Monday, February 27, 2006

Hub Bub?

At one time, the hub at Disneyland was more like a grand finale to Main Street. It had the elegant Plaza Inn and Plaza Gardens restaurants flanking the exit and the Carnation Gardens over on the far left side. When you were in the hub, you had the feeling that you were not only still in the turn of the century small town, but had entered into a little park of the era, with magical paths around the perimeter that showed glimpses of other worlds that gently drew you in. It provided a comfortable transition to the other lands and also had a sense of place.

Over the last ten years or so, the theme has been compromised, and the well planned magical little vistas that used to draw one smoothly into the various lands are slowly degrading. For instance; when the old Carnation Gardens restaurant was torn out a few years back, it was replaced with a practical expanse of walkway and some generic ‘back of western type building’ facades to hide the newly exposed backs of the Frontierland buildings. Now we are presented with a view there of what looks like a functional backstage break area, and the single magical little path that was the main entrance into Frontierland now has a cheaper twin. Cha-ching! Another little piece of the magic is gone. A better solution would have been to put some tall trees there to mask the building backs. Or better still why wasn’t it replaced with an even nicer Victorian Pavilion type eatery or attraction?

When you exited Main Street into the hub over the last few years and turned left, a sign in front of the vacant Plaza Pavilion proclaimed it as the “Annual Passport Processing Pavilion”. So a guest might think, “Oh, I’ve left Main Street now; here is an old building that used to be part of it somehow, but now they’re selling passports there.” So right away the smooth continuity of the theme is broken and it jogs the guest back into the world of today, leaving them impressed with the notion that Disney would rather use a themed building to sell things than to keep it integral to the story they were once telling. Cha-ching! Another piece of the magic is gone. Solution: Sell annual passports out at the front gate. Can’t we find a use for that beautiful old building or replace it with something better that fits the theme?

The placement of the Astro-Orbiter at the edge of the hub has already been written about, but to reiterate, the vista and view into the world of tomorrow that used to draw you in is gone. Instead you have this dark looming hulk of a thing bordering the hub almost repelling you back. Cha-ching! Another little piece of the magic is gone – another smooth transition lost. Solution: Nuke it!

The Partners statue of Walt and Mickey and the surrounding bronzes of other Disney characters at the very center of the hub are also out of place if we want to maintain the theme of the area. Although a wonderful tribute for the 50th anniversary, they pull the observer out of any sense they might have had of being in that small town park, and back into the present day again. Would these statues be better off somewhere else? One could argue that maybe they could fit in as something you might see in a turn of the century park and particularly in a Disney version of one - but maybe not.

These hub area theme issues are a good example of the kind of questions you need to constantly be asking and resolving in every part of every land in the park as you go about Re-Imagineering Disneyland.


Anonymous said...

"The Partners statue of Walt and Mickey and the surrounding bronzes of other Disney characters at the very center of the hub are also out of place if we want to maintain the theme of the area."

Um, if that's the case - then shouldn't that apply to the castle too - you don't see too many of those in turn-of-the-century parks.

Bigby said...

love your website. I'll be linking you up in my blog shortly...

John Hench stated in Christoper Finch's classic "The Art of Walt Disney":

"If you look carefully at Main Street, and at all the rest of the Magic Kingdom, you will find that the visitor is taken, step by step, through a sequence of related experiences. We never jar them -- we just lead them along, making the trip as interesting as we know how."

As I wrote my college honors thesis on the theming and show components of the MK (Florida edition), I found this quote (specifically the "never jar them" part) to be what struck me the most. Even in the early '90's, when things were really booming, it seemed that every new decision chipped away at this. Chip... chip... chip... until finally you are left with less theme, less magic, more "jarring," and less uniqueness as compared to your average metal everywhere roller-coaster park. Of course, New Tommorowland was a little bit more than just chipping, but I digress...

Anonymous said...

AStro Orbitor needs to move back to its original location. It is ugly with old those gold brick things around. . Bring back the people mover with an Incredibles theme

Anonymous said...

AStro Orbitor needs to move back to its original location. It is ugly with old those gold brick things around. . Bring back the people mover with an Incredibles theme

Bigby said...

Might as well throw in my other favorite Hench quote (strap in... this one's kinda long, but very much on-topic). You can see from these quotes why John Hench is one of my heroes:

"Interestingly, for all its success, the Disney theme show is quite a fragile thing. It just takes one contradiction… one out of place stimulus to negate a particular moment’s experience. Take that street car conductor’s costume away and put him in double knit slacks and a golf shirt… replace that old Gay Nineties melody with a rock number… replace the themed merchandise with digital clock radios and electric hair dryers… tack up a felt-tip drawn paper sign that says ‘Keep Out’… place a touch of astro turf here… add a surly employee there… it really doesn’t take much to upset it all.

What’s our success formula? Well, it’s attention to infinite detail… the little things, the minor picky points that other companies just don’t want to take the time, the money, the effort, to do right. As far as our Disney organization is concerned… it’s the only way we’ve ever done it… it’s been our success formula in the past and it will be applied to our future projects as well. We’ll probably still be explaining this to outsiders at the end of our next two decades in this business."

Anonymous said...

Wow, you guys *really* really hate Disneyland, don't you? I realize the point of your blog is to vent a bit, but is there anything you LIKE? Any magic in the park, still?

I realize you're talking about RE-imagineering, and that's cool - let's definitely look at what's been done and why it might have been bad. But isn't there anything good to learn from? Anything that just shouldn't change, because it works?

Anonymous said...

A friend and I noticed the hub problem last time we were there and came up with a great idea for a retheming. There are a number of great Disney movies partly set in a romanticized city setting- think Lady and the Tramp and Aristocats. Those characters are well-loved and could use a place in the park, and best of all a bit of city theming would be so appropriate branching out of Main St. and before reaching the Frontier or the Future.

Our idea was to take one those large hub restaurants and make the exterior theming bleed from Main St. into the Italian restaurant in Lady and the Tramp. People could sit and eat, actors could swoop around playing the two Italian guys and playing accordion and mandolin. Then (and I know this is a little Chuck E. Cheese) a rotating stage could feature the characters performing hit songs from the movies.

And I know some people think Walt is anti-city, but I think not. He just had an urban planner's eye for improvement.

Anonymous said...

I think the Walt and Mickey statue is well-situated, since the hub is not so much a part of Main Street, as Main Street is one of several spokes leading to the hub.

Clearly, work needs to be done on the hubs to make the transitions into each of the lands as good as they once were, and to remove some of the clutter that prevents people from being drawn into the lands.

(Side note: my family's biggest frustration in a Disneyland experience is finding a suitable place to watch fireworks. Of course, everyone wants to see them while looking at the castle. But the hub is always so crowded at this time, with many more objects than there used to be blocking your view of the sky and it not being clear where is an permissible place to wait for the fireworks without soon getting trampled by foot traffic.)

Anonymous said...

The Hub has lost a little of its magic by the removal of some of the original trees, allegedly to improve views of the Castle projections during the 50th celebrations. It seems wispier and less inviting now than in the past.

The addition of "Partners" and the mini character statues is charming, and the perfect spot to honor Walt in his original Park. One of the real positive additions to the Park's unique sense of place.

Move the Astro Orbiter out of the vicinity and back to the Rocket Jets' original platform. While I do not mind its design, it is jarring in its present location, disrupting the Hub's charm with its none too subtle transition into Tomorrowland. It looks especially odd when viewed from the adjacent Victorian era restaurant.

Turn the empty Plaza Pavilion into a table service restaurant a la Tony's in WDW, as mentioned above. I've always thought the Lady and the Tramp theming is perfect for Main Street's era, and Disneyland could use another higher end restaurant like the Blue Bayou. The outdoor patio dining area, especially at night during SoCal's many favorable weather months, would add a charming magical touch to the Hub area and extend the Main Street theming with a vitality currently lacking.

I do miss the Carnation ice cream parlor. It was a great place to enjoy the bandstand. The current empty space looks neglected and a bit too 'backstage'.

Pragmatic Idealist said...

There are several problems with the "Partners" statue, but, in regards to its placement, having Mr. Disney point towards Sleeping Beauty Castle from Christmas Tree Point at Town Square makes much more sense.

It would be a relatively subtle stylization that directs the attention of guests to the big stylization, which is the storybook castle at the end of Main Street.

Eddie Lin said...

I used to work at the old Plaza Pavilion and occasionally at the long gone Tahitian Terrace (now Aladdin's Oasis). What I really hate about Disney not doing anything with the Pavilion is that everytime I walk past it, I feel like I have to put my chef whites back on and when I tell the new generation who works there what the Pavilion used to be, they look at me with that "you're crazy, old man" look. The Pavilion had the best fried chicken and chicken strips. Urp.