Sunday, January 28, 2007

Gilding the Lily


Visit Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and you’ll notice the faceless bride with the beating heart in the attic has been replaced with Bride 2.0. Her name is Constance and the technology that brings her to life is state of the art. Before her, Leota 2.0 was unveiled now floating freely along with her table.

Just down the path from the Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean sports a spiffy new dry for wet waterfall illusion, more vibrant splash effects in the fort bombardment scene and a souped up sound system to complement the recent addition of all things Captain Jack Sparrow.

In Tomorrowland, Space Mountain 2.0 arrived in July of 2005 with a smoother ride, a handful of eye-popping lighting effects and a considerably darker interior. On it’s heels the temporary 2.0.1 version, Rockit Mountain, debuted, a bewildering tumble through a Red Hot Chili Peppers psychotropic hallucination replete with teeny bopping projections, swirling multi-colored kliegs and a pulse-pounding heavy metal soundtrack (not to mention a day-glo view of the once mysterious track layout).


It would be disingenuous to poo-poo all of these recent additions. At the best these touch-ups are delightful steps forward in the art of Imagineering, especially when they remain in their original creative context and don’t significantly alter classic scenes, characters or staging. At their worst they come with the promise of being mercifully temporary.

Still, there is a troubling current running beneath this trend to pimp up classic E-ticket adventures. With millions of dollars being allocated to these projects, what validates the cost of modifying attractions that aren’t broken?

Save for Pirates, where the addition of Jack Sparrow tied in with the marketing of the movie franchise, the justification for creative embellishments to the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain is virtually non-existent.


Were these attractions in need of Sistine Ceiling level restorations? Other than the necessity of switching out Space Mountain’s track for safety concerns, annual refurbishment budgets should be more than enough to address blown speakers, chipped paint and burned out lights.

Were these attractions failing aesthetically or creatively? Most assuredly not. None of them truly needed additional or upgraded effects. The cannonball splashing in Pirates of the Caribbean may be more spectacular today, but the original splash effects were still operational and entertaining.

Were these changes instigated to bring guests back to attractions they’d grown tired of? Hardly. There isn’t a shred of evidence to suggest these bad boys, three of the brightest stars in the Disney attractions firmament, were seeing dwindling numbers. Arguing that the public was losing interest in these classics doesn’t hold up.

Was there an effort to drive up over-all attendance at Disneyland? In the case of the Haunted Mansion, no. Not a single television, radio or newpaper ad made mention of it's upgraded effects. As for Space Mountain's re-opening in '05, promotion placed more emphasis on the coaster's return than its make-over.


And despite Jack Sparrow's much ballyhood addition to Pirates of the Caribbean neither the movie nor the attraction needed any help getting noticed. Had it only been an issue of letting guests bond with their favorite new pop culture heartthrob, Jack Sparrow would’ve served the same purpose doing a meet and greet out in the queue.

The lack of justification for these expensive pet projects is made all the more distressing when there are myriad areas at Disneyland that could benefit from a few dollars being thrown at them.

In lieu of writing the Red Hot Chili Peppers a big check why not spruce up the currently closed Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-thru with cutting edge special effects instead?

What about that dead fountain in Tomorrowland? The resuscitation of that giant corpse called Innoventions? Electro-shocking the Peoplemover back to life?

Should funds be allocated for an axe wielding bride or instead be used to address the neglected space in Carnation Plaza, the under-performing Petting Zoo, the exposed florescent lighting along the track of the Casey Jr. Circus Train, the ‘eerie’ canals of the former Motor Boat Cruise? The list of Disneyland real-estate in dire need of tender loving care is extensive.


Perhaps the most egregious example of misallocated funds can be found back at the Magic Kingdom in Florida. While Imagineers fine tuned the effects on the new free floating Leota, Disney World’s Haunted Mansion continued to lay in ruin. Torn scrims, faulty animation, out of sync show tracks and static filled speakers only hint at the aggressively bad show this has become.

And while they erect giant Mickey Wands and Sorcerer’s hats throughout the property, the classic Bear Country Jamboree is left to wilt and die. Visit it today and you’ll witness torn and faded fur, arthritic animation and a sound system so off kilter the show is now nearly incomprehensible.

Is this trend really a matter of misguided Imagineering priorities? Is there some developmental desire for today's creators to make their own mark on the classics, whether or not it is needed or warranted. Are Imagineers just trying to stand proud next to Walt's ghost in the absence of opportunities to shine with their own stellar E-tickets. Or are some trying to make work for themselves on the only assets management deems worthy of reinvestment?

After an earlier series of highly subjective alterations to Pirates of the Caribbean, creator and Disney Legend Marc Davis noted that it was better the way they had originally designed it.

It’s time for Disney Management to take a hard look at budgetary priorities, to start using funds to reinvigorate orphaned real-estate rather than to gild yet another lily.

To stop fixing what isn’t broken and start fixing what is.


49 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about both? Plus the solidly performing E-Tickets, improve languishing properties, and create must-see E-Tickets that improve the overall attraction line-up. Ironically, the previous series was about the Disney way. The Disney way has always been to enhance the old AND give us something new...

Incredibles said...

Excellent post. It really does make one wonder why these major draws are receiving such attention while others slowly die. Then, when management states they are closing a "dying" attraction for lack of popularlity, we all realize that management itself allowed the attraction to degrade to a state that no one wanted to see it anymore.
However, I do think that some of the new effects could be used in these minor, unannounced ways (ie. HM effects) as a means to test them out before they are applied in major ways. Pixar does this with their shorts before they apply certain techniques to films. Maybe the Imagineers are doing the same.
I do know that since Iger has taken over, it seems that many small details are being noted and improved. Who knows, maybe time will tell as to the nature of more improvements.
Regardless, this post is dead on!

David said...

While I agree that a lot of attractions need TLC very badly (specially here in Orlando) I disagree with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" policy that you are advocating.

These are classic attractions that are very dated and show their age. If by making a few small changes such as updating the effects, they give the attractions a new life, then I'm all for it.

Maybe we should be looking at the problem of why some of these seemingly simple updates are running in the millions of dollars.

Anonymous said...

I noticed this back in 2001 when I took my niece and nephew to Disneyland. The shadow scrim on the Peter Pan ride was broken. It's at the begining of the ride! The shadow of Peter Pan! It sets you up for the ride! And it's an easy fix! I could have hopped off the shipped and fixed it myself!

Anonymous said...

I swear, you will complain about anything! These are great additions to these attractions. They were done because "plusing up" is the Disney Way. You can always point to something that isn't getting the attention that you would like, but it is nothing but good that Disney cares about keeping its attractions up to date. I am sure in time all your other issues will be solved too.

Alex said...

I can't speak for the changes at the Haunted Mansion or at the Space Mountain but in our last visit to Disney World, we bee-lined it to the Pirates of the Caribbean because of the new Jack Sparrow figures. Pirates of the Caribbean has always been one of my favorite Magic Kingdom rides but lately, it has been showing its age. It is hard not to notice how mechanic and unrealistic a lot of the figures look now. I think an update would help.

On the other hand other parts of the park do seem in disrepair. years ago you didn't see gum stuck on the floor or refuse but worse yet some rides look worn and broken.

The last time we visited the Jungle Cruise I could not help but notice all the parts of the ride that could have used a coat of paint. The saddest part was that some of the figures in the ride were noticeably worn. You could see algae buildup and discoloration on most and one of the hippos was missing an ear and you could see the metal below.

This lack of maintenance is unacceptable in a park that is every day more and more expensive to visit. For the amount of money a family must shell out to spend a day at Disney all the rides should be clean and shiny.

dan_steinberg said...

Wow, Mr. Banks - I totally disagree with you here. Are you really saying that Space Mountain would be better off with the original effects and no soundtrack? That they should be rebuilding the Submarine Voyage in its full 1959 glory? And that Pirates was better with the original “prancing water”-style “explosions”?

My question for you is whether Walt Disney created Disneyland to be a never-changing shrine for Disney geeks, or to entertain as much of the American public as possible? Making changes like these is *exactly* what Disney should be doing to Disneyland - and here's why:

Disneyland gets 16 million visits per year. If there are - as I’ve seen estimated - 600,000 Annual Passholders and they each go once a month on average, that’s at least 7 million visits. And if roughly one-third of the 13 million people in L.A. and Orange Counties go once a year as well, that’s another 4 million. That leaves maybe 5 million visits from everywhere else: the 20 million other people in California, the 35 million in the other western states, the 200+ million in the rest of the U.S. – and then there is the rest of the world.

This means a lot people *aren't* going every year. In fact, if you asked (and – being the geek that I am - I've been tempted to go stand in the middle of the nearest mall and ask this) I'd guess that most people have been to Disneyland once or twice in their life and that's it. Why? For those who enjoyed it, I’ll bet that they’d say "Been There, Done That". And that’s not too hard to understand – what has changed in the last 10 to 15 years at Disneyland? Indiana Jones (excellent), and not that much else really: a repaint of Tomorrowland, HISTA, Winnie the Pooh, a revamped Autopia, ... and? Really, why should people come back if they've already seen pretty much everything?

So, Mr. Banks, so how would you lure all these people back? Add some big E-ticket rides? A very good idea, but how many $100 attractions can Disney afford to build? Or instead, I say give them a reason to come back and see their old favorites - make a few changes and improvements but don't change the ride overall. The Jungle Cruise (which I notice you didn't mention) is greatly improved by the small changes it received in the last couple of years. Space Mountain? Better than the last version. And Pirates? I too approached the new Jack Sparrow version with fear and dread - but you know what? They did a great job at adding some new effects and twists while keeping the vast majority of the ride - and more importantly - the spirit and flavor of the original ride perfectly intact.

Personally I’ve thought for years they should do (and advertise!) a “Five Year Plan”: every single attraction at Disneyland gets at least a minor change or enhancement every five years. That means you can visit every 5 years and be guaranteed that everything will still be great – but just a little bit different.

(Mind you, I *don’t* want updates that totally change or against the feel or tone of the classic rides, like the previous political “corrections” on Pirates or the “Under New Management” Tiki Room in WDW. Improve – don’t lessen. And I also think Disneyland in the last few years has shown that show quality maintenance and enhancements aren’t a trade-off: you can successfully – and profitably - do both.)

And my final point: did you happen to notice the lines for Pirates this summer? I'd say that the visiting public is pretty perceptive on what makes a good attraction: they don't bother with flops like Winnie the Pooh, the bargain-bin version of the Tower of Terror, and DCA in general. But they love great attractions like the revived Space Mountain, Soarin', Indiana Jones – and the new Pirates.

To end, I'm sorely tempted to bring up the famed Walt "museum" quote. I won't. But ask yourself: Do you really think Walt would have let *anything* at Disneyland stand unimproved for 30 or 40 years? I doubt it...

Sorcerer Mickey said...

There used to be a preview of Space Mountain in the "Disney Preview" storefront on Main Street. In February of 1976, it spoke of what Space Mountain was supposed to be all about:

Earth man has long dreamed of exploring the mysteries of our galaxy and the infinite wonders of the universe beyond. You will experience these wonders on your own space journey when Disneyland's spectacular, super-thrill attraction, Space Mountain, opens in June 1977. Space Mountain, towering 120 feet into the sky, will complete Walt Disney's original dreams and visions for Tomorrowland. Within this futuristic structure, you will be the astronaut, hurling through SuperSpace in a high-speed race into another galaxy.

<"Launch control, this is Space Venturer, go ahead"> You and your fellow astronauts board rocket cars on a space station launching platform, orbiting high above the earth. As your journey begins, you'll race through a vast, manmade solar field, energizing your rocket car for its dazzling plunge into SuperSpace. Hold on tight! You're on your way, as you blast off into the void of the universe! Swooping around the giant, glowing, geodesic laser satellite, you become engulfed by a spectacular spiral nebula, with flashing comets and whirling galaxies. This is SuperSpace penetration! At Walt Disney World in Florida, guests are already experiencing the sensation of a Space Mountain Adventure. You will share these sensations when Space Mountain opens at Disneyland.

Ascending the launch portal, aimed at a starry vista of the cosmos overhead. Blasting off on a breathtaking, super-fast race through outer space, your body actually feeling the forces of "G". Zooming down the reentry portal, feeling the blast of hot air and rocked by a sonic boom! Yes, you will experience what is truly, the ultimate thrill ride attraction. So climb aboard, fasten your seatbelt, and prepare to blast off when Space Mountain opens in June 1977 in Tomorrowland!


Who knew that it would take the Red Hot Chili Peppers to "complete Walt Disney's original dreams and visions for Tomorrowland"?

(You can hear the original audio from this preview at http://sorcerersworkshop.org/spacemtpreview.shtml)

Mark said...

As always, a wonderful post.

I think the point that so many of the managers wth Disney are missing these days is the idea of charm. What has given these classic attractions longevity is charm. While I enjoy the new souped up Pirates and the wonderful new Space Mountain at DL, I don't need or require my favorite Disney attractions to be plussed. If I want to be blown up and terrified I will go to Universal. I don't hate this trend, necessarily, as long as other attractions don't suffer from it.

Digital Jedi said...

Yes, we'll complain about anything. I guess it's perfectly logical to tear down Horizons and World of Motion on the basis that they weren't pulling attendance, but spend millions of dollars refurbishing attractions that were doing just fine. Wait, wouldn't it have made more sense to refurbish and update attractions that were pulling poor attendance records, that way you'd have your existing crowd draws AND brand spanking new attractions on top of that? Nah, that wouldn't be plussing things up, now would it?

Okay, perhaps the sarcasm is too thick today. But I have to ask, if you've got a good as new '62 Thunderbird sitting in your driveway right next to a run down '62 Mustang, does it make a lot of sense to spend thousands of dollars on a new paint job for the Tbird and let the Mustang continue to rust? Is that plussing?

If ever there was a valid complaint, then this is it. Money is just going everywhere in Disney these days, with no apparent theme or direction. At first it looks like their trying to capitalize on a popular movie and then it looks like their just throwing the money at a ride because they can. If I were the paranoid sort, I'd say they doing it just to spite the loyalists who would like to see a little TLC put into some nostalgic attractions. If I were paranoid. >_>

TiKiMOOSE said...

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. The tikiroom was in need of TLC and money was thrown at it!
Now it's good as new, bringing in new crowds. A new engine was added to the tracks. The sub lagoon got the green light. New monorail trains are on the way. E tickets were plussed.
Um....I don't have a point!

Biff Jr. said...

Although I usually agree with 90% of the posts here, I have to disagree with this one. I want more than anything for Disney to reexamine where it's spending it's money and to fix the many instances of "poor show" around the parks, but I can't fault them for plussing the others. Maybe it isn't the BEST place to spend the money, but what if they weren't making these improvements? In 10 years would we be complaining about outdated effects, sound-systems, and lighting in our favorite Walt-era classics? I, for one, am glad that they are staying ahead of the game on these attractions...now if we could just get some of that love down in Floriday (especially Epcot)...

Davelandweb said...

I question whether some of these changes are really plussing; the new bride & attic scene in the HM is a little jarring in comparison to the humor and design of the rest of the attraction, whereas the POTC refurb is pretty seamless and actually DOES add to the ride. You guys really do make excellent comments and hopefully they are helpful to the Imagineers. Just in case they aren’t, I'll be taking one last trip to TSI this weekend for photos!

Ted said...

I agree that there are attractions that need work, but I disagree that "plussing" attractions is a bad thing (OK, maybe rockit mountain).
I agree with an earlier poster that said "how about both?".
As to WDW, I understand that is a problem with the WDW management that doesn't want to spend the money on tourists who won't know the difference since they have never been there before. And alot to do with Jay Rasulo, who should be working at the Gap *cough* Pressler *cough*.
I also suspect that DL gets more TLC since it is closer to Corporate and WDI and can work as a "testing ground" for new ideas.
Plus DL had a VERY strong advocate in Matt Ouimet (who sadly is gone I heard due largely to Jay Rasulo).

pariartspaul said...

"Is this trend really a matter of misguided Imagineering priorities? Is there some developmental desire for today's creators to make their own mark on the classics, whether or not it is needed or warranted. Are Imagineers just trying to stand proud next to Walt's ghost in the absence of opportunities to shine with their own stellar E-tickets. Or are some trying to make work for themselves on the only assets management deems worthy of reinvestment?"

Mr. Banks, you hit the nail on the head with the first and last sentences. Since there still is no executive in charge who gets it, for the most part, the projects that reek the most of synergy are still the ones that most easily get thumbs up through the levels of management. Even in the case of POTC, as you point out, where the attraction was still popular, synergy won out even over common sense. Rather than designing to enhance a land’s theme properly, the only additions that make sense to corporate are the ones they think enhance the brand. For instance, look at the sub ride. It finally took a tie in to the Pixar movie to get them to agree to re-open the closed attraction. And even though cartoon fish theme doesn’t have anything to do with Tomorrowland, it must have been an easy sell... hmmm.. fish, water, subs... perfect fit! If it wasn’t for the attractive film tie-in, the lagoon probably would have been bull-dozed over by now (as it was in Florida) to make way for another meet-n-greet to showcase the latest Princess franchise.

And now we have more Jack Sparrow to look forward to as an excuse to sort of rehab the faded Tom Sawyer Island.

On the other hand, I am all for updating good attractions when they need it. The Tiki Room rehab was a great thing. In the 80’s the new Vacation and Christmas shows at the Bear Band freshened the show up quite a bit - but then fifteen years later they made a big mistake when instead of revamping the classic attraction, they gutted the building and replaced the innards with the ultra-synergistic and budget minded Pooh ride. Of course a fantastic Pooh attraction could have been built somewhere else.

There are so many things that could be done to improve the parks! The castle walk-thru is a great small example of an opportunity... but there are huge ones too that you mention... Innoventions, Motorboat Cruise, PeopleMover, DCA. How refreshing would it be to see some of these reworked with new, original attractions instead of more commercials for other products? Will we ever see a new attraction that isn’t based on a Pixar film, or a copy of something somewhere else? Corporate needs to start buying more into the strategy of enhancing the parks for their own sake.

dan_steinberg said...

Wow, Mr. Banks - I totally disagree with you here. Are you really saying that we would be better off with the original Space Mountain effects and no soundtrack? That they should be rebuilding the Submarine Voyage in its full 1959 glory? And that Pirates was better with the original “prancing water”-style “explosions”?

The question to ask here is whether Walt Disney created Disneyland to be a never-changing shrine for Disney geeks, or to entertain as much of the American public as possible? Making changes like these is *exactly* what Disney should be doing to Disneyland - and here's why:

Disneyland gets 16 million visits per year. If there are - as I’ve seen estimated - 600,000 Annual Passholders and they each go once a month on average, that’s at least 7 million visits. And if roughly one-third of the 13 million people in L.A. and Orange Counties go once a year as well, that’s another 4 million. That leaves maybe 5 million visits from everywhere else: the 20 million other people in California, the 35 million in the other western states, the 200+ million in the rest of the U.S. – and then there is the rest of the world.

This means a lot people *aren't* going every year. In fact, if you asked (and – being the geek that I am - I've been tempted to go stand in the middle of the nearest mall and ask this) I'd guess that most people have been to Disneyland once or twice in their life and that's it. Why? For those who enjoyed it, I’d bet they’d say "Been There, Done That". And that’s not too hard to understand – what has changed in the last 10 to 15 years at Disneyland? Indiana Jones (excellent), and not that much else really: a repaint of Tomorrowland, HISTA, Winnie the Pooh, a revamped Autopia, ... and? Really, why should they come back if they've already seen everything?

So, Mr. Banks, so how would you lure back all these people? Add some big E-ticket rides? A very good idea, but how many $100 attractions can Disney afford to build? Or instead, I say give them a reason to come back and see their old favorites - make a few small changes and improvements but don't change the rides overall. The Jungle Cruise (which I notice you didn't mention) is greatly improved by the small changes it received in the last couple of years. Space Mountain? Better than the last version. And Pirates? I too approached the new Jack Sparrow version with fear and dread - but you know what? They did a great job at adding some new effects and twists while keeping the vast majority of the ride - and more importantly - the spirit and flavor of the original ride perfectly intact.

I’ve thought for years they should do (and advertise!) a “Five Year Plan”: every single attraction at Disneyland gets at least a minor change or enhancement every five years. That means you can visit every 5 years and by guaranteed that everything will still be great – but just a little bit different.

(Mind you, I *don’t* want updates that totally change or are against the feel or tone of the classic rides, like the previous political “corrections” on Pirates or the “Under New Management” Tiki Room in WDW. Improve – don’t lessen. And I also think Disneyland has shown in the last few years that show quality maintenance and enhancements aren’t a trade-off: you can successfully – and profitably - do both.)

And my final point: did you happen to notice the lines for Pirates this summer? I'd say that the visiting public is pretty perceptive on what makes a good attraction: they don't bother with flops like Winnie the Pooh, the bargain-bin version of the Tower of Terror, and DCA in general. But they love great attractions like the revived Space Mountain, Soarin', Indiana Jones – and the new Pirates.

To end, I'm sorely tempted to bring up the famed Walt "museum" quote. I won't. But ask yourself: Do you really think Walt would have let anything at Disneyland stand unimproved for 30 or 40 years? I doubt it…

Anonymous said...

While I agree with most of the posting, I have to disagree with the Pirates comments.
All first timers that come to Disneyland relate to Pirates of the Carribean WITH Jack Sparrow. They EXPECT him to be there. What they have done with this is right and improves upon an already spectacular ride. I beleive that Walt would have loved these, and the haunted mansion changes. He seemed to be a huge innovator and appreciated new technology. If Walt was alive, he probably would have innovated the technology, rather than wait for it.

I agree that Orlando is falling apart, but you must remember that Disneyland is older and needed the attention more. Plus - the 50th really was a good reason to do it first. WDW will have it's day.

Anonymous said...

Cover Your A$$

Why take a risk on funding a new innovative attraction when you can can plus a sure bet.

Jay said...

I have mixed feelings about this particular post. On one hand, it seems disingenuous to complain about refurbishments to A-list attractions without knowing the inside workings of those rides; 60s-era animatronic technology must be difficult to maintain, and I'd imagine that even finding parts is expensive. It may be that a revamped Bride is far less labor-intensive and expensive to maintain in the long run than keeping the original operating. I have no idea, because I'm not an Imagineer, but that's my guess.

On the other hand, I agree that spending millions on A-list attractions while letting unpromoted B-list rides rot is just bad business. It's true that not that many people rode Cranium Command, but did you ever see a billboard for it on Oceola Parkway? Minor attractions need a little love, too.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, I think plussing up is good for any attraction. Like another poster said, some attractions are dated, and an update to the effects can add something special to it. But I also agree with the sentiment that there are many, MANY attractions (especially in Magic Kingdom, which is the park I frequent the most) that could use some refurbishments. Peter Pan for example, could be done-up in a spectacular way. Figures that actually look like the characters, a less jerky ride, anything at all, instead of complete inattention. Same thing with the Country Bears, who now all look quite frightening, and not because they're bears, but because they look like a cracked out version of themselves (and the heads on the wall, they are in such pathetic shape, it hurts me to look at them).
Basically, I would like to see the plusing of "can't fail" attractions (HM, Pirates, etc.) and ANY attention to the ones that are practically falling down.

Jonathan said...

First off, I wanted to thank you for re-dedicated the blog with a brand new header. It really drives home the purpose of this place!

I totally agree with you that Imagineering plays favorites. I don't think its an ego thing though, its just the easy way out. Its much easier to create a buzz with a film franchise or updating effects in already-popular attractions rather than bring some lack-luster attractions into the spotlight.

I've never experienced the Sleeping Beauty castle walk-through, but I really support the idea of a tech overhaul. Its something so simple that would add so much. You'd think with the princess craze Disney marketing is going through, they'd utilize that space for something!

Disney Imagineering seems to be going through the mentality that there needs to be some sort of film franchise tied into attractions. Attractions without a film tie-in are rare these days.

Todd said...

As a former Disney World Cast member, I have certainly seen some attractions in rough shape while there are crews working to improve one nearby that is still in great working order.

I left before Iger took over, but it was fairly frustrating to see how extreme some of the cases were.

Some of the rides certainly deserve better treatment, or action of some sort.

Epcot82 said...

As I've tried to point out at EPCOT Central, complaining is very different than offering valid, obversation-based criticism ... which you've done brilliantly here.

We saw what happened to Disney when management at Feature Animation started creating a business that was based on revenue models and cost savings: They forgot that "Disney" comes with a higher standard. It took the audience a while to catch on: After Hunchback, Hercules, Tarzan and Mulan were hits. And then it happened. Suddenly, Disney seemed less exciting, less innovative, more marketing-driven and not as special. There were other offerings out there that, if not better, were at least as good.

Ultimately, Disney killed the very business that it had quite literally created. It went so far as to concede defeat and shut down entirely for a while.

Now Disney theme parks are asking for more money, offering less and being managed not by looking at what is right for Disney and the park experience, but by what is best for the bottom line. Never has this been more the case at theme parks than it is today.

Attractions like "The Country Bear Jamboree," "Peter Pan's Flight" and "The Haunted Mansion" define the Disney experience. How many times can a guest go to a Disney park and come away disappointed -- even if it's in a way they can't quite define? How long will it take before that ineffable disappointment manifests itself in attendance that declines mildly at first, then begins to drop off precipitously as a guest realizes $65 a day deserves more than "passable" entertainment?

I worry for the parks. I doubt one Disney executive shares the view that there is serious danger for the long term, and I applaud Re-Imagineering for being so conscientious and determined to point out where these "little" faults lie. As the old rhyme reminds us: "And all for the want of a horseshoe nail."

/bsdb said...

pariartspaul asks the question:

Will we ever see a new attraction that isn’t based on a Pixar film, or a copy of something somewhere else?

I'm not holding my breath.

Reliable rumor has it that Imagination's rehab received the final nail in its coffin lid recently, along with any plan to officially celebrate Epcot's upcoming 25th anniversary.

Rasulo and his flying monkeys feel that Year of a Million Schemes is all that WDW needs to con, uh, encourage tourists to visit this year, and not some silly ol' silver anniversary for a park that seems to elude their limited imaginations.

Epcot could once again be a grand park, if the idiots in charge would accept their creative faults and turn to those who have a freakin' clue. And finally leave behind the broken notion that world-class theme parks can be constructed from the clearance table at the local 99 cents store!

Mr Wiggins said...

>>With millions of dollars being allocated to these projects, what validates the cost of modifying attractions that aren't broken?<<

What, indeed? When at the same time other areas of the Magic Kingdom erode year after year, and the turnover of underpaid Disneyland CMs climbs toward (and in some areas exceeds) 100%.

The answer lies in the corporate psyche of Disney's financial gatekeepers. Bucks flow for pirate-pimping because it's a no-risk deal, a slam dunk pitch, something even the most uncreative accountaneer can understand. Like the sequelitis that has long infected Disney's creative executives (along with the rest of the entertainment industry), lily gilding is perceived as safe for the stockholders -- short-term bucks for short-term returns. And the good gilders are well rewarded.

Walt-style creative risk taking? Growing the brand? Building for the future? Let's not be silly. The execs making the spending decisions have no intention of being around in the future, nor do the bosses on whom they rely for approval and promotion.

Karl Elvis said...

I work in a support organization for a major fruit-flavored computer company.

Our task - to put it succinctly - is to keep things working so that customers (in this case, internal customers, hardware engineers) have a smooth ride. When we do it right, everything works and no one notices; systems stay up, work gets done, product goes out the door.

However, our managers and directors don't get to put this, come review time, on a list of 'what i got done'; they can't quantify 'N customers had X level of not-plagued-by-trouble' and have that look sexy. Thus they look down at us, and say, 'What have you delivered? What projects have you completed?' Never mind that *support and maintenance* is a full time job, they ask us what ELSE we did this year.

We then have to add 'project' work, not because it's part of our job or because it's what needs doing, but so we can give someone above a bullet point on a list of achievements.

The upgrades you're talking about smack of this thinking; someone in the big D's corporate structure who's responsible for park maintenance was told "sure you keep it running, but WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"

The imagineers look at each other and think, crap, we need to do something. Let's see, how about we monkey with the big rides in some way that's splashy, but easy?'

They get the bullet point, and justify staying another year, and budget gets allocated for the project, and cut from maintenance, since maintenance is invisible and doesn't make for a good bullet points. THAT is what this is about. And as long as they're run like every other business rather than like Walt's business, i fear they'll keep doing this stuff. Projects that exist to justify keeping of jobs, not because they're the right thing to do.

Daniel said...

"Was there an effort to drive up over-all attendance at Disneyland? In the case of the Haunted Mansion, no. Not a single television, radio or newpaper ad made mention of it's upgraded effects. As for Space Mountain's re-opening in '05, promotion placed more emphasis on the coaster's return than its make-over."

I see your point, but I have to say in the case of adding Jack Sparrow...Disney has DEFINITELY been using it to draw people in. I was at Disney World in October and the cover of the Park Guide shows Jack Sparrow and I have heard numerous news reports about the added changes. While I personally don't care for the changes (too much Jack--the end scene is fine, but I get sick of hearing his name the whole course of the ride and seeing him three times is a bit much), I can see how they might draw people in.

I'm of mixed mind overall on this post. While I see the point, I'd also wager that part of the reason people re-ride is to catch things they've not seen before. A small change here and there helps add to that experience of "discovering something new."

I agree with another poster that the big problem isn't the changes themselves, but the likelihood that these are the only places where Disney corporate will allow money to be spent.

The Polsons said...

Digital Jedi, I agree with you except for one point... Mustangs didn't come out until the fall of 1964. 8-)

(Why yes, I do own a 1965 Mustang, why do you ask? Heehee...)

Scott said...

I can’t believe I read this article. You’re actually complaining that classic attractions got plussed? You want to know why lesser attractions don’t get the same treatment? Because they don’t pull in the numbers that Pirates and Haunted Mansion do, and therefore, don’t get the updates that big guys get. Sorry, but I guess Casey Jr. just isn’t pulling its own weight anymore.

Your entire theory is ridiculous. The entire point behind Disneyland and the other theme parks is for them to constantly get updated and grow. I hate to break it to you, but if Walt were alive…Pirates and Haunted Mansion wouldn’t even be in existence today. He would have replaced them both years ago with something better.

You geeks need to grow up.

Mr Banks said...

Thank you, Scott, for your thoughtful and level headed observations.

No, we're not complaining about the plussing that's gone on with these attractions. I'm sorry you stopped at the first paragraph and didn't keep reading. So yes, I too can't believe you read this article either.

Here's to all the geeks who need to grow up. I salute you all!

Merlin Jones said...

>>You geeks need to grow up.<<

"Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children's approach to life. They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought - sometimes it isn't much either." - - Walt Disney

Anonymous said...

I agree totally with this article, Disney SHOULD fix what's wrong first, then decide what needs upgrading. Every article I've read I agree with, keep it up

dan_steinberg said...

Wow, Mr. Banks - I totally disagree with you here. Are you really saying that we would be better off with the original Space Mountain effects and no soundtrack? That they should be rebuilding the Submarine Voyage in its full 1959 glory? And that Pirates was better with the original "prancing water"-style "explosions"?

The question to ask here is whether Walt Disney created Disneyland to be a never-changing shrine for Disney geeks, or to entertain as much of the American public as possible? Making changes like these is *exactly* what Disney should be doing to Disneyland - and here's why:

Disneyland gets 16 million visits per year. If there are - as I've seen estimated - 600,000 Annual Passholders and they each go once a month on average, that's at least 7 million visits. And if roughly one-third of the 13 million people in L.A. and Orange Counties go once a year as well, that's another 4 million. That leaves maybe 5 million visits from everywhere else: the 20 million other people in California, the 35 million in the other western states, the 200+ million in the rest of the U.S. – and then there is the rest of the world.

This means a lot people *aren't* going every year. In fact, if you asked (and – being the geek that I am - I've been tempted to go stand in the middle of the nearest mall and ask this) I'd guess that most people have been to Disneyland once or twice in their life and that's it. Why? For those who enjoyed it, I'd bet they'd say "Been There, Done That". And that's not too hard to understand – what has changed in the last 10 to 15 years at Disneyland? Indiana Jones (excellent), and not that much else really: a repaint of Tomorrowland, HISTA, Winnie the Pooh, a revamped Autopia, ... and? Really, why should they come back if they've already seen everything?

So, Mr. Banks, so how would you lure back all these people? Add some big E-ticket rides? A very good idea, but how many $100 attractions can Disney afford to build? Or instead, I say give them a reason to come back and see their old favorites - make a few small changes and improvements but don't change the rides overall. The Jungle Cruise (which I notice you didn't mention) is greatly improved by the small changes it received in the last couple of years. Space Mountain? Better than the last version. And Pirates? I too approached the new Jack Sparrow version with fear and dread - but you know what? They did a great job at adding some new effects and twists while keeping the vast majority of the ride - and more importantly - the spirit and flavor of the original ride perfectly intact.

I've thought for years they should do (and advertise!) a "Five Year Plan": every single attraction at Disneyland gets at least a minor change or enhancement every five years. That means you can visit every 5 years and by guaranteed that everything will still be great – but just a little bit different.

(Mind you, I *don't* want updates that totally change or are against the feel or tone of the classic rides, like the previous political "corrections" on Pirates or the "Under New Management" Tiki Room in WDW. Improve – don't lessen. And I also think Disneyland has shown in the last few years that show quality maintenance and enhancements aren't a trade-off: you can successfully – and profitably - do both.)

And my final point: did you happen to notice the lines for Pirates this summer? I'd say that the visiting public is pretty perceptive on what makes a good attraction: they don't bother with flops like Winnie the Pooh, the bargain-bin version of the Tower of Terror, and DCA in general. But they love great attractions like the revived Space Mountain, Soarin', Indiana Jones – and the new Pirates.

To end, I'm sorely tempted to bring up the famed Walt "museum" quote. I won't. But ask yourself: Do you really think Walt would have let anything at Disneyland stand unimproved for 30 or 40 years? I doubt it…

Digital Jedi said...

He didn't read the post or didn't get the sense of it, which is worse then skipping over it. I'm going to presume he didn't read mine either. I'll put it in simpler terms then. Which makes more sense?

Replacing your good hip with a bionic one, and ignoring your other broken hip.

Or

Fixing your broken hip.

Only one of those options gives you two good hips.

And to add to Merlin's statement:

>>"Adults are only kids grown up, anyway."<<< -Walt Disney

Mr Wiggins said...

Why make pirate-pimping a priority when Disneyland CM wages can't even compete with local fast food joints, and CM turnover continues to climb toward, and in some areas exceeds, 100%?

The answer lies in the corporate culture of the Disney financial gatekeepers, the executives who control which projects get greenlit. To them, gilding an already solid platinum hit like pirates is a safe call, a guaranteed boost for the bottom line. Pirate-pimping -- and the thousands of similar "creative" decisions, large and small, made at the mouse on a daily basis -- is the product of the sequelitis virus that has long infected Disney management (along with much of the entertainment industry). Quick-glitz overlays on proven platinum foundations are a sure bet strategy that any accountaneer can understand. What they especially understand is that the good gilders get well rewarded.

But Walt-style creative risk taking? Growing the brand? Planting seeds for the future? Not a chance. These execs have no intention of being there in the future -- nor do their bosses, on whom they rely for approval and promotion.

Ted said...

I think that this is probably related (good or bad) to a cost/benefit analyst. Would sprucing up Mr Toads Wild Ride bring any benefits (increased attendance, decreased attendance by not doing it, etc) vs the cost. In addition, what could they do to most of this stuff?
For "lesser" attractions that it makes sense to "plus" like the Storybookland Canal boats, they have added additional scenes.
However the poorly maintained attractions are related more to the budget priorities of the individual park managements fault. Plussing Pirates is pushed down from above with accompaning money. In places like WDW, they feel that tourists won't know the difference (or won't be able to come back anyway, due to the distance and cost). so why bother.
Now to your specific requests. These are HUGE capital projects that might never be done.
The motor boat cruise needs to be bulldozed over and something new built there.
The Sleeping Beauty walk-through was closed because it is not ADA compliant and would require BIG money to be compliant.
The People Mover would have to be redesigned due to safety concerns from the State of California. And would probably be tied to an overall make-over of Tomorrowland.
Big Thunder Ranch also needs to be COMPLETELY re-thought. In it's present form, it is a HUGE waste of valuable real estate (but so is Toon Town!).

Mike said...

Torn scrims, static filled speakers and faded fur sounds not only scary for the Disney brand, but reminds me of the dead possum theme park in "A Goofy Movie." I remember when Disney parks prided themselves on their pristine condition. Keep going in this direction and the sprung springs of the possum show in "A Goofy Movie" become prophetic instead of hilarious.

Anonymous said...

"It's never too late to have a happy childhood."

Tom Robbins

Tinker Bell said...

Agreed! It's been my same argument for some time now. The things that are in need of retheming and repair need attention first. Even after that is accomplished, I believe that concentrating on new things is not quite as important as getting the CMs what they need in the form of decent break rooms, decent pay, and hiring better CMs. Guests have so much interaction with the CMs. They're a much underrated (and uncared for) necessity in the parks. They are just as important as the attractions.

Scott said...

Now, now…no need to get snappy. I read your entire post.

“Still, there is a troubling current running beneath this trend to pimp up classic E-ticket adventures. With millions of dollars being allocated to these projects, what validates the cost of modifying attractions that aren’t broken?”

“To stop fixing what isn’t broken and start fixing what is.”

Your main points, correct? I get them, and they are the main points that I addressed in my comment. The attractions that will always get plussed or “fixed” are the big draws (Pirates, Mansion, Tiki-Room etc) and they will always get first priority…as they should. That is my point.

People fly out to the vacation kingdoms of the world to experience these gems, and they should always be seen in their most spectacular state. Its always been that way. Its unreasonable to ask anything else. Disney usually gets around to every attraction, but wouldn’t you expect it to take care of the ones that make it money? Would you expect Walt Disney Pictures to spend big bucks to spruce up “The Black Cauldron” but ignore “Beauty and the Beast“?

“The cannonball splashing in Pirates of the Caribbean may be more spectacular today, but the original splash effects were still operational and entertaining.”

This idea concerns me. Are you suggesting that Disneyland’s premier attraction become complacent and stagnate, just because something gets the job done alright? I find the idea outrageous. If they can upgrade an effect, and dazzle the guests even more, then by all means, do it. Pirates has certainly earned it. Keep this treasure fresh and new, and constantly evolving to continually surprise guests, old and new. I just don’t understand your “enough is enough” approach.

Oh, and Merlin, cute quote (seen it before many times) but by doing that, you’re making yourself sound like a press release, or perhaps…just a geek.

Mr Banks said...

Scott,

This is a post about priorities. That means 'the more important consideration', or the ''thing you should do before you do something else'.

Let's say it's your Mommy's birthday and you'd like to get her something with your allowance. You could buy her a purple sweater to go with the pink one she already has. Or you could forego the allowance altogether so that she has more money on hand to pay for the chemotheraphy treatments she's in desperate need of.

Yes, the purple sweater is better than the old pink one, I know.

Mr Banks said...

To Dan Steinberg,

Wow! Where to begin!?

"Are you really saying that we would be better off with the original Space Mountain effects and no soundtrack?"

No.

" That they should be rebuilding the Submarine Voyage in its full 1959 glory?"

No.

" And that Pirates was better with the original "prancing water"-style "explosions"?

Uh, no.

And as for those who believe they've seen it all and aren't going to Disneyland, telling them that Space Mountain is darker and the splash effects in Pirates are splashier isn't going to get them through the turnstiles.

I enjoy many of these new touches as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of letting under-performing areas at Disney Parks East and West rot away in full view of paying guests.

Merlin Jones said...

Scott: >>You geeks need to grow up.<<

Merlin: >>"Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children's approach to life. They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought - sometimes it isn't much either." - - Walt Disney<<

Scott: >>Oh, and Merlin, cute quote (seen it before many times) but by doing that, you’re making yourself sound like a press release, or perhaps…just a geek.<<

Thanks, I'll take the risk.

Careful Scott, being a self-loathing geek can cause ulcers (and the MBAs won't be fooled anyway). ; )

Anonymous said...

"And despite Jack Sparrow's much ballyhood addition to Pirates of the Caribbean neither the movie nor the attraction needed any help getting noticed."

Talk to a lot of the cast members who work the rides .... kids (and some parents) were disappointed and confused that none of the characters from the movie were in the ride.

Surprise! Not everyone who goes to Disneyland is a nostalgia-driven Walt fan who knows the names of the ride designers.

H.P. Hovercraft said...

In December 2006 I visited WDW Florida, and spent a day reacquainting myself with the Magic Kingdom. I managed to take in several attractions which I'd simply never noticed before (my fifth visit, and I only just noticed the Swiss Family Treehouse!), but the highlight of every visit for me has always been the Haunted Mansion, ever since the first time I experienced it at age 7 (eyewitnesses testify that I did cover my eyes and shriek the entire time).

In late 2006, I rode the Haunted Mansion once. It broke down four times during the ride. Four times the conveyor stopped, all sound effects halted, and the same message was broadcast, barely audible over the squeaking of old animatronics in disrepair. While it was fascinating to have an opportunity to get a good look at everything going on in each room, the experience seriously diminshed my engagement in the attraction. It was enough to make me want to cover my eyes and scream, for an entirely different reason.

Smilee306 said...

"Surprise! Not everyone who goes to Disneyland is a nostalgia-driven Walt fan who knows the names of the ride designers."

But shouldn't the park appeal to everyone, us geeks and the average consumer? This website is mainly for us geeks who know the difference, and there's obviously enough of us out there concerned with the state of the parks that Disney should be paying attention. We're geeks because when we first went as average people, something hooked and amazed us and made us want more. I think the whole Re-Imagineering blog is right on, and it gives me hope that it's coming from people within the company. Changing any ride should be done with the consideration - is this what's best for the ride, for our customers, for Disney? That will keep everyone happier, geek and normal alike.

Nicholas F. said...

I don't know I myself happen to be a teen who is a big Disney fan and it seems that they are trying to make fixes to make these classics more relevant to today's audience. I talk to fellow students an they often describe there Disney experiences as boring and for little kiddies. People want to see scarier things in a Haunted Mansion, want to see there favorite star in the classic he was based on, and want to rock out on a roller coaster to a band they know ala Rock'n'Roller Coaster. I do believe that these other attractions do need to be repaired for I know first hand the state they are in. The Mansion in Walt Disney World has major audio problems as does the Country Bears. I think that the heart is in the right place at the wrong time. Fix them then update and put new life into the attractions. Imagineers, keep on keeping on!

Merlin Jones said...

>>I talk to fellow students an they often describe there Disney experiences as boring and for little kiddies. People want to see scarier things in a Haunted Mansion, want to see there favorite star in the classic he was based on, and want to rock out on a roller coaster to a band they know ala Rock'n'Roller Coaster.<<

WDI executive or Disney Parks marketing director?

Joe Shelby said...

having just been to WDW and dealt with the Haunted Mansion, i've got a higher priority item with that than even fixing the speakers:

Fixing the wheelchair access.

Yes, the nature of "Doom Buggies" makes for a hassle for the cases where there simply is no way for the person to talk the distance between their chair and the buggy on the moving platform, but that can become the rarity of transfers rather than the primary. Today, at WDW, chair access requires going in the back door and totally missing the stretch room. All it would take is that little cut-through corner turn from entrance to exit just like Space Mountain and *every* single Disney Studios and Epcot ride has, added with a stationary platform at the start of the moving track in the entrance section which Disneyland's has.

Nicer still would be some magical way to adapt the doom buggies to take a passenger without a full pause, but i'm sure they've been arguing with that problem for 40 years and nothing's changed, so I'm sure it's unsolvable.