"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."-- Robert Brault
In the rush to create the latest and greatest multi-million dollar E-ticket, one has to wonder why Walt Disney Imagineering doesn't pay more attention to the power-- and value-- of investing in the multitude of smaller touches that separate Disney's themed environments from the rest of the pack.
Fortunately, those smaller yet extremely satisfying projects aren't completely out of vogue. Witness the wonder of the newly refurbished Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough at Disneyland. It's not the only reason someone would visit the park, but it's definitely one of the reasons people keep coming back for more.
In a self-contained park such as Disneyland, those smaller touches are arguably easier to conjure and create. It's not difficult to add layer after layer of detail when you have a relatively small canvas to work with. Walt's park is also blessed with the power of nostalgia. Anything added at Disneyland needs to have that Disney look and feel. The guests demand it, and the company and Imagineers deserve a great deal of credit for respecting and adhering to those "old school" principles that, while sometimes creatively frustrating, have served the park well for decades.
In the early days of Walt Disney World, back when the Florida property was much smaller and easier to manage, that famously obsessive attention to detail flourished. For nearly a quarter of a century, Walt Disney World had the genuine look and feel of a true Disney environment. It seemed back then as if Imagineers held sway over everything--right down to the manhole covers and beyond.
But as the canvas expanded, and new parks and resorts emerged, Walt Disney World lost its creative focus. Today, the respect for theme has all but disappeared; lost are many of those wonderful "worlds within the World" that transformed the soggy swamp into an escapist utopia.
Recently, I had the wonderful (if not exhausting) privilege of escorting my energetic and inquisitive pre-schooler through the grounds of the Fort Wilderness Campground, truly one of the crown jewels of Walt Disney World. After taking a leisurely stroll, we headed back to the parking lot via the resort's internal bus system.
As the pine trees and campsites passed by our windows, a recorded voice came over the loudspeakers to tell us more about what we were seeing. This new automated voice system now operates on busses throughout Walt Disney World, and while the technology that makes it possible is undoubtedly cool, the attention to theme falls just a bit short. There is themed music on the bus, but the voice on the loudspeaker is "the" voice of Walt Disney World, the same voice you hear on the monorail, the same voice you hear on bus after bus after bus. And while the announcer's deep monotone is certainly attention grabbing, on the internal bus at Ft. Wilderness, it also, sadly, seems woefully out of place. Gone is the suspension of disbelief, gone is the feeling of being lost in the wilderness. Yes, we are on a bus in the wilderness, but it's the voice that breaks the illusion, reminding us, after all, that it's not really the wilderness, it's only Walt Disney World. Perhaps they were going for a Jack Wagner kind of presence here, but the execution is jarring-- and misses the mark. An opportunity to add to the immersion has been squandered, or at the very least, overlooked.
By way of contrast, cast your mind back to the early days of Walt Disney World. You're about to enjoy a trip down one of the water slides at River Country. You ascend the rock formation that serves as a staircase and peruse the "wanted" posters at the summit. The fresh Florida breeze blows through the partly cloudy sky over your slightly sunburned skin. Suddenly, a voice calls out over the uptempo banjo music:
"Welcome to 'Whoop 'n' Holler Hollow'! Now the water below us is up to six feet deep, and has a strong current. Only experienced swimmers should use the slide."
Those of us who remember River Country can instantly hear the old cowpoke's voice as he implores us to use caution. They didn't have to do it that way back then, but they did, and that simple themed voice-over remains a fond memory to this day, one of those small but inexplicably satisfying finishing touches that transforms mundacity into pure magic.
Yes, I know, some would argue that the typical Florida guest doesn't care about the details anymore. And harping about the voice on the bus is admittedly very, very picky. But Walt Disney World is supposed to be a collection of unparalleled immersive environments. Anything that detracts from that immersion needs to be addressed.
Fortunately, it won't cost a fortune to remedy the situation. Curbing the internal busses at Ft. Wilderness in favor of the old steam trains that used to traverse the campground would be beyond wonderful; but for now, let's be reasonable, and focus on the little things. In this uncertain time of smaller budgets and economic anxiety, a series of very small fixes might be just what the doctor ordered.
Walt Disney Imagineering would be wise to seize this opportunity, visit Florida, and take a much-needed inventory of all those missing details at Walt Disney World. Start by separating the property back into its individually themed environments. What works? What doesn't? What's missing? What can we add?
A holistic approach by Imagineering-- a renewed interest in, and creative ownership of, all of Walt Disney World-- would refresh the property and restore the Disney shine like never before. It's a simple, cost-effective approach. And here in Florida, it represents some tender loving care that's long overdue.
"Never neglect the little things. You can never do your best, which should always be your trademark, if you are cutting corners and shirking responsibilities. You are special. Act it. Never neglect the little things."
-- Og Mandino