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...