Friday, May 25, 2007

Blue Sky Alert-America (Orlando)...



Much has happened since I posted out Anaheim report. The most important of course being the shake up at WDI. While this is a good thing, it also puts several projects into limbo. Most of these proposals are making it through the design or approval phase anyway and with a new regime it calls into question everything. The new leaders will want to look at most of these proposals before going ahead... so I don't want anyone e-mailing me about "creating from thin air" what is mentioned in this article. If what is mentioned doesn't happen... don't blame the messenger. Things change fast at WDI...

That being said, I like what is happening with the restructuring within the walls of 1401 Flower Street. As some of you may have already heard, former Research and Development Vice President Bruce Vaughn is now in the position that Chief Creative Executive Tom Fitzgerald. Vaughn is well liked within the company and a strong advocate of the creative process over the bureacratic process that has built up under Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald will still be working at WDI focusing on the oversight of show development, story integration and uh, um "blue sky" brainstorming process.

Craig Russell, former Vice President of Environmental Design and Show Engineering is now Chief Design and Delivery Executive at WDI. The former WDI President Don Goodman moves out of WDI and into his new role as executive Vice President for resort development. His position is something akin to recreating the Disney Development Company that designed the hotels for the company in the 80's before Eisner combined it with the rest of Imagineering. It appears that it will still be part of the company, but a seperate unit ran by Goodman and the very well liked, Wing Chao. The role Goodman had as President will not be refilled. Some people think that John Lasseter will partially take over this job in an unofficial capacity.

The new structure is great because it will do for WDI what Lasseter and Catmull have done for WDAS, with is to eliminate the layers of bureacracy and middle management that the creatives have to go through to get something done. From now on, Tony Baxter, Joe Rohde and Joe Lanzisero along with other Creative Executives will report directly to Vaughn. As Jim Hill reported, one of Vaughn's comments were "we are no longer going to design rides we don't build". This could be great news since WDI literally designs hundreds upon hundreds of attractions that literally never see the light of day. Unless the Oriental Land Company builds them, of course. This offers a light of hope on projects that got stuck in the approval process over the years because of political back stabbing, but the road ahead is not yet clear so we'll have to wait and let the dust settle. A whole new world may have opened up for Walt Disney Imagineering though...

A lot is going on at the Reedy Creek Improvement District, aka: Walt Disney World. The Walt Disney Company is trying to maximize it's profits without having to put a great deal more expense which is why we heard the announcement of those two projects that would be on the property, but not created by the property. With the Four Seasons at WDW and the Westward Way expansion, they intend on getting as much out of partnering with others while not having to incure the expense associated with the new hotels, shopping centers and developed co-ops.

As for what Disney themselves are doing, we have the progression of the DVC units being build near the Animal Kingdom Lodge and the new addition to the Contemporary that some have dubbed: the Watergate Tower. While I may not be estatic about the look of the tower, I don't take as much offense as other to the design. The Animal Kingdom DVC expansion is something I absolutely love, on the other hand.

There are two other properties being looked at for DVC opportunities, but it's in the early phase and will likely not see any announcements until late 2009.

A new, third themed water park is making its way through the approval process. It still has a long ways to go but the plans right now will have it tie the park in with some of Disney's cinematic properties if all is approved. Don't expect to hear anything publicly about this till sometime in mid 2008 at the earliest.

Despite everyone being depressed about the company announcing no current plans for a "Fifth Gate" in the current future, that doesn't mean ideas aren't being discussed. There is plenty of land for future use. Enough in the southern section for at least two full size parks if they are ever approved. There are "blue sky" proposals for a new park. Actually, three have been seen in the halls of WDI. These projects that are in the embryonic proposal phase and could wind up as a fifth park or serve as inspiration for Hong Kong's second gate or even Tokyo. Should the economy keep firing on all cylinders, the proposals will be narrowed down and one could look for an announcement near the beginning of the next decade. That puts the completion of a fifth park somewhere in the ball park of 2014-2015. Just in time for the preperations for the 45th anniversary of the park. How coincidental? Hmmm...


The Magic Kingdom is the park with the least going on. At least from my sources at WDI. This could all be thrown around now that the new structure is being put in place over on Flower Street, but the full effect of the reorganization won't be clear until summer is over. As for now, there are proposals for a new parade that would corrispond with some additional entertainment, but otherwise the next "E" ticket isn't planned for at least 2009. Lasseter and crew have a couple propsals that are being pitched about but nothing is concrete at the moment. As far as it being a Pixar ride, I'm sure some of you are thinking of asking... well, as of now the proposal's don't involve creations from Disney's Emeryville branch. In fact, of the two proposals my sources know of, one involves a "classic" Disney character and the other is something entirely different. Hopefully, if Disneyland's new Christmas overlay works out well it will be applied to Orlando's castle as well, but we won't know for sure till early next year.

By now, everyone knows that Epcot's Spaceship Earth will open next year with a brand new interior and from what people have seen so far it's a great redo. From one of my sources, the new attraction will really entertain guest in the best "Epcot" way. Talk continues about "THE WAND" coming down. The decision hasn't been made official, but signs are good that it could come down by next year... so cross your fingers. There are a couple prominent ideas for Epcot's next "E" ticket, but within departments, it won't see daylight till 2010 probably.

Over in World Showcase, there is a faction within WDI that wants to address some of the eyesores that disrupt the view of the lands. No, I'm not talking about the Dolphin and Swan... that requires more radical surgery. But there is momentum from a group of Imagineers to reintroduce a proposal to retheme the back of Soarin' to the Canadian Rockies which would hide the show building and give the area another "E" ticket ride simular to DCA's GRR. Other areas are supposed to be addressed if the plan goes through, again... these are "blue sky" proposal's so it'll all depend on the new management and how much they desire to fix the mistakes of the past.

Disney-MGM Studios, or as we may soon be calling it: Disney-Pixar Studios has the most promising future ahead of it. With the park meandering as to what it's identity has been over the last few years it is slated to get a good deal of attention over the next couple years. Whatever it's called, the name will not be the only rebranding in the park. A direction as to what kind of park it is will begin in the fall with the expected announcement of some form of name change. Once that is done there will be some major changes in theme and design in various parts of the studio. Lasseter himself has expressed an interest in refocusing the park towards a much more family friendly movie experience. Expect at least one and possibly two "E" tickets and two to four "C" or "D" tickets to be approved in the next year or so that will focus on making the experience one has when entering the former MGM park, a truly memorable one. Some of these projects will have a direct impact on WDW's sister park in Anaheim. What projects am I talking about. Well let me just give you their innitials... ST 2.0 and IJ4. How's that for a tease? These will be a huge draw for the studio when all this is said and done around... 2011. There's that year again. Sorry, my lips are sealed. There'll be nothing else for now...

The results of Epedition Everest are a great sign for Animal Kingdom. However, the high expense of the ride itself has been an inhibitor in bringing forward that most holy grail of DAK projects: Beastly Kingdom. There is still a small group within WDI that wants to do BK, but the amount of money it will cost has many managers hesitant to put that much capital into such an attraction. The wildcard in this is Lasseter. While it is not known if he will champion BK, he is much in favor of creating rides that immerse the guest and doesn't seem interested in throwing out mediocre attractions to simply have WDI keep busy. There are Imagineers who have been trying to get one of several small scale theming proposals for Dinoland approved, but under the old management the approval was moving at a snails pace. Perhaps the new leadership will allow these blue sky proposals which would take away the gharish, carnival atmosphere and give the area a more atmospheric touch to move forward? Clearly the days of Paul Pressler are over. The recent changes in WDI and the rising stock of Joe Rohde could bring BK out of the shadows and onto the fast track. At the very least, Joe's position means DAK will be receiving a disproportional amount of attention over the next few years.

Well, that's all I can relate without getting caught in Disney's dragnet or having my friends shot. Hope you enjoyed it and have a great Memorial Day weekend. Stay tuned for more updates later in June...

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great update! Man, I didn't think anything was going on at WDW. My only complaint is you didn't give me specifics about the projects. I guess you have to be careful for your sources?

Anonymous said...

The thing I really want to hear about is Journey into Imagination. Any hope that Dreamfinder will return or they will do something with the upstairs section.

Anonymous said...

The biggest issue WDW has right now with any type of expansion is staffing. They are in a constant struggle to fill the jobs that they have now (there are job fairs about every 6 weeks). With unemployment in the area hovering around 3% and has been for years and with the fact that they are reluctant to pay a truly competitive wage (little less livable wage), they will not be able to staff any additional facilities.
Once the HR bigwigs wake up and realize that they can fill all positions if they would only pay a decent wage (give up your bonuses), then they can explore the possibilities of opening new resorts, water parks, and theme parks. Until then, job fairs will continue in the Casting Center and no new Disney facilities will be opening.

Pooper Scooper said...

Man I really hope they get rid of that wand. What was Disney thinking???

It'll be sad when they lose the MGM name for the studios, but I think the evoling into Disney-Pixar will be kinda cool. It'll be exciting to see what "rebranding" they come up with in the next few years. I hope all they add isn't just Pixar characters.

Animal Kingdom I think is the best themed. It hasn't been tainted yet by the rides that don't belong in certain areas. My only complaint is the Dinoland area. It's TOTALLY out of place with the rest of the theme of the park. I really haven't seen much on Beastly Kingdom so I don't know if I should be sad it's not coming about yet.

Floyd Mullen said...

Wow. There's a lot going on at Walt Disney World! I didn't realize that they had so much planned. I like how you report what's happening without the sarcasm I see on other websites. I look forward to yer next update. Anything about Hong Kong?

Anonymous said...

I agree there's a labor problem in Florida, but I don't think it's really a worry right now for Disney. If the article is right it'll be almost a decade before the next park is built. Either the wages will have gone up by then or the economy will have gone down, which will make it easier to get people. So I'd say it's going to be an exciting decade. Maybe a "Disney Decade 2"? Except hopefully, most of what's proposed this time will actually be built. I hope the Fifth park will be a Villain's Lair kinda park... focusing on Villains. That'd be soooooo cool!

Anonymous said...

So they go to all the effort of clearing 20K just to sit on it for another decade?