The Mouse is an open book...
It's almost the anniversary of Michael Eisner's retraction from creativity...
That's right, DCA turns ten next week and I think it's time for a little perspective. It's important to take a look at what has been built since that fateful error, um, I mean era. And important to look at what the Walt Disney Company has done in response to the reaction to those projects. Nothing is perfect, nor will it ever be. Even in the Disney world. But we as fans and guests always expect Disney, particularly the creative side (mainly WDAS and WDI), to strive towards it. I don't expect everything to be exactly what I want, but I do expect high standards when I look at something the Mouse creates.
So let's examine the past while focusing on the present and future. When Eisner and his Burbank cohorts started coming up with ideas for turning the Disney park into the Disneyland Resort, the sky was the limit. And the result of that wide eyed search for profits meant that Imagineers could dream to their hearts desire. Word has it when the Imagineers asked Michael what he was looking for, he responded with: "Amaze Me." And amaze they did. The results of this was the wonderful (but cloned) WestCOT park and the off shoot of capitalistic competition known as Port Disney. We all know that park featured the seed known as DisneySea that became the flower that is Tokyo DisneySEA. These were massive projects with levels of detail unseen in even Disney's park history, with the exception of EPCOT. And even that project only took into account the park and not building an entire resort around it. It was to be an unprecedented move of artistic creation and an example of what could be accomplished as a merging of entertainment and business.
And then Euro Disneyland opened...
And all that came after would be lacking, to put it mildly. Gone was the first version of WestCOT, with a smaller less expensive WestCOT 2.0 that lost a bit of the charm and grandiose of the original. Then Port Disney was canceled, after which we got an even more scaled back West COT 3.0 which shortly got the axe itself. Then it was back to the drawing board which led to that dreaded Aspen retreat that led to He Who Should Not Be Named coming up with a park in California about California. This was misguided and with a room filled with Yes Men and soulless bean counter, there was no countering voice to say: "No. This is wrong. Stop. Rethink. Redo." It just didn't happen. To make matters worse, even after the bad reception and confused response of the public to this announcement, the powers-that-be felt they had such a sure fire hit that they didn't believe they would have to ensure that it was very themed. It could be as average as any other park, but the Disney name would make them come in droves. So they cut the budget for it. By a third.
And now we have to live with the results. And now we make lemonade from lemons.
For the longest time the Suits and soulless bean counters tried to explain the reaction to the opening away with every excuse possible. It was rainy. Summer will be better. 911 kept it from succeeding, ect. and on and on. The truth which they knew, they didn't dare say. They screwed up. The problem was that by this time, there were already two parks in construction under this model. Walt Disney Studios in Paris and Disney's Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World. The park in Paris was being built simply to secure the land, which would be lost if a park wasn't created by a certain date. The park in Florida was simply an addition to expand the opportunities in that golden island of Disney just below Orlando. The flaw in that park, wasn't its design, it was in its implementation and by that I mean, what it left out: Beastley Kingdomme. While Paris is a park that still needs drastic work, Animal Kingdom is a park that is like a great stool, but missing one of its powerful legs.
By the time the mistake was realized a third park was planned under this model, Hong Kong Disneyland. To be fair, this park, like DAK, was designed quite well, but also like DAK, was underbuilt. Eisner had got out of the problem of theming, but had refused to address the problem of scale. He gave both park's guest a great meal, but didn't give them a proper portion to eat.
Much has happened since then. First, many of the Suits that were in power then are no longer there; either having quit or fired over the past decade (Michael Eisner and Paul Pressler aren't the only ones with blood on their hands). Second, the current members of Disney's Board as well as many, but not all, of the executives are of the opinion that the project was a failure and the park was a disappointment. This is something that you couldn't get anyone in the Team Disney Building to mention the first couple of years after California Adventure opened up. Thirdly, the rise of the Internet has changed how we deal with the parks and how information is given/gotten. We see this with all the information about Tokyo DisneySEA that wasn't available in such great quantity while that gate was being built. Access to information is a powerful thing. Lastly, the competition has gotten better. Part of this is the fact that many of the companies that do contract work now are headed by former Imagineers and thus the quality of their projects are greatly higher quality than in the late 80's/early 90's. The chief among these is the new Harry Potter attractions in IOA that have Disney Suits looking over their shoulders. That, as I've always said, is a good thing. Competition is great. It brings out better work and the consumer/guest will be the one to benefit.
So as we look forward to Shanghai and the next Magic Kingdom styled park, or a second or third or fifth gate at some other resort, we know that Disney will not be able to get away with the creation of another DCA. Will the next park be perfect? Doubtful, but it won't/shouldn't have the faults that DCA or WDS has. The heads of the Walt Disney Company aren't perfect and sometimes make decisions that fans might hate, but they know that the parks created after the last decade can't rely on coasting by with the Disney name on them. They have to actually have the Disney quality that we've come to expect; that those former Disney Suits had somehow forgotten, or never really knew. The next collection of parks shouldn't be hampered by the restrictions placed on Barry Braverman when he was put in charge of Disneyland's Second Gate. Instead they'll be burdened by the knowledge that fans know what they're capable of with DisneySEA. It's amazing that during this period the parks produced both the worst and best examples of what a park bearing the Disney name could be. The current crop in Burbank know that there is no fooling us with a simple moniker above the title.
And that is a positive, unintended consequence to a dark decade of the Mouse forgetting where it came from, but more importantly where it's going...
You've really hit the nail on the head with the creative problems Disney had in the late 90s, early 2000s! It is so strange to see three quality-lacking Disneyparks being built in the same era when the most beautiful Disneypark is opened.
Luckily a lot of the mistakes are being fixed right now. For me personally however, there is still one thing missing...
...As a European Disneyfan, I always carry a great fondness for Disneyland Paris. I even feel kind of guilty for its lacking performance interfering with other great plans, but the worst thing is that I really want the Studios over here to perform greatly as well. Not just as an "extra land" to the other park, but as stand-alone park. A lot needs to be done, which costs a lot of money, which is unfortunately not available. So my hope in the near future is that the current management in the States finally acknowledges the problems with the smallest Disneypark in the world and makes some sort of grand gesture similar to the rescue plan of DCA...ah, we can always dream, right!?
I completely agree, but I think you can trace the seed of this problem back even farther, to the "half day" experience Disney MGM Studios. They've spent more fixing all five of these parks than their original cost.
I think Walt Disney Studios needs its own Buena Vista Street. I'm not saying a clone, but just a new entrance that says DISNEY. The current one says, I'm cheap and bland and don't belong at the front of a Disney theme park.
Yeah, I tend to agree. The Disney Execs tend to realize they made a mistake and with the current increase do to high quality entertainment like WOC, I expect them to not fall back on the old cheapening of the parks. At least that's what I hope. Shanghai awaits.
I'm still ticked over Beastly Kingdomme being dropped from AK. As a result, while parts of AK look nice, it's just an overblown zoo. Oh, and a zoo with a broken yeti. To hell with it. If I want to visit a zoo, I can stay home: I live in St. Louis, MO, and we have one of the best zoos in the country. Why would I waste money and time to visit Disney's zoo (with a broken yeti?) Fooey.
Besides, Disney is supposed to be based on FANTASY. I can see a rhinoceros or a crocodile right here at home. But a unicorn or a dragon? Not so much. So Disney really dropped the ball with BK. And worse, Universal has picked it up and is now beating Disney at its own game with Wizarding World. Hell, Universal's even got its own castle now! Sad.
Unfortunately, our American parks aren't owned and operated by the OLC. That's why we're not on the same boat as DisneySea. Fans should realize that the only way Disney could ever meet this standard in their theme parks would be through selling them.
I believe Eisner's edict was to "Amaze Me". Your observations are otherwise right on. We have to face facts that for all that we sincerely do LOVE about Disney's lands, the long list of what shouda-coulda-woulda been built is now far longer than what actually does exist. EuroDisneyland Paris is spectacularly beautiful, but allowed to stale and rot. DCA will never be anything but an addendum to Disneyland, and as happy as I am about the improvements there, they are far from "amazing". The Little Mermaid ride will be very welcome, but is in the wrong place, in the wrong park, and set under-the-sea, yet inside of a funky building. World of Color missed every opportunity to be great trying to extract even more money from guests. The vast Carsland is already all wrong as it is being under-built from too many perspectives. (the Matterhorn - or Mt. Prometheus - is impressively inspiring from miles away, while Carsland will apparently present huge flat walls inside the park, only more so from the outside) Meanwhile the Disneyland Hotel has been stripped of all charm and any color sense, similar to the Disney Stores... HKDL is anemic even with it's messy fixes; EPCOT is a tacky mess. No, sorry, I don't think DisCo. has learned much since about 1994, and lost an awful lot since then; coasting on an ever thinner reputation. It's certainly bigger, but the best of Disney is currently in our memories, imaginations...and Tokyo.
I agree with all except one thing. And I portray my disagreement in the form of a question.
How do you explain Toy Story Playland in Disney Studios Park?
I do not belIeve te execs have fully learned from their mistakes of the past. And instead by going fullheartedly into innovative ideas, designs and creations. Were getting the same typical carnival rides masked by Disney characters.
California Adventure has the excuse of limited space and funding for a redesign. And sure enough World of Color and a few small others are showing the muscle Disney still has. But when it comes to building we rides, lands, areas I don't want to see a crappy ride I can go on anywhere being mascotted by slinky dog, buzz or woody. I want an immersive experience.
I'll truly feel they've learned their lesson when projects like toy story playland and a bugs land stop showing up and we see more projects like the "new fantasyland" and dare I say "wizarding world of Harry potter" begin development.
"Unfortunately, our American parks aren't owned and operated by the OLC. That's why we're not on the same boat as DisneySea. Fans should realize that the only way Disney could ever meet this standard in their theme parks would be through selling them."
While the OLC does owe a great deal to what we see in Tokyo, there is a crucial component that includes the Mouse. The agreement involves a veto power that Disney has over show elements and presentation. This allows Disney to have the ability to demand high standards without having to pay for them. They don't have this advantage in the States. The Oriental Land Company does a great business, but there have been occasions that the cost of something was going to be less, but Disney's representatives insisted on higher budgets.
It's a lot easier to be so picky when you the check isn't written by you. The irony is that Disney's insistence on this level of quality is to its own detriment here, as it looks as though they don't care as much. It's a very complicated agreement that has Disney fans giving the OLC a bit more credit than they actually deserve.
OLC still foots the bills. While some may say that it's Disney's insistence on quality that is the reason DisneySea is so rich, OLC still was the major driver of the extent of the content.
They could have easily reduced the quality or content of the park if they felt it was costing too much. But it was clear from the outset that OLC was willing to go beyond Disney's "requirements" (suggestions). Just the extent of the models that were made for the park would have been (and was for DCA) considered excessive for any Disney owned project.
When you see all the props, like all the boats that were commissioned, it just seems unbelievable (DCA couldn't even supply even ONE boat). DisneySea feels like something that might have been done in Dubai.
So, I really believe that it was more of OLC's insistence, not Disney's, that resulted in the park they got.
Waits for the inevitable moronic Darrell post.
"For the longest time the Suits and soulless bean counters tried to explain the reaction to the opening away with every excuse possible. It was rainy. Summer will be better. 911 kept it from succeeding, ect. and on and on. The truth which they knew, they didn't dare say. They screwed up. The problem was that by this time, there were already two parks in construction under this model. Walt Disney Studios in Paris and Disney's Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World.
Huh? Disney's Animal Kingdom was almost three years old when Disney's California Adventure officially opened.
"Huh? Disney's Animal Kingdom was almost three years old when Disney's California Adventure officially opened."
Yes, but I was referring to the design plans that Eisner had begun implementing after the disaster of Euro Disneyland. That happened in 1992. Everything that came after that was underwhelming and uninspired. The other parks were already being built under this philosophy.
After next year, DCA will finally be a park I'll want to visit.
Now, if Disney would just fix EPCOT, like get rid of all those tombstones around Spaceship Earth.
And then fix up WDS so that it doesn't look so generic. I too agree the front needs some spicing up, but there are many parts of the park that need a better, and more unifying theme.
1. Bring in a Tron e-ticket ride/attraction to tomorrowland and/or future world.
2. Bring the cars racers attraction into Disney's Hollywood studios as well as a smaller carsland. Lights, motors, action can become a part of this area.
3. Re-theme animal kingdoms Dinoland into a mythical kingdom/island section. Dinosaur will fit just fine in this area. Bring in a new e-ticket to sit between Expedition
Everest and dinosaur. Existing rides can be rethemed in similar fashion as paradise pier has been done in california adventure only using mythical creatures as the overlying theme.
4. Focus on retooling shows and parades. Replace beauty and the beast with something more action oriented possibly a reboot Ralph show meet and greet when that film eventually comes out. Bring over stronger parade floats and designs from California adventure to Hollywood Studios and have a new parade for Animal Kingdom bringing in the mythical creatures aspect to the parade.
5. Magic Kingdoms Tomorrowland stage should be utilized as a nightly makeshift elecTRONica if a e-ticket ride does come through.
Just my thought.
DisneySea is the crown jewel in the Disney crown. This is what can happen when the suits are kept on the sideline and the Imagineers create their magic. We look forward to seeing it in March. It will be a trip of a lifetime.
Walt Disney World, due to its size, has similar potential, but needs significant investment to improve it. While the Fantasyland Expansion is needed in the Magic Kingdom, another "E" ride using Epcot's Soar'in technology, based upon Peter Pan's Flight in Neverland would be a Potter killer.
Epcot needs two new countries such as Russia, Brazil. Japan needs to add the Bullet Train ride; Germany needs to have one based on the Grimm Fairy Tales; A Haunted Tower of London in Britain. An updated Verizon of Horizons 2150 and The Wonders of Life need to be restored to Future Land. In fact, Future Land needs to go back to its original mission.
In Hollywood Studios, Disney Animation & Live Action, Pixar, Marvel and Lucas, the Muppets films should be presented here. For example, Pixar Land would feature a Monster's Inc. Coaster, A Toy Story Playland, Carland. They would join the popular Toy Story Midway Mania.
To restore the fourth leg, the Beastley Kingdomme would be restored with major changes from the original vision. Instead of the Dragon Coaster, there is Journey to the Center of the Earth. Instead of Fantasia Gardens, the Hero's Quest featuring Hercules, Pegasus and Phil would lead guest in a battle against the Titans and other Mythical Monsters in a ride system similar to Toy Story Mania. The Quest for the Unicorn would include a maze, which would also include a Dragon.
DisneySea does not need to be the only crown jewel; Walt Disney World could be bigger, even better. As for Harry Potter, Disney needs to continue to make changes like taking out the Beauty & the Beast show in Hollywood Studios and replacing it with Aladdin for example, or changing out Snow White Ride in the Magic Kingdom with one based on Tangled. But the park must continue to evolve. That way it will also be an experience for the young at heart.
Here's a idea.
Use less Disney characters to overlay generic rides. And bring in more original stories and characters. The imagineers are some of the best story tellers around and I'm sure they're just itching to break out the creativity and bring us something great.
One of the problems with WDW is that the fan base is less local that tourist. Here in California the base of Disney fans are very vocal about what they like or don't like.
The fans in Florida need to send e-mails, go to Guest Relations, talk to cast members, ect. I'm not saying that they don't do it, I'm saying they don't do it near what they do here in Anaheim. That is one of the reasons that things are done far more quicker here and why the standard is higher here. Most of the tourist that enter the parks in Florida for a week won't be back for years and tend to not complain as much. And the smaller fan base of the Florida community is more docile than their California brethen.
If you complain about the parks on the boards and in comments, people, you need to do so in the parks and not just once. Often.
Disney does notice this, but they don't get near the pestering in the swamps of the East Coast as the suburbs of the West Coast.
"Use less Disney characters to overlay generic rides. And bring in more original stories and characters."
The overlay of Mulholland is temporary...
It's supposed to provide more theming and buy more time until money comes available and an idea sets in for another E-Ticket that can go there. That said, don't expect one there until the end of the decade. But by then you won't have to worry about a character theming of a mouse coaster.
Not everything comes in this phase, but all the guests showing up for the new and more elaborate attractions is good amo for properly designed attractions.
... and to think when Disneyland opened they had to chose between drinking fountains or toilets.
I wonder why didn't they just fix the problem with pixie dust?
"I believe Eisner's edict was to "Amaze Me". Your observations are otherwise right on."
Duly noted and changed...
Just wanted to say, fabulous article!
What a ridiculous, ridiculous article. New to Walt and Roy, Eisner was the best thing to ever happen to Disney. He brought the company into the modern age. He prevented it from being bought for parts. Were all the decisions he made perfect? Of course note. But I would rather have an Animal Kingdom (not a zoo by the way - I don't know any zoo's with rollercoasters, great stage shows, a water ride and really good food) with no Beastly Kingdom than no Animal Kingdom at all. Same with DCA and HS and DLP.
Also, remember that OLC foots the bill for Japan - they just outsource the creative stuff to Disney. the WDC has what, 11 parks to run, and OLC has two. If WDC simply had Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, then they would both be as perfect as everyone claims Disney Sea is.
And Disneyland (as much as it is a local park and not a desination) is the crown jewel of Disney, to Disney Sea.
A lot of childish comments posted here. I think some people - including our esteemed host - needs to step back and look at the totality of the Eisner era. Look at where Disney was before he took over and where it was when he left.
Nice to see you've been a long time reader of the blog, Anonymous...
If you've ever kept track of what I say about Eisner, yes, I am hard on him, but I also have given him credit. You and I would be agreement that WHEN he came it, there was a desperate need for someone that could fix the problems with Walt Disney Productions. This article wasn't about that.
You'll notice that I didn't refer to when he became Chairman of the company, I wasn't talking about that. I was talking about the misdirection that the company had headed and most of those decisions didn't happen in his first decade. Most happened in his last decade there. If you'd read some of my posts and many of my comments, I've always divided them up into 1984-1994 versus 1995-2005. During the first decade Eisner got a great deal of what he did right, not all, but most. During the second decade it flipped and it was the reverse.
The pivotal event seems to be the helicopter crash of Frank Wells. Once he left Eisner lost the Yin to his own Yang (something I've said before, btw). He did a lot of good things for the company, but he had someone to balance his ego and ambition with Wells, once gone that wasn't the case and we all suffered for his bad vision. I've gone into depth further on this in posts/comments before so I won't do it again here.
As for thinking that Disneyland would be perfect if they only had two parks? I wouldn't agree and never said that. But they have people in charge of each park, they are responsible for keeping each park up to the company's high standards. One of the reasons Disney has helped with the OLC is that it can enforce those standards and not have to put out any money. A very nice position to be in, I think.
But my standards for Disney parks don't change no matter who is in charge. The ones in Tokyo are immaculately kept, as are Anaheim's to a slightly less degree. It's when you get further out, in Florida and Paris that things start to fall apart. This is part cultural and part distance I believe.
As your esteemed host, I find that you jump to a lot of conclusions yourself. Stock up and read more posts and you'll notice my views a little better next time.
Yeah, this article was talking about the stuff that happened in the parks after Euro Disneyland which was 1992, right? That was almost a decade after Eisner was there. Honor wasn't talking about him someone that shouldn't be in charge. He was talking about when the company went down the wrong path. I guess he wasn't drinking enough cool-aid to say that everything was all right?
And if you had read some of his posts you'd know that he loves Animal Kingdom, but that doesn't mean he doesn't see the faults or missed opportunities.
I agree with some of the points made here. However, when not making excuses for the colassal failures discussed in this post, there are ongoing glaring issues that remain unaddressed. To begin with, I was a contractor at WDI during that period working on TDS. Getting my foot in the door was a step towards making a dream on my own come true: to make a contribution to the dream that I had grown up with and always loved. That dream morphed into a nightmare in short order. I witnessed, first hand, the arrogance and contempt that imagineers and cast members displayed towards each other, as well as fans/guests/customers. Most of the people there could care less about the parks or doing good work and perpetuate the dream. They were there for their own personal prestige and their egos revelled in their dysfunction. I left there upon the completion of TDS and my experiences as a guest at the parks at DLR have not changed since that rude awakening. Guest relations and event planning are a nightmare and I simply avoid going anymore. Furthermore, World of Color strikes me with the impression that is more a marketing promotion of disney movies (DVD's) than an actual, full-fledged attraction. Steve Jobs and John Lasseter gave me reason to hope for a return to creative genious for future park development, but the jury is still out on that for me.
Unfortunately for you (and many Imagineers), the period you were at Imagineering was also when politics were in full swing. While there was indeed a lot of backstabbing and preferential treatment, there were still many who were doing their best to provide the best creative products possible.
That attitude, while diminished somewhat, is still a fact there. The result is that some poor projects still get promoted due to political pressures, while other outstanding concepts get quashed.
As you pointed out, the merger with Pixar gave many Imagineers hope that creative integrity would again be given priority. Unfortunately, any slight initial improvements have lost ground again as some recent projects have shown.
Will things again change for the better? Hard to say. We can only hope.
Eisner's worst betrayal of Disney was buying the Muppets.
What the eff does the creators of Mickey Mouse want with them????
Walt would buy the rights to other's works, all right, but he would then recreate them, adding the Disney magic and style. Very often, he improved on the original and helped make it immortal. But the Muppets aren't likely to get a Disney makeover, much as they could use one, and they're just period pieces that only a few online fanboys and an obsessed mental case like Jason Segal care about.
Eisner got ousted shortly after that lame move, but unfortunately he set a bad example, and now Iger has bought Marvel. Talk about from bad to worse...
"As your esteemed host, I find that you jump to a lot of conclusions yourself. Stock up and read more posts and you'll notice my views a little better next time."
First, I've been reading your blog every Friday for the last couple of years (and I do enjoy it and I'm not the type that normally comments - hence no username). But I don't recall you (or anyone else here really) having anything good to say about Eisner. Maybe you did but I can't retain everything from every single post.
My response was as much to some of the more asinine comments (AK is just a zoo?) about Eisner than to the specifics of your post. Although I can see how my first sentence is over the top. But I stick by my assertion of the childish comments I sometimes see.
And my basic point is you can't just divide Eisner's reign. You need to look at the whole thing. I would argue that MGM was a mess when it opened - first part of the regime - but AK wasn't that bad when it first opened.
When was ABC/ESPN aquired? 1996 I think. Second part.
And I stand by my assertion that if only Disneyland the MK existed in the U.S., that they would be as good if not better than TDL. Each park might have their own person in charge but major undertakings come directly from the top.
I'm on the East Coast and go to WDW a few times a year. Do I see a few problems? Yes (especially during Food and Wine at Epcot). But I never seen any problem so big and blatant that it ruins my time there.
"I guess he wasn't drinking enough cool-aid to say that everything was all right?"
So I'm 'drinking kool-aid' because I don't happen to share the same opinion of Eisner as you?
Couldn't I say you're 'drinking kool-aid' because you tow the Disney fanboy line that Eisner was the worst thing to ever happen to Disney.
"My response was as much to some of the more asinine comments (AK is just a zoo?) about Eisner than to the specifics of your post."
If you've been reading the posts, I've always spoke very highly of DAK. I love it, but it's incomplete, that is my main complaint. That it needs to be a full day park, not half day. And this resulted from Eisner cutting the Beastly Kingdomme part of the park. Which I've stated if it had been built with this missing piece, would have made Animal Kingdom my favorite park in WDW. I also commented way back when I started this blog, that this park was the one with the most potential.
"Couldn't I say you're 'drinking kool-aid' because you tow the Disney fanboy line that Eisner was the worst thing to ever happen to Disney."
I have NEVER said this. EVER. This comes from somewhere deep in the crevices of your own mind. I have mentioned that Paul Pressler is the worst thing that ever happened to the parks. Eisner's biggest mistake was appointing him to head them, but I've never, ever said Eisner was the worst thing. As I've stated, during his first half of his tenure, he helped save the company. But post 1994 he has been more of a detriment to the company than an asset.
CEOs should know when it's time to go and if he'd have left in the late 90's, he'd had a much better legacy.
I only hope that Iger understands when his time comes...
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