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Much Ado about Pooh

Much Ado about Pooh

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Even though Disneyland's new "Winnie the Pooh" ride has already opened for several months now, I'm STILL getting e-mails like this:

Dear Jim:

I just got back from Anaheim and wanted to write to let know you about how shocked & appalled I was with Disneyland's "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride. I still can not believe that the Imagineers had the b*lls to rip out the "Country Bears" show in order to make room for this bargain basement abomination ...

... and this:

Jim:

Do you have any idea where I might send a letter to express my disgust with Disneyland's new "Winnie the Pooh" ride? What a cheap piece of sh*t that was, Jim. It looks like WDI cut every corner they possibly could ...

Typically, the people who send me e-mails like this then go on to say that "Walt would have hated that ride" and/or "I know that Walt Disney would be rolling over in his grave if he knew that the company that he founded was foisting such a cheap, tawdry attraction on the public."

Which is why I typically just delete e-mails like this. Reading them makes my head hurt.

I mean, where are these people's sense of proportion? After all, we're just talking about a theme park attraction here. Not ripping out the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel so that we can put in a sky light.

I just can't understand how some people can whip themselves up into a frenzy over something like this. I mean -- yes -- I understand that Disneyland's "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride isn't exactly on a par with Tokyo Disneyland's "Pooh's Hunny Hunt." And it really is a shame that that TDL attraction -- along with its cutting-edge ride technology -- didn't make it over to Anaheim.

But that said, is this really a good enough reason for someone to b*tch and moan for weeks at a time? To cry out continually about the horrible injustice of it all? That -- because Disneyland didn't end up getting a clone of Tokyo Disneyland's "Pooh's Hunny Hunt" attraction -- their life has now lost all reason and rhyme?

For those of you who are playing along on the home edition of the game, the correct answer is: No, Jim. It would be really stupid to do something like that. To obsess about something like that. After all, Disneyland's new "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride is -- when you get right down to it -- just a theme park attraction. Not a sign of the end times.

Okay. Now I can understand how what I'm writing here today may infuriate a few of you. After all, based on what I've been reading on various Disneyana discussion boards, many annual passholders are still obviously quite disappointed that the Walt Disney Company opted not to add a big new E Ticket themed around the Winnie the Pooh characters to the assortment of attractions that the Mouse offers at its Anaheim theme park.

But would it help if I let you in on a little secret? Were you to review long-kept secret documents, reports that would reveal -- in great detail -- Disneyland's expansion plans from as far back as the mid-1970s ... you'd discover that -- even back then -- the Imagineers were still thinking small when it came to possibly adding a Pooh-themed attraction into the Anaheim theme park.

Don't believe me? Then allow me to pull out my copy of Disneyland's long range master plan circa June 1976. This report was prepared by the park's interdivisional team and laid out -- in five separate phases -- a definitive plan for the expansion of the Anaheim theme park that was to have taken place over a 20 -30 year period.

Phase I of this plan was to have focused on the Frontierland and Fantasyland part of the park. This project would have involved:

"... the rework(ing) of the west side of Fantasyland. A marquee type attraction similar to Dumbo or the Rocket Jets possibly with a Mary Poppins theme would be added where the Fantasy I food stand is presently located. This would serve to set the area off as a new experience and create interest as a visual and physically exciting attraction. In addition, a new dark ride type attraction possibly a Pooh theme with 900/hour capacity would be added near Casey, Jr. The major attraction of the reworked area would be a thrill show attraction of 2600/hour capacity. This could be developed around Mary Poppins and include a major merchandise complex at the exit. The Pinocchio attraction would round out the area fitting into what is now the Mickey Mouse theatre, with 1000/hour capacity."

The above is an exact quote from Disneyland's once-highly-classified long range expansion plan. I pulled this paragraph off of Page 10 of the report (for those of you who like to keep track of these sorts of things.)

Now there are a couple of things that I find interesting about this particular plan:

1. Only the "Pinocchio" dark ride ever actually made it off of WDI's drawing board. All the other concepts for new shows and attractions that were proposed for Disneyland's Fantasyland (with the possible exception of that "Pooh" ride idea) ended on WED's cutting room floor.

2. Now you have to keep in mind that -- as this expansion plan was being prepped in the Spring of 1976 -- Winnie the Pooh was coming up on his 10th anniversary as a highly popular and extreme profitable member of Disney's stable of characters. Yet the Pooh ride that the Imagineers were proposing for Disneyland was to only have had an hourly capacity of 900 guests. Which was less than the number of guests that the "Pinocchio" dark ride would theoretically have been able to accommodate on an hourly basis.

3. It's Mary Poppins, NOT Pooh, who's really getting the star treatment in this version of Disneyland's long range expansion plans. With that practically perfect nanny serving as the central character of a Dumbo-like spinner ride as well as the star of a "thrill show attraction" which would have been able to entertain 2600 guests per hour!

You see what I'm getting at here, folks? For over two decades, the Imagineers have NEVER been all that enthusiastic about the idea using Edward Bear as the central character of some huge new attraction for Disneyland. Why for? Well, mostly it's because -- when you get right down to it -- the Winnie the Pooh characters aren't really all that dynamic. Okay, admittedly they're sweet and all. But Pooh, Piglet and pals aren't really all that compelling ... from a dramatic point of view, that is.

To explain: A.A. Milne's original Winnie the Pooh stories are these cute little tales filled with whimsical moments. But whimsy is a pretty darned difficult thing to recreate. Particularly inside of a theme park.

I mean, the Imagineers did at least give it a try with their latest "Pooh" project. As you wander through the queue of Disneyland's "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride, you'll find many attempts at whimsical little touches. Like the recreations of Poohsticks Bridge and Eeyore's house that you wander by. It's just too bad that -- given how tightly people are usually packed inside of this Critter Country queue -- that cool little details like this often get overlooked.

And then there's those beehive-shaped ride vehicles. I just love the design of these things. Particularly the little heffalump who's tacked on to the back of every beehive. It's just too bad that the ride vehicle used in Disneyland's "Pooh" ride are far too proximity sensitive.

How sensitive are we talking here? So sensitive that -- if the cast member who's manning the attraction's off-load position isn't getting guests out of their cars fast enough and the beehives start backing up inside the show building -- the entire ride automatically shuts down.

When this happens (and it's happened to me twice on recent trips to the park), your beehive will gently come to a halt wherever you are in the show building. You'll then hear an audio announcement from the attraction's narrator (Disney vet Pete Renoudet, if I'm remembering clearly), explaining that a "sticky situation" has arisen and to please remain in your seats.

The next thing you know, you'll see Disneyland cast members -- clutching flashlights -- moving along the "Pooh" ride track with almost military precision. As they pass your beehive, they'll pause briefly to reassure you and your party that everything is fine and that "We'll be with you shortly." The cast members will then pull out multiple sets of bright yellow plastic steps (which are hidden in closets all over the show building). Which they then use to help the customers safely climb out of their cars. Then, taking people in groups of ten, the "Pooh" crew eventually escorts all the guests out of the show building.

Once "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" has been completely cleared of tourists, the cast members begin cycling all the beehives through the show building. The reason that they're doing this is that they're trying to get all of the "Pooh" ride vehicles back to being an equal and safe distance from one another. Once that's accomplished, then and only then are Disneyland visitors finally allowed to begin boarding beehives again.

A TIP TO REMEMBER: Should this ever happen while you're riding Disneyland's "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride, don't ever make the mistake of wandering away from this Critter Country attraction and grumbling darkly. As you're exiting the show building, be sure and tell the Disneyland cast member posted outside that you'd like to go back on the ride as soon as possible. They'll then direct you to go back up "Pooh"'s exit.

Here, you'll wait briefly in an improvised queue while the cast members quickly cycle all the beehives through the show building. Once all of the "Pooh" ride vehicles are safely spaced apart again, you -- and all the other guests who were unfortunately off-loaded -- will be given top priority. You'll even be allowed to board ahead of all of those other poor folks who are still waiting in "Pooh"'s crowded queue.

Whatever you do, don't make this mistake of walking away, thinking that -- once it's broken down -- Disneyland's "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" is now going to be down for hours at a time. That will just give the cast members a chance to laugh at you behind your back. "What a stupid maneuver," said one Critter Country staffer to his pal as they both watched some angry tourists storm away from "Pooh"'s exit area. "It only takes us five minutes to reset this thing nowadays."

Sure enough, just five minutes later, Disneyland's "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" was up and running again. As we climbed back into a beehive, ready to go for another spin through the Hundred Acre Woods, I heard that same Disneyland cast member say to his co-worker "See? We're getting good at this."

I'm told that now that the kids who are running this Critter Country attraction have gotten a lot more experience at operating "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh"'s extremely fluky ride system that these sorts of breakdowns aren't happening nearly as often. Here's hoping that this is actually the case.

Which brings us -- finally -- to the ride itself. Admittedly, Disneyland's new "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" attraction is NOT an E-Ticket. Which may not make it a truly fitting companion for "Splash Mountain" and/or a worthy follow-up to "The Country Bear Jamboree" (I.E. the Critter Country show that "Pooh" recently replaced.)

But that's enough talk about what Disneyland's "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" isn't. Let's now talk about what this attraction is: Cute. Charming. Colorful.

In short, it's a nice little dark ride. An attraction that -- were you to lift it up and drop it down in Fantasyland alongside "Peter Pan's Flight" and "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" -- would fit in just fine over there.

Which -- as you may recall from the earlier part of this article -- was exactly where the Imagineers had originally wanted to place their "Winnie the Pooh" attraction in the first place.

So -- if you really feel that you HAVE TO find fault with Disneyland's "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride -- at least pick a reason that makes some sense. Like: this attraction doesn't really belong in Critter Country. It would have made a better fit over, thematically, in Fantasyland.

Which is admittedly true. But that still doesn't take away from the fact that Disneyland's new "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" attraction is a fun little ride. Not an E Ticket, but still one fun little ride.

Which is why I think that this ruckus that you diehards continue to raise about Disneyland's "Winnie the Pooh" ride really is (to quote Willy S.) "... much ado about nothing."

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