Ten Ways to Make Disney Parks Better

Green Day’s got their Boulevard of Broken Dreams…this is what I have.

Dear Walt Disney Imagineering,

How are you? I am fine. Things are okay around here, I guess. Coronavirus is still ravaging the nation, but at least I don’t have to worry about a clueless orange narcissist continually bungling efforts to have all of us not, you know, die. So things are good, sort of.

It’s been just over three years since I left Walt Disney World as a cast member and two since I was last there at all. I like to think I had a pretty good finger on the pulse of what theme park fans did and didn’t like, particularly when my buddy SurferClock and I did our podcast, What’s the Attraction?. Even today, out in the Disney park-less landscape that is Phoenix, Arizona, I still skulk around these days on theme park vlogger videos on YouTube (Yesterworld, Defunctland, Some Jerk with a Camera, Theme Snark & Friends, TPMVids, Theme Park History, Expedition Theme Park, Park Ride History, etc.) and various Facebook groups to keep up on all the latest gossip going on in Lake Buena Vista and Anaheim.

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact at the end of the day, I’m still just some shmuck with a platform on WordPress who hasn’t been to Galaxy’s Edge (Nor do I have any desire to) who takes the occasional pretention to know better than anyone else. Still, if seven years of guest interaction on the ground and observing social media reactions have taught me anything, it’s that there are some things WDI could afford to take to heart. So I present to you my heavily researched list of general policies and suggestions the company may want to keep in mind when preparing Disney parks in the future.

And don’t worry, I’m not going to cite some hackneyed, bad faith arguments to you like “Bring back Horizons!” or “When are you gonna build that fifth Disney Villains park you said you were gonna do?”. I don’t… I don’t care. This is meant to be a more sincere list, aimed at bettering the organization in the future. Because, you see, at the end of the day, we love Disney. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t spend countless hours online crying foul at every perceived indiscretion.

10. Not Everything has to be based on an I.P.

This is a popular rallying cry among many online, and honestly, I disagree. I see nothing wrong with putting Disney characters in Disney rides, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate on behalf of my fellow theme park fans.

Sixty-plus years ago, Imagineers had little choice when building attractions to be based around themes like the wild west, turn-of-the-century America, tropical jungles, the future, and fairy tales. Aside from Fantasyland, At best, Frontierland could use Pecos Bill and Davy Crockett to cross-promote. As time wore on, and more Disney films joined their backlog, it just made sense to incorporate more and more films and TV shows into the park, both to cross-promote and to draw in visitors who knew Disney better from their hometown theaters and living room TV sets. But through it all, several concepts pushed through the synergy barrier to become attractions without the benefit of being tied to a particular film. The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, Expedition: Everest, Journey into Imagination, and Test Track all became classics without the benefit of film association (Sort of…but you get my point, right?) Today, when a character from a Disney film shoehorns themselves into a Disney ride, or overtakes a ride devoid of an independent property, fans get…testy.

Now, me, I don’t really get this mentality. Sure, I like Jungle Cruise as much as the next guy, and no, I don’t think it’d benefit from having Simba, Shere Khan, and Terk infused into the attraction. But to not want Disney characters in Disney rides? But…I’m speaking as a devil’s advocate for others here.

Sometimes infusing Disney characters into attractions that didn’t have them is really grating or even unnecessary. Adding Disney characters to Disneyland’s It’s a Small World is pretty much a complete waste of effort, and putting Zazu and Iago into the Tiki Room ruined the attraction for over a decade. Other times it felt patronizing, like replacing Stitch with Alien Encounter. I think, though, that last point is probably this feeling of resentment comes from, more than anything.

When Maelstrom at Epcot was announced to be removed for Frozen Ever After, fans were incensed, which struck me as odd, because Maelstrom wasn’t really all that great. It had a few memorable moments, but it had one thing going for it: it didn’t talk down to anyone. It was a pretty straight laced and somewhat maturely-toned boat ride that showcased what Norwegian culture meant. It lasted for nearly thirty years and kids who went to Epcot grew up with it, were surprised it went away…only to be replaced by a guaranteed moneymaker of a theme, based on what was seen as an overhyped kiddy princess cartoon for kids too dumb to know what REAL entertainment is.

I.P.’s are a great hook, but when they replace something that was a unique experience, it feels like watching a ma and pa diner replaced with a McDonald’s. So go ahead and build new rides and shows starring Moana and Wreck-it Ralph or Baby Yoda. Just let us keep the truly unique stuff.

9. We’re not looking for edutainment.

Edutainment, as I call it, is the practice of making an entertaining product where its primary purpose is teach its audience something. It’s a practice that’s been around since our boomer parents were kids, when they used to watch Bert the Turtle warn them about the impending atomic apocalypse. By the time we millenials came onto the scene, television was the primary medium. Sesame Street and a million other kids’ programs taught us social skills, Bill Nye, Beakman, and Ms. Frizzle taught us science, Animaniacs taught us geography and history, and every other show in the nineties never failed to warn us of the dangers of drugs. Most of the time, it’s not done very well, because if it’s too fun, we forget the message. Too focused on the message, it’s not fun and we write it off as another PSA. But usually, it fails because it’s written by grown, usually white men who don’t know how to talk to kids yet think they do.

We know Epcot was based on the founding principle to educate the masses about human civilization, and it’s a noble, worthwhile goal. But it was clear from the moment it opened its gates in 1982 that people did not go there as if it were a field trip destination. Disney execs back then sure seemed to think so, but let’s be real, as Tony Goldmark once said:

“NOBODY THE F#$% GOES ON VACATION TO LEARN S@*#!!”

A bit of an absolutist perspective, as many museums and historical landmarks can attest, but let’s face it: If you’re going to Six Flags, Knott’s Berry Farm, Legoland, Cedar Fair, Universal Studios, or Disneyland, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re not going there because you’re seeking an educational experience. No, you’d want to go on some thrill rides, find a popular cartoon character to do selfies with, eat some wildly unhealthy food, maybe even buy an overpriced t-shirt. But to learn how Exxon-Mobil uses oil to fuel our planet? To see animatronic vegetables sing lame parody songs about nutrition? To slowly drift through bullet points of Mexican history? To learn how Mission-brand tortillas are made? Not as much of a slam-dunk as you might think.

Now, there have been instances where this has worked well. World showcase does provide some genuine cultural exposure from the native cast members who work there to the imported merchandise. Kilimanjaro Safaris demonstrates the necessity of caring for wildlife at the fictional Harambe Wildlife Reserve with mere exposure to the animals. Disney-MGM Studios was built on the premise of teaching people on how movies were made. But you get places like Universe of Energy, Bountiful Valley Farms, Hall of Presidents, the Disney Institute, and Golden Dreams, where the focus is clearly to lecture you, it’s going to annoy your audience. Why bother watching Mark Twain and Ben Franklin discuss American history when Soarin’ is literally a ten minute walk away?

One place where this really irks me in particular is Dinoland U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While a land themed around dinosaurs was a central tenet in the park’s trinity-based identity (Animals of today, animals that were, and animals that never were), Dinoland took on a theme of “extinction is forever”. This mission statement was meant to reinforce the idea that the nature we love can disappear if we’re not careful. First, dinosaurs were wiped out long before humans came in, so it’s not like we were exactly culpable. If it were dedicated to passenger pigeons, tasmanian tigers, dodos, and other fauna eliminated due to human stupidity, that makes sense, but not dinosaurs. Second, in Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, the former Primeval Whirl wild mouse coaster decorated its tracks with cartoony dinosaurs dodging meteors with Saturday morning slapstick, entirely negating the gravitas of the message.

Like I said, good edutainment is hard to come by and incredibly hard to do well. But it shouldn’t be a tentpole idea to hang an entire theme park or even attraction on.

8. Dance parties have not ever counted as an attraction. EVER.

We Disney theme park fans LIVE for the day a new E-ticket prepares to open for the first time. We know not every ride can be the next big thing, and even basic carnival rides, with the right amount of Disney theming, can be a beloved attraction. We get it: even for a a company with as deep pockets as Disney, you can’t churn out new rides every year to keep interest going…

But for the love of every deity in heaven, could you just freaking CUT IT OUT with the freaking DANCE PARTIES?

So at a fraction of the cost of even a simple spinner, guests at the parks who spent over $100 a ticket can wander through an area with a fair amount of pedestrian walking space on their way to Space Mountain or DINOSAUR or whatever when suddenly…a crowd of forty people start dancing to a blasting DJ remix of some Disney song while a couple of totally kewl hosts hype up the crowd, and a handful random characters clumsily mingle to further hype the party.  And this is done at least seven times a day, typically during hottest, most-direct-sunlightest parts of the day.

I admit I just may be a grumpy old curmudgeon, but I detest these dance parties for being loud, obnoxious, inconvenient, and worst of all, transparently cheap.  At the cost of some equity talent, a stage, and a decent sound system, a whole dance party could run less than a single ride vehicle, plus it can literally be installed overnight, entertain the kids rather effortlessly, and inject some good vibes and energy into the crowd.  But man oh man, fewer things feel like a bigger waste of time than these dance parties.

There’s also the fact that essentially a dance party is asking park guests to make their own entertainment.  A ride or show asks nothing of guests except to “sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride”, to coin a phrase.  But after setting up a playlist, a venue, and some choreography, the fun guests get out of it is by dancing, making the onus entirely on them.  To top it off, it’s bad enough when these shindigs cut off traffic flow in an area barely big enough to handle these crowds, but what about Sunset Showcase?

Accessible by Rock n’ Roller Coaster’s entrance, Sunset Showcase was one of the most recent border extensions of any Disney park (By bulldozing a cast member parking lot).  Nothing was announced upon its opening, but when it did in 2015, it was basically a dance club/lounge.  It’s been used for that other waste of everyone’s time, dessert parties, but mostly it’s been used to host Club Disney, then Club Villain, before becoming the Lightning McQueen Racing Academy.  I will not turn down a chance to cool down in some A/C, grab a drink, and take a breather at Hollywood Studios, but how relaxing can it be with pounding bass and dubstep remixes of “Let it Go” and “Be Our Guest”?

7. If Disney’s going to pride itself on theming, then commit to it.

Since Disneyland opened, the company revels in applying thematic elements to their parks.  It was they who pioneered the idea that everything, from light fixtures to trash cans, had to look as though they meshed with their surroundings.  For the most part, the wonderful idealists at WDI have been conscientious toward this notion and pressed onward, doing their best to allow whole worlds to embrace the wayward park guest.

So what the smoo is going on with Disney’s Hollywood Studios?

Once upon a time, Disney-MGM Studios had a very decided theme: movies and movie production.  Half the park was dedicated to soundstages and set pieces where tourists could see movies and TV shows being made.  The other half was dedicated to how animation, sound effects, green screen, and stunts were used in creating the productions.  This was a model that resembled Universal Studios Hollywood and the new sister park up in Orlando.  However, the behind-the-scenes motif wore off quickly, never mind that film production at both MGM and Universal was basically a non-starter.  ‘Cause, you know, Universal Hollywood at least had the benefit of having the legacy of real, historical filming locations.  The trend began with Star Tours as a movie-themed ride that was more about participating in a film than being taught about a film.  Thus, more and more attractions about themed experiences replaced the edutainment ones (See what I meant?), and now Disney’s Hollywood Studios has only one attraction about film production: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.

Of course, lest we forget the attractions were intended to be housed in generic, featureless soundstage buildings, because not only does that fit the theme of a studio, but also like a studio, each one can contain literally any set of any world.  So it makes perfect sense one building can house a recording studio with Aerosmith and another can contain an immersive stage production of The Little Mermaid.

But now I pose a question: What exactly is the theme of the park now?  It still calls itself Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it hasn’t been a legitimate studio since the mid-nineties.  It’s more than a studio setting itself by having a Hollywood Bowl-type amphitheater, a Chinese theater replica at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, a California Crazy-style ice cream stand based off a pre-Disney animated cartoon, and a haunted hotel on Sunset Boulevard.  Some buildings look like soundstages and others still evoke the 1940’s Art Deco architecture Eisner wanted, but it’s also home to whole lands with as much dedication to immersion as Fantasyland or Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  The park is also home to Star Wars, Muppets, Pixar, and a few other notable Disney properties…as well as The Twilight Zone and Aerosmith, which have absolutely nothing to do with the Mouse.

Magic Kingdom dedicates each land to conform to its themes so hard cast members are literally restricted from wandering through areas in costume where they thematically belong. Animal Kingdom is almost wholly devoted to its message of conservation and the preservation of our planet. Epcot’s Future World still adheres to a general technological/futuristic/space theme that would interest any scientific-minded individual, however loose.  But DHS is what I call a Frankenpark: a park made up of several non-matching elements so that while it looks like a whole product, it’s clearly stitched together haphazardly from a variety of disparate sources. 

Their reactions say it all.

I don’t have a suggestion as to how to fix DHS without a California Adventure-type overhaul that’d cost millions.  Because even consolidating the Frozen Sing-Along, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage into one land would mean having to build whole new venues.  Star Wars Launch Bay would either have to shut down entirely or move to Galaxy’s Edge.  Indy might have to, at best, become the ride that already exists in Disneyland.  It may not be a studio anymore, but if it isn’t, then what exactly is it?

And also, why is a Finding Nemo Musical in the dinosaur-themed section of Animal Kingdom?

6. Being cheap ironically doesn’t work as well as you think it does.

I absolutely despise Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama for a variety of reasons.  It’s basically the Big Lipped Alligator Moment of Animal Kingdom.  (Ripped from YouTuber Lindsey Ellis: referring to the scene from All Dogs Go to Heaven, Big Lipped Alligator Moments refer to scenes in movies that 1) Come right out of nowhere, 2) Has little/no bearing on the plot, 3) Is tonally dissonant from the rest of the film, and 4) After it is over, no one speaks of it ever again.). My point is that in a park dedicated to conservation and the natural world doesn’t really call for a hokey roadside carnival.  But that’s only part of the problem.  What arguably is the bigger issue is the land is purposefully made to look as cheap and tacky as humanly possible.

Just look at it.  If you had no idea it was at Walt Disney World, would you have ever guessed it?  I guess that was the intended idea, but much like Imagineering’s lengthy history with incorporating circuses, Disney park guests almost never come to Disneyland looking for a roadside carnival.  Overall, we’re okay with a few off-the-shelf spinners and other standard ride systems, but we come to Disney for the thematic experience.  The cheap cutouts of the cartoon dinosaurs don’t look like they were crafted by the company that gave the world Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Simba.  The carnival games have no layer of subterfuge to make you think it’s any more clever than just average games you’d find at a state fair.  The asphalt was even made to look sun-bleached and cracked, complete with faded parking lines.  Immersive theming?  Yes, but the average patron doesn’t pick up on that.  It’d be like if Disney included a land full of cardboard boxes and bubble wrap, claiming they were the boxes the roller coaster parts were shipped in.  Thematically appropriate, sure, but tell me you wouldn’t be a trifle miffed a company with the resources as Disney would put together something so transparently cheap. (Much like those dance parties I mentioned)  It’s kinda like when Scrooge McDuck would pay his grand-nephews pennies for the tedious work he’d have them do.  In the end, you feel ripped off.

I kinda put the studio motif I cited in the previous entry, but instead of beating a dead horse, why don’t I move on to the next entry?

5. Understand the power you wield when you market your legacy.

As of October 1st, 2023, the Walt Disney Company, formerly the Disney Bros Studio, will have passed a complete century of existence.  By now, there is hardly a soul alive today who hasn’t grown up with Disney in some way.  The Greatest Generation grew up with the classic shorts and Snow White.  The Baby Boomers grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club, Davy Crockett, and Disneyland.  We millenials grew up with the Disney Afternoon, Aladdin on Sega Genesis, and The Lion King.  Gen Zers have grown up on Lizzie McGuire, High School Musical, and Cars.  Pretty much every generation alive today has a multitude of fond memories when they grew up during those formative years.  Similarly, starting with the boomers, kids from around the world have been flocking to the Disney theme parks and experienced every ride, show, and promotion, however short-lived or critically received.  And as we adults see now, just because we loved something as kids doesn’t necessarily mean it was any good to begin with.  And thus, in the most literal metaphor for adulthood ever, what might have caused us immeasurable joy as kids now leaves us as husks despair and crushing misery.

AND YET…Disney still continues to weaponize nostalgia in its marketing.  Effective it may be…heck, HUGELY effective…but completely runs counter to Disney’s other marketing initiative: that there’s always something new to experience!

Sure, there are plenty of attractions that have stuck around for decades and continue to entertain the young and young at heart to this day, but by pandering to both groups, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for compromise.  The very first Disney attraction I ever experienced was The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management!  Often regarded as one of the very worst Disney attractions ever built, I admittedly have a bit of a soft spot for it, though I shed no tears when I read about its flame-induced demise in 2011.  Of course, personal anecdotes can only say so much.

Appealing to nostalgia means reminding people of the past and the best parts of it.  Even when Disney tries to invoke your memories of the first time you sampled a Dole Whip or rode Space Mountain, this invariably brings back similar fond memories of things that no longer exist at the parks.  And Disney becomes shocked when they announce a ride closure and whole swathes of people seethe in fury.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t invoke nostalgia when Disney’s marketing department is coming up with new ideas to appeal to the masses.  I’m saying to understand that a tool as powerful as nostalgia is a double-edged sword and should be used carefully.

4. Abandonment issues

When I first went to Walt Disney World in 1999, I was fascinated with an oddly-shaped building that sat in front of the massive silver cylinder that was Test Track and near the Mayan temple of the Mexico pavilion.  It sat at the end of an outstretched walkway over a massive expanse of water, adding to its aura of mystique.  Just what was this thing?  Why was there no signage?  What purpose did it serve?  Well, come to find out it was called the Odyssey Restaurant  from 1982 to 1994, and has since been referred to as the Odyssey Center since.  For the average guest, it’s the first aid/baby care center station and restrooms, but nowadays…it’s a flexspace building, meant for anything from promotional events to corporate retreats.  How weird a prolific building like this just stands in full public view but offers almost nothing 99% of the time?

The former Wonders of Life pavilion only recently got pitched to be renovated after 15 years of also being a flexspace building.  River Country and Discovery Island continue to hide in plain view after twenty years of closing.  World Showplace is almost always closed to the public.  Streets of America at DHS stood inert for nearly twenty years after the last Backlot Tour tram rolled through, say nothing of the Premier Theater hidden behind the San Fransisco façade.  The Fantasyland skyway chalet sat next to It’s A Small World for almost two decades after the last gondola unloaded.  Aunt Polly’s Dockside Inn on Tom Sawyer Island just kinda stopped existing.  The ABC Sound Studio was home to Sounds Dangerous before it became a promo center for various movies, and ultimately gave up and became a Star Wars clip show theater and later, a bunch of Rudish Mickey Mouse cartoons.  In Disneyland, the critical failure of Rocket Rods destroyed the infrastructure of Tomorrowland so badly it cannot be fixed or removed.

As I understand it, capitalism only works when the power of money is involved.  Developers will fall all over themselves to build a new brick-and-mortar store in anticipation of making money, but when the business goes under or moves to another location, there’s no reason to demolish the building and return it to its original, natural state, not even a tax incentive.  As a result, we get abandoned, decrepit buildings that only get use as places for urban explorer youTubers to exploit or homeless people to sleep in.  It’s no different, surprisingly, at Disney (Minus the homeless people part), whereas if real estate is viable, it’ll get repurposed, typically for limited-time events, but otherwise it just sits around, closed to the public.  I cited why these venues didn’t get supplanted with new experiences right away, but it’s no less frustrating that a company like Disney would rather abandon it and only sometimes cover up valuable real estate when it could become a rest area, a restaurant, or, yes, a new attraction.

3. Wasting theaters on stuff I can watch on Youtube.

I’m gonna keep picking on Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a little bit longer if that’s okay with you guys.

Since I’m stuck in Arizona, mid-pandemic, I’m unable to make it out to California or Florida for awhile, even if Disneyland were to reopen soon.  So like any obsessed weirdo, I spend a lot of time on YouTube watching videos about Disney and Disney theme parks.  Yeah, it’s not the same as riding the Haunted Mansion, but it’s the best I got.  Ideally, you go to the parks to get an experience that you can’t get at home, right?

So why on Earth would I waste my hard-earned money going to a theater at the parks showing something can find online?

I already don’t care about Star Wars.  And I was already super salty about the loss of Magic of Disney Animation turning into Star Wars Launch Bay.  So imagine my frustration when the MoDA show became a ten-minute puff piece of people involved with the franchise praising it, as if I couldn’t find this kind of thing on a blu-ray bonus feature.  The ABC Sound Studio ended showings of Sounds Dangerous in 2012, only to showcase teaser clips of movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lone Ranger, Maleficent, and Cinderella, back when the park was struggling to maintain its studio image for cross promotions.  After those, they gave up entirely and showed Path of the Jedi, which was – no exaggeration – a clip show of all six canon Star Wars movies, which I could easily find on YouTube.  What’s worse, both venues were used in promoting upcoming Disney films, but when Star Wars took over, the teasers had to go somewhere…so they took out the Walt Disney bio-film at the end of One Man’s Dream and shoved the promotional teasers there.  It’s bad enough Uncle Walt was evicted in favor of synergetic teasers, but evicted for synergetic teasers because Star Wars took precedence.  And again, for movies I could easily find on YouTube or on blu-ray bonus features! 

Probably the most insulting one I ever came across was the Disney-Pixar Short Film Festival at Epcot.  After Honey, I Shrunk the Audience closed in 2010, the Imagination Theater was the temporary home to the revived Captain EO until 2015.  The following year they premiered the Disney-Pixar Short Film Festival, which shows three whole short subject cartoons…but in 3D!  Given the shorts here are all previously-released without the benefit of 3D effect, sitting to watch them in a theater is moot.  Even if the demand for both previous shows was so low, what makes imagineers think I’d rather see Get a Horse! or La Luna in a theater, especially since they’re all available on Disney+?

No, not every show has to be an immersive, effects-laden extravaganza like Muppet*Vision 3D or Mickey’s Philharmagic.  But they ought to be unique shows we can’t get elsewhere.  After all, that’s the whole point we come to Disney parks in the first place.

2. You know you don’t have to recreate the movies’ plots, right?

Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid are two of Disney’s most enduring films, beloved by fans around the world, and there’s good reason.  Though they aren’t my personal favorites, I still respect them.  If I were to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I can watch both Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage!, which re-tell the same story, complete with the mostly same story beats and songs we all know and love.  Kind of redundant, but okay…so why do both have rides in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland – Enchanted Tales with Belle and Journey of the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – also recreate the same movies’ plots?

If both of these movie have anything to offer for theme parks, it’s arguably the best asset any film could bequeath to an attraction: a cool world to explore.  But instead of Ariel or Belle escorting us around Atlantica or an enchanted castle of our own volition, we instead are strung along through a story we’ve already seen a dozen times.  Universal didn’t bother reenacting Deathly Hallows for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and instead just let us muggles get lost in Hogwarts.  Heck, even Frozen Ever After had the right idea, and they, too, have a reenactment of the movie in stage musical form at DHS.  Never mind Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Alice in Wonderland, and Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh all suffer this same, uncreative issue.  I admit, there are some moments from those movies I’d like to be a fly on the wall for, but that’s not as important as just creating an immersive attraction where the most important things are ambiance and atmosphere. 

Years ago, Snow White was not featured on Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and guests complained that the heroine they came to see was nowhere to be found, even though her name was part of the marquee.  Imagineers back then insisted that patrons were meant to BE Snowy, and the creative touch was just a tad too nuanced for the average guest. Sure, it wouldn’t make sense for Alice to be in Wonderland again or to have Pinocchio go through all his escapades all over again, but there are ways to develop a cohesive narrative without copy/pasting the movie.  Maybe Alice invites us to explore Wonderland, or Jiminy Cricket tries to guide us through Pinocchio’s decisions in an effort to steer us clear of the same fates he suffered.  If the worlds are developed well enough, we don’t necessarily need to have our hands held, much like we don’t need even a story to guide us through the Haunted Mansion.

Though, given, we just might start veering away from that formula.  The Princess and the Frog layover of Splash Mountain coming soon is said tell a story after the events of the movie.  You just know a decade earlier, they’d have made yet another stage show musical if they had the space for it.

1. Spending more money does not equal better quality, but…

Like I said, we’re always gonna want more as Disney fans, especially E-ticket attractions.  And we get it: they’re expensive.  Plus you need stuff for the tykes and those with heart conditions.  And good rides aren’t always about thrills, they’re about emotional investment.  And if capitalism in America has taught us anything, it’s that just because you sank a ton of money into a project, it does not guarantee it will pay off.  And with a company with the resources Disney does, as well as their proven ability to make quality attractions, we expect them to pursue their commitment. There are times when saving money is worthy of praise, like when the scrapped America Sings animatronics were repurposed for Splash Mountain characters. But in the business the company’s in, spending money on quality attractions is like setting out the fine china, sterling silver flatware, and crystal stemware when you have dinner guests coming over. You exert the extra effort because you know they’ll appreciate it and come back for more. Yes, the plates may break, the guests may have elevated expectations from then on, and you know breaking out the paper plates is unthinkable…but that’s the standard that’s been set and it’s not like you can stop inviting them over.

Whew, I got a bit lost in that metaphor. Where was I? Oh yeah. Spending money.

So, back in 2011, when it was announced that the 21st Century Fox film, 2009’s Avatar, was being made into its own land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we all laughed. Avatar had nothing to do with Disney (yet)! It was the highest grossing movie of all time, sure, but I didn’t know anyone who remembered it, even if they saw it! Why build a whole land, instead of a single attraction? And if DAK was about celebrating Earth, why incorporate a land that took place literally on another planet? In 2017, the land opened…and the critics (mostly) shut up. Whether Disney was doing this to one-up Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (As was the pervading theory) or maybe in response to all the nay-sayers, Pandora: World of Avatar decided to go hard or go home. By utilizing a ton of breakthrough technology and absurdly high levels of details, we were decidedly impressed. Of course it wasn’t cheap (Budgeted around $400 million), but it’s safe to say the long lines at Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey show that with that kind of financial dedication, it can pay off in dividends.

Adversely, whole parks were built in the aughts, like California Adventure, Walt Disney Studios and Hong Kong Disneyland where they were built with such stringent budgets they just ended up annoying their patrons, who expected huge, immersive worlds and got parks cost them the same as their superior counterparts but delivered half or less the experience. On the flip side of the coin, Tokyo DisneySea and Shanghai Disneyland were built with crazy astronomical budgets and are now considered the most beautiful and detailed parks on the planet. The thing is, Disney clearly has more than enough money to pay suppliers and labor, and these theme parks will only continue to raise money as long as people are willing to pay the prices and come visit.

**************************************

Look, my dedicated, creative friends in Disney’s Imagineering division, I dont blame you, really. It’s a tough job. No one denies that. And we really, really appreciate when you pull a rabbit out of your hard hats and create stunning masterpieces of Disney attractions. It seems the biggest naysayers are the guys who control the purse strings, so afraid of investing money in things that we could use, like routine maintenance or increased cast member wages.

But I hope we can still be friends, and this list is a good code of conduct that can be passed on to the higher-ups who’ve lost touch with the average theme park guest. But otherwise, rock on, guys. Keep up the hard work, and hopefully I can return to either American park sooner rather than later.

Yours truly,

TAP-G

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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