Monday, February 05, 2007

Be Yourself


There’s a story, well known to Disneyphiles, which tells of the origin of the now somewhat infamous practice of updating classic Disney attractions. It goes something like this...

Walt was roaming Adventureland disguised as a floppy-hatted tourist when he overheard an authentic tourist quip, “We don’t need to go on this ride. We’ve already seen it.”

The guest was referring to Walt’s beloved Jungle Cruise. Walt then decided to change a very serious African Queen-esque river excursion into a Bob Hope road show picture. The initial change was greeted skeptically by some purists at first, but the light-hearted cruise soon won over the lot.

And why shouldn’t it? It fulfills the most important tenets of Disney entertainment. It appealed to all ages, it enveloped the audience in an immersive environment and it demonstrated world-class showmanship via whimsical character design, clever staging and good-natured humor--delivered, with varying degrees of success, by Disneyland’s driest wits.


Fast forward to the mid-1990s. Another of Walt’s classic attractions was getting snubbed by guests and on both coasts no less. The Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland and its almost identical cousin, “Tropical Serenade” at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, were regularly receiving the ultimate insult in show business. Large portions of their audience were actually standing up and walking out in the middle of the show, a problem even more pronounced at the tourist heavy Florida property. Disneyland’s solution was to cut the show time and drastically reduce operating hours (a trademark solution of the Pressler era). Though difficult to believe, Walt Disney World management had more old-school Disney types in power at the time who had no problem asking the much maligned question “What would Walt have done?” They decided to do the right thing and update the attraction, shortly thereafter putting a call in to Walt Disney Imagineering.

Walt Disney Imagineering was hip deep in their hip-and-edgy phase. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter proved WDI could live on the edge; the “boring” subject of Energy was given the Hollywood treatment with Ellen Degeneres, Bill Nye and Jamie Lee Curtis; even food rocked in the mid-90s. This ultra hip band of Imagineers decided WDW’s Tiki room should get the same treatment, and Tiki Room Under New Management was born.

The premise is that Aladdin’s Iago and Lion King’s Zazu have taken over the show because Jose, Michael, Pierre and Fritz can’t keep butts in the seats. Talk about literal storytelling.

Iago: You are boring Tiki birds. I'm a big cele-birdy. That's why I'm gonna go and change your show. Ain't it great to have a friend like me?

Jose: But seƱor, we've done the same show...

Fritz: Ya, since 1963.

Iago: My, how time flies. Get a life, you guys! You're ancient history. Can your tails do this? Can your wings do that? Can you bad birds sing, in punk or rap? Can ya rock and roll? Well, listen here. It's a whole new world, so ya better get hip, Or your audience will disappear.

“Abrasive,” “Rude,” “Disrespectful,” “Disgraceful,” “Obnoxious,” were some of the less colorful adjectives used in the torrent of guest comments flooding City Hall when the attraction reopened in 1998.

It’s important to note, however, that the original announcement to add Iago and Zazu to the Tiki Room received no protest of any kind, no guest complaints, nothing (later that same year the Save Toad campaign was organized to prevent Toady’s eviction from the vacation kingdom). Repeat guests and cast members were genuinely excited about the addition of two characters from their favorite films.

That is, until they saw the show.

Once the show opened, it received one of the most negative guest responses to any in Disney history. But guest response wasn’t Walt Disney World’s only problem. Front line managers discovered they had a problem with some cast members making fun of certain Disney attractions in front of guests. The cast members cited Iago’s behavior as an excuse. (Iago says at the end of the show, “I think I’ll head over to Hall of Presidents and take a nap”.)

A very angry Walt Disney World management team forwarded these concerns (from guests and management cast members alike) on to WDI. Those hip-and-edgy Imagineers read, digested, discussed and then concluded, “We will need to be more careful when updating classic attractions.” So, lesson learned. The End.

Well, maybe there’s a little more to it than that. There was no denying repeat guests wanted the update; they were excited about it. It wasn’t simply that Disney messed with an attraction they loved. It was that Disney messed up an attraction they loved.

WDI took away only a very superficial version of the lesson they could have learned. The lesson they learned was superficial because their relationship to the attraction was superficial. The evidence? A year and a half later they took the beloved Journey Into Imagination and beat it into submission--yielding Journey into YOUR Imagination. But that wasn’t the end of it. The Hip and Edgy division of WDI transformed their own creation, Alien Encounter, into Stitch’s Great Escape four years after the Imagination train wreck. Hip and Edgy Inc. didn’t think of Journey Into Imagination or Alien Encounter as classic attractions, so, both of them were fair game. Those who do not learn from their mistakes are condemned to repeat them.


Let’s see if we can learn the lessons of the Tiki Room Under New Management now. The heart of the Tiki Room was very much intact before the refurbishment. The character design, the art direction and the music were excellent. (In fact, 50s tiki kitsch saw a resurgence around the turn of the century, which Disneyland’s Tiki room benefitted from.) So, what was the problem?

To start with the show was too long. Disneyland made the right move by cutting the Offenbach piece. And the technology was dated (obviously). When the show premiered, it felt like magic. That’s why it was called the Enchanted Tiki Room. It needed new technological enchantment. It needed something that made the guests ask, “how’d they do that,” just like they did back in 1963. But, and this is an important ‘but,’ any changes must be consistent with the mood, style and flavor of the original attraction. This can only be done by someone who understands why the attraction was charming to guests in the first place; it can only be done by an artist who understands the original artist’s intent.

The good-natured humor at the Jungle Cruise was, and is, a winner. The abrasive crude humor of Iago (and Stitch) is, well, abrasive and crude. Who out there enjoys having a huckster parrot call them suckers for 10 minutes? And for that matter, who really wants to smell Stitch’s chili-dog breath or the odor of synthetic skunk in the Imagination Institute? A comic relief character like Iago, without any drama to require relief from, is pointless. Stitch without Lilo is heartless. And Figment without Dreamfinder is just sad.

When Disney tries to be hip, it looks like a good-natured dorky kid trying to act cool. The good kid always comes off looking like a jerk. We like the good-natured dorky kid; he reminds us of ourselves. (That’s why audiences fell in love with Mickey Mouse, isn’t it?) The kid needs to grow and change, but if he changes into another person, if he isn’t true to himself, we won’t like him anymore. I’m sure the Imagineers who made Tiki Room Under New Management saw the film Aladdin. Did they miss the message? It’s very simple.

Be yourself.

Just be yourself.



Be Disney and be proud of it.


49 comments:

Bruce said...

Thanks for saying it. Why is Disney trying so hard to not be Disney? When has Disney ever been synonymous with hip? Never. ANd they look foolish every time they try it.

Disney is about warm fuzzy feelings, feeling good about yourself and the world we live in. Yes it may not be the fashion of the moment, but why try to twist yourself into something that you are not?

Being a bit corny is something Walt himself seemed proud of being. Yes he and his compnay got called a lot of names for it but it certainly didn't stop them from becoming giants of the entertainment world. Corn, heart, americana, wonder, new technologies and innovation are at the heart of what Disney is.

Somehow the decision makers have forgotten or become embarassed by that rich history. It's sad to see.

pragmaticidealist said...

"The worst among us is not without innocence, although buried deeply it may be. In my work, I try to reach and speak to that innocence by showing it the fun and joy of living; showing it that laughter is healthy... and that the human species, although happily ridiculous at times, is still reaching for the stars."

-Walt Disney

2ndrodeo said...

Well put and great post. Those attractions didn't work because the characters themselves weren't true to themselves, and, as you said, Disney wasn't true to itself. Hopefully, lessons have been learned, and the new regime of higher ups will make better, positive changes, in the tradition that the company was founded on. The new plans for TSI seem to be following it, and listening to the guest comments that have already been well voiced.

Anonymous said...

It's still every bit as offensive. I made the mistake of taking my 4-year-old, who loves the Disneyland Tiki Room, to WDW's "Under New Management" Tiki Room last year. They should just shut the fucking thing down if they can't fix it. It's insulting and disgraceful. The only thing worse that I've encountered WDW is possibly DinoLand USA, although that at least isn't cynical and obnoxious.

Digital Jedi said...

You can't imagine how disgusted I was to see Stitch in Alien Encounter. Here was an attraction that actually succeed at being edgy, without putting any one's health in real danger (unlike some SPACEy rides I can think of). The attraction had an apparent heart and was not all that "TERROR"fying considering the quips and site gags strewn throughout. It may not have been classic Disney style, but it was certainly a step forward in entertainment technology. I think even Walt would have gotten a kick out of some of the elements.

So what really confuses me is that in all this endeavour to hit on something "edgy", when they actually succeed this time and create something that has some genuine "re-ride-ability", they nix it to make it more kid-friendly (and, conversely, less desirable for adults).

From an observer's point of view, (which is all I can offer at this point) it looks like Imagineering was second guessing, not only what they perceived as what the public would like, but even their own decisions. You have to have faith in what Disney stands for, to be sure. But you also need to have a little faith in yourself.

Oh, and Tongoroa, that's beeeee yourself. :P

Beerzie Boy said...

Agreed. Besides, if the whole world's ironic, what's the point of irony?

Anonymous said...

Actually, the problem with Alien Encounter was just that:
The re-ride-ability wasn't there.
There were never any lines.

Once you had been on it once, you knew what was coming, and it wasn't really scary anymore.
The only reason we went on it again, was to show someone who hadn't been on it before.

The effects were becoming dated already. The shoulder harnesses weren't doing the trick anymore to make you think there was an alien above you.

They could have done WONDERS with this if they had done it right with Stitch. 3D, lasers, randomness to the show...

We'll be seeing the new show for the first time shortly. We'll let you know more ideas after that.

Anonymous said...

I for one enjoyed the Extra TERROR estrial show. I think it gave Tomorrowland the perfect "edge". it was some thing totally unexpected and it appealed to teenagers and adults. I remember the first six times I enjoyed the show, adults screamed the longest and and the loudest. It was fun seeing other people really have Fun. We truly shared an Intense experience. As for the Stich version I saw it once and have no need to see or smell it again. My theory is that adults and teen agers enjoyed the Extra TERROR, because it was fun to react with each other and be scared out of our minds while laughing, thisis Disney afterall. But Stich without Lilo, well it is not really scary, it's not a completely cute story since Lilo is back in Hawaii.- I say PLEASE Bring back the Terror ALIEN. It fun to see felow guest really inter act! As oppose to teens and adults say, ok I am heading over to hall of Presidents to take a nap, since I could not sleep during Stich, his smells kept me awake.

Anonymous said...

This site is a breath of fresh air to me! I always thought I was alone in my feelings about our Magic Kingdom. On to my comment: I'm always amazed that Disney's solution to updating an existing attraction here lately is to simply add in a popular new character. I really loved Alien Encounter for many reasons. But firstly..it was an ORIGINAL idea! Wow! There's a concept, huh? I really hate all this stale character driven crap (Buzz, Stitch). Hey, let's keep that in Fantasyland please. The other lands are for things created specifically for the parks. New tales and adventures to be had is what we should find there! Where has the real magic gone? I hope it comes back home soon. I know it exists when I experience something like DisneySea and Expedition Everest.
And an additional thought: I wish they would keep Pixar stuff at the Studios. It doesn't seem Kingdom-worthy to me.

Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'd pay cold hard cash for the opportunity to take a shotgun into Tikki Birds and promptly dismiss Iago. Hmmm...maybe it should be turned into a shooting gallery with the original birds cheering on the guests as they take out Iago?

(I still haven't been back to see it even after my first time nearly 7 years ago.)

David H

Little Nemo said...

Thank you! I HATE "hip" and "edgy"!

Since when has cynical, sarcastic, negative, mean-spirited and ugly (supposedly) become funny and entertaining?

At first I, too, found it a bit jarring to see Pixar attractions at Disneyland, but I now don't mind for the simple reason that I think Pixar is the last bastion of real Disney spirit within the Disney empire.

Pixar -- alone among the current animation studios (including Disney's own in-house computer animation studio) -- scorns "hip" and "edgy" and instead isn't embarrassed to portray real -- and timeless -- sincerity, heart, goodness, and sentiment. In other words, "corn." Add to that their Walt-like commitment to quality and innovation, and ...

Surprise! They have one hit movie after another, not a flop in the bunch, while everyone else scratches their heads and tries to figure out the "secret" of Pixar's success.

Anonymous said...

The thing I find disturbing and ironic about this whole thing goes back to Epcot.

Epcot failed in many people's eyes because it could not be kept current. When you predict the future, you run into the problem of the present catching up. So, it becomes dated.

Well, "hip" and "edgy" is even more dangerous in this regard. How many social issues have come and gone in the last 5 years as opposed to Epcot's 25? I would argue that Horizons would be much more relevant and appropriate today than would the current dialogue and character/song choices of the current Tiki (WDW). Interesting since Horizons was designed around 1981 while the Tiki overlay was around 1996.

As with so many things, the reach for longevity is simply not there. The analogy to the good kid acting cool is great. It's fun to watch once or twice. You like the edge and maybe the brashness for the humor of it. But, it loses its luster quickly. However, when something tugs at the child-like strings; that good kid that is, in fact, in everyone, it lasts MUCH longer.

I guess Disney was the parks to me growing up, so I have no attachment to the characters. However, the feelings of fun, inspiration, charm, and easy wittiness that both I, my parents, and my grandparents all experienced at our first visits in the mid-80's speaks volumes.

Today's WDW is meant to be experienced by kids or through kids. I would highly argue that when WDW was at its best, it was a place experienced by kids, but it realized that age had no bearing on that term. You experienced it for yourself.

M. Alice said...

Terrific post. I remember the Tiki Room from childhood and didn't check out the updated version when I visited WDW this past December. I was hoping your entry was going to go on and relate how the Imagineers stepped back in to revise their Tiki Room revisions -- but I guess they didn't.

There is so much great *storytelling* in many of the attractions, it's a shame to behold lost opportunities. There's so much you can do with a dark ride, or a regular "theater" show.

The Imagination ride is a true bummer. That "skunk" smell gets used far too often throughout the attractions, it's a cheap gross-out for kids.

I figure the Disney Theme Parks must maintain a delicate balance between nostalgia and progress.

People go to Six Flags to get their rocks off, but the pilgrimage to Disney is built up as more sacred. These are people's cherished memories you're dealing with. A father wants to take his daughter to the "Peter Pan" ride he went on when HE was a child.

But times change. I don't think there's a way to please everyone, but I think there's a way forward without dishonoring the past.

Anonymous said...

Tongaroa, I think you must be able to read my mind. I have yet to disagree with you on any point.

When I took my first trip to Epcot, I was dying to finally see the Journey Into Imagination that had so fired up my imagination in a cover story article from the Electric Company magazine twenty-some years before. Instead I got a noisy, flashy, smelly mess that sparked my imagination only trying to find ways to get off before the end. Crushing disappointment.

Same with the Tiki Room's new management. The awesomeness of the goddess animatronic was overshadowed by awfulness of the rest of the show. The only reason Mom and I stayed through the end was we kept hoping it just started bad and might get better. What a waste of time.

The problem with "edgy" and "hip" is how fast they become "dated" and "stale".

William said...

Hi --

I just ran into this blog today (no one was hurt), and am delighted beyond belief. Thank you to all of the contributors from this fan of WDI at its best.

As a bit of background, for about 9 years I "ran" the Unofficial Walt Disney Imagineering Page at http://imagineering.org/. Time and changing interests made it necessary to hand off that site to new, fresh blood. Still, too often I go through the Disney parks and think, "Wasn't this better when..." or "This isn't just up to their abilities."

Thanks again for your great work and analysis. I'm looking forward to reading through all of the posts and feeling some of that Magic again.

Bill Wilson

/bsdb said...

little nemo opined:

Since when has cynical, sarcastic, negative, mean-spirited and ugly (supposedly) become funny and entertaining?

Since those are the very qualities apparently deemed 'vital' to become an Imagineering executive. For only those professionals who are cynical, sarcastic, negative, mean-spirited and ugly have the cajones required to stab their colleagues in the back and fight the dirty fight needed to claw one's way to the top of the WDI food chain.

Once these positions of Creative Leadership are bestowed upon the Disney Faithful and not granted to the gladiators who drew the most blood, then all will be right with the Disney Theme Park Universe.

Anonymous said...

Disney Jungle Cruise at night right before closing > all rides. I always have so much fun on that ride

PolyesterRage said...

I am apparently the only person who thinks the new Tiki Room is actually pretty amusing. And I was someone who really loved the old Tiki Room. Granted I wish the new room did have more to do with the Tiki Birds, but I like Iago, and I think he actually has some funny bits. For example, when Zazu tries to explain "Hakuna Matata," and Iago just yells "HUNKY TUNA TOSTADA!?" I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I like it and it's still one of the attractions that I frequent.

And I just feel kind of annoyed that people were getting upset that a (clearly) ridiculous anamatronic bird was calling them "suckers."

Also, one of the best times I've ever had on the Jungle Cruise was when our tour guide was cracking jokes about the people on the cruise, not just the things going on around it. I mean, that wasn't really in the "Disney style" giving that the guy was making fun of people, but it was funny and it remained a very memorable and amusing experience for me.

I think it all just depends on the things you find amusing. If you're someone who gets offended when an animatronic bird is mean, well, you can't please everyone. For everyone who is offended, there is another person who is amused.

Luckily, I win all around, because I appreciate loud obnoxiousness, and general corny "Disney style" jokes.

Scott said...

I will say that the Nemo and friends ride at Epcot did have that "How the heck did they do that!?" feel when you were near the rides climax/end and the 'holographic' characters were placed in the tank. I know its technically possible, but the way they did it was so detailed, sharp, and bright compared to the methods seen in the past. The ride really is what I hope to see more of in the future of Disney.

jrags said...

All of these posts are wonderful reads and reflect my first reactions each time I visit. Iago insulting the Hall of Presidents puts him in with the Looney Tunes. Is there anything more positive than the Hall ? Yes, the American Experience at Epcot when the fife and drum are out and the children are leading the pledge, everyone is in tears. That is Disney.

Stitch was a better fit than the heavyhanded Xcess Industry at Alien encounter. I do not like myself being told I am the problem for living. This pattern is echoed at Everest for disturbing the spirit of the mountain. What did I do?

Five or six years ago I was at Downtown at Rainforest and around the corner there is the under 10 dollar hallway of stuff. I got a 12 inch Figment for 5 bucks thinking I would never see him again. Glad to see him back.

Dinoland reminds me why I do not go to fast food places with playgrounds. I don't know why.
Dino land and California at Anaheim are the reasons Walt built Disneyland.... to get away from them. One day we will see Main Street closed and somewhere behind the castles a tribute to the Walmart/Target Supercenter will be built, I always thought that would be a good The Onion headline.

Tim said...

Great post. Glad to see you guys open for business again!

The other truly annoying aspect of this phase of Disney Imagineering and films is the odious self-reflexiveness. In movies like Hercules and attractions like Superstar Limo and Under New Management, characters spouted Eisneresque agent jargon. It felt both like the creators were so stuck in their Los Angeles movie biz bubble that they thought everyone enjoyed their little in-jokes and simultaneously like they were sneering at us all for attempting to suspend our disbelief and be taken somewhere fantastic.

Thank God John Lasseter's in charge now. I don't know who to blame for these things, Tony Baxter and Marty Sklar seemed to have their hearts in the right place. What happened? I think the success of Robin William's Genie infected the whole batch of them into thinking they had to write William F. Buckley imitations into everything. Anyway, good riddance.

jrags said...

It is hard to point to Aladdin as a negative since it sits in the middle of the animation renaissance that Disney had but you might be right . Milk has a longer shelf life than coke fueled pop culture references.

Robin shoud have kept it on Johnny Carson's couch.

So I guess he is another to blame why we have Shrek, and its sequels.... and its spinoffs, and skg, ugh.

Lasseter and pixar will save the day.

Digital Jedi said...

I don't blame Aladdin so much. Truthfully, it's not one movies fault. I always saw Genie in the spirit of Merlin from The Sword in the Stone. After all, if your all powerful, your likely going to have been both forward and back on the timeline and make references out of sync with the scene, but not the audience. That's where the true humor of the Genie lies.

No, that's not the problem. The problem is Disney, nowadays, is like that kid who tells one funny joke and now thinks he's this great comedian. Now he thinks everything that ever comes out of his mouth is funny.

They can't have a hit movie, ride or attraction and not milk the thing till its so dry it crumbles. When they were directing American Pie 2, the director jokingly said in an interview that "if one pie was funny, then thirty pies must be hysterical."

Well, that's Disney these days. We've got Nemo Pies all over the respective parks. Nemo was a big hit and, honestly, a great movie. So, naturally, Disney thinks it must mean that the all the parks need to have Nemo merchandise in it, not to mention a character driven ride in every one, even in a park know and respected for not being character driven. Do I even need to mention Pirates? Monsters, Inc? Stitch?

I recently heard a rumor (so I'm taking it with a grain of salt) that The Three Caballeros were being overlaid onto the Rio Del Tiempo. While I question the need to add characters to a Showcase attraction, I worry more that if the overlay is popular, that Disney will start slapping a characters all over World Showcase. Mike & Sully's Maelstrom Adventure?

Digital Jedi said...

PolyesterRage said:
>>>I think it all just depends on the things you find amusing. If you're someone who gets offended when an animatronic bird is mean, well, you can't please everyone. For everyone who is offended, there is another person who is amused.<<<

How much you want to bet there are more then a few people here who find South Park ridiculously funny? Maybe the Simpsons or Futurama or even Family Guy and yet, were still offended by the New Management attraction?

No one is taking the insults of the bird personally. What the problem is, is what place did it have in Disney World? This show started out as a charming, simple show with some entertaining music and whimsical fun. Now the show goes from charming to brash in 5.2 seconds.

Imagine if It's a Small World had characters in it dissing the ride as you went along. Or maybe the Hall of Presidents could have W make some off the wall remarks. Is that an enhancemenet, or a mockery?

It is true that you can't please everyone's sense of humor. But this current incarnation of the attraction not only ignores the nostalgia people had for the original Tiki Room, but mocks them for good measure. I'm certain they could have come up with some Iago style humor without, effectively, calling those people that loved the old one, stupid for feeling that way.

/bsdb said...

tim proclaimed:
Thank God John Lasseter's in charge now.

If only that were true!

Last time I checked, the top tier of the WDI food chain has not changed in over five years. Ditto for Parks and Resorts.

Rasulo still there? check

Goodman still there? check

Fitzgerald still there? check


So what exactly is Lasseter in charge of?

cheshirecatz said...

I found the new Tiki birds to be really, utterly and totally annoying. I wanted to yell "shut up" at them so we could just get on with the Tiki Bird show, which I used to like a lot.

Yes, they are just fake little birds but it is still very rude to call people "suckers" when they have just plopped down an entire mortgage payment to get their family into the park and maxed out their credit card to buy dinner and some souvenirs. At these prices we should receive some love from the animatronics, not insults.

PARISINJUNE said...

I think the biggest problem with "hip and edgy" is that it isn't always pulled off. Iago to me was more like the Little Mermaid film incident- giving someone the finger because they don't know how to say "I'm pissed off at..." so they resort to a 12 year olds way of "I'll show you."
A bigger problem I see is that we have two different groups of people in the company and now the company has expanded considerably, and I don't actually think that the same original format will hold. Disney is no longer just a household name, it's known all over the world. Granted people in general are the same, but means of reaching them isn't. Then there's the economic class factor. What was once middle class for us has now made Americans super wealthy and China has taken our place. The current situation kinda makes me think of a grandfather clock in the manner that every wheel turns differently, but if say the timing mechanism isn't lined up right... then the clock simple won't work or it constantly jumps around so that the time is never acurate.

I guess one question I have for Tongoroa is did you think that the 80's celebrity campaing of "I'm going to Disneyland" was hip and edgy too. because I think there is somewhat of a difference with campaigns vs. attraction layouts. And then your comments now on the TSI redo.

Techno said...

Agree 100% (s I usually do)

If I want hip and edgy, I'll go to Universal, and I do, quite often when Im looking for that, but I don't go to Disney looking for that. I go to Disney looking for classic, memorable fun.

Tongaroa said...

PaisinJune, I never thought of the “I’m going to Disneyland” commercials as being part of the “hip and edgy” trend. I think they were clever and cute and now feel like tradition. Kudos to Jane Eisner on a good idea.

As for TSI, I could go for days on that subject, and summing up my thoughts in short statement will probably not do justice to the issue, but since you asked...

I love Tom Sawyer Island and see no need for additional characters to take up residence there. It would be great if the island were enhanced, improved, or plussed (whichever term you’re fond of) with new technology, new adventures, new details and new places to explore. It would be great if the island got the TLC it deserved and the fort were rebuilt and re-opened. But it seems that is not the way at Disney these days. Marketing drives everything (except Pixar*). And that’s the problem here. The pirates aren’t coming to the island because it is a natural evolution of the place, they’re coming because someone in Burbank thinks it’s marketable. The tie-in with the original Twain story about Tom, Joe and Huck playing pirate is a convenient excuse--an excuse they chose to use only after the internet-inspired public outcry.

The TSI problem is not a part of the hip-and-edgy trend (which is waning now...I hope). It is part of a different problem at Disney. Marketing rules everything now. Those hip-and-edgy guys and gals who created Under New Management, Journey into YOUR Imagination and Stitch’s Great Escape are still around and they realize that they have a new master. Jane’s hubby is gone and now they must bow to the idol of marketing--which they are more than happy to do. Same people...new problem.

...or from another point of view the people themselves are the problem.

* NOTE TO PIXAR - When the Disney Marketing people come knocking, don’t let them in.

Smilee306 said...

"The good-natured humor at the Jungle Cruise was, and is, a winner. The abrasive crude humor of Iago (and Stitch) is, well, abrasive and crude. Who out there enjoys having a huckster parrot call them suckers for 10 minutes? And for that matter, who really wants to smell Stitch’s chili-dog breath or the odor of synthetic skunk in the Imagination Institute? A comic relief character like Iago, without any drama to require relief from, is pointless. Stitch without Lilo is heartless. And Figment without Dreamfinder is just sad."

Amen. I find myself nodding along, and in this case shouting Yes! when I read your comments. Excellent points, put excellently.

Richard Harrison said...

It's important to remind everyone that 'edgy' does not equal 'good' or, for that matter, 'entertaining'. It's also important to remember these re-dos were partially done to counteract the approach Universal Studios took and the initial success of those attractions. (Not to mention the crowds that flocked to see them.) I think Techno touched on this subject but it bears repeating.

Anonymous said...

"/bsdb said...
tim proclaimed:
Thank God John Lasseter's in charge now.

If only that were true!

Last time I checked, the top tier of the WDI food chain has not changed in over five years. Ditto for Parks and Resorts."

Keep in mind that Lasseter said he would only take the Job if he reported DIRECTLY to Bob Iger. John doesn't report to ANYONE in WDI... His boss is THE boss. That was a smart step and I think it will help a lot. Also, I think we should keep in mind that this whole problem isn't so much Imagineering's fault as the MBA dweebs who control their pocketbook strings. Its VERY difficult to be told something like "we want a ride that is Hip and Edgy, No fairytail antics, and you must not spend much more than the park's alloted maintenance budget to build it." As I've read Imagineering posts over the years, thecry which I've heard all too often recently has been "the 1st priority of your innovation and ingenuity is COST. If you want make it as an imagineer you must look at the COST of something before you propose it. The boys upstairs (meaning the Accounting Dweebs) don't take kindly to wild unpractical expenses." What do you when you're told to "think big but keep it small". What does that even mean?

Anonymous said...

There is a factor here that no one seems to consider. The reason some of these attractions get enhancements is not just the marketing angle, it's a sustainment issue. The Park management looks at every square inch of real estate and calculates it's value in throughput and ability to generate revenue. Tom Sawyer Island for example is a low capacity problimatic chunk of ground from an operational standpoint. It's expensive to maintain and from their point of view, a loss leader. There is no incentive to maintain it. And they don't. Look at the condition of the island and surrounding landscaping, the animation and special effects. It's an embarrassment to the Walt Disney Company. WDI knows that the only way to get these type of attractions restored to anything close to the original quality is to apply a new project over the top of it. This generates a flow of resort resources toward the attraction to work alongside the Imagineers to get long broken hardware replaced. It's good business to fix as much as you can as long as the attraction is down for an extended period. And frankly, it becomes a labor of love. To a maintenance guy that has struggled for years just to get enough lamps to keep something lit in "his" attraction, seeing all the momentum of an enhancement restores a little pride. They end up giving a little extra to get as much fixed as possible. A little enthusiasm goes a long way. Pirates didn't end up looking as good as it did because of the movie overlay. It was two years of planning and hardwork on the part of the Anaheim Imagineers who worked hand in hand with a small team of Disneyland engineering and FAM people who understood the value of doing as much as possible during the downtime. Contrast that to their Florida counterparts who had a similar opportunity and completely blew it. The WDW resources that were applied to their Pirates rehab was pathetic. They pretty much left WDI Florida holding the bag and ended up with a cheeseball 50% fluff and buff "Unhancement". Then again, Florida does not give their regular guests the same level of consideration the California park does. The scary thing is that it's this Florida maintenance organization that now directs the California resort and it's show sustainment strategy. Trust me, if it wasn't for Imagineering trying to enhance exisisting attractions, very little would be done to sustain what is there already. You may not like an overlay to a classic attraction and bitch and moan about it all over the intenet but you are also the ones who post pictures of peeling paint and bad show conditions. At least someone is trying to do something about it. Yes, it's an end run around a crippled maintenance division but it is effective. At least on the West Coast. For now.

/bsdb said...

anon tossed down the gauntlet:

Keep in mind that Lasseter said he would only take the Job if he reported DIRECTLY to Bob Iger. John doesn't report to ANYONE in WDI... His boss is THE boss. That was a smart step and I think it will help a lot.

Yeah, I used to believe that as well. But most of John's time is being utitlized in "fixing" WDFA, and managing Pixar. Just how much time is he spending in "fixing" WDI? I'm guessing, not that much.

My view of John's role as Principle Creative Advisor is to keep the executive stupidity inside Glendale from going nuclear. The fact that he directly reports to Iger and not Goodman or Rasulo has no significant relevance to bean counting, since he's bound by the same "keep it cheap" mantra as are the Imagineers. Putting John directly under Iger just gets him out of harm's way with regard to WDI execs who seem to view his input as "meddling."


Also, I think we should keep in mind that this whole problem isn't so much Imagineering's fault as the MBA dweebs who control their pocketbook strings.

Only applicable to those Imagineers with spines. Those who promoted up the food chain by kissing MBA brass are just as guilty as those keeping the pocketbook strings shut.


Its VERY difficult to be told something like "we want a ride that is Hip and Edgy, No fairytail antics, and you must not spend much more than the park's alloted maintenance budget to build it."

Of course it is. Unless you lack the inherent talent to effectively produce the fairytale environment in the first place. Which is probably why the fairytale designers continue to get the boot. (Just ask Steve Kirk and his family.)


As I've read Imagineering posts over the years, thecry which I've heard all too often recently has been "the 1st priority of your innovation and ingenuity is COST. If you want make it as an imagineer you must look at the COST of something before you propose it. The boys upstairs (meaning the Accounting Dweebs) don't take kindly to wild unpractical expenses."

I'm not going to disagree completely with this argument. But I'm not fully buying into it, either. Otherwise, Imagineers like Tony Baxter would have been kicked to the curb, years ago. And rehabs like Monsters Inc in DCA or Pooh in DL would have cost one-third as much and sucked twice as hard.

Cost is a MAJOR factor in the decision of which projects fly and which ones die on the vine. But the political climate has much more to do with project selection and execution.


What do you when you're told to "think big but keep it small". What does that even mean?

It's simply a conundrum utilized by overpriced accountants to justify their lame decisions. As long as the budget stays beneath a certain price point, they get to keep their jobs. Which is all they actually care about.

If the final product for the theme parks turns out to stink like a skunk, well, that's Creative's problem, not theirs. At least, that's what they keep telling themselves and leadership, over and over and over again.

Unfortunately, Iger continues to buy it.

Anonymous said...

If you think that's bad you should head to Disneyland Paris. Two years ago the classic E-ticket that saved the resort, re-invented Disney thrill rides, and introduced the much used onboard rollercoaster soundtrack had its soul completely ripped out of it. Space Mountain- De La Terre A La Lune became Space Mountain- Mission 2, and its never been the same since.
It tried to be hip, cool and modern, which is bad enough for a Disney attraction. But made all the worse by the fact that it was in Discoveryland, the land of the future envisioned from the past. You enter a huge Victorian building through a queue full of modern sattelite photos. Then into a Victorian station, before being loaded into a Victorian cannon, while a modern radio system plays a countdown. The timeless, romantic adventure soundtrack played by a full orchestra was replaced by a 'hip' upbeat techno soundtrack. All of the charm was taken out of the attraction to be replaced by unimpressive special effects.
Where Mission 2 really misses its mark is the vital difference between excitement and thrill. The emotionally detached Mission 2 could no way reach the heights that the original took us.
In the old queue, you came into a room with a domed ceiling painted with a wonderful starfield on a blue background. For Mission 2, Disney simply got black paint and went right over it. This pretty much sums up Space Mountain- Mission 2.

Tongaroa said...

A couple of thoughts I’d like to add based on the posts above...

Regarding WDI Anaheim & Maintenance making lemonade when they are handed lemons: The extra TLC that was given Pirates, and will presumedly be given to TSI, is wonderful. They should be applauded for their efforts. But the purpose of “Be Yourself” was not to address maintenance issues. The purpose was to discuss the creative content generated out of Glendale (the lemons).

Regarding the vilifying of MBAs and blaming all the park’s problems on them...well I’m guilty. I’ve done it...for years. But the truth is, when you have an organization as dysfunctional as WDI, which produces multimillion dollar failures on a regular basis, there is plenty of blame to go around. It is human nature to ask “what is the problem?” The question however presumes that there is only one problem. Yes the MBA mentality is a problem, but so is the current “creative” mentality at WDI. And (as /bsdb said) those with no spine who allow the MBAs to steamroll in and destroy what Walt and his team built, are just as guilty as the steamrollers themselves.

One could make the argument that the “creatives” are even more guilty. The business folks have always fought to keep the costs down...that’s their job. But it is the creative folks who need to fight for higher quality...that’s their job.

And some do fight, but too few.

It’s easy for people outside of Disney to say “Disney does this,” just as it is easy or for people in Anaheim to say “WDI does this” or “Florida does that.” The truth is... there is no group, park, resort or business unit that is all good or all bad. There are business practices and mentalities that are destructive to “Disney.” The mentality that Disney should be hip and edgy is destructive; the business practice of not conducting a post-mortem on an attraction (so the “creative” team can learn what they did wrong) is destructive. And the business practice of promoting people who subscribe to these destructive mentalities is downright corrupt.

Anonymous said...

bsdb said..

"As I've read Imagineering posts over the years, the cry which I've heard all too often recently has been "the 1st priority of your innovation and ingenuity is COST. If you want make it as an imagineer you must look at the COST of something before you propose it. The boys upstairs (meaning the Accounting Dweebs) don't take kindly to wild unpractical expenses."


I'm not going to disagree completely with this argument. But I'm not fully buying into it, either. Otherwise, Imagineers like Tony Baxter would have been kicked to the curb, years ago. And rehabs like Monsters Inc in DCA or Pooh in DL would have cost one-third as much and sucked twice as hard."

Imagineering management sometimes sets reduced budgets or scope reductions even before presenting to corporate management. Thus, they are essentially reducing the quality of attractions before letting corporate management have their say (Iger/Lasseter might have been willing to spend the money if the concept was worth it.)

But, even within that environment, some completely fallacious concepts get green lit, even when they are potentially financially unfeasible and/or creatively flawed, just because they are conceived by “favored” Imagineers. And WDI management will aggressively promote them to corporate management

As for Baxter, he HAS, over the past decade, essentially “been kicked to the curb.” The only reason he’s still with the company and hasn’t been dumped by the current political management is that, if he were let go, it would expose the idiotic management structure that remains in control. But, he’s pretty much just been sidelined. Any of the truly creative ideas he continues to develop can, and have, been taken and given to more cooperative (less passionate for quality/more subservient management favorites) teams. Some of those concepts have been REALLY ground breaking, but under the “direction” of others, fail to realize their full potential.

The Kirks were a little less high profile, but even there, laying them off after one of the most successful Imagineering projects – Tokyo DisneySea, while promoting the “creative force” behind Disney’s California Adventure, just further exposed the absurdity and politically motivated hostility of WDI’s management.

Smilee306@aol.com said...

I just had to comment on anon. down there talking about Space Mountain 2 at Paris Disneyland. I know it's off-topic, but I couldn't agree more, and it put into words the disappointed feeling I had when I rode it after the change. It has to be hip and edgy is not a good enough excuse for most of us anymore. It was a far superior ride before it became "hip and edgy."

captain schnemo said...

I think that even worse than the misguided attempts to create "hip and edgy" attractions (and all the built-in obsolescence that comes with them) is the cynicism. Nothing is more un-Disney than cynicism.

In its most blatant form (the ugly corporate greed in the Alien Encounter, Iago mocking both the guests and a beloved Disney attraction, etc.), it's overtly grating and out-of-place, but there is a more subtle form of it that seems to run through many Eisner era attractions. Many of them insist on coming up with an elaborate "excuse" for anything fun that happens.

I am completely sick of the "Oh no, something has gone wrong!" premise. It's only surprising once, and even worse, it robs you of the experience of just having an adventure for adventure's sake.

The classic attractions don't need any depressing plot devices about mechanical failures ("Hooray, in the future stuff will break all the time!"), they just set you about your way, flying over London, through dark jungles, spooky mansions, etc.

Space Mountain was an exciting trip based on the simple premise that space travel will be cool and fun. The excitement from Star Tours only comes about because your guide is an idiot.

Rather than past attempts to simply present amazing and engaging entertainment, the HISTA show continually apologizes for itself and explains the only reason you had any fun is because your host is a dumbass. ("Oops! Sorry about amusing you!")

As has been said, Disney is all about having a good time without self-conscious worries that you might look like a dork riding a flying elephant or (God forbid) having an emotional reaction to a thrilling piece of entertainment. It's about legitimate connections, not "meta" crap that gives you a cheap out by encouraging you to distance yourself from the material.

And it's also about optimism...who has any use for a pessimistic Disney?

jrags said...

Two decades of riding Star Tours and I always wished I would get in the Starspeeder that actually visited one of the planets promised in the line. Piloted by a wookiee or Wedge maybe?


Let us not forget Lucas' hand in the ride. Since Return of the Jedi he has had complete control and droids, aliens, and creatures have nyuk, nyuked, broke wind and burped since.

I wonder if the Enterprise ride in Vegas plays it straight or the Mudd guy wreaks havoc or maybe a Farengi has to much Romulan Ale?

I do not like Aerosmith but I love every inch of the R and R Rollercoaster. Lets get to the show quickly. Fun! Ok, I can live without the gift shop.

Mission Space ends with a crash land. Talking about cynical. I could think of better endings sitting here. Land next to the Pathfinder, take a soil sample and have it dispensed to you in the cockpit, with a little red rock souvenir. Exit through a Mars simulated atrium with rovers diggin for the water or ice in the soil. Instead its Apollo 13, jr.

Adam Villani said...

"Tenants?" It's "tenets." Pet peeve of mine.

Miehana said...

GENIUS post, Tangaroa!

Jane said...

Thank you for this insightful post on the truly heinous nature of the "Under New Management" Tiki Room. As a former DL cast member who was delighted to see the care lavished on the Anaheim Tiki Room, I was thoroughly appalled this summer when I finally got to witness "Under New Management." I'd heard it was bad, but I wasn't expecting bad Gloria Estefan covers, or an Iago who was both twice the size as the Tiki Room parrots (they're supposed to be the same species!) and who resembled a sack of potatoes with eyes.

After the show, I kept telling my mother, who didn't really remember the original Tiki Room, just how horrible this update was (all I kept thinking was for Iago to shut up so we could all "sing like the birdies sing" already). Thank god I had a copy of the original soundtrack on my iPod back at the hotel to help erase that travesty from my mind.

This isn't to say, however, that I would be opposed to a tasteful and relevant update to the Tiki Room's repertoire. I think it might be intriguing to integrate either or both of the lovely songs from "Lilo and Stitch" ("Hele me no Lilo" or "Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride") into the show, with or without the film's characters. However, if they're going to involve Stitch, it needs to be in a limited manner, and with the tempering presence of Lilo as well. I heasitate to suggest such things simply because I can clearly envision how such ideas could so easily go wrong. (Tarzan's Treehouse, anyone?)

Thomas said...

"Imagine if It's a Small World had characters in it dissing the ride as you went along. Or maybe the Hall of Presidents could have W make some off the wall remarks. Is that an enhancemenet, or a mockery?"

I love the sweet, innocent, even corny true-Disney ethos, and wouldn't attend D-land otherwise -- but even I have to say the examples given above would be hilarious. To an adult.

What Disneyland ought to have is a kind of Mardi Gras, where *everything* gets mocked, and no sacred cow is spared the A-1 sauce. Computer technology provides tools for unprecedented flexibility. There ought to be a "Brooklyn Comic" night, after hours, for a couple of weeks per year. (Heck -- have it during the actual Mardi Gras.) During the day, families get to enjoy the classic sweet Disney presentation. After hours, a separate, paying crowd of People Who Wear Black can show up and be treated to Iago trash-talking Fritz, GWB mangling language at the Hall of Presidents, and the cowboy and Indian at the end of "It's a Small World" getting into a fistfight.

Would never happen, but it's a fun daydream.

Anonymous said...

Well, while Disney’s management DOES pay some attention, ARE THEY LISTENING? Sometimes it feels like they are often just taking steps to do damage control instead of truthfully taking suggestions to heart and actually making corrective measures.

Currently, the creative capabilities at Imagineering remain bogged down. Real creative initiatives are being strangled by financial restrictions. This seems counter to many of the other divisions, which appear to get all the financial support they need. Pirates of the Caribbean wouldn’t have been the success it was if the studio had been under the same sort of budgetary constraints.

Corporate management just doesn’t appear to have the same level of support for the various business units. The parks are a major segment of the company’s foundation. Keeping them in top condition and their attractions at the cutting edge of creativity and technology should be at least as important as a movie, TV network, cruise ships, “niche parks” or resorts.

canucklehead said...

I hate to dredge up the old thread, but I was reading through the comments and noticed something.

Digital Jedi said:
I recently heard a rumor (so I'm taking it with a grain of salt) that The Three Caballeros were being overlaid onto the Rio Del Tiempo.


Sure enough, that revamp was indeed made. And from what I hear, not very well liked.
At least you can use that grain of salt for your margarita when you ride the Gran Fiesta Tour.

Janette said...

Never loose the essence! That's the secret! Disney is Fantasy! Disney is feeling and acting like a kid with no censorship! Disney is where any dream can come true! Disney does not admit violent rides where people can die! Parents bring their kids to play in a safe environment and return home happy! NEVER LOOSE WALT DISNEY'S REAL ESSENCE DESPITE WHAT YOUR COMPETITOR IS CREATING NEXT DOOR!

Midnighteraz said...

On my first trip to WDW I remember being horrified by the changes to the Tiki Room. I kept having the feeling that the "older" characters were humiliated by the additions.
In my childhood I had a copy of the Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room soundtracks and feel in love with both attractions long before I ever went to either park. It is my heartfelt belief that as long as those experiences are kept in tact then Walt's heart is still beating.
Yes update the technology, yes improve the soundtrack but why oh why would you ever think that people have changed so much that adding rude behavior would ever be percieved as entertainment?

Anonymous said...

When I was growing up...I went to Disneyworld 30+ times and Disneyland in California, Once... so I have a large heart full of magical memories at Walt Disney

World in Orlando and of all those memories I cherish those of The Enchanted Tiki Room with Jose and company leading the show... even a 41 years of age I know

all the song tunes and many of the words...I cannot tell you the many times I have even parodied the "Its time for you to Go" ending song to people visiting

and its truly time for them to go :) lol .... In the mid 1990s I was forced to stop visiting WDW like I used to because I found out I needed two total hip

replacement surgeries but that I needed to wait a few years before having them...NOW they are complete and I am ready to return to Disney again and the first

place I intended to go was The Enchanted Tiki Room...I had heard there was an update at WDW so I wanted to preview it BUT after viewing a YOUTUBE version of

Under New Management I must admit shedding a few tears of sadness... No more Jose leading the flock, No "In the Tiki tiki tiki room" no "When the Flowers

Sing".. NONE OF IT IS IN THE WDW SHOW. What the Disney Imagineers were trying to do was Noble, BUT they missed the mark by a million miles... The show

actually insults those of us (quite directly and verbally by the new characters) who enjoyed the old show... My brother just purchased a DVC (disney

vacation club timeshare)membership for all of us to enjoy, so now I can see a long happy future of visits to Disney in our midst... And while yes the

original Enchanted Tiki Room lives on in Disney Land, it is very expensive for us when you consider that we live on the West coast of Florida and only 2 1/2

hours now from Walt Disney World! The Enchanted Tiki Room has always been the first thing I see in my mind and feel in my heart when I think of WDW... Those

birds are alive to me (and yes I understand the robotic technology).... If I had a chance to have my picture with any Disney character, I Love Mickey, Goofy,

etc...BUT my choice always was and always will be with a picture of Jose...


If any Disney Imagineers read this... Please change it back or as a compromise perhaps design the show to alternate at different hours between the new show

and the old show...I know it can be done with a little adjustment.

Disney wants to grant us a Million wishes...I do no want money, nor some special hat, or anything, Just PLEASE consider returning Jose and the Tiki Room to

us at WDW before I get to go there in November (right after thanksgiving).

Bob from Punta Gorda, Fl