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Twas the "Why For" Before Christmas

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Twas the "Why For" Before Christmas

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I know, I know. It's Christmas Eve. You've all probably got errands that you still have to run. So I'll try & keep this short.

First up, ConstantReader chimes in to say:

Jim --

How come you don't do any more columns about DCA? It used to be that you'd beat up on that theme park at least once a week, saying things like "Walt wouldn't have liked this," etc. But for months now, you've been mum on the subject.

So what's going on here, Jim? Have you gone soft on California Adventure or what? And -- if so -- why?

Dear ConstantReader:

Well, I wouldn't say that I've gone soft on DCA, ConstantReader. I think it's more a case of ... Well ... I guess I've come to think of California Adventure as more of a work-in-progress.

Don't get me wrong. This theme park still has a hell of a lot of things wrong with it. And some of the quick fixes that Disney has thrown into California Adventure in an effort to re-energize that theme park are already in desperate need of fixing themselves. (EX: DCA's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The ride itself is fine. But that outside queue area? What a dud. Unlike the Florida original, guests don't get any real sense of fear or foreboding as they wind their way through the exterior queue. Given the utter lack of shade back there, their biggest fear while queuing up for TOT is probably: "Am I going to get a sunburn while I stand in this line?")

But -- that said -- the Disneyland Resort's new management team IS making an effort to turn the place around. In fact, if you folks come back by here on Monday morning, I'll be talking about the new attraction that's just been greenlit fot DCA. One that's sure to make all your Pixar fans happy.

But -- beyond that -- I don't see the point of continuing to bash DCA. I mean, Disney knows now that this theme park needs help. So -- over the next 5 to 10 years -- they're going to try & fix the place. Add new rides, shows and attractions. Do everything they can to turn California Adventure into a worthy second gate for the Disneyland Resort.

So -- as I see it -- our job (as Disneyana fans) is to now to just sit back and be patient & supportive. Rather than continue to bitch & moan about what DOESN'T work at DCA, how about we all try a different tact now? And celebrate the stuff that actually DOES work in that theme park? Like "Soarin' Over California." Or the lobby area of the "Magic of Disney Animation" exhibit. Or how pretty Paradise Pier looks when it's all lit up at night.

I know, I know. That's a very short list of things that the Imagineers got right with DCA. Here's hoping that -- in the not-so-distant future -- that we'll be able to add the names of a few new rides & shows to that list.

And -- by the way -- for all you folks out there who insist that "Walt Disney would never have built a theme park like California Adventure," let me drop a mind-blowing little factoid on you. Something I recently discovered while re-reading Harrison "Buzz" Price's new book, "Walt's Revolution by the Numbers."

As part of this volume, Buzz lists the 110 studies that Walt Disney Productions had Harrison's company -- ERA, Economic Research Associates -- work on while Walt and Roy O. were still alive.

So what's No. 68 on this list? A Disneyland research project.from 'way back in January of 1961. Back when Walt was evidently looking into ways that he could expand what Walt Disney Productions already had in Anaheim. And among the ideas that the Old Mousetro was supposedly considering was adding a second gate in Disneyland (Translation: Building a second theme park right next door to "The Happiest Place on Earth").

"And what was the proposed theme of this second gate?," you ask. Well ... I know you Disney diehards are not going to believe this. So why don't I just quote what Buzz wrote in his book:

Disneyland Project No. 68 - 1/61 - California Living Second Gate

Let me repeat the part that I know is just blowing the minds of all you Disneyphiles out there:

California Living Second Gate

That's right, gang. According to Buzz Price (Walt's trusted associate. The man who -- while he was working with C.V. Wood at the Stanford Research Institute -- helped determine where Disneyland should actually be built), Walt Disney actually toyed with the idea of building a theme park right next door to the "Happiest Place on Earth" that would have celebrated California Living. An early 1960s version of DCA, if you will.

This is why I always say that it's dangerous for Disneyana fans to try & pretend that they'd know what Walt would have done in any one situation. For it's the stories like that always prove that Walt Disney was a very difficult guy to know. That every time that the people who actually worked with Walt day-to-day thought that they could predict what he was going to do next, he'd then throw them another curve ball.

Regarding this "California Living Second Gate" : Sadly, I don't have any additional information about this project other than what was mentioned in "Walt's Revolution by the Number." But I am going to make an effort to get ahold of Buzz Price and see if he can shed some more light on this subject. And -- the next time I'm down in Orlando -- I'm going to make a point of dropping by the Harris Rosen School of Hospitality Management (Where Price recently donated 71 boxes of his personal papers) to see if the school's research library has anything on file about this "California Living Second Gate" study.

Next up, Robert H. writes in to ask:


I try and keep up with your site but I apologize in advance if you have addressed this already. What is the big deal about Stitch? The marketing of this character to the degree Disney is going leaves me scratching my head. Nemo was far more successful and had little in the way of toys and certainly no attraction was themed for him. What gives?

Dear Robert H.

Disney's been marketing the hell of the little blue alien, Robert, because evidently there is this huge demand for Stitch stuff out there. A few weeks back, one of my sources within Disney Consumer Products was nice enough to slipped me the results of a recent survey. This survey showed the precise pecking order among the Disney characters. As in: Which characters moved the most merchandise. According to this Consumer Products survey, Stitch was actually No. 4 on Disney's list. Right behind No. 1 (Winnie the Pooh), No. 2 (Mickey Mouse) and No. 3 (The Disney Princesses).

This might explain -- as WDI was busy earlier this year turning WDW's "Alien Encounter" into "Stitch's Great Escape" -- that the Imagineers made sure to re-engineer the exits of this Tomorrowland attraction. So that -- once Magic Kingdom visitors left either one of SGE's two theaters -- they were fed directly into the "Merchant of Venus" or the "Mickey's Star Traders" shop. Where these guests would -- not-so-co-incidentally -- find tons of merchandise (EX: t-shirts, hats, mugs & plush) with Stitch's image on it.

Speaking of "Stitch's Great Escape" ... I've been hearing a lot of stories lately from Magic Kingdom cast members that suggest that this recently-opened Tomorrowland show may already be in trouble. The way I hear it, audience tracking has revealed that SGE is actually pulling a lower guest satistfaction rating that the extremely troubled Tomorrowland attraction that that this show replaced, "Alien Encounter."

Then there are those persistant rumors that -- immediately upon seeing "Stitch's Great Escape" -- Disney CEO Michael Eisner supposedly announced that he absolutely hated the show. Which is there has been a lot of talk lately about SGE quietly closing in 2005 for a few months for $5 million worth of retooling. Whether that will be enough money to actually clear up all of this Tomorrowland attraction's story problems remains to be seen.

But -- given that the Walt Disney Company sees Stitch as a character that they'd like to make a lot of money off of for (at least) the next 20 years or so -- Disney World just can't afford to have a version of "Stitch's Great Escape" up & running that scares kids as well as confuses adults. So look for this Magic Kingdom attraction to undergo some "re-imagineering" over the next year, as WDI tries to clear up all of the story problems that this Tomorrowland show has. Not to mention making SGE more kid-friendly.

And -- speaking of scary monsters -- you won't believe the response that we got to last week's "What Does a Yeti Smell Like?" contest. Over 50 JHM readers wrote in to offer up their own takes on what the Abominable Snowman in DAK's "expedition Everest" thrill ride should smell like. We had everything from the silly (Peter Emslie's take on the situation: "A yeti smells a lot like the unwashed gym socks of the Dalai Lama... ") to the overly precise (Ian wrote in to say: "I would probably say that a yeti would smell like a mix of mostly yak with a little bit of a tahr smell, dirt, and a very slight does of fir, birch and some rhododendron [campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum for example] mixed in.").

But -- out of all the entries that I received -- I'd have to say that the best written one came from Shannon DeArmond. This one ... Hell, this JHM contest entry reads like a scene straight out the almost-inevitable "Expedition Everest" spin-off film:

I had just turned the bend in the icy path when the smell reached my nose. The word "smell" doesn't really describe it, actually. It was thick, almost tangible, and sharp like the rocky precipice I strove to climb. I reeled under its weight, staggering dangerously close to the cliff edge. Dropping to my knees, I shuffled off my gear and grasped my nose with my cold, heavily-gloved hands, staring wildly around me for the source. It was an acrid smell that could make your eyes water just as quickly as the bitter cold froze those tears to your cheeks. It caught in the back of my mouth like bile. There was old, cold malevolence in that smell -- a pungent, deteriorous ancientry that had been quietly tracking the unsuspecting for an age. . . And quietly tracking me for four days.

And so when its shadow fell over me, I didn't turn to see it. I had learned all I wanted to know of the Yeti from the odor that prefaced its arrival.


Pretty snazzy, don't you think? Which is why -- given that Shannon A. did such a beautiful job of describing how this horrible beast could possibly smell -- I'll be sending her a copy of the screenplay for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Just as soon as she gets me her mailing information, that is.

Well, that's pretty much it for this week's "Why For," folks. But -- before I close out this special holiday edition  -- I just want to take a moment to thank a number of people. In particular, the very nice folks who actually keep JimHillMedia.com up and running.

You see -- because it's my name on the front door -- I'm usually the guy who gets all the credit for everything that happens around here. But -- truth be told -- I'm not the one who actually does all the heavy lifting at JHM. I mean, sure, I regularly churn out a large pile of poorly written stories. But who really puts these things up on the site?

Well, actually, it's JHM's webmaster Tony Moore and my significant other, the lovely and long suffering Nancy Stadler. Without the hard work of these two ... JimHillMedia.com would be a shambles ... Well ... More of a shambles than it already is.

And -- while I'm passing out the compliments -- I can't forget longtime JHM columnists like Roger Colton, Andrew Franks, Aaron Gordon, Rick Guttierrez, Drew Hackney, Michael Howe, Patrick Hurd, Jackson King, Jim Korkis, Seth Kubersky, Scott Liljenquist, Alain Littaye, Jean de Lut├Ęce, Andrea Monti, Floyd Norman, Chuck Oberleitner, Larry Pontius, Cindy Russell, Wade Sampson, Matthew Springer and Michael Sweeney. Or continuing contributors like AliKzam, Sara Allen, Joe Apel, Eric Craven, Frank Duren, Josh Edwards, Cara Goldsbury, Scott Irving, Joseph L. Kleiman, David Michael, Mark Mitchell, Monique Pryor, Angela Ragno, Paul Schnebelen and Ian Westhoff. Or great guest writers like Juha-Pekka Alanen, Arlen Miller, Peter Emslie, Tim Finn, Meg Frazer, Gregg Jacobs, Don Jones, John Lockamy, Richard Mercer, David Michael, Kelly Monaghan, Vance Rest, Barbara Schneid, Nick Stevens and Rhett Wickham.

And -- of course -- I also have to mention the two folks who actually got JimHillMedia.com up & running back in August of 2002, Jon Nadelberg & Michelle Smith. Plus the site's photo archivist and probably my oldest friend on the planet at this point, Jeff Lange.

You see ... There's a lot of people who work on this site. People who I'm eternally grateful to -- for their help & their humor, their advise and counsel, not mention all the info that they give me for my stories.

So don't make the mistake of thinking that just because there's one name on the door that JimHillMedia.com is a one man operation. Far from it, folks. This site only exists because of the continuing hard work of a lot of people. Each of which I hope has a very Merry Christmas.

By the way ... I also extend my holiday wishes to all of you nice folks too, the JHM readers. On behalf of the rest of the crew here at JimHillMedia.com, I'd like to thank you for regularly stopping by this site. Here's hoping that we continue to have your patronage in the years ahead.

Okay. That's enough yammering for today. Here's hoping that you folks have a happy holiday, okay? And we'll (hopefully) see you all again next week.

Til then, take care,


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