Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Another great what-might-have-been: Disney's American Celebration

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.

Another great what-might-have-been: Disney's American Celebration

Rate This
  • Comments 0

This wasn't the way the deal was supposed to go down.

By that I mean: Disney CEO Michael Eisner honestly thought that -- when the Walt Disney Company announced its plans to build a history-based theme park in Haymarket, VA. in October 1993 -- that Prince William County residents would be absolutely thrilled to hear that Mickey would soon be moving in next door.

Well, that's not quite how it happened. Almost as soon as the "Disney's America" project was announced, a strong and rather well-funded opposition quickly rose up. Recruiting the help of well-known historians as well as powerful Washington insiders, this group quickly mounted an anti-Disney campaign. Which was why the Mouse soon found itself under fire.

Which was why -- by the time August 16th, 1994, rolled around -- thanks to the mounting public pressure as well as all the negative publicity associated with the project, "Disney's America" was circling the bowl. In fact, in just six short weeks, Eisner would finally throw in the towel and officially announce that the Walt Disney Company was abandoning its plans to build a theme park out in the Virginia Piedmont.

But until that decision was made ... The Imagineers explored all sorts of ideas in an effort to make this project more palatable to Washington's power brokers. Soooo -- if it was the idea that the Mouse was going to try & interpret American history that was so offensive to historians & the D.C. elite -- WDI wondered what might what might happen if they were to steer the theming of this proposed theme park away from history.

Which was why -- at least for a few weeks there -- the Imagineers toyed with the idea of changing "Disney's America" to "Disney's American Celebration."

"And how would 'Disney's American Celebration' be different from 'Disney's America' ?," you ask. Well, for starters, history would take a back seat to entertainment. As this new version of the Virginia theme park would encourage guests to " ... participate in story, song and film that would help bring America and its history to life."

Gone were the plans for Crossroads U.S.A., that Civil War-era village that was to have served as "Disney's America" 's hub. In its place was to have been "Democracy," the theme park's new entry area. With such intriguing sounding attractions as "America: A user's guide," the "American Free Speech Forum"and the "American Hall of Fame."

And you can forget about those carefully considered DA "lands" like Victory Field, Presidents Square and Native America. Each of which had been deliberately designed to illustrate a certain aspect of American history. In their place, the Imagineers envisioned building a series of "Future World"-like pavilions that would have celebrated specific parts of the American experience.

Among these proposed pavilions were:

  • Family (Also known as "Generations") -- which was to have featured a multi-media show called "American Families," which was to have celebrated four generations of one family from 1929-1999.
  • The Land -- A next generation version of this Epcot icon, featuring attractions like "The Life of America" (which was supposed to show the profound changes that can occur in a single day, a single year and 1000 years), nature walks and petting zoos.
  • Creativity and Fun -- This area of the theme park was to have featured a full-sized recreation of Ebbett's Field (for exposition ball games) as well as several historic attractions from Coney Island.
  • Work -- was to have featured factory tours of such distinctly American companies as Apple Computer, Crayola Crayons and Ben & Jerry's.
  • Service & Sacrifice -- was to have featured a high tech attraction called "Soldiers Story," which would -- via a time machine -- have taken guests through memorable moments in American conflict. This part of the theme park was also supposed to have included an interactive area, where DAC visitors could have tried their hand at military training and/or toyed with war artifacts.
  • American People -- This area in the theme park would have tried to tell the story of the American "melting pot." One part of the pavilion would have been dedicated to our native peoples, while another area was to have used a ride vehicle as well as a film featuring the Muppets to tell the "Immigration Story." While still another part of this pavilion was to have presented a movie called "Dream of Freedom," which was to have talked about our nation's on-going struggle for freedom & equality for all Americans.
  • Streets of America -- This would have been DAC's elaborately themed dining district. With separate "streets" designed to look like miniature versions in NYC (serving Jewish cuisine / deli food), St. Louis or New Orleans (Cajun cooking / barbequed ribs), San Francisco (Chinese Food), Chicago (deep dish pizza) and Los Angeles (Hispanic / fast food)
  • Disney's America Live -- The theme park's main entertainment venue with outdoor stages like the "USO Bandstand" & "The American Amphitheater" as well as the "State Farm arena," where DAC visitors could have tried their hand at hog calling & calf roping.

Doesn't that sound like an intriguing new take on the whole "Disney's America" concept? Downplaying history in favor of celebrating the music, food, hard work, ingenuity and innovation that makes this country so distinct?

"So why didn't 'Disney's American Celebration' ever make it off the drawing board?," you query. For pretty much the same reason that the original version of "Disney's Amerca" stalled out. The economics of this project stopped being in Disney's favor.

To explain: Back in October of 1993, the Walt Disney Company had assumed that it would just take $15 million to get its history-based theme park through the approval & permitting stage. Then -- with an additional outlay of $558 million -- they could construct "Disney's America" and have the place ready for business by the Spring of 1998.

But -- by August of 1994 -- Disney's assumption about "DA" had obviously changed. Now -- thanks to the theme park's well-organized and deep-pocketed opposition -- the Imagineers estimated that it was going to take $66 million to move "Disney's America" through the approval & permitting process. And -- what with all the design changes that WDI was going to have to make to the project in order to appease historians -- now the Disney Company was going to have to spend at least $591 million in order to get DA open by the Spring of 1999.

Then you add to that the corporation's concerns about the limited number of days "Disney's American Celebration" could actually be open for business (Plans originally called for DAC to be open seven days a week March - October, five days a week October - November and on weekends only around Christmas & News Years. The theme park would then shut down completely during January & February) and whether or not this limited operational schedule would really cut into the project's revenue potential.

But it wasn't all of the variables that I've listed above that made DAC DOA. But -- rather -- it was all the negative publicity that "Disney's America" was getting that finally got to the company's CEO. Which is why -- on September 28, 1994 -- Michael Eisner formally announced that the Walt Disney Company was abandoning its plans to build a history-based theme park in Prince William County.

Which -- me personally -- I think is a shame. I've always thought that there was a viable theme park to be found in among all of these ideas that the Imagineers spun out for "Disney's America" and/or "Disney's American Celebration." Of course, given the number of concepts that were originally cooked for this history theme park that eventually wound up in "Disney's California Adventure" ... I'd have to assume that there are a number people inisde of WDI who felt the same as I do.

But what do you folks think? Would you have found "Disney's American Celebration" (as described above) any more entertaining than the company's original plans for a history theme part for Central Virginia?

Your thoughts?

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post