained forever in the Twilight Zone.

The result of Research and Development

Back in the old days of WED Imagineering there was no separate Research and Development department. You know why? The whole place was one big R and D department!

Imagineers back then were a different breed of animal. They were allowed to multi task and provide whatever they could based on their individual talents. Sure there were separate departments then too; the model shop, MAPO, sculptors, designers, engineers, production specialists and more. But the working atmosphere was a lot more casual and Imagineers had much more freedom to experiment with different ideas. Each department consisted of individuals that were considered masters of their craft, and they were encouraged to advance their art.

About a dozen years ago or so an outside source convinced Disney Corporate that they needed a separate R and D department. So a crew of new inventors were hired and put into a new separate building with lock tight security. And no ordinary Imagineers were allowed in as a rule, only some of the top creative designers and executives.

At the same time Imagineering began to be run as more of a production shop, with every hour of the employee’s day to be strictly accounted for by job and task. After all, research and development was now a separately funded entity, so regular Imagineers no longer had any business wasting time on special projects or new ideas. Managerial hierarchies evolved to keep track of everyone’s time, and big new planning and scheduling departments were created to calculate exactly how it was being spent. Charts and graphs were created that assigned every required job a separate number, and every number was allotted a certain amount of hours. Every Imagineer’s work day needed to be accounted for by one of those numbers. Even today, they use that job number system and if a woe Imagineer goes for a little while without a number on their time sheet – they’re out. (Truthfully, long careers have and can be had by those that excel at obtaining job numbers to prove to management that they are always busy.)

Meanwhile, the R and D department flourished in their own world. They were well funded and answered to Corporate at the studio, totally separate from the rest of Imagineering. The interface they had with the rest of Imagineering over the years has been awkward at best. Although well meaning, it has not been a practical relationship, and they function as more like two separate companies.

I think it would be a good idea to try to merge the R and D department back into WDI, and get some more creativity back into the entire place.

Disneyland doesn't have an 'R' in it.

After a 46 year history without it, in 2001 the marketing geniuses that gave us DCA decreed that any use of the word ‘Disneyland’ in any media from that point on would have to carry the ‘R’ registered trademark symbol.

Gone were the days when Disneyland was indeed a special and unique magical little park that stood alone. Now it’s just another brand name – not that it wasn’t before – but now it is proclaimed as such to all, and the little ‘R’ follows its name just like the Disneyland Resort and the California Adventure Park. It serves to remind us that it is just another part of the holdings of a giant corporation, just in case we forget.

Guess what folks, it doesn’t need it and never did. Lose the ‘R’ and get a little piece of the magic back.

Finding Walt’s DCA

Legend holds that Disney’s California Adventure was conceived on an executive retreat as a rebranding initiative that would alter the 50-year-old perception and meaning of the iconic “Disney” brand in the theme park marketplace. The usual MBA buzzwords, like “relevant and compelling” and “hip ‘n’ edgy” were bandied about in its creation, construction and marketing, a cynical attempt to create a second Anaheim gate that would appeal to people who didn’t much like Disney entertainment (such as the participating executives and their wives).

As we all know, the resulting DCA was stillborn, rejected by the general public, Disney fans, and even the anti-Disney elitists by and for which it was conceived. Poor Wolfgang Puck and Mondavi sat waiting for well-heeled patrons who never arrived - - as there was nothing much for them to see by any measure.

Neither truly inventive or risky, nor in any way traditionally warm and escapist Disney, the new park fell into a no-man’s land of marketing irrelevance, a generic Edsel merrily on its way to no where in particular. Tourists and locals alike went out of their way to avoid Disneyland’s ugly stepsister.

As the park was being planned, all efforts were focused on rejecting the “Walt” in Walt Disney. Hard won lessons of theme park design and layout - - sightlines and immersion, weenies and scenic vistas, art-direction and future planning, theme and detail, breakthrough technology and storytelling, surprise and wonder, even simple expressions of quality and beauty - - were left out of the equation. Such Imagineering notions were thrown out by change-agent executives as “old hat,” “traditionalist,” “purist”, unnecessary, irrelevant leftovers of a founder’s eccentric vision. There was nothing to be found in the “Disney difference” that would reflect current tastes or the retailing wisdom of Ivy League theory.

In DCA's charter vision, there would be no characters, no cartoons, no fantasy, no idealism, no screening out of the real world, and no escape from the commercial world of the now. DCA was a scheme for high return on investment, nothing more.

Traditional Imagineers issued warnings that throwing out the Walt would lead to DCA’s destruction - - but they may as well have been Jor-El confronting the Council during the death throes of the Planet Krypton. The traditionalists were ousted from the process. Creativity was not needed here.

Neither was Walt himself wanted. The film Golden Dreams tells the story of Californians who created state industry by honoring a pioneering filmmaker: Louis B. Mayer… not Walt Disney! The movie backlot is named for the colorless “Hollywood Pictures” instead of “Walt Disney Studios”!

The sharp-pencil boys would have to find out the hard way that indeed, old Walt was right. And so were his acolytes.

Five years later, much has changed. DCA is finally poised to embrace the Walt Disney traditions from which it was so tragically separated in infancy. Talk abounds of “placemaking,” redesigned entranceways and hubs, thrilling new attractions and scenic areas of beauty and relaxation, perhaps even weenies at the end of the streets.

But what is the central theme that binds these ideas into a greater whole? How does one integrate Walter Elias Disney, the man and the myth, into a rambling concept after-the-fact?

As new creators ruminate on how to recast the new DCA, they might do well to turn to the man who was rejected in its conception: Walt Disney.

The entire concept of DCA could be changed with the addition of a single signature building in the hub, one potent symbol that would compliment the 20th Century California and Hollywood themes and bring the spirit of Walt Disney home to Disneyland’s companion park.

Why not place a recreation of Walt Disney’s iconic Hyperion Studios at the hub of DCA?

With it’s classic Spanish-revival architecture and iconic neon Mickey Mouse/Silly Symphonies sign, the Hyperion building compliments the existing environment, and would herald to the public that Walt was finally invited to the party, that this park would now become a creative place where anything could happen, a magical studio from which to escape the dreary workaday world.

Maybe even Diane Disney Miller’s museum devoted to her father (currently planned for the Presidio in San Francisco) might find a more appropriate home in Anaheim, housed in this recreation of the Hyperion Studio. Even if this proved impractical, Walt’s offices, The Walt Disney Story, the now-Julie-Andrews-hosted One Man’s Dream film from WDW, all could find a permanent home at the center of a new Disney/Pixar Studios park.

And maybe Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, now returned to the Disney fold, could be the new DCA mascot to Disneyland's Mickey.

DCA could use Walt's DNA to find its heart and soul.