Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sightlines & Timelines (Part One)...


The one thing that has always separated a Disney theme park from any other park has always been details...

Details, details, details. From the original Anaheim park to the one that's in planning for Shanghai; a park by the Mouse is one to set the standards for the other guys.

Well, it's supposed to be that way. Work that way in theory at least. Where Disney has had successes and failures is in planning and details have broken or made the difference.

Many people blame the extravagant details that were put into the design of Euro Disneyland for it's failure, but it wasn't the problem that resulted in the financial mess the this park became. It was the over building of hotel rooms that created the economic problems for Paris. Michael Eisner deserves praise and scorn for the opening of Disney's European resort. He did encourage the Imagineers to go all out on designs for what we now know as Disneyland Paris. Eisner deserves credit for that. But he also was the one that told WDI to build six hotels instead of starting with two or three. Will all these empty hotels the debt that the company held increased greatly and caused Disney to lose/sell almost twenty percent of its investment (from 49% controlling interest to 39%). For than he should have a very harsh critique. And sadly, he didn't learn from his mistake... instead he spread the blame around to everyone else and didn't look inward into that mirror that showed him an ever balding man.

He thought it was the details and so on many of the future projects, the details suffered. DCA being the prime example of this. Not that it didn't have lavish detailing. But with the budget, not quality being the high standard to go by, Paul Pressler cut a third of the money from the park with no conception of what he was doing. Is it any wonder this man has been fired twice since leaving Disney? But even inside the budget there were other design problems with that park and several others that have been created in the past decade.

Sightlines and Timelines.

These are the main reason for such harsh criticism over the the past decade. As Eisner got further into his insular state he brushed aside design elements that Imagineers had mastered over the past quarter of a century. Not only were the budget cuts in California Adventure bad, the design had major misdirections. One thing that Eisner forget and several at WDI managed not to address was making things throughout the areas of the park contemporary. There is nothing so dated as to put something in the present. Five years from now it will feel weathered and outdated. If you look back to the original Disneyland you see lands that evoke times and places that don't exist anymore, never existed or idyllically exist in our minds. That way there is no permanent point for the brain to fix on and be critical of.

Main Street U.S.A. is an idealized representation of Walt's childhood, but it's not a literal example of the time he lived. Imagineers build what people wanted to remember, not what they strive to forget. Adventureland and Frontierland draw upon mythic memories of a past that may have existed, but they're shown to us as something of a tall tale, not a realistic grim presentation. Fantasyland is exactly that. Tales of wonder that never existed, but in a place you would love to go. And Tomorrowland was the representation of what the future could hold. It was this land that WDI has had so much trouble with. Trying to keep it contemporary with people's views of what the future would be like is why Euro Disneyland chose to call this land Disneycoveryland so as to not date the area and make it easier to add and take away from it without disrupting the theming.

Look at DCA with a front entrance that is supposed to be a postcard from California, but winds up being nothing more than a pop-culture nightmare. A collection of stores and signs that mark no distinction from any mall you can find within a hundred mile radius of the park. Did the Suits really think people were going to be willing to fork over forty to fifty dollars to see what they can get in a mall for free? One of many reasons this park has failed to impress up till now. Even the parks best themed land, the Golden State is a compromise at best. Although it is lush in greenery and detail, it's overly theming to a contemporary white water rafting company is flawed. Again, you can find this in other areas. The original concepts of having it in a turn of the century "Yosemite National Park" styled land with animatronic animals would have worked much better. Even the more current plan for turning it into a mid-fifties national park style land with animatronic animals works much better than layering the attractions in the hear now.

Thankfully, some of this is changing. And if all goes well then you'll more than likely see it continue. With the pier slowly evolving into a Victorian, seaside midway, a front entrance that brings to mind a late 20's/early 30's Los Angeles that Walt might have seen and a Hollywood Backlot that becomes more old Tinseltown, they're clearly on the right track. Turning all these areas into a throwback to times and places that most Californians don't even know is a great way to differentiate this park from the outside world. It's also a great place to show that it is Disney.

And hopefully in Disney's future we'll get more of Disney's past...

14 comments:

MoonRakerSCM said...

I don't know Honor...

I've slowly been loosing hope for DCAs redo. How can the pier be its true 'mictorian' self when there's the half 'butt'ed Fun Wheel queue, the roller coaster is honestly a complete wasteland of ugly (from the station to the supports to the tunnels), and soon we'll be receiving a half 'butt'ed Hollywood 'land' that's still just a wannabe backlot with no cohesion whatsoever...

Words be words, but I'm just not feeling it anymore.....

Anonymous said...

Further proof that the company really truly is in good hands with Bob Iger (despite what some nihilists may think) and why we should be glad that Eisner is out of the picture.

Anonymous said...

And, MoonRakerSCM, knock it off with the pessimism! It's not healthy!

PixarFanatic said...

I really think that the Rasulo trade with Staggs is going to help. Ever since Rasulo took over, things have been super awesome. I can't wait to see what will happen now that he's got even more influence :)

Anonymous said...

Good article Honor.

I still believe in DCA's future.
Regardless of the queue, the Ferris Wheel looks much better than it used to.
I'm also looking forward to the Silly Symphony Swings. It will look much better than the Orange Stinger.

Now, I know what some people will say; That a swing ride should never have been a part of the park in the first place.
While that is probably true, one of the goals of DCA's makeover was NOT to lower the ride count. When the swing ride reopens, it will fit the Victorian theme and have and will be based on vintage Disney.
By the way, even though "The Band Concert" is not a Silly Symphony, the Imagineers felt that the name fit because music is at the heart of both "The Band Concert" and a Silly Symphony cartoon.

PirateGuy 815 said...

"half butted Hollywoodland"

Seems like you're jumping the gun about 2 years to early. No reason for that at all. Maybe, maybe you would be justified after seeing a handful of things come to fruitation.

But, wee have only seen the Fun Wheel, which was nicely dressed up. It didn't get the covered queue because whatever it was needed for was no longer needed (presumably something to do with World of Color). No to mention the beautiful Games of the Boardwalk and TSMM and what's shaping to be a beautiful Viewing Terrace.

Giving up hope for DCA now seems to be a poor decision when there still is so much more to be done. And I;m sure it will prove you wrong.

MoonRakerSCM said...

"But, wee have only seen the Fun Wheel, which was nicely dressed up."

It got a paint job, some decals, a big Mickey sticker and modern lights. It still has ladders and operational metal visible ALL over it and nothing was done to make it aesthetically pleasing in that aspect. Why can I sit in the queue and stare right at a dirty barebones motor driving a rubber wheel? This is Disney theming?

"It didn't get the covered queue because whatever it was needed for was no longer needed (presumably something to do with World of Color)."

The queue is terrible and it will continue to be until they do something about it.

- Cement retaining walls. Not even cement wood theming on the walls? Just bare cement. This is Disney?

- Modern abstract canvas. This has nothing to do with a Victorian pier.

- Poorly thought out queue with awkward crossovers in the exit line? This has been a problem and they still have yet to fix it.

I'm not saying it needs the covered queue in the bluesky artwork, but it NEEDS something. It is currently no better than the queue to the roller coaster (I think it's worse).

Anonymous said...

/\ It is still possible that those issues will get resolved sometime.

But as I understand it, they want to make sure that the Little Mermaid and Carsland have big budgets, so queue details will have to wait.

Anonymous said...

There are aspects of the poor decision and planning at original DCA that will always cast a negative light on the park, no matter how much effort is spent to enhance and beautify it. Paradise Pier was originally designed primarily for how it would look to observers from across the bay. How it was experienced by guests actually standing in Paradise Pier was an afterthought.

The intention was to start with a backdrop of the biggest roller coaster they could cram in back there, then add the biggest ferris wheel in front of it for the "wow" factor of folks across the bay out by the farm turning the corner and seeing PP for the first time. Then add that hideously huge and ugly orange as a gimmick and as a visual counterpart to the ferris wheel, and top it all off with that tall, modern thrill shot ride acting as the pool cue to the orange's eight-ball in this tacky contemporary version of Pleasure Island from Pinocchio - all these elements brought together PRIMARILY to form a postcard image when viewed from across the bay.

Far be it for the designers to actually make the area pleasant or interesting to be in when you're actually STANDING IN paradise Pier! No actual "buildings" to speak of, just a bunch of 2-dimensional painted facades, or simply the exposed structures of the rides themselves surrounded by concrete elements and bare metal fences.

Now Disney has to deal with the legacy left over by the design decisions of the s***heads who were responsible for this mess, and who are all now gone. So they decide to remove the ugly orange and re-theme the swings to something "Disney". The problem is that the orange, at least, held its own in terms of scale against the backdrop of that huge metal roller coaster and beside that giant ferris wheel - now the exposed swing ride is going to be visually diminished by the neighboring massive structures.

And no matter how much effort they make to Victorianize the Pier, that roller coaster will never look like anything other than what it is - a modern steel mega ride with a lot of extra metal tacked on it.

And you can still see those hotels and the convention center from many areas within the park, and nothing being done now will fix that - the Cars Land backdrop hiding only the power lines generally east of the park, but nothing will mask the crap to the south or the west.

DCA will slowly get better. However, certain fundamental flaws stemming from poor decisions made up front will always cast a negative light on Anaheim's 2nd gate. No amount of money thrown at this place will ever change everything that was bad with it at the beginning.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, quit the negativity! It's not good for you.

MoonRakerSCM said...

He speaks the truth though.

Anonymous said...

/\ Yes, there is a lot of validity in what he said, but its important to remain cautiously optimistic.

*I'm a different anonymous than that last one, BTW*

Anonymous said...

...Oh, and I just remembered from looking at the concept art, the Silly Symphony Swings are supposed to have new lighting effects. So that may help it stand out and get attention, especially at night.

Spokker said...

By far one of the biggest design decisions to come back and bite Disney in the rear is the lack of a focus on resort transportation. The current setup simply cannot handle the hordes of locals trying to park these days. Less people are packing their families in the van and visiting the park. More people are driving alone and meeting others at the park for their Friday night fix. Folks are reporting 1-2 hours between the time they get to the property and the time they get to the front gate on especially horrid days.

Seeing as how the company's founder was so into transportation, especially people movers and monorails, it confuses me how transportation was not more of an issue when designing DCA, and there doesn't seem to be much movement on fixing it. The City of Anaheim is trying to build some kind of monorail line from Anaheim Station to the Resort Area, but it doesn't actually go to Disneyland. The alignments have it going to Garden Walk or a Disney parking lot. It doesn't make much sense.

With more OCTA bus cuts coming up, people who do take mass transit to the parks, especially employees, are going to be hurt by infrequent headways and spotty service.

I wonder why Disney isn't more in tune with these issues.

"But with the budget, not quality being the high standard to go by, Paul Pressler cut a third of the money from the park with no conception of what he was doing."

I think they knew what they were doing. The plan from the get go was to do Disney-lite. It was to be a sort of Disney Mall with a few rides. In fact, precious theme park real estate was given up to an outdoor mall that is really close to The Block already. Downtown Disney is good for profits but its tackiness is only surpassed by CityWalk.

Any problems with the park were to be countered by the brand name. It didn't work. People weren't as stupid as DCA's creators thought. The park became a laughing stock, a punchline to a joke on The Simpsons.