Friday, August 18, 2017

Walt Disney World Cancelling Express Bus Service

Walt Disney World is cancelling the express bus service which was launched in December of 2016. The service allowed unlimited park-to-park transportation for guests where you would not have to enter through the front and could skip the security line. It looks like the new Minnie Van service may be the reason why Disney decided to cancel this service. The last day for guests to purchase Express Bus Service was August 16th, with the last day of operation will be August 23rd, 2017. While this seemed like a good idea, one positive out of this cancellation is that folks will go back to experiencing the Disney parks the way that they were meant to be experienced with everyone sharing a common entrance as an "establishing scene". Also this service was seen by many as just another instance in a long history of Disney finding a way to throw yet another stealth charge at guests. The charge had the effect of ensuring that, at least at the theme park level, all guests were not treated the same.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What Makes a Disney Park - Disney?


Photo Copyright The Pro Football Hall of Fame

In case anyone hasn't seen it - the Pro Football Hall of Fame has made quite a splash lately with the announcement of the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village. The Pro Football Hall of Fame President envisions the devolpment as a football "Disney World". The village will be based around the current Hall of Fame campus in Canton Ohio, and will be a $700 million mixed-use development including a hotel, and an indoor amusement park themed around football called the "Hall of Fame Experience".

According to an article which ran in the USA Today, Hall of Fame President David Baker commented;

"If Disney (properties) are the 'Happiest Place on Earth,' " Baker says, "we want to be the 'Most Inspiring Place on Earth.'
"Football is a great metaphor for leadership, and we can play a role. The game has an incredible history, and kids can get to learn to play the game the right way. We can help build men and women the right way. We can help take care of players — former players like our 'Gold Jackets' (a term used to refer to living Hall of Famers), present and future players. We can enhance the experience for fans."
So thinking about the fact that the Pro Football Hall of Fame has "Disney" aspirations - I wanted to spend some time and discuss what makes a Disney theme park - well "Disney". Understanding what makes Disney parks so special is key to our mission here at Save The Magic. It's helpful to understand what should be saved, and what is so special and unique about Disney parks.


  • Walt originally conceived of Disneyland as a place where families could all have fun together. At the core - the very first principle of Disney Parks is an inclusive environment that all can enjoy. Walt hated having to watch his kids play while he was stuck on a park bench. Fun for all is the basis upon which disney parks are built. 
  • Disney parks provide for isolation from the real world. They allow a visitor to have a suspension of disbelief, and nothing in a Disney Park should shatter the illusion during your visit. 
  • Disney parks are generally clean, safe, well maintained & landscaped.
  • Disney parks are based on telling stories and carry a "theme", and are theme based. Everything from the landscaping, to the retail, to the attractions all carry the story and continue the theme. 
  • Attractions are not "Rides", and each attraction is heavily realistically themed, and is themed to the appropriate area of the park where the attraction is housed. Most importantly each attraction is a medium to tell a story. 
  • Nothing should be out of place - nothing should be discordant. For example, you should not have a cowboy in tomorrowland. 
  • Disney parks have a sense of order. Order is the goal in a Disney park. Guests dont feel threatened while at the park, but rather guests have a sense of reassurance. Disney parks communicate that the world is actually "ok". This reassurance comes from several places at a Disney park. Some of the feeling of reassurance comes from the design and subject matter of the park. Some of the reassurance comes from communicating to people thorough nostalgia and memories. (For example Main Street reflects a time that never was (at least not how it is presented) but more a time that people may have wished was. This communicates a warm sense of nostalgia, and level sets the guest's experience with the right mindset.)
  • Disney parks are planned environments. Things don't happen in a hap-hazard way within the Disney park environment. Everything is controlled, from the environment to the number of choices that are presented to you in any given area. Attractions are not just jammed into any open space available, but rather planed in such as way as to advance the story of a given area. Everything in a Disney Park is also a faithful replica of the real. 
  • Disney parks exist to tell stories, and most of the stories told in a Disney park are told visually, in high quality. Part of the visual story telling is interaction with characters from Disney stories. 
  • Transitions between themed areas is handled artfully and with the utmost skill. For example moving from Main Street into Tomorrowland seems normal and natural. 
  • Disney parks have Wienies. That is a term that was coined by Walt. But the idea is you can put a Wienie on an end of a stick and entice a dog to follow it - by the same token good theme park design always allows for something to draw the visitor forward. For example, the castle at the end of Main Street draws you forth into the park. 
  • Last, and certainly not least, but Disney Parks always focus on the details, for it is in the details that the experience is made. For example Disney will use a very expenseive glass chandelier in a restaurant serving in-expensive hot dogs. Could they have skimped on the chandelier and used something much cheaper? Of course - but the key point is that it wouldn't be as authentic and it wouldn't be as good. Details are important. 
So there you have it - a short list of the things which are key to making a Disney park - "Disney". In the coming weeks I will be taking each of these topics, and will be looking at them more in depth in an effort to show just what is worth saving, and what is being lost.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Disney Legend and Imagineer Marty Sklar Dies at 83

Disney Legend and Imagineer Marty Sklar has passed away. It is a sad day as we have lost yet another person who had a direct connection back to Walt.

We are sorry to report that legendary Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar has passed away: https://t.co/SXT2gZ22s8 pic.twitter.com/aKjFMsJnaQ

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Congrats to Imagineer Wayne Jackson - for being named a Disney Legend! Its nice to see that someone who was there when Walt was still running things gets recognized! Congrats Wayne, well deserved!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Kermit The Frog - Steve Whitmire - Fired By Disney



In case you didn't see it - long time Muppeteer Steve Whitmire, who has dedicated his life to the muppets since he was 19, and who has played Kermit The Frog since Jim Henson's death in 1990 has been let go by Disney after 27 years of service, as his role was being "Recast". Steve has been quiet about it for several months, but has now started his own blog to talk about what happened and to share his feelings about the Muppets. From Steve's first blog post.. he writes

"For me the Muppets are not just a job, or a career, or even a passion. They are a calling, an urgent, undeniable impossible to resist way of life. This is my life's work since I was 19 years old. I feel that I am at the top of my game, and I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that I would never consider abandoning Kermit or any of the others because to do so would be to forsake the assignment entrusted to me by Jim Henson, my friend and mentor, but even more, my hero."

In a lot of ways - this is exactly why Save The Magic exists - to call attention to when these sorts of things happen in Disney. To those of us who are fans - Disney represents a lot more than just money, or an entertainement product. For us, Disney represents memories, and a history which transcends corporate politics. Absent some grave malfeasance, it just feels wrong to end a 27 year career. This is how the "feeling" of characters change, and something is lost in the process, and every fan is the poorer for it.

Drop by Steve's blog and send him a note of support.





Monday, July 10, 2017

Changes to Pirates of the Caribbean and valid reasons...


By now, no doubt, most fans of Disney parks will be aware that Disney has announced that they are planning on making a fairly important change to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. When Pirates of the Caribbean reopens at Disneyland Paris on July 24th - the famous Bride/Wench auction scene will be gone from the attraction. Florida's Magic Kingdom park and California's Disneyland park will follow Paris's lead and will have the scene removed in 2018. In place of the scene, a new "pirate loot auction" will be installed. The idea behind the new scene is that the townspeople, under threat of violence, will haul their valuables to a "pirate auction" in front of the town tavern where drunk pirates will bid on the townspeople's valuables. The famous "red head" character will now be transformed into a pirate, brandishing a gun, and apparently supervising the auction. The plus sized woman from the auction scene will now be in the background either feeding chickens, or offering her chickens to be auctioned (its not really clear which it is, from the rendering released).

Artist Concept - Copyright Disney

 Los Angeles Times Article

On July 7th - an article ran in the Los Angeles Times, and was widely picked up by other news outlets, which featured some comments and a brief interview with Kathy Mangum, an SVP who is Atlantic Region Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering. I would like to quote here the Los Angeles Times article as Ms. Mangum gives the internal thinking about what drove this change.

After consulting with diversity groups, including Imagineering’s in-house WIN — the Women’s Inclusion Network — Imagineering decided to adapt the ride for a generation weaned on strong female Disney characters such as Merida, Elsa, Moana and Judy Hopps.
“Last November, for the first time, we had a woman who was a viable candidate for the president of this country,” Mangum says. “I hate to say times are changing, but there's an advancement in pop culture and society, and the timing felt right. We didn't link it to any one initiative, but as we talked about it, we couldn't think of a really valid reason for keeping it as it is.”

The article continues...
Does she expect a backlash? “Because it was Walt's last attraction,” Mangum says, some fans are “not going to want any kind of change. We understand that. I understand that. But it's the same reason we added Jack Sparrow. You have to think ahead to other generations who won't have the tie-back to Walt.”

History with Walt

While its been widely mentioned that Pirates of the Caribbean was the last attraction that Walt Disney supervised - what is not as widely known is that there were only two segments of the attraction which were completed to the testing stage, and were actually viewed by Walt in person. The two scenes were the "dunking the Mayor" scene and the "bride auction" scene. Indeed - not only did Walt view and approve the full size operating segment - but Walt himself was actually responsible for adding in the auction scene in the first place. In Fall 1999 issue of The "E" ticket magazine an interview with Claude Coats (one of the original imagineers who worked on Pirates) - mentions,
"Walt added the Auctioneer scene kind of late... He came in one time and even said, 'This will be all right won't it?' He was just a little doubtful of auctioning off the girls. Was that quite 'Disney' or not? We added some other signs around, buy a bride or something like that, that augmented the auction scene as though it was a special big event. Marc (Davis) had done some drawings of the other girls who were tied up and shivering. The way the girls were done it's not an offensive scene at all, but it probably could have been if it hadn't been handled in a very interesting way."
One of the other lesser known aspects of the attraction is that, at least in the storyline of the attraction in Disneyland, the "red head" character apparently had years of happy marriage to a pirate and eventually became a pirate herself. We know this because Disney Imagineer Marc Davis painted the"red head" character as she would appear later in life as seen in the crew quarters area at the beginning of the attraction.


Really Valid Reasons... 

Ms. Mangum of imagineering mentioned in her interview "You have to think ahead to other generations who won't have the tie-back to Walt.” and her insight is key to understanding why this change should not be made. One of the things which is most important to our mission at Savethemagic.com - is to do everything possible to keep Walt's touch alive in the parks. That is not to say that the Disney parks need to be museums. Numerous are the quotes, which Disney is all too quick to point to, from Walt about changing the parks and installing new things. As the years go on, less and less of Walt will exist in the parks as a normal matter of course, new parks are built, and times of course change. This is why it is all the more important to try to save the things which we know that Walt was directly involved in. Change at the Disney parks on classic attractions should only be done when the change is consistent with the story line already established, and when the change adds something meaningful which advances the story. For example, over the years the animatronics have been updated with newer more advanced models. That change is fine, as it keeps the attraction's story as it had been, yet improves on the experience without changing the story line of the attraction. This change, on the other hand, is something much different. Not only does it wipe out a scene which we know Walt worked directly on, and approved - but it fundamentally changes the attraction's story line. Change by change the attraction is transformed into something which Walt wouldn't recognize and this, more than anything else, will break the "tie-back" to Walt. 


But it's the same reason we added Jack Sparrow...

In 2006 Disney announced that they would be adding the Jack Sparrow character to the pirates attraction. Originally, as Walt designed, the ride was a loose tableaux representing scenes that historical pirates may have, from time to time, been engaged in. Unlike the attractions found elsewhere in Disneyland, this attraction wouldn't have a linear story line based upon a specific preexisting movie. This was a departure from all the attractions which had proceeded it in Disneyland, and indeed was the genius and strength of the attraction. Unlike a linear story based attraction (Peter Pan's Flight, Mr. Toad, Snow White, Etc.) this attraction would have a story which would be ever new every time you rode it. With so much recorded dialog, it was likely that a guest on the attraction wouldn't hear everything the first time they rode through. This would enable the guest to experience the attraction ever new each time it was experienced, and provided the ability to keep the attraction interesting. It was a major development and break-though in theme park design - as it was the introduction of the non-linear story.

One of the worst things to befall pirates, before this idea of changing the auction scene surfaced, was the addition of the Jack Sparrow character to the attraction's story line. The reason this was so bad is because it took the Pirates attraction and made it have a linear story focused on the Sparrow character. Gone were the tableaux, and in its place was a "where's waldo" sort of experience as you see the Sparrow character pop up three times within the attraction. From imagineering's point of view, the idea was that it would tie the attraction to a character that the modern audience would relate to. The issue here is that this stripped the attraction of it's timelessness. Will the Sparrow character still be relevant in 50 years? Or will that need to be ripped out and replaced with what ever the flavor of the moment is in the future? It is a bad precedent. For example, how well did the Ellen DeGeneres animatronic character age in the Epcot remake of the Universe of Energy attraction? At last check, Disney removed it.

Worse, the change in Pirates belayed that at some point, Imagineering had sort of forgotten their own history. Clearly, dealing with what actual pirates did in history; kidnapping, looting, plundering, shooting, murder, etc., was problematic for a family friendly attraction. The solution to this when Walt was still around, was when Marc Davis attempted to inject some humor into the attraction, and the pirates became, to a certain extent, "cartoonized". In many of the Davis influenced scenes the pirates became sort of bumbling ne'er-do-wells. The Sparrow character, however, was rendered in all the modern Imagineering skill, as a hyper realistic Audio-Animatronic character. It is out of place and jarring against all of the more cartoonzied pirates in the rest of the attraction. Not only was Disney removing the non-linear storyline, but with the addition of the new Animatronic they managed to inject a darker more hyper realistic feel into the attraction. One of the key things which Imagineering Legend John Hench used to teach is that Disney Parks did not have jarring contradictions. Hyper-realistic put against cartoonized characters is a huge jarring contradiction, and a big no-no in imagineering design.




Change for Change Sake requires a really valid reason.. 

Imagineering an attraction, especially one which is as advanced and delicate a balancing act as Pirates, is a difficult proposition. It must be done with the utmost care. It must be done with respect for the art which is the attraction, and respect for Walt Disney's genius. Change because the "timing felt right" is not a good reason for making the change. Indeed making a change because a working group (Women's Inclusion Network) thought it was a good idea is also not a good reason for making the change. The change should only be made if it doesn't alter the story line, and enhances the attraction. Its clear that keeping the same narrative was not a consideration in making this change, in fact it was the motivation to change the story line and delete this scene which was the primary reason for making the change in the first place. Walt Disney was a genius, the likes of which do not come along very often. There were many times when people thought Walt was crazy; sound cartoons, first full length animated feature, first true theme park, etc., and in every case Walt was proven right. In this instance I think its a grave mistake to alter such a fundamental part of the story line personally approved by Walt. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Pandora's Effect On Walt Disney World Attendance



Interesting article over at blog.touringplans.com on Pandora’s effect on crowd levels at WDW, and animal kingdom in particular. Lots of data and charts and it is a little bit “inside baseball” for those of us who are Disney Fanatics.. but the long and short of the article is that people are just cutting back on their visits to Hollywood studios and Epcot to spend more time at Animal Kingdom, rather than choosing an extra day at Disney over Universal. So in the battle of Universal's Harry Potter vs. Pandora, it seems like Universal is the clear winner at this point. Pandora isn’t drawing anyone “new” in like universal has done with potter. It seems that its people who are already there and they are just going over to see Pandora since they are there. It also seems like people are just going into animal kingdom, seeing Pandora, then they are leaving – rather than staying in Animal Kingdom as Disney had hoped they would. That indicates that Animal Kingdom still has a serious issue with the rest of the park not being really compelling. Disney really needs to up their game if they hope that this would cure all that is wrong with Animal Kingdom. 


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Manifesto


Theme

I selected this photo of Cinderella's castle from a trip I took for several reasons. On the one hand it's kind of iconic, and represents so many good memories of trips and times gone by. On the other hand this picture is a bit ominous. It kind of gives a feeling that something bad is going to happen with the storm clouds overhead. I think it kind of sets the tone of how I have felt about the direction of Disney theme parks for sometime. 

The dictionary definition of "Manifesto" is a written public declaration of policy and aims that declares the intentions, motives, goals, views and opinions of the issuer. I hope to explain in this Manifesto just what savethemagic.com's reason for existence is, and what I hope it will accomplish. First, before I do that, we must take a trip back in time, and review where we have been. 

History


There is no dispute that Disney theme parks are the king of theme parks worldwide. They got to this position following Walt Disney's philosophy of keeping things clean, family friendly, high quality, and reasonably priced. In fact there was a time, not really all that long ago, in the 60's 70's and 80's of a golden age of Disney theme parks. This golden age lasted right up into the 1980's and at that time, Esmond Cardon Walker or "Card" Walker was the top executive and CEO at Walt Disney Productions. Card started working for Disney as a mailroom clerk in 1938, and over many years was promoted to Vice President of Advertising and Sales, before eventually being elected to the Board of Directors in 1960, and then CEO in 1976.  Card was a close associate of Walt, was part of the small working group that directed the purchase of the Disney property in Orlando, and was instrumental in getting the "EPCOT" theme park concept built. This was, in many ways, a high water mark in Walt Disney World theme park history. 

During the years that Card ran the company there was a certain feeling at the Disney theme parks, and unless you visited during that time, it is almost impossible to describe how great and special that feeling was. It was more than just the attractions, classic though they were, but it cut to the core of the place. It was a feeling that guests were to be valued, above all else. Guests were not seen as "revenue units" but rather as people who were there to enjoy a vacation unlike any other available anywhere else in the world. I can say, since I was there during this time, that anything systematic that would disturb a guest's vacation, would horrify those executives. In short, they cared, and you could feel it at the place.  

In May of 1983 Walt's son in law Ron Miller took over from Card and became CEO of the Walt Disney company. Ron only lasted until 1984, and he was outed in favor of non-disney executives Michael Eisner,  Frank Wells, and Jeffery Katzenberg. With Eisner in charge things started to change, and not for the better. Many of the old guard, those who worked directly with Walt, began to retire. Many experts were brought in from the outside, MBAs, experts in accounting, and financial planning, and "strategic planning", and slowly but surely the thinking and bureaucracy that has infected any of a number of great American corporations was brought into the Walt Disney Company. Somehow in all this, the guest, was forgotten. 

When Eisner took over the Walt Disney Company in 1984,  Disney was really a smallish theme park operator, and the revenue of the company was $1.5 billion.  By the time Eisner left the company in 2005 revenue was $30.75 billion, and the company had been transformed into a media giant. The stock price increased 1,646 percent, and the total number of employees grew from 28,000 to 129,000.

The incredible growth that Disney experienced was fueled by many things. Disney started to advertise the parks, something that they didn't generally do in a major way, prior to Eisner. Regular ticket prices started to increase every year with out fail. Seven additional theme parks were built the world over. The new theme parks were built very much with cost in mind. Many, (Disney MGM, California Adventure, Animal Kingdom etc.) were really half day parks, with full day admission prices. Outside hotel companies were brought in to build resorts and to "develop" the Florida property as quickly as possible. The master plan for the property was abandoned, and hotels and theme parks were put where ever, causing serious transportation problems all over the Florida property. 

In 1983 Walt Disney World attendance was round 22 million. By 2005 when Eisner was leaving the company, attendance at Walt Disney World was well over 43 million, annually. The huge crowds overwhelmed the Magic Kingdom, not designed for such attendance levels. The feeling of the place was changed. 

Eisner severed ties with the Disney Company in September of 2005, and turned things over to Bob Iger. Iger accelerated the trajectory that the company was already on from the Eisner years. Taking the corporate infrastucture that Eisner constructed to new heights, Iger was able to buy a lot of outside creative content such as Pixar in 2006, Marvel in 2009, Lucasfilm in 2012. In short the Disney company became an aggregator of creative content. The Disney company began to think in terms of profitable franchises, rather than the traditional way of looking at the company as a symbiotic whole. The comic booking of the parks is neigh in the future. Disney has departed from creating themed parks, to themed "lands" which have loosely to no connection to the overall park theme. Under this sort of thinking we get a cartoon character overlaid into the formerly non-fiction Norway pavilion of Epcot, and a world of "Pandora" (another non-disney creative product) in a park dedicated to realistic representation of the natural world. Soon we will even have a realistic other worldly Star Wars land, in a park dedicated to making movies. Overall themes don't really matter, when sacrificed on the altar of the "Franchise".  By 2014, the last year I have figures for, attendance at Walt Disney Attractions was over 134 million annually.  And so here we are. 

Inspiration

On October 22, 1997 in an article which ran in the Orlando Sentinel, it was reported that the Eisner regime was planning on shutting down the classic Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. The idea behind the shut down was to make way for a Pooh ride, which was felt to be more marketable to the masses, rather then the obscure Toad. Within one day of the article appearing in the news paper, the savetoad.com website was born by JT Toad. In what would be the first of many, this site galvanized public opinion, and drew huge media attention to many of the problems which had developed with the way that the Disney theme parks were being run. While ultimately the site wasn't successful in saving the attraction from the wrecking ball, the site was the first to tap into the public's collective love for classic Disney attractions.  Around the year 2000, Al Lutz started the disneyland blues web site, in an effort to draw attention to the declining general conditions of Disneyland under Eisner's leadership. Also around 2000, John Hornbuckle (known online as "Parrothead") inspired by what Al Lutz had done, started a web site called wdwblues, to draw attention to the declining general conditions of Walt Disney World. Around that time, in 2000,  I became involved in the wdwblues movement, and for a time felt that the movement was making a real impact in helping to draw attention and to improve the Disney Parks. While these very great sites have since all ceased to be, I feel we once again need a site to galvanize the public, report and share news, and draw attention. This is needed now before its too late, and classic Disney theme park entertainment, as we have known it, is lost forever.

Purpose

This site will exist to report news, share opinions, and to draw attention to issues at the Disney theme parks, with a special focus on Walt Disney World. Some, but not all, of the problems in no certain order are; 
  • Declining maintenance.
  • Ever increasing prices.
  • Destruction of classic attractions. 
  • Cost Cutting (aka accountineering).
  • Huge infusion of Non-Disney developed "Franchise" characters into the parks. IE. The "Comic Bookazation" of Disney. 
  • The sense that it is all about the money - its not any longer a labor of love. Disney is overly focused on making money from absolutely everything about the parks, and squeezing as much as possible from the consumer, when ever and where ever possible. 
  • Poor ride and theme park design. 
  • Over crowding, and general lack of ride capacity to handle the crowds. 
  • Fast Pass Plus - and the whole mentality of "My Disney Experience / Magic Band" over planning of the vacation, Etc. 
  • Less than helpful staff. A general attitude of "not caring", with poor cast member attitudes. 
  • A general sense that Disneyworld is "not what it used to be" and that guests are not that important. 
  • Hotel room prices on property which are extremely high and not up to the same value as a run of the line Hilton or Marriot room. (For example none of the Disney hotels offer a free breakfast, which is more or less standard in the rest of the hotel industry, yet Disney hotel pricing leads the industry).  
  • A general sense that for the high prices Disney is charging that the experience leaves a good number of folks "Disappointed". If you charge top dollar for an experience then you should expect a top tier experience. 
  • Overpriced and poor quality food. A decline in variety of menu items at restaurants in an effort to control food costs and to maximize profits. Aka "The Disney Dining Plan Mentality". 
  • Shops on property, on the whole, selling the same merchandise as all other shops, rather than unique items based off theme or location.
  • Conversion of the Disney Shopping Village into a lightly themed high end mall, with national chain retailers.  
  • A general "decline by degrees" - IE the Disney theme park of the past was better than the Disney theme park of today. 
  • An over reliance on foreign visitors as a revenue stream as opposed to domestic demand. 
  • Transportation problems - too many buses and not enough monorails. 
  • A general sense that new disney attractions are not up to the quality of the old classic attractions. A reliance of lightly themed "off the shelf" attractions, as opposed to Disney designed unique highly themed attractions. 

In conclusion

I am a Disney theme park fan and historian. I care a great deal about the quality and long term health of the Disney Theme Parks. I think the parks are something unique in the world, and are important as the creative legacy of Walt Disney. Many very talented, mostly unknown, people have labored to make the Disney Parks all that they could be and I want to honor their legacy as well. I believe that the parks are worthy of saving for everyone. This site exists to return the Walt Disney Company back to the quality for which it used to be famous while Walt Disney was alive. The goal is to save the magic for future generations to come.