God, I hate to write stories like this.
I mean, some people really seem to get their jollies by throwing together articles about how Disneyland's new "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride is apparently underwhelming. Or how -- in order to contain costs -- the Imagineers were forced to constantly cut corners on the Walt Disney Studios theme park project.
I don't like to write stories like that. Me personally, I have nothing but respect for the hundreds of talented artists, designers and engineers who work for Walt Disney Imagineering. I know how hard these folks work -- day in, day out -- to keep WDI's 50-year-old tradition of innovation and excellence alive in the Disney theme parks.
Of course, I should point out that my admiration does NOT extend to the greedy, gutless cadre of executives who currently run Imagineering. These self serving suits -- who only seem interested in protecting their own high paying positions, rather than safeguarding WDI's rich legacy -- have gutted this once-great division of the Walt Disney Company by letting talented Imagineering veterans go and/or by nickel-and-dime-ing potentially great projects to death.
Sadly, this seems to be is the case with "Forbidden Mountain: Legend of the Yeti." This exciting new thrill ride for Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park hasn't even been officially announced yet. (That will happen at the Walt Disney World resort on Tuesday, April 22nd as part of DAK's 5th anniversary celebration.) But WDI's sharp pencil boys are already reportedly whittling away at this project, as they attempt to cut crucial story elements that will really help sell this show.
To explain: The WDI design team that masterminded DAK's "Forbidden Mountain: Legend of the Yeti" have envisioned this attraction as being an E-Ticket in the grand tradition of Disneyland's "Indiana Jones Adventure." As is: Just as guests are fed crucial story information as they wander through the elaborate queue of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, WDW visitors were supposed to learn all about the back story of this new Animal Kingdom thrill ride as they walk to the head of its line.
And what exactly is this back story? Well, WDW guests -- as they queue up for this DAK ride -- were supposed to wander through a recreation of a base camp in the foothills in the Himalayas. As they move past the assorted work tables, crates and tents that are scattered around the campsite, these Animal Kingdom visitors will learn all about this dedicated group of scientists who have journeyed all the way to this far off Asian mountain range in search of definitive proof that the Yeti -- AKA the Abominable Snowman -- really exists.
Just before they board the cog railway that will take them far up the mountainside to a long abandoned temple (where the scientists have established a staging area for their field search for the creature), WDW guests will see some plaster casts of the Yeti's footprints as well as some grainy photographs and video of the creature. They'll also hear some recordings of the Abominable Snowman's fearsome scream.
The point of all this elaborate storytelling in the pre-show area is that -- as they board the cog railway for the trip up to the temple -- DAK guests will know two things:
1. They're reportedly en route to join a group of scientists high up in the Himalayas.2. The Yeti seems to be a pretty fearsome creature.
As the cog railway makes its way up the mountain side, the WDW guests on the train suddenly begin to hear snippets of radio traffic coming from up at the temple. It sounds that something awful is going on up there. We hear people screaming for help, an inhuman roar and then ... silence.
The cog railway continues on up into the temple area. Once we're there, we see no sign of the scientists. But there are Yeti footprints everywhere. The expedition's hi tech equipment is strewn all about. And the train tracks ahead have been torn up by something incredibly powerful.
It's just then these DAK guests notice that the engine that's pulling their cog railway has begun losing traction. This train full of tourists now begins slowly rolling backwards downhill. Just then, the sound of heavy footsteps (and raspy inhuman breathing) suggests that the Abominable Snowman is very close nearby.
But that's not really these WDW visitors' main concern at this point. The cog railway train is really picking up speed now. And these DAK guests find themselves whizzing backwards downhill ... into the very Himalayan ice caves where the Yeti makes its lair.
Sounds like a pretty cool attraction, right? Well -- to hear the Imagineers tell it -- that pre-show area (I.E. the scientist's base camp, where WDW visitors learn so much about the back story of the attraction, where DAK guests are fed all this crucial information about how big, powerful and scary the Abominable Snowman is) is absolutely essential. That -- unless the tourists are carefully spoon-fed all of this story info early on -- that the thrill ride portion of "Forbidden Mountain: Legend of the Yeti" won't be nearly as effective.
It's just too bad that the suits at Walt Disney Imagineering -- particularly Tom Fitzgerald, WDI's executive vice president and senior creative executive -- don't seem to feel the same way as the "Forbidden Mountain" design team. According to Imagineering insiders, Fitzgerald feels that this elaborate, highly detailed queue area can easily be replaced by a series of overhead monitors that will entertain and inform WDW guests as they wait in line to board the cog railway. These monitors would endlessly repeat a pre-show film that would briefly capsulize the "Legend of the Yeti"'s back story.
And perhaps Tom does have a point. After all, in the age of FastPass, Disney theme park visitors no longer seem all that interested in elaborate queues anymore. They just want to board the attraction as soon as possible, pile on those thrills, then move on as quickly as possible to the next ride.
But for those of us who like to see the art of the theme park attraction continually pushed forward, who enjoy highly detailed queues that gently ease us into a mythology surrounding each and every new adventure, the idea of gutting "Forbidden Mountain"'s wonderful walk-through pre-show area just to save a few bucks is just another sign that Disney really is turning its back on its traditions. That the bottom line truly is the top priority at the Mouse House these days.
That said, maybe it IS not entirely fair to blame Tom Fitzgerald for this particular proposed cut to "Forbidden Mountain." After all, Tom -- as the head of Theme Park Productions (the arm of Walt Disney Imagineering that creates all of the films that are shown inside the Disney theme parks) -- sincerely seems to think that most every problem at the Parks can be solved by showing guests a well put-together film or video. And -- given Fitzgerald's 20 years of experience in this field -- who are we to argue the merits of this point?
It's just that ... over the past 10 years, Walt Disney Imagineering has repeatedly damaged dozens of great ideas for new rides, shows and attractions by opting to go the more cost effective route. Cutting corners that eventually totally tore the guts out of some really promising concepts. Case in point: DAK's "Countdown to Extinction / Dinosaur." Or DCA's "Superstar Limo." Or (please understand that I'm extremely reluctant to climb on board with all the Pooh bashers, but ...) Disneyland's "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh."
You see what I'm saying here, people? Really great ideas for new rides, shows and attractions that were derailed just because WDI executives were more concerned about staying on budget rather than deliver a really terrific final product.
Yes, it makes sense -- when building a new thrill ride for a Disney theme park -- to reserve most of your attraction's construction budget for the actual thrill portions of that show. (And it should be noted here that the Imagineers will NOT be re-using the Abominable Snowman AA figure that was created in the 1970s for Disneyland's "Matterhorn" attraction. But -- rather -- they will be sculpting an all new Yeti to be used in "Forbidden Mountain." So it's not like WDI is totally going cheap on this DAK attraction.)
But would it really kill the management team at Walt Disney Imagineering to blow a few extra bucks on an elaborate queue area for "Forbidden Mountain: Legend of the Yeti"? I think not.
More to the point, going whole hog on DAK's new thrill ride would send a message to the theme-park-going public (a group that's already become painfully aware that -- more often than not -- Disney has been taking the cost effective route these past few years when adding new rides and shows to its parks) that things are really changing at the Mouse House. That Disney once again thinks delivering a top grade product -- rather than an affordable alternative -- is what it really owes its customers.
Here's hoping that -- by letting the Yeti out of the bag here -- that I can shame a few suits into not going cheap on DAK's "Forbidden Mountain: Legend of the Yeti."
I know, I know. By writing this story, I pretty much eliminate any chance of ever getting invited to the WDI Christmas Party. But -- since that (due to Imagineering budget cuts) that party has been cancelled for the past two years -- I guess that's really not that much of a loss, now is it?
So Imagineering management, please do the right thing with DAK's new E-Ticket. And don't go cheap with "Forbidden Mountain"'s queue area.