Friday, December 01, 2006

Japan, Morocco, FWAN?!

When did it all begin? When did the creative control Imagineering had enjoyed for years begin to get wrested away by the whims of its corporate overlords?

Some would venture that it all started when Michael Eisner signed off on the addition of two giant resort hotels to be located behind World Showcase at the tail end of the 1980s. Mr. Eisner, a champion of ostentatious and flamboyant displays of power and wealth, found a kindred spirit in architect Michael Graves and lauded the grandiloquent statement his work consistently made. So impressed was Mr. Eisner, infact, that Mr. Graves became the master architect for the Disney Studios corporate headquarters in Burbank, a leaden vault of a building more kin to the Bank of London or an Egyptian tomb, the enormous sculpts of the seven dwarves holding up the roof now cast as foreboding all powerful ogres.

The work of Michael Graves is many things- bold, dynamic, utilitarian, decorative, innovative.

One thing it’s not, however, is very Disney.

It wasn’t merely the fact that The Dolphin and The Swan were antithetical to the architecture of reassurance the Disney Company pioneered in the 50’s and 60’s that troubled Imagineers however; certainly Michael Grave’s work had enough whimsy, grandeur and innovation to land a spot somewhere on Disney Property. What really concerned Imagineers was exactly where the Dolphin and Swan were to be located.

One needn't have been a rocket scientist to realize that once the miniatures of these Vegas style hotels (owned and operated by Tishman Hotel Corporation) were placed on the scale model of Epcot Center at WED’s Model Shop the sight lines behind World Showcase would be severely compromised.

It certainly wasn’t a secret that one of the reasons Epcot Center was built six miles away from The Magic Kingdom was so that these very sight lines, the silhouettes of the World Showcase pavilions playing against a clear sky, would be unadulterated.

Despite the grumbling of much of the Imagineering staff at the time, Eisner’s super-sized ego wasn’t going to budge so the 27 story Dolphin and 12 story Swan Hotels, their requisite gargantuan rooftop animal sculpts adding an additional 56 and 47 feet respectively, rose behind the more modest four stories of the French Pavilion.

From that point on the pristine outline of Disney's romantic recreation of the Eiffel Tower would forevermore be tarnished, an all the more heartbreaking development because senior creative management at WED knew well what was happening and were powerless to stop it.

It was the tail end of the 80’s, however, and Imagineers had reason to believe that this architectural anomaly was only a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. Certainly once it was clear how damaged the World Showcase skyline had become even the most out of touch executives at Disney Corporate would make sure it never happened again. And so Imagineers looked the other way.

Over the last 15 years, however, paying guests of Epcot’s World Showcase haven’t had that option.