Thursday, March 23, 2006


Criticizing ‘Ellen’s Energy Adventure’ at Epcot Center is a tricky proposition. It can easily be argued that when Ellen Degeneres became the host of Exxon’s Universe of Energy in 1996 (both on film and as an Audio Animatronic figure) the original show got a vital dose of pure entertainment value that was sorely missed. Sturm und Drang was replaced with levity and laughs, science fact was replaced with science light and the brooding orchestral score was replaced with, well, the theme song from Jeopardy.

But in their efforts to lighten the tone of the original show Imagineers perpetuated a dangerous trend that if continually embraced in further attractions will threaten to topple one of the company’s greatest legacies- its ability to create timeless entertainment.

From Snow White to Pirates of the Caribbean one of the hallmarks of the Disney brand was its ability to transcend the here and now and take us to worlds of universal appeal populated by characters not threatened by the passage of time or changes in fashion. Classic Disney storytellers deliberately shunned all things anachronistic, keeping a careful eye on any material that threatened to remind audiences of the real world they lived in.

But now with ‘Ellen’s Energy Adventure’ we have Ellen Degeneres playing Ellen Degeneres, Bill Nye playing Bill Nye and Alex Trebek playing Alex Trebek, all of it grounded firmly in 1996 with nowhere to go but stale. You can bet that in a span of time far shorter than the 14 years the original Universe of Energy played we will have long forgotten who Bill Nye was.

If we haven’t already.

Collective wisdom has it that it was Disney’s Aladdin that shattered the timeless taboo when Robin William’s Genie actually impersonated Arsenio Hall. Disney Theme Parks wasted no time in following the trend, with a robotic Regis Philbin, Drew Carrey and Whoopi Goldberg popping out amongst the scenery in DCA’s Superstar Limo, Animatronic Vegetables belting out contemporary rock tunes in Epcot’s Food Rocks and The Tiki Birds rapping like the birdies rap in ‘Under New Management’ back at the Magic Kingdom. Hopefully the fact that only one of these attractions still survives today is lesson enough.

Imagineers are at their best when they refuse to settle for the here and now and instead shoot for the stars. In chasing the hip and trendy they degrade the Disney Brand, cheapen the guest experience and lose out on the far more satisfying reward of creating something truly original, truly profound, truly timeless.

ADDENDUM: For those readers who have taken a certain glee in listing the many anachronistic moments in Disney film and theme park classics, from Pinocchio and Sword in the Stone to the Haunted Mansion and The Tiki Room, we implore you to see the message through the trees. As one reader succinctly put it, "It's a pay me now, pay me later sort of thing. You can invest in undated treasures and have something that lasts a long time, or you can climb on the back of a pop reference and have something that turns over in a few years."


Anonymous said...

It's about freakin' TIME a new article was posted. But it was worth the wait.

It's time to BANISH all "anachronistic" items at the partk. People don't go the the parks to see crap they can see in their living room. They want to be taken AWAY from reality, and live in a fantastic world, even if only for a while.

Anonymous said...

Bill Nye has become absorbed into pop culture. He also was on Larry King Live last summer and has done some new show on PBS as well. He also got married last month too.
Though I do admit that the current Energy has become dated...

Kerry said...

I felt the same way when I saw Aladdin. I thought... who in 50 years will know who all these "characters" Genie is playing. And that's what bugs me so much about all the Dreamworks movies -- they're too trendy. On a side note... I took my kids to see "Curious George" a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised at how "classic" it was.

Back to anachronisms... that is why I'm concerned about the POTC update with Johnny Depp. Hopefully they will let that run for a few years and then return it to it's previous state.

Anonymous said...

Ugh! And you mentioned the unmentionable Superstar Limo! That's got to be the most empty, bile-inducing excuse for a product placement that Eisner's lackies ever dreamed up. As far as Ellen's Energy Adventure, you're right on the money. Especially since today energy is such an important issue.

Edward An said...

i think it was a comment or a post on this blog...and thats when i learned to startling notion of an Imaginear, or even a Disney executive, not knowing what Walt's vision of Disneyland was all about.

Even worse, i also read that some disney employee somewhere didn't even know Walt Disney was a real man!

How absurd is that?!

Kelly Marie said...

all of your articles here, i agree with. i'm surprised to see a blog published by professionals about their company's ups and downs like this, especially disney. but great work. i'm so happy to see people a part of disney that still freakin' care about where the company's going.

Cynthie Thomas said...

There is definitely a place for pop culture references/shows at Disney-MGM Studios. Muppets, Star Tours, Millionaire, Twilight Zone, Aerosmith, Playhouse Disney, Indiana Jones, and on and on.

I agree that it should be kept away from the other parks. Magic Kingdom and Disneyland are truly for fantasy and timeless themes.
Epcot is more like a World's Fair where country's culture and technology of tomorrow is displayed, therefore getting dated too quickly with the 90's references to TV shows.

I enjoy the Ellen version of the ride, but I doubt I will in another few years.

Hey what about at "Timekeeper" version of it. I hate to see that show leave MK.

Scott M. Curran said...

I'll start by saying that I love everything this blog stands for. So many of us have been waiting and hoping for the Pixar deal, for the creative fires to get stoked again, and for Disney to be restored to the level of quality, imagination and storytelling that originally made it untouchable. Whether it’s returning to the height of people moving days or putting real personality into the film characters without relying on the crutch of current pop culture, it is high time we get back to the basics.
I will say that one thing concerns me just a bit...does anyone know if the recent posting on Jim Hill's website about John Lasseter's soon-to-be-crazy and potentially stretched-too-thin schedule is accurate?
Not that I don't think he can do it, or that it won't be a step up from the recent status quo either way, but we all know that the real "genius" of Walt was that he was (with help) the 100% creative force and Roy (with help) was the 100% business force. The Walt component has been missing for far too long and that seems to be what most are expecting of John L.
For Disney to really get back up to speed, back up to quality and back to "you can't top pigs with pigs" (something that recent management clearly forgot...Bambi II??? Geesh!!!), it needs full-time, 100% creative Lasseter & Friends in there turning things around.
Again, I won't stop breathing the sighs of relief I've been breathing knowing that help is on the way in the form of Pixar, Lasseter and company, but I'd sure like to see a non-stretched too thin Lasseter show up to turn things around on a global scale (i.e. not just movies and rides, but with corporate culture, dreaming big, etc.). Sorry for the digression, but I do think this is an important consideration.

Anonymous said...

Bill Nye may be an entertaining fellow, but he's HARDLY been "absorbed into pop culture." He's a passing blip--hardly noticed by a majority of folks in the world. I'd say the same about Ellen Degeneres (except in the case of her BRILLIANT vocal performance as Dory in "Finding Nemo."). But it's not the performers that are the problem--it's the script.

Great Article, though.

Karl Elvis said...

While I laughed at the ellen-and-bill-nye show at Epcot , I was saddened by the un-disney-like feel it had. I remembered the ride as being amazing, and it was now just silly.

It already has a dated feel; I have to hope they replace the current narration with something more in the spirit of the original sometime in teh not-too-distant future.

Anonymous said...

Yes!!! I completely agree. This has been a disturbing trend at WDI for the past several years!

The blog mentioned Ellen's Energy Adventure, Tiki Room Under New Management, Food Rocks and Superstar Limo (aka Stupidstar Lame-o). All great examples, but to point out how serious a problem this has become, let me add...

Sounds Dangerous, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, Journey into YOUR Imagination, Golden Dreams, and the Boudin Bakery Tour.

Merlin Jones said...

The whole "Touchstone" approach to Disney park entertainment is SO "irrelevant and uncompelling"... and "unhip and dredgy." Instantly dated.

We want classic stuff!

Anonymous said...

Whenever I ride the Rockin' Rollercoaster at WDW, I ask myself which band will replace Aerosmith as the hosts when they start to die off. I don't really think about the immersive experience of it at all, just wandering thoughts about how John Mayer will look ushering us into the waiting limos. Or Jason Mraz. Or will it be *shudder* Jessica Simpson and her ilk?
The mind reels.

Kim EM said...

In general I agree with the posting, but that being said one of my favorite Epcot attractions was "Cranium Command. That's about as stuck in the 80's as it gets, but it still worked because the humor didn't depend on the pop culture references. Did one need to know who Hans and Franz were to enjoy their sthick? Or remember Charles Grodin to see the buttoned down mind unbuttoning?

The actors used might be forgotten eventually, but if the scripts are done properly it shouldn't matter. Before 20,000 Leagues was closed down in MK, I distinctly remember James Mason's voice being used. How many folks would have even known he was in the film, let alone younger ones even having heard of him?

I rhink the problem is really that for too many attractions the imagineers (and the suits) substituted celebrity for wit and meaning.

Mr Banks said...

Kim EM. It's important to note that James Mason wasn't playing James Mason. He was playing a timeless character called Captain Nemo, a character that continues to enrapture readers to this day no matter who is playing the role. Ellen Degeneres playing Ellen Degeneres in a theme park attraction is troublesome but when she's playing a character, such as Dory in Finding Nemo, her talent is at the service of something that is timeless. Characters can live on forever. Hip Television personalities of the moment? Not so much.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I miss the original Universe of Energy. The original incarnation of this attraction was daring and spectacular, in many ways. Did it get a bit dated? Individual elements, yes, but the approach, the grandeur, easy to maintain, if only the individual elements had been updated with the same regard, the same concern for tone.

Since when does every rehab have to be about infusing laughs into the storyline? When was the last time Disney created an attraction that truly left you breathless with its dynamism, its statement, its style?

Too few remain these days. Illuminations might qualify, and the American Adventure.

Disney entertainment was often about going for broke, about audacity in showmanship... Now it's too often about off-the-cuff jabs at pop culture, or the invocation of Disney self-deprecation. Enough already.

Impress me.

Anonymous said...

It's neat to see this blog and how successful it is... It definitely brings up good topics. My favorite rides at WDW have always been the ones that seem to have had a lot of care put into them. Whenever I pass by "Sounds Dangerous", I can't help but think someone got a hold of the latest sound technology and made a show around *that* instead of a story (and finding out the best way that technology could serve the story).

Although the animated characters are more timeless than television personalities, it also feels sometimes like there is a push to create an attraction in order to cash in on the height of popularity of a film, or maybe extend the popularity of the characters a bit... Whereas, it seems that lot of the big "e-tickets" are based more on a "high-concept" of transporting the guest to someplace that they couldn't go on their own...

That's why I go to the parks... to feel the magic of being somewhere else entirely... to delight the details, like the piano player on Main Street, and the stores in World Showcase, which complete a feeling of being somewhere else, a magic place that remains relevant despite the fickle winds of popular culture...

Anonymous said...

I have been going to the WDW parks every year since i was six. As a child, EPCOT Center was my favorite park. It was full of science, and it was fun. As has been said many times, it was a different kind of park, and for was something special. I was always a curious child, so seeing all those things, and learning it all was amazing. I remember spiraling up into the ride from the load area sitting with my dad on World of Motion; excitedly waiting to hear Cronkite's voice in Spaceship Earth; sitting at the end screen selection on Horizons with my cousins, and speeding through the desert; riding Journey into Imagination back to back, over and over, and then playing upstairs.

All of these things were so timeless, so capitvating. They seem to be wiping away the heavy education part of the park, even removing "center" from its name...I would imagine because it sounded more like an institution than an amusement park. Heck, I may not have been your average kid, but I never thought of EPCOT Center as an adult park, It was the Magic Kingdom, but instead of Early America, or Tomorrowland, it was Science, Math, Imagination, everything....all the way down to walking around the world in a day. How the heck is that not fun or interesting? Maybe instead of replacing some rides, they should have finished some attractions that were never built in the World Showcase. The scenary is gorgeous,dont get me wrong. And I do love ALL of the ws, but Morocco is my favorite, I always take extra time to wander through that pavillion, wish there was more to see there, like an attraction!!

In my opinion, stop trying to dumb everything down. EPCOT was never about dumbing things down, and it surely wasnt about Ellen.

Bring back EPCOT Center please!
and as many have already said..ENOUGH WITH THE WAND!!! It's an eyesore, i know things have to change, but that stinking attraction is amazing to look at, only to be made to look like a giant yo-yo with that stupid hand next to it.

But, what do I know?


T_Swift said...

The original Energy ride was an incredible and unique experience. I hate the Ellen and Bill version. This trend to rely on celebrities is short sighted and misguided. Disney already has celebrities (the fab five, Figment, and many, many more). The original EPCOT offered guests a unique experience in Info-tainment. Unfortunately, it has been on a downward spiral as cornerstone attractions are "re-imagined" with cheap, uninspired crap. Please Disney, enough with the celebrities already!

Kim EM said...

Point taken. I guess what I was trying to say is that using a celebrity, even a "celebrity of the moment" is not neccessaraly a bad thing, as long as the appearance is not *about* the celebrity. Thus, the celebrities in Cranium Command were well used, whereas in "Ellen" are not.

Likewise, I don't have a problem with Captain Jack Sparrow being included in POTC. Like it or not, the character is highly identified with POTC, and his inclusion will please a lot more of the park visitors than would his being left out. Johnny Depp's participation, i think, is on a measure with James Mason's in 20,000 Leagues.

Ultimately it's all about pleasing the customers.

Anonymous said...

Even though DL is in the heart of the huge city of LA, once inside it is amazing how it seems like you are in a different magical world. In the evening I got the strange feeling that there was a blue domed ceiling over the whole place. Even in the small stifled location of DL the reality of the outside world is suspended. The word "classic" implies a timeless quality.

One of my greatest disappointments in Disney has been that the EPCOT: Future World attractions that had the best grasp on the future have been removed. The originial EPCOT Center had so much class. It opened our eyes to possibilities that existed just around the corner. 1982's EPCOT need only to have had minor adjustments to keep the future advancing so that is just a reasonable reach beyond where we are today.

The attractions that I always felt most strongly about were the ones that disappeared first. When I walked into the World of Motion and saw the Aero 2000 (car of the future), I was in awe. Cars didn't look like that in the mid-80s. Now the cars of today are much closer. The same holds true for Horizons. "Normal" life being lived in space, at sea and in the barren desert was an amazing dream. Until we have something like the Alpha Centauri space station with dogs and shoes floating in zero gravity, Horizon's won't feel outdated. I could go on.

To the person who suggested the banishment of the pop-culture references I say "here here!" To Mr. Lassetter I plead, "Tear down that Mickey arm!"

Anonymous said...

Great article! We all love Disney movies and now we also know which one to avoid.
It's a shame when people ignore the bases they have build their success on ...

Anonymous said...

Scott: I agree with your sentiment and hopes that the new regime will in fact bring at least some of the magic back to the Disney empire. As for Jim Hill, there's really no way to tell what's truth in any of his posts. Apart from his historical work (which is certainly interesting and apparantly well-researched, though somewhat difficult to confirm) the articles are pure conjecture and hypothesis based on his own "inside" info and, for lack of a better term, gut instincts. FWIW, I've stopped checking his site and stick to o-meon and blogs (like this one and Pixar's) to get real inside info.

Mr. Hill seems convinced that the merger and new regime will ultimately fail and is skewing all of his "articles" accordingly. I think it's important to note that, to the best of my knowledge, he's never worked for Disney, nor ever worked as any kind of animator, imagineer, or at all in the entertainment business. (I may of course be wrong - I don't know the guy outside of his "articles".) I do get the feeling though that his consistently negative attitude toward the Disney company would preclude him from ever holding a long-term job there. I know I wouldn't want to work with that kind of attitude - especially at a place where every imagineering question is supposed to be answered with "Yes, if..."

As for the Universe of Energy exhibit, I tend to disagree with this post. I like the ride, I like the characters, and I liked the show. Even though dark rides like the Haunted Mansion and Snow White are "timeless", they've undergone improvements and updates from time to time. (How many extra tickets were sold because of the Nightmare Before Christmas version of the Haunted Mansion?)

One thing Disney does very well is in creating it's own classics, which is what I think is missing from much of Epcot's more recent changes. I don't know how much the changes to Energy cost back in 1996, but let's remember that they got 10 years out of it. Not every ride is going to be a POTC, or Peter Pan, or Small World. If imagineers go into a project with that understanding, and determine that the goal is to develop a ride that will change in a set number of years, they might be able to better avoid times when rides become a dated and unused eyesore.

Merlin Jones said...

I think it's extremely important to DEFINE arachronism in this context.

Sadly, recent executive and marketing administrations have decided that properties younger children don't immediately recognize are somehow "anachronistic." Mr. Toad, The Swiss Family Robinson, Captain Nemo, Tom Sawyer, Country Bears, Mr. Lincoln, even Small World have been actually labelled by the clueless as out-of-date and out-of-touch. Untrue.

These are timeless ideas that can inspire without familiarity with the films or books or historical figures and times that they represent. These are fascinating - compelling- alluring - in and of themselves. These espouse exotic, adventurous, fantastic or interesting ideas for the ages and should not be razed to compliment a current merchandising scheme or celebrity cross-over with ABC or Touchstone.

Ellen is no Snow White (or a Julie Andrews, even - an ageless celebrity with lasting symbolism in the Disney canon). Whoopie? Sister Act was not Mary Poppins...

Also, the ageless stories like Swiss Family and Toad are not fixed in time - - they are cyclical and come back in other forms, reissues and remakes. In the world of Disney, everything that was cool one will be again - eventually. Sadly, Disney has often taken something out just before it became hip again (like the mod Tomorrowland and a near-miss with the Tiki Room).

Swiss Family Robinson is being remade as we speak, but Walt's fabulous treehouse sadly didn't wait to make it's proper comeback...

There needs to be trust in good taste and ideas for the ages, not just the tie-in. After all, few Disney geeks are even that familiar with Walt Disney's (excellent but forgotten) Third Man on the Mountain (1959) which inspired Disneyland's timeless Matterhorn.

Should the Matterhorn have been replaced with Millionaire Mountain or Wisteria Peak for the sake of familiarity? No way.

Marketers need to learn the difference between the timeless and the timely and where Disney's role falls in perpetuating the higher ideals.

Bigmouth celebrities are ultimately cheesy (until and unless they prove the task of time) - while escapist adventure and fantasy (and matters of the human heart) live on and on.

Anonymous said...


Somebody turn Annette upside down for this man.

Laura Moncur said...

You're mistaken. A lot of the "classic" Disneyland experiences were VERY dated.

The most vivid example is the Tiki Birds. The late fifties and early sixties had a tiki fad and Disney jumped on the bandwagon with singing animatronic birds.

Now, they are considered classic. You can't judge whether things will be classic immediately. You need to give them time.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that Disney needs to be aware of creating things that will quickly be outdated, if something is well written those things will cease to matter. My 6 year old watched ‘Aladdin” but he doesn’t need to know who Arsenio is to enjoy the film. Just as he doesn’t have to know who The Beatles are (were?) when the vultures pop up in “The Jungle Book”.

And let’s not forget that “Steamboat Willie” was a parody of Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” And I’m pretty sure most people under the age of 50 have never even seen that.

I am in no way trying to equate “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” with the likes of “Steamboat Willie” or “Aladdin”. I’m just saying that you can go to far in either direction.

Anonymous said...

Disney was SETTING the Tiki trend, not following it. And it was a classic day one.

Roger Alford said...

Overall, I agree with this post regarding celebrities of the moment (e.g., Disney employees), but have to admit that Ellen's Energy Adventure is a much more entertaining attraction than the Universe of Energy that preceeded it. That was downright dull until you got to the dinosaurs. I think the Imagineers did a very good job of modifying the ride while still working with the original elements (moving theater, cool dinosaurs). Ellen drifted off a bit in terms of popularity, but thanks to Nemo she's popular again. Jeopardy! has been around long enough to enter the American lexicon, I think. Bill Nye could just as easily be a character created for the attraction.

I do like the old Tiki Room far better than the new one. Wish they would bring that back, or do a better version with the birds flying around the room, something that would really impress modern audiences. How would they do that? No idea, but as Walt said, "it's kind of fun to do the impossible."

Wish they would put more attractions in World Showcase (they already have the building in Germany) and especially Disney-MGM Studios. Have no interest in Lights! Motors! Action! Not every attraction has to be an E Ticket, but I'd love for Disney-MGM to get some actual rides, where you get to MOVE.

Merlin Jones said...

The point is Tikis are hot again now and Disneyland is still there to capitalize on it - - but that could have been spoiled by those with "current" (ie: ten years late) tastes who saw it only as old and wanted to rip it out (or make it tacky and loudmouth - see Florida).

Tikis and Swiss Family Robinson are eternal but will Regis Philbin and Elizabeth Shue (or Alley Sheedy or whoever they used at D/MGM) compare?

Anonymous said...

Trend or not, the EXECUTION of The Enchanted Tiki Room is what gives it durability and charm.

Walt overloaded the senses for the guest here, creating an overwhelming experience of exceeding sensation and quality. The entire show is so layered in its design, so effortless and immersive, that any association with some "fad" is moot. By virtue of its OWN event status, as a work of quality, it CREATES its own importance, it is its own referent.

This is at least part of what Walt meant with "Quality will out."

This has been a thing dogging some of the more recent attractions... a lack of dotting i's and crossing t's. Missed opportunities - and I don't mean in the queue...just the experience of the show, whether it's a ride or stationary attraction.

For instance, let's take a couple of the more infamous examples from Disney's California Adventure: The Bread Baking Tour.

You get some video, and windows looking on to bread being baked.

Granted, it would be expensive to put you in the middle of a somewhat idealized experience of what goes on when Bread is baked - but how much more fun might it be to travel through some kind of little dough-ball shaped omnimover, through a dark ride, where we're subjected to kneading, and the rising of yeast? The fiery heat of the oven, and at the end, your little omnimover's (with inflatable panels) puffed up all around you, golden brown! There's a way to do all that, that would be both ridiculous and fun, and guess what? You'd never forget the process!

Yeah, still kind of a dorky subject for a Disney ride. There's definitely something to be said for the CHOICE of themes for attractions.

But there's ALWAYS a better way. What HASN'T been addressed in DCA is as much the real crime, as what has been done poorly. But this is endemic of many of the last ten years of attractions, particularly visible at Disney-MGM and Epcot (Center).

Anonymous said...

Very astute indeed. To me this is one of the great failings of the Dreamworks animated features: they have almost zero shelf life. They're so rife with contemporary references they're stale a month after they open. --Disney shouldn't follow that same path.

Scott M. Curran said...

In my humble opinion, this all goes back to the basics...the story line. When Disney has truly great story lines (or gets them from Pixar), they get great characters. And nobody blinks (or blinks too hard) when those characters show up in a ride, or as the foundation of the ride. See Buzz Lightyear and the general acceptance of Jack Sparrow in Pirates. Sure, these are somewhat controversial at the outset for most of us purists, but people don't stop buying tickets or standing in line for the rides. My hypothesis is that generally, if it is a strong character, we welcome them into the fold.
But when the strength of the story isn't there, the character well is dry, and Disney is desperate for a character to put in the game, they go to the bench - and we get Ellen. After all, you can't put Bambi II or Cinderella II into a ride.
If we can get back to the great story lines with their strong characters, we won't have to worry about the likes of Ellen (who I enjoy, but I agree she's no Julie Andrews). We'll have our starters in the game. But we gotta get those stories back where they belong. Then again, what do I know?

Anonymous said...

Disney can end all of these lame embarrassments by hiring artists and not lawyers. Let the right-brained creatives dream up the parks and the left-brained non-creative dweebs sip their stupid latte's across the street.

Greg Clapp said...

I don't necessarily agree with the idea that Genie shattered a taboo. I didn't realize this was an impersonation of Arsenio Hall, yet it was hilarious. Old Looney Tunes shorts are full of pop culture references that nobody really gets anymore, or barely gets. For example, I don't know who half the movie stars are that the cartoons lampoon, but I know that they were movie stars from that era, so it's still funny and timeless.

Of course, there's still a delicate balance there. It has to be done right. I can't speak for Ellen or Bill Nye, but in 50 years, it wouldn't matter if people remembered Jeopary or Alex Trebec. They'd still know what a game show was and would be able to identify with the game show host as a caracter, if not as the person.

Epcot82 said...

As cute as it once was, Ellen's Energy Adventure was always something of a mystery to me -- didn't the Imagineers realize that a huge percentage of WDW visitors come from overseas, where Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek and Bill Nye mean nothing?

It's sad to see that Ellen is still up and running. She's great -- a welcome addition to the park even as outdated as she now feels. But the attraction is beyond moldy and stale now, and borders on embarrassing.

What a great initial post -- thanks for writing about my favorite park! (Feel free to visit my own blog about Epcot.)

Oh, and let's not forget that Disney's first major blunder when it came to trying to be "hip" and "modern" was in The Sword in the Stone. Watch the final 10 minutes of that animated feature today and see if any of those references make sense!

Pragmatic Idealist said...

I agree with most of what has been written, but I wanted to remind everyone that the actress, Whoopi Goldberg, does not play herself. She portrays the immortal Amazonian goddess, Califia, in "Golden Dreams".

It hasn't been mentioned, yet, but I dislike knowing the actors and actresses who provide the voices of characters in animated films. I believe Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel made a similar observation years ago, and I also think that the phenomenon was partly responsible for the decline in Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Anonymous said...

Having Ellen, Bill Nye and Alex Trebek isn't so much the problem as it is the story they are intertwined with. A "timeless" story starring Ellen and Bill Nye could still play out. Just keep out the obvious references to pop-culture, here-today-gone-tomorrow world. Humor and good story telling has nothing to do with present day scandals, the hippest songs or the trendiest catch phrase. It is about heart and simple humor. Like in Field of Dreams, "If you write a timeless story, it will be retold forever". Ellen's Energy Adventure will never last IMO. And not that it's bad. It's not. But I believe future audiences that have yet to see it will be underwhelmed as father time ravishes what is essentially a very narrow period-piece. I do still enjoy it today, but my enjoyment lessens more and more as time presses on.

PS: Get rid of the wand! And PLEASE do something INSPIRING with the travesty that is Stitch's Great Escape. I still remember being 4 years old and going to Mars in that building and it really saddens me to see what has happened there.

Andrew McFerrin said...

I first encountered Ellen's Energy Adventure in 2004 - by which point it was already dated, and far beyond any hope of relevance it might have been hoping to achieve. The original Universe of Energy ride was itself obsolete - horribly so - as was much of Future World.

The answer, however, is to upgrade the technology to keep people thinking about their future - not throw them an animatronic celebrity to ogle at while reciting the same old tired info.

Lidstrom said...

I could not agree more with the original entry. As much as we may enjoy "Ellen's Energy Adventure", or the "Under New Management" Tiki Room, they readily reveal that they will not stand the test of time. Unfortunately, the use of these sorts of things, and the related downturns they cause, has been used as cause to completely destroy and remove attractions. There is already talk that Universe of Energy will be completely removed, ala Horizons, and together with the mothballed Wonders of Life, an all new, and large, attraction will replace them both. Put me down as someone that doesn't think that is the answer.

Returning the Tiki Room to its original show is appealing to me. From a marketing standpoint, though, the existence of the original at Disneyland is making me want to get my son out there for it before he loses interest. He does love the original songs that we have on CD much more than what you get at WDW.

No offense to Ellen or Bill Nye. It is no reflection on them personally. They just aren't timeless and only serve to remind people of an existence outside of Disney. If I went through Universe of Energy right now, I would think about how Ellen is actually going to be taping over at Universal Studios soon. I also love the original music and would trade Ellen for the old show in a second.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone recall some of the non-Disney cartoons that contain references to 20s, 30s, and 40s stars, such as Clark Gable and the Marx Brothers? They are filled with all sorts of current "hip" references to that time period that nobody understands today. When I watch them I feel like I'm on the outside of an inside joke. Now compare that with the timelessness of the Disney classics. The Disney parks have been like an abused child that now will be given proper treatment. The golden age is on the horizon!

Dan said...

And who do we hear crooning inside? Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durrante, etc.

Right on!

I remember countless dated references in Disneyland's past. Anyone recall the burning settler's cabin, when the captain of the Columbia would say "Looks like he's wearing an Arrow shirt..."?

"Doom Buggies" was a play on "Dune Buggies." (And notice how the Ghost Host stresses the pun.) Does anyone under 40 even know what a dune buggy was?

The problem arises when Disney tries too hard to to make the jokes hip and edgy, coming off like like a square old preacher trying to speak in the kids' own language.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to be timeless when you go the cheap route of using current pop references. It's a pay me now, pay me later sort of thing. You can invest in the undated treasures and have something that lasts a long time, or you can climb on the back of a pop reference and have something that turns over in a few years.

I've heard that one of the pirates in the prison scene in Pirates of the Carribean has the face of Sid Ceasar from when he was huge on television. What makes the scene timeless is that it doesn't rely on that face being a current TV star.

The same will be true for Johnny Depp - the scene isn't based on an actor, but a character from a movie. It's an important distinction - imho.

Mr Banks said...

Thank you, Bratstar. It's impossible not to unconsciously date any attraction in some small way. We're all products of our current age. But there's a difference between a Tiki Bird singing in the voice of Maurice Chevalier or calling the vehicles in Haunted Mansion 'Dune Buggies' and Ellen Degeneres hosting the Energy Pavilion. A big difference. Those who want to nit-pick on details like that are completely and sadly missing the point. You, Bratstar, seem to understand. And for that I thank you. Ellen isn't playing a 'character', she's just 'Ellen'. 1996 Ellen. Pop culture Ellen.

Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying, I have agreed with all the posts here- but this one- not so much. I don't know if you guys are running out of ideas to pick on disney, but this seems a little... forced.

As a writer and persuader, you have every right to leave out the good stuff of Ellen's Energy Adventure- and you did. I love how they still incorporate the dinosaurs from the original ride, I always find it entertaining and humorous(as well as educational), and you make it seem as if the only music we hear is the Jeopardy theme- not true. A moving instrumental theme is heard before, during, and after the ride, and it's one that evokes emotion and mystery.

You imply that Disney should make timeless attractions with no reference to our modern culture in the outside world. However, this use isn't necessarily a bad thing. At times it can connect the audience more to the message implied.

I think the main problem about your post is that this really isn't a recent problem in the disney parks. Over the years, Tomorrowlands have had to be rethemed, rides have had to be updated and changed- it's just a matter of our changing times. Ellen's UoE just appears to be dated which means it's time for a change. That's all it is, it's not a growing epidemic killing off all Disney creativity.

The Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management, however, is a sad replacement and sickens me. The sound of Gilbert Godfrey singing is a horrific downgrade to a great attraction.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion - and I stand corrected about Sid Cesar - but it's a bit of a moot point relative to what I was saying.

When Ellen's Energy Adventure closes, I don't expect you will hear the equivalent of a "bring back Figment" outcry. EPCOT has gotten almost 25 years out of Figment, and folks are still looking for the Dreamfinder.

Merlin Jones said...

I love the attractions with "updatable software" (Star Tours, Soarin', CircleVision, Country Bears, DisneyQuest etc.) - - though part of the sell on these things was that they could change, remain current and be updated frequently, the company rarely reinvests in something on that level - especially if it isn't one of the Big E attractions. Except for Innoventions, which is dependant on the sponsorship, so seems to get changed out occasionally, when do the tiresome updatable attractions ever get an update?

Instead people seem to be obsessed with peeing on the Haunted Mansion and Pirates, which no one ever tires of as they are. They don't need the updating.

Anonymous said...

It's also Epcot, not Six Flags over Orlando.

Merlin Jones said...

>>It's not a conspiracy devised by less dedicated Imagineers or slick suits. <<

Though it certainly plays to their weaknesses.

Anonymous said...

I was going to defend the ride a little, note that I thought it was character driven, not celebrity driven, and generally talk about how much of what we remember as "inspiring" from EPCOT, was really callous corporate nonsense presented as the future, but I don't have the energy - instead, I just have to defend the score:

science fact was replaced with science light and the brooding orchestral score was replaced with, well, the theme song from Jeopardy.

In fact, EEE has one of the finest scores written for EPCOT since the opening - the only thing that would compete would be ROE - and I'm not talking about the Jeopardy theme. The EEE score is quite musically complicated and very emotional - perhaps not catchy, but really quite stirring. It's one of the overlooked gems of that redo - a redo which really was/is successful relative to the energy nonsense / universe of sleep.

Though, to defend the original, if you say the word "shale" to anyone my age who grew up in florida, they turn around and say "the rock that burns?"

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that this has become the norm, but that's been the DIsney business plan for years now-short term ideas for short term profit.

As far as Robin Williams' genie- that Arsenion Hall thing was old when the film came out. Now, watching it with kids, you have to explain who that caricature is, since, well, what has Hall done for the last 10 or more years? It reminds me of those old Looney Tunes that take place at the Brown Derby, with Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker jitterbugging. It just amounts to investing in obselescence.

Mr Banks said...

Alas, anonymous, at least Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker had talent that transcended several generations! I still love them!

Dan said...

But there's a difference between a Tiki Bird singing in the voice of Maurice Chevalier or calling the vehicles in Haunted Mansion 'Dune Buggies' and Ellen Degeneres hosting the Energy Pavilion. A big difference. Those who want to nit-pick on details like that are completely and sadly missing the point.

No, I get it. I think using Ellen and Bill Nye really puts a sell-by date on an attraction, and misses the opportunity to create a more timeless attraction. And it's LAME!

You can have a mix of timeless and dated and short-shelf-life attractions all in the same park. The trick is to keep rotating your stock, and make sure you're not rotating out the good stuff. The Eisner years were not kind in that regard.

Anonymous said...

First, thanks for pointing out "timelessness" as one of the attributes of the great Disney rides and movies. I was thinking about just that the other day, but you beat me to posting it.

Anyway, I think the overuse of current pop culture and current celebrities is really laziness in marketing. The thought is that using popular celebrities makes an easier connection with the guests since the guest already know the celebrity's personna, etc. In other words, "Sounds Dangerous with Drew Carey" is an easier sell than just "Sounds Dangerous", since we all know that Drew Carey's on-screen personality is light, humorous entertainment.

And they're right: it does work - up to a point. One, as everyone here has mentioned, is that using Ellen or Drew is fine when they're popular but most celebrities are not timeless as thus are soon forgotten. For example, imagine if the American Adventure was hosted by an animatronic Larry Hagman instead of Mark Twain (Dallas was huge in the early 80's when EPCOT was built).

Second, celebrities are only useful if you know who they are. Not only are there foreign visitors, but (contrary to what Hollywood execs likely think) not everybody watched or even knows who Ellen and Drew are.

So I guess my point is that using celebs as themselves is fine as long as they are very widely known *and* you are planning to replace or update that ride in a few years. Other rides - particularly the large, expensive E-tickets that you want to last for decades - need to be timeless. Timeless rides may be tougher to market, but you get to amortize that effort over a much longer period of time.

Anonymous said...

EEE is a truly strange ride; besides being terribly dated, it actually admits how silly it is within the ride itself -- after the Jeopardy intro, Bill Nye says something like, "So uh, let's go look at dinosaurs!" as the segue into the animatronic portion. The entire ride is essentially a way to make use of some 30-year-old really impressive animatronics, rather than let them go to waste.

That said, if you're going to have a silly attraction that makes fun of itself, you could do a whole lot worse than Ellen and Bill Nye... and the gag with Einstein writing a theoretical equation instead of his name is one of the biggest laughs in the park.

Anonymous said...

As a former employee of the Disney company, I can tell you that the usage of pop culture personas is driven largely by the marketing department's ridiculous and sometimes unintelligible stress on synergy. Remember - Disney owns ABC. Why not use the theme park to promote shows on the network they own? Sure it's invasive to the rides and annoying as hell at times but please remember, when Epcot was built, ABC wasn't owned by Disney. If anything they were branding their own movies and characters. In 1995, when Disney acquired ABC, all bets were off...and yeah, we had the synergy speeches shoved down all of our throats to the point where you kind of felt you were listening to a tape loop over and over.

Anonymous said...

Be careful what you wish for, or the bean counters will go wild over "Ellen's Synergy Adventure." I can hear the orchestral score rising to the words "...synergy makes the world go round" or "synergy, the crock that returns". Or maybe even "syner-cali-frali-gistic-expi-ali-docious.... even just the sound of it is totally cash-a-docious"

Just keep in mind: Today's synergy ensures tomorrow's apathy.

(As a side note, I rode EEA on Wednesday and it actually is alot of fun, but aging quickly. The lines were far longer in Living with the Land, which although updated, remains a timeless treasure."

Anonymous said...

I certainly feel as though some thought was put into Ellen's Energy Adventure. It's evident that the budget was not there for a complete show change (with some cuts), but the production values are nothing short of impressive. It's entertaining and (unlike the modifications made to Epcot after Energy reopened) still focuses on it's topic. When one leaves Ellen's Energy Adventure they have the promise of the future that was present in all of the original attractions at Epcot. Mission: Space, Test Track, Soarin, and Honey I Shrunk the Audience lack such emotions. They focus on the show, the ride, the attraction - perhaps using factual items within the show - but do not inspire guests about the future. Energy with Ellen was not entirely about face value.

At the time Bill Nye was a very popular television show and quite the poster boy for Epcot. I still have a certificate of completion for an Epcot trivia/scavenger hunt from a Bill Nye show in Innoventions. Those were some pretty difficult questions too and, if anything, the questionare was chocked full of Epcot's history.

I feel as though, at the time, it was unknown how long Bill Nye's tenure was going to be with Disney. It was truly only Bill Nye and Figment back in Epcot 96' that was bringing the young ones in, even prior to the Kidcot or Honey I Shrunk the Audience additions.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but feel that a big chunk of Disney integrity was lost when they bought ABC. After that happened, cheesy tie-ins starting sprouting up everywhere - take a look at Regis and Drew Carey in the ill-fated Superstar Limo ride. I really felt that this cheapened the theme parks. Late last year I was in the Anaheim World of Disney store in Downtown Disney, and there in the t-shirt section, was a Desperate Housewives t-shirt for sale!!! It really jarred me out of the Disney character fantasy world and reminded me that the Powers That Be have no problem screwing with the Disney brand in order to try to make an extra buck. And that hurts the kid in me that still tries to cling onto what going to Disneyland used to mean to me...

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else find it odd that Ellen spent 3 or 4 days at Universal Orlando taping shows which among other things included segments where she played with guests in both Universal Studios and Island of Adventure? Even stranger was the segment where she sat in the Jurassic Park raft ride harrassing guests with a puppet dinosaur. Maybe Disney should sell the Ellen AA figure from UofE to Universal.

David H

Anonymous said...

..........Thank you folks for this blog & the thought it takes to arrive @ this point[s] of view. I am there w/you & have been for years.

...... I am a Socal res.have seen the park change over the years. Rode the Viewliner the 1st time I went. I deal w/Disney on several biz. levels so see the park weekly.
...... With my background I am in an unusual position to "see" how things should have been.

......If I could contribute something in the future,w/your blessing I would.

......Thanks again & please continue to care enough to keep this going